On the vague chance that come the summer, having come fifth and thrown the last few years into a new and sharp relief, Arsenal confront the possibility that twenty-plus years in the same job could possibly turn a man stale and fruitless in his endeavours, and ask said man if he would please, please resign, and he says yes – where might the players who have been effectively claiming asylum and a massive club end up? The kind of player a man like Diego Simeone might stare at not in the manner of an understanding father, but as you would at a piece of underdone barbeque.
Incidentally, if it is Simeone, and it’s obviously a big if, there’s something strange going on where all of the world’s best managers and none of its best players see the Premier League as their calling.
Danny’s not going anywhere. Even I, who would pick him to take on a pressurised one-on-one situation less readily than I’d actually pick myself, can see, as long as you accept the indignity of it, the value of having a forward who starts the defensive line from the front. MSN he ain’t, but hey, we are where we are, and he’s blatantly the kind of player that sets a standard for effort the rest of the squad feel needled by, and you know managers dig that.
Jack Wilshere to Everton
Crystal-ball gazing: Ross Barkley moves on, Ronald Koeman decides a deeper-lying but similarly gifted midfielder will serve as his replacement, with the emergence of Tom Davies to play further ahead. Or alternatively, given the predictably eye-watering fee you know that Barkley’s (English passport) gigantic goals/assists-to-games ratio will come with, Koeman has ample money for both Wilshere and… *rubs crystal ball* …Kingsley Coman, as a double-like-for-like replacement.
Olivier Giroud to China
I am ignorant, I accept this, of which specific Chinese club would provide the culture into which Giroud would most effectively slot. But, I cannot escape the feeling that – as we are bound to the tracks of history – if Graziano Pelle went to China, that means eventually Giroud must too.
Aaron Ramsey to Leicester
Flush with Riyad Mahrez cash, Leicester make the sensible decision not to seek a like-for-like replacement, and instead go for a re-tool of their midfield approach to include a space in the hole for balls to be delivered forcefully into row N, and then a distressed hand thrust through an excellent head of hair, and a grimace. I wish Ramsey had a sense of humour, and after each of these efforts turned to his teammates and with comedic gusto went “Oooooh” at how close he’d come this time. But he doesn’t, this is football and he knows he must take it with good hair and deadly seriousness.
Theo Walcott to Southampton
Absolute and utter credit to Wenger, as the only manager who could have done it, for shepherding Theo through his mid-twenties occasional just-about-goodness to this upgraded point, where he is occasionally and against opposition who are generally a bit shonky on the self-belief and defensive discipline front, excellent. There is a truth here, that anyone who watches football can see in a heartbeat: he’s not mean enough. That ruthless will to exact your talent, regardless of the bloody noses it causes, that pig-headedness that Drogba and Diego Costa and Van Nistelrooy had: nope. Alternatively you can have a bit of that, and the talent of Torres or Van Persie or Henry: nope.
But, with no pressure on him to be a boss at the highest level, he’s 12 or so useful goals a season, every season. Tadic, Redmond, Walcott, Gabbiadini is a very viable front four. So long as Walcott doesn’t go pestering Gabbiadini in training with ‘how he sees himself’.
Kieran Gibbs to Brighton & Hove Albion
Always blows my mind how quick the train to Brighton is from London, but since I last took it, Southern Rail has happened, and now it’s quicker to walk. Premier League experience, yadda ya (I feel this idea that anyone who’s been anywhere brings the value of that experience with them is a kind of strange, bastard cousin of the growth in our culture of how getting known for say being the person David Beckham cheated on his wife with makes you a person the public wants to know the ins and outs of, whether that be on a farm or anywhere else).
But, instead of a farm, Gibbs could play at the luscious, well-appointed Amex, and bring a clued-up sense of what it’s like to go hell for leather for about nine games a season up til about January, and they’d probably be better for it. Incidentally, despite how snarky all that is, I actually think Gibbs is underrated; his actual upper-body toughness defies its outward appearance, and I can relate to that.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Newcastle
Newcastle are in a tricky position, all things assumed – and maybe we shouldn’t, who wouldn’t enjoy a meltdown that included Rafa unveiling to the media a list of ‘facts’ about the Burton Albion manager? – but if they do get promoted, they’ll find themselves landing in a reality where mid-table security is probably deemed the minimum, next season.
I fancy a glance over their squad list will swiftly make that seem a pretty tenuous presumption, so they’ll need to stock up too on Premier League experience. They love a winger at St James’ Park, I have been told, and I feel like Ox is another player who just needs to get away from the perpetual headache of kind of having to play like we’re going for the title when we never really are, while having the ‘you’re injured’ magic wand being dementedly waved over you. This is bad for a boy’s sanity. I think he still has time on his side to not be the ‘remember how good he was in that England game once’ player; but if he waits around, to play his inevitable 15 games or so each year for another few seasons, that time will elapse.
Hector Bellerin to Barcelona
You know how life goes.
Toby Sprigings – follow him on Twitter