One piece of news really lifted my spirits a couple of days ago.
“Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka Out of Albania and Poland Games” said the headline.
Normally news of an Arsenal player’s injury is reason for mourning, misery, soul-searching and complaining about the club’s fitness regime.
But when I read the details of that story I detected something interesting. The piece explained: “England have confirmed that Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka will miss the team’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Albania and Poland due to injury.
“Both players sat out on Thursday as the Three Lions began their qualification campaign with a 5-0 win over San Marino.
“And the FA have now confirmed the Manchester United and Arsenal stars will not feature against Albania on Sunday and Poland three days later.
“Saka had remained at Arsenal for further assessment on an ongoing issue with the hope of joining up with the Three Lions but will now not be available for the fixtures against Albania and Poland.“
He “remained at Arsenal” and now we have told the national team that, oh dear, he’s just not going to be well enough to play in any of these international fixtures.
What does it remind you of?
It reminds me of all the times when, under the managership of the purple-conked Gorbalian Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United would inevitably announce at “internationals” time that their best players were all crocked, had no chance of pulling on the England shirt, in fact were close to death’s door and a priest had been sent for…
And then, when the Premier League started up again, those same players would make a miraculous recovery and be fit and raring to go.
“Fit-again Lazarus scores hat trick for Manchester United after international lay-off,” the headlines would say, “the player pronounced dead just a week ago was in unstoppable form yesterday as the Red Devils went back to the top of the table with a resounding win over a Tottenham side whose three most influential players were all injured on England duty.”
Hate him or hate him, there was no doubting that the volcanic Scotsman knew how to play the system.
And now it looks like we might be doing it too.
Of course this is all going to look a bit silly if Saka ends up being out for three months, but I suspect the club are being ultra cautious with him. I’m sure he had (or has) some muscle tightness and the medical team have been able to use it to get the lad a decent two-week rest.
He has been our best player this season but he was starting to look jaded in his last few appearances.
Does this mark a sea change in Arsenal’s approach to being selfish and self-interested ? It’s too early to tell but I certainly hope so.
For too long our actions – both on and off the pitch – have been characterised by a sense of naivety: our players seldom make the little fouls in midfield that break up a dangerous move, or win a penalty by cheating (sorry, by “being clever”), or engage in rotational fouling of the opposition’s danger man.
At club level, an example would be our attempt to sign Luis Suarez by offering a pound over what we thought was his release fee. It just made us look childish and it infuriated Liverpool, who then did everything in their power to make sure we couldn’t get him. If we’d offered a million more we would probably have got Suarez who was then at the peak of his powers.
Peculiar transfer activity in recent years until high level changes were made did nothing to polish our reputation for being a well run club.
Perhaps you disapprove of my approval for greater cynicism. That’s fine – you can tell me why in the comments. But I’ll take Saka’s withdrawal from Team England this week as a sign of growing intent and maturity at Arsenal.