Breaking news, footballer gets drunk.
Grown man and hair plug addict Wayne Rooney was pictured drinking until late into the night after celebrating a friend’s wedding while away on international duty for England. The English populace heard the news and lifted a half-closed, bleary, eye from their plate of chips, taken a huge swig of ale and screamed “how dare he???” at the television down their local pub. Thinking of the children, who were with their parents at the pub when this ghastly news broke, Wayne Rooney offered an apology which went something along the lines of “sorry you all saw me drunk.” It was an apology which was the moral equivalent of saying “next time, I’ll get blasted in private.”
I love that Wayne Rooney getting drunk is somehow a thing and that it’s distracting from the Man U v. Arsenal match. Wayne Rooney hasn’t mattered on or off a football pitch for three years, so naturally ahead of the biggest match of the weekend, Rooney has to rear his ugly head.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was asked and he showed the inherent class which has made him the most respected manager in the Premier League, saying that drinking isn’t as big a deal as it once was and basically saying “if you only knew how much they used to drink and smoke!”
Every manager has had his say on the topic with Pep Guardiola chiming in,
“No me gusta cuando la gente habla sobre mi vida privada, así que no comentaré sobre la vida privada de otros. Tengo mucho respeto sobre la trayectoria de Rooney. No tengo más comentarios al respecto. Yo fui internacional y algunas veces bebíamos. Cada uno es responsable de lo que hace. Somos lo suficientemente adultos para asumir consecuencias”.
Wenger, though, is the only current manager who had a first hand look at English football’s drinking culture. When he arrived at Arsenal in 1996 his team captain, Tony Adams, had just admitted to the world that he is a drunk. The team also had several notable boozers in Paul Merson, Lee Dixon, Ray Parlour, Steve Bould, and Nigel Winterburn. Ray Parlour recalls Arsene Wenger’s first double-winning season like this:
“I’ll always remember the first pre-season tour with Arsene Wenger [in 1997]. New French lads had come into the team like Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Gilles Grimandi. We worked our socks off and at the end of the trip Wenger said we could all go out. You know what we were like, we went straight down to the pub and the French lads went to the coffee shop.
I’ll always remember the moment Steve Bould [now assistant manager at Arsenal] went up to the bar and ordered 35 pints for five of us. After we left the bar we spotted all the French lads in the coffee shop and they were sitting around smoking, I thought how are we going to win the league this year? We’re all drunk and they’re all smoking, and we ended up winning the double that year.”
That’s 7 pints each for those of you who are mathematically challenged. And for my American readers, British pints are 22 oz, and typically the alcohol content, even of lager, is higher than most American beers. This is roughly the equivalent of 9-10 sixteen ounce pints of beer* or 12.8 twelve ounce cans of beer. So, assuming they sloshed some around, they drank a half-rack each in one sitting. That’s a lot of beer.
So, when Wenger says “things aren’t so bad, you should have seen it back in the day!” that’s what he’s talking about.
But sideshow Rooney is distracting from the real news about this match. Manchester United’s defense is in tatters. Chris Smalling is out with a broken toe, but he was also directly responsible for all of the goals United allowed in their 4-0 loss to Chelsea. United’s best defender Eric Bailly is out for two months with a knee injury. And in the crucial fullback positions, Mourinho has to choose between the disastrous Luke Shaw and the calamitous Marcos Rojo.
That said, we all know exactly what Mourinho is going to do. Like a wounded animal, he’s going to crawl into the den of Old Trafford and set up a defensive perimeter. Then he’ll use Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba on the counter attacks. Pogba will also be a threat in the air on set plays, so Arsenal need to mark him close, or not give away any corners. It will be impossible not to give away free kicks. Because one other thing that has changes since Wenger first came to England is that English players live to dive between the 18 yard box and the center circle. Any contact there earns a free kick in a dangerous area.
Arsenal for their part have injury questions as well. Influential right back Hector Bellerin is injured which will leave Arsene to select Carl Jenkinson in his place. Jenkinson will team up with Theo Walcott on the right and the two of them have a fiery history of not getting along well. Perhaps, Walcott’s new-found attention to defense will help solidify that half of the field.
Usually, against a 4-2-3-1, which is the formation Mourinho prefers, you find spaces around the 2. But Mourinho will snuff this whole thing out. This won’t be 4-2-3-1 but a 4-5-1 with the 1 dropping to harass anyone in the middle with the ball.
Up front, Wenger is probably going to miss Alexis Sanchez. That means either trying something innovative — which is impossible unless the team have been working on it all fall in secret — like putting Özil as a false 9 and moving Ramsey into the 10 (I’d actually switch those, personally) or doing the one thing that they have probably been practicing all fall and just reinstall Inanimate Carbon Giroud in the center forward position.
With Giroud in the team, Arsenal become predictable to defend and to counter. Wide play leads to crosses in the air for Giroud. Giroud also excels at “hold-up play,” which also means “slowing the ball down play.” And Giroud’s pattern on the pitch is to stay very central and not move much from that position.
Wide crosses by Arsenal are going to be easy for United to cut out, they are the larger of the two teams and Fellaini will probably be deployed as a sort of aerial destroyer in defense. And if Arsenal find themselves pressing their fullbacks forward in search of a goal, they will be vulnerable to fast counters down the wings.
All that said, I’m not expecting a competitive match. Both teams lose most of their players to international duty and this is the first match back after that “break”. That means both teams will probably be dead tired, don’t expect a basketball style game with both teams sprinting down the pitch on every play. The game will probably start frenetic, and if Arsenal can weather the storm, settle into a predictable pattern of United defending, countering, and Arsenal marching the ball back up the field. You can flip that script if Arsenal score first.
We have seen this so many times in the past with Mourinho and Wenger, so this should be a predictable football match. No wonder the Wayne Rooney sideshow is getting so much press. It could be the most exciting thing to happen all weekend.
*One of the things I love about England is that their pint glass sizes are regulated by the government. If you go to a pub and order a pint, you will always get 22oz. of beer. There’s even a line on the glass to show the publican to pour the beer to at least that line. In America… pubs cheat all the time. So-called “pounders”, which are supposed to be 16 oz. glasses, will actually be 14oz glasses, a feat they achieve with thick glass. The glass looks the same and feels the same as a pounder glass but next time you’re out for a beer, check the bottom. Is it a thick bottom glass? It’s probably not a 16 oz. glass of beer. This would be unacceptable in England. I’m pretty sure the English people would vote to Brexit any publican who attempted such a dirty trick.