FRIDAY’S BIG STORIES

Arsenal are just perfect

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W L W W W L D W L W L W. That’s how Arsenal’s last 12 results read since starting the Europa League group campaign in mid-October.

Six of those Ws have come in the Europe. The positive? It made them the only team to record a perfect six wins in either the Champions League or Europa League. The negative? It means their Premier League form makes for a far uglier L W L D L L.

It has been a staggering contrast. Joy on Thursday, despair on Sunday. And repeat.

Mikel Arteta may well have expected nothing short of 18 points given Arsenal’s wealth of experience over fellow Group B-ers Dundalk, Molde and Rapid Vienna, but he would not have foreseen their domestic struggles that followed three days later. A tally of 20 goals in Europe compares to just two goal during the same period in the Premier League.

It has been a largely second-string Arsenal side thriving in Europe, too, so at what point do they throw out the lifebelt and haul their Premier League campaign back onto steadier ground? What will it take for Arteta to hand Eddie Nketiah just his second league start of the season? Or perhaps even Nicolas Pepe only his third?

Joe Willock’s European form was at least rewarded with two league starts recently, but he was overlooked at Spurs as Arsenal were left bemoaning their luck (as Rob Holding put it) in front of goal.

Forget luck. Pick players in form and you’ll see the results improve. Nketiah should start at home to Burnley on Sunday – but you just know he won’t.

Group Stages: Complete

So, what next? Arsenal are 15th in the Premier League but still find themselves one of the favourites for the Europa League. Championship and Champions League 2021-22 – here they come.

In fact, the bookmakers have the Gunners among three other English sides as the top-four favourites for the Europa League, with Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Leicester all benefitting from the fact perennial winners Sevilla foolishly decided to finish second in their Champions League group, meaning a last-16 tie with one of Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus or PSG awaits. Oh, joy.

Mourinho questions fairness of teams dropping into Europa League

Serie A trio Milan, Napoli and Roma will certainly have something to say. So too Bayer Leverkusen, Ajax, maybe Benfica or Villarreal, but even with these rose-tinted glasses on it is difficult to get away from the fact this Europa is there for the taking for one of the English sides.

The dangling carrot that is a place in next season's Champions League makes it an enticing trophy to chase. What it may do to their respective league campaigns remains to be seen – ‘What league campaign?’ we hear Arsenal fans ask – but there is a rather nice Narrative™ for each club that makes it a worthwhile pursuit.

Dele did what?

He made the 55-man shortlist for the FIFPRO Men’s World XI. And louder for the people at the back. HE MADE THE 55-MAN SHORTLIST FOR THE FIFPRO MEN’S WORLD XI.

Dele Alli waves to his adoring fans

Image credit: Getty Images

That’s right, Tottenham’s Dele Alli is one of 15 midfielders to make the cut ahead of the December 17 announcement. The public, I tell you, can’t trust them to vote seriou- wait, what? FIFPRO and FIFA invited, and I quote, “all professional footballers worldwide to vote for the World 11”?

That’s right (again), it is the players themselves who have somehow selected Deli Alli – a man who has totalled 66 minutes of Premier League football so far this season, and started just 10 league games in 2020 – to rank among the best 15 midfielders of the year.

It’s hardly his fault, and he won’t make the final XI, but it does make you wonder what they’re watching. Next you’ll tell me 37-year-old Dani Alves made the shortlist for the umpteenth time because he’s one of few right-backs people seem to remember. Oh, wait, he did…

IN OTHER NEWS

Some pictures to warm the soul - Wolves striker Raul Jimenez returned to the club's training ground to pay a visit not even a couple of weeks after his horrific head injury against Arsenal.

Raul Jimenez with Nuno at Wolves' training ground

Image credit: Getty Images

Raul Jimenez with Nuno and his Wolves team-mates

Image credit: Getty Images

Raul Jimenez with Wolves team-mate Adama Traore

Image credit: Getty Images

RETRO CORNER

We normally go digging for results on this day but sometimes we check birthdays as well, so while we wish many happy returns to Nigel Winterburn and Leighton Baines, let’s raise a glass to ‘The White Feather’ Fabrizio Ravanelli as well, their now-52-yeae-old fellow Sagittarius who back in 1996 announced his arrival as a Middlesbrough player (for a year) by scoring a hat-trick against Liverpool on his debut. He’d go on to score 32 goals in 12 months but couldn’t prevent Boro from relegation, and he then returned to the Premier League in 2001 when he joined Derby, with whom he also tasted relegation. Ah.

COMING UP

The weekend. In football terms, the weekend starts on Friday night with Leeds at home to West Ham. Come Saturday you have a Manchester derby and Madrid derby to look forward to as well as Chelsea’s trip to Everton. And Sunday? A quintet of Premier League games, including Spurs at Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Fulham. Enjoy, and see you for the Warm-Up on Monday.

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