“Sometimes straightforward virtues are the best. In a Premier League that at times seems to have all but given up anything resembling traditional defending, there was something almost comforting about a clash between two sides who play in such a familiar, unpretentious way. This was a reminder of simpler virtues, a world in which the greatest aspiration is to be compact, and produced a sort of mutually assured self-neutralisation, a game in which flair was all but absent and, where it did exist, confined to a tiny sliver on the flanks. That the one goal came from a set piece was entirely appropriate. …” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson
Riyad Mahrez, Diedonnei Mbokani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mohamed Salah are among the stars at the Africa Cup of Nations.
“The pattern has become familiar: a country wins the right to host a tournament and there is excitement, then come doubts about costs and readiness, but in the days before the event, the negativity falls away and excitement takes over. Not here. In 2015, Gabon stepped in to replace Libya as the hosts because of the conflict there but, as the 31st Africa Cup of Nations approaches, there is a clear sense a significant proportion of the country does not want it to happen.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson
“Lock a man in a concrete box for a decade and the chances are he’ll become fascinated by minute changes within his environment–the shifting patterns of the damp on the walls perhaps, or a new crack in the ceiling–and argue vehemently that everything is different now. To everybody else, though, he’s just a man in a concrete box. This is Arsenal.” SI – Jonathan Wilson
“… There he stands. He can’t do it any other way. Which is all fine and noble and laudable. His philosophy has been highly successful, bringing six league titles and two Champions Leagues in seven seasons in management while producing some of the most startling and beautiful football the world has known. If it takes stubbornness, iron will and inflexibility to achieve that, so be it. Great men are rarely easy; vision comes at a cost.” Bleacher Report – Jonathan Wilson
“The World Cup might grow to 40 teams, or it might wind up with 48. It might be eight groups of five or four groups of 10, or there might be 16 seeds and a straight 32-team knockout round to get to join them in the format we have now. Or it might be 16 groups of three. Either way, the endless gigantism stimulated by FIFA presidential elections, as candidates promise more and more nations that they, too, can play in a World Cup, means that the competition will be even more bloated, even more unwieldy by then. Of course, this is 2026 we’re talking about, so there’s a significant chance global political elections by then will mean that by then, as George Orwell foresaw, it’s just three teams: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia.” SI – Jonathan Wilson
“Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Juventus, Roma, Sevilla, Wales, Serbia, Italy, Spain. The list of teams who have played with a back three at some point this season is long, varied and growing. In the Premier League, playing three at the back has spread with extraordinary speed since Chelsea manager Antonio Conte reacted to his side’s defeat at Arsenal by returning to the shape he had favoured with Juventus and Italy.” World Soccer – Jonathan Wilson
“It would, perhaps, be the defining irony of Arsène Wenger’s uneasy relationship with Chelsea if it turns out that when he finally devised a way of beating them it provoked a tactical shift that won the Blues the title. Since Chelsea switched to a back three when 3-0 down at half-time at the Emirates, they have conceded only once, winning seven Premier League games in a row. They passed one major test by coming from behind to beat Tottenham last week but on Saturday represents an even more severe examination as they go to Manchester City.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson