Football Management: Rocket Science?

January 21, 2012

Written by MickyDidIt89

I do wonder how difficult all this football management malarkey really is. You see, I’m a Rocket Scientist and even that, which is so often used as the benchmark clever dick occupation, is not that hard either.

However, for the purposes of this article, I think it would be fair for me to clarify my qualifications as a Rocket Scientist. Picture this. November 5th 1989, on the flat roof of a top floor flat in West London, and I have decided to host my own fireworks display. Well, when I say fireworks, what I mean is firework singular. I pooled my then very limited resources into securing ten of the largest rockets I could find. I then thought what a brilliant idea it would be to dismantle them and construct one enormous rocket to amuse and entertain myself, my chums and anyone else in the W11 area of Notting Hill Gate. With the aid of the top section of a police cone, some gaffer tape, the suitably firm inner cardboard tube from a roll of carpet and some fuse-like string, I thought to myself how simple but effective this was going to be. I could illuminate the night sky to whoops of joy from all around, and how clever they will all think I am.

All did not end well. The pointy bit did enter the night sky. The remainder, unhappily, did not. The down blast from the launch pad, or chimney pot, caused much discomfort to the pervert below in Flat 4 as his sealed chimney re-opened, while events that followed became known locally as the The Elgin Crescent Affair. I cannot for legal reasons go into what followed, other than to say that my knowledge of my neighbours’ less than savoury “hobby” was enough to ensure a settlement was reached.

Now onto this Football Management stuff. No stats man me, but my money says that there is most probably a close correlation between amount spent and final league position. You finish above your allotted slot, and you have done well. Below, not so good. I have no idea what our final place should be on account of this formula, but we cannot be far off. Then, throw in the hand of Lady Luck with her non-penalties, intervention of woodwork, injuries and so on and it’s easy to see what a fickle mistress Lady L can be.

A few seasons ago, we finished about ten points behind the eventual champions, and I realised that an additional five goals could have seen us winners (turning a 0-0 draw into a 1-0 defeat of close rivals would have been transformed into two extra points for ourselves while denying them one).

While we approach the business end of the transfer window, I ask myself what it is that would enhance my season. The answer is a light dusting of magic. Nothing too practical, but someone to help lift the gloom during these shadowy and austere times. Someone to illuminate the dark winter skies above The Emirates. Unlike my rocket.

Even us brainbox Rocket Scientists get it wrong occasionally, but you know what, it’s about giving it a go. So what’s a Football Manager to do? Entertain, perform with dignity and style, give it a go and lighten our weekends with a sprinkling of hope and anticipation. We may end up above our allotted place, and then there’s always the possibility of a Trophy along the way. It’s all a bit like building a rocket to entertain your chums. There’s always the chance that it might come off, but so long as you are aiming for the stars, who knows, it may work.  I think we are doing alright really.

Arsenal the four man team – RVP not the MVP?

January 20, 2012

Written by Double98

Robin van Persie, the balon d’or snubbed, true king of world football, has been reeling in the plaudits for his exceptional scoring feats in 2011. By eclipsing Thierry Henry’s mark of 34 goals in a calendar year, and particularly by playing in a less competitive and more transitional team, he has booked himself a seat in the waiting room of the Pantheon of Arsenal Greats.

Of course he has to repeat the feat a couple of times and win a pot or two to get past the final interview stage to  join Bastin, Wright, Adams etc as they all bask in the glow of eternal goodness of Denis Bergkamp and his able Deputy Thierry Henry.

Of course it has been easy for the press to label Arsenal a “one man team” when one man is always on the score sheet, when one man is always applying an audacious flourish to his finish. That’s lazy journalism. Judging Arsenal in that way is like buying a car because of how fast it goes. You need to know a lot more about a car and its vulnerabilities before you can decide whether to buy it or not.

Arsenal’s true vulnerability is that it is not a One Man team – one man teams are easy to address with 1 or 2 signings – it is in fact a Four Man team.

Since the season began the team has had a few chiropractic realignments due to the loss of Fabregas and now the spine is populated by (Keeper aside) Vermaelan, Arteta, Song and Van Persie.

An easy way to judge a person’s contribution is to compare how the team do with and without them. It’s not conclusive but outside of a clinical setting, its as moneyball as you get.

The Raw data

I’ve included two substitute appearances for Vermaelan and van Persie. So the first thing that leaps out is RVP has yet to miss a game – that’s startling given his history.

Arteta despite concerns over his fitness had played every game bar one, Song is almost ever present – while the Verminator’s attendance is a concern.

Moving on to the data analysis, the teams results are examined on each players participation  record.

(Now before you get to digest the next bit, I want to let you in on a secret – this article started about a three man team and I thought I would see how our new Spanish Scouser impacted the team – it forced a complete rewrite!!)

According to this when Arteta is playing, we win 65% of our games and only lose less than 1 in 4. Van Persie on the other hand (likely due to his ever presence) has the worst team record but his personal haul is exceptional!

Vermaelan’s record is strange as he has the lowest win and (almost) the lowest loss ratio.

Now, I am not suggesting that RVP is not vitally important but I think this quick number crunch highlights the shared responsibility of our spine. And I know there are mitigating factors left (back), right (back) and Centre (forward) but the truth (or the damned lie) is, that our “Quarter Back” central midfielder, Arteta is our MVP and his contribution most dictates the fortunes of the team – through dictating the tempo and controlling possession.

Altogether the spine is our greatest strength and perhaps our greatest weakness. For when one part of the spine is missing the whole team does not function. See here when all four play / don’t play.

Wow – We’ve lost half our games that the 4 of these players did not play in, whereas we have not lost 90% when they have.

We can moan about Left Backs, Right backs, and Chamakhs, we can complain about Squillaci, Arshavin and Walcott but our real problem is an over reliance on the 4 players playing together though the centre of our team. That level of consistency is not feasible over a season. If they could, get this, projecting their performance out over a 38 game season would result in a points haul of 84 but when one or more of the four are playing the haul is 48. That’s quite a swing. In fact that’s the difference between a Title and a relegation flirtation.

When 2 of the four are missing its Pld 4 W 0 D1 L3!!!

That just shows how close / far away we are from realising Arsene’s vision and all our hopes.

What we need is Koscielny, Mertesacker, Wilshere, Coquelin and (Park, Chamakh, Walcott, OX) to either fill the gaps in that spine adequately or ship out.

Our young players need to concentrate on being not just good, but vital.

Sir Alex Ferguson. Arsenal Manager.

January 19, 2012

Ahead of the Big Game at the Weekend….. A “What if “…….

Charybdis.  If you value your health ….. don’t read this.

Some of our younger bloggers may not know that Sir Alex Ferguson almost became Arsenal manager before Mr Graham. The Don Howe era had come to a sticky end with Steve Burtenshaw acting as caretaker manager, therefore Ferguson who was the hot young manager following his superb job at Aberdeen was approached by Arsenal and according to him,  turned them down after lengthy negotiations. Rebuffed, the Board signed the young Millwall manager, George Graham.

But what if Sir Alex had agreed?

It may be a controversial viewpoint but perhaps the Board made a mistake in not signing him, a mistake up there with missing out on Gullit and Maradona and Ronaldo!

At the time SAF went to MU who were quite frankly, a club in the midst of decline. (at the time of his signing MU had gone 20 years without winning the League ) much as we were. It took a Scotsman to change both of our fortunes.

Could SAF have taken us to the EC and all those trophies?  Would we give up the wonderful football and the Invincibles for the SAF trophy cabinet? I can’t answer for you but I have to say it is a difficult question to answer. Imagine Cantona strutting the fields of Highbury- But against that who could imagine living without the warm cuddly feeling of having seen the genius of DB10? Because SAF may not have signed him.

Could the Board have put up with SAF’s tantrums and his need to have total control? Would they have allowed a manager to break the transfer record again and again? Could they countenance having a £35m reserve (Berbatov)?

Whatever we may think of Mr Wenger as a football tactician what is clear is that the modern Arsenal is a reflection of our urbane manager. Mr Wenger has been able to maintain our reputation as a club with class and a wonderful heritage,; a club of almost unimpeachable honesty (apart from the sorry business affairs of GG). I doubt whether we would be in this position had SAF in charge because the same can be said of MU – they are a reflection of their manager; aggressive, over-sensitive to criticism, bullies with a built -in sense of importance, arrogant – The Cocks of the North!

AW has an acceptance of change and the need for cutting edge technology hence the youth policy and the development of  superb youngsters from Anelka through Fabregas to Wilshere; who has SAF brought through since the Becks, Scholes era? And yet SAF has built at least 3 great teams in his MU career.

Would SAF have allowed Cesc to leave? If so, Cesc would have gone on crutches and for €20m more than Barca paid. For SAF the club is everything, he couldn’t give a monkey’s cuss about a players feelings. OK, Ronaldo left but who could turn down €80+m and then go on to win the league title the season after? Whatever we may think of Sir Alex as a man, he is a colossus of a manager.

There can be little question Arsenal under SAF (given that they won the same number of trophies) would have become a bigger worldwide attraction and have the international status that is the domain of MU (let’s be honest, we are minnows compared to them in this area).

Mr. Wenger has been, in my opinion, the perfect fit for Arsenal since the day he walked through the Marble Hall and the bust of Herb, but it is an amusing diversion to imagine how things could be different, which is what occupies Big Raddy whilst waiting for the minestrone to boil. Such is the mind of an Arsenal (and football) obsessive.

Written by Big Raddy

Invincibles versus VanPersibles: How Many of Today’s Team Would Get in the 2004 Vintage?

January 18, 2012

First off, I accept that this is a pretty unfair comparison.

To rank any Arsenal team from any era against the most feted group of Gunners ever to have worn the sacred cannon is clearly destined to be a mismatch.

It’s a bit like comparing Dan Brown with Charles Dickens, or Boyzone with the Beatles.

But I have noticed a few comments recently (including yesterday from Chary) alleging that, for several years now, we have been replacing good players with new players of slightly lower quality, and then replacing those ones with slightly lower quality again and so on. A kind of downward inflation.

We may not now be in the worst of times, but it made me wonder how far we have fallen since the greatest of times. How close would any of the current first team get to starting in the Arsenal eleven of 2003/4?

I am taking as our current First XI (with everyone fit):


Our first choice first team from 2003/4 was:

So let’s do the Head-to-Head.

Szczesny or Lehmann

No contest. Mad he may have been, but Jens Lehmann was the best ‘keeper in the Premiership that season. Szczesny will turn into a great player, but he is still learning his trade and, inevitably, makes costly mistakes. Lehmann.

Sagna or Lauren

Tough call this one. Sagna has been one of our most consistent players of recent years. Ralph was equally consistent during the unbeaten season.  They are both no-nonsense, uncomplicated defenders capable of focusing fully for the whole game. I’m going to shade this one Sagna’s way because he is a bit more dynamic getting forward. Sagna.

Koscielny or Toure

If Koscielny keeps progressing it may not be too long before he can eclipse Kolo Toure. But for now, Kolo’s athleticism, speed and strength win the day. Toure.

Vermaelen or Campbell

Again very close, but Campbell was the rock upon which our Invincibles defence was built. A double wardrobe with a Ferrari engine, Campbell must have been a nightmare to play against. Campbell.

Santos or Cole

Santos may become an Arsenal great, but right now this is a no-contest. The greedy Chav wins hands down. Cole.

Song or Gilberto

Alex Song is a more gifted all-round footballer, but for protecting the defence against all comers it has to be the Invincible Invisible Wall. He wasn’t spectacular, but, boy, did he know his job. Gilberto.

Vieira or Wilshere

Bad luck Jack. Against most midfielders who have played for Arsenal you might have won this one, but I’m afraid no-one can displace the unmatchable Paddy V. Vieira.

Arteta or Pires

OK, OK… this is where the exercise breaks down a bit because a 4-3-3 is different from a 4-4-2. Let’s just say that, good though Arteta is (and his absence on Sunday helped reinforce his importance), it has to be Le Bob. Pires.

Walcott or Ljungberg

Freddie was never the most gifted of players, but his intelligence made him one of the most effective wide men in the business, always arriving in the box at the right moment and choosing the right option. Sadly, when it comes to footballing intelligence and taking the right option, Theo does not rate so highly. Ljungberg.

Van Persie or Bergkamp

Two Dutch Masters. Bergkamp played ‘in the hole’ – a position in which Robin would also possibly thrive. But even after his goal scoring exploits of the last year, RvP cannot displace the greatest player ever to have pulled on the famous red and white. Bergkamp.

Gervinho or Henry

Close call, this one. OK, just kidding. Henry.

So there we have it. From our current first team only Sagna, by my reckoning, would have a chance of being a starter in our Invincible eleven (and even that is a close call).

What does this tell us?

That the years of being a bit boracic because of the stadium build have led to us downgrading the quality of our players, as Chary and others suggest?

That we are currently an unambitious club unwilling to spend on world class players the like of which we had in 2003/4?

That football has changed so much since 2004 (when it was really a toss up between us and Manchester Utd for the title each year) that we will never again be able to achieve such dominance because of the arrival of the sugar daddy clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City?

Or that, back in 2004, we were just incredibly, freakishly lucky to have several of the best players in the world all playing together, supported by ruthlessly professional team mates and a winning ethic that enabled us to steamroller all opposition?

Have we fallen so far because of self-inflicted mistakes, or is it just the swings and roundabouts of football, in which success is difficult to achieve and sometimes difficult to understand, while failure is an ever-present possibility (just look at Liverpool and the Spuds) for which everyone claims to know the reason and whom to blame?

What do you think?


Seven days on and still reliving the return of King Henry

January 17, 2012

We’re a bit in the doldrums here at Arsenal Arsenal. At the moment we’re still numb from the defeat on Sunday and finding it hard to be upbeat and forward thinking. Our twin posts today are in celebration of the return of Thierry Henry. Hopefully our bloggers will come out from behind the sofa and remember the positives of this season so far, but don’t let that stop you commenting on where we go from here.

Written by Total Arsenal

On Monday 9th January 2012, we, the Gooners, witnessed a truly special moment. The return of King Henry to the Home of Football was not just a joyous occasion, it was also magical; even a near-spiritual, transcendental experience for all those present at The Emirates and, to a lesser extent, to those who watched the game in pubs or at home. What made it all the more special was Henry’s response to the occasion: he, himself, wanted this return so much, but just like us had not believed it possible anymore. From an unknown player he had grown into a legend at Arsenal, to then become an ex-player and transform in a fan for life. This fan was given the unique opportunity to play for the club he had fallen in love with. For TH14/12 this meant the world.

On these rare moments, when a pivotal part of the glorious Arsenal past is brought back into the future, and we are being allowed – against all expectations – to experience it once again in its full intensity, we all know we are witnessing/taking part in something truly special.

The scene was set beautifully for Thierry. Arsenal were struggling to break down a stubborn Leeds to such an extent that the return of Henry was not just a luxury Arsene could afford itself – no, it had become a necessity. We needed a shot in the arm, a spark to lift the place and that is exactly what he gave us that night.

What followed next will be remembered by every Gooner for decades to come. Thierry’s goal was a good goal, but by itself not a great goal. What made it a great goal is totally down to its historical value. It was a trademark Henry goal, showing us all again how important it is for a player to move in the right positions, and what it means for a striker to make a great first touch in the box. He basically took on the ball in such a way that he used his right foot like a hockey stick: at the same time as he touched the ball with his foot he allowed his body to move ever so slightly away from the ball, in order to line himself up perfectly for a deadly second touch. He sat himself up with the best possible angle to place his diagonal shot, low and precise, past the keeper and in the corner of the goal.

At that moment in time I literally pinched myself, thinking this is too bizarre to be true, that I must be dreaming. I had never expected to see one of my three greatest Arsenal heroes back playing real football for us. To see him score such a quintessential TH14 goal, the only goal on a dull night, was simply magical.

When something truly special happens, people will express themselves in heartfelt superlatives. To prove just that, here are some of the comments from fellow AA’ers:

Peaches: Thierry ……. ahhhh Thierry, he just loves playing for Arsenal and we just love having him back. How fantastic for those youngsters to play and train alongside him for the next few weeks. Almost too good to be true and I was there.’…. ‘We can discuss formations and players good and bad points for eternity but tonight one man and his song and our song raised the roof at The Emirates and made thousands of gooners very happy. He’s really special our Thierry Henry, be in no doubt ………

MickyDidIt89: ‘We [Micky and his son] watched the game. First half…dull, but the conversation kept coming. “Just imagine Dad, 0-0, maybe 1-1 and Thierry comes on to score the winner”. Later I put him to bed, kissed him goodnight and turned off the light. As I closed the door I heard a whisper: “Dad….can’t wait to tell my friends at school tomorrow that I saw Thierry come on and score the winner for The Arsenal”.
Best part for me? Not TH, not the win but being with my Son the moment he experienced his first real piece of Arsenal Magic.’

Chas: ‘I’ve never seen excitement like that in an Emirates upper tier crowd. People on their feet singing and dancing, it really was the second coming……A bizarre night at the football, as if it was scripted, yet pulsing with an expectant excitement.’

VCC: ‘Needless to say we had a ball last night down our local, high fives all round after The King scored.’

Big Raddy: ‘Does it get better than that moment? To be treasured forever.’

SharkeySure: ‘A living eulogy !!!!!’

TMHT: ‘Thierry and Arsenal is like a fairytale. Wonderful stuff.’

FGG: ‘I’ve died and gone to heaven!’

Seven days on from that fantastic evening, our feet have been put firmly back on the ground again. However tough the next few months MIGHT be though, nobody will be able to take that great night, in which we witnessed the temporary return of the King, away from us. A night we will remember for decades to come – a modern day fairytale.

Written by Illybongani

On Monday night the Emirates stadium witnessed the rebirth of one of football’s all-time greats – Thierry Henry. Almost 5 years since he left for greener grass in Spain the mercurial goal machine returned home to visit his family after travelling round a bit to see the world.

When the loan deal was first mooted a few eyebrows were raised; was it just Arsène being tight and not bothering to put is short arms in his long pockets again? Was it just a sentimental grab for a handful of straw that would only sully a reputation cast in bronze on the plaza outside the stadium? Or was it another shrewd piece of business by the Professor to fill in gaps left by Chamakh and Gervinho who have gone off to the African Nations Cup?

Well we found out on Monday night didn’t we? If he doesn’t score another goal in his 6-week home visit then it will all have been worth it. Someone needs to get on Wikipedia and update that scoring record.

Thierry coming home was like having sex with your ex-wife…you know it used to be good, she knew what turned you on and almost always delivered – but after a long break, she’s put on a few pounds and has a few wrinkles. But, heh, maybe she’s learned some new tricks since the break up! Well she managed to give me a semi on Monday!

Well it wasn’t a new trick, it was the same old stuff that he delivered year after year. Clinical with passion. But this time it felt so much more special. But yet it showed just how far backwards we have gone since he left. The poor performance of the rest of the team against an even poorer Leeds left a sour taste in the mouth.

Isn’t it time we divorced Chamakh and Arshavin on the grounds of diminished ability? And maybe it’s time to end the trial separation of Thierry and us? We forgive you darling – now come home where you belong.

Worrying Signs: Match Report and Player Ratings

January 16, 2012

The most frustrating thing is that, after a disastrous start to the season, we had done the hard bit.

Written off by everyone, we somehow battled back up the table, all the way to the top four.

A team that seemed to have been cobbled together off the back of Steptoe and Son’s wagon on the last day of the transfer window was starting to look like it could really do the business.

But four points from 12 in our last four games tells its own story.

There are mitigating factors, which I will go into later. But there were also some very worrying signs from yesterday’s defeat  – signs that have also been evident in most of our recent games.

Perhaps most damaging is the fact that some of our senior players seem to be undergoing a drop in form at the same time. I am thinking particularly of Walcott and Song here, who were both very poor yesterday. Others who have been out of form for a long time (like Arshavin) have not stepped up to fill the gap.

We had been getting results while having Arshavin, Chamakh and Djourou off form. But now we are carrying too many players having bad games on a regular basis.

In my darkest moments after the game I began to wonder whether the malaise that afflicted the team in the final third of last season has resurfaced this year.

The symptoms last season were:

  • Too many players going through the motions.
  • Seeming lack of commitment and effort from some players.
  • Over-reliance on van Persie to score the goals.
  • Throwing away leads – turning winning positions into losing ones.
  • Keystone Cops defending.

To a greater or lesser degree all of the above have been evident in our recent matches.

There were few heroes for us yesterday. Koscielny and van Perise were the stand out players, but many of the others were below the standard we should expect of them.

In fairness, we were up against a confident and skillful side. The Swans were a pleasure to watch. They play the game properly, they are committed rather than dirty and they clearly have great team spirit.

Their performance in pressing us all game long, then keeping the ball with composure and panache should be a lesson to us. There are no world class stars in their line-up, but every player knows his job and is confident that his team mates are doing their jobs.

I won’t do a full match report, but suffice to say that when Robin opened the scoring I really thought we were finally going to break loose and give somebody the hammering that we have been threatening in most of our first half performances in recent weeks.

Swansea got back into it with what looked a soft penalty (I thought Ramsey managed to pull his leg out of the way before making contact, but the replays were inconclusive).  Once level, their confidence rose and they started to play really well.

Most of the stats (possession, corners, attempts on goal) show that we were second best, so Swansea probably deserved their second goal.  It came from an Arshavin hospital pass to Ramsey, who had Joe Allen on top of him as he received the ball. When it was played to Swansea’s right, Dyer was unmarked on the edge of the box (our temporary left back, Miquel, had lost his bearings) and he shot past Szczesney, who might have done better.

So, once again, we had managed to turn a winning position into a losing one. How would we respond? Quite well, as it happened. Walcott found some space for once, Djourou played a long ball through the channel and Theo was one-on-one. I confess to assuming he would fluff it, but instead he finished calmly. Game on again! But not for long.

Within seconds of the restart we were behind again. Swansea was able to win the ball far too easily in midfield despite the presence of several Arsenal players. A couple of quick passes, a simple through ball and Danny Graham was able to tuck in a soft goal which turned out to be the winner. ,Szczesney had started to come, confusing the chasing Koscielny, then changed his mind and ended up in a bad position.

Afterwards we huffed and puffed. Thierry Henry came on but this time there was no magic ending. The best chance, sadly, fell to Mertesacker a yard from goal. He somehow contrived to strike the ball with the side of his heel when any normal contact would surely have produced the equaliser.

I mentioned mitigating factors.

We have been without any recognized full backs for many weeks now and this has undoubtedly been a contributing factor in our problems.

Two of Swansea’s goals came from our left back position and, on both occasions, Miquel was nowhere to be seen. I’m not blaming him. It’s not his position and he seems a really good prospect, but we are suffering for a lack of specialist full backs.

Also we were without guaranteed starters Vermaelen, Arteta and Gervinho, not to mention Wilshere.

But we should still have enough quality to overcome such problems. If this year’s squad responds to these setbacks with the same lack of moral fibre as last year’s, then we are in for a very bumpy second half of the season.

Top four is still very achievable, but we have made it so, so hard for ourselves.

If Arsene has a magic hat, it’s time to put it on.

Player Ratings

Szczesney: Poor for the second and third Swansea goals. I wish people would stop this “World’s Number One” nonsense. He’s a promising young ‘keeper who may be the number one in four or five years time – but only if he learns from the mistakes that are starting to cost us points on a regular basis. 4

Djourou: Did OK while playing out of position and made a fine pass for Walcott’s goal. But he does not inspire confidence and has a habit of playing the opposing forwards onside by not moving up with the rest of the defence after set pieces have been cleared. 5

Mertesacker: Generally did well but should have scored in the dying minutes. He gets shoved off the ball too easily at times but his passing was good, once again. 6

Koscielny:  Made a slow start, losing possession a few times in the first 15 minutes, but then settled into the sort of battling performance to which we have become accustomed. Went marauding forward at the end in search of an equalizer, taking a leaf out of Vermaelen’s book. 7

Miquel: Promising youngster, but he’s not a left back and he left us badly exposed at times. 4

Song: I don’t know if his head is at the ACN, but Song is way off form at the moment. He seemed sloppy, lackadaisical, careless with possession and even allowed himself to get muscled off the ball on a regular basis. We need the dynamic Song back pretty pronto. 4

Ramsey: Non-stop effort, but his end product has to improve. Often he seems to do all the hard stuff, wriggling out of impossible situations or shaking off defenders only to trip over his own feet or misplace a five yard pass. I feel he will be a great Arsenal player when it all comes together, but right now he is hit and miss. 6

Benayoun: Plenty of hustle and bustle, but Benny seemed a bit slight and was bundled off the ball too easily. He doesn’t get many starts so I don’t want to be over critical, but he didn’t really stamp his authority on the game. 5

Arshavin: Looked lightweight and shorn of confidence. Under pressure he often chooses the wrong option and plays a colleague into trouble, as was the case in the build up to Swansea’s second goal. I doubt if many Arsenal fans watching the game expected him to make anything happen. 4

Walcott: I’m starting to lose faith in Theo. So many times he picked the wrong option, so many times he seemed clueless when in good positions.  He should not be starting ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain on this form. He would have had a “3”, but gets an extra point for the goal. 4

Van Persie: Whenever he had the ball he looked pure class. Unfortunately he did not get enough good service to show his class often enough. Took his goal superbly. 7.5 (Arsenal’s MoTM, although a couple of Swansea players would have received “9”s).


Henry: Didn’t get the chance to do much, but was a darn sight better than Arshavin or Walcott.

Rosicky: Helped drive us forward. Might have been a better starting option that Benayoun.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: Direct and strong – did his chances of getting a starting berth absolutely no harms at all.


Holding Out for a Hero. Will Thierry start? Match preview

January 15, 2012

A real 3 pointer today, what with Spurs and Liverpool dropping points at home.

We all know that Swansea are a very difficult side to beat at the Liberty Stadium, in fact only MU have won there this season. The Swans have conceded just 4 goals at home  (compared to AFC’s 6)  and have drawn half their home games (5/10) Spurs gained a very squeaky point a couple of weeks ago and Swansea will go into the game full of confidence.

Beating Swansea at THOF was our first victory of the season, it was back when we were awful , only a first half Arshavin goal securing the points. It is testament to Swansea that we should consider this fixture as “tough” –  who would have thought so when Swansea were promoted? Most AFC pundits would be happy to leave Wales with a point, but if we are to push for an automatic CL place we must have higher ambitions.


Remember how to do this Andrei?

Our lack of full backs has disrupted the team of recent weeks and any manager worth his salt will target our flanks; 26% of Swansea passes go out to the right wing and in Scott Sinclair and Routledge they  have players who can cause us problems, though it could be worse – they could use the left flank 🙂 Dare we go into the game with Miquel and JD as our full backs or would we be better served by playing Squillaci in the centre and moving Koscielny to the left?

Midfield is where today’s game will be won, Song is a hugely important and should he regain his form we will have the platform to win. Apart from the super pass to TH on Monday (still feeling the elation?) Song has not been playing up his very high standards, his passing haas been shaky and he doesn’t seem to know what his exact role is in midfield – is he a link player, a DM or an attacking midfielder? Fluidity amongst ARS is all well and good but sometimes it doesn’t gel.

Henry, Benayoun or Ashavin to replace Gervinho? I would select Arshavin who really tried hard on Monday and bring on TH after 70 mins. Can you remember the last time Meerkat played a full game?

Interesting stats: We have conceded in all bar 2 of our last 17 away games. We have had 9 shots cleared off the line – the highest in the PL. Only 14% of our goals have been scored from set pieces – the lowest in the PL.

My Team:

We have a very strong bench (apart from GK).  Benayoun, The Ox, Henry, Rosicky, Squillaci or Yennaris.

Inventor from Swansea?  Sir William Grove. Not only a High Court Judge but also the inventor of the fuel cell which is still used today in space rockets. Sir William is one of The 100 Welsh Heroes. Of course, Swansea is better known for giving birth to stars of the Arts including, amongst a wealth of others, Dylan Thomas, Anthony Hopkins, Sir Richard Burton and the great Bonnie Tyler.

“Come on you Swans!”

Can the return of Thierry fire up the team? Today will be a test as Swansea are on a fine run of form and we are not. Toothless sans RvP we have to find more goals from midfield. A tingling in my fingers is telling me Ramsey will score today on his return to his homeland.


Written by Big Raddy


There is no ‘I’ in Team, but every bit of ‘Persie’ in Leadership

January 14, 2012

Almost a year ago, in the Evening Standard of 20 January 2011, Arsene Wenger was quoted at saying:

We have a shared leadership in our team, but I believe Fabregas is an outstanding leader, especially when you consider he is 23 years old, with personality and character and Van Persie as well….I believe what is important in the way we want to play football is that everyone takes responsibility.

Back then, it was looking okay for Arsenal, as we had everything to fight for and the following six weeks, all the way to March, were the best of the season, cumulating in that emphatic win over Barcelona at home. We all know what came next: three months of weak and unforgivably lack-lustre football in which we almost lost everything. The only reason we finished fourth, so important for the CL, was the fact that the season ended just in time: had it lasted another four games, Arsenal would not have made it, so bloody poor had we become.

Where was the ‘shared leadership’ then, who was taking responsibility and where was the personality and character to see us through all of that?

Wenger has never openly shared the fans’ concerns regarding leadership during the Henry and Fabregas captaincy eras. He always seemed to downplay the importance of having a strong individual leader/captain on the pitch, and to stress the importance of having leadership throughout the team. Well, I think he was both right and wrong with those views on leadership, and looking at the ‘New Arsenal’ of 2011-2012 it looks like Wenger himself came to a similar conclusion over the summer, and subsequently made the necessary changes.

For many seasons, ever since Vieira left, a great number of Gooners have been saying that Arsenal lacked real leadership on the pitch. Many of us were longing for the powerful, outspoken, ‘heart on the sleeve’ leadership during the years of Adams and Vieira. Henry and Fabregas were brilliant at leading by example but most of us felt something was missing: they were not naturally born leaders and as a result were struggling with some vital aspects of leadership we were craving for.

When Arsene announced that Robin van Persie would become our new captain over the summer, not everyone was convinced it was a good idea. The main reason for this appeared to be the fact that he is a striker, and therefore not positioned centrally enough in the team to be able to lead it adequately. TH14 captaincy is generally seen as not a very successful one, and understandably, many fans drew a comparison between his previous captaincy and RvP’s anticipated stint at it.

For me Fabregas, was not an effective leader. I see him as a specialist, somebody who really wants to be part of a team and play an important but TECHNICAL role within it. Often, people who are technically very good at what they do, are promoted into a leadership role without proper consideration whether they are actually suitable for it (within sport as well as in business). The main reasons are: a desire to reward people for their contributions to the team/organisation and a fear of losing a particular player/member of staff if they are not promoted instantly. The consequences can be very dire. Fabregas led by example, but he is naturally quite introvert and combined with an injury-strewn season and his anticipated move to Barcelona, he was not able to lead the team through those horrible last three months. Moreover, there was hardly any shared leadership and taking of responsibility by the rest of the team with the exception of Van Persie, Wilshire, Koscielny Song and Sagna. It was time for a chance.

Robin van Persie: the perfect captain

What a difference a season makes. Robin van Persie has turned out to be the excellent leader we have all been craving for:

  • RvP leads by example: not just with his incredible scoring record, but also with his high energy-levels. He never spares himself, always gives everything and plays with his heart on his sleeve. He will also stand up for his players and let nobody be bullied by the opposition;
  • RvP is blessed with a high level of social-emotional intelligence: he understands what is going on inside other players, and is able to support them accordingly, on and off the pitch;
  • RvP is extrovert: he is not a constant shouter, but he likes to talk to this fellow players and make himself known when things are not going right;
  • RvP is a great communicator: with the crowd/fans – an ambassador for the club. When, for example, he scored the winner against Sunderland with a brilliant free-kick, he took off his shirt which resulted in a yellow card being issued to him, but this was his way of showing the crowd how much Arsenal (winning) meant to him, and the crowd responded to it in equal measures. He interviews well, always smiles and is able to focus on the positives: he always represents the club professionally and with real passion – a true ambassador;
  • RvP is a great communicator: ‘liaison-manager’ between the players and the management. He has got the respect of Wenger and the players and seems to be able to translate messages, up and down, and down and up, effectively;
  • RvP can combine with ease his own ‘specialism’: scoring goals a plenty and creating chances for others, with his responsibility of leading the team;
  • RvP is team player/ team builder: he always wants to celebrate his goals with others in the team and he will always praise, on and off the pitch, contributions made by others.

As the saying goes there is no ‘I’ in team – but there is every bit of ‘PERSIE’ in leadership!

So, there you have it: RvP is the perfect captain. But, there is more! And this is why I am so extra-excited about the near future for our beloved Arsenal.

The ‘New Arsenal’ is brimming with leadership

We now have real ‘shared leadership’ throughout the spine of the team, and for Wenger to have achieved this in such a short period of time, is simply astonishing. From Szczesny to Vermaelen, Mertesaker and Koscielny, to Song and Arteta, to Ramsey and Van Persie, we now have a core in the team who give their all and take responsibility when things go wrong. Mertesacker was like the devil –possessed in his attempts to break down the Wolves wall on Boxing Day, as he was earlier in the season at Blackburn away. Vermaelen’s ‘Terminator-like’, beastly hunger to score an equaliser against Man City is another great example of our players taking responsibility and wanting to make things happen for Arsenal. Szczesny attempts to organise his defence, with his verbal and physical dominance, are so different of what we have seen from Almunia and co, and the joint desire by the defence to fight for clean sheets is also very encouraging. This, as yet, is not always leading to the desired outcomes, but it’s only a matter of time before we will pick the fruits of this shift in mentality.

Arteta, Ramsey and Song, all wear their hearts on the sleeve. The ARS of the team works phenomenally hard and is the engine of it. I feel Arteta and Song are more of the introvert type, who stick to a task well and will never let the team down. Ramsey is probably more likely to become a future leader, but he is focussing on improving his technical performances first, at this stage of his career.

Theo, The Gerv, Jenkinson, Gibbs and Santos are also good team players who work hard and give their all for the team, and there are now plenty of good players on our bench who care for the club and will fight for it. This really is a new Arsenal, with a new mindset, and as Arsene likes to call it, bags full of ‘mental strength’.

Jack Wilshere – the final link

For me, the final, missing leadership-link in the spine of our team is Jack Wilshere. Wilshere is a born leader who just gives that extra-10% to our midfield with his hunger, extrovert leadership skills and unbelievable ability to command the midfield. For me, he instantly turned into a man when we beat Barcelona at home last season: what he showed during that game was simply astonishing. Future Arsenal and England teams will be build around him, and as soon as he returns into our team we will make a big jump forward.

As said in previous posts, this is a transitional year for Arsenal. I believe that all the ingredients are there for a long period of success and dominance in the PL, and possibly in Europe. No team can do without great leadership throughout the team: it is one of the key pillars of sustained success. I have little doubt that the ‘narrow’ spine of Szczesny – Vermaelen – Song – Wilshere – RvP will be the strongest in the country for years to come, and with RvP we have the best leader of them all.



Would everybody stop shouting shoot!

January 13, 2012

Of all the things that disconcert me about the Emirates experience one of the most boring and unnecessary is the crowd shouting shoot when a player is anywhere inside the opposition half.

I mainly sit in the lower tier when I can get a ticket and behind one of the goals. At the Wolves game a number of build up passes would be greeted with growing cries of shoot, no problem you would think, but the perspective from the lower tier is such that when the ball is up the other end there is no way you can judge how far the ball carrier is out from goal or otherwise. I tried to encourage those around me to look for the only lines visible to us the 18 yard box vertical markings (the vertical ones if you are looking from the goal..the ones that are 18yards long….shall I draw a diagram?). Using them as a guide you suddenly become aware of how far out players are when the cries of shoot begin.

During the match when the chance fell to Rosicky I felt certain he would score, he was surely on the penalty spot or closer. We all held our head in frustration some berating him for missing an open goal. Then the replay showed the ball had broken to him on the edge of the D and whilst he dragged his shot somewhat it was a much harder chance than it had first appeared.

But these are not the reasons why I want the crowd to stop the “shooooooooooot” stuff. As has been recently pointed out we have scored 1.6 goals per game at home yet 2 per game away. Is there a psychological reason for this?

Well perhaps there is and perhaps it is Arsene Wenger…recently when asked about Frimpong he said the following:

Football is made about what the game wants not what the fans in the stands want. Good players always respond to the game situation and make the right decision taking all the emotional part out of it.

It’s a question of experience. When you are young you think you have a strong shot and people say: ‘come on have a go.’ You are tempted to do it even though you have a pass to make.

At 24 you think: ‘come on, I have that pass to make’.

Clearly Wenger discusses this with players doing what you want not what the fans want you to do, so if you take this further even if it is the right choice to shoot perhaps they will not do it as it will appear to the boss that they are following the crowds wishes rather than their own decision.

I know some will think that Wenger’s comments are exactly the problem as he talks about looking for another pass rather than shoot, maybe thats the case but statistically in the Premier League you are more likely to score from within the 18 yard box than outside it.

I borrowed the following image from Prozone and they have helpfully been analysing goalscoring trends over the last few years. It shows 2010-11 scoring positions.

So you see what is evident is that it is not merely shooting that will get goals, its a shame they couldn’t produce a shot chart to to show how many fruitless efforts there are in a similar form. As has often been said we were second top of the shooters charts last season (to Chelsea) here are the charts for the current season up to Christmas Day.

So we are bottom of the shooting charts behind everyone this year (level with United) but as you can see from United and City its the conversion rates that we are way behind in comparison.

Anyway the numbers are a side issue my main point is given that Wenger has openly criticised a player for following the will of the crowd rather than recognising there are better options available, I think the more we shout shoooooooot like a bunch of speech impeded cows the less likely it is that players will shoot from outside of the area.

Written by Gooner In Exile

Kagawa bout it!?

January 12, 2012

With the departure of Cesc and Nasri, no matter what you think of the players, it’s obvious that our goals from the midfield area have reduced. Whether this be down to the injury of Wilshire, or the lack of width provided by the full backs, I don’t know. But, with Arshavin looking increasingly on his way out, what has become clear is that Arsenal are in need of an attacking midfielder/wide player who can create and score goals in equal measure. So let’s have a look at the players capable of filling that Cesc shaped hole:

Xherdan Shaqiri
Age 20
FC Basle
Games 14(0)
Goals(assists) 4(1)
Value £15m-£25m

Was one of the main reasons why Man U are going to be playing Europa League football this year (couldn’t resist!). Small, strong and quick, this youngster has the build that modern defenders just hate to see on the opposite side. Capable of the sublime, as he showed against England recently, this lad has the potential to become one of the worlds best. More of a winger than attacking midfielder and some may feel not quite at the level that Arsenal need just yet, but if potential is what you are looking for then this is the man. Now a regular in the Swiss team, may be looking to move his career on to the next level. Should be available if the right money is offered.

Mario Goetze
Age 19
Borussia Dortmund
Games 22(4)
Goals 7(8)
Value £30m+

What can you say about this boy (still only 19!) that hasnt been said already? Have a Motm performance against us in the first CL game this year and is the closest thing you will find to Cesc in world football at the moment. An extremely talented individual who is as sharp as a button and has an eye for a pass. His stats also suggest his finishing ain’t bad either. What I really like about this kid, from what I’ve seen and heard, is his ability to perform in the big games.  Was magnificent against us and scored the winner against Munich in a recent crunch league game. Downside? At £30m+ and with the big boys circling, a bidding war is not what Arsenal want. If you believe everything you read in the papers then apparently we could have had him last season, but we don’t. If Wenger is serious about signing him then he needs to act fast and pull out the cheque book. Personally, I think this ship has sailed. I would give my right arm to be proved wrong though!

Eden Hazard
Age 21
Games 28(4)
Goals 8(8)
Value £15m-£25m

The young Belgian has had tongues wagging at Arsenal for a while now but no concrete bids seem to have been made as yet. Has been in good form again this season and a move to a bigger stage seems more and more likely as transfer stories seem to pop up every window. A wide player who can beat people, the lad has enormous talent and potential. Interesting then than Wenger opted to sign his teammate Gervinho rather than the lad himself last season. Some say that he’s overrated, and at £20m Wenger may have done the right thing in avoiding him, but at 21, the kid seems to have the world at his feet, and who better to take him to the next level than Arsene Wenger.

Thinking outside the box!

Shinji Kagawa
Age 22
Borussia Dortmund
Games 27(3)
Goals 10(5)
Value £15m-£25m

With so much talk about his teammate Goetze, this young Japanese star seems to have flown under the radar a little. With 17 goals to his name last term and with 10 already this year, the lightweight winger has shown he has an eye for goal. He may not be as supremely talented as his German teammate, but he is still one of Europes top prospects, and whilst the like of Barca, Real and Man City battle it out for Goetze, Arsene may be able to pull off a master strike and sneak this kid out of the back door of the
Signal Iduna Park.

I’m sure you all have ideas of your own, and no doubt most of you will be praying we see Goetze in an Arsenal shirt next year ( I know I will!). But if it does become a bidding war, then I think Kagawa could be just what we are looking for.