British Steel inferior to Foreign Flair

July 21, 2012

In the past I have, without giving it due consideration, called for some British back-bone/steel within our ranks, but I now accept this to be extremely short-sighted and too patriotically jingoistic. English footballers are flawed, limited in natural talent and their abilty to use the ball intelligently. The media are just as culpable, fawning over serial under-achievers, like Shearer, Beckham, Neville, Cole, Terry, Lampard, Carragher, Gerrard et al.

The coaching set-up isn’t much better. With all the money sloshing around in football, every major club has a foreign coach/manager, no English manager has won the title since Howard Wilkinson (who was out of his depth at international level), and still England football fans wait for the much-publicised root and branch shake-up that was promised after the shambolic 2010 WC campaign. This year’s Euro’s weren’t really much better. England’s so-called ‘golden generation’ were mostly flat-footed plodders who were severely out-played at the top level.

All of which brings me to Arsène Wenger. In a moment of sheer bloody-minded anger it is easy to pick holes in his philosophy and criticise his short-comings. It is quintessentially the English way. Put someone up on a pedestal so we can knock them off, laughing and mocking as we do so.

You get the feeling that whatever path Arsène Wenger had taken in life, his name would be familiar to us, and the more you consider his character and philosophies, the more I realise how fortunate we have been as Arsenal fans to witness that first-hand.

Herbert Chapman will always be my favourite Arsenal manager, because he revolutionised the club and put us on the footballing world map, and because when I started supporting Arsenal, Bertie Mee was manager. For me back then, seeing the likes of Charlie George and Ray Kennedy being sold was every bit as painful as seeing some of the modern-day stars go. But Arsène Wenger is a unique one-off. He would probably have been the saviour of English football.

There have been many conversations about how Arsenal play, and whether or not it is a hybrid Barcelona-style. Well…yes and no.

Firstly the two cultures are completely different, as are the footballing set-ups. Barcelona get to play their reserves in a lower division of the Spanish La Liga system, an option that has never been available for England’s major clubs. Barcelona probably have the best scouting system in the world, plus the work-permit regulations that affect us are not applicable in Spain, which is why they along with Real Madrid attract the cream of young Brazilian and Argentinian talent. Lionel Messi went to Barcelona at 13, our infra-structure is still set-up in a way that all our youngsters at the club are British, or their family have moved and settled here. Nonetheless, it still puts us at a huge disadvantage.

Secondly I think Barcelona and in particular Spain have benefited from the greatest exponent of Total Football, and the man whom Arsène Wenger draws inspiration from, Johann Cruyff. It’s fair to say that the Dutch played a brand of football during the 1970’s that was on a completely different level than had ever been seen before, and for many neutral observers would and perhaps should have justifiably been World Champions. From 1970-73, the European Cup belonged to Holland, First Feyenoord beat Celtic in 1970 before Cruyff lead Ajax to three successive victories. And it was Johann Cruyff who delivered Barcelona’s first European Cup in 1992. But like Arsene Wenger, his passion is to develop the younger players, and after winning the European Cup he took on the task of restructuring Barcelona’s youth academy.

Over the past six years the world has witnessed Cruyff’s work through Barcelona and Spain. Our model is completely different to Spain’s, Johann Cruyff stepped back from front-line management to concentrate solely on his youth project, whereas our structure and resources mean that Arsene Wenger has to do the lot, including over-seeing a stadium move as well as jousting with billionaires.

We so nearly had it all. Double98 touched on it in his Post, the combinations of Pires and Henry, Bergkamp and Ljungberg, the whole unit ticked liked a Rolex watch. Swashbuckling artistry at its best, and when it peaked there wasn’t a team across the land who could live with us. Talking of Rolex’s, it really is all about timing. Arsenal’s 2004 vintage was as close to football perfection as it gets, and even now, eight years on, I’d fancy them to beat any of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona’s sides, Mourinho’s sides and Ferguson’s MU. Had we not been so knackered when we met Chelsea in the CL QF 2nd leg, we’d have brought home the European Cup that our football so richly deserved. So to summarise, I’d argue that ‘The Invincibles’ played a better, more effective brand of football than Barcelona. That’s why I believe he would have improved the England national team beyond recognition, and possibly even delivered a World Cup. We really should thank our lucky stars for his staunch loyalty in an age where there is far too little of it on display.

Des Kelly wrote a really good article in the Daily Mail recently stating that the only person he would trust at Arsenal to have the club’s best interests at heart, is Arsène Wenger. As I said earlier, it’s easy to find fault, but when you consider that he is the only manager ever to deliver a completely unbeaten league programme, (having been openly mocked for even daring to predict such a feat just a year too early!), you have to concede the man has a touch of genius about him.

For those demanding trophies, it is worth remembering that after Bertie Mee’s ‘Double’ winning side of 1970-71, Arsenal had to wait another eighteen years before they won the title again, in 1989, picking up a solitary FA Cup in 1979, and a League Cup in 1987. Put in that context, Arsène Wenger’s record at Arsenal is phenomenal. Never outside of the top two between 1998-2005, and in his sixteen years a top four finish every year, including serious financial restraints and fighting against billionaires for the past six years.

He has revolutionised English football, and we are richer people for being able to share that amazing journey. He undoubtedly would have been our nation’s footballing saviour, but he became ours instead, and though there have been many testing times, and more to come no doubt, from a purely selfish point of view, I’m glad he chose us.

Written by Herb


No team has won the Premier League without a centre half.

July 20, 2012

Can a team win the prem without one?

To start a debate on this subject we need some caveats and small preface questions;

What’s the difference between a centre half and a central defender?

Is it only a case of different names for the same position? Am I engaged in nothing more than semantics? Are there actual differences in playing styles? And if so from where does the difference arise?

In the land where football began the defensive back line consists of full backs and centre halves, or centre backs, on the near continent those playing in the traditional centre half position are known as central defenders. Now is this just a case of you say “tomato” (American accented) I say tomato (English accented)?  My summation is “No” its not only a serious question it goes to the very heart of why our defence has been so leaky, and moreover its at the core of why we haven’t gotten our hands on any of home made silver wear recently. I’d go even further and state until we have a centre half in the back line winning any of the 3 home grown competitions may prove to be beyond us. Why do I say this? Well………..

Football on the near continent is primarily played full square on the ground. The leagues of real significance as we all know are in descending order The Spanish, Italian and German. That’s not to say the others aren’t important, we as a club for example have imported widely from outside of these three biggies. France, Holland and Belgium have served us very well with their player offerings. Of the three big European leagues only the German league has any form of aerial bombardment included in its play and even that doesn’t compare with the type of play so often seen in the premier league. In Europe the English Premier League is seen by many Europeans as the most exciting league to watch, with its fast paced all action helter-skelter style, but the league is also seen by many of the same, as the least tactically aware. The kick and rush style with long balls played over the top isn’t a tactic you’ll come across on the continent, and as stated above the type of aerial bombardment that’s common place in Britain is not elsewhere. So this is where the divide begins.

A typical centre half in Britain is raised with this style of play and has developed a way of dealing with it which differs greatly from a typical European central defender. What’s the difference? To answer this question I want to go back to our last great league winning defence. It wasn’t inherited as some of the uninformed like to put forward, it was built by Arsene. It contained the recently retired Sol Campbell. A more typical no nonsense centre half I submit it would be hard to find. What was the secret of this defence? Sol’s Head! Play a ball in over the top and Sol would beat whoever its intended target was and “head” it back where it came from. Fire a ball into the area from a set piece and rest assured if the keeper didn’t catch it Sol would “head” it away and out of the danger zone. I lost count how many times this would happen in games.

It’s actually in the manor that a CH will move forward and attack the ball that significantly shows the difference in approach between the two types of player fulfilling the same role. CD’s instead of moving forward to attack a ball will wait stationary, or move back to give themselves room to bring the ball under control. What does a typical central defender do that’s so different? European central defenders have developed a style of play to deal with long balls played over the top. Their natural instinct is to allow the ball to drop to the ground and immediately bring it under control, and play it out from the back turning defence into attack. What’s wrong with that I hear everyone ask? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Except in the fast paced rough and tumble of the premier league as the typical CD lets the ball drop he’s liable to have one or two of the opposition all over him like a rash. Which if its inside his own area is very dangerous and so makes playing the ball out from the back very difficult, our centre halves are raised with the idea that if the ball lands at your feet the best way to play it out from the back is launch it into row “Z”.

You see teams who play long balls over the top (think of everyone favourite Stoke) tend to rush forward and crowd the box. It’s also often been a strategy successfully employed by Taggart & Co especially in the last 15 minuets when they are either behind or desperate to force a win. Bringing up the infamous Taggart aka Sir Alex Ferguson reminds me to add a caveat. Are there any Grey areas in this Centre Half Central Defender divide? As with most things in life there most certainly are as illustrated by an ex charge of Taggart’s Jaap Stam. A central defender who played more like a centre half than most centre halves, JS as a player wasn’t particularly mobile and certainly couldn’t be called quick, but he was very strong and determined and he read the game well, and he had that trait that a centre half just has to have “A head” and Jaap Stam headed more balls away from Man U box in the 3 short years he was with them than anyone else.

This brings up a further observation why did the Campbell Toure partnership work so well? If a CH is so important why not have two? Well let’s look at how the partnership worked. A long ball gets punted up field towards a target man normally a centre forward whose job it is to nod it down into the path of an on rushing midfielder or attempt to bring it under control and hold it up while reinforcements arrive. As it’s in flight and on its way Sol sees the danger and jumps in sync with the striker. Now either he wins it out right in which case the ball is on its way back where it came from or he misses it but with Sol’s help so does the striker. If they both miss it behind them as the ball drops to the ground Kolo T mops up. Again I can’t even begin to calculate how often this sequence took place, but if we could bring up those stats I’d hazard easily more than 10 times per game.

After going 49 games unbeaten with this defensive system why wasn’t it continued? It was! I think most of the top teams analysed how and why Arsenal had been so successful and emulated the formula. I think we as a club were the only ones who didn’t; perhaps we were too close to the action. I’d say our system was most successfully copied by everybody’s favourite player of the moment John (I isn’t a racist is I Cashley) Terry and his defencive partner Ricardo Carvalho at Chelsea. Taggart successfully employed the Ferdinand Vidic model. While most recently the CH CD combo was still being work by Lescott and Toure (again). Why wasn’t it continued at Arsenal? Well Sol left for Portsmouth under strange circumstances i.e. his “Head” wasn’t on straight? Too much pressure, or whatever, and we’d ended up with William Gallas by default as a result of the Cashley Cole affair. In other words without much analysis we went with what was available to us.

The upshot of which was we suddenly had two European style central defenders in our back line and were without a centre half for the very first time, in our clubs history. The rest as they say is history! We had one of the least effective defences in the league. Without realising it, or even meaning to Arsene had proved a point about two CD’s and the Premier League. Many said the previously oh so dependable Toure just couldn’t play with Gallas. Not exactly true, played together on Tuesday or Wednesday nights in the CL they were fine, but the combination didn’t work for the Prem. How could it? Without a centre half to relieve the pressure on both the keeper and the defence in general our defence was suddenly under the microscope. If the keeper couldn’t replicate “safe hands” Seaman and collect high balls we would be pressured into conceding, and we were. We became the team that couldn’t defend set pieces and that perception lasted until very recently. In point of fact I don’t think we are particularly strong on set pieces even now. We did have a respite though when for a short period our defence was bolstered by the returning old Mr Campbell. In that short interlude our leaky bucket defence became almost water tight again, and I looked forward to the following season, knowing once again we might have a chance at the title, fate however would cruelly intervene. Sulzeer Jeremiah fell for and married a Geordie Lass and moved north so she could stay near her roots. (Love will do funny things to a man) I blame that bloody Woman! She probably cost us the title. Mind you I blame my wonderful “better half” whenever I can’t find a pair of socks or a clean shirt. Yes I admit it I’m a dinosaur.

What’s to be done? Well…………First off try to remember that successful centre halves or successful central defenders come in pairs, so partnerships have to be formed. Next up a very quick analysis of our current defenders. (With the centre half central defender debate firmly in mind).

1) Let me start at the furthest end of the spectrum by saying there are in the words of the song “reasons to be cheerful”. We now have for the very first time in an age a proper British style centre half in the squad. Step forward Kyle Bartley, he may well be only a prospect but at least we’ve got one. Why am I happy about this? Well I’ve followed KB’s progress and as this article expounds I’ve wanted a CH back in our squad for an age. I’ve wanted KB to be promoted into the first team for an age. He might be unproven in the Prem but at least we’ve got him. I hope he can be paired up!

2) I want to continue with the much maligned Johan Djourou. JD is a little bit of a hybrid he’s neither a centre half nor a typical central defender. That might be because he’s Swiss? I honestly haven’t seen enough Swiss football to know if there are any reasons for a player to develop CH tendency’s in the Swiss league. He can and does do a bit of both. When partnered with Le Kosh he immediately played more of a CH role heading everything he could. JD was a successful defender for us, as the stats show when he wasn’t played out of position and partnered correctly. Every team needs 4 CH/CD’s and I’ll be saddened if he goes although like RvP his injury record reads like a hospital casualty department list.

3) I’m choosing Vermaelen next simply because like JD is a bit of a hybrid and KB apart the closest we have to a CH he attacks the ball in the manor of a CH certainly not like a CD. You find TV5 running forward to jump and meet an incoming ball in the manor of a CH. However he also plays in the typical CD style by playing out from the back, which probably comes from his Ajax background. When fit he’s probably currently our first choice centre back.

4) Laurent Koscielny is the most typical Euro style CD we have and he is probably the best CD any of us have seen at the club. His intercepting skills are a joy to watch and if he had a CH of the quality of our dear old Sol partnering him we’d probably have the best defence in the prem. That’s how highly I rate him.

5) The BFG? I just don’t know I haven’t seen enough of him in an Arsenal shirt to really make a judgement. He’s not a CH and he seems to be a one off CD.For a big man I’m yet to see him attack an incoming high ball. He’s worryingly slow for a modern day CD because since the changes took place to the off-side rule (Passive – Active – 1st phase 2nd phase). Neither Tony Adams nor Bouldie would be deemed quick enough and the BFG’s slower than them. He does have some admirable qualities as a defender though, he’s bloody big, strong and therefore intimidating and he reads the game well and it seems he can marshal the other defenders. For me the jury’s still out.

Written by richie


We all know better than Arsène ………

July 19, 2012

We all love doing it. I guarantee there to be at least one in every comments section of any Arsenal blog, forum or news site you can think of. The speculative lineup, it’s addictive. Why, I have know idea. There is just something so satisfying about writing the names of our beloved players down into a thoughtfully deliberated formation. Only a handful of us have a significant knowledge of tactics and almost none of us know anything substantial about the players apart from our parochial, emotion-fueled observations during games and  from their blogosphere reputations. And yet, we fancy ourselves as Arsenal managers and pick our own teams week in week out. So here we are in the pre-season, with the summer transfer window hotting up; this is the time where the phenomenon reaches its pinnacle. The debate over our team’s lineup is well and truly alive!

Something we don’t often think about is that your speculative lineup is actually a great indicator of who you are as a person and as an Arsenal fan. Think back to the lineups you’ve produced over the years (maybe even in the last few days!), and find out where you fit in the spectacular spectrum that is the whole gamut of Arsenal fans. So where do you fit?

1. Signing Obsessed

———————–Lloris————————

–Sanga–Vermaelen–Vertonghen–Baines–

———————M’Villa—————————

—————Wilshire–Gotze———————

–Dzagoev——-Girourd——Podolski——

How often do we see a lineup like this? All the players who are even remotely linked with the club are portrayed as saviours, must-buys and symbols of hope for the coming season. This type of lineup will usually be followed by a comment such as ‘Get on it Arsene!’ or ‘Make it happen Gazidis!’

2. Academy Mad

—————–Szczęsny ——————

–Yennaris—Miquel–Bartley–Gibbs–

—————-Gnarby———————–

———Wilshere–Lansbury/Eisfeld—-

—-Aneke——-Afobe——Miyachi——

A lineup like this will usually be followed by something like ‘Future Arsenal first team, 2 years away?’ If this is you, you may need an injection of reality. Explore the archives of blogs from seasons past and have a look at some of the teams suggested as ‘Arsenal’s future’. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas anyone? Jay Simpson? The fact is that – if we are lucky –  each season has only one or two academy players that have what it takes to make the step up to the first team. Last season it was Coquelin, before that it was Wilshire and Szeszney. Who will it be this season? How exciting!

3. Formation Fans

———————Szczęsny ———————–

—Koscielny—Mertesacker—Vermaelen—-

—————Song–Coquelin———————

—-Ox-Chamberlain—Rosicksy–Diaby——-

————–Podolski—-Giourd—————–

There is always someone out there telling anyone who will listen that Wenger should being deploying his team in 3-2-3-2 or 4-1-3-1-1 or 5-2-4 or God knows what else. There’s always someone who’s certain the team would be better off with Vermaelen commanding the midfield or that so-and-so should surely be unleashed in the ‘hole’. Every now and then the fan knows what they’re talking about, not often though.

4. Nickname Fans

—————World’s Number One————-

–Sanga—Verminator—BFG——-Gibbo—-

—————–Rambo——–Le Coq———–

————————–LJW————————

——–Theo—The Boy Wonder—The Ox—

Football fans must be the only people in the world to give affectionate nicknames to men we’ve never met. But although we don’t actually know our players personally, in a deeper sense, we know them very, very well. Some of the nicknames are brilliant anyway, we don’t need to justify ourselves. I cannot stand when ostensible ‘fans’ invent hurtful nicknames for members of our beloved team such as ‘Flapihandski’ or ‘Ramilson’. Here’s a mystery I’ve often pondered. Why are some players known universally by their first name and others not? We always hear about Robin, Theo and Arsene and used to talk about Cesc all the time, but we never hear a thing about Mikel, Bacary, Laurent or Kieran.

5. England Snobs

——————-Szczęsny ———————

-Jenkinson—Vermaelen-Bartley-Gibbs-

————Ramsey—–Frimpong————-

———————Wilshere———————

—Ox-Chamberlain–RVP—-Walcott——-

Some fans are extraordinarily concerned by the amount of English players in the team. Nationality is their top priority. Ramsey’s Welshness is considered acceptable. They even prefer players who are half English or aren’t really English at all such as Jenkinson and Frimpong. As more English players have developed and integrated into Wenger’s new team, these types of posts have steadily become less common.

6. Trollers and Piss Takers

—————-Almunia———————-

Djourou—–Squillaci–Silvestre–Traore

——–Denilson——-Bischoff————–

——Park—-Chamakch—–TGSTEL—–

Poor Djourou cannot play full back can he? I couldn’t even think of enough players but you get the idea.

7. Diaby lovers

——————-Szczęsny ———————

–Sanga–Vermaelen–Koscielny-Santos–

————–Song—–Arteta——————-

——————-DIABY—————————

——–Podolski—-RVP—-Walcott———-

Staunch Diabyists. They exist in their droves. But I do have this feeling like he’s gonna have an amazing season….

8. Fence sitters

—————————-Szczęsny ————————

—Sanga—Vermaelen—–Koscielny—Gibbs/Santos–

————————–Song—–Arteta/Ramsey————–

————————-Wilshere/Rosicky———————–

——–Podolski/Ox—-RVP/Giroud—-Walcott/Gervinho-

This sort of lineup is a good sign; it means the club is spoilt for choice, that we have a lot of depth and competition for places. They manifest themselves in a variety of ways: slashes, parenthesis, brackets. But it sort of defeats the point of picking a team. Alternatively some fans like to make two teams, a first team and a second team and sometimes even a third team.

So now that we’ve analyzed it, let’s indulge in the activity we love so much. How do you think we should line up next season? Remember, everyone’s an expert – except for Arsène of course.

Written by Gus


Killing Arsène’s babies

July 18, 2012

It’s said that a novelist must be prepared to “kill their babies” to produce a decent book. It’s a literary term used to describe the process for self editing that a writer must do in order to finish their story and iterate their work towards a final manuscript. I am currently in the middle of writing a book and I am pretty shocked at the things I thought initially as being vital that I have had to give up, simply to make the story work.

Put quite simply you go into a writing project with an awful lot of preconceptions, events and characters that you think are indispensible to the story. They are precious to you. The process of self editing is an examination of your vanity, your commitment to the project. As you develop the story from its premise you run into issues with your precious babies. If you aren’t prepared to set aside some of the golden haired children of your imagination you end up with a story that is contrived, convoluted or just plain muck.

You might be say, writing a love story centred on the coming of age of a teenage girl from a broken home – “Wow great premise.”

that is set against a back ground of an international vampire war – “Ok cool I’m with you so far”

And you might think that it’s a great idea to make some of the vampires “vegetarians” and the others “carnivores”. – “eh but don’t all vampires feed on human blood?”

You then might even think that it’s a good idea to introduce a love triangle element that involves a werewolf. – “The what now? aren’t werewolves cursed humans who change into beasts on a full moon and go hunting human flesh?”

And finally you might want to have a woman impregnated from a man who is dead for over 100 years. “But that’s just nonsense on so many levels… and correct me if i am wrong but isn’t it physiologically impossible?”

But why take a vampire and make him something else? Vampires are well defined, as are werewolves. There is a wealth of lore on both so why would you reconstitute them? Why change them from the inherently evil, relentless killing machines that search for blood and / or flesh to simply make them mildly inconvenienced (and let’s face it boring) teenagers with great hair and unbelievable super powers to compensate.

Kill them.

Make them truer to their nature or make them something else. Or you might end up with Twilight and sparkly bleeding sap-pires or werewimps.

Now to Arsenal. While regular readers will recognise me as a fairly vocal evangelist of Arsene Wenger, I am not a slack jawed, blind follower. I sometimes think the man himself is showing less faith in his own vision than me. Put simply he finds it hard to kill his babies, as do Arsenal fans in the main.

We have laboured for seven years trying to build a story that first of all was about a dashing young Spanish matador, who would battle orcs and mercenaries to win golden treasure for his family and friends. The problem was that our Spanish hero had a character defect. It was a fatal defect, you see he was from another story and didn’t want to be in ours. The team was built for him, but he needed it to be built around him. He needed to have faith in his team mates and a love for the fans that exceed his love for his DNA.  He never had either so we forced our affection on him and hoped that our love would be enough for both.

It wasn’t. But not only was his heart not free enough, or his conviction not strong enough, he simply didn’t fit into Arsene’s story arc.

Fabregas was not a Wenger player. He became a sap-pire.

Arsene builds teams that exploit space. Anelka, Overmars, Ljunberg and Henry where forever being launched into space by inviting through balls from midfield –they simply pulverised high defensive lines. When opponents sat deep we had Henry, Bergkamp and Pires who could make the most of the space around the D. Even when the opposing teams got their defence right, we had giants and beasts like Campbell, Vieira and  Toure in the box to hit with corners and free kicks.

It wasn’t a boring story at all. But Arsene decided to change it.

He saw the Barca model and he envied it. Possession football. Passing. Control. He could do that. He hated taking his great teams to the camp neu and losing a battle of philosophy. He wanted to beat them at their own game. In fact i think he wanted to take their ingredients and make something different and new from them.

But a leopard never changes his spots. Oh don’t get me wrong he made a go at it. He built an exciting team that he choreographed as well as Barcelona. At times they can be breathe taking.

At other times turgid and frustrating.

Why? Why doesn’t it work consistently? I think it’s because it is too choreographed. We tippy tap passes around but the movements all end with Van Persie. Stop him and you stop Arsenal.

Stop Henry and Bergkamp’d get you, or Pires or Freddie.

In Barcelona they play tikataka organically. It’s a rhythm that Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, Fabregas all grew up in. As an ethos it’s effortless for them. But it’s not effortless for Denilson, Song, Arshavin, Walcott, etc. They learn the dance steps but they move to a different rhythm. Walcott has been criticised for not living up to his potential but last season, Fabregasless, he stepped up the plate a good bit. Why? Well quite simply he needed to learn the game. Learn the role.

Fabregas was built for the game from the age of 10. Walcott learned a different game from 10 to 15 and then had to learn a new one. Hard trick with an old dog.

All these characters failed in the story of Cesc.

Bendtner has no place in a 4-3-3. Chamakh, Park, Eduardo the same. Naturally speaking neither does Walcott

Denilson, Arshavin, Vela. All played out of position. All contrived to facilitate our number 4.

You see like vampires and werewolves our players are well defined by the time they get to the first team. Hell our manager is well defined.

What I mean is; how do we take a lazy, often brilliant, central half striker like Arshavin and shove him on the wing and then tell him to help out his teenage full back?

Likewise how do we take a speedy, straight line running shot/cross merchant and expect him to dribble past players and run in broken curved lines? Lines that he can’t even see?

Theo might be adapting to the dance but he craves space,

Arshavin craves space,

Van Persie craves space.

The Barca team and Fabregas don’t need space. They press and close down space safe in the knowledge that they have the technique and instinct and faith in their team mate to move the ball in tiny channels. We can’t do that. We want space, we really don’t want possession.

We want to win the ball and score within 20 seconds.

Does anyone remember the Invincibles? What a team. They were never in danger of losing a game all season. I mean I don’t think in the whole season we were ever behind after 70-75 minutes. We’d score early and often and then defend as a team. Teams would break themselves on our defence like ships on rocks, and we would break and score late goals. Didn’t we only ever seem to concede from corners and wicked deflections.

Tikitaka is a defensive style of football. Arsene Wenger is an attacking coach. It is about dominating the football and denying the opposition the ball, space or time. Press, pass, press pass. run your opponents left and right in the midfield. make a simple pass that Messi has rehearsed receiving a million times. Tikitaka is far beyond choreography, it is second nature to them. If not first.

Wenger built a similar system, except Arsenal, in fairness, try to attack more. We also have a distinct defence, midfield and attack. Barca have 10 midfielders – and all the players on the pitch are stood in within 20 yards of the ball radius.

Van Persie was bought for the Invincibles, he wasn’t bought for the Cesc team. He was a half striker; a successor to DB10. but he never got a chance to play as that because we had started our evolution to 4-3-3 when he was breaking into the team. He is probably leaving with the wrong concept of himself. He may have been a good leading man, but he may have been an even better supporting actor.

2012 / 13 Sees an opportunity to get back on track, back to the story line– we have the players to mount a challenge. We have the coach.

I think now of Podolski, and I picture him from all those German internationals running from the left wing into an ocean of space or against a scrambling defence. Pires like, Henry like.

I can see Walcott (if he stays) running through from the right like Anelka used to, like Ljunberg used to. I see Wilshire and the Ox unleashing them from the middle, Vieira-esq, Bergkamp-esq.

I see a solid back four and an improving keeper. I see a wealth of dept on the bench.

I see Giroud as a beast in attack, a fox in the box.

Maybe a Plan B and a plan A rolled into one.

I see Arsenal as no longer a 1 man team. No longer handbraked by the tippytap delusion. Wenger may have had the scales lifted from his eyes. And for that i’d like to thank Barca and Man City – you have killed our babies for us and paid us for the pleasure.

Written by Double98


Will Arsenal ever become a lean, mean, defending machine again?

July 17, 2012

Over the last few weeks, we have had in-depth discussions about whether we need to strengthen our midfield this summer, as well as how we should fit in our freshly signed strikers, Giroud and Podolski. Clearly, these are areas we can all get very excited about, but the area we have not been talking about for a while is our 49 PL-goals leaking defence.

Incredibly, seven teams conceded fewer goals in the PL than Arsenal last season: Man City, United, Spuds, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Sunderland, and that is simply not good enough if we want to make the next step up towards winning silverware again. Even if we take into account our bad start – conceding 12 goals in two away games against now relegated Blackburn and last season trophy-less Man United – we still managed to ship 37 goals in 36 games.

Next season, Chelsea will undoubtedly fall back on a Mourinho-style Catanaccio football under Di Matteo and I won’t be surprised if they manage to concede less than 20 goals over the entire season. Man City conceded only 29 goals last season, and their neighbours were not far behind with conceding only 33.

In order to compete for the title, I reckon Arsenal should aim to concede 30 goals or (ideally) less next season. Easier said than done, but how are we going to achieve it?

And will Steve Bould help us to finally get the balance right between beautiful football and defensive tight-fistedness?

Many have said we have failed to defend as a team at times, and that our midfield did not give our defence the necessary protection, especially towards the end of the season. We have also discussed in previous posts how the lack of available FB’s for a long period of time, has hurt us a lot (especially in the first few months of 2012).

Arsenal have also suffered significantly from having a lot of enforced changes to its back four during the season, and the long term injury to Per Mertesacker, just as he started to settle in properly, also meant a serious setback at a crucial time of the season. It effectively meant elimination from two cup competitions – the CL and FA cup – in a less than a week.

Arsenal really struggled to continue its rhythm every time we suffered a major injury to the likes of Arteta, Mertesacker, and Sagna. As long as Arsenal was able to keep the same eleven players fit, we were able to reach a level of consistency on a par with our major competitors, resulting in a run of good results. However, as soon as we suffered one or more injuries we started to lose or draw games we really should have won. It just seemed we were not able to adjust quickly enough to these setbacks, and serious doubts were raised about our strength in depth.

During last season, we only had one period of defensive consistency worthy of reaching a target of 30 goals or less conceded in one PL season. Between 21-03-12 and 21-04-12 Arsenal played seven matches in which we kept five clean sheets and only conceded 3 goals, or 0.4 goals per game:

21-3: Eve – Arsenal: 0-1 Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/LK/KG

24-3: Arsenal – Villa: 3-0 Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/JD/KG-AS

31-3: QPR – Arsenal: 2-1 No Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/LK/KG

8-4: Arsenal – Man C: 1-0 Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/LK/KG

11-4: Wolves – Ars: 0-3 Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/JD/AS

16-4: Arsenal – Wig: 1-2 No Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/JD/AS

21-4: Arsenal – Chel: 0-0 Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/LK/KG

Luckily this period came towards the all important end o the PL season, and although we only managed to score 10 goals in those seven games – 1.43 goals per game, which is well below our season average of 1.95 goals per game – we still managed to get 13 points out of 21.

It is fair to say that our defence saved us at this crucial stage.

However, the next three games – against Stoke, Norwich and West Brom – we almost threw it all away again with shocking defensive performances, conceding 2 goals per game on average, which is five times the conceded goals-per-game tally of the previous seven games:

28-4: Stoke – Arsenal: 1-1 No Clean Sheet, Back four: BS/TV/LK/KG

5-5: Arsenal – Norw: 3-3 No Clean Sheet, Back four: BS-FC/TV/LK/KG (Coquelin replaces Sagna early in the game – the latter is out for the season)

13-5: West B – Ars: 2-3 No Clean Sheet, Back four: CJ/TV/LK/AS

We all know that the season-ending injury to Arteta, early on in the game against Wigan, had a detrimental impact on our defensive shape. However, we still managed to do reasonably well in terms of conceding goals in the games against Wigan, Chelsea and Stoke: conceding three goals in three games – one per game – is not totally unacceptable. The subsequent loss of Sagna in the penultimate game, against Norwich, did appear to be too much for us though, as our defence was all over the place in the last two games. I am sure that fatigue had started to play a part and we also lacked the experience to see games out calmly and professionally when it really mattered, and especially the latter is a concern for us.

We got there in the end by the skin of our teeth.

It is hard to pull definitive conclusions from our defensive performances in the last 10 games, but it looks like Arsenal’s back four of Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Gibbs were getting their act together towards the end of the season, and we can all draw courage from this.

The back-up defenders Djourou (CB) and Santos (LB) – the latter might argue he actually is our first choice LB – also seemed to have performed well.

Jenkinson was injured for large parts of the season, so it is hard to say whether he is an adequate replacement for Sagna. This could be an area of concern, as I believe Coquelin’s strengths lay in midfield (central or right side), and Djourou struggled in the LB position at times. This puts us at risk, with Sagna still recovering from injury at the moment.

It is absolutely crucial to keep our first choice defenders together for at least a few seasons, and let them fully gel further as a unit. Other than Sagna, none of the back four have been playing a significant number of games for Arsenal. A good back four needs consistency and experience, in order to form a wall that frightens any opposition, and on which a winning team can be build with confidence and longevity.

And of course there is the case of Mertesacker’s return from long term injury. How will he fit into our defence: should he be first choice CB or back-up? Until recently I have been saying he should be our first choice CB, as he has great organisational skills and reads the game very well, which easily compensates for his occasional lack of mobility. But, having looked at the last ten games in a bit more detail, I am now not so sure anymore, as slowly but steadily Koz and Vermaelen have formed a strong, albeit occasionally erratic, partnership.

And what will happen with the promising talents of Miquel and Bartley: are they ready for more first team action?

It also became very clear that Arteta’s defensive support was duly missed as we did not have a suitable, ready-to-rock, like-for-like replacement for him in the system that we played (with Song being asked to help out as much as possible in the creative/attacking areas of midfield play).

Furthermore, I am happy to keep backing Szczesny as our nr1 goal keeper, but will his inexperience cost us next season, and do we have a good back-up in case of injury or suspension? This remains to be an area of doubt/risk.

Let’s hope Steve Bould will be able to help Arsene to add a bit more steal, confidence and consistency to the our defence/ TEAM defensive play/ formation next season, so that we can reduce our goals conceded to below 30, and increase the number of clean sheets significantly. Let’s hope we finally get the balance right between the Bould and the Beautiful next season!

The big, all-encapsulating question remains, though: do we have enough quality – players, tactics, coaching, etc – in our team now to establish the required defensive performances that will lead us to silverware next season?

I think we do, but I cannot say I am 100% certain about it.

Thanks for reading.

Please note: I am by no means an expert in defensive tactics etc, and would like to invite you to share your views and expertise with us today. In the end, that’s what good blogging is all about.

TotAl


If Robin Stays…

July 16, 2012

Imagine it’s the first home game of the season and, as the Arsenal players emerge from the tunnel wearing the world’s best football kit, all the camera lenses are trained on one man.

That man is Robin van Persie – our “want-away Dutchman” who stayed after all. He may even be wearing the captain’s armband.

How will you react?

I know the writing appears to be on the wall regarding van Persie’s departure, but graffiti is temporary by nature and there is still time to change the script.

Perhaps an extra £20k a week, or an extra year on the contract extension, or the signing of his countryman Ibrahim Affelay or a combination of all three will have swayed Robin’s heart (or at least his wallet).

Or perhaps Arsenal’s management – the nine stone weakling of the transfer market – will have magically transformed into the bully who kicks sand in people’s faces and forced RvP to honour his final year, with no pay rise and the loss of the captaincy.

Either way, it raises a question that every Arsenal supporter will need to consider: do I give van Persie the unquestioned support I gave him previously? Do I refuse to applaud him and leave it at that? Do I boo his traitorous, greedy arse?

One thing is clear: if he stays things won’t be the way they were before.

Our relationship will be like a marriage where one party has had an affair and then returned to the marital home.

You can make it work, you can resume the semblance of normality, but really something magical has gone and will never be replaced. Maybe it’s trust, maybe it’s love, but it has gone.

The different potential scenarios surrounding Robin’s non-departure obviously have a bearing on how supporters would react to him.

The more positive option is relatively straightforward:

If he signs a three/four year extension and apologises for his silly comment about the direction of the club (he could say he was down in the dumps after Holland’s woeful showing at the Euros) I suspect most people will welcome him back with open arms despite the sense of having been betrayed.

The choruses of “he scores when he wants” may be sung with a bit less gusto, but if the goals start going in the volume will increase and, in time, his sins will be forgiven. Or at least forgotten. It worked for the granny botherer at Old Trafford after his flirtation with a move to Middle Eastlands.

But if Robin is made to stay against his will (or reluctantly agrees to see out his final year), what then?

Football support is an emotional business and we, the fans, are invariably the ones whose hearts get bruised.

So the temptation will be to let a Reluctant Robin know how we feel about his treachery – perhaps by booing him, by just not cheering him or not “showing the love”.

For me, despite the hurt feelings, it’s all quite simple. If he is wearing the Arsenal colours and is trying his best then he gets my support.

Not just because booing your own players is counter-productive (it will hardly motivate them to play better, it’s an encouragement to the opposition and provides even more fuel to the spiteful Arsenal haters among the national media).

But because it’s the mature thing to do.

Much as we would like the players to share our passion and our one-love faithfulness to the Arsenal, the fact is they don’t.

Hardly any of the current first team squad grew up as Arsenal supporters. Most didn’t even grow up in the UK, let alone the hallowed ground of N5. They are professionals who may form a fond attachment to their employers, but whose ultimate loyalty is to themselves.

They are well-paid freelancers who can take their skills elsewhere when they are out of contract and a better offer (or what they perceive to be a better offer) comes along.

To expect different is to hanker after a bygone age when footballers were part of the fabric of their community. And even in those days it was hardly unheard of for players to move on for cash or glory (Liam Brady was only 24 when he decamped for Italy).

We may be disappointed when a valued player decides to leave, we may feel they are ungrateful to the club, the manager and the fans. But they are just exercising their rights as an employee.

They are not us and we are not them. They can transfer their loyalties, we can’t and, probably, we should not expect them to. To accept this state of affairs is to find peace in the maelstrom of affection, betrayal and disappointment.

If Robin takes the field in an Arsenal shirt again he will get my 100% support – and he should get yours too.

RockyLives


New Wage Structure a Possibility?

July 15, 2012

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.

Those are the wise words of Wilkins Micawber, the man himself struggled to live by the maxim and found himself in debtors prison. Ok he is fictional, and admittedly Arsenal Football Club is not one man with a propensity for overspending so why is this relevant.

In the aftermath of van Persie’s bridge burning ceremony and the open criticism of the board by Red and White Holdings questions once again were asked about the wage structure at the club. Before I go any further I want to make one thing clear, no one apart from the player, his agent and the club know what each player is earning.

This doesn’t stop a great deal of speculation, last year a list of players and their salaries was linked to by various sites as gospel, that list proclaimed Chamakh as earning £60k a week, this week the Fiorentina chairman said that Chamakh was on €3m per year which equates to £44k a week and therefore they could not afford him, okay so it is still a fair chunk of money, but in lieu of a transfer fee to be expected. Does £44k a week illustrate wreckless spending when Dzeko twiddles his thumbs on the Etihad bench whilst picking up what is believed to be a salary of £160k a week.

This is the market we are operating in, and whilst it is true that City and Chelsea distort the marketplace our players are also expecting similar salaries, and quite frankly most will not be happy on £10k a week as much as we would like to think they would stay and play for the badge.

The club have been criticised for not dealing with van Persie sooner and for allowing the wage parity between players, I know one thing, if the club had put van Persie on £150k a week contract before the start of the 10-11 season there would have been many fans scratching their heads.

Now we have increasing speculation that Barca are expressing an interest in Koscielny, we apparently have looked to sign him up to an improved deal but if he fails to sign I expect to see fans question again the initial contract and why he wasn’t signed up sooner. Again if Arsene or Ivan had announced a new contract for Koscielny after his first year just how many Gooners would be phoning TalkShite and expressing again how clueless the pair are?

One of the main criticisms of the Arsenal wage structure is that in recent years Arsene and the club have sought to narrow the gap between high and low earners and that has led to a bloated squad (paying youth players too much etc), the second criticism most often heard is that we are not paying our best players enough to keep them and selling them before or at their peak, and finally is that just one or two £30m buys would be nice (remember “we aren’t asking them to break the bank”)

In 2010-11 Arsenal made a profit of £14.76m only £2.2m of this related to football profit and the football profit would have been a loss but for some player sales (which turned a profit of £6.2m). The wage bill was £124m for all the employees at the club, I’ll assume that the player share is 90% (which leaves £12.8m to pay the other 380 employees on an average salary of £31k…this includes Arsene, coach, asst manager, scouts, the medical team, doctors, directors, sales people etc £31k might be a bit light as an average).

How would you do it different?

Taking the football loss and adding back the wages and player amortisation at the end of May 2011 when you take over the running of the team you have a budget of £142m a year to spend on wages and transfers. In addition we received £50m from the sale of Cesc and Nasri, that is your maximum extra funds to spend on transfer fees or wages…I know what you are thinking “what about that £160m everyone says is sitting in the bank can’t I have a fund to start with?” Well I’m afraid not, as a result of the property financing we have to keep £60m in the bank, our Net Current Assets (thats everything we have due to us in a year less everything due to pay in the year) is £90m, £30m of which is Property so we have to keep that money in the bank to comply with the borrowing requirements.

So there you go empty squad sheet, clear out the dead wood by giving them all free transfers and leave yourselves with the players you would want and put them on the salary you would like, just how will you balance the books and prevent them leaving to go elsewhere and at the same time saving money to spend on new transfers.

We are getting closer to the position where we can spend without fear, new commercial deals are around the corner, but in the meantime and for the next two seasons a fine balance still needs to be struck.

Who Pays?

Getting rid of the reserves and paying the first team in competition with City is only possible in one way – Usmanov buying the club and doing what he has promised.

5 players on £200k a week = £52m
5 players on £150k a week = £39m
5 players on £100k a week = £26m
10 players on £50k a week = £26m

(let’s get one thing clear this is the kind of ridiculous money they pay, Nasri £170k a week, Adebayor £170k a week, Yaya Toure £200k a week)

Thats a total spend of £143m, £1m over my budget for a season (excluding the £50m i had to buy some talent) and I have nothing set aside for next season to buy anyone new. And players at these levels aren’t picked up on a free very often.

In addition we won’t ever have extra money from selling the best talent as we will release them when they have served their time.

If we decide this is the only route to take why do fans ask that someone else pays for it? Why don’t we want to pay it through increased ticket prices and membership?

Gooner in Exile


Has Arsenal already appointed its next manager?

July 14, 2012

With the Dutchman announcing he won’t sign a new contract and the Giro-Pod flexing its forearms, hell-bent on destroying premiership defences with its bare hands, it’s easy to see how Wenger’s potential nomination of his successor may have slipped through virtually unnoticed in this turbulent summer.

Arsène’s contract runs out on the 30th June 2014. He was quoted last season as ‘wanting to see out his contract’. This was under heavy fire both from the media and from the Arsenal doom squad fans after the club’s worst start to a season in recent memory, but could be taken to mean that he probably won’t renew after this period. It makes sense, if this is the case, to appoint a successor before leaving, thus providing both stability and continuity in a footballing environment which currently has neither.

Stephen Andrew Bould is 50 years old this year and first joined Arsenal in the summer of 1988 for the princely sum of £390,000 (approximately two weeks wages for some of the current mercenaries plying their trade for the light blue oily team). He played for the Gunners over 11 seasons, making a total of 372 appearances and scoring a majestic 8 goals.

Here’s one of Bouldy’s goals from 1991 at 1:36 in this clip. He obviously enjoyed those rare moments!

He won 3 League titles, 2 FA Cups, 1 League Cup and 1 UEFA Cup Winners Cup in his Arsenal career. One of his outstanding highlights as a player came when he provided an Emmanuel Petit style pitching wedge of a chip to put his old mucker Tony Adams through, against Everton in 1998 which topped off a title-clinching 4-0 victory.

Bouldy moved briefly to Sunderland but was soon forced to retire in September 2000. He studied for his UEFA coaching badges and rejoined Arsenal, becoming coach for the youth teams. He was the head coach of Arsenal’s U18 Academy side whom he led to winning the Premier Academy League 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 and FA Youth Cup 2008-2009.

Summer 2012 arrived (well the summer months arrived anyway) and Pat Rice finally retired after 44 years at the club. Steve Bould is appointed assistant manager and immediately talk shifts to how Bouldy can reinforce the Arsenal defence which has shown a worrying trend of leaking more goals each season for the last few years.

When interviewed Steve Bould immediately gives off an air of calm and common-sense, in stark contrast to his old drinking buddy Tony Adams. He is steeped in the traditions that Arsene Wenger has laid as the foundations of the club for many years to come.

The next Arsenal manager? I think so.

Written by chas


Trophies, Identity, Board Wranglings

July 13, 2012

Red & White’s Open Letter, and the subsequent chatter around the internet is the reason I decided to try and write something. Trouble is, I am angry, and I don’t know if I’ll be coherent enough. Why am I angry? Because I don’t like my club being harmed. Now, some would argue that the club being harmed is exactly what makes Usmanov angry, or ‘concerned’. And that’s why he’s decided to write something like what he did. I disagree. But let’s move on from this for a while. I’ll keep referring to parts of the letter though.

The more fundamental question is..Why do people think there is something wrong at Arsenal? Usmanov refers to dressing up a bad game, and I guess the same applies here. No matter what people say, the reason for there being a perception of something being wrong, is only that we haven’t won a trophy for a while. And that is exactly what Usmanov is seeking to capitalise on.

What is a trophy? It’s something you win. Even Usmanov says “because it is the trophies which are the crowning achievement for everybody at the club.” What is the keyword in there for most people? For me, it’s ACHIEVEMENT. A trophy is not the end to be reached at all costs. It is something you earn. You earn it by playing well. You earn it by being better than others wanting to win it too. Sometimes, despite playing well enough you miss out on it due to factors outside your control that can be simplistically labelled as luck. Where is the achievement in assembling a team of the highest paid players? What is the meaning of the trophy if you are simply getting your hands on it? I could buy a trophy from some guy who won the track and field at the national athletic meet. Hell I could pump myself full of drugs, nobble him, and even race him for it and beat him. (See, I worked for it) I would then display it in my cabinet. Maybe show it off to some people who visit, who would be suitably impressed. But what do I get from it? Nothing. Nothing important anyway.

But let’s say you do. Some of you feel that the trophy IS the ultimate achievement regardless of how you come by it. What would be the collateral you would be willing to give in exchange for your trophies? What would you sacrifice for it? After all, no such thing as a free lunch. So if you’re not paying the bill for your lunch, someone else is. Who is footing that bill, and why? What do you risk owing that person in exchange for having your ephemeral desire satiated? And what do you have left after the desire is fulfilled?

Having one person owning the club is inherently risky. For every Abramovich there are tens of Shinawatras, Chainrais, Ridsdales, Whytes, Yeungs, Venkys, Tans, Romanovs (starting to get the picture yet?) And if you don’t know who they are, it’s because the media doesn’t quite give the same amount of coverage to the important problems in football, as it does to transfers and the rest of the drama. Of course, nothing like this could happen to Arsenal. Arsenal could never go bankrupt. Even if we do, there will always be someone richer and more ‘ambitious’ to rescue us and bring us more trophies. Right? You come back to the point about why someone will foot your bill. Let’s get one thing straight. Rich people do not give away money. That isn’t how they got rich in the first place. If they seem to give away money, it’s because they aim to gain something out of it. It’ll always be more money, whether directly or indirectly. It could be an advertisement, it could be as an investment, it could be to gain legitimacy. Anything. But it is never charity. Never. Eventually, they will no longer need this toy that they have. It will happen. It may not be in 1 year, or 10, or 50. But it will happen.

Now some people seem to have no problem with players switching clubs for more money. Neither do I. They do it in contravention of rules though, and that’s something we shouldn’t forget, or brush over. But ok, we’d all switch our jobs for more money. But would we switch our loyalties? Let’s say someone offered you a large sum of money to start supporting Chelsea with them (because they are all alone and they want to feel as involved with their community as we are) Would you do it? Turn your back on Arsenal? Chelsea win trophies, remember? I would think not. So it seems people have some qualms about switching loyalties for money or trophies. Yet, what people are advocating with bringing Usmanov in, is also switching loyalties.

What are we loyal to? Just the name ‘Arsenal’? Well, we were also variously named Dial Square, Woolwich Arsenal, Royal Arsenal etc. right? Didn’t our fans maintain their loyalty? Don’t we accept those names as part of our history?

What are we loyal to? The location of the club? Well, yes. But the reason for that isn’t just location itself. It’s what it represents (and I’m an overseas fan) to the people, to its traditions.

I follow Arsenal because of our ethos. Our tradition. our values. Our class. Our style of play. Our history of success.

Now. Some of those things will not last forever, and I’ll still be around supporting Arsenal. For instance, our style of play. I’ll still follow Arsenal if we play like a bunch of club footed, catenaccio loving bunch of amateurs. And of course, if we are playing like that, there will be no trophies.

But some things, are THE identity of Arsenal. Values, and traditions. CLASS.

For one moment, forget trophies, forget FFP, and talk of we can’t compete (we do compete most years) and think about it. It’s just good sense to not spend more than you have. Most of the world is finding out right now that living in and off credit is something which comes back to bite you. Usmanov’s notion of a debt free club, with a large war chest is all well and good. But isn’t that exactly what the current board are looking to achieve?

In any case, having a sugar daddy model doesn’t guarantee success. Even in today’s world. What happens when EVERYONE goes down that route. You can pump in 2billion, someone else will pump in 5, someone else 10. What guarantee do you have that any amount of money will be enough? Are there enough billionaires interested to go around? And that’s nothing to say of what it means for the state of true competition in football. Even the US, which is the most capitalist country in the world, organises its sports in a very socialistic manner with wage caps, draft system, and restrictive transfer rules, because those rules promote a more competitive environment. ManCity might be Arsenal’s rival, but if they end up destroying all competition, they end up destroying themselves. Sports are not a normal competitive business environment in that sense. There are no monopolies in sport. There is no excitement in viewing a foregone conclusion. Arsenal do things in a way which are moral, which are important, and importantly, which does have a chance of success. The chance is lower, and it is affected by being targeted at this point. But the chance is still there. They only target us, because they fear us.

And I include Usmanov in that. Usmanov wants to own the club, right? If Arsenal succeed, he doesn’t get to own Arsenal. As such, his ‘concerns’ are very much the opposite of Arsenal’s. His interests are contrary to the fans. Usmanov is selling a dream. A dream Ridsdale sold his Leeds fans, and then said that for a while, we lived it at least. To be fair, the board is selling a dream too. The worst that can happen in following that dream is that we won’t win trophies. The worst that can happen with chasing Usmanov’s dream is…well.. a LOT worse. Trophies would be the last of our worries then. Ask Portsmouth fans. Usmanov came in through paying Dein 75m for his shares. and promptly proceeded to go on a bullying spree against all the blogs who were naturally enough curious about his past. His shady past shouldn’t disqualify him, but it should make us wary of him. Usmanov is also the only one making high and mighty promises, which he knows he’ll have no need to prove until he can give us all a massive shrug with massive shoulders and say..Tough.. I lied. He’s the only one who makes opportunistic statements destabilising the club, just to try and force his way in. He’s using the fans’ concerns, presenting them as his own, and trying to use us to get his way. Kroenke was on the outside looking in too. He never made any statements harming Arsenal. Of course, Kroenke is not an angel. He is just someone who’s track record and behaviour suggests he is more trustworthy, or at least, less risky.

I would MUCH prefer not having either of these people involved with Arsenal. But only Kroenke has sports teams (and no, they are not all ‘unsuccessful’. Saying that is displaying a vast ignorance about how US sports are structured) He has NEVER sold any share in any sports team he has owned. He was initially resisted by the board, but brought in once Usmanov appeared on the scene. (which suggests they aren’t simply motivated to sell out, nor did they accept Usmanov’s higher offer)  Kronke uses his sports teams as a business. Arsenal IS a business. What does he bring to the business? He brings with him a wealth of marketing experience using sports teams. Liverpool’s owners managed to get them a bumper shirt deal through their own channels of influence. Kroenke offers us much the same. He can increase our brand value, and that in itself isn’t as simplistic as saying, if you win, your brand value goes up. Kroenke has something to offer us. His endgame is still unknown, but his record of not selling any sports team gives me confidence he’s not here to make just a quick buck.

So basically, I think this whole worrying over trophies is distracting us from the main issue. The current board need to change some aspects of their running of the club, in an ever changing situation, but what they say, and even the transfer dealings over the last 2 summers suggest they are aware of that. The desire for change, should not mean desire for complete change. We will not know whether R & W will be any better, until it’s too late to do anything about it. So far, everything Usmanov has done, has led me to grow more and more in favour of keeping him out. Much as I’d prefer Kroenke also gone, at the moment, if he’s all that’s stopping Usmanov from coming in, I’m thankful for his presence.

To end, I will make a statement that seems to go contrary to all I’ve written above. I think it is possible to maintain class, even under a billionaire model. No really, It is. A financier doesn’t HAVE to change the club’s ethos. He doesn’t have to make the club all about money. He can help the club overcome some shortcomings. But in that case, he doesn’t guarantee much more success at trophies. Once you start paying players more and more money, class invariably goes out the window. In any case, Usmanov has a distinct lack of class, and he’s shown a few times that he’s willing to harm Arsenal to serve his own interests. Hence my feelings above.

Written by Shard


Robin The Rich ….. Arsenal The Richer

July 12, 2012

I don’t know where to begin. I was so positive about this summer and the coming season. I wrote a post on here – “Van Persie, Van Mystery”- in which I admitted the fears, but espoused the hopes of the fateful meeting between Arsène, Gazidis, and van Persie..I now notice how I naturally refer to each.. Van Persie used to be Robin…not anymore.. — Gazidis.. will probably never be Ivan, but who knows (I always remind you all that I’m an open minded Gunner). Of course Arsène, that will never change, he will always be our Arsène for me, unless they find some bodies buried in his basement, and even then I’d probably forgive him. He’s just so damn magnetic !

Rather than run through all the recent confusion and possible scenarios for this summer (rampant in the press and blogosphere), I will set some reasonable goals, with just a few hypotheticals, and some things that would satisfy me as a fan.

Before the bad van Persie news this week.. I was hoping for a couple more signings after Giroud and Podolski. –  either a good quality DM or CAM. I say either, because, it would be unrealistic to expect both, and we have a couple of versatile high quality midfielders in Wilshire and Arteta who can adjust to compliment either, I believe, and I trust Arsène’s vision on where to use them, especially JW.

I do like the idea of a solid PL back up goalkeeper, and I don’t see anything in the rumours that says Arsene wants someone to replace Szczesny,( maybe a decent challenge at best ) or that we would spend a lot there.

After this, I would have considered anything more coming in as a big bonus.

I think we will move a few sellable players out. Maybe Bendtner,Chamakh, Vela, and Arshavin ( he really screwed up the Zenit plan by opening his mouth at the Euros)  We have to be honest… not everyone can be moved at their current wages.  But these few have  value. Yes, some teams like Chamakh.

Where things get a little sticky, is, any possible domino effect with Walcott and Song. I will not go into all the possible permutations of what can happen there– so i will simplify it. —- If somehow things get really ugly, I don’t want Arsenal to find out when it’s too late to do anything about it. Neither Theo or Alex would be someone to hold onto if they refuse to extend. So they need to be signed, or moved, and replaced. (maybe signed, then at a later date, sold? )Seriously. If we have another last minute debacle, we should be ashamed, and someone would have to pay, in my estimation.

On Usmanov… I know it’s hard to take the shareholder infighting, especially after RvP’s statement and it was a bit of opportunism. But I try to put myself in the rich guys shoes : I’m trying to take control of this club, probably to try and make it better. I’m willing to spend, but the current board is blocking me at every turn. I’m watching this loser Kroenke, who doesn’t care about the team personally, I’m sure. He isn’t doing anything to help, personally, yet he blocks me from trying to change things. You know he probably isn’t a football fan, except NFL. Why can’t I speak out. Everyone else can blog, or give their opinion as much as they want.

Consider this, maybe he was justifiably outraged whenever he found out, like some fans we know.

Back to me.  I don’t want a sugar daddy owner, I’m proud of how we try to do business, but there is a reasonable middle ground, with a little bit of owner investment, especially until we renew our bigger commercial deals. A moderate investment in the squad (keeping FFP in mind), and greater success, would make those new deals more lucrative, surely. It may never be a perfect ownership situation, but there is certainly a lot of room for improvement. For all we know, Wenger may be secretly hoping Usmanov gets in.

And lastly, about van Persie. I reserve the right to change my mind about this, but this is where I stand right now: I don’t want us to accept a pathetic offer. I don’t want any team to take advantage of the situation as it is, or for RvP to force his way. Either pay for the player of the year, or he stays, and helps us make a run. RvP will have to play well to prove he’s worth top salary in a year. He will have to risk under performing, and injury. But he shouldn’t mind accepting less, because it’s not about the money, right? Actually, he will do fine, because without any transfer fee next year, a couple teams will still be able to pay a big salary or signing bonus.

I want us to show anyone and everyone, that we are not desperate to take any cash we can get. We would rather have one more year with a great striker, who is moulded perfectly to our system, – to make a strong title run. —OR, If we get a strong offer, take it, and go get one more good attacker for depth. Either way, we will pick a new captain.

With so much outrage among fans and press this past week, I think my view is reasonable. Less emotional today.

Written by jnyc