2014 Predictions Part 3 : And the winner is ……

January 21, 2014

People from 35 countries around the globe have chosen a winner!

survey_map

To be exact, 126 people, about two thirds of whom live outside of the UK, have chosen (*). Thank you, everyone who completed the survey. The number of respondents really took me by surprise because I expected to get only ten to fifteen, at most twenty, responses. The participants helped to predict the results of the 17 remaining matches (at survey time) for each of the current top three teams: Chelsea, Man City, and our Arsenal. On debate is the question, “Will Arsenal remain ToTL at the end of the season?”

Yes, We Can

Without further delays lest I incur the wrath of evonne, the survey says: Chelsea third with 85 pts, City second with 87 pts, and Arsenal comfortably Top of The League with a two-win gap at 93 pts! Surprised?

survey_standings

Plotting out the predictions and point totals each week, the graph below shows how people see the rest of the season to play out for the three teams.

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Perhaps the final position predictions are not a surprise to AA readers, but there are some interesting match forecasts hidden beneath the overall totals.

Chelsea vs Newcastle: I had this down as a sure win for Chelsea, but almost half of you predict otherwise, with 40% of the people seeing a draw. A possible two point drop for Chelsea here, although that alone would not affect the final three-team ranking.

Spurs vs City and ManU vs City: Can Arsenal’s neighbors help them out next week? Almost 50% of the people expect Spurs will get a point from this fixture. More importantly for Arsenal, that would mean two points dropped by City. Similarly later on in the season, City face an away derby with Arsenal other historical rival, Man Utd. Would we wish BSR and that gang success on the day? 50% of the people pine for a draw out of this match as well.

Arsenal vs City and Spurs vs Arsenal: In the City home fixture, almost 60% of the people predicted a win for Arsenal, with almost 40% thinking draw. Only a small percentage were pessimistic. However, if it turns out to be a draw instead, suddenly the point prediction would become Arsenal 91 pts, City 88 pts, and that final fixture becomes important again. The percentages and prediction in the Spur away match are similar. Again, a draw instead would see Arsenal dropping to 91 pts, but in this case there is no gain for City.

Chelsea vs Arsenal: Close to 50% of the people see this as a draw. 35% predict a win for Arsenal, and 15% predict a loss. The uncertainly is high for this match.

Arsenal to go undefeated the rest of the way? People seem to think so. They predict clear wins for many matches. The most uncertain fixture in the minds of the respondents is Chelsea away, but even for this, only about 15% of the people expect a loss. In the other high profile matches, 6% see a loss to Liverpool, 4% to City, 4% to Everton, and 2% to Spur and Man Utd. The rest are all 1% or less!

How does the survey compare to other opinions out there? After all, in predicting a draw for Chelsea vs Man Utd, it already got one wrong.

Experts Disagree

The well known pundits have not been shy to opine about Arsenal. And how can they avoid it, really? Arsenal’s performances so far have forced them to speak up.

  • Expert 1, Alan Hansen 27 Oct 2013: “[Arsenal] will not end the season as champions.”
  • Expert 2, Michael Owen 18 Dec 2013: “Arsenal don’t have the class of player to go toe to toe with the main title contenders.”
  • Expert 3, Gary Neville 14 Jan 2014: “I do think Arsenal will get hauled back by those two teams.” He meant Chelsea and Man City of course.
  • Expert 4, Robbie Savage 14 Jan 2014: “But will they [Arsenal] win the title? I still say no.”
  • Expert 5, Alan Shearer 18 Jan 2014: “I didn’t think they will [win the title], and I don’t see any reason why I should change my mind.”

And so on… You get the idea. Although recently the pundits have begun—some of them begrudgingly—to compliment Arsenal’s good performances to date, they are still firm in their belief: Arsenal ain’t gonna to make it.

Confidence or Bias?

A few years ago, a book titled The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki, came out. In it, the author shows that, in certain situations, an unbiased sampling of the collective judgement can be very accurate, even more accurate than that of experts. Will it happen here? Now, it is hard to claim that readers of AA, although level headed for the most part, are unbiased when it comes to Arsenal (*). In fact, I was quite surprised at the level of confidence the respondents have in the Arsenal.

For me, this is a significant, and unexpected, revelation of the survey, that this global group of fans believe so strongly in the Arsenal. In three quarters of the remaining Arsenal fixtures, about 1% the predictions foresee a loss. In only two games are the loss predictions more than 5%, for a measly overall loss percentage of 2%. Confidence or bias? To contrast, this same group of people sees the loss percentages of Chelsea and City to be about 10%, neither of whom is predicted to go undefeated the rest of the way (which, as others have pointed out on AA, feel more realistic).

Furthermore, has this confidence/bias always been so strong? Unfortunately I don’t have data for other years, but judging by the various views expressed on AA and elsewhere, I doubt it. It feels like emergent confidence when 80% of the people expect a win in the upcoming home game against Man United, and only 2% seeing a loss. People seem more comfortable that the Arsenal this year can overcome the challenges that tripped them up in the last few years. From the survey, I cannot detect the doom-and-gloom mood amongst the fans, which appeared even as recently as the opening match this season. One can of course still hear or read the public grumble and negative comments, but this survey indicates that a strong counterview exists.

We have to wait to the end of the season to know who got it right, the fans or the experts. Until then, keep believing; it can happen again this year.

champions 2004

Move On! Nothing More To See Here…

Norfolk, look away! For the rest, who like numbers, tables, and charts, have fun with the information below.

These columns show the game-by-game predictions of win/draw/lose by percentage of respondents.

survey_percent

The next set of columns are the game-by-game point averages and the corresponding predictions. The circles are the translation of the survey tallies into W/D/L (†). The error bars are the standard deviation of any individual prediction from the point average of the corresponding match (‡).

survey_predict

If the above doesn’t provide you enough to analyze, pls write me via AA, and I can give you more info.

Notes

(*) There were actually a few more than 126 participants; however these additional people were clearly over-enthusiastic—they selected all wins for Arsenal and all losses for the other two teams—that I had to drop their responses.

(†) For each match, we have the tallies of win, draw, and lose choices. If the win tally is greater than the sum of draws and losses, then this is considered a win. Likewise, if the loss tally is greater than the sum of draw and win, then it is a loss. Otherwise it is a draw. For example, the tallies of 51 W, 40D, 9 L would translate to a win, while the tallies of 25 W, 35 D, 40 L would map into a draw. This mapping seems to serve the purpose in this instance, but one can imagine it not working if the opinions were polarized.

(‡) Point average is done by weighing the points from a win, with the percent of people predicting a win, and so on. For example, if 55% of the people expect a win, 40% a draw, and 5% a loss, then the point average would be (0.55 * 3 + 0.40 * 1 + 0.10 * 0) = 1.93. If we have 25% W, 35% D, and 40% L, this would give a point average of 1.1.

Written by TT


Giroud Is The Key To Wengerball Mk 3

January 20, 2014

Few Arsenal players from the current squad are more discussed and debated than Olivier Giroud.

Our hunky Frenchman is something of an enigma.

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To some he is a selfless workhorse giving his all for the team and making the most of (relatively) limited talents.

To others he is a top quality centre forward who will be a 20+ goals per season man in time.

And to his harshest critics he is no more than a stop-gap: the guy who’s filling in until we can buy a “proper” striker.

My own opinion of him has fluctuated but, just recently, I have had something of a revelation. I now believe that Olivier has possibly been the most significant factor in Arsenal’s success during 2013 and 2014.

Key to this theory is the concept – touched on occasionally in comments here on AA – that this Arsenal team is playing a different game to its predecessors.

Broadly speaking we have had three styles of play during the Arsene Wenger years (including the current approach).

Wengerball Mark 1 was the style that brought us such success in his early years at the club. We played a fast-breaking, highly technical form of 4-4-2, with a lot of height and power in the team. Arsene took on the formation that was then prevalent in the English league but improved on it through his choice of players (highly technical Continentals) and through his coaching, training and health methods. Mk 1 culminated with the Invincibles, the best team in Premier League history, and came to an end shortly afterwards.

Wengerball Mk 2 was a combination of necessity and enlightened thinking: the gradual switch to an Arsenal version of tiki-taka. Necessity – because the move to a new stadium meant we would have to go years without any real money to spend and would have to build a team around our one emerging superstar, Cesc Fabregas; enlightened thinking because from around 2006 tiki-taka started to become the dominant style in European and world football and Wenger was an “early adopter” of the new approach. In Mk 2 we swapped out the powerful athletes of the Mk 1 era for small, fast-moving players who were even more technical than their predecessors. The second era of Wengerball came closest to working in 2008 but, overall, cannot be deemed to have been a success. Our lack of spending power meant we could not surround Cesc with enough world class players and our version of tiki-taka too often resulted in playing the ball from side to side in front of packed defences without breaking through. Meanwhile we were regularly out-muscled by the physically bigger and stronger players of Manchester United and Chelsea.

So what is Wengerball Mk 3?

To me it’s a style that borrows much from tiki-taka, but with a Velcro-covered battering ram bolted to the front. Those masters of the tiki-taka game, Barcelona and the Spanish national side, invariably build their moves from the back with a focus on keeping possession. The striker  generally only comes into play at the pointy end of matters, as his slick-passing midfield colleagues tap-dance their way into the opposition penalty area.

Arsenal tried this approach but it would often break against our opponents’ defence like waves against a sea wall. When we had had enough of the sideways passing and tried to penetrate we often lost possession very quickly and found ourselves caught on the break.

But Olivier Giroud changed all that.

Suddenly we had someone up front who could retain the ball; who was not bundled off it by lumpen defenders; who could bring midfielders into play and who could give us a plan B if we wanted to try just crossing into the box or if we were under pressure.

It meant we could persevere with the tiki-taka elements of our midfield (triangles, changing position, give-and-go) but also have a much safer outlet when we wanted to play the ball forward.

And that’s the way we play today. Now when our midfielders play the ball into our striker they do so knowing that they will not be forced back on the defensive immediately, as was too often the case in the past.

Mk 3 gives us the flexibility to play from the back tiki-taka style, and also to occasionally put an early ball out of defence up to Giroud who can then hold it up until our other attackers and midfielders come into play.

Why do we have the best scoring midfield in the EPL? Because of Ollie.

I know many will argue with the idea that Giroud is the biggest factor in the revival of our fortunes. I can imagine some will say it’s down to our new-found defensive discipline.

But to me, that defensive discipline is also down to Ollie in large part. Apart from the actual defending he does (defending from the front when the opposition are playing out from the back and contributing massively to our defence at set pieces), Ollie’s hold-up play also allows the rest of our team to defend better.

In the pre-Ollie days, remember, we were punished on the break so often that it was like a recurring nightmare: all those games where we would lay siege to the opposition without seriously threatening their goal, then concede on their first attack.

Part of the reason was that we were losing possession too frequently when we attacked.

Now that happens less often and when it does happen our players are more likely to have had time to get back into position and to nullify the counter-attacks.

Wengerball Mk 3 is probably the only way of making a partly tiki-taka based game work effectively in the blood-and-thunder of the Premier League and it’s to Arsene Wenger’s great credit that he has figured out how to do it.

I’m even inclined to think that that’s what he had in mind when he signed Chamakh. As we know, the Moroccan did not turn out to be the man capable of playing that hold-up role and we also got side-tracked by Robin van Persie finally hitting a purple patch, but the way we now play is what Arsene has been working towards for a few years.

Olivier Giroud has finally made it possible.

RockyLives


Business as usual! The march at the top continues

January 19, 2014

The bottom line is simple. Despite the green fumes of envy from the clueless pundits and money spinning ignorable others, we stay Top of the League.

This was a historic day in the English Premier League, when goal line technology was used for the first time to the benefit of the Northern Oilers and the disappintment of the new boys from Cardiff. This was also a day when Arsenal had a job to do at home against Fulham. Fulham has had quite a Mauleen from all and sundry, and at The Home of Football they were clearly expected to receive a battering. Arsenal were Top of the League before the game. Despite the accumulation of injuries including a rather serious one to Theo Walcott, and despite the disappointment of fans from a typically unimpressive transfer window, we were not expected to drop points at home against an unfancied opposition.

However, Fulham came out with purpose, with a revamped central defence sporting the fit-again captain Brede Hangeland and “recalled from loan” six-and-half-footer Burn. The midfield sported the hacker mercenary duo of Parker and Sidwell, and ahead of them a frontline sporting one evergreen Dimitar Berbatov. At goal was the World Cup finalist “Mr Dictionary” Dutchman Stekelenburg, with 10 distinct letters in his surname (I kid you not!!!!!).

Arsenal came out with an unchanged starting lineup, which had only one omission from Raddy’s carefully considered choice. The little master Santi Cazorla was chosen over the little Mozart Tomáš Rosický. The “masked Czech” was left on the bench to nurse a delicate nose flattened in a previous brawl. Other than Monreal on the left, the backline was familiar – Mert, Kos and Sagna. The defensive midfield positions were manned by Flamini and Wilshere. Özil, Santi and Gnabry together with front-man Ollie completed the attacking line up.

For me, the starting line up made good sense. The left and right backs had freedom to roam upwards along the flanks. Flamini and Jack were positioned to start the cleanup operations and link forward. For me, the movement through the centre is perhaps the best way to use Jack’s speed and youthful exuberance. The wing play of Sagna and Monreal allows the attacking midfield freedom to move laterally through interchanging positions. This is perhaps the most natural movement for both Santi and Gnabry, and it offers the opportunity to use any lack of tightness in the opposition back four.

Arsenal fans everywhere, including the venerable Arsenal Arsenal family, have been clamouring for the addition of a striker in January, and that wish of a post-Christmas present has so far been steadfastly ignored by “Mr Santa” Le Boss. Giroud had unfortunately misplaced his shooting shoes during his nocturnal escapades on one fateful night in Kiev last November. Hence, the forty million and one pound question was: where would the goals come from? Despair not. The answer came later during the game.

Anyway, the game commenced in earnest. The initial exchanges were tasty. 5 minutes on, Gnabry moved inwards deftly from the right, and found a gap to send the ball forward, Jack met this with aplomb and fed on to Özil on the right end of the 6-yard box. Instead of shooting himself, the German wizard tried to pass to Giroud, but Hangeland deftly hacked away. Again, 20 minutes on, Gnabry cut in from the right and fed Olivier Giroud at the edge of the 18-yard box, but he fired the ball high and wide. In between, Arsenal continued to boss the game, Wilshere being particularly enterprising, but failed to create clear chances.

Something was amiss. I thought there was lack of coordination between the attacking midfielders at the centre. The way Arsenal plays, all three of them have liberty to move and exchange places. On the day, this exchange was not working quite right. When Gnabry moved in from the right and released the ball, he continued to move to the centre, but the gap on the right was not seamlessly filled in by the other guys. The same happened when Santi moved in from the left. There was crowding in the centre and the game could not be spread wide. As a result, the Fulham defence was able to close their gaps easily.

At the same time, Fulham were somewhat potent on their rare saunters upfront. On 27 minutes, Berbatov’s cross was cleared out of the box and fell to Steve Sidwell, who launched an audacious 20 yard stunner that Szczesny had to deftly fist over. The Pole made two other crucial interceptions in one on one situations, diving to the feet of Dejagah first, and taking the ball off the feet of Kacaniklic the second time. In both cases he superbly avoided a touch with the rushing shooters. Fantastic stuff.

Together, the robust rebuttal of Arsenal’s advances continued, through a combination of skillful defence, agricultural mercenary action and sheer luck. Some freekicks were conceded but no bookings – surprise, surprise!! From one of these freekicks, the good guys produced their first clear chance. From about 20 yards out, Santi drilled his kick into the wall and the rebound fell to Sagna on the edge of the box. His first timer glided through the crowd towards the bottom right corner, but Stekelenburg brought off an amazing reflex save, and immediately after from Giroud’s follow-up. Giroud was flagged offside, but the Dutch goalkeeper would not have known. Brilliant play.

In between, nothing much had worked for the Arsenal attack. Wilshere and Gnabry were enthusiastic without much success, Serge attempting three wayward and juvenile long rangers, and Jack trying fancy one-twos with Giroud that, unlike the Norwich game, did not quite work out. Flamini had a quiet game, doing his basic job without producing any moment of inspiration, but almost contributed to a disaster. Almost at the end of the half, Per Mertesacker ran in to head a ball, bending himself low to the ball, and Flamini lent his arm in support. Per dashed into Flamini, hurt his neck and stayed down for an anxious few minutes. To the relief of Arsenal fans, no serious damage was done. The teams went in at halftime all square. Fulham were competent in defence, and Arsenal attacked all half without much conviction. It seemed they could go up another gear, though.

At half time, there were plenty of nerves, and some disagreement among the faithful followers on Arsenal Arsenal who were unlucky not to be at THOF. Clearly, the shape and formation of the team was not quite right. The game was not spread wide. Raddy felt Gnabry should stick to the wing and not fight for space with Santi. Arnie thought, dare I say so, that being the central guy, Özil had the responsibility of moving over when either of Santi or Gnabry moved to the centre. In any case, a job needed to be done. Raddy moved over from lager to wine, Arnie continued to provide bloopers, and Rocky sat down with pen and paper to record Plobert’s errors of commission and omission.

As the second half commenced, Arsenal came out in earnest, trying to use the flanks better and upping the pace of the game. But Fulham continued to provide some potency on the counter, Berbatov holding the ball up well until support arrived from the other players. These attacks were clinically thwarted by the Mertesacker-Koscielny duo, with able support from Sagna and Monreal mainly, and everyone else in the team as well.

10 minutes into the half, Arsenal produced their first significant action. Gnabry provided a moment of individual brilliance, moving in from the right side-stepping three defenders before firing in a low shot which was spectacularly saved by Maarten Stekelenburg. Then, Monreal whipped the ball in from the left, Sagna’s effort was cleared off the goal line. Gnabry poked it rebound forward and somehow Fulham again cleared off the line. The stalemate continued. Nervy times.

The first moment of the Santi magic came on 57 minutes. Santi picked a ball from the left, passed through to Ollie on the top of the box and continued his run in. Giroud took a ball with his back to goal, flicked out a one-touch lay-off into the path of Wilshere, who picked up Santi on his run. Santi, oh beauty, slided in and with his right foot fired into the goal from close-rage. Absolutely lovely team goal. The Emirates erupted in unison, well, except the hapless away fans I suppose. Celebrations ensued. Giroud wrapped his arms around Santi and made some strange arm gestures that I found hard to interpret. Beyond, of course, the unimaginable!!

santi v fulham

Within 5 minutes, there was the second piece of Santi brilliance. This time, with his left foot. Monreal crossed the ball in from the left, and as it was hacked out from the box, Santi rushed in from the right, and fired in from the edge of the box into the corner of the net. 2-0 to The Arsenal.

The march continued, the fans sang loud and clear. Poldi replaced Gnabry, and launched a superb rasper from 20 yards out that was somehow fingered on to the upright by the Dutch goalkeeper. The Ox came on very late and almost got his head to a cross from the left, but not quite.

Still some nervy moments at the end. Mert sauntered on one of his escapades and failed to intercept a loopy cross which Szczesny failed to reach as well. Bent stepped around him and somehow missed from close range. Under pressure from Koscielny of course, who had an absolutely brilliant game. In the final minute, The Ox launched into an agricultural heave at the edge of the box, and off the resulting freekick, the Pole in goal spilled the ball in the first attempt and somehow grabbed for dear life in the second. Szczesny the Savior, on his 100th game for Arsenal as well. Absolutely fantastic performance from him.

Thus the game ended after a nervy extended injury time. Job well done. We are Top of the League. This was a thorough team performance, and the tentative scores reflect this.

Szczesny 8. Superb saves. His was a very crucial performance. Coming out and not reaching the ball in injury time the only major blip.

Mertesacker 6. Good composed performance. Missed a loopy ball towards the end that led to the Bent chance. A couple of other similar errors in judgment that could have proved costly on another day.

Koscielny 8. Superb. One of the true stars on the day. What a great performance, what a big heart!

Sagna 7. Good performance in attack and defence. Two good shots on goal.

Monreal 7. Like Sagna, good in defence and in overlapping. His cross led to the second goal.

Flamini 6. Decent composed performance without being inspirational.

Wilshere 8. Good enterprising and credible performance. Assist for the first goal. Fantastic.

Özil 7. Good performance. Nice interchanges and distribution. Would perhaps be more proactive in organisation of shape and formation on another day.

Cazorla 8. What can you say, except for Wow! Superb. Two goals. The star on the day. Man of the Match! The little master is back.

Gnabry 7. Very good performance. A future star. The development continues.

Giroud 6. A decent day in office. Missed a few chances. Tried a lot of fancy lay-offs that did not work. But one of these did, and it led to the first goal.

Podolski 7. Came on for the final 20 minutes. A superb effort on goal. The rehab continues.

The Ox. Too short to have a score. But nice to have him back. Almost at the end of a cross on the right post, but not quite. However, a terrible tackle in the end that on another day could have proved costly. The rehab has begun in earnest.

What lessons did we learn? Plenty of positives to take. Yes, this is work in progress, yes the loss of Theo is costly, but this is a team where everyone does his bit and steps up on the day. And yes, the conviction that we are resilient in defence and attack, and are not going to give away easy points. The defence and goalkeeping performance was superb. 10th clean sheet in the league, 8 clean sheets out of 9 games at home. Santi coming back to his best, the rehab of Poldi and The Ox continues. Onwards and upwards!

Arnie.


Easier than Spurs?

January 18, 2014

Fulham, should be a stroll but will it?

BR spends much of the day with his head in the clouds pondering upon imponderables and when I sat to start this post it was the name Fulham which interested me. Why are so many places  named …. ham or Ham …..?  Obvious really to a Danish speaker, Ham originates from the Anglo-Saxon “hjem” meaning home or homestead.  ‘Ful’ (in danish *fugl*-silent g) means bird or fowl, so home of the fowls. If one adds another *m* (hamm) it means water-meadow.  As Fulham is on the low lying banks of the Thames shouldn’t it be Fulhamm? I will write to the new owners.

Onto the football. Fulham appear to be in free-fall. Jol couldn’t inspire them and this new fellow is struggling. Will they go down? Much depends upon the form of those around them but with Pulis and Poyet beginning to influence their teams it is highly likely.

Who do you think will be relegated? It is usually a couple of the promoted teams but this season it is almost impossible to predict – at the moment there are just 6 points separating the bottom 11 clubs! My guess – West Ham,  Fulham and Palace (I dislike Pulis and Allardyce and less London derbies).

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Cone-Man and The Barbarian

What can Meulensteen do to stop the rot? Well, the return of Hangeland to his porous defence will be hugely beneficial, the Norwegian may be ponderous ( 😀 ) but he is experienced and Fulham’s defensive leader. We welcome back an old boy who has made a fine career for himself – Steve Sidwell who will line up alongside the deeply distasteful Scott Parker (watch him kick lumps out of our lads), possibly TMHT’s fellow countryman and national captain, Karagounis and some fellows called Kasami and Degajah (sound like types of sushi) or perhaps the old but good loanee Dempsey can add some guile. Taarabt is also available but despite his undoubted talent he remains erratic.

Upfront. Darren Bent likes a goal against the club he supports (AFC) – a few years back I saw him as the successor to TH14 – how wrong was I! Will Fulham play two strikers with Berbs and Bent? Highly unlikely, my guess is they will pack the midfield, play deep, look for a set-piece goal and pray to escape a hammering. If we score a couple early it could turn nasty for the Cottagers.

I don’t want to put a bok on us but Fulham have never won away at Arsenal.

Arsenal:  Still lots of injuries but we continue to put out an excellent team, perhaps Mr Wenger is right when he states this is his best ever squad. Is it? We certainly have depth throughout the squad, particularly if Bendtner improves as cover for Giroud.

Can Cazorla and Podolksi start in the same team given Ozil’s automatic start? It assumes Santi will play centrally with Podolski coming in from the left. Is Podolski clever enough to play the great one touch football Ozil, Jack, Santi and OG play? I believe he is but I also expect him to leave in summer (a topic for another day).

My Team:

arse v ful

I know ……. no Pod and no Cazorla but given the balance of the frontline we have to play Gnabry out right with a licence to cut inside his fullback.

Or Cazorla plays left and Gnabry rides the pine. Or Podolski plays in place of Tomas and Santi plays alongside him. Who knows, we could see a few minutes from Park ! Any injury to a CB will result in Sagna playing CB and Jenks getting a run. Let’s hope that with TV out we can keep both Kos and BFG fit.

This may seem presumptuous but if we do not take 3 points today then we can forget the title. Why? Because this is probably our easiest game of the season apart from Spurs away.

Let’s finish with a story of pride coming before a fall but with a considerable silver lining.

There was a young player who learned his trade in the Arsenal youth team and was hailed as the next Liam Brady. He scored for AFC before his 19th birthday but after  just 9 games he was loaned out to Norwich and Blackburn to “beef up”. Returning to Arsenal he put in a transfer request saying he was being denied a first team place ( as attacking MF’s we had Cesc, Bobby, Freddie, Hleb, Reyes & Diaby). His “reward” was a transfer to Blackburn. Two seasons later and in one of the most bizarre signings of modern times he was sold to a team of North London no-hopers for a massive fee and a 6 year contract worth over £50k a week!! His career highlight was to come at THOF in the skinny cock shirt when he scored an outrageous and incredibly lucky goal in a 4-4 draw. He played a total of 44 games for the first team and that was it for him. A number of seasons in the reserves, a couple of loan deals, including one to Championship Birmingham who refused to sign him permanently and finally the spanish archer from Spurs.

So, why do I bring up David Bentley? Because it fascinates me how someone who has totally screwed up his career (he earned 7 full England caps as a 23 y.o) can earn  over 15 million quid in the last 6 years AND get a £1m loyalty bonus because no-one would sign him – an average wage of £360k+ a game for a very average player!! And what now for a man who is still younger than RVP and Mertesacker? I will tell you …. nothing; no team has offered him a contract.

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“What sin have I committed to deserve wearing this awful shirt?

The moral of the story: Sign for Spurs and become mega-wealthy whilst sitting in your Essex home playing with yourself (I mean playing computer games you mucky people!)

Another big game for Arsenal and Mr Wenger. The bookies have us as 2/9 favourites and they are seldom wrong.

Big Raddy


Surgery, Victory, Injury, Jittery

January 17, 2014
 

 Last Friday:

  Walcott turns down a quick fix

The news came that Theo had opted for the most risk free treatment for his ACL injury. It is also the treatment that will keep him on the sidelines for the longest time.

Theo will undergo a patella tendon graft which is thought to offer the best long-term guarantees after a gruelling period of rehabilitation. Using a synthetic tendon could have got him back in time for the World Cup but there is a risk of the body rejecting it. Likewise with using a tendon from a dead body. He could have chosen to use a sliver of his own hamstring but as his game is based on speed his hamstrings are vital.

Arsene Wenger said;

“Theo is handling it as well as you can when you have had such a shock because he is mentally strong, he’s very balanced as a person and he can put it into perspective. We know that he will have the dedication and serious attitude to come back as strong as ever”.

Diaby suffers new set-back

Arsene Wenger says he is unsure if Abou Diaby will play for Arsenal this season after he suffered a new setback in his rehabilitation.

Diaby, who has been dogged by injury trouble during his time in north London, has not played for the club since last March after damaging his cruciate knee ligaments.

The Frenchman was expected to return in the next few weeks, after having extensive rehab in Dubai, but Wenger says he is nowhere near ready to come back; ‘His recovery is going very slowly,’ said Wenger.

‘Will he play again this season? I don’t know. He is still on a long-term recovery programme.’

Diaby has told supporters at a recent charity event that he hopes to be back on the pitch shortly, but Arsenal are no longer giving a predicted return date for the midfielder.

 

 

Saturday:

A predictable win for the Chavs over Hull City saw us toppled from the top, temporarily we hope as a win against Villa on Monday would see us bounce back regardless of City’s result against the Magpies on Sunday.

More Morata speculation, the loan deal could be on again as Real Madrid, after initially ruling out any departures during January, may be willing to let him go “later in the month”.

A bit of late news, and by late I mean two days late, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain played the first half of an U21 match against Fulham on Thursday evening, he came off at half-time in a pre-planned substitution, it was the lad’s first action since getting injured on the opening day of the season against Aston Villa. Now it seems that he could be on the bench against the same opposition on Monday.

Oh! And I forgot to mention, Eisfeld scored the only goal in the win over Fulham.

Sunday:

Arsene Wenger compared Oxlade Chamberlain to Steven Gerard, speaking on www.arsenal.com le professeur said

“At the moment he is still in formation. It is good for his education as he plays left, right and centrally when needed. After [the age of] 23 or 24 you settle in a definite position”.

“He will be deeper as he has a good long ball, penetration from deep and a good quality to distribute and penetrate individually. Certainly he has the same qualities to Steven Gerrard.

Now I may not have Wenger’s insight but to compare the gracefull, pacy, youngster to that lumbering carthorse “Stevie G” is just a bit unkind.

Monday:

All the results are in, the calculations have been done and the outcome has been tabulated, Arsenal drop to third in the table but with the chance to bounce back by beating Villa later in the day.

Kieran Gibbs announced on his instagram page, whatever that is, that Theo had a “successful” operation on his knee and is recovering in hospital.

Team news, Monreal came in for Gibbs, Flamini, Wilshere, Cazorla, Ozil and Gnabry mixed it up in mid-field while Giroud mixed it with the Villa centre-backs.

Tuesday:

Wilshere drives Arsenal back to the summit

A goal by Wilshere followed by one for Giroud, from a Wilshere pass, just seventeen seconds after the restart, was enough to take us back to the top of the table despite a second half goal for Villa.

Injuries to Nacho Monreal, possibly a fractured metatarsal, and Tomas Rosicky, a broken nose, were not good news and both players could be out for a while.

Bacary Sagna, whose contract expires in the summer, is set to renew talks over an extension. Sagna’s preference is to stay at Arsenal and finish his career at the club but the best offer so far is two more years at about the same wage £70,000 per week. Sagna has never agitated for more money or for a move away but feels his loyalty and experience deserves some recognition. Come on Arsenal, give him three years and a raise, you know it makes sense!!

Two more players in negotiations are Tomas Rosicky and Per Mertesacker, can we afford to pay them more or can we afford to lose them?

From The Evening Standard:- Mertesacker made his 100th appearance for the club against Villa and has come to epitomise this galvanised Arsenal. He is the organiser-in-chief, the debt collector and, last night at least, every inch the captain of this team.

The Germany international provided composure amid the chaos. He knows the importance of maintaining Arsenal’s advantage at the top of the table and developing that ruthless efficiency required to win major honours.

Contract negotiations? Just get on with it Mr. Laws!!

Wednesday:

More recognition of the vital part Per Mertesacker is playing in Arsenal’s so far successful season came in an article in The Telegraph. Together with Laurent Koscielny the pair have brought a “perfect blend for solidity” Arsene Wenger has often in the past described Arsenal’s defending as naïve, yet no team have conceded fewer goals (19) or registered more clean sheets (nine) than Arsenal this season. The statistics behind the centre-back partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are even more compelling. Monday’s 2-1 win against

Aston Villa was their 28th completed game together and, in those, the club have registered 20 wins, eight draws and 16 clean sheets. Also very much to the point is the fact that we are unbeaten in those 28 games.

Mertesacker and Koscielny have formed a natural partnership. Koscielny’s speed and athleticism have often covered for Mertesacker’s lack of pace, although the German’s organisational skills have been perhaps the biggest single factor.

While they both remain fit and available our title challenge should stay very much on track.

Any chance of signing Schalke’s Julian Draxler were scuppered when it emerged that the 20 year old has damaged his ankle ligaments and will be out of action for up to three months.

Thursday:

Le Professeur revealed the latest fitness situation ahead of Saturday’s three o’clock kick-off against Fulham.

On Theo Walcott’s surgery…
It went very well. The damage was real in the knee so he will have to take the needed time, so let’s not be hopeful that he will go to the World Cup – that is not possible. But overall his long-term future is very positive. It’s about being fit for next season now.

on Monreal and Rosicky…
Monreal looks a doubt for Saturday, a big doubt, because he twisted his foot on the kick. It is not the bruise, he turned and twisted the ligament. Rosicky had surgery with a general anaesthetic for a broken nose in two places. With a mask he may be available, but we have to monitor it closely.

on Arteta (calf), Vermaelen (knee) and Ramsey (thigh)…
Ramsey and Arteta are both out for this game. Vermaelen too. I personally believe the three will miss the Coventry game as well and will be available after that.

on Bendtner (ankle)…

He has a little chance to make Coventry. But in all probability it will be after that.

Thanks to

www.arsenal.com for permission to reproduce the above.

Jack Wilshire is to appear alongside Lionel Messi in the 2014 advertising campaign for Pepsi.

Arsenal will red and white shirts with white shorts and socks, the ‘keeper will be in all green for Saturday’s match. The referee will be Lee Probert who drew this comment from Wenger after officiating in the same fixture in January 2012 when Johanne Djourou was sent of and Arsenal lost 2 – 1. “The referee influenced the game completely the wrong way in my opinion,”

That’s it for another week.

Norfolk Gooner.


Oi Ref …. You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

January 16, 2014

It is only fair to say from the outset that if you are not interested in the way we fans are involved in the running of our favourite sport, and the idiosyncrasies of referees — do not read on! :-)

We have from time to time on AA discussed refereeing inconsistencies with heated debate frequently ensuing and the antics of the officials this week end should make them hang their heads in shame.

r1For the most part, reasoned and mature debate is the default setting on this venerable blog site and all manner of opinion is tolerated and aired to prove or disprove points of view.

But why do we depend on expressing our opinions to justify our individual views, or to prove a point, however dubious, and what is the value of an opinion anyway?

Well opinions do have substantial value, in the right context, but let’s be candid, we are only really interested in those opinions that please us, by which we mean agrees with our own views, and sod the ‘value’.

Does that mean we do not value the potential worth of constructive criticism? Not necessarily, because opinions can have a much wider impact and importance.

It is important to note here that not all fans have the same value judgments, and that some fans can treat opposing opinions rather more roughly than is really necessary.:-)

It is a truism that some of us may struggle with what value to attach to an opinion that contradicts our own biased stance. This notion is important to resolve, but in any event it should be a matter of pride that our opinions are essentially the bedrock of civilisation in ways we do not always immediately recognise.

Take statute Law. In the UK this is Law passed by the elected members of Parliament and this, together with Laws passed in other Countries are a fundamental necessity for the smooth running of this and every other civilised society.

This form of Law is normally committed to writing, to avoid misunderstanding , and in and of itself is pure, in so far as language can make it so.

Unfortunately, problems can still arise because of verbal or written ambiguity which is endemic in all languages, not least English, especially where it involves definitions governing the practical application of Law upon society.

Ambiguity inevitably leads to hypocrisy as an inevitable consequence of allowing an opportunity for ‘interpretation’ of meaning by those in a position of power.

As a result, the Law can be seen to bend itself to those in power like the branches of a tree flinch in a high wind, and precisely how the law is interpreted and applied depends on the whims of those in power which, in turn, results in the Law becoming twisted and perverse.

Now that leads us back to an inevitable conclusion that laws are, at base, just a set of formalised opinions, approved by the electorate.

This means that the Law should be formalised as the result of the informed opinions of the electorate for the proper and ‘peaceful’ governance of society, or, for that matter, of any other institution which implements laws or rules to ensure strong and impartial governance of its members.

There are those who will contest the use of the word ‘peaceful’ in this context, as many will view the imposition of the Law as having, at its core, the subjugation of those without power who are unable to introduce or amend the Laws which govern them except through the offices of those in authority.

Others will say this is not so, and that the introduction or maintenance of Laws, or rules, are necessary for the mitigation of damages or the decreeing and enforcement of punishments for anti-social behaviour.

OK, let us stop for a moment and consider what we have discussed, so far.

Opinions do have intrinsic value in arriving at a system of Law that helps govern society, and also the rules for the administration of institutions. These Laws then impose the rules that govern acceptable behaviour in society at large, or the judicial operation of institutions and other authoritative bodies.

As a natural fallout from this, there is an implied need to protect every individual within society, and the members of institutions, from harm, both physical and mental.

My personal concerns over this whole subject is that, in practise, Laws can sometimes be seen to decide which forms of oppression are allowed, and because man made laws are subject to those in power, and oppression then becomes a right for them over those who have little or no power.

That might seem to be an overtly political point of view, :-) but it has a direct correlation to football, and how it is run, and that is the only matter under discussion here.

The governance of football, whether from its highest authority, FIFA, or its application by one of its incumbent bodies, UEFA or the Premier League, and through them the referees body PGMOL, is in effect a form of oppressive authoritarianism, and its intent is to protect their own dominance by manipulating the power of member clubs and to impose rules on the game and on the conduct of the players, all of which, in the final analysis, directly affects us, the fans, and we have no say whatsoever in this process, other than to voice our concerns in forums such as this.

To keep this state of affairs in a sustainably stable and rigidly enforceable grip, one of the first tasks of FIFA and the other authorities has been to belittle the views or opinions of those, like you, who disagree with their manipulation of the beautiful game, (take the award of the World Cup venues for example) and they have succeeded to a great degree in doing so because those of us who seek another way to run the game are usually either unwilling or unable to articulate those views for fear of being mocked for expressing them.

That then is the rub.

For those few who do stand up to be counted often take umbrage at being ridiculed for lacking in perspicacity or acumen only gives an excuse for the massed ranks of the authorities to descend en masse to ritually and publicly humiliate and annihilate the disaffected ‘fools’ as we are seen, and thereby re-establish their control and authority, which, of course, is intended to protect their own vested interests, of which the primary one is the powerful assertion of absolute oppression, by the application of their laws and the elimination of any dissension.

None the less, the expression of our opinions on public forums such as AA is a necessary first step to ensure that the footballing authorities in this country, and elsewhere, are made aware of our concerns and the need for what we see as the beneficial and transparent application of just rules. :-)

Keep blogging, keep your opinions forthright, keep on keeping on! :-)

Written by RA (Red Arse)


2014 Predictions Part 2: You choose

January 15, 2014

Readers of AA recently would have seen my 2014 Predictions, in which I attempted to answer the question, “Will Arsenal remain ToTL at the end of the season?” Those readers also would have noted with amusement that my predictive ability is probably on par with that of the folks who calculated the Mayan doomsday date a few years ago.

I seek your help to improve the prediction. In the survey below, please tell me how you think the teams will perform in the second half of the season. I will compile the results and present them as the “AA Readers Second Half Prediction” in a later post.

Because there are so many matches to consider, I have restricted the survey to only three teams: the two favorites of the pundits, and our very own, beloved Arsenal. Also, I have sorted their fixtures into two groups. Page 1 of the survey presents the matches I think are “sure” wins. Please review them. If you agree, just continue to page 2, which contains matches that are beyond my prescient vision. (Sorry, I don’t understand why the list is so long. 😀 ) Your predictions are requested for all the games listed on this page.

Thank you very much. I anxiously await the results.

And to those who scoff, “Since you included Arsenal as a contender, why didn’t you also include my favorite XYZ team?” Well, I’m waiting for XYZ to top the table for virtually sixteen weeks in a row before I do that. Cheers!

Written by TT


Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 2 : And everybody breathe

January 14, 2014

I was a bit of a silly boy, on Saturday morning I decided to tell everyone that I predicted much laughter as the weekend results were sure to throw up a few results in our favour and at the expense of our rivals.

Well as we all know I got those well and truly wrong with everyone in the top 7 before the weekend winning their matches. So Monday night and a trip to Villa Park for us was starting to worry me, despite our stats at Villa Park it feels to me that they have had an indian sign over us at the Emirates, and maybe they could transfer that to Villa Park for just one night.

Arsène surprised a few of us by including Gnabry in the starting line up, the only other significant surprise was Monreal in place of Gibbs. Although in that left back slot Arsene has somewhat of a luxury as proven tonight, Monreal is a fine player and when Gibbs came on to replace him there was no change in balance or ability.

Villa were not in the game from the kick off, we dominated possession but were struggling to find a way through the parked bus, Lambert adopting the counter attacking game that works so well away from home in the Premier League, from what I have heard and read this seems to be Lambert’s default tactic not necessarily reserved for visits of the big boys, it probably explains Villa’s low points haul at home as visiting Premier League teams will be happy to take a point, only a few will push all out for a win. Anyway this is an Arsenal blog not a Villa one so on with the match report.

Young Serge Gnabry took it upon himself to start vandalising the bus, a left foot drive hit Villa’s centre back Baker on the temple and he was unfortunately stretchered off concussed having been knocked out for a minute or two. It is never nice to see a player stretchered off, but it meant that Lambert had to shuffle his pack from the three centre backs formation he decided to go into the game with, which would open up some space for us eventually.

After the restart we took some time to reestablish our superiority and Villa had a couple of nearly moments. We were controlling possession but not really finding a way through the defensive lines, that was until Özil did what he is brilliant at, dropping out of midfield to receive the ball from our defence he had the ball in space and time, his movement had also created a vacuum in the middle of Villa’s lines, Monreal made a great run into space and Özil did the other thing he is brilliant at put the ball on his toe, looking up Monreal found Wilshere who within two touches had put the ball in the corner of the net.

jw1

Less than 15 seconds from the restart Jack won back possession in Villa’s half, Giroud made a fine run and Jack flighted a gorgeous ball on to his left foot, Giroud took a couple of touches (one may have been a bit fortuitous but what is it they say about making your won luck?) and with his third drove the ball convincingly into the bottom corner. 2-0 time to relax, what was I worried about?

og 1

Both goals showed that technique that Arsène craves in his players, sorting their feet out while moving at pace and under pressure.

We played the first half out at a canter and it is easy to criticise the players for not going for the kill, we still had plenty of possession and plenty of it around the oppositions box, but there was an element of cockiness and there were one too many flicks rather than proper passing and moving.

Unfortunately someone applied the handbrake at half time and no one seemed to be able to find the damned thing in the second half.

Villa grew in confidence and played a bit better than they had in the first half, we continued to be frivolous in possession and made it hard for ourselves to control the game.

With 20 minutes or so to go, Santi gifted possession to Villa deep in our third, and the ball was swiftly delivered into our penalty area where Benteke could not refuse the invitation for a diving header.

We had been relaxing too long and found it difficult to re-establish the upper hand in possession and ended the game conceding a lot of ground and a few too many aerial balls into the box. Thankfully there was no real drama in the remaining minutes of the game and the defence held firm to see out the match and put another 3 valuable points in the bank.

The sad news of the night is that Monreal may be out for a while if as feared he has done a metatarsal, and Rosicky will probably miss a couple of games whilst his nose is realigned. Better news was the return of Oxlade-Chamberlain, and also the return of that change of pace from Jack, it’s still not there every time but he is getting stronger every game, and if he can continue to find those runs and space in the box he should be able to add a few more goals to his tally before the season is out.

Ratings

Szczesny – 7 didn’t really have a lot to do

Monreal – 8 I really like the way he plays, unlucky to get injured when trying to score a third for Arsenal, good assist for the goal.

Koscielny – 7 did very well to keep Benteke and Abonglahor quiet most of the night

Mertesacker – 8 leader

Sagna – 7.5 Some good crossing tonight strong defensively, can’t really fault his performance.

Flamini – 7.5 excellent cover in the latter stages

Wilshere – 8 one goal one assist, returning to form

Özil – 7 bit too quiet for my liking needs to get involved more

Santi – 6 very erratic with his passing

Gnabry – 7.5 thought he was roaming into the hole a bit too often first half which unbalanced the side, clearly has bags of potential

Giroud – 7.5 nicely taken goal, should have done better with an early header, and hold up play lacking

Subs:

Gibbs – 7
Rosicky – broken nose no time to rate
Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7 just for being back, actually made some nice runs and found himself in threatening positions, I’ve missed the lad

Gooner in Exile


Revenge is a dish best served cold

January 13, 2014

As I sit beside the frozen icy slopes of Zermatt I am reminded that revenge is a dish best served cold. And a January evening in the Midlands is pretty chilly!

To those who cannot recall the first day of the season, we got royally *****ed, a more polite way of saying this would be the the referee on the day had a poor afternoon. As I have little access to the internet, I cannot say who tonight’s ref will be but he will surely do a better job.

Nor can I say who will be in our opponents team tonight but given their recent record I expect the Arsenal to be confident. You chaps will no doubt be able to discuss who will be the cause for concern in their line-up; Benteke may be back on form etc etc.

But ultimately, it will be how AFC perform tonight. Top of the Table, in good form after a brilliant December and on the back of a stunning win over the miscreants (who are no doubt giving it large after beating a relegation threatened Palace), if we play to our potential we should regain our position at the top.

Third just doesn’t feel right does it?

Losing Theo was painful and it will be interesting to see how Mr Wenger copes with his loss.  I think we have enough in the squad should he not be able to buy a top quality fox-in-the-box.

My team (with no injury info)

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Someone has to miss out and for an away fixture it has to be Santi, TR has been superb this season and deserves an automatic start, plus he is more defensively aware when Pod ventures forward.

No jokes today, sorry. Just a brief intro to tonight’s match (maybe someone can add something to the post)

May the Footballing Gods bring good fortune down upon the Arsenal.

Big Raddy


Arsenal Reduced From Invincibles To Invisibles

January 12, 2014

With the absence of a post and incensed by yet another load of inane drivel from the ex-spurts on TalkSport this morning; I was driven to offer these few words to spark debate today.

In the past few years we have had to produce a late season rally to even make the last four – culminating in last season’s epic last 10 games yielding 26 points with 8 wins and 2 draws.

So we have a history of ending the season strongly. After 20 games we are top of the league…… but it appears no-one gives us a cat in hells chance of winning the EPL. Micky Quinn surpassed even his own ludicrously high levels of ignorance when he didn’t even list The Arsenal as likely to finish in the top four.

Like most Arsenal supporters, I am happiest when we are the underdogs…. but the way we are being dismissed by the media is just disrespectful. We have the longest serving manager in the EPL and a stable squad with a level of depth that has surprised many of us. We have a very solid defence and plenty of goals coming from midfield. We have proved we can ‘win ugly’ and we have shown we can win without Giroud by playing in a different way. And yet, no-one thinks we can win the league.

I wouldn’t be disappointed if we finished 2nd or 3rd as I believe we will be even stronger next season and we are building a fantastic squad that will not be torn apart by the departure of ‘star players’, but logically, we should be favourites to come top.

It is the lack of respect for our manager and players that really hacks me off. There is only one way to get all those dinosaur ex-players and egotistical pundits to eat their words. The season starts tomorrow …… keep winning ….. keep believing …….. use their negativity to fuel our resolve …….. shove it right up their …. Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal

Rasp