33 Comments

Arsenal Are Doing Well, Despite Doing Badly !

A guest post from Tim @foreverheady

 

A few random thoughts about where we are: mainly talking to myself, but thought I would share them.

We are out of form because our collective timing is out of key: miss-hit passes that fail to find their mark have been replaced with passes which though accurate are delivered slowly because each player is too anxious to get it right. The handbrake is on because all drivers are too careful, and when passes do arrive the opportunities have gone. Repeat ad nauseam until all the opposition is behind the ball, and there is literally nowhere to go. Add to this mix anxious players not wanting to excite the opprobrium of crowd, pundits, team mates or manager and you have no one willing to make themselves available to break the deadlock until they are absolutely certain that the goal is open – by which time it isn’t any more.

Ramsey and Ozil have yet to fully recover from the hamstring injuries they suffered last year and their play this season (and during the World Cup) has been typical. It is a major explosive muscle and perhaps more than anything affects a player’s confidence to run at full pace: psychologically you hold something back. As a result, both players who often float effortlessly past players have not been doing so: killer pace is gone and with it the space they normally make for themselves. As arguably the two key players in last season’s run of form that saw Arsenal top of the league for an extended period, it is no wonder that the whole side has suffered. It is not coincidental that both players have succumbed to further injury this season in their attempt to force themselves back to their best.

Which brings us on to the whole injury and unavailability issue. If I were to pick my best 16 players from the current squad I would choose: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Arteta, Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Walcott, Sanchez, Cazorla, Welbeck, Giroud, Chambers, Gnabry. Of that 16, eleven have been unavailable for at least three matches since the start of the season, many for considerably more.  It is a massive testimony to the strength of the squad, the resilience of the players and the ingenuity and tactical acumen of the manager to have reached this stage of the season in such reasonable shape: 5th place in the table but poised to mount a proper challenge, qualification to the final 16 of the Champions League all but assured. The reasons for such a potentially crippling series of unfortunate injuries is unclear: the pitch, lack of rotation, training methods and the strength of our players have all been under scrutiny, as have the unwanted attentions of opposition players, seemingly given carte blanche, as opposed to carte jaune or rouge, by the referees to do as they please. Whether it is some or all of these things together remains open to debate, but the fact remains that any appraisal of Arsenal’s current form or lack of it that seeks to underplay the effect of injury is probably not worth considering.

If opposition players seem legitimised to dish out rough treatment to The Arsenal, then it is worth thinking about the role of the men in black. Long story short rotational fouling seems to go unpunished, career threatening tackles waived away as just part of the English game, yellow cards dished out easily to The Arsenal, cardless tickings-off the norm for the rest. Penalties for? Not often, but in fairness not often against either. There are better bloggers than me with statistics to hand to prove or disprove institutional bias against The Arsenal, but already there have been too many game-changing decisions that have gone against us for it not to be discounted in any discussion about the side’s current position. Just for once I would like to see some of our more vocal critics acknowledge that refereeing does play a significant part in a side’s form – and it would, of course, do wonders for the integrity of the game as a whole if there were to be a proper and transparent investigation into the performance of the referees over the season as a whole.

The manager of course must come under some scrutiny when assessing a side’s form, and it would be strange not to wonder whether the team selection is always correct, whether substitutions are used to the best effect, whether game preparation is as scientific and assiduous as it might be, whether some times our tactics are too offensively minded. But it is also worth remembering that getting your tactics right often means second guessing your opponent, of successfully predicting an outcome to a future event – and then using your available resources to the best effect. Passing the ball sideways and maintaining possession goallessly for 70 minutes, but in the process tiring out the opposition before exploiting gaps and scoring two in the last 20 is just as much a legitimate tactic as conceding possession, parking the bus and then hoping to score on the counter. To my untrained eye we have tried both those tactics in our two Champions League away games this season: one worked, one didn’t – but in both cases the margins between success and failure were slim. I think it is reasonable to say that managers will also have runs of form, times when every decision seems to bear fruit, others where however carefully thought out the plan the cards just don’t fall right. With so many players unavailable due to injury many of the manager’s options have been denied, and the lack of tactical reinforcements coming off the bench has cost us more than many appreciate. I happen to think that our manager gets it right far more often than most – but that strangely when he does it is seen as nothing to do with him.

Do we always buy the right players, and does the manager have his finger on the market’s pulse these days? Not every purchase is a success, but I like to think that in recent years we have been more hit than miss, especially now as there is a little more money available to spend: quite a lot more, in fact, but still not as much as the three UK clubs we hope to compete with. The cry goes out that we are too full of small skilful players, but perhaps the truth is that these days big skilful players are out of most clubs’ price range – and that a decision was made a few years ago that small and skilful will still beat big and unskilled more often than not. It is also hard to have top, top quality players content to act as understudies for any length of time, which perhaps explains why our current shortage in defence was always intended to be covered by younger players like Chambers, Bellerin and Hayden: there are only so many injuries that can be planned and paid for, after all. Do we need more players in January then? Probably, given the way things have turned out. I like to think that we were chasing a specific target all summer who would have given us a bit more physical and skilful presence, but for reasons I do not know he was not available, and there wasn’t time or inclination to go with a plan B at the last minute. I think that plan B will have been identified now and that we also might need another defender too, given the injuries to both first-choice full backs and to a central defender too. Will the signings happen? Only if the right players are available at a price we want to afford and whose wages will sit comfortably with our current structure. As ever, we will probably be the last to know who we are going for, although the papers already tell me that signings are as good as done. I shan’t hold my breath, mainly because I feel certain that should key players return to fitness we will find that the squad is a lot, lot better than it is currently given credit for.

Are most fans happy with the way things are going? Not if you read Twitter or listen to the louder pundits, but empty vessels often make the most noise and The Emirates still seems fuller than most grounds every week. I think most are unwavering in their support, but inevitably have their views coloured by results and pundits. Weekends like this last one do help of course: suddenly a pedestrian away win against Sunderland doesn’t seem too bad in the light of other results, especially as it has seen a movement up the table. Tottenham slipped badly, as did City.  Liverpool continued to misfire and Chelsea suddenly looked all too vincible when key men were unavailable and cards were correctly given.  Perhaps it is dawning on a few that the season is anything but a forlorn hope for The Arsenal after all, and that is certainly how it looks to me. There are important matches coming up, but at last the players and management have a week to rest and prepare properly, with no distractions from International breaks, European travel or essentially meaningless cups. I hope they use it wisely and if they are half the players I think they are I am sure they will.

 

15 Comments

Arsenal Are Doing Well, Despite Doing Badly !

A guest post from Tim @foreverheady

 

 

A few random thoughts about where we are: mainly talking to myself, but thought I would share them.

We are out of form because our collective timing is out of key: miss-hit passes that fail to find their mark have been replaced with passes which though accurate are delivered slowly because each player is too anxious to get it right. The handbrake is on because all drivers are too careful, and when passes do arrive the opportunities have gone. Repeat ad nauseam until all the opposition is behind the ball, and there is literally nowhere to go. Add to this mix anxious players not wanting to excite the opprobrium of crowd, pundits, team mates or manager and you have no one willing to make themselves available to break the deadlock until they are absolutely certain that the goal is open – by which time it isn’t any more.

Ramsey and Ozil have yet to fully recover from the hamstring injuries they suffered last year and their play this season (and during the World Cup) has been typical. It is a major explosive muscle and perhaps more than anything affects a player’s confidence to run at full pace: psychologically you hold something back. As a result, both players who often float effortlessly past players have not been doing so: killer pace is gone and with it the space they normally make for themselves. As arguably the two key players in last season’s run of form that saw Arsenal top of the league for an extended period, it is no wonder that the whole side has suffered. It is not coincidental that both players have succumbed to further injury this season in their attempt to force themselves back to their best.

Which brings us on to the whole injury and unavailability issue. If I were to pick my best 16 players from the current squad I would choose: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Arteta, Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Walcott, Sanchez, Cazorla, Welbeck, Giroud, Chambers, Gnabry. Of that 16, eleven have been unavailable for at least three matches since the start of the season, many for considerably more.  It is a massive testimony to the strength of the squad, the resilience of the players and the ingenuity and tactical acumen of the manager to have reached this stage of the season in such reasonable shape: 5th place in the table but poised to mount a proper challenge, qualification to the final 16 of the Champions League all but assured. The reasons for such a potentially crippling series of unfortunate injuries is unclear: the pitch, lack of rotation, training methods and the strength of our players have all been under scrutiny, as have the unwanted attentions of opposition players, seemingly given carte blanche, as opposed to carte jaune or rouge, by the referees to do as they please. Whether it is some or all of these things together remains open to debate, but the fact remains that any appraisal of Arsenal’s current form or lack of it that seeks to underplay the effect of injury is probably not worth considering.

If opposition players seem legitimised to dish out rough treatment to The Arsenal, then it is worth thinking about the role of the men in black. Long story short rotational fouling seems to go unpunished, career threatening tackles waived away as just part of the English game, yellow cards dished out easily to The Arsenal, cardless tickings-off the norm for the rest. Penalties for? Not often, but in fairness not often against either. There are better bloggers than me with statistics to hand to prove or disprove institutional bias against The Arsenal, but already there have been too many game-changing decisions that have gone against us for it not to be discounted in any discussion about the side’s current position. Just for once I would like to see some of our more vocal critics acknowledge that refereeing does play a significant part in a side’s form – and it would, of course, do wonders for the integrity of the game as a whole if there were to be a proper and transparent investigation into the performance of the referees over the season as a whole.

The manager of course must come under some scrutiny when assessing a side’s form, and it would be strange not to wonder whether the team selection is always correct, whether substitutions are used to the best effect, whether game preparation is as scientific and assiduous as it might be, whether some times our tactics are too offensively minded. But it is also worth remembering that getting your tactics right often means second guessing your opponent, of successfully predicting an outcome to a future event – and then using your available resources to the best effect. Passing the ball sideways and maintaining possession goallessly for 70 minutes, but in the process tiring out the opposition before exploiting gaps and scoring two in the last 20 is just as much a legitimate tactic as conceding possession, parking the bus and then hoping to score on the counter. To my untrained eye we have tried both those tactics in our two Champions League away games this season: one worked, one didn’t – but in both cases the margins between success and failure were slim. I think it is reasonable to say that managers will also have runs of form, times when every decision seems to bear fruit, others where however carefully thought out the plan the cards just don’t fall right. With so many players unavailable due to injury many of the manager’s options have been denied, and the lack of tactical reinforcements coming off the bench has cost us more than many appreciate. I happen to think that our manager gets it right far more often than most – but that strangely when he does it is seen as nothing to do with him.

Do we always buy the right players, and does the manager have his finger on the market’s pulse these days? Not every purchase is a success, but I like to think that in recent years we have been more hit than miss, especially now as there is a little more money available to spend: quite a lot more, in fact, but still not as much as the three UK clubs we hope to compete with. The cry goes out that we are too full of small skilful players, but perhaps the truth is that these days big skilful players are out of most clubs’ price range – and that a decision was made a few years ago that small and skilful will still beat big and unskilled more often than not. It is also hard to have top, top quality players content to act as understudies for any length of time, which perhaps explains why our current shortage in defence was always intended to be covered by younger players like Chambers, Bellerin and Hayden: there are only so many injuries that can be planned and paid for, after all. Do we need more players in January then? Probably, given the way things have turned out. I like to think that we were chasing a specific target all summer who would have given us a bit more physical and skilful presence, but for reasons I do not know he was not available, and there wasn’t time or inclination to go with a plan B at the last minute. I think that plan B will have been identified now and that we also might need another defender too, given the injuries to both first-choice full backs and to a central defender too. Will the signings happen? Only if the right players are available at a price we want to afford and whose wages will sit comfortably with our current structure. As ever, we will probably be the last to know who we are going for, although the papers already tell me that signings are as good as done. I shan’t hold my breath, mainly because I feel certain that should key players return to fitness we will find that the squad is a lot, lot better than it is currently given credit for.

Are most fans happy with the way things are going? Not if you read Twitter or listen to the louder pundits, but empty vessels often make the most noise and The Emirates still seems fuller than most grounds every week. I think most are unwavering in their support, but inevitably have their views

83 Comments

Arsène’s Magic Sex Car

Football is a game of theories. Or is it opinions? Like armpits we all have two they say. Or not. In any event I have a theory or two one of which involves this weird, arcane mystery we call ‘form’. Teams have it, players have it, a player can lose it while playing in a team that still has it a team can lose it while a player integral to that team is finding it playing in a team that has lost it. It is linked to class but only in  cliche, it is a transient, intangible wil o’ the wisp entity, a surfboard which, once a team or individual is fortunate enough to clamber onto, can be ridden to the admiring gasps and applause of everybody on the beach.

My belief or theory is simply this. A team will carry the form from one season into the next. There, not too contentious nor too difficult to grasp.  There seems no rhyme or reason to this. Different playing personnel, a new guy in the treatment room , higher ticket prices a dry and rainless September; all irrelevant. Regardless, it seems to me of outside forces or inner turmoil or calm or whatever, we will start off where we left off. We ended last season struggling to find our form. We stuttered and coughed our way to the FA Cup Final like my old Lambretta Li 150 used to splutter it’s way to Bath in the morning when I worked in the MOD at Ensleigh. We barely made it through the semi final and then huffed and puffed before finally blowing Hull’s house down at Wembley and we have been battling to get out of that rut ever since.

Unsurprisingly and in similarly unscientific vein I will support my theory by going back to the start of last season. We began really well, coherent, cohesive, confident – we were table toppers, sweeping all before us with breathtaking displays of consummate footballing ease. Scoring erection inducing goals like the orgasmic one touch team effort against Norwich, and producing climactic football of bewildering telepathic style as we swept Napoli aside in an unforgettable first half, as good a first half as I can remember. I wasn’t in any way surprised by the way we started our campaign last time around because it was in precisely this unbeatable form that we had ended the season before, thundering up the table to claim our rightful place among Europe’s elite. Of course for reasons we all know and which have been sufficiently rehashed here and elsewhere we faltered. Confidence, that elusive and teasing lover turned her back on form and we fell just short, a couple of places and a few points shy of where we wanted to be.

Why does this happen to teams, to individuals within those teams? Why are athletes, all so rigorously trained and finely tuned susceptible to losing their mojos and how do they get back into the groove? Arsène seems to believe that you simply have to keep on doing what you’re doing, keep on trying to do the right things and as long as you have the right players and the right balance in the side then the good stuff will once more start to flow and confidence will flutter her eyelashes, then where form once shrunk shrivelled and forlorn he will grow firm, tumescent and proud and we will be rampant once again. In other words there is no magic formula nor any science that can be brought to bear. These things come and go, are cyclic in nature, you just have to believe that positive effort will breed positive results, or as a mathematically inclined and literal friend of mine used to say, x = x.

Let’s not shy away from the truth here. It is obvious that we are stuttering a little this season. A couple of players are clearly struggling to produce the form of which we know they are capable and the understanding between team mates isn’t always evident. Passes appear to go awry because the intended recipient moves in an unexpected direction or doesn’t make the anticipated run, two players find themselves occupying the same space and attempting to play the ball at the same time, majestic, sweeping cross field passes are over hit by the merest fraction of an ounce and sail out of play. We seem sometimes to be trying to force the issue, confused when the move breaks down, when the one touch passing is intercepted, struggling to repair the damage when a usually reliable player is dispossessed. It’s as if there is a drop of water in the carburettor and the normally quiet purr of the Arsenal engine experiences an occasional cough, an arrhythmic interruption in its usual sweet melody.

Now, before we get carried away, I have to say that we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the vehicle we’re discussing is not something thrown together in Harry Redknapp’s scrapyard. This is a beautiful machine, lovingly assembled by one of the games greatest craftsmen, superbly engineered from nothing but the finest components and even when not running at its smoothest is still a far far better ride than ninety percent of all other cars on the road. The only problem is that when you meet Dortmund in the scintillating pomp of their very best form or Martin Atkinson and Eden Hazard playing at the absolute top of their game at Stamford Bridge then you need to be firing on all cylinders, anything less and you get found out.

Will Sunderland be the game in which we turn the mythical corner of which bloggers and journalists are so fond of speaking? I don’t think so. Not because I have lost belief in the team or the individuals within it but because I don’t subscribe to the bunkum that good form is regained overnight or in one afternoon. It is a gradual process and a good win today will be a step on the road nothing more. Confidence can be easily lost but has to be found again carefully, it is a cumulative and delicate process. Unless of course, you are Lukas Podolski . I suppose some players just have that innate brashness and joie de vivre that allows them to express their love of the game and all round happiness with their lot by sauntering into a cauldron of uncertainty and trepidation and calmly banging home the ball at the first available opportunity. Just like some folk respond to praise while others like to have their faults explained to them in agonising detail so they can better address them, footballers are individuals, human beings and no matter how well trained nor how lavishly rewarded are frail and susceptible creatures just like you and I.

Of course one thing is beyond question. All sportsmen respond better to a positive, supportive and encouraging environment. No one ever performed better because some mindless, talentless, moronic oaf yelled abuse at him or whipped up an angry mob to decry his ability to succeed. How well would you do your job if folk gathered around you to groan every time you tried something and it didn’t quite work? I firmly believe that Arsène’s beautiful, sexy machine will soon be running smoothly again, that Santi will find his passes that Aaron will find the goal and that before too long we will all have plenty to celebrate. In the meantime we can help each other and help the team by staying positive, by keeping to our principles and by doing the one job that supporters have to do. Support.

18 Comments

The Black Cat Battery vs. The Royal Arsenal Artillery

A guest post from our very own Finsbury.
Time itself will be altered this weekend. Suddenly the early evenings will be dark. Winter is coming. And the Arsenal head to the far North, towards the wall and the very verge of Scotland for their visit to Sunderland. 
What do I know of distant Sunderland? Not a lot. There was an infamous VHS edit of the Star Wars trilogy that was doing the rounds in the nineties. Produced by some of the more humane people who have worked for the Bleeb, who were from Newcastle. This science fiction masterpiece was re-dubbed into Geordie with a new script. And most of my knowledge of Sunderland comes from this movie. Mos Eisley cantina, the ancient sarlaac pit, all the important stuff. Enough about the town, what about the football club? 
Poyet appears to be less repulsive then most of players who have played for the Gazprom Fulham franchise it I could be wrong. Does anyone actually know what happened when he left Brighton? What happend to the walls of that dressing room? How comes no one ever tells me the good stuff? Shades of Mackay and Mr. ‘Vincent’ Tan with the PR war in the aftermath. I could drift off into another tangent here on events involving the entertaining gentleman from Singapore and the conduct of the LMA and the baying and bigoted press pack after Mackay was sacked. But I won’t. There’s no need. We all know the score. 
Gus Poyet is at Sunderland now, and the fans up there must be hopefully happier after he replaced a manager who did not represent the traditional values and character of that football club. Sounds like an interesting club to me. A proper football club. The last bauble for the fans  up there to celebrate was the FA Cup in 1973. Since then like the equally admirable Southampton they have paid for and built their own stadium (I think). And it also cost them a relegation and promotion. 
Their nickname is the Black Cats, and interestingly for fans of the Arsenal this name comes from the Black Cat Battery, an old artillery unit. The Sunderland FC website tells us that:
“The link between Sunderland AFC and the black cat stems originally from a gun battery in 1805 on the River Wear which was renamed the ‘Black Cat’ battery after the men manning the station heard a mysterious miaow from a wailing black cat. 
A hundred years later in 1905, a black cat was pictured sitting on a football next to Chairman FW Taylor and three years later a black cat featured on a team photograph…
…Sunderland’s match programmes of the 1930’s often featured black cats on their covers, but the place of the black cat in Sunderland folklore was sealed when a black kitten owned by twelve-year-old Billy Morris was believed to bring Sunderland luck as it sat in his pocket at Wembley throughout the 1937 FA Cup Final when Sunderland came from behind to beat Preston 3-1.”
It’s hard not to like such a cool football club. They appear to share many things off the pitch with the good old Arsenal. I’m glad for their fans that they now have a manager who is not openly against the traditional values of their club. I can’t recall those fans making idiots of themselves in front of the watching world like fans of Blackburn Rovers and others, I mention no names, when upset. A little bit of class. 
Unfortunately after such a big defeat the Sunderland players will have to try and perform in front of those fans. Fair to say that Gus will probably opt for some rotational fouling and some OTT hacking. They can also play, beating a faltering Gazprom in Fulham last season  (In the opinion of quite a few Gazprom fans I have spoken to, Mourinho blew the title last year). Fletcher, he knows how to sniff out a goal. Arsenal were also alleged to have had a look at Wickham. Then there is Johnson, another wide player who has simply highlighted over the years for the AAAA how good a player Walcott has been already, whilst they were groaning at the player. Another refugee who escaped from Abu Dhabi City, Rodwell is in the squad and might play. And of course they have Donny Vito in goal who up until last week was living the dream after graduating from the Royal Academy. Seb Larsson is another graduate who has gone on to have a good career at the top level. We note that the AAAA try their disingenuous best to ignore the success of all these graduates. But there they are! As with almost all squads in the PL these days they’re not a bad set of players, and I think it’s safe to say that they’ll play better then last week. 
How about the Arsenal? Well. There’s been a lot of talk. As usual. About this, about that, but how much talk has there been about the actual football? We witnessed uber fans and gallant podcastateers knocking Özil after a game where he clearly picked up a knock, obvious for those watching on the telly. It seems to me that unless they were stuck behind a column in Fulham that they weren’t paying attention to the football. And we can see the same thing from people looking at average position charts after recent games. Charts that confuse themselves because players swap wings etc. I can’t understand why anyone would ignore the football and indulge in such lame confirmation bias. The football is much more fun. 
I thought the first half of the first half in Belgium was decent from the Arsenal. Variation in the rhythms, tempo and the range of the passing looked good even without Arteta. It was an interesting game of football. But I haven’t watched the whole game again, I’ve watched the last fifteen minutes,and then the last five minutes again. Once or twice. And this is the thought that occurred to me:
Whatever is going on, it’s not so different to last season. I apologise again if that is a boring if honest observation. No memes to hang your hat on I’m afraid. I guess that the ‘gameplan’ (you can tell I’m an expert) is the same as it was. Try to control the game, tire out the opponent whilst trying to get a goal, and then to use their greater fitness to kill off the opposition in the last third of the game. That’s how those results in that run of results last season including all those uber-efficient 2-0’s were achieved. 
Anderlecht did not so much switch off, they ran out of juice chasing the ‘arc of frustration’ as we have seen with other teams.  In the end they were the ones frustrated. I can’t comment on the formation as I’m not sure what the game to game changes are. Not sure i would trust people to describe the formation when they can’t even tell when a player is hobbling. I once read a light hearted comment: “It’s not the tactics, it’s the players. Stupid.” And I’m happy to admit that it made me think twice. 
The spine during last season was the CB pair, the midfield pair of Arteta and Ramsey, Özil and up top Giroud. As the interesting people tell us it’s all about the combinations.
Koscielny as you all know is my favourite defender ( he is quick!), the defender I used to imagine myself playing like some years ago (please don’t laugh). He should’ve taken the summer off. He already knew of this niggle and he’d already lost his starting place for France after the red mist descended in Ukraine, of all places – http://youtu.be/jyCWcl2tjIE – Koscielny seems to have that sixth sense off the pitch as well as on it.
Prolonged rest is the only hope of nipping the danger to those tendons in the bud, but he has already played and trained through the WC/Summer. He could be out till the new year. When you put your body on line game after game like Koscielny does such injuries are a possibility. I guess that he won’t play as long as Per will in his career.  I also have the strong impression that the club learnt a lot about such tendon problems for athletes with Rosicky. Hopefully he’ll be ok after a rest.
At the back I’d be happy to see both nineteen year olds start, they are both very quick, and I can’t deny it, I love to see quick players. Bellerin got the appreciation from the home support. But there are other considerations, I think it’ll be the same back four as the last game. Maybe they’ll rotate the two rookies over the next month? Ian has been a reliable scout for us here at PA, and I’d also be happy to see Hayden play. He looked very promising against the guy who has replaced Balotelli for Italy, against Southampton. Manolas? Meh.
The key player who has been missing for me from all those listed above from last season’s spine has been the captain. I don’t need to explain to people who’ve been watching Arsenal these past three years why that is. Let’s just remember that a month or so ago that John Gregory a former manager at the top level said that Arteta was his pick from this (he must have meant last years’) squad.
Wilshere’s suspension may have come at a useful moment, his good form dipped these past two games. So we might see a Flam-teta midfield with Ramsey who is also coming back to fitness. Or something else? Chamberlain in CM with one of Plodders or Campbell coming in or maybe both if Welbeck needs a little bit of rotation or has a niggle. Rosicky? In spite of all these injuries there are options. Accurate and interesting referee previews are available, you know where to look if you like.
Playing Anderlecht away was probably good preparation for this match. I hope it’s as interesting a game and the result makes us smile again.
UTA

 

114 Comments

Could I Stop Supporting Arsenal; Have YOU Stopped Already?

 “No one is bigger than the club.” 

I was asked a simple and fair question on twitter some time ago by Andy Wood@yorkshiregunner .

Tell me George, will you still support Arsenal when Arsene leaves?”

(As people continue to misquote my reply here again  is the blog I wrote about it)

Now I understand that it was a snide question, a loaded question, designed to suggest that Arsene was more important to me than the club. I knew that before I answered with this:

 Not for 100% sure.  It would be hard to think I won’t.  But I could stop. It’s like a marriage for me, not a family. If you follow?”

This of course was immediately interpreted to mean: “I will stop supporting if Arsene leaves.”  Just as I had anticipated!

People then started screaming that one’s support for the club should be unconditional.  “ARSENAL TILL I DIE!!”

And all the other soundbites people use.

Then they saw fit to state the obvious with gems like:

 

No shit Sherlock, I had missed that.

As the Twitter exchange continued, I tried to explain that I could not guarantee always supporting the club, because if it changed into something different to that I was in love with, it would no longer be my club.

This concept seemed beyond the comprehension of a few, and some claimed that NOTHING could make them withdraw their support.  Ever.

There’s an irony here, in case you hadn’t already spotted it …

So I came up with the most outrageous scenario I could think of, just to test their ‘position’ and asked if they would still support the club if the following occurred:

 

The club is bought by the English Defence League and all our players are sold, only white heterosexuals are allowed to play for the club. Do you still support?

Almost every right thinking person would say:

No, it’s a stupid scenario, but no.

My point being that ALL support is conditional. It’s just the conditions that are required to be met are different, and they vary from person to person.

What some people fail to understand is that “the club” means different things to different people.

My definition of “the club” includes the playing style, its class, history and integrity.  The manager, board and players are a large part of that. The whole ethos of the club is what I regard “the club” to be.

Someone told me that “the club” to him was the badge, and that is what he supported. He didn’t mention whether the badge in question was cotton or man-made, so I reserved my judgement on him.

But, nonetheless, for him, the definition of the club was different.

My main point in all of this is that regardless of your personal definition of what the club – or anything you have fallen in love with – is, if that thing you fell in love with, changes to the degree where they or it becomes something or someone you would never have originally fallen for, then it is ENTIRELY possible to fall back out of love.

And this patently includes, even, one’s own chosen football club.

Now, if you are happy to support a club, fuelled by petro-dollars, managed by a hoof-ball specialist or filled with players like Barton, Suarez, Terry, Savage, Cole and Rooney – then great. But I would find it hard to continue that support, ultimately, even if that club was my beloved Arsenal.

It would be a gradual deterioration of the relationship between me and the club, but given the perfect (and frankly unlikely) storm, I COULD stop supporting.

There has been a lot of  “I want my Arsenal back” going around in recent times.

Well, I personally want to keep THIS one.

These people that claim to ‘want their Arsenal back’ are effectively saying this current Arsenal is not “their” club.

Effectively, they’ve withdrawn their support already.

This is evidenced by their relentless attacks on the club and it’s staff – on Twitter, in blogs, on radio phone-ins etc.  Those individuals who have given up their season ticket have clearly withdrawn their support.  They are, as a result, no longer proper pucka Gooners are they?

The anger evident in their remarks is quite possibly driven by the pain they are feeling from losing their love for the club.

Well, maybe they ARE still Gooners.But they have simply come to a point where their support has been withdrawn. Do they watch on TV instead? Or has that been given up too?  Have they stopped reading the papers? Do they no longer talk about Arsenal?

If they are still Gooners, it’s clear that bit-by-bit they are losing – or have lost – their love for the club as the conditions that led them to support in the first place are no longer seemingly evident.

For THEM, at least.

Now people can say that they are better fans than me because they have supported longer, spent more money, attended more games, live in the area of the ground or because nothing could stop them supporting.  I won’t argue.

I certainly won’t care what they think either.Because they can claim all day long that they are the ‘real’ supporters of the club. But the reality, actually, is that they are drifting away from the club with every attack they launch.

***

Finally someone said:

Morals in football are bollocks.

To which I replied:

Morals are only ever bollocks to those without them.

I however ,am the last person to judge people on their morals.That does not mean they are any less important.

64 Comments

Who Can I Blame For My Arsenal Misery?

Some perspective from @arsenalandrew

The notorious over-emotional toxicity of Arsenal’s online support is in stark contrast to most of the support in the stadium. Whereas online, Arsenal could do no right, in the stadium, a largely ‘flat’ crowd grew increasingly despondent at the sight of a rookie referee entirely out of his depth, a willing accomplice to the hateful Bruce’s brilliantly simplistic resort to time-wasting every single time Arsenal started to get momentum.

Truth is, Arsenal rarely look the best after an international break disrupts our natural but precise squad rhythm and the absence of so many first-teamers yesterday took its toll on our usual fluidity. From reaction online you’d be forgiven for assuming we’ve lost all our opening games but the reality is despite needing to bed in new players and accomodate the debilitation of an unenviable injury record, we are, as a side, hard to beat. The margins between these costly draws and the victories we seek are fine, and whilst we can’t simply point the finger of disappointment at the entire refereeing stable, at this level, and with such marginal differences, the impact of key refereeing decisions can not be lightly dismissed.

Online, it’s seemingly all about Arsene. The reality, however, is more complex.

And whilst I have no doubt this squad will come good I’m more concerned that the online poison will seep through to our matchday crowd making life easier for our opponents and ever-tougher for Arsenal. The gleeful joy of those attacking the club are as odious as the time-wasting of the fat one right out of the Ferguson stable, and as infuriating as the incompetent referees that allow him to get away with it.

Arsenal – and Arsenal fans – need to rise above this as surely as the PGMOL need to get a grip on their officials.

From pedantic george @Blackburngeorge

The danger is that we try to shift all the blame onto the referees, or that we are seen to be trying to do so. The reasons we find Chelsea with twice as many points as us are complex and there is a few of them. To absolve Arsene from all blame, without at least considering he is in some part complicit, is as ridiculous and narrow minded as laying all of the blame at his feet.

Well I have considered his part, and I think he has to shoulder some of the blame (if we have to apportion blame) I believe not only will he accept some blame, but he will put things right. In the last 10 years he has had a lot poorer players than these, playing a lot better than these currently are. I see no reason to think he won’t get this squad firing on all cylinders when circumstance permit.

88 Comments

Refereeing In Crisis: Time to Introduce Officials from Overseas or Will Technology Answer the Difficult Questions?

Howardwebb

Is time really up for the good old-fashioned English referee?

According to Keith Hackett, the former chief of English referees, the Premier League currently only has three world class referees.

He identifies these as Mark Clattenburg, Michael Oliver and Mike Dean. Prior to the recent Chelsea v AFC encounter, Hackett had previously included Martin Atkinson in this list. The solution, he suggests is the wholesale importation of ‘foreign’ referees to save the English game from the “shocking decline in correct decision-making which is ruining big games …”. (Source: Daily Mirror http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/premier-league-only-three-world-class-4443385 ).

Here on PA we have long discussed the issue of referees wrecking games and it’s not my intention to (entirely) rehash previous posts on the subject.

I would say, however, that one of the big changes for me in the modern game compared to when I first started watching, is the degree to which my emotional reaction to a match is, as often as not, dictated by the activities (or non-activities) of the day’s match referee, the collective failures of his linesmen, and the seemingly evident non-participation of his so-called Fourth Official. I can even pinpoint the game when my absolute faith in the fairness of the supposedly neutral referee was steamrollered flat out of existence. It was, of course almost ten years to the day and Mike “Blimey O-” Riley’s horrific display in Arsenal’s infamous 49th unbeaten game at Old Trafford on the 24th October 2004.

I now only enjoy partial faith.

Interestingly, back then in 2004, as after the recent Chelsea match, off-pitch unrest was widely attributed to the performance of the man in the middle. And significantly, then as now, ‘Pizzagate’ successfully deflected attention of many from the referee’s performance and the ‘Battle of the Buffet’ dominated the headlines in much the same way Arsene’s more recent – and infinitely more enjoyable – square-up to Mourinho has done. One recalls discussion of the failure to dismiss Rio Ferdinand in Manchester that awful day was as conveniently thin on the ground as contemporary coverage of Gary Cahill’s murderous assault on Sanchez.

Ever since Old Trafford – as unforgettable ten years on as it remains shameful – I’ve been as likely to have been enraged by the ‘under’-performance of an official as I have by any cheating or other dubious activity on the part of opposition players.

And that’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

Admittedly, my own partisan, biased and hugely impressionistic take on the game has inevitably coloured my view of proceedings and, acutely conscious of this, I routinely make the effort to not believe the ‘evidence’ of my own eyes, at least in the cold light of the post-match day.

For a more dispassionate coverage of the lamentable state of our unloved refereeing stable, trawl your way through our friends at Untold Arsenal’s outstanding contribution to the subject. They created http://untold-arsenal.com/referees in order to more objectively investigate the questionable but largely unaccountable performance of the nation’s most senior referees.

Eye-opening, hair-raising, anger-inducing and ultimately, depressing reading it makes, too.

To my limited knowledge, Keith Hackett’s comments are the first and most damningly critical assessment of the state of our referees by one who, in theory at least, knows exactly how difficult it is to take charge of a match and has the seniority of his past roles to back up his comments. In other words, whilst few would be well-advised to listen to my take on any game, most would do well to sit up and listen when Keith finally blows his fuse on the subject. Or at least recommends a thorough purging of the English ranks.

But whilst Mr Hackett points towards the continent as the possible saviour of our refereeing woes, is it perhaps worth asking the question – why are our own home-grown referees apparently so bad at their jobs as to effectively be in little less than an ongoing unending collective crisis?

Is there any truth in the suspicion of a long-held north (refs) v south (clubs) bias? If so, if held for so long, why does it appear particularly noticeable now?

Is the Premier League, which is now one of the most watched leagues on the planet, also the most critically scrutinised? Are we simply finding more because we are looking more?

Has the current fashion for referees to ‘manage’ the game rather than simply ‘apply the rules’ come back to bite them? Players generally know they won’t get sent off for the first few tackles, no matter how outrageous or dangerous. They also know most referees appear to have no knowledge of the devastating impact on their opponents of the practice of rotational fouling. The bizarre habit of repeatedly warning some players and electing to book others for a first-time offence is one of the most infuriatingly unfair features of the current game.

Is there actual corruption in the game? Are certain teams getting more of the rub of the green than others due to the power of their club’s limitless budgets which enable them to literally buy off referees? Or is it the presence in greater depth of the best players in those apparently favoured sides being given more of the benefit of the doubt than opposition lessors? Prior to his retirement Howard Webb was long seen as favouring Manchester United, but Martin Atkinson’s record for Chelsea (23 wins, 4 draws, 1 defeat) is just as impressive. That neutrals find this so suspect isn’t proof in itself of any wrong-doing and if anything, it’s a reflection of too small a pool of the same individuals refereeing the same teams. But it just looks awful.

The bottom line is that regardless of actualities, the integrity of the game in this country is challenged on a weekly basis by the plethora of decisions by seemingly biased referees that can, at best, be described as ‘odd’.

And it is this fractured integrity that lies at the heart of a refereeing crisis that has been brewing for so long and which adversely affects so many.

Is it really time referees from abroad took over?

I personally think overseas footballers have largely enhanced the game (despite the downsides to the national team and certain other factors) so why not give overseas referees the opportunity? Assuming their grasp of the English language is as sound as many of our home-grown players (‘basic’ should suffice accompanied by plenty of arm-based mime) then that shouldn’t be an argument for not doing so.

But fundamentally I believe the problem isn’t with the passport but rather the pace, the power and the passion of the English game.

In other words, the very factors that make it an invaluable export to the rest of the world.

It is this that renders the game vulnerable to problems for the men running the matches and their colleagues running the line. The game, fuelled by immense fiscal reward is just so competitive, so prone to gamesmanship, diving, the dark arts and other forms of what we once called ‘cheating’ that it has been rendered largely beyond the control of genuine, consistent and fair rule by the men in black. And this, I venture, would be as true of a top, top referee from a Swiss Alpine village as it is of anyone emanating from England’s north west.

For me, Keith Hackett’s intervention is simply the latest step towards the recognition of the need for and the gradual, phased introduction of technology. Even Blatter’s blathering on about it these days (http://www.theguardian.com/football/2014/jun/11/sepp-blatter-video-challenge-managers-fifa) so whilst nothing is likely to happen overnight, it is, it would seem, inexorably creeping towards us.

By all means welcome the best refs from sunnier, non-English climes, but the long-term answer is likely to be digital in nature as opposed to anything more internationally exotic.
Not all will agree and concerns I know are genuine. Implementation is likely to prove challenging.

But this is something for which I personally have longed for almost ten years and for the sake of the reputation of our home-grown referees (who I understand are said to be broadly in favour of technology), as well as my personal sanity and enjoyment of the game, it can’t come a day too soon.

To once again have football conversations that centre on the skill of the players rather than the mistakes of the referees would be a marvellous thing indeed.

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