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Arsenal’s Lack Of Ambition

Last night I read again a blog written by  “Arsenal putting pieces in place for future success”  .I have read it several times now and it a fabulous piece , well written and researched. Having read it I then tweeted

People didn’t see a plan not because there wasn’t one, but because they were unable to comprehend its enormity. Silly people.”

I expected the usual replies. you know the ones .“We were lied to . we could have done more, we should have done X, we should have bought Y, mistakes were made blah blah blah” . But to my surprise very few like that were forthcoming. So either people now accept they were wrong and the improvements are now so obvious that they can’t deny them or perhaps people are just happy and are prepared to forgive the perceived acts of negligence by the club?

I suppose the problem for many is that their ambitions are tied to the club. They are basically asking someone else to be ambitious on their behalf. The Arsenal board, and by extension Arsene Wenger are responsible for their personal ambition. An odd state of affairs and somewhat unique to football fans who in real life think that tweeting while sitting on the toilet is ambitious.

Still, I digress.Back to last night. I then got a reply that I believe is the single best tweet I have ever seen.

“spend some fucking money!” ringing around the stadium the club spent £400m+ on. You couldn’t make it up.”

Brilliant. I rest my case.

84 Comments

Imagine If Wenger Signed For Tottenham

 

By @shotta_gooner

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today…

-John Lennon

Did you know that on June 19th, Arsene Wenger celebrated 35 years of being a coach at the top level. Missed it? Not surprising because I could only find two of the mainstream newspapers in England, the Mirror and Independent, with any reports in their online editions. Can you imagine any other coach in England whose achievements came even remotely close to Arsene’s being given such scant regard? Instead we are treated to the daily spectacle of journos and pundits pandering and stoking the ginormous ego of Mourinho whose main achievement has been to assemble the most expensive football squads possible in four countries and thereafter bore to death all but the most partisan supporters of these clubs with his brand of functional, win-at-all-cost football.

But I am not here to bury Mourinho. I am here to demonstrate in no uncertain terms that we take Arsene too much for granted. After all he could have easily slipped out of our hands. Not many fans are aware that Arsene was once rejected for the job in 1995, before Bruce Rioch took over. According to a story by Richard Clarke on the dot com:

“The Frenchman was interviewed to take over from Stewart Houston, who had been in caretaker-charge since the departure of George Graham the previous February. However the Board decided to give the position to Rioch, who had built-up a solid CV at Bolton Wanderers.”

Fortunately for the club and for all of us who believe in the beautiful game, the Scot only lasted a season and, after a spell in Japan at Grampus Eight, Wenger returned to take over the reins at Highbury on October 1, 1996.

But I had a nightmare. What if Arsene had decided to say bollocks to the board, throw his marbles out the pram and do a George Graham by hiking it over to our neighbors on the Seven Sisters Road? In 1995-96 the long-haired, faux-hippie Gerry Francis was presiding over another ordinary run at the title finishing 8th at 61 points but only 2 points off Arsenal who finished 5th. What if Lord Sugar had the wisdom he now has (based on his recent tweets lavishing praise at Wenger at every opportunity) and decided to make the bold decision to make the young Frenchman, known for his modern, progressive ideas both at Monaco and Grampus the manager of his bedraggled club.

Can you imagine the Spuds being reinforced by a young Patrick Vierra from Juventus, a Wenger signing to be sure, while waiting until October 1996 to move officially to Spurs. It is easy to see Vierra transforming that midfield of journeymen (Colin Calderwood) and perennial sicknotes (Darren Abderton) into tyros?

Or one year later, the king himself, Thierry Henry, joining Teddy Sheringham into a lethal strike force? Think this is fanciful. The same Sheringham in 1997 transferred to United to strike up a formidable duo with Andy Cole. Four years later he had won three Premier League titles, one FA Cup, one UEFA Champions League. Hell’s bells. What if Wenger was his coach. He might even have become world class.

Imagine if Wenger’s first double in 1997-98 was at WHL instead of Highbury. God forbid. They can’t stop gabbing about their last double in 1960-61, 54 years 2 months and counting. To add insult to injury, with Wenger showing he could win titles unlike the neighbors, it could have been Tony Adams, not Sol Campbell, making the switch in 2001, on the eve of becoming an Invincible in 2003-04.

It is at this point the nightmare scenario became too much. Even for a non-Gooner, such success for the lily white cockerels is impossible to conceive. But Wenger has done the impossible at Arsenal; three league titles, 2 doubles, an Invincible season, 6 FA cup titles, and managing to keep us in the top four while sacrificing to pay for a stadium over 10 years. Is it inconceivable he could have had the same success at that perennial home of mediocrity? What if roles were reversed and the touchline at Arsenal FC was being graced by the likes of Juande Ramos, Harry Rednapp, Andre Villas Boas, Tim Sherwood et al. Simply different class.

In his newspaper interview celebrating his 35 years, Wenger modestly attributed his success to “luck.” If it was all down to good fortune then I urge the Spuds to keep turning the wheel of fortune in the hope they can land a Wenger Mark II. They have chewed up and spit out 17 managers since the boss signed up at Highbury House.

Of course there are some of us who think Arsene is an old washed-up dinousar, unable to lead us to future victories, even after his 6th FA cup victory last may. Maybe it is full-time we finally pack him off to Tottenham and let him try his luck. Who is willing to dare?

82 Comments

A United Arsenal Fan Base ? If So, Why?

The internet is awash with bloggers pod-casters and tweeters quickly changing tack and realigning themselves behind Arsene.

Gone are the days when someone was brave enough to voice their wholehearted and unequivocal support for the great man. Now you can’t mention his name without someone trying to praise him above and beyond the level of praise you express.

Twitter is full of the few remaining WOBs duking it out with former WOBs.

Most of those that were respectfully asking for Arsene to go have climbed onto the fence and are willing to let him stay (Bloody decent of them, eh?). You can hear them with their “I’m softening towards him” or “I will wait and see if the improvement continues“, some even begrudgingly concede “I might have been harsh on Arsene“.

Those who previously had splinters in their backsides, from sitting on the fence, are shuffling into the “I support the manager” camp and looking for a place to pitch their very portable tents.

Of course there are still some WOBs remaining. These though are looking more and more like Ishmael , clinging to a coffin that is bobbing among the wreckage of their sunken arguments. And why not? What is their alternative? Admitting they were wrong in the most disrespectful and ignorant manner? I think not!

Now this sounds like I am complaining. That it shouldn’t be happening. That I don’t like it or want it. Wrong.  It’s great that more and more fans are appreciating the stellar work of the manager, staff and board are doing. I love it. Climb on board. The more is the merrier.

But let’s be honest here. They are not changing for any other reason than the team is improving and things are being won. They have not been educated to this new level of support. A few bad results will likely see them once again slipping their stilettos into the backs of people who have consistently been transforming the club for years.

People that have seen the light, should be asking themselves why they have been sitting in the dark for so long? There is nothing happening that could not have been foreseen by anyone willing to look.

Players were sold – the reasons were obvious.

Great players were not bought – the reasons were obvious.

We were not winning trophies – the reasons were obvious.

We couldn’t beat the best teams – the reasons were obvious.

The priority was CL qualification – the reasons were………….. you guessed it………….obvious.

Everything the club was working towards was obvious.

They had a plan………………….obvious.

They were smart enough and resolute enough to stick to it………………..obvious.

The plan was way beyond the comprehension of many fans, yes, but that didn’t mean there was no plan.

I always found it ridiculous that the most ambitious club in the country should be labeled by many of its own fans as unambitious.

Even now though we see fans trying to justify their previous stance with claims of “Arsene has changed“.  The alternative is them owning up to being wrong, stupid and uninformed.

Arsene has not changed. All that has changed is his credit limit. His philosophies have not changed one little bit. What has changed is the standard of the players he now has to put them into practice.

People begrudgingly admit the plan is working, while still thinking that they had a plan that would have worked better and quicker.

Unlike the doubters and disbelievers, there were some people, a precious few to be fair, who for years predicted exactly what is happening right now. Not because they are seers and prophets, but because they understood the plan was sensible and it was being implemented by experts, not the least of which is Arsene Wenger.

So, if you are someone who is either overtly or covertly changing you position, please just hold your hand up and accept you seem to have been wrong, rather than trying to justify your previous stance. Because, as they say Ignorance is no defense.

41 Comments

Summertime Blues

Candles
There was a suggestion in the comments on PA a few days ago that I might be tempted to return from my football free summer holiday and rejoin the general discussion. It seems that at last we have something of real substance to debate. Football is, or so I was led to believe, back on the menu. I hastily opened Arsenal.com hoping to find mention of this momentous news. However, unless the person responsible for updating the fixtures page has been slacking, it would appear that in fact the Charity Shield has not been brought forward to this weekend but is still scheduled to take place on Sunday August the second.

So what have I missed then?

Please don’t tell me that the release of the tentative, first draft, certain to be altered Premier League fixture list is the reason we should all be getting excited. This is surely clutching at the most slender of straws.

The fixture list tells us precisely nothing. Even ignoring the fact that we all know this list will change it doesn’t tell us what kind of form the teams will be in when we play them. It doesn’t tell us the kind of form we will be in when we play them. The fixture list could not predict us winning away at Man City nor us losing at home to Swansea. The fixture list could not and did not predict our sluggish start to last season nor our blistering run after Christmas. The fixture list is like a new diary, filled with dates, days and blank spaces. Only once you have filled the pages does it have any use, and then only to look back, to reflect. Let’s face it fixture speculation is of as much use as that other loathsome bandwagon, the one dedicated to speculating about signing whichever player for which twitter has convinced itself we are in.

The Higuaín of the day this year seems, from my occasionally depressed and cursory glances, to be Petr Čech and while it’s possible someone from Arsenal has made a public statement that Arsène and Ivan are trying to sign him, I’ve not read it and as such, to me, it’s all just hot air. This inconvenient truth hasn’t, of course, stopped the gibbering mindless hordes putting the boot into both or either of our excellent goal keepers, and that is only one of the lamentable sides to the transfer tattle with which so many of you try to ruin every summer.

The Higuaín game always ends up as a stick with which the perpetually dissatisfied can beat our club. It is a stick made up of half truths, lies, invention and fantasy wrapped around with its own spurious conclusions and necessarily false insights. First up someone, probably a discredited hack, invents a transfer story. People start discussing it because, oh, I don’t know, because they have no lives or insufficient imagination to come up with and discuss their own inventions. Then after weeks of speculation the player signs for Napoli, or whoever, as he was, presumably, always going to.

In order not to acknowledge that they have been discussing a non story with all the certainty peculiar to these ill informed, ‘in the know’ experts, the fools then have to invent a narrative which doesn’t show them up for the idiots they surely are. So the yarn they spin is that Arsenal have ‘missed out’. Now they need a reason to go with this. Arsène didn’t offer enough money. Or he dithered. That’ll do nicely. Of course this is a good one because both Arsène lovers and Wenger haters can now join in. On one side he’s a tight fisted old goat helping a greedy board steal supporters hard earned and not investing it in the team. On the other he’s a wily old negotiator refusing to be over charged and thereby protecting his legacy and the club we all love. Of course the fact that he may never have even considered signing the player in the first place is entirely irrelevant. The lies become truths. History has been falsified and accepted, the script is written and six feet below the grassy topsoil in a churchyard in Sutton Courtenay, Orwell slowly rotates.

I despise the way this rubbish is recycled every close season. The dramatis personæ may change but the Higuaín game remains the same. It is the way social media works and I know I need to get over it, after all I don’t have to read it do I? The shame is though that Twitter is a very good way to stay in touch with a diverse bunch of people and a great way to remain abreast of world wide events often long before they get twisted or ignored to suit the editorial bias of the so called news media. I don’t want to have to unfollow and mute everyone, I want to remain part of the hive mind but it is so difficult once you have seen the Emperor in his birthday suit.

Take Coquelin. Unarguably one of our players of the season and yet there is a desperate need to undermine him merely because people want us to sign someone else in his position. I don’t know why this makes sense to them but being an addict I do understand the instinct behind it. How to go about this undermining? Well, you can start by creating a narrative that suggests a weakness in his game. Make him out to be a player he is not and that way you can point at players who do the job this new Coquelin you’ve invented is supposed to do, but better. You achieve this by subtly introducing unfounded nonsense when discussing the player as if it is fact. Don’t be brash. Don’t stand up and say “Hey this guy might be a beast of a tackler but his distribution really sucks – don’t you all agree?” that wouldn’t do at all. Just slip in something more subtle like “we all know his problems with distribution but he is a pretty good player nonetheless.” Sounds so reasonable and sounds like the debate has already been had and everyone already agrees. The herd will then be steered that way and will continue the discussion within that particular framework.

The simple fact is of course that Francis’ passing is one of his key strengths, both close and short he is brilliant on the ball. Like Arteta his strength is in his interceptions and not his ‘beastly’ tackling. However that’s no good as a narrative because it closes the door on transfer speculation vis a vis a beastly tackler who is perceived by the herd to have better passing skills.

The truth is we shouldn’t be casting envious glances at other squads and their over priced stars, we ought to be delighted that Francis is already one of ours. He grew up with us. He knows our ways, his team mates know him, he didn’t break the bank. These are good things, facts to be applauded and in which we should rejoice, but sadly so many fans only rate players if they play for other clubs. Or in the case of certain ageing goal keepers if they used to play for other clubs but have long since been superseded. Being an Arsenal fan I am instinctively better disposed towards our own players. I think bringing Coquelin back from loan wasn’t just a master-stroke for the first team and for Francis himself but will send a message to all of our loanees. Far from being the death knell of your Arsenal career a spell or two with other teams may well be the important stepping stone to a regular first team place. What a great incentive to keep your head up and keep playing well.

In case you’re wondering, I have broken from my summer travelogue this week for two reasons. One because I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about the rubbish which goes on in the close season and wanted to exorcise it so I can get back to enjoying the wonder that is my life and two because bugger all of any note has happened to me this week. Apart, I suppose, from celebrating the end of my fifty second year on this planet, dated, for those of you who like to be pedantic about these things, from when I was born rather than conceived. This was an event celebrated in muted, dignified fashion. I share my birthday with the battle of Waterloo and Paul McCartney and was born on the day Henry Cooper fought Cassius Clay at Wembley . So I’ll leave you to debate just how old I really am. After all, it’ll be more interesting than reading the tripe being bandied about on Twitter right now.

162 Comments

Arsenal Versus Nobody: What I Did On My Holidays – Part 2

Sunset Self Portrait

If you read last week’s non match day blog then you’ll be familiar with my approach to the close season. For those of you arriving late to the party here is a brief résumé. Whereas my usual function here at PA is to provide a brief literary distraction on the day of the match, during the close season I stray. I stray from the topic of football for a number of, to me at least, obvious and straightforward reasons. Chief among these is the incontrovertible fact that the football season is over and therefore we have no football to discuss. I also believe that we spend so long on the subject during the season that a little break is not only desirable but necessary to our continued enjoyment of the beautiful game. Like all recovering addicts I recognise the danger of strangling that which you love in a fevered bid to squeeze one last drop of pleasure from it.

I am aware that others disagree. They think they can fill the void that Arsenal leaves in their lives with meaningless speculation about the movement of players which takes place in something referred to as the transfer window. Others clutch desperately at the straws of international football while the people who write about the game whether in a professional capacity or simply for fun feel the need to endlessly rehash the events of the season just passed before switching to yet more meaningless guesswork about events yet to come.

This is all an elaborate form of masochism and I will have no part in any of it. Believe me a little rest does us all good. However, there are those of you who have suggested I might continue to provide you with some amusement at the weekend and as such I am writing a weekly diary of my non footballing activities. A glimpse of a wider world into which we may plunge once the antics of our favourite team have been suspended for the summer.

I don’t do anything particularly exciting you understand, but as I’ve mentioned before I am constantly amazed by just how much time is freed up when not obsessing about football. Since last week I have, for example, completed all three seasons of Banshee and am happy to report that it was utterly, gloriously ridiculous, filled with over the top cartoon violence and simulated sex of the highest order. A rollicking good dose of silly escapism in a world populated only by muscular men and pneumatic women straight from the catwalk. If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief at the alter of pure nonsense and good fun then this might just be the show for you.

One thing I am determined to do this summer is get out of the house rather than sitting in front of this damn screen and watching sport. Now you might think that consuming thirty episodes of Banshee in one sitting is a bizarre way of spending less time at the computer or the forty two inch flat screened Sony and you’d be right. What I mean is that on Saturday or Sunday I try to get out and go visit something. Anything really. Just go and see a little bit of the world outside of Wesley Avenue. Last weekend it was the turn of South Wales to welcome me and my trusty camera. I liked what I saw. Whether South Wales was equally excited by seeing me is more of a mystery.

Remains of Tintern Abbey

My mum grew up in Tintern. Tintern is what my geography teacher would have doubtlessly referred to as a ribbon settlement. It is a strung out little village which meanders along the banks of the Wye only occasionally straying from the water’s edge to gain the odd foothold in the high sided, heavily wooded valley and then only on the western bank of the river. Which is a good job really as the Wye also marks the boundary between England and Wales. This being border country if the people of Tintern came from the other side they’d be English and being Welsh that would doubtlessly piss them off a little.

Mum has written an autobiographical text on growing up in this village and I found it a fascinating read. Not just because the thought of our parents having any sort of a life before we came into the world is a curiosity for us all, but also because it highlighted just what an incredible journey she has been on since childhood. The world in which she grew up has altered beyond recognition. One of the most striking examples of this occurred to me when I considered her other great interest which is genealogy. Now I know lots of people delve into aspects of their family tree and since the internet made this easier it has become a very popular hobby but my Mum does nothing by halves. While she hasn’t exactly uncovered the cave into which our prehistoric ancestors first dragged their Sunday lunch she has unearthed an enormous amount of detail on both past generations and relatives still living.

What struck me was how she sat communicating electronically with a distant and previously unheard of relative in Canada while converting the text of her book into a format said relative could easily open with her favoured software and here I was reading how, as a child in Tintern, Mum grew up in a house without electricity, sewage, gas or running water. She clearly remembers her grandmother tying her with a length of string by the wrist to the kitchen table when leaving her alone in the house in order to keep her from coming a cropper in the fire. She recalled their outside toilet which was a board over the stream and the copper heated over the fire on bath night. She prayed she wouldn’t be too far behind her father, four brothers and her sister in the queue to climb into the tub as the water soon became cold and none too clean. From such humble surroundings – and surroundings that were commonplace and not in any way unusual – she now edits her digital photographs using Photoshop, stays in touch with family and friends via Facebook and watches the goings on in her bird box via a wireless camera which sends a feed to her desktop.

I simply cannot imagine the contrast in how I lived as a young boy and the world I shall come to inhabit in my later years being quite so insanely different from one another.

Last weekend mum was heading back home (as she still refers to the village she left before I was even a twinkle in the milkman’s eye) to attend a school reunion. The village school, which had three classes and from which the only escape was in passing the eleven plus, was where she learned the three Rs and she and her remaining classmates meet up in one of the village pubs once a year to reminisce about the old days and have a good old moan about how the world has gone to shit rags since they were young and that kind of thing.

Now, Mum is quite capable of driving herself, but I ask you what kind of son would I be if I didn’t offer to go with her and see her safely over the bridge and into the land of dragons? Also it’s a free day out and the Wye Valley is one of the most beautiful places these islands have to offer. It is more than just the scenery though. There is a different pace to life over there, a different attitude. The people are possessed of a wonderful dry irreverence and are quick to see the humour in the most mundane of situations. I have been recognised by total strangers in pubs over there for a resemblance to my maternal grandfather. Once a chap plonked himself at the table my wife and I were sharing in the Moon and Sixpence, and, with no more preamble than putting down his pint, pointed me out with a thrust of his chin and said “You’re a Hayward”. I didn’t wish to correct him, pedantry is often mistaken for rudeness, and so confessed to my mothers maiden name.

On this latest visit the woman taking the entrance money at Tintern Abbey examined my English Heritage membership card with a studied and exaggerated theatrical scepticism more usually reserved for those working in passport control. She knew and I knew that Cadw and English Heritage have a reciprocal arrangement which allowed me access to the ancient ruins but the pantomime amused her and I’m all for that. It was the antithesis of that appalling sterile forced politeness with which big businesses these days insist their staff insult their customers. The ‘ Is there anything else I can help you with today sir’ culture which doesn’t allow for people to be human beings, preferring to straitjacket employees into a grotesque endlessly repeated role play which must make their lives hell and certainly ruins the experience for the person on the other side of the counter. I’d rather Basil Fawltey than a robot trained to within an inch of their life and not allowed to appreciate my finely tuned sense of humour.

Tintern

The Abbey itself was splendid. Some early summer sunshine lit the stonework and white clouds drifted across what my kids call a Simpsons sky. The place is much bigger than it looks from the road and was once home to a thriving colony of Cistercians – it thrived sufficiently to send some monks off to start up new ventures notably in Kingswood in Gloucestershire and Tintern Parva in Ireland. Originally founded by the splendidly named Walter fitz Richard (Groucho Marx voice: Ah yes, but did Richard fit Walter?) (wiggle cigar) (waggle eyebrows) in 1131. In 1536 the Abbey fell victim to the act of Suppression which decreed that monasteries earning less than two hundred quid a year were ‘dens of iniquity’ and as such Tintern, which could only show an income of £192 was seized by the King. The King then handed it over to his mate Henry Somerset, earl of Worcester who immediately set about stripping the roofs for the lead and generally turning the old place over the the elements.

What is left is an arresting site. As you enter the village coming from the Severn Bridge it sits on the banks of the Wye below and to your right. As a child I passed it most weekends on visits to my grandparents. My dad was a man who firmly believed that if a gag ever earned him a laugh it must be comedy gold and as such deserved repeating. And repeating. As a result I cannot drive past Tintern Abbey without hearing him say, as he did without fail every time, ‘Look at that place son, they built that eight hundred years ago,’ pause for dramatic and comedic effect, ‘you’d think they’d have got the roof on by now’. It reached the point where my sister and I would take a break from giving each other Chinese burns in the back of the car and mouth the words along with him. It used to drive me insane. Now, I’d give anything to be able to hear him say it just one more time.

I took my camera and tripod, a mixed salad roll and a copy of Betjeman’s poetry into the grounds with me. Mum’s reunion would be bound to take a good few hours so I had time to relax and enjoy the spectacle and hopefully get a couple of decent shots. This must have been some place when it was up and running. The interior would have been enormous and it is such a shame to see so magnificent a building laid so low. However, just as an ostensibly decrepit fifty two year old overweight man can actually be surprisingly attractive and interesting to members of the opposite sex if only given a chance, there was something beguiling about the ramshackle remains. To stand within the once great hall and be surrounded by views through the ravaged windows and open doorways by the green of the wooded hills and to look up at the blue sky and white clouds framed by the walls was just wonderful.

Inside The Abbey

Once mum had finished her reunion and added a new bunch of silver surfers to her Facebook friends list we did a little family visiting, pausing only for her to enjoy a go on a rope swing which hung from the branches of a conker tree. As she flew precariously out towards the slow moving deep green waters of the Wye I wondered if instead of taking a picture of this madness I ought perhaps to intervene. I was however reminded of the words of a friend of mine who took me to task for suggesting he and I were getting a bit too old to be out every weekend on our mountain bikes, especially given the perilous nature of the downhill courses we attempt to ride. Stew, he said to me, you don’t stop because you get old, you get old because you stop.

Bob and Liz-2

32 Comments

Schneiderlin ? Not Just That Simple !

A guest post from @foreverheady

Just for a moment I want to imagine what it must feel like to be Morgan Schneiderlin. Or rather, to imagine how he views his career and its likely progression. I should think he feels pretty good about things: another great season at Southampton, on the fringes of his national team and ready now to make a career defining move. A move that is perhaps the most important one he will ever make. Certainly the dogs are barking his name, and he is seen as the perfect fit for any one of a number of clubs, with Manchester United and Arsenal the most obviously touted by those who profess to know about these things. Premier league tried and tested, it is surely only a matter of time before he is seduced by the kind of fame and fortune that only the very top clubs can offer and virtually guarantee.

Except of course there are no guarantees in top level sport, and especially not in the cut-throat world of football.When Schneiderlin considers his options he will need to think about wages and length and terms of contract, and he must also think about the type of club he wants to represent. He must feel he can trust the manager, and that he will develop and grow under his tutelage. But above all he must feel absolutely certain that he will be a star at the club, and that he will pretty much be the first name on the team sheet. And that of course is the problem for players like him, because he wouldn’t necessarily be sure that he would be automatic first choice for any of the top four clubs. Make no mistake, he is a very fine player, but is he that much better than the options those clubs already have? James Milner is a prime example of this: he was an outstanding servant to Manchester City, but he knew that he wasn’t that high on the pecking order, and was likely to be displaced if any of the much-touted galactico signings take place as promised and as seem likely, given the apparent relaxation of FFP. Fed up with forever playing the Swiss Army Knife role Milner wanted to be a real star at his next club, and his move to Liverpool makes perfect sense. He will likely become a crowd favourite, and it is easy to imagine him really thriving: the move ticks all the boxes. But if Milner had wanted to play at United, or Chelsea, or the Arsenal, he would have faced pretty much the same situation as he did at City. It looks to me as if Schneiderlin is in a similar positon, and that is why I suspect he would not want to sign for The Arsenal, however much fans and pundits suggest he should.

Please understand, I am not suggesting that he is not good enough for The Arsenal, for his regular performances over the last couple of years suggest he would fit in easily at The Emirates. He would, I suspect, be very good indeed. But would he be good enough to command a regular starting role? Would he automatically push Coquelin out of the starting line-up, or Jack Wilshere, or Aaron Ramsey? I am not so sure he would, and I expect he is not that certain either. He would have looked at the starting XI in the Cup Final, and looked at the bench, and he would have come to his own conclusions. Does he really want to leave Southampton to become a squad player at the highest level, or does he want to wait until he can find a Milner type solution, the type of solution he has already found at Southampton. Much will depend on money, of course, but much will also depend on the extent of his playing ambitions, and how much he needs to be playing each week. Very good players demand huge wages if they know they are only going to be part of a squad and not the main man.

And that of course is the problem that faces The Arsenal as they attempt to make the most difficult step forward of all, the step from good to great. The club already has a very good squad, and doesn’t need to be adding costly extra players just to provide even more depth. It perhaps does need to add a player or two who would be better that what it already has. But they are few and far between, and they are highly prized and they tend to be even more highly priced. We have seen the difference that first Ozil and then Alexis made to the team, and I have no doubt that Arsene Wenger is keenly aware that another such signing would be very nice indeed; I suspect he is most actively pursuing a couple of players but he will be doing so discreetly and with customary stealth. He is unlikely to buy anyone for the sake of buying someone, and I would suggest he will not pay £25m for a Schneiderlin when he already has a Coquelin, unless he feels that he would actually be an upgrade, in which case he will already be actively persuading young Morgan, as one Strasbourgian to another, that he is top, top quality.

We will see and I find this summer a fascinating one. We have a great squad, and we have some amazing players. Should we have any luck at all with injuries we will be competitive next season whether we sign anyone or not, and that is a great –and also an unusual- situation to be in. It is the sort of situation that only arises though astonishing wealth, or luck, or meticulous and inspired planning. But I cannot believe for one moment that the club is satisfied to just be here, nor that it is as unambitious and limited as those who merely parrot the populist cry for a new spine, whatever that actually means in a dynamic and fluid game. The next moves will be exciting ones, and I suspect they will also be surprising, given that money for the highest quality is now very much there, as is the magnetic appeal of the likes of Ramsey, Ozil and Alexis.

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Why Do Arsenal Keep Not Winning Games They Should ?

How often do we see Arsenal dominate a game, play the best football and not win? Too often, I hear you say.

Why does it happen, or appear to happen, more often to us than others? When it happens we hear the same old rhetoric and soundbites ” same old same old” or ” Tactical naivety ” or some other such crap.

So today I want to offer some ideas as to why this is, or at least why I think it might be.

What tends to happen is that we play the better football, dominate the play , don’t score (or don’t score enough) from the many chances we make, then the opposition either manage to get a fluky goal, we make a silly mistake or on the odd occasion they score a screamer.

Before this can come about something has to happen, we have to be the better team. And we are, on almost every occasion. We lost two games at home this year, MUFC and Swansea. We were all over both teams . Three or four nil at half time would not have been an unfair reflection of both of those games. But we weren’t. Somehow, through a combination of resolute defending and /or, poor finishing they managed to take it to the point where a late goal grabbed them the points. In the case of MUFC it took the referee missing a foul , where Marouane Fellaini pushed Gibbs (who was in mid-air at the time) into Szczesny , causing them both to hit the deck. Then a lucky deflection off Gibbs (while still on the floor following the assault) and that was that. Swansea ? I mean it was all one way trafffic and a catalogue of individual errors saw a weak header sneak over the line, just……. But make no mistake , we battered both teams.

But it keeps happening ! I hear you.

Well yes. And it will as long as we keep playing better football than the rest,  they will set up to frustrate, they will commit rotational fouls, they will hope to ride their luck, they will sometimes score goals against the run of play, they will occasionally get away with it and win. Because they have little choice, Arsenal play better football. They are maximising their chances of winning. Why would they not?

In the vast majority of occasions though, it won’t succeed and doesn’t work. We still win. Its nothing new or clever, most teams do it. Not only do they do it when we are at home, but most of them do it when they are at home. The sad reality is that sometimes it works for them.

It happens to us more that it happens to other teams because we have to play against it more often than other teams. Even Chelsea set up like that home and away against us.

Now I’m not talking about the times we play poorly, Stoke away first half, the big reverses at Chelsea, Everton and Liverpool last season. On those occasions they attacked us and we were found wanting for one reason or another. No, I’m talking about the vast majority of games where we face teams that have accepted we play better football and they don’t want a game. I don’t blame them either, what else can they do? But also, what else can we do?

We want to dominate?  Right !  We want to play better football than them ?   Right ! We want to create chances?  Right!!

Well sometimes we do all of these things and don’t score. Sometimes we can play the same way, to the same level and win easily. But once in a while we either won’t win, or even (very occasionally) lose. My contention is that it happens more to us because the circumstances are repeated more often.

I watched West Brom have 20% possession at United, ride their luck and win. I saw Barca, against Celtic, have 89% possession, about 45 attempts on goal and lose to a single goal, from a corner, Celtic’s only attempt on goal. It happens a lot. But it only hurts when it happens to us.

Monaco was the perfect example of this. Revisionist thinking has us playing awful and getting spanked. But it took a combination of the worst finishing we have seen in years, from normally efficient scorers, and Per flicking a speculative nothing of a shot, into the top corner before the madness at the end of the game. Yes we made some utterly daft plays, but the set up and tactics had created enough chances for us to be out of sight .

Now just imagine that Theo hit the defender in front of him rather that the little gap between that defender and the post, then Alexis hit the bar full on rather than the underside, despite playing one of the best games we have seen, we would have been one stroke of luck on Villa’s part away from a nightmare and cries of tactical incompetence and we never learn.

I am not ignoring that on occasions we seem to go into melt down. I’m not saying we have bad luck. I’m not saying that we can’t cut down on how often it happens. I’m just saying it happens to us more because we face teams accepting it must be a backs to the wall war of attrition before a ball is kicked.

So that is where we are, and the obstacles we face in converting quality and footballing dominance into three points every week. Is there a solution though – the magic bullet ?

 

Pedantic George ( AKA @Blackburngeorge )

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