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So, You Think You Know Football ?

Today a guest post from Rich @AlternativeArse 

 

 

It’s often been something that makes me think. How many Arsenal fans actually play/played football on a regular basis? From their apparent understanding of the game, it would appear not that many.

Now, I’m not a qualified coach, nor am I that good at football. I can run fairly fast, like to think I have an eye for a pass and understand how to play. I played to decent standard at school, have made a few cup finals in the local Sunday league divisions and even played Saturday football for a brief period.

Nowadays, I play 5-a-side in a local veterans league. I think the standard is pretty high; I’ve come up against goalkeepers who have played for Luton Town, and even teams that take part in annual international tournaments, but no matter who I’m up against, the football is often quite good.

On a Friday nights, we play a friendly match. It’s usually 6-a-side but it’s more of a practise than a full on competitive match. There is no ref, so it’s not quite as combative, but still people like to win and score plenty goals.

One chap I play with is renowned for having a very accurate left foot. He will shoot on sight from just about any distance and usually the ball will end up in the back of the net. However, one week, he couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo.

He did hit the woodwork 3 or 4 times, but we laughed at his inability to score because of how out of the ordinary it was. The more he tried, the worse it got. His usual accuracy had deserted him for that period of 60 sweaty minutes.

Another story of randomness, would be a game I played in last Friday. My team found itself losing by about 9 goals with about 10 minutes to play. Not only were we getting pummeled, but also frustrated with our inability to hit the target as the opposing team enjoyed an almost unopposed goal fest.

That was until one of my teammates scored a halfway line belter.

That was swiftly followed by a flurry of around 10 strikes with only a couple in reply. Sure, we ended up beaten by the usual last goal wins, but the scoreline was a much more respectable and pride had been restored.

Why did all that happen? Really, we had no idea.

Football can be a funny old game.

Those of you that play or have played, I would hope are able to appreciate this viewpoint, especially if you played regularly to any standard.

The unpredictability of the game is something that can’t be explained. It’s human, it’s random and it’s something that you can’t manage or control, no matter how good the players are and no matter how assured the tactics, the human influence that is involved in football, will always affect the outcome.

My point is, that my experiences playing in the veterans league, and other’s experiences playing football, can easily be compared to how the Arsenal are playing this season.

You see, I would argue that Arsenal aren’t playing as poorly as people make out.

I would argue that Arsenal don’t need any more signings in the January window.

I would argue that Arsene Wenger is as tactically astute as the next manager.

Why? Because football really is a funny old game.

Arsene and Arsenals task is to try and effect the random elements and turn them in our favour, but there certainly isn’t any call for sackings, players being dropped to the bench or the back room staff muttering of discontent and disillusionment.

Fans need to be a bit more realistic in their assessment.

Our league form is, well…as normal…

This season, folks are getting very wound up about our position in the league and our lack of progression up the table. The latest loss to Swansea went down like a lead balloon amongst the Arsenal faithful, and subsequently we dropped from 5th to 6th.

6th position and 17 points. Ohh the terror.

With only another 27 games to play, you might think we are fighting a relegation battle, judging by some of the reaction. If you look to past seasons league positions at this stage, you might be surprised we are actually par for the course;

season_comparison_01

Premiership Table 2014 & 2013 to November 13th
statto.com

season_comparison-02

Premiership Table 2012 & 2011 to November 13th
statto.com

Our league form fluctuates in the top half of the table every year as our squad looks for form and players get on their game and grow in confidence.

Such is the way of football. It’s difficult to predict, and this happens every year, with a few exceptions of course; last season for instance.

We might not be top this season, but Arsenal are still competitive.

This season, the knives appear to be out in a big way, probably because in comparison, we had such a good start last time round and Chelski are running away a little bit. But there are plenty of games to go, and don’t forget the players we have out injured.

Injuries?!? Arsene should have prepared by buying more players!

I disagree. The players that we have already are good enough and despite the absences, Arsenal are still playing very decent football.

Those of you who aren’t convinced that we are playing well should also pay a bit more attention how we are playing, not just the results.

But the results are what matter!?

Yes they are. But we have to be playing well in the first place to achieve better results. And Arsenal are set and ready to go in that respect.

Defending is not the issue…scoring goals is.

Some ans are currently talking about the need for a new centre back and a new midfielder, as we are apparently scoring goals with abandon through Alexis Sanchez.

But we are not.

Despite the heroics of our Chilean and his firey boots of thunder, putting the ball in the back of the net appears to be Arsenal’s undoing, again.

Our ability to convert the chances we create is letting us down, big time;

Chances created by premier league teams so far this season.

Chances created by premier league teams so far this season.

 

The statistics speak volumes. Second in the chances created table for the Premiership so far. It’s a a pity that the assist figure isn’t higher as if it was, we would be winning more games.

This can be reinforced further by looking at how our shooting fairs against the other sides in the premiership, as in the past, that’s always been a quandary;

premier-league-shots

Shots taken by teams in the premier league this season

Oops. Second again. Higher than all the teams above us in the league, bar Man City, and we are taking the most shots outside of the area. Plenty of shots…just not many goals. Be that because our players go boss-eyed at the sight of the sticks, or that opposition are literally sacrificing themselves to keep the ball out of the net, who knows, but if you don’t take shots, you don’t score goals.

Just to appease you, as you probably don’t believe those figures…I took a look at our defensive performance too;

premier-league-defence

Defensive performance by Premier League teams so far this season.

Huh? Third ? According to the statistics, we have a better defence than Chelsea ? How can this be ?

Well, there are several factors that can influence these figures, and this is how I interpret them;

The lower the score, the better a team is at dealing with opposition through it’s midfield, with the forward players tracking back to defend. Either that, or the defenders never really have to do much defending, because we are always attacking, or we maintain a lot of possession.

That is the best way to stop the opposition scoring – don’t let them have the ball.

But those defensive numbers don’t take possession into consideration – that’s a different statistic.

The numbers would suggest that we are actually defending very well, all over the pitch.

Of course, there will be anomalies, but what you can’t count in all these figures is the number of goals we concede through no fault of our own. Through elements out of our control. What I mean by that is the oppositions ability to fashion a chance themselves – be that from a free kick, good play or how the ball bounces.

Gylfi Sigurdsson’s epic against Swansea is a prime example, as is the Anderlect offside goal and Southampton’s Clyne strike in the Capital One cup. They aren’t errors of Arsenals making, rather the oppositions ability to capitalise on brief opportunity, and you can’t do much about that.

Arsenal are creating a world of opportunities to win matches, we simply aren’t making the most of then at the moment.

Still not convinced ?

Well how about if I show you that Arsenal are currently 12th on the list of chances created per game in Europes top 5 leagues;

europe-chances

Chances created – Top 5 European Leagues this season.

Or how about that statistically speaking, Arsenal are the 7th best performing team out of those same leagues ?

europe-performance

Team performance score so far this season – Top 5 European Leagues.

Yes so it’s a performance score…that really mean nothing, but it’s applicable to all teams and a good way of measuring how you are playing, and Arsenal are playing very well. We are not winning, but we are playing very well.

The fact is, that you can play very well in all your matches, you can create the chances and defended resolutely, but if the ball simply won’t go in the net…then it’s not going to be your day.

Scoring more goals than the opposition is what really matters.

But isn’t that just the point?

Regardless of how you play, regardless of the statistics and numbers, from veterans league, all the way up to the premiership, there is no football script. There is no “win the game” power up, nor is there a switch that turns on skills or goals.

In reality, it’s all about specific moments on the pitch and how individuals deal with them in a split second. Even the galactic mind powers of Arsene Wenger, controlling all he surveys like a zombie king, can’t stop Arsenal’s opposition from having an excellent match winning moment or give the referee sight beyond sight.

That is after all what they are are also on the pitch for and if we can’t get the ball in the net, we’re not going to beat them no matter what we do.

That is just how football goes.

50 Comments

Arsenal Must Stay On Course.

A post from Tim @foreverheady stolen for the comments section without his permission 

Leaving aside a couple of free kicks there is quite a similarity between Alexis’s goals this season and Aaron’s from last season. Someone clever would be able to do a video compilation of them both, no doubt, The main difference it seems to me is that by and large Aaron had Ozil playing alongside him and he was able to control the game in a way that we haven’t really seen this season. If Ozil returns to full fitness I suspect we will have an excellent second half of the season, irrespective of anyone else we might buy in January.

At the moment just about everyone who posts on Twitter is saying that Arsenal and Arsene (and they use those nouns interchangeably) lack ambition and won’t or can’t change. It seems to me that it is precisely the opposite of that. We are not doing brilliantly at the moment (and not as well as last year) partly because of terrible injury problems but mainly because we are in the process of trying to ambitiously change from being a fourth place club to a first place club. As any amateur golfer would know, trimming your handicap from 20 to 14 is very easy, 14 to 8 quite easy, 8 to 4 doable, 4 to scratch exceptionally difficult. Those early changes can be made by better management, greater organisation and a few tweaks here and there. The last change probably means a complete swing overhaul and a frustrating period when you seem to be getting worse rather than better. It is tempting then to go back to what you knew and were comfortable with and settle for being very nearly very good.

It will require fortitude and patience but the side will end up better if everyone sticks with the process. If, however, there is so much noise and discontent that the Arsenal board decide that they need to change course and go back to safety then we will never have a chance of challenging Chelsea, City or United. I am aware as I write this of how easily it would be for the likes of Le Grove of ACLF to pour scorn on the idea, and point simply to the need for a powerful defender and more pragmatic match day tactics. And, of course, they would be right to an extent, but I think what we’re trying to do is to play the kind of total football that saw Germany dismantle Brazil and go on to win the World Cup. So it seems to me that while it might be appropriate to criticise Arsenal and Arsene for all sorts of things (and heaven knows I do at times in my more private and frustrated moments) it is about as wrong as it is possible to be to say they lack ambition.

And some words of wisdom from the late great ZimPaul

“”One thing is the frustrated fan hurling cheap insults against any target, including Emmanuel, Aaron, Abou, Theo, Denilson, so many others, and always Wenger by default, to vent their infantile anger at not being at the “top table” of trophies for a rather short spell, without thought of incredible ambitions the club had already achieved, was in the process of achieving, and had set its sights on, and the calm, decent manner it was going about all this. Despicable and stupid.

Then what does one call the informed and erudite fan, who knowingly, willfully set out to manipulate malleable, weak minds with outright lies, selective lies, omission of facts, outrageous claims (often dressed up as modest, humble appeals for change and “end of an era”), manipulating and flinging about all manner of base emotions, with the objective to erode team and club morale, it’s achievements, and get Wenger out?

And then what does one call more influential individuals and journalists, pundits, ex-players, football establishment types, who conjured up and fabricated an entire anti-Wengerball culture, week in week out, appealing to Arsenal’s time-honoured (British) traditions and glories, and so set out and all but conspired to use their influence to destroy Arsenal’s achievements during a vulnerable period of building for the long term?”

When will we ever learn, when will ever learn ?

117 Comments

Is Sanchez The Answer To Arsenal’s Woes ?

The way I feel right now, this could be my last article. I’ve lost faith in people to think or behave reasonably. The negativity is stomach turning. Still, this is not another rallying call, or a dig at the fans, goodness knows we all have reasons to be unhappy.

Before I go on, let me first admit that what you are about to read is ill researched, and based on my thoughts, which as far as tactics go, are about as valuable as a handful of beans.

Lets first look at what we know.

A) Arsenal are worse than last year.

B) Arsenal are  just not playing like Arsenal.

C) Something has gone badly wrong.

D) Something has happened to make A B and C come about.

When we were at our best last year, we had Arteta and Ramsey in the deeper positions shielding the back 4. That system basically won Szczesny the golden glove. In most games both players had passing % in the mid 90′s and sometimes upward of 100 touches each on the ball.

In front of them we had Mesut, a player you can give the ball to and he will cherish it, if he cant make a telling pass, he simple recycles it and control is kept, the ball is kept. Control is keep. Calm is keep.

Giroud could be given the ball, he would hold it up and lay it of to the MF, we know how effective Aaron was arriving from deep. We looked good, top of the league and going well . The system worked. The league standings for two thirds of the campaign proved it.

However, there was a problem. Without Theo (or anyone else with pace) teams could come out and pressure the MF sure in the knowledge that Giroud, or anyone else, would not run in behind them. Without pace there was a way of stopping us.

When we bought Sanchez my thoughts were that he would give the pace and goals that Theo gives in that system. he seemed the perfect answer.  He could play wide right until Theo was fit, he could play wide left for Santi, and if needs be he could play at CF if a shake up was required. In other words we could rotate and have cover for injuries in all the areas where pace is vital.

Of course fate took a hand and we lost Giroud, Ozil, and for much of the time Arteta.

So rather than coming in to a settled team and improving us, Sanchez has come into a totally disrupted team and changed us.

For all his heroics he struggles to make 70% pass completion. That, from mainly the centre of the field, is shocking. For all his effort and endeavour his ball retention is pathetic. And yes , I know he he is a marvelous player and scores goals right left and centre, but he is like a rower in a boat that’s stronger than the other guys but because hes rowing out of sync the boat is going slower.

It gets worse when other players think  it a good idea to play like that and go chasing the ball or turning it over for no obvious reason. It worried me when the Ox, said  “we should follow the example of Alexis” . Thats fine if the example followed is chasing down the ball in the final third and scoring goals. However, if its giving the ball away time after time in the middle of the park and not managing to pass the simplest of balls to a teammate, not so much.

For a long time I’ve though our tactics have been to start fast and if we didn’t get a goal early control possession and run the legs off the opposition. Then go again in the last 20 minutes when they were tired and Arsene’s famous late substitutions were made. Now though its us who have no legs in the last 20 and have our legs run off chasing the ball.

We will just have to wait and see how it all works when we have the players back. But its not working right now.

Should we have bought a 4th choice CB ? Well yes, on the face of it

Should we have bought a player that can cover or replace Mikel ? Well yes, on the face of it.

But would that have altered any of the things I’ve mentioned ?

Ramsey is simply not the player he was last year ! Or does he just suffer from the loss of shape that saw him playing to his strengths ?

The greatest strength of our team has been weaving patterns of play that confuse the opponents and open up opportunities. There is zero chance of that happening with a 70% pass completion .

Of course if would be better if Koscielny and Debuchy were fit, but they would just be better defenders playing behind the same chaos.

Arsene cant be exempt from criticism. No matter what the circumstances its his job to find the answers. But I for one am willing to wait until we at least see something resembling our best 11 and he is given the chance to bring in the players of world class level I believe he is searching for, in the positions we all know are weaknesses.

I understand the frustrations of fans, indeed I share them, but I am not about to suggest throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

So thats it , my tuppence worth. Like it or lump it. I accept that it could be complete bollocks.

Now as far as this site goes, I’m going to see how the comments go and decide if the blog has a future or purpose. To be quite honest it feels like I’m pissing into the wind at the moment.

 

 

 

14 Comments

Arsenal: When High Expectations Hit Rock Bottom

highexpectations

Risky thing, ambition …

 

Competition in the Premier League has never been more fierce and the evidence for this lies all around in the form of the shattered dreams of the fans of Spurs, Liverpool, United and, to a lesser extent, even Man City.

The first two are evidence that simply spending a vast sum no longer buys the division and the latter two more evidence of the same yet with two, three, maybe ten times the expenditure.

Chelsea have put together a decent if largely loathsome side, though this hasn’t been achieved overnight; that they have required – or somehow acquired – the rub of the green this season in the form of outstanding refereeing contribution to elevate their position to a point where much of the media have them already crowned champions is indisputable. Game after game after game, Chelsea are gaining competitive advantage of the kind that makes an already good side appear invincible. A year ago, with Arsenal striding high, the word from the 4th Estate was simply that it couldn’t possibly last. Yet this year, the chavs are apparently indisputably water-tight. Indeed, champions elect.

How strange. And how sure they all seem.

And all around me all I hear are Arsenal fans tearing into club, players and manager.

Noisy individuals, many of whom have swapped their sunny summits of FA Cup success for a morose autumn of tragic victimhood, criminally misled by the club into thinking all would be unremittingly rosy in Arsenal’s footballing garden. That by now we would have a minimum of two ‘worldies’ (‘or even one!!’) for every position. That we would at least avoid squandering three-goal leads and jettisoning victories to low(ish)-flying Welsh opposition. That our squad would be purring like the English Champions. Oh alright, hang on, like Chelsea’s then (but without the mind-numbingly dull Mourinho-esque non-spectacle).

On Sky’s Sunday Supplement programme this weekend, four white men were reflecting on the lack of opportunity for men of any colour in the backrooms of the English game. They did this blissfully unaware of the irony of this caucasian broadcast, despite the well-meaning commentary on a lamentable and frankly shocking situation.

As I watched them, it struck me as equally ironic that at the heart of the complaints of Arsenal fans lies a perception of a lack of commitment by the club.

No commitment to spend, no commitment to keep ticket prices down. No commitment to acquire experience or to give youth its chance. No commitment to clear dead wood, no commitment to tie down players on long-term contracts. No commitment to attack, nor to defend. No commitment to buy an out-and-out goal-scorer/midfielder/goalkeeper. These are all actual charges that have been laid at the door of the club at different times in recent years and for different, doubtless carefully calculated reasons by the club’s accusers.

Charges laid by people at least some of whom’s own commitment start and end with the purchase of a ticket, the price of a Sky subscription, the five minutes invested in posting online complaints, criticism and/or abuse of the club and its staff. The irony of any critique, centring as it does on matters of commitment, appears as lost on most of the perpetrators as it did Sky’s angst-ridden, journalist debaters-turned-social-commentators.

Football is, of course, nothing without the supporters.

But the era of the traditional supporter, in the wider context of distinct club-based mass groups, appears to have passed, having been largely supplanted by a self-pitying bunch of miserable, unhappy individuals, masquerading as ‘fans’ yet behaving like ‘consumers’. Rather than being a part of something, followers give the impression of being a part from everything – their fellow fans and chosen club included.

This misery is as palpable as it is widespread.

Even those of us with a more ‘optimistic’ outlook feel robbed on a weekly basis by the perpetuation of a worsening refereeing crisis that denies us all access to justice and a sense of fair play on the field of play. Some of us favour the introduction of video-technology. Why? Because the amount we invest in following the game surely justifies the adoption of what we might argue to be ‘best practice’.

And so it goes on.

In the same week that City fans had to be bribed into their own Champions’ League hosting stadium with the supermarket style promise of two tickets for the price of one, the blight of fan apathy at Stamford Bridge was such that Jose himself was bitterly complaining of the absence of atmosphere at The Home of Chav.

Despite sovereign-scale funding in teams over many years, it is extremely telling that neither Chelsea nor City presently have real need of newer, larger stadiums.

And despite the influx of the greatest array of footballing talent this country has arguably ever seen, the discontent with football in a wider context, at least in the UK, has never been greater.

The price English football is paying for the mass ‘consumerisation’ of the nation’s once favourite game is finding expression not only in the struggles of the national side but also at the very heart of the game’s essence.

Fatally, football, for the vast majority of modern day followers, is over-promising and under-delivering.

The high costs involved in being a fan has created the sense of entitlement and expectation more normally associated with a public service-based activity. But whereas high-class hotels and restaurants are geared up to deliver and never (or at worst, rarely) disappoint, football remains as relentlessly unreliable and gloriously unpredictable as ever.

And, it would seem, no amount of money is likely to ever change that.

Southampton’s currently outstanding season is testament to that, and more power to them.

Dortmund, over in the Bundesliga, were once also capable of similar – and greater -footballing miracles. It’s sad to say that Southampton, despite the well-earned plaudits, are today as vulnerable to off-field dismantling of their carefully nurtured squad(s) as their German counter-parts, even while the Saints look so good on it.

Arsenal’s own on-field ‘miracle’ is yet to happen though Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor, even, a decade.

That the off-field miracle HAS occurred is worthy of its own acknowledgement even though few are currently in the mood to celebrate anything.

It means that once we have assembled – and tuned-up – a title winning team, we won’t be going the way of Spurs, Liverpool, Dortmund or Southampton in losing our best players the moment they emerge. Let’s face it, we’ve been there and done that; mercifully we are unlikely to have to wear that particular shirt again.

And the sooner our own fan base realises this the better. For sure we are, frustratingly, a work still in progress. But it’s long-term, sustainable progress, nowadays both stately and invulnerable.

And our own fans can expedite the process by leading the way in returning to old-fashioned ways of supporting – to be our club’s 12th man at every match.

It’s not just about player-acquisition or tactics; the sooner fan-generated confidence courses through the veins of the club the sooner the whole process will cement our place at the top tables of the football world.

Yes, of course, the club HAS to get it right, but so too do the fans.

And, of course, that requires commitment, doesn’t it?

93 Comments

Negative Narratives Blight Arsenal

A guest post from Muppet   @MuppetGooner

 

The story of this season so far has been that all events have conspired to support the negative narrative supported by a number of über bloggers and media commentators. You will know it well. The unbalanced team, the groundhog day scenario of competing for a top 4 place just to appear in the champions league, with no chance of actually winning it or proceeding beyond the quarter finals. The insistence on attacking football. The lack of fist pumping leaders in the side. The suicidal decisions to bolster the attack and neglect the defence, letting two experienced defenders go. The weekly evidence, showing a clueless manager, incapable of making tactical substitutions, unsure of his best team, out of his depth.

The (negative) narrative is that the common denominator of all of these events is Wenger. The same lack of organisation and generosity in defence manifested itself in the same way, say, 5 or 6 years ago, and therefore he is to blame, and the reason for all our troubles. The negativity is exacerbated, as well by time, by the weight of expectation, heightened from last year’s FA Cup, and having more money from commercial deals. And magnified by Twitter and the press. A few über bloggers are also to blame, passing off some events as evidence of Wenger’s or the club’s incompetence, without being challenged. A bunch of idiots on Twitter letting off steam is not as worrying as the über bloggers and media commentators, as they carry some influence, and get followed by the herds.

On to a different narrative later, a positive narrative. But for the moment a simple example to illustrate the point that seemingly intelligent people, supposed experts, can spout utter BS, fuelled by a narrative, and get away with it. It was during the world cup, and Özil was playing against the U.S. The commentator said something like, “and Özil has been a passenger in this game”. The moment that he said that, Özil, far advanced up the pitch, received a ball on the right hand side. He was surrounded by 3 players. The ball, travelling at some pace, was tricky, but his 1st touch was magnificent, simply sublime. He could have been easily dispossessed. Instead, in the blink of an eye, he managed to lay the ball off to his left, in field. Surely, no English player would have been capable of those 2 seconds of exemplary technique, ensuring on-going possession of the ball?

More recent examples of an absurd narrative have been that Sanchez is carrying the team. Have we yet witnessed a tweet that credits Wenger for the signing of Sanchez?  The reason for pointing this out is that in the face of accusations about positive dogmatism, it should also be said that negative dogmatism is just as bad, and unfortunately it seems to be preached by those who believe they are somewhere in the middle of the two. A well known blogger, pontificated that “we predicted all the problems as a result of not signing an extra central defender to replace Vermaelen”. Well, we know the defence is not perfect, but at this stage of the season, we have conceded 11 goals, 1 fewer than Chelsea and City, who have “world class” managers and “world class” players including Kompany and Terry, the 2 best central defenders in the entire galactic universe. If Chelsea, with their pragmatic genius manager, have conceded only 1 fewer than us, then doesn’t that surely mean that extreme negativity as well as hyperbole is at play here?

In a recent interview, another well known über blogger discussed the state of the defence with a journalist, and they discussed the problems of Monreal as a centre back, at length, and the paucity of options. The assertion was then made that these problems were those that had never been addressed and will never be addressed. But this is where the positive narrative comes in. Perhaps not even positive, as the events over the last 2 to 3 years has shown that we are making progress, however slow it is deemed by some. We killed the idea that we had an ideological block by smashing our transfer record and signing Özil. Then came Sanchez. By any stretch of the imagination, both of these signings were from Harrods. Man U and City may have paid more for a few players recently, but haven’t they been screwed? The signings of Welbeck and Chambers have also been excellent. But the problem has been the perceived inactivity in the signing of a centre back and a defensive midfielder – the mythical DM. This is the fuel on the flames of the negative narrative. Wenger’s achilles heel. Unforgiveable, for some. But would one be deluded if they believed that we have made several attempts to sign players in these positions – not from Lidl or Aldi, but again, from Harrods?

This season, on the evidence so far, has shown us that problems are not fixed overnight, and world class players do not grow on trees. Man U are in transition for a 2nd season, and despite spending more in 2 seasons than probably the entire net spend in Wenger’s reign, are in mid table. They couldn’t find the defenders they were looking for, and are paying a heavy price for not replacing Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra. Liverpool, despite spending colossal amounts of money in the summer to replace Suarez, are a shadow of the swashbuckling side they were last year. For me this points to 2 things, a successful team needs excellent players to succeed and these obviously take time and money to sign and acquire, and also they need time as a team to gel. So hence we are told, now, that these clubs are in “transition”. Fair enough (well actually, utter tosh), but, if this is true for them – and one has to snort somewhat, then it certainly applies to us, as we have not yet had the time to fully capitalise on the transfer market, as it’s only in the last 2 years where our financial muscle has significantly strengthened. And if you believe, as  we do on here, in Wenger’s acumen in the market, then, imagine the effect of what Wenger will achieve when our net spend matches that of Liverpool and Manchester United. It will be very interesting indeed. One has looked forward to it ever since the realisation that austerity restricted us after the stadium move. To let Wenger go, or even demand his departure at this point in time, for me, is a sign that you didn’t understand the stadium move. You never understood what is was about, which was to put ourselves in a position to compete with the bigger clubs in Europe, by having the financial power to acquire players in the top tier.

If we are not quite there yet, and if you believe that all it takes are for these remaining jigsaw pieces, a top tier centre back and defensive midfielder, then it’s going to take time, because, known players in the top tier are jealously guarded by their clubs. My assertion, if I may, is that Wenger won’t buy if the quality doesn’t fit, and he has little option but to wait or to nurture younger players to maturity – Ox/Ramsey/Chambers etc. We know that this is frustrating to many, but what is the alternative? The detractor argument is that anybody is better that nothing or that there are copious amounts of players out there that will fit the bill. Really? I would wager that the amount of players that Wenger is looking at is probably under 5, worldwide. And that none of them are currently available. We know of whispers about Khedira. Certainly, Gustavo, the Brazilian. One of the Bender brothers has been linked for 2 years. For whatever reason so far, and please don’t tell us it’s because it’s not on Wenger’s priority list, the deals have not come off. We must believe they will come off, and we have to be patient.

 

70 Comments

Complacency, and The Results There Of !

A guest post for Tim, @foreverheady, a braver man than me.

I changed my seat at half-time. Pleased with the two goal lead I paused the TV, put the children to bed, made a cup of tea and then went back into the sitting room – and sat in a different place. I knew at the time I shouldn’t do it, but I thought it wouldn’t matter: the job was surely done, and I waited to be entertained. The Emirates crowd were of the same opinion I reckon: after Alexis’s wonder free kick the antiphonal chanting began: North Bank, Clock End. We are only those things when strolling to victory, when all worry is gone.  When Oxlade opened up his body Thierry like to make it three the players’ celebrations told us that they thought it was over too.

Except nobody had remembered to tell that to the Sporting Gods – or rather, we had all forgotten the essential rule of Tragedy, that pride comes before a fall and the one thing that is guaranteed to irritate Fate is misplaced Hubris.  Suddenly the players stopped doing what they had been doing so well, and showboated a bit: not much, to be fair, but enough for Anderlecht to take control of the midfield. Defensive duties were left undone as player after player sought to join the attacking party and feast on the adulation of the crowd. It seemed suddenly as if everyone and everything had forgotten their proper jobs, and as shape was lost so the chaos began.  Attackers didn’t track back, midfielders forgot to challenge and mark, full backs and central defenders pushed forward worryingly, hamstrings abandoned their primary purpose, managers sat back when immediate action was needed, linesmen forgot to check for offside, London autumn turned monsoon and still the crowd partied as if it was, if not quite 1999, at least the last time we had bossed lesser European opposition.

Lear-like, Monreal stumbled, and this time the ref saw all too well: the keeper sent effortlessly the wrong way and suddenly, as clear as day, the third goal became inevitable. It is virtually impossible to take your foot off the pedal in sport and then reapply it at will: the mind-set has been changed irrevocably and momentum ceded fatally to your opponent. As far as the players were concerned they didn’t need to do any more: the game had already been won, except of course it hadn’t been and the fat lady was a long way from singing the praises of the greatest team the world had ever seen. And so the crowd’s heroes who were carrying all before them suddenly had feet of clay and became a group of anxious and worried young twenty year olds, all too aware of their own vulnerability. The only thing that surprised me about the game was that it ended in a draw.

 

And so the recriminations began, and the insults cascaded down on The Arsenal.  Useless. Weak. Tactically naïve. Shambolic. Spineless. All the good things that happened in the first 60 minutes washed away by North London rain and the bitter tears of dashed expectations, replaced instead by anger and bile. But if in the Anderlecht away match you had thought that the result didn’t count because it was won in the last minute, and only papered over the cracks of a sub-standard performance, then how do you react to last night’s game? Only a draw, but that doesn’t matter because for large parts of the match the arsenal were very, very good? No, that would be absurd, because a match is a full match and needs to be played for all 90 minutes before the prizes are given out – and woe betide any team who think it is over before it really is.  And if you as a spectator thought at any stage last night that you could chill because the game was safe, then to my mind you are as bad as any of the players who relaxed prematurely. And if you did worse than that, and changed your seat, or moved from your positon, or ignored any of those important rituals that the Gods think so important, then you really need to take a long hard look at yourself and realise that like it or not, we are all in this together.

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Defining Arsenal Greatness: Alexis Or Mesut?

I made the mistake of tweeting:

BTW, our best player is out injured.”

I meant Ozil and was immediately inundated with tweets telling me how stupid I was and how Sanchez is easily our best player .

Well? Is that a fact?

No it’s not a fact, it’s an opinion and not one I concur with.  Not yet anyway.

Before we go any farther let me say I think our shiny new toy is an exceptional player, truly world class.  And a good argument can be made to say he is indeed our best player.

I suppose it comes down to what you like in a player. What qualities you admire the most and to which you personally give most weight .

Alexis has some outstanding qualities. Pace, fight, determination, bravery, composure, and work rate to name just some. But is he a complete player?  He isn’t far off, but it’s far enough for me to still see Ozil as a better player.

I suppose it’s the same as when people tell me Henry is Arsenal’s greatest ever player. Because for me that would be Dennis Bergkamp,  by a country mile, and then some.

Football is a team game. It’s played by individuals, but if they don’t play for each other the whole will always be less than the sum of the parts.

Bergkamp and Ozil are first and foremost team players.  Individual glory does not come into their thinking or play. The right pass is played at the right time with the team in mind. It’s no good having a 30 goal striker if 30 goals is all the team gets. It’s not about how far they run or how quickly they run there, it’s about what contribution the runs make to the team.

People bang on about Sanchez work rate without really understanding that there is more than one way to work on the field. If the runs a player is making are always in the direction of the ball, it stands out. If (like Mesut) the runs are made into space, less so.

We notice people making runs off the ball if they are attempting to get in behind, but do we really see a player just gliding into space?

Alexis is mostly running towards the ball, whether to ask to be given it, or to retrieve it because he has just lost it. We see that.

Ozil is running into space and often away from the ball, plus he hardly ever loses it , so doesn’t have to chase to get it back.

The reality is that Ozil will normally cover more ground in a game than Alexis. That is usually ignored.

The most effective teams are balanced teams.  That’s what Mesut brings to the table. He has vision for others while generally Alexis has his own vision in mind.  What he is going to do himself.

But as I say, balance in a team is the key.  A team of Ozils would be no good, nor would a team of Alexis. Lucky for us we have both.

So, if you think Sanchez, Aaron, Jack or anyone else is our best player, fine. That’s up to you. But for now I will stick with Mesut, a man I see as the perfect team player.

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