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.


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.



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.


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.


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


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.


Arsenal Hold The High Ground – Wenger’s Legacy ?

A guest post from  @Georgakos



“It’s business as usual for Cellino at Leeds” wrote David Conn in the Guardian on 8th October. “His ownership of the club continues despite the ‘owners and directors test’, operated by the Premier and Football Leagues, stating that people cannot own or run a football club if they have recently been convicted of a criminal offence “involving a dishonest act”. The definition of “dishonest act” in the leagues’ rules is: “Any act which would reasonably be considered to be dishonest”. Massimo Cellino was found to have had “elusive intent” and to have formed a “bogus corporate screen” to criminally evade €390,000 import duty on a yacht [1]. Poor old Cellino, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time because the FA Owners’ and Directors’ Test Regulations became effective from 1st August 2013 [2].

Not a problem for Roman Abramovich because his ‘dishonest acts’ occurred in the deep and distant past: The Times said that Abramovich “famously emerged triumphant after the ‘aluminium wars’, in which more than 100 people are believed to have been killed in gangland feuds over control of the lucrative smelters”[3].  In 2008 The Times reported that Abramovich admitted that he paid billions of dollars for political favours and protection fees to obtain a big share of Russia’s oil and aluminium assets as was shown by court papers obtained by The Times [3].

There are sadly but a few ‘lone voices in the wilderness’ that may barely be heard above the cacophony of football hackery and punditry. Here’s a recent quote from Matthew Syed in The Times: “It is not what is said that troubles me, however; it is what is not said. You see, I am not sure I have heard a commentator offer a word about where the money that has funded the 11-year binge at Stamford Bridge came from. I have rarely heard pundits, who are happy to talk ad nauseum about Chelsea’s transfer dealings, relate that Abramovich’s billions were gained in an episode described as “the largest single heist in corporate history”. This is not just an elephant in the room; it is a festering pile of manure” [4]. Syed goes on to say, “I have had a large mailbox from Chelsea fans over the years. A significant minority accept that the money bankrolling their club was corruptly gained (how could they deny it?). They say that they love the club, but bitterly regret the identity of the owner. This is a principled and dignified stance.”

And of course it is. I add, that I have the utmost respect for those Chelsea fans because that is the stance I would adopt should Arsenal be taken over by Usmanov or any dishonourable sugar daddy.  Syed continues, “The majority, however, get irate about any mention of Abramovich’s corruption….The most common justification offered by Chelsea fans, however, is also the most egregious. It goes something like this: ‘I watch football to switch off from the real life. It is an escape. I don’t want to get bogged down in thinking about politics.’ This is offensive because it goes to the heart of a wider malaise in football. It is the idea that football is subject to a different set of rules to everything else.”

Of course, a very similar story can be written with regard to Manchester City. In this case a despot, a dictator, guilty of human rights abuses [5] escapes the FA Owners’ and Directors’ Test Regulations.

I, in common with some Chelsea and no doubt Man City fans, feel troubled by this. I even feel ashamed that this can happen in this country. How bad can it be? How about this:  “Ministers come under fire over claims the Government is too close to a Gulf State blamed for funding Islamist terror groups” [6].For heaven’s sake even Conservative MPs are concerned! Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, called for a rethink of Britain’s relationship with Qatar. He said: “Here in the UK, we do big business with our ally Qatar, including in arms, and yet there are countless reports, until recently at least, of that country’s government actively courting key bankrollers of al-Qaeda and Isil” [6]. It gets better. In the same article we learn that “a Treasury spokesman suggested that the burden of proof required for a suspect to be designated a terrorist – and face sanctions and asset freezes as a result – was probably higher in the UK than in the US.” You see, we have much higher standards in the UK, habeas corpus and all that stuff. Hmmm, I wonder, but then I am naive.

So what, dear reader, is the point of bringing this to your attention? Well, I do this because I feel that it is a huge issue that not only afflicts our society and our role, as a nation, in world affairs but that we cannot ignore how this affects The Premier League and football in general. As Matthew Syed wrote above “It is the idea that football is subject to a different set of rules to everything else”. Well it shouldn’t.

The scale of the corruption involved is difficult for most ordinary folk to comprehend (analogous but not quite to the scale of trying to comprehend the enormity of zettabytes (1021) of data!). We must however, try to understand it when assessing the performance of any Premier League manager and Arsene Wenger, in particular.

It is not necessary to repeat the many accolades that this man has received for his achievements. I will remind you of a quite recent one. In January 2011, it was announced that Wenger was voted “World Coach of the Decade” by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) [7].  The organisation aggregated the results from each year of the decade, and Wenger had narrowly beaten Ferguson and Mourinho for the honour. Now that is really something, I think.  So, I contend that we must somehow include elements of the above described ‘dishonest acts’ into any assessment of a manager and not forget that two clubs, perpetual top four rivals in the Premier League, are direct beneficiaries of such acts. I make reference to this so that those who are so inclined might compare the results of the IFFHS study with that of Mark Andrews [8]. The Andrews ‘study’ was referenced by a rather, grumpy, ‘Wenger Out’ man toward the end of the latest “A Bergkamp Wonderland” podcast featuring our own Pedantic George [9].  Our grumpy friend quoted a list of ratios of the number of trophy competitions entered versus those won, expressed as percentages demonstrating that Arsene Wenger is, in fact, one of the least successful managers in the history of Arsenal Football Club! Poor Arsene scored a paltry 11.11%! Compare that to Herbert Chapman at 23.52 and George Graham at 23.07%. At least he beat Bertie Mee at 9.09 and Terry Neil at 3.85%.  I was actually quite amused that our grumpy friend expressed the proportions to four significant figures. Maybe he felt the numbers were more ‘persuasive’ in that format. I wondered whether he knew that it was a valid way to express such numbers when the source figures are absolute (some pedant might want to research that last comment, but then you might be a sad bastard!).  Really, it was more than sufficient to round them up to three significant figures. Mr. Grumpy is so jaundiced that he said that he would remember only the ‘early’ Wenger years as a way of being ‘kind’ to him.

So, dear reader, I hope you agree that we do not live in football bubble. To deny Arsene Wenger’s achievements you must cherry-pick information or remain wilfully ignorant. In my opinion, Arsene Wenger has formidable mental fortitude and courage. How else can he remain steadfast in the face of cheap, cowardly and mercenary journalism which feeds the simplistic and lazy views of those ‘fans’ who try to rewrite the history of Arsenal Football Club?

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/football/2014/oct/07/leeds­united­massimo­cellino

[2] http://www.thefa.com/football­rules­governance/more/financial­regulation

[3] Kennedy, Dominic. Roman Abramovich admits paying out billions on political favours, The Times, 5 July 2008

[4] http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/football/article4206708.ece

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/jul/30/manchester­city­human­rights­accusations


[7] http://www.iffhs.de/en

[8] http://thearsenalhistory.com/?author=2

[9] http://tinyurl.com/oej2grk


Wenger Out – Again

The debate rages on. Seven games into the league season, having suffered one defeat away to the title favorites. Is it time for Arsene to go?

It’s a fair question, asked by people who love the club and just want what is best for them.  Sorry, I meant “best for the club”.

The usual suspects, AKB’s like me, on one side, and the WOB’s on the other. Nothing new, same old entrenched arguments from both sides, just as you would expect.

Then there is the vast majority who are somewhere in the middle. These are the ones who slide up and down the spectrum between the two polar opposites. Some moving slightly and others flip-flopping from one end to the other.

The worst of the lot are those who say something like:

I’m not a WOB, I’m happy for him to stay if he addresses the deficiencies in the squad and changes his management and tactics.”  Big of them that, but let me say what I think these people are actually saying.

First let’s look at “I’m not a WOB”.

What they are really saying is “I am a WOB, I don’t want this Arsene I want a different one. One that does things the way I want and manages the way I would.”

When pushed as to what they perceive are Arsene’s failings they will list the very same arguments that a bona fide full blown WOB would give you.


That’s always a favorite. They want him to change his tactics. Happy to ignore that he has changed the set up of the team several times this season already. What they actually mean is they want him to set the team up in a way that they would. Do what they would do. See the game as they do. Why oh why can’t he see what they do?

Team Selection.

He should pick the players they want picked and play them where they want them played.

Prioritise games.

This one is easy, he should play his best team for every game. Whilst rotating, of course. Quite how he does that is beyond me. Of course they will rubbish this until we don’t get the result they think we should have, then they will insist that rotation was wrong and the wrong players were picked.


This is my personal favorite. He should sign the players they have scouted, for the positions they have deemed to be key.

A DM was the priority, it’s negligence that we didn’t sign one – they squeal.

Now, looking at the team, it could be reasonable to say that DM is the weakest link. Well it might be now, but let’s look at what went before.

The moment Bacary Sagna decided to leave that was the priority. It was essential that we cover what in the modern game is a vital position. He bought Debuchy, and most think that was about as good as he could have gotten.

When Thomas Vermaelen was sold, CB became the biggest priority. Well he bought Calum for that gap. Now whether he was bought as cover for RB alone we will never know, but it quickly became obvious that he was more than good enough to be 3rd choice CB as well. Covering both will likely see him get more game time and develop quicker. Job done.

Last year the priority position was a striker and cover for Theo. Two priorities he covered with the signing of Alexis.

Next on the list of priorities was a Goalkeeper. Fabianski left and we could not go into a season with just one senior goalkeeper. So he signed David Ospina – sorted.

Then Giroud broke his leg. That quickly became the biggest priority position. Out he goes and signs Danny Welbeck. Not too many complaints about that one.

So although some people see the DM position as the priority now, there were actually five bigger priorities than that. All more than adequately solved. We know (or think we know) that we were interested in Carvalho and Schneiderlin, neither of which happened. It looks like Arsene was unable to get the standard of player he wanted and made a judgement call and passed on this 6th priority position.

We have no 4th choice CB! Well we don’t if you ignore Hayden and Monreal, which everyone seems happy too, but can it really be listed above a seventh priority ?

Funds not spent.

They say all available fund should have been used to fill the gaps they see in the team. Happy to ignore that those funds might be needed to buy the right player in January or next summer, when they might actually be available.

These people will insist that they’re not claiming to know better than our manager, whilst continuing to insist he has made mistakes by not doing what they would have done. Well you tell me, what is that if not thinking they know better?

Finally, I have to concede that these people might actually be right. They really could be better managers than Arsene. But really, what are the chances?

Thanks for reading.

pedantic george @Blackburngeorge.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,036 other followers