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Lucas Perez: Another Eduardo-type signing!

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Disclaimer: Despite the headlines this blog is not your usual piece of  transfer bollocks. You have been warned.

Markets
It may be news to young football fans but the modern transfer market is barely 13 years old when the transfer window was first introduced to English football by FIFA in 2003/04. Yes, the concept of a football transfer existed in England for more than 100 years when the Football Association (FA) introduced player registration sometime after 1885. But for most of the intervening years there was really no “free” market for the services of a footballer. It is a historical fact that sometime after the Football League was formed in 1888, the owners decided that restrictions had to be placed on the ability of richer clubs to lure players from other clubs to prevent the league being dominated by a handful of clubs. From the start of the 1893–94 season onwards, once a player was registered with a Football League club, they could not be registered with any other club, even in subsequent seasons, without the permission of the club he was registered with.

The transfer system remained unchanged until the Bosman ruling in 1995. The case for ending Football League-type restrictions on player transfers was brought to court by Jean-Marc Bosman, a former Belgian footballer who in 1990 was registered with Belgian club RFC Liège. His contract had expired and he was looking to move to French team Dunkerque, but Dunkerque refused to pay the transfer fee of £500,000 that Liège were asking for. Bosman was left in limbo and his wages were cut by 75% due to him not playing. After a lengthy legal battle, he won his case when the European Court of Justice ruled that players should legally be free to move when their contract expired.

The point of the preceding historical overview is to remind my readers that the existence of a transfer market and the window is a very recent phenomenon with little in the way of repetitive historical data on which to establish some trading rules. Complicating things even further is the current transfer market does not function year-round. Trading is artificially restricted to the transfer window; i.e. two months in summer and one month in winter. No wonder there are such huge distortions in the demand and supply mechanism and ultimately in prices.

Despite the relative youth of the transfer market, it is important for us Arsenal fans and others to understand its driving forces to avoid being manipulated by the various market participants as well as to better understand the moves made by Arsene and the club. In my last blog I shared with you the role of Greed and Despair as the two primary emotional drivers in the stock market which are equally evident during the transfer window. I emphasized that in in both markets the full-time professionals will consistently exploit and profit from these emotions.

Why the stock market as a frame of reference? Because it is the oldest and biggest market place in the world where the public (individuals, speculators, investors, and institutions) compete to make money. Stock trading of some sort has been around since the middle of the 16th century. But the modern stock exchange was first officially formed in London in 1773, 19 years before the New York Stock Exchange which eventually became the pre-eminent stock market by the 19th century paralleling the rise of New York as the centre of world commerce and finance. Despite repetitive bubbles and crashes, malfeasance and scandals, stock markets continue to exist and grow in size. At the close of 2012, the size of the world stock market (total market capitalization) was about US$55 trillion. By country, the largest market was the United States (about 34%), followed by Japan (about 6%) and the United Kingdom (about 6%).

Irrational Behavior
Due to their long history as well as the money at stake, stock markets have been studied to death by academics and professionals aiming to identify trends and behaviours which are repetitive and predictable. One such repetitive feature that is absolutely comparable to the transfer market is the irrational behaviour by many of the participants. Many of you may recall in the late nineties the mantra of “irrational exuberance” by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan to describe the behaviour of investors running up stock prices during the dot.com bubble which eventually went splat.

It seems to me the very definition of irrational behaviour is Manchester United’s who sold Pogba to Juventus for £500k and four years later repurchased him for an eye watering £89.25m according to TransferMkt.com. As the highest valued transfer ever by United, it is reasonable to assume that during his five year contract he will be earning top wages at United, at least comparable with the £300k per week reportedly earned by Rooney. Added to this expensive acquisition are the transfers of Mkhitarayan (£35.7m) and Bailly (£32.3m) with wages to match. Ibrahimovic was acquire on a free but nobody doubts that he is earning top whack given his celebrity status worldwide.

Meanwhile their noisy neighbours City refuse to be outdone, splashing lavishly on Stones (£47.3m), Sane (£42.5m), Gabriel Jesus (£27.2m), Gündogan (£22.9m), Bravo (£15.3m), Nolito (£15.3m) and a few more in single digits. It is commonly known that City pay top-top wages in the league and apparently out of favour players like Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Eliaquim Mangala are difficult to move on because interested clubs cannot match their contractual compensation. This is a prime example of a club obligated to pay premium salaries of once big signings now surplus to requirements.

It is widely known that contrarians will constantly outperform the prevailing market sentiment during market extremes. In our case during the transfer window Arsene Wenger consistently exploits and profits from the irrational behavior of City, United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs et al. This is despite thousands of mainstream media articles, blogs and tweets that Arsenal is being left behind. Arsene refuses to buy high and sell low. He waits until the opportunity develops to get superior value at relatively lower market prices than his competitors. Once the timing is right, usually towards the end of the window, he moves in for the kill (Cazorla, Alexis and now Lucas Perez come to mind).

Herzfeld and Drach (“H and D”) in High-Return, Low-Risk Investment explains that the reason for this irrational behaviour goes much deeper than people reacting to extremes (e.g. when Arsenal go on a bad run) or to the media brainwashing us to believe that transfers are the key to success (when there is ample evidence to the contrary). I will briefly touch on these underlying reasons in the hope that it may help us cope with the repetitive nonsense that prevails during the transfer window.

1. Psychological Gratification
People like to be liked. Being with the crowd is much easier psychologically than being against If everyone is doing the same thing, there is a feeling of camaraderie. (I experience this on Twitter everyday. If the big accounts are slagging Wenger for “dithering” in the transfer market then it is par for the course for the vast majority while those of us who decry the nonsense and point to Wenger’s consistent 20-year success in the window are treated as lepers). This bonding however reduces clear recognition of the risks inherent in the crowd’s behaviour, leading to major losses when crowds ignore reality. Crowd followers are lemmings. Buying and selling players in the transfer market is not a team sport; there are winners and losers with millions at stake.

2. Short-Term Illusion
When a dramatic price event occurs and becomes the centre of attention, seemingly logical reason to justify the price change accompany the sensationalism. The reasoning baits the trap. Usually a major price move has occurred before the sensationalism , the move itself created the sensationalism. The end result is monies are attracted (through supply/demand) to aggravate the price change. If the price move is up, the sensationalism will attract buyers (demand) and push prices higher. If the price move is down, the sensationalism will attract sellers (supply) and push prices lower. H and D note that anyone with experience with the investing public knows that those who get involved with after-the-fact sensationalism tend to repeat their behaviour even though they repeatedly lose (Man United I am looking at you).

Translate the above to the transfer market: The tendency at the beginning of the window is to push prices higher. The big monied teams like PSG, Barca, and Madrid usually storm out of the blocks in their greed to get the best asset on the market. The media and blogs sensationally justify the high prices as the going “market rate” with no reference to quality (e.g. see most of the recent blogs by the Sage of Dublin). There is the usual round of sensational media reports in England and from Europe justifying higher prices and United, City, Chelsea are lured in to pay hand-over-fist for less than top-top quality players. In a year or two many of these high priced transfers prove to be a bust. Meanwhile a measured long-term player like Arsenal will wait until the end of the window to pick up usually young, promising talent on the cheap at reasonable prices whom it can develop as world class players. Fabregas, Van Persie are examples and it is likely Bellerin and Gnabry will follow this route. Just as an aside, in my opinion, if Diaby did not suffer that horrific assault on his ankles in that last game of his first year he would have been a great-great player in the class of Fabregas and Van Persie.

3. Justified sensationalism
H and D note that automatically ignoring (or taking positions directly opposite) prevailing sensationalism can be a mistake. There are positions when the sensationalism is correct, the price movement is justified and the price direction is very likely to continue. Thus in 2007-2008 when the run on Lehman Brothers became apparent and Bear Sterns was being shut down and investors began to bail from firms holding dodgy mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. It would have been right to go with the flow. The important thing is to use common sense to differentiate between justified and unjustified sensationalism. The easiest example in the last ten years of unjustified sensationalism has been the yearly pre-season prognostications by the vast majority of pundits in the commercial media that Arsenal will fall out of the top-four because it failed to spend like its big rivals. They consistently fail to educate the public that Arsenal is a self-sustaining club that could never match United or the sugar-daddy clubs in spending, it would simply go bankrupt. Similarly they consistently under report the role of Arsene Wenger as a genius of a manager who despite lesser resources has consistently outperformed his big spending rivals.

Playing a Blinder
I am going to take the unusual role of saying the club has recognized an element of justifiable sensationalism among the fans this summer and responded by playing this transfer window brilliantly. They, I am sure, are keenly aware of the desire of the supporters to see the club actually compete for the title, knowing full well that finishing 10 points behind Leicester last year has left embers of discontent that can be easily become a conflagration in the hands of the usual pyromaniacs. The early acquisition of Xhaka and Holding as well as the bid for Vardy was a signal of serious intent. As Wenger said early in the window we need to score some more goals and defend even better. As I write the acquisition of Mustafi and Lucas Perez is all but finalized.

In my opinion Lucas could be the final piece of the puzzle; an experienced, aggressive, speedy forward who can score goals and assist. The last time Wenger brought such a predator was in 2007 with the acquisition of Eduardo from Shakhtar Donetsk who was then described as a “striker with lightning speed and a poacher’s instinct in front of goal.” Dudu only scored 12 goals from 22 starts in his first season at the Arsenal, eight of them in the PL, but he was starting to flourish amid the hustle and bustle of English football until Martin “Tiny” Taylor’s challenge left him with a broken leg and dislocated ankle. Up to that point in time, together with Adebayor leading the line, we were on a title-winning run, 5 points atop the table. If Lucas, in his first season, can in anyway duplicate Eduardo’s performances, he together with Walcott, Sanchez and Giroud being fed by Ozil and Xakha, could help us score the goals badly needed during the harsh winter months, when title challenges are made or broken. If he does, we could be in with a shout by the beginning of May.

In closing, I thought Arsene and Ivan would have executed their transfer strategy down to the wire. Instead our summer business is done and dusted by August 29th. Too bad for Sky, BT, ESPN and the BBC, the sensationalists. Leave it to our friend Mel to express my sentiments in his inimitable style:

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Arsenal : A Significant Advantage

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Good morning Positivistas,

And with our third fixture yielding its proper reward a far more pleasant international ‘break’ faces us as we take an enforced breather until the Saints in a fortnight.

Of the game itself I know you all saw it and clearly it was a fixture that was all but over by half time. We often put ourselves through the grinder of anxiety watching the team, heart in mouth on occasions I admit, but yesterday was not one of them. Even before we had collected our unassailable three goal lead the home side had not demonstrated they had the ability to counter our swift, incisive play. They tried to meet guile with bruises, and in the modern PL there is only one way that ends.

Naming names Granit showed the steel in his game and he and Santi fit together well in the middle. In addition to the Swiss steel he hit a couple of extraordinarily good passes. I did not doubt Xhaka had that quality of passing in his repertoire, it takes a confident player to pull it out in his full first team debut, and in the rough and tumble at Vicarage Road.

Sanchez had a good afternoon. Having endured a fortnight of “he can’t play up front” accusations he showed that he can play up front, lead the orchestra and play the fiddle rather well. Now that may be a result of Watford’s three man defence and erratic wingbacks. It may however he the result of Alexis, and those supplying him tuning in better. It strikes me that if you are asking a player to take on a new job it will take at least 5-6 games before you find out if he is really cut out for it, and the players around him adapting to the change. I am sure, even though we are likely to see our French centre forward back on September the 10th that the ‘Sanchez as striker experiment’ is not over.

Other mentions ? Ozil, the usual inventive quality and a lovely goal with his head !! HIS HEAD ? Is their nothing this man cannot do! Theo’s right wing rehabilitation moved a step further forward with a more assured, more involved 90 minutes. He left his opponents on their arse on a couple of occasions. More of that please. And finally, and the weekly mention for our keeper. Despite our control of the game, Watford clambered out of their coffin in the second half, made chances and got a toehold back in the game with a tidy finish from their record signing Pereyra. Any wobbling after that would have made it a tense final few minutes, and Cech stopped two good efforts from Holebas then Ighalo that might have embarrassed us.

Of our opponents the Hornets look as though they have a difficult second season in prospects, and given the maniacs in charge sacked what seemed me a manager, Quique Flores, performing well above expectation in the Summer I wish the new man Mazzari good luck. One strong card he has in his hand are a two strikers, Deeney, Ighalo and the attacking midfield recruit Pereyra, who have goal scoring ability.

The only genuine cause for concern I had on yesterday’s performance from Arsenal was Jack trying too hard and getting booked. The player is desperate to make an impression in the few minutes that he is given. I sympathise, in fact I understand, but jumping in is not going to help.

The less serious cause for concern is where, with Gabriel and Danny and Giroud due back in the none too distant future, our new signings are gong to fit in ?

Such are the worries of the modern football fan. Enjoy your Sunday.

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Arsenal Versus Watford – All Past Is Prologue

I usually start a new season brimming with a blend of optimism and ludicrous over confidence. I assume we’ll win every game, a delusion I maintain right up until the first dropped points when I cheerfully downgrade my expectations to an unbeaten season. After the first defeat I shrug and assume we’ll just win every competition in which we compete. And so on until the conclusion of the campaign.

It’s a happy and harmless approach to my hobby, doesn’t hurt anyone and put simply means I always hope for the best of all possible outcomes. If that ends up meaning fourth place or a Europa league position or just avoiding relegation then that’s what I’ll be cheering for at the death.

Not this time though. Having been stung by the season which followed the World Cup I watched in horror as the Euros dragged on to see all those Arsenal players not getting a break, not resting and recharging. I  realised that this would be a difficult season. Now it seems that we will not only have to catch up after a slow start but also assimilate all sorts of new faces into the squad, which, when allied to the inevitable injuries ( a knock on effect of the international bullshit we all had to endure) simply means disruption and disjointed performances.

So when I saw the result of our opening fixture I was as angry as everybody else, but not surprised. Not angry at or with any individual just at the entire wasteful, pointless distraction of those international matches. I was told by many of you to try to enjoy them. I was gently chided for wishing Wales would lose at the first hurdle because it must be nice for Aaron to do so well. I can only assume those gentle chiders are deeply regretting their position now. I’d happily sacrifice his summer of fun for a prolonged healthy season with Arsenal where he could enjoy lifting a trophy at the end. Success with Wales or success with the club which actually pay his wages. He’d be happy either way wouldn’t he?

Anyway it is what it is and with the hateful circus of the transfer window at long last beginning to pack up its tent perhaps we can get back to real football. Perhaps my return from the muddy wastes of the North Somerset coast will coincide with the return of Wengerball. Stranger things have happened. Maybe the stutter against Liverpool and the blunt if resolute performance against Leicester were simply the prologue. Maybe we turn the page to chapter one this afternoon at 3pm.

Historically Watford versus Arsenal always produces a decisive result. Well, almost always. Of the twenty four matches between the two teams only one has ended in a draw. We have won every Premier League game ever played against them, their shock FA Cup victory at the Emirates back in March was their first win against us since 1988. Normal service was resumed a couple of weeks later with a resounding victory built on Iwobi’s effervescence, Alexis’ sharpness and a Coquelin / Elneny midfield axis which kept the ball moving and denied Watford almost any meaningful possession.

I will happily settle for more of the same today: Fast, fearless and inventive in possession, fierce, decisive and tireless in defence. Sounds like the perfect recipe doesn’t it? Whether we can produce such a display after a difficult first couple of games remains to be seen and whether I’m allowed to watch any of it with Liz’s birthday barbecue happening in the house and garden is a similarly  moot point. The lack of Arsenal fans or even football fans on her guest list suggests it will be a big ask. Luckily enough my dogs are deeply antisocial so if I position them in the doorway to my room I might manage to go undisturbed for the requisite couple of hours.

As with Arsenal it could all come down to how much I want it, how far I’m prepared to go to get what I want and how well I can ignore the catcalls and anger of the baying crowd who little understand the pressures I’ll be operating under. They can all go hungry if it means I get to see a couple of halves of vintage or even near vintage Wengerball. I’ll face the music afterwards and take my punishment like a man.

Anyway time for the proper football blog. After last season where I sometimes strayed so far from the facts and indeed any mention of the game that I could have been auditioning for a job on the Daily Mirror, it has been made abundantly clear that readers come to football blogs for predictions, selections and wisdom with which the common herd is not blessed. I shall endeavour to give the people what they so desire.

I predict a tight game with either lots of goals or no goals or at least not many goals and a win for either the home or away side with a draw also a possibility. The Arsenal squad will feature the likes of Ozil, Cech, Cazorla, Xhaka, Bellerin, Giroud and Alexis among others, and many if not all of these will play in certain positions on the pitch. There will be a referee who will be deemed a bastard to either the visitors or the home side at various times, unless you are Andy Nic in which case you’ve probably got his autograph and photo on your bedroom wall. Arsenal will play defensively, keeping it tight and quieting the home crowd or will attack furiously like drunken Mongolian horseman with a point to prove. There will be a moment of controversy.

I hope you enjoy the game, it promises to be one.

BBQ

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Fear And Despair vs The Arsenal

Done deals

In the post Leicester City presser, Arsene Wenger made some powerful statements in what appears to be a continuing counter-attack against the mainstream media and their ever faithful echo chamber on the interweb who continue to slander and malign him for not “spending” in the transfer window. Speaking of Rob Holding, his most recent signing (note the irony) Wenger remarked that the young man had an “outstanding performance” noting :

“He’s 20 years old, he’s English and it’s a great reason to be happy. As long as players don’t cost a huge amount of money, people don’t give them any qualities.
“We have to be stronger than that and just acknowledge how good he is. “

Yet according to the Sage of Dublin in his pre- and post-Liverpool vituperations, it was “criminal”, it was “unfair” to play Holding in a PL game, it was like throwing a baby into the deep-end and many more over-the-top metaphors. Instead, Wenger should have bought a more expensive defender, especially after Mertsacker’s injury and using the Sage’s logic, he too should have been thrown into the deep-end given that whoever was signed would have absolutely no PL experience, a necessary rite-of-passage for any defender coming from outside of England. I only quote the Sage, despite my past efforts to document his rampant fear-mongering and duplicitous attacks on our manager, because he is the Pied Piper of Arsenal blogs with thousands following like little lemmings repeating and magnifying his many inaccurate prognostications.

How does fear mongering gain such traction despite the consistent success of Arsenal Football Club in the twenty years under Wenger’s management?

• Invincible – unbeaten over a whole season.
• 3-time Premier League champions.
• 6-time FA Cup winner.
• Average league position of 3rd.
• Never fallen below 4th in any year.
• Never failed to qualify for the Champions League.
• Never fallen in league position below Tottenham Hotspur, North London rivals.
• Never outside top 7 in richest clubs worldwide since 2007, average 4th position.

As a part-time stock investor, taking care of my small retirement portfolio, Arsenal would be a perfect long-term investment. According to the Forbes’ list of the most valuable football clubs in nine years the value of the club has more than doubled and so has revenues. Wenger, who is supposedly badly out of touch with the market, has doubled the worth of the club while taking very low risks. Contrast this with the spectacular show of “ambition” by Manchester United who in the past three years spent over £300 million on transfers to achieve another failure to win the League, not only finishing behind Arsenal but for the second time in three years failing to qualify for the champions league.

I deliberately mentioned stock market because that is where I see so many parallels with the coverage of football clubs by the mainstream media and their fellow travelers, the big bloggers. As a student of Thomas Herzfeld and Robert Drach, who wrote an investment guide “High Return, Low-Risk Investment” I long concluded no true stock market professional would have any truck with the nonsense written by the commercial press and bloggers like the Sage. Professional investors recognize the media as having a commercial interest in exploiting the emotions of their readers rather than producing sober data-driven explanation of why stocks rise or fall.

A stock market professional would quickly assess that the football industry and the transfer market in particular is made up of several powerful actors, some of them acting corruptly under the cover of normal business practice, with the aim of extracting maximum profit from the competing clubs. No other market is ripe for profit extraction than the biggest market of all, the Premier League. Great fortunes have been made, (Stand up Mr. Mendes and Mr. Raiola) and great fortunes lost (United, Chelsea and City).

Like any market, the driving force is ultimately greed. In this context “greed” is stripped of all the emotional baggage, and must be seen in the sense of making a profit. All the rational parties would want to profit from the party on the other side of the deal. Unfortunately there are some parties whose “greed” is subsumed by some short term political or public relations objectives (City and Chelsea come to mind). Arsene Wenger is a master of greed, selling Adebayor, Nasri and Kolo Toure to Manchester City at handsome profits when AFC was desperate for the money. On the other hand, he waited in the weeds for a long time when trying to buy Ozil and Cazorla, pouncing when their price fell. Most famously he bought Nicolas Anelka from PSG in 1997 for £500M and sold him to Real Madrid for £22.3MM two years later.

Greed to win the title or to qualify for the champions league often lures clubs into the transfer market to pay inflated prices. To justify these prices the buyers, with cheerleading by the media (Sky Sports deadline day) who often equate price with quality as a way of justifying the deal. In that department Manchester United is the recent gift that never stops giving with the likes of DiMaria, Falcao and Martial failing to justify their astronomical transfer fees. Will Pogba be the exception?

According to Herzfield and Drach, next to greed the most important emotion in professional market positioning is despair. Just as greed can lure clubs into the transfer market at inflated prices despair can compel people to sell at low prices. Wenger is a past master at exploiting this human failing, waiting until the very last day of the transfer window to close a deal as the selling club is desperate for the deal to go over the line (Gabriel and Welbeck come to mind). very often many clubs are desperate to sell to not merely balance the books but more importantly to not default on their bank loans. It leads one to wonder whether AFC have Valencia over the barrel in the Mustafi deal with Arsene Wenger biding his time.

The media has a role in exacerbating these two primary emotions. In the last 10-15 years they were up front and center inciting regular investors to buy internet and housing stocks when the professionals knew full well they were overpriced and already bailing out. I recommend The Big Short on Netflix for a dramatization of how the pros made millions by shorting housing stocks which the media were cheerleading during the recent bubble.

It’s no different at Arsenal. The mainstream media all summer and now John Cross and the Sage of Dublin are whipping up greed in the fanbase with delusions that we can buy high priced players to compete with United, City and Chelsea for the title. If that doesn’t work they resort to fear mongering after every defeat. Sell Walcott, sell Chambers, just to mention the two scapegoats du jour. It is complete drivel when you consider 20-years of absolute consistency by Wenger and the 95% likelihood we will be in the top-four and the admittedly somewhat lower probability of competing for the title.

To be fair the psychological pressure is intense. Club football is a very charged subject and fans want (not need) the emotional satisfaction of winning the title. But whether they like it or not, professional football is a business run by rules that cannot be driven by emotion. It is vital to take advantage of the emotions of other clubs not the other way around. We certainly cannot be driven by the emotive caterwauling of the lame stream media and the likes of our Arsenal bloggers and tweeters.

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Two Games In, Is It All Over?

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I watched the game from the discomfort of my armchair and believed I had watched a good hard fought sporting encounter between two teams ,although quite a bit below their best, providing a decent game. Little did I know that I should have been booing and cursing at the manager and the players.

I have to admit that I enjoyed it. I don’t think we played anything like our best, but it was a real fight.It was entertaining because it was a contrast of styles. Arsenal had most of the ball and controlled the game on the whole. There was a real lack of quality in the final third though. Sanchez was poor, at best. Its clear why Arsene so quickly gave up om him a a lone central striker. The Ox looked dangerous running with the ball , but ultimately the runs led to nothing. Of the three strikers I thought Theo looked most likely to make a breakthrough. In fact I felt Theo did himself a few favours overall.

Santi seems to be at his creative best when playing deeper and was not anywhere near his magic best in the number 10 role.

However, the back four ,and Cech, all had solid games with Le Coq and Xhaka doing a fine job and anchoring and controlling the midfield

So in summary, back good, front bad.

If I was being balanced I would say Francis should have been dismissed and Hector was lucky not to give away a penalty. But there were enough occasions when Mark didn’t book LCFC players when he could have, and there is an argument to say their player deliberately stuck out a leg (Vardy like). So bollocks to being balanced.

I saw enough from Holding to think he is the bargain of the summer. Or perhaps the ElNeny of this window, if you like?

So that’s about it. I think a draw was a fair result, and I am happy enough with it.

Sorry it’s me this morning instead of the usual treat of Andy Nic. Hopefully everyone will be back to full fitness next week and our stars will return refreshed .

 

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Arsenal: Playing the Fox

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доброе утро Positivistas,

 

For those of you keenly anticipating the wit and wisdom of young Stew this morning after the Summer break you may be dismayed to discover a change of plan. As someone who was also looking forward to the morning musings of our resident quill-meister I am among you.

Normal service will be resumed in the near future. As Arsene says it is essential that top performers enjoy a proper break to recover mentally and physically from a the heavy 55 game 2015/2016 season, and prepare properly for the long contest ahead.

On to the football match and if I were choosing a game to preview then probably Leicester at the King Power would be around or at the top of the list.

The two top sides in the PL last season, both sides backed by excellent keepers, crammed with attractive ball players, and you just know both sides will score goals today. There is always noise at Leicester’s stadium. The home crowd is always frantic and a small pitch ensures that all the action is condensed. Despite watching the game on the TV I find in smaller, noisier grounds I am much more off my seat and in and out of the domestic technical area.

The Fates have even graced us with Mr Clattenburg so we have the best the footballing authorities can supply in terms of a match official. I hope we shall hear no more of Mr C for the whole weekend, though that rather depends on the players. Dissent ? I may have been watching the wrong games last week but my impression was that ( almost all) players were more cautious, a smidgeon more restrained in their contact with the referees and the linos. We shall see if the behavioural modification lasts.

Of our opponents it is still a bit strange, this Leicester City ‘phenomenon’. Until last season LCFC were, not to be too unkind, a bit of a joke, a bit of a ‘guaranteed six points’. Always had been a soft touch, either skilful dandies but with no bite, or rough and with no footballing brain. Either way easy meat for Arsenal season in, season out.

Both our games in 2015/2016 showed the formidable change in the Foxes, 7-3 on aggregate. LCFC over 38 games an example, in a week of transfer hysteria, that football is a team game and a players combined, thinking, moving, organising on the pitch together, who are determined will always achieve more than 11 individuals no matter their price and/or the size of their wage. That we managed to inflict two of only three league defeats on Ranieri’s side was very much to our credit last season, that only one other club managed to best them is very much to theirs.

Both clubs started the campaign with a blip last weekend and there were the inevitable references to an “ashen-faced” Claudio Ranieri and an “ashen-faced” Arsene Wenger this week “under pressure” and this evening’s designated a “must win” game for both.

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Let’s get it clear shall we. Win, draw or lose today any dancing in the streets would be premature. 36 games to go. I know some Arsenal fans by Monday last had given up on the PL. For them the trophy, even any thought we might challenge for the trophy, was gone. I think they are foolish. I trust by about 7.20 tonight they will also feel they were a little foolish.

Of the prospective line-ups I see Huth is back in the centre of the Leicester defence and I assume that will improve on their shakey back 4 display against Hull. Other than Musa I think we know all just about all their players and I expect no surprises. We know what they ‘do’, they know what we ‘do’.

Us ? Arsene was particularly gnomic in the press conference on Thursday. Rob Holding, who I am sure will play alongside Chambers again, will enjoy and learn from the experience over 90 minutes far more than he would from second string action of watching from the bench. I expect Xhaka, Elneny and Le Coq all to get on the pitch today. I fancy the Ox to make his mark today as an attacking force.

 

Enjoy the game and we shall speak later.

184 Comments

Arsenal: Meringues, Moreno and Mane

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 16.18.09Good Morning Positivistas,

Having looked forward to the opening fixture since the game was announced in mid June the afternoon did not disappoint and will certainly be one of the ‘opening days’ that are carved in the memory of games worth watching.

Clearly to be on the wrong side of a seven goal contest, and to drop three points that I fancied we should collect before the kick off, is a disappointment. A few hours reflection, sober and at times less sober, has however brought that disappointment into perspective, and allowed a drawing apart of the footballing strands of the afternoon.

Of the game itself both Arsenal and Liverpool struck me as rusty in the first half, with passes being hit a little aimlessly and no fluidity our movement compared to our Maytime/end of season smooth run through the gears. Liverpool were scrappy in front of the nervy Mignolet. Holding and Chambers looked fine. Monreal spent the first half hour leaping as high than an elephant’s eye, given any opportunity!   A goal I sensed was coming from an error and, lo and behold, it was provided by the ridiculously top-knotted Albert Moreno.

First, his clumsy penalty challenge, then a charge up field to leave Theo unmarked who coolly slotted home our opener. “Theo, Theo, Theo”. A considerable relief for our new right winger and we were on a roll, surely ?

(I do not know if you were watching on Sky like me but the word “assassination’ was used by Neville to describe his own comments on the young Spanish wing back – for once Gary had exactly the right word).

 

Moving swiftly on however, as we all saw, having forced ourselves in front we did not follow up on the advantage. The Scousers managed to get a foot in the game and took advantage of a soft free kick award to slot an unstoppable rocket into Cech’s corner pocket. Bloody hell.

And then, and then, and then ….. the first fifteen minutes of the second half.

We stumbled out after half time as though under the influence of a mighty jab of dental pain killer. Our minds were as numb as our bodies, we did not appear to know how to keep the ball, or have the individual or collective wit to resist. I have no idea where it came from. I have seen it before, at Stamford Bridge, at Anfield, at the Etihad, even St Marys. One goal deficit becomes two, becomes three, becomes four etcetera. It was not, in my opinion, the second goal that rocked us on our heels. We were already stunned before that went in. But after that excellent finish by Lallana, and it was a very good finish btw, we had ten minutes of team wide, hollow eyed confusion. I have no idea why during this period of confusion in the game two players went down injured, and both had to leave the field ? Cause and effect perhaps.

We suffer from a collective mental malaise. It is not down to individual players, to signings, or to injuries. It is not even down to dodgy refereeing and Oliver was excellent yesterday, imo. We require composure when a game turns against us, and when we look in the basket we have none.

Can I explain why experienced, reliable players, suddenly switch off ? No I can’t. No doubt the experts will have a ‘000 plausible ideas. I shall however call what I cannot explain the meringue.

Much focus in the media, mainstream and social, has been in Chambers and Holding and the ‘weakness’ that they created at the heart of the AFC defence. I am not convinced, not remotely convinced. For goals two and three we were undone by very slick, fast passing and good finishing. Hector was taken out in the move for the second Liverpool goal, Nacho beaten by an excellent Clyne cross for the third. I doubt very much Kosc, Per or Gabby, or the unnamed and newly signed ANOther would had done any better. They certainly did not at Stamford Bridge, Anfield and the Etihad etc.

As Mane’s fourth went in I admit I was heading for the metaphorical exit on my armchair as I stared toward what appeared to be turning into rout. Jurgen Klopp, foolish man, celebrated with his players. Nevertheless that strike proved the difference in the end between the teams.

And then, somehow and against my and Jurgen’s expectations, the Ox twisted his way toward Mignolet who duly obliged with a howler to allow the shot to squirm in. Chambo’s glancing header brought us to within touching distance with about 20 minutes to go ……….

Could we ? Would we ? Should we ?

Well after those excruciating minutes Mr Oliver put us out of our misery, we never really looked like we would grab that fourth and probably did not deserve it. No clear chances created. The nearest we got was Theo standing on the ball on the 92nd minute. During that final phase Le Coq was fortunate to stay in the pitch, as I said the referee was in a forgiving frame of mind. LFC were better than us on the day, creating chances and tucking those chances away. Hard work required. I shall welcome Giroud back like along lost son.

So off we go, sunshine bus loaded, destination Leicester.

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