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Arsenal: Share Your Courage With Others

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Good evening Positive people.

What an afternoon!! It is games like this that remind me why I find it so easy to love football. An excellent contest between two attacking teams, decided by the narrowest of margins. We matched and bettered City in every department, including being “professional” in our conduct, and misconduct, on the pitch. I am delighted that we have earned a place in the FA Cup Final. Fair to say that in the first 45, our sky blue opponents held the initiative. After half time however the force was with us. They were rattled, they cracked. Nevertheless I genuinely extend my sympathy to City and their entourage who missed out after 120 minutes of impressive struggle.

I hardly need to mention to anyone reading this piece that the victory was not easy. Good grief no, and the tension was notching up since our win at the Riverside.

I asked (pleaded is more accurate) earlier today that Arsenal did no more than play to their “ full potential” in the semi-final.  That our players would strain every sinew and shed their last drop of sweat at Wembley between 3 and 5-ish would have been enough for me.  The result could take care of itself, win or lose, for today the draw was never the option. I enter these transactional arrangements with the cosmos when I am in footballing doubt, in the same way I often become religious at 3 a.m.

And in the past six days there has been ‘doubt’ in my Arsenal soul, there is no use my denying it.

I admit I have made this contract with FOOTBALLING FATE before, and in recent seasons I have felt that the goddess has treated me cruelly, dealing me neither satisfaction in the team’s unstinting effort, nor the advantage of an occasional lucky result. It is a large pitch, and the biggest stage. And Wembley is no place to be humiliated, for Arsenal Football Club, its players or managers or fans. If I was feeling hesitant in the run-up to the match I found no solace in the dismissal of Arsenal’s chances to beat City by pundit after pundit after pundit.  I know the vast majority of the Mersons, the Ferdinands and the Jenases are idiots, but could it be that every single one of them was wrong?

Well the pundits were, to a man, wrong.  My doubt was wholly misplaced.

On this day I saw our players put in a performance over 120 minutes that is among the finest I have seen over 50 years.  I saw a highly organised defensive performance in which Holding and Kosc never put a foot wrong.  As for Gabriel we saw not just what a ruthless practitioner of ball winning he is, but he is a reader of the game. Never out of position, never needed to dive in. Rarely has such subtlety been wrapped around cold-blooded intervention. Poor Silva.

As for our Man of the Match, the Ox, the 23 year old performed as the most assured man on the pitch. He was tasked with helping Gabby subdue City’s most pointed weapon Sane and he did a solid job. Sane is no mug so to keep him off the score sheet and deny him any clear shooting opportunities all afternoon is as good as it gets.  Going forward however Alex really did his best work in my opinion. He runs fast, straight and with the ball at his feet. Very few players do that any more. His transformation since that dreadful night in Munich in mid-February is remarkable.

And who told Nacho he could score goals like that with his right foot – or his left foot even? Our Chilean grabbed the decider.  Nothing spectacular about the finish by Sanchez’s standards.  The right man, on the right spot, at exactly the right moment.

Of our other lads, Aaron, Granit, Larry, Mesut, Danny, and Cech, I am sure you will have better words to cover their contributions.  As I say they all played to their full potential today.

I am about to slope off for some refreshment.

I deserve it.

Enjoy the evening.

77 Comments

Arsenal Versus City: Cloudbusting

Sunset Over The Batch
A season which I have been reliably informed is a disaster, best forgotten, a total shambles, and a sad the end to Arsène’s reign has somehow contrived to find Arsenal in an FA Cup semi final. I had to check the fixture list twice to see if I was dreaming, but it appears that while I’m working my way through a twenty five hour shift for wages which would insult a paper boy, the rest of you will be settling down to watch Arsène and Pep and their proxies on the pitch duking it out in the world’s most famous cup competition.

Funny old game innit?

Spurs, as I discovered when I got home from work just in time to see the final kick of yesterday’s game, failed to make the final by what appeared at least to be a convincing margin. It’s a gut wrenching experience to lose in a semi final as only the older Arsenal fans will know. No one remembers the also rans, only the finalists. You almost wish you’d bowed out quietly in the sixth round rather than face the drooping despair of a lacklustre semi.

I’ve never enjoyed these penultimate occasions. In my memory they seldom produce the best games nor the most convincing of performances. I’m also of the generation which grumbles about any qualifying round of any tournament being played at Wembley. Keep the final sacred I say. I don’t say it very loudly nor very often because it’s silly and pointless to moan about such things. Only the very old and enfeebled like me and possibly George can even remember semi finals at neutral grounds, never mind care enough to mention it in a blog.

It’s always difficult to predict the outcome of a football match and only a fool would attempt it. This year, predicting the likely performance of this Arsenal side is all but impossible. In a patchy end of season run of matches the most recent game against City was actually one of our better displays. Granted the wheels fell off again only eight days later but we’ve seen enough to know that on their day this group of players can go toe to toe with the huge mega rich clubs and emerge with their reputations intact.

We didn’t ought to be able to compete with City, United and Chelsea but time and again we prove we can. It would be rather nice if today was one of those days. It would put a smile on a few faces, both of people who’s emotional well being I value as well as many who’s entire existent is a matter of absolute indifference to me.

This is the big problem with being part of the elite echelon of the ultra positive Imperial Praetorian Guard of Arsène loving Arsenal fans. Any success has to be shared with all Arsenal fans everywhere – even the ones who hold up bits of paper with negative career advice for the manager. Doesn’t seem fair when the reward for staying resolute and loyal throughout the one disappointing league campaign in Arsène’s entire tenure is precisely the same as that enjoyed by the most spiteful and disloyal of supporters.

This ought to make me realise how little difference all this makes and hang up my hat. It really ought to. We had just as well get into verbal spats with people who disagree as to which cloud will pass overhead in the most pleasing shape. Guess what? The clouds will pass in any shape they please and in any order no matter what fights are taking place on the ground beneath them.

Anyway, for many people today will be a lovely day out at the spiritual home of English football (in name at least) and a rousing occasion at the fag end of a confusing and at times frustrating season. Both sides are chock full of talent and have famous footballing men at the helm. It ought to be a fine feast of footy and I hope it’s one everyone enjoys. I just want the Arsenal fans to enjoy it a little more, that’s all. If you’re going I’m sure you’ll have fun and if any of you see me cycling back from work tomorrow morning there is an outside chance I won’t have heard the score so please don’t spoil it for me will you?

79 Comments

Wenger Will be The Manager Indefinitely – As Predicted By The Data

This is my 50th or so blog for Positively Arsenal. Less than 2 years ago I accepted the challenge by the Boss to contribute something to this community and  decided, since I was not as erudite as Steww and Andy Nic, to concentrate on providing  analysis of long-term data trends affecting the club rather than pre-game or post game developments. The unbiased data has been a revelation; one of which is the importance of Arsene Wenger to Arsenal Football Club. On Friday John Cross of The Mirror, whom one must admit is well connected to the club, did a piece  headlined Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is making plans for the next TEN years at the Emirates and his readers were in an uproar. Hopefully nobody who reads and is educated by the various bloggers at PA is surprised by this development. On October 4, 2016 I published the data demonstrating Arsene will be the manager indefinitely. Despite all the sound and fury in the mainstream media, blogs, podcasts and on twitter, sensationalizing Arsene’s future, we at PA would have remained calm and serene, trusting the data. Here is what I wrote.

Unlike my more erudite colleagues at PA, my role is to inform and explain the sometimes boring but always unbiased data that serve as predictors of the competitive future of our club.

Due to the longevity of our great manager, we have 20 years of data covering 760 Premier League games that allow us to identify certain long term trends which are repetitive and predictable. Unlike the mainstream media and most of our colleagues who blog, podcast or tweet we do not have to resort to cheap sensationalism to make our point. A review of two very important developments will illustrate my point.

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The celebration of Wenger’s 20 years as manager of the club was marked by a massive orgy of hyperbole and bogus platitudes by the mainstream media that must have left the manager bemused. After all, less than six months ago the self-same media, led by serial phone-hacker Piers Morgan, were eagerly fanning the flames of discontent and provoking demonstrations by fans to drive Wenger Out.

I therefore feel great empathy for our own Pedantic George when he vented in the Comments section of the blog last Saturday:

“Seeing a shower of absolute bastards, currying favour on the back of Arsene’s 20th anniversary, is turning my stomach.”

Unfortunately there is nothing that either George, I, or you the reader can do that will change the behavior of these “bastards”. It is totally consistent with my “greed and despair” paradigm to which I frequently refer. (More details here.) They are simply “sensationalizing,” preying on emotions. Notice that every member of the commercial media in England and on this side of the pond (i.e. NBC which has the Premier league broadcast rights) is doing a special on Wenger proclaiming how great he is. It makes commercial sense. Arsenal fans in particular are drawn to it in droves and those eyeballs online mean money especially for those newspapers who are bleeding readership, because the public has increasingly lost faith in them thanks to their mendacity and bias.

Yet six weeks ago, in mid-August, I did a blog showing that in the collective wisdom of nearly 40 pundits from both ESPN and BBC, Arsenal under Arsene was predicted to come 3rd in the league, in direct contradiction to the historical data. It defies reason that most journalists, pundits or bloggers within weeks, sometimes days, of declaring Wenger no longer fit for purpose, write such voluminous paeans and odes of praise to his greatness.

Unlike the mainstream media and the majority of vacillating, wavering Arsenal bloggers, we have cold hard data to justify our firmly held conviction that Arsene is not only the greatest manager this club has ever had but he is set to continue indefinitely. A contract is already in his hands and I am sure the board will be anxious as kittens until he signs. Like the bankers who demanded he agree to remain as manager for five years after moving into the new stadium, we rely on past performance, not sentiment.

“Consistency, thou art a jewel” – Shakespeare

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What is undeniable, from the graphic above, is that under 20 years of Arsene’s management the club has recorded the joint second highest average points per season (74) among all clubs, despite being massively outspent by United, Chelsea and City and at times, Liverpool. Despite the over one billion pounds invested in Chelsea by Abramovich in the past 12 years, the gap between them and Arsenal is negligible. (Note the graphic is generous to City whose average is calculated over 16 years by excluding the four seasons they were in the 2nd and 3rd flight of English football.) Also observable is the considerable gulf between between the Gunners and its North London rivals, in the order of 20 points.  Of all his rivals Arsene is yet to overhaul or match Manchester United, a realistic prospect in the first ten years until the club decided to focus its resources on building a new and bigger stadium.This is a handy segue to doing what is now standard in my analyses which is measure Wenger’s consistency in the pre-Emirates versus the Post-Emirate years.

Pre-Emirates

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The graphic and figures are crystal clear. Even though Wenger did not have the capacity to make record transfers in the magnitude of Ferguson at United, he had sufficient resources and the managerial nous to be on average only three (3) points inferior to the biggest and most successful club in England (80 vs 77 points). Despite inferior finances Arsene/Arsenal was able to capture three EPL titles including the singular honor of an Invincible, two doubles including the Invincible year and four FA cups.  In contrast, Manchester City, without the financial resources of the Abu Dhabi group, had in the same ten-year span spent four years outside of the top flight generating a piddling season average of 23 points, less than one-third of Arsenal’s.

Post Emirates

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With the austerity brought on by the stadium move, as well as  Chelsea and City becoming the unprecedented beneficiaries of deep-pocketed sugar-daddies, Wenger was simply unable to compete in the transfer market. Nonetheless Arsenal remained consistently among the top-three clubs in points earned with the season average dropping by six (6) to 71 points. It is notable that despite the hundreds of millions spent by Chelsea, their season average is no better than Wenger’s 77 points during his first ten years. Similarly, a big spender like City, with ten years to get a run at a financially crippled Wenger, is still three (3) points behind in current season average. Liverpool, despite the constant churn of managers, players and owners remain in-situ. That is not a comforting statistic if the scousers ever hope to catch and surpass Arsenal.

Now that Arsene/Arsenal is able to consistently spend on top-top quality players as well as patiently develop those coming through the academy, only the rabid anti-Wenger WOBs and weak-willed fans who allow themselves to become victims of groundless doom-mongering by the media, would bet against Wenger at least regaining the ground lost over the past ten-years.  If he is as competitive as his brother Guy disclosed in that recent newspaper interview, Arsene will be dying to prove he has the same, if not more longevity, than his older sibling who retired at 70. How many of you, dear reader, are willing to put up a wager?

Will the haters put up or shut up?

123 Comments

Arsenal: Formation and togetherness

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And a good Tuesday morning to the Positive Arsenal fans,

Interesting game last night. A change of “formation” but not really much difference in the set up the side as we had the ball or when we defended as far as I could see. Defenders defended, midfield players did their box to box running, tackling and passing thing, wingers ‘winged’, mostly. Not quite sure about the striker but I will come back to that.

I thought, as I see many others did, the Ox was our stand-out player on Teesside. A genuinely dynamic influence in quickly pushing forward, ball at his feet and taking the Boro full back on, even getting his crosses in from the bye line (!). When young Alex was called on to defend while he was not elegant he was always where he should be, with his head, foot or other body part thwarting the home side’s efforts. I am sure we all shed a tear when Ox’s entirely accidental damaging of Fabio in the 17th minute saw the Brazilian limp off. So unlucky, yet so unusual it is one of theirs rather than one of ours. AOC is just 23 years old but the post match speech he delivered was the footballing equivalent of the Gettysburg Address compared to the vast majority of claptrap spouted by footballers. This young man has a future far beyond the green square.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtCRIbWT7bU

Other good performances from Mesut, from Granit and from the current boo boys target Alexis.

Remarkable that some sad anorak wearing tosser spends their time counting the number of misplaced or intercepted passes that our players manage, then posts it on the internet for the mob to beat the worst “culprit” with. Hang, him. Sell him. He’s shit. Blah blah blah. I remember when the PA ethos was to support every player, through thick and thin. Aye happy days they were.

Rob Holding was rather good too. Not an easy task fitting into a new formation, on a wet and windy Monday night but the youngster performed more smoothly than a badger’s codpiece. Never jumped in, never flustered.

The one puzzle last night, and it has been a puzzle for the past few weeks was Giroud, and if not Olivier, Danny. We just do not seem to have strikers who are involved in the game. Are they not getting the ball ? Are they not getting the support ? Or are they getting enough ball and support but just not using it properly ? Earlier in the season OG was terrifying defences, physically dominating them, shooting, hitting the target with his head. Recently not. Arsene has some serious thinking to do before Sunday.

Our opponents ? Not very good although I thought their goal was class. Perfect cross, poacher’s finish. They need a lot more of that, and probably a bit less reliance on the ‘set-piece’ wrestling match to clamber out of the bottom three. Traore is still a handful though – In the Boro relegation clear-out I would take him to the Ems.

So three points safely gathered in. Not a convincing but enough quality shown by us, wrapped in a little steel, to take the season forward again. Clearly Wembley will be a very different stage, but some of the good qualities the players – and the fans – demonstrated last night will ensure we set out with confidence on Sunday.

Enjoy your Tuesday.

 

*nice picture at the top from the Telegraph of a football team enjoying a goal.

95 Comments

Arsenal Versus ‘Boro: Simple Pleasures

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I own one of those portable screens, you’ve probably seen them, they’re about the size of a slim hard backed book and are terrifically clever. One can watch television programmes, read electronic facsimiles of books and play simulated card games on them. As I say, quite extraordinarily impressive devices and I never fail to give a small, disbelieving shake of the head whenever I press the button and the thing begins to glow.

The various functions are controlled by fiendishly ingenious lines of computer code commonly referred to as applications. In order to choose which of these is most suited to one’s need previous users are often kind enough to write a brief summary of their experience, a review, if you like. Apart from being extremely public spirited these reviews are also very useful, but it is neither their utility nor the generosity of their authors which set the wheels turning and prompted these words.

It was rather the nature of one review in particular, a stylistic approach complimented by its content, the character of which caught my eye. The writer simply pointed out how enjoyable the application was, how easy she found it to use and how wonderful it was to be able to employ this particular programme. Concise, succinct, positive and cheery, the author told us nothing of herself but spoke with a simple eloquence of her pleasure at having her leisure time so enhanced.

As I cast my eye down (or rather moved the electronic type upwards – such is the modern world) I couldn’t help notice how different the majority of contributions from other users seemed to be. Self consciously acidic in tone, often little more than an opportunity to show off how much more they knew than than the people who had designed the application; how much better it could and indeed should be. There was an impatient arrogance and a burning desire to tell the world just how clever they were and how crucial it was that their opinions be shared.

There is, as you’ve doubtless already ascertained, a certain parallel to be seen here. An analogy with the world of the modern day football supporter. In truth the self same bombast and self important impatience with the experts is rife on any topic from climate change to cookery. The decline of the football fan isn’t the disease, merely another symptom.

I am these days firmly in the same camp as the lady who was simply delighted at being able to use something called Netflix on her shiny portable screen. I am happy to find the technology so helpful when I want to watch a football match. I’m glad to be given so much information on the players, to be treated to regular expert analysis on the club’s website by a certain Mr Clarke and to be able to cheer my chosen team along in the virtual company of many like minded folk.

I see absolutely no added value in attempting to understand why one season may be more successful than another, and nor do I want to convince hundreds of strangers that my opinion is more valid than theirs. I absolutely do not wish to involve myself in telling the experts at the club where they’ve gone wrong. Until someone can give me a convincing explanation as to how any of this would make an jot of difference to the fortunes of the players on the field or the running of the club I shall continue not to give a fig for such behaviour.

Today I am excited about football. I’m keen to get under way and watch the first match of the day as I travel to the Memorial Stadium for Bristol Rovers epic clash with Oldham. I should get home just in time to settle in front of my computer for the Arsenal versus Middlesbrough game. Whether Rovers have a realistic chance of a play off place or Arsenal a prayer of a top four finish is a matter of supreme indifference. There are two games of football to be enjoyed. Teams and managers lined up in a test of will, skill, tactics and fortune and all I have to do is first stand and then later sit back and watch. I can shout and cheer or groan and despair but I’m only a spectator, I’m not a part of either of the clubs I follow and they owe me absolutely nothing beyond a game of football.

It hurts me to see players or managers coming out with forced public relations statements alluding to them having ‘let down the fans’ as if they are performing solely for our benefit, striving only to please us. We are grown ups. We are able to deduce that their prime motivation is a powerful competitive urge present in all sports people. They want to win for their own pride, self respect and for their legacy in their chosen field of expertise. Pleasing the unwashed hordes in the cheap seats might add a certain spice to the occasion but unless we the supporters show ourselves to be an integral part of any success through unwavering and above all loud encouragement we forfeit any claim to even the slightest vicarious pleasure in the players’ triumphs.

So I shall enjoy the matches today and indeed for the rest of the season. I shall do so happy in the knowledge that whatever the temporary fortunes of my chosen club be they good or bad I am lucky to be living through a golden age where I am able to watch some of the greatest athletes the game has ever produced. I am able to do so with an ease I couldn’t have dreamed of as a child. Above all I shall do so as a happy amateur, a spectator and consumer, not an expert, not a critic and never, ever someone who thinks he knows better than Arsenal’s greatest ever manager.

51 Comments

Arsenal – Balance and Composure

 

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A few words from @MuppetGunner

The wheels have come off the bus. Our main focus should be to take a step back from the hysteria and vitriol and try to analyse what is going wrong. I didn’t see the Liverpool game, but saw the Chelsea, West Brom and Crystal Palace games. In between those, the Watford defeat at home on a somewhat unreliable stream.

In the past we were able to point to either injuries and absentees, usually causing an imbalance in an area of the team. If 5 or 6 key players were missing, it was understandable why there was a home or away defeat. Our best players would return, and consistency would be restored. Yes, in the last 13 years it was a top 4 kind of consistency, but I suspect that would be welcome now. What is happening now is difficult to fathom. The naysayers will say this was always on the cards. However, it is surprising to me that after bolstering the squad with the £84 million spend in the summer, we are currently in 7th. We have come 3rd or 4th with savagely derided players, including Bendtner, Denilson, Flamini. We add Mustafi, Xhaka and Lucas, and we appear to have gone backwards.

To consider the new players, it cannot be Lucas that is the problem, as he has hardly played. Xhaka and Mustafi? Could it be that these 2 have weakened the team significantly? It is interesting that when we had an 18 match unbeaten run before Xmas, the fans were purring – Xhaka was the next Petit or Vieira, depending on who you read, and Mustafi was a class acquisition. After the injury to Mustafi, the turning point was in the 1st game he was absent, the 2-1 defeat at Everton, which would seem to point to a need for the player. But in recent matches, there have been fingers pointed.

Could it be more down to the overall squad? It is worth pointing out that around Xmas time fans were generally positive. Usually, prior to the January transfer window, there are demands for new signings. Apart from one or two blogs, these calls were quiet. The 18 match unbeaten run and new players from the summer pointed to general optimism. We were well stocked in all positions, particularly in attack. One significant absentee though, was Santi Cazorla, his last game on October 19th. The absence of Cazorla since late January has been plain to see. A Wengerball continuity player, who excels in tight spaces, is effective in defence, and is able to link well to Ozil and Sanchez. In his absence, our midfield has suffered. Too slow at times, caught out at Watford and at Liverpool and Chelsea largely bypassed.

So given the optimism about the squad, in Cazorla’s absence we should have been able to turn to others – Ox, Ramsey, Xhaka, Coquelin and El Nenny. It is here that we have to pause for thought. How many of these players fit the traditional mould of a Wengerball midfielder, who is able to accelerate at defences and operate in tight spaces? I think maybe Ox, and maybe Ramsey, but Xhaka, Coquelin and El Nenny have different attributes.

Xhaka is a good distributor of the ball, but has suffered particularly in the absence of Cazorla. He has been partnered by Coquelin, Ramsey and El Nenny, but there is still uncertainty about who his regular partner should be.

Ramsey has a great engine, but has had injury problems this season and has been inconsistent.

El Nenny is a good continuity player, but seems to lack cutting edge at the highest level to be an attacking threat. But he offers reasonable defensive solidity.

Ox can take on players, but despite some good performances, has not been able to cement a place in centre midfield, as seen by the recent inclusion of Xhaka and El Nenny. Overall, none of these are yet to compensate for Cazorla, and we miss Wilshere and Rosicky as well, for these players would be more suitable replacements to partner Xhaka. Ox and Ramsey would probably be the best partners out of the previous crop, but it just hasn’t worked out so far. Ramsey has made just 7 starts, with 14 overall appearances. This is frustrating, as we could have done with the reprisal of his partnership with Arteta in 2014, this time with Xhaka.

The midfield imbalance leads us to a team that is largely unrecognisable to any of the great teams Wenger has created in the past. We have seen Ozil drop deeper, for example in the West Ham game, to make a 4-3-3, and some see this as a way of patching up the disparity of the no 6 and no 8.

Going back to Xhaka and Mustafi, if they are in transition, we can almost say the same of Welbeck. He hasn’t really looked sharp since his return, and it looks like he needs matches to achieve a cutting edge. Monreal looks to have waned, and Bellerin seems to be suffering from an ankle injury sustained in January.

Given all of these issues, the imbalance in the midfield, the lack of consistency and underperformance of certain players, the inevitable conclusion amongst a section of fans is to scream “Wenger Out”. They see him as being the man who made the signings, and therefore should take responsibility and go. We haven’t made a serious title challenge in 13 years they say, and this is the last straw, with the Leicester title win pouring fuel on to the fire. I think this is where perspective is needed. We look to finish out of the top 4 for the first time in 20 years. To me, there is a lack of appreciation in some quarters that top 4 was achieved every year, particularly when our transfer budget in the wake of the stadium move was limited. Wenger overachieved many times during those years; in terms of wages, Wenger has only been below par twice in 20 years. History will judge this as a fantastic achievement, and in terms of longevity, it will be peerless. So why is it, that the moment Wenger is below par, all of those fans have deserted him?

The reason is of course that the coveted prize is the Premiership. In 13 years we have not made a really serious challenge. Yes, we finished 2nd last year and in 2004/5, but we were not close to winning it then, or in the intervening years. We know the history, we moved to the Emirates in 2006 and we were severely restricted in budget until the 2011/12 season. The purse strings were then loosened, and we started to spend. Since the recruitment of Mesut Ozil and since the 2013-2014 our net spend has been £216.4m. As an aside, incredibly, Wenger’s net spend from 1996 to 2013 was just £26.6m. How is it that Wenger was able to win two doubles, 4 FA Cups and go unbeaten with such a meagre net spend? Yet, in the period of 2013-2016, we have not mounted a serious challenge, but have won 2 FA Cups. Could it be that other clubs have distorted the market? For example, since Sheikh Mansour took over Man City in 2008, the club have a total net spend of more than £800m. We have surpassed Chelsea when it comes to net spend since 2013, but one has to take into account that they sold players for almost £300m. Manchester United’s net spend since 2013 is £377m, City’s is £408.8m. By any rational analysis, it is hard to see how we are expected to win the title based on these numbers. Statistically, there could be an argument, that we could be among one of 3 or 4 clubs, who would expect a title every 4 to 5 years, but when two clubs outspend us in the transfer by market by 2 to 1, and other clubs are able to attract players who previously would have come to us, I would not even expect to win a title in 10 years. That is not me personally mitigating our ambition, it is just a back of a cigarette packet assessment of our chances. There are 3 other clubs who outspend us by almost 2 to 1 in the transfer market. There is one other who are on par with us in terms of ambition – Liverpool, despite spending £800m on players in 25 years, have no premiership title and have suffered a similar fate to us in 13 years.

 

The naysayers that scream “Wenger Out” assume that another manager will do significantly better, and we will challenge. In my view that is a laughable assessment, unless there are serious incursions in the transfer market. What those fans are saying in fact, is they want a manager to significantly overachieve. Recent appointments of Klopp, Mourinho and Guardiola are showing that even with huge transfer spending (the latter 2), their clubs are not overachieving. Yes, Conte is a recent appointment and Chelsea are winning the league; but in my view a donkey could stand in the changing room and they would still be winning the league. The argument that a management change precedes a title win is disproved heavily by Liverpool.

The focus among other fans is to criticise the board and accuse them of profit making. They may have a point, but I don’t have the numbers to hand. Is the argument that the board are pocketing money that that we should be using for transfers ? Our cash reserves in 2016 were £226.5m. So if we spend that money that would leave us matching half the net spend of City since 2008.

I personally hope that Wenger will sign a 2 year extension. I have faith that he is the person best placed to fix some of the problems mentioned above, and that there are reasons for optimism. We have a core of some very good young players that I still believe in, and we don’t have to sell them, and we know that the current bad run cannot last forever.

33 Comments

The Sanchez Catastophe: Oh Dear, Oh Dear, Ozil

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Surely no smiling matter, Alexis?

The false dawn of the West Ham result has proven to be a particularly bitter pill to swallow.

That game was a convincingly dominant, effective and exciting performance and one we all believed would surely herald the start of our traditional end of season run-in that would see us stake a place in the top four, at the very least.

What we got at Palace was something very different on a night when our supposedly star players were anything but regal. And almost immediately after the game the ‘war chest’ stories being floated had seen their headline sums inflate from a more modest £100 million to a snappy £200 million overnight. Walcott let the cat out of the bag, post-match, by confirming what we all feared – that our opponents somehow, surely inexplicably, ‘wanted it more’.

It was the single most damning and telling thing to come out of a dressing since Robin van Persie’s ‘updates for the fans’.

Quite what is the nature of the relationship between Theo’s cat and Alexis’s dogs remains undisclosed but we can probably assume it’s messy.

I’ve done the maths and whilst there is always a danger of getting to five when adding 2+2, I’m pretty sure that the handy extra £100m that has suddenly been added to our transfer budget by the forces of rumour, speculation and leaks from inside the club, will come from the £50 million Arsenal will expect to get for each of Sanchez and Ozil.

It was evident from the extraordinary performance of both players that neither were exactly ‘playing for a contract’ but instead playing very much for ‘a transfer’.

For me Sanchez has always looked like a square peg trying to fill a round Wengerball-shaped hole. Actually, he’s just looked like a square peg. Admittedly a supremely gifted and a dynamically attacking one. But not one that ever seriously countenanced fitting in with the team, assuming he ever actually understood that that was precisely what was expected of him.

We have seen, periodically, over many years, what happens to Wenger’s sides when the machine doesn’t fire on all six cylinders. It very quickly breaks down and invariably takes time to fix. As a rule, it’s been the influx of new players following a transfer window that has led to a temporary dislocation of the side and often with hilarious results with pundits falling over themselves in the queue to write off Arsenal prior to the bedding-in process of the newbies seeing a return to the stunning free-flowing stuff we all know and love.

Sadly, this season it’s all gone Pete Tong with the reverse of the above taking place with alarming results. The team this year is, uniquely, looking vulnerable and struggling for form and consistency at the end of the season, with our best matches all far behind us.

The signs with Sanchez have been evident for some time. His very public castigation of fellow pros on the pitch. The tantrums. His apparent ‘undropability’. His evident, barely concealed and juvenile jocularity during the Bayern Munich debacle that saw him giggling on the bench at the team’s ‘misfortunes’. To the acute discomfort of his nearest neighbour On said bench.

Not the actions of someone who cares a jot about the club and I can’t wait for him to clean out his kennels, roll up his poxy poster and take up a solitary berth on some other tramp steamer. Preferably a slow boat to China.

Ozil on the other hand is the greater tragedy, for me. I think he did (and possibly still does) care about the club and his team mates and Le Boss. He looks to have witnessed Sanchez’ antics and is heartily sick of the whole thing. Sick of the permanently squandered possession. Sick of the failure to play in better positioned team-mates. Sick of the selective industry brought to bear on his day’s work. That Sanchez is above and beyond the audible abuse of the fans – indeed the ignorant veneration of this ultimate non-team player is, instead, one of the last straws.

Ozil remains to this day, in the eyes of many, falsely accused of being the lazy one alongside the heroic Alexis who at least ‘always tries’.

If Arsene could level a criticism of himself it would surely be, for whatever reason, his failure to being Sanchez to heel. When he needed a lead put on him, Sanchez was allowed to run free, playing in every match, playing just however he felt like playing.

One suspects Ozil is a modest but proud man. If ever there was an actual final straw for him, our abject capitulation to his fellow countrymen on two successive occasions was it; the white flag of surrender to Munich was one that should never have been packed let alone waved on his watch.

I don’t for one second believe Wenger is ‘past it’ although I think he will always regret his handling of Sanchez, one way or another.

But Arsene is presently in a deep hole and whilst the truth will inevitably come out, for now he appears to have taken a huge hit.

There is no togetherness amongst the players and no talk of mental strength from the manager. The season can’t end soon enough. But the degree to which a heavily splintered, dysfunctional and misfiring squad will continue to free-fall was hard to gauge from the Palace match which, like countless others this season, saw multiple game-changing aberrations from the referee, universally to Arsenal’s disadvantage.

But it may already be too late, even if Middlesbrough were to represent another dawn of sorts. The points chasm now looks like needing a bridge too far.

The loss of Sanchez, whilst regrettable, is hardly the catastrophe that awaits.

The loss of Sanchez, Ozil and Wenger will be.

Finishing outside top four will most likely see our genius Frenchman say farewell.

Attempting to replace our star players from a non-Champions League berth will prove more than a little tricky.

Replacing Arsene will be impossible.