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Football’s Habituation Principle

 A guest post from

On Tuesday night I watched United take on Club Brugge in the Champions League qualifier. I enjoyed the early goal against them, of course I did, but any hopes of further embarrassment were stopped short by an excellent performance form their new player, Memphis Depay. Although the rest of the team creaked a bit, and although it still took a late, late intervention from Fellaini to ensure a comfortable platform, it was Depay who made all the difference. It pains me to say this on an Arsenal blog, but I enjoyed seeing him play. He had a swagger and confidence about him that seemed entirely justified. He scored two great goals, and provided the last-second assist: he also made the crowd come alive every time he was on the ball. I know it was only against Brugge, and sterner tests lie ahead, but he had an aura about him that must excite all United fans.

Or at least, you’d like to think so, especially as there must have been a few who were a little underwhelmed by the signing back in the spring. He wasn’t exactly cheap – 24 million or so is a lot of millions for a 21 year old who, despite his excellent track record in Holland, has yet to prove himself in English football – but he wasn’t the galactico signing that many United fans would have hoped for, or even expected.  But no, here he was in August, suggesting that van Gaal was exactly right to buy him, and promising great things in the future. Will he be worthy to wear the famous No 7 shirt? Only time will tell, but he has certainly started well enough. And yet, hardly a day later, it transpired that Pedro, strongly rumoured to be another United target, had signed for Chelsea. Cue Twitter meltdown, social media awash with moans and groans that United could no longer compete, that Chelsea were the new force, that Mourinho and Cesc Fabregas’s girlfriend had hoodwinked Ed Woodward. And in all the furore Memphis Depay and the promise he brings was swiftly forgotten.

If you ever wanted a definition of football’s habituation principle this was it in spades. The quest for the new overshadowing anything already possessed. If every new acquisition so quickly becomes familiar that only an even newer purchase can satisfy then madness surely beckons. For the purposes of this argument it does not matter that Pedro and Depay are different players who both play slightly different roles, for my point is that much of the excitement about the transfer window isn’t really about football at all. I used to think it was more about macho posturing – mine’s bigger than yours sort of thing – but now I think it is about spoilt and entitled tantrum throwing and an absence of good parenting. If it wasn’t so sad it would make you smile. It should certainly make you realise that as Arsenal’s transfer dealings are subjected to the same lack of perspective and common sense then it is unlikely the media will allow Arsenal fans to think their squad is actually rather good and doesn’t need much, if any, tinkering with. And that it certainly doesn’t need the kind of full body replacement that some seem keen suggest.

Giroud scored a wonderfully athletic and predatory goal in our last match, but that has done nothing to quell the daily demands for Arsène to do what it takes to sign Benzema. Coquelin produced the ‘on the edge of dismissal’ defensive performance that many have been calling for since the days of Vieira and Petit, but still the call goes out for a new pair of Doctor Martens. Ramsey near enough ran a marathon for us at Selhurst Park but is apparently too selfish to wear the shirt while I also understand there is no hope of the defensive trio of Mertesacker , Cech and Koscielny  ever forging the Fort Knox security that proper title challenges are built on. Only new signings can put right these glaring deficiencies, but of course, the moment those signings become flesh and blood Arsenal they will prove never to be quite enough. Pinter knew all about this in The Caretaker: Davies was always travelling to Sidcup where apparently salvation lay. But if you are relying on Sidcup, or a new signing, to make everything OK in your life, then you will forever be disappointed. This is of course the point: if you need your Football club to win every match to bring all good in your life, if you are always waiting for the sparkling armada of promises then you will be waiting a long time. Next Please, observed Larkin, much as those United fans said who were no longer content with Depay. I’d rather be happy with what I’ve got, and to be honest, in football terms I’ve got an awful lot: my team on the TV nearly every match, a nice stadium to go to when the children don’t need new shoes, some wonderful players to watch, more wins than losses over the last many years and always the faint hope of a Premier League title or Champions League success to keep the Davies in me happy.

Now, about those new signings Arsène …..

About steww

bass guitar, making mistakes, buggering on regardless.

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63 comments on “Football’s Habituation Principle

  1. Perfectly put. And another Larkin fan on the writing team. No wonder we’re all so dry and curmudgeonly.

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  2. Waiting for Godin ?

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  3. Brilliantly refreshing article to read. People have the attention span of chimps these days and always want the next 40 million pound player to come in the door, only to be shipped out a year later. Why do people never learn?! I for one am immensely proud of the way our football club conducts itself and refuses to be the desperate loser pushing people over to try and get that half priced telly, despite the fact it won’t fit in their front room. Don’t get me wrong, there are improvements to be made of our team, but until Wenger goes and buys a team of cybernetic ronaldos from the future, some people will never be pleased. Wenger stands strong in the face of overwhelming pressure to recklessly spend and live beyond our means. I say well done sir and thank you for caring so much about the sustainability and financial well being of our football club.

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  4. Have to say there is great truth in what you say but it is definitely, in many cases, more complex. In the case of Coquelin he is plenty good enough for his position but he could be expected to play in up to 65 games this season. With suspensions, injury, loss of form, we will need someone to come in to his position and also in some games play alongside him. At the moment it is only Arteta/Flamini to do this. To me it is a certainty that both of Arteta/Flamini slow the intensity and speed of the game by 5% or more. Enough to end in draws or defeats. Maybe we could challenge for the league without Benzema etc but not without another quality DM. Of course reality will show it’s face as the season progresses.

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  5. Excellent.

    This be the blog

    They **** you up
    The 4th estate
    They totally mean to
    Transfer hate

    Taxi!

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  6. Sean, about 12 months ago, indeed 10 months ago, Le Coq was on his way to Charlton, his career in any role all but written off -and yet here we are discussing a player who had an excellent season last year, and who we are relying on this season among a number.

    If you remember, and I am sure you do, this time last year we were cheering on Flamini for his excellent holding midfield performance in defending against Besiktas – he kept us in the CL imo.

    Will Le Coq play 65 games ? Probably not but your dismissal of the role of Flamini, of Arteta, and games in which as far as I can see the requirement for a holding midfield player is a dubious notion, overdoes things.

    We have some fine players in the club – I have no reason to think they will not all get their chance.

    Personally I have no wish to land a two bob Fernando/Paulinho/Fernandino/Capoue/MVila etc (insert any one of a hundred names) just to keep the great unwashed happy for 5 minutes, as FH said.

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  7. Great stuff, Foreverheady!

    One imagines fans of our over-spending rivals are rarely excited by signings in the way the AFC fanbase is positively (and in some cases, negatively) gripped by the shenanigans on display for the duration of each and every the transfer window.

    Supporters of City, Chelsea and man u are accustomed to the procession of over-priced – and not exclusively over-seas – talent weaving their wealthy ways along the now well-worn paths towards squads teeming with a full mix of journeymen at varying stages of transience. Only the hi-jacking of long-flagged moves, as in the recent case of the Pedro pecadilloes, tend to cause a stir as there is every chance new signings for these clubs will vanish into the thin air of the inter-club loan system or the splinterous dangers of the bench.

    For Arsenal supporters, it’s a different prospect all together. Very youthful acquisitions have a realistic chance of being the next Fabregas or Bellerin. Relative unknowns such as Giroud, the next Henry. And latterly, the mega-signings of Ozil and Sanchez have provided an immediate upgrade to the first team and a shot in the arm for all followers of the club. Especially those not too bothered about waiting on the development of prospects such as Bielik, Zelalem, or the integration of established players like Debuchy or Gabriel.

    But it’s hard to deny that due to our position playing catch-up with our rivals, as opposed to merely maintaining a dominant position, every single Arsenal signing is an event of significance. Wenger’s ability to find and/or develop talent ratchets up the excitement levels in ways no other single manager in this or any other league can achieve. And all the while taking us nearer and nearer to the very top both at home and in Europe.

    I happen to think our existing cup-winning squad is exceptionally talented and I have next to zero expectation that Arsene will suddenly acquire another hatful of significant talent over-night. He just doesn’t need that many new players. And whilst I’m not interested in following the progress of the so-called In The Knows as they propagate a summer-long production line of lies and misdirection aimed at the unwary, I can’t deny that for me, every Wenger signing IS an event. As the squad gets stronger and stronger, signings, conversely become ever-scarcer.

    I doubt, unlike his rivals, Wenger will ever throw money around during the window in hope rather than expectation. And that’s one reason there is so much interest in his each and every move.

    ‘Tis both a curse and a blessing.

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  8. There is an oft quoted ‘truth’ that no matter how good your football team, no matter how good your players, there is ALWAYS the option to improve it by bringing in better players. And by better players the translation is more accurately very expensive players, in fact the more expensive the better.

    In many quarters, and not just the skulking Scarfistas, this cycle of guaranteed improvement through signing very expensive players is taken as gospel.

    It is not a proposition that I feel stands up to scrutiny.

    Firstly, because football is a team game, and the success of a club is dependent on the development and interrelation of a group of individuals. But with care, and discard exiting asses even more carefully. Footballing history is littered examples of teams being royally fucked up by buying allegedly better players, disposing of/downgrading their existing regulars and ending up at best no further forward, and in some cases further back than they were to start with.

    Second, the alleged quality of players can be a formidably ephemeral. So any players performing in their existing role, settled, coddled by a loving manager and coach, in their original league, perform well. People tell me how many goals Benzema scores for Madrid for example ….. So what …. a blind one legged limbo dancer could expect 20 a season playing in front of that squad – in my opinion. Remove the player from their small or highly privileged pool and that allegedly brilliant player is shown to have no more than transient ability. His head goes down, he disappears. How many times do I see that ?

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  9. I should like to apologise to any visually impaired monopedal enthusiasts of the traditional form of Trinidadian dance out there – no offence was intended.

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  10. Great read FH! If only some of our fan-base were as level-headed and understanding as you though…I find myself more and more perplexed by humanity, today I ended up on a blog doing some research on the Rach3 and the classical music bloggers were just involved in a massive scrap on there too, similar to Le Grove.I wondered do people actually enjoy anything anymore?The idea that Vladamir Horowitz wasn’t great is as daft as saying Giroud is a load of crepe.But to have believed that the classical music lovers wouldn’t have all the other human traits just goes to show how much Im stuck on Grant Greens Green Street.
    There doesn’t seem much dignity in defeat these days either and consumerism is the bane of many of the worlds ills.Put Ive got my head in the clouds.

    Rather than words comes the thought of high windows
    The sun-comprehending glass,
    And beyond it, the deep blue air,that shows
    Nothing,and is nowhere,and is endless.

    Sillery and Quiggan send their best.Thanks again.

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  11. Arsenal Under-21s to play Derby: Huddart, Moore, Bielik, Pleguezuelo, Bola, Kamara, Sheaf, Reine-Adelaide, Hinds, Iwobi, Mavididi
    subs: Keto, O’Connor, Willock, Robinson, Eyoma.

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  12. If you’re talking about prospective DM’s once Arteta stops mentoring FC and Coquelin requires his own apprentice then I enjoyed the combination of ball juggling, hustle, strength, skill and of course Gr*t shown by Hayden as he set up a goal the other night.

    Can’t imagine that Steve Bruce or Hull will be that traumatised if they manage to chuck the weight of Huddlestone off their books.

    I read elsewhere today that apprenticeships etc. numbers aren’t as high as they should be in the UK. It regards the economy and people’s ability to work well, an also it appears the minds of the general populace too.

    Consumerism/The tertiary or service model – it’s a load of old cobblers an the best example you could hope to find for such a cultural malaise is amongst Football fans who believe that transfers are more important then team building even though the evidence of what City* and Gazprom went through and are going through is right before them.

    * e.g: three four years of very large squad building first under the very very very dodgy but welcome by the PL and others Thai Dodgy Geezer who may or may not also be a Terrorist & then other owners about whom it’s safest of I don’t comment.

    It’s a good thing people keep saying politics and sport don’t mix!

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  13. My autocorrecting A.I. is not the smartest:

    Retards > regards

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  14. Huddlestone must be one step beyond Deadwood

    I’ll get me coat.

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  15. wenger stuck in his ways, out of date methods, they say, I wonder how would they explain this

    http://dailycannon.com/2015/08/arsenal-trying-to-recruit-ironman-champion/?

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  16. In spite of the many many players signed by City over the last several seasons a few months out last season post a WC for Toure, Aguero and Kompany, players playing with niggles, it all looked just a little bit familiar. They have bought in some new players at huge cost to replace mules that possibly weren’t up to the job just yet, but then it’s fair to say AFC have improved too!

    Remember all the groaner a bleating after 5pur2s signed Lamela and Loldado for only thruppence less then AFC paid for Ozil and Sanchez? What a time to be alive!

    Remember the time where of three days before the LC game against Southampton what happened if you attempted to explain to a droning doomet that Bellerin was actually in the Arsenal squad? And was a bout to play for the first team?

    “But the experts and blogs and funny papers told me AFC only had x defenders and I must simply repeat what I am told. He’s just another Fran Merida and this behaviour of mine is not a flawless example of cognitive dissonance. And, repeat…”

    Zombie Armageddon?

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  17. Kaylen Hinds has given the Arsenal U21’s the lead after 9 minutes

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  18. 20 minutes in and its 1-1 in the U21 game

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  19. It’d be highly unusual for Arsenal to employ or take advice from someone who’d brag or even talk about their supposed upcoming position!

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  20. Bit of a feisty game with Derby fowling after the ball had gone on numerous occasions with the ref playing on. Derby s number 9 zanzala a real thug and even rugby tackled Peggy at one point because Peggy has been excellent tonight. Taf has also played well. Adelaide like many lads new to the English game has been caught in possession lots of times and has been told to release earlier. Ben Sheaf looks good after starting in his more favoured role after gidions commission. I think we should be favourites for the s.h.

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  21. 9 now finally booked, should be off

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  22. Willock getting ready to come on

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  23. Steph scores 2-1

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  24. 5 mins added time

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  25. Hinds 3-1 all over

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  26. Derby get one back shut my mouth

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  27. FT 3-2

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  28. FT: 3-2 to Arsenal U21’s

    Mavididi put AFC 2-1 up in the 89th minute, Hinds made it 3-1 in the 90th minute and Derby scored straight away to make it 3-2, and that is how it finished.

    Seemingly Pleguezuelo was outstanding, and had to be as his CB partners Bielik found it tough. Arsenal’s oldest player today was 19.

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  29. twitter and the AAA say its simple to do transfers

    Wenger’s view on transfers

    ‘WHEN PLAYERS AREN’T FREE YOU CAN’T BUY’
    Arsène Wenger discussed the transfer window during his pre-match press conference on Friday. Here’s a transcript of what he said:

    on expecting a signing…
    I expect like you but at the moment we are not close.
    on people saying Arsenal need to sign someone…
    I listen to everybody but my job is to make decisions, to select and make decisions. Even if I look everywhere and listen to everybody at the end of the day I have to make the decisions. If I just listen to people’s opinion, many players who have signed here starting with Vieira, Anelka and Henry would never have signed here at the end of the day. I have to make the decisions.

    on whether the window should still be open…
    Every morning from morning to night, we try to be as good as we can in every single department. I stand on the fact that when the championship starts the transfer window should be finished. It’s as simple as that because it’s to easy to say, ‘We’ll play three or four games and see what we’ve missed, then after we’ll correct it quickly with a lot of money’. I think it’s too big an advantage for clubs who didn’t work well during the transfer window.

    on whether this has been the most difficult transfer window…
    It is difficult because there’s more money in football, more clubs with big resources, and less players available. The funds are there more than the players who could strengthen the squad. That is a big problem. People know that you have the resources and they want you to buy players from clubs who do not need your resources, and who are not necessarily prepared to sell.

    on whether there aren’t enough No 9s available…
    There’s a shortage in the world. It confirms what I just said, that there’s a difference between financial power nowadays and the availability of top-class players.

    on whether fans have to lower their expectations…
    It is simple. For any deal, when you want to buy something you go to see the owner and if he doesn’t want to sell, he doesn’t want to sell. You cannot buy. In our job it is exactly like that. When the players are not free you cannot buy them because it’s the club who decides, the person who owns the contract who decides. In Europe you have maybe 15 clubs with a huge financial resource.

    on whether it’s been frustrating because of that…
    I’m always more focused on developing the team, the players we have and getting everyone on board that we have at the club. We want to develop players as well rather than over-thinking whether to buy. I’m not against buying when it is a plus for your team. If it’s just to buy a player at the level of the players that you have to make people happy, I’m not ready for that. If it’s somebody who brings something that you don’t already have in the squad, then of course you want to do that.

    on whether that proves how hard it is to sign someone…
    I’m not against buying when it is a plus for your team It is hard, believe me, to get a deal over the line. It’s difficult as well if you’re not completely inside the deal, to know what happens. Did the player not want to go? Did Manchester United not want to spend more? I don’t know.

    on if the players that have joined rivals would not have improved Arsenal…
    I don’t know that. I cannot [not] deny that. What you want for any player is the need to buy in this position. [You think] ‘Is this player making your squad stronger?’, and you have to say yes or no. I think we have strong players in every position.

    on if other teams strengthening makes Arsenal weaker…
    I was asked this question two years ago when some clubs bought 10 players [and people said] ‘How do you feel, you have no chance now’. What you want is to focus on your own strengths and make sure that you develop your team. The cohesion, the style of play that everybody knows are important qualities. We live in a society that is hungry for news and news is good, I can understand that. But you have to absolutely be convinced that it strengthens your team.

    on if the club is doing all it can to get quality in…
    Of course. What is our target every day, every morning from morning to night, we try to be as good as we can in every single department of our club.

    Copyright 2015 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to http://www.arsenal.com as the source

    Read more at http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/20150821/-when-players-aren-t-free-you-can-t-buy-#YiSGGpv2u1lMUOHk.99

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  30. Thanks for the nice comments everyone. Will be out of internet reach for the next week or so but know I can rely on you guys to keep the sentry posts personned.

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  31. Thanks for the game updates a_or_b & Eddy.

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  32. with 11 days of the transfer window left the Arsenal first team squad (those that have played a competitive game for the first team)

    GK – Cech, Ospina
    RB – Bellerin, Debuchy
    LB – Monreal, Gibbs
    RCB – Mertesacker, Chambers
    LCB – Koscielny, Gabriel
    DM – Coqueline, Arteta, Flamini
    CM – Ramsey, Cazorla
    ACM – Ozil, Wilshere, Rosicky
    WR – Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain
    WL – Alexis, Campbell
    CF- Giroud, Welbeck

    forgive me for the positioning of the players, its my view of their main role, of course many of our midfielders and forwards can play multiple positions, but to make it simple I put them where I see them at their best as I see it.

    must say having done that, I was shocked to see us with 3 DM’s, as the vast majority of posters on Arsenal web world tell us we only have one (at best)

    24 players who have all played first team football for Arsenal, 22 of which are over 21 so we have scope to sign up to 4 over 21’s

    its odd that I’ve seen the AAA say with all the youths we have loaned out that we will find it hard to field a COC team, I do wonder why these moaners can’t see that we have an entire second 11 that can play in the COC

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  33. You know how I hate statistics but I saw an interesting one today about Arsenal strikers scoring records in their first 100 games

    Way ahead are Thierry and Ian Wright in the low 60s/high 50s but guess who is at 3rd ?

    Manny Adebayor with 46 in his first 100 games – hell of a record at a time in the club history when we were having to work hard for every goal.

    The point I raise this for is it is Olivier’s 100th game on Monday – and he is on 44 as of today !!

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  34. anicoll do you have the stats for out of those 100 games each the starts and sub, I would suggest that Giroud is well down on starts compared to Henry and Wright, and probably behind Ade too.

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  35. I don’t eddy – I will however try and pull it up by Monday

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  36. thanks ani

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  37. Ed is right Bielik did look like a bloke on the way home for on the pub at CB although he did improve in the second half. However when O’Connor was introduced after 73 minutes Bielik was pushed into midfield and was immediately a better player. He is hardly the beast many want him to be but you can see there is a player there.
    Derby had actually started the second half much better and ARSENAL had Huddard and the post to thank to stay on level terms. It was the introduction of Chris Willock on 66 member minutes that turned it around and Derby’s version of Stoke (Cloughie would be turning in his grave) finally ran out of steam. The Derby keeper, Barnes played like Neur stopping lots of our attacks but finally after good work down the right Steph Mavididi headed in.
    Once again, even this early in the season, we have some very assured players in the U21s.
    I haven’t really mentioned Iwobi who once again played in CM tonight and looks very calm and composed almost as he is a senior player coming back from injury and is better than this level.

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  38. Sorry FR I haven’t said how good your article was. Did you know our own TR 7 is in the top ten PL scorers wearing the number 7 shirt.

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  39. eddy – I have the Premier League stats for the players

    Olivier has 99 appearances of which 16 were as sub

    Ade had 103 appearances of which 17 were as sub

    Wright has 191 games of which just 9 were as sub

    and TH 251 games in two spells of which 20 were as sub – interestingly in his first three seasons he was frequently sub, in his final three never, not once.

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  40. Good job by Heady. There is a whole media industry and swarms of parasitic agents who keep this transfer merry-go-round going. Who is going to regulate this beast?

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  41. The squad model at AFC when Eduardo, RVP and Ade were at the club was in my humble opinion not that hard to understand.

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  42. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    Victoria Concordia Crescit?

    Whatever will be will be,
    Arsenal won two (four in fact) cups at Wemberley*,

    *after a mega intense build of the squd. Done without having to sign any abused mules from any Special Agentss (please refer to and compare Walcott and Falcao’s route through rehab following similar injuries at a similar time – no unemployed physios dare to or are employed/paid to criticize the Special Agent on social media…)

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  43. Great blog fh – had read arseblogger’s first and thought, “Really – you don’t say” so it was nice to come to something a bit more thought provoking and erudite.
    Interesting that Madrid fans (allegedly) don’t think Bennie’s good enough …
    Plus ça change …

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  44. aob and eduardo – where do you watch the U21 games? Are you there live or is there a feed somewhere? Or was it on AP?

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  45. So the air is gradually leaking out of the United balloon. All that money to spend but a reality of bigger clubs refusing to sell or players choosing equally big clubs. So much money, so little quality.

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  46. The longer the game went on the less likely it looked that they would get past Krul. Another poor performance from Rooney. Lots of shouting and telling the referee to “fuck off”, but very little useful contribution with or without the ball.

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  47. Nice to see Bournemouth getting a bit of luck and ‘Ammering the opposition at Upton Park. 0-2 then back to 2-2 before winning 4-2. I see Carl picked up a red card. Football eh.

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  48. Callum Wilson of Bournemouth scores the first PL hat-trick of the new season – who’d have thought it, eh? Sign him up, boss.
    Hope they go on to consolidate a place in the PL. Managers like Eddie Howe deserve all the encouragement they can get.

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  49. Good results elsewhere today, Utd and Spurs dropping points. If I have one prediction for this season it is that the mid table teams in positions 6 to 12 will be much tighter and wlll be taking points off the top five left right and centre.

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