Category Archives: The Emirates

January, to buy or not to buy? That is the question…

I’m back.  

Shameful really, but with a new job and a busy life, I haven’t had the luxury of time to write a blog post recently. In spite of that, I’ve found time to keep up with the farcicals of football right now.

Since I left; Suarez has been banned for racism, rightly so, should have been longer in my opinion; John Terry has been charged by the police for the same offence; Arsenal find themselves with their worst point total after 22 games in all of Wenger’s tenure, and Tottenham are flying. 

It’s been a funny few months, but can we expect change?

Here are my views:

On January transfer expectations, after a dire display against Manchester United, subsidised by a manager seemingly hell-bent on having them in the Europa League, you really must wonder:

“He’s had no full-back’s fit since the Olympiakos game (December 6th) – where he played his only fit player in a game which was literally meaningless – since then he fumbled through December knowing he would be without a recognised full back until February.”

1) Why didn’t he highlight a defensive target and get a loanee cover in place?

2) Why hasn’t he ensured that funds were in place to make sure he could sign the loanee quickly? 

No-one knows but him.

We all know the results though; Arsene is being punished for his arrogance, losing a hat-trick of games, and they’ve now taken seven points from the last 18 available. Arsenal’s form is the joint-second worse in the league, and it’s single-handedly his fault. Of the goals conceded in the last three games, six of the seven have come directly from a mistake at full back. Could it be that a reluctance to spend £4m on a loanee will cost him £40m for the Champions League? And that’s excluding the player exodus that may happen should they fail to qualify.

If Arsenal don’t panic-purchase like they did in August, forget about the top four, they won’t even finish fifth.

You just feel for the fans who are paying an extra 6.5% on tickets when the performances are, at times, laughable. 

On Liverpool:  Liverpool have suffered the negative fates of the January window. Buying Andy Carroll (the worst signing in the history of world football) for such a high price will always bring pressure, but they’ve spend £75m on Downing, Carroll, Henderson and wrapped them up on such long contracts, that no-one is going to want to buy them. Additionally, they have no more funds to improve the squad. Between the two they end up with a team deep in limbo. This presents  worrying times, and it’s no wonder Liverpool were eager to swap Carroll for Tevez; it’s hilariously desperate. It’s like me attempting to trade my girlfriend for Zooey Dechanel, unlikely.  

So back to my Gooners, there’s some good in the window, a few fantastic purchases over the years. Arsenal utilised January back in 2009, signing The Lazy Magician; Andrei Arshavin for 15m, a signing which ensured a strong finish to the season. Since then however, the purchases have dried up.

On Arshavin: I’m a fan of Arshavin, even now. My theory is; Just because Wenger plays him at Left-Wing, it doesn’t make him a Winger.

Arshavin has always been creative. For Russia and Zenit he was instrumental playing in the CF role, linking up with the midfield, beating players, shooting at will and assisting in the plus 10’s.

Arsene, likes to play a 4-2-3-1, and because of this, he plays Arshavin out of position, instead of creating a ‘false number 10’ like Barcelona do, and playing a system which suits everyone.

Expectations are different for a winger. Arshavin’s not someone who’ll work hard without the ball, nor has he any intentions of tracking back, when you have full-back’s like Arsenal do, bombing on and hitting the by-line. You really have to wonder the tactical knowledge of Wenger when he insists on playing him at wide-left.

4-3-1-2 is needed, in my opinion. The back 4 picks itself, as does the goalkeeper.  Midfield 3 of Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Arshavin just behind; RVP and >Insert Striker here<.

Who should the striker be? Benzema, Olic, Kerzhakov. Anyone really, but it needs to be someone who’s an old fashioned STR. So that RVP could link up and wander around as he pleases. Dzeko, in a heart-beat.

On Gervinho I’ve defended Arshavin, so let me just revoke some of my previous comments on the wonderful; Gervinho.

Things I’ve said:

“Gervinho is the worst signing of Summer 2011”
“Gervinho is the worst player I’ve ever seen live”
“Gervinho is the worst finisher at the club”
“I would rather have Bendtner back, and as Club Captain, than need to spend another penny watching Gervinho”
“Gervinho makes Almunia’s contribution to the club look worthy of a Ballon D’or” 

Gervinho puts the ball wide.

SOME of the above, may – just may – be slightly harsh, so despite the fact he’s missed 9 one-on-ones, got himself sent off and single-handedly cost us games…. I want to just applaud his defensive work.

In recent weeks, due to Wenger’s reluctance to buy a replacement full-back, Coquelin and Djourou have been forced to adopt a make-shift role – where Djourou has been exposed, the LB position has always seemed that little bit safer. Why? I think Gervinho’s work-rate going backwards, is a lot more effective than he’s given credit for. Granted, it’s not his job, but it’s useful nonetheless.

That aside he’s still an atrocious finisher, and he’s pretty low down my personal preference of wingers. In-fact, with a full fit squad, I’d have him playing at Underhill with the reserves.

On the whole, Walcott and Gervinho are simply not good enough, but I’m supportive of a 4-4-2 type midfield with wingers, Wilshere next to Song for games that need width and fluidity. This is where Wenger needs to be more adaptable. 4-2-3-1 may work at Anfield, but it won’t work at home to Fulham. My 4-4-2 would probably feature Gervinho and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Both of them give more protection to the back-line which allows us to have 2 strikers.

But as always, we’re second guessing Arsene.

A repercussion to his arrogance and deliberate nature to not do something, solely because someone has told him too/when it’s been advised. It could literally define ‘frustration’, and that’s how the Gooners feel.

January 2011: Arsenal need to buy a defender.

Wenger doesn’t buy one, he perseveres with what he has and the club manage to finish 4th in a 2 horse title race, get knocked out of 3 trophies in 4 weeks and lose our 2 most creative midfielders.

And for this reason I justify my critics on twitter. He is too wrapped up in himself, he does value his own stubborn ways over what’s best for the club, he is obsessed with HIS concept of value, not the market price.

He’s still playing a formation based around a player who’s gone.

He’s refusing to listen to the players, this was shown in Van Persie’s frustrations recently; He’s not respecting nor appreciating the fans, and opponents don’t fear Arsenal. They’re seen, rightly so, as frail, weak, uncertain, like at 2-0 down you can still win because one bad decision and they crumble.

A disgruntled Captain, is rarely a long-standing one.

Teams relish playing Arsenal because they know they can get something from the game.

I’m ready to move on from Wenger, Ivan Gazidis too, Peter Hill-Wood as well. The only scenario where I think I’d re-unite my faith in Arsene would be if David Dein was to return.

On boo boys;  

Fans pay their money, they have a right to boo, jeer, cheer and clap whomever they please.

I dislike it when fans boo during the match, i.e, the Blackburn fans booing Yakubu for celebrating a goal with the under-fire Steve Kean.

Blackburn's Boo-Boys.

I dislike fans ousting individuals, like the booing of Walcott, Eboue etc. There needs to be more support for a player having an off game.

I agree with fan booing a bad result, a poor referee or a horrific decision from a manager – Like taking off your best player at 1-1, ensuring that you lose the game, Arsene. However, there is no right or wrong way to be a fan, just like there is no right or wrong way to support. At one end of the scale there’s the ever-green “nothing is ever wrong” fans, who follow the notion that everything has a silver lining and will always talk about ‘next year’; and then there are the cynics who disagree with everything and hate everyone.

But I think booing serves a purpose. Wenger needed to know that taking off A.O-C for the sake of it, was wrong. Manchester United is not the game to ‘test’ players, to ‘give them a run out’ or to bring on a favourite out of sheer nostalgia. It’s the kind of game where you play to win. Especially at a club like Arsenal.

On fans

With all due respect, there’s “Fans” and there’s “Associates”.

The associates are those who have only been to one game, will watch a game if it’s on sky, and will get one shirt every three years. To these people; you are not a fan, you’re a follower. You enjoy them winning to feel part of a cult, or tribe, but you don’t adhere to the literal abbreviation of fan-atic.

The true fans are those who know the under 18s; those who remember the awful players who had six months and three appearances, and those who put up with Bulgarian commentary on a dodgy link just so they can see the game. It’s these same people who hit a solid 10 games a season, and never miss one unless it’s unavoidable.

My point? I’m starting to notice the difference between the two groups more and more. How the fans are being supported by other fans; whereas the associates are sharing and supporting the views of one another. The two are clashing.

I think when you have an actual passion, you have a right to voice your opinion, and but it’s usually the ‘Associates’ who think they have a right to silence the paying ‘Fans’ for being outspoken. Which in essence is a lead on from my point on ‘right or wrong way’ to be a fan, no-one has the right to tell someone how to support a team, but it seems to be the ‘associates’ who feel they have the right to.

 On how the season will finish?

 Premier League – Manchester City.
Carling Cup – Liverpool.
FA Cup – Tottenham.
Champions League – Bayern Munich (Arsenal semi-finals)

What a season we have left, though.

As always I welcome the debate, so get in touch with me on twitter on leave a comment below;

Over and out.

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Arsène Wenger, 15 years on. Has the bubble burst?

Firstly, I really didn’t want to write this. I tweeted on a few occasions completely ruling myself out of making a Wenger critic article, but there comes a point where there’s an element of hypocrisy to blog on the failings of other clubs, yet casually avoid your own.  Secondly; This is a long one, but bare with it – It’ll put some light on a generation of football.

“When I think of Arsène Wenger, I think of Warren Buffett. Wenger runs his football club like he is going to own the club for 100 years.”
Billy Beane, 2010.

At 15th in the table, P7 W2 D1 L3. Arsenal have made their worst start to a season in 58 years. The fans are in dismay, the players look shaken, the injury list is growing, and their rivals are pulling away at a rate of knots.

Rewind.

Let’s start this from the beginning. It’s 1996 and Arsenal, and then-CEO David Dein, have just appointed a geeky, quirky, funny looking Frenchman. Armed with a masters degree in economics, a modest playing career and a decent record with Monaco/Nagoya Grampus Eight. It was a controversial appointment to say the least.

Arsène Wenger in 1996, aged 47.

20 months later and Mr Wenger is sitting pretty with an Fa Cup and Premier League title to his name – the first foreign manager to ever achieve ‘the double’. Suddenly the penny dropped, this was a man who’s breath of fresh air had shaken the football world. The attention was being directed to a brand of football, a culture of pass and move. The Evening Standard, who had headlined with “Arsène Who?!” 2 years ago, were looking very sheepish.

Fast forward again, to the famous unparalleled 2003-2004 campaign. ‘The Invincibles’. Arsène Wenger has navigated his side to an unbeaten season, with an all-time unbeaten record of 49 games. He could do no wrong. He had the balance between purchasing established quality players, and developing young players through the system to play the ‘Arsenal Way’. His back four were stubborn. He had a solid 4-4-2 in place which was frustrating to break down and devastating on the break. The giants in Europe were scared. No-one wanted to play The Arsenal.

Following that, the come-down was inevitable, even the most heartened Gooner didn’t expect another invincibles season, but the manner in which the 49-long run was ended has always left a feeling of injustice around the club. An FA Cup victory in 2005 to Manchester United sweetened the pain. Club captain Patrick Vieira left the club and Gilberto Silva filled the boots. Adequately, I must add. The FA Cup win 6 years ago is the last trophy Arsenal Football Club won.

What has happened to a team which promised so much?

Next stop, January 2011, every year getting more frustrating than the last. David Dein, the Chairman, the personal and professional friend of Wenger left the club in 2006 following disputes over the move away from the 93 year old, 38,000 capacity Highbury Stadium, across the road to the new state-of-the-art Emirates Stadium. Arsenal’s pass-and-move philosophy remains, the big name players – to an extent, remain. There is slightly more focus on buying talented youngsters and developing them into the players of tomorrow, as opposed to the balance which was in use during the 2001-2005 era. It’s a long-term plan. Fans are patient, at times too patient, but in January Arsenal find themselves the only English club in all 4 competitions, 2nd in the league with a game in hand, with a strong team, players bought as youth in 2007/8 are now showing the promise to be stars. All is going to plan, bar the long-term injury of  central defender Vermaelen, and the insufficient cover on the wings.

To me, Mid-January 2011 is where Arsène Wenger makes his first big mistake. At a time where we have serious chances of an epic season, he needs to strengthen, and get depth. Every manager from Barcelona to Barnet will tell you that teams statistically suffer more injuries in the second half of the season. Wenger does not add to his side.

With the same 25 man squad, Arsenal enter February. A promising month, with a Carling Cup Semi Final, a string of winnable Premier League games, and mouth-watering clash with Barcelona in the Champions League bridging what became the Carling Cup final.

A thrilling win against Barcelona comes first, before they are dragged back down to earth by the turning point in The Gunners season.
Arsenal 1 – 0 Stoke City.
A nervous win against a gritty Potters side, but the tackling of Pulis’s men enrages Arsène Wenger. Winger Theo Walcott, and Captain Cesc Fabregas suffer injuries as a result of strong tackles and are added to the 4 long injury list ahead of the Carling Cup final.

Arsenal 1 – 2 Birmingham City. Carling Cup Final, Feb 27th 2011.

Birmingham players celebrate their winner.

Calamity. Disaster. Embarrassing. The victors went on to be relegated. This was the first showing of cracks in Arsène Wenger’s new 4-2-3-1 formation, as the structure of that team was based around the creativity of the injured Cesc Fabregas, the team went to Wembley and played without a spark. He should have played 4-4-2. This formation is a central-theme to Arsenal’s current demise.

From that game, Arsenal went from worse to worse. Cheated out of the Champions League 3 days later. From 4 trophies to 2 trophies in no time. 2 weeks later, FA Cup quarter-final; Arsenal, and I, travel to Old Trafford to see Sir Alex play 7 defenders against the best strength Arsenal side available. And Manchester United run out 2-0 winners.

This run grew to 2 wins in 17 games. Which brings me to this season.

We’re finally in season 2011/2012. Things have only gotten worse. 9 players, 7 first team all feature in what can only be described as a mass exodus over the summer. Arsenal sign 1 player of stature during before August. They lose their own pre-season tournament to the New York Red Bulls, and enter the first game of the Premier League season with a significantly weakened and demoralised team.
1-1 draw against Newcastle (Gervinho s/o). 

From then, Arsenal games went like so;

Udinese (h) 1-0 win. (Pat Rice Manager – Wenger banned).
Liverpool (h) 0-2 loss. (Frimpong s/o).
Udinese (a) 1-2 win. (Szczesny saves penalty – huge moment).
Manchester Utd (a) 8-2 loss. (one of the biggest defeats in AFC history – Jenkinson s/o)

Post the 8-2 demolition at Old Trafford, Wenger finally enters the transfer window with 5 days remaining – building more pressure on himself with “panic buy” allegations.

To highlight Wenger’s big mistake number 2: A quick list of comparison is needed; Transfer dealings, 2011.

Sir Alex Ferguson; Evaluates his team, highlights positions which need strengthening, highlights and dispenses ‘dead-weight’ in the side. Recalls young players from their loan spells at other clubs. Purchases, at all costs, the players he believes will strengthen his side. Allows them to gel over pre-season USA tour, returning to win the Community Shield, and score 18 goals in first 4 league games. Clicked.

Arsène Wenger; Evaluates his team, promises fans he won’t sell big players unless it’s for a fair offer. Loses Clichy, Eboue. Next, Cesc Fabregas leaves for half his value (£28m), then Barcelona slap a 200M euro buy out clause on him. Slap in the face. Arsène Wenger then highlights Blackburn’s Phil Jones as a target, but only offers £8 million for him. Sir Alex Ferguson then realises Arsène has just essentially scouted a talented player, and buys him for double that. Ashley Young, a massive Arsenal fan, let’s Arsenal know his availability via his agent, and is willing to take a wage-cut to join his boyhood heroes. Arsenal spend 12M signing Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, 18 years old. Manchester United sign Ashley Young (who scores twice in the 8-2 mauling). Wenger offers £16M for Juan Mata, Valencia reject the low offer, Chelsea pick him up for £22m – He’s scoring for fun now. Penny pinching has lost Arsenal 3 players, now. Nasri leaves for Manchester City. Wenger buys 4 players in last 3 days. The season has already started poorly, now the side find themselves trying to gel, whilst picking themselves up from humiliating defeats and looking up at the 3 promoted teams above them in the table.

The comparison to Manchester United is the most fair. Given they operate financially in the same league as The Gunners, they should be the main compeition. Their structure is the most similar when it comes to raising capital for expenditure.

This one is a long one isn’t it?

Meanwhile, to thank Arsenal fans for their continued support. Arsenal FC up their – already highest in the UK, 2nd highest in Europe – ticket prices by 6%. 1% for every year the Arsenal fans have had nothing to shout about. Average ticket price is now around £55. Not to mention the now inflated price of travelling around the City of London. Fans are growing impatient.

Arsène Wenger continues with the 4-2-3-1 formation, yes, the one built around Cesc Fabregas, remember? Who’s currently one-thousand miles away in sunny Spain. But place new-boy Mikel Arteta in his role, though sometimes Aaron Ramsey, sometimes Benayoun, but what about when Wilshere’s back? No-one really knows. They face their next 2 games;

Swansea (h) 1-0. win. (Edgy affair, a very lucky goal).
Dortmund (a) 1-1. (Pat Rice manager – Brilliant performance).

And continue the 4-2-3-1 into Ewood Park. The 2nd biggest humiliation of Arsenal’s season.
Blackburn (a) 4-3 loss. (Blackburn are no longer bottom of the table)

Following that, a minor rebuff of 3 wins;
Shrewbury (h) 3-1. win. (Carling Cup – Youth Team out).
Bolton (h) 3-0. win. (Poor first half, red card for BW. Game changed).
Olympiakos (h) 2-1 win. (Pat Rice manager).

Wenger and Redknapp exchange words.

Before the biggest test of Arsenal ‘new beginning’;
Tottenham (a) 2-1 loss. (Arsenal now 5 points + 1 game behind Spurs).

Wenger’s policy of buying youth is simply not working if he cannot retain them, so many fans argue this point. Even Wenger himself was quoted saying;

“We do not buy superstars, we make them.”

Where are they now?

Samir Nasri, 24 – Manchester City.
Cesc Fabregas, 24 – Barcelona.
Emmanuel Adebayor, 27 – Tottenham (of all places!!).
Mathieu Flamini, 27 – AC Milan.
Eduardo Silva, 28 – Shaktar Donetsk.
Jose Antonio Reyes, 28 – Athletico Madrid.
Gael Clichy, 26 – Manchester City.
Emmanuel Eboue, 28 – Galatasary.
Ashley Cole, 30 – Chelsea.
Alexander Hleb, 30 – Barca (loan Wolfsberg)

That’s only a few!

Arsenal are putting up with their ‘developing’ years, all the mistakes etc, but are not getting the rewards of the finished article, other sides are. Essentially just realising an army of ex-players with a point to prove who ear-mark netting against them; Bentley, Pennant, etc.

Furthermore, and an extension of the point of buying youth; Arsenal, in this season, are now finding themselves missing Jack Wilshere, who’s just 19. Granted he’s a talented 19 year old but how are: Szczesny/Ramsey/Walcott/Wilshere/Gibbs being viewed as senior players? In what world is that fair on them? Not to mention giving youth like Coquelin premier league debuts at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane. If you go into a match without experience in your side, or the right balance of experience with youth, then of course you are going to lose.

Wenger, shadowed by the Arsenal faithful.

Following that, there’s Van Persie’s constant quotes saying he is not an ‘out-and-out striker’ and that he prefers to play with a more rounded forward, not alone up front. Yet Wenger continues to play the 4-2-3-1 formation which is currently suiting no-one.

He had to buy someone like Karim Benzema in July. If he had, Nasri would have stayed. I’m 100% sure of that. He could have switched to 4-4-2. And players like Frimpong/AO-C/Gibbs would be out on loan, perfecting their game. Not learning their game through mistakes.

In life, and in sport, if it’s not working, revert to the last system which did. 4-4-2. (coincidentally, with a Dutch trickster, and a Frenchman up front). Arsenal are the 3rd biggest economy in football, one of the highest revenues, yet this summer Arsenal made more money from sales of players, than they spent on players. Which means the ‘transfer kitty’ he originally had available was not touched.

Tottenham have had the better of it recently, I’ll admit that. They kept their best player, and why? ’cause he was under contract. If Ivan Gazidis had half the qualities Daniel Levy possesses then Cesc Fabregas would still be wearing the armband, or we’d have gotten double from a club who one week announced they had no money, then landed Alexis Sanchez for 31.5M euros. Arsenal were taken for a ride. Now Spurs have just fired us out of reach of a European spot most fans are taking for granted. How did that work out for Liverpool?

Brian Clough, the legend that he is, had a fantastic spell with Nottingham Forest, but ultimately, his legacy was the reason he was not dismissed following his poor run of results in 1993. I’m not suggesting for a second that Arsenal will be relegated. But currently this team will be lucky to finish 10th. And that hurts to write.

My final points, and it will be the response to the first 2 questions of every one of your lips/fingertips;

“Yes, it’s right for the team, but perhaps wrong for the club.  Arsenal could lose a few players who see him as a father figure; Song, Diaby, RVP etc. but unless he realises 4-2-3-1 doesn’t work, he has until January for Arsenal to be at least 5th. Unfortunately, it’s all uphill, he’s lost the media, which is piling the pressure on them. Players don’t like that.”

And then the second question;

“Jurgen Klopp” 

Lastly, have any of you ever seen the film; ‘Lucky Number Slevin’? There’s a good quote by ‘The Rabbi’ which to me sums up Arsène Wenger;

I’ll let you decipher from that what you will.

Over and out.