Highbury Library Logo

Highbury Library Logo

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Don't moan about Man City and Chelsea when we don't spend what we have

Arsenal have millions of these available for transfer fees

We've all complained bitterly over the years about the way Chelsea and Manchester City have been able to buy their way in to the big time without the need to build their club up. It's a phenomenon that really started with Jack Walker at Blackburn, though the money these days makes him look nothing more than a provincial mill owner (which is pretty much what he was). If there is a difference in principle it is that Jack Walker was using his personal fortune to fund his personal dream of seeing the club he had always supported win the Title. With City and Chelsea it is nothing quite so romantic.
The criticism of those two oil funded football teams is well placed. What has happened to football since the arrival of Abramovich has changed the game even more than the introduction of TV money did. Aside from the comfort from which most now watch the game none of these things have been for the better. In order to try to keep up with the financial power houses many supporters have been priced out. This has been fine for the traditionally big Premier League sides as a new audience has taken root in the stadiums (at least until the last five minutes of the game when they all want to get away for the early train back to the suburbs). The likes of Leeds have been destroyed by publicity seekers like Peter Ridsdale who chased success with money that didn't exist. The FA have failed the game in every way possible since 1992 by allowing the law of greed to run things above all that was good about football. Money talks, and so it is that certain shady characters are involved with some of what are, now, the biggest clubs (financially) in the World game.
At the other end of all this is Arsenal Football Club. No benefactor has ever been welcomed aboard, despite virtually 30% of the Club being owned by a man whose wealth leaves Roman Abramovich in the poor house by comparison. The Arsenal Board decided a long time ago that they would make their own way in football. They built their stadium by raising their own financial agreements and these are being paid back in a fashion that has been both manageable and sensible. Arsenal simply refuse to live above their means. Some poor commercial deals were struck in order to bring in immediate cash to assist the stadium project, but a continued place in the publicity rich Champions League has allowed them to sign lucrative sponsorship agreements with Emirates and Puma of late (though the stadium naming rights have effectively been handed over for a nominal sum). As a result Arsenal are now in a position to pay big money for players. Mesut Ozil's signature, at £40m+, was way beyond what any of us ever thought we'd see handed over for a player by Arsenal. That the huge transfer fee was paid through Arsenal's own endeavours is to their immense credit. However, there is still a lot more money available.
I write this on the eve of the last day of the January transfer window. Manchester City have just gone top again. Chelsea are right behind us. If somebody had said to you after we lost to Villa on the opening day that we'd be right up there challenging at this point you'd have bitten their entire arm off for the chance. And that's what we have here - a real chance. I wrote in my pre-season preview that there might be an opportunity for an Arsenal or a Liverpool to get in the fight this season with City, Chelsea and Man Utd all having new bosses in charge. So it has proven. However, with injuries mounting to key players (you can't legislate for losing two goal scoring players like Walcott and Ramsey long-term, but you can replace them) and a clear lack of depth at centre-forward that chance is on the verge of evaporating in what looks a ridiculous run of fixtures in February and March. To put it bluntly we lack depth at a time when we are about to be stretched.
I keep hearing pundits write Arsenal off as "City and Chelsea have a stronger squad". So they should have with the billions that have been spent between them. Even with the Ozil signing we are still only just in deficit on transfers in the years since (and immediately before) we left Highbury. Frankly Man City and Chelsea should be out of sight of everyone else in the Premier League. The problem I have is that, with 24 hours to go of this window, we have millions of pounds in the bank just waiting to be spent on reinforcements. Don't tell me that you can't buy quality in January because that's nonsense. You can buy almost whoever you want if you stump up the cash. I don't know if Wenger was really trying to sign Julian Draxler, but if he was then he should have simply paid the money to get him. I don't know if Draxler is what we need (I don't know enough about him) but if Wenger thought he is what Arsenal require than he should have gone and got him. We definitely need a striker. On deadline day at the start of the season we tried to sign Demba Ba. We're no better off now in the forward department (significantly worse given that Theo is out for the season) and yet not a lot seems to be going on. Maybe a loan player will come in tomorrow, but why not spend a few quid and get a player like Benteke (I use him merely as an example) who might just get ten or twelve goals in a team like Arsenal between now and May? If he did then you'd get close to the Title.
Laying down the facts we can all moan about City and Chelsea and the money they've spent. However, when you don't spend everything that you have available your argument dies a little. If Arsene Wenger went out tomorrow and spent good money on a couple of quality players, but we still missed out on the Title to City or Chelsea (or anyone else) I would be able to accept that. Arsenal would have done everything in their power to make the most of the opportunity that has been created in the first half of the season, but the opposition would have been better than us. To fail having not spent what you have in order to give yourself the best chance possible would be negligence on a near criminal level. Just imagine how painful it might be should we miss out by a few points come May having not taken the chance to reinforce in January. It was a mistake that was made in 2008. If it gets repeated (and it looks increasingly as though it might be) then that is unforgivable.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Who cost £40m?

Most entertaining part of Friday night

I was able to enjoy the Coventry game in the company of my eldest son due to the absence of my Dad who has had a knee replacement this week. Despite the seriousness of the operation he is still expected back at Arsenal before Abou Diaby makes his return. In fairness I think the second coming of the Messaiah is expected before Abou Diaby’s return. As it was, my boy predicted a 4-0 Arsenal win on the night and we got on that at 6-1 which provided me with some happiness when Mesut Ozil summed up yet another insipid display with an awful last minute miss.
As you may have guessed from that paragraph of rambling, metaphor and moaning I didn’t much enjoy a game in which nothing much happened for large periods. It was too easy for our players but I could have done without their making it so obvious to everyone with yet another awful second-half stroll. It would have served them right had the disinterested messing about cost Arsenal a goal at some point after half-time. Certainly Coventry ended up deserving a goal for their willingness to have a go at an Arsenal team so relaxed that I think some went for a lie down on occasion. Certainly Gibbs, Jenkinson and Oxlade-Chamberlain seemed determined to create opportunities for our inferior opponent, each of them feeling the sharp end of the BFG’s tongue at one time or another.
Nicklas Bendtner got a start up front and got his usual shellacking from the muppets in the crowd. These are people who cheered a pitch invasion from some fat p***k from the away end at a time when we were going through on goal, thus preventing a goal scoring opportunity for Arsenal. Who are these idiots and why do they turn up? Regular readers here will know I often feel sorry for Bendtner, and so it is again. When he played against Chelsea in the League Cup he was hammered for not doing enough to get in the game. Last night he was doing all he could to get involved and, though I’m clearly in the minority, I thought he did well on the ball for the most part. Obviously people have focussed on his air-kicks, but that’s perhaps what happens when you’re trying to do your best, but trying just a bit too hard. Bendtner’s running last night meant he was absent from where he needed to be when good balls came in to the box (which happened quite a lot on the night), but I feel that the lad can’t win. If he stays in the middle and doesn’t get involved he gets dogs for not trying. Work hard and he gets it for not scoring.
Personally I would rather not focus on a player who we all know isn’t really good enough, and hasn’t been for a long time. I would far rather point our the fact that we have a £40m superstar who has done nothing in games for weeks on end. Last night Ozil managed to be just about anonymous against a side from the third division. I’m sick of reading stuff from people who want to talk about his “style” and how this seems to excuse him from not putting in any effort and not playing with any desire whatsoever. I am fed up with it. These were no doubt the same people who used to tell us that Arshavin wasn’t lazy and that he was being badly used by the Manager. The fact is that we paid an incredible amount of money for a player who looks scared of his own shadow 90% of the time. We all know how good he is, and that’s what makes it so damn annoying (just as it did with Arshavin). A £40m transfer fee seems to make a player undroppable. Perhaps a kick up the backside might do Mesut Ozil a bit of  good.

Here is a link to the last piece I wrote, a week ago, on why Santi Cazorla should come in for Mesut Ozil. For some reason it never made it on to NewsNow.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Time for Santi to replace Ozil

Cazorla is of more use than Ozil at the moment

The game yesterday was going nowhere from an Arsenal point of view until Santi Cazorla took it upon himself to influence the play from the centre. He was eventually moved in to the middle properly when Lukas Podolski came on, with Ozil shifted out wide before finally being hauled off. Such is Ozil's current unwillingness to take any responsibility that he simply must be shifted in order that we can get the best from Cazorla.
I imagine that Mesut Ozil's passing stats from yesterday show a remarkable completion rate. But when you're not trying to do anything even remotely creative or dangerous with the ball then it's easy to generate good stats. I found it increasingly frustrating yesterday that Ozil would get on the ball and look up with a chance to run at a defender or to produce the bit of magic that might unlock a defence, only to then pass the ball out wide to Bacary Sagna. Here we have one of the most highly rated, most creative footballers in the World, yet he wants to pass the ball to his full-back rather than make something happen. Serge Gnabry and Cazorla both took it upon themselves at times to run at a defender and maybe get a shot away (even if it went wide it was at least something different and showed genuine intent). Even Lukas Podolski went at people when he came on (though I've an observation on him below).
I've speculated all season that Santi Cazorla won't be here come August. The presence of Ozil has seen him moved out on to the wing where he has been less than effective. Last season Cazorla was Arsenal's main man, playing behind the centre-forward. He seemed to come to life yesterday when getting himself central. Perhaps he was trying to send a message to the Manager. I don't know if Ozil is struggling to come to terms with the pace and physicality of the Premier League, but his performances right now do not warrant his position as the dominant presence in the team. Cazorla must be moved back in to the middle. It would be a big call for Wenger to shift Ozil from where he wants to play, but it might just be in the best interests of our Title challenge. We certainly can't afford passengers if we're trying to win the Premier League. A £40m price tag brings with it certain expectations. At the moment Ozil is summarily failing to live up to them.
It said a lot about our performance yesterday that I thought Koscielny was the best player on the pitch. He made some tremendous interceptions, nipping in ahead of his man on numerous occasions. In the early part of the second-half it was this sort of play around the halfway line that ensured Fulham couldn't really get any respite as Arsenal kept the ball up there in attack. He should have had himself a goal after Sagna (also impressive) saw one scrambled off the line, but that didn't detract from a dominant display by Koscielny. Mathieu Flamini was also very impressive yesterday, right up until the final minute when he finally lost his positional discipline which allowed the space for Fulham to create a clear chance for Darren Bent. Such lapses will be punished by better quality opponents.
Lukas Podolski came on and looked really up for it. For a whole ten minutes. He got on the ball and ran at people. He looked to create and he looked to shoot. There was one trademark pile-driver that saw a magnificent save from Stekelenburg deny him a goal. But then he stopped. We were going forward at one stage and Podolski was bent over on halfway, hands on knees, looking like he'd just played ninety minutes plus extra-time. I don't know whether he'd got a knock or something but he hardly touched the ball after that. Surely he isn't so unfit that ten minutes of real effort knackered him completely? Arsene Wenger has made veiled comments recently regarding Podolski and, perhaps, a lack of fitness. For all that he is a top quality player, maybe the German lacks a bit in the hard work stakes (or maybe just likes steaks). It's one to keep an eye on. If he did have a knock then I suppose we'll know when the Coventry game comes around on Friday.
For all that we didn't play especially well at times yesterday we did get another 2-0 win. We are still top of the Premier League despite the billion pound Manchester juggernaut scoring four thousand goals already this season (it certainly felt that way on Match Of The Day last night where they showed FIVE slow motion replays of each City goal). It's another game ticked off. We won't win every match, but then neither will Man City or Chelsea. How will City react when they finally lose a game at home? I keep hearing the word "unstoppable" when the media refers to City, but I remember well how an "unstoppable" Arsenal reacted to losing games a few years ago - it wasn't pretty for a few weeks and too many points were dropped. The fact is that after 22 matches Arsenal are top of the table. Sixteen to go. 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Why does the media run FA disciplinary issues?

Davo - the first of many Arsenal victims

Back in 1988 Paul Davis received a nine match ban for breaking Glenn Cockerill’s jaw with a punch. To this day it is a mystery as to the real reason why the normally placid Davo should choose to take out the Southampton player like he did. All of this occurred while David Rocastle was lying injured and none of the officials saw the incident. Unluckily for Davis the incident was captured by an ITV camera (probably the only camera in the ground in those days). That evening Davis’ punch was featured on the ITN news. The media storm that ensued saw the FA take action on the strength of the video. Such action was unheard of. Since that time numerous players have been sanctioned on the strength of video replays. Or have they? Certainly a number of Arsenal players have suffered, with Tony Adams done for giving the QPR fans a v-sign after a day of abuse,  Ian Wright being “caught” flicking the v-sign at Oldham Athletic in the face of what he believed was racial abuse, Patrick Vieira getting extra matches for spitting at Neil Ruddock and Jack Wilshere just a month ago for giving the finger at Man City. These are just the ones that immediately come to mind where Arsenal players have been suspended on the strength of video evidence.
Obviously I haven’t studied (or even researched) other instances where players from different clubs were suspended by the FA having been caught misbehaving in some way by TV cameras. But I can honestly say that not a lot comes to mind in any case. Off the top of my head I can think of John Fashanu’s elbow on Gary Mabbutt, Ben Thathcher’s forearm smash when playing for Man City and Luis Suarez biting Ivanovic last season. Each of those incidents was followed by a major media campaign highlighting what happened and calling for action.
I can recall numerous occasions where the FA have shied away from taking action on the grounds that the match officials claimed to have seen an incident which, quite frankly, has always been a weak argument. I know I’m biased, but it seems that Arsenal have had a bit of a raw deal when it comes to TV replays and players being punished. This is largely due to the fact that the media so obviously hate us. So where am I going with this?
In the last two games, against Spurs and Aston Villa, there have been incidents that surely were worthy of further investigation by the powers that be. The difference between these two incidents, and the ones I listed above concerning our players, is that there has not been a large media campaign to highlight what has gone on. I suspect that some of you reading this are even wondering what I’m referring to.
The first incident came late on in the FA Cup win over Tottenham. Nacho Monreal had just won a challenge down in the corner against Bentaleb and was still on the ground. Bentaleb stepped over Nacho and aimed a stamp towards the hand of our left-back. He missed Monreal (whether deliberately or not) and, because of that, he has been allowed to get away with it. I seem to remember Patrick Vieira being sent-off for something similar many years ago. The fact is that Bentaleb could very easily have done damage to Monreal. Let’s imagine, for a moment, what the media reaction might have been had it been Mathieu Flamini doing the same thing to Kyle Walker. Of course, Walker would have actually have had to be in position to make the tackle in the first place, but I’m sure you take my point.
The second incident, from the Villa game, was far worse. Tomas Rosicky has had to have surgery to repair two fractures in his nose after the blatant elbow by Gabriel Agbonlahor. I really don’t know what the idiot referee was up to (he had booked a Villa player in the first couple of minutes for a similar challenge on Wilshere – the card should have been red). He even then allowed play to go on despite taking a close look at Rosicky’s heavily bloodied face. The FA have ignored the elbow by Agbonlahor. The main reason for this, I am sure, is that Sky and the newspapers have also chosen to ignore it. This simply can’t be right. Why is it that the FA only ever reacts to a media storm? Why can’t they run discipline on the pitch in a consistent manner? It really isn’t on.
I don’t know if I’ll be in a position to preview the Fulham game at all. If not then I will be definitely writing a piece some time after  the game, either Saturday evening when I get home from the match or on Sunday morning.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Don't play like that again Arsenal


I took some stick from one or two people on Twitter last night for calling our second-half display "disgusting". I stick by what I said. For the first time since we played Villa on the opening day the Arsenal players decided it was all to easy. Villa were so bad that Arsenal forgot the need to kill off their opponent. You should never give a sucker an even break, yet the lethargy of too many after half-time last night allowed Villa to grab a goal they didn't deserve, and a chance to gain a point that could have been catastrophic to our Title challenge. It was a real return to the poor attitude that was displayed all too often over the previous couple of years. The minute you decide the opponent is so beneath you that merely going through the motions is enough then you are in trouble.
Despite Villa's lack of genuine threat you could see their goal coming. Too many passes were being played carelessly. Too many shots were being allowed on Szczesny's goal, albeit not altogether threatening. What it was leading to was a growing sense in the home side that they could get in to the game. It was inevitable that they would eventually get their goal from one of those careless passes I mentioned. I felt in the first-half that Cazorla might as well go and sit in the stands for all the good he doing on the pitch. I was very pleased to see Tomas Rosicky coming on, but I couldn't quite understand why Serge Gnabry was the one being given the hook. The only good thing to come out of Villa's goal was the absolute roasting Cazorla got from Per Mertesacker for giving it away in the first place. Not for the first time the BFG showed he is a proper Captain of this side. He should surely be installed as the official skipper.
The first-half of the game obviously saw us get that two goal lead. I felt we started very well and Giroud should have scored from a free header early on - the improvement in Bacary Sagna's delivery from wide of late has been astounding. We got two good goals, with the first one being a tremendous move. Monreal's composure was impressive as he picked a proper pass to Wilshere, rather than just aimlessly playing the ball at the first defender. The second goal was a nice finish from Giroud after excellent play by Jack again. I would have liked to see us go for it more and finish the game off, but 2-0 at half-time was more than acceptable. As I said above it was the second-half that annoyed me.
Mesut Ozil was yet again on the sidelines of most of the action last night. However, he did provide a beautiful pass in behind for Monreal in the build-up to Wilshere's goal. All in all I thought he was better on the ball last night than he has been for a while, though he again passed up opportunities to run at defenders as he does for Germany and did for Madrid. Where he really came in to his own was when we were clinging on towards the end. On three or four occasions the ball was played in to Ozil and he held it brilliantly. He was willing to run in to the channels to receive those passes and one piece of skill saw him hold off two defenders before playing Oxlade-Chamberlain in to the corner. I was encouraged by his play in that final period.
What I don't want to see anymore from Arsenal is that bad attitude that we got after half-time. Finish teams off and you don't need to worry. What we can't have is situations where we're having to suddenly start working harder than necessary when the game should already be out of sight. This side has an opportunity to challenge for the main honour this season. They must not blow that chance by potentially throwing away goals and points against utter dross like Aston Villa.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

BT messing the paying fans about for no reason

It's all about the armchair

Let me start this piece by saying that, due to the scheduling of the Coventry City game, I can actually now attend it, rather than missing it due to work. That doesn't make the game being played on a Friday night any better, however. Having said that, from a personal viewpoint I would rather play Friday evenings than any other day apart from Saturday.
Of course I am in a minority in being in favour of Friday football over Sunday or, even worse, Monday night. What it means on this occasion is the chance of a damn good day out in London for a lot of families following Coventry City will be taken away. Similarly, being drawn against a League One side will probably see a number of casual fans decide they can't be bothered, leaving more tickets available (and at Category C prices they become very affordable) for Arsenal families as well. With the game being switched to Friday the kids will still be at school on the day of the game. If you're having to travel a long way to get to the game you can now forget about it. The only people who benefit from such TV disruption are the ones who never go. I fully understand that many fans can't afford to go to games and that Arsenal being live on TV helps them to see the boys, but it can't be right that the paying, match-going supporter is the one that is always being messed about.
If someone can tell me why Arsenal v Coventry City has been selected for live TV I would be interested to hear. The draw for round four is lacking in mouth-watering ties, and a shock would be great viewing obviously, but Arsenal are the home team making that less likely (in theory). If the game was away for Arsenal I could see the sense in it being on the box (though Coventry don't actually have a home themselves at the moment). I strongly suspect that the only reason Arsenal are on TV in this game is because they're the biggest viewer grabber still in the competition - the replacement for Manchester United, if you will.
Something I noticed last Saturday was how few matches kicked off in the third round at 3 o'clock. When Wigan beat Man City in the Cup Final last May I thought it gave the old competition a real shot in the arm. The late winner for the underdog captured the very essence of the FA Cup despite the TV companies and the FA doing their best to devalue it in every conceivable fashion. I had hoped that the reaction to Wigan's victory might show the FA that there is life in the old dog yet, and that the fans love the FA Cup. Sadly, things like Arsenal's fourth round tie being switched to Friday night show that the FA are completely disinterested in their own competition. In their defence, the actions of reasonably sized Premier League sides in fielding weakened selections in the last round is even worse for the competition. The fans of Aston Villa stayed away, and who can blame them after what Paul Lambert said last Friday?
I'll close on a positive, and I'm sure someone will come up with something to show I am wrong, but I only recall Arsenal losing once on a Friday in many a long year. We've actually played more Friday games than you'd think (the Invincible season saw three of the nineteen home matches played on a Friday - we won each of them). Most memorable of the Friday victories is the win at Anfield in 1989, of course, so perhaps it's not all bad. The only defeat I can recall on a Friday was in 1988, just before the League Cup Final, when we went down 0-1 to a Watford side about to be relegated on a night of foul weather at Highbury. If we can keep up our fine record on Friday's against a Coventry side who really ought to be swatted by any Arsenal team with the right attitude, then I suppose we won't be moaning too much. That doesn't make it right, however.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Massive blow after biggest high

The final act

This blog post (the first of this year thanks to work getting in the way of writing) was all set to be a celebration of the win over Tottenham. In the last twenty minutes Arsenal's announcement that Theo Walcott is out for the season has changed not only the content of this post, but also the mood of Arsenal supporters everywhere.
Theo has been making the difference, more often than not, in a lot of recent games. For all that he can still frustrate the hell out of you he is a much improved footballer from the one we were watching two years ago. The pace he has scares the opposition to the point that two men are often detailed to combat him. He may not get the credit (or, more importantly, the service) he should when playing for England but there is no doubting his importance to this Arsenal team. We have more capable and more skilful footballers than Theo, but we do not have anyone to compare to him in terms of speed. He has developed the knack of running in behind defenders and stretching them, never more in evidence than on Saturday when he utterly destroyed Dawson and Chiriches. Serge Gnabry is a prospect, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is already a top player. However, The Ox has not played since August and we still don't know when he's really likely to play again. Even when he does make his return there is no guarantee of him showing any kind of form.
It's so frustrating that we get these injuries. No other team gets the bad luck Arsenal do with senior and key players picking up long-term knocks. This is something that goes back years. Just think back to Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Lauren, Abou Diaby, Eduardo, Tomas Rosicky, Robin Van Persie, Aaron Ramsey, Bacary Sagna, Jack Wilshere, Thomas Vermaelen, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain...the list is seemingly endless in the last twelve years or so. On this occasion it feels particularly cruel. I think a lot of us were just beginning to genuinely believe we have a chance to do something this season. The win over Tottenham was so comfortable that you had to think the players had clicked. For them to then be dealt such a massive blow is huge. I feel absolutely gutted for Theo, gutted for Arsenal, and gutted for us fans.
I said early in the season that I thought Theo wouldn't go to the World Cup. He was out injured and the press were banging on about that muppet Townsend at Spurs. In recent weeks I felt certain Walcott was back as the number one choice to play on England's right-wing. You'd have to think now that his only World Cup will be the one where he was picked before he was anything like ready to be in the squad. I couldn't be more annoyed on his behalf. What exactly has Theo done to deserve such a terrible run of luck?
What it means for Arsenal is that Arsene Wenger must surely now have his hand forced in the transfer market. Giroud is on his way back, but he is genuinely on his own now. Lukas Podolski is not an option through the middle in the formation Arsenal play. Arsene's comments last week show that he doesn't even really count Ju-Young Park as part of his squad (despite naming him on the bench on Saturday). With Nicklas Bendtner out until February, and Theo gone for the season, we must make a signing. It can't be a stop-gap type of player now either. I would have been relatively happy with someone like Berbatov, but now it must be a top class centre-forward as the goals of Theo have to be replaced. We're not even sure how long Aaron Ramsey will be out for, so we are suddenly very short of people who put the ball in the net. If it means making another massive money signing so soon after Ozil then so be it - the chance to win the Premier League depends on it.
Get well soon Theo.