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Monday, 24 June 2013

Please give Tony a job at Arsenal & Higuain, Rooney, Fellaini etc - the FACTS

The Skipper

Just before I was nine years old Tony Adams replaced Kenny Sansom as Arsenal Captain. He would remain Skipper until I was twenty-three. In that time Arsenal had a pretty much unbroken spell of success, and a lot of it was down to the leadership of Tony Adams. It was a sad day when the injuries finally became too much for TA6 and he had to retire. Since then he has seemingly been on a constant path towards his destiny, and some kind of return to Arsenal.
I think 100% of Arsenal supporters have long since realised he wouldn't be a particularly good bet as a Manager, but as the number two he has some pedigree - he was Redknapp's assistant when Portsmouth won the FA Cup. I'm sure most Gooners would agree that Andrey Arshavin might have been somewhat more inclined to put in a shift had Tony been knocking about in the changing room. However, public appearances from Tony have left me with a feeling of indifference. He comes across as a man on the edge of some sort of breakdown all the time, and his deliberate attempts to portray himself as a thinking man when he does some punditry just make him look odd. His absence from the final day at Highbury was a notable one and gave rise to some rumours of a rift of some kind with Arsene Wenger (I don't really believe those rumours, and his employment with Portsmouth may well have been preventing him from being at Arsenal on that special day).
Yesterday I woke to stories of Adams claiming he should be on the Arsenal Board, and he had written to Peter Hill-Wood offering himself to Arsenal in any capacity they saw fit. I do think Arsene Wenger has kept Tony at arms length from Arsenal, and such pronouncements perhaps give an indication as to why. Tony may well be a bit of a loose cannon for Arsene to have to deal with. It seems like he is desperate to be involved at HIS Club, but for whatever reason he can't find an "in" at Arsenal.
In my view Tony Adams should be doing something at Arsenal. Sadly, his overall character, and the way he comes across, limits the roles he could carry out. Having claimed he should be on the Board, he has now followed it up by advising Wayne Rooney against moving to Arsenal - what kind of director would he make when advising World Class talent to avoid us? Similarly he would be unable to fill the role that Bobby Charlton and Bryan Robson have at Manchester United, or Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush at Liverpool. However, for his own sanity, and to keep him from making any more embarrassing public statements, I want Adams to be found a job at the Club. Tony did enough for Arsenal in his twenty years as a player to justify a job now that he appears to be a little bit desperate.
The silly season really is getting beyond unbearable. Every day some website or newspaper gives a conflicting "report" on the latest on such and such a player and their potential transfer. This past week Gonzalo Higuain has been everything from a signed and sealed Arsenal player to being on the verge of joining Juventus, depending on which website you look at. Three weeks ago Arsenal had "triggered the release clause" of Marouane Fellaini, according to the Daily Mirror. Just three days later the same journalist reported that Arsene was getting cold feet over Fellaini as he felt he was over-priced. Of course, nothing has happened with Fellaini. Nothing of note seems to have happened with Higuain either, though that is a deal I can see happening. Among other players "linked heavily" is Wayne Rooney. The thing is that the sites and news companies "linking" these players (among myriad others) know no more than you or I when it comes to who Arsenal may or may not be in for. These sites are in the business of getting as many clicks on their pages as possible, thus satisfying their advertisers, so they make up sensationalist rubbish to draw in idiots. A number of Arsenal blogs do the same by way of cleverly ambiguous headlines, specifically designed to get you clicking on them to find out if they are "in the know" over the latest on Cesc Fabregas moving back to Arsenal, or some such other nonsense. I fully expect this post to go big on NewsNow simply because of the headline I've it.
Regular readers will know my policy here on the "gossip" of transfers. I won't indulge in it as almost all of it is made up. I'd rather deal in the facts. And where Arsenal transfers are concerned there is simply one fact - only Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis genuinely know who we are interested in and bidding for, right up to the point that a bid is accepted. So stop reading these spurious websites and tabloid newspapers. Get out there and enjoy the break from the stress that the season will bring you. When someone is signed we'll hear about it soon enough (though Arsenal have become annoyingly particular about such announcements). In the meantime, let's watch the cricket or something.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Rollercoaster primed

So the fixtures are out (sort of). Of course we now have to wait until Sky and BT have had their say on how we spend our weekends this Autumn, but we at least have a vague idea of what we have to contend with and when.
Last night Red Action were trumpeting their “source” with the reliable news that we would play host to Southampton on the first day of the season. In fairness, they’ve been correct on this for the last couple of years, but I couldn’t have been more amused to find that they had it completely wrong. A home game with Aston Villa is what we actually have to look forward to on day (or weekend) one. I would have thought it unlikely that we’ll be a TV game unless we do spend some of the many millions on a big name or three between now and the TV announcement in July.
The away fans will be delighted to be going to Fulham in August which should make the annual boat trip down the Thames more popular than ever. That gives us two extremely winnable matches to open up with. And then come the swamp dwellers for their annual ransacking of the away end toilets. We played them early on in both Title winning seasons under George Graham so maybe there’s a small omen for success in there.
November, traditionally a bad month under Arsene Wenger (though not so much in recent times) sees consecutive games against Liverpool and Manchester United, with a Champions League tie in between. I would say that, apart from the qualifier we have to get through in the European Cup, that week is the first genuine test of our credentials – assuming we’ve got off to a good start, that is.
I’m very happy that Boxing Day provides an away game at West Ham. I don’t like Boxing Day football and no longer go to any home match played that day. The added bonus of it being at West Ham means it may well be televised, so everyone’s a winner. Before that we have Chelsea and Manchester City in our two games preceding Christmas, so let’s hope the man in the red suit has on the “nice” list this year.
The run-in to our season is not too bad. Everton away in early April is our toughest match, on paper, at the sharp end of the year. However, I am disappointed to note that we finish the campaign away from home yet again. The clamour for tickets at Norwich on the final day could be massive if we’re going to the wire for the Title. Right now I’d take that particular scenario.
I haven’t looked too much at the fixtures of the other sides, though I notice that Man Utd play Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City in their first five games. By the time they get to October Mr Moyes could be under some intense pressure should results not be particularly positive. On the other hand, if United get to the last eight games of the season anywhere close to the top then you can pretty much engrave their name on the trophy again, such is the lack of dangerous opposition they are due to face.
Maybe it’s a little early to get too excited about the new season, but this is certainly the start of the good stuff. Today is the beginning of the countdown to 2013-2014 and a brief look at the BBC website will show you Arsenal are in their rightful place at the top of the re-set Premier League table. Now for some signings. I hope.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Actions speak louder than words

Last minute sales push?
Ivan Gazidis busied himself yesterday with the press in order to tell all (or not very much, actually) about Arsenal's new found riches. We are about to re-join the big boys financially as the stadium debt is managed down still further. Arsenal have the money to spend £25m and £200k+ per week on any player the Manager wishes to, though he won't talk about individuals. Some wonderful soundbites to get the Gooners all a quiver as the transfer window opens wider. Except that soundbites is all they are right now. Coming just twenty-four hours before membership renewals close for next season the timing seems rather suspicious, does it not? And haven't we heard it all before anyway? I'd have been far more excited had Ivan invited favoured members of the press pack to Arsenal and shocked them by rolling out a major signing, as we did with Sol Campbell in 2001. All the time we are hearing the talk, but not seeing anything to show for it, I remain sceptical of anything Gazidis says in public.
Ivan is a very fine speaker and would make a good politician, such is his ability to spin and say the right things at the right time. Many continue to fall in to the trap he is setting by getting all excited and bandying around their fantasy football names for who we will bring in. Until such time as a World Class player is signed for big money I'll continue to ignore what Gazidis is coming out with.
There is a school of thought that things feel different this year, and I do feel that to a certain extent. Yes, we've heard year after year that the Manager has money to spend if he wants it, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. If Ivan's comments about new found riches are true then we know that Arsenal have been dishonest with the fans since we left Highbury. Personally, I would have far rather had the honesty that we were broke all along than be told we had the ability to sign players but chose not to. I'm sure patience with Arsene Wenger would have been greater from many fans had we been told the truth all along. Instead we were told that he was the man choosing to do the job with one hand tied behind his back. Now I don't really know who or what to believe. Again, only signings will prove we are serious this time.
In the absence of a major signing I have to believe that yesterday's very well timed statements were nothing more than a cynical attempt to get those in two minds to renew their Arsenal memberships. If people are that naïve then they should be prepared to be let down again. I renewed mine last week as the purchasing of top names is not a pre-requisite of my continued support, though I can't deny I'm all in favour of competing off the pitch in order that we can compete on it.
To add to my feeling of cynicism there were two very well placed stories breaking last night to get people sitting up and taking notice. The first involved a report on Sky Sports News that Arsenal were to announce a "record" deal imminently. It was a vague headline that probably has more to do with sponsorship deals (specifically Puma) than it does with a signing. The second was a Daily Telegraph report that Arsenal had "triggered the release clause" for Marouane Fellaini at Everton. People were seriously getting out of their prams at the prospect last night, and I would be delighted to see him at Arsenal (though I don't know how many games he would actually complete once referees saw him wearing an Arsenal shirt). If I could just temper that excitement briefly I would point to the seemingly reliable and respectable Telegraph being the same paper that reported Mark Hughes was giving a new contract to Jermaine Pennant, just a couple of hours before Stoke announced he was being released yesterday.
Nothing to see here? Who knows, but I am a cynical human being who won't believe it until I see it. Enough words. Let's see some signings.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

How Bayern Munich proved Wenger was right the first time

The bench mark

While we wait with baited breath for Arsene Wenger to spend that mountain of cash he's sitting on I have to find things to write about for this site. In a year where there's a major championship that's not too difficult. In a year where there is no Summer tournament it becomes a little less easy. However, I do have some things lined up to fill the gaps that lie ahead and I hope that Arsene does the rest by brining in some quality. He's certainly started on the right foot by bombing out some of the dead wood, and freeing up a massive chunk of money that was being wasted on their wages. What you won't get on this site is any comment on the "gossip" surrounding transfers. If a signing is announced, or looks like a stick-on deal, then I'll write about it. Otherwise, there will be nothing to say on here, as is the policy.

On with the business of the day and I want to share a piece I mentioned at the beginning of last week with regards to Bayern Munich and what their winning of the European Cup and, more particularly, their thrashing of Barcelona tells us about Arsene Wenger's methods.
When Arsene arrived at Arsenal he had already secured the signing of Patrick Vieira. At well over six-feet tall Vieira was quite the sight in an English midfield. He was joined by Emmanuel Petit, and later by Gilberto Silva and Edu. Out wide there was pace in the shape of Overmars and Parlour, and later with Pires and Ljungberg and Sylvain Wiltord (Parlour's qualities allowed him to move all across the midfield and slot in anywhere with comfort). In short, Wenger had identified that pace and power in the middle of the pitch was the way to dominate English football. These physical specimens in the centre were simply too strong, too quick, too skillful and too powerful for just about every other team to handle. The performance of Petit and Vieira at Old Trafford in March 1998 was a seminal moment in the English game as Arsenal showed themselves to be the side that could beat Manchester United in every department. The two Frenchmen were an unstoppable force over the next couple of years. Added to this physicality was the searing pace of Overmars and co and, with the exception of Parlour (who only chipped in occasionally) the ability to score lots of goals from wide. Behind this midfield was a trio of inter-changeable centre-backs in Adams, Keown and Bould. They were flanked by the two defensively brilliant full-backs, Dixon and Winterburn. The fact that both men were also more than capable to supplementing the attacking play of this team was a huge bonus. Put together with the World Class goalkeeper in David Seaman the side had a solid base. Within a few years the defence had changed and Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Ashley Cole and Lauren provided the same qualities at the back, with another great goalkeeper in Jens Lehmann replacing Seaman. Throughout these halcyon days there was the genius of Dennis Bergkamp to link midfield with whichever prolific centre-forward Wenger was employing. Between 1997 and 2005 (Wenger's golden era) we always had someone scoring goals for fun, whether it was Ian Wright (for half of 97-98), Nicolas Anelka or Thierry Henry, Bergkamp had a man up front who could benefit from his peerless quality. In short, Arsene Wenger had found the blueprint for success in this country. For some reason he couldn't turn it in to European success. And then came Barcelona.
The great Barcelona team of the last seven years was built differently from Wenger's great Arsenal sides. There was an emphasis on small, quick, technical players. They beat Arsenal, of course, in the European Cup Final. By that time Arsene had already begun to change things. Out had gone the likes of Vieira and Edu and Parlour and Lauren and Wiltord. Pires, Campbell and Cole were also on their way out. In their places had come Fabregas, Hleb, Eboue, Flamini and Clichy. Soon arriving would be Rosicky and Nasri, while the likes of Gilberto were to become marginalised. It was often termed "project youth" by Arsenal fans as that seemed to be what Wenger was going with. In hindsight it should have been "project Barcelona" as that was what he was trying to emulate. The difference was that they had Xavi and Iniesta and Ronaldinho (and later Messi). We had Nasri, Flamini and Hleb. We also abandoned having a World Class goalkeeper and the centre-backs gradually got worse and worse. In terms of the copying of Barcelona that was fine, as they have never had a defence or goalkeeper worthy of the name. Thierry Henry would leave the following year, so Barca had him and Samuel Eto'o to play up front. We had Emmanuel Adebayor who thought he was in that sort of company but really never was. Arsene's midfield midgets couldn't win in England, never mind in Europe.
So we come to this year, and it seems that Bayern Munich have re-written the blueprint for success once again. But how have they done it? Well, if you look at their side it has more than a look of Wenger's great teams about it. They have the best goalkeeper in the World in Manuel Neuer. They have attacking full-backs in Lahm and Alaba who can spring forward at any time to create from wide, but who know that their main job is to defend. Lahm's performance at our place this season was a case in point. For an hour he was the outlet, but when Oxalde-Chamberlain came on down Arsenal's left he sat at right-back and snuffed out the threat. Their only weakness at Bayern is centre-half where Dante and Jerome Boateng are no Tony Adams or Sol Campbell. In midfield they have Bastian Schweinsteiger, the best central midfield player in the World, for me. Out wide they have the pace and goalscoring of Ribery and Robben. At times that pair can be unstoppable, if only Robben would learn to pass the ball. Up front they have had Mario Gomez (who is about to move on, apparently) and/or Mario Mandzukic and Claudio Pizarro. With Thomas Muller playing the Bergkamp role (not in the same class, mind you) they have basically taken the Wenger model and won everything. Bayern play the same fast, physical, skillful attacking game that Wenger's great teams did, rather than the slow possession game of Barcelona and the modern Arsenal side. With Javi Martinez and/or Anatoliy Tymoschuk in midfield they also have their Petit/Edu/Gilberto type who will defend and mix it with the opposition as necessary.
If only Arsene had kept doing what he was doing we might have had a better time since 2005. I hope he can see what has happened and realises that he must go back to his original plan to be successful again. The power of Bayern was too much for the art of Barcelona. I know what I prefer to watch, and it is the Wenger side of ten years ago, rather than the one of now.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A single pass shows the class of Oxlade-Chamberlain

A bit of class

In spite of my indifference towards the sideshow that is international football I have watched both the England matches this past week. I actually attended the Ireland game at Wembley and, much to my own surprise, I quite enjoyed the contest. The press quickly picked on the match and called it dull, but I have to disagree. I thought there were plenty of chances created, especially by England after half-time, and it was a decent game of football as international friendlies go.
Two Arsenal players have been involved in this current England squad and they both had large parts to play in each of the games. In the first-half against Ireland I thought Theo Walcott did okay, but I was disappointed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. After half-time I though The Ox was much improved, while Theo was pretty much the star of the show. Walcott combined really well with Phil Jones and Wayne Rooney (who got stick in the papers for his display – his range of passing in the second-half, from a deeper role, was outstanding). That trio were pretty much at the heart of most of what England did well as the majority of attacks came from that right wing area. Ox really got more involved once Rooney had stepped back and started pinging the ball about as this opened space further ahead for him to run into. Both Arsenal boys should have scored against Ireland but a combination of lacklustre finishing and an excellent display by David Forde in Ireland’s goal gave the Irish a deserved draw.
If I was an England fan, as such, I would be a bit worried after the Ireland game. Let’s be honest they are a third (or even fourth) rate side who should have been swatted by any England team. England also played the game like a proper match, in that the substitutions were kept to the standard three until the final minute when Chamberlain went off with a slight knock. After the game I was listening to Radio 5 (the traffic getting away from Wembley is no easier to navigate) and heard people saying how much Jack Wilshere is missed. Given that Jack has hardly played for England for two years I find such statements astonishing. The fact is, and Gary Lineker can moan about Roy Hodgson’s tactics all he wants, that England’s players are simply not as good as the hype would have you believe.
The Brazil game saw England get a bit of a chasing for an hour or so. Theo missed another chance I would expect him to bury but, had it not been from the best display I’ve seen by Joe Hart, it would have been embarrassing (almost as embarrassing as Ray Lewington’s non-stop screeching at players from the England bench – have some dignity man!) At 1-0 down Roy Hodgson introduced Oxlade-Chamberlain from the bench and in to central midfield. Suddenly England had a player on the pitch with a first-touch worthy of the name and the composure and ability to see and deliver a quality pass. Rooney had someone he could link up with, and Walcott had someone who would put him away down the wing.
One of the features of the first half had been Brazil passing the ball out in front of their runners, all along the ground. England, meanwhile were like park no-hopers. Two or three times Brazil played the ball down the flanks to allow their pacy wide-men to run on to it. In contrast, there were two occasions where England had opportunities to do the same. The first was wasted by Michael Carrick who played it behind Theo and out for a throw-in. The second was by Lampard who inexplicably played the ball at thigh-height towards Walcott and it was easily intercepted. Had either pass been played in the way the Brazilian’s were then Theo was in behind the defence.
When Chamberlain came on the first thing he did with the ball was control it, look up, and then play a weighted pass, all along the ground, out in front of Theo Walcott. It led to a chance on the edge of the box, after Theo pulled the ball back in to space, that came to nothing. As I was watching it I said to my wife “that’s a Brazilian pass”. It was so out of keeping with what the rest of England’s midfield had produced that it stood out so conspicuously. It also marked out the sheer quality possessed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. To then go and score that superb goal just underlined it further. He’s had a tough season this year, but Ox has finished strongly. I think he will be a key performer for Arsenal next season. He will also be key for England – he’s the only player they’ve got (with the probable exception of Wilshere) that could take on the best at their own game and execute a quality pass.