Maybe it would have been better to have waited until after Sunday’s game with Man United before writing this. Still, let’s break it down into a couple of parts…
A marmite topic amongst Arsenal fans now, and I can understand why. On the one hand, you don’t want to dismiss his lengthy list of achievements in the English game, but on the other there’s clearly a sense of foreboding about where he’s now taking the club.
It’s difficult to shake the impression that he spent a lot of money in August for the sake of it, and that the players he did bring in weren’t necessarily the right ones. Mikel Arteta maybe, but Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos seemed to represent ill-though out purchases. The German’s a case in point, because staggeringly, it doesn’t look as if anybody really researched his strengths and weaknesses before bringing him to the club. I know that there are similarities between the Bundesliga and the Premier League, but there are also key differences. Mertesacker is a good player, but he’s weak when exposed to pace and movement – so why would you bring a defender with the turning circle of a Lancaster Bomber to the quickest league in Europe?
There’s a bit of overlap here with the previous section, but I don’t think Arsene Wenger has been decisive enough with certain members of his squad. Andrei Arshavin has contributed nothing this year, and has lived off the back of his first six months in this country for a long time now. With every passing window, the Russian depreciates in value, yet he remains at the club – he needs to go. Theo Walcott underwhelms constantly – an athlete pretending to be a footballer. That situation is especially frustrating when the potential and dynamism of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is sitting on the bench.
Without over-playing the obvious, this side will look a whole lot better when Jack Wilshere returns from injury. Yes, Wilshere brings a creativity to the side, but he also brings a calming presence in possession – which is clearly helpful given Arsenal’s current issues with ball-retention.
Is it really worth speculating on something that won’t happen? Wenger doesn’t believe in doing business in January, and no amount of late-season tail-offs will seemingly dissuade him from that mindset. Still, cover at full-back wouldn’t hurt, would it?
I suspect what’s needed at Arsenal is actually an objective pair of eyes, because Wenger doesn’t really seem to see what everybody else does – this is a club slipping back towards the Hinterland of mediocrity. Too many average components, not enough match-winners. Football is unfortunately a short-term industry, and you really can’t eat out on past achievement forever. Squad re-modeling, re-shaping, streamlining; whatever you want to call it – being ten points behind Tottenham in January and heading for the Europa League is not really acceptable.
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Manchester United are a shambles
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Forwards being fined for poor training performances, no midfield to speak of, part-time full-backs, and no clear first-choice goalkeeper.
Sir Alex Ferguson is rightly given a lot of credit for adapting and evolving his team over the years, but all of a sudden this is a side that looks increasingly rudderless. Rather than just being a knee-jerk reaction to the chaos at St James’ Park, this is the long-term product of United being able to trade off their own success and the complacency that has brought with it. You can’t win a Premier League title without a properly defined midfield – and in United’s case, that area has become worryingly makeshift.
Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Park Ji-Sung, Anderson; these are players that are being deployed in the middle of the pitch, but without any clear role – nobody seems to have any responsibility in that part of United’s team. There’s no ball-winner, there’s no creativity, and there’s a chasm between that bank of four and United’s forwards. There’s no specialisation.
You can argue that the future of the midfield is for it be fluid and the positions to be interchangeable, but then if so, you really need to possess multi-occupational players with the requisite talent level. United don’t have that, and in any case, the 4-4-2 that Ferguson persists with doesn’t really allow for it.
Ferguson needs to address the personnel at Old Trafford now, or he’s going to spend the rest of the season worrying about Tottenham rather than Manchester City.
David Moyes’ special status is under-threat
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How often are we told about the ‘incredible job’ that David Moyes is doing at Everton? Yes, I know, the club has no money etc, but at some point that has to stop providing immunity from criticism.
Why do Everton always start the season badly? Why do they so frequently fail to beat poor teams at Goodison Park? Why are talented players(Rodwell/Drenthe) misused? And why do previously influential players(Cahill) have such lengthy slumps in form?
These are not questions for Bill Kenwright’s Bank Manager, they’re questions for Moyes. I understand the limitations on what he can bring into the club, but that doesn’t excuse the apparent mismanagement of what’s already there.
Arsenal can have no complaints over Johan Djourou’s sending off, or their defeat at Fulham
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From Arsene Wenger’s post-match press conference:
“When Djourou got the first yellow card, they tried every time to get him a second yellow and the referee was naive enough to give it,”
I like Arsene Wenger, and I have the utmost respect for what he’s achieved in the game, but his excuses are beginning to grate.
Firstly, Arsenal lost the game – not because of the referee – but because they played so passively in the second half at Craven Cottage that concession was inevitable. Fulham deserved their equaliser, but only because the away side had spent the second forty-five minutes inviting their hosts on to them and allowing momentum to gradually build.
The sending off. It is a second yellow-card, and in fact Djourou was lucky not to receive it earlier for a foul higher-up the pitch on Kerim Frei. As for the incident that convinced Lee Probert to actually dismiss the Swiss defender? It’s more the product of Djourou finding himself in a bad position than any over-zealous refereeing – sorry Arsene, but that’s what happens when you play a centre-defender at full-back.
“We lost the game because we were down to 10 men.”
No, you didn’t, you lost the game because you were profligate in front of goal, Theo Walcott has no final ball, your goalkeeper dropped a cross, and your left-back gave Bobby Zamora the freedom of South West London to score the winner.
Romance is an over-priced commodity in sport. What sometimes feels right doesn’t always end well.
Thierry Henry shouldn’t return to Arsenal on-loan, because it’s a lose-lose situation. When you say his name, you remember the player that he was – not the player he is now. Arsene Wenger has always shown – Fabregas and Nasri aside – a good sense of when to let players leave his club, and Henry was no different. When he did eventually move to Barcelona, the Frenchman was clearly a force in decline.
Nobody wants to see a once-great player struggle against time, and that’s what a return to Arsenal would represent for Henry. It’s a legacy-tarnishing situation that nobody really benefits from. Unfortunately, given the enormous contribution the Frenchman once made to the club, common-sense goes out of the window here – expectation would be high, and Henry would underwhelm.
This is a 34-year-old player who’s been playing in the equivalent of the lower echelons of the Championship for two years – it’s hard to see how he’d be an asset in the Premier League anymore. Additionally, who really wants to see a player of his standing given a bit-part role? It’s demeaning, and English football’s lasting memory should be of him in full-flight at his unstoppable best – not as an unused substitute against QPR.
Henry is deservedly a legend at Arsenal, but it’s very rare to find an exception to the ‘never go back’ maxim.
Just enjoy your statue Thierry.
“I’ve never seen him develop. He just doesn’t understand the game for me – where to be running, when to run inside a full back, when to just play a one-two. It’s all off the cuff. I just don’t think he’s got a football brain and he’s going to have problems. Let’s be honest, good defenders would catch him offside every time.”
The worst thing that ever happened to Theo Walcott’s career was his hat-trick in Zagreb in 2008. It tricked us all, and it taught us to expect more than what was ever really likely to be produced.
Do you know what Theo Walcott reminds me of? The kid at school who was quicker than everybody else, but wasn’t a particularly good footballer – he would knock the ball past you, but then stand on it when he had a chance to score. Walcott is a sprinter playing football.
The time has come for Arsene Wenger to recognise that this is not a promising youngster anymore, it’s a player that isn’t fulfilling his potential – and what’s more, it’s one that’s an obstacle in his team’s route back to success. The amount of times an Arsenal attack flounders at Walcott’s feet, or more precisely through his inability to make the right decision or provide the right pass is staggering. While Walcott may be personable and intelligent, his footballing IQ is double digit only and that will never change. You can’t teach the instinctive parts of the game – too often you can almost see him stop to think as he reaches the by-line or breaks free of his marker, by which time of course the chance that he’s creating is lost.
Whilst not in any way endorsing this kind of shameless, tabloid-style bandwagon jumping, there’s really not much argument for Walcott inclusion in the Arsenal team ahead of the 2011 version of himself, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Unfortunately for Arsene Wenger, the state of Theo Walcott’s career mirrors the condition his Arsenal team are now in; under-developed, lacking footballing nous, and not really showing any signs of maturing into anything more substantial. It’s as if the former Southampton player is the personification of the club’s ills.
It’s time for Arsenal and Walcott to part ways. As a player, you can’t play in a stadium where there’s an intake of breath every time you go to cross a ball, with 60,000 expecting you to put it in the stand. For Arsenal, having Walcott on the pitch is sometimes akin to the opposition having an additional defender. Not always, because he’s capable of fleeting moments of quality, but those are very rare – and that’s not the hallmark of a top-4 player.
The saving grace for Arsenal and Walcott will be that football always has another manager that thinks that they can do a better job with a player, that they can rehabilitate him; that will be true with Walcott. If the player was put up for sale tomorrow, there would be a queue half-a-dozen clubs deep him. Arsenal could command a sizeable fee, and the player could put behind him what has been a very underwhelming 5-years.
It’s just time, he’s not improving – he’s never really improved.
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…How capable of contending Chelsea are…
Andre Villas-Boas has had an unspectacular start. A tentative draw at the Britannia Stadium was followed up by unconvincing home victories against West Brom and Norwich. Apologists will say that Chelsea are continuing to win even if not playing at full-capacity, but detractors will maintain that lesser opponents are causing this team too many problems.
Realistically if you’re not still on the fence about this team, then you’re being premature.
Sunderland will provide a decent yardstick today – The Stadium of Light is traditionally a ground upon which the elite win and the mediocre struggle. As goal-shy as Steve Bruce’s team are, any time a team of Chelsea’s stature travel to a full-to-capacity Northern ground they’re going to be examined.
A Mourinho team, apologies for the comparison, would score early here and strangle the enthusiasm out of their opponents – but is the contemporary capable of that.
The addition of Juan Mata could be key, as the main criticism of the Londoners has been their mechanical feel – Mata gives you flair, creativity, and most importantly a much-needed conduit between the equally static midfield and forward line.
Win today and Chelsea don’t all of a sudden become a credible challenger, but it becomes a lot easier to see them as a threat.
…Whether Arsene Wenger is any closer to silverware…
From a neutral’s point of view, the additions of Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker make Arsenal more formidable – and while a home fixture against newly-promoted opposition is by no means a gauge of future success, it well tell us something.
The result, on the basis that it will almost certainly go Arsenal’s way, is largely irrelevant. Will the German centre-back provide the organisation and composure that the defence craves, and will the Spaniard provide balance in the middle of the pitch and incisiveness in and around the 18-yard box?
What’s been lost in the detritus of the humbling at Old Trafford, is the recognition that there are still elite players at the football club – and if you combine the new additions with the emergence of Wojciech Szczesny as a reliable goalkeeper, Arsenal really don’t look that bad.
Pricing intangibles is an impossible task, but what value a little bit of optimism around Emirates Stadium? A comfortable victory with integral roles played being played by the new boys will go a way to redirecting the trend curve.
…How good are Liverpool…
Again, the Britannia Stadium as a measuring post. Okay, so seven points from three games is a good start – but against Sunderland and Bolton at home, and a moral-sapped Arsenal on the road, it should be nine.
If Liverpool leave Stoke this evening with three points, then i’ll start to believe that what Kenny Dalglish is building is a genuine step forward.
By all accounts Dalglish’s recruitment is now complete, so this a Liverpool ready to be judged. Can Luis Suarez handle the physical attention – can his temperament hold? Will Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam be able to exist in amongst Tony Pulis’ combative midfield.
An interesting side note today, is the battle between the Liverpool defence and Stoke’s widemen. Of course, Peter Crouch will now be trying to profit from the supply of Etherington and Pennant, and that provides a really interesting test for this embryonic Liverpool defence. Matty Etherington and Glen Johnson should be a fascinating sub-plot – because the Stoke winger is exactly the kind of player that Johnson needs to start subduing if he’s to win his England place back.
Resiliency on the road is a hallmark of top four teams, do Liverpool have it?
…how Tottenham will do this season…
Being beaten at Old Trafford and hammered by Man City at home may be bad for moral, but it hasn’t necessarily told us much about Tottenham – other than that frailty against the big teams still holds strong.
Harry Redknapp will rightly reason that it’s just good to have got those games out of the way, and now his time can get on with their season.
Emmanuel Adebayor is exactly the kind of forward that fits Redknapp’s system, but it will be interesting to see what kind of mood the Togalese has arrived in. At his best he can fire Spurs up the league, at his lethargic worst he’s a complete waste of time.
Has Luka Modric’ post-Chelsea malaise lifted? Is Scott Parker really quite as good as the West Ham-supporting football writers insist that he is? Both of the new signings will start today, which gives us an immediate chance to see whether Tottenham have done enough to challenge Liverpool and Arsenal for Champions League qualification.
Wolves will be their usual resilient selves, and Spurs will have to actually play to take the points away from Molineux. Lose again today, and this is going to a long, long season for Tottenham.
Watching Arsenal try to break teams down is a bit like watching someone trying to hammer a nail with a spoon. There’s a lot of effort and almost no end result.
When this new generation of Arsenal football first developed, there was an inevitability about the way the team played. Ever since the departure of Thierry Henry, the team has been profligate in front of goal, but they’ve always created chances. They were the team that you wanted to watch as a neutral, because the pretty passing patterns had a cutting edge that made them entertaining. Now they just move the ball for the sake of it, passing around defenders rather than in behind them.
In 90 minutes of a game that they dominated today, Newcastle’s Tim Krul made maybe half a save. Four shots on target in total is an insufficient return when a team surrenders possession back to you as easily as Newcastle did today. A lot will be made of the departures of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas in the next couple of days, and many a column inch will be dedicated to what their departure says about Arsenal’s ambition and standing as a club – as it has already been.
Truthfully though, while the departures of Nasri and Fabregas obviously don’t represent a step forward for Arsenal, neither of those players were part of the solution at Emirates Stadium. Both of them, while enormously talented, embody the type of football that has led Wenger’s side to where they are.
Everything needs to become much more direct and immediate, and there needs to be at least one player in the team whose sole purpose is to score goals. The combined revenue from the Nasri and Fabregas sales will be in excess of £50m, so Wenger needs to forget Juan Manuel Mata and any other similarly-built midfielder – he needs a monster of a forward. A Didier Drogba, an Andy Carroll, someone built in that mould needs to be brought in to lead the line, hold the ball, and be a focal point. If by midnight on August 31st they don’t have such a player, Arsenal are battling for 4th, 5th or 5th this year, and nothing higher. Marouane Chamakh is not fit for the purpose, and Robin Van Persie is too talented a footballer to just be consigned to the role of a goalscorer – with his vision, he needs to be dropping off an advanced forward and playing deeper. When you watch Van Persie at the moment, he never looks quite right and his impressive goal return is really a product of his talent rather than his suitability to being the point of the forward three.
The permanence of an out-and-out forward would give this team a proper attacking structure.
The audible dissatisfaction from the away end at St James’ Park today suggests that Arsene Wenger may very well have run the fans’ patience dry, but it wouldn’t take more than a suitable forward to ‘fix’ this team – or at least make it more of a viable threat.
ITV shouldn’t be allowed to broadcast live football…
…because every aspect of their presentation is horrendous. When news of Adrian Chiles’ defection from the BBC first came to light, you could understand what ITV was thinking – approachable, inoffensive ‘everyman’ who might unlock some demographics that previously thought that the coverage took itself a bit seriously. But isn’t this the same logic that would advocate having Gary Lineker present Newsnight? Chiles understands the game, and he’s also a fan, but there’s something so ‘part-time’ about him – whenever you see his boyishly-round face at the beginning of a Champions League game, you’re really left wondering whether Des Lynam called in sick at the last minute. Maybe Lynam would have known not to talk over the top of ‘Abide with me’?
Onwards to Clive Tyldesley and Peter Drury. In the laboratory where football commentators are grown, something clearly infected the batch that was sent to ITV. Whatever happened to letting the drama of an occasion speak for itself, why must every underdog’s struggle be so over-emphasised, why must every commentary be a quest for the perfect sound-byte, and why must there always be so much hyperbole and melodrama? This isn’t something we learnt over the weekend, the African country-bias shown in the World Cup was appalling – every goal scored became ‘a victory against unbelievable, unsurmountable odds’ and a ‘goal cheered by not just a country, but by an entire deprived continent’. It was exactly the same on Saturday, ‘plucky Stoke’ were made to sound like a team of part-timers, and Manchester City’s win was breaking down the barriers of possibility for clubs willing and able to spend an enormous amount of money on new players.
We’re not even going to get into the ‘three advert breaks in fifteen minutes’ issue – but ITV is actually worse than the BBC and their cast of human platitudes on MOTD.
Steve Bruce’s job is not safe…
Why should it be? After all the money that’s been spent, Bruce’s team gave-up after Christmas and meekly slid down the table. Don’t blame the injuries, because that’s as much to do with conditioning as anything else and it’s just part of the game. With the calibre of players at the Stadium of Light, that team should comfortably be finishing in the top half, not finishing below West Brom. When a team with limited resources exceeds expectations, who gets the praise? The Manager. When a talented team under-performs, who should receive the blame? Exactly.
If Bruce hadn’t had the playing career he did, he wouldn’t have had half the managerial opportunities he’s had. Expect Niall Quinn to wield the axe before July.
Expect a clear out at Arsenal…
Because they’re just not good enough to occupy the kind of rare air that the supporters expect them to. One of the memorable moments from yesterdays utterly-dismal loss to Aston Villa, was the reception afforded to Robert Pires; yes, he’s a legend at the club and got the kind of welcome he deserved, but it’s also symbolic of the fans’ affection for a team that Pires was so integral too, and in direct contrast to the one on the Emirates pitch at the moment.
Alan Smith said in Sky’s commentary that Arsenal have never really recovered mentally from losing the Carling Cup final – sorry, but that’s just not realistic. The Carling Cup was a by-product of the mentality of the players and not the cause of it. There’s far too much frailty in that dressing room, and the emphasis is so clearly more on pretty passing patterns than winning, that the inevitable criticism of Arsene Wenger is quite justified. Fans of other clubs may think that Arsenal’s supporters are showing themselves to be spoilt by success, but the reality is this – football is a results-based business, the ‘look where i’ve taken the club’ argument doesn’t really work in the modern-game, because it’s now more about where you’re going than where you’ve come from. Right now, Arsenal are in a nosedive – Wenger has to adjust his philosophies to combat it, or he’ll be gently moved out of the way.
Andrei Arshavin looks about a quarter of the player that he was when he first arrived, both in terms of his desire and his product, Nicolas Bendtner is toss, Theo Walcott isn’t developing as he should, Abou Diaby has seen the fans turn on him, and Sebastien Squillaci and Manuel Almunia are too often attacking assets for the opposition.
It wouldn’t take much to revitalise this team, and make it feared again. Can you imagine how successful they’d be with a non-nonsense centre-back, Mark Van Bommel in midfield, and Karim Benzema partnering Robin Van Persie in a front two?
That’s only about £30m-£40m of spending, which the sale of Cesc Fabregas – sad as that would be – would cover. Right now, it looks like they’ll be finishing fourth behind Manchester City and will have to qualify for the Champions League next year, the obvious caveat is that Bayern Munich and Valencia are in the same hat for that qualifying round. This team needs to be improved quickly, because not only are Manchester City moving above them, but Liverpool cannot and won’t be worse then they were this year, and North London rivals Tottenham are a goal-scorer away from usurping them too.
The standard of refereeing in England is dismal…
Two different aspects to this; firstly the actual standard of the officials, and secondly their ability to be influenced by high-profile teams and players.
The worst decision we saw this weekend was actually in the League One playoff between MK Dons and Peterborough, as Jon Moss – after consulting his linesman – awarded Peterborough a penalty and gave Stephen Gleeson a straight red card for a tackle that was neither a professional foul, or in the box. In a playoff scenario, a mistake like this obviously has the potential to alter a season’s conclusion – it’s completely unacceptable. We haven’t been able to find the game on the internet yet, but give it a watch if you get the chance. It’s staggering.
Secondly, whether they had any influence on the referee or not, the officials should have been stronger in dealing with the aggressiveness of the Man Utd appeals for their penalty at Blackburn. If Phil Dowd is consulting with his linesman, and he doesn’t more forcefully send the United players away, then he can hardly be surprised with the accusation that his decision was influenced by player pressure. We’re not the type for conspiracy theories here, but those who enjoy that kind of thing are continually backed-up by the disparity in referees behaviour with Manchester United and Chelsea player, and then with all the other teams. At Old Trafford this year, when Howard Webb allowed that farcical Nani goal, all the Tottenham players surrounded the linesman and were correctly sent away – but Rio Ferdinand, who had also come over to protest, was allowed to, at least appear to, continue to have his say. As long as that kind of thing continues to happen – and it involves the same teams with too much regularity for it to be dismissed – then people are going to moan about officiating.
Show some backbone, let’s have some referees that aren’t afraid to give unpopular decisions against big teams in their home stadiums. On a side note, Michael Oliver is probably the worst referee in the Premier League – with definitely the worst hair cut. Two-tone nightmare. Just google ‘Michael Oliver Referee Controversy’ and browse the million-plus results – we haven’t the energy to substantiate our claim further than that.