Just for a bit of fun and some balance I am writing a piece in praise of the media and their views on the Arsenal. In particular I wanted to address the Gooners contention that the BBC Football coverage has a strong bias against the Gunners.
We all like to have a good moan on Saturday and Sunday nights at the when we feel the BBC ‘Pundits’ enjoy highlighting what Arsenal and Wenger get wrong as opposed to the huge amount we do so well. Don’t get me wrong the Lineker pisstake a few years back was bang out of order but…
I thought it might be cool in the last week of 2014/15 to look back at the Top 4 Predictions given in August by all 29 of the BBC Television and Radio 5 Live football team. I think you might be surprised but first a few interesting facts for context:
There are only 3 Ex Players who might be expected to have a soft spot for Man United in Robbie Savage, Dion Dublin and Phil Neville
There are only 2 Ex Players who might be expected to have a soft spot for Liverpool in Mark Lawrenson and Danny Murphy.
There is only 1 Ex Player who might be expected to have a soft spot for Chelsea in Pat Nevin
There is only 1 Ex Player who might be expected to have a soft spot for Man City in Danny Mills
There are 3 Ex Players who might be expected to have a soft spot for Spurs in Garth Crooks, Chris Waddle and Les Ferdinand – Oh hold on no idea why that is an issue as this is a blog on potential Top 4!!
Wait a cotton picking minute though there are 3 Ex Players who might be expected to have a soft spot for the Arsenal in John Hartson, Ian Wright and Martin Keown.
So it would appear no real bias potential to speak of at first glance, although I am not aware of the allegiances of all of the commentators.
It is the time of year where Arsenal supporters begin to speculate about the potential exits and arrivals this summer. This buzz of anticipation around our summer activity will only be heightened if, as expected now, the Gunners finish strongly as runners up and hopefully retain the FA Cup.
Personally I find myself relaxed about the transfer activity and confident that we will begin 2015/16 in a stronger position than we did 14/15. I am in this mood not because I am convinced Wenger will invest heavily to bolster, although he will, but more because of the quality within the existing squad and what the internal competition will mean if we actually get luckier with injuries.
From what I have seen this season we will enter next with 4 high level central defenders in Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gabriel and Chambers. We have not been in this position for years, perhaps since the early 2000s and that is debatable. We also have 2 left backs and 2 right backs all of whom are able to perform at the level required in the higher echelons of the Premier League. The keeper position is up for grabs and the striking options may be modified but today I want to look at the midfield and most particularly at the often discussed topic of ROTATION.
I am of an age where I grew up with my team having a match day squad of 12 and everybody knowing within one of 2 players who was the first 11. Of course today we have match day squads of 18 and I am not sure many fans know they teams first 11. Or do they? I am sure Chelsea fans do and they have won the league at a canter. The reason my mind is focused on this at present is because Wenger seemingly wants to stick with a formula that is working for him and it involved the same players in the midfield and NO rotation.
I have been waiting in particular to see what happens when Ox is fit to see if that will force Wenger’s hand and urge a move to a more natural balance. However I am beginning to doubt that decision as I simply cannot see him de-selecting Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil or Ramsey between now and the Cup Final. If the return to fitness of Wilshere, a particular favourite of Wenger’s has not altered his strategy it is difficult to imagine the Ox will either.
As you can tell I have been dwelling on this and have written previously here about my concerns at our lack of width and I probably would like to see Ox restored on the right but please don’t ask me who I would leave out! The whole debate both between fans and largely in my head has concentrated my mind on next season, rotation and the fact that I am continually told it is a squad game these days. Tell that to those who are on the bench at Wembley and those who aren’t in the squad at all.
So does Wenger rotate? Maureen has won the Premier League largely without rotating his core but was does the past tells is about Wenger? Does history give comfort to in particular our young English Guns Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain, who I personally do not wish to see leave the club or be unhappy at lack of opportunity. Surely in the modern era when we are told to challenge for the top honours a team need 2 players in every position, rotation and competing on all fronts will give everyone enough game time?
The last time we did so in all honesty was 2003/4 and how can we all forget the ‘Invincibles’ and what that team/squad achieved. I want to concentrate on the engine room of the central midfield which back then was essentially a 2 man job in a 442, or 4411. I am not necessarily going to draw hard conclusions but I hope the following might get you all thinking!
Firstly can you all name the first 11? Who were the ‘Invincibles?’ You have all seen the graphic designs, the artwork and the memorabilia so you all know that it was – Lehmann, Lauren, Cole, Toure, Campbell, Ljungberg, Silva, Vieira, Pires, Bergkamp and Henry right?
It was hugely frustrated on Sunday to see Ramsey start on the right of midfield for the 4th successive game. It worked against Liverpool perhaps as much due to the element of surprise and it has not truly worked since. I have no issue with Ramsey as a player and at times last season and occasionally this he has been imperious. I do however have an issue with him wide right whether in a 4141 or a 4231 because I hate the way it makes us so narrow. We already have a free spirit with licence to roam in Sanchez on the left so having a player on the right who is also forever cutting in makes our attacking play entirely predictable and easier to defend against.
Now this may not be an issue playing against a disorganised or porous defence. A defence where gaps periodically appear can be exploited by our precision passers but a back line such as Chelsea’s will just stand resolute and organised. I can only imagine the grins on the faces of Maureen, Cahill and Terry when they saw the Arsenal team sheet. Such is their confidence in defending what’s in front of them they and particularly Azpilicueta would have been delighted to see Ramsey and not Welbeck or Walcott lining up on the right. Without an Arsenal player willing to try and beat their full backs they would only have been concerned about Bellerin and the overlap, which I think occurred once in the 90th minute.
Cahill and Terry are both superb defenders facing away from the own goal but not as young as they once were, particularly the racist so getting behind the fullbacks and whipping in crosses is any team’s best chance to beat the champions elect. My frustration at seeing Ramsey and Bellerin exchange intricate passes out wide only to turn the ball back to Cazorala or Ozil, was only made worse by seeing one of the best dribblers in Europe continually dribble inwards and never on the outside of Ivanovic. Had he done it 2/3 times in the first half the Serbian right-back would have been booked and wary for the rest of the match.
Wenger has lost faith in Walcott which I understand and have come to accept but it was only a month ago that playing wide right Welbeck destroyed Lithuania with pace and power, consistently attacking their right back. Now you will also say Lithuania are not Chelsea and I would agree but we are talking still about a right footed left back who simply loves and is massively relieved, I suspect seeing the opposing player cut inside rather than attack his outside. Continue reading →
I have not written much of late but something I mentioned on twitter earlier seemed to hit the mark and strike up quite a debate. It also ties in with some research I had done that I thought I might use in a blog so here goes.
My question/suggestion on twitter earlier today was posed as I was wondering whether most fans would welcome a Diaby new deal if it was only on a ‘pay as you play’ basis – To use topical jargon ‘A Zero Hours Contract!’ Could we pay him a basic wage to train and be a squad member at a lower level than his current salary and only pay him an enhanced wage based on minutes successfully completed for the first team? My contention is that Abou himself would certainly be happy to extend on this basis as his love for Arsene, the club and the patience and support he has been offered deserve it.
So the question is more one of whether the club, basically Wenger feel the potential of a fit Diaby and the risk that entails, assuming it is not a financial one, is worth taking. The gamble if not a monetary one is simply a weighing up of the implications for the squad of Diaby being one of the 25 and if that prevents a new addition coming in or a blossoming youngster progress.
The response was highly mixed, ranging from one extreme to the other. Many suggested we should get rid without a second thought, some suggested a loan for him to prove consistent fitness and others are positive about the pay as you play deal. It is a hugely tricky decision and not in my mind a straight forward one for one main reason. As Simon Rose from the ‘Gooner’ so eloquently summed it up:
“Having seen Abou through years of injury, AFC shouldn’t let him leave now to be fit elsewhere. AFC should reap those rewards.”Continue reading →
I have been thinking a lot recently about how my feelings toward Arsene Wenger have changed over the course of this season. In recent years whilst having complete and total respect and gratitude for what he had achieved for our club I had found myself drifting away from the man. It was not a conscious decision and it certainly did not happen over a short space of time but I had reached a point where my initial reaction when seeing him from my seat near the dugout or when interviewed on television was not one of warmth. Indeed if I was asked any time between 2012 and the end of last season to use one word and one word only that best summed up by it would have been ‘Frustration.’
Had I been asked would I want him sacked my retort would have been ‘No’ but were I asked would I want him given a new deal my answer probably also would have been ‘No.’ It would be safe to say that I therefore fell into neither acronym camp but it would also be fair to say that my frustrations at the great man were not born out of the lack of big money signings or even his inability to deliver trophies as with many. I always recognised the constraints and whilst not a scholar of the accounts like some it was not his perceived unwillingness to spend the money that was reportedly always there, that irritated me.
Equally I hold no truck with the views of some that Wenger in fact over achieved or remained at par given the unlimited wealth of some of his competitors. Wenger never had the money of United in the late 90s or early 2000s but he was able to out deal and out think Fergie on several occasions. I think that view is rife amongst those who only recognise the Premier League and the Champions League as noteworthy silverware. For those traditionalists such as me, both domestic cups mean everything and in the well documented 9 year gap Wenger could easily have won them on several occasions had he taken them more seriously.
However that is going over old ground and perhaps opening old wounds which I have no wish to do. These musings are inspired by a growing realisation in the past 12 months that my recent indifference toward Wenger was lessening and my affection for him growing and a healthy respect re-emerging from somewhere within me.
In reality the soul searching to find the cause of these unexpected symptoms is not actually so hard. You see the ice began to melt for me on the FA Cup run last season and really kicked in when I was at Wembley for both the semi final and the final. Certainly as waited for the team to go up the steps to lift the FA Cup once more and during the lap of honour I was crying for joy. For myself, for the team and yes for Arsene Wenger, our much maligned manager. Continue reading →