Thursday
Dec142017

Arsenal on the precipice of self-destruction, yet nobody seems to care

My last post on Arsenal Truth was six months ago. Basically, with Arsene Wenger signing a new deal it was obvious there would only be regression and no further reason to support the club, let alone continue to write about it when it’s institutionally corrupt. However, I kept the blog open because, remarkably, lots of people still visit the site, I still get emails and you never know when you will have the urge to write something.

To be honest, I have watched less than a handful of Arsenal games this season, and when I did, it was a bit like watching a lonely, crusty roll, with Wenger symbolising a layer of green mould. Of course, nothing had changed, how could it?

Trust me, ditching this blog and ditching Arsenal was the best thing I could have done for myself. As tedious as it was watching a club so horribly stagnant, writing about it, even semi-regularly, was even more debilitating. And while stagnation in itself is not a good reason to stop supporting your team, watching its hierarchy thieve ever-increasing amounts of the supporters’ cash to line their own pockets in the face of abject deterioration is.

Not in my name.

Even now as I write this, the whiff of abject distaste and boredom for everything Arsenal now represents has returned like a ghostly mist. How people can still actively spend extortionate amounts of time and money to watch the rotten garbage being served up by Wenger and his ghastly regime genuinely amazes me, but each to their own.

The only reason I am writing this blog now is in the hope and, probably deluded, expectation that Wenger’s tenure will be over within the next six months. At that point, Le Fraud will have only one year remaining on his deal, and assuming the club doesn’t want to go through last season’s ugly debacle of weekly protests and media interrogations, a decision will have to be made regarding the extension of his contract.

Unlike previous seasons, however, the crushing staleness that is Arsenal Football Club is set to reach all-time lows. Not only is the club seventh behind Burnley, but Wenger’s farcical and selfish decision to reject circa £100m to keep hold of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil for one final season is hitting the club hard, both financially and productively.

Last season, the duo scored 42 goals between them and probably assisted 70% of the others, this season they have scored a predictably paltry 7. Tools have been downed, they’re eyeing pastures new. While Arsenal frantically attempt to cut their losses, if both players do not leave in January they will likely sign pre-contract agreements with other clubs. At that point, in effect they will only be Arsenal players in name and have no legitimate reason to perform.

Further beyond that, the club is set to lose more experienced players in the summer. Mertesacker will retire, Cazorla will clearly never kick a football again, by all accounts Koscielny’s achilles tendon is being wrecked, Wilshere’s contract is close to expiry and Walcott, Cech, Giroud, Ramsey, Welbeck, Ospina, Debuchy and Monreal will all be within a further 12 months of leaving for nada.

Whatever you think of that ragbag of players, they’re the difference between a Premier League team and a Championship team, and more to the point, why would they stay? Ozil and Sanchez’ disinterest will soon become their disinterest; another eight first team players looking for a way out of Wenger’s dumpster.

Basically, Arsenal is on the precipice of sinking into a mid-table obscurity that could be ruinous to its short and even long-term future. The squad is haemorrhaging players and receiving little to no cash from those departing, income is sharply down due to non-Champions League participation, attendances are lower and the upcoming renewal of Arsenal’s commercial deals is likely to take a hammering. What’s more, the ability to attract players when so many clubs in the Premier League and Europe offer a far more attractive proposition is prohibitively stark.

Of course, rival clubs will also falter, and often do, but they’re better run and their owners invest for the future and actually seem to care, Arsenal’s don’t. As Chairman Sir Chips Keswick said at the AGM, don’t bother complaining to the man sitting to my left (the club owner), you can read his opinions in the paper. As we now know, the board’s chief consideration is self-preservation and thieving from the till, awarding themselves ludicrous wage hikes and bonuses.

Either way, the club is heading down an extremely dangerous path as the manager, perhaps deliberately, heads remorselessly towards a cliff edge, with the prospect of leaving the club in a horrendous mess far worse than anything he inherited. Indeed, by the time Wenger is done with Arsenal, we might be wishing he never joined. Were three titles in the space of six years really worth 14 years of Premier League and European underperformance and mediocrity, perhaps followed by another 10 in the wilderness? For West Ham maybe, but Arsenal - the second biggest club in England before he joined? I somehow doubt it.

On the plus side, my Arsenal highlight of 2017 was receiving the Arsenal DVD ‘89’ through the post last month. A brilliant and emotionally riveting documentary, memories of the best night of my Arsenal-supporting life came flooding back. I urge you to buy it, if you haven’t already.

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Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

 

Monday
May292017

The FA Cup final - a game of endings, probably incl. mine

Arsenal won the FA Cup, congratulations to the players, and those supporters who wanted Arsenal to win. Arsenal finished the season strongly, which they often do. Why? Because when nearly all the other clubs’ seasons are finished, Arsenal are always having to go full throttle to save face.

Arsenal’s 9 wins of 10 does not tell the story of a team reinvigorated by playing in a new system, but of teams up and down the country putting out the deckchairs and putting on the flip flops. In the Premier League, Middlesbrough were down and out, Leicester were safe, Man Utd were weak and exhausted. Southampton didn’t give a stuff and played like it, the same for Stoke, Sunderland and Everton.

Arsenal were lucky to beat Man City in the FA Cup semi-final and were lucky again to score the first goal against Chelsea in the final when Sanchez touched the ball and Ramsey moved towards it, which meant he was offside. I didn't celebrate because I don't care anymore - a tragedy in itself.

Chelsea were not focused because they had been too busy celebrating the Premier League. Maybe the FA Cup has lost its importance, because they didn’t even look match fit and were mentally disengaged. Even so, a dreadful Chelsea – playing with 10 men - equalised because Wenger made the ludicrous decision to put Ospina in goal instead of Cech. A classic Wenger fuck up, the Columbian flapped at Costa’s feeble shot in a way that Cech never would.

But Kante summarised Chelsea’s performance minutes later when he switched off and allowed Ramsey to run past him and head into an empty net. It was Kante’s worst performance for two years.

I’m not saying that Arsenal didn’t play well, because they did, so the trophy was richly deserved, but let’s get real, when all of Arsenal’s opponents are back from holiday and super-motivated again, none of them will play like those Arsenal have faced recently.

The cup final was a game of endings. The end of John Terry and Diego Costa’s careers at Chelsea and the end of Ospina and Sanchez’ careers at Arsenal. Maybe Mesut Ozil too, and hopefully Arsene Wenger.

Today, Wenger met owner Stran Kroenke, and tomorrow there will be a board meeting.  Reading between the lines, because that’s all we can do, I think the board want Wenger out but Kroenke wants him so stay. I say that because Wenger has been flinging mud at the board for not coming out and being more supportive, and Stan is a twat.

So it’s The Board vs The Twat, but if the board loses and Wenger stays I doubt any of them will resign. In big business, prestigious jobs and disproportionate salaries mean a lot more than principles.

If the right decision is made and the disgusting fraud is told to back his bags, I’ll be back next season super-motivated. But if Wenger stays, there’s nothing left to write about for two years. It would also send me a clear message about Arsenal; that the club is corrupt and the wealth of the few is more important than the needs of the many. AFC would be a mirror-image of Tory Britain!

This season I was partially motivated by the thought of Wenger coming to the end of his contract and leaving. If Wenger stays, that motivation will not exist. Obviously, to write a blog you need to be motivated.

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Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Tuesday
May232017

Kroenke and Wenger will leave Arsenal if they have any sense 

And so it came to pass. For the first time in 21 years, Arsenal and Arsene Wenger have missed out on the top four and will no longer be participating in a competition they only genuinely competed for once throughout that entire period.

Wenger has lost the club £50m and isn’t a good enough manager to win the Europa League, so there is very little chance of Arsenal clawing back a substantial amount of that income.

As expected, power has been restored to the big Premier League clubs with Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea all improving considerably under new management, albeit still plenty of room for further growth. Despite finishing the season potless, Tottenham have been superb and Man Utd will have had a decent season if they manage to win the Europa League.

Wenger is finished as a manager and Arsenal are finished as a top four club for as long as he hangs around like a bad smell. Arsenal are in deterioration and a much bigger mess now than when the Frenchman first joined.

His predecessor, Bruce Rioch left behind the best back five in Europe and world-class players such as Platt, Bergkamp and Wright. Things were not perfect, but the club was back on the up after George Graham took his eye off the ball and left the club somewhat under a cloud.

Currently, Arsenal are on a slippery slope and only have two players that can remotely be categorised as world-class, Alexis Sanchez and (arguably) Mesut Ozil. With only one year left on what is likely to be their final big contract, if either player has any ambition about them they will surely leave Arsenal this summer.

Wenger may publicly insist that Sanchez and Ozil have to see out their remaining year, but let’s get real. Without Champions League football, the club is going to suffer enough of a financial downturn without attempting to hold on to these players against their will and lose out on a prospective £80-100m in transfer fees.

Needless to say, Arsenal does not look like a club with a particularly bright future right now. No longer able to offer Champions League football and with five Premier League clubs, plus a host of others around Europe, looking far more attractive options for any high-profile player to join, replacing players of Sanchez and/or Ozil’s quality looks an impossible feat for any manager in the short term.

On the other hand, in the unlikely event that Sanchez and/or Ozil do choose to stay, the club is similarly stuffed. In order to meet their salary demands, the club will not be able to afford enough purchases to improve the squad in any meaningful way without breaking Premier League salary cap rules - even though a string of players are likely to be removed from the wage bill.

What most people fail to understand is that there is no point Kroenke, or a new owner, pumping extra investment into the club to buy the ‘world-class’ players the club supposedly needs because the salary cap would only prevent the acquisition of said players.

The question everybody now wants to know is, who will the club turn to in order to rebuild the mess that Arsene Wenger has left? Owner Stan Kroenke has three options. Option one is to sell the club while its stock remains high. He is sitting on a huge profit, but denied access to the big money league and with massive commercial deals like Puma and The Emirates (next year) due for renewal, Arsenal’s reconfigured status is sure to hit the company’s valuation hard.

Meanwhile, if Kroenke thinks club level supporters are going to continue paying the highest ticket prices in Europe to entertain corporate guests for Europa League football and sustained Premier League mediocrity, then he’s in the wrong business. Indeed, prices are being reduced as we speak, but it’s doubtful that will be enough to avoid a significant downturn in revenues.

Option two is to sack Wenger in the hope of retaining Sanchez and Ozil. CEO Ivan Gazidis would then be charged with trying to sell them the future by appointing a new high-profile manager and restructuring the club.

The third option is to keep Wenger in his seat, thus guaranteeing statis, or worse, and a further deterioration of the supporters’ trust that will only intensify the counter-productive atmosphere and ever-increasing ill-feeling towards the owner.

For Wenger’s part, the decent and logical thing for him to now do would be to admit his fundamental flaws and walk. However, this man’s ego, arrogance and incompetence are unparalleled. This is not the same person that walked through Highbury’s marbled halls in 1996. His early success has disfigured him, creating a monstrous, loathsome hypocrite who has abused his privilege and persistently tried to manipulate the discourse in order to retain power, status and wealth.

A manager that should be revered by supporters as one of the club’s true greats has been reduced, in my eyes, to a surreptitious coward that only elicits feelings of contempt and revulsion.

Failure is certainly no disgrace, it’s how you fail and how you respond to it. Drunk on his dictatorial power and ego, Wenger refuses to shoulder a single drop of responsibility or accountability, that much is clear, but how will the board view things? The forthcoming FA Cup Final seems like a mere distraction compared to some of the big decisions that need to be made that will no-doubt be imperative to the club’s long-term future.

Personally, I believe that non-Champions League qualification has changed the ballpark considerably. One can only guess at what might happen over the coming months, but walking away with a hefty profit must surely seem an attractive option to Kroenke at this point in time, particularly as that money could be used to help restore his reportedly failing business franchises elsewhere.

As for Wenger, his overblown ego comes first and he’ll do whatever he believes is best for him, not the club. I’m pretty sure that even if Wenger is offered a new contract by the board, he will require clarity on Ozil and Sanchez’s futures before committing. Should they want out, suddenly Arsenal looks a horribly unattractive short-term prospect for any high-profile manager, and Wenger may therefore decide to shift the blame and skulk off to PSG or whatever other club is stupid enough to get saddled with him.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.

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Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Monday
May152017

Spurs' dominance, and the consequences of Arsenal missing out on top four

As Spurs attempt to finish the season in style, they said goodbye to White Hart Lane on Sunday afternoon with a 2-1 win over Man Utd. Amidst finishing above Arsenal for the first time in decades, the question some have been asking is, has there been a North London power shift? I suppose that depends on how you would define a power shift.

Some people will say that Arsenal have ruled over Spurs for 20 years, therefore their neighbours would have to achieve something similar to claim a genuine ‘power shift’. However, to me, a power shift can be signified by a sudden event or short-term change, like a dictator being strung up by his neck, but not replaced by another dictator.

Long-term dominance is not a power shift, it’s a trend.

So yes, the power in North London has shifted. It started last season when Spurs challenged for the title but Arsenal didn’t and Pochettino has cemented his short-term dominance over Wenger this season.

To make matters worse for Wenger, Liverpool now only need a home win at Middlesbrough, and Man City a healthy win from one of their two remaining fixtures against West Brom or Watford, to relegate Arsenal to Europa League football next season.

Apart from the obvious decline in footballing fortunes that Arsenal are suffering, a bigger worry for the club is the financial shift that will occur should, by this time next week, Liverpool and City damn Arsenal to Thursday night football in 2017/18.

It seems that Spurs’ rise to becoming one of the Premier League’s elite has come at the perfect time for the club. With a frighteningly expensive new stadium to build, not only are they generating substantially more income from their participation in the Champions League and new-found Premier League status, but they’re also poised to rebrand their soon-to-be-completed 61,000-capacity stadium.

‘Experts’ agree that Spurs could generate up to £400m in naming rights for the new stadium. There would also be a timely (for them) redefinition of the club’s status when it comes to negotiating new sponsorship deals. Such sums would remove some of the impact of the reported vast increase in borrowing Tottenham have had to shoulder (from an initial £500m to £800m) in finishing the project.

One foreseeable problem for Tottenham, however, will be how the players adapt to playing matches at Wembley Stadium next season. On the plus side, if Spurs can regularly come close to filling Wembley’s 91,000 seat capacity, the club would more than double its match day income, earning them an extra £45m-£70m.

As for Arsenal, relegation from the Champions League to the Europa League could not come at a worse time. Arsenal’s kit deal with Puma expires next season, and apart from the £50m income Arsenal would lose - of which they’d be lucky to claw back half even if they won the Europa league - the club will inevitably suffer the commercial fallout of non-Champions League participation in renegotiating that deal. It would likewise be disastrous if Arsenal failed to get into the top four next season too, as the Emirates deal expires in 2019.

At present, commercial deals are vitally important for European clubs looking to compete at the top financial table. As mentioned on this blog last October, Arsenal’s commercial revenues already trail badly behind their rival European elites, while the Premier League’s Short Term Cost Controls, i.e. ‘salary cap’ programme prevents clubs with wage bills in excess of £67m from increasing their wage bill by more than £7m for each of the next two seasons unless profits are driven by commercial income. If Arsenal cannot increase wages by way of higher commercial income – and there’s little evidence of that as commerical income only rose by £4m last season, they will have to sell to buy more players.

Arsenal’s recent £70m increase in turnover has been almost entirely driven by the Premier League’s new TV deal. This has helped to deliver a £40m profit this season despite the club’s dismal failure to compete for major trophies. Meanwhile, Arsenal’s wage bill is touching £200m pa, while stadium debt stands at around £200m with fixed-term repayments standing at £20m pa. The club has enough cash reserves to cover this amount - theoretically meaning that Arsenal are debt-free, but paying the debt early would forfeit Arsenal approx. £25m.

Arsenal should have a £100m war chest available for the purchase of new players this summer + whatever they can get for players they have to sell for fear of their contracts expiring in 2018. The situation is perilous with Sanchez, Ozil, Oxlade Chamberlain, Gibbs, Wilshere, Szczesny and Cazorla perfectly positioned to demand either a big wage hike (which the club can’t afford due to aforementioned PL short-term wage control costs) or leave the club this summer.

Basically, as things stand at this moment, assuming his demands are legitimate, Arsenal could barely afford to pay Ozil £300k a week, as the £160k increase alone would raise the wage bill by £8m. The wage bill might have to drop just to give Ozil the money he wants, so you can see how it’s impossible for Arsenal to hand new contracts to all those players listed above (assuming they want to stay) without having to offload others.

This further demonstrates the mess that Arsenal are actually in. The team is nowhere near competing for the Premier League or Champions League, and will be lucky to even qualify for the latter, yet in order just to keep the current failed status quo, Arsenal would have to dump a heap of players in order to finance new deals for Ozil and Sanchez and there would be little wriggle room to bring anybody else in.

Just as well Sanchez will be leaving then.

Of course, as we well know it’s not all about money – for most. A host of clubs throughout Europe are seriously outperforming Arsenal with far inferior wage budgets and spending power. However, they’re not managed by tactical cretins. Wenger’s only way to succeed at Arsenal is if another three of four players of Sanchez or Ozil’s ilk land in his lap. Unfortunately, the chances of that are remote, he can’t pay the wages anyway and would probably fight for fourth every season even if he had a £400m wage bill and double the transfer funds.

Basically, it’s blatantly obvious to any cretin that Arsenal need a manager that can punch above his weight or at least perform like one that has a £200m wage bill and blown £306m in players over the past three seasons. That’s why 100% of clubs in Europe would ensure Wenger leaves in the summer, and why the Arsenal board are mentally deranged if they don’t, from both a footballing and financial perspective.

Arsenal have made a predictable end of season return to form in recent weeks as Wenger desperately begs for boardroom clemency by claiming that Arsenal’s “fighting spirit has returned”, Ozil has “blossomed in his new position” and “Chelsea won’t be as strong next season”. Of course it’s complete rubbish, Arsenal are still the same old shit show – the only difference being they have had to go full throttle while their opponents are downing tools in preparation for their summer holidays.

Arsenal sunk Stoke 4-1 at the weekend because Stoke gave up, just like Liverpool battered West Ham 4-0 because The Hammers’ end of season party started the minute after Daniel Sturridge put Liverpool 1-0 up in the 35th minute.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.

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Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Tuesday
Apr252017

Off-colour City beaten, Guardiola needs time

In the FA Cup semi, Chelsea beat Spurs 4-2 in an exhilarating match, where Tottenham once again showed resilience but made elementary defensive errors that can only be attributed to their inability to handle the pressure of expectation. Although they’ve done magnificently well to close the gap on Chelsea to just four points, you get the feeling that should Chelsea falter again and an opportunity present itself, Spurs will not take advantage.

Whether on the pitch or in the coaching setup, Pochettino needs a couple of old hands that know what it’s like to taste success and can transmit that to the players. Even Leicester had Robert Huth. With such a young squad, there are presently few calming influences able to help push Spurs over a winning line. For Pochettino, it appears the last piece of the jigsaw is more mental than physical or tactical.

Arsenal beat Man City due to a combination of factors, few of them to do with Wenger’s newly-adopted back three. Against City, he threw all his principles out the window and went long ball, which didn’t work because that was not the reason Man City were beaten. After a typically exhausting season, Guardiola’s players lacked energy and struggled to sustain any sort of collective press. The fact is, too many players are struggling to adapt to Guardiola’s tactics and are incapable of concentrating for 90 minutes.

Having said that, Guardiola’s side did have a perfectly good goal disallowed and didn’t have much luck, hitting the woodwork twice. David Silva was knobbled by a bad tackle early in the game, as was Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho who barely made it into extra time. Not that Guardiola looked for any excuses. Arsenal showed fighting spirit, which once again demonstrates how Wenger is unable to motivate his players; they turn up when they feel like it.

Most people haven’t got a clue what Guardiola is trying to do at City and how difficult it will be for him to accomplish his objectives. His side are clearly not comfortable playing the ball out from the back and he has players like Bravo, Clichy, Otamendi and Navas who make stupid defensive errors in almost every game. Yaya Toure can still create a chance or produce a moment of magic, but he couldn’t press a lemon and his overall contribution is pitiful. China beckons.

Personally, I don’t think Guardiola’s side will even begin to come into its own until the season after next. At the moment, Man City is nothing like a Guardiola team, where the players dominate possession with purpose, use fluid movement to open up space for each other and hunt in packs to win the ball back. His tactics are complex and go well beyond Tika Taka - a terminology Guardiola dislikes and relates to having possession for the sake of it.

Yes, he has some supremely talented technical players like Silva and De Bruyne, but he doesn’t have deep-lying intellects like Xabi Alonso spraying pinpoint passes like he did at Bayern or technique freaks like Xavi and Iniesta to control the midfield.

At Barca, Guardiola created a collective of players so comfortable and intelligent in possession, and so well-drilled out of it, that traditional positions almost became meaningless. That was his genius. However, at Man City it’s obvious that a disproportionate amount of players do not have the technique, temperament or intelligence to adapt to Guardiola’s tactical instructions, and at the moment it all looks completely  dysfunctional.

It’s much more difficult to recreate Guardiola’s brand of football in the Premier League than, for example, Klopp, whose tactics are more often predicated on sheer blood and guts and motivationally driven. Guardiola will need two or three years to get things right, but he will – given time.

++++

In the PL, Man Utd brushed Burnley aside with goals from Martial and Rooney. Mourinho is slowly weaving durability into his squad, building the club up from the back as we knew he would. They are now in a position to leapfrog Liverpool and claim a place in the Champions League, but Ibrahimovic and Rojo are out for the season with ACL ligament tears, joining Pogba, Mata, Smalling and Jones on the injury list. Ibrahimovic could have kicked his last competitive ball.

Liverpool have similar problems. They have the weakest squad of the so-called ‘big’ teams and have been hit by key injuries to Mane, Lallana and Henderson. Like Man City, Klopp’s side are only able to play their pressing game intermittently and are vulnerable because of that. Klopp’s well aware of this and has had taken some big gambles recently. He put out a shadow team against Stoke recently but still managed to turn the result by bringing Coutinho and Firmino on in the second half.

Ultimately, however, they don’t have enough in the locker at the moment and are finding it tough going with so many physical demands being placed on a small squad that can’t cope with injuries. But Liverpool only have four games left, and with one weeks’ recovery between each could still find the legs to mount a late charge and take advantage of Utd’s busy schedule.

The fact is City, Man Utd and Liverpool are working their way back to being strong clubs again. They have great managers who are trying to mould the players in their own image. With only one season under their belts, all have made advances (albeit Guardiola’s have been minimal), but all three managers need more time to bed in last summer’s signings, adapt new and existing players into their tactical setups and start bringing in the final pieces of the jigsaw.

Antonio Conte had a head start over all those managers because he inherited a former title-winning team with a deep squad that had a collective understanding and winning mentality. Over the next few years, I predict a bigger gap opening between the current top five and the teams below them. During this transition, City, Utd and Pool regularly drop points against teams they ought not to, but they will become more consistent against lower place sides, meaning the matches against their direct competitors will start to become crucial six pointers.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.

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Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.