Tuesday
May222018

Emery fits Arsenal like hand in glove

So it seems that unless there’s another crazy twist of fate, the recently departed 46-year-old PSG coach Unai Emery is set to be the next Arsenal manager. Was Mikel Arteta ever really in the running? Perhaps as a last resort. He provided a lot of smoke, leading to a lot of outlandish and unproven assumptions about his suitability, but the whole circus proves you can’t ascertain much by what the media says.

In my opinion, the appointment of Emery is beyond criticism. Personally, I would have preferred Ancelotti or Allegri, but assuming they ever held discussions with the club, there’s a high chance they would have analysed the mess Wenger left behind and decided the squad needed a £200m rebuild. That would leave Arsenal with little choice but to seek a coach that was more grateful for the job offer.

The fact is Wenger has dragged Arsenal too far down the table to attract a world-class coach. As hopeless as Arsenal were even when they regularly qualified for the Champions League, that stature would still have enabled them to attract the likes of Klopp, but the board sat on its hands too long and missed the opportunity. Emery is not Klopp, but he’s the best ‘fledgling’ manager Arsenal could get at this juncture and certainly fits where Arsenal is situated right now.

Gazidis and co. could have opted for Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim or Jardim at Monaco, but who is to say an approach was not made or either wanted to come? With that mind, assuming the board has done its due diligence, it’s made a very good choice.

I wanted a coach that would turn the ship, not risk sinking it, and Emery did just that at Valencia and Sevilla – two big Spanish clubs that performed extraordinarily well under his stewardship. Let’s put what Emery achieved there into perspective. At Valencia, Emery took a club that has the same stature as Everton (with severe financial restrictions) and qualified for the UEFA Cup in his first season. This was followed by a third-place finish the following two seasons, despite losing David Villa and David Silva in 2011/12.

Emery then took charge of third-rated Spanish side Sevilla, leading them to fifth in his first season before managing the unique achievement of winning the Europa League for three successive seasons, including a 3-1 victory over Liverpool in 2016. Within three years, Emery had won more European trophies for Sevilla than the club had managed in the previous 120. Of course, fans don't want Arsenal to be competing for the Europa League every season, but this is the situation Arsenal finds itself in and Emery's achievement is no less astonishing.

At PSG, Emery won Ligue 1 in his second season, losing only three of 38 games. But this is France, where you would expect any chump to win the league with a club possessing as much financial firepower as PSG. However, money is not the be all and end all, despite Emery being penalised for his so-called embarrassing performance in the Champions League, specifically PSG’s famous 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona.

Amidst this ‘failure’, it’s worth factoring that PSG is pretty much the equivalent of Celtic. The club plays against utter dross in its domestic league virtually every week and has zero European pedigree. If any club has the right to panic under the unrealistic expectation of the European stage, it’s them. Even in a league where clubs are tested on an almost weekly basis, Manchester City, with all its financial muscle and the best coach in world football, has been unremarkable in the Champions League.

Taking all this into account, the Arsenal board has moved for a coach that has a fantastic pedigree in turning around the fortunes of other clubs in similar situations. He’s highly experienced for his age, is excellent working on a modest budget and favours a modern pressing game – defending the ball in the midfield zone with quick transitional plays.

Am I excited? No - still need to chemi-clean the stench of Wenger from my nervous system. Should you be excited? Far more than you were on the 20th April before his sacking.

—oo— 

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

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

Monday
May142018

LeGrove puts forward the case for Mikel Arteta, but…

Don’t normally attach much credence to other blogs, because by and large they’re sh*t, but LeGrove is a thoughtful, incisive and well-written blog that today puts forward a compelling, but perhaps misguided, case for the acquisition of Mikel Arteta to replace Arsene Wenger. With Juventus coach Max Allegri increasingly distancing himself from the role, Arteta has now emerged as a frontrunner for the post alongside Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann.

Personally, I have severe reservations. At first glance, Arteta does not excite me. He obviously has zero managerial experience and did not excite or impress me as a player or club captain. However, he does excite Pep Guardiola – and it’s impossible to ignore the achievements of that man, the brand of football he creates and, perhaps more importantly, the decisions he makes regarding the teams he builds around him. No man is an island, apart from Arsene Wenger, which is why he got sacked.

The fact that Guardiola speaks so highly of Arteta and bust a gut to employ him is a major affirmative, but then we’re also in danger of attaching credibility to an individual that does not yet warrant it. When Guardiola acquired Arteta in 2016, he spoke of him in glowing terms, stating: “Arteta is one of the best midfielders there has been and he knows English football. He’s got 12, 13 years in both Scotland and here. He knows what Boxing Day is like.”

I find the initial portion of that statement quite frankly absurd. Arteta played 50 games for Rangers and failed to establish himself at middle-tier Spanish side Real Sociedad before carving a career at lower-middle tier Premier League club Everton. Then he moved to Arsenal between 2011 and 2016, earned himself the captaincy and won a solitary FA Cup medal in a final against Wigan. Arteta doesn’t have a single cap for his country either – he was always a bang average midfielder.

The fact is, Guardiola needed a right-hand man when he joined Man City and looked around to find an available suitor. Arteta is no-doubt an intelligent chap, spoke both Spanish and English, understood the dynamics of the English game and happened to be available – he was a logical choice. But, that doesn’t make Arteta anymore an intellectual genius than Steve Bould – who has evidently not been given permission at Arsenal to do anything other than put the cones out on the training ground.

It’s a big leap to equate and attribute the qualities inherent in Guardiola’s makeup with those that serve under him. After all, Steve McClaren served under Alex Ferguson for three years, flopped at England and has been largely perceived as a laughing stock ever since. Another Ferguson assistant, Carlos Quieroz, lasted under a year at Real Madrid, where he failed dismally in all competitions.

Arteta has also watched and learned from the one of the great managers of the game in Guardiola, but it would be rather naïve and simplistic to imagine he would be able to implement a similar strategy at Arsenal. If all you had to do was watch, observe and translate, number twos at all the big clubs in world football would be swanning around ripping it up in their respective leagues – I see little evidence this is uniform.

I recognise that none of us know Mikel Arteta, whereas Pep Guardiola does know him, and whilst you can take what managers say regarding their staff with a pinch of salt – loyalty goes a long way in football and managers and players tend to be gushing in their love and respect for each other, we also have to recognise it’s plausible that Arteta is rightly considered a very special managerial prospect.

However, I don’t believe there is any way we can discern this from the outside looking in and it’s naïve to forward-project that the former Arsenal captain is a shoe in for this job or anywhere near capable of bringing the qualities that Arsenal need to, first, clear up the detritus Wenger left behind, then go next-level and start creaming the opposition Klopp-style within three-years.

If Arteta was to be appointed, I’d be underwhelmed, but would obviously have to give him the benefit of the doubt and be supportive. I just feel that even if Arteta has a grand vision for the club and the talent to implement it, there are many facets of football management he cannot possibly have acquired. Mainly, how to respond when your players don’t, how to make big decisions in a pressure cooker environment and how to elicit the respect and motivation of a group of Arsenal players that are mentally weak, badly educated and prone to taking liberties.

Another aspect is trusting the foresight of Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis, who has taken a decade to acquire a pair of balls and seems to have very little knowledge or insight of the game beyond his financial expertise, which in itself is not exactly impressive. Personally, I feel Arsenal is in a precarious position at the moment. The club is going backwards and it’s weak. Player contracts are expiring left, right and centre and acquiring top-quality replacements is getting increasingly difficult due to the club falling behind all of its competitors and having zero credibility on the European stage.

I feel the club needs to be cautious and hire someone with gravitas and experience that can attract players through reputation alone, steady the ship, turn it and perhaps spend the next two-to-three years preparing the foundations for a young and compelling manager that can operate and flourish in a more stable environment. For me Carlo Ancelotti is still that man, Arteta can wait however good he may or may not be.

—oo— 

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

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

Monday
May072018

The fraud is dead, long live the king

Remember, there are no dictators without followers. Watching Wenger’s grotesque departure at the Emirates yesterday was both confusing and surreal. I must confess, I wondered to myself, why are they celebrating this vile narcissist? Then I remembered, like queuing, it’s a long-held cultural tradition in this country to celebrate an employee’s lengthy service. We wrap a gift and present it to the ageing director, who is applauded by all those he financially bribed enriched, is venerated by the shop floor worker – most gracious for a job, yet is often detested by the personal secretary that had to wash his dirty laundry.

But why do people submit to dictators? And why this one? Dictators teach, but they don't want people to learn the truth about them or the world around them. They are often charismatic and their dialogue hypnotic, but as Wenger’s hackneyed farewell speech yesterday proved – he is nothing but a pound-shop intellectual.

Wenger has rarely addressed the Arsenal fan base, except to castigate them. Cocooned by the trappings of wealth and reputation, one gets the feeling he looks down on the 'ordinary' man. To him, the fans are nothing but fly in the ointment – and he was right to be weary. Wenger’s biggest battle over the last decade has not been his competitors, but muzzling the fan rebellion. In Wenger’s mind, the fan relationship was binary - either they submit totally or they’re enemies of the state. Loyalty is everything to a dictator, because with loyalty, dictators are very adept at controlling the thoughts, opinions and actions of their minions. Wenger’s culture required slaves - no culture can be built without them.

In the synopsis for the great physician Wilhelm Reich’s novel Listen, Little Man!, it talks of the average human being, the ‘Little Man’. It tells how Reich “watched first naively, then with amazement, and finally with horror, at what the Little Man does to himself”. On those that follow a dictator’s every footstep, he writes: “A great man knows when and in what way he is a little man. A little man does not know he is little and is afraid to know. He is proud of his generals, but not himself. He admires an idea he has not had, not one he has had. The less he understands something, the more firmly he believes in it.”

Yesterday’s farewell party for Arsenal’s great dictator was bathed in unjustified platitudes, egged on by a mechanical media and Wenger’s willing accomplices - the Little Man. However, there was one final psychological power grab - an ignoble attempt to protect his legacy by proclaiming the detritus he leaves his successor is worthy of success: “I would invite you, really push, support these players and the staff who remains behind me, these group of players has a special quality. Please support them next season because they deserve it.”

For a decade or more Wenger has sought to protect his power at all costs, now he’s lost that power he couldn’t help but exploit his own farewell speech by seeking to protect his legacy.

Then he swallowed hard and thanked the Little Man for kicking him in the teeth – that must have hurt.

—oo— 

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

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

Friday
May042018

Wenger’s tenure ends on a clueless whimper

I tend not to make pre-match predictions, as football is too random on a one-off basis, but last night’s 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the semi-final of the Europa Leage was about as close to being scripted as you could possibly get. This was the last 90 minutes of football I would watch as an Arsenal ‘supporter’ under Arsene Wenger’s tenure and I had zero emotion – not a flicker. I watched the game purely as an observer.

Pre-match I would have told you, Arsenal will create next to nothing, their most creative player (Ozil) would not turn up and several momentary defensive lapses would result in Arsenal surrendering a cheap goal or two. That Atletico’s punisher would be Diego Costa was almost a given.

Watching Atletico Madrid was very much like watching the latter years under ex-Arsenal boss George Graham. Over both legs, Atletico had a clear game plan, were phenomenally well-drilled and clinical in decisive moments. Arsenal’s only chances came from situations their opponents could not plan for – a deflected long-distance effort from Granit Xhaka and a Wilshere mishit that fell invitingly for Aaron Ramsey.

Other than that, Atletico completely controlled the game, both in and out of possession, with room for several extra gears if required. Diego Simeone’s remit, carried out to the letter, was for the players to stay calm under pressure, believe in their renowned defensive strengths and allow Arsenal possession from which to counter.

The first half demonstrated Atletico’s patience and composure, albeit reducing the game to a boring and tedious spectacle. Initially, the Spaniards attempted to test Arsenal by playing long balls over the top – isolating Costa against Laurent Koscielny. This almost immediately paid dividends when the Frenchman got caught wrong side of the bearded wrecking ball and was shrugged off like a rag doll. However, Costa fluffed his chance.

Atletico had to wait until just before half-time for Arsenal to predictably self-implode. Antoine Griezmann’s defence-splitting past caught a sleeping Hector Bellerin too far ahead of Costa to make up the ground. The Brazilian protected himself and the ball from Bellerin’s late challenge before placing it beyond David Ospina. It was a rookie mistake from a defender that has little-to-no understanding of the defensive side of the game.

Surprisingly, Atletico did not sit on the lead in the second half. With the 1-0 advantage acting as insurance, they went in search of a second goal, albeit without ever fully overcommitting. Arsenal, meanwhile, often found themselves in useful wide positions, but the wing backs’ wretched delivery gave little chance for advancing Arsenal players to attack the goal. The game fizzled out with the Gunners having created only one solitary shot on target; Xhaka’s aforementioned deflected effort, saved by Jan Oblak. It was all too easy for Atletico, who should make short shrift of fellow finalists Marseille in the final on 16 May.

Ospina (5): Poor communication with the players in front of him
Bellerin (3): Naïve defensively and ineffective offensively
Mustafi (5): Has no leadership qualities or communication skills
Koscielny (4): Managed to make his usual big match ricket despite only being on the field for 11 minutes
Monreal (4): Delivery from attacking positions was abject
Xhaka (5): A couple of effective long range passes, but defensively incompetent
Wilshere (5): Got his head up, but little end product
Ramsey (5): Seems to only want to play on his own terms
Ozil (4): Yet another big match flop
Welbeck (5): Plenty of effort, but constantly wastes possession
Lacazette (4): No service but struggled to link up play

Subs:
Chambers (6): Made some key challenges and did better than Koscielny would have
Mkhitaryan (4): Ineffective

Nobody with any foresight would have expected Arsenal to win the Europa League and sure enough they were effortlessly beaten following their first legitimate challenge, despite having the advantage of playing against 10 men for practically the entire first leg of this semi-final. This is Wenger all over, unable to punch his weight on the European stage, let alone above it.

There will be time to analyse Arsenal's playing staff prior to the new manager coming in, but right now it’s evident that Wenger has left a squad devoid of confidence, character or defensive discipline. It's a mess, incomparable to what he inherited upon joining the club. 

As an aside, I feel that Simeone is not the right man to take on the manager’s role. His tactical style and what he demands of his players would necessitate a mammoth squad rebuild that Arsenal are simply not equipped for.

—oo— 

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

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

Tuesday
Apr242018

Why Arsenal should move for Carlo Ancelotti

The dust hasn’t exactly settled, Arsene Wenger’s sacking hasn’t gone down well with his monstrous ego – as if, and his mutant cult is fuming that they’ve lost the battle. More to the point, he still has time to embarrass himself further between now and the end of the season - that could be fun. I must admit, I didn’t expect to be this spirited about Wenger’s beheading, but Ivan Gazidis well-aimed knife to the kidneys has partially restored my faith that at least one person on the Arsenal board has a semblance of ambition.

However, in my book, the quicker Wenger is forgotten about the better and I’ve already turned my attention to who should replace him. Personally, I feel there are inherent risks in giving the job to a young, up-and-coming manager, and would therefore prefer to see a steady hand, not just sailing the ship back in the right direction, but preparing the future for the new breed.

It’s very easy to get carried away with positivity now that the club’s chief tactical cretin has been deposed, but to imagine Arsenal can be single-handedly transformed by the likes of Leonardo Jardim, Mikael Arteta or Patrick Vieira is fanciful at best. The fact is, Wenger has left the club in a horrible mess and dumping that burden on an inexperienced manager might not only be the wrong move for that individual, but prolong the supporters’ agony.

For example, if you’re going to bring in a young, modern coach that favours a pressing style, you have to look around at Arsenal’s squad and ask yourself, who realistically exists that can fulfil that role considering virtually none of the players have any of the psychological or physical traits for that tactic to be successfully implemented?

Wenger has spent the last 15 years signing, training and cerebrally breeding flimsy, lightweight, unaccountable players, few, if any of whom could adapt to the ways of Guardiola or Klopp, let alone an understudy.

To bring in a young coach with that ideology, the squad would have to be completely stripped bare and rebuilt. Not only are the funds unlikely to be available to do that, but it’s a big ask for an inexperienced coach to operate successfully within that pressure-cooker environment, and neither would they have the experience to respond or adapt their singular approach in a way that a more experienced coach would should their methods start to falter.

That’s why I’m going to stick my neck out and advocate Carlo Ancelotti to be the next Arsenal manager. There are numerous reasons why, at this point in time, I believe he would be the right fit:

1) He could cope with the expectation
2) He would gain the immediate respect of the players
3) He would have the gravitas to bring in players above what a 6th-placed club merits
4) He would (eventually) sort out the defensive issues
5) He's tactically flexible and astute
6) He would likely leave a much stronger platform for a younger, more exciting manager to supersede him

For me, Ancelotti could be the perfect stop-gap, clearing up Wenger’s mess, but also possessing the vast experience to lay solid ground for a future prospect, whoever that may be, to take over – perhaps even working underneath him for a period.

If Ancelotti wildly exceeds expectations and becomes a long-term fixture, nobody will be complaining, but he’s certainly less likely to spectacularly fail as a young and inexperienced manager would. We also know Ancelotti is available and he’s worked in the Premier League.

Astoundingly, the Italian's win percentage has increased at every managerial post he’s taken over the last 23 years bar Bayern Munich, which stood at 70% compare to 74% at Real Madrid.  

Ancelotti is not a manager on the wane, but one that is maturing with age - and at 58, he still has a decade on Wenger. I appreciate he may not necessarily be the most exciting and forward-thinking appointment, but what’s the rush? Winning is winning, the club is vulnerable and remember the proverb, fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

—oo— 

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

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