Monday
Jan192015

A truly shocking Arsenal performance



Many Arsenal fans will have been shocked by their side’s bizarre performance at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. The Gunners beat Man City 2-0, yet played with defensive resilience, intelligence and tactical competence. I was shocked, and I presume a lot of Arsenal fans who expected their side to be comfortably beaten were also shocked.

In games like this, it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether the result was simply down to Man City having a very bad day at the office or their opponents skilfully neutralising them and taking advantage of their mistakes. However, I watched the whole game, and although it was obvious that Man City were not at their best – it was certainly a game too soon for the returning Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany, Arsenal should be given huge credit for negating City from the first minute to the last and refusing them the time and space they needed to penetrate.

Although, you’d expect me to say this, considering it’s common knowledge that I believe him to be a tactical cretin, it’s questionable how much praise Wenger should receive for this performance, or the result. In terms of those picked to play, Bellerin only featured because Chambers has been an unmitigated disaster at right back, Monreal only played because Gibbs was unfit, Coquelin only played because Arteta is injured, and Ospina only played because Szczesny has proven himself to be grossly unprofessional.

However, what also helped Arsenal is that their players were playing in their natural positions and comfortably within their limits. Bellerin is a right back, Chambers is not, Ospina appears predictable and composed, Szczesny is not, Coquelin is defensive minded, has pace and a semblance of awareness, Flamini and Arteta are finished, Cazorla is a CM not a winger, and of course, playing deep allows Mertesacker to focus fully on his positional play without having to expose his lack of pace.

Play to the players’ strengths, and you might get a strong performance – it’s not rocket science, it's obvious.

So the team picked itself and the players took the responsibility upon themselves not to be beaten, encouraged by Man City’s wasteful possession – abetted by Arsenal’s pressing game - and the concession of soft goals. Indeed, Arsenal only had two shots on target, but both ended up in the back of the net due to self-inflicted errors. First, Kompany gave away a questionable penalty after minimal contact on Monreal. Cazorla converted. In the second half, Cazorla’s chipped free-kick was headed in far too easily by Giroud – Fernando’s marking was abject.

As the game wore on Arsenal’s confidence grew exponentially. It would have been interesting had Man City got a goal back, but Arsenal did not allow that to happen, thus avoiding a state of panic.

Arsenal’s work ethic was immense, and it seems unfair to give credit to any one individual, but Coquelin in particular showed the passion and motivation required of a player whose future is on the line. Listening to Wenger trying to claim credit for the performance of a player whose contract has been allowed to expire and was only brought back from his third loan spell due to a plethora of injuries is further evidence of his obnoxious narcissism. Meanwhile, Santi Cazorla’s skill and desire produced a phenomenal performance, one that even overshadowed Alexis Sanchez, yet once again Wenger couldn’t resist stealing the limelight to praise himself, citing Cazorla’s ‘vital’ ability as a two-footed pressure-pot reliever whose best position is central midfield. So why does he hardly ever play there?

This is a manager that doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. He just reacts to events. When the performance is drivel, he blames the players instead of himself, when it’s great he quickly takes the opportunity to ensure he receives equal praise. It just makes me detest him even more.

Whether this excellent result acts as template for the future, or is simply a one-off performance dictated by circumstance remains to be seen. However, Wenger would be a colossal fool not to take this opportunity to learn about his players. This game proved that Szczesny and Ozil don’t have the right make-up to play for Arsenal, Arteta and Flamini don’t have the legs, and the omission of Gibbs was a blessing; his lack of positional awareness would probably have cost Arsenal at some point. All five players need to be culled from the squad.

Most of all, this performance is a damning indictment of Wenger. How can it take a team a decade to put in this type of performance away from home against a top club? Because that’s how long it’s been since I’ve seen such a committed defensive performance. It was the performance of a side that respected the opposition, rather than being naively suckered into believing they only had to turn up to have a chance of winning. It was a performance to be proud of.

Now we’ll discover whether Wenger’s craving for self-aggrandisement forces the players to sink back into a system and style that is comically self-destructive, or takes the opportunity to prescribe a new path. Let’s not forget, we’ve seen this before. When Steve Bould and Martin Keown were allowed defensive input, the results were tangible, yet with the acknowledgement ebbing away from him, the control-freak decided he had to abandon it all and re-establish his failed philosophy.

—oo— 

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Friday
Jan162015

Wenger’s lame press conference



Arsenal face Man City at the Etihad on Sunday, and it’s a game I’ll be watching. I no longer watch or report on most games because at this point in Arsenal’s history there’s nothing to be learnt from most games. The club is in stasis and only capable of beating mediocre teams with any conviction. You don’t learn anything about Arsenal when they play at home to Stoke, but you could learn something when they play away at Man City.

Victory seems unlikely, as Arsenal’s away form this season is horrible with only 6 wins out of 16 games. Also, they’ve only beaten Man City twice in the last 13 attempts.

I briefly watched Wenger’s pre-match press conference, and, as expected, it was full of deliberate misinformation. Questioned on the 6-3 hammering last season, Wenger had plenty of excuses. He blamed the result on the fact that Arsenal had to play Napoli in the Champions League three days earlier, yet only half of Arsenal’s outfield players played in both matches.

He also stated that Arsenal finished the game with 10 men, but unless someone can enlighten me I cannot find any evidence of that happening. According to Wenger, Arsenal missed many chances, yet Man City had nearly double the attempts - 22 to Arsenal’s 12. Then, to add a turd topping to his bullshit pie, he lazily mentioned “refereeing decisions” without even going into detail - because there was no detail.

Rather than trying to win a game through the employment of top class players or judicious use of tactics, Wenger’s only feeble weapon to get his players in the right frame of mind is to distort the past; pretend it never happened. His players must be stupid if they believe that, and evidently they don’t believe it because in big games their mental and tactical fragilities are always exposed in exactly the same way.

Man City have done well of late to get themselves back into the title race, but they frequently concede goals at home, which gives any team a chance should they have a bad day up front. Ominously for Arsenal, City’s two most important players, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany, have both been passed fit to play, although YaYa Toure will miss out.

Arsenal, meanwhile, are getting most of their injured players back, but I don’t see this making much difference – especially in a game like this. Arsenal are unbalanced and have a proliferation of central midfielders playing all over the park. One steps in, another drops out – but they’re all pretty much like-for like. Because of the tactical set-up, Arsenal simply cannot cope in big games. Injuries are almost immaterial - the only player the team would miss at present is Alexis Sanchez.

One player that is ruled out is Mathieu Debuchy, who got injured for another three months after dislocating his shoulder against Stoke last weekend.  I’ve seen the challenge from Marko Arnautovic and think it was a scandalous challenge. He had no chance of getting the ball and deliberately shoved Debuchy into the advertising hoardings from a few feet away. Completely unnecessary, Arnautovic should have been punished retrospectively.

Although in desperate need of a capable DM (not Coquelin, Flamini or Arteta) and another centre-back, Arsenal fans will be worried that Wenger has settled for 17-year-old Krystian Bielik. A typical Wenger signing, at £2.4m Bielik has only ever played 5 games of professional football - for Legia Warsaw, and in three of those games he was subbed.

Rather ominously, Bielik can also play centre-back. Forgive me for not getting excited, but I don’t trust Wenger’s judgment, his scouting system or his ability to turn a 17-year-old into a capable defensive player in any shape or form.

—oo— 

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Monday
Jan052015

Stop weeping over Podolski



Interesting things statistics, a useful (if not vital) barometer when applied correctly, yet equally they can paint a completely false picture.

One thing concerning statistics that has always interested me is when people use them to back up their opinions on players without digging deeper into the detail.

You hear all the time how wonderful x striker is, pointing to the amount of goals they’ve scored – yet people rarely reinforce their estimation by giving a detailed analysis of precisely who those goals were against, under what circumstances and in which competitions.

Lukas Podolski is a fine example of an oft-described “lethal” attacking striker of international pedigree. On the face of it, 47 goals in 121 international appearances appears to validate those claims, but dig a little deeper and Podolski’s reputation appears severely overstated.

Indeed the German striker has scored 47 goals for Germany, but how many in a World Cup? 5, against Ecuador, Sweden (2), Australia and England.

In European Championships, Podolski’s scored only 4 goals against three teams: Poland (2), Croatia and Denmark. Hardly impressive considering he plays for Germany – a side flush with outstanding players that frequently reaches the latter stages of tournaments.

Figures for international strikers get really distorted when you add World Cup or European Championship qualifiers and friendlies into the mix. Even though it’s plausible a seeded team like Germany could end up in a tough qualifying group, they’re usually filled with countries that shouldn’t even be given the right to take part.

Podolski is a fine example of a player whose decade of goalscoring in internationals comes against some of the world’s biggest deadbeats. His 17 goals in International Qualifiers include conquests against: Liechtenstein (3), Russia, Azerbaijan (2), Finland, Ireland, San Marino (4), Slovakia (2), Cyprus, Kazakhstan, and Austria.

Meanwhile, 3 of Podolski’s international goals came in the pointless Confederations Cup, while the remaining 18 came in equally futile friendlies: Thailand (2), Slovenia, N. Ireland, South Africa (3), Luxembourg (2), Romania, Switzerland, China, Ivory Coast (2), Hungary, Ecuador (2), and Armenia.

Before claiming Podolski is a striker of true international esteem, perhaps we should ask ourselves how many times he has scored against a major international side in a game that actually meant something? The answer is, never.

And it’s not like he hasn’t had the opportunities. On the 20 occasions he’s faced the likes of Brazil, France, Italy, Argentina, Portugal, Spain and Holland, Podolski hasn’t scored a single goal.

On closer examination, Podolski’s international record is comparable to the domestic drudgery of a Kaba Diawara or Yaya Sanogoal – they too would probably score 47 goals in a decade if all they ever faced were the domestic equivalent of teams like Barnet, Yeovil or Kidderminster.

Naturally, when you look at the teams Podolski scored against in England, the story is much the same. In his first two seasons, he only scored three and assisted three against teams that finished ninth and above in the table.

A big loss to Arsenal? I think not - Podolski has always flattered to deceive. The biggest loss has been the £30m Arsenal threw down the toilet the day they signed him. Still, fans should hope he does well for Inter and that they buy him, otherwise another £5.5m will disappear into Podolski’s bank account between now and the summer of 2016. That’s almost twice as much as the club made from raising ticket prices by 3%.

—oo— 

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Saturday
Jan032015

Grinning imbecile goes to Inter



That will be my abiding memory of Lukas Podolski. Not a footballer, but a grinning imbecile that seemed to spend most of his time Tweeting nauseating pictures of himself in changing rooms across the globe.

I never expected Podolski to be a success. In fact, I wrote the following shortly after he signed for the club in 2012:

“I’m not sure about this signing; I feel Podolski is capable of scoring an adequate amount of goals – but nothing like Van Persie. Technically, Podolski is not in the same class. My gut instinct is that Podolski will be a decent signing, but far from prolific – and if he’s stuck out wide, the goals might dry up as they have for Germany.”

Poor work rate, not very agile, the Premier League was a bad fit. At best, he was an impact sub. 

The striker scored 29 goals in 3.5 seasons. 6 of those came in the Champions League, 4 in the FA Cup and 19 in the Premier League, of which only 7 were scored away from home against 5 clubs: Fulham (2), Hull (2), West Ham, Liverpool and Reading.

Of the 12 Podolski scored at home, none were against a top four club.

Now we know why Podolski went from Koln to Bayern and back again. Podolski was a waste of £10.9m and approximately £19.5m in wages.

Inter must be desperate, but currently 11th in Serie A, the club’s five strikers have only scored 14 goals between them. A loan deal, Podolski could easily be back at Arsenal in the summer where he can suck up £107k p/wk for another 12 months before leaving on a free transfer in 2016.

Like so many Wenger signings over the last decade, Podolski was overpaid, overrated and sucked the lifeblood out of a wage bill that is full of grossly overpaid mediocrity, and starting to spiral out of control.

—oo— 

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Tuesday
Dec232014

Wenger has Hubris Syndrome disorder



Received a comment from Nic: "I recently attended a conference where someone gave a talk on "Hubris Syndrome". For anyone who has never heard of this syndrome, Google it. It describes Wenger to a T."

I took Nic’s advice. There is a book called ‘Brain’ - A Journal of Neurology, written by former politician David Owen. In it, Owen describes Hubris Syndrome. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more accurate description of the "dictator" running Arsenal Football Club.

Here are some extracts:

"Charisma, charm, the ability to inspire, persuasiveness, breadth of vision, willingness to take risks, grandiose aspirations and bold self-confidence—these qualities are often associated with successful leadership. Yet there is another side to this profile, for these very same qualities can be marked by impetuosity, a refusal to listen to or take advice and a particular form of incompetence when impulsivity, recklessness and frequent inattention to detail predominate. This can result in disastrous leadership and cause damage on a large scale. The attendant loss of capacity to make rational decisions is perceived by the general public to be more than ‘just making a mistake’. While they may use discarded medical or colloquial terms, such as ‘madness’ or ‘he's lost it’, to describe such behaviour, they instinctively sense a change of behaviour although their words do not adequately capture its essence.

"A common thread tying these elements together is hubris, or exaggerated pride, overwhelming self-confidence and contempt for others. How may we usefully think about a leader who hubristically abuses power, damaging the lives of others? Some see it as nothing more than the extreme manifestation of normal behaviour along a spectrum of narcissism. Others simply dismiss hubris as an occupational hazard of powerful leaders, politicians or leaders in business, the military and academia; an unattractive but understandable aspect of those who crave power.

"'Hubris syndrome' is seen as an acquired condition, and therefore different from most personality disorders which are traditionally seen as persistent throughout adulthood. The key concept is that hubris syndrome is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.

"The ability to make swift decisions, sometimes based on little evidence, is of particular importance—arguably necessary—in a leader. Similarly, a thin-skinned person will not be able to stand the process of public scrutiny, attacks by opponents and back-stabbings from within, without some form of self-exultation and grand belief about their own mission and importance

"Dictators are particularly prone to hubris because there are few, if any, constraints on their behaviour."

—oo— 

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