Oops, wrote off Chelsea too soon

The trouble with writing a blog is that it involves making predictions. If you’re a smart blogger, you won’t make predictions, but the trouble with that is you’ll risk coming across as a fence sitter, and let’s face it, football and fence sitting are diametrically opposed.

On September 27, I wrote off Chelsea’s chances of competing for the Premier League based on a terrible performance against the Gunners, yet five weeks later they’re looking a completely different side.

Manager Antonio Conte has demonstrated his calibre by switching to a back three system and allowing lazy bastards like Fabregas and Hazard complete freedom to play an offensive game. This has not only provided Chelsea with defensive stability, but a remarkable attacking transformation has occurred.

Since the Arsenal defeat, they have won all five Premier League games, scoring 16 goals and conceding none. Those victories includes a 4-0 pasting of Man Utd and an awe-inspiring 5-0 victory against Everton on Sunday, which was about as perfect a performance from a Chelsea team as I can remember.

Liverpool are also battering teams out of sight and now sit top of the table. Arrogant Daniel Sturridge, so instrumental in Liverpool’s title charge two seasons ago under Brendan Rodgers, has been humbled. Now, Klopp only brings him on if he's desperate or the points are in the bag.

However, Man City have floundered. Pep Guardiola’s players are struggling to adapt to his nuanced tactics. It could be that his pressing game is negating their creative potential. The Pellegrini picnic is over and, like Klopp, Guardiola might need a season to discover which of his players are willing to match the physical demands placed on them – or maybe they just need to acclimatise.

A similar problem is also haunting Jose Mourinho, who is already calling players out in public for crying off injured, unwilling to put their bodies on the line.

The upshot of all this is that I now have to reinstate Chelsea as title contenders.

For the first time in 35 years, I did not watch the North London derby and settled for highlights. Spurs impress me more than Arsenal because they have resilience, something Wenger has not installed in Arsenal for over a decade. Even when they’re down on their luck and missing key players, Spurs won’t roll over.

If you add up all the points Arsenal have lost in big games due to Laurent Koscielny clangers, it would be very revealing, and he was at it again on Sunday. Koscielny is an accident waiting to happen. Like the club he plays for, he always flatters to deceive and reveals his flaws eventually.

From where I’m sitting, Arsenal have been lucky this season and don’t deserve to be above Tottenham. Against Leicester, they were lucky to get a point when the home side were denied a stick-on pen in the last minute, and at home to Southampton they got a goal at the death that should have been disallowed due to a head injury in the box. Wenger’s men narrowly beat Burnley, but only after Koscielny handled the ball before scoring.

Most of the key decisions in games have gone for Arsenal this season, but they still don’t look convincing. Meanwhile, Wenger is busy destroying his only world-class player, Alexis Sanchez. He plays him up front in every game and never rests him. By February/March, he’ll be ruined.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.


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Gazidis’ fingers in the till again/Arsenal salary cap points deduction risk

Swiss Ramble has done its annual carving of Arsenal’s full-year accounts. It’s probably too complex and boring for the average fan to read, but here are the highlights:

Arsenal’s cash balance stands at £226m, more than Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich put together.

Chairman Sir Chips Keswick explained it’s his “duty to point out” that after excluding debt service reserves and amounts owed to other clubs on past transfers, the balance is more like £149 million.

I would have thought it also his duty to point out what other clubs owe to Arsenal, but then why paint a full picture when you can obfuscate?

Either way, one has to question the wisdom of leaving hundreds of millions of pounds sitting idle in the bank last season when interest rates were touching zero.

Profit before tax fell to a measley £3m. Commercial income rose by a paltry £4m and match day revenue dipped slightly. Most of Arsenal’s growth has come through improved TV deals via a 63% increase in broadcasting revenues.

Despite generating little income for the club, other than what broadcasters give Arsenal for nothing, Ivan Gazidis has awarded himself a 15% increase in remuneration from £2.2 million to £2.6 million pa.

Indeed, Arsenal’s commercial revenues trail badly behind their peers. Of the top 10 wealthiest clubs in world football, Arsenal have the second lowest commercial revenues as a % of total income.

This could soon become a problem for the club as it is part of the Premier League’s Short Term Cost Controls, i.e. ‘salary cap’ programme. The rules prevent clubs with wage bills in excess of £67m from increasing wages by more than £7m for each of the following two seasons.

Yet Arsenal have 15 players whose contracts expire by 2018. And not any old players: Mertesacker, Koscielny, Cazorla, Monreal, Sanogo, Toral and Campbell (expire 2017) and Sanchez, Ozil, Giroud, Wilshere, Szczesny, Gibbs, Jenkinson and Oxlade-Chamberlain (expire 2018).

Presuming those players want to stay – or the club wants to keep them, new contracts would mean salary increases that would likely push the club way over the £7m limit, invoking a points deduction for breaking PL salary cap rules. Obviously, Sanchez and Ozil's wage demands are likely to be a key element of this.

Rules state that salaries can be substantially increased if funded by increases in revenue from sources other than Premier League broadcasting contracts, i.e. commercial deals. However, Gazidis’ does not seem capable of generating sufficient funds through commercial activities.

This could explain why Wenger has come out in the press recently and started mouthing off about Ozil and Sanchez wanting too much money.

Either way, fans should prepare themselves for that fact that not only do Ozil and Sanchez probably not want to sign a new contract anyway (in which case the salary cap is irrelevant), but if they do, Arsenal have put themselves in a position where they can’t pay them the going rate without dumping a host of other players.

On the subject of the wage bill, Arsenal’s has climbed to £195m, £1m higher than Man City, nearly double that of Spurs and £145m higher than Champions Leicester City.

Any good news? Stan Kroenke has waived his £3m annual fee for “strategic and advisory services”. However, this may have something to do with the numerous petitions against him within the stadium during March and April.

Arsenal’s stadium debt currently stands at £233m; requiring annual payments of around £20 million. However, due to those cash balances mentioned earlier, net debt is only £7m. 

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.


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Chelsea victory means nothing

Lots of goals across the Premier League this weekend and after six games, champions Leicester City are already trailing Man City by 11 points.

I watched some of the City game and Kevin De Bruyne was out of this world. He prevented an almost certain Swansea goal, running the length of the pitch to make a last ditch intervention, then intercepted the resulting corner and ran half the length of the field again to set up Raheem Sterling who bagged three points for the away side.

De Bruyne would not have done that for Manuel Pellegrini, and I doubt the reprised Sterling would have had the confidence to finish his goal with such aplomb either.

Even at 3-1, Pep Guardiola was going berserk on the touchline. In victory, he was both complimentary and abrasive, suggesting his team is nowhere near the finished article. Man City had a similar start last season and faded badly, but Guardiola will not allow that to happen under his watch.

If they fail, it won’t be for the same reasons that Pellegrini failed, Guardiola’s players are too motivated. Everyone is fighting – not just for their place, but for the manager’s respect. And, of course, Guardiola lives and breathes the game and demands flawless focus and preparation from his underlings. That’s why the mercurial, but idle, Yaya Toure has been discarded quicker than a toilet wipe.

When asked in a press conference whether Man City could win the quadruple, Guardiola’s response was, “what the f*ck?” The question, although not entirely unrealistic, is an insult because it assumes that Guardiola’s meticulous pursuit of perfection is based on anything other than countless hours of surgical tactics and training.

Liverpool continue to batter teams out of sight, but most impressive is how they are now capable of squeezing results out on the road. They’ve already taken eight points away from Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs on their travels, which could be meaningful at the end of the season. Their goals are coming from everywhere and Adam Llalana and Roberto Firmino, in particular, have been rejuvenated.

Top-class managers can squeeze talent out of players that would otherwise be ordinary.  Some managers sacrifice individual talent to create a team that is greater than the sum of its parts, but managers like Klopp enable individuals to sparkle while remaining an integral part of a team’s collective resonance.

Klopp and Guardiola are truly modern managers. Mourinho is a supreme organiser and man motivator, but is currently being made to look one-dimensional by comparison. Still, he’s capable of creating a powerful dimension and there’s more than one way to skin a cat. As Utd proved on Saturday having humbled the champions 4-1, his squad may be flawed but they’re ready to share his ambition.

Having watched Chelsea feebly succumb to Arsenal on Saturday, it makes you realise just how great a manager Mourinho is at squeezing blood out of a stone. Without John Terry changing his diaper, Gary Cahill is a donkey, Ivanovic is a rudderless brute and Edin Hazard and Cesc Fabregas are almost impossible to motivate. They both want to be the centre of attention – in adversity they’re utterly useless. Cosseted by Wenger for eight years, Fabregas has failed to develop any mental resistance, but Hazard’s perpetual refusal to work hard for his team is utterly loathsome.

When Cahill gifted Arsenal a one-goal lead, the Gunners went for the throat and blitzed Antonio Conte’s slothful mercenaries who finished 10th last season because they’re egos would not climb down from the pedestal that Mourinho put them on. I always said that Chelsea made a mistake sacking Mourinho and should have just written off the season and started ditching tossers like Hazard instead.

As for Arsenal, they don’t beat so-called ‘good’ teams very often, and when they do it’s invariably because the opposition plays beneath themselves. Sometimes managers make laughable decisions (Coquelin/Cazorla) and still win.

But let’s be realistic. We’ve been here before – countless times. The pressure for Arsenal to get off to a flyer resulted in five points dropped, but now the pressure is off the handbrake is released. History has told us again and again and again that Arsenal fall apart every season because of Wenger’s inability to inspire or provide a semblance of tactical flexibility. Anyone who’s optimistic that things will be different this season is either naïve or an idiot.

As Pochettino proved again on Saturday, last season was not a flash in the pan for Spurs. They have the best defence in the Premier League, depth and quality in midfield and numerous options up front. They are the most resilient team in the PL.

Last season, I mentioned how much I liked the look of Son Heung-Min, but he struggled to get into a side that was performing optimally with him on the periphery. Now with Harry Kane injured, he has an opportunity to show what he’s all about, and did that scoring twice against Middlesbrough.

The wheat is already being separated from the chaff. After Saturday, I’m throwing Chelsea out of the title race.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.


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Wenger signings won’t make any difference

Some interesting games last weekend and the top seven is already starting to take shape. I get the feeling those teams are pretty much fixed into position now for the remainder of the season.

Pep Guardiola is proving his worth pretty quickly at City who ran amok in the first half against Man Utd at Old Trafford and beat them 2-1. Obviously, Jose Mourinho and Guardiola have very different styles, but Guardiola won the battle because his forwards were too agile and quick-thinking for Utd’s statuesque midfield.

In a blistering first-half display, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva carved Utd open with speedy one-touch passing. You can bet Mourinho won’t set his team up like that the next time these two goliaths meet.

The game had a comical element due to several errors made by new City keeper Claudio Bravo. Like Jurgen Klopp, Guardiola wants to encourage his side to play the ball out from the back. Actually, Guardiola goes one step further, treating his goalkeeper as a sweeper. It’s not just about possession of the ball, but enabling his players to make instant decisions and play with a measure of intellect.

His style of football demands the utmost concentration. Striving for perfection with intelligent passing, movement and ball retention, he educates players to be 100% focused from moment to moment so they can make better decisions and fewer mistakes.

The furious pace of the Premier League may make it more difficult to adopt this strategy, but as supporters we should be grateful that these two managers are revolutionising the English game and encouraging players to think holistically rather than simply hoofing the ball up the pitch or performing robotic movements.

Liverpool trounced Leicester 4-1 and Klopp is turning Anfield into a fortress. They attack with verve and style and at times it seemed as though Leicester have lost the appetite to defend their crown. Tottenham thrashed Stoke 4-0 and looked a class act.

The only top seven side that stunk this weekend was Arsenal, who needed a 94th minute penalty to beat a wilting Southampton side. But Arsenal were extremely fortunate to get that penalty because Laurent Koscielny was lying on the ground in the penalty area with a head injury, so the referee should have stopped the game. Arsenal only had two shots on target because their football is too mechanical. Wenger has been playing the same system for so long that opposing managers can predict the positioning and behaviour of every single outfield player.

Arsenal made three ‘key’ signings in this transfer window, but I don’t see them making any discernible difference. Deportivo were happy to cash in on Lucas Perez, who I reckon will struggle under Wenger, and Shkodran Mustafi will not be much of an upgrade on Gabriel or Per Mertesacker. Granit Xhaka is a good player, but impetuous.

Arsenal will continue to concede stupid goals and struggle to score them because of Wenger’s moribund tactics. In the Champions League last night, they were carved open repeatedly by PSG but drew 1-1 because Edison Cavani missed four golden chances.

Wenger’s line-up was quintessentially senile.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.


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How to cash in on Wenger losing his job

How much would you pay to see Arsene Wenger lose a game? £50? £20? £5?

A lot of Arsenal fans want Wenger to lose every game now. They think it’s for the greater good and want the lunatic to get his comeuppance.

Of course, losing or dropping points in every game is a tad unrealistic, but if you bet on Arsenal to win every weekend you could be happy even when you’re unhappy. Hear me out. If Arsenal lose or draw, you won’t mind losing your bet because the more pressure heaped on le fraud the better. This is what psychoanalysts call “a winning loss”, and there’s something curiously satisfying about watching Wenger’s narcissism collapsing under the weight of its own incompetence.

On the other hand, if Arsenal win, you’ll at least have the consolation of making a few quid. So there you go, a no-lose tip courtesy of AT.

Personally, I was delighted to see Arsenal slip up again on Saturday at the King Power Stadium. Although they did not play particularly badly, it was all so horribly predictable. Watching tactical dimwit Wenger’s automatons trying to thread eye-of-the-needle passes all afternoon to a 5’6” midget who doesn’t want to be at the club was so sadomasochistic.

Koscielny returned in defence to partner new boy Rob Holding, and because Arsenal kept a clean sheet Wenger told us what a great player he was. I supposed he’d have to be if he’s as good as someone that would have otherwise cost £55m.

Truth is, Holding had it easy. Leicester have been averaging less than a goal a game for about 6 months now. They’ve stopped creating chances since their opponents started sitting back and playing reverse psychology tactics. With no space round the back to hump their - albeit accurate – long ball passes, Claudio Rainieri’s men are becoming increasingly inefficient up front.

But defending Arsenal was very easy. They mopped up their tedious triangular passing patterns all day long, and The Foxes should have had a penalty in the last minute when Bellerin clumsily tripped the sprightly Ahmed Musa.

Five minutes from time, the away fans vociferously chanted “Wenger out”. This is not good news for Wenger. Unless he challenges for the title, every single draw and defeat will be met by jeers and cat calls that will get louder and louder as another season of ennui, misery and failure becomes ever more apparent.

Alexis Sanchez is fed up and losing hope. He’s a nice guy who wants out but is too professional to do anything other than express his displeasure by storming off the pitch like a petulant nephew. Ozil looked the picture of boredom sitting on the bench. His vacant expression was that of player who knows he’s wasting his time playing for a braindead old goat that’s completely lost his marbles.

If Wenger stays, I’m fairly certain both players will be gone this time next year. If Wenger goes, they might stay if a big-name manager gives them a reason to be enthusiastic about playing for Arsenal ever again. But Gazidis is utterly fucking hopeless, and more likely to bring in slop than Klopp.

Anyway, I’m enjoying Wenger’s misery for now, even though it will likely end soon with a run of victories that mean nothing.

Second game in and Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea are already 5 points ahead of Arsenal. One wonders if the Gunners will move above any of them from this point onwards. Arsenal only won 5 games out of 20 against the top 10 PL teams last season. Two of those wins were against Champions Leicester and the Gunners drew twice against Liverpool, so they’re already doing worse than last season against teams expected to finish in the upper half of the table.

I enjoyed watching Wenger squirming like a constipated owl in his post-match press conference. God he hates every second of it – he loathes talking to ‘Dickensian’ English journos after nausing up his day job. How dare they have the temerity to sit opposite him and open their flap, tip toeing round his bursitis ego yet afraid to challenge him in case they’re ejected from their hot seat quicker than a Gazidis wrist wank.

I mean why ask him THOSE questions? Ask him something he can be pseudo-intellectual about. He likes that. He loves to give verbatim ‘Wengerisms’ in pigeon English that Arseblog can masturbate to.

When the barely taxing questions came, he answered them with his usual patronising arrogance. He can’t even bothered to answer questions properly now, just flails around desperately contradicting whatever he said the previous day or week.

But Wenger’s face is always an open book. When you despise people that much, nothing can stop the eye from twitching or the temperamental intake of breath followed by a volley of arbitrary vocal excrement.

Could a flush ever be more busted than Wenger?

Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote nearly five and half years ago on this very blog:

“Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows what I think; and that’s that Arsenal don’t compete for anything – they just give the illusion of competing by buzzing around the top four every season and taking part in a Champions League they clearly have zero chance of winning. That’s not good enough.

We’ve been sold so many promises by Wenger about Arsenal maturing and competing etc. and yet his squad falls short in the same predictable fashion every season. Sure, they competed for the Carling Cup, but who cares about the Carling Cup?

Wenger has asked us to trust him – boundlessly - failed miserably and there needs to be a discernible change in policy because the club is going nowhere at present.

Of course it would be nice to have World Class players brought to Arsenal, but it’s not a necessity and Arsenal can’t afford the ridiculous fees that go with it. Having said that, there is a middle-ground. Arsenal can afford to show a lot more ambition than they currently are, and Wenger’s performance is unacceptable on multiple levels – not just his transfer policy – so protesting dissatisfaction at how he’s doing his job is fine by me.”

Elsewhere, Tottenham showed their resilience again, beating Crystal Palace 1-0 despite playing quite poorly. Man City hammered Stoke 4-1. Surprisingly convincing considering the awful performance at home to Sunderland the week before – surely Guardiola can’t weave miracles this quickly?

With Mourinho in charge, Man Utd almost looked like they did under Ferguson. Dangerous going forward, resilient at the back. Paul Pogba was quite superb. I mentioned on Twitter that his debut reminded me of Patrick Vieira’s first game for Arsenal. The half-fit 6’3” Frenchman strolled around the Old Trafford pitch oozing class with strength, power, balance and sublime touch. The way Mourinho puts teams together is so simple and admirable, even if he is a boil on football’s rectum.

And I’ve always liked Marouane Fellaini. He was damned good at Everton and Mourinho is intelligent enough to resurrect him. Will Man Utd let a goal in from a set piece this season? Not many, if any.

Klopp on the other hand has problems. If he can’t sort out Liverpool’s defence this season they will not make much progress. But unlike Wenger, he’s not an idiot – when he sees something is wrong he operates. Despite backing up Alberto Moreno following his horror show at Arsenal last week, Klopp was ruthless in axing him. Wenger would have bought him a sherbet dib dab.

Despite losing 2-0 to Burnley, Klopp’s Liverpool had an astonishing 80% possession and 26 shots. However, Sadio Mane was unavailable, Daniel Sturridge 50% fit and Danny Ings not ready yet following his lengthy cruciate ligament injury last October.

Conte’s Chelsea beat a well-organised West Ham thanks to another clinical strike from the rejuvenated Diego Costa. As Wenger would say, he’s like a new player - and on this occasion, the deluded old fart would be right.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.


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