Hilarity at Zagreb

Enjoyed watching Arsenal get stuffed by Dinamo Zagreb last night in what was Wenger’s 50th defeat in the Champions League – a new record.

To be honest, I wasn’t watching the game that attentively. All I noticed was that Giroud missed a sitter, got frustrated, Arsenal played like they’d just got out of bed, let in a goal and then the knob-end got sent off.

Was that decision harsh? Well, what would Arsenal fans have shouted if the boot was on the other foot?

Arsene Wenger was right about one thing, however, the referee was appalling. In the second half, David Ospina ran half the length of the pitch and raked his foot down some kid’s knee, but the official let him off. Then Joel Campbell, who looked more psyched up than Giroud, got booked before violently clumping the back of a Zagreb player’s calf – another booking on most occasions.

So, yes, terrible refereeing, Arsenal should have been down to 8 men.

But trailing 1-0 they still had a chance, as long as they didn’t do anything stupid, like letting in a goal from a set piece.


That’s what happens when you take an unnecessary risk, i.e. field Kieran Gibbs, one of, if not, the worst full backs in Arsenal history.

So why else did Arsenal lose to a tin pot Croatian club that haven’t won a Champions League match since 1999? Arrogance I’d say.

Wenger thought it would be a walkover and made six changes. Perhaps if Arsenal were at home, he could get away with it, but away from home in the first Champions League game of the season? Lunacy. Yes you can blame players, but the manager sets the tone and Wenger’s selection told them this match was no more important than a Carling Cup tie.

However, note to Mr Wenger and AKBs, just because you have a big game in five days’ time is no excuse for getting turned over by a team that cost 12m quid.

The most insightful ridicule came from Dinamo Zagreb coach Zoran Mamic:

“Arsenal is one of the best teams who ever played here and they did exactly what we agreed they would do. We thought it would be very important to close the middle, to stop the fast passes. That’s what we did and it’s nothing new.”

“We have already seen other teams who beat Arsenal use the same tactics. This is a good way to beat them.”

So there you have it, a novice manager in his first job, given to him by his CEO brother, both of whom are reportedly on bail under investigations of corruption, stuffs a manager paid £8,000,000 a year on tactics. That’s how amateur Wenger is when it comes to tactics and preparation.

On Sunday, Arsenal face Mourinho’s Chelsea. Will Wenger ever have a better chance to beat his nemesis in a league game? Nope. Do I think Arsenal will do it? Nope.


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Kroenke, Gazidis and Wenger laughing all the way to the bank

Arsene Wenger loves his job. Even Real Madrid couldn’t tempt him apparently. They could offer him the cold hard cash but not an environment where no matter how dismally he performed he’d still keep his job. Only one club can promise Wenger that, and it’s been making his bed and plumping up the cushions for over a decade.

The transfer deadline has been and gone, and Arsenal are the only club in the whole of Europe to not have signed an outfield player, despite only being able to field one semi-convincing striker and having a reported £200m sitting in the bank.

Where do you think that spare cash is going folks? Reinvested in the team? Evidently not. Used to lower ticket prices? No chance.

After a terrible start to the season, where Arsenal have been lucky to earn three points in any of their opening four games, all hope of a title challenging has almost certainly dissolved, and you can bet that Arsene Wenger’s appalling record in the Champions League will only end in more tears of frustration – your frustration.

Many pundits have cited Wenger’s refusal to strengthen the squad as “bizarre”, but some have also aimed their target at the Arsenal board for not overruling the manager and ensuring that players were signed above his head, irrespective of his complete and under indifference.

However, one person will be very happy – Stan Kroenke. As Arsenal’s owner, he doesn’t give a monkeys about whether the club challenge for trophies. Sure, he’d prefer it, but he’s not going to go out of his way to get rid of a manager that earns him the sort of Champions League income that enables him to stuff his pockets with cash for “strategic and advisory services” – under any other name, a dividend.

And Arsene Wenger knows that, which is why making money - hence protecting himself - will always come above what’s best for Arsenal as a footballing institution. After all, what has Arsene Wenger to fear? Year after year he’s underachieved, and what’s become of it? Nothing. He gets to keep his job and enjoy the fruits of a lavish wage packet that is almost unrivalled among his managerial peers.

Life carries on for Wenger regardless. His dream of creating an uber team of small, technically gifted players remains unchecked and untainted no matter how repetitive and obvious the shortcomings.

When it goes tits up, the fans scream and shout a couple of times a season then get back into bed whenever there’s a winning streak. For the most disgruntled of supporters, the club has learned its lesson and disabled questions from the floor at AGM and AST meetings, protecting the manager from public criticism.

The media are afraid to push any ‘Wenger Out’ agenda too far for fear of getting thrown out of their comfy press conference hot seat. When questions are asked, they’re deflected with ease as Wenger resorts to clichés or a sudden inability to master the English language.

CEO, Ivan Gazidis - employed by Wenger, is clueless and spineless – don’t expect him to ever change the narrative, he’s too well paid and knows where his bread is buttered.

The big Arsenal websites could feasibly sway opinion by admitting the obvious and sustaining pressure on the manager, but prefer not to upset the apple cart – or their Google AdSense income. Only if there was a huge uprising would they jump on the bandwagon.

So Wenger is protected from every angle. He can fail as often as he wants to fail and will never be held accountable. A few wins and the fans, the only people that can truly make a difference, pipe down and suck the Wenger comfort blanket they always return to for fear of admitting their beloved manager has made them look like plonkers.

Arsenal is a mirror image of UK inc. A huge money-making machine, where the political establishment is untouchable and the ruling elite (bankers) plunder all the wealth and leave everybody else to suffer their tomfoolery.

Gazidis, Kroenke and Wenger have rigged the game – they all protect each other’s backs then pay each other off, while the 'Plebeians' fight amongst themselves on ArsenalFan TV.

I’m out of it. No one’s financially raping me. I don’t get hurt, don’t get upset, don’t care – but I remember when I used to and I do feel sorry for a lot of Arsenal supporters that cannot give up their fix. When will the minions ever learn? At Arsenal, never it seems.


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Arsenal defeat was no “accident”

At home to West Ham, Arsenal looked consumed by the pressure of expectation, losing 2-0 against a side battling odds of 7/1.

Despite a critical error leading to West Ham’s second goal, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain justified starting the game but could not ignite a similar performance from his team mates. West Ham were very good, but then it’s hard to tell whether their ability to stifle Arsenal was down to the tactical expertise of new manager Slavan Bilic or the fact that this Arsenal side is too easily nullified by teams that are well organised.

Peter Cech had a debut to forget. He was slow off his line to meet Cheikhou Kouyate’s 43rd minute header, although the entire defence was badly organised at the set piece and several players had switched off. Mauro Zayate doubled West Ham’s lead on 57 after the forward robbed Oxlade-Chamberlain on the edge of the box, turned and shot past a flat-footed Cech.

What you have to understand about Cech is that he is used to playing in a defence marshalled by John Terry, and teams managed by Jose Mourinho. Now he is playing in a side that lacks defensive leadership and is vulnerable on counter-attacks and set pieces. Cech's going to be exposed in a way that he hasn’t been for 11 years, and it's up to him and Arsenal's coaching staff to respond.

Arsenal threatened in parts, but by and large West Ham were disciplined, comfortable even, and although selfish at times, Diafra Sakho’s tireless energy was a constant thorn in the side of Arsenal’s centre-back pairing.

Question marks need to be asked about Arsenal’s setup. Cazorla, so successful in a deep-lying midfield role last season, looked anonymous on the left wing and Arsenal lacked quality from wide positions generally with very little support for Olivier Giroud who fluffed his litany of half-chances.

Arsenal will now travel to a revitalised Crystal Palace next weekend under heightened pressure to get a result. A draw would be worrying, defeat unthinkable - these are the stakes when you're expected to compete for the title and not fourth place.

Cech (3) Nightmare debut
Debuchy (5) Played a bit too safe
Mertesacker (5) Lacked leadership
Koscielny (5) Ball-watched opening goal. Got bullied by Sakho on occasion
Monreal (5) Should have picked up Kouyate at the set piece, lacked penetration going forward
Coquelin (4) Long-range passing way off. Limitations are apparent
Ramsey (4) Accommodating the Welshman affects the team’s balance
Ozil (4) Dismal display
Cazorla (4) Played like a man lost on the wing
Oxlade-Chamberlain (6) Played very well in an attacking sense but was partially responsible for Zarate’s goal
Giroud (4) Clumsy/lacked sharpness
Subs: No one worth mentioning

West Ham
Adrian (7) Made a couple of decent stops
Tomkins (6) A rash defender, but coped despite his booking
Reid (7) Marshalled the defence well
Ogbonna (7) Didn’t panic
Cresswell (6) Struggled with Oxlade-Chamberlain at times
Oxford (7) Fine debut for the 16-year-old
Kouyate (7) Headed the opener
Noble (6) Stifled a bit by early booking
Payet (8) Bright and inventive debut
Sakho (7) Selfish at times but worked his socks off
Zarate (6) Scored an opportunistic goal

Subs: No one worth mentioning

To round up the weekend, Liverpool travelled to Stoke on Sunday and picked up a valuable win thanks to a superb 25-yard strike by Philippe Coutinho. The match was drab, but I was surprised at how well Liverpool coped with Stoke’s physicality.

Man City brushed aside West Brom with ease. The silky David Silva often tortured The Baggies’ defence and YaYa Toure displayed a renewed hunger and the quality we know he's capable of.


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Chelsea and Man City to fight for title

Last season I was fairly accurate in my top seven predictions:

1.       Chelsea

2.       Man City

3.       Man Utd

4.       Arsenal

5.       Liverpool

6.       Tottenham  

7.       Everton

Final table

1.       Chelsea

2.       Man City

3.       Arsenal

4.       Man Utd

5.       Tottenham

6.       Liverpool    

7.       Southampton


Man Utd/Arsenal and Liverpool/Tottenham exchanged places, although there was only two points between 5th and 6th. Southampton were the surprise of the season, so my assessment of Everton was way off.

This season is going to be much tougher to predict. I wrote a few weeks ago about how motivation is absolutely key to retaining the Premier League, because not every player will have the same in-built hunger and desire to repeat the achievement. You need a special manager and a lot of born winners in your side who hate losing football matches. Chelsea have that.

Chelsea romped the league due to the return of Jose Mourinho and some highly judicious signings, but John Terry will be 35 in December and we’ve seen how quickly performance levels can drop with players that age, the club is also too reliant on the injury-prone Diego Costa. If Radamel Falcao flops like he did at Man Utd last season, Chelsea will be short up front again.

Chelsea had no competition last season, hence no pressure. This season it’s likely to be a little fiercer, and I reckon their squad will start to get stretched mentally and physically unless Mourinho dips into the market. However, the Portuguese manager has similar qualities to Alex Ferguson, who also knew how to keep his players motivated and stay on top of the mind game wars. Sure, Mourinho nauseates a lot of people, but that’s deliberate. By putting people’s noses out of joint he creates criticism of himself and his team. This enables him to build a shield around his players and create a motivated environment.

Such tactics are nothing new, a lot of managers understand this psychology and use it to their advantage when they can, the only surprise is how easily supporters (and some managers) succumb to the rhetoric and help the likes of Mourinho gain the edge he’s looking for.

Man Utd have bought better than any other club this summer. All five signings are impressive - Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Sergio Romero. However, that’s half a team and they all need to bed in. Louis Van Gaal also needs a striker to replace the departed Robin Van Persie.

All these changes make Man Utd an unknown quantity at the moment, and with the departure of Angel Di Maria today for approx. £45m and David De Gea’s future still up in the air, don’t be surprised to see more players changing hands at Old Trafford by the end of the month.

Man City have underwhelmed in the transfer market. So far they’ve bought three kids + Fabian Delph and Raheem Stirling. Stirling could set City alight, but Manuel Pellegrini has to find a way to relight the fire under the entire squad – last season was dismal. Sometimes you get the feeling he’s unable to master the psychology of his players, and his tactics haven’t impressed either. But with a renewed hunger and motivation, the eight point gap between the top two is hardly insurmountable against a Chelsea side that might struggle to puncture the 90 point barrier.

Arsenal have bought Petr Cech who will be invaluable to them. He’s not the same goalkeeper he was before his head injury, but still way better than any Arsenal keeper since David Seaman. I would include Jens Lehmann, but Cech has a better temperament.

However, as usual Wenger has not addressed key weaknesses. Arsenal need a striker and a holding midfielder, and they need a manager that doesn’t use a template tactic in every single match. Time and time again we’ve seen Arsenal crumble under pressure, both domestically and (especially) in Europe. That 10-15% tactical edge that pushes a team over the winning line in a major competition comes from the manager, and I don’t have any confidence in Wenger delivering it.

Wenger is still a decent manager, but past it. He was never world class and never will be, because tactically he's as bad as it gets. Great managers overcome their deficiencies by bringing people in to fill the knowledge gap. They know what they can do and what they cannot, but Wenger is insular, wants to control everything and wants the credit for everything. He's a domestic manager that had an incredible spell when he arrived at the club, then his ego went sratospheric and he destroyed everything he built and spent a decade chasing his own shadow and using his power and influence to manipulate everyone into believing he knows what he's doing.

The Frenchman has spent £200m in three seasons, fumbled and stumbled and created a good team thanks to happy accidents like Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin, and he got lucky with opportunistic signings like Ozil, Sanchez and Cech. None of them were planned, there was no vision and there is no vision. Arsenal have a squad capable of competing for the title and have had the resources for a long time, but Wenger is the only impediment to success and he'll have to go a long way to prove me wrong. I've been writing Arsenal Truth for 6 years, and he's never proved me wrong yet.

In my opinion, this is a pivotal season for Brendan Rodgers, especially with Jurgen Klopp breathing down his neck. James Milner is an excellent free signing and the versatile Roberto Firmino is exciting, but I’m in two minds about Christian Benteke who often goes through barren spells in front of goal. The pressure will be double at Liverpool and £32.5m seems a ridiculous amount of money for a player that’s unproven at the highest level. Still, at least Liverpool are showing ambition and if the risk pays off they could have a reliable goalscorer to pair with Daniel Sturridge. Obviously, losing Raheem Stirling is a kick in the teeth and their fragile defence needs to further improve before I can predict that Liverpool will break into the top four this season.

Southampton are playing Europa League football now and this is bound to impact their domestic form, while the perennially skint Everton have not signed anyone to make me think they will bounce back in a big way. Spurs have bought a couple of defenders, but we’ll have to wait and see if they make any difference to their abysmal defence. Up the other end, Harry Kane will be a marked man now, so perhaps we’ll find out how good he really is.

Here’s my prediction for the season:

1.       Chelsea

2.       Man City

3.       Man Utd

4.       Arsenal

5.       Liverpool

6.       Tottenham  

7.       Stoke City

8.       Crystal Palace

9.       Swansea

10.    Southampton

11.    Everton

12.    West Ham

13.    Newcastle

14.    Leicester City

15.    West Brom

16.    Sunderland

17.    AFC Bournemouth

18.    Aston Villa

19.    Norwich City

20.    Watford


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Chewing the fat and breaking some myths

AT, haven't posted in a while (well over a year in fact) but do keep reading your articles with interest. Hope all is good and you're enjoying your 'summer'.

So, to Wenger. I'm neither an AKB nor a passionate Wenger hater, so I think I'm verging on unique on this site. I do however agree with an earlier poster who ventured towards the suggestion that your utter hatred of the man was as misplaced as those who think he is some form of omnipotent being. So, his charge sheet how I see it can be bracketed as thus:

1) Tactically inept and blinkered;

2) Willingness to accept players in the past who were not Arsenal standard;

3) A vast salary (which I don't think is his fault. I'd take £8.5m a year if I could);

4) 'Luck' in the transfer market rather than analysed and insightful transfer dealings;

5) Poor training methods resulting in apparent injury prone players;

6) Reluctance to alter his own stubborn methods and views; and

7) Being French.

I think I pretty much covered them all there, however, forgive me I have been too liberal with my bracketing. But could I ask you to take the time to read, but not necessarily understand or agree with, the positives (below as I see them) from Wenger's time at Arsenal - all of it, not just the baron trophy years:

1) He has reinvented the 'Arsenal philosophy' from the previous GG/SH/BR years, in fact arguably his influence reinvented the philosophy of English football;

2) In his first few years his expansive knowledge of European football brought the likes of Vieira, Petit, Anelka, Overmars, Pires, Fabregas etc to Arsenal and the transformation continued (and yes for each of those you have your Stepanovs, Cygan, Wreh - I know) ;

3) How he took the 'English core' of Seaman, Adams, Keown, Dixon, Winterburn, Parlour et al and prolonged their careers with healthier lifestyles and just made them better footballers;

4) He knew Arsenal had reached their limit and (apparently) was the visionary behind the new stadium and had a heavy operational and strategic involvement in it's design, right down to the dressing rooms and facilities. As soulless as it perhaps can be, strategically it was required to keep Arsenal on the same commercial plateau as the other big boys;

5) The proceeding years of paying back the stadium debts and doing an admirable job in ensuring Arsenal maintained some form of seat at the top of the English football table as well as qualifying from the CL year on year. This assisted in boosting the coffers to pay back the stadium even faster and allow Arsenal at least some movement in the transfer window;

6) How he has built a worldwide reputation of being a fine manager, coach and mentor. This isn't down to luck. Not everyone is wrong. Yes there are divisive opinions of him, but then there are divisive opinions of Mourinho, just like there were of Sir Alex Ferguson;

7) His loyalty to Arsenal. Some will say they wish he hadn't been loyal, but he has. Some will say he's earned a frigging fortune whilst being loyal and he has, but this doesn't detract from the fact that he COULD have moved and COULD have won more at 'bigger clubs'. But he didn't leave. He has stayed and guided us through to the more positive position we find ourselves in now; and

8) Now the proverbial shackles are off, he is splashing the cash to a degree. The man has a frigging economics masters and will always review the commercial viability of any deal rather than just spend for the sake of it, but the outlays over the last 2 summers don't smack of someone not willing to take the odd risk. And the argument that Ozil, Sanchez and possibly Cech are 'falling into his lap' are poor. He signs the big name players, it's luck. He doesn't sign the big name players, he has no ambition.

Basically, what I'm saying is, I feel Wenger can't win. He made a rod for his own back with his early success, but in some respects he has sacrificed that early success to ensure the club remains on a solid footing to keep competing for years to come, without the club compromising it's business model. Yes he's made mistakes, we all have. His happen to be made, however, on the back of early success, a fat salary, an infuriating stubborn side that he takes too long to acknowledge AND living in the public eye.

I couldn't have leveled my points above without a certain level of conjecture, and not every opinion can be, nor should it be, based on stats. I'm sure you'll pull some of my points above apart (if you take the time too) under the guise of contradiction or being just plain wrong, but I haven't researched my points. All I've done is put my heartfelt opinion, based on 30 years of supporting Arsenal, into writing.

Thanks for taking the time.




Although I wasn't expecting to post anything for several months, I thought I'd publish this one. When people put a lot of effort in, they deserve a response, so thanks to AJL.

1) I don't believe Wenger reinvented Arsenal's philosophy, because I dont believe Arsenal had a philosophy to reinvent. For a short spell, George Graham's Arsenal played equally attractive football to Wenger; but GG's cautious nature always saw him retract. Personally, I think that's the intelligent thing to do, because football is about winning not playing attractive football. I don't seem to remember Arsenal fans complaining when they won trophies playing 'boring' football, so criticising Chelsea now is pure hypocrisy. Besides, Arsenal don't play attractive football and haven't done for a very long time; that's as much a myth as saying George Graham won every football match 1-0. Wenger reinvented Arsenal's dietary approach, and while I think it did have a measurable impact - and was an influence on English football as a whole, it was a small percentage difference rather than a giant leap forward, and only then because English football was completely backwards compared to European football. In Italy, for example, Wenger's methods would not have been thought of as unique at all.

2) Wenger did have a good scouting system, but I wouldn't go as far as to say he had an 'expansive' knowledge of European football - it was actually limited to French and African players. In retrospect it seems likely that he got a bit lucky too, because he rode on the back of French academies that just so happened to produce the best crop of young players in the country's entire history. What people often overlook is that Wenger actually has an awful record of bringing players through Arsenal's academy; his record is that of a manager who has consistently poached players that had already been developed at other clubs, taking advantage of legal loopholes in order to get them on the cheap with the promise of first team football.

3) There's no doubt his dietary methods and some aspects of his training had a fantastic effect on Arsenal's ageing 'English core', which was a major contributory factor to his early success.

4) The board were planning a move from Highbury before Wenger even arrived, so it's not true to say that Wenger was the visionary behind the new stadium - that's actually quite insulting to the incredible work that Dein, Fiszman, Edelmann and Friar put in to secure the funding. Because Arsenal were a successful club at the time, it may have helped secure the bank loans, but I can't see a bank being persuaded by something as transitory as success on a football pitch, a much bigger part of that would have been the property redevelopment aspect. Clubs have been building stadiums all over the place, Arsenal are hardly unique - it's more about the expense of being able to find a site local to your existing ground in what is usually a highly populated area. That's very difficult, and costs can easily spiral out of control when you're having to level housing estates and buy up land at extortionate prices etc.

5) Sorry, big myth here. Qualifying for the Champions League makes no difference to stadium repayments whatsoever. It's a fixed-rate long-term loan that, to my knowledge, has never been renegotiated. Arsenal would be financially penalised for paying the loan early, therefore the rate of repayments are static - and will be until 2032. The reason Arsenal have more money than ever is nothing to do with debt repayments and everything to do with vastly improved TV deals over the past decade (which everyone has benefited from), further boosted by improved commercial deals when Arsenal were able to renegotiate them. 

6) Wenger probably built himself a worldwide reputation as a manager up to 2006, and I'm sure many clubs would still take him now, albeit not the biggest ones - that ship's long departed. However, I was often surprised myself when Arsenal were at their peak under Wenger, because when I went abroad he was not perceived as a threat by any suppporter I ever spoke to. I'm afraid Arsenal's Champions League record is abysmal and most European fans see him as a very poor tactician and a soft touch. Let's be honest, if you supported a top club in Europe you would actively WANT to draw Arsenal in the CL, and that would apply to a lot of mid-level clubs too. There's is, and never was, a fear of playing Wenger's Arsenal in Europe - unlike Ferguson's Man Utd or any club Mourinho has managed.

7) Was Wenger loyal or does he simply know where his bread is buttered? Sure, he could have gone to Real Madrid but he also knows that had he not performed to the highest standards right off the bat he would have been out on his ear within 2 years maximum. It's easy to say you're loyal when you dont believe in yourself enough to take on the biggest jobs in world football and money is no longer an incentive because you're already grossly overpaid. I don't see how Arsenal are in a more positive position now, they're in exactly the same position as they have been for over a decade, incapable of challenging for the PL or CL but a danger in the domestic cups if Wenger takes them seriously and gets a favourable draw.

8) He's splashing the cash because TV deals have gone off the scale and Arsenal have increased their income from commercial deals, no other reason - and other clubs are well ahead of Arsenal on both fronts because Wenger cannot enhance Arsenal's profile by winning anything big. He made a mockery of his economics masters when he put dozens of kids on massive contracts, flushing hundreds of millions down the toilet in wages for a bloated squad with a myriad of players that failed and couldn't be got rid of - all the while leaking his best players due to his equitable wage structure and false promises. Economic socialism he called it, while hypocritically pocketing more money that anyone else.

I would disagree that Sanchez, Ozil and Cech were calculated decisions, they were opportunistic decisions. Arsenal got Ozil because Madrid needed money after splashing their budget on Bale, and Barca wanted to offload Sanchez because they spent £72m on Suarez. Indeed Ozil wanted to go to Man Utd but they pulled out at the last minute, and Sanchez would have been equallly happy to play for Liverpool as Barcelona would only accept the highest offer. We all know why Cech is leaving Chelsea, and if it does happen it's likely because the player doesn't want to leave London - so there is only one realistic option. There was no vision behind any of these decisions, if it wasn't for the transfer movements of other clubs none of these players would be at Arsenal and none of them initally wanted to play for Arsenal - although that doesnt mean they're not happy to play for Arsenal.


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