Thursday
Jan142016

Arsenal blow it at Anfield

More farce in the Premier League this week. Results and performances by the ‘supposed’ major clubs were poor on Tuesday and Wednesday. All those that you would expect to see challenging for a Champions League place or the title either drew or lost, and are scattered all over the table.

Liverpool and Arsenal drew 3-3 in a scrappy game full of horrendous defensive areas, mostly from Klopp’s side but Arsenal’s defence could not think on their feet and adapt to Roberto Firmino’s floating role. Ex-Arsenal legend Kolo Toure creaked back into action alongside Mamadou Sakho, the biggest donkey in the Premier League. Sakho, a clumsy throwback who treats the ball like it’s a hand grenade, is better suited to Conference football, not Liverpool.

From what I witnessed last night, Petr Cech is not the goalkeeper he used to be. A so-called world-class goalie would have saved at least one of Liverpool’s goals. Arsenal have already conceded 36 this season – only 17 less than the whole of last season, so Cech has not made a tangible difference yet. Yes, he’s made some big saves this season, but so did Wojciech Szczesny. Does he calm the defence? I see no evidence of that. Arsenal have now shipped seven in their last two away games and only won one in five on the road – and that was against feeble Aston Villa.

With a minute to go, Arsenal did what they do so often under pressure - bottled it, letting in a daft equaliser. Victory would have put them five points clear of Man City and in a very strong position at the top of the table if you discount Leicester City’s chances of competing for the PL.

Absolutely nothing has changed at Arsenal; they’re the same spineless, underachieving side as they have been for the last decade, but they have a chance of winning the Premier League simply because the standard of all their competitors has plummeted. No single team is showing any winning consistency, and I expect that to continue for the rest of the season.

Olivier Giroud did score a very fine goal though, his second was brilliantly executed. Yes, man marking is often non-existent in the PL and Giroud shouldn’t be allowed to score a lot of the goals he does, but he is quite clinical six yards from goal. I reckon Harry Kane would score 40 goals a season for Arsenal. He’d score all the goals Giroud does and more, including from outside the box, because he’s deceptively quick and twice as mobile. Kane is an intelligent player and would fit Arsenal like hand in glove.

Man City slipped up for the umpteenth time at home to Everton, who were lucky not to concede a penalty in the dying seconds when John Stones needlessly went to ground and clipped Raheem Stirling. Their neighbours Man Utd made another mess of things, drawing 3-3 at Newcastle having been 2-0 up. Louis Van Gaal was having kittens in the dugout as Jesse Lingard and Marouane Fellaini missed two absolute sitters that would have clinched the three points.

Leicester City were lucky to beat Spurs 1-0. I have watched Claudio Ranieri’s side a few times recently but ended up depressed by the way they play, simply defending en masse with Kasper Schmeichel hoofing long balls to their lone forward at every opportunity. If the game is close, Ranieri will sometimes throw two up top for the last 20 minutes, which makes creaky defences panic. The manager has put Leicester in a position where he can afford to gamble like that, other sides have to be more careful.

Even without Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who score 80% of their goals, Leicester are still joint top, which just shows how brittle this league is. Even if Leicester had been bankrolled by a billionaire, their results would be impressive, but they haven’t been – they’ve spent a measley average of £9m net on players per season over the past five years.

Although it would be funny if Leicester competed for the Premier League, from a purist’s point of view it would be a damning indictment on English football.

Chelsea drew 2-2 at home to West Brom and remain stuck in the mud in 14th place. I’m not sure a lot of their players care anymore where they end up, including manager Gus Hiddink who’s just doing Abramovich a favour. It’s all about the Champions League now. Diego Costa was back to his repellent worst last night. His behaviour distracts his own team mates and he’s a shocking role model, but if Chelsea dumped him he’d only end up banging them in at Liverpool or Man Utd.

Swansea vs Sunderland featured some of the worst refereeing decisions you’ll ever see. It’s rare that I blame officials for a defeat in any capacity, but last night tested that theory to the limit. Swansea had a player sent off for nothing, while two of Jermaine Defoe’s three goals were offside and the third one questionable. Two ex-Arsenal goalkeepers, Lukas Fabianski and Vito Mannone, rolled back the years with some laughable errors. Instead of tipping the ball over the bar, Mannone caught it, yet his outstretched arms hit the crossbar and the ball bounced towards a Swansea attacker whose goal was, fortunately for Mannone, disallowed for offside.

Remi Garde won his first game as Aston Villa manager, but needed a big slice of luck as goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey dropped the ball through his own legs and over the line. I’ve no idea why Villa approached Garde as he was never equipped to keep Villa up and the Championship will be another culture shock for him. The Frenchman was naïve to take the job on and the Midlands club could end up in the wastelands if they continue to make such awful decisions at boardroom level.

So, who will win the Premier League? I don’t know and I don’t care, but I’m sure whoever does win it will be the worst team to win it in my entire lifetime and will probably have the lowest points total since three points for a win was introduced to England in 1981.

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Saturday
Dec192015

Wenger's turd rising to the top

The craziest Premier League season of all-time reached new levels of absurdity with the sacking of Jose Mourinho this week, whose Chelsea side I rather embarrassingly tipped to win the title.

Many are asking the question: who is to blame? We all know that Mourinho is a divisive character, but so are many of the characters in the Chelsea dressing room. My inclination would have been to start sacking players, not the manager. The attitude and performance levels of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic, to name but three, have been utterly unacceptable.

Some say that Mourinho is to blame for alienating his players, but building solidarity within a squad has proven to be one of his key strengths. Of course, the situation is more complicated and nuanced than that. It’s a combination of things, big-headed players who can’t take criticism, sporting directors failing to strengthen a title-winning side that very much needed strengthening, and a small squad that Mourinho drained every last drop of sweat out of last season lacking the motivation and energy to do it all over again.

The result is that Chelsea has lost one of, if not the best managers in world football, yet remains lumbered with certain players that are clearly divisive, unprofessional and untrustworthy going forward. I get the feeling Abramovic might regret this decision. Whatever you think of Mourinho, and I’m well aware he’s detested – winners like him always are, but he’s one in a million and there are not many managers like him available on the horizon at present.

The Premier League looks weird with Leicester City sitting at the top. One defeat in 16 for a team that was threatened with relegation last season demonstrates just how weak and feeble this dire league is. It’s a league where few teams can defend (or attack) with any consistency, and the football is mostly clueless. You only have to look at Watford who, having won less than half their games, sit in seventh place playing a 4-4-2 system that would normally be thought of as suicidal for a newly promoted team.

At this point, the PL is probably a two-horse race between Man City and Arsenal. As a (relatively) sane, rational man watching an insane, irrational league, I have to discount Leicester as genuine title contenders. Any loss of form or injury to Riyad Mahrez or Jamie Vardy will surely see the wheels come off. Between them, they have scored an astonishing 76% of Leicester’s goals - that's not sustainable.

In terms of title challengers, I’m discounting Man Utd too, because Louis Van Gaal is clearly stuck between a rock and a hard place. He had to sort out Utd’s defence, and has somewhat succeeded, but doesn’t have the firepower to compensate. There’s no understanding in the final third, which is hardly surprising considering the age of Memphis Depay (21), Anthony Martial (20) and Jess Lingard (23). Wayne Rooney, meanwhile, is at the wrong end of the bell curve and looks past it.

It must be tempting for Van Gaal, usually an attack-minded coach, to play 4-4-2 with Marouane Fellaini supporting Rooney up front, but Utd are not Watford, they’re expected to compete for the title. Van Gaal is waiting for his young side to click, they need time – it may not happen. Throwing the dice, even in this garbage league, will probably not work. Huge money has been spent at Old Trafford, not necessarily badly, but without doubt inappropriately.

Jurgen Klopp has not lost the plot. Liverpool have slumped after the expected boost that followed his arrival, and the German’s reaction is to refuse to shake Tony Pullis’ hand, punch the air like a madman and lead his players on a victory parade around Anfield following a paltry home draw against West Brom.

This is all part of Klopp’s plan, he did the same at Borrussia Dortmund, where the fans often blew other teams off the park. Make no mistake, he wants that stadium stoked-up week in, week out – and this is his way of going about it. I’m pretty sure that next season Klopp will raid his old club and pickpocket a few players. Don’t be surprised to see Marco Reus, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Mats Hummels at Anfield next season, relishing the challenge.

So the title race is between Arsenal and Man City, and City is completely defective without its leader Vincent Kompany. We’ve seen in the last few seasons how readily they collapse without his leadership. Pellegrini has quite simply failed to coach the defence to an adequate standard, and refuses to drop the mercurial Yaya Toure, whose attitude is far too blasé to be relied on in a DM capacity. Pellegrini’s days are numbered and I believe Pep Guardiola will replace him as soon as is viable – unless Abramovic has convinced him otherwise.

At this point, one might conclude that God is a Gooner.

It’s all fallen into Wenger’s lap without him lifting a finger. He can keep making the same mistakes he always makes, has license to knacker the team physically, watch them crumble under pressure like they always do and continue unabated with his clueless blanket tactics, yet still win the title – probably with a record-breaking low points total.

The big question is, if the turd rises to the top and Wenger does fall over the line, will he have the brain cells to leave while he's on top or will his overblown ego go stratospheric? The answer to that question probably lies in the fitness of Vincent Kompany.

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Wednesday
Nov112015

Wenger caught lying on supplement use?

Arsene Wenger’s interview in L’Equipe appears to have caught him lying about players’ use of performance enhancing supplements under his watch.

“In 30 years of my coaching career, I never got one of my players injected to be more efficient. I never gave them a product that can improve performance. It is about pride. I’ve played against a lot of teams that were not in this state of mind,” stated Wenger.

However, it’s has been widely reported that when Wenger first came to Arsenal he encouraged the use of creatine as a performance-enhancing supplement.

A natural substance found in the body, creatine levels can be increased by eating red meat, although not as easily and effectively as supplement intake can provide.

The effect of saturating the body with creatine is to provide it with energy for muscular contraction by increasing the efficiency of ATP (Adenosine Triphosophate) synthesis. To cut a long story short, the supply of muscle-boosting ATP only lasts 3 seconds, but creatine supplementation can replete depleted ATP stores to maximise muscular energy, leading to enhanced power and performance during intense exercise, including speed endurance and recovery.

Soviet sports scientists began providing vials of creatine phosphate to athletes in the mid-‘60s and it was introduced to the sports supplement market in 1985.

Creatine is an amino acid by-product that has an osmotic effect, meaning water is drawn into the gut. If not taken with enough fluid, creatine can lead to stomach cramping. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Arsenal players complained about gastric problems due to Wenger’s introduction of creatine, hence the club stopped using it. Micronized creatine usually bypasses that problem, but players were likely taking supplements in liquid form at the time.

In 2011, ex-Arsenal forward Paul Merson claimed he regularly took creatine-boosting juices in training and high-powered caffeine supplements in the form of a dark tablet prior to games. Wenger hit back: “I give them personally nothing. If they don’t want to take anything, they take nothing.”

Note the use of the word “personally”, in order to squirm out of his responsibility for having his staff administer the supplements. Besides, it's absurd to  suggest that Wenger's staff would give players supplements without his express permission or guidance.

Although neither creatine nor caffeine are illegal substances, their excessive usage in sports has caused controversy. Meanwhile, for Wenger to state he never gave [or at least instructed] his players to use performance-enhancing supplements, appears to be yet another fabrication of the truth.

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Thursday
Nov052015

Arsenal humiliation has become normal

What’s the definition of shock? “A sudden upsetting or surprising event or experience.”

When upsetting or surprising events cease to be sudden, they’re no longer a shock, and for many, Arsenal’s annual Champions League humiliation – this year at the hands of Bayern Munich, was not a shock or even mildly surprising.

The fact that supporters, the media and the club treated last night’s battering with complete and utter indifference – as if it’s something to be expected and tolerated, shows just how low Arsenal have sunk as a European threat.

It also shows how feeble and out of his depth Arsene Wenger is as a modern European coach. This is a man that has been given carte blanche to express his footballing philosophies on the training pitch completely unfettered for 20 years – a man supposedly famed for youth development and fluid, possession football, with a wage bill and budget that surpasses the majority of teams his club faces, both domestically and in Europe (including Bayern), yet the Germans had an outrageous 73% possession at the Emirates two weeks ago, nearly 70% last night, and hammered Arsenal in second gear.

One suspects that Bayern’s statistics would have been even higher had they not sat on their lead for 15 minutes and the scoreline a lot worse had Cech not saved the majority of the 13 shots on target. One also suspects Arsenal would be out of the competition by now had Bayern shown more ambition at The Emirates – or not lost to a ball punched in the net by Olivier Giroud.

Like I said after the game, the result that night was an anomaly, the gulf in class is clear. Lose, fair enough, get torn to shreds playing like a pub team, shameful.

However, last night’s mauling was simply the tip of the iceberg as far as Arsenal are concerned. Wenger’s CL results in the last 5 years alone read like a crime sheet, shipping 5 at Bayern, 4 at AC Milan, 4 at Barcelona, and another 3 against Barcelona, Olympiakos (twice) Bayern, Anderlecht, and Monaco.

Arsenal’s recent record in the competition is barely better than Russian minnows Zenit Saint Petersburg. In the last 3 years that ZSP have qualified for the Champions League, the Russians have played 22 games and Arsenal 24 – yet ZSP only lost one more game than Arsenal during that period and let in only three goals less (29 to Arsenal’s 26).

On the topic of injuries and other lame excuses, it doesn’t take a genius to realise it wouldn’t have made any difference and most of Arsenal’s are self-inflicted. Just like Wenger’s Champion’s League record is a pattern of failure, his club’s injury record is indicative of similar outmoded ideas, lack of attention to detail and outright incompetence.

The fact is, despite almost 20 attempts, Wenger is further away from his Champions League dream than ever. His stale tactics and passive inability to think on his feet demonstrate that he’s learnt absolutely nothing, and it now looks likely that Arsenal will fail to progress further than the last 16 for the sixth year running, which is absolutely farcical.

Another Arsenal fan defence mechanism is “we’re focusing on the Premier League”, as if the club doesn’t have the resources to compete in both competitions simultaneously. However, it’s a ludicrous assertion, as if Arsenal fail to get out of the group stage, they will end up in the Europa League, which has more games than the CL and is probably more draining considering players are likely to be flown further afield, the prime cause of fatigue.

Nobody seems to care about Arsenal any more, few take the club seriously. The manager only cares about his ego and wallet, the CEO his job, the owner his dividend. Those slavishly besotted with Wenger don’t care about Arsenal; they only care about being proved right about Wenger. The more he gets humiliated, the more they dig their heels in clinging to salvation. Ex-players and pundits dribble incoherently, stuck between telling the bloody obvious and showing loyalty. Those that can’t stand the sight of Wenger ran out of caring years ago; only to hold a flickering candle for a club riding into the distance, overrun by a bunch of corporate clowns and a repugnant dictator.

Yet one thing I’ve learned about football managers is that every dog has his day. No matter how obstinate and clueless Wenger is, one day he’ll get a lucky cup run – and he did, and maybe one day all of his competitors in the PL will sink so low, the turd will rise to the top. If that perversely ends Wenger’s career at Arsenal, I hope it happens.

—oo— 

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Wednesday
Oct212015

Giroud punches Arsenal to victory against blunt Bayern

Arsenal salvaged a level of pride last night following a 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich at the Emirates. Yes, I watched the game, although it was a bit dull, with Bayern having extraordinary levels of possession yet lacking the ambition to really take advantage of it.

Was Wenger’s remit to really allow Bayern the ball and hit them on the break, or were Arsenal simply unable to win possession or hold into it when they did? A combination of the two perhaps, but it seemed somewhat suicidal to allow playmaker Xabi Alonso the complete freedom of the park, and completely unnecessary considering his age.

However, it worked, largely because Pep Guardiola refrained from allowing full backs Philipp Lahm or David Alaba to move into attacking zones at any point in the game. The result was 70% possession, but nobody overlapping down the wings and few late runs from midfield to support the isolated Robert Lewandowski.

Shorn of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, Bayern lacked ideas and sharpness in the final third – only Douglas Costa seemed capable of creating anything. Having said that, both teams had a couple of decent chances to score but were denied by top-class saves from goalkeepers Peter Cech and Manuel Neuer.

As the game entered its latter stages, there only looked like being one winner, and it wasn't the home side, but Bayern’s slow build-up play and inability to conjure up a final pass of any precision meant that they were relatively easy to stifle - although it should be pointed out that Arsenal did defend very well, with lapses of concentration unusually infrequent.

Ultimately, Bayern didn’t need the win, and were probably right not to leave themselves vulnerable to the counter attack, but you still felt that this was a team that could have done more to steal a goal before playing Arsenal at their own game.

In the end, the Germans paid the price for Guardiola’s lack of adventure, albeit due to a single lapse of concentration and a goal that should never have been allowed. Santi Cazorla’s free-kick in the 77th minute was inexplicably missed by Neuer, and in the resulting melee Olivier Giroud stumbled into space and punched the ball in the back of the net.

Arsenal then sealed the win in the final minute through Ozil, as Bayern finally left themselves exposed trying to salvage a draw.

Did Arsenal deserve to win? No, they didn’t do enough to deserve to win. Did Arsenal deserve to lose? No, they defended above themselves and played well enough to earn a draw; although with Olympiakos beating Zagreb a draw would not have been much use.

It was interesting that as the game entered the final 10-15 minutes, Wenger made no effort to change tactics despite Bayern’s enormous levels of possession. He wasn’t to know Arsenal would fluke a goal and they never really looked like scoring, so what was the plan? As we know, there is and was none - he just sat there like a shop dummy.

What does this tell us about Arsenal? It tells us that, on the rare occasion Arsenal manage to beat a top team, the result is down to an anomaly, not the masterful tactics or sparkling team play that a better manager might provide.

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