Friday
Feb212014

Arsenal 0 Bayern Munich 2: Trigger in the mouth

The first five minutes were promising; a fantastic shot by Toni Kroos tipped over by Szczesny, and up the other end Sanogo’s shot was well dealt with by Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer. Cazorla struck soon after, but straight at the German goalkeeper.

Arsenal’s pressing style disconcerted Bayern, who were clearly struggling with the pace of the ‘English’ game; this was always going to be a problem for Guardiola.

On 7, Ozil ventured into the box and fell over Jerome Boateng’s carelessly placed leg. At last, the German was about to have an impact on a game – until he bottled the penalty, kicking a feeble effort straight at Neuer.

Prowling the touchline, the gesticulating Guardiola was furious with Bayern’s inability to pass accurately.

On 22, The Ox beat David Alaba to the ball, his shot parried by Neuer. Seven minutes later, the injury prone Gibbs limped off with a tight hamstring. His replacement Monreal giving cause for concern, as Guardiola had targeted Arsenal’s left side as a weak link, which it has been since Ashley Cole left.

On 36, the game changed when Arjen Robben ventured into the box to receive a chipped pass and guided the ball round Szczesny but was recklessly fouled. A clear penalty and red card for the goalkeeper. Cue post-match discussions by biased supporters about whether the rules should be changed just because Arsenal lost.

Is it unfair to punish a team by sending off the goalkeeper AND awarding a penalty? Well, I’d say it’s no more unfair than booking a keeper for preventing a certain goal and then awarding a penalty that might be missed. Why is that fair to the attacking team?

Penalties are often missed after all. Ozil had just missed one, then Alaba stepped up and missed as well, so Szczesny’s sending off seems the correct punishment considering Bayern did not gain the advantage they would have.

If the rules were any different and Szczesny had only been booked, Arsenal would have been laughing and goalkeepers the world over would be free to clip players safe in the knowledge that a certain goal would be prevented and they’d at least have the chance to save a penalty (or watch strikers miss them).

Ultimately, it’s about decisions and Szczesny lacked composure and made a stupid decision, as he’s prone to do from time to time because he’s not mature enough. If Arsenal had a more mature keeper, maybe it wouldn’t have happened – or at least lessened the chance of it happening. When managers are tight with the club’s cash and cut corners, these things happen.

Regardless, Arsenal were now down to 10 men and would have to defend like dogs to the end, which they did, but still couldn’t prevent defeat. In truth, the team defended very well collectively, but as we have seen so often, individual mistakes, which cannot be afforded at this level, became Arsenal’s undoing.

First, the problem of Ozil, who had refused to track back and protect Gibbs (in the first half) or later Monreal - who was getting slaughtered by Robben and Rafinha. Having received two tongue lashings from Wilshere and Flamini, Ozil started to float around Robben, but more as a token gesture rather than with any intent. This partly led to Bayern’s first goal; again the move building up from Arsenal’s left with too much space afforded to Lahm whose ball in-field to Kroos was struck superbly into the top right-hand corner.

At this point is was blatantly obvious that Ozil had to be removed from the pitch and replaced by Rosicky – or even Sagna, with Jenkinson put on at right back. Instead, Wenger replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain with Rosicky???

It appears the tactical imbecile was more concerned with trying to score a goal against a team that had 87% possession in the second half than keep the score down to 1-0 and Arsenal in with a shout.

On 74, Koscielny appeared to foul Thomas Muller in the Arsenal box, but it was only a touch and Muller’s delayed response to contact probably meant the right decision was given.

However, with four minutes remaining, Rosicky - having already been booked minutes earlier, should have definitely been given a second yellow for a ridiculous barge.

Three minutes later, Arsenal shot themselves in the foot again, when Koscielny motored forward at a set piece but failed to get back in time to prevent Bayern’s counter-attack. Flamini struggled to cover by leaving Muller unmarked as he headed in from close range following Claudio Pizzaro’s lofted ball into the box.

Pizzaro almost struck a third in the dying seconds with a low shot that hammered the foot of the post.

Despite Arsenal starting the game well and defending well for long periods after Szczeny’s “accident”, ultimately, Arsenal lost due to the goalkeeper’s immaturity. Those in denial will write the defeat off as bad luck, but it’s no such thing. At this level, small details matter – split-second decisions (the right ones) are vital.

Small chinks in the armour mutate to become colossal mistakes (Szczesny), poor decisions become major errors (Koscielny). Lack of concentration, lack of composure, no leadership in key situations – that’s why Arsenal lost; and always lose at this level.

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Szczesny (5.5)
Has improved this season, but such reckless moments make you wonder whether he can truly be trusted at this level.

Sagna (7.0)
Played his part in a solid defensive display, although almost all of Bayern’s focus was on the left side of the pitch.

Mertesacker (7.0)
Defended well, but was protected by virtually the whole team for all of the second half.

Koscielny (8.0) STAR MAN
Made numerous vital interceptions throughout the match, but then made the criminal error of sauntering up field in the final minutes to grab a goal. Sometimes Wenger accuses his players of naivety, but the fact is Wenger was naive at half-time for not instructing Koscielny and Mertesacker to stay back at all times. Again, small details can make a big difference.

Gibbs (6.5)
Attacked well but was the weak defensive link in the first half.

Wilshere (7.0)
Even though it’s not his position, perhaps showed why Arteta should be made redundant for the rest of the season.

Flamini (6.5)
Needs to lead by example more by what he does than what he says. No point clapping and cajoling if you’re going to fall asleep and leave a player unmarked to score in the final few minutes.

Ozil (3.0)
Miserable performance. People say tracking back is “not his game”. I say, do you want to win or not? If you have that burning desire to win and help your team mates, you do it. It’s not that the media or fans target Ozil and heap blame, on two occasions his own players were berating him for not marking and tracking players.

Cazorla (5.5)
Couple of shots, but also a bit lazy when it came to defending for the cause.

Oxlade-Chamberlain (7.0)
Had a good game, if not quite as effective as against Liverpool at the weekend.

Sanogo (6.5)
Worked hard, showed a good touch and has more mobility than Giroud, but the fact that Wenger had to play a rookie player against Bayern Munich, when all his so-called strikers are fit, is ludicrous mismanagement.

 —oo— 

Comments should be intelligent and well-written. All others will be binned.

Monday
Feb172014

JSK challenges Arsenal Truth

JSK writes:

"While this is arguably one of the most intelligently written Arsenal related blogs I do find it increasingly frustrating as it lends itself, by a greater degree than most, to confirmation bias, due to its highly militant anti-Wenger stance.

Its essential premise, that Arsene Wenger is an incompetent not worthy to grace the role of Arsenal manager is one dimensional and unsustainable in that it has to then explain away any success on Wenger's as being the responsibility of others (e.g. Wenger's initial successes were built on GG's back four and the fortuitous acquisition of the Dutch Master by his forerunner), while every failure is unequivocally marked down as being Wenger's own (as if Wenger, for example, could be held accountable for the injuries sustained by players - although the "under-sized squad" argument would kick-in [sic] there, I presume).

Such an analysis makes for an interesting read, more in terms of how, when there has been success on the field, the writer then has to perform mental gymnastics to fit the militant, self-imposed, anti-Wenger template by attributing the winning ingredients to non-Wenger factors, such as this being a particularly 'good group' of players (but then, who put this group together? Oh, of course, he just got lucky) or that the opposition forward in the case above missed easy chances (no credit of course to a much improved Fabianski - although of course his improvement would be down to the fact that he is desperate to be considered for his national team and nothing to do with AW).

This is where the confirmation bias plays its part. The rigidly blinkered stance of this blog then attracts a field of similarly anti-Wengerian acolytes and the one-dimensional analysis is reinforced at times by fairly obsequious reiteration of the main text or by others having a different take but the same militant view of Wenger's supposedly apparent incompetence that only they are capable of perceiving (to the subsequent detriment of any other commentator on this blog who happens to offer a perspective even vaguely sympathetic to Wenger).

Ironically, this blog states that Wenger's main fault is his narcissism and megalomania. Do we have a case of "it takes one to know one" here? Surely any blog that styles itself as "Arsenal Truth" has got a very high opinion of itself indeed. Anything that claims to be the repository of "Truth" is always suspect. As Oscar Wilde wrote: "the truth is rarely pure, and never simple". Truth, (unless objective truths as established by scientific analysis) is at best nuanced. This blog is not - and it certainly can't lay claim to being a scientific analysis of Arsenal Football Club! So, why, you ask, do I bother to even visit this blog?  I follow this as I do several others (and some very pro Wenger ones at that) to enable me to get a better picture of what I then consider to be the real state of affairs.

I am adding this critique as, while I do find it appealing (especially when I am feeling down on Wenger - as weal occasionally do after the odd bad result - and fancy reading a predictable echo to my feelings of disappointment) I feel that its credibility as a source of serious opinion on AFC is becoming steadily undermined. Your "mea culpa"  of 9 December was refreshing in its self-criticism: "Was I truthful the whole time I wrote about Arsenal since 2009? More truthful than the vast majority, but I became too militant. That does not mean that I believe what I wrote was wrong, but that I only told HALF THE STORY [my emphasis]. I focused too much on the negatives and ignored the positives - there were some positives but I started to develop an agenda. I see that now." My view is that you are retreating back to, or indeed never actually progressed from, the vociferous and militant anti-Wenger stance.

I guess this perspective won't go down well and that this will lead to my being 'blocked' or having some retort asking why I even bother to continue reading this blog. As I say my reason for coming to it is that it is one of the few that is intelligently written, representing a much needed alternative voice, however, I am offering this feedback as I feel it is in danger of becoming too much of a "one trick pony" and, in its predictability, becoming boring."

__
AT

Why do people think I block them when they write sane and rational comments? It’s not something I’ve ever done or ever will do.

On to JSK’s post, which is very well written and intelligent I may add.

When I assert that Wenger is an incompetent, it’s not in every area of his management, but key areas that make the difference. And if I’m one-dimensional in writing about Wenger, that’s because Wenger is so one-dimensional he doesn’t give me anything different to write about. It’s this one-dimensional aspect – and the lack of competitiveness due to it, that leads me to agree with loudmouth Jose Mourinho, that Wenger’s a failure. That’s not been a decision made over one or two seasons, but over five to eight, and, in truth, longer than that when it comes to the Champions League.

I've given Wenger credit for the exceptional job he did building on the defensive platform acquired by George Graham, but over a 17-year career a manager will obviously need to evolve and build half a dozen teams from scratch, something Wenger has never been able to successfully do.

The problem has clearly been (amidst other things) his one-dimensional tactics. It’s a fact that Wenger plays exactly the same formation in every single match, regardless of the opponent. It’s a fact that he makes pre-planned substitutions, i.e. doesn’t react to situations during the game. It’s a fact that he makes like for like substitutions, and only changes the formation if the team is desperate for a goal (bung another striker on etc.).

Apart from his player purchases, the crushing failure of project youth and inability to inject confidence into his players when it really matters, these rigid, inflexible tactics are the main reason that Wenger hasn’t been able to compete for the PL until the last two months for almost a decade.

Meanwhile, in Europe, things aren't any better. Qualifying for the Champions League only requires coming fourth, and as we all know, Arsenal have the wage budget to come fourth, so from a financial perspective Wenger is only achieving the bare minimum.

Wenger is quite good at getting the club through a seeded group stage too, where two teams go through out of four. However, the group stages are all about lining UEFA’s pockets, they’re deliberately designed to take away the risk factor of the big clubs getting knocked out by a random draw – so really, qualifying from the group stage is not really much of an achievement, there would have to be something badly wrong for a club the likes of Arsenal to fail.

Once out of the group stages of course, Arsenal fall flat on their faces again and again and again. As soon as it comes to the crunch, Wenger lets everybody down. One final and one semi-final twice in 17 consecutive attempts, both lost, speaks for itself.

As we know, Arsenal only made it to the CL final because Martin Keown was brought in to coach the defence in the midst of an injury crisis. Currently, Wenger is employing another ex-defender, Steve Bould, and he is also making a positive impact. Without Bould, I seriously doubt Arsenal would be where they are now. Why would we, what would have changed?

However, Wenger’s appointment of Bould was not the decision of a visionary manager that identified a problem and sought to correct it, it’s the work of a dictator that surrounded himself by yes men and only made the change because he was forced by circumstance (Pat Rice's retirement). Indeed, Bould had been sitting under Wenger’s nose as a coach for 13 years, so why didn’t he use him before if that was his master plan?

Unfortunately for Wenger, against quality teams Bould’s expertise helps, but is clearly not enough. The bigger the game, the more threat from every area of the pitch and the more tactical detail is therefore required. Indeed, when Cesc Fabregas left for Barcelona, he was surprised at how much tactical detail Pep Guardiola put into every game, whereas according to him, Wenger never bothered to analyse the opposition.

At the top level, players need to be tactically prepared for the different formations and world class individuals they may face, mentally prepared and educated on how to react when things go wrong, in the moment. 
Just as in the Champions League, by and large, you need to be at the top of your tactical game as a manager to win it, you also need a similar tactical advantage in the Premier League when it comes to facing the top clubs.

However, Wenger’s record against the likes of Man Utd, Chelsea and Man City… and the big clubs in Europe is absolutely abysmal. When the big clubs are on form, 9 times out of 10 it’s a no-contest. Worse than that, Wenger’s Arsenal are often comprehensively and predictably thrashed to the point of oblivion.

Clearly, Wenger has put together a good group of players this season, but then any manager worth his salt would have done the same with the same resources – especially when allowed to hone and perfect over numerous seasons. However, when you're giving a manager an £8m salary, I think it’s right to expect him to be able to punch well above his weight, which means consistently challenging for the title, winning domestic cups (where you often don’t even have to face the big teams) and challenging for the Champions League.

I don’t buy the concept that money makes ALL the difference in winning the CL or PL. Money gets you into a position to possess a deep squad with world class players – Arsenal have that sort of money; then it’s about management. If it was all about money, Man Utd would not have won the title last season, just as they wouldn't be where they are now, and Bayern Munich and Dortmund would not have been playing the CL final. Neither would Everton have finished above Liverpool last season or Newcastle and Tottenham above Chelsea the season before that.

If it was all about money, neither would David Moyes, at Everton (a club with a fraction of Arsenal’s resources), beaten Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea twice as many times in the past five years as Wenger has.

So, that’s my assertion of why Wenger is a tactical imbecile. But worse than that, it’s his character. Basically, you can’t believe a word that comes of out his mouth and most of what he does say is hopelessly transparent garbage. When it comes to mind games, Wenger must sit bottom of the Premier League. When questioned under pressure, he becomes dismissive, arrogant and patronising, he starts twitching like Inspector Clouseau as if he's psychologically disturbed.

To rub salt into the wounds, it also appears that part of Wenger's remit is to lie and deceive. He’s deliberately not spending money to give himself an excuse for failure. He’s done it year after year after year, always falling short in transfer windows despite the money being there, yet eventually panicked and wasted millions as a reaction to starting perilously. It's incredulous that the board cannot see through this.

With £140m sitting in the bank as we speak, what possible reason could there be for not reinforcing Arsenal’s strike force last summer or this January?

Wenger's incompetence lies not in being unable to create a team capable of finishing in the top four, but having the managerial nouse to push them over the winning line - that's where a top, top manager earns his crust; adding the final piece of the jigsaw; having the tactical intellect and ability to infuse confidence into his players in order to win the big games, under pressure. On that, Wenger's record is shocking.

This is not good management, it’s absurd management – it’s the management of a delusional, arrogant deceptionist banging his head against a brick wall and screwing himself over just because he wants to prove something to himself and the world at the expense of millions of hard working supporters spending a kings ransom to watch their team fail for the most spurious of ideologies. The problem is, Wenger's failed so often that winning a trophy now would not vindicate his failure, it would only highlight how long he’s failed for… and for the Arsenal board to give him a massive new contract before he has achieved anything for a ninth straight season – one of the longest trophy droughts in Arsenal’s history, shows how comprehensively weak, unknowledgeable and cowardly Arsenal’s management structure is.

My vociferous and militant anti-Wenger stance continues because Wenger has done absolutely nothing to change my opinion. However, what will change is my view on the players; now I only criticise if there is a valid reason to criticise, previously I got a bit carried away in my criticism of them, which wasn’t fair.

Who knows, Wenger might get it right one day; maybe even this season, yet there’s no way you could ever be optimistic. I still feel that anything he does get right is despite of, rather than because of, his managerial ability. If Arsenal win it’s because some other team failed to perform to the standard expected of them – not because of “confirmation bias”.

The FA Cup win against Liverpool last night was a perfect example; Arsenal played exactly the same system as last week’s mauling and could have been two down in four minutes because Sturridge missed two sitters (and a third shortly after). Liverpool were the better footballing team, created the most chances, had the better tactics, Arsenal merely took advantage of Liverpool’s failure to capitalise on Wenger’s own tactics.

The Flamini-Arteta-Ozil combination was as big a failure last night as it was against Southampton; how many times, and how easily, did Liverpool get behind Arsenal’s defence? Seven? Eight? Nine? Last week Pool scored five, this week they weren’t as clinical and scored one. The point I’m making is Arsenal didn’t win because Wenger imposed intelligent, restrictive tactics, he didn’t nullify Liverpool 1%. He just did the same thing he always does, crossed his fingers and hoped it would work, and of course, Arsenal still have the players to punish teams that don’t punish Arsenal.

By the way JSK, Arsenal Truth does not relate to empirical truth, it relates to 'my' truth, i.e. offering a truthful perspective - or as you yourself acknowledge, my perspective on "the real state of affairs". Thanks for your comment.

 —oo— 

Comments should be intelligent and well-written. All others will be binned.

Thursday
Jan092014

Steve Bould; Wenger’s saviour

The footballing fraternity may well be surprised at Arsenal’s recent transformation from perennial underachievers to plausible title contenders, and while many perhaps seem at a loss as to where to attribute the progression, for me it’s clearly down to Assistant Manager, Steve Bould.

Bould was linked with the role of Assistant Manager at Arsenal in early 2011 when rumours began to circulate that Pat Rice (fingers crossed he is successful in overcoming his recent cancer diagnosis) was ready to step down from the role. Indeed, Arsene Wenger was forced to comment on the subject in January that year, stressing that he “200 per cent” wanted Rice to continue, before revealing that Rice’s contract was due to expire at the end of that season.

The speculation evidently had some basis in reality, as Rice did want to retire at the end of the 2010/2011 season, upon which Steve Bould was offered the position. However, Bould - in charge of the youth team at the time - turned down the role due to concerns over whether he would be allowed full access to first team coaching, and the fact that should Wenger have been relieved of his duties, he too would likely find himself out of a job.

Rice was therefore convinced to stay for one further season while Wenger extended his search for a replacement. At one point, existing first team coach Neil Banfield was touted as the favourite to take the role, yet when this did not materialise, and with Wenger loathe to look towards an outsider that might question his philosophies, he returned to Bould having obviously made concessions that went beyond him simply being the guy that hands out the bibs at training.

After a good start to the 2011/2012 season in defensive terms; with three clean sheets in the first three games, Wenger claimed Bould had ”taken over from Pat Rice for the defensive job where he is doing very well.”, however, before the New Year Arsenal’s collective defending had once again fallen into the usual bad habits. In the first 13 games of the season, Arsenal conceded 11 goals, in the next 13 they conceded double that amount. Something had clearly gone backwards in training.

Tensions rose after a 2-0 home defeat to Swansea on the 1st December 2012, with reports of Bould tearing into the players amidst a growing rift with Wenger due to Bould’s increasing frustration at his lack of input on the training ground. It appears Wenger was renegading on his promise.

Yes, Bould had been allowed to work separately with the defence earlier in the season, but these sessions had stopped and it is understood that Wenger was unable to take training the day before the 2-0 defeat to Swansea, yet the session was not led by Bould.

Perhaps Wenger did not like Bould taking the credit for the defensive improvement in the team, in the same way he had disliked the recognition given to Martin Keown who occupied a temporary role of specialist defence coach in 2006; guiding Arsenal to a Champions League final where the club set a new competition record for minutes played without conceding a goal.

Certain players were also understood to want more defensive-based training sessions, notably Bacary Sagna, whose form had noticeably nosedived since joining the club; he subsequently refused to sign a new contract.

On the pitch, there was worse to come, including an embarrassing defeat away to Bradford in the Carling Cup and later Championship side Blackburn in the FA Cup, with Arsenal conceding a further 29 goals from January 1 up until the 2-1 away defeat at Spurs in early March.

You could clearly see the friction on the touchline during games, with Bould and Wenger hardly communicating with each other; the former often mouthing barely concealed words of contempt as the ball kept hitting the back of Arsenal’s net.

Clearly, something had to change. With antagonism towards Wenger from Arsenal supporters at an all-time high, CEO Ivan Gazidis made a rare criticism of Wenger after the Bradford debacle, stating. “I think I am frankly tired of getting up here and delivering the same message… Last night was not good enough and it made us all upset and angry. I would like to apologise to all of you, especially the fans who travelled up there. You deserved better.”

With Arsenal set for another battle for fourth place against an emerging Spurs side, and Wenger clearly fearing for his job, it appears he now had little choice but to grant Bould the access he craved - the rest, as they say, is history. With Bould back working with the squad on defensive shape, both individually and collectively, Arsenal conceded just 5 goals in the remaining 11 games, securing fourth place on the last day of the season.

Just as Sir Alex Ferguson did not know how to put on a training session and so appointed coaches to do the job he couldn’t, Wenger had no choice but to make a decision: risk losing his job and the humiliation that goes with it, or make some concessions and allow the role of his number two to extend beyond being  a ‘yes’ man, even if it meant somebody other than him taking the credit for the team’s performance.

Moving into this season, new signings have helped further the enormous progress Bould has overseen as Assistant Manager since the tail end of last season. The acquisition of Flamini on a free transfer and the board’s early Christmas present to Wenger of Mesut Ozil has helped transform the psyche of the players from doubt and timidity to conceivable Premier League challengers – albeit the biggest psychological tests still to come.

Although Bould should not take all the credit, history has proved that, on his own terms, Wenger would not have been capable of instilling the defensive discipline that has been the backbone of Arsenal’s form over the past 10 months. Without Bould, Arsenal would still be defending like showroom dummies, and Wenger might well have been given the shove last summer.  Wenger clearly has a lot a lot to thank Bould for, as do the Arsenal supporters.

—oo— 

Comments should be intelligent and well-written. All others will be binned.

Tuesday
Jul092013

Summer of lies goes into overdrive

Haven’t been thinking much about football this summer and haven’t watched much except for some of the Confederations Cup – out of sheer boredom.

Clubs have been signing players, but transfers have been few and far between, contrary to the fact that every time I go online or pick up a newspaper, the story of a big-name footballer leaving to play for club A or B is a bigger headline than the war in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the civil unrest in Egypt combined.

All the more galling is that these transfer story headlines are such obvious bollocks I can scarcely believe that people actually believe them to be true. As usual, the London clubs have been the biggest victims – probably because the Metro and Evening Standard are huge drivers of readership for the region.

With all due respect, they’re putting out the wrong statements. It shouldn’t be “Wayne Rooney is going to Arsenal!” or "David Villa to Tottenham!", but “Why the fuck would Wayne Rooney want to go to Arsenal or Villa to Tottenham?”

If I may get philosophical for a moment, I’d like you to consider the fact that human behaviour is the outward projection of the selfish survival mechanism that vibrates in every cell of our body. Manifestations of this greed are responsible for the cycle of capitalist boom and bust, immorality, and the ugly face of ever-spiralling market competitiveness, infatuated with treading all over the competition and doing everything in its power to get us to succumb to their vapid sales tactics – these days known as, football transfer stories.

Due to the Internet, the published media has taken a kicking of epic proportions over the past 10-15 years. Most newspapers are operating at a loss and salvage those losses through print or online advertising, which in itself is dwindling. Ask any executive, when times are tough the first thing they do is cut the advertising budget. However, moving to an online presence means you’re not only competing with other newspapers, but every sports website, radio station, TV and cable channel or Tom, Dick and Harry with a popular blog.

Now EVERYONE has a voice, and it’s not just competitive but hyper-competitive, and in order to survive, in order to attract attention, even the once reliable broadsheets are moving beyond blowing whispers out of all proportion to operating within the realm of printing pure fantasy, and in many cases, unadulterated lies – feeding off the naivety of the reader, hankering for the drug of the nation, football.

There’s a method to their madness of course. By using any reprehensible tactic to drive huge readership to their media portal, people will no-doubt spend five minutes browsing other stories and clicking a few ads, making the paper some much-needed bunce. The more desperate the media becomes for cash, the more nonsensical and outrageous the stories - evidently.

Watching this escalate year on year, as everything capitalist wantonly escalates until it self-destructs, what I find the most amusing is how eventually the bubble bursts when someone genuinely ‘in the know’ emerges to make a contradictory yet categorical statement – an actual quote. Even then, despite making the original publisher of said story look completely stupid for being so conclusively (and predictably) wrong, the latest information is still made front page news by said publisher – as if to rub salt into its own wounds.

Even worse, perhaps, is the public frenzy to scrutinise and analyse, word for word, said statement for secret intentions to the contrary. Meanwhile, previous assertions (lies) on said story, initially made as statements of fact are somehow now supposed to be ignored or thrown into the psychological garbage can as if they never happened. There was a time when a newspaper had a reputation to protect, no more it seems.

It will only get worse, as that is the way of the modern world where deception, in all its forms, reigns supreme; the truth is mixed in with the lies so efficiently and for such scrupulous reasons, that we can no longer believe anybody or anything, and so, my question is, what’s the point of reading any of it? The saying "Actions speak louder than words" has never appeared more pertinent.

I foresee a day when newspapers will merely report that every player will join every club, therefore covering all bases and making it impossible to be wrong, in which case to outfox each other they will have to make up new stories, for example, the accuracy of the transfer fee down to the last penny, eventually leading to a co-existing stock market based purely on football triviality spread betting.

My advice? See it for what it is. If you have to read it, don't believe it for a second and don't invest a shred of hope or emotion in it. Especially ignore those writers that bemoan the entire activity while themselves reporting on the futility of said news stories every single day, fooling you into thinking they’re on your side when they really want your clicks just as much, if not more, than the filthy lucre-loving newspapers trying to create their own branch of Footballholics Anonymous.

Surely there must be someone we can believe? Yes, me. I have not written anything for six weeks, therefore, by default I’m honestly admitting I don’t know anything, which happens to be 100% accurate as absolutely nothing of interest has happened. Unfortunately, however, during my self-enforced sabbatical my readership has plunged. I suppose it all goes to prove, it really does 'pay' to be a liar.

—oo— 

Comments should be intelligent and well-written. All others will be binned.

Monday
Jan072013

Wenger’s selfish ‘socialist’ wage structure

There was an excellent article in the Telegraph this week by Jason Burt, who somehow managed to get Arsene Wenger to admit responsibility for Arsenal’s ‘socialist’ wage structure that has proved so destructive to the club.

It quotes Wenger’s principled approach to spreading wages across the squad, and to “pay something that makes sense and is defendable in front of every single player”, adding: “We have a more socialist model. We make exceptions sometimes but they are not maybe so high.”

The newspaper sets in stone the assertion that Wenger sets the pay bands amongst the players with the board “deferring to his judgment”.

When asked point-blank, whether Wenger sets the wage structure, the Arsenal manager responded: “Yes. I don’t know how it works at others. But it’s not only me, it’s in co-operation with the board.”

This gives huge credence to my post last year, “Arsenal's £130m wage bill exposed” and the updated version “Arsenal’s £143.4m wage bill exposed”, published in November, which shows a ceiling of approx £100k per week for Podolski, with smaller incremental gaps for the vast majority of the remainder of the first team, themselves on fairly equal footing irrespective of age, talent or contribution.

This idiotic implementation of wages across the squad has caused massive problems to Arsenal on multiple levels, and doesn’t even make sense as a socialist model.

First, to even assert that paying any one individual £60,000 a week equates to a ‘socialist wage’ is fundamentally preposterous. Furthermore, it seems Mr Wenger is more than happy to exclude himself from his own socialist model, as his wage is twice that of the average player at the club. An average that, according to The Telegraph is £61,000 p/wk to Manchester Utd’s £64,000 p/wk.

This was also pinpointed by Arsenal Truth back in September, when I also suggested, now in agreement with The Telegraph article, that a relatively inexperienced player like Danny Welbeck earns roughly £15,000 p/wk at Man Utd compared to world class stars such as Van Persie or Rooney who earn around £200,000 p/wk.

The problems that the wage structure has caused the club are clear and obvious. Most notably in the tremendous amount of money wasted on young players that have never fulfilled their potential at the club; money that could have been spent on older, experienced professionals who would have no-doubt accepted a similar wage.

A player like Abou Diaby for example, who has played 117 times for Arsenal in seven seasons and has never proved his ability nor contributed to any success, has cost the club around £23.8m in wages/fees. Of course, it may not be Diaby or Arsenal’s fault that he is perennially injured, but why should the club suffer the cost of Wenger’s economic stupidity when at a ‘normal’ big club Diaby would have joined on £15k p/wk or less and had perhaps one increase commensurate with his productivity (or lack of it) throughout his injury blighted career.

Yet Wenger shows no sign of conceding to this madness, re-signing an average player such as Aaron Ramsey – who has already cost the club a £4.8m transfer fee and an estimated £13m in wages – to another 4 year contract, probably on more money. Imagine the waste if Ramsey remains as average as he is now? By 2017 Ramsey could well have cost the club somewhere in the region of £30-£35m - will he ever be worth that sort of outlay?

Apart from the obscene wastage noted above, you also have the more obvious problem of being unable to shift overpaid players from the wage bill, such as Djourou (scary to think how much he’s cost the club since 2003 – I’d estimate at least £20m), Chamakh, Park Chu Young, Squillaci, Fabianski, Denilson, Bendtner, Mannone, Miyaichi and previous hard-to-shift drivel such as Traore, Almunia and Eboue. The club even has to subsidise much of the wages of many of the players that go out on loan.

The contract situation of Theo Walcott only highlights the insanity of Wenger’s model. Like many other young players, Walcott was grossly overpaid upon joining the club, and now that Arsenal are in desperate need to keep him – presuming he even wants to stay, will have to fight off outside suitors by offering him a significant wage rise that is likely to cause restlessness amongst other players that have far more talent and experience that are currently on an equitable wage. This could conceivably create a situation whereby if Walcott does re-sign, Arsenal will have to throw a load more money at other players to ‘keep them sweet’.

However, I don’t fully believe Wenger is interested in a socialist model. I actually think it’s a ruse. He put those players on massive wages so that nobody would touch them. He experimented with Arsenal’s financial future in order to indulge himself in “project youth” and the club has paid, and continues to pay, the consequences of his selfish idealism.

Equally astounding is the board’s complicit ignorance in going along with Wenger’s wishes, probably due to their professional ineptitude. As Peter Hill-Wood does no worthwhile job as far as I can see, the majority of the blame should lay at the door of Ivan Gazidis. One thing’s for certain, this would never have been allowed to continue unabated (or even happen) under David Dein’s watch, nor Danny Fiszman. Neither man would have allowed Wenger to ride roughshod over them in the media, contradicting them at every turn over who was responsible for what in the boardroom.

Indeed, in the summer of 2009, Fiszman claimed “Arsene can afford to buy any player he wants, he only has to ask” and told the media that when the board asked Wenger what he would do with a £100m windfall, his response was that he’d hand it right back again. With the cat out of the bag, Wenger’s bitter response was, “I believe the more everybody shuts up inside the club, doesn’t talk about anything and works hard is [for] the best”

At the end of that season, Wenger also commented: “We want to run the club by respecting the financial balance and by developing the players who have been at the club for five years. If we do not get there next year, or the year after, then I will be responsible and stand up for it, don’t worry.”

Nearly four years ago now - and only going backwards, we’re still waiting for Wenger to stand up and be responsible, but he appears to have conveniently forgotten his pledge.

Of course, Arsenal could easily have afforded to pay 2-3 players £200k per week. Instead of having 77 players on the books, including reserves such as Wellington that Wenger blew £3.5m on yet can’t even get a work permit, the squads could be downsized, but it’s going to be extremely difficult to change now as the club can neither keep or attract world class players - nor get rid of the dross that contributes so little, while any new young player that joins has seemingly to be fitted into Wenger’s ‘socialist model’ and immediately put on a daft wage on a par with all the others.

Gazidis needs to grow a backbone and take firm control of the club, and he should start by shoving Wenger out the door before even Champions League qualification becomes a dream, let alone competing for a paltry domestic cup. Then perhaps he can earn his corn by focusing on revolutionising the wage bill in a sane fashion, rewarding players for success and incentivising young players to earn what their peers have achieved - while keeping any future appointed manager’s nose well out of the books, as normal clubs do.

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