Tuesday
Jun282011

Lady Nina shoots from the hip!

  
Since being treated like an object on the bottom of the Arsenal board's shoe, booted ex-director Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith has finally broke her silence via Twitter.

In a series of 'announcements' on the social networking platform', Bracewell-Smith says of the events resulting in her departure from the Arsenal board, "[they] couldn't handle a woman with power on the board. Felt insecure. Male chauvinism".

What, Peter Hill-Wood? Male chauvinist?

On the subject of David Dein, Bracewell-Smith delivers mixed messages, saying Dein was the "Root cause of all the troubles at AFC" before updating that opinion with "I stand corrected. Dein loves the club and although sometimes personalities fallout, his contribution at Arsenal has been immense."

In other Twitter posts, Bracewell-Smith alludes to being caught in the crossfire of the battle between the late Danny Fiszman and Dein, which resulted in the latter's sacking - and, ultimately, her own boardroom demise.

To cut a long story short, it appears that at one point Dein was plotting to add his shares to Stan Kroenke and further hoped to nefariously acquire Bracewell Smith's hefty 17% holding to help take control of the club - she grassed him up and the remainder of the board grouped together and kicked Dein out.

Despite conceding that Bracewell-Smith's heart was in the right place, Dein later cited her inexperience in dealing with boardroom politics as the overriding reason for her dobbing him in; an opinion which was later proved accurate. Half an hour after suffering the charade of being publicly re-elected as a board member during Arsenal's 2008 AGM, Hill-Wood told Bracewell-Smith she was no longer required as a member of the Arsenal board.

Why? Because according to Hill-Wood, Bracewell-Smith was "not very easy to deal with" and becoming too cosy with Alisher Usmanov's Red & White Holdings - an excuse dreamed up after she was apparently seen, during one particular game, chatting in the Red & White Holding's director box at half-time.

Having denied any wrongdoing and initially resisting the board's wishes to resign, Bracewell-Smith quit within a fortnight having effectively been forced out. It was obvious that the board felt Bracewell-Smith's influence as a shareholder and non-executive director was seen as some sort of obstacle to their future dealings with Stan Kroenke. I don't know, maybe they presumed she'd kick up a fuss when they eventually conveyed their decision to make a mint for themselves by flogging all their shares to him.

Hypocritically, Hill-Wood claimed that Bracewell-Smith was "not right as a director" before displaying his hurt and bemusement that Lady Nina did not accept his so-called olive branch of still being allowed into the directors' lounge on match days. Many might wonder exactly the same thing about Hill-Wood. After all, what difference between him and Bracewell-Smith? Both obtained their position on the board through transferral of family ownership, what does either of them know about running a football club?

Regardless, why Bracewell-Smith has decided that this is the time to lay into the Arsenal board is a mystery, maybe she's just bored.

Lady Nina's latest Twitter statement? "I agree that current board should all go. They are passe. Have nothing more to give to the club at all. In time we will need a more dynamic pro-active, younger board, and a good directional leadership."

On current evidence, can't disagree with any of that.

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Thursday
Jun162011

AST meeting: Ivan not so charming this year

  

The AST meeting with Ivan Gazidis was held on Monday, and here’s my long-winded analysis.

The first thing to say is, forget the guff from Ivan Gazidis initial speech - saying fan groups, fans with shares and fan forums are “important” and “the more we communicate the better”. 

Lest we forget, it was only a few weeks ago that the Arsenal board recommended ALL shareholders sell-up to Stan Kroenke. How can you communicate with shareholders if you don't have any?

Predictably, the first five minutes of the meeting was spent by Gazidis trying to throw water over anyone that might be spoiling for a fight; telling us all about how far the club has come in recent years (???), the wonderful new stadium, financial stability (yawn) and the giant myth that is Arsenal’s great brand of football which mesmerises the universe.

According to Ivan, the club is about a lot more than some flaky losers in the first team who can’t compete for a trophy, it’s about all the above-mentioned things and also how Arsenal operates within the community.

Of course, if Arsenal was winning things – or genuinely close to it, none of these peripherals would be spoken of, they would be treated as irrelevant. When Wenger took Arsenal to the Champions League final or semi-final, or won an FA Cup, who was talking about all this stuff? No one.

However, at least Ivan could share with us his “profound disappointment” at Arsenal’s annual end-of-season collapse.

Gazidis then pointed out that at least the season hadn’t been a disaster (yes it had) and that there will be new signings and we “shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” (yes we should).

Question 1: How did Clichy and Nasri get into a situation where their contracts only have one year to run?

Gazidis hereby laid down the foundations for the rest of the Q&A by intimating that he cannot talk about individuals because it will be “spun” by the media, before citing the complexities of making subjective decisions about the value of players, married to unsustainable spending and “errors of judgment” blah blah.

Basically, a muddled answer that struggled to hide the fact that Arsenal are making a mess of these contracts and it’s probably because Wenger is allowed too much input in an area where what he “thinks” a player will do is overriding business logic. Remember when he thought Flamini would stay and he didn't? How can this sort of thing still be happening?

In my opinion, Nasri, for example, should have been offered a contract last season – and probably was – and if he was and didn’t sign then Arsenal should have looked to sell last summer. Through this inaction, Nasri now holds all the trump cards leaving the club in a very weak position. For a club, and manager, perpetually moaning that it doesn't have the funds to compete, they seem pretty blase about losing talented players cheap, or on a Bosman.  

Question 2: Under what circumstance would you remove Arsene Wenger? Again, Gazidis would not give “fodder” to the media by answering the question. Although he did mention he was 100% behind the manager and waffled on about other clubs “unlimited” spending power, as if that was the sole reason for Arsenal’s failure to compete.

Thankfully, AST’s Treasurer Nigel Phillips picked up on that and asked Gazidis if he could at least respond to how he thought Arsenal were developing in footballing terms. Rather worryingly, Gazidis claimed that “all clubs were moving forward”, the assumption being that is what has made it harder for Arsenal to compete for trophies. Gazidis also claimed Arsenal had moved ahead/improved (albeit not enough).

From an objective perspective that’s drivel, and from a statistical perspective it’s wrong. It’s complete nonsense to suggest other clubs are overtaking Arsenal in terms of performance levels; Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, and arguably Man City – considering the quality of their side, all had average seasons, whilst even champions Man Utd look incomparable in terms of quality to previous Utd sides.

A poor answer – and he knew it, Gazidis began repeatedly sniffing and shifting nervously, and it further looked like Phillips would poke him in the eye with his pen, but it turned out he was in fact pointing to an audience member.

Question 3: Arsenal has not done great business in the last four transfer windows, so how about removing Wenger from the financial element of transfer negotiations or bringing back David Dein (cue applause).

Gazidis mentioned that it is a necessity to turn to Wenger for advice on transfers and that the club always goes by his recommendations – although why that has to extend to whether or not it should be Wenger’s decision as to whether the club spends a few million pounds extra to get their man is unclear.

Again, it sounds like Wenger is running the whole show, and furthermore there are no plans to bring back his old mate (Dein) either.

An audience member picked up on Gazidis’ response by claiming that the market should set the rate for the player, not the manager – and if that’s how Arsenal is operating then no wonder the club loses out on the majority of its transfer targets.

Gazidis responded that he has to be interactive with the manager (fine) but more baffling was the comment: “we spend all of the money we generate but we do have some in reserve”. Surely ALL of the money INCLUDES what you have in reserve. If you went to court to settle a divorce, I doubt they’d let you off if you said, “she can half of everything I own, except the £200k I’ve got in reserve.”

Question 4 revolved around Hill-Wood’s outrageous, and Wenger’s dismissive, comments this season pertaining to supporters/AST and their uneducated opinions, dumb players Tweeting, and away fans being ignored by players – all indicative of a lack of respect towards the Arsenal fan base.

Gazidis sympathised and agreed, but ruined that by mentioning it’s not only a problem at Arsenal but right across the board. This is a contradiction considering earlier in the meeting he claimed Arsenal have a responsibility to set the standards. He did, however, accept that more needs to be done in respect of the players and the board connecting with supporters.

Question 5: A complaint about the rise in ticket prices, particularly for Silver membership, which has risen 50%.

Gazidis response was that for two of the last six years prices have been static, whereas the club’s overheads have increased massively leading to the requirement to make unpopular decisions regarding ticket pricing. In respect of stadium atmosphere (a separate question), safe standing will be explored in the future, assuming it turns out to be feasible. Assuming he’s serious, this was probably the only valuable thing to come out of the meeting.

Skipping a couple of boring questions about the reserves, ticket announcements and dividends (no plans for Stan Kroenke to pay himself one), it was interesting to note that Gazidis mentioned season ticket renewals were extremely healthy, in fact, unhealthily so, presumably meaning many fans still have no chance of getting a season ticket.

This is a blow for those hoping Wenger will be put under pressure due to droves of supporters no longer wishing to renew their season tickets. However, the situation doesn’t entirely surprise me as most season ticket holders I know are happy to renew for as long as they can sell their ticket on whenever they don’t fancy going. Sometimes they can’t find a buyer, and that’s why there were so many empty seats at games – especially towards the end of the season when everything went down the shitter.

What Gazidis probably doesn’t realise is that just because people renew doesn’t mean they are satisfied supporters; they simply don’t want to end up on the waiting list (for all they know next season Arsenal might have a better manager), and for as long as they can find a buyer for the games they don’t want to go to they can reduce their annual outlay whilst following the club.

Next major question: Why are Arsenal players so unmotivated and have such a poor work ethic?

Gazidis gets lots of these letters apparently, and considers the view valid and legitimate, but personally thinks it’s more down to lack of know-how and experience. However, he then mentions that when dour performances happen consistently over time something needs to be done to address it; in which case the last 3 or 4 months of the season should have given him considerable pause for thought (and a better answer).

Next up, what percentage of Wenger’s budget is actually being spent, and are wages included as part of the transfer fee? Gazidis fudged the answer, saying it was complicated and that there was no fixed way of doing things and, no, Wenger did not spend all of his budget, although it’s best to keep some in reserve anyway - even though he earlier told us that Arsenal spends “all the money we generate”.

He then said “We don’t hold back money”. So what’s a reserve then?

What a mess.

Next question: “Who is Arsenal Wenger accountable to?”

Ultimately, “the fans” suggested Gazidis (cue laughter). Apparently, we are the ones who will decide whether Wenger’s position is untenable. True to some extent, but not really the answer I was looking for. It would be preferable if a CEO could take a little more responsibility rather than throwing any difficult decisions he might have to make back at the fans. Regardless, Gazidis seems to thinks the majority of supporters remain in full support of the manager.

Nigel Phillips then stepped in, suggesting that if such decisions are solely down to the fans – who are not inclined to boo the manager/board/players during a match to let their feelings be known – then what avenues ARE open for them to voice their dissent?

Gazidis said the board monitors the fan base and, as long as they’re not leaving in droves and Arsenal play good football then nothing will change. He then waffled on about the respect other countries hold for Arsenal’s style of football etc., completely glossing over the fact that there was a small anti-boardroom march at the Aston Villa game, which I’m surprised no one reminded him of.

Clearly losing patience with the line of questioning, Gazidis’ answers now start to become short and to the point.

Who’s helping Wenger to make sure Arsenal aren’t making the same mistakes season after season (defence coach etc.) asked one audience member. Gazidis’ response, Wenger won’t say in public what he’s thinking privately and he’s not the stubborn individual portrayed in the media and the club shouldn’t be listening to people on the non-football side telling them what they should be doing. He does, however, understand the supporters’ frustrations and assures us that such things (such as changes to backroom staff) are monitored and discussed, and Wenger is receptive to suggestions.

The final response of any worth ended with Gazidis talking bollocks about Kroenke’s wishes to keep Arsenal listed and the owner’s support for fan share schemes/AST etc. when it’s blatantly obvious that the American would snap up 100% of the shares tomorrow given the chance, without giving a rat’s arse what the supporters think. That’s my humble opinion at least, which will only change if and when Kroenke has a choice in the matter. At the moment with Usmanov holding nearly 30% of the shares and supporters the other 5% – he couldn’t take full control of Arsenal even if he wanted to.

I seem to remember not so long ago the Arsenal board saying that Arsenal will never allow single ownership, so why we should believe them when it comes to divulging Kroenke’s future plans?

So, what have we gleaned from this year’s AST meeting? Not a lot. Nothing specific can be discussed because the media will pick up on it and spin it, whilst the board remains 100% behind Wenger and it’s likely to stay that way until there is civil unrest amongst supporters.

It seems obvious that Wenger remains far too influential at boardroom level, and there is no discernible pressure on him whatsoever to change his ethos or methods. In some respects, it seems that the club has allowed Wenger so much power, influence and control that they’d be utterly bereft at what to do without him. Since Dein left, there’s quite simply no one running the club that seems to know anything about “football”, or, more to the point, is able to measure Wenger's performance from a "footballing" perspective (tactics/coaching/motivation).

I also hold the view that despite his welcoming demeanour, Gazidis treats the AST as a pesky irritant. Ivan wined and dined supporters without the food and drink; spinning empty platitudes designed to give a fraction of satisfaction to a group of individuals with very little stomach for a genuine fight.

The problem for the AST is if it becomes too vocal all avenues of communication will be closed (as threatened by Hill-Wood earlier in the season). It’s probably only this that’s keeping a lid on things, but despite that, the board must surely realise that the majority of supporters are unhappy with Wenger, as not one positive word in support of him spilled from the lips of any single individual during the meeting’s entire 90 minutes. 

Do I thank Gazidis for his involvement? Yes and no. Sometimes you can glean as much information by what people don’t say as much as what they do say, but his decision to attend the meeting is more likely politically influenced rather than stemming from a genuine desire to congregate with supporters and take on board their opinions.

—oo— 

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Friday
May202011

End of season player ratings and assessments

  

I can’t be bothered to talk about the Aston Villa debacle last weekend or what will or won’t happen against Fulham on Sunday, the consequences of failing to automatically qualify for the Champions League will become clear soon enough, so despite there being one game to go, I’m closing the season now with my overall player ratings.

Basically, the ratings are calculated by adding all my individual player scores throughout the season, then dividing that sum by the amount of games they’ve played – that way you get an average performance figure per player over a season.

The numbers should be pretty accurate considering I have tracked 98% of the games. 

Bracketed numbers are the ratings I gave to that particular player over preceding seasons (where available).

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

SAMIR NASRI
Average Rating: 7.0 (6.5/6.1)

Still improving year-on-year, last season Nasri had a good season but wasn’t delivering enough end product. This season, we saw more end-product, although perhaps not over as consistent a period as desired.

To be honest, over the last few months Nasri has offered little to drag Arsenal out of the mire but he did have a fantastic first half of the season and was probably the best player in the Premier League for a month or so. 

With his contract still unsigned, it’s plausible that the Frenchman could be looking to leave Arsenal, or, perhaps more likely, he’s simply postponing talks in order to maximise a new deal. 

If Arsenal lose Nasri it will be a major blow.

CESC FABREGAS
Average Rating: 6.9 (7.3/6.7)

Runner-up behind Van Persie last year, and runner-up again this, Fabregas has struggled this season, mostly due to perpetual niggling injuries. Some might question his attitude, but to be honest I think a player’s attitude should be questioned only after they have played 3 or 4 games after returning from injury – Fabregas has rarely had the opportunity to be judged on that.

Will Fabregas be at Arsenal next season? It’s 50/50. The cynical side of me says that his current thigh injury is bogus and that Arsenal already have an agreement in place with Barcelona and so cannot afford to let a serious injury scupper the deal. The less cynical side tells me that with an automatic Champions League spot still to fight for Arsenal cannot afford 
not to play him.

I wouldn’t blame Fabregas for leaving; Wenger has let him down badly by surrounding him with dross. The Spaniard has often had to push himself to the limit to carry the players around him, and that in itself creates the sort of mental strain and fatigue that leads to players picking up recurrent injuries. I would liken it to Scott Parker at West Ham who has suffered similarly.

Those who think that if Fabregas leaves he can simply be replaced by Wilshire or Ramsey to the same effect are absolutely barking mad.

JACK WILSHERE
Average Rating: 6.9 (n/a)

Wilshere’s full first season with Arsenal has been impressive, but I’m not as sold on the player as many.

Technically, he’s got the lot and the right attitude to boot – but I still don’t believe he has as positive an effect on games as he should. That’s doubtless because of Wenger’s insistence on playing him in the holding midfield role, which, to my mind wastes his talents. 

Wilshire should be playing in a more progressive attacking role, either central midfield or behind the striker; I reckon he’s mobile enough to play out wide too, but at the moment he’s in the least effective position to have an effect on the game. 

WOJCIECH SZCZESNY
Average Rating: 6.8 (n/a)

Another debutant who’s had a positive season; although there remains question marks. Undoubtedly better than Almunia and Fabianski, the real question is, has Szczesny got what it takes to keep goal for a side with title-winning aspirations? 

Personally, I believe Arsenal need a new keeper to vie with Szczesny, especially as if the Pole gets injured for any length of time there’s nobody that can be trusted to take his place.

It’s called planning for the worst; something Wenger seems oblivious to.

JOHAN DJOUROU
Average Rating: 6.8 (n/a)

Djourou has had his best season since joining Arsenal, and was probably the club’s most consistent performer for the first 6 months of the campaign. Unfortunately, however, his performances have become increasingly witless as the pressures of trying to compete for major trophies unfolded. This alone makes him completely inappropriate to be considered a first team starter.

I’m more than happy for Djourou to be part of the squad however. He has the potential to be a fine defender under a manager who can add that psychological edge to his game (not Wenger - but maybe next season under a new manager).

ROBIN VAN PERSIE
Average Rating: 6.6 (7.4/6.4)

Van Persie has been in blistering goalscoring form of late, but unfortunately too many injuries in the first half of the season led to stuttering performances which have de-ranked his ratings. Also, in many games, despite the fact that Van Persie might have scored, his overall performances have been somewhat limited by the players around him. It doesn’t help that the Dutchman is ill-equipped to play the lone striker role.

Having said that, Van Persie is Arsenal through and through and is a vital component of the club’s future – there’s no question of him leaving and neither should there be as Van Persie is one of the few players left we can identify with in any shape or form.

LUKASZ FABIANSKI
Average Rating: 6.6 (n/a)

Fabianski noticeably improved this season, although that’s not saying much considering how laughably bad he has been in the past.

At 26, Fabianski can hardly be considered a youth player – even in goalkeeping terms. I wouldn’t mind him staying, but only as 3rd choice.

ALEX SONG
Average Rating: 6.5 (7.2/6.0)

To be honest, Song has been average this season. Last season was a breakthrough for the player who had a lot to prove to himself after supporter criticism, but he now seems to be resting on his laurels, picking and choosing which games to turn up for. One game he can be really good, the next pretty awful – there’s no consistency and I have major doubts about whether he really has the necessary attributes to play for Arsenal as a first choice DM. 

Too slow to play in a 4-4-2 and often culpable under pressure, at the very least Song needs a top class ball-winner next to him. That might give him the competition he needs to push on, otherwise I have doubts whether he really has the winning mentality that's required.

BACARY SAGNA
Average Rating: 6.5 (6.4/6.6)

Sagna’s form has dipped over the past few seasons. He’s Arsenal’s most consistent defender, but he could still improve positionally and going forward he offers virtually nothing to Arsenal’s attacks. Would be a very solid defender in a 4-4-2, but as an attacking full back, simply doesn’t cut it

THEO WALCOTT
Average Rating: 6.3 (5.3/6.3)

I believe there’s been some progress from Theo this year, but again, having joined the club five years ago, we should be expecting a hell of a lot more than what he’s been delivering – especially considering the price tag.

Walcott hides in too many games and if you analyse his contribution on Guardian chalkboards, he has noticeably less touches than his teammates in virtually every game he plays - sometimes his contribution is pitiful.

Walcott only has one use as far as I’m concerned, and that’s as a super-sub, where his burning pace can pay dividends against increasingly tired opposition. At the minute he doesn’t really deserve a starting berth in the majority of games and his progress remains painfully slow.

LAURENT KOSCIELNY
Average Rating: 6.2 (n/a)

Koscielny’s first season at the club has been pretty mixed, but the overall analysis has to be that, considering the hefty price tag for what was at best a 'prospect', the Frenchman’s been a £9m flop. 

He’s had some very good games, but, alternately, is never far from conceding a penalty or making a calamitous error in those very same games. Koscielny makes far too many tackles in my opinion; anyone who knows anything about football also knows that tackles should be a last resort for a centre-back - it’s what you do when your positioning and anticipation in a situation has failed you.

Koscielny is also poor in the air and his communication with those around him is non-existent. Much of this is Wenger’s fault of course; he can’t coach an average defender to be a good one, or a good one to be a great one. They’re just sent out there to sink or swim.

As long as Koscielny works under Wenger I doubt he’ll ever produce to a consistently high level.

TOMAS ROSICKY
Average Rating: 6.2 (6.5/5.5)

A likeable character who always puts in 100%, but the fact is this season has been one too many for Rosicky. His injuries over the years have caught up with him, and pretty much ruined him – that extra edge he once had is certainly missing.

It’s fair to say that the Czech will never reproduce the promise he initially showed when joining Arsenal from Borussia Dortmund, and all he currently does is eat into the wage bill. 

Tomas has to go.

KIERAN GIBBS
Average Rating: 6.0 (n/a)

Gibbs has played a moderate amount of games this season but looks dreadfully lightweight. His positional play is shocking and seeing as Wenger is incapable of improving him as a defender he’s pretty much a complete waste of time. 

Heavily prone to injury, Arsenal should be looking to get him off the books and bring in a top class left back, thus demoting Clichy and leaving Gibbs redundant.

ANDREI ARSHAVIN
Average Rating: 6.0 (6.3/7.2)

As you can see from previous ratings, in my opinion Arshavin is in robust decline. How many moments of magic have we had from the Russian this season? Very few indeed. Personally, I think he spent too long at Zenit living in an adulated comfort zone; physically he’s never really been able to adapt to the ferocity of the Premier League. 

He can manage it minor bursts, but his efforts then seem to sap all his energy which reduces his ability to be creative.

I will never blame Wenger for bringing Arshavin to the club, but to be honest, he’s not good enough and should be sold off while we can still get some money for him.

MAROUANE CHAMAKH
Average Rating: 5.9 (n/a)

Chamakh has been a total flop since joining Arsenal last summer. He scored 11 goals, but when you analyse who they were against and that they all came when the team was fit and flying early doors, then a Championship striker probably would have scored just as many.

Being French sealed the deal for this dirt cheap purchase that will never fit the system Wenger is trying to employ. His entire game is based on getting on the end of headers, but who’s there to supply the crosses? Despite that, Chamakh is slow in thought and one dimensional; he’s no use on the wings or as a lone striker. Whoever scouted him and thought he was appropriate in Arsenal’s current system got it completely wrong.

Arsenal should sell Chamakh whilst other clubs can still remember that he was ever highly rated. Although I’d be willing to concede he’d probably be a lot more effective in a 4-4-2 – will that ever happen under Wenger? Most unlikely.

SEBASTIEN SQUILLACI
Average Rating: 5.8 (n/a)

Wenger’s third and final calamitous signing of the season. Had a few good games early doors, but quickly sunk with the ship. Squillaci can go in Wenger’s black book of awful defenders he’s bought. There’s no future for him at Arsenal whatsoever.

EMMANUEL EBOUE
Average Rating: 5.7 (6.3/4.3)

The fact that this clown is still at the club makes Wenger look a laughing stock. Evidently happy to just sit on the bench and pick up wages that are totally disproportionate to his talent, in between we have to suffer the player’s ludicrous cameos, diving all over the pitch and/or frequently dropping his team mates in the shit with his stupid, irresponsible behaviours. 

People say Eboue’s good in the dressing room, as if making people laugh by acting the fool is the sort of character required to help this team win trophies??? When is Wenger going to get serious?

GAEL CLICHY
Average Rating: 5.7 (6.1/5.7)

Another awful season from the worst Arsenal full back I‘ve ever known. The fact that Wenger is even considering offering this plank a new deal is proof positive that Wenger’s ability to understand what it takes to build a trophy winning defence is irreversibly flawed. 

Clichy is a player who has not improved 1% since joining the club, and Wenger has taught him nothing about defending in 8 years. Through Clichy you see all of Wenger’s shortcomings as a coach; physically weak, mentally weak and tactically weak.

MANUEL ALMUNIA
Average Rating: 5.6 (5.5/6.4)

Thank god 2011 will end Arsenal’s love affair with the Spaniard. I do actually feel sorry for Manuel, as he really does seem to be a lovely guy, but having been constantly picked up and dropped, sold then not sold, and finally having to suffer the hideous indignation of being replaced by his 41-year-old arch rival Jens Lehmann, the Spaniard looks haunted.

With his career in ruins, Almunia’s treatment has been the worst man management of a player I’ve ever seen.

CARLOS VELA
Average Rating: 5.6 (5.6/6.1)

Plays with a smile, but let’s face it – he’s a lightweight waste of space.

NICKLAS BENDTNER
Average Rating: 5.5 (6.2/5.7)

Bendtner’s had a terrible season but Wenger’s insistence of playing him wide as a winger has you wondering whether he’s compos mentis. I mean, what would you do in the circumstances? There’s 15 minutes to go and you need a goal? Switch to 4-4-2 and put Bendtner through the middle where he can support the striker and be most effective, or stick to the system that’s evidently failed for the previous 75 minutes and bung him on the wing where his pace and complete lack of dribbling ability can be found wanting?

Bendtner’s not the greatest striker on earth - far from it, and I’ve no particular reason to like him, but Wenger has failed him, not the other way around.

DENILSON
Average Rating: 5.3 (5.8/5.7)

“ We’re coming to the dregs now. Despite my loathing of this player I do feel slightly sorry for Denilson. Yes he’s lazy and completely untrustworthy, but he’s a Brazilian and what he’s being asked to do is simply not in his DNA. 

Wenger should have realised that and yet again it's been exceptionally poor judgment to assume Denilson would be a shoe-in for the emerging Song. Arsenal have certainly suffered badly for Wenger’s decision to play Denilson as a DM. I actually think he would be a half decent player in the Fabregas position. Still, Arsenal should be looking to sell and get someone more suited to the role that Denilson more often than not finds himself in.”

Spot the quote marks? That’s because I wrote the above two paragraphs last year, so what’s changed? Nothing. Wenger has wasted another season attempting to force Denilson into plying his trade as a DM. It’s pig-headed, weak management.

Denilson will be gone this summer as clearly Wenger has had enough of his contemptible displays; three years to late in my opinion.

ABOU DIABY
Average Rating: 5.1 (6.0/5.5)

Diaby is more destructive to his own team mates than the opposition. By my count, he’s been the worst player in the squad this season – therefore, currently the worst player at Arsenal and needs to be shipped out pronto.

He’s always injured, his temperament is awful and he’s lazy at the best of times. Rumours of bust ups in the dressing room tell you that this divisive character is not going to be popular with players who have a strong will to win.

—oo— 

So that’s it, a pretty sorry examination of a squad that’s been nowhere near good enough to win anything again this season. The points total will certainly be less than 2009/2010, and it’s likely that more goals will have been shipped overall too – Fulham will decide that on Sunday.

It’s been another retrograde step in a season where the manager promised the world, but only delivered a summer of hot air followed by perpetual excuses throughout the duration – some of them bordering on the absurd.

Looking back, it’s clear to see that Arsenal’s season finished in February, when Wenger’s men chucked a four goal lead at Newcastle. It was then that fragile minds became defeatist minds and the roof started to fall in on the house.

Alarmingly, Wenger has struggled to rouse his players from their malaise – almost as if they simply don’t take notice of anything he says anymore. Recent form has been as bad as it’s ever been under the manager; and at any other high profile club he’d be sacked. 

The last 12 Premier League games have read thus: W4 D5 L3. Going into next season with that sort of form would be disastrous. On that ratio of points per performance, Arsenal would be miles away from Champions League qualification - let alone pretending to compete for the Premier League, and there remains a question mark about whether Wenger will do enough in the transfer market should Arsenal be required to qualify for the Champions League this coming August. 

As I’ve said many times, without the Fabregas, Nasri, Van Persie axiom – Arsenal are a mid-table Premier League side and the results prove it. Even with them, their talents struggle to compensate for a defence that now concedes with shocking regularity.

Out of the 23 squad players mentioned above, only Nasri and Walcott have discernibly improved over the course of the season – and Walcott’s hardly set the Premier League on fire. The theory that all players naturally progress and improve as they get older is too simplistic, and in Arsenal’s case becoming a complete fallacy.

Every other player in the Arsenal squad this season has either underperformed or their progress been static, and new recruits have been mixed. Szczesny and Wilshere look very promising – but they’re far too young to expect great things from, whilst Wenger’s three summer buys have all been failures.

Unless there is a massive shift in focus, the fight for major trophies will be a waste of time under Wenger next season too. At least five quality players need to be brought in – and when I say quality, I mean quality – not the sort of French pap Wenger spunked a feeble £12m on last summer.

The coaching staff needs to change, along with attitudes, with a huge emphasis placed on defensive organisation, communication and positional play. 

Tactics need to be analysed, the 4-2-1-2-1 system has been a complete failure.

Pat Rice may be a fantastically loyal servant to Arsenal, but as an assistant manager he offers nothing except support. A worthy attribute, but it will never get the blinkers off Wenger. 

The board should redefine Rice’s role and suggest to Wenger in the strongest terms that he finds a right hand man that’s able to ask the sort of questions on the footballing side that they clearly have little knowledge or understanding of.

It’s about time the board regained control of the footballing side of the club and do what they’re paid to do, which isn’t bowing down to the whims of their own employee and finding excuses for him, but taking the bull by the horns and driving the club on by delivering standards and expectations of their staff that have consequences if they’re not met.

Gazidis performance as a CEO has been pretty disappointing. He talks a good game, but has delivered nothing tangible. His statements are becoming as contradictory as Wenger’s and the 6% price hike fiasco doesn’t exactly give supporters a reason to trust him or feel he is anything other than a faceless corporate.

Meanwhile, the ‘old’ board betrayed supporters this season by selling out to Stan Kroenke to line their own pockets. The lack of information regarding the American's future intentions makes you wonder if the Arsenal board even thinks we exist.

What will Kroenke bring to the party? Who knows? Our American owner has hardly uttered a word since becoming a board member, and you have to ask yourself why. For all we know, all he’s interested in is using your money to drive down Arsenal’s debt so he can make a killing by selling on his stake in the club somewhere along the line. 

No doubt things will become clearer in time, but at the moment Arsenal and their supporters are about as disconnected from each other as they’ve ever been, and on the pitch it’s dire.

If you think Arsenal have to drop to 12th before the situation becomes what you consider to be dire, then shame on you for allowing the rot to set in. Don’t think it can’t happen – if the current trend continues with star players leaving only to be replaced by more youth and cheap French imports, Arsenal could fall off a cliff.

WHOAG’s demonstration at the Villa game last week should be commended; loyal supporters strong-willed enough to get off their backside, arrange a march and let their feelings known, and in the right way too.

They were respected by other Gooners on the day, because you can bet your life that the majority secretly agree and were glad they were out there protesting.

Another season of under-investment and lackadaisical underperformance from the manager and players and you can expect attendances at similar demonstrations to be ten-fold this time next year. It’s a stark warning to the Arsenal board that they need to start treating the supporters with respect, become more transparent where it’s feasible to do so and start applying some much needed pressure to the manager for once.

Remember Arsenal fans, we are ARSENAL! Not Spurs, not Birmingham or Wigan, and certainly not Chelsea. We’re bigger than all of them; we’re a damn big club with proud supporters who have made a lifelong commitment. Don’t let the board and manager ride roughshod all over you and don’t let anyone, let alone other supporters, dissipate your self-confidence or make you feel ashamed to let it be known you have expectations for your club that far exceed what’s currently being delivered. 

To be successful you HAVE to foster a culture of high expectations, forever pushing the club on to be the best.

Arsenal fans are intelligent and patient, and in my opinion, the best around. But that tolerance is currently being abused by a self-serving, highly egotistical manager and a complacent boardroom that don’t seem to be quite getting what Arsenal means to its community of supporters far and wide.

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Thursday
Apr282011

Arsenal protest march is a good thing

  

On Sunday, 15th May (prior to the final home game of the season) Arsenal supporters from the Where Has Our Arsenal Gone (WHOAG) website will be meeting outside the Canons Pub, Blackstock Road at 2.30pm to take part in a protest march against Arsenal Football Club.

The setting up of the march is the result of concerns WHOAG have about how the club is currently being operated.

At present, the media does not appear to have picked up on the protest, but the main Arsenal blogs have been mostly critical, labelling it counter-productive and open to aggression by Arsenal fans that might oppose it on the day.

First of all, the protest will (obviously) be a peaceful protest, and fairly small at this point, although numbers could be boosted by further unsatisfactory results in Arsenal’s next two games at home to Man Utd and away to Stoke.

Whatever you think about the march, we live in a democracy and people are entitled to peaceful protest. Any Arsenal supporters dumb enough to try and disrupt the march would only cast a dark shadow on the club whilst further highlighting WHOAG’s cause in the media.

Personally, I am in support of the march, primarily because I believe it’s an excellent opportunity to remind Stan Kroenke – of whom we still have no idea of his intentions in relation to his ownership of Arsenal Football Club – that supporters are more than capable of mobilising themselves to disrupt his investment. On top of that, for many, Arsene Wenger’s current performance is completely unsatisfactory and the manager needs some pressure applied to him as he’s clearly not under any from the board.

A lot has been made of WHOAG’s press release, listing the reasons for the organisation’s discontent – but to be honest, having read it in-depth I don’t see a lot wrong with it.

The press release clearly identifies WHOAG’s motivation for the march, splitting grievances into separate paragraphs, and whilst a little more care and attention could have been spent on certain points, reading between the lines I find little to disagree on.

On season tickets, WHOAG protest about the impending 6% price hike and the way that the club uses a ticket pricing structure that prevents supporters from downgrading to cheaper tickets should they wish to. With the threat of losing their season tickets altogether hanging over their heads, it might be a clever marketing ploy on Arsenal’s part to retain season ticket holders in this way, but it’s hardly befitting of a so-called ‘family club’ is it? More should be done to allow supporters to exchange tickets, upgrade and downgrade without the threat of being dumped back on the waiting list.

Meanwhile, the 6% price hike is outrageous considering the club has won nothing for 6 years and invests bugger all on players for a club of its size, turnover, stature and supposed ambition - not to mention the fact that following the world financial crisis ordinary people are being squeezed in the pocket big time during an unprecedented period of government cost cutting.

To say that supporters are being treated like cash cows is an understatement – and in my opinion this topic alone is reason for a protest.

On Stadium Seating, WHOAG suggest away fans should be moved from their position in the stadium and forced to pay more, freeing-up affordable seating for home supporters + a few other ideas that could help lend The Emirates a more homely atmosphere. I’m not sure about the practicalities of this issue, there might be rules about where away supporters should be positioned within a stadium/pricing limits etc. but Arsenal Football Club does need to take some of the considerations outlined into account. It’s our club after all and when you see Arsenal focusing on refurbishing restaurants and boxes ahead of putting the famous Clock End clock back in the stadium (5 years late), it pretty obvious where their priorities lie (or rather don’t).

On commercial activities, WHOAG note their dismay at the poorly struck commercial deals that the club struck when Arsenal moved stadiums, and the requirement to renegotiate them. This is not very well worded at all, but I believe there is room for complaint if you read between the lines. Whilst it is clear (and acceptable) that Arsenal had to strike some pretty hasty marketing deals to secure funding for the Emirates Stadium, rather than simply bumping up what are already extortionate ticket prices to make up for the cash shortfall, Arsenal should be working harder to attract investment from new revenue streams. The club appears to have done very little in this area since moving into the Emirates.

One example has been why the board has continually caved in to Wenger’s demand to allow his players to train in Austria every season whilst other clubs are making a bomb out of pre-season tours across the world. Also, if you’re going to bleed anyone, bleed the corporate boxes. These people are not all true Arsenal supporters – they’re often hospitality mostly paid for by stinking rich companies/individuals. If anyone should pay, and can afford, premium charges they should.

Basically, the club is lagging behind and the supporters are paying for it when they can least afford to. It smacks of greed and taking advantage of a club with a waiting list (not for much longer if Arsenal continues at this rate).

Then we come to Arsene Wenger and complaints about Arsenal’s inability to compete and win trophies under his tutelage. This is probably the shabbiest part of the press release. First of all Arsenal have no divine right to win anything – so that part should have been omitted, but it’s certainly legitimate to ask whether Arsenal genuinely COMPETE for anything.

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

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

Criticising the manager for not bringing in “World Class” additions is also a bit silly but I think it’s pretty obvious what WHOAG are getting at, how about spending money on some quality and experience and not leaving Arsenal’s future down to the naïve hope that all these ‘kids’ will be world class ‘one day’.

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

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

On the chairman, Peter Hill-Wood and requesting his “immediate removal”. I agree. Evidently, Hill-Wood is a blithering imbecile with his constant Gerald Ratner-type comments. His remark about the Arsenal Supporters Trust being “silly” and “stupid” – and far more importantly, threatening to disassociate from them for daring to criticise Arsene Wenger is completely and utterly unacceptable. In today’s high powered business world, any board member that makes such divisive, damaging and, quite frankly, ignorant comments about a company’s customer base would be told to clear their desk immediately while the company figures out how it can restore its public image and wriggle out of the situation.

I have always questioned Hill-Wood’s contribution to the club. No doubt there has been a positive contribution, but for me the key decisions in the past 20-30 years have been made by Dein/Fiszman etc., with Hill-Wood often playing an obstructive part in them due to his complete lack of foresight whilst making the odd public interjection to mostly put his foot in it with elitist declarations that alienate supporters he clearly sees as second-class citizens.

A few years ago Hill-Wood told us in the strongest terms that private ownership should never be allowed to happen at Arsenal, only to then go and sell all his shares to Stan Kroenkewithout even revealing what the American's true intentions are - putting our new owner a footstep away from 100% ownership whilst scuttling off with £5m in his back pocket. 

How on earth anyone can trust a man that does that sort of thing needs their head examined.

You can read WHOAG’s press release and decide whether you want to go to the march by following this link: http://www.wherehasourarsenalgone.webeden.co.uk/#/news-press-release-2542011/4550867928.

Whether you agree or not, it’s really very important that Arsenal Football Club has supporters and supporter groups that are willing to get off their backside and do something if they feel the club’s future is being threatened, badly run or its supporters are being taken advantage of. Don't rage against them, ultimately they're on your side even if you don't feel that they speak on your behalf on some of these issues.

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Thursday
Apr142011

Fiszman dies/Usmanov stalemate

  

Following protracted illness, Arsenal director Danny Fiszman has sadly lost his battle with throat cancer.

Although Danny was probably the architect of David Dein’s exit from the club, he was a passionate Arsenal supporter who, along with ex-director Keith Edelman and Ken Friar, did a great job relocating Arsenal to its new stadium both on time and within budget.

Fiszman sold his shares to Kroenke days before his death, allowing the American sports tycoon the potential to take 100% control of the club should the only remaining major shareholder, Alisher Usmanov, decide to sell his stake.

However, at present, Usmanov seems unwilling to give up his 27% holding - it appears as though he’s in it for the long haul. What I mean by that is, the longer Usmanov is able to play an obstructive role as a shareholder the more likely Kroenke will either be forced to open dialogue with the Russian (and bring him onto the board) or be forced to modify his plans as to his long-term vision for the club.

It seems very strange to me that Usmanov is still being kept at arms length; there simply has to be some sort of dialogue between the two major shareholders at some point, as I can’t imagine Kroenke is going to be content with an immovable 67% investment in Arsenal. 

For as long as Kroenke does not own a 100% stake, he cannot delist Arsenal from the Plus market, restructure the club’s debt or modify the company’s articles of association, which covers a whole range of statutes regarding Arsenal’s day-to-day operation.

To many, this is a good thing - but the current situation also leaves the club in a state of limbo. 

Kroenke and Usmanov may play a waiting game for a short period; it’s in neither’s best interests to make any grand gestures, however, I believe the duo will soon have to get around a table together and talk about how they can work together. This 'could' open the door for David Dein’s return to the club.

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