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.

—oo— 

Insults directed at the site author or any other contributor will result in you being blocked from accessing this website indefinitely.

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.

—oo— 

Insults directed at the site author or any other contributor will result in you being blocked from accessing this website indefinitely.

Tuesday
Apr122011

Arsenal Supporters Trust is a powerless shareholder

  

Nothing much today on Stan Kroenke’s impending takeover of Arsenal, but some fallout from yesterday.

Following an emergency meeting, The Arsenal Supporters Trust announced a statement declaring that they will refuse to surrender their (miniature) shareholding to Stan Kroenke.

Despite this declaration, the fact of the matter is, the AST are pretty powerless in the face of whatever Kroenke’s future designs on the club are. Should Kroenke snap up Usmanov’s remaining 27% stake it would enable him to breach the 90% threshold, allowing him to force any remaining shareholders to sell up.

Kroenke could even delist the shares and take the company into full private ownership should he wish.

So, in reality the AST has very little clout as a shareholder, and it’s arguable as to whether they ever had or have any genuine clout in their dealings with the club in the first place.

This time last week, Chairman Peter Hill-Wood went as far as to suggest that Arsenal would close dialogue with the AST if they continued to voice an opinion that did not support the board’s backing of Arsene Wenger.

How’s that for democracy?

Arsenal.com subsequently tried to quash that statement, but that doesn't mean it's not what the club really thinks.

The AST is evidently treated as a nodding dog that should be grateful to be in receipt of any sort of shareholding in Arsenal Football Club or the ability to have any sort of say. If the organisation was at all valued, why would the club recommend they sell their shareholding to Kroenke?

Whatever Arsenal espouse, supporter organisations such as the AST are allowed a voice for purely political reasons – so the club can appear be seen as a community club that actually cares about what the supporter thinks.

Of course, Arsenal does care about what the supporters think to an extent – for example, what colour to paint the hand rails on the stadium or whether the hot dogs are becoming overpriced might be worthy of consultation with the AST, but when it comes to any major decisions, you’re unlikely to find them all sitting round a big round table chewing the fat.

The fact is that the board does not listen to the supporters, but only offers lip service to give the illusion that they are listening. Over the past season or two, the avenues of communication between club and supporter have been slowly soldered up and the more antagonism there is towards Arsene Wenger, the more you can expect that to continue. 

At last year’s Arsenal shareholders Q&A, the shareholders were not allowed to speak, only have their questions read out – with Wenger bleating rubbish and the shareholders having to sit there and grimace.

Besides that, how can you trust a club with a Chairman that said only a few years ago: “If you have a benefactor and he gets run over by a bus you are gone. We have got to have 50,000 people run over by a bus before we have a problem.”

The same chairman that sold his shares to Kroenke this week, part-ensuring the complete abandonment of those principles.

Personally, I am in full support of the AST and organisations such as AISA, but the events of this week demonstrate how easily marginalised they can be.

However, if genuine Arsenal supporters do have a grievance at least there are organisations available that can act on our behalf and offer a collective voice – and that’s important. You should bookmark their websites, as you might want to communicate with them over the coming months and years.

—oo— 

Insults directed at the site author or any other contributor will result in you being blocked from accessing this website indefinitely.

Wednesday
Mar092011

Barcelona 3 Arsenal 1: Match Report

  
I could do my usual in-depth analysis of the match, but it would mostly consist of a VERY long stream of chances that Barcelona created and missed, or Almunia saved.

That Arsenal could easily have gone through to the quarter final despite the battering that Barcelona subjected us to over the two legs merely shows how astonishingly unpredictable football can be. Ultimately, however, I think we need to look at the bigger picture.

First leg, Arsenal were fortunate to gain a victory. Second leg, despite the sending off of Van Persie (however ridiculous), the fact is Arsenal did not have a single shot either on or off target in the entire match and didn't deserve to go through.

Over the two legs, the better team won the tie by a distance, and, overall, more decisions went 
against Barcelona than went against Arsenal - so for those coming up with stupid conspiracy theories, and for all the ugly protests by Wenger and his team of sore losers, let's stop being ridiculous.

When it came to the major refereeing decisions over both legs, here's what it boiled down to:

1st leg: 

Koscielny fouled Pedro in box and got away with it.
Messi had a goal disallowed for no logical reason.

2nd leg:

Van Persie was sent off for no logical reason.
Messi should have had a penalty when Diaby clearly fouled him in the box.
Koscielny should have been sent off after conceding a penalty whilst already on a yellow card, then scything David Villa down later in the game.

Ultimately, Barcelona were by far the more hard done by team overall - and on top of that, Arsenal also had the luck, as Barcelona's own goal last night was bizarre to be honest. Arsenal hardly warranted a slice of good fortune in terms of attacking pressure.

In the face of everything going against Barcelona, and the plethora of chances they missed (their own fault), STILL Arsenal could not capitalise on the numerous gifts they were given. In the end, Bendtner had a chance to send Arsenal through in the last few minutes, but fluffed it up.

Arsenal need only look to themselves, only blame themselves, and they should really be thanking the officials more than barracking them.

To be honest, it's a rather dark day for Arsenal Football Club in terms of self respect, and Wenger does the club no favours. When you compare how Guardiola responded after the wrongful decisions that went against Barcelona in the first tie and Wenger's response after the Van Persie sending off, you can clearly see who has a bit of class about them - and it isn't Wenger. 

His ludicrous excuses are becoming progressively tiresome and his post-match behaviour often ugly and embarrassing. It's also extremely worrying that Wenger's become so up his own arse about injustices that don't exist in the overall context of things, that he fails to see the bigger picture and has actually convinced himself that Arsenal don't need to strengthen or correct the weaknesses inherent in the squad.

This self-delusion is fatal.

I'd prefer to focus on the tactics, and the fact is Wenger simply did not have the players to successfully implement his tactical approach to last night's game. 

As individuals, the Arsenal back five played about as well as they could - but the three in front were utterly hopeless at a) tracking runs from midfield and squeezing play in the middle of the park. b) doing anything with the ball when they got it.  

Of the midfield central trio only Wilshire came away with any credit for what he did with the ball, but off the ball he is a hopeless holding midfielder.

I was also dismayed that Arsenal changed their tactic after Van Persie was sent off. The team was still 3-2 up on aggregate, but they panicked and lost their shape completely.

To be honest, the Van Persie sending off should not have affected Arsenal as much as it did, as in terms of possession he had hardly touched the ball. So complete was Barcelona's domination, that everything was being played in Arsenal's half anyway.

I also said that Wenger would be a moron to play Fabregas if he was anything other than 100% fit - and he clearly wasn't fit.

AT Perspective

The better team won and, in both matches, had more decisions go against them too. Arsenal can have no complaints. In the end, I put the defeat down to:

A) Barcelona are simply better than Arsenal
B) Wenger doesn't have the players to successfully employ any sort of defensive tactical system
C) Arsenal's lack of maturity and "mental strength" meant that even when given a golden chance to upset the odds, they still fluffed it

It was interesting to watch Revista De La Liga afterwards, where the pundits were unanimous in their criticism for Wenger's tactics, suggesting that he has spent 7 years getting a squad to play "Barca-football", only to throw that philosophy out of the window when they needed it most.

They also suggested that Barca had been outplayed on numerous occasions recently by sides such as Sporting Gijon, Bilbao and Valencia despite them having players not in Arsenal's league, and put the defeat squarely down to Arsenal's inability to do anything with the ball.

However, whilst there's some truth in that, I think we need to consider that Arsenal currently play in a particularly weak league; in reality their supposed pass and move "brilliance" is overplayed and, quite frankly, a phony assertion on most occasions.

—oo— 

Insults directed at the site author or any other contributor will result in you being blocked from accessing this website indefinitely.

Thursday
Feb172011

Arsenal 2 Barcelona 1: Match Report

  
Both teams started this memorable night at The Emirates well, Barcelona controlling with liquid passing and Arsenal looking dangerous on the counter attack. 

Walcott frightened Barca with his pace and close control, and could have set up Nasri in the 4th minute but, with his head down, chose the wrong pass to Van Persie.

On 5, a brilliant Arsenal move from back to front, ending with a Fabregas lob that took out the entire Barca defence; Van Persie latched onto the ball but from a tight angle his shot was saved by Victor Valdes.

Song was booked soon after for a late tackle on Lionel Messi.

Barca's first chance arrived on 14, when Messi breached Arsenal's high line - Koscielny playing him on - chipped Szczesny but missed the far post by a yard; a lucky escape.

By 18, the visitors were starting to gain control of the game, in fact, Arsenal couldn't get near them to initiate counter-attacking situations. Barca were a joy to watch with their one and two-touch passing, immediately winning possession back when lost - Arsenal looked like their little brother.

The Gunner's offside trap was also starting to look creaky, with several close offside calls. Meanwhile, perpetual fouler Song was walking a pencil-thin tightrope.

On 24, Arsenal found some room; Walcott playing a great ball to Fabregas who drifted wide to cross for Van Persie only for Eric Abidal to steal it from his head, but within a minute Arsenal were 1-0 down. The high line breached when Clichy played David Villa on, the Spaniard cruising through to slip the ball past Szczesny in a flash.

As Song committed more clumsy fouls, you felt Wenger would have to drag him off, and Nasri soon joined him in the book.

Arsenal were folding, on 28 Pedro tested Szczesny, and again on 37 - Villa crossing for Pedro whose shot was blocked by Szczesny before rebounding to Messi who scored. Linesman flagged offside, clearly the wrong decision.

Barcelona should have been out of sight by half-time, but the Gunner's prevailed and started well in the second half with Wilshere getting a shot away. However, Barca soon regained control as the offside trap failed for the umpteenth time with Pedro sent through, clumsily manhandled by Koscielny - I felt Arsenal were lucky not to concede a penalty.

On 67, Messi wasted his second opportunity of the night when Arsenal struggled to clear their lines, played back in, the mini-magician slammed his shot into the side netting.

By 77, the game had gone dead. The Emirates was relatively quiet, Barca seemingly in cruise control with Arsenal creating nothing - and perhaps that was what led to the Spanish side's downfall, they switched off. Clichy lobbed the best call of his career over the defence to Van Persie who struck from an acute angle, with Valdes expecting a cross and criminally leaving enough space for the ball to squeeze past his near post - Arsenal were level.

As so often in football, a late equaliser shifts momentum. With the game now stretched, Barca were suddenly on the rack - Arsenal their equal. The Gunners broke on 83, Nasri drifting wide right and holding up the ball before placing a central pass into space for the incoming Arshavin to place a beautiful curling shot into the back of the net. A classic smash and grab!

Arsenal fancied more glory, substitute Bendtner robbing Maxwell and shooting from a tight angle at Valdes, but there was to be a further scare in injury time when Arshavin had a rush of blood in his own area, misplacing a header (via his own arm) to Szczesny which was intercepted by Pedro before being desperately cleared in a goalmouth scramble.

AT Perspective

For me, the game pretty much went to plan, but with a different outcome to what was expected. In my pre-match report I spoke of Arsenal's need to close down more effectively than they did in last year's clash, reduce space centrally by squeezing play and keep the score as low as possible until the last 20 minutes when the game would inevitably become more expansive - even Barca cannot keep their pressing game up for 90 minutes.

Arsenal did close space better, even though Barca often gave them the runaround, however, they did not squeeze play effectively - albeit easier said than done. The high line caused problems, with Barca breaching Arsenal's defence time and time again. Neither Wilshere or Song tracked the runners, and in combination with an individual lack of concentration and communication by the back four, this resulted in far too many one-on-one situations, often saved by the linesman's flag, sometimes not.

The difference between this year and last, however, is that through a combination of bad finishing (Messi missed two sitters) and dodgy refereeing (Messi goal incorrectly disallowed, Koscielny let off, Arshavin handball in the box) Barcelona did not get the rewards that their play merited. It's no exaggeration to state that Arsenal could and should have been 3-0 down at half time.

Still, Arsenal had the luck on the night, and crucially held their nerve - all credit to them for that! A goal out of nothing in the last 15 minutes after a colossal error from Valdes and Arsenal quickly took the initiative to steal the game with Nasri and Arshavin combining for a superb second. It was certainly a great feeling when 
the ball hit the back of the net.

Ultimately, Arsenal performed better than they did in last season's home tie, but they still have it all to do. The away goal gives Barcelona an advantage, and, as we saw last year, with even more space to operate in it will be harder for Arsenal to close down the lines at the Nou Camp.

Again, Arsenal will need to ride their luck and keep the game as close as possible until the final 20 minutes if they're to create the conditions for an upset. It's a big ask. For all the euphoria of last night's result, of course it means little at this point - we're only at half time.

Barcelona did not look too upset at the final result - they know they are still favourites, whilst manager Josep Guardiola and his players were magnanimous in defeat in a way that Wenger never could be. No excuses, no blaming linesman or referees, as Guardiola had every right to. Despite the victory, Arsenal might learn a lot from them which could be of benefit throughout the remainder of the season and into the future.

—oo— 

Insults directed at the site author or any other contributor will result in you being blocked from accessing this website indefinitely.