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.


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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.


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Shareholder Q&A - a farce


Having read notes from last night's Arsenal Shareholder's Q&A, my conclusion is that in the absence of the shareholders being allowed a voice, the sessions have now been rendered a meaningless event on the calendar. 

Chaired by Bob Wilson, Wenger's response to the hand-picked questions were boring, predictable and practically worthless. 

On Manuel Almunia: "Manuel Almunia is number one and he has been outstanding this season.” 

On the clubs aims: "we want to win every trophy. I wanted to keep us at the top when we moved and we have been able to do so.... win things developing the style of play, developing the club international and to keep fans happy to win – and win in style.  AFC has special values and that comes out in how we play.”

Factually incorrect, and with no right of reply, Wenger's responses are little more than robotic, passionless idioms.

His most riduclous statement of the night: "With goals there are usually five errors but the keeper still gets the blame, I think we have great goalkeepers.” 

As stated, with all the questions picked in advance, Wenger is allowed complete control of the meeting. He gets away with not having to think on his feet or respond to difficult questions, and therefore belches out only tired, patronising cliches. Any concerns the shareholders may have, legitimate or otherwise, remain unclarified and unheard. 

To me, this sums up Arsenal in 2010. A club that espouses traditional values, using fake key words such as community/respect/family club/values, but in reality is very much the opposite - an untrustworthy corporate machine that is only interested in controlling and manipulating its customers and shareholding representatives.


No transparency, no communication, no right of reply - shareholders are not treated as part owners of the club with a full right to voice their opinion, but minority stakeholders that ask difficult questions - pests, a nuisance, a pain in the arse!

With Octobers AGM likely to be similarly staged, it's clear that there is now no active communication between the supporters and the board/Arsene Wenger. That right has been denied because the club is going through a trophyless period, which is rendered beyond criticism. 

It's a farce, and it's dangerous. It's makes people feel disconnected from the club, suspicious about its activities and it fragments loyalty. It's also short-sighted, and potentially counter-productive. I already question whether Arsene Wenger is the man to continue to take Arsenal forward, but I now question Chief Executive Gazidis too. Are these the sort of control freaks you want running the club? Decide for yourselves.

Tomorrow, Arsenal face Sunderland in the day's late kick-off.  Their start to the season has been moderate, but they have a strong home record, having already beaten Manchester City 1-0. 

Last season, Sunderland deservedly beat Arsenal by the same scoreline. They only lost three home games last season, and have great support at the Stadium of Light. The club has numerous injuries, however. Midfield workhorse Lee Cattermole is suspended, which could be key, defenders John Mensah and Michael Turner are also injured, along with keeper Craig Gordon. 

In a close game, these absentees could give Arsenal the upper hand, but it will interesting to see how the Gunners perform as Sunderland are usually motivated, passionate, well-organised and carry an attacking threat - at home. Kenywyne Jones is no longer at the club, but Bent + new signing Asamoah Gyan will need to be handled and that will be a good test for centre-backs Squillaci and Koscielni, their first real test as a partnership. 

A win would be a very good result, but whatever the result, we'll need to judge the performance too.

Quick note on Fabregas, who says about the Bolton game:

"We made a mistake at the back towards the end of the first half and were punished - we cannot afford to do that at this level, and it shows there are still things to improve on," said the Spaniard.

"In our defending as a team, we will need to get a little better to be at the top."

When was the last time an Arsenal player said that? Fabregas is beyond priceless - a born winner.


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End of Season Player Ratings and Assessments


To close the season, as far as this blog is concerned, I have been busy calculating my overall player ratings.

This tells me exactly who has performed, who has underperformed, who is integral and essential to the team and who doesn't deserve to wear the shirt etc. Sometimes you surprise yourself when all the player rating totals throughout the season are totted up and you get an overall average player assessment rating.

The ratings cover all games played in all competitions, of which I have failed to report on all but three or four, which shouldn't affect the statistics too much.

Each player needs to have played at least 10 first team games this season to get on the list - so no room for Fabianski. The bracketed number is the rating I gave to the particular player last season.


Average Rating: 7.4 (6.4)

He may have been injured for 5 months, but according to my own ratings Van Persie put in the most consistent performances throughout the duration. Initially, I had doubts about whether Van Persie could lead Wenger's newly adopted 4-5-1 formation, but slowly but surely the Dutchman took to the role and performed magnificently - scoring and creating goals, and rarely dropping below a 7.5 match rating, which is amazingly consistent.

A true fighter, a true talent, a true goalscorer. Van Persie is indispensible to Arsenal.

Average Rating: 7.3 (6.7)

For the second year running, Cesc has come in the runners-up position, but make no mistake, Arsenal are lost without the young Spaniard - and soon might be.

Fabregas might have had a duff game every now and then, but generally speaking he's been superb, and without his goals and assists Arsenal would be struggling to qualify for the Europa Cup nevermind the Champions League. He has serious bottle and is becoming more of a captain and leader with every season.

It's essential Arsenal keep him, but might have to prepare for the worst.


Average Rating: 7.2 (6.0)

Song has had an excellent season overall, rapidly improving as a defensive midfielder – although I do still have reservations about his lack of pace. Other pluses are his calmness in possession and excellent technique in tight spaces. He’s not a defender though, and  looked out of his depth when he played at centre back – it was naïve to put him there.

Song is now an integral player, which couldn't have been imagined a couple of seasons ago, and I would love to see him in a midfield trio complementing Fabregas and Yaya Toure (or player of similar ilk).

Average Rating: 7.2 (n/a)

Tying with Song is Arsenal new boy, Vermaelen - although I put Song above him due to the fact that Arsenal have had a very poor season defensively and Vermaelen cannot be totally absolved of blame.

The Belgian has fitted in very well and very quickly; getting off to a cracking start by scoring goals for fun. However, there is room for improvement and hopefully we’ll see that in his second season at the club. Vermaelen needs to communicate and instruct his back four a lot more, and hopefully he can slowly take on that role. He also needs to work on his positioning.

Vermaelen has been excellent against most sides we come up against, but in the really big games some flaws have become apparent. The next step will be to rise above that and take his game to the next level.

Average Rating: 7.2 (n/a)

Arsenal’s January signing provided a strong boost to the team defensively, and, in Gallas’s absence, it makes you wonder how bad things would have been had Sol not joined.

Still, he’s not Superman – at 35 years of age he noticeably tires in the last quarter of games, which might have cost goals against Wigan and Blackburn. I am in two minds about handing Campbell a new contract. He will be third choice – and can't play regularly even if we need him to. If Arsenal don't need him for a while, then at his age he will start to rapidly decline, which won’t be any good if he’s needed during a late-season injury crisis for example.

An important decision needs to be made, but I have no doubt Wenger will make one based on money rather than common sense.

WILLIAM GALLAS Average Rating: 7.0 (6.3)

Gallas has had his best season for the club, which might have something to do with the fact he’s playing next to a more aerially dominant partner, and in his favoured position - right of centre. Chances are that we won’t see him in red and white again, but I won’t be too disappointed as long as he’s adequately replaced. 

Let's face it, things are never perfect with Gallas in the dressing room and although he’s a good defender his game is highly reliant on pace, which (like Toure before him) will slowly start to wane on the eve of his 33rd birthday.

Average Rating: 6.5 (6.1)

Despite performing better than last season, Nasri has evidently struggled to have a major impact on the team – we’re simply not seeing enough end product from him. His serious pre-season injury certainly set him back; however, I believe that Nasri is a very good player who would have a much bigger impact surrounded by better players than he often plays alongside.

I am confident we will see a much improved Nasri next season if all goes well, and I’m rather selfishly glad he’s been dropped from France’s World Cup squad.

TOMAS ROSICKY Average Rating: 6.5 (5.5)

Rosicky’s injuries have laid him pretty low and it’s only this season that the Czech international has been able to play regularly and regain his full fitness. However, rather like Nasri we don’t see enough impact from Rosicky in forward positions, and we should expect more in terms of goals and assists.

What I do like about Tomas is his work rate, which puts, for example, Arshavin to shame. I’d like to think Rosicky can yet become the player Arsenal purchased, he is only 29 after all, so would like to see him stay at the club as we’re simply not in a position to let go of that sort of experience right now.

BACARY SAGNA Average Rating: 6.4 (6.6)

Sagna didn’t have a great season last term, and this term he’s been worse. I believe the reason for his poor ratings, however, is because of the job he’s being asked to do. If Sagna was playing in a 4-4-2, he’d be a strong, ultra-reliable defender, but employed as an attacking full back all his limits are exposed which leads to low match ratings.

His crossing is really poor and he doesn’t have the technique to regularly beat opponents in advanced positions which makes him predictable and easy to mark. Again, you have to question the manager for adopting a system that does not suit so many of his players, and Sagna is certainly one who suffers for it.

ANDREI ARSHAVIN Average Rating: 6.3 (7.2)

These days Arshavin seems more interested in messing about answering stupid question on his website than playing football. I did question this signing at the time, asking why no other club had taken a punt on the player so late into his career, and perhaps we’re now finding out why.

Arshavin’s moments of brilliance are becoming increasingly infrequent and he’s often selfish. He also 'appears' to be lazy at times, although I’m not sure that’s 100% down to his nature. I prefer to be generous and imagine the difficulty of having played in Russia until age 27 only to have to suddenly adapt to the ferocious pace of the Premier League.

Having said that, you would expect him to show a lot more than he is currently showing, and you have to wonder if his hearts really in it or has the attitude a real winner needs to have.

EMMANUEL EBOUE Average Rating: 6.3 (4.3)

My most improved player this season, although it’s not really saying much is it? He was an absolute disaster zone last year, and while he has somewhat cleaned up his act and definitely improved his game overall, he’s not exactly irreplaceable. Not a bad squad player, but you wouldn’t want to rely on Eboue week in, week out.

NICKLAS BENDTNER Average Rating: 6.2 (5.7)

It’s clear that overall the Dane is a rather average performer. His ratings may have suffered a little early in the season when Wenger played him out wide; as some of those performances were understandably poor and he has had numerous injuries to contend with.

Bendtner tries hard and has doubtless scored some important goals, but it’s highly unlikely he will ever become the world-class forward he predicts. I admire his confidence (bluff) but his first touch is still poor and he’s simply too slow to ever create chances for himself on a regular basis. Good squad player though.

AARON RAMSEY Average Rating: 6.2 (5.4)

The low rating is doubtless due to the fact that Ramsey has often come on as a late sub and been unable to make an impact in such a relatively short space of time.

When Aaron started games he did show what a fine player he can become and often dwarfed Diaby in terms of productivity and effort. However, his unfortunate leg break will set him back in the same way it did Eduardo, so we should expect nothing from Ramsey next season and be well prepared for that.

GAEL CLICHY Average Rating: 6.1 (5.7)

Clichy was complete shite last season costing Arsenal so many points and goals, and whilst he has improved this term it’s not nearly enough. His energy and commitment are absolutely not in question, it’s his poor decision making and lack of concentration at key moments that requires serious analysis.

Much like Sagna, for an attacking wing back Clichy offers so little going forward that trading defensive stability for attacking prowess doesn't seem like a worthwhile trade-off in his case. Having said that, I do believe that with better coaching Clichy would be a different prospect altogether. Unfortunately, under this coach there's little chance of that happening.

ARMAND TRAORE Average Rating: 6.1 (n/a)

Traore played a susprising number of games this season and rather like Clichy performed only adequately – certainly far from what’s expected at a club of Arsenal’s stature. He’s better going forward than his counterpart but even less adept at the basics. I don’t really see much of a future at the club for Traore and believe Kieran Gibbs to be a better prospect.

ABOU DIABY Average Rating: 6.0 (5.5)

Had a handful of good games this season, although only against lesser opposition - when you really need Diaby he goes missing. His often infuriating lack of effort and unwillingness to die for the cause makes him a dead rubber in my opinion.

It’s losers like Diaby, content to pick up the wages and enjoy the esteem of playing for a big club without doing anything to genuinely warrant it, that holds Arsenal back ensuring the trophy cabinet remains forever empty. If Wenger can’t pinpoint this by now there's something seriously wrong with his judgment.

EDUARDO Average Rating: 5.9 (n/a)

Needless to say Eduardo has really struggled to recapture his form since his horrific leg break of 2008. However, I wouldn’t put his poor performances entirely down to that, it’s more down to the fact that the Brazilian does not fit anywhere into Wenger’s 4-5-1 model. He’s not physically strong enough or quick enough to beat players in wide attacking positions, and too lightweight as a lone striker.

I’m afraid to say Eduardo will never be the player we hope him to be as his role has now been rendered redundant. It’s a great, great shame, as I’m convinced that in a 4-4-2 he would soon recapture his form and start banging them in – but not at our club.

DENILSON Average Rating: 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.

MIKAEL SILVESTRE Average Rating: 5.6 (5.5)

Is there really anything that requires in-depth analysis?

Close the door on the way out.

CARLOS VELA Average Rating: 5.6 (6.1)

Gone backwards from last season, probably due to the fact that Vela performed well in the 2008/09 Carling Cup run. This season he’s played more than you might think, although is usually stuck on the last five minutes of games.

Vela has undeniable talent, but what with him half-living in Mexico, forgetting his passport, and always sitting on a packed bench, I don’t see how Vela will ever force his way into the team and therefore sufficiently improve. We need money, apparently, so might as well cut our losses.

MANUEL ALMUNIA Average Rating: 5.5 (6.4)

Considerably worse than he was last season, surely Almunia’s time is up? Perhaps now we can see why Jens Lehmann held him in such apparent contempt, as he probably watched him on the training ground and considered it to be a complete affront to his pride and professionalism to be replaced by the Spaniard.

A good shot stopper, but his decision making has been truly abysmal and there’s simply no place for him at a club supposedly chasing major honours. Only the grim buffoonery of Lukasz Fabianski has made Almunia look like a goalkeeper at all.

THEO WALCOTT Average Rating: 5.3 (6.3)

Perhaps surprisingly, to some, this season’s wooden spoon goes to Theo Walcott. The stats don’t lie, and I had no reason to underrate him - as if I was going to underscore someone based on dislikeability it would not be Walcott.

Unfortunately, however, Walcott has proved to be this season’s most unassailable dud. For the most part he’s just a brainless running machine, and physically weak as a little kitten.

Godawful at the best of times, why he starts matches is anyone’s guess, it’s obvious to even the biggest moron that Walcott should never be seen before the 80th minute, when he can come on, hoof a long ball into space ahead of tired defenders, run as fast as he can then cross into oceans of space where hopefully someone might be able to tap it in.

Sure, he has it in him to improve, and probably will, but maybe it's better to sell him on for a large fee before anyone actually twigs he's complete shite.


That’s it; players that got a bunch of games but didn’t play enough to warrant making it into the list are Fluff-it-in-ski, Vito Mannone, the soon to depart Fran Merida, Craig Eastmond, and long-term injury victims Kieron Gibbs and Johanne Djourou.

Unless something seriously interesting happens, see you in July - or thereabouts - and enjoy your summer. Thanks for reading and responding to my blog this season, all of you.


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Gazidis Q&A, what can we draw from it?


Today I watched the 90+ minute video of CEO Ivan Gazidis Q&A session with the Arsenal Supporters Trust at the Emirates Stadium.

I’m glad that made the majority of this debate available online, and to the public not just to members of Arsenal Online.

The debate resulted in a very frank and open discussion between supporters and Gazidis and threw some light on many of the concerns that Arsenal supporters in general may or may not have.

For those who have not seen it, I would urge you to watch the videos when you get a chance. If you haven’t the time or inclination, here are the main points arising from the session.

According to Gazidis, the board is very disappointed with the way the season has ended and is certainly not blind to the faults inherent in the team. Gadizis hammered home the fact that the board is not oblivious to the club’s main objectives, which is to win trophies. However, the chances of success are impeded by the decision to follow a self-sustaining model in light of the dual effect of not only the cost of the new stadium, but the sharp increase in wages and transfer fees due to the recent emergence of sugar daddy clubs such as Manchester City and Chelsea, and others, including, Manchester Utd that spend using money they don’t have via debt – something that the club is loathe to do and has to be realistic about for the sake of Arsenal's future.

The message is, Arsenal may be a rich club, but it is certainly not immune to the fate suffered by certain other clubs that have spent wildly beyond their means and now find themselves bankrupt or in league one.

Gazidis pointed to the fact that in able to compete in the short to medium-term, the club has taken significant steps to put together a world class commercial team to increase the commercial revenues of the club, particularly sponsorship related. This might be deemed boring to the majority of supporters but is vitally important towards bringing in new revenue streams, and such activities will increase in productivity over the following years.

What’s clear is that almost as important as the stadium itself is the ability to transform the club’s revenues through marketing and legal activities, and Gazidis believes the team is now in place to drive these strategies through via a new, world-class senior management team.

Also, what Gazidis calls the “Arsenalisation” of the club will begin to kick-in from next season onwards in an attempt to make The Emirates a more homely and personal place for supporters to support, hopefully improving the match day experience for all and giving The Emirates the sense of identity some might think it lacks.

Financially, the club is now entirely debt-free on the property side, and from now onwards any properties owned by the club that are sold will generate pure profit for the club herein. This will obviously add to the club’s revenue streams in the short term, allowing Arsenal to free up further expenditure on player investment.

Questions for supporters were respectful and largely revolved around the following:

Why are the two domestic cup competitions apparently ignored? The supporters feel that Wenger does not take these competitions seriously despite them being the most realistic chances of success for a club that cannot realistically compete with the best in Europe in terms of spending.

Gazidis shared his frustrations with supporters, but felt that all clubs need to compromise in these competitions and pointed to statistics showing that Arsenal have had shorter rest periods between games leading to a greater necessity to rotate for these matches.

On injuries, and why Arsenal have so many, Gazidis concluded that the situation needed close attention post-season and the club is doing everything it can to find out why so many players are persistently injured. His conclusion was that it was not an exact science, but down to a mixture of bad luck and other probabilities that the backroom staff are working very hard to resolve using the latest satellite technology - tracking players in training, but it would take a few seasons for a library of data to be built up in that respect.

The goalkeeping situation was brought up and Gerry Peyton’s role as goalkeeping coach was questioned as part of the horrendous performances of certain ‘individuals’. For obvious reasons Gazidis claimed it would be counter-productive to criticise or give opinions on individual players in the public domain. Gazidis therefore shied away from criticising Almunia/Fabianski/Mannone and pointed out that coaching is predominantly a role for the manager and shouldn’t be interfered with at board level. Ultimately, we can ascertain the supporters are completely unsatisfied with the situation and it’s important that this was noted – and I’m sure it was.

One supporter had the tenacity to question Wenger’s future; Gazidis responded by saying that whilst supporters are perfectly entitled to their opinions the board has not lost faith in Wenger, that he has done an “unrecognised job” (linked to finance no doubt) and has been offered a new contract which they expect to be signed in the near future. He also took time to explain that the decision they have made is not a sentimental one; they genuinely believe Wenger still has the ambition to spearhead the club, but that is reviewed on an ongoing basis.

On the subject of transfers, reading between the lines it’s clear that Wenger does not have a transfer budget as such – he has money available, and it would be ludicrous to make public the amount as it would have a negative impact on transfer negotiations. It seems that if Wenger wants a player he approaches the board and they are more than likely to back him, but as Wenger works so closely with the board on these matters and is privy to the financial restraints the club has been operating, it is entirely his decision to be frugal and the board supports his assessment of what is required with regard to squad strength.

Whether Wenger still feels frugality is a necessity with over £100m wiped off the debt in recent times remains to be seen.

On the subject of contracts, supporters raised their annoyance at players being handed contracts for underperforming. Rosicky was cited as player that had not underperformed, but was handed a new contract without having proved himself following 18 months injury. Gazidis ignored that but responded by admitting that Arsenal are currently paying for potential – there is a big demand for quality young footballers and the club has to be competitive in its transfer negotiations even if they have not bore fruit yet. Again, trust is placed in the manager in the hope that these players come through even if the evidence is shabby.

Briefly, the ineffectiveness of ticket allocation is also being looked into by the club, and another subject that arose was the club’s position with regard to a takeover - of which it seems there is little to comment on. The club’s shares are publicly traded and through share ownership anyone can bid for the club, but regardless of what the newspapers deduce every time a few shares exchange hands, there is little activity that denotes an impending takeover by any outside, or inside, shareholder/investor.
Wenger was not at the meeting, he evidently does not fancy being questioned personally – or maybe he had a sore throat.

My overriding opinion is that the club is in very safe hands with Gazidis, who shares many of the same values, concerns and passions as the supporters. He described himself as anything but a “corporate automaton” but a supporter that very much shares the pain that all of us supporters feel when Arsenal fail to succeed on the pitch – and that admittance does help to dissolve the separation that many fans might feel exists between club and supporter.

Apart from that there is little to be ascertained. As I mentioned in a previous post, the board has agreed to continue with Wenger and will not interfere with his footballing decisions – areas in which they have little expertise. The manager will live and die by his results, and from my perspective that’s exactly how it should be. You don’t want the board telling Wenger to buy this player or that or how to coach on the training pitch, it always ends in disaster.

The meeting is important as it gives supporters a voice, and it seems certain that through this type of forum – welcomed as essential by Gazidis - disgruntled supporters do at least have a voice from which to vent their disillusionment if necessary. Therefore, no matter how disillusioned those of you that read this blog, or others that do not 100% support the manager, are, you can be certain that those views are at least being transmitted to Gazidis via the Arsenal Supporters Trust and taken onboard.

The session did not answer every question mark, however, such as:

  • Why if money is tight did Wenger throw £5.5m at a bunch of kids last summer?
  • The appalling tactical blunders which will result in failure regardless of available funding - the team has better players than most clubs but still often underperforms, particularly defensively.
  • An inability to motivate certain individuals or concern that Wenger continually persists with clearly unmotivated individuals.
  • Continual contradictions/broken promises (outright lies in some cases) to supporters regarding player purchases.
  • General disrespect to other clubs and officials through his post-match interviews which portray the club in a bad light.

It seems obvious that rather than the board, it will be supporters who decide when Wenger’s tenure should come to an end through their own volatility at events such as these, and on the terraces no doubt. The pressure we can bring can certainly result in regime change - if necessary.

By the way, Gazidis also pointed to the fact that he does regularly read online blogs to gauge supporter opinion, so, if true, your personal views might also be represented, even in this small space.


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