Wednesday
Nov092016

Oops, wrote off Chelsea too soon

The trouble with writing a blog is that it involves making predictions. If you’re a smart blogger, you won’t make predictions, but the trouble with that is you’ll risk coming across as a fence sitter, and let’s face it, football and fence sitting are diametrically opposed.

On September 27, I wrote off Chelsea’s chances of competing for the Premier League based on a terrible performance against the Gunners, yet five weeks later they’re looking a completely different side.

Manager Antonio Conte has demonstrated his calibre by switching to a back three system and allowing lazy bastards like Fabregas and Hazard complete freedom to play an offensive game. This has not only provided Chelsea with defensive stability, but a remarkable attacking transformation has occurred.

Since the Arsenal defeat, they have won all five Premier League games, scoring 16 goals and conceding none. Those victories includes a 4-0 pasting of Man Utd and an awe-inspiring 5-0 victory against Everton on Sunday, which was about as perfect a performance from a Chelsea team as I can remember.

Liverpool are also battering teams out of sight and now sit top of the table. Arrogant Daniel Sturridge, so instrumental in Liverpool’s title charge two seasons ago under Brendan Rodgers, has been humbled. Now, Klopp only brings him on if he's desperate or the points are in the bag.

However, Man City have floundered. Pep Guardiola’s players are struggling to adapt to his nuanced tactics. It could be that his pressing game is negating their creative potential. The Pellegrini picnic is over and, like Klopp, Guardiola might need a season to discover which of his players are willing to match the physical demands placed on them – or maybe they just need to acclimatise.

A similar problem is also haunting Jose Mourinho, who is already calling players out in public for crying off injured, unwilling to put their bodies on the line.

The upshot of all this is that I now have to reinstate Chelsea as title contenders.

For the first time in 35 years, I did not watch the North London derby and settled for highlights. Spurs impress me more than Arsenal because they have resilience, something Wenger has not installed in Arsenal for over a decade. Even when they’re down on their luck and missing key players, Spurs won’t roll over.

If you add up all the points Arsenal have lost in big games due to Laurent Koscielny clangers, it would be very revealing, and he was at it again on Sunday. Koscielny is an accident waiting to happen. Like the club he plays for, he always flatters to deceive and reveals his flaws eventually.

From where I’m sitting, Arsenal have been lucky this season and don’t deserve to be above Tottenham. Against Leicester, they were lucky to get a point when the home side were denied a stick-on pen in the last minute, and at home to Southampton they got a goal at the death that should have been disallowed due to a head injury in the box. Wenger’s men narrowly beat Burnley, but only after Koscielny handled the ball before scoring.

Most of the key decisions in games have gone for Arsenal this season, but they still don’t look convincing. Meanwhile, Wenger is busy destroying his only world-class player, Alexis Sanchez. He plays him up front in every game and never rests him. By February/March, he’ll be ruined.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.

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Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be unread and binned.

Wednesday
Oct192016

Gazidis’ fingers in the till again/Arsenal salary cap points deduction risk

Swiss Ramble has done its annual carving of Arsenal’s full-year accounts. It’s probably too complex and boring for the average fan to read, but here are the highlights:

Arsenal’s cash balance stands at £226m, more than Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich put together.

Chairman Sir Chips Keswick explained it’s his “duty to point out” that after excluding debt service reserves and amounts owed to other clubs on past transfers, the balance is more like £149 million.

I would have thought it also his duty to point out what other clubs owe to Arsenal, but then why paint a full picture when you can obfuscate?

Either way, one has to question the wisdom of leaving hundreds of millions of pounds sitting idle in the bank last season when interest rates were touching zero.

Profit before tax fell to a measley £3m. Commercial income rose by a paltry £4m and match day revenue dipped slightly. Most of Arsenal’s growth has come through improved TV deals via a 63% increase in broadcasting revenues.

Despite generating little income for the club, other than what broadcasters give Arsenal for nothing, Ivan Gazidis has awarded himself a 15% increase in remuneration from £2.2 million to £2.6 million pa.

Indeed, Arsenal’s commercial revenues trail badly behind their peers. Of the top 10 wealthiest clubs in world football, Arsenal have the second lowest commercial revenues as a % of total income.

This could soon become a problem for the club as it is part of the Premier League’s Short Term Cost Controls, i.e. ‘salary cap’ programme. The rules prevent clubs with wage bills in excess of £67m from increasing wages by more than £7m for each of the following two seasons.

Yet Arsenal have 15 players whose contracts expire by 2018. And not any old players: Mertesacker, Koscielny, Cazorla, Monreal, Sanogo, Toral and Campbell (expire 2017) and Sanchez, Ozil, Giroud, Wilshere, Szczesny, Gibbs, Jenkinson and Oxlade-Chamberlain (expire 2018).

Presuming those players want to stay – or the club wants to keep them, new contracts would mean salary increases that would likely push the club way over the £7m limit, invoking a points deduction for breaking PL salary cap rules. Obviously, Sanchez and Ozil's wage demands are likely to be a key element of this.

Rules state that salaries can be substantially increased if funded by increases in revenue from sources other than Premier League broadcasting contracts, i.e. commercial deals. However, Gazidis’ does not seem capable of generating sufficient funds through commercial activities.

This could explain why Wenger has come out in the press recently and started mouthing off about Ozil and Sanchez wanting too much money.

Either way, fans should prepare themselves for that fact that not only do Ozil and Sanchez probably not want to sign a new contract anyway (in which case the salary cap is irrelevant), but if they do, Arsenal have put themselves in a position where they can’t pay them the going rate without dumping a host of other players.

On the subject of the wage bill, Arsenal’s has climbed to £195m, £1m higher than Man City, nearly double that of Spurs and £145m higher than Champions Leicester City.

Any good news? Stan Kroenke has waived his £3m annual fee for “strategic and advisory services”. However, this may have something to do with the numerous petitions against him within the stadium during March and April.

Arsenal’s stadium debt currently stands at £233m; requiring annual payments of around £20 million. However, due to those cash balances mentioned earlier, net debt is only £7m. 

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.

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Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be unread and binned.

Tuesday
Sep272016

Chelsea victory means nothing

Lots of goals across the Premier League this weekend and after six games, champions Leicester City are already trailing Man City by 11 points.

I watched some of the City game and Kevin De Bruyne was out of this world. He prevented an almost certain Swansea goal, running the length of the pitch to make a last ditch intervention, then intercepted the resulting corner and ran half the length of the field again to set up Raheem Sterling who bagged three points for the away side.

De Bruyne would not have done that for Manuel Pellegrini, and I doubt the reprised Sterling would have had the confidence to finish his goal with such aplomb either.

Even at 3-1, Pep Guardiola was going berserk on the touchline. In victory, he was both complimentary and abrasive, suggesting his team is nowhere near the finished article. Man City had a similar start last season and faded badly, but Guardiola will not allow that to happen under his watch.

If they fail, it won’t be for the same reasons that Pellegrini failed, Guardiola’s players are too motivated. Everyone is fighting – not just for their place, but for the manager’s respect. And, of course, Guardiola lives and breathes the game and demands flawless focus and preparation from his underlings. That’s why the mercurial, but idle, Yaya Toure has been discarded quicker than a toilet wipe.

When asked in a press conference whether Man City could win the quadruple, Guardiola’s response was, “what the f*ck?” The question, although not entirely unrealistic, is an insult because it assumes that Guardiola’s meticulous pursuit of perfection is based on anything other than countless hours of surgical tactics and training.

Liverpool continue to batter teams out of sight, but most impressive is how they are now capable of squeezing results out on the road. They’ve already taken eight points away from Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs on their travels, which could be meaningful at the end of the season. Their goals are coming from everywhere and Adam Llalana and Roberto Firmino, in particular, have been rejuvenated.

Top-class managers can squeeze talent out of players that would otherwise be ordinary.  Some managers sacrifice individual talent to create a team that is greater than the sum of its parts, but managers like Klopp enable individuals to sparkle while remaining an integral part of a team’s collective resonance.

Klopp and Guardiola are truly modern managers. Mourinho is a supreme organiser and man motivator, but is currently being made to look one-dimensional by comparison. Still, he’s capable of creating a powerful dimension and there’s more than one way to skin a cat. As Utd proved on Saturday having humbled the champions 4-1, his squad may be flawed but they’re ready to share his ambition.

Having watched Chelsea feebly succumb to Arsenal on Saturday, it makes you realise just how great a manager Mourinho is at squeezing blood out of a stone. Without John Terry changing his diaper, Gary Cahill is a donkey, Ivanovic is a rudderless brute and Edin Hazard and Cesc Fabregas are almost impossible to motivate. They both want to be the centre of attention – in adversity they’re utterly useless. Cosseted by Wenger for eight years, Fabregas has failed to develop any mental resistance, but Hazard’s perpetual refusal to work hard for his team is utterly loathsome.

When Cahill gifted Arsenal a one-goal lead, the Gunners went for the throat and blitzed Antonio Conte’s slothful mercenaries who finished 10th last season because they’re egos would not climb down from the pedestal that Mourinho put them on. I always said that Chelsea made a mistake sacking Mourinho and should have just written off the season and started ditching tossers like Hazard instead.

As for Arsenal, they don’t beat so-called ‘good’ teams very often, and when they do it’s invariably because the opposition plays beneath themselves. Sometimes managers make laughable decisions (Coquelin/Cazorla) and still win.

But let’s be realistic. We’ve been here before – countless times. The pressure for Arsenal to get off to a flyer resulted in five points dropped, but now the pressure is off the handbrake is released. History has told us again and again and again that Arsenal fall apart every season because of Wenger’s inability to inspire or provide a semblance of tactical flexibility. Anyone who’s optimistic that things will be different this season is either naïve or an idiot.

As Pochettino proved again on Saturday, last season was not a flash in the pan for Spurs. They have the best defence in the Premier League, depth and quality in midfield and numerous options up front. They are the most resilient team in the PL.

Last season, I mentioned how much I liked the look of Son Heung-Min, but he struggled to get into a side that was performing optimally with him on the periphery. Now with Harry Kane injured, he has an opportunity to show what he’s all about, and did that scoring twice against Middlesbrough.

The wheat is already being separated from the chaff. After Saturday, I’m throwing Chelsea out of the title race.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.

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Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be unread and binned.

Wednesday
Sep142016

Wenger signings won’t make any difference

Some interesting games last weekend and the top seven is already starting to take shape. I get the feeling those teams are pretty much fixed into position now for the remainder of the season.

Pep Guardiola is proving his worth pretty quickly at City who ran amok in the first half against Man Utd at Old Trafford and beat them 2-1. Obviously, Jose Mourinho and Guardiola have very different styles, but Guardiola won the battle because his forwards were too agile and quick-thinking for Utd’s statuesque midfield.

In a blistering first-half display, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva carved Utd open with speedy one-touch passing. You can bet Mourinho won’t set his team up like that the next time these two goliaths meet.

The game had a comical element due to several errors made by new City keeper Claudio Bravo. Like Jurgen Klopp, Guardiola wants to encourage his side to play the ball out from the back. Actually, Guardiola goes one step further, treating his goalkeeper as a sweeper. It’s not just about possession of the ball, but enabling his players to make instant decisions and play with a measure of intellect.

His style of football demands the utmost concentration. Striving for perfection with intelligent passing, movement and ball retention, he educates players to be 100% focused from moment to moment so they can make better decisions and fewer mistakes.

The furious pace of the Premier League may make it more difficult to adopt this strategy, but as supporters we should be grateful that these two managers are revolutionising the English game and encouraging players to think holistically rather than simply hoofing the ball up the pitch or performing robotic movements.

Liverpool trounced Leicester 4-1 and Klopp is turning Anfield into a fortress. They attack with verve and style and at times it seemed as though Leicester have lost the appetite to defend their crown. Tottenham thrashed Stoke 4-0 and looked a class act.

The only top seven side that stunk this weekend was Arsenal, who needed a 94th minute penalty to beat a wilting Southampton side. But Arsenal were extremely fortunate to get that penalty because Laurent Koscielny was lying on the ground in the penalty area with a head injury, so the referee should have stopped the game. Arsenal only had two shots on target because their football is too mechanical. Wenger has been playing the same system for so long that opposing managers can predict the positioning and behaviour of every single outfield player.

Arsenal made three ‘key’ signings in this transfer window, but I don’t see them making any discernible difference. Deportivo were happy to cash in on Lucas Perez, who I reckon will struggle under Wenger, and Shkodran Mustafi will not be much of an upgrade on Gabriel or Per Mertesacker. Granit Xhaka is a good player, but impetuous.

Arsenal will continue to concede stupid goals and struggle to score them because of Wenger’s moribund tactics. In the Champions League last night, they were carved open repeatedly by PSG but drew 1-1 because Edison Cavani missed four golden chances.

Wenger’s line-up was quintessentially senile.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.

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Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be unread and binned.

Wednesday
Aug172016

Chump change Wenger/3-way battle for fourth?

Leicester got off to the worst possible start on Saturday with a 2-1 defeat at Hull – a club in genuine crisis that has no manager and only 13 first team players to pick from. It’s going to be very difficult for Claudio Ranieri to get his players in the right frame of mind this season. So much of last season was built on momentum and impetus. Naturally, after a couple of months without kicking a ball or being together as a group, that’s all disappeared and a new mindset has to develop.

On the first day of the season, I watched most of Everton vs Tottenham. Everton bossed the first half and looked fitter and sharper - the away team seemed affected by their negative finish to the previous season. But because Spurs are so solid defensively, they managed to stay in the game. As Everton tired, goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg pulled off two fine saves to prevent the North Londoners from turning the game it on its head. I was impressed by new signing Vincent Janssen. I get the feeling that £17m will turn out to be a snip for this very promising striker.

Guardiola’s first competitive game in charge of Man City was pretty dismal. They were fortunate to beat Sunderland 2-1 and the Spaniard has his work cut out trying to mutate City into a fluid, possession-based side with a strong backbone. The back five does not look confident playing the ball out of defence or taking less than three touches. Guardiola will need to instil new behaviours into a lot of them - doubtless some won’t be up to it.

The game of the weekend was obviously at the Emirates, and I’m a bit annoyed I didn’t put a bet on there being more than three goals. It was the usual Wenger charade, culminating in a horrendous second-half collapse that again proves his players’ mentality is as weak as p*ss.

Calum Chambers played like a donkey at the back and he’s not new to the Premier League - he’s clocked-up 58 games for Southampton and Arsenal. One has to wonder what on earth Wenger is doing in training to reverse the fortunes of a promising young defender that cost him £16m.

At 4-1 down, derisive boos flooded from the stands, yet in his post-match interview Wenger tried to make out those boos were directed at the players. Wenger’s stratospheric ego will never countenance the fact that those cat calls were directed at him.

I’d just like to reaffirm that Wenger has all the traits of ‘Hubris Syndrome’ – a psychopathic, narcissistic personality disorder. Perhaps I can remind you of some of the symptoms:

  • Using power for self-glorification
  • An almost obsessive focus on personal image
  • Excessive self-confidence, accompanied by contempt for advice or criticism of others
  • Loss of contact with reality
  • Speaking as a messiah
  • Hubristic incompetence where supreme overconfidence leads to inattention to details

Arsenal mounted a half-arsed comeback thanks to a fluke goal by Chamberlain and poor set-piece defending by Liverpool, which Klopp really needs to get a grip on. The Liverpool manager has to cut adrift left back Alberto Moreno and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet too.

My tip for the title, Man Utd, comfortably beat Bournemouth 3-1. With four signings, Mourinho has transformed the team. They look stable defensively and have more goals in them now because the wonderfully talented Anthony Martial has another year under his belt and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s confidence, experience, strength and power will not only add goals but could reignite Wayne Rooney. Henrikh Mkhitaryan could score 10-15 goals from wide, and Paul Pogba will bring power and grace to their midfield.

The order in which the teams follow behind them is almost impossible to predict. Guardiola will need many months to transform Man City in his own image and I feel there will be a lot of slip ups along the way.

Chelsea’s Conte is a top-class manager who has a team that already knows how to win the title. What’s more, they have no European distractions. We saw how that benefited Leicester City last season and Liverpool a couple of seasons ago. N’Golo Kante will be a priceless signing for a team that lacks legs in midfield, and there will doubtless be more big signings to come. Chelsea beat West Ham 2-1 on Monday with a Hazard penalty and a fine strike from Diego Costa.

I feel Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal will scrap it out for fourth place. Of those teams, Spurs and Liverpool are on the up, but Arsenal will win a lot of games that don’t matter and a lot of teams will be stealing points from each other between now and May 2017.

As good as they were last season there are still question marks over whether Tottenham can take the next step. Do they really have 85 points in them? Or even 75?

Klopp’s Liverpool is coming on in leaps and bounds offensively, but there are serious defensive issues at play. However, like Chelsea, without having to participate in Europe, they have plenty of time to rest and prepare between games.

Wenger will not buy the required top class centre back, striker and winger required. That would cost £100m on top of the £40m he’s already spent and make a mockery of his claims Arsenal are the poor team of Europe.

With Wenger, job security will always come before results. Lack of money is a myth; the Frenchman is a chump change bungler that would rather turn a profit for his paymasters and achieve the bare minimum than spend the £200m sitting idle in the bank. After all, why give the board two reasons to sack him?

Wenger will only push the boat out when he fears he is truly cornered. If Arsenal can’t get six points at Leicester and Watford, expect mass panic on Aug 31.

It’s now incumbent on Arsenal supporters to grab their opportunity to hammer Wenger by creating the sort of toxic environment he will not want to work in for another two-three years. Here’s hoping that supporter groups are remobilised and anti-Wenger protests begin again at Leicester City on Saturday.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.

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Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be unread and binned.