Friday
Aug122016

Arsenal fans’ big chance to get rid of Wenger

So here we are at the dawn of a new season. Am I excited? Yes and no. I’m excited to see how Leicester do, how Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea fare under new managers and how Liverpool continue to develop under Klopp. Can Tottenham push on and challenge for the title again? I think they have a strong chance.

There are some big managers in charge of big clubs, and although it will take them time to adapt, it should make for a rollercoaster season full of excitement and banter. Let’s hope the undoubted quality of those managers can bring about a much higher standard of football in the Premier League.

Although Leicester made last season exciting for exceptional reasons, the quality of football on show throughout the league was dire. Football is supposed to entertain us on the pitch, but in England the quality is often so bad that we compensate by forcing ourselves to be entertained by the media circus that surrounds it

Ironically, the only team I’m not interested in is Arsenal. I won’t even be watching the opening game of the season, as I would prefer to spend time with my family.

As regular readers know, my support of Arsenal has been suspended for quite some time. I am not willing to waste my free time on a club that perpetually underachieves while the owners and manager pursue a culture of ‘ethical fraud’ - rewarding themselves huge bonuses, pay rises and dividends while manipulating and exploiting the supporters’ patience and neglecting their considerable financial investment.

This summer has been no different to previous disappointments. Arsenal have failed to strengthen in key areas and the tone of conversation coming from the club is utterly underwhelming. I don’t think Arsenal have any chance whatsoever of challenging for anything other than a domestic cup, assuming they get a series of lucky draws.

However, the one thing that is different is that Wenger has only one year remaining on his contract and plies his trade under an atmosphere of suspicion, derision and boredom. Even if they don’t always express it, supporters have never been more against his tenure and few would be disappointed if he left.

My advice to fans that are sick of him is to continue from last season and get on Wenger’s back straight from the off. Don’t wait for the usual February/March collapse; start protesting at the first opportunity and keep it running throughout the entire season.

I’m pretty sure that the board have a deal on the table waiting for Wenger’s signature, but I’m also sure he will not want to continue working under the same dark atmosphere that emanated from the terraces last season. For an egomaniac like Wenger, it’s uncomfortable, undermining and affects the players’ perception of him.

To me, the squad looks unbalanced and does not have the mental faculties to push for a major trophy. The defence is untrustworthy at the top level and the attack is equally blunt. There may be more signings to correct this, but signings are not the entire solution. Ultimately, the players lack trust and belief in the manager and are too stifled by his amateur tactics.

Despite having a large squad of players, their mentality could be affected by Wenger moving into the final year of his deal. This is compounded by the fact that 15 first team player contracts expire within the next two years. Six within the next 12 months:  Mertesacker, Koscielny, Cazorla, Monreal, Sanogo and Campbell, and a further nine expire within two years: Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud, Wilshere, Szczesny, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jenkinson and Gnabry.

I personally believe Ozil and Sanchez are playing out the final year of their contracts – as they see it. Both players will soon be 28 and are doubtless wondering whether Arsenal is the best place to be prior to signing what will probably be their last contract at a big club. At times, both look fed up with the players around them and they cannot be happy with the paucity of ambition that is being shown. I reckon Ozil will end up at Man Utd next season, as Jose Mourinho is a big fan of his.

As we move through the season, their continued unwillingness to put pen to paper could act as a catalyst for Wenger deciding to step down. Within a toxic atmosphere, it would be hard to imagine that he is up to the challenge of trying to replace such key components of the squad.

Can Liverpool cause an upset at Arsenal on Sunday? Certainly. Klopp’s team will steam into a nervous Arsenal backline. But Liverpool’s defence is also suspect and new signings will have to adapt quickly. Going into the match, both teams are riddled with absentees for various reasons. Therefore, this game could end up being as much about who didn’t play as who did.

Personally, I’m looking forward to watching Everton vs Tottenham tomorrow.

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
Aug102016

Why comparing wage bills is too simplistic

In February 2012, Arsenal Truth was one of – in not the first - blog to release an entire club wage bill estimate, which caused quite a stir at the time. I remember the astonishment of receiving 40,000 hits on the day that particular blog post was published.

Nowadays, blogs and newspapers are regularly publishing wage bills in order to make the assumption that if club X spends more money than club Y on wages, it must have the best players and therefore the greatest chance of success.

The top-line wage bill figure is usually taken from a football club’s statutory accounts, but there is a problem in taking this solitary figure and using it as barometer of a club’s obligation to succeed because a club’s wage bill comprises a lot more than just player salaries.

Take Arsenal, for example. The latest wage bill approximation (according to our good friends at Swiss Ramble) is approximately £192m. However, only 50-60% of that figure is actually spent on first team player wages; you also have to take into account the salaries of the under-21 and youth teams, manager and directors, senior executives, coaching staff, scouting staff, medical staff, ground staff and temporary staff.

Another element that the media fails to take into consideration when examining wage bills is the vast sums of money spent on social security, player bonuses, loyalty payments, image rights and appearance fees. There can be huge disparities between clubs regarding those payments - some might include them in the wage bill, others not, therefore club X may have a higher wage bill than club Y, but actually be spending less on player salaries - the amount that is supposed to dictate who has the most expensive (i.e. best) team.

For obvious reasons, how football teams’ wage bills are constructed is a pretty secretive affair. If you want to come up with an estimate, the only thing you can really do is take a club’s published wage bill figure and try to retrofit how it is pieced together using whatever known information you can cobble together from its accounts and other trusted media sources.  

To make things harder, in their latest set of published accounts (interim accounts to November 2015) Arsenal have decided to stop publishing a wage bill figure. Why the club has chosen to do this is a mystery, although I would presume – in-keeping with the club’s ever-increasing lack of transparency, it’s to discourage people from publishing estimates or making comparisons between other clubs.

A further aspect of wage bill analysis that is overlooked is the fact that the wealthier a club is, the more likely they will be ‘forced’ to overspend on wages. The more money a club is perceived to have, the more inevitable it is that they are going to be held to ransom every time they try to negotiate with a club or an agent. This can distort the perceived ability of players, because salaries and transfer fees are less based on value for money rather than the vast sums of money that happen to be available to a club.

That’s why the quality of a player can never be fully defined by his salary and a club’s wage expenditure can never accurately define the quality of its squad. The only exclamation we can make with any legitimate certainty regarding the size of a club’s wage bill  is that the bigger it is the more opportunity a club has to employ the best managers, players, coaching staff and scouts in world football. If you’re cash rich, the opportunity is there to be the best of the rest, but only if the club is able to allocate its resources effectively and talent pool the right management structure.

The reason I initially published Arsenal’s estimated wage bill on this blog was not to compare the club’s wage bill against other clubs, but to demonstrate the amount that the club was wasting on player salaries and deconstruct Arsene Wenger’s so-called socialist wage structure philosophy.

Last season we saw the difference between how having lots of money at a badly run club, Chelsea, and relatively little money at a well-run club, Leicester City, can mark the difference between abject failure and startling success.

This year, I will probably publish another Arsenal wage bill estimate, but it will purely be used so supporters can analyse who is getting paid what and whether that should be perceived as value-for-money within the confines of the club’s own budget and expenditure.

Meanwhile, if the media really wants to make the mistake of cross-examining clubs’ wage bills and theorising about who is obligated to win what, they ought - at the very least - to divorce first team player salaries from the rest of the wage bill before doing so.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.

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

Sunday
Aug072016

Which top PL club has bought best?

AT transfer meter

***** “We’re going to win the league!”
**** Wheeling and dealing
*** Team’s in the tumble dryer
** Stench of complacency
* Clueless twat

Chelsea

The dismal failures of 2015/16 will no doubt cast a dark shadow over most of the Chelsea players’ minds. Reinforcements are needed, but new manager Antonio Conte has only bought Marseille striker Michy Bastshuayi and Leicester City’s former midfield destroyer N’Golo Kante. It seems as though Conte is willing to be patient and fully assess his squad before deciding where to strengthen prior to the transfer window closing.

AT transfer meter: ***

Man City

Apart from £21m Dortmund midfielder Ilkay Gundogan and £13.8m Celta Vigo winger/striker Nolito, new City boss Pep Guardiola has been looking to the future with his signings. These include Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Marlos Mareno; all under 20 years old. Despite having spent over £100m already, I’m surprised the Spaniard has not yet moved to strengthen City’s defence, especially as Vincent Kompany will be missing in action for the first month.

***

Man Utd

Arch antagonist Jose Mourinho is truly the master of spending big money, and has already infused Utd with strength and power by signing Villarreal centre back Eric Bailly, Dortmund’s prolific goalscoring midfielder Henrik Mkhitaryan and aged goal machine Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Of course, there is also the impending addition of £96m midfield powerhouse Paul Pogba. I would imagine this leaves the bank pretty empty, therefore Mourinho will be relying on Wayne Rooney to roll back the years while further developing hot attacking talents, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.

*****

Leicester City

With Jamie Vardy snubbing Arsenal, and Riyad Mahrez likely to do the same, Claudio Ranieri will be delighted that his Championship-winning squad has not been dismantled. Yes, they’ve lost N’Golo Kante, but he’s already been replaced by defensive midfielder hopeful Nampalys Mendy. Other signings so far include centre-back Luis Hernandez, goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler and CSKA Moscow striker Ahmed Musa who, rather promisingly, scored twice against Barcelona in pre-season. £7.5m winger Bartosz Kapustka has also joined from Polish club, Cracovia.

****

Liverpool

Although Jurgen Klopp has blown £57m on Newcastle goalscoring winger Georginio Wijnaldum and Southampton striker Sadio Mane, neither player will need time to get up to speed in the Premier League. Klopp has been quick to address the defensive issues that plagued Liverpool last season, returning to his homeland to prize towering centre-backs Joel Matip from FC Schalke and FC Ausburg’s Ragnar Klavan. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet remains untrustworthy, hence Klopp has moved for one of Germany’s top goalkeeping prospects, 23-year-old Loris Karius from Mainz 05. Ex-Arsenal veteran Alex Manninger – now 39 – also joins. Klopp is trying to offload Christian Benteke and Mario Balotelli, which would doubtless free-up wages for one or two more signings.

****

Tottenham

As demonstrated when Delli Ali and Moussa Dembele were suspended for the last two games of the season, Spurs lacked strength in depth. Pochettino made his moves early this summer making two key signings; Southampton midfield powerhouse Vincent Wanyama and the perfect understudy to Harry Kane, Dutch striker Vincent Janssen, who holds the ball up well and is a natural finisher in the box. However, if Spurs really want to build on the success of last season, fans might well be looking for a couple more additions.

**

Arsenal

The early signing of defensive midfielder Granit Xhaka was seen as a promising start, but since then it’s been the usual bungled operation with failed bids for Vardy, Mahrez and Lyon forward Alexandre Lacazette. A further £10m has been splashed on the combined ‘talents’ of Japanese forward Takuma Asano, 20-year-old Bolton centre-back Rob Holding and Nigerian youth international Kelechi Nwalaki – but none of those are going to transform Arsenal into title contenders. Arteta, Rosicky and Flamini have all left the club, freeing up £12m pa in wages and there's at least £200m cash in the bank, but Wenger is already paying the price for his pre-season dithering, with Mertesacker joined (today) by Gabriel on the long-term treatment table. 

*

No doubt many more deals will be completed over the next 3-4 weeks. However, Jose Mourinho is most definitely leading the transfer pack, while Wenger will be scavenging bins again looking for big club cast-offs come August 31.

Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal. However, Tweets probably won't be made until I reach at least 100 followers.

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

Wednesday
Jun082016

Vardy approach reeks of desperation

As Arsene Wenger enters the final year of his contract, he has reacted predictably to the mounting pressure he was put under last season by making two unusually early entries into the transfer market. Going into next season with the same toxic atmosphere is not an attractive proposition for a manager that badly needs to get off to a good start. Wenger is therefore banking on early signings changing the mindset of a large proportion of Arsenal’s fan base well in advance.

Another reason for his panicked state of mind is that Ozil and Sanchez have still not signed their contracts and Wenger desperately needs them to put pen to paper. If neither signs a new deal this summer, it would hardly be a ringing endorsement of Wenger’s management going into next season, and Arsenal would have to sell both players within the next 12-14 months.

Approaching Vardy seems a somewhat desperate act on the part of Wenger. Whether a brainless solution to a connundrum Wenger is at a loss to remedy or a despairing final throw of the dice designed to appease supporters and placate doubters in his squad before throwing the towel in, the decision is seemingly based on a knee-jerk response rather than a proactive tactical strategy.

Personally, I don’t see how Vardy fits into Arsenal’s system and I don’t see Wenger adapting his system to incorporate Vardy. As we all know, Wenger doesn’t do tactics. He incorporates a system of play that lives and dies by the functionality of the players within it. There may be a couple of games a season where Wenger demands a different approach (Bayern/Barca), but it inevitably fails when the players succumb to mental fatigue.

Are we supposed to believe that the perpetually inflexible Wenger will suddenly adapt Arsenal’s entire system to suit Vardy or that the Englishman will play merry-go-round with Giroud depending on the opposition? I doubt it. The system will stay the same and Vardy will have to adapt, probably out of position on a flank, hanging off the shoulder of the last man.

However, we’ve seen signs that, even within a system built around Vardy’s undeniable counter-attacking strengths, he was not nearly as potent when teams started to adapt to Leicester’s style of play. Towards the end of last season, Leicester faced more defensive opposition, which had a negative impact on their ability to score goals. The Foxes mutated from being a devastating counter-side team to one that relied on its defence to squeeze out wins.

Vardy increasingly became a spectator on the pitch, scoring just 4 goals in open play from his final 10 games. For England recently, against deep-lying Portugal, Vardy only managed 8 touches in 66 minutes. His pass completion rate is a laughable 64.3% - statistically one of the worst of any player in the Premier League. For a laptop manager that has spent 10 years making robotic decisions based on statistics and moulding players into a system constructed on the principles of pass and move, siging Vardy would be a mind-boggling paradox.

Chucking long balls over the top won’t work because opposition teams already know that defending deep and counter-attacking Arsenal is the most effective method of securing a result. And if Arsenal sit back, that does not compel other teams to attack, you just end up with a tedious stalemate.

One would also have to question whether Vardy - at 29 years of age - has the technique or intelligence to adapt to a possession-based style of football. While it’s true that Vardy has a work rate and aggression that is completely absent in a player like Walcott, for example, he already possessed those characteristics in 2014-15 yet only scored five goals. It's therefore logical to conclude that work rate and aggression were only a minor factor in Vardy's prolific goalscoring record last season, more important was to implement a system tailor-made to his technical and physical attributes.

Besides, the deal is not done yet. Embarrassingly, Vardy - who was playing Conference football four years ago - has requested time to think over his decision. He clearly has nothing to lose in terms of attracting attention going into the Euros and Liverpool are also rumoured to be interested. It’s possible Vardy is prepared to wait to see if Liverpool can secure funds by offloading Christian Benteke to West Ham, assuming Jurgen Klopp can entice him with higher wages than Arsenal are willing to pay.

I don’t know much about Granit Xhaka – signed for approximately £30m from Borussia Monchengladbach. On paper, he is exactly what Arsenal need – a robust deep-lying creative midfielder. However, his disciplinary record is horrendous, which raises obvious question marks over his temperament and ability to read the game. He may need taming in a league as fast, cynical and heated as the PL.

In other news, Jose Mourinho has made his first signing as Man Utd manager, the hot-headed but powerful and technically proficient centre-back Eric Bailly. The 6’2” African is just 22 but was an ever-present in the Villarreal defence last season. Pep Guardiola has also signed his first player for Man City, £20m midfield general Ilkay Gundogan, and has now sets his sights on prolific 26-year-old Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Jurgen Klopp is apparently interested in taking ex-Arsenal centre-back Thomas Vermaelen to Liverpool.

Meanwhile, Everton have wasted little time flexing their new-found financial muscle, prizing manager Ronald Koeman away from Southampton for £5m. Koeman’s 9th managerial role, the Dutchman’s 54% win percentage towers over former manager Roberto Martinez at 39% and is better than Arsene Wenger’s too. One might put this down as yet another opportunity lost.

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Wednesday
May042016

Leicester's legends/Alexis summer exit?

It’s hard to believe that as I sit here writing this Leicester City are the Premier League champions. Arguably, what Claudio Ranieri and his players have achieved is the biggest shock in the history of English football, maybe world football, although I’m not educated enough to know about what's happened in every other country to claim that.

When Nottingham Forest won the First Division championship in 1977-78, having just been promoted from Division 2, it was an astonishing achievement but they were very much seen as an underachieving club and at least had positive momentum on their side.

But Leicester have battled very different odds, and you can’t really compare football today to then. The pace of the game means that far more physical demands are placed on the players so you have to utilise a bigger pool, which requires squad depth. Unlike 40 years ago, the massive financial disparity means that the big clubs in England can pick from some of the best players in world football.

Yet Ranieri somehow managed to cobble together a team of warriors and utilised his vast experience to guide them step by step to the peak of the Premier League, winning the competition with two games to spare.

English football should thank Leicester for what the club has done for the game, shattering the financial cartels that are in operation and humiliating those who labour over financial excuses, proving that spending insane amounts of money is not necessarily the only route to success and 'poor' clubs can compete with their cash rich peers.

Although some have said that Leicester have achieved the “impossible”, Atletico Madrid are not far behind. Despite having a much higher profile and a much weightier history, the Spanish club is achieving miracles on an annual basis. They won the Spanish title with a wage bill of £54m – only £6m more than Leicester’s - and challenging for major trophies has become an annual event.

However, what Leicester’s achievement does show is how, for many clubs, money has actually become an OBSTACLE to success. In their desperation to compete and stay at the top, clubs have spent vast sums of money, wrecking stability and team unity. As Leicester City have proved, if you want to challenge the best and succeed, the same footballing tenets remain: strong defensive discipline, tactical awareness and a team mentality that ensures you are stronger than the sum of your parts. Having a good manager helps of course, but Leicester, and Chelsea in recent years, have also proved that changing managers can lead to instant success if the right conditions are in place.

Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd should all hang their heads with shame at their underachievement this season. All three clubs have the financial might to provide the best possible infrastructure for their players and the resources to cherry pick the best footballers and managers from the four corners of the globe (expensive or otherwise).

As we know, Arsenal are a law unto themselves and have become a stale, boring, dead club whose manager has failed from every conceivable angle. Every lame excuse Wenger has come up with over the last decade has been trampled to dust by the success of a multitude of other clubs around Europe with far fewer resources and better managers.

Despite the Premier League being pretty awful to watch for the most part this season, Leicester have made what was expected to be a tedious and predictable season a fascinating and memorable one. Tottenham should also be applauded for their contribution. If it wasn’t for them, Leicester would not have had a challenger.

I watched Spurs’ hopes vanish in smoke on Monday night against Chelsea in spectacular fashion. Albeit entertaining, it was, at times, a brutal and ugly game. A very young Tottenham side became embroiled in the heated, supercharged atmosphere. Realising the title was slipping away – and with no margin for error, they were reduced to committing some reckless fouls, albeit mostly tactical.

Many Arsenal supporters will, and have, ridiculed Tottenham’s failure last night, but will secretly be envious. Spurs clearly have a far superior manager, their season was competitive to the very end and the players have a passion and spirit that is completely absent in their North London neighbours.

To me, Spurs are not the enemy - they're just another football club. I have found their football entertaining at times this season and applaud the job Mauricio Pochettino is doing. However, like Leicester there is no doubt that they have benefitted from the underachievement of their peers.

The Wenger/Kroenke Out protest at the Emirates on Saturday was a damp squib because there were around 10,000 empty seats vacated by unhappy supporters, of which a significant proportion probably would have protested had they bothered to turn up.  It gave the illusion that Wenger has far more support than he actually does, something he has already latched onto in a desperate bid to manipulate everyone's perception of him. 

Unfortunately, the clown will still be at Arsenal next season, but hopefully we’ll see a continuation of protests that will become better organised, bigger and louder, wearing him down and making his position untenable as he hopefully comes to the end of his tedious reign in 2017.

Alexis Sanchez’s behaviour on Saturday was strange. A team player, always positive – he stormed off the pitch when substituted in the 84th minute. Arsenal were winning 1-0, he had played most of the game and it was out of character because there was no logical reason to behave like that - unless of course this is the beginning of him trying to engineer a move away from the club.

As I warned a couple of weeks ago, Wenger has let down Sanchez and Ozil by not surrounding them with players who can help them fulfil their potential. By not signing their contracts, they are clearly not committed. If Wenger stays, I predict they will leave before long.

Sanchez’ behaviour, and the lack of an explanation, could be nothing or a lot more than nothing. His body language will be interesting in Arsenal’s final two games.

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