Monday
Mar072016

Battle of Shite Hart Lane

The top of the table clash between Tottenham and Arsenal on Saturday characterised the pig swill viewers have had to put up with in what has been the worst quality PL of all time.

Let’s be honest, Tottenham are a consistent side but they do not resemble anything like champions and Arsenal are a side of era-defining mental fragility. It was such a poor game, with 20 grown men running around like headless chickens pulling shirts and tripping and fouling each other while struggling to string more than three passes together, or anything resembling the quality you would expect from two teams supposedly challenging for a PL title.

In the early part of the game, Spurs failed to make their possession count. The occasion got to them and they struggled to play with any calm or intelligence.  

When Arsenal opened the scoring with Ramsey’s deft flick, Spurs looked bereft - but you never have to wait long for Wenger’s chumps to shoot themselves in the foot. Early in the second half, Coquelin got a second yellow for an absurd late challenge on Kane and Arsenal duly imploded and let in two stupid, needless goals.

The difference between the two managers is that Wenger is an imbecile that never learns. Having warned Coquelin at half time not to overstep the mark, the muppet still got himself sent off. More perceptive managers would have removed Coquelin from the field of play (or left him on loan at Charlton), just as Pochettino did with Eric Lamela when it was clear that he was starting to lose his head.

But Spurs bottled it. At 2-1 up, they lost their shape and composure and Hugo Lloris made a terrible mistake in allowing Sanchez’ tame daisy cutter to beat him.

Ultimately, both teams imploded at crucial moments and demonstrated their historic fallibilities. This means, Leicester might have less to do than they think to win this title. With both North London clubs now bottling it on a weekly basis and extra games to play in Europe and the FA Cup, Leicester might only need to win 5 of their remaining 9 games.

But the fact is, no team has played better than Leicester this season or is playing better than them at this moment in time. Whether The Foxes like it or not, the title is in their hands. Their only concern now is to avoid picking up injuries to key players, otherwise no other team they face between now and the end of the season should frighten them.

If there is a threat, I now believe it’s Man City who have a final chance to build momentum with a series of easy games. 

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Ospina (7) Made some good saves, shame he didn't fancy catching anything
Bellerin (5) Positional play a bit suspect
Mertesacker (4) Still going through the motions after winning the World Cup
Gabriel (4) Plays like he looks, assembled from various body parts
Gibbs (4) Is, was and always will be a clueless oaf
Coquelin (3) Played like a Charlton midfielder
Elneny (4) Mediocre at best
Ozil (2) Auditioning for the Invisible Man again
Ramsey (4) Typical Ramsey, great technique for the goal but fuck all else to his game
Sanchez (4) Scored a lucky goal, otherwise poor
Welbeck (5) Stretched Spurs defence but will never be prolific


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Thursday
Mar032016

Arsenal fans must boycott matches/Swiss Ramble

Further hysterics at the Emirates last night as Arsenal collapsed to a half-strength Swansea team whose manager was laid up in a hospital bed. Arsenal took the lead with a good goal from Joel Campbell, but when Ozil claimed he was fouled in his own half, Arsenal’s dumbo defenders waited for a whistle while Wayne Routledge nipped in and scored.

Although I didn’t watch the game, when Peter Cech flapped at a 74th minute cross and Ashley Williams bundled it in, I knew The Gunners were sunk.

Unfortunately, Cech is not the keeper he used to be. He wears a head guard because of a serious injury he picked up many years ago playing for Chelsea and is now cowardly in certain situations. In the dying seconds, he went up for an Arsenal corner and appeared to pull his hamstring chasing Swansea players back.

I watched Leicester on Tuesday and they were unfortunate not to beat West Brom. Because their attitude was spot on, Leicester fans should still be very happy despite dropping two points.

However, Spurs really struggled physically against West Ham. Harry Kane looked exhausted from minute one. Had he been fresh, I would have backed him to score one of the two half chances that came his way.

Apart from the fact they were tired, Spurs lacked physicality in midfield without Dele Alli and Moussa Dembele. Chadli and Mason were too weak in the challenge to give Spurs any sort of grip on the midfield, while full backs Rose and Walker were replaced by the inferior Tripper and Davies. Too many changes in a tired team meant Spurs couldn’t respond adequately to West Ham’s early goal.

It’s obvious to me that Tottenham have to get knocked out of the Europa League by Borussia Dortmund if they want to challenge for the title.

Manuel Pellegrini is now vindicating the Man City board’s decision to sack him. Once the first goal went in, Man City folded like a pack of cards against Liverpool, losing 3-0.

Because Man Utd stole a late win at home to Watford, they’re now level on points with Pellegrini’s men, but have much harder games to come. Despite City being so flaky, I can see them going on a winning streak now, with a string of easy games incorporating Aston Villa, Norwich, Bournemouth, West Brom and a severely weakened Man Utd.

If Arsenal lose to Spurs on Saturday morning, the title dream is doubtless over. If Gooners have anything about them, they will boycott the following home game against West Brom. Apparently, there was a small boycott at the Emirates on Wednesday, with hundreds of empty seats in the upper tiers.

Basically, if you’re fed up with Wenger, stop talking about it and do something. The idea that fans are powerless is nonsense; no manager or owner has ever been known to survive the supporters' long-term wrath, and there’s no better way to protest than by not turning up.

Fans see it, the owners see it, the media get hold of it and if enough people don’t bother showing up it demotivates the players, which is obviously a huge cause of concern for the manager and the board. The only way Wenger is likely to leave in the short-term is if Arsenal finish outside of the top 4, and there is a chance of that happening if their current form continues and that is compounded by severe supporter unrest.

++++ 

On Monday, the website Swiss Ramble published details of Arsenal’s latest set of accounts.

Here are some highlights:

- Arsenal's cash balance stands at £159m, but will rise to approx. £250m by September

- £45m of the cash balance needs to be kept aside for player amortisation

- Arsenal have more cash in the bank than any other club in world football

- Stadium debt repayments remain at £14m pa - equivalent to Theo Walcott’s annual salary x 2

- Arsenal have the third highest net spend in the Premier League over the past three seasons

- Arsenal have the seventh highest revenue in the world, having overtaken Chelsea last season

- Arsenal enjoy the highest match day income in the world

- Bar Juventus, Arsenal’s commercial income trails every team in the Deloitte Money League Top 10. Considering Wenger keeps reminding us how Arsenal are in the CL every year, it makes you wonder what Ivan Gazidis is doing to earn his £2.2m salary (and bonuses) if he can't take advantage of the club's profile

- The wage bill gap of the top 4 giants is closing: Arsenal £192m (current amount not published in latest accounts but probably higher due to spate of new contracts), Chelsea £216m, Man United £203m, Man City £194m. The difference between Arsenal and Chelsea is probably three very well-paid players, of which Arsenal can easily afford.

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Monday
Feb292016

Sack Wenger, put Bould in charge

Been ill this weekend, hot and cold sweats, slumped in bed aching all over. On the plus side, this gave me the opportunity to watch more football than usual.

Leicester vs Norwich was a dire game. The away side were well-organised and made it difficult for The Foxes, but the quality of football was not great. Nothing Riyad Mahrez did came off and Jamie Vardy struggled to find space, disappearing from the game until the last minute. In a game with only four shots on target, Cameron Jerome missed a simple header that could have put a dent in Leicester’s title ambitions.

But when it became obvious Norwich were showing no ambition, Claudio Ranieri played two up top and Leonardo Ulloa sneaked in at the far post to grab a very late winner.

For a team whose entire game is based on counter-attacking, Leicester will struggle against teams who are happy to concede possession. That means, considering their league position, they have no easy games.

On Sunday, it was the turn of Arsenal and Spurs to make up some lost ground. With the Europa League weighing on the legs of Pochettino’s men, they had a bad first half and fell a goal behind to Swansea. But yet again Tottenham demonstrated character and maturity – traits they’re not usually known for. Despite Lukasz Fabianski making a string of excellent saves, Swansea eventually folded under Spurs’ combination of quality and pressure.

Christian Eriksen is their Dennis Bergkamp. Although not able to provide Bergkamp’s sublime moments of genius, he is the floating pivot that glues the team together, both scoring and creating goals.

The other half of North London is everything that Tottenham are currently not. 10 years without victory at Old Trafford, Arsenal faced what was, without doubt, the weakest Man Utd side I’ve ever seen.

The entire defence was devastated by injury, with Michael Carrick and Danny Blind forming a rocky central defensive partnership, flanked by right back Guillermo Varela – making only his fourth game for the club, and Marcos Rojo who was injured in the second half and replaced by unknown rookie Fosu-Mensah. With 18-year-old Rashford up front, Utd didn’t look much capable of doing anything at either end of the pitch.

Man Utd were so weakened, that before the game Sky pundit Graeme Souness claimed this was a “chance in a generation” to beat them. Thierry Henry commented “[Arsenal] have to win, and win well”. Instead, an insipid Arsenal side were out thought and out fought – and subsequently beaten.

Although nobody played well, a special mention for Theo Walcott – the emblem of everything that is wrong with Arsene FC. Weak, spineless, lazy and brainless, Arsenal are stuck with this useless joke for another three years as nobody will pay his ludicrous wages, and Walcott’s complete disinterest signals he’ll be happy to sit out the best years of his career making cameo appearances off the bench.

By the time Walcott is 30, his pace will be cut by two yards and his career effectively over. I had to laugh when he was substituted, exhibiting that little pussy handclap he does. If a footballer ever stole a living, it’s him.

Walcott should have been a sprinter not a footballer, although left to his own devices he’d probably run in the wrong direction.

To be honest, I’m running out of adjectives to sum up Wenger’s disastrous management. After a decade of failure, the players do not believe in him and are no longer inspired by him. It’s clear as day that he has no ideas whatsoever and is trailing behind most modern managers.

Once again, Arsenal’s approach to the match was built on a foundation of arrogance, lack of focus and Wenger’s famous lack of attention to detail. The players seemed surprised by Utd’s work rate, organisation and energy. Over-confidence was quickly replaced by fear when youngster Marcus Rashford hammered Gabriel’s miskicked clearance into the top corner.

Despite Utd’s side being full of players playing out of position and unknown kids, their ability to adapt was superior to Arsenal. Risibly, Wenger try to defend himself after the calamitous 3-2 defeat  - stating that Man Utd still had a lot of money on the pitch. Do you reckon he’d have said that if Arsenal had been beaten with 14 first team players missing?

Now Arsenal have to get their season back on track by beating relegation threatened Swansea on Wednesday. Although it will sadly never happen, anything but victory would signal a great opportunity to sack Wenger and give the job to Steve Bould on an interim basis. Even though Wenger has paid him off and turned him into cone man, Bould was educated by the master George Graham and knows the club inside out. Maybe he could sort out the Arsenal defence and inspire them into saving the season? Give him three months, if it doesn’t work out look for another manager in the summer.

Tomorrow night, Leicester face West Brom – the best defensive team in the lower half of the table, who arrive on the back of a 3-2 victory against Crystal Palace. This is a real banana skin for Leicester, especially if they play like they did against Norwich.

Tottenham face a tough trip to West Ham and Man City travel to Liverpool. These midweek fixtures represent a great chance for Wenger to scramble some points back, maybe his last chance. He’ll be bricking himself on Wednesday night. With the fans ready to crucify him, if Arsenal fail to win the coward won't shake the opposing manager's hand and will disappear down the tunnel quicker than a rat up a  drainpipe.

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Wednesday
Feb242016

Boring Boring Wenger/Cech deluded

“We were naïve” he moans for the 18th year in succession. Think of all those hundreds of Arsenal players spread across a dozen different teams - yet according to Arsene Wenger, they were all “naïve”. It had nothing to do with tactics, preparation or attention to detail.

Wenger has never won the Champions League and never will. He has made it to one final, one other semi-final and the tactical clown has now been dumped out of the competition in the Round 16 stage six years in a row.

His performance in this competition is utterly abject, his wage packet is theft, his reputation as a top European coach, non-existent.

Last night, Barcelona came to town – we all knew what would happen. Arsenal’s big players would fail to turn up, key chances would be fluffed and careless defensive errors would result in defeat. The game was virtually scripted.

Up until half-time it was fairly competitive. Neither team really wanted to take the game to the other, resulting in stalemate. Both tried to counter-attack each other’s perceived weaknesses, but Barcelona seemed heavy legged and vulnerable to a team that could finish clinically. Their pressing game was strangely absent and ball control unusually careless. Arsenal pressed them in surges, but not consistently.

Occasionally, Barcelona suffer from ‘Arsenal syndrome’ – too many players trying to glide their way through a narrow defence, but unlike Arsenal, they have enough quality and composure to pick the lock eventually. Knowing that, they don’t panic.

Arsenal failed to make the most of the few opportunities presented to them; bad decisions in the final third cost them a two-goal lead – the same old story: careless final pass, bad finishing and lack of poise. Big game bottlers from a stinking rich club with a small-time mindset.

Towards the end of the first half, Arsenal’s focus began to slip. Barcelona missed a couple of chances, notably Suarez who missed a header from close range. Then in the second half, the game got predictably stretched as “naïve” Arsenal attacked in numbers.

From out of nowhere, Neymar was suddenly chased by three players, and the clueless Monreal ran across to join them ludicrously unaware of Messi, who received Neymar’s square pass, floundered Cech with an effortless first touch and scored.

The away goal pretty much ended the tie. Then genius Wenger brought on the club’s latest resident joke, Flamini, who promptly took out Messi in the box with an awful, crass challenge.

Why are Arsenal “naïve”? Because Wenger does not do detail. He doesn’t think it’s important and is so arrogant that he rejects self-analysis and blames defeat on everyone and everything except himself. Hence we see the same result year after year after year.

Apart from that, Wenger stubbornly believes in players that are simply not up to it mentally; a faculty he cannot impart, and refuses to spend his resources on the sort of players that have that winning mentality in their DNA. Why? Because they cost a lot of money and he wants Stan Kroenke to make a profit in order to keep his job.

The players see a perpetual loser that is completely unaccountable in defeat and therefore behave like unaccountable perpetual losers.

Ozil and Sanchez are weakened by the players around them, and I would imagine they will soon start to look elsewhere. Ozil is already stalling on a new contract. Their careers are stagnating and they're not getting any younger. Neither joined Arsenal to win the FA Cup

Peter Cech, however, seems to have become one of the deluded: "If we play the same way and improve productivity, we still have a chance to turn the fight for the last eight into a drama." If both teams played the same way but took their chances, Barcelona would have won 5-2, never mind the fact that Barcelona have won 23 of their 25 home games this season, drawing the other two.

Basically, Arsenal have about as much chance as a toad under a steamroller.

For Arsenal, it’s now all about the Premier League, and as laughable as it sounds, the hope of not crumbling in the face of their new rivals for the PL turd trophy, Tottenham and Leicester City. If Wenger fails in that, it will be the ultimate humiliation, the epic pinnacle of his managerial ineptitude.

Courtesy of UEFA, The Rec Sport Soccer Statistics Foundation releases a list every year of the greatest managers in European football history. George Graham is 66th and Bertie Mee is 91st. Arsene Wenger is 111th! When the next report is published, he’ll be slightly nearer to Stewart Houston who is 159th.

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Monday
Feb152016

Arsenal back in it after Leicester feel the pressure

PRESSURE. That’s why Arsenal beat Leicester 2-1 at the Emirates and why I’m having second thoughts about whether Leicester can win the title. Not that I ever 100% believed they would, or will.

Leicester were the more incisive team in the first half, and the game was a little more open than I expected. In fact, Leicester’s well-drilled defence pushed up too far on several occasions and almost got caught offside.

At that point, it was Arsenal feeling the pressure. Laurent Koscielny was a bag of nerves – his passing out of defence was laughable, Ozil was hopelessly weak and Nacho Monreal made a bad mistake right on half-time when he got his body position all wrong and planted his foot in front of Jamie Vardy in the box. Naturally, Vardy ensured contact was made, throwing his leg onto Monreal’s knee and going over. Cheating? No, but he definitely made the most of it.

If a player obstructs you in the box, nowhere is it written that you have to run round his outstretched leg. Vardy simply made sure he got the penalty he deserved like any striker would. He did it expertly; had he gone down over-theatrically he might not have got the pen, so Vardy actually took a slight risk.

However, I don’t know what Claudio Ranieri told his men at half time because they came out the tunnel a bag of nerves. Or maybe it was simply down to them having 15 minutes to ponder the fact that they were halfway towards dumping Arsenal out of the title race and taking another massive step forwards.

As I said in my previous blog, the pressure would start to tell on Leicester at some point, and for the first time this season the Leicester players started making needless and uncharacteristic errors.

Yes, red card victim, Danny Simpson was harshly treated for his second foul, holding back Olivier Giroud, but if Leicester were 2-0 up I don’t think he would have made that mistake. That’s what pressure does to inexperienced players who find themselves honing in on a Premier League title. Small mistakes become magnified and turn into big mistakes, especially when the referee is being slaughtered by the home fans and is looking for the slightest reason to placate them.

Arsenal’s supporters did more to win this match than the players.

As soon as Simpson went off, I was sure Leicester would lose, although Arsenal did their best to bottle it missing a handful of sitters. But with Leicester players losing their nerve and their shape, the presence of an extra man in the box stretched the space and Walcott was not picked up and scored an easy chance on 70. Then substitute Marcin Wasilewski committed a panic-stricken foul in the dying seconds of the game and the returning Danny Welbeck’s header skimmed past Schmeichel following Ozil’s free kick.

After the harshest of lessons, it’s now all about how Leicester respond, and it’s up to Ranieri to calm his players’ nerves, which is going to be very difficult for a group of players in such unfamiliar territory.

Meanwhile, Man City caved in once more, against Spurs, losing 2-1 to goals from Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen. The rusty Vincent Kompany needs more games before he can fulfil his role as the team’s rock and general, but time is running out.

There are four teams in it, and they all have their problems: Arsenal have a clown in charge and a team relying on complete luck more than anything. Man City cannot afford to drop any more points, but have the easiest run in and the best defender in the PL returning. Leicester are ill-equipped to cope with the pressure of writing themselves into football folklore, we all want them to do it - and they're still equipped to do it, but romanticism can replace reality. With their history bearing down on them, Tottenham will also feel the pressure and need a quick exit out of Europe

Leicester and Tottenham are undoubtedly the most consistent Premier League sides and have been all season. Both play as a team with everybody contributing equally. But as Leicester found out at the Emirates, if you can’t cope with the pressure the better team does not always win.

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