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.

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.

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