Sep 182010
 

Some days you cannot help but despair at those who have made it into the luxurious position of informing the nation of their footballing opinion. So ridiculous is their view that you sit back and wonder ‘is there really no-one better?’

The muppets have been out in force this week. But before we start, let’s have a look at Wenger’s views on tackling, just so we know the basis for the cluelessness that follows:

“I must say I love the way the game is played in England. The one restriction has to be full commitment with the intention of going for the ball and only for the ball.  The English game becomes dangerous when the players go to hurt each other. You need intention aligned with the type of game you play in England.”

“More protection can become boring as well. I’ve seen some countries when every little push or shoulder-to-shoulder is a foul and then it becomes boring because they interrupt the game too much. I prefer, by miles, the philosophy of the English game but you need to know everyone goes for the ball and only the ball.”

It is difficult to argue with any of that, and repeats a mantra so many of the country’s press like to omit from their stories – Wenger loves a good, hard, fair tackle. What he cannot abide are deliberate fouls, challenges designed specifically to go through the man. Not necessarily to seriously injure – no-one is suggesting players stoop that low (Roy Keane aside) – but to ‘let the player know you’re there’, or to ‘get stuck into him’. That sort of justifying euphemism.

And he’s right. But every time a Taylor or a Shawcross shatters a player’s leg with their reckless challenges, there are those who mock him for his subsequent anger, pointing to the likes of Adams and Vieira and claiming their approach was the same. Yes, that pair relished a battle, but they loved the win the ball cleanly in a crunching challenge, not put in a cowardly studs-to-the-knee lunge that does nothing but put another professional at risk. We’re no angels – Diaby and Gallas have been guilty of poor challenges in recent years, and were rightly condemned. All that can be asked is that all such incidents are treated with equality.

Which brings me to Mark Lawrenson, who wrote in today’s Mirrorthat Wenger ‘complains that his team shouldn’t be tackled’. No Mark, he doesn’t. There is a huge difference between tackling, and recklessly lunging, and if you can’t tell the difference between the two, what the hell are you doing on the Match of the Day sofa? Oh yes, calling players ‘jessies’ and harking back to the ‘good old days’.

It is a popular myth that Wenger wants to eradicate tackling from football. And the worrying thing is that this myth is being quite deliberately portrayed by those with a agenda they refuse to change. Every time he says he loves a tackle, but just wants it to be fair, those lines are omitted from the newspapers, and when Paul Robinson put in his shocking tackle on Diaby last weekend, Match of the Day never showed it. The BBC report never mentioned it, but they did write about his anger afterwards. What would those who only watched the highlights be left to conclude? Exactly.

The Soccer Saturday team today were even worse – showing a sequence of decent Bolton challenges from the game before asking each other what the Wenger’s problem was. Listen, you cretins – the problem wasn’t those challenges, it was the ones you conveniently didn’t show. The whole segment was so obviously contrived to anyone who had watched the game that you are left with only one conclusion – it was a quite deliberately misleading piece. I long for the years when news channels just reported – now they invent stories and controversy by viciously slanting the truth. There is simply no way that the entire panel could have been so myopic as to think Wenger’s beef was with some of the fairer challenges of the day. Idiots.

Moving on, we come to Harry Redknapp, who plays the old ‘Arsenal used to be hard’ card:

“Arsenal, a few years ago: Tony Adams, Keown, Bould, Winterburn, Lee Dixon, Vieira, Petit. That was a very strong, aggressive team – a fantastic team. They were great competitors; they had their share of cards, the same as everybody.”

“What Arsene’s saying is they’ve had one or two injuries. But if people are going for the ball and it’s a fair tackle then there’s no problem if they’re aggressive.”

Where do you begin? Yes, that team was physical and competitive, and while they could overstep the mark they never committed the sort of reckless challenge that ends careers. There is nothing wrong with teams being physical, or going in hard for 50-50 tackles. Wenger isn’t saying there is, no-one is. What gets him angry, and rightly so, is these ‘one or two injuries’ were caused by shocking challenges in which the ball was a complete irrelevance to the tackler. How is that so hard to understand?

If that was a motley crew of idiots, the last two take the proverbial biscuit. First, we have the ever-delightful Sam Allardyce, who takes his customary swipe at Wenger, this time claiming he influences referees:

“Arsene has most of the media in his pocket now and is almost – almost – affecting the officials so that you can’t tackle an Arsenal player.”

If that were true, would we be suffering the sort of challenges that we’ve seen this season? I would dissect this further, but Allardyce follows it up with a gem of such delusion that pointing out how wrong he is becomes entirely superfluous:

“I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn, I would be more suited to Internazionale or Real Madrid. It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the Double or the league every time.”

“Give me Manchester United or Chelsea and I would do the same, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

Spectacular. Frankly, given how highly the Real faithful value their style of play (there are already mutterings concerning Mourinho’s approach), he wouldn’t last a month. Yes, his track record is pretty good at Bolton and Blackburn, but less impressive than, say, Roy Hodgson or David Moyes. He is a competent manager at his current level but to think he could breeze to titles if in charge of a big club is supremely arrogant and sadly misguided.

And how do you think Blackburn players and fans feel today, reading that he feels he ‘isn’t suited’ to their level. Patronised much?

Thanks Sam, for giving us reason never to take anything you say seriously, ever again.

One more to go, and it is a peach – Tony Scholes, the Stoke chief executive. You may recall that Wenger had a go at Stoke’s tactics in their game against Spurs, likening their approach at corners to a rugby match (Shawcross and Huth ignoring the ball and concentrating on impeding Gomes being the main point). Stoke responded with a complaint to the FA, which was rejected (I’m surprised they didn’t use the word ‘frivolous’ in their response), but they refuse to let it go. Over to you, Tony:

“We have written to him [Wenger] objecting to these comments and have asked for an apology. Much as we respect Arsene Wenger, we cannot allow him to continue criticising us in this way.”

“Therefore, in the absence of any apology, we will continue with our complaint, even though it has been reported that the FA will take no action.”

Stop sniggering in the back. Yes, you read that right – Stoke are demanding action, despite already getting informed that we live in a country of free speech. Wenger didn’t even say anything that inflammatory, and Stoke are unwilling to look at themselves in the mirror long enough to realise that he’s right.

As for an apology, where was yours when Shawcross put one of our most promising player’s career at risk earlier this year? Or is that somehow less important?

*sigh*

In other news, we’ve got a match in a little over an hour. I would preview it, but I feel this piece is already long enough – suffice to say it will be a test for our new defensive pairing. Could be lively – enjoy the game.

Jul 122010
 

An underwhelming final completed a largely disappointing World Cup last night, with Spain edging out Holland to lift the trophy for the first time. And just as in the European Championship final two years ago, it was Cesc providing the assist for the only goal, this time setting up Iniesta to crash in the winner just minutes from a penalty shoot out.

A clash between Spain and Holland was a mouth watering prospect – not only are they usually two of the most aesthetically pleasing teams (along with the current crop of Germans), but there was an added mystique lent by the extraordinary statistic that they had never met in the World Cup or European Championships before. But the Dutch decided to ruin the game by employing strongarm Stoke-esque tactics, and were lucky not to be men down much earlier than extra time – Van Bommel and de Jong getting away with two of the worst challenges of the tournament.

At half time, Alan Hansen laid into the Dutch tactics, calling them ‘a step too far’, eerily reminiscent of the same words used by both Cesc and Wenger after Ryan Shawcross had destroyed Aaron Ramsey’s leg. But on that day, Hansen lambasted Wenger, essentially telling Arsenal to grow up and legitimising the tactic due to it being the ‘only way to cope with Arsenal’s superior technique’.

Well, if that statement doesn’t sum up everything that is wrong the British attitude to football, I don’t know what does. Last night was no different to what we’ve seen for years – teams that know they cannot outpass their opposition so resort to thuggery. It is not a valid tactic in any way, it should not be praised and lauded as such, yet Hansen, Lawrenson and co do exactly that week in, week out. To then do a complete 180 and lay into the Dutch was hypocrisy at its rawest. Those following me on Twitter will have seen me spitting fire on the subject at the time.

Don’t get me wrong – the criticism Holland received was entirely justified. Sure, Spain were no angels, but they were the victims of some frankly shocking challenges, the type of which should grace no game. That Van Bommel was guilty of one came as a surprise to no-one.

But once the first day of the Premiership arrives, the viewpoint will revert. As soon as a Wigan, Stoke, Bolton or Blackburn player scythes into a technically superior opponent, he will be praised for ‘letting his opponent know he is there’ and ‘getting stuck in’. And if those are the traits we value above all, is it any surprise England crashed out so early, struggling even to control the football at times?

Imagine being Wenger today – he will be well aware of Hansen’s contrasting views of Holland and Stoke, and if I were in his shoes, I’d be raising that very point early in the season. But Wenger has more class than that, and understands that such a reaction will give the pundits the satisfaction of getting under his skin. He will instead listen patiently as they slate the lack of an end product to all the Arsenal passes, compare the number of goals Arsenal and Spain score, and shrug with an ironic smile.

Spain did not win the World Cup because of their stellar attacking, no matter what the press are telling you. They scored eight goals in seven games, looking toothless much of the time. No, they won it because they did not concede in the knockout rounds. The difference between Spain and Arsenal is not end product, it is that Spain do not give the opposition an idiotic headstart.

But don’t expect to hear those kind of sensibilities on the BBC anytime soon.

I had high hopes for the coverage of the final – having ditched some of the less useful pundits (as soon as African interest ended, so did Adebayor’s television time), the BBC could have given the tournament a great send off. But each of the panel quickly made their desire for Spain to win abundantly clear, which made for a painful listen, especially given their remit of neutrality.

By the end, I couldn’t stomach any more of Hansen celebrating the ‘victory for football’, or using Wenger’s own ‘anti-football’ phrase to describe the Dutch, so I switched off, although not before witnessing the farcical trophy presentation, where the entire Spanish squad was crammed into a tiny holding area. Ridiculous.

All in all, it has been a disappointing summer. I love the World Cup, I really do, but this one hasn’t sparked me in any way. There were few thrillers, no minnows going the distance, no stunning comebacks. Even the best goals were largely down to goalkeeping errors.

But on a positive note, the end of the tournament signals the beginning of the build up to another season. Due to players being away from their clubs, the transfer window has essentially been compressed, and the next few weeks should be very interesting. Hold on to your hats.

Jun 252010
 

You analyse the fixtures, pick a match you’re desperate to watch, and get into work early to ensure you’re home in time. Minutes before kick off, you grab a beer from the fridge and perch yourself on the sofa, no intention of moving for a couple of hours. On goes the television, and then comes the big moment – is it on BBC, or ITV? Flick on to BBC1 – The Weakest Link. Crap, it’s on ITV.

Cue painful commentary from Clive ‘Pointless reference to the past’ Tyldesley, analysis from Andy Townsend and Robbie Earle (at least, until he was sacked), and general annoyance from Craig Burley. Adverts that take up more of half time than the programme, endless slow motion replays, and a complete lack of intelligence all round. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t even mind Adrian Chiles.

But what really takes the biscuit is ITV Live, supposedly the way to track the games while at work. It seemed such a great idea – streaming the matches online, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, the ITV stream is usually around three minutes behind, although on one hand I don’t mind that so much – I can hear someone in the office exclaiming at the goal, and then flick up the images and watch it ‘live’. Or at least I would, if the online coverage hadn’t already dropped out.

You see, the stream cuts out approximately every two minutes. Sometimes it comes back thirty seconds later (and now thirty seconds further behind reality than before), and sometimes it just dies entirely. No matter, you might say, just refresh the page, and since the online coverage is a couple of minutes delayed, you’ll probably get the pictures back before the goal goes in.

Well, that’s true – you get pictures back. Unfortunately they aren’t pictures of the match – they are adverts. ITV have come up with the genius idea that instead of attaching you direct to their main coverage (and therefore getting adverts at half time with everyone else), they will force you to sit through three adverts every time you load the service. Even if a penalty shoot out is at a critical juncture. Or if you have the restart the ‘service’ every few minutes.

What this means is whenever you hear a yelp to indicate there’s been a goal, you flick to the stream, only to find it has inevitably fallen over. You desperately fumble around to kick it back into life, get the ‘loading’ screen, and sit back relieved. Three infuriating adverts follow, by which time the goal (and all the incessant replays) have been shown. Oh joy.

They have been shambolic from start to finish. Their presenting team is painful, I’ve watched more matches on mute than ever in my life, their online service is crap, and the debacle of missing England’s goal against USA would have sounded ludicrous had they not done the exact same thing in the FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Everton last season.

Not that the BBC get off scot free. While their coverage certainly seems more professional, they still have the infuriating contrast of the monotone Mick McCarthy and the squeaky over-excited Mark Bright. Both come out with complete nonsense – Bright is a master of idiocy, regularly watching a slow motion replay and describing the events wholly wrongly.

McCarthy, meanwhile, was asked why Argentina were so impressive against South Korea, and replied ‘It’s because they play 4-4-2‘. There was a pause, as clarification was awaited, but none came. That was the full analysis, as if the formation was the sole reason for success. Can’t argue with it, after all Messi has been spectacular for Barcelona this season in a 4-….oh.

But with the BBC, there seems to be higher level of professionalism. With Lineker, Hansen, Hodgson, Dixon and Seedorf providing the intelligent points, their analysis is far more insightful, especially for the bigger games, when the hysterical are ditched and the experienced brought in.

The BBC have their flaws. But ITV have an astonishing knack for removing my pre-match excitement just by knowing it is them covering the game. Some feat.

May 102010
 

Arsenal 4 (Arshavin 21, Van Persie 26, Baird og 37, Vela 84) Fulham 0
(Premiership)

Before yesterday, we were in danger of ending the season on one of our worst runs of form in years, not just because of the games we’ve lost but the quality (of lack thereof) of the sides that have defeated us. But with Fulham the most accommodating of visitors, we were able to finish the campaign on a high against a defence already preparing for Forlan and Aguero on Wednesday.

The game was wrapped up by half time – Arshavin robbed Schwarzer to score the first, although had he missed Van Persie may not have forgiven him all summer, so free was he in the middle. The Dutchman got his goal five minutes later after being slipped in by Walcott – the first effort was pushed on to the bar, but the ball fell kindly and the game was as good as dead. When Baird inadvertently extended our lead, we could at last relax and put any lingering concerns about Spurs to bed.

The second half was true end of season fare, and after Van Persie had managed a remarkable miss from a few yards out, Vela scored the sort of goal we have become accustomed to seeing from him in the Carling Cup – a marvellous chip over the advancing keeper. You have to wonder if it is the only type of goal the Mexican can score.

With the bench ridiculously young, there were rare outings for players we have barely seen this season – Djourou was a welcome sight after his injury issues, while Lansbury returned from his Watford loan in time to make his first ever Premiership appearance. By that point, the game, and the season, had well and truly fizzled out.

Yet still, I found myself highly irritated by a number of the Arsenal support (admittedly a minority, but a brainless one all the same), who jeered Arshavin for his recent comments (and perhaps his selfishness for the opener) but saved the worst of their bile for Fabianski.

You can say what you like about the Pole’s ability in goal, but while he has been rightly criticised for his mistakes, I don’t think anyone can doubt his attitude to the game. If he is not ready for first team action, that is hardly his fault, and given how much of a confidence player he clearly is, it seemed hugely counterproductive to ironically cheer his every touch and then, when he handled outside the box late in the game (and was booked), to ‘hilariously’ call for the referee to send him off.

Lest we forget – he is our player. Destroying him helps no-one, and frankly I wish that section of ‘support’ would up sticks and move on. It is one thing to have a go at a player who isn’t putting in the hard yards, but quite another to hound one who is giving it his all, irrespective of how impressive or otherwise that may be.

It is a shame that a promising, title challenging season has ended with some of the fanbase turning on the players and manager. Of course there are things wrong with the squad, weaknesses that need to be sorted, but it is easy to forget the strides we have made this campaign purely because it has ended so poorly.

Over the coming days, I will be looking back at the season, doing my end of term report for each of the players and looking at what we need to do this summer if our hunt for a trophy is to come to an end next season. Until then, enjoy the aftermath of a resounding win – it has been a while.

Mar 242010
 

Let’s start with the disappointing yet ultimately unsurprising news that the FA have rejected Arsenal’s appeal over Tomas Vermaelen’s red card.

Everyone agrees that Vermaelen was harshly sent off, but it seems that ‘harsh’ is not enough for the FA. It hasn’t been for a long time – anything even remotely subjective gets thrown out without a second glance. In that way, the appeal was futile from the very start – only if the players had been ten yards apart would the FA have considered retracting the decision.

Some feared that the ban might be extended, but that was an unnecessary worry too – if you look at the appeals deemed frivolous this season, they are all clear cut cases, usually violent conduct. Appealing a red card when you’ve walloped someone in the face is stupid, this one doesn’t come close.

So Vermaelen will miss the trip to Birmingham, leaving Wenger with a major decision to make. Assuming Campbell can play either at Birmingham or against Barcelona but not both, he has to decide where the big man is more important. With Gallas still out (and I’m told he won’t be fit for Barcelona, contrary to reports), Sol and Vermaelen are our main pair, but does he play them both in the Champions League and partner Silvestre with Song at the weekend? That would be risky.

Personally, I think he’ll partner Song and Campbell this weekend, and Song and Vermaelen next Wednesday. Why? Simple – I think he’s lost faith in Silvestre. When Vermaelen was sent off at the weekend, the obvious substitution was Silvestre for Denilson, but instead, he pushed Song back.

Now consider that Song was putting in a man of the match shift in midfield. Despite the obvious damage removing Song from our midfield would do, Wenger still considered it a better option than Silvestre at the back.

What this does show is how lucky we were that Gallas and Vermaelen stayed fit for the first half of the season. With Djourou out, Silvestre was the only cover, and frankly, had he been forced to play even semi-regularly, we wouldn’t be in the title race.

So instead of bemoaning Vermaelen’s suspension, let’s just be glad he has remained injury free all campaign.

Elsewhere, the papers are stirring the pot again. There are the scurrilous Cesc to Inter stories, which are laughable in the extreme, while Arshavin is quoted as being concerned by the state of the squad:

“I am still of the opinion that to win trophies Arsenal needs more players.”

“There is the simple fact that last summer we sold two players and bought only one. So there is an obvious deficit of at least one. Then we lost Van Persie, Gibbs and Ramsey for a long time. So for me it is natural we need new players.”

It seems pretty clear to me that these words have been taken out of context. The press are having a field day, claiming that the Russian is ruling us out of the title race, but given that he is talking about last summer’s activity, it makes sense to presume he was asked about what he hoped Arsenal would do this summer. When you put his answer in that context, it seems perfectly reasonable, with him seemingly suggesting that we need to keep strengthening to win trophies on a regular basis.

No arguments here. The timing has been questioned, but Arshavin seems to be a guy who answers all questions put to him, which takes the timing out of his hands.

Finally, we come to Tony Pulis, who has had yet another dig at Arsene Wenger, claiming that his team are getting no respect from the bigger sides:

“Everywhere you look there’s people who want to shoot us down.”

“It wasn’t in the script for us to be competitive. That’s why you get people like Arsene Wenger moaning on at you – because we have made it difficult for them and we’re not supposed to do that.”

Where to start with this idiot? Firstly, Wenger had a go after the recent game because Ramsey’s leg had just been shattered. And quite frankly, I thought he was impressively restrained – perhaps indicative of how used he is to seeing that sort of incident.

Pulis, like so many others who like to ‘rough up’ the big boys, think that we expect them to roll over when they come to town. We don’t – the fact that anyone can beat anyone is the league is why it is so fantastic. We are even relying on that competitive edge denying United and Chelsea points between now and the end of the season, so to claim that they ‘weren’t supposed to be competitive’ is ridiculous.

For the record, Stoke’s Premiership record against the three title contenders this season is Played 4, Lost 4.

What Wenger rightly objects to is the style of football that is intended to hurt and injure, and the tactic of rotational fouling where no individual catches the eye of the referee, but they all take turns to kick players. That isn’t football, but the problem we have is the likes of Pulis and Allardyce believing it to be a legitimate approach. That they get away with it is a sad indictment of the attitude of referees. On the continent, they would not survive.

As for respect, I’m sorry, but if your two tactics are to a) kick lumps out of the opposition and b) get a player to spend 45 seconds drying a ball on a towel and then hurling it into the box, then you aren’t going to get any. Deal with it.

That’s about it for today. In the next few days you will notice the site take on a different look – I’ve been working on a redesign for some time and it is (finally) nearly ready. Stay tuned for that, and more goodies.

Until tomorrow.