Apr 152014
 

Morning all.

After one of the most tense matches in our recent history, Arsenal are in the FA Cup Final. Sounds good, doesn’t it? However laborious the match was, however close we came to being added to Wigan’s long list of cup scalps, we became the first team in two years to knock them out, and as a result find ourselves up against Hull in our first return to the annual showpiece since Vieira’s spot kick won us the trophy in 2005 (or started our trophy drought, depending on who you listen to).

The match was agony, but the result is to be enjoyed, especially after a traumatic couple of weeks in which our title challenge has exploded, the race for fourth has gone from depressingly familiar to deeply concerning, and everyone at the club has been questioned, not least the man who has led the club to the pinnacle and back.

But, of course, there are those that want to rain on our parade, one of a number of things that grated this weekend, so I thought I’d dive into each point and break them down.

1. You can’t celebrate beating Wigan

Actually, Roy Keane, you can. Football, for all the focus on the long-term, the nine month campaigns, the qualifications for future competitions, is actually about the moments. Last minute winners, cup shocks, wonder goals, it is moments that people remember, for good or bad. Cup finals offer many of these moments, from the joy of Andy Linighan and Alan Sunderland’s late winners, to the horrors of Owen’s late turnaround, from the aforementioned shoot-out steal of 2005, to the West Ham disappointment.

All of the above are memorable, for the drama, for the occasion, for the fact we were there. By the time the cup final rolls around, it has everyone’s attention, and too many times in recent years we’ve been watching two sides we despise and trying to figure out which one we want to lose less. Not this year.

But beyond that, we needed this. It wasn’t about playing a Championship side, it was about capitalising on an opportunity to lift a competition we won habitually in the early part of the century, it was about making the most of beating Liverpool, Everton and Spurs to get here (isn’t it remarkable that people say the cup has opened up for us, when it is us who have knocked out most of the big boys?) by finishing the job. Once we went a goal down, it was about survival – in the match, in the cup, and perhaps in the careers of some. It was huge in so many ways.

We did it, we’re in the final – we can celebrate all we like Roy, just like you did when you beat Millwall in the 2004 final. Did you go into the dressing room and stop the champagne flowing because you’d only beaten a third tier side? Of course you didn’t, you pompous prat.

2. The art of the selfie

Ugh. Before I start, I should mention that I hate the word ‘selfie’. It’s a photo. People have been taking photos of themselves for donkey’s years, why is this suddenly a craze?

Anyway, while I hate the term, I cannot understand for a moment why there was such outrage that Ramsey and Cazorla were taking shots of themselves celebrating after the game. And if you think outrage is too strong a term, you should have seen some of the journalists on Twitter actually suggesting sanctions for such behaviour, and not even in jest.

Let’s put this into perspective. How many times have you heard the same journalists cry out at the devaluing of the FA Cup, at ‘foreign players’ (always their fault) not understanding the importance and history of the competition, all while calling it the ‘greatest cup in the world’? Plenty of times, I would guess.

So why, when two players value it highly enough to be taking mementos of the moment, are they vilified? For many, this was their first victory at Wembley, for some it was their first visit at all. Why shouldn’t they savour the moment? Isn’t that exactly what these misty-eyed writers have been looking for, a sign that they really care? Hypocrisy has no limits.

3. Wenger as a laughing stock

Ok, this is where I’m going to lose some of you. I realise that right now the Arsenal fanbase is divided, it has been so for a long time. And while there is much blurring, with some sick of Wenger but wanting him to bow out with a trophy and a legacy, and others who have supported his retention now angling for a change, that is our analytical right as fans – we can love the man yet get frustrated with him, we can support him and despair at some of his decisions, and we can debate his merits and flaws ad nauseam.

Professional broadcasters (journalists, pundits, analysts) are supposed to take the emotion of being a fan out of the debate, to provide a clearer analysis free of bias and predispositions, but increasingly this doesn’t appear to be the case – they prefer instead to go for the extremes, for the Talksport approach of riling up their readers and listeners and allowing their agendas to cloud how they deduce what is in front of them.

This was painfully the case on Saturday, with ITV managing to lower standards yet further (an impressive feat, considering) with their constant barbs, snide jabs and frankly disrespectful comments about Wenger (and, oddly, Arteta, who they seemed to think was the ghost of Denilson past). I’m all for critical analysis, but to reduce a man who has changed the landscape of English football to a clownish caricature was too much. It was truly lowest common denominator stuff.

4. Managing tired legs

Throughout the early phases of extra time, many on Twitter were wondering why we hadn’t made our third and final substitution, with players fading and cramping. I felt (and made the point) that the last change was being reserved for Ramsey, only recently back from long-term injury and highly unlikely to complete 120 minutes. With seven minutes of the added thirty remaining, that came true as Kallstrom replaced him.

Since the game, plenty have been hugely critical of Wenger for allowing Ramsey to play that long. While I can see the argument, this comes back to who knows more about the fitness levels and fatigue of our players – those inside or outside the club.

We have a terrible injury record dating back years – of this there is no doubt. As yet, however, there are no clear answers as to why – our facilities are top-notch, and it isn’t purely a question of numbers – we have a ridiculous amount of midfielders now, which has allowed more rotation than normal, yet they’ve still dropped like flies and by March we’re down to the bare bones once again. You can be sure that the club is trying to find the answer, but I find it remarkable that so many, with so little real knowledge, lambast their decisions based on nothing more than guesswork.

There is one Arsenal fan I trust when it comes to medical issues – an old friend of mine by the name of Tom, who actually has a wealth of medical training and understands sports injuries (and who runs the excellent Running Physio blog). But even he says that these things aren’t simple, and while it is clear that there is an issue, you can’t draw conclusions without a lot more data.

Most of us are far less informed (myself included), so while it is a subject worthy of plenty of debate, it really shouldn’t descend to abuse of those within the club, especially based on the observation that the players ‘looked tired’ in extra time. Newsflash – players are conditioned for 90 minutes, not 120. All the players looked tired, Wigan’s included.

5. Refereeing standards

For this last one I’m going to branch away from Arsenal for a moment. I get quite a lot of stick for being critical of referees in Arsenal games, and I’ll be the first to admit that my observations are built on bias, so of course there is a good chance that people may disagree with my viewpoints, particularly when their biases lay elsewhere. That is normal – witness any pair of managerial post match interviews after a contentious decision and you’ll see those biases taken to their natural conclusion.

However, one of the consequences of Arsenal’s league collapse of recent weeks is that I went into the Liverpool-City game on Sunday not giving a jot who won (I just hoped someone did, because I don’t want Chelsea sneaking ahead of both). Yet despite this, I ended up resenting the result because of the staggeringly awful officiating on display. We all know that referees are human, and they make mistakes like the rest of us, but Mark Clattenburg played an enormous part in the destiny of the points, denying City two clear-cut penalties and refusing to give Suarez a second yellow even after he’d spotted the Uruguayan’s obvious dive. Put simply – if he got all the calls right, Liverpool would not have won the game, and in such a pivotal encounter, that could play a big part in the destination of the title.

Credit where it is due – Michael Oliver had an excellent game in our cup semi – admittedly he had few decisions to make, but the fact that you probably had to think for a moment to remember who took the game indicates that his performance was of the required standard. But this is becoming the exception rather than the norm.

Contrary to what you might think, I don’t actually think this is the fault of the referees – much like players who are out of their depth, it is not necessarily a criticism of them that there are none better. They are the best they can be and they can’t help that they are elevated above their abilities by a lack of talented colleagues. I’ll make an exception for Mike Dean because he isn’t just incompetent, he is a showman who likes to have the cameras on him – and that is a choice.

We’ve been told for years that the number of officials is dwindling, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that the standards are fading too. But the cruel accuracy of immediate replays show them up again and again, and surely the time has come to give them some help. We’ve had a couple of instances recently where it appears the fourth official is feeding information to the primary one, and while that has been done in an underhand way, I’m all for making it the norm. Get eyes on cameras, get some information to referees. If you don’t want to stop the game, allow referees to retrospectively punish players once the voice in their ear has told them what really happened.

It is frankly ridiculous that within ten seconds of an incident, the only person who doesn’t know what really happened is the one man who needs to, and that he even has a colleague in the stadium who knows better. As for technology, other sports have shown how much drama can be added with the right sprinkling, and I have wondered for a while whether a country like Qatar could place a more positive spin on their World Cup by paying for such an idea to take place when the world’s eye turns on them. That is, if all their money hasn’t already ended up in brown envelopes.

But until the referees get help, they’ll have their every weakness exposed in seconds, which sullies results and hinders any chance of the Respect campaign working. However much fun it is to poke fun at the man in black, I’m sure we’d rather get the right decisions that chant at them. Unless they’re Mike Dean.

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On to brighter things, and we face West Ham tonight in what could be one of our trickier remaining games – they’re on good form and have a spoiler of a manager who knows how to get under our skin. If every a match called for an early goal, this is it. Bring it on.

Jan 012013
 

Firstly, Happy New Year to one and all. You are seeing one of my resolutions in action by reading this – having not posted anything on here since mid November (and a thumping 5-2 win over Spurs) I’m starting 2013 by making an attempt to return to writing. It is, however, something of a rant-driven return. A little spleen venting never hurt anyone, right?

I have to confess to feeling extremely frustrated whenever I turn on sports channels these days. I don’t just mean Sky Sports News, but everyone. Without wishing to hark back to ‘the good old days’, I remember a time where the whole week built up to a match, you’d watch the game, and then possibly catch the highlights later, with a bit of analysis thrown in. Then, you’d flick through the papers as you built up to the next one. It was simple, it was easy, it was fun.

Maybe I had a different perspective at the time, being considerably younger, but it certainly seemed that there was less ‘fluff around the edges’ in the analysis. By that I mean that the likes of Match of the Day would show the game, chat about the incidents and move on. Interviewers would ask about the performance and perhaps the wider context of the league. Thrilling games were enjoyed.

These days, it seems no analysis is complete without sowing the seeds of a story that can be talked about for the rest of the week. It makes sense in a way – when broadcasters only had to worry about a single highlights package, they did exactly that. But with 24 hours news coverage, they need something to talk about in between, so the focus shifts to the controversial, to the debatable, and often to the banal. Witness the aftermath of the victory over Newcastle on Saturday evening. We had just been treated to a remarkable 7-3 victory, one of the ridiculous scorelines becoming associated with us these days, and despite limited time to talk about it, and ten goals to get through, the main focus was Theo Walcott’s contract.

Let me repeat – we had just witnessed a game that finished 7-3, and they were talking about (in fact, idly speculating on) a player’s potential contract decisions. Nothing had changed, no more information had been gleaned, both club and player were continuing their stance, and it wasn’t even the first hattrick he had scored this season.

There are times where such discussion is appropriate – if the player says something controversial, if the manager suggests a change in the player’s future, or perhaps simply if the match ended as a 0-0 snoozefest and there is nothing else to speak of. But surely not here.

Yet talk they do, and talk many do. It saps the life and fun out of the ninety minutes on offer to spend the rest of the week worried about the peripherals – after Saturday’s game I read plenty of fans speaking about Walcott’s hattrick without enjoyment, as if it had been scored for someone else. No, it was for us, and it won us the match. Why can’t we just find the positives in that for a change, rather than worrying about how many more times it will happen?

We are in the midst of perhaps the best fortnight of any season – the Christmas period is always packed with matches (and usually goals, for some reason), games come in a constant stream, and just as you feel January coming on and the thrill dissipating, along comes the third round of the FA Cup, which remains my favourite day of the entire campaign. It is a fabulous time to be a football fan.

But ask yourself this – what was your first football-related thought today? Was it the opening of the transfer window, or the fact we’ve got a match in a few hours against a Southampton side playing better than their results suggest? I hope the latter, but the news coverage is very much focused the other way. Sky, and their infernal ‘transfer ticker’, drive me nuts with a stream of stories that will mostly end up being agent plants, and the press write in the same way. Is this really the most important thing going on?

Who cares if we win today, when there is the much more enticing prospect of a big name signing this month? The same sort of big name signing that is often planted to raise excitement levels, only for the player to sign an improved deal days later. Or perhaps we should analyse the body language of Theo Walcott again, and how much he claps the fans, rather than sitting back and enjoying the actual game?

I don’t get it. At heart we are all football fans, and it is on the field where the best experiences are had. Every wonderful memory is driven by the men in red and white (and variety of increasingly ugly away kits) doing something special on the grass, not by the men in suits negotiating with clubs, agents, players and families. So why is the majority of our time spent speculating and worrying about that? We choose to read uninformed talk of invisible action instead of discussing what is right in front of our eyes, and the very thing that made us so passionate about the game in the first place.

(There is an exception – reading the analysis of those who bring up points you haven’t thought of based on information you don’t have is interesting – but rare. We know who those people are, and theirs are fascinating pieces to read).

I realise I sound like a grumpy old man, and I realise that there are only so many ways you can analyse a game before running out of things to say, but perhaps that is the inherent flaw in 24 hour coverage – you have to fill in the gaps with ‘our sources tell us’, ‘we understand that’ and stories that are so fanciful that they just make you laugh.

So here’s the thing. If we sign someone this month, I’ll talk about it. If we sell someone this month, I’ll analyse it. If Theo signs a new contract, it’ll get a mention. I might even throw in some transfer window thoughts when the blasted thing finally shuts and Jim White can crawl back into his hole. But until then, I’m going to enjoy the games. Fancy joining me?

Jul 142011
 

The summer football break is a bleak place at the best of times – invented stories, transfer ‘sagas’, and the endless sight of Harry Redknapp on Sky Sports News. But some things rise above these mild irritants and become truly infuriating, and while it takes a lot to rile me, I’ve been finding myself getting increasingly annoyed or disillusioned with some of the goings-on. I feel the need to vent.

1. Elitist fans.

One thing I’m seeing more and more, perhaps since the dawn of Twitter and the instant, ill thought out response, is the dismissive way some fans treat other fans, as if their opinion doesn’t count because of some arbitrary matter like where they reside, or whether they are a season ticket holder or not. Some of the most interesting and insightful bloggers and commenters live out in the States, and to see their opinions swept aside because ‘Yanks don’t understand soccer‘ is patronising in the extreme, and downright rude to boot. I frankly couldn’t give a monkey’s whether you live in London, USA, Venezuela or squat on the steps of the Emirates – as long as you’re not a dick about it, your Arsenal opinion is as valid as anyone else’s.

A similar fate befalls those who do not possess season tickets, or even more ridiculously, haven’t held one for long enough. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen ‘I’ve been a season ticket holder for fifteen years‘ as a statement intended to win an argument, which is once again ludicrous. For the record, I am not a season ticket holder. I haven’t progressed far enough up to the list to be offered one, but even if I had, I wouldn’t be able to take it – a young family makes that financially impossible. Does that make my opinion irrelevant?

2. Divisive fan labels

It seems we live in a black and white world. You cannot praise the work of Arsene Wenger (even with caveats) or defend him against what you believe to be unfair criticism without someone shouting ‘AKB‘ at you (‘Arsene Knows Best‘, for those who don’t know the lingo of the keyboard warriors). Similarly, you cannot critique any of his decisions without being labelled a ‘doomer‘, or worse, a Spurs fan. Both sides are so protective of their side of the coin that any statement not fitting their notion is slammed, dismissed, and sees you wrapped up in their label of choice, before being unceremoniously pigeonholed and ridiculed.

What I find equally annoying is that once people pick a side, they interpret every news item in such a way as to back up their own preconceived perception. And let’s face it – it is possible to spin pretty much any story in either a positive or negative light, as we’ve seen countless times in the written press.

But what happened to the good old fashioned notion of reading a quote from a manager or player, and deciding rationally what you think of it before coming down on one side of the fence?

3. Sky Sports News

I haven’t subjected myself to much of SSN’s tripe this summer, because their endless headlines of ‘X not about to join Y‘ get pretty tiresome after a while. Not only that, but every time I flick over to it, Harry bloody Redknapp is talking about how his players aren’t for sale, how he needs to sign a few more players to progress and top players cost money, so would Levy please put his hand in his pocket for the millionth time so he can spunk another £18m on the likes of David Bentley.

Today, however, I watched a full hour. I’m not sure what was the reason for this self-imposed penance, but when the hour was up I knew precisely why I’d avoided it so long. They seem to have hired a new male presenter (I don’t know his name, I was too busy growling at his inaneness), who specialises in reporting on the dullest, most tenuous stories imaginable, and pumping them up to the extreme. Honestly, the guy is a complete self-parody.

It seems to get on Sky Sports News, or indeed any of their channels, you have to have an extreme opinion which stops being funny after about thirty seconds when the viewer realises that you aren’t taking the piss. That, or you have to be Harry bloody Redknapp.

4. People turning on Cesc Fabregas

This one really gets my goat. Despite my article semi-defending Samir Nasri, I know that his behaviour doesn’t sit well with many, and can completely understand that (and to an extent, I agree). However, the vitriol directed at Cesc is baffling.

Here is the situation as I see it: Cesc would like to move to Barcelona. He grew up there, his family live there and it is his boyhood club. So far, so logical. However, despite immense pressure from the club he idolises, he flatly refuses to antagonise for a move, because he loves and respects Arsenal too much. He also accepts (as he did last summer), that the end result will be dictated by the clubs, not by him, and is staying out of negotiations precisely because anything he says will weaken Arsenal’s hand. Ultimately, if Barcelona refuse to stump up the cash, he will give his all to Arsenal, as he always has done, for another year.

Now, I can’t see anything wrong in that, I really can’t. I sometimes think we get blinded by the fact that we love and support one club, and one club only. Cesc has two in his heart, a natural situation for a travelling footballer, but an alien one to fans across the world. So Cesc’s priorities are:

a) Do not do anything that destroys his relationship with Arsenal fans, which has been built up over seven years.
b) Do not do anything that destroys his relationship with Barcelona, a club he grew up in and will eventually return to.

So, given that, and given the media propensity for twisting anything he says, what exactly could he do that would make the current situation any better? If he says he wants to leave, he massively weakens our hand – this is precisely the action Barcelona are hoping for. If he says he categorically wants to stay, he is lying, and we will all see through it, and if he tries to explain the above situation as ‘I would love to go to Barcelona, but if they do not meet Arsenal’s valuation I will happily stay and proudly continue as captain’, this will be reported purely as ‘Cesc wants to go to Barcelona‘. We all know it.

So for me, silence is the best policy. He has refused to bow to pressure from Spain, and has left the situation in the hands of his manager. And for this, he gets abuse. Explain that one to me. No seriously, explain it.

5. FC Barcelona

More than a club, my arse. If they didn’t play beautiful football, they would perhaps be the most reviled club on the planet. On the field, their stunning football outweighs the shameless play-acting in the eyes of many, but off it, their mockery of the simple laws of the game shows arrogance to the extreme. Relentless tapping up is just the tip of the iceberg, although in fairness, it could hardly be said to be working – if Xavi thinks his latest comments making the Cesc transfer more likely, then he needs a psychology lesson, specifically around the term ‘strengthening resolve‘.

6. Ligament tears

Whenever I hear of one of our players tearing a ligament, my first reaction is ‘you idiot, how long are we going to be without you?’. No more. Well, I’ll still have that reaction, but it will be preceded by a modicum of sympathy, because, as it turns out, ligament tears are painful.

I know this because I am recovering from one – I had knee surgery a little over a month ago and walking is still nigh on impossible. Which means I am sitting down a lot, which in turn means I’m forced to flick on to Sky Sports News after a while, and catch sight of Harry bloody Redknapp.

So the next time RVP knackers his leg, I’ll imagine him in pain, throwing the remote at the television, and I’ll feel a twinge of sympathy. Only then will I curse him for being absent.

7. Transfer window lingo

Rules of the transfer window:

  • All young players are starlets or wonderkids, and all must be labelled ‘the new X‘, where X is a fading star. The players need not have anything in common.
  • All transfer bids are ‘swoops’.
  • All transfer requests are ‘shocks’ that ‘stun’ clubs.
  • All players subject to bids are ‘wantaway’.
  • An ‘understanding’ allows a story to be categorically true, despite the lack of quotes, or indeed sensibility in the subject matter.
  • Players can have daily medicals from the moment you first ‘break the story’ until they day they officially sign. There is no need to backtrack, ever.

8. Overt cynicism

I can understand a bit of skepticism from time to time. When Wenger says that Almunia has an elbow injury that last three months, smirking as he says so, a certain level of doubt is to be expected. When Samir Nasri says it is all about club ambition, we can frown and respectfully disagree. But the dearth of summer stories means that too often the tidbits are analysed to a ridiculous degree. Take the photos published of the players’ first day back at training. You had people claiming Nasri was staying because he was smiling in a photo, but in another shot he looked more serious, which obviously meant that contract negotiations had stalled. Now, I don’t know about you, but my expressions have a habit of changing based on slightly less career-changing facts than those, but perhaps footballers are different, eh?

And then, people start doubting every news story. Arsenal’s official line is that Cesc picked up a muscular injury in his thigh on his first day back, hence him missing the current tour. Immediately, this was dismissed, not by a vocal minority, but by a substantial chunk of the fanbase. Obviously we are selling him and this is a cover story.

Er, hang on a moment. First day back after holiday, and a return to physical training. Yep, sounds to me like one of the likeliest days to pick up a muscular injury.

9. People purporting to speak for others

Let’s get this straight. This blog is my opinion only. I do not profess to speak for anyone else. It really irritates me when I read people saying that ‘all real fans think so-and-so‘, or ‘we all want X‘, an increasingly prevalent practice used by those who wish to artificially enhance the gravitas of what they are saying.

I speak for me, you speak for you, and never should anything else be true.

10. Online player abuse

When did we, as a race, drop all sense of decorum and start flinging the most personal of abuse at people who do not come close to deserving it? How exactly does the salary of a Premiership footballer mean that the masses feel entitled to act like complete morons to the players within the club they claim to support?

I am well aware than footballers have to put up with a certain level of ‘banter’ on the terraces, but that is different because there is a purpose behind it – it is designed to put them off their game. Most of the chants have a great deal of humour in them, which cannot be said when you switch to the online world. But pick any footballer on Twitter, and have a look at their ‘mentions’ section. It is truly a portal to hell, and frankly I’m amazed they last long at all. Not only is the abuse ridiculously harsh and personal, it usually comes from the club’s own fans.

Footballers have to be thick skinned. But they are also human, and deserve better. I’m not sure I’d want to stay at a club at which I was routinely lambasted by my own fans. And yet we wonder why they sometimes seem cagey when playing in front of a home crowd. Food for thought, hmm?

———-

As ever, feel free to comment below. I know I’ve touched on some fairly inflammatory subjects tonight and you may well disagree with some of my views, and that’s absolutely fine. As I said, I speak only for me. Now it’s your turn.

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 232010
 

Just a few short months ago, Barcelona could do no wrong. Relentless in La Liga, the press were fawning over Messi’s brilliance, the hatfuls of goals they scored every weekend, and how entertainment was winning out over pragmatism. That they were heated rivals with Real Madrid, whose stock had fallen with the resurrection of the Galacticos, only enhanced their reputation in the eyes of the neutral.

No more. Their quest to retain the Champions League was brutally exposed by Mourinho’s Inter, Busquets committed one of the worst acts of simulation in the same game to tarnish their puritan status, and even Messi’s stock fell after a disappointing World Cup. Then, of course, they fluttered their eyelashes in Cesc’s direction.

Fast forward to today, and most neutrals want Cesc to stay in England, if only to prove to Barcelona that their ugly and relentless tapping up can be resisted. The way they have systematically gone about destabilising him at Arsenal has been reckless to the point where even the previously admiring media have turned on them.

One thing is for certain – if our captain does return to Spain this summer there will be widespread calls for a tapping up investigation. In theory, it should be an open and shut case – Barcelona have shown zero regard for Arsenal, the player or his contract, and have conducted their business in public despite calls from Arsenal to cease.

Unfortunately, while their approach seems scattergun, it is actually more calculated, and as such a tapping up enquiry may not result in the punishment they clearly deserve. The footballing authorities have only acted in a few instances (notably, those given high coverage in the press), and then only when club officials have been the worst offenders.

While the saga is certainly getting enough media coverage to force a cursory look from the authorities, the issue becomes cloudier when you analyse who is saying what. There is no doubt that Joan Laporta was guilty in the extreme, but he is no longer tied to Barcelona and as such his words are likely to be ignored. Rosell, since being elected president, has been more circumspect – most of his comments have been along the lines of ‘we want him, but have to talk to Arsenal’, which is no different from the ‘I admire him, but he is unavailable’ angle you hear from all managers, week in week out.

Instead, the blatant disrespect has come from the Spanish media (or at least, those under Barca’s control) and particularly the players themselves. But here is the key point – the players are not club officials. Technically, they could be found guilty of tapping up on an individual basis, but Barcelona are not liable for their words. And individual charges are exceptionally unlikely.

All of this makes it very difficult for FIFA to justify charging Barcelona as a club. Of course, common sense should allow them to see the bigger picture, witness how the media and the players have become the club’s mouthpiece and bring them to rights. But common sense doesn’t sit well with FIFA – they removed every referee’s option of applying it long ago and the goal-line technology farce proved how little they have of their own.

The good news is that Barcelona are finally being exposed – after years of forcing the availability of targets and driving their price down with underhand tactics, the wider world has seen them for what they are – a disrespecting playground bully whose off-field antics are the antithesis of their on-field aesthetic.

But negative exposure will change nothing – their tactic works. If it fails this summer, it will be the exception made possible only by Cesc’s refusal to behave in the antagonistic way they desire. With punishment so unlikely to come their way, they have no reason to give in.