Category Archives: football

Coronavirus To Wreak Long-Term Havoc?

The Covid-19 virus is sweeping across the globe. Being easily transferable, mass gatherings are being winked out as easily as a lamplight.

And the Premier League is no different.

As I write, our Head Coach has declared that he has the virus. Thus, anyone in direct contact with Arteta – the majority of the squad, the staff and those at Hale End – will also undergo self-isolation.

We are not the only club with affected players and coaching staff. Both Leicester and Chelsea have stated that the virus has reached their respective camps. As things stand, the bout of impending weekend fixtures look destined to be cancelled.

This is only the start though.

The NBA season, Pro14 Rugby season, F1 season-opening Grand Prix, golf, tennis and many more have all decided to either postpone the season or play behind closed doors.

It does give us some form of perspective for the Premier League, however. It shows us how precarious the scheduling is, how tightly packed our matches are and the slim margin for error.

If we cancel two or three match weekends, we also have to factor in the remaining FA Cup matches, the Champions League, the Europa League too. This will all have to be squeezed into a frame of time normally reserved for recuperation for players and international squads preparation for the upcoming Euro 2020 tournament – another event that looks decidedly dicey.

Playing games behind closed doors is an option no one wants to consider.

Emirates Stand

The possible domino effect could ripple outwards for quite some distance, affecting next season and beyond. At present, coaches and clubs already bemoan the sandwiching of games into miniscule timeframes. In order to clear this match clutter miasma up, this will get worse before it gets better.

From Euro2020 most likely being delayed for a month or until 2021, you then get the Premier League delaying next season. This in turn will affect all domestic and European trophies too, not to mention our European league brethren who are currently shut down until further notice.

There seems to be no alternative but to postpone these matches for a period of around 3-4 weeks. According to medical reports, the virus on these shores has still not reached its peak so a huge pool of 50-60,000 in one place is not exactly common sense.

This will get worse before it gets better and it is now time for the bureaucrats of the Premier League and the FA to start earning their corn. They should already have had crisis plans in place but they now need to ensure that damage is limited and our players are not forced to play beyond their means. That means a close watch on fixture burnout and fitness being compromised in aid of fulfilling TV schedules.

We can only watch on as we wait for the dust to settle, but right now we are watching the tornado whip its way toward us and we have no way of swerving it.

The Ceballos Experiment

It makes economical sense.

Not that being frugal has ever really applied to football transfers, but the increasing frequency of top clubs looking at a loan move instead of a full transfer is probably buoyed by this fact as well as one other.

It enables a club to see if a target is indeed the correct fit for the team. The many variables that can mean the difference between a seamless transition for a player and a failed experiment that could lead to a broken dressing room.

It comes down to much more than if a new signing can deliver the goods on the pitch. If they are a jarring influence in the dressing room, on the training pitch, then it can be almost as disastrous as a lack of performances on the turf.

They may struggle with authority figures, they could even end up simply hating the area of the UK that they live in.

All of these factors can be given the litmus test with a loan, and Dani Ceballos was beginning to look like a real boon for Arsenal.

The Spaniard arrived with quite the fanfare. Ceballos was hot property and not many foresaw the talented playmaker coming to struggling Arsenal. The fans loved it, despite Ceballos’ insistence that he didn’t want to extend his stay at the club beyond the season’s arrangement. He wanted Real Madrid and this trial would enable Ceballos to not only remind Head Coach Zinedine Zidane of his potential – but it could also allow him to force his way into Spain’s Euro reckoning.

What did he need to do the above? He needed games, regular and with a degree of success. If Ceballos could benefit his loan club, then he could look forward to a fruitful future at the club he adores – as well as a busy summer with his national side.

It all started so well too.

GettyImages-1173617178

Ceballos was a rare bright spot for Arsenal as we began the season in patchy form. His touch and instant ease with which he interacted with his teammates with the ball was a ray of optimism. So much so that when he was injured against Europa League opponents Vitoria, our fans lamented his absence.

And rightfully so to a degree. After Ceballos’ bright start, we were able to see how his presence could possibly benefit us – but he faded rapidly. Before his injury he had been consigned to the bench, a series of cameo’s was how Ceballos didn’t want to be operating.

We had all expected Ceballos to continue his form, but he tailed off, his adaptation to the Premiership not quite complete.

Upon his return to fitness, he has found his way to the first team blocked once again, as new boss Mikel Arteta has preferred other options other than his compatriot in his selections. We have seen nothing from Ceballos on the pitch, and it is with no surprise that his loan deal was discussed to be terminated early.

The very reason why Ceballos wanted to join Arsenal on loan was also the catalyst why he wanted to leave early. He needed gametime, and he was not getting anything at Arsenal.

It may have left our squad a man lighter than before, but why keep a player that presents no future with us?

We should instead use those minutes that would otherwise have gone to Ceballos, to develop a youngster who can push us forward in seasons to come. It makes us stronger, and Arsenal should come first. It means that if Ceballos continues to ride the bench, it’s positive for another player who represents the future of the club.

This of course isn’t transpiring – Arsenal and arteta want Ceballos to stay and fight for his place, but does he have the hunger to do so?

A loan move that terminates early may fall short of the ultimate aim – to acquire a road-tested player who can hit the ground running.

It does though, enable us to avoid another costly error that leaves us lumbered with a wantaway player who doesn’t deliver the goods. Such are our struggles, we need every player on the books to be facing the right way and playing well.

Team of the Decade Part Two

So, our team of the decade is well underway, with Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal comprising our backline.

Now onto our midfield and our attack. Despite our much-vaunted woes during this decade, and our slide away from constant contention, we have still been blessed with many talented players. So picking our best midfield and attack will be no easy task. If you disagree with any choices, let me know – this is very much down to opinion!

 

So, first up, our wingers.

Here’s the pool to choose from:

Theo Walcott

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Tomas Rosicky

Samir Nasri

Andriy Arshavin

Gervinho

Alex Iwobi

Reiss Nelson

Bukayo Saka

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Yossi Benayoun

 

The winners? Theo and Rosicky.

Rosicky

Theo

 

The reason this list isn’t longer? It comes down to the adaptation of the players in the squad. So many times we’ve had midfielders and strikers playing the wide roles, and with the use of 4-2-3-1, the conventional wideman has been replaced by wide forwards.

But the two above are more than deserving. If it weren’t for injury. Both would have an even higher standing amongst the fanbase.

Still, some will point to Walcott’s profligate finishing and lack of end product. Some will point to the meagre amount of games Rosicky played thanks to aforementioned injuries.

The stats don’t lie though. Theo amassed one game shy of 400 games for us, and scored 108 times, with 78 assists. That is nearly a goal involvement every two games – not bad for an inconsistent, one-dimensional player. He was much more than a speed merchant.

Then we come to Tomas. We all adored the little Czech, and for good reason. When free from injury, he would grace the pitch with beautiful touches and instinctive play that added to attacks effortlessly. He still made 248 appearances for the Gunners, scoring 29 times and making 22 assists, but it was the way his style embodied the way we aspired to play that we will remember.

 

Now for the engine room. It has been a bit ropey at times in the centre of the pitch, as the majority of the decade was taken up by a search for an effective defensive presence. Here’s what we have to choose from:

Santi Cazorla

Granit Xhaka

Aaron Ramsey

Jack Wilshere

Mohamed Elneny

Jo Willock

Lucas Torreira

Mesut Ozil

Mikel Arteta

Francis Coquelin

Lassana Diarra

Denilson

Alex Song

Mathieu Flamini

Cesc Fabregas

 

The judges choices? Santi and Aaron.

Cazorla and Ramsey

There were a few here who could have justified their place in the team of the decade. Jack Wilshere’s injuries left his impact far smaller than it should have been, but when fit, he was one of our best. Then there is the enigmatic Ozil, who can go from sublime to ectoplasmic in seconds.

But the chosen two were the most impactful. Ramsey scored 65 goals and registered 65 assists in his 371 games in our colours, and his specialty was scoring in big games. We’ll never forget his FA Cup final winners of 2014 and 2017, and while his midfield play was occasionally errant due to roving forward, he contributed far more than the others on the list – and is a missed player in our current ranks.

Santi is beloved for good reason. His first full season saw him pick up our player of the year award and wreak havoc in the Premier League. With Ozil’s introduction, he had to find another position but such is Santi’s talent, he repurposed himself as a box to box man, and he excelled. Truly two-footed and always played with a smile on his face, Cazorla made 180 appearances, scoring 29 times and making 45 assists.

 

Lastly, we have our strikers.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Eddie Nketiah

Alexandre Lacazette

Lucas Perez

Olivier Giroud

Lukas Podolski

Marouane Chamakh

Chuba Akpom

Yaya Sanogo

Danny Welbeck

 

This is a toughie. Aubameyang is in with a shout as his goal ratio since joining in 2018 is extraordinary. LAcazette’s goal involvement too is pretty impressive and was last season’s POTY. I’ve always had a soft spot for Welbeck and he always put in a shift whenever he played, but the two strikers for our team of the decade are;

Olivier Giroud and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Giroud

Just imagine these two as a pairing. Giroud excelled at incorporating others into our attack and Auba would thrive from the little flick-ons that Giroud specialised in.

Giroud may have sullied his name with his post-Europa League Final exploits, but let’s not forget what he did. 105 goals and 41 assists in 253 Arsenal games – that’s a ratio of a goal involvement every 1.73 games.  His highlight reel is a glorious one too, he scored so many beauties for us.

 

Auba

Auba is the man keeping us afloat right now. 43 goals in just 67 PL games, with 10 assists. That is perilously close to a goal involvement in EVERY game. 18 goals in 33 Europa League games. His goal threat cannot be underestimated and if it weren’t for Auba right now, we would be much further down the table. His instincts are sharp, his contributions are huge, Auba has to be in the team.

 

So, our team of the decade is:

 

Wojciech Szczesny

Bacary Sagna

Per Mertesacker

Laurent Koscielny

Nacho Monreal

Aaron Ramsey

Santi Cazorla

Tomas Rosicky

Theo Walcott

Olivier Giroud

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

 

Not bad.

What do you think? Drop me your shout in the comments below!

#UTA

Team of 2010-2020 Part One

How do you rate an entire decade’s worth of football?

Is it simply the silverware that adorns your shelves that judgment should adhere to?

Or do memorable victories, skilful feats on the pitch that stubbornly cling to your brain, or heroic near-misses also deserve to affect the needle that point toward success?

Now we stand in 2020, how do we look back on 2010-20?

The first overriding thought is transition and the weakening grip of Wenger.

Arsene led the club through some difficult times, but his last years’ were saved by the FA Cup wins that were our sole success during the decade. Poor purchases, an obstinacy when it came to tactics and taking into account our opposition and his own failings led to Arsenal eventually falling out of the habitual top four spot we had grown accustomed to.

That led to Unai Emery, Freddie Ljungberg and our current malaise.

It hasn’t all been a slow slide into mediocrity though.

Can we look back on the players that pulled on the jersey during these years and decide who best represented us during this time?

Let’s try.

So, who makes Up The Arsenal’s Team of the Decade?

First up is our goalkeeper.

The nominations are:

Lukasz Fabianski

David Ospina

Manuel Almunia

Wojciech Szczesny

Petr Cech

Bernd Leno

 

The winner of the gloves is Szczesny.

Szczesny

The Pole played more games during that time than the majority above, and made less high-profile errors. Does his celebrations during one of our NLD wins count toward this decision? You bet.

Of course, his antics off the field were silly at times and lacked professionalism, but Szczesny came through the ranks and was proud to wear the shirt. His talent was beyond question, and the now Juventus Number One is showing what we all knew we had on board, including Wenger.

Still, Leno is looking rather tidy at the moment, it is just his short length of time at the club that is holding him back. Cech was solid but unspectacular and both Ospina and Fabianski were both stuck with high-profile errors that led to a weakening in the structural integrity of the confidence in them.

So Szczesny takes the gloves.

 

What about right-back? We’ve certainly had a few:

Emmanuel Eboue

Bacary Sagna

Mathieu Debuchy

Hector Bellerin

Calum Chambers

The winner? Sagna, and by quite some distance.

Sagna

The reason why this list isn’t longer is because of Sagna. Signed in 2007, the Frenchman was the epitome of reliable and had the novelty value of actually being able to both attack AND defend. He was named in the PFA team of the season in 2010-11 and his consistency was the reason why we never really bought a right-back.

Bellerin has been wonderful for us, but is still maturing. We got the best years from Sagna and if his final ball was just a little better, he would have gone down as one of our Premier League greats. Still he very much deserves a mention. His last season saw him lift his one trophy with us, the FA Cup – and it was a fitting reward for his faithful service.

 

Now comes the centre-backs. This should be a laugh:

 

Laurent Koscielny

Per Mertesacker

Sokratis

Shkodran Mustafi

Rob Holding

Konstandinos Mavropanos

David Luiz

Johan Djourou

Thomas Vermaelen

The winners?

Per and Laurent.

BFG and Kos

They both played more than any other during the decade, they also formed a formidable partnership, with their winning ratio far and above the best since Toure and Campbell.

They both had their own personal highlights – Mertesackier’s swansong in the 2017 FA Cup will always be known as the ‘BFG Final’ and Koscielny becoming our talismanic defender will always be remembered – but together they formed the last strong defence we have seen.

True, Per had the turning circle speed of a glacier and Koscielny was impetuous at the best of times, but their strengths combined to create a wall that always gave us more security.

Well, far more than we currently have…

 

Next, and lastly for this chapter, is left-backs. Who do we have to choose from?

Gael Clichy

Kieran Gibbs

Nacho Monreal

Sead Kolasinac

Kieran Tierney

 

The winner? La Cabra himself.

Premier League - Cardiff City v Arsenal

Monreal truly endeared himself to the Gooner faithful with his high level of display, week in and week out. He filled in at centre-back on many occasions, showing his defensive nous, and Spanish caps well into his 30’s were indicative of his pedigree.

Stamina, expert timing on his many raids down the left flank, Monreal makes us wish that he was five years younger. Now at Real Sociedad, but we have much to thank him for.

An honourable mention to Gibbs too. The youngster pushed through the ranks, was part of the side that won our first cup in nine years with the 2014 FA Cup, and was the dedicated professional, even when on the bench for prolonged periods.

 

Next up is our midfield, but that will be for next week’s blog.

Disagree with my choices? Let me know why!

Keep them peeled for next week!

Until then, #UTA

 

Walking Off Pitch In Face Of Racism

You’re sat at your desk, your monitor filled with the inane characters that you are meant to make sense of.

It’s a usual day, and you’re attempting to ignore the clock that is taunting you with its sedentary progress toward 5pm.

While you’re responding to emails and setting up meetings, all the things that don’t actually matter, you see one of your colleagues stand up.

They then start performing an impression of a monkey, complete with arm actions and noises.

They then rope in others, and all of a sudden, you have a cacophony of primate sounds – and it is directed at you.

All because of your skin colour.

Would you stand for it?

England boss Gareth Southgate and his squad have faced opposition from the Bulgarian FA after Tammy Abraham and other members of the team declared they would walk off the pitch should they be subject to racist chanting.

England Racism walkout

 

The Bulgarian FA have argued that this is “unjust branding of local spectators as people inclined to discriminatory behaviour.”

This is anything but unjust.

The game in question was played partially behind closed doors, with 5,000 of 46,000 capacity to be left empty. Why? Because Bulgarian fans were found guilty of racist behaviour against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in June.

This isn’t just having a reputation, this is fresh conviction. Their fans are known to have a racist element and of course, our media pressed the English players into answers should they be inflicted with the same.

There has been a fresh, and needed, focus on racism in the game recently. Pushed by figureheads like Raheem Sterling, it has been welcome to hear global names talk on the subject.

Playing Bulgaria, much like when England played Montenegro recently, brings with it a chance for racism in the stands. Do the players have a duty to carry on in their roles even in the face of such hatred though?

Not a chance.

In any other workplace, this simply wouldn’t fly. What does a players earnings have to do with vilification and infringement on human rights?

If a man or woman is subject to racism, sexism etc, then the gloves are off.

For too long, the approach has not been stern enough – and that is why bodies such as ‘Kick It Out’ are still in place, existing long after they should be. Racism shouldn’t have a place in sport.

Sport has always been a leveller for all classes, and man, woman and child should be able to enjoy the action without fear of such hate.

Should the Bulgarian fans rain down abuse at any game, I for one look forward to their reaction and the attention it brings. Without this, then racism will always be a part of the game we adore.

The very fact we are going into a professional football match with an inkling of this to be expected, brings shame to the game’s governing bodies. Every week we hear new stories, especially in Italy, of players being subjected to chants based solely on their skin colour.

This must stop sooner rather than later. The very fact it exists shows that the preventative measures in place right now are simply not working.

So, walking off to end a game prematurely might just be the moment the game stands up and finally wakes up.

 

Overseas Fixtures Are Stark Warning For Future Of Football

A move from La Liga’s men that matter on the board may not have grabbed the headlines, but it is set to shake football to its core.

A single match between Atletico Madrid and Villareal is all arranged to play this Spanish top-flight fixture at the brand new home of David Beckham-owned Miami Internazionale.

La Liga has requested the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) for permission to hold this December’s fixture between the above sides at the Hard Rock Stadium, currently the home of NFL side, the Miami Dolphins.

Both clubs have already agreed that this is a good idea and have signed on the dotted line, which brings the death of the game as an everyman sport, that one step closer.

Conventional, regular, everyday, diehard fans will now miss a game at their home stadium and instead be forced to watch the game at home. This is how the majority of us consume matches, but while it may be a solitary match, this is how the end begins.

No doubt the move to play this is lucrative in two ways.

Firstly, there will surely be bonuses for the sides for agreeing to play the game overseas.

Secondly, the move will strengthen US fanbases and also recruit new members – increasing their global brand.

The game will be lucrative, but with this in the offing, the NFL playing regularly over this side of the pond and more sports investigating methods on capitalising on the popularity of their respective sports – there will be other projects created to catch as much of the spewing cash as possible.

Clubs are now businesses, and the move to play abroad stinks of a business meeting with board members discussing how to increase revenue – paying no heed to the lifeblood of the club.

The fans.

Football without fans

Can we imagine if Arsenal eventually decided that they will play a fixture or three in a neutral venue in order to sup at the teat of the money-men?

The fallout would be spectacular, with social media awash with critique and vitriol.

This is not to decry the fact that as clubs grow and are a brand, the fanbase will be globally represented.

Indeed, Arsenal are the 6th-9th best represented club on social media. This screams of Gooners in all corners of the world.

Laying the groundwork has been each and every clubs decision to go on pre-season tours that are gruelling and serve no purpose in what a pre-season is meant to be – preparation for the coming season. Fitness and conditioning. Regaining as much match sharpness as possible.

While useful, the majority of games are against sides that have been plucked from obscurity and are as likely to fight each other for a shirt swap as they are putting in a shift and making life difficult for their opposition.

These tours maintain the affinity these fans have with the club, despite the miles of distance. They purchase merch, they watch games on streams with kickoff times that are quite frankly ridiculous. These Gooners are perhaps even more dedicated than a lot of us match-going fans or those of us who pay a kings ransom for a football TV subscription or three.

This move from La Liga and the clubs to play abroad, bodes terribly for the future of well-packed stadiums. It will ruin the already weak link between fan and club for a lot of us.

It is critical that club’s tap into markets and optimise their actions so every cent goes into the coffers. Without these shrewd business decisions, then many clubs would simply go under.

Fans around the world get the chance to see their team play live. This is a good thing, but it is what will lead on from this groundbreaking move that concerns us. At the moment it is one match but when these clubs and others see the packed stadium? When they do their maths, they will see that why not do this twice a season? Perhaps a cup game thrown in?

The RFEF have already rejected a move to play an earlier La Liga match this season, between Barcelona and Girona. This was set to kick off in January. This latest move shows that football is a juggernaut that one refusal will be unable to knock them off their desired route.

A route that takes football into the corporate world for good.

The Ozil / Emery Dilemma

How far does a manager go to instill his values and rules upon his squad?

The parameters that the man at the helm puts in place will ultimately define the team, but what happens if one stray sheep doesn’t conform, and strays from the herd?

In an effort to stymie attempts from other players to follow suit,  does the manager lay down the law in the form of punishment, to show that the rules must be followed?

Unai Emery is in between a rock and a hard place. It has become apparent through comments made by the Spaniard that Mesut Ozil has not met the desired standard in the training regimen that has been set.

The result?

The German has been omitted from the entire squad for around two months of the season.

Even if you are not a fan, it is plain to see that our fortunes on the pitch in terms of style, have been severely hampered by the lack of a playmaker.

Chances have dried up, the pace of the ball being pinged around? Pedestrian. Our star strikers have been feeding off of scraps or creating openings themselves through their excellent set of skills.

The moment that Ozil was reinstated to the line-up was our Carabao Cup exit to Liverpool – and we scored five goals.

Yes, Liverpool were a weakened side, but the form we were in during that spell would have meant that if Ozil wasn’t in the eleven, we would surely have struggled to reach that amount of goals.

Our number ten kept the ball moving, stretching play, popping up in pockets of space and sprinkling in moments of genius, like his no-look backheel from the byline to the only player who could have received the ball.

This isn’t meant to indicate that Emery has made the wrong choice though. The words in this article are pointing towards a choice that Emery couldn’t possibly hope to pick the correct one – because there isn’t a right choice.

Ozil and Emery

Include Mesut Ozil in the side – and player power has won.

Leave him out of the side, and at the merest hint of a struggle, critics will point to the megastar left out of the side.

Emery had a power struggle in his time as PSG manager, as Neymar has a little more sway than a player normally would. The Brazilian is seen as indispensable to the eleven – or was – and there was only going to be one winner.

Now, we have arguably our most talented player flitting in and out of the side, and posting cryptic images on his Instagram in an apparent act of defiance. It leaves the unity of the squad frayed – and our performances compromised.

Mesut Ozil will obviously impact our team on the pitch. His end product went missing last year but in terms of keeping us on the front foot and always playing the right pass, there is no one better.

Star players shouldn’t have things their own way though. If we put them on a higher pedestal, it means they will define the rules, and the values of the club will be broken as a result.

No one player is greater than the team. We have had far greater players in our midst than Ozil and they have never rocked the boat – even if they did, the rock-solid rules of the club would not show a crack.

The moment this changes, then Arsenal FC as we know it, and have known it since its birth – will be completely undermined.

The solution to the Ozil – Emery predicament?

I’ve no idea – I don’t get paid millions to figure it out!