Category Archives: football

30 Year Anniversary – Class of 91

Almost Invincible.

Thirty years ago, Arsenal, George Graham and his multi-talented but miniscule squad began a campaign that should be ranked amongst our finest achievements.

The end result was the First Division Championship – but the sheer scale and number of obstacles put in the path of this ‘Class of 91’ adds a deeper lustre to this particular achievement.

As it’s the 30th anniversary of this amazing side, my publisher and I thought it would be good to re-release the book – with some extra content and some new content and info from members of the team themselves – to commemorate it.

You can order this Special Anniversary Edition here.

True, football was vastly different to the sport as we know it today. From the contrasting levels of physicality within matches to fitness regimens, diets and everything in between, football back in 1990 presented different challenges to nowadays.

It doesn’t lessen what the Class of 91 managed though.

There were still 38 opportunities for failure – and for Arsenal to avoid this 37 times out of that 38 is on a level with The Invincibles team.

Does that sole loss really create a gulf between the two incarnations of Arsenal? Is the fact that the Class of 91 succumbed to a ridiculously unlucky loss a telltale sign that Wenger’s team of 2004 was markedly better? Because the rest of the numbers points to Graham’s men as the superior team.

More goals scored, less conceded. A far smaller squad to navigate the season with. These are big indicators regarding the merits of that side that came so close to achieving the immortality that The Invincibles now enjoy.

Thirty years is a long time, but it isn’t the length of time that has dimmed the spotlight that should always be focused on this side. It is that one little ‘l’ that stops the Class of 91 being talked about in the same vein as The Invincibles.

That loss was inflicted on a mire of a pitch, with our skipper incarcerated at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. It was given to us with a shockingly brutal tackle on Steve Bould, which then forced George Graham to call upon a fresh-faced David Hillier (a midfielder) to act as a band-aid in the centre of defence in the absence of the injured Bould. This loss was thrust upon Arsenal by an offside goal and a flood of fixtures beforehand that left this threadbare squad exhausted.

This side overcame a points deduction too, after the infamous Battle of Old Trafford.

It is tough to find another championship-winning side that has had to overcome more – and was victorious in such a comprehensive manner. You could even argue that the competition in 1990-91 was far more competitive than in 2003-04, when there were only two other contenders. Thirty years ago, Liverpool were the all-conquering champions and had dominated the last twenty years or so. The First Division also had an exciting Crystal Palace side with a forward line to send fear into any defence. Manchester United were assembling something that resembled a challenge and even Tottenham had true class in their side thanks to Gazza and Gary Lineker.

There were more thrills and spills on the way of course, but I don’t want to spoil the book for you.

So, Almost Invincible – the 30th Anniversary of the Class of 91 – is out now. New cover, new content – but the story will still tell you all about this amazing journey Arsenal had that year and how they overcame insurmountable odds to earn the title – and what should be a permanent place in footballing history.

http://bit.ly/ArsenalClassOf91

The Walcott Consensus

We’ve been blessed with strikers.

The best of the best belong not only in our Hall of Fame, but amongst the finest o have kicked a ball on these shores.

Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Ian Wright. Three household names, each one conjuring up instant images for us all of the heroics they entranced us with on the pitch.

It doesn’t stop there though.

Alan Smith, Robin Van Persie – they both performed above and beyond in our colours. While the Dutchman may have sullied his reputation with his departure and the term surrounding it, his numbers and performances were exactly what we have come to expect from a player pulling on an Arsenal jersey. He pulled average players up a few notches, he was the man that the team revolved around in his last two seasons.

Arsenal have others too, that on paper, certainly warrant respect and gratitude for what they achieved during their stint. Short or extended, they banged in the goals while they were with us. Eduardo, Olivier Giroud, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they have held the line for us and left us with memories of some spectacular moments.

It is obvious that some will split the fanbase. Some will have the stock of a player higher than others.

And that is very much the case for Theo Walcott.

The speedy wideman will result in some very contrasting opinions from whomever you ask.

This article is here to say though, that he undeniably deserves to be amongst the best in The Emirates era.

Skill-wise, he won’t quite register amongst the heavy hitters.

But let’s look at the facts – and let’s take his name out of the equation and look at the numbers ina  transparent way. Let’s look at the stats with a mindset of a scout, or an unknowing fan.

Or perhaps even better, let’s say this is a pub quiz – and here are the questions:

What Arsenal player has the sixth most goals for the club in the Premier League?

What Arsenal player has the 7th most assists for the club in the Premier League?

What Arsenal player averaged a goal or assist every two games?

What Arsenal player has the eighth most appearances for the club in the Premier League?

Walcott scores

These numbers scream of a player who made an impact. Who made a difference while they played for us.

We all know that Walcott at times infuriated us. We know that there was a time when the player insisted that they should play in a different position, despite his coach knowing that a wide forward position would get the most from him.

Despite all that though, for us he gave his all and was the consummate professional in the eleven years he played in the red and white.

Walcott also had a handy knack of scoring in the big games – a mark of a player who belongs in amongst the best.

His first goal for the club? A cup final (the League Cup final of 2007).

He scored in an FA Cup Final, Semi-Finals, he petrified Barcelona and scored against the Catalan giants. He scored against Liverpool, Man Utd, a hatful against Chelsea – and we can all remember his contributions against the enemy too.

When we needed him, for the majority of his time, he came up with the goods.

Goals, assists, showing up in big games, surely he deserves a little more recognition than he currently gets?

I’m not here to say he was one of the best in recent memory, because he wasn’t.

But was he better than his reputation?

I hope this might go a little way in changing at least one person’s opinion.

Waxing Lyrical About Wrighty

Can words do justice?

When a search for fitting superlatives leaves you exhausted, does that mean that a tribute would be a bad idea?

In terms of an Arsenal figurative Hall of Fame, any who deservedly roam this imaginary building – bedecked with marble of course – can transform a blogger into a gibbering wreck. How on earth can you surmise a player’s career when it affected so many people’s lives in a positive way?

Any attempt would be foolish – but isn’t it important to remind ourselves (even if it doesn’t do them justice) how good they really were?

Some names instantly conjure up memories. Such was their impact, a mere mention of their moniker and fans begin to wax lyrical about a specific moment or goal.

Ian Wright  is one of those players.

So good we named him thrice, Wrighty joined Arsenal after forming a destructive partnership with Mark Bright at Crystal Palace. The Eagles were not expected to pull up any trees, but their attacking might – aided by Geoff Thomas in midfield – ripped up the rulebook and made clubs take notice.

Luckily enough, Arsenal was to be Wrighty’s destination – and he started how he finished as a Gunner.

With a goal.

The occasion was pretty low-profile; a 2nd round Rumbelows Cup game against Leicester City. Wrighty wasn’t even expected to start the game, but Alan Smith’s ankle didn’t pass a fitness test. Our new striker had only signed that very week and he was instantly thrust into the eleven.

No pressure then. Well, it never showed on our star striker anyway. He grabbed the goal that gave us the initiative for the second leg and Graham cooed about his latest acquisition in the papers. The Scot mentioned Wrighty’s pace and his ability to make something from nothing. These talents were always on display in our red and white, and they made him a nightmare to defend against.

Wrighty has spoke about his energy levels as a youth and how they never really dipped as he got older. It meant that not only was he a delight to interview – as well as magnificently candid – but it required opposing defenders to maintain their concentration for the whole of the ninety minutes.

One slip, one lackadaisical jog back to hold the line?

Wrighty will get you.

His pace has been mentioned, but the reason that Wrighty was able to ensure his name amongst the pantheon of greats not only at Arsenal, but of the Premier League, was because his talents were the perfect storm.

His energy levels, his pace. They meant that defenders had to keep an eye on him constantly. But his positioning was chief among reasons why he was always in place to capitalise on a sublime pass or a fault by an opposing man.

Once he got these opportunities though, he still had to finish.

Wrighty has spoken about his inherent ability to put one in the onion bag. I distinctly remember a comment about his finishing, where he declared that the secret was to shoot when the keeper isn’t expecting it. He regularly fired a shot towards goal far earlier than convention would dictate. Most would carry nearer to the goal, but Wrighty’s belief in his talents meant he would try his luck quickly.

It’s fair to say it worked.

He was much more than a predator though. His finishing deserves its place among the best, but in his own personal highlight reel we can see that he is no one-trick pony. If variety is the spice of life, then Wrighty’s collection of goals is like Scotch Bonnet chili.

Chips? He had more than a Glaswegian street on a Saturday night. Outside of the box? So many efforts filled with venom ripped into the net from distance. Then there were the little indicators that genius was at work. The improvisations, the flicks that left a defender looking around for the ball and the player.

wright_record_0
Image credit – Arsenal FC

 

Wrighty’s career is impossible to really visualise into words. His relationship with Gooners is infatuation on both sides and if the next statue outside The Emirates was of Wrighty, arms aloft with his trademark grin, would anyone object?

Not a chance. My words might not do him justice, but his legacy will live on through us and the club.

 

Thank you Wrighty.

Arshavin – Wasted Genius Who Made Memories

Players define eras.

Trophies make memories of course, but a player normally surmises that memory.

Sunderland in 79.

Champagne Charlie in 87.

Mickey in 89.

Smith in 94.

Bergkamp in 98, Freddie in 02, Thierry in 04. Santi when we lifted the cup in 2014. Alexis in 2015. Rambo in 2017.

It is a player who acts as anchor in your mind, ensuring that special memory doesn’t get cut adrift in amongst the plethora in your banks.

When you think of The Emirates, of course it doesn’t hold as many fond memories as Highbury, but we have had some goosebump-inducing goals and games in the 14 years we have called it home.

We may often bemoan the lack of atmosphere in the ground, but those who go often will also attest to the fact that we also create a cacophony when we want to. It often just needs a spark, something to get us off our seat – and then the wildfire of noise erupts and engulfs the stands.

Remember our 5-2 wins over the enemy? Two consecutive triumphs that served as timely reminders to our neghbours of their rightful place under the heel of our boot?

Then there was Danny Welbeck’s emotional return from injury – a late, late winner over Champions-elect Leicester City. The England striker’s 93rd minute header earned victory over the previously indomitable Foxes, and the dramatic nature of the goal coupled with the fondness for the now fit-again Welbeck created a noise that has rarely been matched since.

But when it comes to halcyon moments, can anything touch Andrei Arshavin Vs that Barcelona team?

The Russian, free from the laziness that would blight his Gunners career. His confidence to nonchalantly sidefoot home a first time finish that would vanquish a Barca team that would go on to win the competition. A Barca team that would only lose once in the entire competition – this very game?

We think of that game, we think of Andrei, we think of the commentator scream his name as he finishes the Catalan’s with aplomb.

He did a fair amount more in his time in our red and white of course. His goal vs Blackburn was pretty special – and then there was his four goal haul against Liverpool in an unhinged match at Anfield.

Arshavin

Tongue out, just enjoying the moment as he single-handedly tore Liverpool apart. Holding four fingers aloft when he smashed in his fourth goal.

Arshavin joined on the back of a virtuoso Euro’s for his country. We saw him twist defenders apart, lead from the front and give an industrial Russia divine inspiration. It led to us forking our a decent sum and he initially showed what he was capable of.

His was a career of peaks and troughs. He fizzled out nearly as quickly as he soared into our hearts, unable to wrestle his way back into the first team and gaining weight, he left Arsenal and seemingly never recaptured the magic that laced his boots when he was with us and in the first team.

Arshavin definitely didn’t make the most of what he could do. The Russian’s talent had no ceiling, yet we only saw it hit the heights in probably five or six games.

Yet it was so brilliant, so bright, that it seared its impression into our memories.

We remember Arshavin well, even if he didn’t meet the expectations that we had for him.

That shows what a player he was.

We can be thankful he played for us though, as he created some of our best moments in recent years.

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.