Category Archives: premiership

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.

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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.

Is The PL The Toughest League In The World?

They say the Premier League is the toughest domestic league in the world.

It may be hyperbole scripted by the TV Execs to justify exorbitant subscription fees, but there may be something in it.

Looking at the top European leagues, the usual suspects duke it out season after season for the top honours. In Italy, Juventus have won countless consecutive Scudettos. In Spain, if your name isn’t Barcelona or one of the Madrid’s, you aren’t welcome in the VIP section. Ditto for PSG, Ajax, PSV, Dortmund and Bayern in France, the Netherlands and Germany.

Of course, there are exceptions. FC Twente in the Netherlands, Monaco in Ligue Un, Leicester City and the odd guest appearance in the Champions League from a surprise runner means that there is indeed depth that on the surface appears to be non-existent.

But in the Premier League, the true fact is that every single one of the twenty teams that take part in the Premiership is capable of gunning down one another. Every weekend, the so-called ‘Big6’ go into their respective fixtures with a healthy degree of respect for their opposition. No matter if they are Premier League debutants or top-flight veterans, every club has the chance of ruining an accumulator.

The fact that it is now a ‘Big6’ rather than the already established ‘Top4’ shows that there is no room for error when fighting for the summit. It means that there are opportunities for those who invest wisely the ridiculous sums of money doled out for TV rights.

That brings us to a salient point for us Gooners.

Are we able to maintain the gap between us and the chasing pack?

 

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We have spent wisely in the summer and purchased players that will enable us to go the distance a little easier than last season, which saw us crawl over the finish line rather than kick on and claim our top four spot.

Then again, the peloton that is breathing down our necks have also strengthened significantly, and have owners more than willing to back their Managers to the hilt with regard to transfer activity.

Leicester City, West Ham, Wolves and Everton have been backed by their investors. They have been active and purchased players that wouldn’t look out of place in our squad, or even City’s and Liverpool’s talent pool.

The Foxes have made a strong start to this season, and the additions of Youri Tielemans, Caglar Soyuncu (from the previous season) and Dennis Praet mean that along with the likes of James Maddison and Jamie Vardy, boss Brendan Rodgers has all the pieces required to assemble a challenging squad.

West Ham have been very active, and spent heavily on Sebastian Haller up front and the highly-sought after Pablo Fornals in midfield. The Hammers now have a squad littered with top class names – enough to seriously trouble our hopes of re-entry to the Champions League.

Wolves, led by the tactical nous of Nuno Espirito Santo, went mightily close to piercing the Top 6 bubble. Up top they have the prolific Raul Jimenez who is ably assisted by Diego Jota. In midfield, Joao Moutinho rolls back the years and Connor Coady does the mucky stuff, and with Matt Doherty in defence providing a constant outlet, they have a spine that will continue to push bigger teams.

Everton have some serious wealth behind them. Their owners are not shy in their ambition, and that means Marco Silva has spent on some big name players. Moise Kean, Fabian Delph, Yerry Mina  (from the previous summer) and our Hale End product Alex Iwobi join an already dangerous squad, with Gylffi Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Adrien Gomes, Bernard, Michael Keane, Lucas Digne, Seamus Coleman and Theo Walcott showing that the Toffees are justifiably excited for this season.

While we have our eyes very much upwards, it means that points that were normally a lot easier to grab will now be a slog, and squad’s will have to rotate, but it will be difficult for manager’s who rotate heavily.

The same goes for the likes of Champions City, Liverpool and our top four rivals. No more points bagged as soon as the game is kicked off. These teams can not only hurt them, they can run for the majority of the season’s distance.

When the likes of Crystal Palace are beating United, promoted Sheffield United drawing with Chelsea and Burnley and Bournemouth doling out slip-ups on the regular, every game will need meticulous scrutiny before the game begins.

It means some trophies may have to be sacrificed, with our promising youth filling the void as our established players take a breather.

All of this makes for palpitations, and also is the perfect league to watch week in and week out.

Strike Bromance Crucial To Club Future

All good teams are built on building blocks.

Reliable, rock-hard slabs that you can build on top of. Partnerships that very rarely let you down, players that you can rely on to do their job.

Every good team has had them, and they allow you to worry about other matters, concentrate on the next area of concern.

After last season, it would appear that we have a scarcity of these building blocks in our squad right now. At one time or another last season, all areas of our team had moments that led to our downfall. That isn’t to say that our entire team were atrocious, but in terms of dependability. We couldn’t take many of them to the bank.

Aside from our strike force.

The bromance between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette flourished on the pitch amidst our turbulence, and their combined tally of 35 goals was the third best in the Premiership last season – only behind Liverpool’s Mane and Salah’s haul of 44 goals and City’s Aguero and Sterling’s 38.

That means that despite our finishing position of 5th, we had the third most dangerous attack. Just imagine where we would have been without them?

It also means that in the face of the constant adulation, tottenham’s pair of Kane and Son banged in six goals less than our pair.

So in the face of transfer speculation about our pair of hotshots, this stat highlights how desperately we need to keep hold of our duo.

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We are aiming to build on last season, which saw us fall agonisingly short of a top four spot – a top four spot that was in our grasp until we fumbled the keys in our hands and dropped them through the sewer grate instead of opening the door to the Champions League.

Our midfield is missing key parts, with only Torreira and Guendouzi being players we can see as mainstays for the coming campaigns.

Our defence is falling apart, with only Sokratis and Rob Holding as long-lasting, reliable parts, with perhaps Calum Chambers rising to the fore. Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal have been fantastic servants to the club but their age is against them, with Shkodran Mustafi showing that he is far from the answer we have been looking for.

We need a new left-back. We need a winger.

So in order to make these additions, the last thing we need to do is sell the players that are the standard we need, with the consistency we crave.

Of course, the fees involved in any transfer for both Lacazette and Aubameyang would be lucrative. Even in the face of some of our most recent transfer mistakes (letting Rambo go for free when Eden Hazard goes for more than £100m with one year left to go on his contract?) we could expect £50m plus for each of them.

It would swell our so-called warchest, it would give us the opportunity to reconstruct our defence, maybe even a decent prospect in midfield to help out Torreira and Guendouzi.

We would be going into next season far weaker than we are now though.

We would also be confirmed as a selling club. It would see us selling players at their peak again, a breeding ground for talent so the big fish can sweep them up.

Aubameyang and Lacazette must stay if we are to go one step further next season. After falling so agonisingly short of making last season a success – a top four spot and a Europa League win was a mere two wins away and would have been a categorical success – our prolific strikeforce is mandatory in order to go that half-step further.

Invest our money in our defence, defenders that can act on Emery’s instructions. A midfielder that can diligently track runners and convert defence to attack efficiently. A wideman with white paint on his boots that can whizz in a decent cross – just imagine our pair of strikers feeding from a player that has a decent delivery!

Our immediate future given our target of self-sufficiency hinges on Aubameyang and Lacazette sporting our fancy new kits next season, hopefully helped by some players that aim for their level of efficiency and optimisation.

 

Arsenal’s Home Comforts

We know a home crowd has a huge effect on players. We know it changes the course of decisions for referees – home teams are nearly twice as likely to get a big decision than the away team.

Is it truly the 12th man though?

It seems that way for Arsenal right now, and last season too for that matter.

The contrast between our home and away form is quite startling. Since December (this is written in the aftermath of our 1-0 loss to Everton at Goodison) we have won a solitary game away from The Emirates in the Premier League. That victory was at bottom of the table Huddersfield, and we have had five away wins since the start of 2018 – Cardiff, Newcastle, Fulham, Bournemouth and Huddersfield.

Add to that our lack of a clean sheet away from home – the ONLY team to not have one this season – and you have a severe case of travel sickness.

It would be a case of relegation if it weren’t for our impressive home form. Only Manchester City have more home points banked than us, and it has seen us stay in contention for the top four.

Is our home crowd that vociferous that we need it to buoy us? Even Lacazette has twice as many home goals than away. Does our team require the home crowd more than we think?

As good as we can be at home sometimes, our crowd at The Emirates is probably not the answer. So why do our teams come out and play like artists at The Emirates, and yet fingerpaint away from home?

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Losses against West Ham, Everton, Southampton and draws against Brighton, Tottenham and Manchester United have all been games where we have failed to show up, or failed to push home the final blow.

The Hammers, Gulls, Saints and Everton results were devoid of anything remotely Arsenal-esque, and all shared the same fact – Our star-striking duo of Aubameyang and Lacazette didn’t start simultaneously alongside Mesut Ozil. Against United and Tottenham, our attacking threat was enough, but we failed to put away our chances, and it cost us.

When all three start, our results have been staggering, without loss this season. Mesut Ozil took his time to adapt to the ways of Unai Emery but has recently been involved in the starting eleven with increasing frequency.

Ultimately, that is down to the Manager and his selection.

It appears as if Emery favours attack as the best approach when at home, with our star three playing more often at The Emirates. When it comes to away from home though, one of our two strikers is usually selected, with Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi and / or Ramsey behind them. Emery is going conservative, trying to keep things a little tighter and emphasize the focus on closing down spaces rather than all-out attack.

The thing is though, when we do go for it at home, no matter the calibre of opponent, we create so much that we invariably have enough chances to win the game. We may concede a few – although in 2019 we have conceded less than all but Manchester City – but we seem capable of outscoring the majority.

Our knockout phase wins in the Europa League highlight the disparity of our home and away form.

Away from home against BATE Borisov, we fell to a 1-0 loss – the first English team to lose in Belarus.

Bring them back to The Emirates, we take them apart easily 3-0.

Same with Rennes – 3-1 loss in France, 3-0 win at The Emirates.

Let’s be straight here – these two clubs shouldn’t be able to hold a candle to us home OR away, yet they defeated us and left us to rely on our home advantage.

It seems then, that our malaise is down to a different approach, a lack of confidence to replicate our sizzling home form, and quite simply not playing well.

For this to carry over from last season shows that we need to change something, although there have been plenty of changes since Emery took over. The very fact we are still in with a shout of the top four shows we have improved from Wenger’s last season.

We have to hope we find the answer soon, otherwise it could cost us dearly.

Any ideas?

 

Champions League Or Bust?

Can you lose your European pedigree?

 

Decades of dining at the top table of European competition, duking it out with the zenith of club football. It gives a club a credence, an allure. It allows a club to build a brand, something the business that football has become makes mandatory.

 

Constant presence at the top also makes them far more palatable to talent, talent that makes it far easier for clubs to extend their reservation at the most exclusive tournament.

 

Why would a player choose to join a club not taking part where the best of the best are represented? Players themselves are becoming brands, and while money talks – so clubs not currently plying their trade in Europe always have a slim chance of snaring a big name – the majority of the time when a star becomes available, the club that is battling in the Champions League is predominantly the more attractive option.

 

Arsenal have not been in the Champions League for two seasons now, and the fight to avoid a third season hangs on a knife-edge. The Europa League offers arguably the more enjoyable campaign, as the Gunners have a real chance of holding aloft the trophy come May. But the Champions League talks big, and players want to hear that famous anthem on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, rather than watching on TV.

 

Arsenal took part in the Champions League for twenty consecutive seasons. We were mainstays in the competition, and for a long time we belonged in the first pot of seeds. Our decline from contention in the Premier League also coincided with our fall from grace on the biggest stage, and the last eight or so seasons of taking part in the top competition in football was more about taking the cheque rather than having any serious notion of winning it.

 

Consecutive Last-16 exits cemented Arsenal’s label as an attractive option for ballers, but far from the cream of the crop. Embarrassing exits to Bayern Munich and Barcelona only served to underline us as 2nd class, watching on as the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, Chelsea, Atletico and Juve all fought it out for the grand prize.

 

Now, we are on the verge of re-joining the competition. Would most of us not want to remain in the Europa League? The excitement of reaching the business end of the tournament, knowing that each time our name pops out of the hat means we have a real chance of lifting the thing?

 

The Champions League though, is mandatory for progress. Like it or not, the beast that it has become means that the money generated from even a group stage exit means more than winning the entire Europa League trophy.

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This means little to us in the stands and watching at home. The problem is however, that the longer we continue to stand outside, pressed up to the window but not involved means we drift further from the pack.

 

It means finding rough diamonds like Matteo Guendouzi becomes imperative, as the real big names want what we can’t provide.

 

A third season outside the Champions League won’t harm us too badly. Our profit margins will remain healthy and we can concentrate on a real push for a better position in the Premier League. should we prioritise that over the Europa League? Perhaps, but our squad is deep and talented enough to be able to fight on more than one front. We can focus on both. We should put a real push for the top four at the front of every season, it is far from beyond us.

 

Arsene Wenger once said that the top four is almost like a trophy, and the majority of us scoffed. With football as cutthroat as it is right now, his words have never been truer.

 

Our recent FA Cup wins meant the world to us, but a failure to reach the Champions League in the near future would mean that trophies would become even more scarce.

Who Will Win The Top4 Race?

There was a time when making the top four for the hallowed Champions League spots was much maligned.

 

When Arsene Wenger performed miracles on a shoestring budget by squeezing his Gunners side into the top table of European football season after season, instead of being lauded he was ridiculed for valuing the financial merits of making the Champions League.

 

Now though, making it into the top tier of club football is a huge deal, and one that six teams not only desire – but in order to maintain their standing and financial clout – they also need.

 

This season looks to be the toughest to call in regards to who slips into the top quartet of the Premier League. Manchester City and Liverpool have gone from strength to strength as they propel each other in their title fight, but the other two spots?

 

That is a straight fight between four teams.

 

As you can see in the graph on this page on the Premier League odds, the current odds on which team will get into the top4 is an ever-changing landscape, and no team can be sure of where they will stand at the end of the campaign. Tottenham were shaping up to be a third player in the title battle only two games ago, and now they are looking nervously over their shoulder with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United breathing down their necks.

 

It is even closer between Chelsea, United and Arsenal, with one point separating the trio – should Chelsea win their game in hand.

 

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So who has the advantage in the run-in? Who is nearer to pocketing the 70-100m of readies for Champions League involvement?

 

Arsenal

 

Much will depend on their next two games. Fixtures against tottenham and United are huge games and neither can be confidently predicted..Once those are out of the way though, the key is the away games for the Gunners.

 

From the remaining eight games after the United match, Arsenal have four games on the road. With Unai Emery’s men far from convincing on their travels, they will need to take advantage of the fact that they will have played all of their games against their fellow top6 colleagues.

 

United

 

United have three fixtures left against their top6 rivals, and a key spell will be April 24-28, which will have United host City and Chelsea in the space of four days.

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made his team resurgent after the dour tenure of Jose Mourinho, and their climb up the table has been remarkable.

 

One thing to watch is their injuries, especially after three players were replaced in the first half in  their 0-0 draw with Liverpool recently.

 

If they can keep their big men fit, they will be there at the end. The likes of Pogba, Lindelof, Rashford and De Gea are vital to their cause.

 

Chelsea

 

March is crunch time for Chelsea. A London derby at the start of the month, then a trip to Anfield, a tough game against Burnley and then closing out the month with an away game against United.

 

Chelsea are also hugely reliant on Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante. Without those two and the Blues lack the proper world class to change games.

 

Maurizio Sarri has had a perplexing first season. On one hand, he has earned some big wins, and on the other hand, they have looked insipid at times, mocked by their own fans for their unimaginative substitutions. There have also been the odd blip – huge losses to Bournemouth and City made them look ordinary.

 

If Sarri can muster the better end of the blues performances, then they can keep pace with the pack.

 

So, to surmise, it is going to be ridiculously tight to call.

 

One thing is for sure, every match will be unmissable.

Many Rungs Left to Climb for Gunners

Published in the Gooner Fanzine

Our recent defeat to Manchester City was an expected, if disconsolate, result.

 

Many recent acquisitions and a change in direction drafted in by new boss Unai Emery has given us a new wave of optimism, but the defending Champions showed that there is still some way to go until we can dream of contesting a season at the top.

 

Unai Emery spoke after the game and said that it wasn’t the system that did it for us, it was the gulf in class between the two sides. While it is great to have such a candid manager speaking in truths, it still hit hard that Manchester City – and indeed a title charge – is still way beyond the team.

 

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In terms of the starting eleven’s that were named, there wasn’t a huge difference in skill. If there was a contrast, it was in defence. While City named Aymeric Laporte and Nicolas Otamendi, with John Stones on the bench, we had the error-strewn Shkodran Mustafi – who actually put in a good shift, and Laurent Koscielny, who is still approaching his best after his long layoff.

 

It may be pulling at straws to compare names on teamsheets, but according to Emery, that is what the difference is. There can be no doubt that if we were a little more switched on at the back then we could have cut out a goal or two – especially the second goal that saw Stephan Lichtsteiner gaping at the sky rather than tracking his man – but a firmer grasp on our new system could have proved even greater.

 

Watching the game back, the main difference between the two teams was movement.

 

When in possession, City always made sure there was at least one option for the man on the ball. Our pressing kicked in when the home team approached our final third, but our men were not able to cut off City’s runners.

 

Also, City’s pressing started incredibly far forward, putting pressure immediately on our defence and keeper, which in turn resulted in the ball finding its way to City in a hurried panic.

 

City also doesn’t have to rely on a 35 year old who is a shadow of his former self. There is no Lichtsteiner in City’s ranks, and the Swiss man looked well short of what he used to be at Juventus when duking it out with City. Far too often Sterling was goalside of our veteran defender, and an opening like that is suicide for our chances from the first whistle.

 

Unai Emery is still in the process of turning this team around. Adapting players who are used to a way of training and playing after so many years takes time, and the seeds are there. We have had intermittent games where our defence has pushed up, held the line efficiently and our midfield has strangled their opposite numbers.

 

It just doesn’t happen consistently enough.

 

City have had a few years of honing their tactics, and it means that more often than not they manage to manifest Guardiola’s ideas on the pitch. The small matter of a fair amount of transfer windows has helped a little too.

 

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Emery has had one full window and another where he was severely hamstrung by a non-existent budget. With time, we will have the personnel and the finely tuned tactics that will have been delivered by the Spaniard.

 

At this present moment though, City are a mark above us. They played in top gear sporadically and held us at arms length.

 

Time will tell, but City are the team to target.