Tag Archives: trophies

Emery and His Summer Plans

It is irrefutable that Unai Emery has helped us make progress this season.

It is also undeniable that he has made errors that have cost us.

The Spaniard is not infallible, and our suspect away form and some questionable decisions when it comes to rotation have been the difference when it comes to certain results this campaign.

It is very important that Emery isn’t hung, drawn and quartered by his mistakes, and while the jury may be out for some, his approach has certainly added more than it has subtracted.

How does Emery help us go one step further though? Next season should see us go into the season with a top 3 position firmly in our sights. With Manchester United still rebuilding and unsure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s long-term suitability, it should put us on a firmer footing than the Red Devils.

Then there are Chelsea and spurs.

The Blues will be suffering from a transfer ban so cannot strengthen. They have Christian Pulisic to come in and perhaps some of their loanees could come in to fill a gap, but with Eden Hazard’s head turned by Real Madrid and no avenue to replace such a talent, Chelsea could easily be weaker than this season. Then there is the small matter of Maurizio Sarri and if he will even be at Stamford Bridge next season.

Spurs will be thankful to keep hold of Mauricio Pochettino, but transfer funds will need to be freed up if they want to continue their upward curve. Despite all of the brass band sounding and the fawning from the media, they are further away from the title than ever and their trophy cabinet is still emptier than Chris Sutton’s IQ.

The stage is set for us to move up and re-establish ourselves amongst the elite, perhaps even put some pressure on the top2 – although the gap is a sizeable one.

It all hinges on what Emery does in the transfer market – well, he and his new Director of Football that will be coming in.

His first summer at Arsenal saw more success than failure when it came to additions. For every Stephane Lichtsteiner, we had a Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira and Bernd Leno. Sokratis too, has enjoyed a solid first season.

We need more though.

 

Xhaka and Iwobi

We have the large aperture created by Aaron Ramsey’s departure to fill. That requires an intelligent attacking midfielder who has a wide range of passing and is blessed with a deft touch for intricate link-up play.

That won’t be cheap.

Then there is the small matter of our defence and midfield.

Our club captain is in his latter years, as is Nacho Monreal. That is two integral parts of our first choice defence with a significantly lower chance of contributing the same amount of matches next season.

Yes, we do have Rob Holding returning, and with Calum Chambers coming back into the fray, we POTENTIALLY have the makings of a solid core. It is still untested though, and Emery will run the rule over them as a duo in pre-season.

If it doesn’t work, then that is another dip into the transfer coffers – an amount that according to hearsay, is not sufficient enough for two world-class additions.

In midfield, in Torreira and Guendouzi we have our near future looking decent, but two midfielders doesn’t make a midfield. We need alternative options to enable Emery’s famous switching of approach, we need able backups as the season wears fitness thin and inflates fatigue.

In that regard, we can see that Mohamed Elneny isn’t quite up to scratch, and Granit Xhaka has already made noises about seeking new pastures. Much will hinge on Champions League qualification on whether the Swiss star stays, but he isn’t the complete player we need.

So we could maybe need two central players to come in, one more established to push the first team and another prospect that can help our team in years to come.

Our attack is in decent health. If we had players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan hitting the heights their obvious talent allows them to, then we would be all set for next season. But the Armenian and Alex Iwobi now need to step up and make a difference far more frequently than they do currently if we are to push on next season. If they fail to do so, then Arsenal is a stage that isn’t best suited to them.

 

Furious Emery

 

The potential for quite a busy summer looms large on our horizon. One that involves deeper pockets than our short arms can reach, and some tough calls on players futures.

If we are to move up and get back into contention, Emery and his backroom team will have their phones on during their summer break. Excellence doesn’t rest.

Merci and Adieu Arsene

You are responsible for the brightest of lights and the darkest shadows.

When we were first introduced to you, we worried for the future. How could you uphold all that is precious about our club when you have no idea about what it is that makes us so special?

If we could go back in time and tell our past selves that we needn’t have worried – we wouldn’t. It was the worry, the uncertainty, that made your impact resonate so much.

We were treated to football from the gods, we got to witness first-hand how the game is meant to be played. We had the privilege to have in our ranks some of the greatest players in the world at the time.

We were also gifted memories that we would clasp onto when the rough times rolled in.

Yes, the environment changed and it called for a different approach, but you didn’t make it easier with your stubbornness. The good times made the dark seem less fearful, and it gave us all hope.

Hope that we would pull through and get back to what made our glory years so special.

It’s inevitable that every relationship hits a rocky patch, and mistakes started to grate on us a little more each time. As the past shrunk behind us, when we looked forward, we could see less on the horizon.

For every Bergkamp, there was a Bischoff. For every Campbell, there was a Stepanovs. For every Bernabeu win there was an 8-2 vs United. Were your methods outdated? Did your belligerent nature begin to cost us? It’s true to a degree, but it wasn’t just you that is responsible for the slide we’ve been on.

It’s been said by many, that your faith in your players and staff is absolute, and it inspires great things. It makes people want to jump through fire for you, to repay the backing by doing what they do best.

It has also been your greatest weakness. When you’ve been let down repeatedly, you never seem able to say goodbye, to cut the cord. So you keep getting burned. At times, it has left us screaming in the stands, at our TV’s. Players shirking their duties, staff failing to meet the standards they once met. Yet you never let them go.

You expected them to do what you would have done – but not everyone is a gentleman like you Arsene. Not everyone stays true to their word.

Goodbye and Thank You Arsene

Now your seat in the dugout is cold, and it will be filled with someone that isn’t you. We got what we wanted, we wanted change. Criticism can stop and we can take a step back and appreciate what you did for us.

You didn’t just bring us trophies and titans on the pitch.

You gave us bragging rights, you gave us memories, you gave us an identity of purveyors of the beautiful game.

You also held dear the values of the club. Even when pressure seemed too heavy and demanded a drastic change, you never forgot what makes Arsenal, Arsenal.

You were lashed by some of us because you were paid an astronomical wage, but you did everything in your power to justify that. Every minute was spent at London Colney. Dedication is one of your strongest suits.

We are a huge club now, with the opportunity to play at the highest level, thanks to you. We have high expectations, thanks to you. We have a barometer of comparison, thanks to you.

It is no surprise that players and staff have come forward since your announcement to depart, to speak highly of you. Of your managerial nous, but most importantly – what made you beloved by them. Ken Friar, Pat Rice, Pires, Henry, Wright. Former players on social media have all come forward to tell us about the times you helped them become what they are, or in their darkest days how you went above and beyond to make sure they knew they weren’t alone.

Opposition teams have chanted your name in appreciation. Commemorative photos and mementoes have been gifted. The reason is that even though results have slipped, they can see how you changed the footballing landscape, how you pushed the Premier League forward.

We are lower in the league than at any time in your Arsenal career, but it seems far less palatable because of what you gave us before.

You couldn’t let go, but now you’re gone, we know how that must have felt, because after so long together, we felt it too. The bottom line is that we both needed to move on. We’re stronger because of what we’ve done, and we can move on.

We will never forget though.

When we see you at a different club, we know that once you take off their unzippable jacket, you will go home and watch our latest match. The bond between us is unbreakable.

You can take Arsene out of The Arsenal, but you can’t take The Arsenal out of Arsene.

Merci Arsene, and adieu.

The Champions League – What Makes a Euro Giant?

When you think of the football clubs that would be the equivalent of a footballing superpower, there are certain clubs that spring to mind.

For good reason too. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich are the three that are top of the tree when musing upon which club has the most clout, the most illustrious history and crucially – the biggest haul of silverware.

This years European Cup has now separated the wheat from the proverbial chaff, and the rollcall for the knockout stages has the same familiar faces of previous years. The aforementioned trio of Euro behemoths will be taking part as they always do, but they won’t have everything their own way.

There are a host of clubs with liberal sprinklings of stars within their team that can hurt the conglomerate that is Real, Bayern and Barca. The odds for the potential winners of this years Cup is interesting reading, and shows that in terms of stature, the chasing pack are catching up.

What exactly sees a successful club transform into a giant? To start, the respective number of European trophies would be top of the list. Any club that can boast of European honours can show that they not only earned the right to play in Europe by beating their domestic rivals, but they also overcame the cream of the continent. So what club has the most European honours?

No surprise to see Real Madrid and Barcelona in the top 3 of the list, with 19 and 14 respectively, but Bayern Munich have amassed 10 and are 7th on the list. Above them are teams such as Ajax, AC Milan and Liverpool – teams who have failed to maintain a constant presence in Europe’s premier competition.

Do former glories count as much as the present? If so, then Liverpool would be able to claim some part of the dominion that Real, Barca and co currently hold. Ditto AC Milan, who in the 90’s – and were a pretty big deal in the noughties – alone held Europe within their tight grasp. 

These clubs though, have faltered on the domestic front. Liverpool especially have been unable to jump over the first hurdle to ensure their membership for the ‘Giant Club’ is not revoked. The Merseysiders, Milan and Manchester United more recently, have not been able to make a dent in their home countries league. Liverpool have not won a title since 1990, can they really claim to be part of the European heavyweight scene?

Some part of the equation is financial heft. Like it or not, Chelsea and Manchester City have muscled their way into the scene and now compete on a near equal footing to the Barca’s and Bayern’s of this collective. They regularly lift silverware on the domestic front and now have European delights firmly within their reticule. Do they now qualify as a giant even though their previous decades were far from glorious?

Other variables should warrant a mention too. A global fanbase generates interest around the world and more importantly, it ups the amount of income a club gets. If this is included, then Arsenal, United, Real and Barca can renew their membership cards to the Giant Club. 

The only clubs that can really tick the boxes on all of these comprising factors is the first three clubs I mentioned. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona have trophies in their past, present and more than likely, their future. They contend every year at the top, they have more than enough pulling power in terms of fiscal amount and they can look upon their trophy cabinet with a smile and an empty can of polish.

This season will be no different, as will the next. If a club truly wants to elevate their standing, they need a glittering history, a well stocked trophy cabinet, a revenue stream that allows the club to duke it out in the transfer market, and a regular presence in the Champions League.

Which club will make that leap this season? The Champions League is wide open, but rest assured if any team has genuine aspirations, then they will surely have to beat one of the big three. 

The Invincibles, The ’99 Treble and 2 Missed Penalties….

Many recent films have touched upon the hypothesis regarding choice and the huge ramifications it can have on not only a life – but all across the globe.

In dystopian epic The Matrix Reloaded, Keanu Reeves’s mono-syllabic character Neo summed it up perfectly when in his signature monotone delivery, he uttered, “the problem is choice.”

Choice changes every path we take. The choice you made to grab some cereal before rushing to work changes your whole day, from the train you take to the people you meet. Choice is a chaotic animal that lords above every facet of your life. 

In amongst the unruly though, certain phenomenon occur. These anomalies crop up in the form of parallels and correlations, and most of these fly past our vision with nary a batted eyelid. Perhaps this is because the minutiae of day to day routine isn’t enough to shake us from our reverie, but I think it is due to the occasion not being grand enough. If it were to happen on a scale so large that millions were affected, then we would all see it and gasp with wonder, no?

The place? Villa Park, April 1999, and Old Trafford in September of 2003. 

Both games featured the same teams – Arsenal and Manchester United. 

Both games saw red cards.

Both games hinged dramatically on a penalty.

Both penalties were taken by Dutchmen.

Both spot-kicks were missed. 

Both incidents occurred in the dying embers of the games.

In 1999, it was injury time in the FA Cup Semi-Final replay between the Gunners and United. The first leg saw both sides unable to break the deadlock, but the replay saw David Beckham crack the resolute Arsenal defence with a 25yrd curler that left the outstretched Seaman with no chance. Not to be undone, Dennis Bergkamp restored parity with a long range shot that nicked a deflection and saw its way past Schmeichel. Plenty of chances later, but both outfits were so evenly matched that it was always going to go the wire.

No one told Phill Neville though. Ray Parlour received the ball just outside the box and took on Neville, and as Parlour darted past him, a swinging leg took down the Romford Pele, to win a penalty that would surely see Arsenal into a second final in two years.

In 1999, Bergkamp was one of the finest players in the stratosphere, never mind the Premier League. As he stepped up to the spot, confidence was high that this would make the net bulge and give Wenger’s men the victory that both teams had fought so valiantly for.

Peter Schmeichel, bedecked in brilliant green, stood between Arsenal and progress. Little did he know though, that the save he was about to make would also be the foundation from which United would go on to achieve an unrivalled set of silverware.

Bergkamp hit it to Schmeichel’s left, and that was the direction that the Dane had guessed. Minutes later and Arsenal had been left with the bill as Ryan Giggs, chest rug and all, rewrote the match – and history.

To Old Trafford in September 2003. 

Arsenal had finished runners up cruelly the previous season, and the team had started the season convincingly. No matter how well they had been playing though, a visit to the home of United was always the toughest venue – and the game both sets of players looked forward to.

This game had chances as did the cup game in ’99, but there was no goals scored. Where there was a dearth of goals, there was ample aggro. United’s goal-getting frontman Ruud Van Nistelrooy was no stranger to histrionics, and his playacting and gamesmanship was irking the Gunners. 

It all came to the boil when Van Nistelrooy clambered all over Patrick Vieira for a header, and ended up rolling off of the Frenchmans shoulders, sending Vieira tumbling. No free-kick from the referee, but Vieira wanted to dish out his own brand of justice, and a petulant flick of the leg went in the direction of the Dutchman.

The leg was at least a metre away from touching him, but Van Nistelrooy’s reaction provoked the referee to send of Vieira. A tumultuous gathering of players venting aggression and a few minutes later, order resumed.

The game went on and in the last minutes of the match, a ball came into the box. Martin Keown was marking Diego Forlan tightly, and both men went down to the floor. The referee instantly blew for a penalty, and it was panto villain Van Nistelrooy who stepped up.

The tension was palpable, and the Dutchman must’ve felt it too, as he smacked the ball hard against the crossbar. Some say the woodwork still wobbles to this day…..

Take a second to think about what was at stake for a single kick of the ball. 

The Treble of ’99, and the Invincible season. 

Both would never have occurred if it was a different penalty taker, if the chosen men had instead aimed for a different area of the goal. What about if the referee had refused to point to the spot in each game?

From such little decisions, massive consequences happen. 

It beggars belief how many tangents can be visualised with every alternate choice, and if string theory is indeed true – then in each parallel universe we would have both Dutchmen celebrating, taking, not taking, and missing the penalties. That in turn leads to different winners of each trophy and the lustrous gold Premiership trophy never being made.

All because Dennis Bergkamp chose to kick his penalty to the right, and Van Nistelrooy high in the goal.

You see? 

The problem is choice……