Tag Archives: wenger

Emery, Wenger and the Blame Game

We all knew this would be a work in progress.

After such a long time at the helm, every fibre of the club would have been tailored for Arsene Wenger, so when his inevitable departure actually materialised, the new incumbent was always going to need a period of acclimatisation.

Patience is pretty thin on the ground when it comes to supporting a club these days though, and with our club making errors on and off the pitch, the long road back to contending for not only the Champions League spots but also title contention has never seemed so arduous.

 

Firstly, we have an owner who has forgotten where his pockets are. Stan Kroenke has reportedly forked out nearly two billion dollars on his LA Rams franchise in the ten years he has been involved with Arsenal. In that same period he has invested precisely nothing into our club.

 

This has come to a head during this Winter transfer window, where Unai Emery confirmed that he would be shopping in the Bargain Bin of the window, scouring the shelves for loan deals only. This is because of a combination of the new wage bill rules that came into effect in 2017, meaning that the bill cannot rise above a certain rate, and thanks to our spending in the previous two years, we may be skirting close to that limit.

 

The other reason is because we have an owner that could pump what would be the equivalent of chump change into our coffers to enable Emery to chase his vision.

 

There is a certain school of thought that this season could match last season’s mediocre league finishing position because of the mess left by both Wenger and Gazidis.

 

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While Wenger can be blamed for his slipping standards, the squad that was left was far from terrible. The one area that needed revitalising was in defence, but that could have been said for the last ten years.

 

Gazidis though? The fact that players have been sold for far less than their worth, biting hard into our available wealth and therefore, our ability to reinvest into where it is so desperately needed? Contracts left to dwindle down so players can leave for free?

 

Yeah, Gazidis has a big part to play.

 

The initial optimism surrounding Emery dissipated for a while, but positive results against United and our doggedness in pursuing a top4 place has shown that the Spaniard is maintaining us on the right path,

 

Emery is not blameless and should never be treated as such when the time for critique is right. He has made some strange decisions at times, his handling of the Ozil problem could yet reap more negativity, and his insistence on imprinting his tactics on the side was always going to bring about teething problems.

 

For there to be doubt though, at the halfway stage of his first season? That’s on our fans.

 

Like the truth or not, but our squad is pretty much achieving on par when compared to the strength of our rivals. We may have a world class attack – Laca, Auba and Ozil are genuinely upper crust and are giving us the delusions of grandeur we sometimes suffer from.

 

Our midfield though? Torreira aside, we have a mixture of promise and inconsistent brilliance. We hit heights, but plummet just as deep at times. For every wonderfully dominant display like against tottenham and Leicester, we have a complete disappointment, a la Liverpool, West Ham and Brighton.

 

We are also too reliant on the fairweather Ozil for creation. Without the German, playing below par or otherwise, we have nothing else that comes close. Iwobi is a cause for optimism, despite what a large portion of fans think, but he is far from the finished article. We also have Mkhitaryan, who has only started to hit top form since his arrival.

 

Emery arrived with a club desperately needing a spring clean. The backroom staff is still being assembled – we recently made a position of Loan Manager, and about time – and with a squad jaded from methods that needed adapting.

 

These things take time.

 

In the meantime, we have to endure the turbulence, and resist from finger pointing while we grow. And we are growing. We are adapting to newer tactics, we are aiming for the top, but this trajectory is not the steepest incline, and it’ll take us a while.

 

What is mandatory is improvement. We can wholly expect a better season than last. Then next year? We should be aiming for top4. Season after that? Title contention once again.

 

Emery isn’t infallible, but he is what we need right now.

 

Keep the faith.

 

The Anti-Arsenal Agenda

The media agenda has never been clearer.

We should have seen it before, cried out at the injustice of the journalists and experts who have continuously hitched a ride on the Arsenal train to boost their flagging numbers.

Let us look at recent attempts to discolour the truth.

Never happier than during our trophy drought – repeated focus on our nine years without silverware, despite their darlings Liverpool being without a trophy since 2012, and tottenham bereft of anything to put inside their dusty cabinet since 2008 – the League Cup – writers held up our barren run as something that was not acceptable.

When we did hold aloft the FA Cup in 2014 to end the terrible run, newspapers, radio hosts et al then switched their gaze upon our lack of a Premier League since 2004. Like the FA Cup was an insignificant piece of history, as if it didn’t register in the annals of footballing history. This switch even though Liverpool and tottenham have NEVER won a Premier League trophy.

When Manchester United won the FA Cup in 2016, it was lauded as a significant step in the recovery of the Red Devils. Yet we had won it two years on the spin before United achieved their win at Wembley.

The Wenger era was faltering, there could be no doubt, but we had won silverware. It mattered little though, as our failings rather than our success that fed the media machine. When we did stumble? Manna from heaven for the journalists.

When we eventually fell out of the Champions League reckoning? It was only  a matter of time. Every year, every publication, every show, they all predicted the final positions of each coming season. For five years prior to us finishing fifth in 2016, the lions share of experts would predict that we would finish well out of the top4. When it did happen many years later, it wasn’t seen as an epic fail or egg on the face of those that are supposed to know – it was used as vindication.

Of course Arsenal finished outside of the top4 – look, we’ve been saying it for years!!!

Now we have a new man at the helm. After more than two decades at Arsenal, Wenger had left the club and we had Unai Emery who was tasked with returning the Gunners to the top table of English and European football. Change after such a long time is difficult, and the level-headed ones amongst us recognised this and were optimistic, yet guarded. It would take time to instill Emery’s values, tactics and framework. The Spaniard’s processes would differ from Wenger’s inevitably, and a period of adjustment would be needed.

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After the first two games of the season we were pointless, and the stories surrounding us all were loving every minute. Emery stuck gamely to his principles though, and even though we still have plenty to work on, Emery oversaw a fantastic run that helped us up the table and progress in the Europa League.

The blemish-free run was in the face of a squad that were adapting to new measures and ways that would hamper any attempt to hit top gear – and yet we were winning.

The focus in the news?

Our shaky defence. The amount of chances we were presenting. All genuine causes for concern but the actual main thread?

All the while, Liverpool and tottenham struggled in the Champions League.

How were their efforts described?

Unlucky. Brave. Heroic. Full of effort.

It shows that no matter what we do, unless Emery masterminds a blitz toward the title,the external opinions surrounding our club from outsiders will always be tainted. It also highlights that both the Reds and spurs enjoy a certain leeway from writers and presenters who are meant to be delivering honest assessments.

What has overtaken real news is attention. Clicks and hits.

What gets clicks and hits? Disgruntled Arsenal fans.

During my research for my book about the title-winning team of 1990/91, I found that George Graham commented on this even back then, saying that the anti-Arsenal bias existed even in the days of pre-internet.

This isn’t a new thing, yet it is getting worse.

Match Of The Day never highlight our excellent passages of play, yet always remember to showcase other clubs.

When Stewart Robson comes out with another pearl regarding how poor Arsenal are, pay him no heed.

The next time Neil Ashton or Adrian Durham spew forth some bile regarding Arsenal’s bleak future or lowering targets? Ignorance is bliss.

Courting controversy is what they are doing, and we are playing our part too, by feeling the need to vent our spleens at such idiotic content.

Let us just enjoy the Emery revolution and constantly remind ourselves that impartiality is predominantly dead, and if you do find a writer whose opinion you respect?

Those are the clicks we should be giving away. Rewarding those who present us with agenda-free content.

Invincibles Vs Almost Invincibles

Featured in The Gooner Fanzine

Comparing things is pretty big business. It harnesses our compelling need to put different versions alongside each other and gauge each and every characteristic – despite the flaws in the method.

We can’t help but do it, but comparing things has far too many variables to reach a conclusive answer.

Especially when it comes to football – and yet we are all guilty of it.

Ronaldo and Messi compared to Maradona and Pele or any other titan of the game is one that is often bandied around, but the nuances of time and the different permutations surrounding each generation render any result reached a moot one.

We do it with different teams too – even ones that wore the same jersey.

As Gooners, we are pretty spoiled when we visit the annals of our past, as we have a multitude of teams, players and seasons when success was reached and memories were encased in a gold-tinted amber. We can hark back to these slices of time and wonder how they would have fared in today’s game – and if they would have emulated some of our more recent successes.

George Graham helped us achieve a few of our brightest moments, but will always be remembered for probably the most dramatic title win in history. The Miracle of Anfield 89 has been converted into film twice and is never far away from any self-respecting Gooner’s recollection – and for very good reason – but was that his finest team?

Probably not.

Two years later, his Arsenal side reclaimed the title ahead of rivals Liverpool, conceded just 18 goals in the process over 38 games, and scored a hatful of goals to dispel any notions that his men were mere defence merchants.

They won the title with games to spare too – and perhaps the most compelling argument to sway anyone who thought the 89 team was better? The team of 90/91 did all this even with their skipper being sent to prison, being deducted points for the infamous brawl at Old Trafford – still the only case before or since where a team has been deducted points – and having a squad that was light in terms of numbers.

They played every three days for over a third of the season, and lost just one game. One. That sole ‘L’ in the league table came at Stamford Bridge where an offside goal and a tackle that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an MMA Octagon took out our sole recognised centre-back combined to thieve points from GG’s team.

It is quite the story, and there was much more too. How did the squad keep the good ship Arsenal on a steady course despite missing such an inspirational figure in Tony Adams? How did the team cope despite being lambasted by the press for their part in the mass melee at Old Trafford? Above all, could they have gone ‘Invincible’ before Wenger’s fabulous side achieved it thirteen years after?

This amazing and inspirational side are one of the finest that Arsenal have ever had, but they get a paltry amount of limelight compared to the 03/04, 89 and even the 97/98 sides.

Never mind about were they as good as the hero’s of 89 – we should be asking whether they stand shoulder to shoulder with the Invincibles – arguably our greatest ever eleven.

You see? We can’t help but compare.

My book, Almost Invincible, does this extensively, and uses library newspaper records and the accounts of David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Bob Wilson, David Hillier and Alan Smith to illustrate how they did what they did. It also features expert opinion from Guardian journalist Amy Lawrence.

Undecided? Let my book show you how good the side of 90/91 truly were, the side that was ‘Almost Invincible.’

Just go to the ‘My Books’ section above, or go to my Twitter bio, my handle is @JokAFC.

Old Pals Act to Help or Hinder Arteta?

It’s often said about the workplace, that having your closest people around you is a mistake. The phrase, ‘don’t sh*t on your doorstep’ can probably surmise this far better for you, but does this also apply to former players returning to the club in a coaching capacity?

Mikel Arteta is the name lined up to succeed Arsene Wenger, and the Spaniard’s lack of managerial experience will be reportedly offset by the coaching framework around him.

There are other names that are being mentioned though, that may well be as big a gamble as hiring our former player himself.

The names in the frame to form a coaching team around him are all former Gunners, could this unbalance Arteta’s own vision, which is hewn from his own experiences under other managers and styles? .

Can former teammates and ex-Gunners benefit the status quo?

Does friendship between Arteta and Mertesacker, for example, undermine any potential targets however?

It was often said about Wenger that he needed a sounding board for some of his ideas, and he needed an objective voice occasionally. Someone to allow him to see scenarios from a different set of shoes.

Is this same chemistry set to continue? Does a buddy-buddy relationship or other strong ideas about the club mean that Arteta will lack the ability to give decisions the extra thought they require from a different view?

No, quite frankly.

There may well be doubts surrounding Arteta’s capacity for this mammoth role, but hiring Santi Cazorla – as discussed before he reportedly decided to leave the club – or any other former Gunner to lend their wealth of experience can only benefit him and the players under his tutelage.

Henry, Pires, Ljungberg and BFG are also well versed in the ways of Arsenal, something that is high on the priority list for the Board.

Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires each have different likelihoods of coming in as part of the extensive team that will back up Arteta,, and each of them would be a huge plus for our side – for differing reasons.

Per Mertesacker is now our Academy man, watching over our kids as they attempt to make the grade. Freddie Ljungberg is also set to rejoin us as a coach, and both are excellent appointments.

Not only do they have the necessary badges, but they also know Arsenal and what it takes to represent us at the highest level.

Crucially though, they also love the club. Isn’t that an ingredient that is important?

Of course, we could hire some merc who has a chest full of glittering medals, but when it comes to the crunch, will they give everything? Will they go above and beyond?

Ljungberg, Henry et al would make sure our kids and our first team would play for the cannon above all else.

We shouldn’t judge these men on former coaching merits. With the likes of Mee, Graham and Wenger himself having precious little experience in the way of top flight management, we should see these appointments as the heralding of a new era, rather than a cut-price attempt at success.

Arteta in the dugout, aided and abetted by A club icon, can only help Arteta. Much the same as if he had an old hand next to him, slowly handing him the reins. Arteta needs to do this his way – and if he had an assistant manager who had seen and done it all, then that may muddy Arteta’s field of vision.

We need to take a big gamble, but if it pays off, we could enjoy a Spanish renaissance.

Friendship could just be the icing on this particular cake.

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.

Arsenal Vs Burnley – PL Preview

This match sees Arsene Wenger take charge of his last match at the stadium he oversaw the creation of. It’s also an opportunity to attempt to forget our exit of the Europa League Semi-Final on Thursday versus Atletico Madrid.

Our loss against Diego Simeone’s side was expected but not taken lightly. We huffed and puffed but very little was created seeing as everything was on the line. It was more of a whimper than a roar, and it kept the theme of our season.

Perhaps the only decent upside of our campaign so far has been our home form, and this game is our last home showing this season, against the only team that can overtake us in sixth spot.

Arsenal take on Burnley at The Emirates

Fighting for this lowly position is a wake up call, and shows us all how far we’ve fallen away this time around, Burnley have had a great season so far, and will surely pose a threat to our record. Sean Dyche has crafted a team that is built on a sound defence, with Nick Pope and James Tarkowski the standout performers. They’ve got threats up top too, with Ashley Barnes sure to give our defenders a few concerns.

Regarding our defence, we’ll be without Laurent Koscielny for the foreseeable future as the defender tore his achilles in Madrid. He’ll miss the next six months most likely, so Calum Chambers now has ample time to set out his stall for his first team future. David Ospina is likely to keep the gloves in goal, with Cech a doubt.

Nacho Monreal may be rested if Sead Kolasinac is fit, and Mesut Ozil is another who may be absent if previous Premier League games are to go by. Henrikh Mkhitaryan should play though, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will come back into the lineup. Will that mean a spot on the bench for Alexandre Lacazette? Or could both play together like they did a few weeks ago?

Midfield sees the absence of Mohamed Elneny, but the Egyptian is expected to be back before the end of the season. It’ll mean that Granit Xhaka will play alongside Aaron Ramsey or Jack Wilshere.

Another really welcome return on the cards – though not for this game – is Santi Cazorla. The fan-favourite Spaniard has returned to training for the first time in 19 months, and the fleet-footed midfielder has been sorely missed.

We’ve only lost twice at home all season and if it weren’t for this great record, we’d be fighting relegation, given our away form is probably among the worst in the league.

A win in this game will see of the challenge of Burnley and confirm sixth spot for us, leaving only games against Leicester City on Wednesday and Huddersfield next weekend.

We will also be celebrating Wenger in this game, with t-shirts and other events planned at the end of the game. Let’s hope we don’t forget that there’s a match to win, that will be what Wenger wants to see the most.

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Chambers, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Welbeck, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi, Aubameyang

Predicted Scoreline – 3-0 to The Arsenal

Arsenal Vs Atletico Madrid Europa Lge Semi Preview

Arsene Wenger placed this season’s emphasis on the Europa League well before he declared his intention to leave at the end of the season.

And now it is the only chance we have of silverware that is available, and it’s also the only chance we’ve got left to give Wenger a fitting au revoir.

We line up against Atletico Madrid in this Semi-Final first leg at The Emirates with a severe defensive problem. It isn’t through injury though, it’s simply that we can’t keep a clean sheet.

Arsenal Vs Atletico Madrid in the Europa League Semi-Finals

In a tie where away goals are worth their weight in gold, this means that Diego Simeone’s side will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing Shkodran Mustafi and co – and maybe just putting one foot into the final in the process.

Our defence at least has no injury woes to deal with, so Mustafi, Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal should be the four that lines up to face Diego Costa, Griezmann and the rest of Atleti. Petr Cech is still injured and David Ospina will most likely take the gloves should Cech fail to prove his fitness.

Arsene Wenger named the side most likely to play Atletico against West Ham, in order to gain fluency and battle-readiness. So that would mean starts for Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi, but there are a few variables that might shift the side.

Firstly, there is the injury to Mohamed Elneny. The Egyptian could well be out for a few weeks and this means that Granit Xhaka will have no defensive cover compared to when he partners Elneny, so the Swiss midfielder will have to be at his very best to combat the runs of Saul Niguez.

Then there is Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere. Both missed the hammering of the Hammers in the weekend – Ozil through illness and Jack via a knock – and with Mkhitaryan still not fit – it means that if Ozil is still not recovered, we could have a playmaker shortage. If Jack can’t prove his fitness, then our midfield could be short too.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles proved that he is an able stand-in when he came on to replace the injured Elneny, and the youngster could well get the nod to give our side that much-needed cover at the back. Wenger will know a single away goal could rule out any dreams of a final shot, so he could keep it tight and pack the midfield.

Atletico were going to be bereft of Diego Costa, but the former Chelsea man has miraculously recovered to take his place back in the side. Juan is definitely out though so at least if we spread the play to the flanks we could get some joy.

This game could be decided in the first leg. If we have one of our games where we concentrate on our attack and our press – you know the games where we pull a result out of the bag and get a win when we’re very much expected to lose – then we could take a very favourable scoreline into the tie at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

If we concede though, we could crumble.

There is at least an air of excitement in the fanbase though, with a last four Euro tie being somewhat of a novelty of late. Let’s hope we can continue our adventure and pull one of our famous results out of the bag.

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Welbeck, Ozil, Iwobi, Lacazette

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal