Where’s the wounded Arsenal lion?

One of the saddest acknowledgments in boxing – is when a boxer is described as the ‘greatest fighter to have never been a world champion’. In many cases, this failure to reach his true potential can come down to a variety of things, such as not being promoted properly, being held back by criminals, being black in the days of segregation, or being on the end of an unfair points decision. It’s not always the boxers fault, and in most cases it’s not down to any lack of desire or ambition.

In boxing terms, Arsenal FC is now just a journeyman, certainly as far as Europe goes. Happy to pick up the money – and there to get beat. That’s the journeyman mentality; there to get beat by those who have a genuine aim to be champions. Arsenal FC: the Journeyman that constantly gets knocked out, but somehow still makes the millions that champions do.

My issue with Arsenal is not the fact that we are by far the biggest club to have never won the European Cup/Champions League. My issue is that this doesn’t bring out the wounded lion in the management, or indeed many of the fans. All those who booed the Olympiacos defeat were not booing because their hopes of us winning the competition had been dashed. They were booing because they expect us to qualify from the group – so that we can then get knocked out in the second round by the first decent team we play. The journeyman tends to beat the ‘Tomato Can’ but then goes on to get beat by a world class fighter.  It seems now that the Arsenal journeyman can’t even beat ‘The Bums’ anymore.

No serious football club has two multi-billionaires as the main shareholders – and then attributes it’s failures on not being able to financially compete. No serious football club leaves tens of millions in the bank, whilst being content with a squad that have been proven failures in Europe. A business will do that, but unless you’re a shareholder, then it’s nothing to celebrate or even take an interest in.

Enough gets said and argued about Arsene Wenger and I won’t add to that, because even with his departure (which probably won’t happen) there is a bigger problem at this club. You only have to look at Stan Kronke’s wig, to know that he likes to make money rather than spend it.

Silent Stan is no wounded lion. Fuck no, far from it; I doubt that ‘Dough Boy’ is even aware that Arsenal have never won the European Cup/Champions League. In fact doubt he’s even aware that we got beat by Olympiacos on Tuesday. This profit junkie has got off way too lightly, whilst the usual ‘F*** Off Wenger’ facebook posts do the rounds after every bad result. If a manager is making bad decisions, on a regular basis, then it’s up to the owner to take action. Nobody is going to voluntary leave a job that pays £8.5 million a year.

The problem is that Stan Kronke does not recognise that there is a problem. Why would he? He’s never been on the end of any meaningful protest aside, from the Black Scarf Movement, who are a small but passionate minority. The fans have to start making it clear to Kronke that Arsenal is about football first and profit second (or how about just screw profit and give the fans a better deal with ticket prices).

For all there is to dislike about Roman Abramovich, the reason Chelsea are successful is because the owners’ ambition matches that of the fans. He goes to all the games, whilst at best – ‘Dough Boy’ will turn up to one match which is usually around the same time of year as the shareholders AMG.

If Wenger does leave, and Stan Kronke stays – which is the most likely scenario in a year or two – then in the coming years, Arsenal will still remain the biggest club to have never won the Champions League.










Oi, Wenger, leave that defence alone

It is said that games are won by strikers, by league titles won by defences. And that is often right. The majority of time throughout history, they league is won by the team who concedes the least goals.

Last season, Manchester City scored 10 goals more than Chelsea, yet conceded 6 more. The result? Chelsea won the title by 8 points. We only scored 2 goals less than Chelsea, yet finished 12 points behind. We conceded 6 more goals.

A defence is the foundation to build from. You can not build a palace without first putting in a solid foundation. No matter how extravagant the palace might be, it will simple collapse without the foundations. And a football side is the same.

There is not point being able to score 83 goals like Manchester City did last season, if you are conceding a lot the other end. You can win the league title not scoring bucket loads of goals if you are tight at the back.

And the importance of the defence is continuity. Look at Arsenal in 1998/99 (ok, we came 2nd, by a point), we conceded just 17 league goals:

David Seaman – 32 League appearances
Lee Dixon – 36
Martin Keown – 34
Tony Adams – 24
Nigel Winterburn – 30

The main back 5, bar Adams, played nearly every game. And when Adams did pick up his injury, he was replaced by Steve Bould (14 starts), a man with 372 Arsenal appearances to his name. The back 5 (plus Bouldy) knew each others games. Individually they were not all the best in the Premier League in their position, but collectively they were.

Last year, when Chelsea ran away with the league, a key aspect was how often they used the same group of players. And this is highlighted in the appearances of their defence:

Thibaut Courtois – 31 league appearances
Branislav Ivanović – 38
Gary Cahill – 31
John Terry – 38
César Azpilicueta – 28

Two key players playing every game of the season. It is an amazing show of continuity. And it also highlights where they are going wrong this season:

Courtois – 3 from 7 games
Ivanović – 7 / 7
Cahill – 5 / 7
Terry – 4 / 7
Azpilicueta – 7 / 7

Mourinho’s chopping and changing at centre back is clearly damaging the side as they have already conceded 45% as many goals as last season, just 7 games in. In fact, only Sunderland have conceded more and if they continue conceding at their current rate (they surely won’t?) they will end up having 76 in the goals against column. That is 3 more than bottom of the league QPR conceded in 2014/15.

This is an Arsenal blog, so that’s enough about Chelsea.

This season, in all competition’s 11 games in total, Arsenal have had 7 different back 5 combinations, and played the same back 5 in just 2 consecutive match’s.

Cech Bellerin Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal
Cech Debuchy Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal
Cech Bellerin Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal
Cech Bellerin Chambers Gabriel Monreal
Cech Bellerin Koscielny Gabriel Monreal
Cech Bellerin Koscielny Gabriel Monreal
Ospina Debuchy Koscielny Gabriel Gibbs
Cech Bellerin Koscielny Gabriel Monreal
Ospina Debuchy Mertesacker Chambers Gibbs
Cech Bellerin Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal
Ospina Bellerin Koscielny Gabriel Gibbs

This chopping and changing, is the key reason as to why we have now lost 4 games in all competitions.

It does not allow for continuity, for players to get a run together, to continue learning each others game, to build a solid foundation.

If we continue to change the defence, the simple errors which lost us the game against Olympiacos will continue to rear their ugly head. Against Leicester we also made some horrendous errors. Lukcily we scored 5, but the 2 conceded were not good enough, and not every game will we be able to score 5.

With just 3 clean sheets this season, Arsenal have conceded 2 or more goals 4 times. Stats like these are simply not conducive to becoming a successful team.

For Arsenal to be successful this season, and remember we can go top this weekend, and still have both domestic cups to fight for, Arsene Wenger needs to stop mixing and matching his defence. He needs to pick the best back 5 and stick to it.


What 1 word best describes Arsenal’s Champions League campaign?

1 word

Answer: All of the above.

Last night was a disaster. It was a shocking defeat. One which has left us hanging on to our Champions League future by the thinnest of threads. And it is simply not good enough.

Every team will lose a game. It is the nature of football. No one can go through a season unbeaten in all competitions. However it is the manner in which you lose a game that is important.

Lose when you have been on top, the opponents have defended with 11 men behind the ball, and scored a goal from a corner, a snatch and grab victory, then wasted time and scrapped through, it happens. However, conceding 3 goals at home in a defeat, well that is not unlucky, that is just deservedly losing.

The concern in defeats like yesterday are not a one off. Already this season we have been humiliated in the Champions League by Dinamo Zagreb, and destroyed at home by West Ham. And it is not a new thing.

Last season we conceded 3 at home to both Monaco and Anderlecht in the Champions League. That is 9 goals conceded, at home, to fairly average sides. Add in 3 conceded away to Stoke, 2 against Southampton, and you are starting to get the picture. I could go through the results of the last 10 years and it will be littered with huge defeats at home and in Europe. City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Munich, Man United, Swansea, Hull and more, they have all done us. Comfortably.

We put so much on Champions League qualification. The club boasts about 16 or 17 years in the Champions League. Qualifying from the group stages for god knows how many years. But then when it comes to the competition itself, we always fall short.

Yes, we have had some tricky 2nd round draws over recent years. Barcelona, Munich, AC Milan, but we always seem to shoot ourselves in the foot. Whether it be a heavy defeat in the 1st leg at home, or a poor group stage which see’s us fall to second.

And then when we do get a favourable draw, such as Monaco or, many years ago, PSV Eindhoven (this one still hurts), we capitulate.

What is the point of being in the Champions League if you are not going to put in a good effort and win it? You can count on 3 fingers how many times Arsenal have been competitive in the competition;

  1. The Quarter Final defeat in 2004 when the invincible lost to Chelsea, a year we really should have won the competition
  2. The 2006 Final appearance
  3. The Semi Final loss to Manchester United in 2009 when Cristiano Ronaldo ripped us a new one

It is simply not good enough.

And then we come to last night. Considering how much we praise we are supposed to give the side for finishing in the top 4, we then rest our only summer signing. Now some say he was injured, but for me, if you are fit enough for the bench, you are fit enough to start. Cech should have started.

Not playing your strongest 11 makes me wonder what are we doing with the Champions League? Are we taking it seriously, or do we now realise we can not win the competition so are playing weakened sides to rest players for weekend games (we could go top this weekend).

If that is the case, then there is only one motivation for qualifying for the Champions League. Money.

Just qualifying for the group stages earns the club around £30m in ‘prize’ money and TV revenue. Add in gate receipts (this year Munich being a Cat A) and that figure is touching £40m. You can see the clubs motivation from qualifying. Of course, in theory, it is important to qualify. That additional £40m could get you an additional £25m signing on £125k a week. But this of course is Arsenal.

As for the players, in their contracts they will have Champions League bonus payments. In recent accounts, Manchester United’s wage bill dropped £12m. The likely reason for this is that they failed to qualify for the Champions League. £12m disturbed to players for finishing top 4. No wonder a few years back we celebrated finishing 4th at Newcastle like we had won the league. The players were due to get a £400-500k bonus each. Clearly after earning this, their motivation to win the thing drops.

With Munich still to be played at home and away – we could be on 0 points after 4 games – qualification is unlikely, not matter, how Arsene Wenger tries to big it up. The only question then is do we want to finish 3rd of 4th?

The Europa League is a winnable competition. Chelsea showed that a few years ago. Were we to drop down a level and take it seriously, a trip to Switzerland in May for the Final could be a highlight of the season. For an away fan, it could also threw up a few cheeky away trips to Norway, Denmark & Austria, places we do not often get a chance to go.

On the flip side, it would mean playing on Sunday. Whilst I do not buy into the ‘playing in a Thursday & Sunday disadvantage’ as in the Champions League you often play on a Wednesday and a Saturday, it would be a nightmare for travelling fans as it would mean pretty much every game in the New Year would be moved to the Sunday, by the time the TV companies ruin the rest of the fixtures.

No one can justify last night defeat, although I am sure some will.