Injuries not an excuse v Burnley

So tomorrow we play Burnley. And the Arsenal injury list continues to grow.

Already out were long termists Laurent Koscielny, David Ospina, Mesut Ozil, Matthieu Debuchy & Olivier Giroud. Add in “Not injured but not fit to start for the first team” Abou Diaby, Theo Walcott, Yaya Sanogo & Serge Gnabry, we are beginning to build a team of injured players.

The latest news is the Jack Wilshere is likely to miss out against Burnley, whilst Kieran Gibbs has not fully shaken off the hip injury he picked up against Sunderland. We actually have 11 players unlikely to be available to play against Burnley.

How could they line up?

Debuchy Koscileny Gibbs
Gnabry Wilshere Diaby Ozil Walcott
Giroud Sanogo

Despite our clear injury crisis, they should not be an excuse against Burnley.

Burnley have not won in the Premier League this season – although that probably means they are due one. Drawing 4 and losing 5, they have scored just 5 goals. Pretty much a goal every 2 goals.

They should not be a threat.

Yes, we have 11 players out injured, but the side we will probably put out will sitll be fairly strong:

Bellerin Chambers Mertesacker Monreal
Ox Ramsey Cazorla Sanchez

It is a line up who share 367 international caps and 61 international goals between them.

As a comparison, Burnley’s entire 1st team squad contains just 6 players with International recognition, totaling 88 caps and 10 goals. 3 of their capped players share 6 caps in total.

Burnley should not be a side that scares us. When you also consider that the above starting 11 contains 7 FA Cup winners, a World Cup winner, a La Liga winner & Copa Del Ret winner, a European Championships winner, a Premier League winner, it shows that, despite what some claim, we do have some decent strength in depth.

It is also likely that we will have Tomas Rosicky, Matthieu Flamini, Lukasz Podolski & Joel Campbell on the bench, adding an additional 257 caps and 79 international goals.

When you consider that Tomas Rosicky, on the bench, has more caps than the entire Burnley side, you are perhaps starting to understand the gulf between the 2 sides.

Injuries should not be an excuse against Burnley. None of their players would get into our injury ravaged side. We should win.

The bigger question is, who would win, the Arsenal Fit XI or the Arsenal injured XI

Fit XI

Bellerin Chambers Mertesacker Monreal
Ox Ramsey Cazorla Sanchez

Injured XI

Debuchy Koscileny Gibbs
Gnabry Wilshere Diaby Ozil Walcott
Giroud Sanogo


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Taller than the Invincibles ? Jacqui V Wenger and Comebacks

BFG in the Land of Lilliput

It’s hardly a secret that we’re not exactly the tallest side in Europe but until quite recently it was the case that it tended to cost us in the league and we generally coped well enough in the Champions League, barring rare moments like Alex’s late header in 2007 for PSV Eindhoven. This season in the league we’ve conceded eleven goals, of which five have been headed. The finger of blame has been pointed at Mertesacker for more than one of these goals and it has to be said his form hasn’t been of the same level as last season since he returned from the World Cup. I have a degree of sympathy for him, as he’s currently playing in a central defensive partnership with a 5’ 10 left back. This means that he’s probably quite aware that it has to be him winning headers. The more worrying thing is the ease with which the 5’ 7 Anderlecht winger, Andy Najar, was able to steal into the box and head home the opener. When we last won the league in 2004 we had a team of tall players. Especially down the spine. However our current first choice defence – including keeper – is on average taller than the Invincibles defence:

Invincibles Current

Lehmann 6’ 3 Szczesny 6’ 5

Lauren 5’ 11 Debuchy 5’ 10

Toure 6’ 0 Koscielny 6’ 1

Campbell 6’ 2 Mertesacker 6’ 6

Our problem is in midfield and back up for our first choice centre halves (Monreal). The Invincibles midfield had Vieira at 6’ 4, Gilberto 6’ 1, Edu 6’ 1, Parlour 6’ 0 and Pires 6’ 2. In fact our only midfielder under six feet was Freddie Ljungberg. Our current squad contains only one midfielder over six feet and that’s the permanently injured Abou Diaby. This isn’t such an issue in open play but it’s a problem from set pieces as was shown against Crystal Palace and Manchester City. Playing Monreal at centre half is the obvious problem when it comes to headed goals in open play as was exposed against Hull and even Anderlecht. I know Wenger wants to use highly technical players in midfield but sometimes you have to be pragmatic. The Premier League is not the most technical league in the world, it’s hustle and bustle and more often than not to counter this you need some robust players in midfield.

Wenger’s Interrogation

Our manager came in for a bit of criticism for his truculent response to Jacqui Oatley’s line of questioning after the Hull game. At first, I thought like many that his response was a little out of order. I have however changed my mind and feel he did nothing wrong. What caused my road to Damascus moment? Seeing Piers Morgan tweeting criticism of Wenger. Nothing will make an Arsenal fan change their mind quicker than realising they share a point of view with this man.

Don’t call it a Comeback

Whilst our performances generally this season have been sub-par and lacklustre, we showed twice last week our resolve to fight back. There have been times in the last seven years or so where we’ve gone away to weaker European opposition, not played particularly well, they’ve taken the lead and then our heads just went down. Braga is one that particularly sticks out in my mind but there are other examples. Against Anderlecht, we didn’t play well for a lot of the game but when we went behind we fought hard and scored twice with two exceptional finishes in high pressure situations. Our team can sometimes seem mentally a bit fragile especially in big games but they do show a lot of spirit and drive at times. In certain previous seasons the team’s self belief would have gone and we would have been subject to much press derision at having lost. Fighting back to level or win – sometimes very late on – has been a recurring theme for us in the last season and a half and this is partially due to flakiness that gets us into situations we shouldn’t be in but ultimately that ability to fight is a strength. We seem to constantly find ourselves saying this but if we could sort out our defence (in the team sense) we’d be very formidable. This is what makes the failure to sign a defensive midfielder and another centre half all the more frustrating.


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Arsenal’s invincibles – Why did they under achieve?

The recent book by Amy Lawrence and brilliant Tuesday Club podcast focusing on the unbeaten season has led a lot of people to reminisce about ‘the good old days’.

3 league titles in 7 seasons, 4 FA Cups in 5 seasons, a Champions League Final and teams filled with World Class talent playing exciting football. The early Wenger years were exceptional.

Or where they?

A recent discussion on the matter between myself and others resulted in us agreeing, the invincible side actually under achieved. We had assembled one of the best sides in football history (it went unbeaten) and at the time, one of the best sides in world football, yet it had 2 big failings:

  • No back to back titles
  • No Champions League win

Most people will agree, we should have won the league in 1999 and 2003. We should have dominated football for a generation, so why did we under achieve?

Failure to improve

One of the major reason’s we failed to win back to back titles is due to a failure to build on what we had.

Having won the title in 1998 by a solitary point, the difference between Manchester United and Arsenal was minute. There was nothing between them.

Over the next season (pre transfer windows), Arsenal signed David Grondin (18 year old left back), a 21 year old Swede call Karl Fredrik Ljungberg, the bright young hope of English football, Jermaine Pennant (who was just 15 at the time), and in January 2 strikers, Nwankwo Kanu and Kaba Diawara. Just over £10 million spent.

Meawhile, at Manchester, they made 2 big money signings – Jaap Stam and Dwight Yorke – both costing over £10 million. It gave them the defensive rock and the goals that were missing the previous season. They also added Jesper Blomqvist, giving them back up to the injury prone Ryan Giggs.

Manchester United strengthened more than Arsenal, and ended up winning the treble. Arsenal finished a point behind and were a penalty kick away from knocking United out of the FA Cup.

After the treble, Manchester United continued to strengthen, winning the next 2 league titles by 18 points and 10 points respectively.

In 2001/02 Arsenal were once more crowned Champions, with Manchester United finishing 3rd, conceding 45 goals.

The response? Manchester United broke the world transfer record for a defender signing Rio Ferdinand for £29.1 million. Arsenal signed Pascal Cygan. Yes, Arsenal also added World Cup winner Gilberto Silva, but the signing of Rio Ferdinand was a statement.

Once more, Arsenal had failed to build, and Manchester United capitalised on Arsenal falling apart due to lack of defenders to romp to the title.

Writing this, history has since continued to repeat itself. A failure to build and lack of defenders continually damaging our title chances…

I do not think it is up for argument that had Arsenal strengthened further in 1998 and 2002, we would have secured a further 2 league titles.

THAT penalty

Without blaming Dennis Bergkamp, I do sometimes wonder how different history would have been had he not missed that injury time penalty in 1999.

Had Peter Schmeichel not saved it, I am sure Arsenal would have won the FA Cup in 1999. I am also sure that the defeat would have broken Manchester United and we would have won the league. Manchester United probably would not have gone on to win the Champions League either.

Did this penalty change history? Manchester United won a historic treble and won 3 titles in a row. Arsenal struggled to recover from the heart break.

Wembley & Champions League Heartbreak

Firstly, Wembley messed Arsenal about. It was a decision made for commercial reasons and destroyed our early years in the Champions League.

2004 should have been Arsenal’s season to win the Champions League. We had the best team in Europe. Other giants in Europe (Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Madrid, Manchester United) were struggling. It was ours to lose. And we lost it. It was inexplicable.

There are no solid reasons for us losing. Were we too confident – a trait the unbeaten team suffered from – thinking it was only Chelsea, who had not beaten us in 17 attempts? Who knows. But the 2-1 home defeat was an arrow in the heart, and moves us on to the next reason for under achievement of the Invincibles. Chelsea.


Roman Abramovich took charge of Chelsea in 2003 and changed world football for ever. To misquote David Dein, he “parked his Russian tanks on the lawn and fired £50 notes at everyone”. That first summer, he spent over £120million on new players.

At the time, Arsenal were a settled side with World Class talent. The Invincibles were at their peak, and went unbeaten. We were nicely set up to dominate football for the next decade.

With World Class players in the first team squad (Pires, Henry, Vieira, Ljungberg, Campbell), mixed in with talented youngsters (Ashley Cole, Reyes, Toure), and a very promising youth set up (which included Clichy & Fabregas), the future looked bright.

But Chelsea changed all of that. By 2004, the players signed in their first summer of expenditure had settled. They then added a further £95million in playing talent and secured arguably Roman Abramovich’s best signing, Jose Mourinho.

A quick thought, had we beaten Chelsea and gone on to win the Champions League, would Mourinho have joined Chelsea? Perhaps not. Anyway, I digress.

Over £200million spent in 2 summers. Arsenal were about to dominate English football. We were all ready and set to go. We would have remained at the top of the tree, even with the cost of the stadium.

Instead, Chelsea caused the price of everything up. Squad players were suddenly getting £100k a week. In some cases, they were paying squad players more than what Henry and Campbell were on.

Chelsea went on to win the next two league titles. But more importantly, they ripped the heart out of Arsenal. Starting with the pursuit of Ashley Cole. Players begun to get their heads turned by money on offer at other clubs. At a time where Arsenal were able to offer a competitive salary and trophies, they were suddenly in a position to offer neither.

And where Chelsea led, Manchester City followed. Increasing salaries further, pushing Arsenal further down the food chain, and snapping up the majority of our top players.

Had Roman Abramovich not decided to enter the footballing would, would the Sheik’s at Man City? Or the PSG Oilmen? Would the game have become a rich mans play thing? Who knows.

Chelsea changed the landscape. They pushed Arsenal from the steps of greatness, back down the ladder.


Yes, the invincible squad (and what came a little before) was successful. But it could have, no it should have, with a little more investment, done so much more.

The worry is the trends have continued. Not strengthening. Losing top players (Overmars, Petit), problems with squad depth, all the issues from between our title truimphs are still present. The only difference is we are now much worse off so they are further exposed.

The invincibles, the greatest side I will see in my life time, but failed to become the greatest side anyone will see in their life time.