Bad Gunners, Good Gunners! Death to Narratives Pt. 2

This follow-up to the previous post will focus more on general team and club issues over time. The last post addressed why I think we were all overreacting to the Chelsea loss. Yes, we have lost to the top four teams more often than not in the last 5 or 10 seasons (whatever stats you choose to apply). No, we don’t ALWAYS lose big in away games. Last season was the first time I can remember we lost with wide margins so consistently in away games. And nobody’s saying anything about we did not lose at home to any of them (since they were all draws and it didn’t seem to matter anyways).

So far this season, I believe we have better personnel than we’ve had in a long while. Before I start to talk about why I think we should slow down a bit, let me try and explain the little foundation fact I’m basing my argument upon. We moved to the Emirates from Highbury and were in debt so we couldn’t spend as much as we wanted on players. Even though it took quite some time for most of us to accept the fact that we will not be able to buy players in the manner of Chelsea (after Abramovich) and later Man City (after the Arabs), that was what was going on behind the scene. It might have frustrated some of us because we could have found new money of our own and spent well (Usmanov was very willing to be our sugar daddy then) but the club is run in a certain way and that is still part of what many people respect today.

Ok, so we couldn’t buy players, and if you allow me to try to play Wenger a bit here, we had to work with what we had, which was still quite okay, if only a watered down version of the glory days. Cesc was taking over as the main creative hub, Eduardo was firing, RvP was doing well for a half-season guy, Wilshere was later coming through, Clichy was inconsistent but you could sense he was still useful. Nasri was a nice option in attack. Walcott was also not consistent but a speed monster was always most welcome. You could see that if we could keep everyone together a season or two more we wouldn’t complain too much about the money because we could have spent the little we had on nice squad additions (like the Cazorlas and Podolskis that came later) and we would have the cohesion that helped a lot last season.

But things started to fall apart. Eduardo had his leg literally handed to him and was never the same player again. Wilshere had one mightily good season and also went the way of Eduardo. Same too, Ramsey. Fabregas worked his way out to play for his boyhood club. Nasri and Clichy jumped at the Arab money. Then after his only really superb season as a Gunner, RvP carried the small boy in him to the Red Devils. Well, you could say Wenger should have invested the cash he got from all those sales on quality acquisitions and admittedly he really could have done better (like buy Suarez back then, for instance, idk) but when you’re Wenger and you’re building a team and then everyone that mattered starts leaving or getting injured, a type of confusion sets in. Should you try to keep a core and believe your returning players will give you the balance you want while adding a few other players or just go all out, spending on players of presumably higher quality and start building around them again without the assurance that they’d be patient enough to wait for you to do that? Remember you’re still financially handicapped and the money you really have to spend per time is from player sales so you can’t actually buy a heap of star players at once with extra cash.

Well, without the money, Wenger made decisions best described by us as stingy money management until last year when we were told (and we saw enough evidence) that we could now spend. So based on the foregoing, I would divide Wenger’s era as Pre-Emirates, Emirates Debt and Debt-free periods. Pre-Emirates obviously was where all the good stuff was. Emirates Debt period was that period until last year when we were allowed to believe we couldn’t compete because we couldn’t spend like others. Debt-free (which isn’t exactly debt-free but shackles had fallen off) is the period from Ozil 42.5 to Alexis 32.0 going forward. Now that these periods have been defined, we will ignore Pre-Emirates for the purpose of this discussion.

Now, Emirates Debt (ED) period was that period we went trophyless for over 8 years. I know the media never had any sympathy for us during this period, and I care less about what they think anyway. As a fan, however, if you truly believe that with the financial situation we had and key players leaving the club over time, we should have truly challenged for the title and other major trophies, I’ll like to hear your argument. It wasn’t like we never did try anyway. We were beaten in an FA Cup final where Wenger kept faith with the squad that got us there while Chelsea rolled out a fully experienced team. I think he could have been forgiven for thinking that he could still recover if the main team grows together over the next few seasons. Then the Birmingham Carling Cup final where all sorts of things went wrong with the players and I’d be damned if Wenger caused that loss. Still, trophyless is trophyless.

If you are one of those fans that say you actually respect that he kept us in the top 4 and the UCL through all that period then I’d like to believe you understand that we were actually hampered through that period which is the point I’m trying to make.

Now, last season was the first season after the ED period, I think we as fans should try to look at things through that perspective and know that our handicap period was one of poor records against direct competitors. Why do they always cite statistics covering last five seasons or last 10 seasons (basically covering our handicap period)? Why not go as far back as the 18 years Wenger has spent? They do not recognize that we were handicapped, but we shouldn’t follow the same pattern unless we actually agree with them that we weren’t, in which case you wouldn’t understand my argument. Last season was the first time we would spend big on a notable world star so I’d prefer to think that is the season we became competitive again. That was when we can start taking notable stats and when we can start really getting frustrated at what was and was not done or what trophies have been won and what competitions have been contested keenly.

If we take that approach, I think we could say an improvement was seen in that we got a trophy in our first year of really spending money. That is some progress. Now, we can hold the team to ransom for not displaying a competitive edge against the ‘big teams’. So what else happened last season? Well, we took points off the little teams much more consistently than ever before. A stretch of those sort of games helped us, prematurely, to the top for a long time only for us to cross a patch of many key games at a time and drop back down. That was somehow different from the seemingly regular struggles at the beginning of the season where we drop points against most teams early and start picking up the necessary ones later while still not having enough for the big games. This meant mostly throughout our handicap period, we were chasing fourth or third place not falling back like last season. That is a little positive difference for me.

So in essence, the key was the big games. Yet this was our first season as a competitive squad. I think Wenger also got ahead of himself after spending his first big money thinking we could now immediately go at the big guns just to let them know we’re back. This backfired with massive goals conceded after lots of player errors. I think now he knows better. It’s a battle you’ll have to get some form of consistent results first before you start riding your own wave to victory. Now we’ve bought another big star, from another major team no less and we were able to replace key players that left adequately except one. And we didn’t fix an area we all agreed was problematic. To a certain extent, this is even debatable, but I’ll get to that.

So we’ve certainly spent money now like never before in the last 9-10 seasons and this means we’re coming strong as a competitive force, theoretically. Now remains how the units we’ve got come together as a real team. This was always going to be the challenge, however. Alexis brings something new to the team and an adjustment was inevitable. Wenger has always been blamed in the past for playing the same kind of game season in, season out. Arsenal had no spine. They can’t even win ugly. They give up too easily. Here’s one of the reasons I say many of the fans have taken these narratives hook, line and sinker. Last season and the last ten games from the previous season saw Arsenal grind out wins in some of the ugliest manners ever seen from the team. Yet many still say today that we play the same kind of game and they’re tired of it! What nonsense!

Again the ‘Wenger is stubborn and has no plan B’ narrative is being murdered as we’re seeing this season but we aren’t patient enough to wait for it to happen before we shut it down. Wenger played a 4-2-3-1 formation last season which turned out extremely effective against the small boys but not so much away at the big boys (again, we never lost at home to any of them). This season, he is trying out a 4-1-4-1 (or 4-3-3 variation) which he feels will be more effective against the big boys and we’ve only dropped two points against a team not around us in terms of quality (Leicester). We’ve beaten Palace and Villa as we should and drawn Man City, Everton and Tottenham. Of those last 3, the Spurs are the only one who were truly bad on the day and should have been beaten, but then again, we were still trying out our Plan B. I really don’t believe he’s trying to shunt Ozil out wide forever. I think he’s doing something like trying to make sure the opposition cannot predict us by shutting down Ozil when we would have had others who can fill in the role. Maybe that’s not it but then the fact is that he’s still experimenting. If I were alone in this, I’d be looking forward to next year to really have massive confidence for the title but this season, if the team kicks into form, there’s no reason why we can’t challenge.

I guess what I’m trying to say in a nutshell is this, the statistics that actually matter should start from last season when we made our first true star purchase and showed real intentions of fighting for something other than 4th place. Even then, we’re still kinda new at this (after 9 or so years of handicap) and I think Wenger is just having enough confidence to vary his team a bit in terms of strategy until he finds something that works and then we will all see what we’re capable of. I totally agree that we need centre back covers and we need a better DM than we already have to really be competitively ready for the title challenge (and Wenger should really have taken care of all these before the season started). But we’re still in the tinkering phase now and I still don’t think a DM would have massively changed our games so far.

Our worst game by far this season was the Dortmund game, which was much like the other big losses last season where stupid errors and super counterattacks slaughtered us. No DM could have single-handedly saved us in those matches unless he could’ve somehow made everyone around him play better on those days, which I doubt. I think we pretty much did well in most of the other games last season without the super-DM in place. This season, Chelsea with their own Super-DM conceded the same number of goals as we had going into the match. The difference was their attack was sharper which boiled down to us still experimenting. A sharper attack would have given us wins and probably the draw against City and that’ll have been 16 pts and 2nd place by now. Chelsea conceded 3 against Everton, we conceded 2. They scored 6, we scored 2. So, as much as a DM might have saved us some embarrassment so far, and is definitely needed, I don’t think it is the almighty solution so far this season. The attack is yet to click consistently. Once it does, then we can secure our backline in January and we’ll be very ready. If not this season, then next!

This is what I believe. Instead of spewing out narratives we’re all tired of hearing, why don’t we see the dispensations for what they are and realize that we’re actually moving forward. Here are stats that should actually matter now that we consider ourselves contenders:

Record against top four (Ch, MC, MU & Liv) since last season (All Comps) – P12 W2 D4 L6 (Very poor, yes, but we still have at least 6 more games against them this season).

Record against the rest of the league since last season – I seriously can’t do the math right now but this one has to be marked Excellent! We were the best of the lot at this.

Silverware won since last season – 2 (FA Cup, Comm. Shield)

World Class Players bought (above £30m purchases) – 2 (Ozil, Alexis)

Not too bad stats over nearly 1.25 seasons. We will get better! I believe so. Do you?

Come On You Gunners!!!

Signing out!

We Can Celebrate Again!!!

We Can Celebrate Again!!!

Bad Gunners, Good Gunners! Death to Narratives Pt. 1

Push and Shove!

Push and Shove!

It’s been a loooong while I’ve posted anything here but I guess you guys just have to put up with my once-in-a-while attitude. Sorry. Again, it’s football that’s brought me back on here and this is more of me getting tired of all the comments and analysis flying around. I know I’m not in the majority in what I’m about to express but I just have to say it how I see it.

Ok, we just lost to Chelsea (again!) and everyone that knows anything about football is on Arsenal’s case. Fans and foes alike. I really don’t know which piques my annoyance more, the fans ranting about how bad we are or the media and haters saying the same thing. It’s just quite tiresome. As normal for someone like me, I’ve had my fair share of arguments over the short period after the loss but I seemed not to have been satiated, hence, the need to do this.

I’ve previously expressed that I read a number of sports sites with my consistent one being ESPNFC. Well, I do still read them but I’ve lost interest in anything they intend to present as objective analysis after the FA Cup triumph. I simply just read them these days to see how creatively they are nailing Arsenal now. Other sites I don’t bother with anymore. I now prefer to read The Short Fuse, Arseblog and our own official site for basically more objective analysis. If you ever get to go on Arsenal.com, Adrian Clarke’s ‘The Breakdown’ is always worth a watch after each game for serious objective analysis on the game.

Now from even our fansites, such as TSF and Arseblog, the venom being spewed at the end of the Chelsea game was quite irritating for me. I have come to conclude that a lot of fans have bought into the media narratives so much that it even confuses them. The media sell narratives. That’s what gets people interested in them. It’s more or less a ‘bad news sells’ kinda situation. And it’s so sad many of us have accepted what they’ve had to say basically because they’ve seem right most of the time. But really there’s a lot more for us fans to consider when it comes to the club and the situation we’re in.

Let me take it from this game and work it back. First, I totally understand the frustration of the fans after losing that game. It is very acceptable to be mad, blame everyone, sack the coach in our minds and just say every nasty thing about the club in the heat of the moment. But I expect a little bit of objectivity to kick in after we get sober a day or two after. Here are a few narratives going into the match: ‘Arsenal can never compete at the top level’, ‘Arsenal will always lose to a top 4 team’, ‘Ozil is not as good as Fabregas’, ‘Ozil is not a good player for the Prem’, ‘Ozil is lazy’, ‘Arsenal lack cutting edge’, ‘Arsenal always gets hammered by a top 4 team away from home’, ‘Arsenal does not have quality enough to compete’, ‘Arsenal lacks a proper DM’ and a number of others.

Now, some of these narratives might be true but they’re also over-flogged and many of them have mitigating circumstances. Some of these circumstances can be attributed to the manager but not everything is totally Wenger’s problem even though we eventually will say the buck stops at his table, but then again, there’s a lot more in play.

In the game in question, I’m so damn sure we were never outclassed by Chelsea in any moment bar those two instances that led to goals which again had some surrounding circumstances. In this game was such that if Arsenal had managed to nick a goal with a sole shot on target with probably an Ozil assist, and won the game, every single fan will claim that we have finally arrived and all the finger-pointing will disappear into thin air. Let’s look at a few things which IMO changed the game, however, subtly. I actually believe if this game had been played at the Emirates, it would have ended in a dour 0-0 draw much like last season, only a little bit more boring.

First, Cahill had that extremely rash tackle on Sanchez and it was a straight red. That card given and Chelsea will have been shorthanded, no matter how good they’ve been this season and the game would have probably dragged to a goalless draw. Then again, we may decide to apply a bit more pressure and probably nicked a goal and do what they did.

Second, Chambers picked up a yellow for a foul that was a warning at best, considering what Oscar did on the day and that caution was indirectly responsible for that goal and Hazard eventually having so much fun. Yes, Alexis lost the ball in our half (needlessly, may I add) but we’d dealt with such very well previously. And yes, Hazard got past Cazorla too easily and I agree that a Matic there would not have allowed that. But we still had one man before Kos. Who was he? Yep, it was the yellow-carded Chambers. That was the tackle that was supposed to earn him a yellow. Replays showed he hesitated on the tackle and I think that was common sense. A red card for this team and Chelsea will be quick out of their shell and swarming all over us. Another 6-0 cannot be discounted. So he withdrew and it was Kos who had to make that tackle, in the box no less, and he was lucky not be sent off. Well, maybe not lucky because the ref was just being consistent with the trend. That goal changed the game in more ways than just numbers on the scoreboard. Kos was on a yellow, which would have been prevented if Chambers wasn’t already on a yellow. Forget the DM story, Hazard was Chambers man for the match and he did him well until that yellow when he had to be cautious. The narratives will read ‘Hazard skinned Chambers all day’ but the game before that yellow was a different story.

Now with a game to chase, I think we did pretty well. We didn’t expose ourselves too much at the back which quite restricted our forays forward, which any good team that knows their opposition’s strength up top would likely do. Chelsea did not create anything noteworthy before and after the goal because they did note want to open themselves up knowing how good Arsenal was in front (yes, I believe that’s why they played that way at their home ground). Where was Fabregas and Costa all through the game before the goal? Watch their midweek game against Lisbon (a game that some people even started praising the team more than Arsenal) and see how Costa was all over their defence getting numerous chances to score and losing them (where was Carvalho when Costa had that 1v1 against their ‘keeper?). They could never replicate that today. Some say it’s a tactic and well, if it is, it did work but still, it shows they know what they were up against. Costa even had the ball in our box and couldn’t do much with it because he was closed down quickly. These little things impressed me on the day.

In front, Alexis was harried all the time by Ivanovic (that’s more or less very good defending), Ozil had some good dribbles and passes but got easily knocked down. Way too easily. And I think the only other justified criticism on him is that big games need big players to do big things and he didn’t provide that. Otherwise, he did a number of things right on the day. Welbeck wasn’t getting service so he had to come to middle a lot more than I’d like and he never had many chances to go at both defenders especially as Cahill was already on a yellow. Cazorla did his bit creatively and Wilshere was supposed to get the equalizer but lost his composure at the first touch. Again, this is a forgivable offense except that we were 1-0 down.

Finally, the 2nd half was going pretty much the same way the first had gone with Chelsea not creating too much of note and contented sitting back while Arsenal were also trying to find a goal, albeit very cautiously watching out for the break. Many fans were frustrated that they thought we never looked like winning the game because Chelsea looked comfortable and we never had a shot on goal. I believe we could have approached the 2nd half in two ways. We could have gone at them with everything and tried to score, which I’m certain will result in some shots on target (like many keep crying over) and probably a goal (the probability is quite low knowing how well Chelsea defend) but we could also be open to a few more counters and conceding a few more goals and we’d be back talking this same trash and spewing narratives (remember, we ALWAYS lose big). The second approach was what we did, being careful of the counter. It worked for us defensively but in attack, it caused issues because we were always outnumbered and seemed out of ideas.

Then came the second goal. Remember we were chasing a goal, so we were bound to be desperate at some point and that point was when Alexis lost the ball (again!) in front of their area and the ball was worked to Cesc. Now this is where it gets tricky. With the ball with Cesc, he had Flamini in front of him, the two defenders still at the back (with Costa coming back into an onside position) and a few of our MFs around him. Some blame Flamini for not closing him down and allowing him that pass but I’ve heard a counter-argument that said Flamini saw other Chelsea players about to break for the counter and was more about trying to cover that area believing his defenders would deal with the lone man if the ball ever came to him (they’d dealt with him pretty well all day) so he chose not to block him off, unless obviously if he tries to get beyond him. The pass came, Kos didn’t quickly know where Costa was but was still close enough to disrupt his composure with a tackle. But he didn’t! Why?! Remember the yellow he picked for that pen, which he shouldn’t have picked if Chambers had collected it with a tackle on Hazard, which Chambers couldn’t… Oh, I guess you get the picture now. After that, the game was pretty much done because we wouldn’t risk a hiding by coming at them full flow so we just had to work with what we had.

About that goal, please stop over-hyping both Costa and Cesc over Welbeck and Ozil just because of that. That pass is a pass Ozil can make under the same circumstances and that goal is one Welbeck can score too. Costa was zero in that match until that goal. Cesc never did split our defense until that pass. These came about because we were chasing the game. And that came about because… Urrgghh! I’m tired of explaining. See the chain of events now? The only thing Cesc has more than Ozil in that match was strength on the ball and if you argue that that makes him better then, well, I’ll have to agree. Ozil playing through the middle, I doubt if he would have created much because of how Chelsea played. The runners were blocked off. If we had gone 1-0 up by any form of accident, I think Ozil would have picked up the accolades Cesc did, despite how lazy he seemed. Fine margins.

Just one more thing for reference. Man City is the only other recognized title contender so far and we can compare their game with Chelsea with this one. Chelsea played just as defensive and Man City, naturally being at home, were attacking. They weren’t really getting much luck until Chelsea eventually found the net, albeit after Man City was down a man. See what happened after City pushed up looking for an equalizer? Chelsea had two superb counters with Schurrle missing the goal and Costa hitting the post. It would have easily been 3-0 and that was at the Etihad. The equalizer came when Chelsea, seeing that it wasn’t going in at the other end, decided it was lockdown time. A nice move by Milner and hopeful dink into the box saw Lampard busting guts to get to it and in it went. Bar that, the game was already done. We may have had such luck if we went for it more in the last 5 or 10 minutes at 1-0 when they’d be more conscious of keeping the score than playing on the counter.

That is my take on the game. Part 2 sees my take on the team as a whole.

Signing out!

We Won The Cup!!!

FA Cup Champions!

FA Cup Champions!

Yes, we did! And what a glorious way to do it! And, yes, John Brewin, Dale Johnson and all those Arsenal haters down at ESPNFC don’t even know what they’re talking about. Yes, I’ll go light on them ‘cos… We Won The Cup!!!

Ok, let’s track back a little. I know it’s been a while I’ve been here but I won’t dwell on all that. Will I make up for lost time? I don’t think so, but I hope to put up two posts back to back and this is the first. Maybe sometime, someday, I’ll try to catch up with everything and probably run posts every single day for one month (that’ll be awesome!), but not at this time. There’s so much to write (when I eventually get to settle down and think, which is actually getting harder to do these days) and I hope to vent sometime. Presently, I’m not happy with my output at work and it’s getting plainer that enthusiasm alone doesn’t cut it in the real world. Efforts aren’t producing desired results and I’m just getting a little flustered. That said, I just feel like I should take a short break to get on here and cool off a bit before I go back on hiatus again. I might probably find a way past my present conundrum by the time I’m done.

Now that I’ve digressed seriously from the issue at hand (actually, I felt that last paragraph was quite important, even for me), let’s get back to the story of the day, shall we? Yea. So, we won the cup. Big deal. I mean, BIG DEAL!!! This is Arsenal! Trophyless Arsenal! Perennial Fourth Placers! Nine Years Empty Cabinet Owners! Then we pick up the FA Cup (not just any cup but the still-prestigious FA Cup) and all some people had to say is “it’s against Hull City”, “it’s just one cup”, “they didn’t show enough to promise more” or any of the inane variant of “we hate Arsenal and we won’t recognize them as winners” statement. Who frigging cares??!! We Won The Cup!

First, to the Gooners, how did that feel? Oh my, was it heart-attack inducing and heavenly-experience enacting at the same time! After a quite promising season where we unexpectedly started expecting the Gunners to win the Prem turned into an almost nightmare scrap for 4th place, we all thought winning the FA Cup was just going to be a “well, we tried at the end of the day” kinda feeling. How do you REALLY feel now?! I mean, we’ve been Invincible before (one and only) and that was awesome but winning a cup in the most harrowing manner possible after nine trophyless seasons turns the brain to mush. No need to be ashamed, it’s very understandable. I’m sure a lotta people partied harder than they thought they would.

It was massive in a lot of ways. First, the team can now be confident that all the narratives that label them overall as ‘perennial losers’ have been rubbished. The manager can now be sure that he will never be called a ‘specialist in failure’ any time soon (hi Jose, we just won a trophy!) Most importantly, the fans now have something to rub in the face of the taunting opposition for a while yet. We are now champions of something, and that in a season where Chelski won ZERO trophies, Liverpool won ZERO trophies and ManU got relegated from Europe. (I won’t mention Spuds ‘cos at the end of the day, they really don’t count.) How much more awesome can it be?! They can’t ridicule the cup sensibly ‘cos they all won NOTHING… ZILCH! And we all know ManCity have no real fans, so…we remain Kings among peers! Ha-ha!

Now, for those dim-wits writing on ESPNFC and other sites that are supposed to be neutral but we all now know aren’t, all of them can go and hug transformer! Lemme quote some Mode Nine here for them,

“Go plank a bee hive, or better yet, strap some weights on and deep sea dive!”
Mode Nine, Naija BET Cypher 2011

Really, it’s quite annoying. I read ESPNFC a lot. It’s like my favorite soccer site (behind ‘The Short Fuse’ and other Arsenal sites, of course) as I like to free my mind from the bias that might be on dedicated club sites. What I’ve found? Club sites even provide more objective analysis than these over-biased idiotic analysts.

What really got me this mad? Well, we just won the FA Cup (like you might have already been aware) and even though I watched the whole match, I wanted to read some analysis of what had transpired because my brain was in celebratory mood and couldn’t really do any proper processing of what was just delivered on the screen. First port of call? My favorite, ESPNFC. What did I find? John Brewin’s analysis. I actually never knew what to make of this guy since I’ve been reading some of his posts, although I had a feeling he doesn’t analyze Arsenal favorably, like lots of them there, but then Arsenal has always given itself up as an easy target for negative analysis more often than not so, yea, I never complained. But then, we just won a cup (after a nine-year drought, made more painful by the constant mention in the media) and coming from two goals down nonetheless, you would think there has to be something positive to take away. Well, not for ESPNFC’s writers apparently. All Brewin saw was a side that’s not promising enough to win any other thing in the nearest future. Yea, well, they all thought we wouldn’t make Europe this season too and see how that turned out. I just pity ManUnited fans at the moment. Brewin can kiss my black a** for all I care ‘cos, well, We Won The Cup!

Next up, Dale Johnson. Writing the now-famous ‘Three Things’ which I quite enjoy reading sometimes and they couldn’t have found a more negative writer (from an Arsenal perspective) for the match. All Dale could talk about was an Arsenal side that struggled to create anything against an excellent Hull side who somewhat deserve more than they got (translation: Arsenal do not deserve the trophy.) I laugh! I mean Hull gave a good game, and I’ll say that anywhere, but facing an Arsenal side who many agreed were not on their A-game and losing a 2-goal lead barely counts as excellent in my books. On the flipside, coming from 2-goals down when you’re not playing your best football and eventually winning the game in an exhausting 120 minutes, in a cup final, no less! Now, that’s stuff of champions! And all those who keep saying “it was against lowly Hull City” are just pointless buffoons. No one needs to be reminded of who pipped Arsenal to the cup and the last final they ever managed before this one. Neither do I need to mention a certain Wigan that beat the almighty moneybags in last season’s final and promptly got relegated (at the Emirates, mind you.) In fact, you can argue that Hull City should be ashamed that a lowlier team than them beat a better team than us in the same situation. And what’s more, they did it twice!

That takes me to Gabby Marcotti, who I actually kinda respect his general analysis, after making peace with the fact that he was never going to write about Arsenal even if we won the World Cup (if that were possible). However, I was surprised he gave us a few lines in his ‘Monday Musings’ after the FA Cup win. After a few quite mundane lines about Arsenal being consistent despite the struggle over the past trophyless period, he went ahead to downplay the importance of the win referring to the fact that we played all games either at home or at Wembley and played against two weak teams in the Semis and Final. I mean, WTF!!! Wigan just finished disgracing the eventual BPL champions on their home turf (where’s the home advantage here), I wonder who was supposed to be more afraid on a neutral ground. An Arsenal team who had the pedigree of failing when it mattered most (especially losing to teams they should be beating, according to these same people) or a Wigan team who were in high-octane mode after an epic win and, lest we forget, were defending champions. Some easy game that was supposed to be! And then a final where more than 95% of players from both teams combined don’t even know what it feels like to win a trophy with the psychological pressure on the Gunners as ‘favorites’ or more appropriately, ‘trophyless favorites’. I’d say the advantage was Hull’s to cause an upset. And then, it’s the FA Cup Final where stranger things have happened. How all these people expected this to be a walkover is beyond me. Why wouldn’t everyone celebrate wildly?! And I mean EVERYONE! Manager, players and fans! We’ve been trophyless for nine years. Every other person has reminded us of that fact every single chance they have. We were down two goals in the first ten minutes. Tell me what could be more gloriously satisfying than eventually winning the trophy under these circumstances. Honestly!

Anyway, I don’t care much for all these so-called analysts and their biased analysis. In fact, I’d preferably read a confirmed Arsenal-hater’s article than any of these guys’. My sanity was restored after reading TSF and later David Hirshey (my No.1 ESPNFC blogger by far). By the way Gooners, not all’s rotten on ESPNFC. There’s Hirshey, who is a lifelong Gooner and a verified Mourinho hater but still as objective as can be, and there’s the Arsenal blog on there too where Andrew Mangan (Arseblog owner) writes along with some others.

At the end of the day, all’s rosy at the Red half of North London and we’ve struck dead all sorts of narratives all in one game! We gave the neutrals a spectacular final and I’m sure everyone got their money’s worth in terms of drama and excitement. Fittingly, our No.1 player of the season hit the last nail in the coffin of Arsenal’s past woes. What else can I say? Good times are here again! Whether we build on this or not (though the pointers are all on the former), one thing’s for sure:

WE WON THE CUP!!!

We Won The Cup!!!

We Won The Cup!!!

The managerial merry-go-round in Europe: What we learned from Bayern Munich and Jupp Heynckes

Jupp Heynckes gave Bayern their best season yet

Jupp Heynckes gave Bayern their best season yet

by Oluwanifemi

Bayern Munich have won a much deserved treble under their brilliant ex-coach, Jupp Heyneckes, the man who broke the invincibility of Barcelona and excited Europe and the world in general with his tactical abilities and meticulous planning. A man who has broken all available records in one season, a man that we will all continue to talk about for years to come. A true legend of the Bundesliga and the round leather game at large.

But, this same coach saw his Bayern side finish runners-up in all three major competitions last season. Including a memorable Champions league final that was played on the Bavarians’ home soil, the Allainz Arena. It was an heart-breaking conundrum considering that Bayern had defeated Jose Mourinho’s highly favoured Madrid side  in the semi-finals and in the finals Bayern glaringly controlled proceedings and looked the better side. They’d even scored in 83rd minute and looked set to wrap it all up before a certain Didier Drogba popped up from nowhere and made things complicated. That’s history anyway, for Heynckes came back better last season and wowed everyone.

But would this have been possible if Uli Hoeness and the Bayern supremos had not decided to stick with Osram and give him another season? Would Bayern have been stable enough under a different coach to perform the extraordinary feats they did last season? When coaches fail, should they be allowed to work on nonetheless, or should they be ruthlessly fired? Roberto Di Matteo, the coach that guided Chelsea to UCL title in 2012 was fired in the 2013 season because he lost some games, a club legend, who had won the double the previous season. And the man that lost to Di Matteo’s Chelsea side,in his very own backyard was never touched. Stability or faith? So, Chelsea moved to replace RDM with someone that has more experience in Europe, the Candidate: Rafa Benitez, a hated figure and when he took over from RDM,Chelsea were only four points behind Manchester United,competing for five trophies and seemingly stable. But in the end,Chelsea slipped to nineteen points behind United, travelled all the way to Asia only to lose the Club World Cup and were embroiled in controversy for most of the 2012-2013 campaign.

Roberto Mancini lost, was fired from the blue half of Manchester and the ruthlessness continues in Italy today. Andrea Stramaccioni, Inter’s young coach has been fired, replaced by Walter Mazzari, the coach that took Napoli into second place on the Serie A table for the 2012-2013 season. Even Massimiliano Allegri who wonderfully overturned a turbulent campaign to finish third was threatened before Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani decided to extend his contract. Pescara fired coaches with reckless abandon, Roma fired Zeman then Aurelio Andreazzoli. The list goes on.

But, we all agree that Manchester United have won so much for three reasons. They have money, they had a great coach in Sir Alex Ferguson, but more importantly, they’ve had stablility in having the same coach year-in-year-out. He did lose in the UCL final against Barcelona, twice within a space of two years and nobody threatened his job. At Chelsea, Madrid, Inter or City, he would be long gone. So, the fact that a coach loses some matches (even if it’s a cup final) doesn’t mean that he’s not tactically sound. A host of factors might be responsible, the conditions might not be right (which explains why a coach will shine at a club and flounder at another), injury to players, adaptation problems, environment and language barriers are reasons why a coach might not get it right. But, it’s generally agreed that every season, every loss, every win, every whitewash, every trophy and every tactical error/breakthrough is vital to the learning point of every coach and this, rather than weaken them, usually makes them better (at least for the brilliant ones).

For example, Jupp Heynckes first managed Bayern from 1987-1991, he won two Bundesliga titles (1988-1989 and 1989-1990)and under him, Bayern reached the semi-finals of the 1988-1989 UEFA Cup, the 1989-1990 European Cup and the 1990-1991 European Cup, though, it happened that on all three occassions, they were knocked out by the side that went on to win the three trophies. He was fired in October 1991 after winning just four out of his first tewlve matches of the 1991-1992 season, he went on to coach Athletic Bilbao, then Eintracht Frankfurt and at Frankfurt he clashed with Anthony Yeboah, Jay Jay Okocha and Maurizio Gaudino prompting his departure. He then went to Tenerife, arrived as Real Madrid coach in 2007, won  the 1998-1999 UEFA Champions League with Madrid after defeating Juventus 1-0 in the final, then moved to Benfica, and back to Athletico Bilbao, then Schalke 04, then back to Borussia Monchengladbach (where he was a legend as a player). He left Gladbach after playing fourteen consecutive games without a win. On departing, he refused a pay off and returned the company car to the club office, freshly cleaned and with a full tank of petrol.

In April 2009, he came out of retirement at the age of 65 to take over as caretaker coach after Jurgen Klinsmann was fired. He became Bayer Leverkusen coach in June 2009, finishing fourth in the Bundesliga in his maiden season, and second the following season. Then, on 25 March 2011, he began his third and most successful Bayern spell, replacing Louis van Gaal (who had lost to Jose Mourinho’s Inter side in the 2010 UCL final in Rome). In 2012, Die Roten finished runners up in three major competitions. Die Schwarzegelben took the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal and Chelsea took the UEFA Champions league but Bayern kept faith in Heynckes and in 2013 he won back all three trophies that he’d lost the previous season, becoming only the fourth Manager to win the UCL with two different clubs after Ernst Happel, Ottmar Hitzfield and Jose Mourinho. Heynckes wrapped the 2013 season with the record of the most points in a season in the Bundesliga (91), highest league winning margin in the Bundesliga (25), the most Bundesliga wins in a season (29), the longest Bundesliga  winning streak in a season (14), most Bundesliga cleans sheets in a season (21), the best Bundesliga goal difference in a season (+80), the least goals conceeded in a Bundesliga season (18) and his Bayern side scored in every match of the campaign and lost only once and became the only German team to ever win the treble of the UCL, Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal.

On June 4th 2013, Osram announced that he won’t be coaching another club in the 2013-2014 season. A legend indeed but as we can all see it wasn’t smooth sailing for him, though he learned at every curve and he got better until he was too good even for the all conquering Blaugrana, the champions of Spain. Yet Bayern wouldn’t have been able to reach this heights if he’d been sacked this season, and they reaped the rewards for their faith in getting their best season of all times, one that the whole world will never forget for a long time to come.

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Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea Return: Back to drab, defensive patterns or exciting attacking football?

Will Mourinho's second coming make Chelsea better?

Will Mourinho’s second coming make Chelsea better?

by Oluwanifemi

Jose Mourinho, the exciting, controversial but generally successful self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ has finally returned to Chelsea and English football. And while there are celebrations and tributes coming from all across Europe, there’s a question that has to be asked, given that this might eventually define his second stint at Chelsea. The general question is: What kind of play pattern will Jose employ at Chelsea this time?

It is no longer news that Jose doesn’t like to lose. He, therefore, employs all possible antics to see to this. Mind games, defensive plays and anything else that can help him win a game. He has a propensity to attract controversy, he’s unequivocal, brass and represents different things to different people. In his first spell at Chelsea, he built a brutal, direct, winning machine that concede as less as possible, arguably because the Chelsea team of 2004 don’t play much attacking football.

Today, the tide has changed. Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch that owns Chelsea has asked for an attacking style of football, something sexier and the quest for this has led to the recruitment of the triumvirate of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar. They’ve been brought into the side to breathe some excitement into how the side plays and help them attack more. Last season being their first, they flourished and the whole of Europe is already talking about how deadly the trio could become playing together, complementing each other.

However, with Jose’s arrival, many fans of the round leather game are already at loss as to what might happen. It is rumoured that the trio are not the kind of players Mourinho likes and that he might try to break the triumvirate in order to bring in more powerful, defence-conscious midfielders as replacements. And while some say the Chelsea hierarchy has already told him that he’d have to play with the trio, it seems logical to say we would just have to wait and see.

Now, attacking football has a downside, it requires balance or the team in question will ship in goals with reckless abandon like Manchester United in the past few seasons. Mourinho knows he’d most likely not find this balance in his first season and might want to get results anyhow, thereby resorting to a defensive approach against attack-minded oppositions. To Chelsea fans, this might be unacceptable but, let’s wait and see what concessions they’d eventually be willing to make as they aspire to continue winning every year (ask Arsenal fans about that).

To neutrals, Jose hasn’t changed, but to Chelsea fans, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that their brilliant, record-breaking coach has returned. And though the Premier League is different from 2004 and Mourinho wouldn’t expect a roller-coaster ride this time. He’d nonetheless have some measure of success based on what came of  his last job at Madrid. For, more than anything, Jose now has to prove to the world yet again, that he is indeed the ‘Special One’ yet again.

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Re: End of an Era

As a reply to this post I put up some time ago, my very good friend, Oluwanifemi, has decided to send in his opinion. It’s all about what seems to be the dying embers of Barca’s dominance. Agree or disagree, he’s got his points. Read and comment. Thanks!

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Okay, so you think Barca should be given another season to prove their brilliance? I think they were always destined to be disgraced in Europe someday. So, Bayern beating them is not a ruse, it’s rather an eye opener and more of it is on the way if Barcelona don’t do something fast.

You’d agree that matches are won based on the brilliance and capability of a coach. What tactical methods you employ, your ability to evaluate the defensive and attacking strength and weaknesses of your opponent measured against your ability to curb or stifle any attack as well as your ability to exploit inconsistencies or inabilities in their defence. Your tactical abilities therefore, might go a long way in demoralizing, exposing, demolishing and exemplifying your opponent (of course you would never consider refereeing errors and this has happened to decide some matches much to the chagrin of the aggrieved teams,you hear it everyday, Webb has come again and so on.)

In other words, success or failure is measured by how effectively you can study and understand your opponents (barring luck and unforeseen mishaps). Also, every team is built according to the ideals of the manager and it is by virtue of this that coaches either become legends or colossal failures. Take for instance Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team of 2004-2006. Then, he built a direct, brutal, winning machine relying on the strength of a brilliant defence and an equally magnificent goalkeeper. Remember also his Inter treble winning team of 2010, a team anchored on the strength of tri-quartista Thiago Motta and Wesley Sneijder, a team that trumped Barca in the semis before going on to win the finale in Rome, records were broken, the seemingly impossible was done. I can go on giving examples.

Barca, on the other hand, are built solely on Messi. I admit that he’s an exemplary player, a true legend and a god of the round leather game, but have you noticed that they tend to lose or misfire whenever he’s not there to motivate his team mates, like in the Quarters finals of this year’s UCL against Paris Saint Germain. Now, all the top clubs in Europe know this and all they have to do is keep the magician at bay and Barca is lost. Chelsea did it in the semi finals last year and while Chelsea’s feat might border somewhat on luck and negative football, you saw what Bayern Munich did to Barca last season, all because Messi and Xavi were harried all over the pitch and kept under control throughout the match,Barca lost their invincibility and were demoralized thoroughly.

At this time, I think it’s fitting to say it’s only the Mallorcas and the Zaragozas of Europe that will continue losing to Barca, the heavyweights in Europe now know how to rubbish Barca’s so-called brilliance (count Manchester United and Arsenal out of course) and unless someone is brought in to lighten the responsibility placed on Messi, and therefore create the possibility of switching to another game plan whenever Messi’s stifled or better still become a joker (a secret weapon), Barcelona will continue to suffer at the hands of the elite teams in Europe.

A few days ago though,a new Brazilian god was announced and unveiled at Camp Nou. He’s to lighten the responsibilities on Messi and complement the four times Ballon d’or winner, they said. The man, Neymar, someone who at 21 has performed amazing feats at Santos (another one man team). It remains to be seen how well he’d do at Barca though, because, inspite of all the hype and the noise, Europe is never and will never be like Latin America.

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Thank you, Oluwanifemi.

By the way, he’s also offered to send in some more sports analysis soon, so expect a little bit of consistency from Issues and Tissues! Yay!

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End of an Era? Not so fast!

The Big 4

The Big 4

People forget that football is extremely circumstantial. Almost anything we do in life is, therefore, only consistency can take out the effect of circumstances (or the consideration thereof). A lot has happened this wonderful season of European football and it has been really beautiful to experience. Nothing lasts forever. I guess we all know that, especially not dynasties and football dynasties are quite a peculiar case.

Well, the fulcrum around which this post revolves is the recent hammering of the Spanish powerhouses by the German powerhouses. The thing is, both Spanish teams were outclassed and outplayed in the first leg encounters in such a way that “the end of an era” turned out to be the new mantra. However, I’d like to offer a different perspective.

Let me say first and foremost, for those who do not already know, that I love Barca, a lot, and they’re just behind Arsenal as my favorite team. Now, only few would deny that they have reigned supreme in the last five years and many who are quite scared of utter domination in any sense are quick to see the end of the era. Needless to say, they’re mainly the ones screaming about it when the ‘thrashings’ were handed out recently. No team is unbeatable. Not even the Red Army that is intending to usurp the Blaugranas. Barca at the height of its powers had been beaten quite a few times, too.

We all agree that it will be extremely difficult (not impossible) for Barca to qualify for the final but if there was ever a team at this moment that can pull off such a feat, it is precisely this Barca team. As well as Bayern has played this season, hardly would anyone give them a fighting chance of overturning a 4-nil deficit in a UCL Semi Final match. Circumstances! As it is, they’re the ones at the winning end so let’s analyze from there. First thing is, Barca has been considerably less stellar this season. And that is related to on-field performances only. Breaking La Liga records with this sort of form simply shows a team that still has the clichéd ‘champions mentality’.

As a fact, Barca has been shown up a few times this season by opponents who seemed not to have a way past them previously. They were pipped to the Spanish Super Cup by Madrid and, in this age of ‘only results matter’, it’s easy to forget that Madrid was gifted the cup by a Valdez error in the first leg. Circumstances! Next, they were dealt with by the same familiar foes in two consecutive matches, one at home and the other away, both tepid performances by the Barca team. Just before the Madrid maulings was the simple case of Milan destroying the Barca morale with a 2-nil win. The curious thing is that it is this same season that Bayern has chosen to be excellent and have destroyed Barca. Am I surprised? Not really. Maybe I wasn’t expecting the scoreline but I didn’t think Barca were rated better than Bayern in the match-up based essentially on recent performances. Added to that is the fact that their usually faultless defence has been continuously punctured, even at full strength, and they were now facing one of the most prolific sides in Europe with a weakened version of it, plus their recent knack for losing balls easily and getting caught on the counter, only disaster could be the result. Circumstances!

As witnessed in the 2nd leg against Milan, this Barca team, when on top form, can be very unstoppable but even that is quite circumstantial. Had Niang put in that shot that hit the post, we may have been talking about something quite different now. Also looking back at last year, had they qualified for the final and beaten Bayern to the cup, I doubt we would talking about the end of any era at the moment. What we’d think is that this is just a massive blip in the ongoing success of a great club and they’d probably bounce back soon.

Again, the so-called Barca era began in 2008/09 season, one in which they picked up all three cups in the competitions they entered. But the most significant by far was the UCL. It offered them the opportunity to pick up 2 extra trophies in 2009, totaling six, a record for any team in one year! Well, there was the ‘small’ case of a Semi Final match with Chelsea which would (or is it should) have changed the whole story in a sense. Circumstances! Since the 2009 feat, every seeming drop in form for the team looked like its just temporary. Not until recently that it started looking like the whole world has caught up with them. Yet the fact remains that it’s just more difficult to stay at the top for so long, especially when you try to do it week-in week-out.

What I’m trying to say is, before we say Barca’s run has ended, let’s give them one more season and compare with the teams around them, i.e., Madrid & Bayern, and hope they stay healthy enough to take out excuses and we can then talk about a faded era. Bayern might be the best team in Europe this season, highlighted by their winning the Bundesliga in record time with record points, but they need to repeat the feat at least one more time to confirm their true superiority to the rest. Till then, Barca still remains the standard by which European clubs are measured.

**Sidenote: Same goes for all those who think EPL has already lost stand in Europe. Two seasons without a team in the quarters doesn’t define a league, just as having two teams in the semis does not define one either. A look at the top 5 teams at present will most likely produce the two Spanish giants as well as the two Bundesliga giants while a top 10 will most likely add no other teams from both leagues but will consist of at least three English teams. So what really makes a league strong?

The Trophy

The Trophy

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