Monthly Archives: July 2012

Gunners

1964: player power and uncertainty as Arsenal thrill to 3-1 win over Everton

I had a few minutes of down time at my regular job yesterday so I spent that time looking through The Times online archives. It was a simple search, I wanted to find the first usage of the term “Gunners” to describe The Arsenal in The Times. In terms of a headline search, there was just one article in the entire history of The Times (until 1985) with the terms “Gunners” and “Arsenal”. It was a report on a Halloween match, October 31st 1964. Arsenal beat Everton 3-1 at Highbury courtesy of their twinkle-toed new signing, George Eastham.

The article is a wonderful snapshot into the past. A time when unnamed correspondents for broadsheet papers like the Times were real writers and not just muck-raking click whores. A time when a newspaper report might be the only glimpse that thousands of Arsenal fans had of a game and so it had to be well written and take the reader to the game, possibly transporting them hundreds of miles to stand shoulder to shoulder with delirious fellow Gooners as they slosh beer about and sing the praises of their heroes for the day: George Eastham and Frank McLintock.

1964 was a year of turmoil and revolution all over the world and as with many other things in life, sport reflected that revolution. Arsenal were in the midst of what would turn out to be one of their longest stretches as a club without a trophy: 1953-1970. We modern Arsenal supporters could use a healthy reminder of that 16 season drought – it was a time when Arsenal finishing 10th was a more likely occurrence than a third place finish and the notion that Arsenal should be “challenging for trophies” was laughable.

As the writer shows us, it was also a time of chaos in terms of Arsenal’s direction as a football team and a club. The club seemed to lack a clear identity and vision of the future and like a ship with no one at the helm, were subjected to the buffets of the winds as they drifted in football’s vast sea. In 2012 it’s a tenant of the club’s faithful to say that “the Board” has no ambition and is happy with fourth place finishes every year. Which may or may not be true but what is certain for Arsenal is that in those 16 dry years the board seemed happy with escaping relegation.

Not that the club never tried in terms of player acquisitions, buying players like George Eastham and Frank McLintock. McLintock was an Arsenal transfer record at £80,000 and fitted directly into the Arsenal first team after signing, just a few days before the match against Everton reported here. It took seven years and a lot of hard work, but McLintock was an integral part of an Arsenal side that would eventually win the double in 1971.

But as I said, it was a time of rebellion and that year, the club were actually at the forefront of a player’s rebellion, led by none other than the aforementioned George Eastham. Despite the transfer to Arsenal in 1960, in 1963, Eastham sued Newcastle for back pay and in order to end what the players called “slavery contracts.” Basically, these were contracts which allowed the club to own the registration of a player and refuse to pay him or allow that registration to be transferred when he was out of contract. “Balanced on frail looking match sticks that passed for legs” this “wisp” of a man stood up to the establishment and the chutzpah it took to do so cannot be overstated. In the English cast system the owners of football clubs were upper crust and they put out entertainment to the working class, using players who earned less than the people watching them and who had less freedom to change jobs. It was, in essence, a gladiatorial system with the ruling class enslaving the entertainers in order to keep the working class entertained.

Eastham kicked a hole in that system and in the forty years since, player power has utterly decimated the old ways. Clearing a path for Nasri, Adebayor, and van Persie to be trained at one club, have that club bring them through the ranks, coddle them through injury, and then simply waive good bye on the way out the door to Juventus for a shocking £190k/week NET.

Certainly Arsenal couldn’t have seen that coming.

Regardless, it’s a fascinating bit of writing and I encourage all of you to take a little while to and read this article.

Germany's national soccer player Mertesacker leaves a news conference in Gdansk

The Arsenal twenty: players leaving, injured, or lacking match fitness ahead of August 18th

Arsene Wenger has, for the first time in my memory, explicitly stated that three players are surplus to requirements at Arsenal prior to any official announcement from the club.

According to Arseblog News, the boss stated “Bendtner, Squillaci and Park will be on their way to go somewhere”. I think it’s safe to assume that there are deals done or nearly done if Arsene Wenger is making statements about a player’s imminent departure. Doing so in the absence of a deal would only lower the player’s value (if he has a value, ahem).

In the same quote, the boss also hinted that Andrei Arshavin could stay at Arsenal for another season. This news will make the two Arshavin-lovers out there happy.

Robin van Persie not withstanding, Arsenal’s summer transfer business has actually been pretty decent. It’s no summer of 1995 or anything, but if the three named above leave the club it will mean that Arsenal have shed Almunia, Squillaci, and Denilson; three hate figures among large segments of the fanbase. And if they can make deals for Bendtner and Park, it will add to the official offloading of Tom Cruise, Oğuzhan Özy, Monak, and Botelho. There are also strong links to Carlos Vela leaving the club, Chamakh making a move, and of course, Arshavin. Discounting the youth players, that’s 8 first team players Arsenal have cleared off the books in just one summer. If (when?) Robin vain Persie leaves and/or Theo Walcott moves that would bring the total to 10.

A ten player turnover for a club like Arsenal is just incredible and should it come to pass would be a clear sign that Arsenal are rebuilding. Santi Cazorla is strongly linked to a move to Arsenal and should the Gunners land him it looks like it would be an Arsenal record transfer — something in the £16-20m range depending on how you count it. Cazorla would add to the incoming Giroud and Podolski and Like A New Signing, Diaby.

One bit of worry for Gunners is the admission that Actual New Signings Poldi and Giroud lack match fitness and that they lack match fitness because the club bottled scheduling a friendly. Adding to Arsenal’s constant injury woes the club have admitted that Wilshere will not be available until October, Sagna hasn’t played since last season, Per Mertesacker hasn’t played competitive football since stepping in a hole at Sunderland away, Koscielny is not match fit, Rosicky was injured in Euro 2012, Ramsey is on team GB in the XXX Olympics, and Frimpong is still recovering from Frimponging himself whilst trying to Frimpong Joey Barton*. That’s nine more players who probably won’t be available for the first game of the season.

Part of the problem here is that Arsenal’s commercialization floodgates have opened. Rather than a bucolic training camp in the Alps every summer, Arsenal are now flying to China. Well, half of Arsenal are anyway. As the presumptive new face(s) of the Arsenal Per, Poldi, and Sagna have been away doing official business for the club in Africa. Making media appearances for Arsenal’s new Cell Phone partner and making a workout video for soft drink Malta Guinness.

It’s hard to get match fit when you are making videos for softdrinks partners.

Whether you agree with my “twenty players” number or not is almost irrelevant. The point is that it’s pretty clear from the summer’s activities that Arsenal are in the midst of a tear down and rebuild — both in terms of team composition and in terms of the commercialization of the club. And as with any construction project, the builders always leave a mess of sticks behind before final clean up. Sticks that people will inevitably use to beat the club with.

My hope is that during the rebuild, Arsenal put some work into shoring up the foundation of the club and bring in quality replacements for the folks who are leaving. Because with a solid foundation, people can beat the club with little sticks all day and the structure will be sound.

Qq

*Frimpong can be used like Smurf.

Kitschy 2-2 Arsenal: Conclusions plus Cazorla and Sahin

I woke up at 2am this morning to watch Arsenal v. Kitchee in Hong Kong and I can honestly say that I wish I slept in.

Hong Kong stadium is a wonderful gem tucked away in the hills overlooking the bay. I wondered if its expansive stands offer views of the city to fans who are lucky enough to get a seat? I also wondered why the pitch looked like it had just had a layer of manure spread on the surface.

As for the football, Arsenal were disorganized on defense for a second straight match and allowed the Kitchee side to take an early lead. Even after Arsenal dragged a goal back from some good play between Diaby and Walcott (who both had a decent first half), they again seemed to switch off and Kitchee scored the second goal off a rebound after a nice Szczesny save.

There’s no doubt that Arsenal’s defensive problems in the pre-season are a tad worrying. I’ve written about the club’s defensive problems extensively both here on 7amkickoff and on Arseblog News. The jist is that Arsenal have gotten consistently worse each season over the last five, not only in terms of goals conceded but also in goals allowed per shot and especially in goals allowed per shot on goal. Everyone has a pet theory as to why Arsenal’s defense has gotten worse: Gilberto leaving, Premier League officials are biased, injuries, Pat Rice, Arsene Wenger is a terrible coach, etc.

Lots of folks will point out that the starting back line in each of these games hasn’t had a chance to play together and those folks are right. We are also missing Sagna, Koscielny, and Mertesacker all of whom are starters. Again, right on the money. But the mistakes that we are seeing from the likes of Santos, Gibbs, Jenkinson, and the midfielders not tracking back are really schoolboy errors and it’s kind of infuriating.

Still, I’m not going to panic and rather will chalk it up to, erm, pre-season and trust that Bould and Wenger can sort out the defensive organization and get the team playing defense as a unit.

If not, we are in for a very long, ugly season.

Similarly, Gervinho had a good game today and showed flashes of why Arsene bought him. He really bamboozled the Kitchee defense with his close control and would have had several assists if not for Arsenal’s wastefulness in front of goal.

The worst example came when Gervinho split two defenders and then made a nice little pass around the onrushing keeper to Afobe who shot the ball off the post. I felt bad for the kid, it was the kind of chance he will always wish he had back.

Just like with defense, however, let’s be cautious with heaping too much praise on Gervinho. He was good and reminds me a lot of Alex Hleb: lots of good build up (especially dribbling to the end line), knows how to deliver a ball in the right place, but no real threat offensively himself.

Here, maybe this will help. Take one part “Don’t praise Gervinho because it’s only Kitchee” and add three parts “ZOMG Arsenal conceded two goals against a shit team like Kitchee!!!” and throw in a dash of “it’s pre-season, don’t panic.” Mix together and leave in a warm dark place until it festers. Then pop it and spread it on toast points. It’s amazing.

Right?

The other big news story is that there are credible reports Arsenal have officially bid over £20m for Santi Cazorla and that Arsenal’s interest in Nuri Sahin is very real. I’m basing most of this on an interview with Sid Lowe for Talksport which is a weird sort of thing for me to do — I know. I wouldn’t normally give something said on Talksport a moment of my time, but this is Sid Lowe and I absolutely trust his reporting. So if he says that Arsenal’s interest in these two players is genuine then I believe him.

The funny thing is that Sid Lowe also cautions us not to get too excited. Cazorla clearly wants out of Malaga and Arsenal clearly want the player but Malaga are a club in shambles at the moment and worse there are reports that someone else wants to buy them. If this deal goes through amid all that chaos it’s a miracle.

Sahin’s situation is a bit different. Mourinho wants to loan him and has publicly said as much, but the player doesn’t want to go. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t pursue him any more — which is hard for me to say because he would add much needed steele to the Arsenal midfield. But who wants someone who doesn’t want you back? Only a Bunburyist, that’s who.

It seems, however, that Arsenal are in the market for another midfielder. I’m just hoping that they have a third alternate in mind.

Right, that’s it for today. I’ve insulted all of our intelligence long enough.

Qq