Things I learned in England

The Ox

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is better than you think, much better. If you remember back to when Cesc first came to Arsenal he was lauded as a player who would see passes sometimes before his teammates would know where to be. Ox does that as well. Right now, when you see him “misplace” a pass it’s probably because he put the ball where he expected his teammate to move to and not because he physically couldn’t complete the pass. This is about understanding your teammates and will take time to develop.

Physically, he’s a very small player but he plays bigger than himself. For example, it takes two Italians to knock him over!

His touch is unreal. There was a point in the second half when Chambo was running the Arsenal midfield and a bobbled ball came to him. He simply hit it one time to Theo — a daisy cutter they call it — and it was a ball struck in a way I have never seen in real life. The crowd around me actually gasped it was such a wonderful ball.

I’m sure one of my teammates will show me how it’s done this weekend. But it won’t be first time, on the move, in Champions League knockout match while van Pommel is breathing down your neck. And it won’t go precisely to Theo Walcott.

I’ve heard the word “hype” associated with Chambo. It’s not hype, he’s the real deal. Of course he hasn’t arrived yet, yes he dribbles into blind alleys sometimes, and it’s going to take time to get him to have the same type of connection that Cesc had with his teammates but he’s the most talented midfielder I’ve seen play for Arsenal since Cesc.

Euro 2012

Unfortunately, he’s so talented that Chambo will no doubt be selected for Euro 2012 and Euro U-21, Euro U-16, Euro U-Euro, U-Euro 21, Euro Club World Euro Cup, and anything else the FA can stuff him into so they can hoover up some money.

I suspect the club learned the lesson from Wilshere, where Psycho and Capello joined forces to try and ruin a young man’s career by overplaying him. Which is why I think Chambo is being reserved at the moment.

So, next time you see him hauled off and wonder why, just remember Psycho is watching and slavering over the idea of playing Chambo 90 times this summer.


Don’t be surprised if Theo is not selected for the national team this summer. No one in England, outside of Arsenal, mentioned him in a positive way during my entire trip. In fact, the fans I sat with mostly called him one-dimensional, utter shit.

What Theo, Gervinho, Chamakh and others remind me of is the book and movie Moneyball. The name of the film and book, “Moneyball”, comes from a concept whereby teams in small markets in Baseball (like the Oakland A’s) eschew traditional forms of scouting and recruiting and instead use data to help decide how to build a team. So, for example, you might look at on base percentage for a player rather than whether he has a good looking wife (that’s an example from the movie).

It’s more complicated than that (a lot more) but the point is that a team which cannot compete with the Yankees on salaries and must act more rationally in the market. This sometimes means that the club will buy players who are kind of misfits. In football that would be taking a punt on younger players, or guys with a history of injury, guys who are one-footed, players who are one dimensional, etc. and will teach them the other skills to the best of their ability.

A lot of people compare Arsenal and Wenger to the Oakland A’s and Billy Beane, but the problem is that unlike Oakland who have just two big teams to compete against, Arsenal play in the Champions League, where there are no less than ten New York Yankees (Man U, Man City, Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern, PSG, AC Milan, Inter, and new players Anzhi Makhachkala). At any moment, any of those teams could come along and offer Robin, Wilshere, and Chamberlain £200,000 a week and not blink an eye.

I’ve complained before about Arsenal’s transfer dealings but I hope that I’ve been very clear in saying specifically that I think the club needs more quality in depth. Watching Chamakh and Park play keepy uppy with the other bench players before the game against AC Milan was enlightening. Chamakh has got no touch. Park is OK, Djourou is better, but Chamakh can’t control the ball when it’s played to him and the other guys in the circle were taking the piss out of him for it constantly. Even Park was making fun of Chamakh.

But great first touch is not why he was brought to Arsenal. In typical Moneyball fashion, Chamakh was brought in to get goals from headers. He has done that and now, also in typical Moneyball fashion, it’s time to move him on.

Which is what I think the Podolski signing is about. I was talking to a German guy and he told me that Podolski isn’t a great forward but he’s a good player, hard working, and will probably get goals. But he’s got problems, flaws if you will, and one of them is his attitude.

He’s not being brought to Arsenal to be a replacement for Robin van Persie as I heard someone say. He’s there to add depth to the team. Imagine if Arsene has a player like Podolski who can come off the bench instead of Chamakh and Park. Or Podolski starts and Gervinho/Theo comes off the bench late in a game.

Podolski is, in that way, a Wengerball signing.

The Fans

I can definitively state that I have met some of the most brutally self-harming human beings on Earth. Every weekend, they climb on buses, get a taxi, walk, take a train, or any of 1000 other ways to get to their church and see their sermon.

Along the way, just like any religious procession, some will fall out. Some will lack the strength to get all the way there. Some won’t even speak the language. But when that happens there will always be a hand out to lift them up and drag them to the stadium.

It’s not just the choruses and the signing, the flashy robes, and the unanswered prayers. It’s the way that the folks I met banded together like a family and not just for a few moments during the game.

It’s any time, any place, it seems.

And I love you all for it.


34 thoughts on “Things I learned in England

  1. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1ClockEndRider

    Nice analysis. Anyone who writes, thinks and feels as you do is welcome at our church any day.

  2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1jaymin

    That’s very enlightening to hear about Chamakh. Bendtner also lacks decent close control and for this reason I struggle to see the appeal Wenger initially had for both players. Both good in the air as a mythic plan b a la Zlatan in Barcelona? Both unceremoniously dumped, a la Zlatan in Barcelona, thankfully not at the cost of 70 million euros and our best striker as collateral damage! I wonder if this season we could see a rapprochement with Nicky B, who has been having a sordid time in Sunderland, where he is less nurtured than he was with us and maybe will come to retrospectively appreciate the familial atmosphere we cultivate at Arsenal a little bit more? he’s better than Chamakh, would cost us nothing beyond his wages, and if the Sunderland authorities are to be believed, has developed a criminal edge that might make him a gritty option off the bench!
    Also, flashy robes? do tell…

  3. -11 Vote -1 Vote +1DF

    Dear Tim,
    I admire your love for the Arsenal and your confidence to defend a 1-dimensional half-a-brain player like Walcott.
    However, just think about wenger buying him at 17, paying 10M in instalments for him, nurture him for years, pay him 60K per week , put a contract of 80K on the table and the kid dares to ask for 100K, you tell me he is a Moneyball signing? I am afraid I has to disagree strongly.
    Flamini, Santos, Jenkinson…etc is a Moneyball signing, Walcott is definitely not. there are also a lot of sub-moneyball signings, like Silvestre, Squilaci, and maybe Chamakh, Park, Yossi, ..etc, as well as SUPER-sub-sub Moneyball signing, Vela–more like the show pony—but Theo?
    My goodness!!!

    The Arsenal has in total 70 players on the club’s wagebill,mostly youngsters we will either loan out or send out. This makes Arsenal with the 4th highest wage payout in the EPL, 50M more than Spurs, who is still ahead of us in 3rd, now in the middle of an implosion….

    Have anyone who visits this blog watch Manutd being played off the field and losing 3-1 to Bilbao? They don’t have a world class player like RvPersie, not even a Song or Rosicky….
    but they play with no fear, high energy, hunt in packs, and play with conviction, excitement and confidence they will beat the Manures even when 1 goal down. On the other hand, we play against the Manures with an inferiority complex, were beaten again and again by them in the past 5 years…

    I dont dream this Arsenal team will rise from the dead to emulate the Invincibles. We lack at least 9 players in the first team to reach that level. I just hope this team can play like Bilbao in every match.

    1. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1jaymin

      @DF, things cost what they cost, and we can either play the game or complain and lose. a speed demon like walcott with his goal scoring record, against teams as varied as Leeds United to FC Barcelona, and his assist record, make Theo worth 100 k/wk in this crazy marketplace. we can either pay him, or we cannot, and someone else, a City, a Chelsea, a United, will.

    2. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

      @DF, This is a common misconception about signings. They don’t all work out. The point about Theo is that Wenger thought he had the ability to be something special and that Wenger would craft that out of his speed.

    3. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ssinderias

      @DF, Don’t agree with you. Walcott plays in Champions League knockout stages, Bilbao in Europa League. Big difference. Also, Bilbao will sell their unknowns in the summer for big money, so this year is probably a flash in the pan for them. Arsenal makes stars out of unknowns, but still competes at the highest levels year after year

  4. Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    Useful insight. Maybe the OX is too good? In the sense that our club policies leave us constantly victimized by all those NY Yankee-like teams any time we have the foresight, scouting skill, luck and timing to bring in a player of his quality. It all takes all those things to land a great player, but it also takes a lot of money to keep them once they become established.

    Speaking of established players, I hope van Persie is properly rewarded by the club for this really remarkable year he’s having. If he can be loyal to us for another couple of years in exchange for a decent contract, we’ll all be that much more confident going into the next campaign.

    The difficulties lie with his age and his past problems (I’m so superstitious about this, I still can’t write the I-word). He’s 29 and closer to the end of his career than the beginning. If he goes, better he goes now than if he was 5 years younger like Fabregas. Whatever happens, I’ll always remember that he more than anyone else, kept us in our competitions in 2011-2012 with his form, his flair and his leadership.

  5. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Frankie

    Podolski seems to be rather aggressive and cold blooded as he goes about his business of making life difficult for the opposition. A hard edge (or blunt instrument) along a previously fragile front line. When he plays out wide he gets to butt heads with right backs. By the time he gets to the center back he’s built up a head of steam perhaps? Never mind his first touch; Chamakh has lost his aggression and it really kills you in football, let alone English football.

  6. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Greg

    And it’s for this (Moneyball) reason that I will always be grateful to good players who come in to Arsenal, contribute, and move on – even if they are deemed to be a failure by the media and the baying masses. Chamakh is a case in point. He was brought in to do a job, not to be a saviour. If his hunger overcomes his fear again, like it did with Rosicky a few days ago, we will get some more goals out of him yet.

    1. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1tino

      Exactly what I was thinking. These players all contribute to the success of the team, but fans seem very fickle and forget too easily.

    2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Ssinderias

      @Greg, Most of the failures had their best years and performances with Arsenal. After they left, they were sh*t with other clubs. Henry is the only exception, but then again Henry is Henry

  7. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

    I care fuck all about first touch, if you can bang two against the Spurs I’ll take that everytime. That said, Theo being one dimensional is not that far off the mark. Think he just needs more time. He needs to work on his dribble. He’s only 22 so it can still be done. His finishing has improved and there are signs of his abilities albeit sporadic. Besides why the heck would we want RVP to lose his top assist man? Give him two more years I say.

    Welcome back Tim. Really enjoyed your posts from England this time around. Best trip ever?

  8. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1BayGooner

    Good piece, Tim. Couple of things:

    First, the point of Moneyball was that in baseball, there are a number of ways to skin a cat. Fans who studied stats showed that there were a number of qualities in players which led to runs being scored, and that if you could not afford what baseball calls “a five tool player” — someone who can do it all — you could still get close to it by other means. And you could give yourself an edge by dropping tactics which had poor payoff, like the stolen base and the sacrifice, low-percentage plays much like lumping it forward in soccer.

    And Bean did succeed. The problem was that baseball is set up where season-long success gains you nothing but access to a post-season knockout tournament of short series of games. And where a statistical edge cumulatively makes a difference over 162 games, the odds increase that it will not hold sway in 3-, 4-,5-, 6- and 7-game series. That’s when the five-tool players show their stuff. So the A’s could not repeat their performances in the post-season.

    Chamakh’s limitation is that he never was an impact player — he was, and is, a player who delivers over a long string of games, like the first half of last season, when Robin was basically injured and out. Once Robin came back, Chamakh went to the bench, and was able to play in the way that makes him successful. Further, Wenger said from the start that Robin and Chamakh could not play together — and unless he changes that view, then the Moroccan should leave. But the crap he has gotten from the fans is unconscionable.

    Wenger often tries to place players where their best talents can have most exposure. That’s why Theo and Arshavin have always played on the wings — when Andrei played in the center, he could not do the job. And the Ox already has more skill at cutting inside from the wing than Theo, which is why Theo will not play in the center — he has not shown the ability to.

    One thing I learned this weekend is that American sports coverage is better than English, even of soccer. We were blessed this past weekend with Gary Neville doing the color on the FSC broadcast, and he was a breath of fresh air compared with the terminally negative Robson. Still. In the set-up before the corner for the first goal, the cameras focused on a long and bitchy dispute between Gervinho and his marker. Gervinho made everyone know that he wanted to get away from his man, and complained a lot. The ref had to speak to the pair twice. Gervinho moved to the forward post, and the moment Ox started his kick, he ran towards the corner, pulling his man with him, and leaving a gaping space in front of the forward post for Koscielny to amble into and have a free header from four yards. No one on the broadcast noticed Gervinho’s clear-out. Even Warren Barton only got half of it right at intermission, noticing the space, but not how it had been created. It was disgraceful commentary.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1tino

      Amen to your thoughts on the commentary, but the issue is deeper than just poor pundits. The feed which is provided bears a responsibility for a poor overall product. Whoever produces the content doesn’t feel it is necessary to emphasize good technique or provide a view that shows how players are dragged in and out of position.

      If Van Persie dribbles around four Spuds and maintains possession that should be highlighted. Similarly Gervinho wasn’t the only one who dragged Milan’s mighty defense out of position, but the view offered by the feed only shows him(Gervinho). I think Song and Vermaelan played a part as well.

      I really wish they would provide meaningful stats during the game as well. I hate the distance covered stat, with a passion! Those idiot statisticians should provide real-time data on individuals similar to what Tim does for Arsblog in his ‘By the Numbers.’

      One reason I enjoy watching the French league games is that they highlight technique and tend to offer varying views of the action on the pitch. In some games the have the camera suspended above the pitch, like the NFL. They also only use one commentator who seems very unbiased and sticks to talking about the game.

      I have been impressed with Gary Neville as well. I really expected him to be quite negative about us, but that hasn’t been the case.

      1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1BCS

        @tino, Philippe Auclair (French sports journalist based in London) thinks that the French commentators are better because they are mostly real sports journalists. Most of the English commentators are ex-footballers and tend to be inarticulate, have old axes to grind, and sometimes seem to have already decided the course of a game before it’s played. When something unexpected happens (like Sp**s losing – it was unexpected to them anyway) they can’t quite change their commentary on time. They fumble for words; they are repetitive; they also need dictionaries.

        Sadly, most English commentators can’t really give a good analysis of a game – perhaps they lack “football intelligence.”

        I watch some Spanish football and sometimes they have one guy commenting on a game – I like that too, instead of a footballing version of a Mutt and Jeff show, which is what we often get.

    2. Vote -1 Vote +1Al

      @BayGooner, Have you listened to the American play by play guy who does la liga for gol tv? He is awful…..he stil uses basketball terminology like post ip a d stuff. I think football commentary in English is best done by thte Brits. Btw the commentary by Neville was just the sky sports feed for the uk audience picked up by fox.

  9. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1irish gooner

    i havent seen moneyball,but i heard its good,bradd pitt and jonah hill never dissapoint so id say its good,,sumbody should make a film why wenger and arsenal are the best thing to happen to english football and that chelski ,,man city and their poisonous owners should fuck off and like F1 or some other bullshit sport,,maybe baseball?

  10. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Prashant

    Just a point re: Moneyball. Billy beane idolises Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. It’s been the inspiration for him. Circular reference FTW

  11. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Amerigooner

    Speaking of Moneyball signings… I’d be quite happy to see the Flamster come back to The Arsenal. Yes he left as a money-grabbing mercenary… but one has to think he’s been chastened by his experience in Milan (as so many players who leave our club are) and I think an all-action, hard-working, feisty midfielder like him would be great to have on our bench to fill in during the cups, injuries, etc. etc.

    Anyone think its possible?

  12. Vote -1 Vote +1Amerigooner

    Speaking of Moneyball signings… I’d be quite happy to see the Flamster come back to The Arsenal. Yes he left as a money-grabbing mercenary… but one has to think he’s been chastened by his experience in Milan (as so many players who leave our club are) and I think an all-action, hard-working, feisty midfielder like him would be great to have on our bench to fill in during the cups, injuries, etc. etc.

    Anyone think its possible for Flamini to come back?

  13. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Gerry Lennon

    So many points to cover – last one first; ‘Flamster’ – No. A.N Other – Yes. but not until after Euro 2012.
    Theo Walcott – When the quick pass is made with him in space he is fine. Too often the ball makes two stops across field before it’s played to him, by the the defence has him covered. Roll on to next season when Coquelin is a regular.
    Bendtner – A bit of a arse of his own making … However, like Arshavin, they could produce something special. They both ‘suffered’ from the Van Persie effect(as did Chamakh), in that he is not a conventional centre forward. Gervinho is the only one that ‘compliments’ RVP’s style, everybody else gets pushed out wide. I see a similar problem with Po PO Podolkski if they go 4-4-2, not to mention a clash of personalities? On the other hand Bendtner Podolski could work well as a Plan B?
    Gary Neville – Mmmmn, I think he tries too hard to be neutral at times, and he does bring out his preconceptions when he forgets his new role. Take his criticism of Song not getting back … He missed the point that tactically, AW was using the speed of AOC to do that, to make sure Song lasted the 90 minutes. Another was the Gibbs penalty claim against Spurs -’He was falling over before he was tackled’, he said watching the replay … that was showing the Spur’s defender had trodden on Gibb’s foot which is why he went down. But hey, they can all be guilty of seeing what they want to see?

  14. Vote -1 Vote +1Lucas Koerper

    Ask five economists and you will get five different answers – six if one attended Harvard.
    As being a small businessperson, you haven’t any greater leverage as opposed to truth.

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