Author Archives: Tim

About Tim

I'm the gaffer, I gaff things. I also make a lot of gaffs. Follow me on twitter @7amkickoff.

fa cup

Reading v. Arsenal: Negative Creep

By Tim Todd, tl;drer

Here it is, your tl;dr match preview.

  1. Arsenal play Reading in the FA Cup Semi-Final
  2. The match takes place at Wembley
  3. All pressure is on Arsenal to win because Reading are deep underdogs
  4. Winning back to back FA Cups will do absolutely nothing to change the minds of people like Stewart Robson who despise Arsene Wenger and everything he represents.
  5. Are we having fun yet?

Wembley, for me, still holds harrowing memories of the 2011 League Cup final.

Obafemi Martins winning goal went off like a bomb inside the stadium. The Birmingham end of the stadium erupted in screams of joy and our end of the stadium was blown down like the trees in the Tunguska blast.

And as we trudged out of the stadium the scene was post apocalyptic; rain falling in huge wet globs like nuclear fallout, and everyone pushed slowly toward the trains by the sheer will of the crowd. The dead carrying the dead.

Three years later in the same stadium, Arsenal overcame a 2-0 deficit to Hull City winning with a dramatic late goal by Aaron Ramsey to lift the FA Cup. It was Arsenal’s first trophy in 9 years. And the memory of that win should still carry us but oddly, the loss to Birmingham is fresher for me than the win over Hull.

My theory is that this is the case with all sports fans. The losses hurt more than the wins can soothe.

I suspect it’s part of the survival instinct. Pain can kill us and so we have to learn to avoid it at all costs. Thus, pain stays fresher in the mind. Pleasure, on the other hand, is something to be sought but it’s more like a life-bonus. It’s not going to kill us not to have pleasure so its memory fades faster.

Arsenal’s run last year hasn’t faded completely. I still remember the giddy excitement of singing “she wore, she wore, she wore a yellow ribbon!” And “Wembley, Wembley, we are the mighty Arsenal and we’re going to Wembley” over and over again in the build-up to nearly every match and sometimes just randomly in the middle of a match as I watched in my living room. And I remember sitting in the Emirates with Adrian as Arsenal overcame Everton to secure a place in the semi-final: the crowd only confident enough to sing about Wembley once the Arsenal had restored their lead.

I haven’t heard much singing about Wembley this year, last year those songs were ubiquitous, and the lack of singing makes me wonder if Arsenal fans have the same sense of excitement that they did last year? Please, those of you who are there, tell me that the songs are sung just as exuberantly I want to believe that we Arsenal fans aren’t taking this match and the cup final for granted.

But I fear that we are and worse, I fear that the team might take Reading for granted. Reading are 18th in the Championship and Arsenal are in 2nd in the Premiership. And just like the gap between their places in each division, there is a massive gap in terms of talent on these two teams. Arsenal have at their disposal Özil and Sanchez, players Arsenal bought from giant clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid for £30-40m each, Reading do business with… well, they did get a few players on loan from League leaders Chelsea, but the only player they purchased this season was Oliver Norwood from Huddersfield for £1m. In terms of talent, spend, and pedigree Arsenal have the huge advantage.

So, it doesn’t much matter who Arsenal start in which positions. If Arsene rotates some of the forwards, for example bringing in Welbeck for Giroud, he still has Giroud on the bench. The same for nearly every other position on the squad. For that reason I won’t be surprised to see Walcott in the starting lineup or even Jack Wilshere — both players need games and they are fit. And if Wenger keeps true to the squad he has used so far in the FA Cup, Szczesny should get a start over Ospina at keeper.

The one player who might not rotate out is Coquelin. His best replacement, Arteta, had a setback in his recovery plan and can’t play. Arsène could bring in Flamini for Coquelin but only if Coquelin really needs the rest.

Who Arsenal rotate in or out is irrelevant, however, because all of the pressure is on Arsenal to win this match. Reading are such underdogs that they are like a little Chihuahua cowering underneath a Pug, and the Pug is the actual underdog.

So, in a weird way nothing Arsenal do in this match matters. If Arsenal win, the haters keep hating and the lovers will be filled with a temporary joy but Arsenal advance in a competition they are supposed to advance in. If Arsenal do the unthinkable and lose…

I just hope everyone has fun tomorrow.

Qq

Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger good friends

Jurgen Klopp for Arsene Wenger? Stone Cold Crazy

For the past four years, the football managerial landscape has had a shadow cast over it by one man and five syllables: Jur-gen Nor-bert Klopp. Klopp is the rock star of young managers; his brand of football is loud and brash, he is often seen on the sidelines fist pumping every minor victory, and most important to the reporters and the fans, he gives great interviews. As a result, whenever football fans talk about replacing their manager, Klopp is first name on most lists.

So, when Klopp announced he was stepping down as manager of Borussia Dortmund, which he did in typical Klopp style by holding a press conferences weeks before the season ended, speculation about his next destination went into feeding frenzy. Which of the big teams will Klopp go to this summer? Man City? Arsenal? Bayern? Real Madrid? Inter?

I pick none of the above. I think Klopp needs a year off.

As manager of Borussia Dortmund Klopp introduced the world to what he called “Heavy Metal” football. Like a great rock concert, Heavy Metal football is non-stop action which feeds on the emotions of the crowd. He has his players pressing the opposition high up the pitch and forcing them into making mistakes. Every time his team wins the ball back near the opposition penalty box, Klopp would celebrate on the sideline, like the band’s lead singer, doing deep-knee rock squats and egging on the crowd.

Klopp’s team was a huge success, both in terms of trophies and entertainment and Klopp did all this on a relative shoe-string budget. Until this season, Klopp maintained a clean balance sheet. He was able to sell star players like Goetze and Kagawa and bring in great replacements like Reus, Lewandowski, and Gundogan on a knock down fee.

Klopp slowly built a team around his philosophy, capturing standout defenders like Hummels and Subotic for pennies, promoting players like Goetze from his youth team, and buying cheap forwards like Lewandowski and turning them into huge stars. After three years of building, Klopp’s brand of frantic football won back-to-back Bundesliga titles and got his team to a Champions League final in 2013. That is an incredible achievement considering how much money and power his main rivals, Bayern Munich, we able to wield in that time.

But the fall came quickly as Klopp’s football was picked apart. Bayern bought his best player, Goetze one year and took his start striker (Lewandowski) on a free the next year. Dortmund went from Bundesliga champions in the season they had Goetze, to second place the next season, and now to 10th.

Meanwhile, teams started to figure out how to play against his swarming high press and started picking apart the back line. Ironically, Klopp’s team, the team who tried to force others into making errors, became error prone. But worse than errors and defensive mistakes, their goals dried up. Dortmund dropped from scoring 80 goals last season to just 37 this season. Klopp’s Heavy Metal football had gone from exciting shows to something akin to watching the Rolling Stones cash a paycheck on stage.

Injuries also played a large part of that drop in offensive efficiency. Marco Reus is at that age in his career where he should have been the standout player for Dortmund and yet he only scored 7 goals and managed 5 assists in 17 appearances.

Between having his players poached, the opposition figuring out how to play against him a bit, and injuries, it looks like Klopp’s Heavy Metal lifestyle finally caught up with him.

In a way, Klopp’s failure highlights the genius of Wenger. Wenger’s net spend from 2005-2012 was essentially zero. Meanwhile, Wenger went through a period where he lost one of the best players of his generation, Fabregas, to the transfer market and in the same year lost an important talent in Nasri. The very next year, star striker Robin van Persie demanded a trade. Like Klopp, Wenger’s teams have been stricken with injuries, though it seems like Arsenal’s have been slightly more horrific: in the last seven years Arsenal have had Fabregas, van Persie, Nasri, Eduardo, and Ramsey each suffer a broken leg. And even this year Arsenal’s worst run of form coincided with iunjuries to key players Özil and Giroud.

Through all that, Wenger managed to keep Arsenal in the Champions League places in one of the most competitive leagues in world football. And Wenger managed to keep Arsenal challenging for trophies, getting to a League Cup final and nearly winning the League in 2007-2008.

And Wenger is still changing, evolving his team from a side which mainly sought to dominate possession to one which presses. Arsenal have gone from a team which Klopp called an “orchestra” to one similar to Dortmund, but not quite as Heavy Metal. Arsenal are still refined in possession when they want to be, a smooth operatic harmony in the background, but right up front they will get in your face and place some hard metal guitar. Instead of Heavy Metal football Arsenal are more Rock Opera football.

For all their similarities, that ability to change is the one major difference between Wenger and Klopp. Questions will remain as to whether Klopp can tame his Heavy Metal tendencies until he proves himself. But riding high off a Champions League final in 2013 he seemed reluctant to change:

“He is really something. I love him. He is Sir Arsene Wenger. He is ‘hello (making a handshake gesture)’. I’m this guy,” Klopp told reporters.

“But he likes having the ball, playing football, passes… it’s like an orchestra,” gesturing as if playing a violin, “But it is a silent song. I like heavy metal more. I always want it loud.

“To enjoy football you have to do this. He can win, he can win, post, goalkeeper, save — that is what I love. If, in the last four years, Barcelona were the first team I saw playing when I was four years of age — this serenity of football, they win 5-0, 6-0 — I would have played tennis.

“It is not my sport. I don’t like winning with 80 per cent [of possession]. Sorry that is not enough for me. Fighting football, not serenity football, that is what I like. What we call in German ‘English’ — rainy day, heavy pitch, 5-5, everybody is dirty in the face and goes home and cannot play for weeks after.”

If you’ve ever seen Klopp give an interview he’s got a certain infectious madness. You want to play guitar in this madman’s band because you know it’s going to be a blast. But like he says, you’re not going to be able to play for weeks after.

But I wonder if the frenetic pace he set for himself and his club didn’t finally catch up with Herr Klopp? Klopp once said that Borussia Dortmund were a club “worth falling in love with”, so it must have been heartbreaking for him to leave that behind. I feel like he needs a year to heal that heartbreak, to reevaluate how he wants his team to play football, and I suspect that Klopp could use a little “opera” and orchestra with his Heavy Metal.

If there is a song that captures metal and opera it would be something like Queen’s Stone Cold Crazy. That has to be the perfect title to describe Klopp and with its operatic harmonies and drama along with a driving guitar lick, could be the blueprint for his future teams. Not “Heavy Metal Football” but “Stone Cold Crazy Football”.

I won’t be surprised if Klopp jumps right back into the managerial ring despite clearly needing a rest. He’s a restless soul and sitting around thinking about football will drive him mad. But wherever Klopp ends up it won’t be with Arsenal (yet) because the Gunners already have a Stone Cold Crazy manager. In fact, given all that Wenger has accomplished with similar problems to Klopp, in Wenger I think Arsenal have the blueprint.

Qq

saber

LARPing with a cheap ball

By Conan the Barbarian, midfield destroyer

I’ve been playing football with the same group of guys now for what seems like 10 years and there are three constants: no one shows up on time, one guy thinks he’s our king, and no matter what happens we have to play with a “professional” ball.

As long as I’ve been playing football these guys have been spending $100-150 on one of those premium soccer balls. You know the ones I’m talking about, I think the main feature is that they have little dimples on the skin, which is supposed to improve control. And maybe they do, I wouldn’t know and neither would any of my friends because collectively they have less control than teenagers on Spring Break. With their father’s credit card.

But I understand the desire to play with the best balls. Because when we put on our Falcao strip and our $200 shoes, and all of the pads, and bright new socks, we are role playing, we are LARPing, and we can’t complete our costume with some cheap ball. No, we have to play with a $150 Adidas Finale.

And that need to play with the best ball is so ingrained in my group of friends that they will literally pick a five year old Adidas Finale 10 over a brand new Nike Saber. And I know because I’ve been bringing my brand new ball to the match every weekend and they basically refuse to play with it.

It’s crazy too. That Adidas Finale 10 is so worn down that the formerly blue stars are now kind of a silvery color. The ball is certainly no longer in round (it wobbles in the air when you kick it) and it has picked up so much water from playing for 5 years that it is heavy and slow. Those special dimples that are supposed to improve touch wore off years ago. And I swear that a few weeks ago the stars were starting to peel off. They aren’t any more, but that’s because someone glued them back on. I can’t prove it, but that’s my theory.

And given the choice between that five year old, dilapidated, heavy, worn down ball and a brand new ball, but a brand new ball that isn’t in the price range that they think the ball should be in, my friends choose the old ball.

I happen to like the Nike Saber. It’s got great touch, despite not having the dimples, it kicks true, it’s got the correct weight, it’s round, it’s ROUND. I mean, what else could you possibly want?

But the proof that choosing the expensive ball is all about fantasy and ego is that I’ve taken that Nike Saber to play with kids. The kids choose the new ball every time. Adults will play with the crappy old ball because they think it’s better but the kids, they want the new ball. Because kids don’t have that ego yet.

So, ditch your ego. I know that you think that by buying the $150 Champions League Finale ball you’re going to be transported to The Nou Camp, and you’re going to nutmeg David Luiz, and curl a perfect shot into the upper right corner. But in reality, you’re probably going to step on the ball, fall over, and have me kick the ball 50 yards out of play. You don’t need a $150 ball to have that scene.

But if it makes you feel better, just pretend that this is the $150 version. That’s what I do. I use my imagination. Because unlike the rest of you, when I play football, I’m not David Luiz or Luis Suarez, I’m Conan the Barbarian, because I’m a real LARPer.

Qq

Thanks to the guys from SoccerPro for providing me with the Nike Saber ball. I really do like the product and for less than $40 it’s a great ball with almost all of the features of the more expensive version. It’s the perfect ball for your local pickup game.