Author Archives: Tim

About Tim

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


Let them eat Caviar

 I’ve never seen a player like Dennis Bergkamp. I moved right, a caviar; I moved left, a caviar. I was squeezed by two defenders, another caviar. Moving deep – another one…

Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top

As Philippe Auclair says in his biography on Thierry Henry, “caviar” is the French footballer’s word for a pass so sumptuous, so opulent, that it would be a shame to waste it. You already know what a caviar pass is, you’ve seen them hundreds of times, it’s the pass so perfect that a player can shoot without breaking his stride, a pass that might not look right at first but slips into the perfect space (probably the only space) and gifts the player a chance, or a pass that is just so magical that wasting the chance on the other end is tantamount to being offered a bite of caviar and throwing it away saying ‘too salty’ or ‘bring me the tin of Gervinho sardines instead!’

What caviar isn’t is a simple pass that ends in a shot: a key pass. The key pass as a stat has its merit but like all stats leaves part of the story untold. If Özil leads the League in Key Passes but 95% of them are for shots outside the 18 yard box then he’s not much of a threat in reality because those shots are low percentage (~3%) conversion. Thus, while I like Key Passes and think it’s a useful number, I prefer a stat which quantifies those passes which are of such high quality that both sets of fans involuntarily let out a gasp.

A caviar is also not an assist, it can be an assist, it really should be an assist, but it’s not lways an assist because sometimes a bit of caviar goes to waste. Assists are another stat which can be dubious at times. If a goal is scored it is now customary to award an assist to the player who last passed the ball. Sort of. If the goal scorer still had a lot to do, sometimes they won’t award an assist but I’ve seen assists given to Walcott for dribbling into the box, being tackled, and the ball popping out to another Arsenal player and them scoring. Did Walcott assist the goal in that case? Well, his dribble made it happen even if his final ball wasn’t intentional, so I guess it could be counted as an assist.

But with a caviar, there is never a doubt. It’s a pass of rare quality. There’s a famous Arsenal goal against Juventus which illustrates caviar perfectly.

Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal’s most prolific purveyor of fine caviar, takes a pass from Freddie, stalls, jinks one way, then back, his defender now turned inside out, and then in a moment of brilliance flicks the ball over his marker’s shoulder with the outside of his right boot, into the path of Ljungberg, who chips over the keeper.

It’s an assist, but of course it’s an assist, wasting that shot there would have been wasting a caviar.

One Arsenal player who got short shrift for the caviar he often served up was Alex Song. His ability to lay on a lavish pass from deep was often decried as “Hollywood” from the Arsenal fans who wished that Song was more of a destroyer in the defensive midfield role, but after Cesc Fabregas went on strike to force a move to Barcelona, Song stepped up his game and became Arsenal’s main assist man. What’s incredible is that Song had the ability to create those shots from deep early on in his career but rarely showed it off until Cesc left. One memorable caviar from Song was the Eduardo goal against Burnley. The goal is almost always remembered more for Dudu’s cheeky samba shot but he could have scored simply with his right foot, the pass was so pinpoint perfect.

On Tuesday in the Beşiktaş v. Arsenal match there were only two outright caviar passes: Özyakup’s lob to Ba and Ramsey’s flip to Giroud. There were plenty of fantastic passes, passes which probably should have been better shots or maybe even goals but only those two passes rise to the quality of a caviar.

Özyakup had a great game. His pass to Ba in the opening stages of the match probably would have resulted in a goal had Arsenal not been blessed with a great shot stopper in Szczesny. Özyakup curled in a ball from the angle, over all of the defenders, which Ba took off the volley and forced a brilliant stretched save from Szczesny. Özyakup also created a great chance for Sahan in the second half, which the Beşiktaş man tried to curl home but just missed the post wide. And then, of course, if was Özyakup’s trickery which got Ramsey sent off: first getting a yellow card for a petulant display and then moments later, that brilliant dive to make it look like Ramsey got more than a finger on him in “holding him back”.

It was brilliant because no one else on Arsenal looked likely to score or create a goal except Ramsey and Ramsey had been kicked all over the pitch (including a blow to the family jewels moments before being sent off) clearly indicating that Ramsey was targeted for harsh treatment. Still, Ramsey should have won the game for Arsenal in the opening minute of the second half. Playing deep, he whipped a to Alexis up front, kept running, ran to the top of the box, collected the return pass, and then in a moment of Bergkamp-esque brilliance, flipped the ball up and over the defenders right to Giroud’s feet. Literally all that Giroud had to do was get any touch on the ball and it was a goal. Instead, the Frenchman turned up his honking nose at the caviar and the ball was collected easily by the keeper. It was typical of Giroud’s game that night and if there’s a sniffy lining its that the Frenchman will never have a worse game.

Ramsey-caviarAlexis was the creator of a handful of great passes in that game but no caviar. He had the early ball in to Giroud which nutmegged his marker and which Giroud stumbled over, almost impossibly failing to score from two feet away from goal. And Alexis also had a through ball to Debuchy which I thought the fullback should have shot instead of getting to the end line and trying the drag back. Those passes were fantastic but in the end only illustrate how rare the caviar pass really is.

Watching the games over again I wonder, is caviar a once a game occurrence? Is it something that happens more often than we think? I don’t know, but I’m going to have fun tracking it as a stat this year.

Where are my pearl spoons?


Besiktas Arsenal Cazorla

The Bunburyist — Odds All Even: Gunners Peer into Cauldron of Doom, Say ‘Meh’

Thou hast nor youth, nor age,
But as it were an after-dinner’s sleep
Dreaming on both, for all thy blessed youth
Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms
Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich,
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty
To make thy riches pleasant. What’s in this
That bears the name of life? Yet in this life
Lie hid mo thousand deaths; yet death we fear,
That makes these odds all even.

- A Motivational Speaker in Measure for Measure

Like the game itself, this report will be a draw, each side canceling the other out, only here it’s a 3-3 result. Six talking points, three positives, three negatives, even though I think, in the end, it will be Besiktas facing death, not Arsenal. And by “death” I mean losing the tie, of course, because in football we can never be too hyperbolic in framing issues.

Jose Mourinho, let’s not forget, once said he “came to kill” Arsenal, and Jamie Redknapp would only add “literally.” Phil Brown literally got up our noses one time, and some teams even like to “put it up” other teams for the sole reason that those teams “don’t like it up them.” If you believed the pundits, English football would literally be a murderous orgy of buggery.

That might be the case when Chelsea* or Stoke City are involved, but our game against Besiktas was nothing of the sort. For all the talk of a cauldron (and it was loud, despite the stadium being about a third empty), the image caught on camera of an elderly female Besiktas fan wrapped in a knitted shawl with both hands pressed nervously to her lips is one that resonated with my impression of Bilic, their players, and their fans. There’s a lot of bark there, but very little bite. Woof! (Ba.)

Let’s start with the even.


1. A good result, all things considered.

Considering where the two teams were at with squad fitness and preparation, this is a decent result for Arsenal. The Turkish club did not have to deal with a league game only three days prior to this match (the Super Lig doesn’t start until August 31st), nor did they have to travel, nor has their squad had to deal with players returning late from international duty: Not a single one of their players went to the World Cup this summer. Unlike us, their entire squad has been preparing collectively throughout pre-season for Champions League qualification, and it’s their sole focus. One week won’t work miracles, but we should be sharper next Wednesday, and we’ll be playing at home (on an actual football pitch instead of the Turkish impression of Edward James Olmos’ cheeks). For all the frustration of tonight’s performance, we should be favorites to go through next week.

2. Chambers.

Let’s roll out the adages, shall we? Old head on young shoulders. Mature beyond his years. Doesn’t look out of place. Not overawed by the occasion. Plenty of fish in the sea. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush. All true! I really don’t think there’s any danger of going overboard here. He’s quite simply the best player of his generation in any league. Haha. I kid (Neil Ashton for the Daily Mail, however, is not kidding, and yet weget blamed for overhyping players???). Anyway, there are moments when Chambers plays with the expected rawness of a 19-year-old, and there are moments when he plays like a cultured defender of the highest caliber. Thankfully, for us, the latter outweighs the former. What a player, and full credit to Wenger on this one. Everyone was talking about Shaw and United this summer, but we got the better deal by some distance. Still work to do, but the signs are immensely encouraging.

3. Alexis.

He’s (understandably) still in pre-season form with a new club, but you can see the quality, and it’s beautiful. There’s little doubt he will be a success for us. There’s also little doubt that, while he adapts to the club, the media will write him off as a complete failure and transfer dud and what the hell was Wenger thinking he should have bought Costa and Fabregas along with the rest of the Chelsea squad and if you want a proper center forward look no further than Andy Carroll or Carlton Cole. I’ll tell you what excited me most about his performance tonight: the change of pace. The last time we had a player who could appear to be running as fast as he could with the ball, only to somehow produce yet one more gear, was…Thierry Henry. I’m not saying they’re similar players. I’m just saying we’ve really missed a forward who can move like that while keeping the ball stuck to his feet.


1. Giroud (but the need for perspective, and…another striker?)

In the middle of the second half, Alexis broke quickly and played a wonderful pass to Giroud, who was in a very dangerous attacking position. But, by then, we all knew what Giroud would do with it. Nothing. He had spent the entire match making sow ears of silk purses, and there was no exception in this moment. However, the criticism of him for this performance has been largely embarrassing. Giroud is, like Alexis, still in pre-season form, but, even more than others, he came back from international duty lacking a little bit the fitness. I’m quite certain Sanogo would have started tonight had he been fit. You simply cannot make a wholesale judgment about Giroud based on this performance. He was never this bad in any game last season. When fit, he remains a good but limited player. And this brings me to my next point: We’re in the same position now as we were last summer; namely, needing a better out-and-out striker. Alexis is a wonderfully versatile attacker, but we’ll see him deployed wide more often than centrally (especially as Walcott tends to drift in and out of the treatment room). The proof of the pudding occurred when Wenger subbed off Alexis rather than Giroud, despite the latter being less fit than the former. It might have made more sense to remove Giroud, add Campbell, and put Alexis in the middle (Campbell wide). Does this indicate Wenger wants to use Alexis primarily as a wide forward? Possibly. So, for me, there is still room for an upgrade on (a nonetheless very capable) Giroud at center forward, but I would be very surprised indeed if such a transfer materialized.

2. The amazing, vanishing spray.

I don’t know what’s going on here, but it’s a tad worrying, especially because I have a lot of affection for both Wilshere and Cazorla. What’s surprising is that quite a few ‘player rating’ articles in the last several hours have rated Wilshere and Cazorla in the 6-7 range. I’d put them in the 4-5 range. Cazorla was largely invisible; and, while Wilshere never hid (good for him), he was terribly sloppy in possession. If this had been a one-off for either player, there would be no need to mention it, but, unfortunately, this game was reminiscent of a pattern that developed in last season’s performances for both. There’s really no “lack of pre-season” excuse here, as both returned to training relatively early. Perhaps there is room to be gracious, as Ramsey was nearly as ineffectual against a well-organized Besiktas, but I think in Wilshere’s case especially, there’s been hope he will have a breakout season and give the manager a selection headache instead of a hangover headache. Let’s hope both of them are able to turn it around, sharpish. We’d rather they were integral than wasteful.

3. The red card.

Consider the following: A second yellow for Ramsey for the faintest of touches on the Besiktas player, but no yellow for a more egregious hold on Wilshere only minutes later. In truth, Masic was only enforcing the UEFA rule that you must send off an Arsenal player in an important game. At least UEFA are consistent: Jens Lehmann, Robin van Persie, Aaron Ramsey… I blame the red card on Wenger for not teaching his players this rule. Anyway, it’s ridiculous behavior from a ref not without controversy. The related problem, of course, is that Arteta may well miss next week’s game through injury, which means a loss of two of our most dependable central midfielders. You’d rather not see Ozil rushed back too soon, so it may well be we field Flamini, Wilshere, and Rosicky next week. Not the end of the world, but not ideal either.


We look like a team scrapping it out while we wait to get fit, and for the return of integral players. We’ve been in this position before, but, unlike in previous seasons, we’ve managed not to get beaten in the early games, so there are signs we’ve become more resilient. There’s great determination, quality, and a little bit the right spirit in the squad, and we must hope that Wenger won’t waste these qualities by neglecting to strengthen key areas before long.

*Crowned 2014-15 Premier League champions after overcoming Burnley, so we can all go home now.

Beşiktaş J.K. v. Arsenal FC: half the marbles

The first thing you need to know is how to say the name, it’s b’sheiktash, those little ş marks are pronounced ‘sh’. I learned this today watching video of their crazy fans on youtube.

That’s the second thing you need to know, the “J.K.” in their name doesn’t stand for “Just Kidding” there is no kidding around when it comes to their supporters. Check out this video:

It’s a small stadium, just 35,000 seats but the atmosphere is unlike anything many of the Arsenal boys playing have ever seen. Which is the third thing you need to know, Arsenal are playing in a Champions League playoff, a match worth £30m or more, in a hostile stadium with a bit of a bandaged together squad.

I can’t give you a squad preview for them because I can’t remember ever seeing them play. But I don’t have to give you a preview because Michael Cox already wrote an excellent one over on the dot com. Apparently they have Slaven Bilic as their manager, they like to play direct, they like to play two up top, and they have Demba Ba who is played in a second striker role. They also like to play physical and have two midfielders who are, from Cox’s description, basically destroyers. Arsenal have faced this type of team a lot over the years and it’s the kind of tie which gives Arsenal fans a case of leg cramps. In a way, I suppose you could think of this as Arsene’s first test against the way Jose Mourinho is going to play, except that Besiktas doesn’t have excellent quality players like Fabregas and Costa.

If there is a sniffy lining here it has to be that UEFA’s chief referee, Pierluigi Collina, has told referees to crack down on fouls, diving, and dissent saying “we want to have referees taking correct decisions when needed, even if a red card needs to be given in the fifth minute of a match.” And then later when talking to gathered referees he stated:

You must act in incidents where there is unsporting behaviour, if there is simulation by a player, or if there are acts of provocation. You must not accept a situation where you are mobbed by players, or if there is blatant dissent. In addition to protecting players and the game, you must protect yourselves.

I can’t imagine being the referee in this situation. A crucial match, worth millions to the clubs, worth so much pride to the players and the managers, in a stadium full of 35,0000 screaming crazy fans, between two clubs with (apparently) vastly different playing styles. That’s a nightmare situation all by itself, but then to have Collina breathing down your neck, telling you to stamp out dissent, rein in simulation, and give out red cards in the 5th minute must be just about the worst situation ever. This isn’t to (pre)blame the referee, a favorite pastime for some, but rather to say that I worry that this will be a fiery contest in a stadium roiling like a cauldron.

Arsenal’s players won’t have had much experience dealing with this kind of game. Especially not players like Calum Chambers, for whom this will be a huge test of his maturity. Arsenal have not purchased the required players in defense so they have no other option but to play Chambers and Koscielny. The former just 19 and the latter nursing a foot injury. That said, even if the club had bought new players, ideally we would want a back line who all knew each other well, what with 35,000 screaming fans making communication impossible. But that’s just not going to happen and wouldn’t happen if Arsenal have bought 20 center backs, all of decent quality and experience.

Arsenal are certainly the better team on paper, Alexis alone is probably better than any of their players, but quality aside this is going to be a tough game and I think a point or even a 0-0 draw won’t be a bad result because Arsenal should be better able to manhandle them back at home in the return leg. I’m not rooting for a point, I want Arsenal to win and I think with Giroud and Alexis starting up front and Aaron Ramsey bossing the midfield we should have enough quality to silence their fans.

Finally, I want to remind folks that we are doing a new feature called Match Day Photo of the Month. If you were at the game this weekend or really anywhere that Gooners gathered and have some photos you would like to share with your fellow fans, please send them to Photos can be as imaginative as you like! Jonathan Blaustein, renown photographer, will be selecting the best entries and doing a write up. I’m excited to see what this project brings up from the fans.

The game is on at midday for me and I can’t get away from work so I’ll be recording the game and watching it later and you won’t hear from me here or on twitter until later tonight.

See you then, up the Arse!