Category Archives: Arsenal

denilson v West Ham

Rogues Gallery: Denílson Pereira Neves

By Les Crang

“I have a project here that I started four years ago and I wanted to reach the end of it. I could not leave this team at this stage of their development.” - Arsene Wenger

In many ways Denilson is representative of all that is good about Arsene Wenger and all that is bad. Good, in that he’ll give players like Denilson a chance. Bad, in that he’ll give players like Denilson a chance.

To me, Denilson sums up where it all went wrong for Arsene Wenger after winning the F.A Cup in 2005. Denilson was part of what was termed Wenger’s ‘project youth’ from season 2006-2011 roughly. A time when Wenger got rid of older players like Robert Pires, Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva. He replaced them with the like of Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas [non legend] and  Denílson Pereira Neves. Oh why did you do it Wenger? Why?

Denilson came to Arsenal from Sao Paulo in July 2006 after making a mere 12 appearances for the club. He came at a fairly hefty price of £3,400,000. He had been the under-17 captain of Brazil in 2005, losing in the final 3-0 to Mexico. Ironically, the first scorer in the final, would be another ‘project youth’ player, Carlos Vela. Therefore, as he was Brazilian, what could possibly go wrong with a midfielder from there? I mean Wenger had picked up two fantastic midfielders previously in Gilberto Silva and Edu? Denilson would be a bit of the same. How wrong we were.

For those that cannot (or don’t want to) remember what project youth was, it was Wenger idea of overhauling his aging stars with kids. A midfield that would on occasions consist of Cesc, Denilson, Theo and Rosicky would have an average age of 22. The idea was two fold. Firstly, Wenger wanted to build a team around Cesc, with Wenger stating as early as 2006:-

I would like to make it clear that Cesc Fabregas is not for sale and we will not be listening to any offers for him,” he said.

Since making his first-team debut nearly three years ago, Cesc has progressed remarkably well, with his performances rightfully earning him a place in the Spain World Cup squad.

At 19 years old, Cesc represents the future of Arsenal Football Club and we are looking forward to him being a major part of our plans for many years to come.

But with Cesc being the attacking option in a midfielder, Denilson was used in the middle as a slightly less attacking midfielder, whilst a defensive midfielder like Mathieu Flamini, Lassana Diarra or Alex Song would act as cover. If Denilson was near to any player comparative it would be the often under rated Gilberto Silva. Silva was often called the Volante in Brazil. Or the invisible wall as we came to know him. In a Guardian interview Gilberto’s role was described thus :-

Arsenal midfield dominated by the surging brilliance of Patrick Vieira. As the leggy and eye-catching Vieira pushed ever forward, Gilberto steadied a free-flowing team.

Denilson though was an invisible wall on many occasions for Arsenal on many times. Invisible, as it was hard to know he was there, not that he did things people did not see.

It was not always that bad for Denilson though. I remember going to the Emirates for a league cup game against Newcastle United when Denilson scored his first goal for the club in 2007 (Bendtner scored the other in a 2-0 win):-

I was pretty impressed with Denilson and his power. Although he looked small in frame, he was busy in the middle, had nice short  touches and could hit the ball in front of goal. How mistaken was I?

Soon though, Denilson became the player we would ask ‘what is  this Denilson?’  He could score and hit a ball (see below) :-

Denilson, between 2006-11 would play 96 games, scoring six goals. He also got sent off against Blackburn in 2007, which the BBC described thus:-

Referee Mike Riley sent Denilson off in stoppage time for a dangerous two-footed challenge on David Dunn which triggered a melee between both teams.

Was he a defensive midfielder? Well, he hardly seemed to have the frame for tackling. Was he an attacking midfielder? Well, he didn’t have the speed of feet or mind of Cesc. Was he a wide midfielder? Again, he seemed too ponderous for that. But still Wenger choose him.

Its not that Denilson did not try in his time at Arsenal (unlike say, Bendtner?). When Alex Song went to the African cup of nations, Denilson offered to take up the defensive midfielder role saying:-

If the boss said, ‘Denilson, I want you to stay back’, I will stay back.

Its also not as if Denilson was not (reportedly) highly regarded by other teams, with Seville said to be offering £13 million for him in 2011.

But for many of us, Denilson just seemed a very poor version of Gilberto Silva. As Robert Exley said of Gilberto in comparison to Denilson:-

There was also the estrangement of ‘invincible’ season veteran Gilberto Silva, who had been sidelined all season and thus was moved on to Panathinaikos over the summer. At 32 years of age Gilberto would still have been able to do a job in the premiership, however Wenger opted to place (or rather misplaced) faith in his fellow young countryman Denilson, who as it turned out was woefully ill-equipped to turn out for a side hoping to challenge for honours.

Also, although Wenger had kept choosing Denilson (when not injured), he could obviously see a young lad by the name of Jack Wilshere who came to the forefront in season 2010-11. Denilson short passes which often went backwards or sideways, was overlooked for Jacks all action style of play.

So why did we buy Denilson? Honestly? It seems partly that Arsene Wenger had fallen into what Alex Bellos reported in his excellent book about Brazilian football,Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life:-

It’s easier to place a Brazilian footballer in any team than it is a footballer of any nation. There is a worldwide fad for Brazilians. It’s sad to say, but it is much easier selling a crap Brazilian than Brilliant Mexican.

Although Denilson has since moved back to Sao Paulo last year, after a years loan, he never did make the international team. Arsenal also got no money for him and were paying him allegedly £50,000 per week (which they had to cover whilst he was on loan in Brazil). Denilson was one expensive mistake. Luckily, Wenger has never returned to the Brazilian market after this poor buy? Damn, I forgot he went for worst in Andre Santos.

Arsenal trumpets welcome Gabriel: plus a simple idea to fix refereeing

After several years of being told “you don’t know what you’re doing” by the naysayers, Arsenal have shown that they do, in fact, know what they are doing and they aren’t half bad at it.

Earlier this winter I made the bold (not very bold) statement that Arsene only buys big in January for one of three reasons: calamity, luck, or prospecting. I predicted we would see a kid brought in (prospecting) and possibly a semi-expensive player if, and only if, there was an injury. Sure enough, Matty Debuchy had his arm dislocated after a horrible challenge by Stoke’s Arnautovic and that seemingly sent Arsenal straight to work getting in another defender.

That defender was none other than Gabriel Paulista, who shall be known as Gabriel, or Gabby, on this blog. Gabriel, as you may know, is one of God’s archangels and I particularly like this passage from the Christian bible which I found on his Wikipedia page:

And the Lord said to Gabriel: “‘Proceed against the bastards and the reprobates, and against the children of fornication: and destroy [the children of fornication and] the children of the Watchers from amongst men[and cause them to go forth]: send them one against the other that they may destroy each other in battle: for length of days shall they not have.”

Sounds like the bible predicted that Arsenal would sign Gabriel and play him against Chelsea.

As soon as Wenger let the cat out of the bag about Gabby people started questioning if Arsenal had lost their minds.¹ This time not only was the player’s talent under question but also whether he could get a work permit.

Wenger was oddly confident. Only odd to those of us who didn’t know that the FA was in charge of work permits and that there was a rules change coming down the pike. According to the Guardian:

The Home Office scheme is administered by the Football Association and there had been some concern last week at how the panel of football experts would view Arsenal’s appeal for Gabriel as he did not meet the current stipulation of having played 75 per cent of matches over the past two years for his national team. But Arsenal successfully argued that he was a player of the “highest calibre” who could “contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in England”. The rules are likely to be tightened in the summer, after which there would be no appeals process.

Gabriel, though, would have met even the new stricter criteria as his fee is above the proposed £10 million exemption threshold.

As it turns out, Wenger was right to be confident. The FA approved the work permit because their new rule this summer is that anyone who costs more than £10m will be approved.

Gabriel, thus, becomes another in a long line of Arsenal transfer firsts. And his transfer to Arsenal opens the doors to a flood of young Latin American talent into the Premier League. As long as they cost more than £10m, they can work in England.

I don’t see Arsene buying any more players, unless by some stroke of luck someone like Paul Pogba becomes available. I’m not saying it’s impossible to see another purchase. I’m saying “highly unlikely.” Wenger has Coquelin to play DM, has a host of players like Özil and Walcott coming back up front, and has some depth in the back.

With the transfer business sorted I can turn my attention to another problem Arsenal face in the Premier League, the referees.

The level of refereeing in England has taken a severe dip in recent seasons. And this season, that dip has hit a nadir.

It has gotten so bad the former head of PGMOL is calling for a huge culling of the ranks, including the resignation of the head of referees Mike Riley. Mike Riley has fired back with some stats which he says prove that refereeing is the best it has ever been. Citing 99% accuracy of calls and the like.

What’s clear in watching any Premier League game these days is that 99% accuracy is completely false. The referees didn’t even call a foul when Arnautovic shoved Debuchy off the pitch and dislocated his shoulder and that is the problem. It’s not that they make calls (which I still think they get wrong a lot), it’s that they are often NOT making calls when they probably should.

The other problem is that there is a lack of transparency and agreement when it comes to the rules. If you get 40 people in a room and ask them to watch a play, you will likely get 40 different interpretations of the rule. This same problem plagues the officials. I saw Phil Dowd referee a match this weekend. He was given two carbon copy fouls where the defender pulled the shirt of a player on a breakaway. On one play he gave the defender a yellow. On the other a warning.

As an American I find this seemingly random application of the rules infuriating. It reminds me of the NBA, where officials would sometimes call travelling and sometimes not. Sometimes call over the back, sometimes not. This happens because there is a rulebook and then there is an accepted interpretation of the rulebook.

How many times have you heard “that would be a foul if it happened anywhere else on the pitch” while watching a player get fouled in the box? Or how about “not sure why Mike Dean didn’t give a yellow there, he just gave a yellow to the Arsenal player for the exact same foul.”

I would like to see Mike Riley on television at half time and after the games explaining referee decisions to the people. He could also host a forum or be part of the Match of the Day crew or other types of appearances where he would be asked to explain the laws of the game. And yes, I do think the Laws of the Game and their interpretations need to be publicly discussed.

The interpretation of the rules and the lack of transparency around this interpretation is exactly why many people feel that refereeing is dirty in the Premier League. I quit watching the NBA for this exact reason. When former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was caught throwing games to feed his gambling addiction it wasn’t a shock to me at all.

The other problem is that the game is just too fast for the referees. They are constantly playing catch up to the plays and almost never get ahead of the ball so that they can see the fouls from the same angles that we, the viewers, have. Their view is often obstructed and sometimes they are just too far away from the action to make the correct call.

I was watching a game the other day and I noticed this problem of referees not being able to be in position to see the fouls. And I started to wonder why we don’t just have two referees. One in each half of the pitch. I’m not talking about UEFA’s ridiculous 5th and 6th officials who stand around and literally do nothing. I mean a second referee on the field, with all the power of the first referee.

National Rugby League introduced two officials in 2009, citing the “pace of the game” and technical requirements of officiating. It has been brilliant for NRL and has the Super League trialing the same system at academy level.

That’s my idea.

I’m sure you’ll have objections, please, feel free to let us hear them below.


¹It’s now a reflex for Arsenal fans: anything happens, think of the negative.

BAHA 2-3 Arsenal: Super Tom saves the day

Arsenal got off to a bright start against Brighton and Hove Albion at the Falmer Stadium but needed a little late magic from man of the match Tomas Rosicky to move on to the next round.

Arsène Wenger made 11 changes to the team which beat Man City last week. In defense, Szczesny started in goal, Gibbs left back, Monreal second left back, Koscielny third left back, and Chambers played right wing. Flamini was brought in as defensive pointer, Ramsey played somewhere, and Rosicky was charged with running all over the pitch and being all around brilliant. Up front, Giroud did his hair, Özil played like a 150lb sack of feathers, and Theo Walcott was charged with dribbling straight into opposition defenders.

Chris Houghton’s men set out to obfuscate from the start but before the ink could dry on their game plan Calum Chambers galloped up the right side, played a good cross to Theo Walcott who took a touch to set the ball and stroked across the keeper. It was all Theo would do on the day and after that goal he went for a lie down.

Still, If Albion’s plan was to defend first, they failed at that within 90 seconds.

From there everyone expected The Seagulls to come out and attack Arsenal but there was no such impetus. Instead they sat back and allowed Arsenal to run roughshod over them. In that first half, Albion played the part of Switzerland and neither defended nor countered. And to carry that analogy further, Arsenal played the part of Italy and attacked Ethiopia, and nearly lost.

Arsenal were afforded as much space as they wanted with the ball, rarely being challenged on a dribble or even closed down when they made a pass. Tomas Rosicky simply waltzed across the Albion back line and when he spotted Özil in 10 yards of space inside the box, played a clever reverse through ball to him. Özil, who had more time in the box than a Christmas present, took two touches to settle the ball before firing into the short side for Arsenal’s second.

Arsenal finished the half doing whatever they wanted to Albion and no metaphor is needed here.

Perhaps Chris Houghton had a word with his players because Albion started the second half a little more dively than the first. Calderon, in particular, dove to win a free kick (which didn’t produce a save) and then dove again in the penalty box when he felt a little nip at the heels from Koscielny. He wasn’t awarded a penalty. Just saying that in case you think he was.

Albion put a little pressure on Arsenal when Monreal’s insane clearance went from the left side of the Arsenal box to Calum Chambers, the right back. Chambers didn’t challenge for the ball and an Albion player (does it matter which one?) climbed all over his back to win the knock down. Sam Baldock, who is not an ambiturner, turned left and his “marker” Flamini was left trundling at his side as Baldock shot into the short side between Koscielny’s legs who was trying to shy away from the shot. It was a very Arsenal goal to concede.

Then the moment of the match. Arsenal had Albion pinned down in a pill box and were peppering them with fire from their Tommy gun. I was having a lie down and watching the whole event unfold from my couch, like any good officer does, and when Rosicky tackled away the ball in the Albion final third, I sat up. He then avoided a sort of tackle and made a clever no look pass to Giroud who did that thing Giroud does where he just stands the ball up for someone. That someone was Rosicky who was being marked closely by teammate Aaron Ramsey. Rosicky shrugged off his marker and hit home a brilliant volley that basically said “ICH BIN EIN BERLINER.”

(The FA took down my video)

The whole time Rosicky was being brilliant and scoring goals of the season candidates Theo Walcott was wide open on the right side of the pitch screaming for the ball. That was my favorite moment of the match.

Arsenal should have won the game easily but Arsenal doesn’t do easily. So they conceded a second goal. That forced Wenger to go to the bench and bring on Akpom, Alexis, and Coquelin. Coquelin brought a measure of calmity to the proceedings. Calmity or calmitude? Whatever, Arsenal looked more solid.

Akpom was set free twice and both times had Alexis to his right, wide open and directly in front of goal. Akpom chose to shoot both times, sadly ending his Arsenal career. Alexis then hit a series of direct free kicks into various places that weren’t the goal. Though all were pretty close!

It was the kind of performance from Rosicky that will leave many Arsenal fans wondering why he doesn’t get more playing time. Rosicky had been no-looking and back-heeling, cutting back, and slipping in balls, all day. Also running around. Tackling. Dribbling. He was just super.

Arsenal are one step closer to back to back FA Cup wins. Which, if Wenger can manage that, will leave the Wenger outers with little choice but to say that the FA Cup isn’t really a trophy. Thus debasing even their hero, George Graham.