I was contacted by Hayley Wright, the video blogger for Arseblog and Billy’s granddaughter, regarding Les Crang’s Rogues Gallery piece on Billy Wright. She is a lovely person and only wanted to make one correction and offer some other facts about her grandfather that we might find interesting. I publish them here without any further comment. You can follow Hayley on twitter @HayleyWright
Just one factual error:
- In the 1962-63 season, Arsenal reached the fifth round of the FA Cup, not fourth.
There may have been a few other things worth mentioning:
- Billy signed Bob Wilson from Wolves in 1963 when Bob was an amateur – you know the rest.
- Billy signed former England player Don Howe from West Bromwich Albion for £40,000 in 1964. Howe played for two more seasons at full-back before retiring and then becoming first-team coach at Highbury. As coach, he was influential in Arsenal winning the European Fairs Cup in 1970 and the League and FA Cup double a year later.
- Most of the 1970/71 Double Winning side made their debuts under Billy.
- Arsenal also won the FA Youth Cup for the first time under Billy. They achieved this in 1966, his final year as manager, having been beaten finalists the previous season.
- Billy was the first manager to install undersoil heating at Highbury in the summer of 1963. It happened after a famously terrible winter when countless matches were postponed all over the country.
There are few constants in the universe, even the ticking over of an atom, which we use to measure time as accurately as humanly possible, is off by one second every 300 million years. But the one thing that I can count on in this random universe is that Arsenal fans will demand that their team do something and then complain when the club does it.
Demand that Arsenal get a defensive midfielder, complain that the defensive midfielder can’t attack. Demand that Arsenal buy expensive super star players, complain when the super star player is “only” an assist master. Demand that Arsenal do better against top 6 clubs, complain that Arsenal only did better on goal difference. Demand that Arsene adds some fresh new playing styles to his tactics, complain when those styles don’t pan out every time. And demand that Arsenal buy Luis Suarez, and complain when we finally get a better, less bitey, less racist, version of him.
Alexis gets a lot of grief for losing the ball too much but I find it hard to fault him for that. In yesterday’s match he lost the ball 6 times in the first half alone and some Arsenal fans were livid. I knew this would happen, that people would complain about him losing the ball. If you remember, that was my main worry about bringing Suarez to Arsenal, that fans would quickly grow tired of his 35% dribbling and profligate shooting percentages. And this summer, when Alexis was essentially the only man on his Chile team in the World Cup, there were a few performances where he had 12 attempted dribbles and something like 10 turnovers. I publicly worried then that fans would turn on him the same way he turns the ball over.
But as much as it’s hip to complain about Alexis losing possession, against United you could see exactly why he turns the ball over so much at Arsenal: he’s attacking the opposition and just like in the World Cup, he’s often isolated by teammates.
The same people who complain about Alexis Sanchez giving the ball up are the ones who wanted Luis Suarez and said that Arsenal would win the League if we had him. Well, you have your Suarez, his name is Alexis. And Alexis in his first season is streets ahead of the uber profligate Suarez in his first season at Liverpool.
As you can see, Sanchez in his first season wins the head-to-head stats matchup against Suarez in his first (full) season. In fact, Suarez got a bit of a head start on Sanchez because he got half a season with Liverpool before his first full season so, he had more time to acclimate to the League. And Suarez also didn’t play in a World Cup that summer, and didn’t have tired legs from playing in the Champions League in his first season at Liverpool.
Alexis Sanchez has been magnificent for Arsenal in his first season. He’s not only Arsenal’s most potent direct attacking threat and a player with the individual skill to unlock packed in defenses, he also makes off-the-ball runs behind defenders and has the touch to control and score when Ozil makes that pass.
But even better than all that combined is the fact that Sanchez is the man who changed Arsenal’s playing style. His constant pressing high up the pitch led Arsene Wenger to make that a feature of Arsenal’s defense and his speed and counter-attacking threat mean that with him on the team, Arsenal can sit back and defend when they want.
There has been a lot of talk about perception this last week and whether Arsenal have perceptibly improved this season. The answer is yes, Arsenal have improved and a lot of it is thanks to Sanchez. The improvement is that with Sanchez in the team Arsenal have the freedom to try on many different styles of play. They can sit back and defend and hit teams on the counter like they did against a team like West Ham, serving up Sam Allardyce some of his own bitter medicine. They can play a foot forward style and harry their opposition into making mistakes as they did when they dismantled Liverpool, serving up Brendan Rodgers some of the same bitter medicine he served us last season. And next season, when Arsenal have a player in the deep lying midfield role who can control a game with his passing, like Arteta did for so many seasons before he finally wore down, then Arsenal will have yet another way to play. The old way that Arsenal used to play.
But it won’t just be the same old way, because Arsenal will have Alexis. A non-stop, attacking threat, who can break down opposition defenses with a deft dribble, who scores goals from direct free kicks, who harasses opposition defenders and wins the ball back in terrific positions high up the pitch, and who has an insatiable hunger to win.
So what if he turns the ball over too much for your liking? Get over it. The guy is a superhero.
I was asked to include both Suarez and Sanchez’ stats from when they both played for Barcelona. Amazingly, they are similar again. These two players are even more mirror image than I could have imagined when I first started this article this morning.
But on one side of the mirror you have a biter who commits racisms and on the other side you have a guy who loves dogs.
They are scrappers who rely on belligerence – we are the better team. – Sir Alex Ferguson after Arsenal won the double at Old Trafford, May 2002.
Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home. – Arsène Wenger, in response to Fergie’s bitter words , May 2002.
Thirteen years ago, May 8th 2002, Arsenal faced a tough-as-nails Manchester United, at Old Trafford, with an unsympathetic referee, and without legends Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. On that day, Arsenal weathered a barrage of boots and wicked tackles before capitalizing on a single mistake in midfield and grabbing the only goal of the game. And it was with that Wiltord goal that Arsenal won the League at Old Trafford.
That was thirteen years ago and the League was vastly different back then: Arsenal’s shirt sponsors were SEGA, the Arsenal crest was their original from 1949, and slide tackles from behind which wiped out a player were barely even considered a foul. See the video below for what I mean by how much times have changed. Half of the contact in this video would be a yellow card these days, the other half would be red.
That Arsenal side which beat Man U at Old Trafford, with just a few changes, went on to become the Invincibles, the team which went 49 games unbeaten and was the greatest Arsenal team the world had ever seen.
It seems like the result of this fixture between United and Arsenal has often been a catalyst for these teams. Sometimes the result sparks a buying spree, sometimes the result changes the way that one team plays, and even this season United’s loss to Arsenal in the FA Cup seemed to galvanize the Red Devils into a great run of form. With Rooney half-boasting:
I’ve always been quite vocal in the dressing room before games and I felt at the time it was right for me, after we’d lost to Arsenal in the cup, to put a few points across to the players which I thought might help the team. I’m not saying that’s why we won the games against Tottenham and Liverpool! [Laughs] But it certainly didn’t cause any harm doing it. It just felt like the right time for me to say something.
With Rooney’s Scouse accent ringing in their ears, you can bet that United will be up for this match. No matter that a Champions League place is secure for both, there is bad blood between these two teams and United will be looking to “set the record straight.”
That record, if you haven’t heard for the 1000th time this week, is that Arsenal have lost 9 of their last 11 matches at Old Trafford and haven’t beaten United in any League game in 7 tries, the last one thanks to an Aaron Ramsey strike in 2011.
And for Arsenal it’s more than just trying to get one over on an old rival or finishing in the top 3. Both of these teams are on track to challenge for the title next season and winning the so-called “mini-League” of top 6 teams is the exact kind of boost that a club needs.
Arsenal have been nearly perfect against the bottom 10 clubs for two years now. But they have tended to be bossed by the bigger clubs and last year Arsenal were dumped out of the title race in spectacular fashion when they were beaten handily by Chelsea and Liverpool. Arsenal need to send a message that they won’t be dominated by these big clubs any more.
The bad news is that in terms of points in the mini-League, Arsenal haven’t fared much better this season over last. This is the main reason why fans feel like there hasn’t been any progress at the club.
Last season, Arsenal won just 3 of the 10 matches and eared a horrible -10 goal difference. Along the way they handed United their only win of the mini-League thanks to a dreadful performance at Old Trafford.
Group of 6 big spenders compared — 2013/2014 season. (screen grab from statto.com)
This season, Arsenal have a much more respectable +1 goal difference owing to Arsene Wenger’s pragmatic approach to games. Wenger has been talking a lot about balance this season and has largely been getting it. Since January, Arsenal have the best defensive record in the League.
In the aftermath of the loss to Swansea on Monday, which ended Arsenal’s 10 match unbeaten run, Arsene Wenger even uttered a phrase that Arsenal fans haven’t heard since 2005: you must ensure first that you do not lose. And I suspect that was a glimpse into the changes that Wenger has been making in the team since last year.
Group of 6 big spenders compared — 2014/2015 season. (screen grab from Statto.com)
Even if they lose this match, Manchester United are this season’s big winners in the mini-League and United’s Wayne Rooney gave away the secret for their form against big clubs:
I think we’ve been very well prepared going into those games. We put a lot of work and effort into making sure we’re in the right shape and set up in the right way to.
That preparation will no doubt include video of last week’s Arsenal match against Swansea where the Swans played defense first and hit Arsenal late with a header. Arsenal are susceptible to headers this season, 35% of their goals conceded in the League (12/34) have come off headers, and Rooney scored a headed goal in the 2-1 loss in the FA Cup and Swansea’s Gomis scored a header on Monday.
But Man U are also 2nd best in the League at scoring goals in the first 30 minutes, with 22 (Chelsea are first with 24 and Arsenal only have 14). This indicates a team that likes to take the game to the opposition early on. But Arsenal have conceded the fewest goals in the first half of games with just 13. So, it could be a case of furious action in the first 15 minutes leading to little or no reward for either team.
As the match goes on the good news is that Arsenal are 2nd best in the League at scoring late goals, they have 29. Man U only 19. And Man U have the third most defensive errors in the League 29, just one less than Newcastle. But tellingly, they have only allowed 3 goals off those errors. I suspect that’s de Gea saving them — though I can’t use stats to prove that and instead just have to rely on my faulty old perception.
And United also have a somewhat predictable approach to the end game scenario. Fellaini commits more fouls per game than any other player in the final 15 minutes of games. And is 6th in the league in aerial duels with 3 per game in the final 30 minutes of games. Fellaini only averages 4 aerial duels won per game, which shows you that if United need a goal late they will send the Belgian up to play faux center-forward and cause trouble in the Arsenal back line with elbows and afros. Who can forget the earlier match this season where United scored after Fellaini shoved Gibbs over in an aerial duel and United scored when a prone Gibbs kicked his clearance into how own goal?
This match is more than just history. It’s more than the 2002 title game or the ugly transfer of van Persie to a hated rival. This match is the future. Arsenal have turned their season around and have been the best team in the League since January. Arsenal will surely give them a game. And if Arsenal want to be considered title challengers next season they will have to show their mettle in exactly this kind of match.