Over-proofed bread

Arsène bakes up another crust-fallen failure loaf

Every few days I go into my kitchen and pull out a little decomposition notebook, open the book to the same page, and read my notes. Then I grab some bread flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, honey, butter, yeast, and salt and place them next to my scale and my bowl on my baking table.

This morning I carefully measured 250g of bread flour, 240g of whole wheat, 10g of wheat germ, and 8g of Kosher salt into my bowl. Then I melted a stick of butter, put 50g of honey into the pot and poured that into a bowl. I filled the bowl with water until the total came to 450g. I poured the liquid into the flour, added a teaspoon of yeast (5g or so) and mixed with my hands.

The dough is warm and sticky at first but as you mix, you stretch the gluten strands and it starts to become more cohesive. I splat the ball of dough on the counter, slide my fingers gently under one side, lift, turn, and flick the dough onto the counter, holding one end and letting the other end go oblong — like Gene Simmons flicking out his tongue. I then stretch the dough in my hands over the top of the part on the counter and wrap it neatly, like swaddling a baby. Repeat this until the dough starts to firm up and become elastic. It will still be oddly wet, but not sticky. Then you know the gluten has worked hard enough and needs a rest.

Home bread baking is often mistaken for a science but it is actually more art than science. Don’t get me wrong, there is a science to it and at the highest level, such as in a professional baker’s kitchen where every aspect like temperature and humidity is rigidly controlled, bread baking is almost pure science. But for us amateurs, we have a set list of ingredients and after that we have to be able to adapt to the conditions. Not all flour is exactly the same, for example. Even two bags labeled “bread flour” might contain different levels of protein (gluten) and require different levels of hydration to open the gluten up.   

Kneading the dough as well is not something I can tell you to do a certain number of times or for some definite period of time. You knead the dough until the gluten tells you it’s ready.

And for me there’s an art to making your own signature loaf. That is what I’m doing with this loaf of bread above. I am perfecting the ingredients, the taste, the texture, the baking time, and all of the aspects of the bread to make my daily bread.

Football is a lot like bread baking. As a manager, you’re trying to make your version of the perfect loaf of bread, except you have a lot of factors that are out of your control. To make a basic football team you have to take 500g of fowards, 700g worth of midfielders, and 1000g of defenders and mix them all up. Sprinkle in a few of your own touches like a dash of Sanchez or a slice of Welbeck and as long as you bought top quality ingredients throughout you have the recipe for a pretty delicious bread.

But whatever you do, don’t forget to add an ingredient or use an ingredient that has gone stale. For example, the one guy on a football team who is crucial to the success of that team is probably your defensive midfielder. He’s the guy who starts your attacks, he takes care of the ball, he wins the ball back, and he covers for the other defenders when they go forward looking for a goal. People used to see this position as the water, pretty much any water will do. But it’s not like that any more. Now days this central midfielder is one of the most important players on the field.

If football is like making yeast bread, I think the defensive midfielder is the yeast. He eats all your sugars, creates the gases that in turn give your bread lightness and texture. Your loaf rises and falls on the strength of that yeast.

And if you go into the season stating that you want to make a recipe for yeast bread then you better damn well have some yeast. Fresh yeast. Good yeast. Yeast that’s ready to take on the challenge of a rather tough loaf. What you don’t do is try to make a loaf of bread with some tired old yeast. You throw that out and get some new yeast.

Right now we all know that Flamini’s old yeast makes for a rather dense, flat, and tasteless loaf. The bottle of Arteta yeast is better but it’s also old and there isn’t much left. You need enough yeast to make 60 loaves. Arteta isn’t going to make more than 25 and probably only 20 good ones.

It’s inconceivable that a baker of Wenger’s stature, a guy who worked with Parlor and Vieira, would think “I guess I’ll just make do with Flamini.” And don’t give me this line about how you can’t just buy yeast. Yes you can. You can buy anything. Arsenal have money in the bank and a surplus of attacking players. If you want yeast, you can buy some yeast. If you have to sell one of the dozen attacking midfielders who are making up squad numbers then do it. Also, sell Podolski, or let him go on a free, he makes £90k a week, money that could be used for a cake of fresh live yeast. Or maybe Stan Kroenke doesn’t need a £3m dividend?

No, this club has the money. They have more money than they have ever had in the history of the club. If they can’t find players who are better than Flamini it’s not because they don’t have the money. Instead what Arsenal have is a baker who wants to gamble with the old yeast. And so far the product is coming out flat.

The other thing you cannot do with bread is make a number of changes to the wheat and expect the same results. If your recipe calls for an 80kg sack of Per and a 70kg sack of Laurent along side a 50kg sack of Gibbs and a 50kg sack of Chambers you cannot just sub in a handful of Nachos, some Bellerin, and sell it to your customers as if it’s the same loaf as before. Yet, that’s exactly what Wenger said after the game, this is the same flour he was using last year:

Last year we had 17 clean sheets with the same defenders but we have not started to do that yet. Our defensive efficiency is not there and we cannot survive at the top level by always conceding two goals.

This response was really worrying. Does Wenger not notice that he has used eight different types of flour to make his first 12 loaves of bread? I don’t even know if Wenger is using flour in his loaves any more. Nacho and Gibbs have been so hit and miss all season that I’m thinking they might be some of that gluten free crap.

For example, in the Hull game Nacho was filling in for Koscielny as Arsenal’s bread flour. On the first Hull goal he is facing up with Diame and makes what could be generously described as a limp challenge. He dangles a leg out, then decides better of it and winces away as Diame strides past him. Bread flour’s gluten provides the structure to your loaf. Limp and lifeless, Nacho isn’t bread flour, he’s gluten free almond flour and you cannot make bread without bread flour, folks. I don’t care what those Glutenfreegan charlatans say, that’s not bread.

And finally, yet another mistake that amateur bread bakers make is that they think they can “switch off” during the rise, the proof, and the baking. Nothing could be worse. It may take time to rise your dough but you cannot simply let a dough rise on the counter and go shopping. If you switch off at this final stage before baking and let the loaf over-proof you get a crust-fallen loaf of bread. I see a loaf like this and I hear the Price is Right loser’s horn. The same horn I hear when an Arsenal midfielder holds his hands up and says “who was supposed to cover that guy? ME? No, I’m an attacking player.”

Over-proofed bread

Unfortunately, Arsenal seem to be switching off so much that I’m not even sure they know where the on button is any more. As I detailed in my post about Arsenal’s set play woes, time and again Arsenal simply relax on set plays. But really, it’s not just set plays, this happens all the time at Arsenal.

Against Hull it happened again, Wilshere was supposed to cover for Gibbs on Hull’s second goal. Tom Hundredstone isn’t the lightest bun in the basket and I doubt he is capable of speeding past anyone down the sideline. Wilshere’s job, as a midfielder, is to cover his midfield runners. He should have been there to challenge Huddlestone on the cross. He wasn’t, they scored.

I could go on with this analogy for another 1000 words, that’s how many problems there are. But what I find most disturbing is that playing football “like Arsenal” used to be something teams aspired to. After today’s 2-2 draw against West Brom, Robbie Earle said that Manchester United are playing football “a little bit like Arsenal.” It was a harsh burn on our loaves.

But it’s no less than Arsenal deserve. Arsenal have been the whipping boys of the top clubs for years and now even the little clubs have figured out how to play against Arsenal. It’s so obvious now how to beat Arsenal that Pep Guardiola authorized the Telegraph to publish an exclusive breakdown on how he prepared his team to beat Arsenal.

Arsenal look like a team which has run out of ideas, lack discipline, are broken with injury, have a crazily cobbled together recipe for making a team, and ultimately already look like we are running out of steam. And it’s only October.

As Arsenal fans we’ve blamed the players (Denilson, Podolski, Arshavin, etc), we’ve blamed the board (no money), we’ve blamed the physios (how did they miss that injury?), we even blame each other (no wonder Gervinho has no confidence what with you slagging him off on that forum). But we change those parts and yet the same problems remain.

Could the problem be with the guy writing the recipe? The guy buying the ingredients? The guy baking the bread?

Could the problem be Arsène Wenger?


P.S. I baked a nice loaf of bread today. No, I don’t want to be Arsenal’s baker.



Seager and Spurling, two book signings with the Gooner Family

By Les Crang

Having meet Dave Seager previously at the Piebury Corner : Art Event in June this year, I had talked to him about his book he was releasing, Geordie Armstrong on the Wing. He had told me he was releasing the book in conjunction with the the Hull City game at The Tollington from 11am to 2pm. Dave would also be there with George Armstrong’s daughter Jill Armstrong and Geordie’s double-winning team mates John Radford, Frank McLintock and Eddie Kelly. All would be there to sign the book.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town (well, Holloway Road) at the Piebury Corner, Jon Spurling was signing copies of his new Arsenal book Red Letter Days: Fourteen Dramatic Events That Shook Arsenal Football Club (reviewed here), between 12 and 2pm. I wanted to get to both events and meet as many people I knew on twitter as possible with a photo diary of the event. Plus meet and talk to the authors (if they had time). Then I had the game to go to afterwards.

Dave Seager signing copies of his Geordie Armstrong book.

Armed with a Digital camera, a kindle to tweet on and pen and paper I made my way from Bow down to Highbury Corner via the 277 bus, leaving at 9am. I had spoken to Dave Seager previously and said it was ok to come around 10am to get some photo’s and have a chat with him if he had time. If not Dave, at least speak to Jill. Getting there by 10.15, I’d half expected just locked doors and a frantic Dave and Jill setting up. Half was true on that front. Already a dozen people had arrived for the book signing.

Jill Armstrong signing more copies

Dave and Jill were signing some copies of the book and I got to quickly have a chat with Jill. She told me it was her first game at the Emirates, though Peter Hill-Wood had offered her the opportunity previously to come. She said it would be weird going there, because Highbury was were she would watch her dad, but also a little easier. She also spoke about as a kid having Liam Brady and Wilf Rostron as her babysitters for her and brother. A word and that often arose at the event was ‘the family’ both of her father and within the Arsenal team. But more of that later.

I waited around, drinking soft drinks as I had gone sober in October. Anyhow with any of these events its about meeting real people as well and getting a face to people you talk to on the web. It was good to meet people I follow on blogs, podcasts or tweeting, so speaking (however briefly) to Peter Nelson (who interestingly told me The Tollington was an old boxing club pub), Darren Berry, Amanda (from the gooner girl podcast), Andy Kelly, Herbert Chapman’s bust, Sean Attwood and Lorraine amongst others (and plenty others I would miss out on unfortunately). This is always a great part of the events in a way, meeting people and discussing Arsenal.

As the event started Frank McLintock came first, then John Radford and finally Eddie Kelly. I was a bit overawed and even when I wanted to go to the loo I waited until Frank McLintock had come out as he had just gone in (yes, stupid on my part).

They then obviously sat there for two hours and had photographs taken and signed copies of the book (including mine) and answered questions and had photos taken. Whatever anyone wanted. But more than that, what was nice was as I watched all three went up and saw how Jill, her mum and brother were had a few words. I felt you could see they wanted to do this book opening for Geordie Armstrong and family. That was really the most touching part of a great event.

Frank McLintock, Eddie Kelly & John Radford signing the book.

Not just the ex players were like that though, It was also Dave Seager as well. He kept a totally professional head (refusing a drink before the event, not stopping from signing copies of the book, answering queries anyone asked, sorting coffee for the players). Many might say, well he is the author? Thats his job? But it wasn’t about Dave, it was that Jill and her family saw that Geordie was still fondly remembered. To Dave, as most likely with the players, it was also that the ‘Gooner family’ enjoyed the event, which I think everyone did.

Who is the famous Writer? Dave Seager. No idea who the other guy is?

Prior to leaving I asked Dave Seager and Jill Armstrong how they felt the event had gone. Jill said ‘I’m overwhelmed with the response. Its left me speechless.’ Dave said ‘despite the pre-match nerves it went swimmingly.’

Look who I meet on the way to the Piebury?

I then proceeded to Piebury Corner on the Holloway Road at about 12.45. I had spoken to the owner Paul in The Tollington and he had offered to give me a lift, but I was still taking some photos. If you ever get chance, go to the Piebury on matchday to listen to him on the decks as well as getting a pie and mash. Lovely guy as well.  On arriving Jon Spurling was signing his new book Red Letter Days: Fourteen Dramatic Events That Shook Arsenal Football Club (review here).

Paul, Owner of the Piebury corner on the decks

A very different event for a very different book, but a very good book none the less. I got there with a brief moment of respite for Jon from selling copies of the book. He said he had opened up on time and sold 10 straight off the bat. He had a steady stream of customers coming through and asked about Dave’s event, as he was hoping (but doubting) he would get down to get a copy. As is ever the case, we discussed where it was going wrong at Arsenal. The usual complaints was our answer. The defender and defensive midfielder everyone is asking for. We also discussed a few other subjects from the book, but Jon had more people lining up for the book so I asked how sales had been going, which Jon said:-

I think it’s good. I have Three positive reviews on Amazon after just two weeks. With more word of mouth and some future podcasts [Footballistically Arsenal this week] I think it will help sales.

Jon Spurling signing copies of his new book

I had also forgot to say thanks to Jon on departing, as I only started writing about Arsenal after I’d read his stuff on Paul Vaessen in one of his books. On that note, I made my way to the match. Perhaps it wasn’t smart to give up drinking then after that match?

Twiglets not included

Man at the match; Chary: beware, Tigers poop on pitch

A stoppage time equaliser from Danny Welbeck changed an embarrassing result into a disappointing one as Assem Allam’s Tigers looked on course to snatch three undeserved points from Ashburton Grove.

Before I proceed further I will stress that what I say about the game is from a very tribal, Arsenal-centric point of view so if anyone has stumbled upon this report expecting an objective, balanced view, I politely suggest they “do one” (i.e. go elsewhere).

The overriding impression of Allam’s Tigers is of a team who waste time from five minutes into the game and then feign injury to halt opposition attacks. These tactics, combined with a pliant accomplice in the referee and a weakness in Arsenal’s defensive mind set led to two points being dropped when all three were needed.

We faced our FA Cup final victims for the first time since that epoch ending day in May on a mild October afternoon which whilst grey was far from as autumnal as you would expect and there seemed a closeness and humidity that seemed to stifle the air.

We went to Wembley, Wember-ly

We went to Wembley, Wember-ly

The Arsenal lined up as expected at the back with Bellerin replacing Chambers (suspended) who would have replaced Debuchy (injured) at right back and Monreal reprising his Emirates Cup role as centre back.

The midfield also picked itself as the fully fit players started( Wilshere, Flamini and Santi) with the three up top also being the only match fit/in form players, Welbeck, Alexis and The Ox. Arteta and Rosicky were on the bench as expected after their injury doubts but Rambo’s presence on the bench was a fillip as we’ve missed his dynamism when he is on form.

Early chants of

“Who are you ?”

from the HC Tigers fans were answered by:

“2 nil and you effed it up”

in a happy reference to our previous meeting.

An early shot from Santi, attacking the North Bank unusually in the first half, seemed sure to swerve into the top right hand corner but the first goalkeeper used by Ex Man United player coach Steven Bruce managed to palm the shot away.

The next significant action was early reward for a typically energetic and scintillating start to the game by Alexis, who controlled a high ball delivered and larruped a low drive to open the scoring.

Our free scoring Chilean

Our free scoring Chilean

Before the goal, and as noted earlier, Harper in goal for the Tigers was beginning the ritual of time wasting by approaching his goal kicks as if they were ticking bombs to be defused. Sadly the referee for the day marked his card by failing to stamp down on this gamesmanship by his inaction and as the game wore on more and more ludicrous lengths were went to in order to slow Arsenal’s attacks.

After the Alexis strike, surprise surprise, somehow the goal kicks were then taken quickly. Well, well !

It was a result of this that my main worry before the game, of our defence lacking the cohesion of a well-drilled back four that had played together regularly, came to fruition.

A foray down our left flank went virtually unchallenged and the Tigers first attack was rewarded by a goal – first shot, one goal, an infuriating characteristic of Arsenal sides for longer than I care to remember.

Top tier view

Top tier view

Even in the less rowdy upper tier I was in for the game there was fury about the validity of the goal as, after later enquiry, there seemed to be a foul on Flamini in the build up but what compounded this was the Arsenal defenders pausing to protest rather than playing to the whistle.

First test and the defence implode and a cheap equaliser conceded, albeit potentially wrongly allowed due to the foul. We just know that had it been us who’d fouled in the build up to the goal the lino would have gleefully flagged it as such and had it chalked off. Maybe it’s my Arsenal-centric view but it does feel we suffer disproportionately more than average from poor decisions.

Thankfully, the crowd still got behind the team from the restart and the half time jeering was directed at the referee.

The restart was calamitous as the defence and midfield showed a somnambulistic approach to dealing with Allam’s Tigers attack from the whistle. A dreamy, casual attitude in the midfield carried over to the defence as a cross came over from Arsenals left, again, and unfortunately the BFG’s leap was mistimed and allowed Hernandez to nod in to put Arsenal 2-1 down.

It seemed odd to me that I would be more worried about attacks down our right due to Bellerin’s inexperience and yet both goals conceded were from our left. It must be said that young Hector’s performance, his tenacity in the tackle and his good understanding of building an attack, got him many approving cheers all afternoon.

Now the Tiger’s were in front we got the “pooping on the pitch” my report is described as the time wasting went up another level and the tactic of “dying swans in the penalty area” was in full view.

As the Arsenal pushed forward, any chance possible one of the opposition defenders would hurl themselves to the ground and lay on the pitch, and then not move off the playing area as the referee should have ordered them too.

Dawson in particular, as you would expect from an ex-spudd, was guilty of this and when he was eventually made to walk off the pitch for treatment instead of taking the shortest route to the touchline he would take a long lazy arc across the pitch to maximise his meander to the more distant point on the touch line. All this was allowed to happen by the referee (even though Welbeck and Jack were pointing at the nearest touchline for Dawson to go to) who was beginning to lose control of the game.

And the Allam Tigers fans had the shamelessness to shout:

“Same old Arsenal, always cheating”

Their team were taking cheating and gamesmanship to a level only possible by the truly snide.

They were also keeping up their Cup Final habit of advancing six-ten yards further up the pitch on their throw ins and free kicks, but the Arsenal players seemed drilled on this part of the opposition play as they were quick to point out the encroachment and even the incompetent referee of the day had to act on that.

Second half pressure

Second half pressure

For the last twenty minutes the pattern of Arsenal attack-Tigers play acting-Arsenal chance continued into stoppage time of six minutes. The two bright spots in the Arsenal forward play, Alexis and Santi (who was his usual busy, creative/scuttling self, although a bit unlucky when it came to developing attacks) continued to put the opposition under pressure.

The introduction of Joel Campbell seemed to offer something different in our attacks and in the limited time available to him, gave a good account of himself. He seemed to be a bit of a provider/link-up player and not just the target man I thought he was.

Finally the Arsenal equalised when a clever bit of interplay between Alexis and Welbeck resulted in an equaliser that prevented the Arsenal faithful from suffering the hammer blow of a home defeat.

The reaction at the end of the match was muted relief with a tinge of exasperation as to why we allowed ourselves to get into a position where we have to claw back a late equaliser and also at a very late chance not quite going in for Gibbs when it looked like a repeat of the FA Cup Final result was about to happen.

If any satisfaction could be had from the game it was that Allam’s Tigers fans were minutes away from a famous win and that it was taken away from them. For the ethos of their play, and let’s be fair about it, they deserved nothing at all.

There did seem to be murmurs of discontent brewing in the feeling around the grounds after the game, not just with the performance but the squad deficiencies, and it will take a string of good displays to dispel these.

It is now down to the players, manager and club to do that in the coming games.


By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)