Tony Pulis pontificates on the meaning of referees in the Premier League

West Brom v. Arsenal: a drab afternoon in the Midlands

Arsenal have a  great chance to go top of the League this weekend when they take the Gun show on the road and face a West Bromwich Albion side with the second worst home record in the League.

Albion have shipped 16 goals in 12 matches this season and 12 of those have come at home on the way to a 1-1-4 record. Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to Albion to call out their home record out since the opposition they have faced at home so far this season has been Man City (0-3), Chelsea (2-3), Southampton (0-0), Everton (2-3), Sunderland (1-0), and Leicester (2-3).

Three 2-3 losses at home in the opening 6 matches is an odd record for sure. And considering the teams they faced it might be a bit reckless to suggest that this will be a walk in the park. But Arsenal have title aspirations and if Arsenal want to claim the League they are going to have to match or best what Man City and Leicester have come and done before them.

City also have a much tougher match, facing Liverpool, as the late game for Saturday. An Arsenal win over West Brom would pile a bit of pressure on City. As an aside, Leicester (and Man U) could also go top of the table, if they beat Newcastle and both Arsenal and City drop points.

West Brom have some underlying stats which show that they can’t be taken for granted. They have only conceded 1 goal from an error and 5 errors total this season. That ranks them 3rd best in the League in that category, tied with Man U and Leicester, and just above Stoke and Southampton. This indicates a team that is well drilled by Pulis. As an aside, the phrase “well drilled by Pulis” was originally going to be the Killing Word for the Weirding Module in David Lynch’s Dune.

But the reason why West Brom have so few errors is that West Brom play an Allardycian system: they spend more time getting restarts and time wasting than they do playing football. This is similar to the van Gaalian system, though van Gaal is known for keeping possession and killing off games that way. Either way you slice it, Pulician, van Gaalian, and Allardycian squads are remarkable for their overall lack of activity.

West Brom have the lowest possession% in the League at 43.5% and they are also 3rd lowest in tackles. West Brom also commit the fewest fouls in the League, take the fewest overall shots in the League, are 15th in the League in dribbles, and draw the third fewest fouls. Like all teams who hate playing the game, these teams put out very few stats in general. Their goal isn’t to play football, it’s to kill off games.

As Eduardo Galeano put it in Soccer in Sun and Shadow, men like Allardyce and Pulis are technocrats:

His mission: to prevent improvisation, restrict freedom, and maximize the productivity of the players, who are now obliged to become professional athletes.

Pulis has players, Sessegnon, Berahino, and Rondon all have the ability to turn a drab afternoon at the Hawthorns into a night to remember with a deft dribble or a delightful moment of interplay. But under Pulis, these men are left to be just another cog in Pulis’ anti-relegation machine. It’s no wonder that Pulis can’t find a place for Arsenal’s Serge Gnabry, another in a long line of precocious Arsenal players, because Gnabry is probably smart enough to see that Pulis doesn’t teach people how to play football.

There is a lot of talk about the cost to watch a football match, with Arsenal often the focus of fan’s ire because of their prices. But what price would you pay for a season of Pulician football? The Midlands of England is a dreadfully boring place to live — their star attractions in West Brom are a climbing wall, a laser tag place, and a pub — but in those conditions wouldn’t you want your football team to do more than simply “survive” relegation? If I lived there, I’d rather my team got relegated with a manager who had a vision to bring something magical to my existence rather than watch a single minute of Pulis’ team time-waste their way to a 1-0 victory over the equally dreadful Sunderland.

Lost in the debate about “greed” in football is how teams like West Brom don’t even try to bring beauty into the lives of their fans. Hiring a man like Pulis is simply telling the local fans that the only thing that matters is saving the team from relegation. Hiring Pulis is like calling the ambulance. How much money would you pay to watch Tony Pulis perform CPR on the WBA corpse for an entire season?

Arsenal and West Brom are on the opposite ends of the spectrum: one plays beautiful, attacking football with unpredictable players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil serving up incredible moments of skill and the other plays cheap, boring, anti-relegation technocratic football which essentially cheats all viewers out of the joy of the game.

My prediction is Pulis will double down on his efforts to close castle West Brom. He will note Arsenal’s injuries to key improvisational players like Ox and the possibility that Arsene might rest Alexis for this match and he will set his team out to take a 90 minute match and turn it into about 5 minutes of play. It’s in those 5 minutes that the game will be decided.


Alexis, rest, contracts, injuries, Bellerin, Tom Parker, and Galeano

I have 9 minutes. 9 minutes until my daughter wakes up and I have to shepherd her through the morning routine. Sometimes I leave it a bit late.

Arsenal haven’t begun to speak to Alexis and Özil about their contracts. Arsenal will start that talk in January, said Arsene, killing that story with a single stroke of his broadsword. And please, spare me the stuff about “Arsenal could lose them on a Bosman” or “Arsenal never would have been able to keep Alexis 4 years ago”. Yeah, Arsenal wouldn’t have even been able to sign Özil and Alexis 4 years ago, much less offer them new deals.

5 minutes.

None of Arsenal’s bandaged masses will be ready to play against West Brom this weekend except Hector Bellerin. When I was a kid I loved the Napoleonic Wars, not because I loved suffering, but because there were so many oil paintings of the battles. Brightly colored soldiers with comically large hats would shoot fire from their muskets into a phalanx of wild-eyed cavalry horses. I have a memory of a painting that featured several bandaged soldiers. Leaning against a crumbling wall. A dog licking out of a bowl of milk. This is how I imagine Arsenal’s physio room. Poor Tomas Rosicky, hobbling on a crutch in the background. Mikel Arteta, legless, on a wheeled cart. Victims of the wars.

Please Arsene, don’t send Generalissimo Sanchez to the front to fight Perfidious Albion! Save his powder for the battle at Man City!!

-1 minutes. Now I’m going to be late. Best not to blame the child. That’s how I was raised, if the parents were late it was the child’s fault. It’s never the child’s fault. Next time start writing earlier.

Arsenal published a large piece on Bellerin. Never before have so many words been written that revealed so little. At the end of the article there is a poll: who is Arsenal’s greatest ever right back. I chose Tom Parker. I chose him because his name was the only one on the list I didn’t recognize. Born in 1897, died in 1987, Tom Parker won the League with Arsenal in the old WM days of Chapman. Someone was being cheeky including Tom Parker. None of us ever saw Tom play. I chose Tom.

-8 minutes. Sigh.

Tony Pulis said something right for once and he actually managed to draw sympathy from me. His interview will probably be characterized as another “kids these days” piece because he has a moan about players putting on their headphones and looking at their computers and how they are all multi-millionaires now. But Pulis is right. People don’t like to interact face-to-face anymore. Go into any bar and there are dozens of people looking down, their faces illuminated by their phones.

If you want to know what happened in football this weekend, you don’t talk to your friends, you ask your phone. If you want to know about the latest emergency, you don’t look out your window, you turn on your phone.

We used to look up to see what’s going on in the world. Now we look down. It’s a bit of a loss, you have to admit, having your life mediated by what other people see/saw/say.

One day, there will be a writer who looks up. He will capture the world you’re all missing when you look down.

-15 minutes.

You should read Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano. If you have Kindle Unlimited it’s free. If not, go to your local library and check it out. If you’re a collector, like me, you’ll want to buy this book. I have to thank Ian for buying me this book. It’s fantastic. Thank you Ian.



Internationals are over: will Alexis be rested?

Good morning everyone. Remember what I used to just be a blogger? I would just write about the things I was reading and everyone once in a while let loose a screed aimed at some hapless journo who made some horrible argument about Arsenal?

Those days are long gone. Mostly thanks to the fact that I stopped reading the Daily Mail and other red tops which spew non-stop non-sense. Now I only read the Guardian, the BBC, Arseblog, and for comic relief, The Telegraph.

The Telegraph is a strange case. They used to be a decent paper but in the last 2 years or so have dramatically dropped off in quality. It’s gotten so bad there that it seems like every article is nothing more than click-bait.

They have an article today which says that Arsenal are going to sign Nolito for £12m. Nolito is 5’7″ (172cm) and insanely right footed. He has 7 goals and 4 assists for Celta Vigo and is a decent dribbler, winning 2.5/6 per game. He’s also played all 990 minutes of 11 starts for CV. On the flip side, he’s 29 and Arsenal would only be buying him (if they are) for his last professional contract. I don’t see it happening unless the injuries to Walcott and Ox are worse than Wenger let on at the last presser.

In other news, Dinamo Zagreb’s president has been arrested. This time for what looks like taking bungs. So, lets see.. doping, bribery, tax evasion, and taking bungs. How is this club allowed to play in the Champions League? Not that I want them kicked out of our group, I think we may need them to finish third so we don’t have to. Arsenal face the bung-taking-tax-dodging-bribing-dopers next Tuesday! I have a novel idea, UEFA, drugs test them BEFORE the match.

We should have plenty of time for people to hope that we lose that match before next Tuesday.

I wasn’t able to watch the England-France pre-match but I caught glimpses of it on social media. It was great to see the solidarity, it’s great that England sent the message to the world that they aren’t afraid, and that football will play on. The Guardian has a nice pictorial piece if you’re interested.

Security around this weekend’s matches is going to be heightened after another International match was called off between Germany and Netherlands. That followed the cancellation of the match between Spain and Belgium the day before. No bombs were found, that I see any report of, in either incident. But authorities have to act on tips and as a result we could see a spate of football matches canceled, moved, and otherwise disrupted between now and, well, for the foreseeable future.

In more positive news, Ukraine qualified for their first ever European tournament. They previously qualified through being joint hosts in 2012 but this time they got through on their own merit. This is a great story because as you know Ukraine and Russia have been at war since February 2014. I know that the most recent events in France and Beirut are fresh on our minds but this conflict has been ongoing and at least on one level it’s great for the supporters to have a few moments where they can escape from the deadly reality of their lives and enjoy their national team’s success. Ukraine is in pot B with Russia, so they won’t have to face each other right away.

Meanwhile, Arsenal fans are collectively touching their woods over the fitness of Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean manager used him for 90 minutes in a bitter 3-0 loss to Uruguay despite reports that he’s got a calf strain. He seems a very patriotic man so I doubt that a calf strain was going to stop him playing for his country. Calf strain, he could have had a whole bull strain and would probably still give more on the pitch than most of us.

What Chile do with him is out of our control. I agree that Arsenal pay these player’s salaries and we can complain about it, sure, but FIFA has absolute control over players and if his national team wants to call him up, there’s nothing he can do to stop it. That is if he wanted to not play. Which, he doesn’t seem to want anyway, making our plaintive cries for him to not play for Chile even more pointless.

These stop-start International breaks are my biggest pet peeve. They are proof that FIFA is nothing but a vampiric organization that sucks the life out of players to feed their own bloated corpse. From a coaching perspective, it’s so much better for the national teams to play all their matches at once, over a month, rather than spread out over a year. How can you possibly make the best football team if you don’t know who is going to be available next month?  And then there’s the problem of developing tactics and good teamwork. How can you do that if you only get these players for a week at a time every other month? International tournaments used to be the breeding ground for tactical innovation. These days, that is the exclusive realm of the clubs, where managers like Pep can drill in a new style. Imagine trying to get a team to learn how to gegenpress if you only have them for a week at a time three times a year? It’s preposterous.

Anyway, back to Arsenal, we can’t fix FIFA but what Arsene Wenger can do is rest Alexis for Arsenal and despite the injuries to our own first team, I think he has to do that against West Brom. Alexis will want to play but if Arsenal are going to go for it on Tuesday against the doping-tax-cheat-bribery-bungers we need him sharp and ready to give 110% like he always does.

This weekend’s lineup will depend on who is healthy. Joel Campbell is a lefty and he can play on the left, Ozil can play on the left and he should be fully recharged after not playing a single international friendly this week (along with Mertesacker), so Arsenal have options. It all depends on how soon Ramsey and Ox can come back into the team honestly. And you know, I wouldn’t have said this earlier in the season, but I don’t have any problem resting Alexis and starting Gibbs up front. He’s not horribly terrible and he did score against Spoors. He also provides extra coverage against the West Brom counter attack.

Maybe that’s a whacky idea. I’m allowed to have them. I’m a blogger.