The Arsenal Stripped Bare By Manchester United, Even

It’s hard to accept but easy to explain because we were poor defensively, offensively, cohesion wise and we delivered an off the mark performance completely and that’s why we were well beaten today.

You, me, everyone, wants Arsene Wenger to sign a player and we could all name one or two guys that we think would bolster the squad. In the face of yesterday’s 3-1 defeat to Man U, knowing that Arshavin was alone up front hopelessly trying to win Almunia’s long kicks, seeing Clichy completely melt down over the last month, seeing Denilson’s lackadaisical display, and watching Almunia flapping like a pelican caught in headlights at nearly every ball you will probably be shocked when I tell you that Arsene Wenger is still not going to sign anyone. We might as well accept that fact, he said in the post match exclusive for the dot com that they “have no real good suggestion and no real idea” for players to bring in.

He’s not signing anyone, despite being comprehensively beaten by the other two title contenders and subsequently having the team’s weaknesses exposed for all to see.

I know for a fact that Arsene Wenger has money. I spoke with several people who are in the know about Arsenal’s finances and they explained that there’s a provision in the new stadium deal whereby 70% of the proceeds of all player transactions have to be either re-invested in the squad or put into a special Transfer Proceeds Account (TPA).

Even before the sales of Adebayor and Toure to Man City there were some estimates that had that TPA around £15m. Add in Toure and Adebayor’s sums and that TPA rises to around £45m. The final total number is almost certainly minus the transfer of Vermaelen in, the South American kid in, and the new contracts that Arsene has penned this year. Even still, and we really can only guess here, that leaves upwards of £30m in an account which Wenger not only has at his disposal but has an obligation to spend.

And he’s choosing not to.

Let’s even go further and say that we are over estimating and he has half that amount, just to be really conservative. £15m is certainly not enough to bring in a David Villa (who only wants to play for Liverpool anyway) but it’s enough to bring in someone like Chamakh or a good goalkeeper. So, why isn’t he?

I think there are three things at work with Wenger all of which I think he’s doing for the betterment of the club. First, he’d rather prospect for players than just buy established players. Second, with only one exception he picks certain types of personalities when he buys established players. And third, he steadfastly refuses to break his salary structure.

First, Arsene loves prospecting for players. That we made a move for some South American kid who won’t even be eligible to play for the Arsenal for a few years is the perfect example of this philosophy at work. Wenger buys players like Clichy, Denilson, and Almunia brings them in on good salaries and hopes that through hard work and loyalty he can polish them up and find some gold nuggets. It’s worked quite a number of times in the past and Alex Song is a great example of this.

Get them in on the cheap and keep them in the first team until they either get “too old” or until they develop a personality that Wenger doesn’t like. Then they are sold on, usually for a profit. It’s no coincidence that Arsenal have almost no player scandals, no players dating outrageous WaGs, and only one player who is willing to publicly question the manager and his philosophy (Arshavin). Wenger picks players who are “good boys.” They aren’t into partying, most are tee-total, they are educated, respectful, and never question the manager. You’ll never see Wenger buy a player like Bellamy, he doesn’t want guys like that breaking up his team unity. This further limits his ability to buy, and I think it’s one reason why Chamakh wasn’t brought in; as soon as we bid for him, he was talking in the press and made it clear that he would go to any team which would meet his salary demands.

The prospecting becomes very clear when you see that players are brought in at a young age and given extraordinary salaries right away. Arsenal have the 3rd or 4th largest wage bill in the EPL but unlike Chelsea or Man U, that money is not concentrated at the top, it’s spread out relatively evenly. The benefit of the salary structure is that young players who are paid lavishly tend to be very loyal to the club, the team, and the manager. The drawbacks are numerous, though, and clearly Wenger values this loyalty over the fact that you will lose players like Flamini and that you can never bring in a player like David Villa because his salary demands would break the structure.

This whole scheme inculcates a two-way loyalty; the players love Arsene and Arsenal and Wenger and the club show loyalty in return. For many of us Denilson should have been dropped after the performance at Stoke. I don’t mind if you’re crap at football, but I do mind if you’re lazy or if you give up on plays. At the Stoke game, Denilson gave up as Sidibe beat him down the side. The boss kept the faith, played him in the next game, and he came back and put in a hard shift against Villa. No he wasn’t perfect, but he worked his balls off and that’s all I ever ask from an Arsenal player. What Arsene will do after Denilson’s performance yesterday is anyone’s guess but if you consider that Almunia is still in the first team despite the fact that he has been abysmal the smart money will be on him playing at Chelsea.

Really, that’s all that the manager asks from the players and so it’s no surprise that in his post match press conference, Wenger looked like a man who has had his faith in some of these players rocked. Hearing him say publicly that the team cohesion and belief just wasn’t good enough was a bit of a shock and it’s nearly as far down the road of criticizing players that you’ll ever see from Arsene Wenger. He went a step further though when he was later questioned directly about Denilson and he not only didn’t defend the player but pointed out that he was not alone in the blame. Clearly, Wenger is frustrated with several players and just as clearly, he’s frustrated that his faith in those players has not paid off and there’s no time left to do anything about it.

Now, I know that a lot of folks will read what I wrote and see it as a condemnation of Arsene but I don’t see it that way. I think what Wenger is doing is taking Arsenal through a period of massive change and trying to leave the club in a place where there will be a base of talented young players who love the club and a large transfer kitty for the next manager to shape the team in his image. He’s doing all this on a budget and keeping to a business model as Arsenal navigate through these tough economic times without the benefit of an oligarch or oil man to pump funny money into the team.

Many of us are standing here, after yesterday’s loss, and saying why didn’t he buy? It seems a good question and in today’s world where everyone has a copy of Championship Manager and is able to swap players around with the flick of a thumb, it seems a simple solution. But it’s not that easy, I think I’ve given you three reasons why Arsene finds it difficult to bring players in (value, loyalty and salary). You then add in whether the players themselves want to play for Arsenal (Villa has repeatedly stated he will only play for Liverpool) whether their teams are willing to sell (Bordeaux made it clear they didn’t want to sell Chamakh by hyper-inflating his price) and whether the price is within Arsene’s TPA and you can see that it’s not as simple as pressing A on a game controller.

That said, we know he was in the market. He admitted that Arsenal were beaten to Chris Smalling’s signature by Man U. So, he did legitimately try to bring in players. But at the end of the day Arsene Wenger took a calculated risk, which is his right, and decided not to buy any players. Instead, he put his faith in Denilson, Clichy, Bendtner, Eduardo, Rosicky, and Almunia and they failed to repay him yesterday.

I don’t know what Wenger will do now but I do trust that he has the best interests of Arsenal Football Club at heart. I know he wants to win. I know he wants to keep the core of this team together and win more than just one trophy. And I know that while yesterday’s loss and Wenger’s misplaced faith is a blow to all of us fans, judging by the press conferences it’s an even bigger blow to Wenger.

No one feels this kind of loss more acutely than Wenger and no one will work harder to rectify that loss than Arsene Wenger. That you can take to the bank.

Liveblogging Arsenal v. Man U

Taking a page from Arseblogger, 7amkickoff is going to scrub the old method of liveblogging (where I update the site every few minutes) and instead use Coveritlive.com to host the liveblog.

Coveritlive will let us chat in real-time, share links, share pictures and more. I tested it out last week and it’s pretty cool, doesn’t have any advertisements, and, more importantly, FREE! The event doesn’t start until 7am and you can launch the app by Clicking Here. See you over there!

Martin O’Neill has lost his ever loving mind

I saw the comments that O’Neill made right after the Arsenal match and put them down to an emotional manager being duped by the press into giving an incendiary quote. But today’s latest tirade is not just a manager reacting to the quotes of another manager, they are a full on assault by a man who has clearly lost the plot.

Unless you live in a cave, or Birmingham, you’ll know that O’Neill inexplicably ripped Arsene after the Arsenal manager was quoted praising Villa for their hard work. Julian over at Gingers for Limpar posted Wenger’s quote in its entirety and really rips O’Neill in a scathing but right on piece. Here’s what Wenger said:

It was a very difficult game, because they stopped us from playing when we had the ball and when they had the ball, because they played a very long-ball game and closed us down.
We didn’t always find our passing game and we know when we come here what you get and we were not disappointed.

They play a very efficient English game with long balls and are very physical and they did do that very well and they are a good side on the counter-attack. I hope they have a good run now against all the other teams because they are quality, are well organised, have a strong spirit, and are very strong physically.

The midfield four of Milner, Young, Downing and Petrov don’t stop running and all these players can score goals so I think they have a good chance. Although Villa were physical, it was not a dirty game. It was a committed game. It was a fair game but not dirty at all. For me, it was physical in a positive way. They were committed, go for the balls and it is part of football.

So why is it that after Wenger said he hoped that Villa does well, Martin O’Neill’s shrill, shrew-face is filling my RSS feed today? Apparently, he’s now decided to do the honorable thing and use the English Press to attack Arsene Wenger.

His attack is really amazing, he ranges from how Wenger has a cult of personality, to Wenger being a mentalist, to Wenger deliberately manipulating everyone around him but here’s my favorite bit:

These are deliberate ploys. He is trying to influence things. What he wants to do is point out to everyone under his spell that Arsenal are the only delightful team around If he believes that, good luck to him. He might want to take a look at Barcelona. We should hold opinions until Arsenal play Barcelona. And if they lose to Barcelona, Barcelona will be considered a long-ball team.

You know what I love about this? He’s comparing Aston Villa to Barcelona. Yes, just like Wenger “irrationally” accused slick passing Aston Villa of being a long ball team, he would similarly call Barcelona a long ball team!

But the thing is, Martin, YOU ARE A LONG BALL TEAM, YOU PRAT. Don’t believe me? Click that link up there, Julian explains it with pictures and everything so you’ll understand it.

If he just left the tirade at matters concerning Aston Villa, that would be one thing but O’Neill takes the crazy train all the way off the tracks with his follow up:

There is a plan throughout. If he puts his hands in the air enough times, they (officials) will probably accept the fact he can see it from that distance, that Sol Campbell hadn’t fouled Richard Dunne, and the referee obviously agrees with him. He’s a very skillful manager but he has another record, like he has had something like 99 sendings off this year – and 98 of them weren’t his fault. That is the problem.

There are things that happen in the game you cannot always be fantastically proud of your team. There can be some nasty challenges made by Arsenal players – you cannot condone everything. William Gallas is just one the other week. You cannot condone everything. You have to say ‘On reflection, I’ve seen it again and it’s a nasty challenge’.

Arsenal have had 99 sendings off? Are you barking mad? And the Gallas tackle? REALLY? The manager of Aston Villa, a team which revels in winning 50-50 challenges, is going to have a swipe at William Gallas for a 50-50 challenge that the referee had a look at after the match and decided that it was just a foul.

He’s lost his gods-damned mind and what little respect I had for him has now gone out the window. Seriously, get help Martin.

The worst part of this whole thing is that the press and game announcers are repeating and amplifying the accusation that Wenger made “derogatory comments” about Villa. He did not make derogatory comments, unless you think that calling a black cat “black” is derogatory.

Villa aren’t the most long ball of all the long ball teams, nor are they the most prickly of kick ball teams, but they are a physical team, who play long balls to Young, Agbonlahor, and Heskey. It’s just fact, so it can’t possibly be derogatory.

Maybe what I’m missing here is that the press think that Villa’s play is derogatory. Maybe the press, and Martin O’Neill, have finally realized that the English long ball game is ruining a whole generation of young English players and will keep the country from ever winning an international tournament? The FA did just say that the new national training ground will banish the long ball, so I suppose that anything is possible.

I suspect that what we’re seeing is the reaction of everyone connected to the English Premier League to the fact that Arsenal were temporarily top of the table. For many, Arsenal at the top of the table was an affront to the pundits and managers who think that Arsenal aren’t “English enough” to win the League. So, when Wenger makes any kind of statement about what is the quintessential English team, full of future English national team players, the reaction is swift.  They denounce him and make sure to get loads of good quotes from the Villa players and their manager.

Don’t be surprised if the next article is the press getting reaction from Sam Allardyce and Steven Gerrard. They never miss a chance to take a swipe at Arsenal’s foreign manager.