Arsenal v. Fulham match preview, plus I get all wonkish on Arsenal’s financials.

Blatter does his Carnack the Magnificent routine.

Good morning lads and ladies… wait… do any women read this blog? I mean, beside my partner who religiously reads the blog because she loves me. Anyone?

Anyway, big match weekend here on the blog. First, the match is being played on Fox Soccer Channel which means that I get to watch the match live here at home, in my skivvy’s. That, in turn, means that you all get to enjoy me liveblogging the match, in my skivvy’s. Then we’ll end the weekend on Sunday with an orgiastic Good, Bad, and Ugly. It will be the Full American this weekend, folks, indulge yourselves!

Ahead of the match our boy Diaby is injured again. I hate to say it, but Arsenal need him healthy, the contrast between Diaby and Song as far as attacking is concerned is very stark indeed and with Fulham pulling in to Emirates and backing the bus in front of goal this evening we need all the attack we can muster.

The good news on the attack front is that Walcott will start full training on Monday, Eduardo is expected to be back for the Burnley match next weekend and perhaps Adebayor the next week for Roma. None of which helps against Fulham.

I do expect Arsaviour to start tomorrow which should give the team a lot more creativity and flair going forward. Quite where he will start is still up in the air, but if I had to guess I’d say on the right, Nasri on the left, and the Song and Denilson pairing in the middle. Personally, I’d rather Arsenal play with the 4-2-3-1 that they worked to great effect against Roma which would mean van Persie up top, Bendtner out right, Arsaviour in the middle, and Nasri on the left. Then at 60 minutes, take off Arsaviour, bring on Vela out left, move Nasri to the middle, and if we’re up a goal, put The Pass Master in on the right.

Now that I’ve said it, Wenger will do none of the above and probably put The Pass Master in from the start and bring Bishcoff off the bench or something. Who knows…

All I know is that I don’t want to sit here and liveblog the same kind of stultifying event I saw last weekend at the Emirates.

Speaking of stultifying, for Fulham’s part, a 0-0 draw is exactly what they are looking for, after all, they have only scored three (3, tres, troi, 三) away goals this season.

THREE AWAY GOALS ALL SEASON.

That little nugget makes Fulham the absolute most defensive away team I can ever remember — even Derby scored 8 away goals last year and that wasn’t because they were playing defensively it’s because they sucked eggs.

So, if you all thought we had a hard time breaking down Sunderland, you’re in for a real “treat” as you get to watch the most anti-football of all anti-football squads.

Maybe it’s the cold medicine but my head hurts just thinking about how 4th place rests on overcoming this mountain of a team, with their mountain of a center half (Brede Hangelaand), and here we are relying on our little tiny corpulent Ruskie. Ohhh…. 1-0 to the Arsenal would be a great result.

While I’m on the topic of fourth place and really the importance of this match, yesterday my Antipodean reader asked how I think the team might not be profitable when Gazidis is assuring fans that Arsenal don’t need Champions League football.

There are several things that lead me to this conclusion. First, if you look at the 2008 full season financials, the amount of profits that Arsenal socked away for that year is just a little over £6m more than their earnings from the Champions League campaign.  Granted, that number is after tax, of which they will no doubt pay less since they earned less and whatnot, but the point remains: Champions League qualification is worth a lot of money, roughly £15m

Now, take a look at this table. Each team’s earnings from live broadcasts, Europe, and their cup runs is detailed. If you remember, last year Everton finished 5th and Villa finished 6th. Notice that difference between Arsenal’s earnings and those two teams: £19m between 4th and 5th place and £22m between 4th and 6th place. The higher you finish in the Premier League, the more exciting your team, the more money you make from television, Europe, and cup runs.

Then there’s gate receipts. With turnover for home games at over £3m per match and Arsenal playing 6 home matches in last year’s CL run, plus some match revenue sharing for some away matches, we could conservatively put that number at £18m for the Champions League run.

Thus, in the worst case scenario, a 6th place finish (we are closer to 6th place than 4th), just in match day, prize money, and television revenues Arsenal will lose nearly  £40m. Which is exactly what Arsenal’s before tax profitability was last year.

If you subtract an inevitable decline in shirt sales, ticket sales, and other concessions that would follow a 6th place finish and the concomitant decline in supporters I think you can see that losing out on 4th place would be a dire situation. That means that either Gazidis is bat-shit nuts, has some special knowledge that the club hasn’t released, or is bullshitting the supporters. I don’t know which, but if I had to guess it would be the last option.

I’ll admit that my numbers might be a bit off, I’m just going by the data that I’m given. But the importance of 4th place cannot be emphasized enough. The captain is gunning for it, van Persie is supposedly holding out on a new deal because we might not make 4th place, and Martin O’Neil is willing to shit on Villa supporters who paid nearly £1000 each to travel to Moscow to secure it. It’s worth a lot of money, Villa are desperate (to the tune of £90m in debt) to secure it, and this is the week that Arsenal need to dig in and secure it.

In little over a fortnight, we’ll know if Arsenal have the goods. Teams are going to play “anti-football” and no team will do that better than Fulham tomorrow. So, while every match is crucial, this match is crucial-er and they need a positive start, or all of the work that Wenger has done over the last ten years might be undone in this one.

With that said, I’ll see you all here tomorrow at 7am for the liveblog. Personally, I’m hoping for a miracle from Arsaviour.

UPDATE

Diaby is fit for the match. See how all my negativity paid off?

The Full English costs £133m

East Stand 2006

Ugh… remember that lady behind me on the flight back from London? The one who was coughing her lungs up mere inches away from my face? Well, I think I got her cold. I feel miserable today, worse than yesterday by far and yet I absolutely must go in to work today. It’s not fair to my coworkers to come in while so obviously sick but I have a Calc test today and I can’t miss that so I might as well bring my diseased ass in to work. The worst part is that this cold comes from overseas so they won’t have any immunities to it. I’m calling it the London Flu and me bringing it to work makes me “London Flu Timmy.”

Speaking of sickness, the press are making a big hoo-doo of some report that was released today claiming that FIFA’s 6+5 rule would not be illegal. It’s even prompting some reporters to make outrageous claims like

With the proposed 6+5 Fifa rule being ruled legal by the EU courts, we might have to see a return to more homegrown talent being fielded.

Let me make this absolutely clear: this is a report compiled by a FIFA hand-picked organization (INEA) which basically skimmed through the law looking for arguments that FIFA might make to the EU Court and found that while the rule is very clearly discrimination, it’s only “indirect discrimination.”

The EU ministers and the EU courts are firmly against this rule, and given that FIFA’s hand-picked report proves that this would be a form of discrimination I can’t see how they will get any ruling past the courts. No, the Bosman ruling still stands and will continue to stand. Which I think is good for football.

The INEA also repeats FIFA’s preposterous claim that having foreign players in the EPL stunts the growth of the Full English players. This argument is so prima facie ridiculous that I hardly feel the need to attack it, but let’s take a look at how it goes. Basically, they argue that foreign players “take the place of” local players in academies and thus there are supremely talented Englishmen out there who just never got a chance.

Bullshit.

Look at the youth academies of Arsenal and Man U. Both clubs have reached the finals of the Carling Cup with basically their academy sides. And though Arsenal get all the press for their academy I think this Man U class is actually better than the Arsenal class. But the important thing to look at is the fact that both of those teams have tons of English players on them.

Thus, this is far from the case that English talent isn’t being nurtured, rather that English talent is being fostered in a competitive atmosphere with the world’s most deserving players. These clubs are making English players better.

Make no mistake, the 6+5 plan will never be implemented and if it is, the Arsenal’s and Man U’s will still have the best academies, they will still produce the best talent, and the big clubs will continue to dominate the markets for these players. What would happen is that the overall level of play would be reduced significantly. All you have to do is look at Liverpool and ask yourself who should start at right wing: Pennant or Kuyt?

The second big story that fell out like the lung of a disease ridden airline passenger is that Arsenal released their mid-season financials. This year’s numbers look incredibly good: profits up £4.5m over last year, match day turnover up, television profits up, and even some profit made off the Highbury square development. The total before tax profit reported is £24.5m. That is truly an incredible number for a half season.

But there are some worrying signs; the £133m that “The Group” owe the banks for the Highbury Square development looks as if it’s come due as “The Group” are busily trying to re-finance that loan.

Moreover, whereas last year Peter Hill-Wood categorically assured supporters that the Highbury development was accounted for apart from the operations of Arsenal FC, this year he is equivocating, saying:

The financial arrangements for the group’s property activities are separate and largely operate independently from the financing of the football business.

The truth of the matter seems obscured, but I suspect that one reason Arsenal have maintained such large cash reserves (£90m before this half-season’s £24.5m profit report) is that they need the money to flood into the Highbury development should the loan come due and banks are unwilling to refinance this apparent lode stone on the club’s profits.

The other worrying aspect of the profit report is just how important being a top club is for our financial health. Television revenue, match day revenue, Champions League revenue, all are dependent upon the club competing at the top, top level.

Arsenal are certainly making money right now, but losing 4th place combined with the financial downturn and the collapse of the high end housing market could prove devastating to this club and has me a bit worried about the future for the first time as an Arsenal supporter.

We have to trust that the board will get this all ironed out. After all, they’ve not let us down so far.

All right, got to get into work and get some things started before my exam today so that’s your lot for the day.

See you tomorrow.

Arsenal 1-0 Roma; The Could-a, Would-a, Should-a

la-persieata

Match Reports

Telegraph.co.uk:  Arsenal were the only victors in Europe last night but while they won the battle, the war of this Champions League tie is far from over after their profligate attack squandered what may prove to be crucial chances.

ESPNSoccernet: The misfiring Gunners should have put the tie beyond the hosts – with Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Eb*ue both spurning golden chances as Arsenal’s recent trend of poor finishing continued.

Match Video

The Arsenalist has both the hits and the misses.

Man of the Match

Rather than do player ratings, I’m just doing a man of the match: these blogs are already too damn long and don’t need me pontificating on every single player. With that said, with at least 6 takeaways and a breathtaking 73 passes (with an 85% completion rate) yesterday’s man of the match was Denilson. You could point to the formation that Wenger employed, you could point to the obvious paucity of match fitness on the part of Roma, you could point to a lot of things, but whatever the cause Denilson easily had his most effective match since I’ve been watching him.

Playing the purely defensive midfielder in Arsene’s brilliant 4-2-3-1, Denilson moved the ball from defense into attack, slowed the Roma attack very effectively, and patrolled the midfield cleaning up and distributing as needed. His effect in this role allowed the more creative Diaby to get forward and get the ball to Nasri who occupied the purely attacking midfield role.

It wasn’t all roses and lace, I did find myself yelling at him to track back once, but that could be forgiven since Roma didn’t punish Arsenal for that particular bit of play.

Plus, he had been fucking brilliant up till that point.

The Coulda

I’ll admit it: I was wrong, dead wrong. Wenger’s tactics have been transparent and predictable this season and I sincerely thought Wenger would play this match the way he’s played pretty much every other. So, huge kudos to Arsene Wenger for being brave enough to change the lineup and play Liverpool’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation. Can you imagine what Arsenal would look like if he played that formation and Cesc was in Diaby’s slot, Arshavin in Nasri’s slot, Nasri on the left, and Walcott on the right?

Indefensible!

Kudos too to van Persie who’s craft up front, tireless work rate tracking back, and incisive runs nearly shredded the Roma defense and Coulda resulted in more goals. His goal off the penalty kick was no less that he deserved.

The Woulda

As good as Arsenal was in the first half, they nearly threw away the match with a bit of insanity to start the second. As it turns out, Gallas was late getting back to the pitch because he was getting some treatment to his shin for the knock he took in the 10th minute.  Fair enough, we need our best defender patched up.

But what isn’t acceptable is that Arsenal’s captain let superstition garner him a yellow card. Toure has a match ritual where he is always the last one out on to the pitch and since the referee had decided (wrongly) to restart the match when Arsenal had only 9 men on the pitch Toure felt like he could just run out onto the pitch without checking in with the 4th official. Between the ref, the late treatment, and the Arsenal captain’s superstitions it was like amateur hour out there and Arsenal nearly let Roma equalize during the confusion.

How, the fuck, does Arsenal start the second half with no central defenders?

Comical, but thankfully it didn’t cost us.

Another Woulda goes to Bendtner and uhhh, whatshisname, who both contrived to miss chances that my 10 month old daughter would have put in the auld uniun bhag. Bendtner had a horrible match all around and I have to wonder if he isn’t on his way out in the off season. To be fair, the first ball Nasri played in to him (hard and behind him a bit) was difficult to control and I forgave him that bit of profligacy, but there’s just no forgiving him when his touch constantly lets him down. That performance yesterday solidified him as “Adebayor Lite” in my mind.

The other dude, ole whatshisname, he who cannot be named, The Pass Master, whatever you want to call him, actually had a tremendous match and had he scored that open goal would easily have been MotM for me. More than once his dribbles and vigor going forward gave Roma fits but in his typical style he missed an easy chance to put Arsenal safely through to the next round. Proof positive that he will never be an effective midfielder.

And a final Woulda to Alex Song, who came on for Diaby and immediately put the Arsenal attack in neutral. I think I see what the boss likes about him; he’s a bit of a “hard man” and did put himself about effectively. He also wins balls in the air which is almost a novelty on this particular team but that said, going forward he is crap.

More than any other player Song is the one guilty of passing sideways rather than picking out an attacker. Is it any wonder that he has never gotten an assist for the Arsenal? Past Arsenal hard men (Copping, Storey, Young, Adams, Petit and Vieira) all had some craft to them and more than once spurred Arsenal’s attack but Song seems incapable of looking forward.

Unfortunately I think this is what the boss likes about him.

The Shoulda

Claus Bo Larsen (the ref) Shoulda been substituted at half time. Hell, he shoulda been subbed after the first 10 minutes when he inexplicably played an “advantage” to Arsenal after Mexes upended The Pass Master 2 yards outside the box and the ball found its way to Sagna — at midfield. It was an atrocious decision, but it wasn’t his worst. How the hell does Mexes (on a yellow already) stay in the match after cynically hauling down van Persie in the box? And how in the name of Collina does he start the match when Arsenal have only 9 players on the pitch? Give a yellow to Wenger for delaying the match or something but you don’t kick off with less than 22 players on the pitch. It was a shocking display of refereeing and Arsenal were lucky he didn’t cost us the match.

Conclusions

A fifth consecutive clean sheet, the 14th match in the unbeaten run, and the manager flexing his mind a bit and shuffling the formation to what Shoulda been great effect all means that in a fortnight Arsenal travel to Roma and need another performance like yesterday to see them through to the next round. Regardless my negativity earlier, it was a magnificent performance and the kind of stuff that Arsenal supporters dream of.

Similar creativity will be needed on Saturday when Arsenal host a Fulham squad who have allowed fewer league goals than Arsenal and have beaten us already once this season using the tried and true “park the bus in front of the goal and hit them on the break” technique.

Until then, let’s just bask in the glory of our one-nil to the Arsenal.