The TAO of Wenger Silences Stan Kroenke

What is the sound of one Stan talking?

There is a metric ton of Arsenal news today, most of it is fluff, some of it is ‘meh’, and a few bob is “huh.” Let’s get on with the “huh.”

Of course you know by now that there was an Annual General Meeting of shareholders yesterday and you’ve probably read or listened to the breakdown of that meeting. If not, I think Arseblog has a great interview with both Tim Payton of the Arsenal Supporter’s Trust and Amy Lawrence of the Observer today in his Arsecast and you should give it a listen.

I will highlight my favorite quote from yesterday, it’s making the rounds and you’ve no doubt already read it, but read it again…

I know that we haven’t won a trophy for four years but we have been very close and I believe that this season we will do it. When I say that, it is not to please you, it is because I am really convinced of it. I believe that and the fans know we will go for it.

We are only in October and I know it will be very tight. It will come down to how resilient, consistent, intelligent and united we are until the end of the season. There will be periods when it will be difficult, but we have to show the strengths that have always made this club special.

We have developed the team over the last five years with a tremendous amount of training. It is easier to do that if the majority of players have grown up inside the club from 16 or even younger. They learn to love the club and what it represents.And this season we are ready to go for it in the Premier League, the Champions League and the cups.

He’s talking about Talent, Attitude, and Opportunity here. For many of the players in this side the talent has been nurtured through years of training. Sure, people will say that Cesc got some of his initial training from Barcelona, but 5 years now at Arsenal, training the Wenger way has developed his natural talent into what he his today, arguably the best central midfielder in the world.

Similarly, keeping the core of the team together, training together, under the careful tutelage of Arsene Wenger has crafted a specific attitude on this team; respectful, hard working, young men who love the club. A few folks have come in to the team with a different attitude and were able to keep their inherently prickish and lazy attitude at bay for a while, but when the chips were down they strayed offside, were flagged, and shipped to the Northlands where they bought ostentatious watches to flash around in their interviews where they talked about how it wasn’t “all about the money.” Nope, it’s not about money, it’s because you’re a prick.

And opportunity, a lot of folks point to the way Arsenal use the Carling Cup to showcase youngsters but I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Look at what Wenger is willing to risk for some of these kids. Cesc came on to a Champions League game just months out of the Barcelona academy. He certainly wasn’t ready, but Wenger wanted to give him a taste, an opportunity to show what he could do. Look at Mannone, Wenger took a rookie and has given him the opportunity to prove himself. And if the scrubbing of Almunia from promo material on the site and his replacement with Mannone is any indication, that opportunity will continue.

So of course Wenger is bullish on this season, he’s been working with many of these kids for years and he sees this season as a convergence of Talent, Attitude, and Opportunity. Will Arsenal win something? I don’t know. I feel strongly that they will and that January will be the month to do it.

Denilson is just four weeks away from practicing and that will give him another four weeks to get match fit before Alex Song — who is must be said embodies the Wenger project more than any other player outside of Cesc — before Alex Song bogs off to Africa. The other title hopefuls will all be missing African players at that time as well, so it will be Denilson’s opportunity to show that he has the talent and attitude needed to take points off our rivals.

I can’t wait for January, it will prove Wenger’s philosophy either right or wrong.

Transfers

One other funny bit of news that came out of yesterday’s AGM was this whole “does he or doesn’t he” flap about whether Arsene has money to spend, wants to spend money, and if he did have money who would he spend it on?

I want to put this stuff to the sword — all evidence suggests that Wenger will buy someone, if they are available and at the right price. He probably already has a few players in mind. Who they are is anyone’s guess, and if you enjoy playing “Wenger Transfer Bingo” have at it.

Me, I see articles like this one from 442 about Lorik Cana being an Arsenal target in January and literally, *LITERALLY* laugh out loud. Go look up Cana’s stats (the Telegraph is loading slow today) yes, he leads the team in tackles won and he’s second on the team in passes completed at 287. 287 passes! That’s a lot, right? Uhhh… no. Song makes that many passes in 3 games. Against Liverpool Cana made a paltry 14 passes, Song made that many in 15 minutes in the dour game away to AZ Alkmaar. As for tackles, he’s also leads Sunderland in fouls given away. So, while he tackles a lot and wins a lot of tackles he also gives up a lot of free kicks. A LOT. Giving up free kicks is one of the things that this Arsenal team cannot do.

So, while I respect Cana for his no-nonsense style of play and leadership he is not the kind of player that Arsene will ever sign. Moreover, the point of this little exercise is that I could do that with pretty much every player currently being linked to Arsenal. If Arsene signs someone, it will be someone like Nasri, Eduardo or Vermaelen, someone totally off everyone’s radar. Someone who plays the Arsenal way already. Not someone we wish would play for Arsenal!

Injuries

I wanted to leave you all on a hugely positive note today with news that several of our long-term injuries are working their way back into the team.

  • Djourou: out for the season (boss says March)
  • Fabianski: played a reserve game the other day and working his way back to match fitness — will likely play against Liverpool in the CC
  • Nasri: played with Fabianski the other day and is working his way back to match fitness — will likely play against Liverpool in the CC
  • Almunia: physically, he’s fit
  • Rosicky: 50-50 to play on Sunday
  • Bendtner: 50-50 to play on Sunday
  • Walcott: 3 weeks, but I’m actually hoping he stays out longer, because that recovery schedule coincides with the next Nationalism break and frankly the last fucking thing he needs is to go off and play for fucking Engerland before he’s played any serious matches for Arsenal. Fuck you very much.
  • Denilson: 4 weeks away from training!
  • Eduardo: will play against West Ham on Sunday

That’s a lot of injuries, innit? The good news is that many key players are coming back, just in time to give a rest to a lot of the guys who have been playing so hard for the last few months. Things are certainly looking up on that front!

Anyway, as for the Hammer’s match, I’ll have a better match preview tomorrow. See you then!

Mr. Wenger Goes to AGM

Quick blog today, because, well, because all the action will happen this afternoon as the newly 60 year old Arsene Wenger attends the Annual General Meeting.

You’ll no doubt be hearkening back to last year’s AGM where someone got up and confronted Arsene with the fact that Silvestre is on the team. But those days are past us, we are currently in a good run of form and besides Silvestre has to get past big Phil to get on the pitch!

Seriously, Arsenal look very sharp right now (despite the disappointment of the 1-1 draw to AZ) and it’s looking like they might actually challenge for trophies this season: knock on wood, fingers crossed, touch my wood, whatever it is that you have to do to ward off the evil voodoo of the last three years. I expect that as far as the team is concerned I won’t think too many shareholders will stand up and call them Geriatric… especially since today is Arsene’s 60th birthday.

Bit of a coup that and I suspect that Ivan Gazidis has his hand in the timing here. Last year, the timing of the AGM was stupid; coming right on the heels of another season of disappointment. Much wiser to hold the meeting now, since Arsenal almost always do well in the start of the season, and all the trophies are still in front of us, plus it’s the old man’s birthday. No one is calling anyone geriatric on Arsene’s 60th birthday!

I suspect that 90% of today’s meeting will be a hagiography looking back at Wenger’s 13 years at Arsenal and looking forward to another 13. This is absolutely well deserved. One only need look up north to Liverpool to see the genius of Arsene Wenger. After the amazing win at Istanbul, Rafa famously said that now he got to build his own team. Benitez then set about spending £229m buying 76 players and has since only managed one FA Cup.  Look at that list of players linked above, he had to buy all those players because Liverpool has no academy. Not only that but there have been a lot of huge failures in that list.

This is in direct opposition to what Arsene Wenger is doing down at London Colney. It took a few years, but Arsenal are now pumping out good, young, English players like Jay Simpson. Arsene isn’t making a Cesc factory, but every player who graduates from Arsenal Academy will be a kid with good values, solid fundamentals, and who is a career professional.

Meanwhile, in the first team, Arsene makes one major investment per transfer window: Eduardo, Nasri, Arshavin, Vermaelen, etc. If you’re a shareholder, you have to be looking at the way the team is being managed both on and off the pitch and think that your money is in a good place.

The one blot on this whole day is what looks like an impending boardroom fight between a guy who has been frozen out of the board and the American. I have no special insider knowledge here but I suspect, having looked at Stan Kroenke’s other businesses that he’s not an impulsive, owner for owner’s sake type of rich guy. No, in fact, I think that he’s probably most attracted to Arsenal because it is run like a very conservative business.

My suspicion is that Stan Kroenke will go over the 29.9% line either today or shortly after today and that then will be obligated to make a bid for the club… which will be rejected. Which means that everything will stay put, exactly as Stan and the board wants it.

As I always say, we’ll have to wait and see.

Anyway, that’s it for today, baby is up and I’ve got to get to work. See you tomorrow!

Ah Zed Alkmaar 1-1 Arsenal; the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Arsenal sucker punched by late equalizer

Telegraph: Arsène Wenger had planned to mark his 60th birthday tomorrow with nothing more extravagant than watching Europa League football on television but, after Arsenal threw away victory last night, he might prefer to study DVDs of his team’s defending from set-pieces.

Match Video

The Arsenalist has two videos that you need to watch for today’s match; the AZ Alkmaar video from yesterday and the PSV Eindhoven video from 2007.

Prologue

Despite a clear difference in class, Arsenal played to AZ Alkmaar’s level for most of the match. Proof of that argument comes in the form of both the goal we scored and the goal we conceded.

The goal we scored was perfect “Arsenal football” and made AZ look like rank amateurs; Arshavin steals the ball from their defender, slots in to RvP, who crosses perfectly to Chesk for the finish. Their defenders were everywhere on that play, losing their concentration and playing defense like an MLS team.

Then on the other end, it’s the 93rd minute, AZ have announced their intention to lob the ball forward and try to steal a point just a minute before, and Arshavin is caught offside. The long free kick comes in again, and again Diaby cannot get a head on the ball because he lets his marker get in front of him. Then both Song and Vermaelen allow Mendes to meander through the heart of the defense and power home a shot past a helpless Mannone.  It was the kind of defense that I would expect from a club like, well, like AZ Alkmaar.

If you need any further proof of us playing to their level you need look no further than the pass completion percentage of the two central midfielders. Both Diaby and Cesc were only able to complete 68% of their passes and only combined for 92 passes on the night. Against Birmingham City, when Cesc was supposedly jaded from Nationalism duty, he made 91 passes on his own, completing 82%.

Arsenal weren’t tired, they played to AZ’s level.

Man of the Match

Hands down, hands up, hands all over, Romero was man of the match. Oh yeah, I will give MotM to the opponent, especially when the opponent is a keeper who makes 100% of the high claims, has 7 saves, and single-handedly keeps his team in the game. I’m not blaming Mannone for the goal that Arsenal conceded, that was a team effort. Rather, just suggesting that whoever Arsenal’s goalkeeping coach is takes a look at the tape of Romero’s match last night. We couldn’t get a single cross in on him, shots were parried from all over, and had it not been for the Naivete of his defense, he certainly would have kept a clean sheet.

The Good

Thankfully, Liverpool are in a tailspin and the sharks in the press are all over Benitez at the moment. The idea that he might lose his job is a bit mind boggling, but then again, you have to wonder how much longer he can live off the fumes of Istanbul. Especially since they look likely to be dumped out of the Champions League in the group stage and the Champions League is his one real claim to fame.

Even more shockingly, Barcelona lost to some Russian pub team at Camp Nou, while having 75% of the possession.

Thank the gods because if they hadn’t both lost, every single story in the British press would be about how Arsenal are not the invincibles any more. Obviously, it’s not a loss and Arsenal are still in charge of the group and will certainly qualify. But still you have to thank the other Champions League folks for conspiring to soak up all the negative press.

The Bad

(This is the part where you go watch the video of the PSV game)

It seems like Ronald Koeman has Wenger’s number, a bit. They have met three times and each time Koeman has come off looking the better tactician. Before the game, Koeman even announced his intention to keep the ball and try to steal a goal. Amazingly, he did exactly what he wanted to do.

You can’t simply write Arsenal off as tired from the Nationalism break, we beat the Wigan cloggers on the weekend 3-1 and they gave us a lot more resistance in the midfield than AZ.

No, AZ were simply doggedly determined to keep the ball, at one point so much so that the keeper literally threw the ball backwards to a defender.  That tactic is overcome by one of two options, work hard to win the ball back, or counter attack and take your chances. Arsenal did work hard in the first half and certainly looked like we were going to get the winner but the keeper came up aces.

After that, we sort of sat back and let the game come to us (they edged us in possession) and then at the 93rd minute relaxed and, oopsie! Another Ronald Koeman engineered set-piece goal.

It’s not the end of the world, it’s just a draw, but seriously, we knew what he was going to do, we knew how to counter it and we didn’t execute on either end.

As for the Vela penalty claim: yes, it was a penalty but the video I saw from the referee’s angle looks like the defender wins the ball first. So I don’t think we can be too angry about that, we have the benefit of instant replay from multiple angles, the ref does not.

The Ugly

A lot of folks were praising Diaby yesterday but honestly I didn’t see it. Yes, he put in a couple of tackles and won the ball once, but there was at least one tackle that should have been a yellow card because he was late and over the ball.

Moreover, he was ponderous with the ball at the back, and on one attack, which Cesc was calling for the ball in a wide open position, chose instead to take on three AZ defenders and subsequently the play died.

Those are just two examples of what I saw as a poor match from Diaby. That he also let Pelle get in front of him on the free kick is something that really frustrates me. Go back to the PSV video, who is it that lets Alex in front? Diaby. The Birmingham goal on Saturday? Diaby failed to clear the header. The Man U own goal? Diaby header.

He’s not a bad player, but his defensive instincts and defensive fundamentals are seriously lacking. In fact, they are downright ugly. I worry that teams are going to start taking notice of this and exploit it.

Given how important Song has been and the fact that he’s on his 4th yellow card yesterday looked like Diaby was auditioning for the holding midfielder role on Sunday against W-ham, in order to give Song a rest. Given that tape, I’m guessing that the starring role will go to Song on Sunday with the admonition to please, no matter what, don’t pick up a yellow card.

It’s also insanely frustrating that Arshavin was caught offside for the free kick.  I’ve said it before and he’s admitted it, he’s a lazy player. Usually this doesn’t cost us but last night it did a bit.

Epilogue

A lot of folks are blaming the international break for our players looking tired but I don’t buy it. Arsenal footballers play twice a week pretty much all year round, traveling all over the world for Champions League matches and so I can’t see it as a legitimate excuse for us to get taken advantage of in the 93rd minute of a match that falls a full week after all the international players have returned. If the international breaks are to blame then the Sunderland test at the Stadium of Light on the 21st of November will be a stern test indeed. Judging by last night’s performance, if Internationals take such a huge toll, we’ll be beaten 6-0 by a rampaging Sunderland team.

This wasn’t a tired performance as much as it was Arsenal playing down to the level of their opponents. I think a lot of these guys got it into their heads that they could turn it on at any moment and pick AZ apart so they started coasting. Hopefully, this match is a reminder that ANY team, given a little organization, can nick a point off us. All the post match interviews suggest that the players are aware that they let slip and only time will tell if they take this lesson to heart.

They have 4 days to think about it.