Arsenal v. Olympiacos; Beware of Bloggers Bearing Clichés

Nicholas Bendtner practices his Om Song before the Champions League clash between Arsenal and Olympiacos

Preamble:

I’ll admit it. I don’t know anything about Olympiacos FC. Aside from the reports that have flooded in over the last two days (Journo’s do have a purpose) I don’t know dick about this club, mostly because I’ve never seen them play. If you have seen them and want to share your experiences with us, please do, that’s why the gods created comments on blogs.

I do know that they are Greece’s most successful club, that they will be wearing black kits tonight, and that they are very good at home in European competitions and very very bad away from home in European competitions.

I also know that they have shared their “tactics” with us all and that their cunning plan will be to 1) deny Cesc the ball and 2) deny us space. Genius, they must have watched a film of us play or something.

Injuries

Nicholas Fender Bendtner wrecked his Aston Martin yesterday and from the looks of it he finally finished something. This was no minor slip off the road into a sapling, but a full on death defying car crash… at 10am, sober. He’s being withheld as a precaution and so he won’t play today.

As I reported yesterday, Denilson is out for “two months” with a fractured back. A lot of folks are reminded of Gilberto’s fractured back and how he was out most of a season and I too feel like this “two months” estimate might be a bit optimistic. As Mia pointed out in yesterday’s comments, players who return from this type of injury often go on to pick up other niggling injuries as they work their way back to fitness and I think this is especially true in the engine room of the team. Let’s all touch wood (he he, touch “wood”) that Denilson has a speedy recovery and that by some stroke of luck is never injured ever again. EVAR.

Nasri is still out with the broken leg and combined with all our other injuries that means that our midfield options are very limited. Remember how at the start of the season I was all bragging about how stacked Arsenal were in midfield? I do still believe that we are stacked and am grateful that we are so blessed to have Diaby, Eboue, Song, Rosicky, Cesc, Ramsey and Merida available. That said, a lot of those names are real question marks as for their match readiness and only a precious few of those players can truly play the holding role. So, it’s a mixed bag for me. The boss could, for example, put Rosicky in Cesc’s spot and move Cesc into a more holding role. As you can see from that example, though, it might not be the best use of Cesc Fabregas. Whatever Wenger chooses to do today, sorting this sort of selection nightmare is where Wenger earns his pay. I’m sure he’ll get it right.

Or he’ll play Eboue in the holding role like he did last year, to GREAT SUCCESS!

Walcott is ready and begging to play but the boss is saying that he lacks match fitness. Almunia is still out with a “chest” infection. And finally, Fabianski and Djourou are both still out recovering from surgery.

Starting XI

arsenal-v-olympiacos

I don’t really think this is much of a controversial selection on my part. The boss has highlighted van Persie’s touch and creativity as the reason why he plays him alone up front instead of Fender Bendtner. He talked about Eduardo being available for the match, and Rosicky needs a run out I think, so that’s why I put those two in. The rest of the team selects itself really.

Feel free to disagree!

Where to watch the match?

If you live there, I’m sorry but it’s sold out so you can’t go. You can watch it on Sky Sports Xtra if you have that or maybe you’ll have to go to the local boozer.

Here in North America the match is being carried on your local Fox Sports Net channel. This is different from your Fox Soccer Channel, it’s usually part of your basic cable and usually shows regional sports programming. Here in the PNW, we actually have a High Definition feed for our local Fox Sports Net, so, and this is super exciting, I get to watch Arsenal in High Def for the very first time. I’m so excited all six of my nipples are tingling.

I don’t know about the rest of the world, so if you live somewhere other than England or North America, please feel free to share where you can watch the match in the comments.

Predictions

  • Arsene Wenger was not handed a £60m “war chest” and even if he was, he won’t spend it until he finds a “Goldilocks” signing.
  • Carlos Vela is not going to Xeres.
  • Fabregas will have 1 goal and 1 assist tonight
  • Arshavin will come on in the 70th minute
  • Arsenal will win 3-1.

That’s it for today, Kickers, see you tomorrow for the Good, Bad, and Ugly.

Arsenal Release Financials to a Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

Usmanov, your money is no good here

But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth — Matthew 8:12

Some things are easy to explain, some things are difficult to explain, and then there’s the financial dealings of a multinational, multi-million dollar sports corporation. It’s not only difficult to explain what’s going on inside these giants but it can be downright maddening. Take the Colorado Rockies as an example, they were asked once, a long time ago to open their books and when they did the famously showed a loss on beer sales. At Coors field, the Colorado Rockies couldn’t make a profit off their beer sales.

So, you’ll pardon me if I take today’s latest report of mega profits from the board with a huge grain of salt. I’m not accusing anyone of cooking any books and actually for the remainder of this blog, I will be operating under the assumption that everything they have said in their report is true. In fact, I will be operating under that assumption that everything they have said over the last few years has been true. Still, in the back of my mind something seems off.

So, what are the assumptions?

  • Arsenal reported a cash reserve (cash on hand) of £99.7m — this is consistent with their previous reports, though the amount it grew (£6m, £3m of which is from interest, despite record profits) is not.
  • Turnover up £90m over last year to £313m, partially from increased match day revenue (£5m) some from commercial and retail and the largest chunk from property sales.
  • The debt on the Highbury Square development has incredibly dropped almost overnight from £133m to a mere £47m, that remaining debt has been refinanced and is not due until 2011 and the board are talking about profits again.
  • Profits after tax, and crucially before the sales of Adebayor and Toure, reached an astonishing £35m.

Eye popping stuff, really. No other club in the Premier League posts profits as far as I know and certainly no other club has shown the profit that this club has shown. And they have each and every one of us to thank. We buy the season tickets, we’re red level members, we buy shirts, we watch them on the TV, and so on: a large portion of that £100m that they have in cash on hand come from our pockets.

You’re welcome. Now, what are you going to do with that huge reserve? Ivan Gazidis gives the club’s best answer in the form of a free video on the club’s web site:

The club doesn’t exist for the sake of having sound finances. That’s not an end in itself. The financial stability, the financial health of the club, forms the platform for on-pitch success and actually the focus is really on the team having success.

The club has a philosophy of re-investing all of the money it makes back into the club. Money is not taken out in the form of dividends to shareholders so, it’s important to understand that all of these financial results that we are talking about benefit the club. I think that there’s a little bit of a miscinception that we haven’t invested in the club.

It’s at that point where the free video cuts to Arshavin, Vermaelen, and talk about paying the current squad as a form of re-investment. My regular reader knows that I am not going to take the piss out of anyone on this squad. I like them all, even if they have poor matches, and I think they all are a vital part of this team. But I still think we’re a bit shy in certain areas of the pitch, and I’m not alone in this.

I love Alex Song, I’m even thinking that his might be the shirt I buy this year (more money to the club!) but when Alex leaves for the ACN in January who will patrol our midfield? I’m not taking anything away from Diaby or Nasri or Denilson, they are all fine midfielders but none of them can go toe to toe with a big center forward like Kenwynne Jones, or drop back into the center back spot (as Song does) when Vermaelen or Gallas go forward.

And at the center back spot, the word “thin” doesn’t quite describe the situation. Due to injury and lack of spending, at this point we are forced to play Gallas and Vermaelen in every match. Yes, we have Senderos as cover, but after Senderos, then what? Silvestre? I guess we’ll see of TV5 and Gallas can play in all 50 matches.

All that said, this is all old ground. Obviously the money was there and wasn’t spent but we all knew that. The club has £100m in cash in boxes in the board room, plus the £40m from the sale of Ade and Toure, and I too wonder what they are doing with all that money? I understand, deeply, the emotional position that some fans take over this issue but I guess that unlike some people I’ve just resigned myself to the knowledge that they just aren’t spending the money.  I don’t know why, they won’t say, but they aren’t.

Insanely frustrating, I know.

The one really good thing that came out of all this financials talk was an explanation from Gazidis as to why the club didn’t just sell Highbury to a developer. It’s something I speculated about last week and here he hits all the notes that I sounded then:

The club, in keeping control of the development, made sure that 93 years of Arsenal history, all of that heritage that imbue every stone in that building will be preserved, forever. So we have the marble halls, we were there last Thursday looking around and seeing the way this has been really done with respect for the heritage and tradition of the building. We can now say with confidence that all of that history will be preserved forever and I’m not sure that would have been the case in the same way, had it been given to an outside developer.

This is why I just plainly trust them, I guess. No one on the board is taking a profit from the club and they clearly love this club and the history behind it. They are Arsenal fans, probably bigger fans than you or I, and they clearly want to the club to be successful, in the trophy room, not just in the safe deposit box.

I just wish they would tell us the plan because as it stands, with the squad thin in two key areas, £100m on hand, £40m added in from Toure and Ade, the Highbury Square development looking like it will make a profit, and the club generating some £30m a year in after-tax profits… something doesn’t seem to add up.

Fulham 0-1 Arsenal; the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Good to see Cesc Fabregas excited about a goal!

Sorry about the late blog today, I had some kind of problem with my router this morning and I spent the last hour repairing that. Since that took me an hour, my daughter woke up and well… no need to explain further, let’s just get on with it…

Match Video

Arsenalist has both the goal and match of the day highlights for free, but if you’re an ATVO subscriber, they have the whole match available for download.

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Robin van Persie let his football do the talking with a well-executed second-half winner as Arsenal beat Fulham 1-0 at Craven Cottage – where young Gunners goalkeeper Vito Mannone had an inspired match.

Telegraph: He has the name and the looks of someone more at home in The Sopranos and Fulham will certainly feel there was something criminal about how the 21 year-old from Lombardy, the third-choice Arsenal goalkeeper who has, until now, been a bit flaky, pulled off the kind of display that can shape a career.

Blogger at the Match

Goonerholic: Fulham remains a real football day out, I am delighted to report. Where else can you park your backside at a pub table overlooking the Thames (morning Tim!) for a refreshing pint? A bit of food and a stroll through the park down the towpath. There is no ‘atmosphere’ or ‘edge’ here. This is the place to bring kids, and quite a few have.

Mouth before the Match

Danny Murphy is a former Spud, a man who since he was replaced at Liverpool has spent the remainder of his entire career being beaten by his big brother just up the road. So, it’s no surprise that he felt the need to shoot his mouth off before the match. Speaking to the World’s Least Reliable News Source he needed to remind everyone that Arsenal don’t have Patrick Vieira anymore and that means that Arsenal are no longer feared.

We’ve all heard that before and… it’s true. You gather fear from your opponents by winning things: winning games, winning trophies, etc.  And how do you win trophies? You win trophies when you get 3 points on off days. So, for me, the quote of the day from Danny Murphy isn’t about how we aren’t feared but rather this:

I do respect them now and they can turn us over if they play well and we don’t. But they were simply better quality in years gone by. I can’t remember a weak link in that team. They were solid at back, big, strong lads, all good athletes in that team.

Hmmm… what about when you play well and we don’t? Can we turn you over then, Danny?

It seems like we can, because we have quality at every position on this club. Supporters tend to look at Bendtner and complain about his wastefulness, but it could be worse, we could have Bobby Zamora!

That’s just it, on a night when Bendtner misses chances, when Cesc has an off night, when Diaby has a nightmare, when Arshavin looked jaded, and when Rosicky is still gaining match fitness, Arsenal needed just one moment of brilliance and for Mannone to have a great night to secure three points.

Man of the Match

Alex So… just kidding, this is a unanimous choice and for good reason. I think Wenger sums up the performance best:

I believe we will give him 10 out of 10 because everything he did was right. For a goalkeeper that is most important. He stopped everything he had to stop, didn’t make any wrong decisions and overall he has shown he has the potential to be a very good goalkeeper.

During the liveblog I made mention of David Seaman’s famous save (and match) against Sheffield United in the 2003 FA Cup Semi-Final and how I thought Mannone’s performance last night was equal if not better than Seaman’s. I’m not trying to jump the gun on this kid, because I agree with Wenger that consistency is key to greatness, but I think it’s OK to celebrate a magnificent performance and the comparison stands. I’m not saying that he’s the next Seaman, he’ll need at least a year to grow a proper pony tail, just that last night was the best I’ve seen from an Arsenal keeper since Seaman made this save:

After the match, the boss said that for the next match Mannone is Arsenal’s #1. Too bad for Almunia, but Vito earned it on the back of yesterday’s performance.

The Good

“Chocolate leg” my ass. I can’t remember the last time Robin scored with his left leg, can you? Anyway, it was a moment of magic from one of the few players on this team who have it in them to produce magic.

The Bad

As I have already mentioned, Arshavin had a bit of an off night but more concerning than a single off night is that there’s obviously some kind of problem with him and Clichy. In the attacking third Clichy doesn’t seem to be able to ready Arshavin and defensively, Arshavin, well, to be frank, Arshavin doesn’t do defense. Especially in a 4-3-3, everyone needs to defend and work hard, even the Czar of Anfield. In the pre-match interview he seemed full of energy and ready to go but yesterday he looked just a bit listless, so maybe we can put his lack of defense down to that.

Cesc too had a poor game, but I’m putting that down to the fact that Arshavin and Diaby’s poor matches (more on that in a second) allowed the Fulham midfield to overrun and harass Cesc all match. Plus, you can’t really say a man had a bad match when he set up the game winning goal, can you?

The Ugly

I bet there wasn’t a single Arsenal fan who didn’t wish that Denilson was healthy, unfortunately, he isn’t. In fact, Denilson won’t be back until at least the 17th when Arsenal play Birmingham.

That means that for the time being, Diaby is what we got. As much as I wish it wasn’t true Rosicky is not ready, crusted as he is with a thick scale of rust.  Rambo is not ready, crusted as he is with a thick layer of inexperience. So, we got Diaby and I’m going to support him as long as we have him.

Here’s my only complaint(s)/suggestions:

  1. Track back, EVERY PLAY.
  2. I don’t mean jog, I mean run back with as much intensity as you run forward
  3. Now that you’ve tracked back remember, when you have the ball in your defensive 3rd don’t fuck around with the ball. GET IT OUT. Cesc can fuck around with the ball, you? No. Stop it.

That’s it, three simple rules. I don’t care if every pass you make is wrong, if you do those three simple things, then you’ll be aces in my book.

Conclusions

Win pretty, lose pretty, win ugly, lose ugly, what order would you put those? I think a win is a win and we should always be happy with a win. Some folks won’t be happy until we win every match 6-1. Sorry but this isn’t playstation. Fulham are a damn good team, well organized, and they will fight for all 100 minutes so a 1-0 win is a damn good result.

It’s an even better result when you take into account the fact that Diaby had a nightmare, that Arshavin looked rusty, and that Cesc had to carry the midfield load.

Yesterday’s result proved that this team just needs one or two stellar performances and we can win. Hopefully they can carry that belief forward and grind out more wins, because we’ll need that belief when we go to play those famous “committed Northern teams.”