Tag Archives: Premier league

Man at the match; Chary: Arsenal sign off with flourish as Spuds implode

An Olly Giroud hatrick in the last Premier League fixture of the season, allied to a inexplicably hilarious Spurs implosion 200 miles further north east, meant the Arsenal finished the season in second place with the downward trajectory of the club’s morale arrested.

The sun shone on Ashburton Grove as I took my place in the West stand lower, an alternative to my usual location in the North Bank lower. Given that the crowd mood in the last two home games was as welcoming as a Hamas council of war I felt avoiding the more enthusiastic parts of the stadium may be a more prudent option especially if the match situation went against us.

Taking into account our spluttering recent form even a fixture against already relegated Birmingham Villa could give cause for a degree of trepidation.

The team selection was only surprising in midfield as Santi and Jack both started, at the expense of Elneny and Rambo with Õzzy returning in place of Iwobi. The exclusion of Theo from the squad was a little surprising and that of Rosický a little sad, although there would be more on that later, yet there were songs for him being sung from the start.

The crowd mood was not especially tense yet an early goal would settle the nerves, which is how it panned out.

After some good early pressing, with Santi involved centrally and Jack on the right, a cross was swung in on the opposite side of the pitch from me and Olly hung in the air to thump in a free header; the fact the Villa centre backs were nowhere near him suggested a team with their minds on holidays and then the joys of Championship football.

A good start  - Olly scores early

A good start – Olly scores early

The reaction of the away fans was odd, an enthusiastic celebration of a goal scored against them was either gallows humour or them mocking the Arsenal fans for having the temerity to celebrate their team scoring a goal.

As a counter thrust Birmingham Villa did attack our weaker right flank, where the pairing of Bellerin and Gabriel was more porous than Nacho and Kozzer.

This gave the manager, ever pensive during a game, some cause for worry.

The loneliness of the long distance manager

The loneliness of the long distance manager

However having held firm all was going to plan, but as we all knew a win for the Newcastle barcodes was necessary to avoid the cancellation of St Totteringham’s day.

I should point out now that for the first time in my match going life (over 50 games by now) I was at a match where the crowd would suddenly cheer for no pitch-action related reason so what happened midway through the first half was that the North bank to my left exploded into noise and cheering. Mutterings around me were of Newcastle taking the lead and as the news spread along the West stand down to the Clock end the first (IHA) chants were heard:

It’s happened again, it’s happened agaaaaa-in,
Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again

Rambo and Joel Campbell, who were warming up in front of me looked at each other and knew what it meant for the team – if things stayed as they were 2nd place and the denial of a the Spuds finishing above us for the first time in 21 years.

A second goal before half time would have settled any nerves but, as a portent of what was to follow, Newcastle scored again and another roar from the North bank signalled this to the rest of us.

Half time saw a pitch side interview with Bobby Pires looking as suave and dashing as when he glided down the left wing at Highbury for us.

The start of the second half showed that every team des their homework on us in that they know we start the second half slowly and so Villa pressed and dominated for a 15 minute spell; Bellerin’s tendency to maraud up field coupled with Gabriel being turned rather too easily meant that most of the Villa attacks came down our right.

A low buzz swept the lower tiers as news of a Spud goal and a Newcastle sending off turned up the tension a little, but the mood stayed mainly supportive despise some Alexis turnovers and misplaced crosses.
Then another roar from the North bank lower and news of Newcastle scoring a third and the IHA shouts started again.

What happened next was something wonderful – the “Stand up if you hate Tottenham” started, the North Bank of course, but unusually everyone joined in, even the West and East stand so the players would see a wall of standing, singing fans.

I’m sure I saw Õzzy look up after a finished dribble and wonder what was going on – but the thing was the urgency level of the team upped as the crowd volume rose with more IHA’s.

Some slick interplay in front of me, on the right side of Villa’s penalty area, highlighted Õzzy’s amazing close control – while this won’t be news to many to see it up close will always be a joy.

Further probing, a one-two with Alexis, and Õzzy swung in a cross and then time slowed. It seemed to take an age for Olly’s left boot to swing, scythe like, in a low, slow arc and slice the ball up and over the flapping Villa goalie.

The relief of the second goal

The relief of the second goal

A release of the tension that built up from the resumption exploded in all corners of the stadium, and your humble scribe indulged in many a heaven ward directed fist pump.

Newcastle scored another as more IHA’s were ringing around the stadium and then more comedy when a pitch invader emerged from the red Action corner and caused an Arsenal attack to be halted as he was wrestled to the ground by a steward, the other stewards eye rolling their disapproval of the loutish behaviour.

The fervour of the crowd pushed the team on to attack more and surely enough one of Bellerin’s many forward dribbles allowed him to thread a ball though for Olly to, again with his swinging mace of a left foot, slot home his hat trick goal. A flurry of four goals in two games ending his career worst goal drought.

Hat trick complete

Hat trick complete

With the game won Jack was subbed and was Santi with Õzzy making way for Arteta to make a farewell appearance.

There was a touch of Hollywood about his only involvement in him crashing in a shot after being set up by an Alexis cross – the way he leapt in celebration must showing what this club meant to him. Of course it was marked as an own goal yet the euphoria he felt in that moment in time can’t be taken away from him, he’ll cherish that for the rest of his days.

The release of emotion he showed at the final whistle attested to that.

Leaving Arsenal

Leaving Arsenal

A satisfying 4 nil win, a share of the golden glove for Cech (at the very least) and second place snatched from the hands of the hapless Middlesex Spuds – something we all wished for before the game, but seemed unlikely.
The many mocking Tottenham songs sang at the final whistle reinforced the feel good factor washing around, something scarcely believable after the happenings of the Norwich game.

A guard of honour was formed for another departing stalwart of the club, Tomas Rosický and then the lap of appreciation.

Long serving Tomas honoured

Long serving Tomas honoured

After the lap finished there were a few requests for “Wilshere, Wilshere, sing us a song” and then the players off spring played on the pitch, Santi’s son looking particularly useful with his tricks and flicks.

We missed you Santi

We missed you Santi

Rosický's farewell to the North Bank

Rosický’s farewell to the North Bank

A captain&#039 leaves

A captain leaves

While the season has been a disappointment the events of the last day meant the Arsenal faithful did not start their summer in melt down but with some hope for next season.

See you all then.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

Arsenal v. WBA: Perfidy on a Thursday Night

All right you negative nancies, there are just five games left of this abominable season and then we can all go hiking*. That means just five games left for us to say things like “we have to put this right” and “Man City handed Arsenal a real opportunity there by dropping points.” And only five games left for Wenger to say things like,

“Our job is to give absolutely the maximum until the last day of the season. You expect that from ambitious, professional football players.

We have values at this club that we respect and that we have to respect until the last minute of the season.”

He is right, we have values at this club and have to give maximum effort in every game as the season winds down. Anything less would be, well, it would be sort of like what happened against Crystal Palace the other day.

I watched Adrian Clarke’s breakdown and he made some interesting points (which we will get to in a second) but the biggest one for me was that Arsenal looked a bit lethargic. Welbeck in particular didn’t get service, when he did get service “the ball didn’t stick”, add to that the fact that he didn’t make his usual runs. This allowed Palace to park the bus, forcing Ozil to collect in deep areas where he was less effective.

Clarke ended the piece by suggesting that Arsenal will regret not creating more after Palace scored — they took just 1 shot (Gabriel header) in the last 12 minutes of the game. In essence, Arsenal looked like a team already on vacation.

Wenger’s quote above was made in his pre-match presser and sounded like a speech to the players. Like “yes, you are disappointed, we all are, but we have to finish the season strong.” And he’s right, Arsenal could easily drop into the Europa League places if they aren’t careful here. So, as I said at the outset, it’s a good thing Man City dropped two points because it gives Arsenal a little chance to get back ahead of them in the race for the top four. However, that’s going to be a tough call because if the players are on vacation, the fans seem to be ready to join them and Arsenal need all the support they can get right now.

There are a number of supporters who are planning on staying home Thursday and there is a sense that despite the announced “sellout” of the game the stands will look like a Serie A match. This is being billed as a “protest” but it’s not. There are a few angry voices glomming on to a weird series of events and pretending that they are doing something meaningful.

There are going to be a lot of empty seats because: there is a planned train strike, the game is on a Thursday night, the game will be on telly, the season feels like it is over, fans are burned out on this team, and some people will be protesting.

Don’t get me wrong, I support people protesting the team. If they are that angry, they should get together, form a platform, and make some demands. If the demands aren’t met, then start a series of direct actions – walking out of games, not going to games, not watching games on TV, not buying shirts, not clicking on the dot com, not renewing your season ticket, unfollowing the official news feed on Twitter, and so on. That’s how protests work.

The few people who will be protesting with their undefined platform of zero demands will naturally try to make this into a bigger event than it is. Arsenal will not be impressed. Like I said, you have to have some organization to these things if you want to make real change. Undefined rage almost never gets answered.

I’m not saying that the game won’t be weird. I do think that there will be a lot of empty seats and for the few who do attend the fan atmosphere at the Arsenal right now is downright toxic. There you have it, Arsenal’s players look like they have one foot in Ibiza and they are about to play a tough game in front of a hostile home crowd. Should be fun.

And let’s not underestimate what Tony Pulis’ West Brom will look to do. If Crystal Palace parked the bus (and they did), Pulis will park the bus and have his players “put themselves about a bit” (meaning foul foul foul). As Wenger put it,

“They are a team who are very physical, very committed and are very well organised. They don’t concede many goals so it is a difficult proposal for us.”

Pulis’ WBA have kept 21 clean sheets in his first 51 games in charge. That is how he coaches his teams to play football. That is what Arsenal face.

Clarke pointed to a number of problems in the Crystal Palace game which Arsenal will have to overcome again in this one. One of the big ones that he spoke of right off the bat is that Arsenal lacked midfield runners: players making a late run into the box. I think this was aimed at Ozil because later in the broadcast he pointed out that Ozil played too deep and that he would like to see Ozil closer to Welbeck to support the striker.

But Tim Stillman wondered (on Twitter) whether Wenger might start Ramsey along with Elneny to give Arsenal that extra runner that Clarke wanted. It’s a good shout. Wenger brought Ramsey on in the last 10 minutes of the Palace game probably because he saw exactly that problem. It didn’t really work but it could presage Arsene doing the same again.

The only problem with playing Ramsey and Elneny is that it leaves Arsenal vulnerable to counter attacks. Clarke also pointed out that Gabriel probably should have fouled Adebayor early in the build-up to the Palace goal, rather than letting him run 60 yards into the heart of the Arsenal final third. If Arsenal play without Coquelin, they will need to be more cynical in those counters. They can’t give Berahino time and space to run with the ball.

To end on a high note, there were two things that I liked from that Palace game. The first was Alexis Sanchez finally getting behind the opposition’s defense. He’s been forced to drop deep and create for others for most of the season and I love seeing him playing as a striker more. Let’s hope this wasn’t like that one time Santi Cazola got a hat trick from doing the same thing and then next game went back to playing deeper.

The other was that cute little training ground corner that Arsenal did. It was a neat little short corner, where Coquelin makes a late run and then scoops a ball over to Iwobi. I love to see more of that kind of stuff. That’s the kind of thing your team does when they are having fun playing football.

How was that for a match preview? Did I cover all the bases? I didn’t talk about Wilshere because I don’t care if he’s healthy for the last few games. That’s just practice for his national team, kinda like what he did last year. I am excited to get Cazorla back — his injury is almost certainly why Arsenal didn’t win the League this season. But Cazorla’s probably not going to be fully ready for a few more weeks.

Qq

*Until the forests catch on fire because of all the global warming and lack of rainfall in the PNW

Leicester serve up a season worth savoring

Leicester City are going to win the League and are going to break the triopoly of Man U, Man City, and Chelsea. It’s going to be a dream come true to see Cesc Fabregas giving Claudio Ranieri a guard of honor. Especially since Ranieri was fired by Chelsea in order to bring in the Mourinho era.

Since I have been writing this blog only three teams have won the League. Those three teams have spent the most money on transfers and wages and essentially built the model of spend, spend, spend.

Before the arrival of Chelsea and Man City, Arsenal were the team that broke the mould. We were the team that didn’t spend, that sold our players for enormous prices to Spain*, that bought cheap and sold high, and who had a large salary but certainly nothing like what Ferguson had at Man U. That’s not to say that Arsenal weren’t a big team, we were the famous Arsenal, but rather that in those days a team could challenge for the League without spending obscene amounts of money.

And I mean obscene. For example, in the 2003/04 Invincibles season, Arsenal had the third highest wage at £70m and the second highest transfer spend with £16m.  In the previous title winning season 2001/02 Arsenal had the second highest wage bill at £61m and the 8th highest transfer spend with £11m. There were plenty of teams spending money in those years — Man U, Chelsea, Leeds, and Liverpool were up there with Arsenal in total spend — but no one was doing what Chelsea would do starting in the Abramovich era; spend 10x the transfer money of any other team and double the wages.

Manchester United quickly followed suit and 5 years later Manchester City added their oily money to the pot and for the last 11 seasons the three biggest spending teams have won the League.

Until this season.

Leicester have a team that are well organized, they play as a team, their players are ambitious, and they play to their strengths. Leicester have also largely escaped injury, they are finishing at above normal rates, and they have gotten the benefit (early in the season) of referees calls, especially penalties, but none of those facts are abnormal for a title winning team.

Leicester have followed a simple formula for success. They don’t over complicate their system and they don’t ask players to play in ways that they can’t. For example, Robert Huth is not a ball playing center back so Leicester don’t try to build from the center back position. Their center backs are also not fast, so they don’t try to play high up the pitch where they would be exposed. They also have some of the fastest players in the League in Vardy and Mahrez so they play compact, simple football which plays exactly into the strengths of their star players, Mahrez, Vardy, Kante, Drinkwater, and Huth. This is basic stuff, I know, but there are a lot of teams who try to complicate football unnecessarily.

As for injury, there are some that want to sully Leicester’s injury record with insinuations that they are doping. We don’t have evidence of that but we do know that they have a dedicated team of physios who test pitch conditions and set up practices to maximize success. They also didn’t have to play in Europe which made their season simpler and in this all important post-Christmas period they have only played 16 matches whereas Arsenal have played 20. It’s also not that unheard of for a team to field a small team: Chelsea, for example, only used 20 players last season, just 1 more than Leicester this season. United used 23 players two years ago, Man City 21 players three years ago, United 21 in 2008, and so on.

As for their finishing, I have been looking at scoring percentages for years and I have detailed data back to 2008. I can confidently say that the top teams always finish at above normal rate. Leicester are actually not converting at a historically high rate. Their bulk conversion (minus pens) is just 11%, tied with Arsenal, West Ham, and Everton. Last season’s winners were highly efficient: scoring 13% of their total shots. And for two seasons prior to that we actually saw the winning teams convert 14% of their total shots.

The other accusation I see a lot is that Leicester have been awarded too many penalties. But 10 penalties in a season isn’t at all unusual for a title winning team — Liverpool had 12 in their title challenge season, Chelsea had 11 in 2012/13, Chelsea 12 in 2009/10, etc.

Most fans are suggesting that Leicester got lucky this season and some fans are even saying that this is the worst Premier League season ever. Both of those things ring true. Next season Chelsea will have Conte in charge, Man City will have Pep Guardiola, and Man U will probably have Mourinho. All of those teams are going to spend money to bring in new players that fit the systems that their managers want them to play. All of those teams are going to be supremely organized. And Chelsea will also not have the burden of Champions League football.

In addition, there are several up and coming teams: Liverpool are looking like a team with an interesting new identity, Tottenham play a good brand of football, and even West Ham are starting to look like a team that could challenge for 4th place.

And starting next season teams are going to reap an additional £35-40m a season in television revenue.

The League is changing. Teams are getting wealthier and will be able to attract more players like Mahrez and Kante. We are going to see all the games get more difficult from top to bottom. But the question is “will we ever see another team like Leicester win the League?” Do the fundamental changes to the Premier League mean that every team has a chance to win the League if they do what Leicester has done and play to their strengths?

I doubt it. This looks like a one-off, like Leicester were just in the right place at the right time. And if that’s the case, we as fans of football should savor this moment. Because if I’m right, the Premier League is about to revert back to the triopoly of Man U, Man City, and Chelsea winning the title every season.

Qq

*Wenger’s magic in the Spanish market is amazing: the sales of Overmars, Petit, Hleb, Song, and Vermaelen more than make up for the cheap prices we got for Cesc and Henry.