Tag Archives: Tottenham

Surprise

Footballistically Speaking #2: Wenger’s Surprise

One of the hallmarks of Arsene Wenger’s long career at Arsenal is that he is munificent with his press conferences. Wenger seldom skips out on his duty to answer tedious questions from the press. It’s extraordinary when you think about it in the context of his nearly 18 year career at Arsenal. Imagine how many times he has had to answer the same stupid questions about transfers from every single reporter in England. Every interview, every season, whenever the transfer window is open, he is asked the same two questions: “is Arsenal after (insert player)?” and “is Arsenal close to signing anyone?”

He almost always gives the same answers: “I won’t speak about certain players” and “if we sign anyone you will be the first to know.” Sometimes he varies these answers a bit (“are you after Zigic?” a smile and “No.”) and sometimes he’s coy about whether Arsenal lodged a bid for a player (as he recently was about Balotelli) but usually he has a stock answer for their stock questions. For both press and Wenger this dance must be getting old but reporters keep asking because, like a slot machine, once in a while it pays off with a hint that Arsenal might do something and once in 18 years they hit the proverbial jackpot.

The last jackpot was struck on 1 September 2013. That was the day that Arsene Wenger beat Tottenham both on and off¹ the pitch. Following a hard-fought 1-0 win over Spurs, Arsene met with the Sky Sports reporter and, clearly excited, gave his account of the match. “Their keeper was their best player” is my favorite summation of the game. And then came the inevitable question about the transfer market and Wenger said “Maybe we will have a good surprise for you?” and let loose his trademark wry smile.

funny-surprise

From there, he moved on to the BBC reporter who asked similar questions, which he answered in the same way, except this time when it came to the transfer question he answered ”We work very hard (on transfers) that’s why I will plead that you don’t keep me too long for this interview” and again the smile. This prompted the reporter to say “bye bye!” After all, no reporter wants to delay a transfer, transfers are British sports reporters raison d’être.

Incredibly, Wenger then went into the Arsenal media room and answered essentially the same questions again and gave essentially the same answers. The whole incident reminds me of a scene from Red Dwarf where there is a talking toaster who asks the same questions over and over again, subbing in different types of breakfast breads. “Would you like some toast? How about a bagel? A crumpet? Ah, so you’re a waffle man!” And Wenger has done that for 18 years. He’s endured this ritual for 18 years. That’s proof for me of Wenger’s passion for managing Arsenal.

During the presser Arsene got a chance to expound on his previous brief statements to Sky and BBC. He praised his team’s heart and took another swipe at Spurs:

There were aspects to our game that people are not used to seeing from us – that means commitment, desire, defending. Overall, their keeper was their best player, and that shows we had the chances to win comfortably today. This team has lost one game since March in all competitions and you don’t do that with an average spirit.

And then the inevitable question about transfers, this time carrying the accusation heard for years that Wenger is allergic to spending money. He gives his now stock answer about whether he likes to spend (we buy quality), takes another swipe at Spurs who spent £100m, and then reiterates that he may have a surprise for us:

I am not against spending money, but I want to add super quality to our squad. Tottenham got a lot of money for Bale, they have to invest it – I understand that. The need is different for us, we need one or two super players and we will try to add that. We have 24 more hours, so maybe we can surprise you. Maybe not – but I am confident.

The next day, Arsene didn’t just surprise a few reporters, he surprised the world when Arsenal signed Super Quality Mesut Özil from Real Madrid for a club record £42.5m.

Maybe Arsene has a surprise in store for us this week?

Qq

¹Selling Bale to Real Madrid greased the skids that brought Özil to Arsenal. Thanks Spurs!

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Anatomy of Arsenal: Tottenham 0 Arsenal 5 1978

By Les Crang

If you were only going to win two games in the season, they had to be the two against Arsenal. There was no way you would do anything less than go out and die against the Gunners. Crossing over to Highbury I found the attitude just as strong. Pat Jennings

When you look back over the years of Arsenal in the 1970’s it begins well, slumps in the middle and improves in the later years . Lets not forget in the 1960’s we had won nothing, although we had made two league cup finals (losing to Leeds and Swindon). Moribund would be the best word to use for Arsenal. After Arsenal had won the double in 1971, Arsenal had gone into decline, with us finish 16th in Bertie Mee’s last season in 1975-6. The time for change was needed.

In 1977, Arsenal had signed a new manager in Terry Neill and he had come from Spurs as their manager. As important as Terry was the reintroduction of Don Howe as the coach. Don Howe had famously left the club at the end of the 1970-71 team to become manager of West Bromwich Albion. Prior to his departure, Arsenal skipper Frank McLintock showed how highly he was regarded when he ‘released a statement, purporting to be from all the players, expressing concern that the directors would even consider letting Howe leave the club.’ Howe’s attempts at management ended in failure, but as a coach he was regarded very highly by the double winning team. His reintroduction at Arsenal led one of Arsenal’s all time greats (in my opinion) to say of him (Liam Brady):-

He is the type of coach who will discuss a particular tactic with his players for age, then remind them that all the best devised plans in the game can be, and will be, wrecked by one stroke of individual genius.

And when he says that, you know that he has found the simple way of telling you how magical football can be.

Howe’s return is often overlooked, but his coming back as coach was one of Neill’s biggest signings.

The season of 1976-7 had no trophies and mid table whilst Spurs were relegated. In the following two of Arsenal’s new signings Alan Hudson and Malcolm Macdonald had helped push us to the F.A cup final, where we had disappointing lost 1-0 to Ipswich Town:-

We had also come fifth and made it into Europe for the first time since the season of 1971-72 in the UEFA cup. We had also made the Semi-final of the league cup, losing out to Liverpool. Arsenal seemed to be on the rise. On the negative side, Spurs had been promoted back to the First Division (but not as champions, but third behind Bolton and Southampton, winning only on goal difference from Brighton and Hove Albion) .

Neill had also signed some other players though and if there is anything better than beating Spurs it’s buying their players. We had started with my favourite goalkeeper big Pat Jennings for a mere £40,000. Then we signed their centre half big Willie Young in march 1977, even though he was reviled for taking out Frank Stapleton in his last North London Derby. After a disastrous debut against Ipswich, Willie said of one fan:-

An irate Arsenal fan appeared from nowhere and began hurling verbal abuse at him. ‘This guy started calling me all sorts: a prick; a Scottish wanker. “Why don’t you fuck off back to Spurs, you useless bastard?” he asked.’ Lesser men may have been intimidated, but the fighter in Young rose to the surface. ‘I had my family with me, and there was no way I was going to be spoken to in that way. So I told him that if he didn’t bugger off, I’d throttle him. The guy backed off and scarpered. Although I’d proved my point, I realised I had a massive job on my hands to win over the Arsenal fans.’

Three weeks later, as Arsenal prepared to take on Spurs, Young’s form hadn’t noticeably improved. The Islington Gazette predicted that Young would be ‘rested for the match, in order to give him time to adapt to the rigours of life at Highbury’. Yet when the Arsenal team trotted on to the pitch at 2.55, Young was there. The reaction from both sets of fans can best be described as ‘unique’. ‘I was the first player to be booed by both sets of fans at a north London derby,’

At full-back (or centre defence and midfield) was another ex spurs player by the name of Steve Walford. The other full back was the great servant and captain Pat Rice.

Alongside big Willie was a young Irish centre half by the name of David O’leary (voted 14th in the all time great list of Arsenal players), who had a gangly stance and was nicknamed ‘spider’. A player often overlooked as a defender with technique and capabilities. Terry Neill said of the defensive partnership :-

On the deck, David’s pace would sort out most problems, but if anything was in the air Willie would clear the danger.

In the midfield we had David Price, Graham Rix, Liam Brady and Steve Gatting. David Price had been a youth player. What is often forgotten about the 1970-1 double winning team was that Arsenal’s youth team won the cup, with Price in the team. In Robert Exley article The Unforgettable… Whatsisname : Unsung Arsenal heroes wrote:-

Though Price was often overshadowed by the sweet skills of Brady and Rix……my father assures me that he was a talent grossly underrated by Neill.

Price was also a hard working midfielder.

Steve Gatting, was the ultimate utility player, best remembered as being Mike Gatting younger brother. Meanwhile, Graham Rix was:-

Perhaps an inside-left rather than a natural wing……lacking an essential change of pace, but his left foot was a precise and productive figure.

As for Liam Brady. Well, what can you say. Brian Glanville wrote of him :-

The splendid left-footed player, a supreme strategist and at times goalscorer as well, had been coming to Highbury in his school holidays from the age of 13, having been discovered felicitously by the Gunners Welsh scout, who happened to be visiting Dublin. Brady began out on the left wing, where he fared well enough, but it was when he moved subsequently to his natural position of inside-left that one would see the best of him, a playmaker in the Arsenal tradition exemplified by Alex James.

We had also signed a midfielder from Wolves by the name of Alan Sunderland for £220,000. Sunderland would later be converted to striker, when it became clear that Malcolm MacDonald’s injured knee kept recurring and would eventually curtail his career at 29. Supporting up front was a young republic of Ireland striker called Frank Stapleton who ‘had come through the youth ranks with O’leary and Brady and made it to the first team in 1975. He was never a prolific scorer, but his ability in the air and on the ground provided constant menace to the opposition and he would invariably create as many goals as he scored.’

The season of 1978-9 had started fairly well and prior to the North London derby on December 23rd 1978, Arsenal had lost 3 games and were fourth and just a mere four points behind leaders Liverpool. Arsenal had already scored five prior to the derby, in a 5-1 victory over QPR in September (they would Also put five past Chelsea in March). Prior to the match Arsenal had beaten Derby 2-0 at home, whilst Spurs had lost 2-0 at Old Trafford, The match prior to Christmas was what every Arsenal fan wanted for Christmas. A real spanking of Spurs at White Hart lane (see below).

A often heard cliche about away matches is ‘score early to silence the crowd’. Well, Alan Sunderland would score after a mere 43 seconds, when, with Arsenal pressing, the Spurs player Pratt, belted the ball back from the Arsenal half back to his goalkeeper. Alan Sunderland ran on to the ball and with his second touch smashed it past Kendall from just inside the box. Although Kendall got a touch the ball hit the underside of the bar to roll in. 1-0 to the Arsenal. On twenty minutes Willie Young fell unceremoniously on his arse (not a rare site), Spurs permed Striker Colin Lee lashed it wide from a difficult angle.

Having missed the equalising goal, Alan Sunderland attacked down the Spurs right, trying to get pass Lee. Whilst barged to the floor, Sunderland attacked the ball (and Lee’s shins). Lee lost the plot and pushed Sunderland’s face to the ground, with the linesman having to part them. No booking and a free kick to Spurs. We’d got under their skin and not even 30 minutes on the clock. Spurs reverted to type and after Arsenal had cleared a cross, Osvaldo Ardiles took out Sunderland on the attack. At last Ardiles was booked.

In the 38th minute Arsenal again pressed in the middle of the park and Liam Brady, from virtually the left wing put a flighted ball 35 yards over the Spurs defence. Again, Sunderland controlled with his chest, fainted right and moved past the defender on his left. Again, Kendall got a hand to the ball and the ball cannoned off the underside of the bar. In it went. Before half time Spurs ‘fine’ captain left his foot in on Steve Gatting and a melee of player caused a minor ruckus. No booking and Perryman feigning he had been stamped on. As one fan remembered it ‘At half-time the players left the field to a raucous chorus of “Alan, Alan Sunderland” from the Park Lane.’

Early in the second half Sunderland got his head on to a corner and smashed the ball on top the bar. Arsenal were totally in command now. On 11 minutes 8 seconds of the youtube video, Rix gets the ball outside the box. Moves inside, ghosting past 3 Spurs defenders and chipping a  ball to the back post, where David Price bullets a header downwards, only for Kendall to just get it.

Then, it happens. You just watch a master class from Liam Brady. After Rix charges down a Hoddle attack, Rix releases Brady on the left wing and two Spurs running backwards to slow Brady down. Brady charges past the defenders chips a similar ball to Rix’s earlier but slightly higher and with Frank Stapleton at the back stick to head home a ball only a foot off the ground. 3-0. As another blogger wrote:-

By this point, the Arsenal fans were singing, “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way! Oh what fun it is to see The Arsenal win away!”

Then came ‘the’ goal. Liam Brady took the ball off Taylor about ten yards outside the box and advanced a little and hit a curler into the corner (see below):-

Brady later said of the goal:-

I scored one of the best goals of my career, bending the ball with the outside of my left foot from the left-hand side of the area.

Then, with a few minutes left Pat Jennings booted skywards with Stapleton knocking on for Sunderland to complete only the second hat trick scored by an Arsenal player (the other being Ted Drake. 5-0 to Arsenal. That was the full time score.

So why is this as a defining match? Well, ironically the 1978-9 ended with us winning a trophy. The 1978-9 team had lost some of the more ‘temperamental’ players in Alan Hudson and Malcolm Macdonald. Though Willie Young would still be there to cause as much anguish to Terry Neill as possible. The game also proved a few other things. One being we were too inconsistent to win the league. For example, the next game we lost 2-1 at Highbury to WBA and ended up in 7th position with Spurs finishing 11th. But we also proved we were a good cup team, as was proved in the ‘5 minute final’ in may of 1979.

Also, it proved that we needed a great coach in Don Howe and what a player Liam Brady was. In his biography though Brady is highly critical of the manager Terry Neill and his lack of quality and depth in the team. Neill had insinuated he could have brought players like Johan Neeskens:-

Amongst other players. Instead of signing a world class player, like he should, Neill signed the highly proficient Brian Talbot. A good player with a good engine but not an exciting player to say the least. No wonder Brady became disillusioned in Arsenal lack of wanting to win the league, leaving in 1980 with Stapleton leaving a year later.

Five years later Arsenal’s decline was complete when Spurs would beat us 5-0 at the lane. But that game on the 23 December 1978 was a game of what could have been. Arsenal had a team that could have gone on to great things, with Brady running the midfield and Stapleton heading them in. It was a chance Terry Neill should have taken.

He was crying

Run-in with the Devil: why the NLD matters more than you already think

Both Arsenal and Tottenham have 12 games left in their season. Both teams have 6 home and 6 away games. Both teams face a mixture of tough opponents and easier opponents. Tottenham has a 4 point advantage in the table and Arsenal have a +7 goal difference advantage. Everything looks all square, just about, so which team is going to win The 7amkickoff 4th Place Trophy™?

As I like to do, I quantified the run-in. I used both Arsenal and Tottenham’s opposition’s current position on the League table to rank their difficulty. It’s a bit simplistic, I know, but to see how close I was to my gut, I first ranked them using just my instinct and then compared them to their position on the table. And it turned out that their position on the League table was pretty close to my instinct — with just a couple of notable exceptions.

Then I looked at both teams’ previous performance against these 12 teams and made a column for actual points accrued. Then I predicted an outcome for each match based on my gut feeling. I did this because frankly if I didn’t predict outcomes, someone would have called out for it and if I do make predictions someone will call me out for it, so either way I’m getting called out. I might as well make predictions because it gives you all something extra to argue with each other about!

Run-in with the DevilAs you can see from the graphic above Tottenham’s run-in has a greater difficulty of an average of 2.5 places on the League table over Arsenal. That means that their run-in is somewhere between Liverpool and Stoke City on average whereas Arsenal’s run-in is somewhere around Norwich and Sunderland.

This average difference is reflected in the actual points taken from the previous matches, with Arsenal edging Tottenham by a little less than .25 points per game over those 12 opponents. As an aside here, if you just take the total points taken from the previous encounters between the teams listed above, Arsenal only regain 2 points on Tottenham and to do that would require Arsenal to win at White Hart Lane. In the previous 12 matches against these opponents Arsenal had 21 points and Tottenham had 19.

But I don’t think that these next 12 games will shape up the way that they did in their previous encounters. For example, I just can’t see Wigan getting three points on Tottenham again and similarly I don’t see Arsenal losing to Norwich again. I also would like to point out that Arsenal have to play both QPR and Newcastle in the final weeks of the season, both of which are teams who spent enormous amounts of money in the January transfer window and radically overhauled their teams. If you remember, Wenger mentioned this very thing in a press conference a few weeks ago saying that teams who have to play Newcastle and QPR after January face a much different squad.

Admittedly, my predictions may be a little bit harsh on Arsenal. For example, I have draws in both of those games against QPR and Newcastle. I did that simply because I think QPR are going to be fighting for their lives to escape relegation, plus, that match follows on the heels of the big game against Man U and if previous seasons are any measuring stick, Arsenal struggle in the last few games after a big match. For example, there was a notable dip in form after Arsenal beat Man City last season, with the Gunners winning just 2 of their last 6.

Is that what I want to happen? No. I would rather Arsenal finish this season strong as a building block for next season. But the reality is that Manchester United could win the title at the Emirates this season and with this squad so unsteady at the moment there’s no telling how they would react if they let that happen.

That’s actually why I put that United game in red. It’s one of the two key games for the end of the season run-in. In fact, if you look at my predicted total and you change just either of those two red games to Arsenal wins, Arsenal overcome Spurs in the League table.

The other key game is, of course, the North London Derby (NLD). Arsenal face Aston Villa at the Grove next and Spurs face West Ham at the Bubble. I think that Spurms have just enough to get a draw there but that Allardyce is fighting for a new contract and he has his favorite target Andy Carroll back. That’s going to be a real tough game for them. Meanwhile, Arsenal will have to look at Villa as exploitable for all three points — the Birmingham side have really struggled with form this season and just recorded their first win in what seems like ages.

If Arsenal can win against Villa and West Ham can get a draw against Spurs, that North London Derby will be an actual battle for fourth place with just two points difference between the two teams. I predicted a draw above, but you know what? I might just change that.

Qq