Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

THE BRONZE AGE




Cutting ones cloth accordingly or realigning perceptions, it’s a question of semantics but both phrases could arguably be appropriate for the remainder of the Arsenal’s 2012/13 season. Suffice it to say that the title is inextricably being pulled towards Manchester with a great deal of debt owed to the United number 20. So where does that leave us? The gap at the top between United and City is large and the gap between City and the rest seems to point towards the light Blues clinching second spot, therefore the reality is that Chelsea, Sp*rs and Arsenal are all viable candidates to finish third. Two of these three clubs mentioned have Europa league hopes and the Arsenal appear to be up faeces creek with no means of propulsion in regard to the return Champions League leg in Munich, so in that respect we are (most likely) going to be the club with sole focus on our league position.

To finish above the Oligarch invested Chelsea would be a notable achievement and I guess there is no great disgrace in finishing below Ferguson’s United and mega rich City. If that comes across as weak acceptance then so be it; it’s a cold and hard logic that uses no emotional lack of reality in its judgement. 


In the words of Beverley Knight “Shoulda, coulda, woulda are the last words of a fool” and certainly I’ve had enough of banging on about he who shall remain nameless and what might have been, so with this in mind I’m going ‘all-in’ with the last 12 games. Let’s win the remaining games. I’ll be happy if we win ugly: I don’t care, just win first and beauty may follow, but win first.


To quote Kyle Reese “The future is not set” so I will hit the pause button on the hopes for 2013/14 and beyond and see what the players, the guys in red and white (and bilious purple and black) can give us for what’s left. These last few games have to be about the players. Having played Chelsea twice our next fixture is our last against a direct competitor for third and we go into it looking to stop a four-point gap developing into a seven-point gap. Best-case scenario is we reduce the deficit to one point. After Sunday all we can do is look to win, win, win and hope others drop points.

Yes I know that a Bronze medal is not where we want to be or should be but, short of match fixing revelations in Manchester followed by points deductions, third is our apex for season 2012/13. Aiming for third may be unpalatable but it is the highest aspiration I think we can have between now and 19th May.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

LADIES & GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY...


Opinions are just that: opinions, and certainly debate is healthy. I think its fair to say that the current manager of the Arsenal divides opinion. I think it’s also fair to say that sometimes fans' and supporters’ focus on the club is lost due to focus on the manager. I think the rest of the season my time will be better spent commenting on the team its performances and broader issues. With this I mind I am going to give my final views of the season on Arsene Wenger the manager not the man. The manager who selects the players and makes the decisions that, ultimately he has to stand by. 

The gulf that now exists between The Arsenal and the European elite, that we were supposedly moving to the emirates to compete with, was bought into sharp focus on the evening of the 19th February 2013. Prior to that we have seen the numerous games that point to the steady decline of our club as a force that could compete with the best in our league, let alone teams's from lower divisions. To try and make some sense of all that I think we need to look at the manager of the club and the facts that lead to our current position.

When discussing, what some refer to as, the genius of Arsene in finding players It could be argued that Wenger’s inheritance of players when he was appointed had a powerful effect as a starting point for him. There are those that choose to focus on the poor players that were in the 1996 squad but it should be remembered that Wenger took over a starting XI of George Graham and Bruce Rioch acquisitions that read Seaman, Dixon, Bould, Adams, Winterburn, Platt, Keown, Parlour, Merson, Bergkamp, Wright. That’s a pretty good team to start a managerial career at Arsenal with. Without this base it’s hard to say what Arsene may or may not have achieved in his first full season.



There are views that Wenger has exhibited poor judgment in failing to buy players such as Alonso, Reina, Cahill and Given to replace players of inferior quality such as Denilson, Djorou, Almunia and Fabianski. There also appears to be a pattern of accumulating average players that consistently under perform and are then sent out on loan, Chamakh, Park, Squilacci and now Santos are just a few names in a litany of what appear to me to be poorly judged purchases with no resale value due to the healthy wage packet they receive as reward for under achievement.

Scrutinising the playing staff further leads to more questions as to the judgement of the man charged with overseeing the squad. Were players such as Vela and Merida going to deliver? It seemed unlikely yet they were retained for an inordinate amount of time. What was the purpose of Amaury Bischoff? Rami Shaban; another example of poor goalkeeping choices or just bad luck? Hoyte, Lansbury, Randall, Simpson,Traore,Cruise, Bartley, Miyaichi (the list is a long one) not every player works out but even so there appears to be a long list of failures at our club who never transitioned from reserve to first team. That's a list of players that, while being paid by the club were not contributing to Arsenal but plying their trade elsewhere for other clubs' benefit; an example of this being that during the 2011/12 season Arsenal had 29 players out on loan. It is a habit that our club seems to just hang on to sub standard players in the hope that perhaps they come back from loans having discovered some form of hidden talent whereas they generally appear to have picked up a packet of magic beans from a huckster.

Aside from questions and opinions about the actual players bought in to represent Arsenal Football Club let's look at the games under Arsene's stewardship themselves. One could argue that the defining moment in Wenger's career should have been the Champions League Final; it could have been the opportunity for The Arsenal to join the European elite. In my view Arsene fluffed his lines. Firstly going into the final with the best defensive record in ECL history he dropped Flamini for a newly fit Ashley Cole thus breaking up that record-breaking defence. By taking off Robert Pires when Lehman was sent off he removed a proven match winner from the fray. Losing by just one goal late in the game Wenger chose to leave 2 mercurial players on the bench in Bergkamp and Van Persie.  Having scored first there seemed no tactical suggestion that Wenger was going to 'shut up shop' or 'park the bus' which would have been prudent given that Arsenal were a man down. The poor quality of our second string keeper certainly didn't help matters either. Of course there is no guarantee that any of these factors caused the game to be lost but I feel Wenger's decision making didn't give us the best chance of a trip to the European summit.  
Then there are facts. 

In 17 years Wenger has lost more finals than he has won (5-4 against). Arsenal have not beaten an English club in the Champions League under Wenger. Arsenal under Wenger have not won a trophy in 30 consecutive attempts (31 if you include the 2005 Community Shield) and as I think it's a fair assumption to say Arsenal are not going to win this season`s Premier League, only winning the Champions League will prevent 32 failed attempts to lift a trophy (perhaps a miracle in Munchen may take place, but I doubt it). Arsenal under Wenger have sold the best players (statistically supported) on a number of occasions without effectively replacing them (statistically supported).


Then there are facts that could be interpreted, as ‘a bad day at the office’ but are alarming nonetheless: Arsenal, under Wenger, have lost 8-2 to Manchester United. Arsenal, under Wenger, have relinquished a 4-goal lead. Arsenal, under Wenger, have been knocked out of cup competitions that were at a stage of being viable options of silverware, by lower league Bradford City and Blackburn Rovers.


All these facts are indisputable and for most the Penny has finally dropped. Certainly the majority of those that attended the recent Blackburn game and the Bayern Munich debacle would have heard an almighty clanging as a collective 4500 pennies hit the deck, but I guess that some will find mitigation. I think that the positive facts that support Arsene's performance relate to a period that is long gone and a lot of feeling is based on loyalty, but fear of the unknown remains a strong factor amongst those who are of the opinion that we should stick with Mr Wenger. The argument generally being: "who are we going to replace him with?". If we had stuck with fear of the unknown we would never have landed on the moon, invented Curry or experienced the dubious pleasures of the Rollercoaster. 

The point I'm making is that if one takes emotion out of the equation and just considers the facts then it surely must stand to reason that one would conclude that Arsene Wenger is not currently an effective manager, nor has he been for a substantial period. If that is the case, which I believe it is, then I cannot understand why, with the facts at hand, the inevitable verdict has not been delivered.


I would suggest that we are stuck with Arsene until 2014 at a minimum and we have to get our heads around that (for me) unpalatable fact. The quality of playing staff that his inevitable successor inherits is more of a burning issue. I think that unfortunately the new guy, whenever he eventually arrives, will not be starting with as good a foundation as that which Arsene inherited from Rioch & Graham. It is truly saddening that Wenger's legacy will probably be one of erosion rather than of glory.

I think the following quote from the Bard sums up how an Arsenal supporter like me feels.



BRUTUS:
"Be patient until I finish. Romans, countrymen, and friends! Listen to my reasons and be silent so you can hear. Believe me on my honor and keep my honor in mind, so you may believe me. Be wise when you criticize me and keep your minds alert so you can judge me fairly. If there’s anyone in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, I say to him that my love for Caesar was no less than his. If, then, that friend demands to know why I rose up against Caesar, this is my answer: it’s not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more"
Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 2- William Shakespeare

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