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Thursday, December 13, 2012

If it were a boxing/mma match - Arsenal would have won a unanimous points decision

Watching Arsenal at a freezing Valley Parade was an excruciating experience for any Arsenal supporter. From 7:45pm to 10:35pm we endured deep frustration as Arsenal monumentally struggled to break a Bradford resistance effort that was reminiscent of an Arsenal team of the late George Graham vintage.

As every minute went by without the deadlock being broken, you could almost sense the Arsenal family of management, players and fans progressively despairng with the inner-thought: What is going on!

It was a negative cycle which ended appropriately with a defeat by the lottery of the penalty shoot-out method. To have won the penalty shoot out would have felt incongruous given the three hours of football torment that all followers of the Arsenal had just just experienced.

Expectedly, the media and assorted vacuous football pundits drew their daggers and went for Arsene following the defeat. This is to be expected, and is not worthy of further comment. The more worrying aspect of the Bradford aftermath for Arsene Wenger supporters, was the growing call from Arsenal fans for Arsene Wenger to depart.

Given Wenger's extraordinary achievements for Arsenal in his time at the club, I don't accept that being knocked out of the League Cup on penalties by Bradford is a compelling reason for him to depart. Any dispassionate observer of the match would clearly mark that Arsenal were overwhelmingly the dominant attacking team, and were there an alternative to the penalty shoot out method for deciding the tie which reflected the balance of play, the team progressing would have been Arsenal.

To draw an analogy, I have watched many boxing or mma matches were the clear favourite has been unable to knock out his unfancied opponent - but has nonetheless had his hand raised in victory after a disappointing but dominant performance. A fairer alternative to the penalty shoot out method woud have seen Arsenal progress, with the opportunity to put on a more clinical finishing performance in the next round. (I would like to reiterate that I hope the penalty shoot out method is abolished - a link to my post from years ago on this in the eft sidebar).

Clearly, Arsene Wenger has not got the formula right in his assembly of players for this season. However, it is also clear that he has recognised this, as he has prior emphasised his willingness to recruit next January. World class players - Cesc, Nasri, Clichy, van Persie and Song - have left (all too prematurely) in the past 16 months - and Wenger recognises they have not been adequately replaced. He has surely earned the right from all Arsenal fans to have the opportunity to rebuild what will be his fourth generation squad: his first three have achieved and competed remarkably in the modern era.

Wenger needs to match his declarative ambition of Arsenal going for titles with heavy investment in his squad. Arsenal must show ambition by persuading Walcott to stay by offering him terms where he can get elsewhere, and recruiting players who will undoubtedly improve the squad like Huntelaar, Baines, Fellaini, Zaha, etc. Instead of lauding that they run a financially good business, Arsenal in 2013 must show they now mean business off and on the pitch. Arsenal must not just talk ambition, they must also palpably demonstrate it.

I trust that Wenger has the proven expertise, intelligence and desire to put things right - but significant investment in the Arsenal squad is now paramount.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

England after EURO2012: We ARE a good side.....we need a new thorough direction

I think England is a good side, but it's getting them to play the way they should to win games thoroughly.  Glen Johnson is known more for his attacking than his defending; John Terry has a good footballing brain to get into places although his lack of pace can be exposed; Joeleon Lescott is a decent covering CB; Ashley Cole provides a stern performance practically every game for club and country;  Scott Parker is a decent DCM although his coming forward and passing lacked something last night; Steven Gerrard did well as captain and in helping out but as the game went on, his fitness was tested (a polite way of saying he was knackered); 

James Milner and Ashley Young both lacked throughout the tournament, hardly any runs down the wings and any providing for the forwards to get on to; Welbeck got praise for his winning goal against the Swedes (which I think was not intentional) and provided little else after; Wayne Rooney should have not been in the Ukraine nor Italy game but brought on as a sub, which would have kept him hungry on the bench and more eager to get out there and make a difference, more than he did against the Ukrainians).

Let's not forget we didn't lose last night in the 120mins, we lost it on the two penalties we didn't convert.  From when Riccardo Montolivo missed, we had to score all our penalties, it was that straightforward.  Aim hard, aim low, and even do what Andrea Pirlo did, which was to aim down the middle since the keeper suspects just left or right.  What a cool yet chilling finish by Pirlo, which I think was to show he was nowhere finished yet, AC Milan.

We did well against the French but we held back and let them come at us; we did the same with the Swedes, we scored and then allowed them to come at us, gave them two goals and were lucky to get two back to win.  We were 2nd best to the Ukrainians, they wanted it more, had more of the ball and failed to convert their chances.  We were fortunate twice in there being two deflections and a fumbling by Andriy Pyatov for our goal, and that the effort by Marko Devic was judged not completely over the line.  

Sunday night, it was the same again.  We were 2nd best, 2nd to the ball, we allowed the Italians to come at us and see if they could break through, and, like the Ukraine game, the Italians did, only for their final effort to fail.  The amount of times they had gotten through, particularly Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, it was just waiting for the inevitable goal.  We couldn't just sit back the whole time, and when we went forward with promise, our cohesion in the end just ran out and broke up.  If we should have scored, the Italians should have score double.  They deserved the win.

What it is with England is we do not either have any flair players or encourage them.  Flair players can take on opponents practically every game, the whole game, they thrive on a one-man creativity that is determined, focused and even artistic.  At half time, the BBC looked on Pirlo and showed when he had time on the ball and how he played it each time.  Shearer also mentioned that either Rooney or Danny Welbeck should drop back and track Pirlo to prevent this, which I think Rooney did now and then, and it worked.  Only thing was it ceased when the 2nd half started.

As for Andy Carroll, I felt Carroll did well enough to try to open up something for England.  Being almost 7ft, his running isn't going to be a major asset, his height should be.  He laid off the ball when he could and tried to get into the game, but the game just called for pace upfront, someone who will get at the defence and push it.  Someone like Jermaine Defoe.  For me, get the ball to Defoe or play him through and he'll have the pace and the annoyance of shooting at goal from any angle, with either foot and more times than not he is successful.  Lord knows we had no pace showing on the wings until Theo Walcott took over from Milner, while Young had been an absolute shadow of himself throughout.

We had Welbeck and Rooney upfront.  One has ingenuity as an asset, the other has pace, but neither trait was functioning like it has done last night.  Rooney hadn't been himself since coming into the Ukraine game, and that's another thing.  It was as if his name was already written to start, when he should have started on the bench, easier to say in hindsight.  I wonder if Rooney had actually shown anything of worth in training to be selected.  

Cole can attack well, so can Johnson.  We have good defenders, we have old-school central midfielders, experienced players, and we have decent wingers with good forwards.  It's about getting them to play with flair, confidence, determination and execution.  Right now we have some confidence and determination and little execution.  What the Germans have is definite execution, they have cohesion from back to front and they are hungry for the goal.  The Spaniards have flair from almost every player, confidence and good execution from almost every player, and that's from the starting 11 to those who come on later.  Pedro Rodriguez came on against the French and almost set up Torres, almost scored himself.  They start without a forward, so who is scoring the goals?  Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Xavier 'Xavi' Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, even Sergio Busquets, all midfielders.  No Fernando Torres, no Fernando Llorente, and they're also without David Villa.

The Portuguese and the Italians will no doubt be the underdogs in their respective games.  Other than Christiano Ronaldo so far, Bruno Alves has been tight at the back, Fabio Coentrao has been better coming forward while doing well in defence along with Pepe, Miguel Veloso has come forward well, so too has Joao Pereira.  Italy's best players were Pirlo, Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli linked well with Leonardo Bonucci, Federico Balzaretti threatened well, and then there was Balotelli and Cassano.  If the last two combine better and have their shooting boots on, then they will put out the Germans.  Then you look at the Germans - Mesut Ozil will create something, Philip Lahm likes to come forward, the crosses have to be made for the likes of Mario Gomez and even Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, even Thomas Mueller, and against the Greeks they even changed up to introduce Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle, the latter who asks no invitation to shoot on goal.

The Italians have Pirlo, we have Gerrard.  Gerrard can ping a pass from yards or from one side to the other, but he wasn't doing that much in the tournament.  When he did, Lescott and Carroll scored from them.  But then, why should he?  When the wingers to whom he would have picked out, even the forwards, were just not making enough movements to warrant such passes.  So we don't have enough flair going forward, we hold onto the ball and pass it around, hardly anyone looking to suddenly snap onto the ball and take it forward to the opposition.  So we adopted more of a defensive stance......playing for penalties?!  I don't think so but the play was such that we were booed on the ball in the first half.

We need an injection of pace on the wings, upfront, even in defence.  Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand, hardly a striker could out-pace them, much less out-muscle them, while Ferdinand and Terry provided pace and a good football brain at the back.  Pacey players usually aim to use that trait to beat off opponents towards goal.  The likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott, even Defoe, may well fit in as regular starters.  Gerrard could be tiring, who could come in that position with pace?  Jordan Henderson?!!  Young has to improve drastically on his Euro2012 role, while for me Milner is now no longer an option for the starting 11.

However, you can have the players on the day or night, but it takes one more goal than the opponents to beat them, and anyone at any time, anyhow can score.  It's the controlling of the play that is fundamental over a match.  Do our players want to control a game, or not?  That's the question, and I think Roy Hodgson has provided a test, a little change, a glimpse into wanting to add something different to the squad.  Disappointing as Sunday night was, it wasn't lost on open play, and that's promising.


Monday, June 04, 2012

"Just so we don't get it twisted here....I'll be in a pub somewhere supporting England this summer! Love the lads!"

Those are Rio Ferdinand's words, which followed after his representative Jamie Moralee had castigated the England coach Roy Hodgson for overlooking selecting Ferdinand to replace Gary Cahill.  Moralee is stated to have said:  "It's a lack of respect. He wants to play....Rio's very disappointed. He thought he had done enough. It's very difficult to accept.  This is a player with 81 caps for his country. I don't know anyone who understands it. It's not been handled in the right way."

Who is Jamie Moralee, in connection with the England squad, the coach and his team?  No one.  He doesn't choose who plays, who doesn't, who is in to attend the tournament nor who isn't.  Hodgson has a tough enough task of covering for now four injured players who are out of the tournament beckoning, three of whom are arguably major omissions (with no disrespect intended towards the Norwich keeper John Ruddy) in Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and Cahill.  He has to blend some fresher faces with some experienced ones in order to get them to gel as a unit, prepared to lead a battle that starts with France, and ends with the Ukraine to ensure progression from the group stage.  That's the beginning.

A number of voices I've heard today have stated Hodgson has made a wrong decision in overlooking Ferdinand on this occasion.  There's the continuing niggling point the journalists seem to like aiming at Hodgson about what exactly are the 'footballing decisions' he came to that ended with Ferdinand being left out of the squad and John Terry being left in.  I don't know why they are doing this, the fact that it's Ferdinand and Terry only being discussed concerning the 'footballing decisions' just gives the game away anyway.  Considering these two defenders have held the central rear guard for so long together for England, through thick and thin, and are now not to be currently considered to play for their country together, there's no smokescreen to it.  So why continue to ask the same question?!

For Ferdinand, I assume he was OK for Moralee to state those words, as if they also represent Ferdinand's mind on the issue.  For me, Hodgson's decision making are practically similar to the decisions by a referee - they're made, rightly or wrongly, and they will not change.  Furthermore, it is not up to anyone else to make the decisions, and yet nonetheless there is the constant bemoaning over said decisions as if others know better or could do better.  As far as I'm concerned, Hodgson has considered all factors and made his decisions, and it doesn't matter whether anyone else disagrees with him.  He is the England coach who is in position to do so, no one else.

My affiliation is with Liverpool FC.  Had this been any of our players bemoaning, I would say the same.  When Andy Carroll went off substituted at St James' Park last season, he went off in a strop, swore towards the manager.  I said he was bang out of order, and had practically written off his chances of playing for Liverpool again.  The decision was made to take him off, and, like with other players in identical circumstances, he shouldn't be mouthing off like that towards the manager, regardless what he felt about the change.  You come off, respectfully, and you can air your thoughts afterwards to the manager.  Behind closed doors.  That's because you do not disrespect the manager in front of anyone else.

There are some players who feel their name is an instant insertion into the England squad whenever an international looms. Failing that, one or two players have decided to not be on stand-by, for whatever reason. Micah Richards, another considered as one who should have been selected, may well have been called up to replace Cahill, had he not refrained from being on the list. 

I imagine it is frustrating for Ferdinand to be sitting in Manchester or wherever he may be, instead of being one of the England squad preparing for the tournament, is there a player who wouldn't give their limb to be there?!  But if you're not chosen to be, then that's it.  You certainly do not make your disappointment known in such a manner as he has done via Moralee.  The words above I quoted from Ferdinand's Twitter page should have also been included along with those stated by Moralee, not for Ferdinand to have to type them afterwards like some damage limitation move.



Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rest in Peace, Gary Speed - 1969-2011

It was a moment of stunning sadness to listen to BBC Radio 5 Live Sport at around 12:20pm today when the excellent presenter, Ian Payne, interrupted a conversation on Saturday's premier league action with anguish and shock in his voice to announce that he had received terrible news. He then said he would go to the Liberty Stadium where commentator Nigel Adderley would reveal the news.

With a sombre tone Nigel Adderley revealed the unacceptable: Gary Speed, football manager of Wales, had been found dead in his home earlier this morning and police say his death is not being considered as suspicious.

All football supporters will have been as stunned as Ian Payne when hearing this despairing news. Gary Speed was the ultimate professional Premier League footballer and he was beginning to forge a successful career as Wales football manager. He conducted himself with immense dignity and integrity on and off the pitch. He was a footballer whom no supporter or commentator ever had a negative word for because he exemplified strong commitment, talent and sportsmanship. Everyone had respect for the high level character that he brought to the game of football, and to life.

On behalf of everyone at EFT we send our deepest condolences and sympathies to the family and friends of Gary Speed. His towering legacy will long outlast this extremely sad day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chamakh needs a massive boost of confidence only a big-match goal can bring

Arsenal will go into tonight's Champions League qualifier against Udinese with Marouane Chamakh up-front. He showed at Bordeaux that he is a striker with fearlessness and goal-scoring prowess. He then began his Arsenal career with good promise as his name regularly featured in the goal-scorer's column.

So what has happened to him in the first eight months of this year?

Chamakh's body-language on the field currently appears devoid of aggression and goal-scoring will. When I watched him on the field in pre-season he looked to me like a man with terribly low self-confidence. He seemed lost on the pitch and his touch appeared to have deserted him.

Chamakh has scored only one goal for Arsenal in the calendar month of 2011: an FA Cup replay goal against Leyton Orient back in early March. Perhaps it is the lack of goals which is having a destructive effect on his performance? Whatever the cause, it appears painfully apparent that the Chamakh footballing game is being adversely affected in a significant way.

With Chamakh in his current state I am concerned that too heavy a burden will be placed on Van Persie to score the goals needed to challenge in competitions.  This is the main reason why a resurgent, goal-scoring, full-of-confidence Chamakh would be a tremendous asset for Arsenal to have this season.

I hope tonight will see the return of the Chamakh who excelled at Bordeaux and promised much in the first few months of his Arsenal career. For me,  a big-match goal from Chamakh would be a fantastic sight to watch because it could herald the re-birth of his confidence, power and direction on the pitch.

Good luck Chamakh and come on AFC!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Thank you Cesc - Wilshere and Ramsey development will make up for his loss

Cesc Fabregas will sign for Barcelona today after completing a medical at the Nou Camp. The composed tone-setter of Arsenal since debuting as a sixteen year old will be missed. He brought a lot of class and decency to the football field in the Premier League and I wish him continued progression at his home club.

Thank you and best wishes Cesc!

With Cesc gone the onus on Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey to lead the Arsenal midfield has heightened. And I am extremely confident in their ability and mentality to take on this excellent responsibility.

Wilshere and Ramsey are the two most exciting midfield talents that Britain had produced in the last decade. Wilshere held his own against the magnificent Barcelona midfield of Xavi and Iniesta to underline his innate superb ability and tenacity. Meanwhile, Ramsey has shown enough on the pitch before and after his horrendous leg break to demonstrate that he is a box-to-box midfield talent reminiscent of Liverpool's Steven Gerrard.

20 year old Ramsey is already the captain of Wales while Wilshere has shown the relish, drive and maturity on the pitch to be a future Arsenal and England captain. Both have the temperaments to ensure they can achieve great success.

Arsene Wenger has the managerial excellence to ensure that both these players fully develop their potential and I have no doubt that the future at Arsenal will be very strong with these two tremendous young talents in the centre of pitch. In my opinion they certainly have more than enough in their games to cover the departure of Cesc from AFC.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Squillaci - Silvestre - Cygan: the weakest Arsenal link

It's been a messy year for Arsenal. A couple of days after Christmas last year, Arsenal took apart Chelsea at home with a full-on performance which promised an exciting 2011 for the Gunners.

Unfortunately the atmosphere of that night has long-since dissipated and in its place has materialised a fog of unease and uncertainty that is threatening to engulf the Arsenal.

The first seven months of 2011 has seen Arsenal buffeted and wobble. The experienced steward, Arsene Wenger, looks like an increasingly beleagured captain who is seriously struggling to control his fine ship.

These are extremely rocky waters that Wenger has encountered, and with an imminent storm of fixtures to be navigated it is unclear in what condition Arsenal will look come the end of the month.

If I could make one immediate suggestion in this testing period to the great Wenger it would be to stop playing Sebastien Squillaci. It appears that when he is on the pitch we are at our weakest defensively with dire consequence. For me he follows the line of Mikel Silverstre and Pascal Cygan in being Arsenal first-team centre-backs who look a couple of quality levels below their teammates when on the pitch.

Scott Booth, the co-commentator on ESPN last night as Arsenal played Benfica, neatly highlighted the ease with which the scorer of Benfica's second goal turned past Squillaci on the edge of the box before driving a fine shot past Fabianski. Squillaci was indeed turned too easily: in my opinion it was characteristically sub-par defending in the Arsenal shirt for the French defender.

It probably did not help the mentality of Squillaci that just four minutes after coming on the pitch Benfica had equalised after a first half which Arsenal controlled and led. A goal four minutes after coming on the pitch must have raised feelings for him of that awful day at St James Park in February when four goals were conceded by the Arsenal shortly after he came on a sub for the injured Djourou.

To me Squillaci looks like a defender low on confidence; a defender who fundamentally lacks belief in his defending ability.

This is a period when Arsenal need to dig deep. There are tests to overcome this month which will define the subsequent 12 months. To come through them we need to be at our strongest all over the pitch. And, for me, this means avoiding playing Squillaci, who unfortunately is proving himself unsuitable for the Arsenal defensive cause.

By consequence, the incentive to immediately buy a new centre-back must surely now be overwhelming for Wenger??

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sagna-Cahill-Samba-Vermaelen backline: title winning?

Yesterday evening I was told that within AFC headquarters the talk is strong that both Samba and Cahill will be arriving this summer to form a brand new centre-back partnership, with Vermaelen moving across to left back to replace the departing Gael Clichy.

If this is correct, then I think its time to get quite excited if you are an AFC supporter.

The thundering determination of Samba alongside the Bould-like presence of Cahill is something that I think would get all Arsenal fans fired up. Having two centre-backs well over six foot is a tantalising prospect having lived through a trophy-less era of small-sized six foot maximum centre-backs.

Playing Vermaelen at left back gives the prospect of added height defending set-pieces, which has been a major achilles heel for our great Arsenal. Plus we can discard the short corner option and aim directly on the six yard box for Samba, Cahill and Vermalen to leap powerfully through the air to head on goal.

A back four of Sagna, Cahill, Samba and Vermaelen promises battling grit, overriding determinaton and unstoppable power. Pushovers no more, we can have a backline that can out-muscle rather than be out-muscled.

Moreover, their presence can engender an increased confidence in the fans at the Emirates, whom with good reason have become increasingly edgy with the sight of our shaky defence of recent years vintage. A stronger atmosphere to will on the players will deliver better results at our Home.

I hope Sagna, Cahill, Samba and Vermaelen is the back-four line-up at the start of the season. If it is, Arsenal fans can be legitimately expectant that the title is ours for the taking.

Arsene Wenger, we are waiting on you to deliver as you have so many times in the past..

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bentdner should have played instead of Rosicky

Congratulations to Birmingham for their 2-1 win over Arsenal in today's Carling Cup final. An even match seemed like it was going to enter into extra time until a devasting mix-up between Arsenal centre-back Laurent Koscielny and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny gifted an open goal tap-in for Obefemi Martins to win the cup for the Blues.

For me, Arsenal lacked sharpness and composure today while Birmingham's players looked comfortable and hungry in sticking to their maximum-pressing game plan combined with hoping to pick up opportunities from long balls to Zigic. The Blues' style won't have them challenging for championships but they can be effective in cup football - as proven this season in their Carling Cup success this season.

From the Arsenal perspective, I was slightly disappointed before the match to see Rosicky start ahead of Bendtner for the final, and I was underwhelmed by the cup final performance of the Czech attacking midfielder. For me, Arsenal's playability shifts down gear when Rosicky starts matches - his movement, decision-making and execution of pass and final ball has not been to a high standard this season, and so it proved again today.

I would have much preferred for Nasri to occupy the Cesc central playmaker position and start Bendtner in one of the wide forward positions. Bendtner has his doubters but there is also no doubt that he more potential to be a goal-scorer and match-winner than Rosicky. In a cup-final starting as favourites you should go with firepower and look to close the contest early, but Wenger looked to choose otherwise today when putting Bentdner in the bench.

Moreover, Bentdner's height in the air would have been a useful defensive asset to be depoloyed against Birmingham's predictable set-piece tactics - which was the source of their first goal where the 6 foot 9 inch Zigic headed home.

Wenger will dwell heavily on this match and I hope he carefully considers whether his team selection was correct. For me, the team selection in the match against Chelsea on 27 December 2010 was the turning point for our season - it was the best team selection I had seen Wenger make in a long time and produced an immense result. On the other hand, this team selection looked to have a flaw in my instinctive analysis of it and in the end the team didn't function and flow as it could through the midfield and attack.

The cost of this was that we were vulnerable to being hit to a knock-out sucker-punch in the final few minutes. Martins landed it and Arsenal can have no complaints.

Well done the Blues.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Rest in Peace, Dean Richards

I am very sad and stunned to learn that the former Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers centre back has passed away at the young age of 36 years old.

I remember being impressed with Richards' demeanour and stature on the pitch - a composed and strong figure to have in the centre-back position.

His career was stopped short because of worrying dizzy spells and headaches. It was a profound disappointment to see a talented and committed player have to retire early from the game and supporters across the footballing community wished him good health in retirement. The BBC news report written in the last hour does not reveal whether these medical problems are the cause for his premature passing.

On behalf of all at EFT and the wider football supporting public we offer our sincere condolences to Dean Richards' family and friends.

Rest in Peace, Dean Richards.


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