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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Liverpool and Benitez must now part company

Liverpool are in a terrible run of results - won 0 drawn 4 lost 1, and this is not taking into account their poor 1-1 draw with Luton in the FA Cup and embarrassingly conceding 2 goals against Havant & Waterlooville. 2008 has so far been nothing short of a disaster for Liverpool and the fact that the Americans have managed to refinance their borrowing (i.e. they are sticking around) just adds to the woes.

It is clear that Rafa Benitez has lost the confidence of his players. He cannot argue that these poor results are down to injuries not can he suggest that his players are fatigued. Rafa has simply lost it which is a great shame because I really did think he was the right man for the job.

Rafa is still, and he deserves to be, well respected for his Champions League success with Liverpool and for the results he achieved at Valencia. But the fact remains that he has never got Liverpool to challenge for the Premier League title in the 4 seasons that he has been their manager.

This is simply not good enough and the Americans must now start looking for Rafa's replacement to be installed in time for the start of next season.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Are Walcott Arsenal critics the same as the Henry Arsenal critics

The year is 1999. Me and my brother are leaving Highbury and queueing to enter Arsenal underground station and the group of fans behind us are talking out loud about Arsenal's new signing Thierry Henry.

I liked this signing from the start - for me Henry was the best possible replacement for the brilliant but unhappy-looking Anelka. I had seen Henry score for Monaco and saw great passion and anger in his celebration - which for me showed that Henry had a fighting character to add to his amazing attacking speed and ball skill. He was a World Cup winner, schooled at Monaco under Wenger and was only 22 years old with his best years definitely ahead of him.

But according to these Arsenal fans behind me Henry was a waste of money and should not have been bought. They did not rate him one bit. I remember this well not only because at the time me and my brother totally disagreed with their judgment on the talent and potential of Henry at Arsenal - but also because I disliked the rush to a wholly negative judgment of a young player that we should be supporting.

Nearly ten years later and I'm reading articles and comments from Arsenal fans criticising 18 year old Theo Walcott similar to the way that a group of Arsenal fans dismissed a 22 year old Thierry Henry. And I wonder are these the same people?

Anyone who dismisses Walcott at aged 18 needs to be reminded of his excellent England Under 21 goals against Germany in October 2006 plus a recent string of scintillating performances for the Under 21's; his ice-cool Carling Cup final goal against Chelsea; his super-sub appearances off the bench against Bolton and Sunderland setting up crucial goals; and a great brace of goals in the Champions League against Slavia Prague.

And most of all anyone dismissing Walcott should be reminded he is only 18 years old and therefore deserves - at least from Arsenal fans - our full support while developing his game and reaching his potential. Resorting to impatient criticism if he doesn't produce in one or two games during this process is not the support I like to see for a young player with excellent talent and a level-head wearing the Arsenal shirt.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Allardyce made to pay for media pressure

A lot has been mentioned mostly about the top four teams, some to do with Arsenal's maintenance at the top, of Man Utd's chase close by, Chelsea not so much yet a good chunk is dedicated to speculation regarding Rafael Benitez' position following results that some perceive as not desirable by the LFC board. The constant 'will he, won't he' further followed by rival fans shouting 'yes, he will' while the LFC fans clearly shout 'No, he won't'. This is all fire to the fuel provided by the media in their constant avarice for headlines made to catch the eye of all in the country.

Another who has been written about constantly from the Premier League was Sam Allardyce. Big news for him to leave a Bolton Wanderers club that fought off relegation time and again and then emerged into UEFA contenders who pitted themselves well against the top three of Arsenal, Man Utd and Liverpool, to join up somewhat controversially with Newcastle United. big things predicted, mostly by the media, some by the NUFC fans, and as I type Newcastle have lost nine, drawn five and won seven in the league, sitting in 11th position.

It doesn't make for fantastic or comfortable reading but it's better than heading in the other direction. Except for Allardyce it headed him in the out direction this evening as he mutually agreed with the club to leave. The pressure on him was made all the more by the constant media bombardment on the team's progress under him and having joined in May last year, lasting almost eight months, Allardyce clearly did not have a full season at least to acclimatise to St James' Park. As eager as we all are for progress and evidence of good teamwork and training emitting from our players, sometimes we have to be patient.

The Newcastle fans jumped at Allardyce from an early stage, though he managed five wins, three losts and two defeats in his first ten league games. The following eleven brought bad news; six losses, two wins, three draws. As I said it isn't pretty reading but in his first twenty-on games, his first months at the club, he could do better but didn't get the backing, the patience and therefore the time to do so. We know Allardyce is a good motivator, he deserved more time with Newcastle. Former manager Sir Bobby Robson blames the current climate of success in the Premier League for developing pressure for clubs to compete:

"That's the eighth Premier League manager we've lost this season already. The pressure is too much now in the Premier League. The dismissals of manager are coming fast and frequent and it's rather sad for the game in many respects."

It is down to the board whether they decide on listening to the media reports and rely on them for guidance or make their own mind up without any negative influence. I don't think that was the case with Allardyce, I find it astounding a manager can be dismissed so early into his season with a new club and it smacks to me that the board were not ambitious about Allardyce's qualities initially despite signing him up for three years. He brought in Mark Viduka from rivals Middlesbrough, Alan Smith, Joey Barton, held onto James Milner, Geremi, and I think can be criticised for not shoring up the defence despite bringing in Czech international David Rozehnal and having young England defender Stephen Taylor.

I am not convinced about Habib Beye and Claudio Cacapa. In having Viduka, Obafemi Martins, Michael Owen, Shola Ameobi to come, along with the likes of wingers in Damien Duff, Milner, Charles N'Zogbia and a central midfield with Nicky Butt (my choice as captain), Emre and Barton, Newcastle were becoming for me a very firm attacking side let down by a shackled defence. Shay Given is well established as their no.1 in goal, much less as a good keeper in the league. Allardyce needed more time than he had to make any progress and sadly the media pinata was severely pummelled into submission out of the North East of England.

Allardyce said he wanted silverware why he left Bolton and he will not give up on management until he does achieve at least one cup victory. Where will he go next?


Has Wayne Bridge overtaken Ashley Cole in Chelsea's pecking order!?

When seeing the teamsheet's for yesterday's League Cup semi-final first leg between Chelsea and Everton the thing that struck me was that Chelsea had fielded the strongest available team - and that Wayne Bridge was in it instead of the former Arsenal full-back Ashley Cole.

Given the eventual deal which indicated how highly the West London side wanted Cole by being willing to part with William Gallas plus £5million for him - it is something significant that the England number one left back has been apparently overtaken at club level by his international understudy.

It has not been a happy couple of years for Ashley Cole. Before the rift opened up with Arsenal he was a fan-favourite who played expansive football for a Wenger team whose motivation was to play quick attacking football. He thrived and developed at Arsenal and by the time of Euro 2004 he gave one of the best full-back displays I can remember when keeping Cristiano Ronaldo shackled in his home country.

Then problems flared up between Ashley Cole and the Arsenal board - not helped by Cole's secret meeting with Chelsea which was exposed to Cole's and Chelsea's embarrassment. Eventually Cole ended up at Chelsea but his wife in a revealing recent interview said that Real Madrid was his preferred destination - but given his wife's professional commitments she coerced him to take the Chelsea offer. She said that until recently Cole had been 'dead in the eyes' such was the strain he felt in moving to Chelsea. And it looked to be refelcted in his game last year which dropped a level or two from what I'm used to seeing from him.

Mrs Cole did finally say that he was now loving it at Chelsea. But I'm not sure if there was such a shift in emotion - given that instead of being the outright number one choice left back he is now openly subject to a constant player rotation with Wayne Bridge under Avram Grant.

And now, in what I consider to be a significant low-point/wake-up call for Cole, it looks like Avram Grant has decided that when it comes to a big game it is Wayne Bridge who should be the number one choice left-back for the time being.

And I can undersand why Grant looks to have made the decision. Bridge looks better than Cole in driving forward from the back and is a better crosser of the ball than the former Arsenal left-back. Bridge also gives the appearance of seeming to want it more - he looks whole-hearted on the pitch and links up well with his forward players while Cole looks to be relatively suffereing by not finding the same fluency in his game and with his teammates than he had at Arsenal.

Maybe I'm reading to much into last night's selection. But the trend for Cole has been downward in the recent past and it would not surprise me if it is indeed the case that Grant currently considers Bridge his better option at left back than Cole.

What do Chelsea fans think of Cole v Bridge? Should Bridge be ahead of Cole in the pecking-order or vice versa?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Arsenal remained top without Robin van Perfect - reasons why?

The return of Robin van Persie for tomorrow's league cup semi-final first leg is great news. He is Arsenal's most technically gifted footballer and for me only Ronaldo rivals him in the Premier League for fantastic combination of sheer skill and excellent end product.

The fact that he has been out for three months and Arsenal have remained top (adding the sale of Thierry Henry into this context) is a superb effort that I don't think has received sufficient recognition.

For me it is testament to three great things about this third-generation team.

First: the philosophy of total football that Wenger has pervaded throughout the club and each player means that players can come in and out without the style and efficiency of play being greatly affected. Each player in the squad has the Arsenal Ability to succeed rendering absences as less significant as they could be.

Two: the great fighting spirit and unity that has come to the fore this season means that Arsenal as a collective are taking to the pitch with a resilient confidence regardless of who is absent.

Three: the immense character of Emmanuel Adebayor - in the absence of Henry and van Persie - in taking the forward responsibilites onto his shoulders. His goals, link-up play, great athleticism, sheer work rate and positive enthusiasm has been a vital factor in maintaining Arsenal's great start to the season. In December 2006 I wrote an article saying that Adebayor was to be believed in - and that faith is fully vindicated.

Good luck to RVP in the next few games. I hope they are injury-free and that the confidence he was exuding from his play last summer and early autumn returns as it should.

Santa Cruz scoops award

The EFT panel had a lot of games and good individual performers to consider in the busy football month of December. Votes for our player of the month came in for Man Utd's Ronaldo and Rio Ferdinand, Tottenham's Dimitar Berbatov, Middlesbrough's Tuncay and Aston Villa's Ashley Young. However, with two first choice votes and two second choice votes it was Blackburn's in-form striker, Roque Santa Cruz, who deservedly scooped our player of the month award.

Eight goals in seven December games - and he didn't score in the first two games of the month - was fantastic going for the former Bayern Munich striker whose game looks to adapt very well to the Premier League and in particular the superb crossing of the ever-improving David Bentley.

What will be disappointing for Santa Cruz and Blackburn supporters is that most of these goals were in vain - scoring a hat-trick in an amazing 5-3 defeat at Wigan and two goals as Blackburn were edged out in an exciting League Cup quarter-final against Arsenal. Nonetheless, the 26 year old Paraguyan international should be proud of his efforts and he also becomes the first Blackburn player to win our award. As ever a picture of our player of the month goes into our EFT awards sidebar.

Are there any other players who you feel should be recognised for their performances in December?


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