Based in London and writing for a global audience our aim is to produce EliteFootballTalk. Enjoy the site and feel welcome to join in our discussion on the beautiful game.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A pleasure listening to Arsenal legend, Bob Wilson, on BBC Radio 5 Live

Bob Wilson was Arsenal's goalkeeper during their 1970-1971 'double season' and later on was Arsenal's goalkeeping coach during the first two generations of Arsene Wenger's time at Arsenal. In 1999, he and his wife set-up the Willow Foundation in loving memory of his daughter, Anna, who had passed away from cancer. This charity has since supported thousands of individuals with a life-threatening condition to have wonderful and memorable days.

Always when I hear him talk I am impressed by the reason and manner that he puts across his opinions. He has respect for his listener and facts and looks to be constructive and supportive in his comments. His words and his manner reflects an individual who is extemely decent and for me its a bonus that a football man of his quality of character is also an 'Arsenal' man.

Yesterday, for the first time that I can recall, he was in the role of co-commentator/expert summariser for a live football match. He was commentating alongside Alan Green and Mike Ingham on BBC radio five live for the Arsenal v Dynamo Kiev match.

In tricky times its good to hear reassuring voices that you have respect for so I was glad to hear Bob Wilson on the radio give his insight and reflection on the current Arsenal situation.

He placed the current situation and events leading to it in their context with a reason that was refreshing to hear. He spoke with reasonableness and insight on the character and qualities of Arsene Wenger, William Gallas, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy etc.

He expressed an informed view that Arsene Wenger is definitely not averse to buying but that he will only do so if the potential recruit was of sufficient quality. He also strongly intimated that Xavi Alonso was very close to coming to Arsenal in the summer but that move did not go through because Liverpool were unable to get Gareth Barry from Aston Villa.

Overall, it was simply a pleasure to hear Bob Wilson on the radio. He speaks with kind heart and reason on Arsenal and football and has a personable manner that seems to attract the full respect of his colleagues as well as the full respect of this this listener. This is in marked contrast to what we usually get as watchers/listeners of football broadcasts.

So, thanks to the BBC for having Bob Wilson on yesterday's commentary. And, much more than that, here's to Bob Wilson for his achievements, his character and for being a great Arsenal man.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I would love Wenger to prove his critics wrong

Not any attempts at analysis in this post. This is more a personal piece, a hope that Arsene Wenger proves his critics wrong. Some are amazingly calling for his head, others are using a bad run - including an admittedly terrible low-on-confidence performance at Man City - to take an opportunity to rubbish wholesale his work and his 'third generation project' which some conveniently don't acknowledge took us very close last season.

Arsene Wenger deserves far more patience and respect. For me he made a mistake not buying in the summer. Wenger is human - he is entitled to make mistakes; to have made a gamble that has not paid off in relying on the talents of Diaby, Denilson and Song being ready to take on regular CM responsibilty and to gamble that the Gallas/Toure partnership be given another chance.

It is fair to highlight that and say that it may have cost us a real challenge for the title this season and criticise him appropriately. But not to the degree I have read and seen. To do that is to show no respect to past achievement and joy he has bought to Arsenal fans and general football fans over the past decade. And that is worthy of contempt.

The test is the transfer window. If no action - or at least attempt to take action - is taken and performances like against Man City continue than severe questions must be asked of Wenger. But not now; not while he is unable to enter the market. Instead we must be patient for our heavy-hitters like Rosicky, Adebayor, Eduardo, Toure, Cesc etc who were absent on Saturday to make their respective returns to the team. And we must get really behind the young players who played with their heads down on Saturday.

The supporters who went to Man City did that. More of that is needed in place of the disproportionate criticism.

(P.S. I like many other supporters have closely followed the development of Cesc since his introduction into the first team. He has been a credit to himself, his family, the club and his home country ever since his debut back in 2003. His appointment as Arsenal captain follows a natural progression of what has been a sensational development and I definitely wish him the very best.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Toure or Fabregas for captain

Out of trouble can come good solutions...

William Gallas has spoken out over various things that are making him unhappy at Arsenal. The fact that he has views about certain things at Arsenal is not problematic. However, by bringing the club into disrepute and publicly embarrasing Arsene Wenger who has consistently defended Gallas' captaincy, I think he was fundamentally wrong to have gone public in a detailed way about his concerns.

The allegation spreading across the net and news media is that Gallas has been stripped of the captaincy. I would support that sanction and hope it revives the value of the Arsenal captaincy which undoubteldly fell in image after Gallas' response to the sad draw at St Andrews back in February.

Gallas is not a natural leader. He is not calm and stern when faced with obstacles. He reacts with fire that often looks unsettling. He does not set a good outward example for his teammates to follow.

His public criticial outburst is another instance of extraordinary public behaviour that lets Gallas and the club down - and I would suggest two main candidates to replace him as captain.

The first is Kolo Toure. The only surviving regular starter of the invincibles - he has been a hugely committed player representing the Arsenal spirit in the best sense since his debut. I still remember his first TV interview after scoring at Stamford Bridge in one his first matches for Arsenal; he spoke with superb humility and demonstrated through his manner and choice of words a character of immense quality that made me think we have a special character to watch at Arsenal.

He hasn't let me down in this impression - most recently seen when as captain for the recent home match against Everton after damaging his shoulder in a bad fall. He got up and proceeded to play the next twenty minutes in apparent agony but a simultaneous desire to lay his body on the line for his teammates and the club. It was fantastic to see Kolo's spirit under strain; and it is this example combined with his experience that for me would make him an excellent choice as Arsenal captain.

The second is Cesc Fabregas. He is a winner in his play and in his character. When on the ball he is the most mature and composed footballer I have seen play for Arsenal (been watching since 1987). He demonstrates footballing intelligence on the pitch and maturity in his behaviour and interviews off the pitch. He is a fighter when the team is down. He is the 'go to' player when Arsenal are in possession - and has confidently assumed that position since his elevation to replacement of Patick Vieira as a precocious and level-headed 18 year old.

Fabregas has demonstrated his leadership qualities many times. In January 2007 at White Hart Lane in a Carling Cup semi-final first leg match, the home team had flown into a two goal lead against an extremely young Arsenal team and the Tottenham ground was rocking. Cesc Fabregas, at 19 years old, than took charge of the match. His performance was sensastional to watch as he drove his team to a second half comeback courtesy of two Baptista goals. It was a performance that convinced me that Fabregas had the winning character combined with influential quality to be a future Arsenal captain. I saw clearly that it was in his nature and character to be a fantastic leader. If Wenger was to honour him with the captaincy now it would be a very reasonable choice.

I'll be happy with either choice of Toure or Fabregas if it is indeed the case that Gallas will no longer lead the club. Personally I think either will bring a better representation to the captaincy than Gallas did. Lets wait and see what Wenger has in mind.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Arsenal's Arsene Wenger: To go at the drop of a Trilby?

Did I hear an Arsenal fan call for Arsene Wenger to resign? Did I hear an Arsenal fan call for Arsene Wenger to resign?? Yes, I did, with reference to the comment here:

Since 1996, when Mr Wenger joined Arsenal, Arsenal had won what exactly?

The Premiership x 3, Runners-Up x 5;
The FA Cup x 4, runners-up x 1;
League Cup runners-up x 1;
Charity/Community winners x 4, runners-up x 2;
Champions League and UEFA Cup runners-up x 1.
The League and FA Cup double of 1998 & 2002.

Did I miss anything? Since the decade of the beginning of the Premiership, 1990, but before Wenger arrived, Arsenal had won the title the once, never a runner-up; the FA Cup and the League Cup the once, never a runner-up; shared the Charity/Community Shield in 1991 with Spurs after a 0-0 draw and runners-up in 1993 to Man Utd; won the UEFA Cup in 1994.

Count the shared Charity Shield, that was 4 and a half trophies before Wenger arrived. Compare that to 11 trophy victories during Wenger's reign and a very close shave in the Champions League final, the first time in Arsenal's history. Count the unbeaten season of 2004. Count the playability they are now renowned for. And then see if you can tell me, with all honesty, that it is time for Arsene Wenger to resign from Arsenal Football Club.

Shaking my head. Now when the time is shaky, when perhaps leadership is a question in the Arsenal team when the going is tough, uncertain, unpredictable, this is the sort of times that the fans' support is more crucial.

No one is happy with a loss, no one is happy if their team gets a result that is effectively not productive enough or at all, but you dont support the team expecting a win. You support a team for who they are, what they represent, come win, lose or draw.

Arsene Wenger to resign? Arsenal poised in 4th place, nine points behind the leaders. How many defeats thus far? Fulham, Hull, Stoke and Aston Villa, two home, two away. Utd won the title last season with five defeats. Yes, defeats so early in the season could be counter-productive but it isn't over. This is November.

I've been through this with some LFC fans calling for Benitez to go, amongst others. Enough said. Many ridiculed him, still do, many continue to say we will never win the league with him, whereas I have faith in him and feel he will make Liverpool league champions. However, he has made Liverpool a stronger challenger for the title since Graeme Souness' reign from 1992, with the exception of Gerard Houllier taking us to runners-up in 2002. We have been playing stronger football and we have a formidable European manager at the helm who is very tactical.

Arsenal do too. The media, bless them, go crazy over Arsenal's performances and Wenger's Midas touch. They did. Now they report on the decline, the likelihood of not being in the title run right now. They build you up and drop you down and all at a drop of a hat. For fans to question Wenger now, calling for his resignation, seems an equal drop in the sense of reality and practicality.


Arsene Wenger was out-strategised by Martin O'Neill

Aston Villa deservedly won at the Emirates yesterday. The reason for their clear victory was that Martin O'Neill got his tactics totally correct and Arsene Wenger had his team selection and tactics wrong.

The Arsenal 4-5-1 with Diaby supporting Bendtner from deep was the right formation for Man Utd because of the champion's attacking firepower and our consequential need to consolidate the central midfield.

But when playing a team who have their own 4-5-1 with ten players looking to predominantly play defence in their own half and rely on quick counter-attacking breaks- it is not right for Arsene to use the 4-5-1. There was a clear need to play two strikers to give a run around to the Villa defence. Bentdner - who was looking lacklustre anyway unlike his play against Man Utd - was isolated, squeezed and desperately needed support. Having the electric Carlos Vela alongside him would have given Arsenal greater attacking threat and more likely have tested Villa's defence.

Diaby often came out to the wings to pick up possession because of the central congestion and often got in the way of Walcott. Denilson and Cesc had little forward options to pass to and were outnumbered by the Villa central midfield three of Barry, Petrov and Sidwell who performed their primary responsibilty easily of providing a tight defensive blanket in front of the Villa back four.

It was too easy for Villa - they knew that their manager had got the tactics rights and that this system could easily counter Wenger's system.

By the time that Adebayor came on midway through the second half the damage was done - Villa were very high on confidence and had got into a great defensive groove gave whilst the Arsenal youngsters looked frustrated and had a flagging demeanour and body-language on the pitch.

When Villa got their goal on the break after Sagna went down with a twisted ankle there was effort but lack of real confidence in the body language of the players that they could comeback. The excellent Agbonlahor goal sealed it - that was the knock-out blow for this Arsenal team.

Unfortunately Wenger got the tactics wrong for Villa's system and we could not build on the much needed confidence boost of the win last week against Man Utd. This somewhat compounds - and indeed underlines - the original mistake by Wenger not to buy a top level centre-back and CM in the summer (see this post for further analysis) which was required to add the cement to the great foundations of this young squad.

The only positive I can take from defeat is that it jolts Wenger to act in January. It is clear to me that the young Arsenal players look like they desperately need more experienced heads to ease the responsibilty that Wenger had placed on their shoulders by his bad summer gamble.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Watch out for Huddlestone

Tottenham Hotspur's Tom Huddlestone makes good football look very easy. He makes hitting a fifty yard pin-point pass look effortless. He can ping a powerful shot from outside the box with supreme ease. The pure skill and ease of his footballing talent reminds me of the play of Matt le Tissier. And as indicated by the fact that he is still an England under 21 international - he has plenty of time on his side to progress and progress.

One thing I couldn't understand at the start of this season was why Huddlestone looked to have been sidelined by Daniel Commoli and Juande Ramos. First, Tottenham signed Luka Modric and therefore looked to have put an unnecessarily expensive block in the way of the progression of Huddlestone. This was followed up by the notable lack of starts for Huddlestone under Ramos.

When I heard about Harry Redknapp's shock arrival at White Hart Lane the number one thing I thought he should do was re-instate Huddlestone to the first eleven. He is such a big talent and has so much ability that I couldn't believe that he should remain behind Modric and Zokoro in the CM pecking order.

Redknapp did this - putting Huddlestone in against Bolton and since then he has played a good part in keeping them unbeaten in six games. Huddlestone gives Tottenham a sizable presence in CM and a central midfielder who has the ability to set a great rhythm to the Tottenham possession and attacking game. He looks to have a good rapport with his teammates and I like his demeanour on the pitch; for me he looks to have a good character which will prevent him fading away like other promising youngsters can.

Huddlestone's goal against Dynamo Zagreb last week was outstanding and a good example of his supreme timing in striking a football. And against Liverpool on Wednesday he played a couple of sublime passes and struck a shot that had me very impressed.

I would like to see Huddlestone succeed. With the great motivator and proven developer of young English talent, Harry Redknapp, now in charge there is hope that his excellent talent will not be allowed to waste. His play and progression will be interesting to watch over the next few weeks and months.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nasri's instinctive courage and shooting ability will take Arsenal to a higher level

When Arsenal signed Samir Nasri in the summer, I looked at YouTube videos of the young play-maker and the number one observation I made was that we had signed a replacement to the frustratingly shot-shy Alexander Hleb who didn't appear afraid to shoot.

In fact, according to my limited summer analysis, we had signed an attacking play-maker who was not just willing and able to shoot hard from outside of the box - but was willing and able to do so with BOTH feet.

This gave me a lot of hope that we had signed a player who could draw a veil over the shot-cautious time of Hleb and move attacking Arsenal into an even more positive direction; moving this third generation team closer to success.

And after some promising performances and contributions - including a crucial twenty yard drive against Everton that equalised the match - we saw the difference made by Nasri over Hleb in the thrilling Arsenal v Man Utd match on Saturday.

On 22 minutes Nasri found himself twenty yards out with the ball on his less-dominant left foot but showed no caution in driving through it with great velocity that skimmed the leg of Gary Neville and on into the net for a crucial lead.

Then on 48 minutes after an extensive Arsenal passing move which saw an excellent body-turn and through ball by Fabregas and a superb decoy run by Theo Walcott, the young French-Algerian found himself 22 yards out and now on his dominant right-foot again showed no caution but rather massive intent in blasting a clean ball-strike which flew like a rocket past the helpless Van Der Saar.

The celebration of a player for me is always a good indicator of his character and temperament. And I really liked what I saw from Nasri! Wheeling away, lapping up the celebration of the crowd demonstrating he was really attuned with the big-match atmosphere, I felt that I was watching a player who has the internal burning passion and big-match confidence to be a fantastic acqusition for Arsenal.

It is my strong belief that Alex Hleb would not have scored Nasri's goals on Saturday. He would have looked for a pass in the first goal and I don't think he would have found have unhesitantly struck a shot for the second goal. I don't even think we would have seen the same passion and intent in the goal celebration.

This does not mean that I want to undermine Hleb's contributions to AFC: as I wrote back in the summer I liked watching Hleb's close control and effort but given his indecisiveness around the box I felt I would enjoy watching him far more in the Barca shirt.

Saturday's performance by Nasri vindicated this instinct.

Nasri does not just have great shooting decisiveness and ability around the box. His ball dribbling and composure on the ball when surrounded by opponents is very similar to that of Fabregas - and for me that means it is of massive quality. He also displays very good body-strength when up against stronger opponents as seen on Saturday when tussling with and beating Nemanja Vidic, plus he has impressive passing ability as displayed by his outstanding outside of the foot forty yard pass to Bentdner deep in the match.

If there were any doubters of 21 year old Samir Nasri before the Man Utd match they should be in a period of re-assessment. For me he has aspects of Joe Cole and Cesc Fabregas in his play - plus a big-match temperament and fighting spirit in his character reminiscent of another French-Algerian player who was the world's best in his prime.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Terrible signs for West Ham

Its an amazing thing to see that the bottom eleven clubs in the Premier League are only separated by three points and the speculation has begun as to who among them will ultimately find themselves facing relegation. My strong feeling is that West Ham will be one of the three.

At the start of this season, Alan Curbishley was being pressured from above and left the club after securing two wins in three matches. Gianfranco Zola was picked with nil management experience to take over from a man who had neraly twenty years managerial experience - and the signs since then have not been good, to put it lightly.

In the last couple of months West Ham have experienced the following woes:

- lost their club sponsors;
- their chairman is closely caught up in the Icelandic banking system collapse;
- found out they are likely to have to pay huge multi-million pound compensation to Sheff Utd;
- sold Anton Ferdinand;
- Dean Ashton has picked up another long-term injury;
- their run of matches without keeping a clean-sheet has risen to 24 matches;
- they have only picked up one point in the last six matches;
- in their last match they conceded three goals in seven minutes to lose at home in dismal style.

The image of a great club like West Ham playing with a shirt that has numbers sewn on the front like they are an amateur side is reflective of a club that looks to be caught in a spiralling downturn. And to have a rookie trying to manage in these circumstances is looking a recipe for trouble.

Its difficult to think how Zola can change things round. If Curbishley was still in charge he would look to stabilize matters by getting the team organised to keep clean sheets. I think this is the right way to go - a failure to keep a clean sheet for twenty plus matches is a significant problem, let alone for a team that is struggling to score.

This means getting the defence working better - and for me that means not playing Faubert at right-back. I don't understand why Faubert is being played there? He was bought as a right winger and from what I have seen of the player he doesn't strike me as a defensive player. For me, Lucas Neill and even Behrami would be better picks at RB. I would also drop Ilunga if possible. He is good going forward but West Ham needs a stronger defensive presence at LB at the moment. McCartney would be a much better player there - Curbishley was right to question his sale to Sunderland.

I would also be regularly starting Etherington, especially over Luis Boa Morte. The Portugese international does not look anywhere near the same explosive player that he was at Fulham - while Etherington always looks threatening and positive and he (I'm probably the only one) continues to remind me of Jose Antonio Reyes.

Aside from these small changes, its difficult to think what else can be done by Zola to reverse things for the better. For me, the signs demonstrate that they look badly-equipped to battle with their fellow relegation candidates and I unfortunately see them falling into the bottom three as the season unwinds.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Idealist Wenger must admit bad summer gamble and buy in January

It was clear from his comments at the end of last season and then again during the summer that Arsene Wenger was looking for an experienced midfielder to bring into the team.

In addition he made guarded comments about an interest in Aston Villa and England's Gareth Barry and there were huge rumuors about Xavi Alonso coming to Arsenal. Both are in the mid-twenties with years of big-match experience who can play holding CM roles. Both also have the footballing ability and intelligence to slot nicely into the Arsenal playing style. Either of these players would have been a great complement to Cesc in the Arsenal midfield and would have enhanced the maturity of the team.

But Wenger didn't sign these players - nor anyone else of this stature - despite having seen Flamini walk away and then allowing Gilberto to leave for Greece. What's the explanation?

My feeling substantiated from press rumours is that Wenger may have looked seriously at Barry or Alonso but ultimately was deterred by their valuation. Instead he decided to follow the logic of his massive project of relying on own-produced young players to form the basis of his third-generation team - and opted to rely on a combination of Song, Denilson and Diaby to fill the gap next to Fabregas.

It was a risk based on idealism - and according to the evidence it is a risk that has not worked. Defeats to Hull, Stoke and Fulham and a capitulation to Tottenham demonstrate this.

Wenger must admit this to himself and make a serious attempt to spend money on a couple of good, experienced players in a couple of key positions. I believe the benefits to the morale of this squad and the fans would be enormous if he did this during the next transfer window.

This Arsenal squad has fantastic talent. It is very close, tantalisingly close, to being a force. For me it simply needs an addition of a Barry/Alonso type in the CM and a dominating centre-back in the mould of a Martin Laursen/Vidic to be a squad that has the mark of being a complete package. I also think Arsenal can benefit from buying a hyper-experienced Gilles Grimandi type who can be utilised off the bench to defend narrow leads with a cool head and the defensive mentality to keep the team organsised and focused.

Wenger knew and let the fans know last summer that the squad needed a couple of high quality, experienced players but then let idealism take over his expressed better instincts. He can't repeat this bad gamble again during the next transfer window.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Match Of The Day: Conservative or Regulated?

Watching Match Of the Day last night, I was quite perplexed on a few issues. Issues during the respective games upon which no discussion nor analysis was made. There was only the goals and missed chances in the Spurs v Liverpool game to speak on. Then the programme focused on Stoke v Arsenal and predominately the Rory Delap throw-ins which seem to made sports headlines. The scoreline was covered, the goals were scored, but what about the injuries? Was there no information at the time of broadcast to pass on? How was Emmanuel Adebayor and Theo Walcott doing? Was Robin van Persie's foul on Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen a foul, a booking or a straight red as it ended? Usually the pundits would debate these issues but didn't do so last night.

The penalty at Fratton Park, conceded by Papa Boupa Dioup on Titus Bramble. They just skated over it briefly, saying they were sorry for him following on from the one he conceded at Anfield on Wednesday. When I replayed the moment, Bramble blatantly dived while Dioup had stuck his foot out but brought it back before it could make the significant contact to actually fall Bramble as he did. Move on to Wigan's Man-Of-The-Moment Amr Zaki, far more interesting to speak on, and his penalty score.

But the West Brom v Blackburn game was something else. Officiating on the playing field by fresh referee Mike Jones, who has handled this current season in the EPL the games previously of Hull v Wigan in August and Wigan v Aston Villa last weekend, and he was therefore considered the 'freshman'. The awarding by Jones of a Blackburn penalty for a Ryan Donk tug on Jason Roberts' shirt was considered by MOTD as 'soft', despite the fact it is an offence in the rules of the game and as such gives away a penalty if committed in the penalty box by a defender.

'Soft' as it may be, the pundits felt it was a good decision. For me Mr Jones had excellent vision to see it and then give it, for I have seen a number of shirt-tugs during corners and freekicks that always seem to go unpunished. However, the awarding of a red for two bookable offences to Benni McCarthy was also considered unfortunate for McCarthy. I don't understand why. McCarthy had gone into West Brom skipper Jonathan Greening and earned a first booking. With that, he then came to meet a high ball that was due to go over him with his arm, a clear deliberate handball. He was rightly dismissed.

With this 'Respect' for officials that is being campaigned, albeit quietly, there has been a call for officials to do likewise and ensure they do genuinely grant decisions appropriately. Yet when they do, they are castigated. Jones was said to have given the penalty more for the fact he is in his first season in the EPL and knows he is being thoroughly monitored as to his performance. For me, that has nothing at all to do with the awarding of the penalty decision.

I'm sure it was MOTD who said Andy Johnson's first goal for Fulham against Wigan on Wednesday was on-side, when it was clearly off-side! I know my colleague, T, has stated his opinion regarding the MOTD pundits as being bias or clearly not as accurate or succinct as it should be, particularly when they look over the performances of Arsenal. For me I ask the question after last night's broadcast as to whether they are conservative with their views, choosing on what they look over and analyse, or they are regulated in what views they provide by the programme producers.

There have been other issues in which they have stated a view that, to me, was very contradictory to what actually happened, and I'll be on the look-out to report them here on EFT. Considering they use the latest technological equipment to break down moments in the game (particularly their '3-D pitch' facility where they freeze the moment in a game and produce it exactly as it is in a 3-D graphic, turning the graphic around to what could be the best angle to make judgement from), they should be much more accurate with their opinions on all issues.

I do value MOTD for its analysis, I don't depend on it solely, and to think it has to be called into further question is quite troubling. but it wouldn't be the only one. Sky Sports' Andy Gray for starters has been having a dig or two at referees regularly, and I think such sided opinion gives more pressure to referees from players, managers and fans where it is not necessary.



Locations of visitors to this page