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$h!t That Arsenal Fans Say: Chronicles of the Fickle

And so it begins, the 2014/15 Premier league season. Thank goodness, the long wait is finally over. We now have some football to take our attention away from the mind-numbingly ridiculous pastime known as “transfer speculation”. Kudos to Mr Tony Attwood for his valiant effort to help us make a good sense of it all with humour by consolidating all the crap being peddled each day by those ‘in the know’ into brilliant mocking articles.

The general consensus amongst Gooners is that this current transfer window is their least stressful in a long time but I’d be telling a big lie if I say the same. No transfer window has ever been stressful for me. How people get stressed on matters that are not of life and death or even concerned with their physical and economic well-being is beyond my comprehension. Why folks would be stressed about how a club that they are paying meaningful parts of their paltry income to support is not using such funds to buy the services of millionaires to be paid on weekly basis what most of them earn in years, is beyond my comprehension.

After parting with over £2,000 for season ticket, shirts etc (which is about 10% of the income of many after tax and all the other mandatory deductions), we must then pull our hairs out as the club’s management takes toooooooo long to spend that fucking money. If the club’s management think that a player that we want is demanding £30,000 per week more than what he deserves, we go up in arms. JUST PAY HIM THE WHAT HE WANTS! We literally scream. Well, except for me and a very small minority of Gooners and footy fans everywhere. On the hand, when the club increased ticket prices by 3% after freezing it for years, the same people who want us to pay players whatever they want were up in arms. Apparently, they just realised the value of money and how little of it they have and are willing to part with.

The shit that footy fans say!

Nonetheless and whatever ones’ persuasion on the issue of the club’s spending, this has been a very good summer. Only one important first teamer left and we replaced him with the player benching him in their national team. The same player has fitted in perfectly into our system. We have added one of the best attacking talents in the world and a warrior of a player; the sort that you need in those battles that we sometimes look timid in. Most of his efforts in his first Premier league game did not come to fruition but like a true warrior, he just kept fighting and fighting. The rest of the league will not know what hit them after he has gelled fully with the rest of his team mates.

We got another English teenager and he came with the sort of price tag that they usually do. I am not happy about the price at all but it is not the fault of the young man and I don’t hold it against him. On the field of play, however, he has been beyond impressive, especially for his age. He has been so good that we are not really missing our new vice-captain and world cup winning BFG! We’ve also got, as a back up, a world cup goalkeeper! Missing the goalie, whose heroics (especially against Liverpool and for the shootout against Wigan) won us the FA cup is not looking like a problem at all. And we got our new goalie at a bargain too; I like that very much!

As was the case last season, the club has done a great job by keeping the core of the one from the previous season and have added valuable talents. The manager has been making his usual nuanced comments about adding players which is like a Rorschach test: every fan hears whatever they want him to mean. Many believe that we are still going to sign players and we might but it is unlikely, so it is time that people curb their expectations and support the team that we HAVE and not denigrate any of them in anticipation of the ones that we hope to get.

If you scan around the web and look at Arsenal fan sites, you’ll come across 3 main memes:

1. We need a MONSTER defensive midfielder; followed by how crap Arteta is. (They seldom use the word crap but I think you get my point)
2. We need a WORLD CLASS striker; followed by how crap Giroud is. (This is more literal)
3. We need another central defender of high calibre as Vermaelen is now gone. The reason why Vermaelen left is ALWAYS ignored.

These three are all valid desires and it is always a good thing to have as many good players as possible. When spoilt for choice, team selection headache is the sort that team managers must prefer (I assume as I have never managed a football team before in my life). The problem, of course, is the kind of shit that Arsenal fans spout as they make the aforementioned demands.

Need for a MONSTER defensive Midfielder: This is now a religious truism in Goonersphere. The reason why this position is mythical in Arsenal setting has been explained to death by many here on Untold Arsenal, Positively Arsenal and a few other blogs but like most things religious, rationality and evidence be damned. I read this piece detailing why we don’t really need a DM with facts and stats. It was followed by comments agreeing with the facts and stats BUT with most still dogmatically demanding a ‘monster’ DM.

A great point in the Community Shield victory over Man City was when our little Spaniard magician came to make a block inside our 18 yard box as a City attacker was about to shoot. Football, at least the sort that Arsenal play, is too fluid for a ‘monster’ defensive midfielder acting as a Wall of China, using his monster might to stop all opposition attacks from getting anywhere near our final 3rd. To be honest, it is a tantalising thing to have; the problem is that it is a myth. Unfortunately, people love nice sounding myths.

You can’t make a request for your ‘monster’ DM (or MDM for short) without letting the world know that 1. Arteta is slow; 2. Arteta is meek (unlike those aggressive mythical MDMs); 3. Arteta is old; and 4. We suffered those heavy away defeats to our rivals because we lacked a MDM. It is important to rubbish our captain as much as possible without actually calling him insulting names. In this respect, he is really, really lucky compared to Giroud.

Well, Arsenal fans in all their fickle glory can say whatever they want about Arteta but the person that really matters just gave him the biggest and most deserved vote of confidence by naming him captain. It gives me enormous satisfaction to read comments like:

“Now that Wenger has named Arteta captain, that mean he will be continue to be a first teamer and he is unlike to sign a MDM” followed by abuse of the manager.

Well, fuck yeah! And here is why! Wenger has always rewarded competence and loyalty and no one is more deserving than Mikel Arteta. He already captained us to 2 silverwares and he will captain us to more.

Need for a WORLD CLASS Striker: This is not new. No transfer demands list will ever be taken seriously if it does not include “a world class striker”. Arsenal particularly need this type of striker because….well, we all know that that Giroud is useless. Crapping on Giroud is a favourite pastime of far too many Gooners and it is often embarrassing to read, especially when you have fans of other teams writing stuff like this:

“sammy lee (Liverpool): Just read that Giroud has 40 goals in 100 games for Arsenal. That is pretty good. Does he get more stick than he deserves? Just the fact that he has played 100 games in 2 seasons is pretty outstanding considering Van Persie played 194 games in 8 seasons…Van Persie scored 96 goals, a higher average, but he did get fire in his boots in that last one. Giroud still has time to do that too and is only 27. Not long until Wenger has developed another player from good to great in Giroud. I think he will be one to look out for this season.” (TeamTalk YourSay- main page)

Aren’t our fans the most fickle in the world? Wanna find out? Go to the Arsenal Fan TV channel on Youtube and be amazed. The prevailing meme is ALWAYS based on whatever result the team just got and about how individual players performed – match by match! Robbie, the owner of the channel will pose questions to his interviewees in a manner that brings out their fickle worst. Another observer put together a mash up video of the regulars in their fickle glory and it was a beauty to watch. I regret not downloading the video before Robbie ran crying to Youtube to take it down because it gloriously showed how ridiculous he and his crappy ‘TV’channel are. The highlight of the video was a middle aged man literally crying about how useless Giroud was after a match and then singing “Nah na na na Giroud” a few clips later (after another match). Fickle fucker!

Need for Another Good Central Defender to Replace Vermaelen: This makes sense when you consider the fact that we just lost a good player. It’s ‘logical’ to just go ahead and replace him with a like for like defender. The issue that is always ignored by those clamouring for this, however, is why we lost our captain in the first place. The sort of central defender that is being requested is not going to sit on the bench as Vermaelen as just made clear, a sentiment that Gooners kinda, ironically, unanimously agree with.

So, why the request? We have 3 central defenders presently with Monreal being gently introduced into the position for emergency situations. One or 2 of our u-21s can be used for further cover in the extreme cases. The sort of defender that will be willing to sit on the bench and only be called upon once in a while is not likely to be any good, so what’s the point? Chambers will happily sit on the bench when Per returns. He will happily do this for the next couple of years but from what we have seen of him, he will get lots of opportunities when the games start coming fast and rotation becomes mandatory.

It has been a great transfer window for Arsenal and we have started the season better than we have in years. The team’s performance against Crystal Palace is far below what we all know they are capable of but let’s remember that we only got a scoreless draw against Sunderland 2 years ago and we lost 1-3 to Aston Villa (irrespective of the reasons) last year. This has been our best start to the league in 5 years. I don’t give a flying fuck about how jaded our performance was. We got the 3 points and I know that our boys are going to get better. I know that they are way better that what we saw on Saturday so I am not worried at all. I am just grateful that we did not lose any point.

The manager is keeping an open mind on recruitment and I intend to do the same. If he signs the mythical MDM; gets Falcao and Cavani to leave their respective mega rich clubs for us and at the same time gets a world class defender to warm our bench before the window closes, GREAT! If a less desirable combination of these or indeed none at all happened, I hope that our fans can appreciate what we have and carry on supporting the team without second guessing the players and their manager.

I did something that I have never done before in my life on Saturday morning before the Palace game: I gambled. Paddy Power advertised the odds of Arsenal winning the league as 20/1 (from 6/1). If it was a marketing ploy on their part, it worked as I felt so insulted by the odds that I decided to ‘punish’ them by collecting £210 with a tenner bet if my team pull it off. I am never betting again but my faith in this team is too strong to let this kind of insult slide. I don’t know if we are going to win the league or any other trophy for that matter but I am ready to battle anyone who thinks that we are out of any competition before a ball is even kicked. My hope is that I do more of those battles with the media and opposition fans and not my fellow Gooners.

Here is to a successful 2014/45 season; let’s all unite behind our darling Arsenal and keep the faith!

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What Makes Teams Title Contenders?

One of the hottest debates currently going on in football Chatosphere is about Arsenal being contenders for the English Premier League title; although the biased Gooner in me thinks we are only having this debate because Arsenal is currently topping the league. No one would be asking the question if it was Chelsea or either of the Manchester clubs sitting atop the table. Well, the debate has already started and from all indication, it will continue till either Arsenal finally become mathematical winners or any of the other of the favoured clubs overtakes them. So, let’s get in the game.

What makes teams contenders? In the past (i.e. last few seasons), the team that is topping the league after 8 to 10 games is considered a contender because after 8 games, all flukey results would have evened out and whichever team is leading then must have been the most consistent. In other words, consistency was the most important criterion for labelling teams as contenders back in the days. (Please note that we are talking about being contenders here; not being favourites or eventual winners).

Today, however, the team that was tipped to fall out of top 4 (for the umpteenth time) this season is leading the pack with 25% more points than its nearest rivals. The team has been more consistent than any other team in the current calendar year and this is now showing in the league table. Consistency, which was the reason why before even a ball was kicked, some not only considered Arsenal to be a title contender but believed they could actually go all the way.

Alas, the rule has now changed. Consistency is no longer the most important factor for consideration for being a contender. There was a time when it was based on ability to beat the top teams – about 6 or 7 of them. But even that has now changed. It is now the ability to beat the 2 most favoured teams i.e. Chelsea and Manchester City; and probably on their home turf.

Yes, that is the new standard. Since Tottenham and Liverpool got well beaten at the Emirates, the goal post has been shifted.

But here is the problem with this new criterion for being contenders: it is mathematically ridiculous. It is ridiculous in context of what we have seen so far in the 2013/14 season. There are 38 games to be played by each team which makes the total possible point haul to be 114 for any team. The league is always handed to the team with the highest number of points irrespective of how they got them or who they got them against. No questions asked! The team with points nearest to 114 always win. I hope you see where I’m going with this.

So far Arsenal has lost 5 of those 114 precious points with others losing at least 10. According to the pundits and the media generally, losing 12 points to Chelsea and Man City (at 6 points each) means that you cannot win the league (ok, let’s just say it makes you a non-contender). There is a need to remind ourselves at this point that this whole “you must beat the favourites or your nearest rivals in order to become a contender” mantra is based on the premise that you and your rivals are going to amass about the same number of points from the 15 to 17 other teams in the league (depending how you define a top team). And this is where the whole premise falls and shatters into a billion pieces.

As pointed out by yours truly, these so called small teams can fetch up to 102 points while the maximum possible from the 2 ‘Super Big’ teams is a meagre 12. Now let’s look at the ‘real contenders’ and their point collections so far.

Chelsea lost to Everton and Newcastle while drawing against Tottenham and Man United (who are no longer contenders according to the pundits). While they have a 100% record against the other super contender, they have gained 17 of the possible 27 points from the 18 ‘lesser’ teams. If we project this forward, they could get about 68 points from a possible 108 in their games against the latter. If they maintained their 100% record away to Man City, they would have 74 points by the end of the season.

Man City lost to Cardiff and Aston Villa while drawing against Stoke City. They have also lost one of the ‘must win’ games against their co contender, Chelsea. They have gained 19 points from 27 against the non-contenders. If we project this forward, they could get 76 from the remaining 108 from the ‘lesser’ teams. If they win their home game against Chelsea, they would have 79 points at the end of the season.

Now let’s look at Arsenal

Arsenal has lost to Aston Villa and drew with WBA for a gain of 25 points from a possible 30 against 10 of the 17 ‘lesser’ teams. If we are to project these results, the club could get 85 points of the 102 available from the non-contenders. Even if Arsenal loses all 4 games against the ‘contenders’, they could still end up with more points if they maintain their form against the other teams.

This is why the pundits’ fixation with ties against Chelsea and Man City is so ridiculous. You don’t win the league by beating other contenders (although it really helps); you win the league by collecting more points against all opponents than any other team.

Period.

Before abuse and insults start flying in the comments section, the point of this piece is not to argue that Arsenal will win the league based on our current form and league standing. The point of this article is to argue that Arsenal CAN win the league based on our current form and league standing. And we are therefore, contenders. Leagues are won based on stone cold calculations and not sentimental speculations. There are 28 games to go; we’ll see who amassed the most points by 5pm on the 11th day of May 2014.

Arsenal just passed another ‘test’ as I was rounding up this article by beating Dortmund on their home turf. The next ‘test’ is on Sunday against Man United. If the boys pass it, you can be sure that another one would be set immediately. That was how Tottenham and Liverpool found themselves among the ‘lesser’ teams and non-contenders. Poor sods!

Looking back to 2007/8 and our first game of the season, I worry about the perpetual bad-mouthing of Arsenal and down playing of our chances. I worry because this talk of Arsenal not going to make it may soon become conventional wisdom (if it isn’t already) which will give referees leeway to screw us over, safe in the knowledge that the football following public would just shrug their collective shoulders because they have been conditioned to believe that we would ultimately fail.

While leading with 5 points in February 2008 (as we have done for most of the season), Alan Hansen and Shearer were still adamant that we wouldn’t win on Match of The Day. When the Eduardo incident happened and Mike Dean added insult to the injury (pun not intended), the duo did some concern trolling, focusing on Gallas’ tantrum with no complaint on the wrong penalty call. As referees kicked us further and further down, there was no outrage because, remember, we were mere stubborn pretenders! The people have been conditioned for our eventual demise; nothing strange was happening.

Despite having the best pre-season of all the English teams, including thoroughly beating one of the ‘contenders’, Arsenal’s state of preparedness for the season was being reported as shambolic at best. I believe to this day that Anthony Taylor was emboldened by the prevailing public view of the club to officiate the Aston villa game the way he did. All his bad calls were either forgiven or overlooked because, well, Arsenal haven’t “spent the fucking money”. That same team won their next 4 games, including 5-0 aggregate win over Fenerbahce. And that was before the arrival of Ozil.

It is absolutely important that we start getting recognition as contenders because the officials don’t live in media vacuum. Our games will be officiated with more fairness if the referees know that we are respected and expected to do well. A lot has been said about Ferguson’s bullying of officials but Man united got many favours because of their reputation and the fact that referees know that they would get called out by all and sundry for bad calls against them. Many wrong calls in favour Man United have been justified as them making their own good fortune.

It will be nice for Arsenal to be accorded a similar status and respect. Please say it loud and clear Gooners: We are contenders and we have earned the right to be considered as such.

How Can Any Sane Fan Not Be Frustrated After 8 Years without a Trophy?

I had a barbeque/garden party recently to mark an important milestone in my family. I had my friends and extended family over for the celebration and as anyone who knows my circle can take a certain bet on, the men at the party ended the day with football talk. The women always do their best to ensure that footy doesn’t come up, whenever we have social get-together, till late in the evening or at least after all important activities of the day have been concluded. When we start football talk, that’s all we’d do till it’d be time for everyone to depart for their homes! If you think that we have heated debates here at Untold Arsenal, you need to see me and my friends & family slug it out 🙂

 As you might have experienced in your own social settings, whenever there is a footy debate with an Arsenal fan involved, the topic would sooner or later become Arsenal’s trophylessness and the cure for it. This occasion was not different. It was actually pretty reflective of the larger footy fandom! We had supporters of the major teams and of course, the patient and the impatient wings of the Arsenal family.

I wouldn’t say AKBs and AAAs because none of the Gooners that I know holds the sort of views expressed by the AAA. Most of us patient ones are AKBs though. The impatient ones don’t hate Arsene (a key characteristic of the AAA) but if his departure would guarantee a trophy, they would happily kick him out. Many of them actually suggest this solution but with AW being given another role in the club rather than shown the door.

There was so much concern trolling from our rival fans about the ‘sad’ state of Arsenal football club. That once great football club that used to either win the league or come a very close second; win FA cups and doubles; go a whole season unbeaten etc. That has now become a shadow of its old magnificent self. How sad? Are you Arsenal fan going to just sit still and accept this?

I see why some Gooners get influenced by this type of talk although I expect them to have more fortitude and show better understanding of the true fortunes of their own club rather than receive lectures from people whose knowledge and intention on the subject matter are at best questionable.

Is it just me or do Man United fans tend to lecture other fans about how a club should be run? My Man United supporting friend lectured us on how Arsenal can do it. Sadly, his ‘insight’ is the same as I have heard every other ‘expert’ proffer on how Arsenal can win trophies. Yes, it was to “splash the cash”! But he said it with such certainty and sense of superiority that one would mistake him for SAF himself if not for his skin palette and accent! Man United fans can be very annoying.

So the question was soon asked of us patient Gooners by everybody else: how can any sane fan not be frustrated after 8 years without a trophy? My short answer was: because football is only a game and being a fan is not that high on my life priorities, so if things are not going according to plans for the club that I support, I have very little grounds to be frustrated. I have a life that I’m actually in control of outside football.

Okay, maybe not so short 🙂

The more nuanced answer:

While it is true that Arsenal haven’t won a trophy in 8 years, it has made giant progress as a football club. Silverwares are great and for a European club, none is greater than the Champions’ League trophy. Nottingham Forests won this trophy twice but are not in any position to vie for it in probably decades to come. Trophies are great but being in a position of strength to always compete is greater. You have to be in it to win it. Brazil went through 24 years without getting into the final of the world cup and then reached 3 consecutive finals winning twice.

Arsenal, pre Arsene Wenger and the Emirates stadium, was just another club in the upper half of the English premier league. Yes, we won trophies every now and then but so did clubs like Leeds United and Aston Villa. The arrival of Arsene Wenger gave us an unusual trophy rush that was not symptomatic of Arsenal’s pedigree. This will sound crazy to the circa 1998 fans but there is a reason why Arsene Wenger has remained our most successful manager even after going through 8 trophyless years. The 1997 to 1995 era was golden for the club but we’ve been there before. We have always had spurts of successful years that are then followed by droughts. Sometimes it is because we had a benevolent chairman while at others, we had a superb manager. Our success had never been because of our size or because of our earning power.

During another spurt of successful years and armed with a highly efficient and thoroughly dependable manager, the board decided to make Arsenal one of the biggest football clubs in the world by building a world class stadium that would immediately increase our earnings by roughly 50%. I have no official source for this but I have read in several places (with no one disputing) that AW was a key part of why the banks loaned us the funds for the stadium construction. Qualifying for ECL was also key to the negotiations. Arsene Wenger has been steadfast in his loyalty to the club and has helped to make Arsenal competitive during the repayment period by always getting the team into ECL. The loan is now almost paid up.

Arsenal is now one of the 5 biggest clubs in the world by revenue or by market value. That is without winning any trophy for almost a decade! The club is definitely moving in the right direction. We are getting bigger as an entity and because of our size and financial strength; the likelihood of falling into bad times is now remote.

This is a huge deal and one that intelligent pundits understand.

Unlike our previous periods of trophy drought, however, this one is different. We have a great stadium to show for it. Plus in the same period, we have appeared in an ECL final (our first and only), we have been in two League cup finals and have come very close to an EPL title. It is not like we are languishing at the bottom of half of the league or barely qualifying for Europa cup. It hurts us all, especially us AKBs (contrary to popular belief), that the team has remained trophyless for so long but lack of silverware is not synonymous with regression for a football club. While Everton haven’t won anything in 18 years, does it mean that they are beneath Portsmouth, Swansea and Wigan who have?

Today, we are told to “splash the cash” the cash, you know, the one that we have painstakingly accumulated, on “3 to 4 marquee signings” so that we can win trophies; although no one can guarantee that we’d indeed win any trophies with this prescription. It is a conjecture that while not inaccurate, has got its potency from mindless repetition rather than empirical or indisputable evidence. Manchester City won nothing last season while Swansea and Wigan did. I know I am also repetitive on this but the only way to deal with a repetitive claim is to repetitively debunk it.

Lest it be misconstrued from this piece, I am in no way against “marquee” signings, I just defer to the judgement of the people who have led Arsenal to its current position of strength on when and how to sign such players.

I am not frustrated as a fan of a club that has not won any trophy in 8 years because I see the progress that my club has made in a much more important area: future financial stability, strength and resilience. With our new found squad stability and going by the team’s pre-season performances, I am also optimistic about this season as I have written before.

I am not frustrated as a fan of a football club that has not won any trophy in 8 years because if all else fails, I take succour in my health, my career and my family & friends. Yes, the latter will give me “hell” in banter due to my team’s empty trophy cabinet but they fill my life with what I need to avoid frustration: true companionship!

Bring on the 2013/14 season!

How Arsenal Can Win the Premier League This Season

Arsene & EPL Trophy

The only competition of the 4 that Arsenal will be competing in this season that is least dependent on luck is the Premier league. Luck, especially with the draws play a very big role in how far a team, any team can go in the FA and League cups. The same can be said for the Champions League (and its poor sibling, the Europa cup). You can also be lucky all the way to victory. The Chelsea team that finished below Newcastle United in the EPL won the damn trophy for goodness sake! That is why I rated luck as the number one factor responsible for Arsenal not winning any trophy in 8 years.

 The EPL is much less dependent on luck because of its structure. There are enough matches, all set months ahead, to prevent surprises and minimise uncertainties. There are no advantages or disadvantages of the draw as all teams must play each other. This is why the EPL is also the competition that is most predicted on by pundits. It is generally believed that the stronger your team, the better you are going to do. The team with the most depth and versatility is typically expected to win. The factors used to measure depth vary from observer to observer but it is generally believed that the more players, the stronger the team and therefore the better the chances of becoming champions.

 But this is not always correct. There may not be a consensus about who has the more depth between Man United and Man City in the last campaign but I think honest people everywhere can agree that United’s team was not 11 points better than City’s depth-wise. So much has been made (and not incorrectly, I must admit) of RvP’s role but look at City’s strike force again. They had depth and versatility in attack and they still came short. Perhaps, strength in depth may not be the all in all about winning the premiership; although it undoubtedly helps.

 Manchester United went into last season with some nuanced advantages which unfortunately, were not as sexy and newsworthy as purchasing the services of the best striker in the league. United went in with a virtually unchanged team from the one that lost the league on goals difference the previous season. Actually City did more business in that season’s transfer window than United. The point that I am trying to make here is that it is not how many additions that matters. It is what needs they are meeting in the team and how effectively they can meet the needs as RvP’s role in United’s victory clearly demonstrates.

 Manchester United had huge advantage of experience, history and pedigree. Man City is made up of basically money grabbing mercenaries and, in my opinion, a mediocre manager in Roberto Mancini. That is where the 11 points difference came from!

 I am a student of football history and statistics but not of its tactics. I can hold my own fairly well against anyone on stats and I am not exactly clueless on tactics. It is just not my strong suit. My belief that Arsenal can win the EPL the season is borne out of my knowledge of premiership history and stats from the last 10 to 20 years. The topical question for this article is: what does it take to win the English Premier League? I think you will find the statistical answer very interesting.

 Since the current league format started in 1992/3 season, Manchester United have won 13 out of the 21 seasons. Man United is a phenomenal team, even though I type this grudgingly as a Gooner; facts are facts! Going by this fact, we could conclude that United won the league all those times because they were better than ALL the teams. But this is where things begin to require nuance. For instance, if United won the league but lost both legs of their games against a particular team in the season, can we say that they were better than that team? Isn’t it more factually correct to say that they were the most consistent team during the season?

 Consistency is the key ingredient to winning the league and if clubs have middle names, Man United’s middle name would be Consistency! Manchester United are typically average against the top 5 teams. Sometimes they even lose to some of them home and away and they still come out tops season after season. Did you know that if they had only lost to City at Old Trafford in 2011/12 by only one goal margin that they would have won the league that season? They lost the league by goal difference of 8 whereas their 6-1 home loss to City was a net of 10 goals!

 I think Arsenal can win the league this season.

 This is one of the freshest and most unpredictable season in a very long time. I don’t want to repeat the changes that have taken place in the EPL teams since May as I believe that anyone reading this piece already knows. Arsenal is going into the 2013/14 season with 2 clear advantages:

  1. We are the most consistent team in the last 12 games of last season. We did what Man United always did better than Man United during the period: We dominated the small teams. The skeptics have been downplaying our end of season run as being against small teams and they are fairly right. But failure to dominate small teams has always being our problem.
  1. We are the least changed of all the top 4 teams. A lot has been said about making additions to the team and with good reasons (although I personally object to the frequency of the repetition) but we are taking a consistent team into the new season. Many of our key players will be having their second season in the premiership. A very important factor that cannot be scoffed at! Besides, the manager has said repeatedly that work is going on behind the scenes (as it should be) on adding new and relevant players. I believe him.

How can Arsenal win the 2013/14 Premier league, even with the current team? Answer: By carrying on from where the 2012/13 season ended. We need to beat every small to medium EPL team that we encounter – home and away. I worry less about Chelsea, Man City and United; I worry more about Sunderland and Stoke City!

 Beating all the bottom half teams home and away will yield 60 points. Home wins and away draws against the next upper 5 teams yields 20 points. These are the type of teams that we played in the last 10 games of last season. If we can carry on the consistency then we just get the most we can from the other 4 teams in the top 5.

 I share the apprehension of most fans on our ability to beat the top teams but I expect the team to hold their own even if they are not out rightly dominant. If Man United can do it and do it regularly, why can’t we do it this once? We got only 2 points from the possible 18 last season against other top-4 teams. That is our worst ever since the current league format began and I don’t think that it will be repeated this season, as the team has matured more and have become even more used to each other.

 I don’t expect us to do as badly as we did against the top 3 teams last season so emphasis on consistency can get us 80+ points. The results could come in different sequence but as long as we maintain the consistency, glory is possible.

 This, of course is only conjecture and the optimistic take of a devout Gooner. I’m not going to sit down and write about how hopeless my team is, am I? Not just because it is a counter-intuitive act of a fan but because it is not true either. I believe the team needs to do much better against stronger oppositions while maintaining the consistency that they have established over the smaller teams. I don’t think any of these two is beyond our current team (and whoever may join them before the transfer window closes).

 I know that my article’s title is laughable to many and I don’t begrudge them. Cynicism always feels smarter. Especially as the joy of victory usually wash away the eggs on the cynics’ faces; so they are rarely called to account when they are wrong. I have always chosen to be positive about my lot in life. I intend to keep the faith and do my one and only duty for my team: Support them! We’ll see where we are in May 2014.

 

Cross posted at Untold Arsenal

A Family Day Out at the Emirates

Family day out (wide)

The day that we’ve all been waiting for finally arrived. ‘We all’ will just be me and maybe Mrs. Bootoomee. I don’t think the twins really care. I have set myself a target: to make Gooners out of them by the time they reach age of consciousness. My goals as a father is basically to get my kids well & properly educated, be kind & empathetic human beings and be staunch Gooners. I don’t know how much my wife cares about that last bit but I care very much.

Unlike other days since my long holidays have started, I woke before 7am! On other days when I wake up accidentally this early, I just turn over and carry on into snooze-land but this day was different. The Mrs. was up at her usual time and was already getting things going. I joined happily and without being asked. I was like a kid on the day of a trip to Disneyland!

We set out with the girls in their brand new Arsenal kits, with glances and comments from passers-by on how cute they were in their matching outfits. This is not strange to us as we get lots of people’s attention when we go out. The girls are very identical and we dress them as such always. I have got to say that they look extra cute in the Arsenal kits though. Or perhaps I just love the Arsenal colours too much.

We got into the train but not before the Spud official at the entry gate had taken a very friendly micky at us (how glad I was that he wasn’t there on our way back!). The train journey into Stratford was smooth and very comfortable; the Underground journey from there to Arsenal station was anything but comfortable but we were very well treated on the crowded Underground trains with fellow Gooners aboard graciously giving up their seats for us.

Classy fans; Classy club!

We finally arrived at the stadium. Maybe it’s because I don’t go often, but I am always in awe of that structure! My wife felt the same way and she is not even that into us (us being Arsenal but of course you get my point). The twins were again grabbing all the attention with particular interest from the ladies. People were happy to take help me take our pictures on request. We took quite a few!

After settling into our seats, I remember a promise that I made to Edda about looking for him. I set out on the mission just after the second half of the Porto-Napoli game commenced, with one of the twins in tow. Napoli was still leading 1 nil. It was actually very easy to find Edda who initially thought that I have come to reclaim my seat. No joke! He apologised and was about to start looking for his own seat. I think Edda is a very nice guy who doesn’t like confrontation. I introduced myself as Bootoomee from Untold and he beamed with smile. Observers would think that we’ve known each other from way back!

Edda’s first comment to me was about the lack of negativity from the fans contrary to the news that the gloom merchants have been feeding us. We chatted for about 2 minutes about Arsenal and Untold. We couldn’t chat any longer because we were blocking the view of the people behind him. We squatted and took a picture.

With Edda

With Edda

We then said goodbye and I left, to the relief of the people behind him.

Porto pulled one goal back on my way back but I saw their second and third goals.

It was really nice to see Higuain in the flesh and in action. I am not going to base all my judgement of his ability on his Emirates cup exploits (or lack of) but I think those lamenting his former club’s decision whore him to the highest bidder may just quiet down a bit. Well, hope is the key word here. He is clearly not better than Giroud who did very well on both days of the tournament. I have never felt better about my personal principle of always valuing my own possessions rather than coveting those of others. More on Giroud later.

The game ended 3-1 in favour of Porto. They now have 6 points: 3 points for the win and 3 points for the 3 goals.

Tony, re those BT commentators, I think they were just being deliberately stupid. The rules are ridiculously simple and straight forward. I don’t think that they (the rules) are very fair, however, because Galatasaray could still have ended up short yesterday if Porto had won 7-6 despite losing a game to the former who won both of theirs. 7-6 scoreline is not likely, I know, but it is fairly possible in a friendly tournament. They could have whined about this since they had nothing positive to say but instead, they moaned over and over about the kind of arithmetic that would not faze primary school pupils.

They also exposed their failure to do any homework on the tournament that they were covering for all to see. The tournament has been previously staged 5 times in the last 6 years with the same rules. A little research would have prevented them from making fools of themselves on TV. To those harassing Tony with charge of bias on his article on BT commentators, I hope this gives you some more contexts. I hope.

Back on topic.

Our players came out for their work out to thunderous cheers from the fans. I was a bit taken aback by the unbridled enthusiasm with which they were welcomed. I am still struggling to find those angry fans who want Wenger out. If they exist in the stadium, their number must be really insignificant!

I am not going to analyse the game. Those who did not see it live must have seen it on Arsenal Player or Youtube and many other channels by now. You would/might also have read the analysis from people who are much more qualified at such and therefore better at match analysis and reporting than me. I will talk about the atmosphere and my feelings about the game though. This is subjective, so please don’t crucify me if you don’t agree.

Our team sheet was stronger than Galatasaray’s because while we had Santi and many of our first teamers on, they started without Sneijder and Drogba. We outplayed them in the first half and our lead was well deserved. We could have scored more. Sanogo looked very fit to me. More importantly, he did not do worse for us than Higuain did for Napoli. Now, can those excusing the latter’s poor performance to needing to get used to his team mates extend the same courtesy to Yaya? Or do we always have to put our own on a different pedestal when it is time to denigrate them?

The second half belonged to Galatasaray. They brought on Sneijder along with our arch-nemesis and Stamford Bridge diver emeritus from the start and it showed just like bringing in our own big guns did against Napoli the previous day. My wife, who is even a less astute football analyst than me, was commenting about how we were being dominated just before the dive that resulted in the equaliser.

Giroud was brought in and he did very well with his movement and efforts. He had 2 good attempts saved. A shot after a turning a defender and a good header from a free kick. I feel very very good about our main striker. I feel very good about Giroud indeed.

I was hoping that Koscielny would be brought in to handle Drogba but the manager had a different plan and objective for the match. I totally respect this even if I hate the outcome. We all know how the match ended.

The atmosphere in the stadium was subdued although you wouldn’t be too sure because the Galatasaray fans were well blended in with Arsenals and they were wild with jubilation. I find this funny because if we had won, we would have been told to curb our celebration because it is only a pre-season friendly. Not these fans though.

Gooners were quiet on our way home but the little ones were still singing Arsenal, Arsenal! The adults were not negative though. We all just moved on quietly to our homes. I think this is only natural and have nothing to do with us being Arsenal fans in particular. When my school lost matches when I was a student, we returned to our school or home in a similar fashion. It is not a big deal.

My family’s return home was just like our trip to the stadium: uncomfortable Underground journey but with gracious Gooners giving up their seats for us and a very comfortable train trip back to our town.

I hope to do this again sometime soon if I am able to get tickets but not with the family though. Taking my girls for their ‘baptism’ at the Emirates ‘Cathedral’ into Arsenal ‘denomination’ of my football ‘religion’ was a dream come true. I hope the pictures and videos will be great memories for them and firmly set them as Gooners for life.

I hope.

Cross posted at Untold Arsenal

Arsène Wenger and the moral dilemma over Suárez – A Rebuttal

A Response to  Sanchez-Cabello’s Piece @ Untold Arsenal

The beauty of Untold is the variety of thoughts and divergence of beliefs even if it is a primarily positive and pro-Arsenal site. Now having said this, I disagree with most of the premise of your article. But before I lay out my objections, I want to quickly clear something up.

In previous articles on Suárez, I was perhaps the most vocal opponent of the player. I am still. I hope we NEVER sign him. However, as I was expressing my opposition then, I used some words that I have thought more about and now want to take back.

I said that my respect for Arsène Wenger will be diminished and that my support for AFC will become lukewarm. I take these words back. It is VERY unfair on my part to use this one case against a man’s 17 years record or a club’s 127 years record. I will continue to respect Arsène Wenger and my love for and support for Arsenal will endure, Suarez or no Suarez.

I will never be a fan of Suarez though. I will not boo him when he wears the shirt but I will not be enthusiastic about him either.

Now to my point-by-point objections to your article:

I disagree with your reference to use of a loophole to sign a player as “dishonourable”. I find that line so unbelievable that I have to rub my eyes and read it thrice to believe that you actually wrote that! You may not like the use of loopholes, but they are not dishonourable. Have you ever had legal entanglements with little hope for justice even though you are on the right side? Would you call your lawyer dishonourable if he was able to get you justice via a loophole?

I know you are trying to make light of the biting incidents but I don’t find them funny. I have under-2 kids who don’t even bite any more! Plus, he is a serial biter! It is a disgusting and irrational habit for a grown man. Cantona’s kung fu kick was terrible but while I will never do that to anyone, as a man, I can understand physical violence in response to provocations, although I strongly disapprove. Biting is something totally different. Besides, the tangle between him and Ivanovic at the time was perfectly fair and normal in football. The guy is just plain nuts!

My biggest issue is racism. This is one area that Gooners who were looking forward to Suarez winning trophies for us are most willing to rationalise or overlook. This is made convenient for them by the lack of video (or even audio) evidence unlike the two biting cases that have unspinnable records. The racism issue is being eagerly cloaked with garbs of uncertainty and forgiveness by Gooners.

Not me.

As a black man living in a predominantly white country, I understand racism because it is a regular feature in my own life. I have ‘sucked up’ too many instances of racism because it is taboo to even talk about unless you have concrete hard evidence.

But the racist is aware of the stigma that the society attaches to the behaviour, so it is really rare to get hard evidence in racist incidents. They know what they can get away with and what buttons they can and cannot push. If I get called a n****r with no willing witnesses around, the abuser just needs to shed tears and fake outrage about being accused of racism and I will end up being accused of playing the race card!

I also think the excessive outrage from the public in racist cases often turns the perpetrators to become the victims. But all in all, racism is alive and well in England, even though the people will fight this notion with all the strength in their being.

In laying my case against Suarez, I am going to be 100% fair to him on this matter by using his own account of the incident:

Evra (another player that I cannot stand and not because he plays for Man United. I like Vidic very much) taunted Suárez repeatedly. Then Suárez used a word that is perfectly normal to use on black people in Uruguay.

At this point, Suárez is still doing fine.

Then Evra complained and there was public outrage. The term used by Suárez is considered offensive in England. Suárez’s reaction from this point on is where he lost me and why I refuse to accept the earlier premise that he meant no harm or offence.

I will use an anecdote that I have posted in a comment on Untold in the past. I came from a very homophobic society. It will be considered offensive in my country of birth to say nice things about gays or to even defend them from their tormentors.

A few weeks after my arrival in the United Kingdom, I used a slur against a gay actor while watching TV with my cousin and host. He enlightened me on homosexuality and the fact that civilised and open minded people have no reasons to indulge in homophobic thoughts, sentiments or attitudes. My stance towards homosexuals changed that evening!

Even if Suárez’s word choice is mainstream in Uruguay, a better person would be genuinely apologetic when he finds out that it is offensive here and make genuine effort to apologise and bury the hatchet. Even if provoked in the first place. I guess many of the readers would have been in situations where you ended up apologising to provocateurs because you reacted in a harsher or less acceptable manner. I know have. I did not enjoy it, but it was the right thing to do.

Wayne Bridge refused to shake John Terry’s hand because he slept with his wife. Perfectly understandable! Suárez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand should be rationalised as what? Sulking for being called out for using racially offensive language against another human being, even if he is as despicable as Evra? And please don’t say that he apologised, that was a template written by someone in Liverpool media and communications department. Besides, refusing to shake the hand of the victim of his action after the apology basically nullifies the apology. It also shows Suárez’s gross lack of maturity.

Like I have always said, there is nothing I or any other fan can do about which player is signed or not signed by Arsenal. I understand and respect this fact as anybody who might have read one of my tirades against the buy-buy-buy brigade can tell. What I am against here, as I was in that Walter’s article, is the 180 degrees that Arsenal fans are now making on Suárez and the revisionism and selective amnesia that is now prevalent in Goonershere on his actions. Dominic Sanchez-Cabello’s piece is along this line, hence this rebuttal.

I will finish by reiterating that whatever Arsène does on Suarez, I will continue to be a loyal supporter of Arsenal Football Club and our manager, ArsèneWenger while hoping that the club does not regret the decision to bring the player to the Emirates.

Cross posted at Untold Arsenal

Should Fans Be Making Decisions for Football Clubs?

Untold is my default and most frequented football blog. I have a tab on my browser permanently dedicated to this site. But I also like to visit TeamTalk.com because of the format of the site. It is a neutral site (in my opinion) that houses all the clubs in Britain. Perhaps the greatest draw of TT is their Your Say pages. Every team has a Your Say page and there is a general one for all teams. I don’t visit this site for new information; they never break any news. All they do is basically parrot the rumours being spread by the other media and report actual news as broken, again, by the other media.

You can, however, get a good feel of fans perspectives on stories because of the comments section. Their neutrality brings in assorted fans but sadly for Arsenal, they are mostly our negative brigade.

One of their top stories presently is on the rumoured £85 million Real Mad bid for Bale. Before those who have seen me moan against transfer speculation starts calling me a hypocrite, please this piece is not about the speculation on Bale’s future. It is based on a hypothetical question that I posted on the Tottenham Your Say page about what to do with the rumoured £85 million if the deal ever gets made. See my suggestion below:

bootoomee77 (Arsenal): Here is a silly thought: how about accepting the £85m and getting work started on your new stadium? Sorry, a deluded gooner here but I kind of care about long term welfare of clubs than instant gratification that buying new players brings. Keeping Bale guarantees nothing. You had him last season in the greatest form of his life and you still came short. Arsenal got our London Colney training ground from the Anelka deal. Selling Overmars and Petit set off the Emirates construction. You can look back at your new stadium in a few years and say: that is what Bale got us! BTW, this is not a ploy to weaken you guys; I genuinely mean what I wrote here.

Now, you might be wondering, what is Bootoomee’s business in how Tottenham spend their own money? My suggestion is actually genuine as regular readers of Untold comments section would know about me. But it was also raised to see the reaction from their fans. I have always wondered if it would be wise for clubs to be run based on the opinions and desires of fans. The reactions were indeed very interesting.

It appears that my suggestion is popular. It has 24 thumbs up and 0 thumbs down at the time of writing (Tony, any hope of having such feature on this great site? And may I suggest Disqus?). That is clearly very, very popular indeed considering that I am a Gooner on Spurs’ page!

But then the written replies say a totally different thing. I have renamed the 3 commenters: Spur1, Spur2 and Spur3 respectively. You can read the comments here with their actual usernames: http://www.teamtalk.com/yoursay/comment/5149302

[NB for clarity I’ve corrected some of the spellings and grammar -Tony]

The very first response is this:

Spur 1: Tottenham Hotspur): cant you see that the sale of all those wonderful players you once had have made you a weaker club then you were 10-15 years ago. you might have a paid for stadium, but you are not winning anything anymore. arsenal doesn’t have the same appeal to players anymore. the fact you have only finished above us with 1 point 2 seasons in a row is a statement of how far your club has fallen, and how much we have climbed. i want us to keep climbing, the stadium will be build when its build.

I give this commenter loads of credit for holding a contrary opinion respectfully. Of course he is fundamentally wrong about Arsenal becoming a weaker club due to selling our players over the last “10-15 years”.    Links such as this one and this show Arsenal not being in top 10 in 2001 to being in fourth place in 2013. (Note, that second link has now been fixed).

No club has made such progress in the 12 year period provided and none of the top teams have gone eight years without a trophy. I wonder what has been propelling us forward. Maybe because we have 20,000 more fans in every home game? Chelsea have fallen beneath us despite winning more than a trophy per season on average since we last won one including Abramovich’s Holy Grail; and they were above us in 2001. Tottenham have shuttled between 15th and 11th since 2005.

This comment has 1 thumb up and 1 down at the time of writing.

There is also:

(Spur2) (Tottenham Hotspur): I know this is well intended but what are you – a fan of construction projects? Who do you really support Skanska or Arup? Seriously mate I don’t get anything like as much satisfaction at looking at the infrastructure as I do at the team and I run infrastructure projects. Football is about players, goals, games and for some clubs (though not ours – trophies!). That is what gets the pulse racing not the stadium.

Another non-abusive poster who sees no reason for infrastructure development and how it can advance the fortunes of his/her club. If only this was the prevailing sentiment when their current stadium was built; if only!

This post currently have 3 thumbs up and 2 down.

Then of course, there is the rabid poster, naturally:

(Spur3) (Tottenham Hotspur): deluded arsenal Muppet What makes you think that anyone cares what your opinion is about our club. Your on the wrong page although I admit there is sweet fa to talk about with regard to arsenal

He currently has 27 thumbs down and zero thumb up. And this is on a Spurs page!

My first conclusion from the above is that the fans who believe in long term advancement of their club (or just good manners) are less vocal on the Internet even though they are in the majority. I have to say that I find this positively surprising. Currently, 24 readers agree with my suggestion but none of them wrote a reply. Three people have written contrary opinions with 30 and 4 silent people disagreeing and 4 agreeing with them respectively!

I have joked in my Untold comments about footy fans having a new disease that I christened buy-player tourettes. The solution that most Internet fans have for any issue affecting their club is always the same most of the time: buy players! And guess what is the most overwhelmingly common suggestion on how to spend the £85 million anticipated windfall? You guess right: “splash the cash on 3 to 4 world class players”! It’s like the comments were being written by a robot! But as the reactions to my suggestion show, these are the vocal fans. The silent majority seem to think differently.

Should fans be making decisions for football clubs? My answer is a definite NO. It is not in my nature to sit on the fence! Here is my rationalization of my answer:

  1. Most fans, especially the noisy ones, are ignorant in most aspect of running a football club or any business for that matter: The trophy junkies’ clique of Arsenal fans are forever whining about the club’s refusal to spend the money that they have in reserve. Dear me, I wonder how we got the reserve in the first place? We wouldn’t have the reserve if the board had been following their idea of splashing the cash. The club spending the money as the ‘buy-buy-buy’ brigade are suggesting now will be akin to depriving yourself of luxuries to save up for a secure future and then blowing the savings on luxuries because your future looks secured. I cannot think of a more stupid path for the club to take at this point. The club’s current path is the right one.
  1. All fans want their teams to win trophies but unfortunately, there are limited numbers of trophies that can be won: Man City ended last season empty handed while Wigan won a trophy! Real Madrid have now gone for 11 years without a champions’ league trophy. You may think this is not a big deal but they won it thrice in 4 years (between 1998 and 2002) and Lius Figo had to leave Barcelona then as captain for Madrid to win the trophy. While there is no denying that splashing the cash helps to acquire trophies, there is no guarantee that it does as the highest spenders don’t always win.
  1. Fans will bankrupt their clubs to win trophies: Portsmouth won the FA cup in 2008 and now they are in league 2 (that is division 4 BTW!). I wonder how their fans are feeling right now, five years after that euphoric day at Wembley!
  1. Fans’ record of player assessment and suggestion is not great: When Arsene Wenger refused to pay Bordeaux for Chamackh’s 6 month contract, online Gooners were up in arms. Chamackh became the biggest thing because he scored some goals for Bordeaux in the ECL. Although he did well at the beginning of his Arsenal career, I think AW/board’s prudence seems wise now that his form has gone through the floor. It is ironic that it is the same online fans that are now calling him ‘deadwood’ and demanding his ejection from the club. Alex Song was derided as AW developed him into a solid midfielder but upon his departure, it was the same detractors that cried the most. Actually, a complete article could be written on how wrong fans have been when it comes to players’ assessment.
  1. Trophies or Infrastructure Development & Long Term Financial security: You can see the quote of Spur2 above again. If the footy fans of the past had a similar attitude and the clubs’ management then listened to them, we would still be watching matches in poorly maintained open fields and football will not be the great game that it is today!

Football fans are just that: fans and nothing more. Football administrators may be great or mediocre but the running of football teams should be left to them as they usually have some training, experience and pedigree in the field.

There are times when I feel like I have better ideas than George Osborne on how to manage the British economy (and maybe I do) but I have neither the training, nor the experience or pedigree in macro-economics that is required to do his job.

Fans need to calm down and support their clubs because that is all they can really do. Bitching and moaning about the players that should be signed, which is the favourite pastime of most online fans, is ridiculous because all it does is cause aggravations to the proponents when their wishes fail to materialise; usually because those in charge have different ideas to begin with.

I am extremely grateful that Arsenal fans are not making decisions for my darling club or we might still be stuck at Highbury while still not winning a trophy for 8 years, even with different managers after sacking AW along the way. I know that this last bit never crossed the mind of the trophy junkies but it is a very, very possible scenario.

Isn’t it?

Finally, let’s all keep the faith, continue to fully support our team and hope for the best in the 2013/14 season.

Cross posted at Untold Arsenal