Who Took The Better Penalty This Week: Giroud or Özil?

I know this question sounds like a no-brainer or even rhetorical. Of course, it’s Giroud! Now, may I ask why? The honest answer would be: because he scored! The two penalties were taken the same way except Giroud placed it to the right while Özil went left. Both were low placement kicks with Özil’s being farther to the left than Giroud’s was to the right. Both tried to send the keeper the wrong way. One succeeded while the other failed.

Ricky Lambert said recently: “Penalty kicks are not complicated, just place the ball on the spot and kick it well”. This is not the exact quote but I have written the core of his point. Lambert is on point. One of the reasons why many (often gifted) players miss penalties is over-thinking and being too fancy. Penalty taking is probably the strangest footballing activity. It is, in my opinion, the easiest (as in requires the least effort) while usually having the most dramatic outcome.

I was a pretty poor footballer in my youth. I was never good at the game despite my best efforts. That fact is one of my life regrets. What I would have given to be described as a mediocre footballer! But one area that I excelled in was penalty taking. I used to enjoy the end of our “set” of games when we’d just have one-on-one penalty shoot outs, with the players also being the goalkeepers. Despite being even worse at goalkeeping than in outfield play, I rarely lose in those games. I belong to Ricky Lambert school of thought when it comes to penalties: kick it as hard and as far away from the goalkeeper as possible.

Let’s quickly go back to Giroud and Özil’s penalty kicks and the problem with them both. Every time a penalty taker kicks the ball low and within 2 metres of the goalkeeper, I wince. Every time I hear match commentators say: “he sent the keeper the wrong way”, I think to myself: “no, he was lucky that the player went the wrong way”. The same goes when goalies are showered with praise for saving penalties when they have only gone the “right way”. Readers that are familiar with my writing know my opinion on luck and its influence on success in football and virtually everything in life. There is no aspect of football where luck plays a bigger role than in penalty shoot outs. For anyone in doubt, may I remind you that Chelsea won the Champions’ league in the same season when they finished below Newcastle United in the Premier League! Giroud was lucky with his kick while Özil was unlucky with his.

There are basically 2 ways of taking penalties. There is the Ricky Lambert way, which is about force and precision; and the “tricky or cheeky” way, which is about sending the keeper the wrong way, lobbing over the keeper and other tricky skills. The latter is favoured by flair players and many of them have perfected it to devastating effects. Less skilful, or more appropriately, no-nonsense players prefer the former. Both methods have their merits and flaws. Tricky penalty kicks are a joy to behold when they come off. The problem is that they don’t always come off. And when they don’t, the taker always looks like a mug while probably feeling worse. Forceful and precise penalties on the other hand are bland to watch and they could also come off the post or go wide. But they mostly go in.

By calculation of chance, the forceful penalty is better than the tricky one. Penalties taken with pace and placed as far away from the goalie as possible but not too close to the goal post are the best because they go in all the time. Smashing the ball into the top right or left corner is also brutally effective with the same drawback. Personally, I prefer the forcefully and precisely taken penalty and not just because they are more likely to go in but because their misses are usually easier to stomach and the taker looks less silly. While the effect is never less devastating (depending on what’s at stake), it’s a little easier to let go of a penalty that come of the post or missed the target by a few inches. I know how mad I get when the keeper goes the right way and the ball bounces off his chest or he just grabs the lobbed ball. In the end, the objective is to get the ball into the net. Beautiful penalties don’t count for 2 and bland ones don’t count for ½.

Forceful and precise penalties require conviction. Conviction comes from practice. Penalties like this require lots of practice in order to be able to get it right every time. Ricky Lambert’s unblemished record gives the impression that despite his modesty, he practices his kicks. He reminds me (and I am sure, the many Naija Gooners reading this) of the late Nigerian legendary striker: Rashidi Yekini. He was also reputed to have never missed a penalty. His style was power and precision. Conversely, another Nigerian great that we are all familiar with, Nwankwo Kanu, is notorious for missing penalty kicks! He, as we all know, is a flair player. No other player epitomises the folly of tricky penalty kicks more than Kanu. Many of his misses were just plain embarrassing!

Back to Özil and Giroud’s penalties and the debate that they have generated, I think Özil played the better penalty because it was farther from the goalkeeper than Giroud’s. Mandanda had to stretch to stop it. Had it been hit with more force, it might have gone in and would then be classified as great by the same people criticising him. Olly was fortunate that Boruc went the wrong way as the ball would have bounced off his chest if he had guessed right. His penalty against Fenerbahce at Istanbul on the other hand, is the real deal.

The point of this piece is not to knock Giroud or kiss Özil’s butt. I almost copyrighted the phrase: “I feel good about Giroud” during pre-season when many were salivating over Higuain. I have also commented against the talking point that Arsenal’s season has only been going well because of Özil. I love both players as I do anyone who wears the Arsenal shirt. Being revisionist in order to over praise flukey achievements while knocking unfortunate errors is where I differ from most. Özil’s penalty loss was partially tempered by the fact that it shouldn’t have been in the first place. We were spared the unnecessary tag of “controversial” being attached to our well earned victory.

My hope is that we continue to get our deserved penalties in all competitions and that they regularly get smashed in with power and precision.

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.

Why British Children Struggle with Mathematics

A report on the state of numeracy of peoples of 24 selected countries shows Britons came 21st and British young people have about the same numerical skills as their retiring grand parents. I don’t know about you but as a teacher of secondary mathematics, I am shocked not.

What normally follows news and reports like this is the government setting up a committee to look into the report and come up with recommendations to reverse the trend. Hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions, would be spent on this mission to save the good people of the United Kingdom from innumeracy. This is not unlike the joke about America’s NASA spending millions of dollars to design pens that will write in space, where lack of gravity makes conventional pens useless as the ink don’t drip into the writing tips. Although NASA succeeded in creating this non-gravity dependent pen at a huge cost, the Russians achieved the same purpose of being able to write in space (the bottom line) by using pencils!

Just like the punch line of this joke, I will suggest that the government take a different approach and save tax payers’ money. I have a very cheap alternative based on my professional diagnosis of British secondary school students that I teach on daily basis: make it mandatory for children to learn the 1 to 12 multiplication or times table before their 10th birthday! Perhaps, not mandatory, as we live in a civilised and free society where it is not fashionable to force people to do anything. The DfE can perhaps encourage parents to help make their children learn the times’ table before they are ten.

You might be wondering why learning the times table is considered to be so important in tackling innumeracy and the answer is found in why British young people are so poor at numeracy: most don’t know the times table! I know that this sounds redundant but please bear with me and read on. Being numerate means being able to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers. The extent of our numerical ability is measured by factors like: (i) how quickly we can carry out calculations and (ii) the complexity of numbers and operations that we are capable of calculating.

Speed of calculation is perhaps the most important reason to learn the times table. While it would take a 12 year old child who knows the times table about 2 seconds to find the answer to “7 times 8”, it could take a peer who doesn’t more than 30 seconds to do the same. And the latter is likely to get the answer wrong! This leads to frustration in the youngsters making them conclude that they are poor at mathematics or, even worse, that the subject is incomprehensible. At the very early stages, it makes sense for kids to count their fingers when adding small numbers. This strategy, however, needs to be “weaned off” as soon as possible. Try reading this piece by spelling every word and then putting them together to form words as you did when you were first learning to read! You might notice how laborious it is. Worse still, you can’t really comprehend what you are reading because too much time elapsed between the words! What you experienced here is similar to what children who count fingers go through when carrying out calculations or learning new numerical concepts in maths lessons.

The easiest of the 4 numerical operations is addition. Multiplication is repeated addition. Subtraction is backward addition while division is repeated backward addition. In other words, if you can add numbers, you can also multiply, subtract and divide them. How quickly and accurately we do these is what varies among individuals. Individuals who know the times table have one advantage: they have a bank of ready made answers stored in their memory that they can quickly recall when needed. You could say that they have a sort of phone ‘contact list’. When they need to call a friend, they don’t have to put the numbers together; they just look into their ‘contacts list’ and voila! They get the number quickly and they never mix digits up as many of us did before the golden age of mobile phones. The question: 72 divide by 8 would take a 12 year old who knows the times table about 3 seconds while a peer who doesn’t could take more than 30 seconds and still get the answer wrong. Students who don’t know the times table by heart will struggle with division, fractions, powers (squares, cubes etc) and roots (square roots, cube roots etc). It does not get easier as they grow older and have to learn more complex concepts, according to the age based curriculum.

Many British young people do not know the times table by heart due to the education system’s discouragement of learning by rote. Learning by understanding is encouraged and personally, I find it to be a much better way. We don’t need children to regurgitate facts, we want them to be able to interpret and analyse these facts and give their own judgement on what they have learned and how to apply them in different circumstances. I spent a lot of time memorising different formulae for my mathematics, physics and chemistry final secondary examinations in my native country. On hindsight, I think too much time was spent memorising the formulae at the expense of exploring their meanings and applications. The only students who succeeded were those who through excruciating mental labour were able to memorise the formulae and learn how to interpret and apply them. There is the possibility that students who might have been better at interpreting and application could have been screened off on the account of not been able to memorise the formulae.

British students do not have this problem as all the complex formulae in the subject curriculum are provided in the examinations. The examinations test ability to interpret and apply these formulae but not the ability to remember them. I prefer this as a teacher because being able to interpret and apply the formulae is much more important than being able to recall them. Interestingly, those who can interpret and apply are also (mostly) the ones who can recall but that is not the point here. The students at least have one less thing to worry about: forgetting the formulae or worse (and more likely) mixing up the variables. Unlike the system of rote learning, we can be sure that our best students are those who have excelled in application of the concepts and not just those who are best at remembering them. This is particularly so because the concepts and formulae are always in reference materials and while it is good to know them by heart, it is not important to do so in order to use them in real life applications.

While students who combine the ability to memorise formulae with interpretation and application will usually beat those who have the need to look at reference materials, especially in quiz competitions and similar settings, winners of these quiz competitions don’t end up as Nobel Laureates. We may compare them with winners of Spelling Bees competitions; they don’t always become literary giants!

As I have tried to show above, I am not in favour of learning by rote but the problem being highlighted in this piece is not on the high end of the intellectual spectrum of our students, it is on the lower end. The damning report that brought about this piece is based on general numeracy among young people in the participating countries and not about how well the whiz kids compete against each other. The solution need not be some complex or exotic policy but a review of how British kids are doing in their maths classes. We could start by asking secondary maths teachers of their experiences in teaching the subject and the abilities of our children as they enter Key Stage 3 (junior secondary). Far too many come in without any knowledge of the times table. Students in countries with some rote learning would have learned the 12 times table in primary school. They would therefore appear to be better than those who don’t in general numeracy.

The bigger impact of knowledge of times table is in the ability to comprehend other numerical concepts. First of all, students who know the times table would not fall into low maths sets upon entrance into secondary schools. In some cases, knowing and being able to apply the times table for division, for example, would get the child into top set in Year 7! This is because most of what is needed to get the sort of attainment level needed to be in a top set is around multiplication and division. Knowledge of the times table is by no means a silver bullet and it does not guarantee that a student will be good in maths but it helps more than anything else at junior secondary level.

When new concepts are being taught, knowledge of the prerequisites is assumed and the teacher just gets on with what needs to be learned. In teaching area of rectangles and squares for instance, the teacher would assume (and correctly so) that the students can multiply numbers. S/he would also expect the students to be able to find missing sides when areas are given by dividing or finding square roots. In teaching long multiplication and division, knowledge of the times table would again be assumed. The student who lacks this knowledge would be lost and frustrated in the class. Things would be happening too quickly for him as it takes far too long to count fingers (including the likelihood of getting the answer wrong by plus or minus 1).

The concept being taught might not be out of his scope of understanding initially but as the exercises comes in fast and furious, he loses the connection and frustration sets in. Conclusion: maths is too hard! This student would now be apathetic to the subject and a vicious cycle begins. Often times, students who come into secondary school without knowledge of times table (usually on Levels 3 and below) would end up making little to no progress at all the way through secondary school. I know of several instances, on the other hand, where such students learned the times table and quickly became high achievers.

Children shouldn’t be counting fingers beyond early primary school. Mental addition and subtraction should be encourage as early as possible and the ultimate mental activity for children under 10 is random recitation of the times table. From ‘1 times 1’ to ’12 times 12’ there are exactly 78 unique answers out of 144, because two numbers yield the same answer when multiplied irrespective of the arrangement. Take away the 1, 10 and 11 times tables which are ridiculously easy to remember, and we have roughly 40 unique multiplication answers to be memorised. There are no tricks here but plain memorisation. Parents can download multiplication sheets off the Internet where there are countless colourful ones. To encourage the children, parents can play assorted multiplication games with them. Games could vary from speed based (e.g. who can recite the 7 times table the quickest) to random recollection (e.g. 2 players quiz each other randomly) and division games when the times tables have been memorised.

With dedication, any 10 year old can learn up to 12 times table within a month; they learn to play more complex games in less time! Considering the good that this basic knowledge do to our children’s education, I hope that the government encourages knowledge of the times table and that parents, more importantly, see it as an absolute skill that they must help their children acquire in order for them to not only cope but compete in the real world. The competition starts much earlier than most people think.

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

Is There Any Reason For Arsenal Fans to Be Optimistic About 2013/14 Season?

The league starts in 3 weeks and all fans are feeling like kids on Christmas Eve. We all can’t wait to open our presents to see what Santa has brought us. All fans except those who are pessimistic because their clubs’ managements haven’t bought the players that they (the fans) believe are needed to guarantee success. I have a habit of lurking on blogs and Internet forums of teams in the Premier league. I like to know what fans of other teams are feeling about the impending season in contrast with fans of Arsenal FC. To be clear, this is not an academic research, so please take this with a pinch of salt. Also, my point here is strictly about attitudes being displayed on the Internet; it is not about the behaviour of all fans in the real world.

I notice that fans of the smaller teams are cautiously optimistic. They are mostly just looking forward to a good season with the hope that they may just nick one of the domestic cups while finishing as highly as possible. Sunderland fans are very upbeat in particular. It appears the bigger the team, the higher the expectations and this is natural but no set of fans are as despondent as Arsenal’s. No set of fans, including those who barely escaped relegation last season, are as pessimistic as Arsenal fans. And I wonder why. I am not talking about jitters here; I mean actual crap your pants apprehension. And again, I ask: why? What has the Arsenal management done so wrong to trigger this feeling of hopelessness? Arsenal is arguably the best run football club in Britain with a world class stadium; well behaved and committed players (2012/13 Fairplay winners); one of the best managers in the world and a solid financial future. Why are gooners so insecure about the future? Actually, gooners are not really pessimistic about the long term security of their club; they just mostly believe that they are not going to compete in the coming season.

Of the last top 5 finishers, Chelsea and Man city fans are really giddy and full of anticipation, Chelsea fans more so. Manchester United fans are not overly confident but they are not crapping their pants either. Tottenham fans, as usual, are confident that they are getting top 4 this season. The current whipping club and object of mockery of ALL fans is Arsenal. The mockery, however, is always led by the Arsenal fans!

Every football fan with a keyboard and Internet access has an opinion on Arsenal and it is usually negative. It is always about not winning any trophy in 8 years. And they all have the exact same solution: splash the cash on 3 to 4 world class players! You know, like Wigan and Swansea did! We also know that Borrusia Dortmund assembled their ECL final reaching team spending hundreds of millions of pounds. Jokes, irony and sarcasm apart, most gooners are being influenced by this negativity more than anything else. A commenter who claimed to be a Cambridge educated lawyer once told me on this site that he is affected by the taunts of rival fans about the club not winning any trophy in 8 years. Please let that sink in.

We have too many fans who have outsourced their thinking about their team to the media, rival fans and other gooners instead of thinking for themselves. Of course we also have the almighty glory hunters who started following the team around 1998 and are now lashing out because their friends know that they have been bragging about Arsenal’s success while the trophies were flowing, so switching allegiance now is going to bring them more ridicule than Arsenal’s lack of trophies.

As I have asked a couple of times earlier, why are Arsenal fans so negative/pessimistic about their team? What is wrong with the team that got the highest points in the second half of last season and have now gone 15 matches unbeaten? What is so depressing about the EPL team with the best pre-season performances so far? Why are gooners so ashamed of the team with the highest stability in terms of player turnover and the 2nd best defence of last season? What is so bad about a team that is being managed by a veteran of 16 consecutive ECL qualifications including a final, 3 EPL titles including an unbeaten run, 4 FA cups, 2 doubles, and 8 years of top 4 qualifications just after building a new stadium?

The answer: No trophy in 8 years.

You are going to see loads of verbose rebuttals and counter-arguments in the comments section but this is what the whole ‘chicken-littling’ is all about. There are 4 major reasons, in my opinion, why we have not won any trophy in 8 years. I shall enumerate them below and give my 2 cents on each in ascending order of importance.

4. Emergence of sugar daddies to our rival clubs: This requires no explanations except, of course; the unearned funds have skewed the market causing Arsenal to lose out in crazy bids on desired players. Our ability to compete has reduced not just because we cannot buy expensive players but because our nouveau riche rivals can afford to and have been hoarding them!

3. The new stadium: even without the emergence of sugar daddies, we would still have struggled due to our diminished spending power as we pay off the costs of the stadium. That we have consistently been close to the top in the last 8 years is a great testament to the managerial acumen of Arsene Wenger, you know, that clueless has-been and tightwad. There have been lots of debates about the stadium but I doubt that anyone will argue that paying for it has limited our spending power. Gary Neville said it best on the last day of the season: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjPVZwhddG4

2. Player Departure: This is probably the biggest reason why Arsenal haven’t won any trophy in 8 years. This is also the one area where the club has been criticised most unfairly. News flash: the slave trade is over so you cannot make anyone work for you against their will. Flamini refused to renew his contract before it ran out and then Wenger is blamed for it; but the same critics have forgotten how much stick they gave the guy when he was still finding his feet and how Wenger was accused of favouring a fellow Frenchman! Ditto for Alexandre Song. Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor left for money!. Arsene Wenger stood by RvP as he typically played for a third or half a season for 6 years due to various injuries, often from playing for Holland. But as soon as his brittle legs finally solidified, he realised that he needs to win trophies – the fucking asshole! Maybe he would have won trophies if he had been playing for the full seasons that the club was paying him for! Apart from Cesc Fabregas, whose case I understand and who gave his best for the team while with us, all the others left us for selfish reasons while spitting in the face of the man who had faith in and stood by them when the same people who are now mourning their departure were calling for their heads.

In each of these cases, the club had a difficult decision to make and I believe that they made the most logical ones and not the emotional propositions of the fans. I think the logic behind collecting £24million for 1 year contract of a very injury prone 29 year old is impeccable. Man United took a big gamble and it paid off. I say good for them but does any gooner seriously believes that we would have won the EPL or ECL if we had kept him? Any other trophy is not worth £24million! We might have won some trophies if we had been able to keep our players together but unfortunately these are individuals with their own desires and the freedom to pursue them that are guaranteed by law.

1. Luck! : The number one reason why we haven’t won any trophy in 8 years is because we have been unlucky. In the last 8 years, Portsmouth and Wigan have won the FA cup; Birmingham City and Swansea have won the league cup; we have played in Champions’ league final, 2 League cup finals and have come pretty close to winning the EPL in 07/08. I don’t blame luck for all our woes but look at the 2011 league cup final against Birmingham city and look at Wigan’s FA cup final against Man city last year; which of the first 3 problems that I have enumerated did Man city have? How come they lost to Wigan? We have beaten Birmingham City 3-0 in each of the two EPL fixtures in 2010/11 season. They were so poor that eventually they got relegated (just like Wigan) but they manage to beat us due to an unfortunate goal. If you still don’t believe in luck, check out the 1999 ECL final again!

Now we can look at the whole picture in our critiques of Arsenal or we can just limit our grouse to lack of “3 to 4 world class signings” but repetition of this widespread cliché is not going to bring any trophy, it will only annoy those who have chosen to look at the whole picture.

Despite being a proud and vocal AKB, I know of a few legitimate faults of Arsene Wenger which is why I am always amused by the one and only fault that his detractors cling to: refusal to splash the cash. It is such a petty and simplistic argument. You can attack the man for his tactical decisions, his substitution timing and his annoying complaints to the 4th officials instead of communicating with his players. These are legitimate critiques; splash the cash is not!

Back to the despondence of gooners about the new season: 8 years is a short time in the life of a football club. Long term survival and well being of the club trumps short term glory and this is why I will continue to support the management and the board because they have set Arsenal on the path to competing for decades to come. I have no idea how the 2013/14 season is going to pan out but I am eagerly looking forward to the ‘roller-coaster’ ride! I hope that we win every trophy from the Emirates cup to the Champions’ league but it will not be the end of the world if we win nothing. With luck on our side, I believe that we’ll win something this season. However, as long as we continue to compete, yes compete, while playing decent and fair football; and with our finances in order, I will continue to be a proud gooner. I am not supporting Arsenal for the players that we might sign or the trophies that we might win; I am supporting Arsenal for the values of the club and as long as those values are maintained, I will always be a proud gooner!

Bring on 2013/14 season!

Cross posted at Untold Arsenal

FA Cup Must Not Be Sacrificed.

It is no longer news that the two leading Premiership teams have to slug it out in the 5th round of the FA cup competition. Despite the bravado of the pompous “overachiever” up north, there is no doubt they would have preferred the Chelsea’s draw. I cannot express enough how disappointed I am with ours, but unless the team is only “appearing” in the competition and has no chance or intention of winning it, I guess all the competing teams must be beaten to achieve glory.

The draw is further compounded by the fact that both teams have crucial champions’ league matches few days later. The speculations by gooners is that Le Boss is going to prioritize and decide which one to sacrifice of the two competitions. The standard sacrificial lamb will be the FA cup. While this sounds pragmatic on paper, it is not a very good idea, psychologically. Assuming we present a weak team and get knocked out of the FA cup, how high would the morale of the team be when we face Milan in 4 days? Assuming again that we beat Milan at the Emirates after sacrificing the FA cup, what is the guarantee that the result will not be overturned in the return leg?

I have no doubt that these two games are going to be massive for us but I am not in support of “over cautiousness”. Right now our motto should be “When we get to the bridge, we shall cross it”. Sacrificing the FA cup makes no sense espescially as both Arsenal and Manchester United are in exactly the same spot. Well, except they have a weaker CL opponent but while we are home, they are playing away. Are we scared of the Man United or what?

Presenting our best at old Trafford is the best strategy. A victory on the grounds of our biggest rival for the premiership title would be a priceless psychological boost against Milan 4 days later even if we present a weaker team then. Besides while the FA cup is a single round knockout (unless there’s a draw), there is room to make amends in CL. It only makes sense that more is put on the line where chance of redemption is more remote.

Let’s put our best forward at the old Trafford, when we get to the Milan bridge, at the Emirates, we shall cross it.