Football

What’s Wrong At Arsenal Part 1: Arsene Wenger

First of all I would like to say that I understand this will appear to be a poorly timed post. Arsenal battered Bournemouth 3-0 and then played their best game in a long time to contain champions Chelsea 0-0 at Stamford Bridge. This blog post is however not simply a response to the last two games, or even the 4-0 humiliation against Liverpool, this a response to the sustained poor performances which has led to a growing discontent amongst the fans, mostly centered on manager Arsene Wenger.

I would also like to say from the start that the current climate around the club is not the sole responsibility of Wenger and I feel that he shoulders more of the blame for the clubs problems than he should. This however is the downside of being the public face of the football club. Up until several years ago I remained a Wenger in supporter, but the ongoing poor performances when they matter most  are impossible to ignore any more.

They have produced one-off performances in big games such as their 2-0 win over Manchester City at the Etihad in January 2015, or the clubs 3-0 hammering of Chelsea at home at the beginning of last season, but this have been few and far between. Just take the 2013/14 season as an example. In one season away from home they managed to lose to Manchester City 6-3, Liverpool 5-1 and Chelsea 6-0. This big game issue extends to the clubs derby with rivals Tottenham. The last time they beat Spurs was March 2014 with a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane, and since this game the club have risen above Arsenal for the first time this century.

The club have also struggled to compete in the Champions League. The world’s premier club cup competition has proved the same repetitive cycle for the club. Since the turn of the decade they have been knocked out in the second round of the competition every year, almost exclusively by Bayern Munich and Barcelona it seems. The 10-2 aggregate humiliation by Bayern Munich last season made us the laughing stock of Europe, whilst the recent 4-0 humiliation by Liverpool made us the laughing stock of Britain so at least we are consistent.

With all of these results the players have to shoulder some of the responsibility but ultimately it’s the manager that sets up the team and does the tactics. One-off bad performances can be tolerated, but it’s the consistency of our drubbings which has begun to wear thin on the majority of fans.

To revisit the recent Liverpool game the manager chose to leave starting left back Sead Kolasinac on the bench and put right back Hector Bellerin in his place, even though he’s a natural right back. He then played midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the right back role. Aside from the defence he decided to leave the club record signing Alexandre Lacazette on the bench in place of Danny Welbeck. Welbeck is a good player who works hard however away from home against a top four opponent your best players should be playing, in their correct positions.

These tactical decisions in a key game are baffling to both fans and experts alike, and surely only Wenger could fully explain his reasoning behind the team decisions he made for this game. Many fans have begun to question whether Wenger can still be successful in the modern game, and they would point to his tactical choices in this game as an example proving their point.

Along with the notion of playing players out of position, he also appears to be very one dimensional in his philosophy. Whilst every manager has their favoured system, it appears Wenger is almost always completely unwilling to change his possession based attacking style of play. This style of play produces good results when facing inferior teams and has earned Arsenal a reputation as one of the best teams to watch in the world on their day.

The frustrating thing watching Arsenal is that they will still try and play this attacking style of football when playing against better matched teams with higher quality players. This is where the team are fatally exposed because every team knows how to game plan against Arsenal. Top six sides and even less talented physical sides such as West Brom can have success against Arsenal because of how they play.

This explains why the team are consistently struggling against top six opponents, as the team have failed to address their need for more physical players to help with the defensive work the team struggle with so often. This along with Wenger’s seeming indifference to changing his style of play no matter the opponent has led to the current on pitch problems for the club.

What do you think of Arsene Wenger? If you are a fan of the club or have any views on the Frenchman please leave them in the comments section below. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and I hope you enjoyed reading it.

Part two is coming up shortly and will look at the problems of the current board and owner. Stay tuned!

 

 

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Could ‘Moneyball’ Ever Work In Football?

Since the new millennium a singular concept has swept through American professional sports. The concept is known as ‘Moneyball’,  has been made famous by the 2003 best selling book and the 2011 film starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. After conquering American sports, the question is, can the concept work in football?

For those of you who  are not familiar with the ‘Moneyball’ idea, it’s the concept that individual players are over valued and a team filled with smaller players working to a common goal are just as effective as world class talent, costing a lot less money and allowing smaller teams to compete with bigger teams. Whilst this is a broad description of it, it’s the only way to explain it so it would work in professional football.

Existing football pundits may suggest that the concept is a novel idea but would not work in football and they could have a point. For a start, football does not have a salary cap unlike major American sports. They would suggest that this means that the concept has little relevance to football, however for me I have to disagree.

The ethos of the concept is to help smaller budget teams compete more evenly with their financially richer rivals. The sport in which gave the concept its fame is Baseball, a game which arguably has the biggest discrepancy in finances. According to Spotrac going into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, there is a difference of $179 million dollars between the L.A Dodgers $242 million dollar payroll and the Milwaukee Brewers $63 million dollar payroll.

Whilst there is a large difference in finances between the top and bottom of the Premier League for example, the financial divide is no where near as big as baseball. If teams such as the Oakland A’s can compete with major teams in baseball the same is possible within the Premier League.

Last season Leicester City proved inadvertently that the ‘Moneyball’ concept can work at a high level in football. They assembled a squad that cost under £30 million pounds, with their biggest signing being Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki for £7 million. With their own brand of counter attacking football manager Claudio Ranieri, they shocked sports fans across the world.

They started the season as favourites for relegation, with some bookmakers they were 5000-1 to win the Premier League. Yet they flew through the season, only losing three games on route to the most unlikely Premier League title in history. Whilst this is rightly being talked about as the ultimate football fairy tale story, what can be learnt from it?

What I think it shows is that the ‘Moneyball’ concept could work in professional football. If a lower budget team adopted the mentality and began searching for players who had good individual attributes, and putting them into a team which could then execute an effective game plan could very well prove to work better for that club than the existing model.

Whilst it’s possible the entire Leicester season was indeed a one-off fairy tale, it’s equally possible that Leicester proved that a new model of structuring a team can be successful in football. It will be interesting to see in the future if any other Premier League clubs adopt this mentality, and if it works the revolutionary balls of change may begin to roll.

‘Moneyball’ proved that in baseball you didn’t need to pay the high wages of a Derek Jeter to be successful and compete, so could Leicester’s success prove you don’t need a Sergio Aguero or Paul Pogba to be successful? Only time will tell.

 

What do you think of the ‘Moneyball’ concept, and do you think it could work in the Premier League? Let me know in the comments section below and thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Does the Premier League Need a Winter Break?

The Christmas and New Year period is for the large majority of the nation an opportunity to spend time with loved ones, however in the world of English club football this period is the busiest of the season. With many teams facing the prospect of three games within a week over this period, has the time come for serious debate over whether a winter break period should be adopted?

The English football league is an anomaly amongst its European counterparts, with a vast majority of other European leagues taking a winter break. Even the Scottish leagues have a break over the new year period. South of the border teams are forced to exhaust all avenues of their squad as they have to prepare their teams to face three fixtures in six days, an exercise that seems an archaic throwback to previous era’s of football.

Some football fans will want to retain the hectic Christmas fixture list, maybe as a nostalgic ode to how things used to be. On the other hand, at a time when English football is going through a period of introspection after successive failures for the national team, club teams also find themselves on the back foot.

The Premier League is widely seen as the most competitive major league in the world thanks to its high level of talent, but in major competition they face a disadvantage. When the next rounds of the Champions League and Europa League take place in the middle of February, for English teams they will already have done three quarters of their season, and will be suitably showing the exertion this places on a squad. European rivals however will be just a few weeks into the second half of their seasons after the break.

The winter break is not simply a time to rest however. Many clubs will hold winter training camps or play international friendlies to raise the profile of their clubs. The more controlled nature of these however ensure that the players efforts do not replicate what takes place in a normal league fixture. The risk of injuries or suspensions is also very much reduced, keeping as much as the squad fit and healthy for the second half of the season.

The period of non-stop fixtures takes a heavy toll on English teams, leaving them at a disadvantage as the season goes on. This month there is the added burden of the African Cup of Nations, of which many top players will compete in, although this is something that every major club will have to deal with, however some clubs may be affected more than others by the tournament.

Whilst some fans and pundits in England have lamented state of football in this country, it seems obvious that when other major clubs around you have several weeks off whilst they have to face the most congested period of the season, of course this is going to put you at a disadvantage to your rivals. Whilst the solution would be for the English leagues to adopt a winter break, this is far easier said than done.

The English Premier League especially generates huge amounts of revenue and has the largest worldwide fan base of any major league. It’s become a global brand and therefore it will be very hard for the F.A to implement a winter break when fans are used to having such a busy Christmas/New Year period. Fans may be able to stage some form of protest, although this issue is for the majority not their highest priority.

Next month will see the return of the Champions League and Europa League, and I hope I am proved wrong about the disadvantages facing the English teams competing. If however they struggle against their respective opponents, factor in the relative games both sets of players have already competed in.

Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and thank you for reading!

 

Bristol Rovers one step away

Admittedly, this is not the start to the season some Rovers fans were expecting, after playing poorly and being relegated on the final day of last season, many were expecting a triumphant return to the football league this season as either champions or by easily going through the end of season play-off’s.

Whilst this is a small minority their unrealistic expectations have led to an almost toxic atmosphere at the football club at the moment, something I was reminded of in the early stages of our latest home game against Wrexham on Tuesday night. Wrexham were unbeaten in their last 3 away games and started brightly against us, creating several chances and looking far more convincing in the opponent’s final third. At this point some of the fans started to voice their frustration with the team, with little encouragement coming from the Blackthorn end at this point.

From here thankfully things improved for Rovers as they edged their way into the game and took the lead with an Andy Monkhouse header from a corner in the 34th minute. Once we took the lead, Rovers fans showed themselves at their best as they began heartily singing and supporting the team from here until the final 10 minutes, when a edgy Rovers just managed to hold of a threatening Wrexham team. For the majority of the game Rovers fans showed themselves to be one of the loudest supports in the lower leagues, from League 1 downwards.

If Rovers fans could consistently match they hype surrounding their support, the team would have a hugely positive presence at every game cheering them on. Granted, recently this sounds like wishful thinking after early losses to part time teams such as Altrincham and Braintree. It’s not simply the losses but the poor manner in which we played those games, which have led a select view to voice their opinion that Darrell Clarke should be sacked. Whilst the games have not been great I personally can’t see any positives to sacking Darrell Clarke so early in the season, especially since he came into the worst possible situation before the final run-in last season.

Clarke has proved he can cut it at this level with Salisbury City, and deserves a full season at Rovers at the very least to prove his worth at the club during this transition period for Bristol Rovers. By far the biggest issue at the moment with Bristol Rovers seems to be emanating from the boardroom. The lack of investment in any other area apart from the new UWE stadium is worrying at the very least, with the recent news that Rovers are now suing Memorial stadium buyers Sainsbury’s shows all is not well with the stadium also.

It seems in my opinion that owner Nick Higgs has sacrificed financial investment to improve the results on the pitch, in favour of pouring money into this new stadium. Whilst the stadium is a brilliant idea and will secure a lot of money for the club in the future, the investment needed at the present moment seems to have affected the club. In calling for Higgs to invest more into the squad I’m not asking for him to sign Messi, Ronaldo or Bale I simply feel we need a slight investment to strengthen our already decent squad. Investment in players would also appease the fans and keep them on side for a time until the row with Sainsbury’s is resolved.

In conclusion, whilst I want the new stadium as much as anyone else, I will not be able to fully believe it until I see it with my own eyes. The potential is huge but so is the risk, something we can ill afford right now with our current position in the Vanarama Conference. It’s unlikely my hopes of squad investment in the near future will come to fruition, though I can still dream. Whatever happens with Bristol Rovers you’ll be able to find me on match day supporting the team from the Blackthorn end terraces, something that will hopefully drown out the doomongers amongst us who seemingly want Rovers and Darrell Clarke to go downhill. That would be a tragedy for Bristol’s finest sporting club, I admit I have no evidence on that and am writing from a totally biast standpoint yet everyone is entitled to their opinion.

David Moyes: Doomed from the start

Just less than a year ago the future appeared very rosy for David Moyes. After 11 successful years he was leaving Everton a club legend to take over as the hallowed Manchester United manager after being hand picked by Sir Alex Ferguson. When he was announced as the new Man Utd manager on the 9th May 2013 the press conference contained lots of talk from both sides about the succession plan Man Utd put in place with this appointment. After being personally chosen by Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes seemed the perfect man to carry on the vast achievements of Manchester United into a new era. A 6 year deal with the opportunity to earn £5 million a year with bonuses was a perfect validation to their succession talk. Yet as of yesterday David Moyes is unemployed and Man Utd are facing having to pay him off £5 million until he finds himself a new job. What went so wrong for Moyes in only 10 months?

First lets look at purely his results over the 10 months. After starting well with comfortable Community Shield and opening day premier league wins things got progressively worse from here. He led United to their worst ever league start with defeats to bitter local rivals Manchester City 4-1 and a 2-1 home defeat to lowly West Brom heaped the pressure on Moyes early on. After a relatively stable few months December saw them suffer successive home defeats to Everton and Newcastle, the first time Man Utd had lost consecutive home premier league games since the 2001 season. This left the team languishing at this point in 9th, yet after only 15 games the team were 13 points behind leaders Arsenal. Here’s a picture of Moyes in happier times with the Community shield trophy.

Compounding their awful league form were exits from the F.A Cup in the third round at home to Swansea 2-1, defeat in the Capital One Cup semi-final to Premier League dwellers Sunderland and finally comfortably being outclassed in the Champions League Quarter- Final to Bayern Munich. The tension reached fever pitch as fans responded to successive 3-0 home defeats to hated rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, by flying a banner over Old Trafford before the next home game against Aston Villa calling for Moyes to leave the club. Here’s a link to a Youtube video report on the banner incident. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQZ77mPMdCA

After a slight recent turn around Sunday’s comprehensive trouncing by Everton 2-0 brought the tension back around Moyes. He believed however that despite the poor results to this point he would receive the board’s backing until at least the summer transfer window. On the other hand, the board seemed to want swift action as over the course of the following Bank Holiday Monday rumors became increasingly persistent that Moyes would be imminently sacked. The rumors were proved true early yesterday morning as it was finally announced Moyes had been sacked after only 10 months in charge.

Now we’ve established the results that got him sacked let’s now try to explain firstly why these individual results happened and secondly how the end result of his sacking came about so soon. Firstly let’s look at the task he actually took on becoming Manchester United manager. He faced the unenviable task of being the Man Utd manager after Sir Alex Ferguson. After Ferguson’s mammoth 26 and a half year reign which yielded an astonishing 38 trophies in 26 years, including 13 Premier League titles and 2 Champions League’s. Therefore with United fans accustomed to so much recent success Moyes was coming into a job with probably one of the highest levels of expectation in world football.

This would be something new for Moyes to deal with as he had arrived from Everton, a club who had rather more modest expectations to which Moyes would regularly over achieve. Inadvertently Sir Alex had also heaped even more pressure on Moyes by being so public with his view that Moyes was the perfect man to succeed him as part of the succession plan.

Another factor behind the downfall in results for United has to be the relative weakness of the current squad in comparison with other top 4 sides. This may seem a slightly ridiculous statement considering the squad possesses quality players such as Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, David De Gea and Patrice Evra. Yet around these players the rest of the squad seems slightly lower on all round quality in comparison with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool. Part of the problem seems to be the fact Man Utd have an ageing squad yet the younger players coming through seem to struggle slightly to take over from the older players. Examples of this are surely the likes of Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Alex Buttner. Whilst all of them are good players they have under performed this season and appear unlikely to play to the level of those their taking over from such as Vidic,Giggs and and Evra respectively.

The point about under performing players above doesn’t only apply to some of the younger players this season. Another factor behind the downfall of Manchester United this season appears to be a combination of Moyes not being able to get the best out of his squad alongside a reluctance on the players part to play under Moyes. Rumors are circling in the aftermath of his sacking that Moyes was never able to get the respect and influence over some of the high profile players such as Wayne Rooney.

Whilst all of the recent points have been based around the actions of Moyes or the players themselves the club does not come out of this sacking blameless. Indeed it was their big talk of a succession plan that set expectations that were too high for Moyes as I explained above. Also the lack of overall quality in the squad could have been addressed in the summer transfer window before the nightmare season even started.Over the summer Moyes and the club made ham fisted attempts to sign Cesc Fabregas, Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini, of which they only signed Fellaini in a deadline day deal worth £27.5 million pounds.

Again in the January window they only made the one signing splashing out on Juan Mata from Chelsea for £37.1 million pounds. Whilst these are both great players their first season can only be described as a disappointment as they have failed to produce much as they struggled to fit into the Moyes system Manchester United were playing. So although it’s early on it seems these two transfers are going the way of failed expectations there were plenty more signings the club failed to complete for a number of players undisclosed to the public.

Whilst many will try to pin the reasoning why Moyes failed at Manchester United down to one thing it appears there were several factors which meant he was doomed from the start. First the increased pressure and expectation as the club made sure the world knew Moyes was pre-approved by the legend Sir Alex Ferguson as the right man for the succession plan carrying on his reign. Whilst they backed him here they didn’t complete the deals he wanted in the transfer windows leaving him with an ageing squad and a fan base with high expectations.

It should therefore no surprise that Moyes was unable to carry on the success of Ferguson, yet everyone around the club appeared to be completely shocked by this. Whether this was delusional or simply not with the times doesn’t really matter, either in a damning indictment of those around the club. Once things began to tail off the players appeared to lose respect for Moyes and didn’t want to give 100% for a manager they questioned. Also the club didn’t cover itself in glory by dithering with his sacking with Moyes appearing to find out the news he was going to be sacked first from social media on Monday afternoon. Therefore it was all of these factors that contributed to the demise of Moyes with the chain of events being set in motion the day he was announced as the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson. Indeed, both sides have come out of this looking rather less respectable than when they started and for sure it will take a number of years at least for both sides to move past this nightmare.