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Tuesday 13 December 2005

Wanted! Famous Arsenal Spirit (last seen skulking into an AA meeting)

(anyone who read my last blog entry entitled "Hands Up" should be warned that as a result of being in such haste to vent my frustrations on Sunday, I've ended up repeating a few of the sentiments I expressed previously )

Hi folks

Things can't be good on the Arsenal front because I actually found myself watching Spurs v Pompey tonight and for the first time in many years, I was interested in the result. Obviously a Spurs loss is always worth a bit of mileage in the mickey taking stakes, but our North London rivals have been off the radar for so long, that their results haven't really mattered in recent times.

Whereas tonight I sat here hollering at the telly because the ridiculous Uriah Rennie handed the Lillywhites all three points at the death, by awarding a penalty for an extremely dubious handball. Meanwhile I'm assured by my Spurs mate that their run of form can't last and that things will be back to normal soon enough. But if I'm sat here worrrying about Spurs establishing a four point advantage over us in the table, then you know that something is seriously wrong!

Its hard to put our problems into proper perspective because we grown so accustomed to success under Wenger. However in light of the cyclical nature of football, I guess we're long overdue a dodgy spell. What's more things could be a lot worse. I was listening earlier to a podcast of Radio 5's Sunday Sportsweek show, in which Gary Richardson interviewed a financial whizz kid who happens to have the misfortune to be a Man Utd fan. He confirmed that according to the balance sheets, last season Liverpool earned 15 million Euros more than Man Utd from their triumphant run in Europe and that was with Utd going out in the knockout stages. So he estimates that with all the additional incidental income (ticket sales, merchandising etc.) that Utd have foregone this season, they've missed out on a least 15 million quid.

According to this chap, while Utd will have been unlikely to have budgeted for their extended involvement in European competition, as far as he's concerned it was probably essential if their new American owners were going to have any prospect whatsoever of servicing their ginormous loans. I didn't realise this but apparently the three New York hedge funds who loaned the Glazers more than £800 million to buy the club (over £100 million more than has been widely reported!), considered it a sufficiently risky investment that they are charging an absolutely extorionate 18 per cent interest (if only I'd have known! I could have bought Man Utd with my Barclaycard at a better rate and turned Old Trafford into a public karsey - I guess this would be doing a public service since, as the song says, "Manchester is full of sh*t" :-)

This Moaner's hoping that as the Glazer's ability to make the repayments on this loan (let alone turn a profit) become increasingly unlikely, with Man U's footballing misfortunes and the adverse knock-on effect on all their revenue streams (Vodafone!), perhaps this will soon present an opportunity for a consortium of genuine Utd fans, like himself, to buy the club. However the reality of this situation is that the Glazer's could end up having their new toy repossessed, with the result that Man U might find themselves in the control of a bunch of even more anonymous American bankers (yes that's a "b"!)

Nevertheless, the vast majority of footie fans couldn't give a monkey's about such boardroom shenanigans. All that matters to them is what goes on on the pitch. I suppose their financial circumstances could result in a "fire sale" of their star footballers in the summer. But for the moment the Moaners are fortunate that they don't have to contend with the possibility of losing Wayne Rooney at the end of this season.

Whereas there seems to be an ever increasing sense of foreboding amongst us Gooners, as many have interpreted Thierry Henry's recent lukewarm body language as evidence of the inevitablity of him buggering off to Barca. My position, as I've already stated, is that Titi's silence on the subject speaks volumes. But until such time as I've witnessed proof positive (considering the portents of such doom, I'll probably refuse to believe it until the crowing Catalans are proudly displaying their latest capture in a Barca shirt!), I prefer to kid myself that Thierry is only contemplating a move.

Meanwhile whether he continues to fulfill his contract at THOF, or decides his future lies elsewhere, our captain's current preference for keeping his own counsel can't possibly be having a positive effect on team morale. After all, although our title prospects have gone for a complete burton, it's hard to imagine our leader on the pitch encouraging his team mates on to chase Champions League qualification, if there's some suspicion that Titi might be competing for another club in next season's competition. In the opinion of many, we've already given up on the Premiership, but if they don't wake up and smell the coffee soon, we might find ourselves struggling to cling on to European qualification.

Even if Henry eventually confirms that he's going to stay, the current air of uncertainty can't be healthy. What's more in recent matches, when we've most needed a captain to inspire some 'do or die' commitment, there's been obvious signs of Henry's head dropping. While we've often witnessed Thierry leading by example, haring the length of the pitch to try and win back possession, personally I've never been convinced that a player who shoulders such a huge share of the goal scoring burden should be bothered by any further responsibilities.

I've always believed either midfielders or defenders make the best captains, because unlike a striker they don't play with their back to their team mates for much of the match and are therefore much more aware whether their colleagues are pulling their weight. Also a team leader is the last player who could be transferred into our club. It takes time to learn the correct buttons to push with each individual. To date Senderos seems the only viable alternative in my humble opinion and if Henry should leave, I only hope Wenger doesn't choose another stop-gap due to the fact that he feels it's too soon for the Swiss centre-back.

If given a long term run in the team, I'm sure Phillipe will grow in confidence. At least his inclusion in Saturday's line-up left our defence looking far less nervous. Although in the absence of Pascal Cygan, they certainly weren't the only ones, as at least I didn't have to spend the entire match hiding behind the sofa, absolutely bricking it whenever the Toon attacked.

Circumstances prevented me making it to St. James and I find the rare instance of having to watch the Gunners live on the telly far more aggravating. Even where the away fans sit at St. James Park, right up in the gods, it may be hard to maintain the illusion of being able to make oneself heard, but at least there's still some sense of playing ones part in proceedings, by hollering ones head off with encouragement. Whereas I get incredibly hot and bothered by the impotent feeling of sitting in front of the gogglebox, screaming about every single mistake. I'm reminded that it's much more stressful supporting the Arsenal from afar.

I wouldn't wish ill on any Arsenal player, least of all one whose limited abilities don't prevent him from trying his best, but I am sorry Pascal that I can't help but hope your injury is nothing too trivial, or one which doesn't heal before the broken bones in the feet of either Cole or Clichy. At least on Saturday Cygan's enforced absence meant we got the defensive line-up which would be most Gooners preference. Although personally I'd have reversed the full-backs, as Ralphie doesn't look too comfortable at left-back and with Kolo there instead, only one of our four defenders would be playing out of his natural position.

However it would seem that as far as Wenger is concerned, there is no substitute for experience. Mind you there was some evidence of this in Senderos' struggle with Alan Shearer, as the wily old striker provided our Swiss centre-back with an education in the abuse of the elbow. Much like Mark Hughes in his day, Shearer is the sort of striker capable of ruffling any defender's feathers. Yet while they might be the subject for so much loathing in an opposition shirt, what I wouldn't give right now for a just little evidence of such feistiness in the Arsenal squad.

Perhaps it will serve us well to be going into the Chelsea game with our backs so far up against the wall, instead of riding high as we've been in recent encounters. Although on this occasion I rather suspect, if we are going to achieve the right result, it will be us who'll be required to disturb the Blues recent winning rhythm, with some of our own old school physicality.

Peace & Love

Wanted! Famous Arsenal Spirit (last seen skulking into an AA meeting)

We Gooners are more than used to a mid-season kick up the Arsenal. In seasons past such a disappointment has served as a timely reminder to some of our prima donnas, that when the going gets tough, merely turning up with our pretty passing game, is often not nearly enough, in a Premiership where hunger and commitment still count for plenty.

However what was so depressing against Newcastle on Saturday night was that we've grown accustomed to witnessing a robust reaction to such a hiccup. Whereas there was little, or no evidence of the renewed resolve we’d all been expecting at St. James Park after our woeful capitulation at the Reebok last week.

My brow became even more furrowed listening to Le Prof's bitter post-match postulating. It might be his policy not to criticize his players in public but he sounded like every other broken record manager as he blamed the ref, Shearer and Gilberto's sending off. Instead of railing at the referee, Arsène would be far better off directing his anger at the bird-flu ridden chickens which have begun to roost in his own half-hearted Highbury house. Inconsistent officials are, and always will be an intrinsic part of the beautiful game and griping about them is as pointless as complaining about a bad bobble of the ball.

To my mind it looked as if Dermott Gallagher suddenly decided he needed to get to grips with the game before it became too feisty. As a result, I thought he flashed a yellow card at Gilberto without realising he'd already booked the Brazilian and it was far easier to show him the red than admit his mistake in front of millions, by rescinding the second booking. Whatever the case, I sincerely hope Arsène will be admonishing our World Cup winning midfielder, as he was entirely culpable for putting himself in this precarious position in the first place with his utterly senseless foul on the stroke of half-time.

Anyone who's found themselves flagging during a football match would be familiar with the way in which the Brazilian dangled out a lackadaisical leg. So I'm inclined to believe our lazy midfielder was already looking forward to his half-time breather, when he foolishly chose to bring his opponent down instead of having to leg it after the zippy zebra. It also occurred to me at the time that he might regret putting himself on a knife-edge for the entire second-half, only one badly timed challenge away from having to take an early bath.

Yet in truth the Arsenal had a full complement of players for the first hour of this encounter, which was more than enough time for our talented team to put the Toon to the sword. Bramble showed some early promise at Ipswich and Boumsong formed one half of a formidable partnership with Mexes at Auxerre. But together both centre-backs have been the Toon’s Achilles heel to date, causing many to question Souness’ judgement. Perhaps these two lummoxes will go on to prove everyone wrong, but I rather suspect their lapses in concentration will be the cause of Newcastle being torn apart in matches to come against stouter opposition this season.

So while the media laud the mettle Newcastle demonstrated to defeat the not so mighty Arsenal, like all our other rotten results on the road, in my opinion we were the architects of our own downfall. We failed to get behind their lumbering centre-backs on more than a couple of occasions and while it took an incredible save from Given to keep out Henry’s volley, the fact that this was the only time we troubled their keeper during the entire 90 just ain’t good enough. However it won’t be until Chelsea walk away from St. James with the points, without working up a sweat, that we’ll be able to put our own abject efforts into proper perspective.

Wenger was also wasting his breath blaming Shearer. Saint Alan has been getting away with being the St. James Park bully, with almost absolute impunity, for donkey’s years. On Saturday the ref appeared so reluctant to reprimand the old war horse, that when Gallagher was finally forced to book him, I thought he did so almost apologetically. However despite the ageing striker’s dirty tricks, we’ve not succumbed to a defeat at St. James in nine seasons prior to Saturday’s debacle.

In fact it wasn’t so long ago that the Arsenal were renowned for dishing it out, rather than being the sort of soft touch that every aggressive team in the league is looking forward to playing. I had a call from a fellow Gooner who was watching George Graham’s post mortem on Sky. Considering the wonderful entertainment we’ve been treated to by Wenger’s team in recent years, I never imagined I’d be nostalgically reminiscing about the good old days of Graham’s boring, boring Arsenal, where at least we could be confident that it mattered to his team, as much as it does to those of us on the terraces. What’s more, any players guilty of merely going through the motions would be guaranteed a week’s worth of the sort of punishing drills that would ensure they wouldn’t dare incur such displeasure again.

In truth Arsène is guilty of spoiling us Gooners. We’ve all become far too blasé about our success. There was an item on MOTD2 about long-suffering Sunderland fans, schlepping a similar 500 mile round trip to the capital for the second time in seven days, subsequent to 9 successive defeats, loyally supporting their side, despite the inevitability of the drop and with little more to hope for than the occasional goal celebration and a rare point. By contrast it’s perhaps a little petty to be throwing our toys out of the pram considering it’s the first time in 3 years we’ve suffered successive defeats and the first time in 5 years we’ve gone two games without a goal!

I recorded the sycophantic British backslapping of the Sports Personality of the Year earlier that same evening, in favour of flicking between Barca v Seville and the Milan derby. There was plenty of talent on display but a dearth of the sort of frantic, full-blooded commitment, which makes football in this country so exciting. It occurred to me that the tepid brand of football we are playing at the moment might be perfect on the Continent. Instead of the prospect of losing our star striker in the summer, perhaps Wenger should be considering shifting the club, lock stock and new stadia, to southern Spain!

The only glimmer of hope at St. James was the sight of Senderos geeing up his colleagues in the tunnel before the game. It was the somewhat timid encouragement of a player who’s a little insecure about his place in the starting line-up, but it carried the feint, but beautiful scent of the sort of spirit which used to be the trademark of this Arsenal team. Hopefully it won’t be too long, but the time can’t come soon enough for my liking, when we might be hearing the Tony Adams type roar, of a leader who’s capable of inspiring his troops to roll their sleeves up and get down and dirty in Saturday’s sort of struggle.

Is it mere coincidence that the club can’t get all us Gooners signed on the dotted line quick enough, committed to our costly season tickets at the new stadium? As I drive past this increasingly impressive edifice a couple of times a day, I never imagined the possibility of commencing our first campaign at the new gaff without the prospect of Champions League footie. But then perhaps, just perhaps we could copy the Scousers and take this as our cue to go and win the bloomin’ thing!

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Anonymous said...

Dear Bernard,

I agree with you on most points except the part about the so renowned "old school" physicality. Football has evolved, it is not just for the working class, it compells everyone. And it is our game too.

Should you or anyone else be longing to the days when part time plummers and carpenters regularly kicked each other into submission in a wrestling match called football, then I will gladly refer you to the Championship. There plenty of players with limited talent "fight" and "hustle" to compensate for that lack.

But the gem of football which is the premiership should be different. It should reward skill and ability. There are rules, and they should be the same to everyone. If he is quicker, smarter, or just better than the odds should be in his favour - not the one who bends the rules in the name of good old fashion "dirty" "cheap" hustle. I for one find it unappealing and not representative of what football has become elsewhere. Face it, the Premiership is not English anymore. It is THE WORLD LEAGUE - it just happens to take place in England (The birth nation of football) The best English league is the Championship and that is where English football is - and that is where Shearer's shananigans from saturday belong.

It is our league too! And I for one will not be vilified for believing that the simple truths of right and wrong as described by the rules still apply, and override the die hard desire for the three points. Sometimes it is better to lose and do it with dignity than to win in disgrace. Or I could be wrong, but that isjust my opinion is our league too!


Bern said...

I can't agree with you but I will defend to the last your right to a differing opinion. Personally I couldn't give a monkey's where players come from (with my own Heinz - 57 varieties - nationality it would be a bit hypocritical), but to my mind what makes football in this country so much more exciting game is the passion and commitment.

I was flicking on Sunday night between the MIlan derby and Barca v Seville and while there was plenty of talent on display, the Continental style of zonal defending, where they drop back after losing possession and leave the opposition to get on with it, until they begin to threaten, is not nearly so entertaining to watch, as the full-blooded, defend from the front style that we've been used to in this country.

The way we've been playing recently might actually be adequate in Spain or Italy, but talent alone won't win you anything in this country. You need more than that and at the moment we're lacking the necessary hunfer & desire.

I don't happen to drink, not a moral decision, it's just not my preferred poison, but if I did, I would've been crying in my beer on Saturday night and what bothers me most is that I don't imagine there are too many in our team at present who felt similarly distresssed because sadly the beautiful game is full of mercenary, "me" obssessed players, who are far too concerned with maintaining their advertising profile and their fitness for this summer's World Cup, than putting their bodies on the line for the Arsenal cause.

You might be happy watching a side full of talented stars who are happy enough with the ball at their feet but unless our "team" is balanced by a few ball winners, prepared to put their foot in and battle it out with some of British football's grittier players, we'll be perennial also-rans like our "friends" from the wrong end of the Seven Sister Rd

Big Love

Bern said...

I agree with you Eddy. Before we had that bad run a while back and were desperate for the return of our "invisible wall" I was constanly complaining about Gilberto. I cannnot believe I've ever seen a player who seem to so often win a tackle but fail to come away with the ball And while Flamini hasplenty of heart, I am afraid he's just doesn't have sufficient quality.

However I do have great hopes for Fabregas but at the moment he's struggling in such a lightweight midfield. Everyone keeps telling me the Real Madrid have been playing Baptista out of position, but from the little I've seen of him, I simply cannot fathom what convinced Arsene to put all our eggs last summer in the Beast's basket.

Meanwhile as far as the finances are concerned, compared to Utd I happen to think we've nothing to worry about (that is apart from the fact we appear to have sweet FA to spend on players!! - I don't think any of us are sufficiently naive to continue to believe the poppycock about the supposed war chest Wenger didn't want to spend).

The principal difference between the two clubs at boardroom level, is that the Arsenal's directors have never fallen for the mistake of making a quick killing by cashing in their shares and allowing the club to be floated on the public stock exchange. As a result we aren't about to fall victim to the same sort of predatory takeover that's occurred at Old Trafford.

I might disagree with many of the board's policies (shamefully limited amount of concession tickets for kids, for one!) but by and large they've always demonstated good business sense as far as our long term future is concerned.

I've been led to believe that the cost of the entire new stadium project will be covered over a period of nine years, by the income from Club Level, Diamond Class and the Executive Boxes. I take that to mean that all the regular money taking through the turnstiles will be bunce over and above that!

Another interesting fact is that even a while back, when the board were seemingly struggling to find sufficient backers to sign on the dotted line in order to start building the new stadium, there was no cause for alarm and they were relatively relaxed about the problem because apparently they knew that with soaring land values in London,, the way they'd set the deal up, even if the new stadium never got off the ground, by that stage they could've turned a nice profit on the real estate alone!

My biggest fear is the way the continued commercialisation of the game is increasingly disenfranchising football from its roots and the sort of previously loyal punters who've always carried the clubs through hard times.

With the game being cyclical, there will eventually come a time when the current bubble of popularity will undoubtedly burst. At which point it might well prove to be that plenty of clubs have ended up shooting themselves in the foot, by their failure to regenerate their fan base by attracting young punters and by pricing their bread and butter out of the game, because the loyal har core, who would've previously followed the club through thick and thin, will have been marginalised in favour of the far more fickle but high rollers, who's disposable mullah they are chasing at the moment.

As you say, these are indeed interesting times but however the club fare, you can be sure our penny pinching board will have budgeted for a worst case scenario. To be honest, the one silver lining to us falling on some hard times on the pitch, might be the fact that some of the affluent, johnny-come-lately gloryhunters might not be so disposed to coughing up twenty grand a season to watch the Arsenal and without the prospect of a full new stadium, we might see more realistic ticket prices and some of the sort of "kids for a quid" schemes which have begun to fill some other stadia in this country with more genuine foote fans


Bern said...

Thanks Highburied

It's very gratifying to hear that my humble efforts are appreciated

I've always said that the thing that reassured me most when an unknown Arsene arrived at THOF, was that in one of his earliest statements he emphasized the importance on maintaining the balance between bringing in flair and retaining the special Arsenal spirit

I am convinced that the team which won the double in 98 was the epitome of this sentiment, as I believe the likes of Petit, Vieira where inspired to play with a passion and commitment, which wouldn't have otherwise come naturally to them, by the spirit of the old guard of Adams, Keown etc.

However whether it's been the financial constraints which have prevented Wenger buying over priced British players, or his reluctant to take a risk on more of our homegrown youngsters, Wenger has preferred to spend his limited budget on the sort of have boots will travel journeymen like Garde, Grimandi, Flamini who are so much cheaper than their British equivalent

I honestly don't care where players come from, as to my mind, at the moment, Senderos looks to me like one of the few players in our squad with those archetypal traditional British bulldog, do or die qualities. However call me a racist if you will (which is a bit rich considering my own Heinz heritage-57 varieties) but I do believe that while there will always be exceptions to the rule, unless otherwise inpsired, players from the continent are perhaps far too sensible to put their bodies on the line for the Arsenal cause (in the way we saw Scott Parker doing on Saturday)

Whatever the cause, Wenger seems to have lost sight of the necessity to maintain a balance in British football and as a result, ever since the departure of Ray Parlour, we've witnessed the opposite of the '98 effect, whereby players like Ashley Cole are tending to look out for no. 1, to the detriment of the Gunners' cause because they can't see any reason why they should risk their limbs, when the majority of their team mates aren't prepared to do likewise.

Any sense that Ashley was Arsenal through and through, disappeared with the tapping up scandal (where according to Arsene, Chelsea's conduct was far worse than was reported in the media!). As far as I am concerned, in order to maintain the winter long slog, week in, week out with a consistency necessary to win the Premiership, you absolutely have to possess at least one or two players within the squad who've come through the ranks, for whom it's not just a matter of winning the title, but winning the title with the Arsenal which is paramount.

Obviously they don't grow on trees (sadly) but the likes of Roy Keane and John Terry were the bedrock of Utd and Chelsea's success, as they are the sort of players who are "up for it" absolutely every time they trot out in their club's shirt and who are capable of inspiring those around them who occasionally through the course of a long season turn out in games where they don't really fancy it.

Personally I am not so sure it was wrong to flog Vieira, as I believe Paddy was merely going through the motions for the previous couple of seasons. However with Paddy's immense and imposing physical presence at the heart of the Arsenal team, Wenger's fatal mistake was to let such a crucial player go, apparently without having any plans in place to try and replace him.

In the cramped surroundings in the tunnel at most Premiership stadia, when both team appeared out of the dressing room and lined up, you just know that with the likes of Vieira, Campbell etc, we must have looked like an intimidating prospect for most opponents. Whereas these days, when it comes to our midfield in particular, with the relative schnip sized likes of Cesc, Pires, Ljungberg and Flamini and where Gilberto is our supposed "enforcer", you just know that the vast majority of our opponents must fancy their chances a whole lot more than they did when lining up against the muscular and imposing physical presence of the Invincibles.

It will be interesting to see if Wenger addresses this problem in January, or if he focuses on other areas, or in fact spends any money at all. However we need to bear in mind that if he brings in any experienced players, unless they come from South America, they are unlikely to be of any benefit to us in the Champs League because basically anyone who's any good in Europe will already be Cup tied


Anonymous said...

Hi Bernard. I agree with most of your comments.

Wenger's teams always had some mettle, not just flair. I don't think it's just down to the old guard - in 2004 most of them weren't there. Of course, as you said, some players may have been influenced by them, but the majority is what counts. I don't think Wenger lost his belief in the need for the Arsenal Spirit - he talks about the spirit every time he's interviewed. Yet he doesn't have too many senior players showing the way. Pires has never been a ball winner, but in his good days he would have been everywhere on the pitch. These days I have to call the police to report a missing person. Freddie DID have the fight in him - I wonder where it went. Gilberto is more invisible than he is a wall. Sol looks more like a sponge than a rock - and our captain usually loses his spirit after about 60 minutes. The only consistently fighting senior players in our squad are Lauren and Lehmann.
It doesn't really matter who's the captain. It matters which of the senior players come out and shows the way. Our younger players seem to have the right mentality, but they still lack the confidence. Senderos isn't a regular (and he does seem to have this annoying lapse of concentration once every match), but he is a leader. Kolo, Reyes and Flamini will run all day if they think it will help the cause. We all know RVP can go crazy (for better or for worse). And Cesc does show glimpses of a fighting spirit - like when he's not afraid to have a melee with Shearer; and he does always want the ball. So, which of the senior players will step forward to help the cause?

some more comments:
1) Some players are fighters no matter where they come from - it's just in their personality. I can't see Van Bommel acting "nice guy" now he's in Barcelona. Same goes with Davids. They're not English, they aren't homegrown, and they didn't learn it from anyone - it's just who they are.

2) I have a theory about Cesc. Since he's just 18, I guess Wenger doesn't want to build his body until he's sure the kid is fully grown. He'll never have Paddy's frame, but he's not a dwarf either - he's about 1.80m. Maybe Wenger will start pumping him up a little bit next season.

3) Arsene already talked about the lack of physical presence last season, so I'm quite sure he wanted to rectify it this season - yet he hasn't. Maybe he didn't really have the money... but if so, how come we were prepared to dosh out the money on Baptista and Robinho? I'm a little buffled...

4) I don't think Wenger has anything against English players. He promoted Ashley in the expense of a good Brazilian, he brought in Sol Campbell and he payed way too much for the alleged "fox in the box". The problem is, the little number of decent English players that exist are way overpriced. Rooney isn't 10 times better than RVP and SWP isn't 3 times better than Hleb. IMHO, there aren't many players in the world who are worth 20 million pounds - maybe just Ronaldinho and Henry. So why buy a SWP with 21 million?

5) Everywhere I read Edu is a physical player. He's a very good player, but the defensive side of his game was just a little better than average. I'm not sure he'd do better than Cesc in the current squad.

6) People call for Arsene to sign Yaya Toure - but I remember he had a trial and didn't impress enough to get an offer. So either Arsene doesn't have as good an eye for talent as us fans - or maybe he knows better.

Bern said...

I believe that Silvinho was only sent packing because of a looming problem over some passport irregularities. If it wasn't for the prospect that the club might end up being embarrassed over it, I've a feeling they would have never flogged the Brazilian left-back (and watching his recent extremely accomplished performances for Barca, I am sure Wenger must be gutted!)

As far as the signing of Franny Jeffers was concerned, personally I felt Wenger was pressurised by the media and everyone else into trying to resolve the "fox in the box" problem, as I could never fathom how on earth we ended up spending such a vast sum on a player who was known to have a "chronic" ankle problem (where chronic means long term!)

But then Wenger's judgement in the transfer market, just like every other manager, is always going to result in a "win some, lose some" scenario. Personally I couldn't believe he went and spent something like £13 million on Wiltord, as it seemed to me as if we signed him purely on the basis of the one spectacular goal he scored for France prior.

Kolo has often stated that his brother is a better player than him, but then Kolo is such an humble, lovely geezer, that I wouldn't expect him to say anything else. I actually saw Yaya play in an Arsenal shirt, I think against Barnet at Underhill when he was here on trial. It was pre-season, with all the usual Vieira speculation and playing in midfield the tall youngster bore such a resemblance to Paddy, that I joked at the time that perhaps they were intending to flog Vieira and hope no-one noticed!

However I was subsequently astonished when Yaya subsequently ended up in darkest Ukraine, not even playing for Shaktar but their rivals Metalurg Donetsk. It seemed a bizarre move and I couldn't imagine Yaya exactly having much fun (probably the exact opposite as I would guess it might have been a miserable experience)

But I fully agree that Wenger is right not to pay the highly inflated prices for British players. Sean Wright-Phillips would've doubtless wanted to come to THOF according to the influence of his old man, but he was outrageously over priced when you consider his limited experience and the fact that he'd yet to prove himself on the big stage.

However I have a slightly different view on one subject. It is my opinion that a competitive player like Van Bommel is going to be competitive whoever he plays for. However I firmly believe that these days, someone like him isn't going to be prepared to go that extra mile (and perhaps risk injury) when playing for a team where he doesn't have the same deep-rooted connection to the club and his team mates, as he might've displayed at the team he'd grown up with in Holland (I don't actually know if he was always a PSV player?)

Similarly Edgar Davids is a player with that natural competitive instinct but I can't honestly see the Dutchman putting his bodyon the line and risking injury for Spurs cause! For example if he has the slightest niggle, he's not going to play through the pain barrier because he's needed by Spurs, he's going to look after number one and personally I think it's a bit naive of us to think otherwise in these mercenary time


Bern said...

I could never make a rash judgement about a player based on one pre-season friendly against lowly Barnet but from what I recall, I don't believe Yaya did a lot to suggest one way or another on that occasion

But you are 100 per cent correct Highburied about Spurs. While there first XI might not compare particularly favourably to ours, but it's mad to think that I am incredibly jealous of their squad depth and the fact that the two foreigners went out and speculated on such a wealth of promising British talent (to the extent that the England youngster Huddlestone - who looked pretty impressive when I saw him play for his country, was it for the U21s against France?- I believe can't hardly get a game!)

As far as such prospects are concerned, it's always been my firm belief that you simply cannot judge them based purely on low-key reserve games and I've always thought that you simply have to just throw them into the first team to see if they sink or swim in such a pressure cooker environment. But you need to show sufficient faith in them for them to be able to get over their first time nerves, or the trying to hard syndrome, so that they can relax and do their thing.

Sadly in recent times Wenger hasn't been prepared to risk playing them for fear of them costing crucial points, whereas I suppose Jol has the luxury I guess of knowing the discovery of a little gem might be worth the odd point, which ain't gonna win them the title anyway

As far as Steve Sidwell was concerned, I believe he was much loved at THOF because he was such a whole hearted player but ut was eventually suggested that he move rather than waste any more of his career at Highbury, where like the vast majority of his colleagues, it wasn't thought that he quite had the quality to challenge for the first team (I was actually convinced Sidwell would be so motivated to prove otherwise that he would come back to haunt us in the Carling!)

Whereas with Pennant (apart from all the off field aggro) and Bentley, I believe that relative to the rest of the youngsters, it was believed by the club that they'd been given more than ample chance to prove themselves but failed to grasp the mettle and stamp their class on a single game (although I seem to recall Penant scoring a hat-trick in an end of season game against Soton

Personally speaking from watching the youngsters back then, I always preferred his Birmingham colleague, Julian Grey?

I am just back this evening from watching the U18s go out of the FA Youth Cup at the first hurdle, after extra-time and penalties to lowly Brentford, where if Alexandre Song is anywhere near first-team material, one would've thought he should stand out head and shoulders in such company.

But sadly they performed much like the first team, trapped in their own half for almost the entire first 45 by a Brentford side who was bang up for it (inspired by Mad Dog Martin Allen). Our youngsters came back and dominated the second half and equalised late on to take it into extra-time but until they pulled their finger out towards the end, you got the feeling that some of the"big time Charlies" like Bendtner and Song (despite stabbing home the equaliser), felt it was beneath them.

We should've been into the next round when Anthony Stokes scored a second in extra-time, but in the second period our defence was guilty of conceding a criminal goal, when Manone pulled off a great save, but the back line had switched off and allowed the shooter a second bite of the cherry.

I was convinced the momentum was with Brentford for the pens but we still had another chance, when after eight great pens including two super saves, Brentford's best player on the night skied their fifth. I felt really sorry for him until the Arsenal captain Fabrice Muamba failed to capitalise and did exactly the same, leaving sudden death, where Brentford scored their sixth and Arsenal went out as Henri Lansbury's spot-kick was well saved by the keeper:-(

But I guess I should be writing all this in a blog entry so rather than repeating myself I will sign off. Before I go, based on their experiences over so many years my closest Spurs pals are pessimistically convinced that they will be back down to earth with a bump before too long. However loathe as I am to admit it, the evidence would suggest that for the first time in many a moon, the Lilywhites have at long last recruited a decent manager

Perhaps Arsene could take a leaf out of Jol's book as far as the English back bone is concerned (I would love to know exactly what the results, of which speciific tests put Wenger off signing Paul Robinson when he was about to sign at THOF)

However I tend to think that Wenger's action in the transfer window will be revealiing. If the club don't afford him the money to make a statement it might be confirmation that there is no point in themtrying to convince Henry of their ambitions because he's already going (or perhaps it will just mean that Arsene cannot find available players who are better than he already has - which has always been Arsene's credo)

The other factor is that there is that if we end up panic buying any experienced players, if they are any good, they are already likely to be cup tied in the Champions League

Meanwhile when I got home this evening, I happenedto hear the Girls Aloud interviiew on Frank Skinner's programme, where Ashley Cole's chick tokd us "Ashley's priority is to get himself fit for the World Cup" ! Not fit to help the Arsenal get their season back on track! In the West Upper all the rumours suggest our one remaining home grown player will be off to Real Madrid in the summer (some suggest his agent is saying it is a done deal). And to be honest the fact that he's now far too interested in no. 1 to the detriment of the club, I say get shot off him before he gets crocked in Germany in the summer, or has a bad tournament, so we can get maximum value while some still regard him as the "best left-back in the world" (??)

Rumours from another source (dontcha just love the gossip, we're worse than a load of fish wives :-) suggest Baptista isn't working out at Real and that we're going to do some sort of swap. I keep being told the Beast is being played out of position at Real, but from what I've seen of him so far, he just looks like Emil Heskey on steroids and I certainly have yet to see what possessed Arsene to put all our transfer eggs in the Beast's basket last summer

Bi for now