Friday, September 28, 2007
I know it's unclear how effective these things are, but over a 1,000 people have signed this one already; quite clearly, it's better than nothing.
The debt-laden takeovers of English clubs, by foreign owners with questionable backrounds, must stop. If the FA can't/won't do anything about it, then the government has to. I know that the UK has turned into a tax-haven for the mega-rich, thanks to the efforts of Thatcher and her successors, but to stand by and watch our national game be sold off in this manner needs to end.
And if you don't believe me, take Arsene's word for it. Honestly, every day I find a new way to admire this man.
Monday, September 24, 2007
What mistake would that be? Imagining that Arsenal need an oligarch; that Arsenal needed the colossal fortune of anyone, let alone the utterly repugnant Jabba the Hut lookalike that is Alisher Usmanov.
Today, Arsenal published their full year results for the first season we've fully spent at Ashburton. And by doing so, one of the worst-kept secrets in football has come to light: we are bloody loaded. Our turnover has now breached the £200 million mark; operating profit has increased by 274% to over £51 million, and that's before the profit we made from player trading is taken into account. We are the richest club in Britain, and snapping at the heels of Real Madrid.
When Ashburton Grove was built a lot of people gave it the 'comical' nickname 'Cashburden Grave'. Their logic was that by building a very expensive stadium, we would saddle ourselves with huge levels of debt that we would never repay. Yet, all we were doing is following one of the most basic law of economics: you have to spend money to make money. And when this money is spent efficiently and carefully, lots of money comes back.
Yes, we still have a large amount of debt on the balance sheet, but this is countered by a) our large (£73 million odd) cash reserve b) the Highbury property development, which will wipe a considerable amount of debt away in one stroke and c) the massive increase in revenue and profits that the new stadium has given us.
Because we have sensible directors who plan for the long-term, we also have very-secure low-interest debt. Total debt repayments per year currently stand at £20m. To put that in perspective, it has been recently suggested that Man United are currently paying almost £100 million to service the debt that was taken out by the Glazers to buy the club. You have to keep asking yourself who the takeover benefits in that situation? Glazers or United? It's not hard to answer that question.
Furthermore, and as importantly, the increases in revenue come from within the club: gates, programmes, merchandise etc, not from external sources such as TV revenue which can fluctuate and change without our consent or planning.
The bottom line is that the only reason for wanting a takeover has been negated. We have enough money, more than enough in fact, to compete for any trophy. That it hasn't been spent was Arsene's choice. And considering we're currently top of the league, and free-spending Chelsea have just had their manager sacked so Abramovich can run the team himself, I think it's not a bad way of going about things.
So in the end, who would a takeover benefit? Not the club: it doesn't need new money or new management. A takeover would only serve to benefit those who took control of the club, not the club itself, a sentiment which would fit with the following quote, taken from an 'anonymous Emirates source':
"David always sees himself as number one. He wants to be chairman. The Arsenal board put Arsenal first. The board see themselves as the custodians of the club. That is the difference."
Let's continue to back the club; let's continue to back the board. We don't need a takeover and we don't need David Dein. We are one of the best run clubs in world football. To use an old adage, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I initially felt slightly like I did after our victory against Juve in 2006, slightly disappointed that it hadn't been more of a contest. But then, as someone pointed out to me, this was largely due to our utter dominance in the match, not due to any real deficiencies on Sevilla's part.
We now seem to have a team of players who can fight as well as play. Few players sum up this transformation as much as Sagna, especially when compared to his predecessor, Eboue. Eboue was always good going forward, yet he also dived around the pitch in a fairly despicable manner, and had a unnerving tendency to forget his defensive duties.
Sagna is just as good, if not better, going forward, and defends like a lion. He wins the ball, somehow, almost every time, and if he can't then he usually commits a foul. That's what I like to see. I banged on for most of last season about how we needed a proper right-back, and clearly Arsene thought the same.
The attacking duo played better together than they have for a while, even if Adebayor needs far too many chances to find his range. It was good to see Robin get a goal, and especially a scrappy one. We haven't scored enough of those scrappy goals over the last few seasons, and they're often the moments that decides games. Eduardo's goal was also great to see, and I imagine it won't be the last time we see a Hleb to Cesc to Eduardo to goal passage of play this season.
Hleb defended well, and continues to impress, Rosicky was excellent, and Fabregas now seems to have acquired the ability to score deflected thirty yarders. It finally seems to have been taken on board that if you don't shoot, you don't score, something otherwise known as the Lampard theorem. Indeed, as Goodplaya pointed out, Cesc's goal had the whiff of a Lampard-special. Let's now hope that Cesc doesn't put on 4 stone as well.
The only negative of the night was, again, Diaby's performance. I know he's being played out of position on the left, but this doesn't justify the fact that he doesn't seem to be giving it his all. At one point he jogged, in an almost carefree manner towards the ball, only for a Sevilla player to sprint past him and gain possession. Diaby clearly has the ability, but why should Arsene give him a chance in the centre if he's not willing to work hard in other positions when called upon?
Diaby's performance was nearly the antithesis of Flamini who, very quietly, is establishing himself as a real presence in central midfield, and he seems to be happy to play the defensive foil to Cesc. The growing proficiency in Flamini's play, to go with the enthusiasm and effort he always had, make him a difficult player to drop at the moment.
Overall, it was a performance that should have been noted around Europe. Sevilla are not only one of the best teams in Europe, they're one of the best in the Champions League. Yet we simply did not allow them to play, and instead tore through them with our passing and technical ability. Put simply, playing the way we did yesterday, we can beat any team in Europe.
He's gone. And, to be frank, as Arsenal fans, we should be grateful.
People have talked about English football 'losing a personality'. To an extent this is true, but its also debatable whether he's the type of personality we really want to have around. Ok, he came out with the odd-quip that was amusing. And, ok, his ego-centric style of management very effectively took a lot of weight off his players shoulders. He was the star of the team; the players were merely his tools.
But this was also the man who branded our manager a 'voyeur', an unacceptable slight in light of the utterly odious allegations still sung about Wenger around the country, a man who bullied a senior referee out of the game, who criticised Britain's emergency services after they had saved the life of one of his players, who stood there and lied to the faces of reporters and fans around the country when asked about his role in the Ashley Cole affair. A man who accepted nothing with humility; a person who appeared to have been born without an inch of grace.
And then there was the style he implanted in his teams. To grind out a win with a deflected goal was the pinnacle of achievement in Mourinho's tactical landscape. And that he chose to play such boring, percentage football was made all the more galling by the enormous chambers of credit that lay behind him. Mourinho could, and perhaps his successor will, quite easily have constructed a team which had a style to match the substance he so clearly craved.
His tactics, his personality, the way he told his players to behave towards opponents and the bottomless pit of cash he had at his disposal will always demean his achievements. I always remember his irritation with reporters over the lack of 'respect' Chelsea had been given, despite the trophies he had won. Quite simply Jose, you never conducted yourself in a manner which would earn respect, and, hence, you were given none.
I was never truly envious of Mourinho's achievements because I felt he had earned them the wrong way, and I genuinely mean that.
But on a purely results-based level, his sacking is madness, absolute madness. Mourinho has never lost a home game. He has won five trophies in three years. And, most painfully for Arsenal fans, Wenger never beat him. Wenger vs. Mourinho was a reminder that style doesn't always win out in football, even if Mourinho was lucky to meet us during a prolonged period of transition. The 2004 crop would have beaten him, I'm sure, but I'm certainly glad to see the back of him in terms of his record against us.
So, and I'm sorry to continually bang on about this, but if any further evidence was needed that Russian oligarchs are not needed, look at Abramovich. He has just sacked the most successful manager in Chelsea's history over a whim, over the alleged failures in Mourinho's summer transfer market policy. Abramovich wants galacticos and style; Mourinho wanted hard-workers and power. There was only ever going to be one winner.
And in his place comes the stooge, Grant. And in the place of dull victories may come a serious period of instability, perhaps even dull defeats.
In the long-term, Chelsea may find a manager who can combine style and results, a Hiddink, perhaps. But such times are far in the future. For now, Mourinho's sacking should seriously dent Chelsea's hope of silverware in the coming season. Something that can only work to our advantage.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
However, I suppose Mr Usmanov, when you have a background which is allegedly (I learnt that trick from Ian Hislop) questionable, and you come out of nowhere with the intention of using my club as a financial or political instrument for your own personal gain, with no interest in the traditions and values of something so beloved by so many people, don't be surprised if people raise questions about your past. And that you have reacted to these questions through forcing independent Arsenal blogsites to remove content speaks volumes.
In the midst of all this, one thing has become surprisingly open for debate: the role of Stan Kroenke. When I first learned of Kroenke's involvement in the club, I was not impressed, and I retain my reservations about a highly leveraged takeover. But if it's between Stan and Usmanov, there is no question: it's Stan all the way.
Peter Hill-Wood expressed the current situation, and the changing perception of Kroenke, quite clearly:
"I would think Kroenke is probably a long-term investor and I would welcome him as a shareholder more than Usmanov — unquestionably.
"He is involved in sport and understands it. As for Usmanov, I am not sure what he wants or why he wants to get involved. He is clearly a very determined fellow but it won't get him anywhere. It doesn't change anything. The board is absolutely resolute and they have no intention of selling to Dein and Usmanov.
"This is all very disruptive and I can understand the fans being upset. The club has been stable for many years and this is destabilising it. I think David is very much the architect of that."
For all those who swallow the Dein PR line about the current board being a bunch of old fuddy-duddies, P H-W's comments are right on the money and show a clear understanding of the situation.
Why is Usmanov becoming involved in the club? Who the hell is he? Why is he being so aggressive in his purchasing of shares? And why is David Dein being such an unquestionable idiot?
Other things need to be said about Dein, which seem to have been forgotten. Look at the time lines in these two articles.
In the early 1990s, Dein had to sell a considerable amount of his shareholding to Danny Fiszman, in order to repay debts that his company, London and Overseas Sugar, had run up due to the collapse of a company called Esal Commodities. Dein had become very good friends with Rajendra Sethia, the owner of Esal in the early 1980s, and the two had done a great deal of business together. This would have been fine if Esal hadn't collapsed with debts of £250 million, after it emerged that Sethia had systematically defrauded a number of banks across the globe. Sethia was, therefore, a massive fraudster who, at one point, was the largest bankrupt in history. If you don't want to take my word for it, read 'The Beautiful Game?' by David Conn. Besides from being an excellent book on the state of modern football, the 2nd and 3rd chapters shed a great deal of light on Dein's largely unsuccessful business dealings in the 1980s.
Draw your own conclusions about his business sense from the above story, but, for me, Dein has lived off the appointment of Arsene Wenger for the last ten years. Despite the PR story, Dein did not make Arsenal Football Club as it currently stands; if anything, it's the opposite: Arsenal made him. Dein opposed the move to Ashburton Grove, a move which has seen the club's coffers explode over the last year. We have an excellent board, who have the best interests of the club at heart. If they have to do a deal with Kroenke to keep Usmanov and Dein at arm's length then so be it; better Kroenke than Dein and Usmanov.
All this has overshadowed a great start to the season by the team. And I blame Dein completely for this. The entire instability currently racking the club stems from his quest to run the club; a quest which shows little concern for anything apart from himself and his own gain.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
What a game yesterday. At the time I was forced to use a combination of streams, radio, BBC text and Chris Kamara to try and keep up with the action, but having watched the full game subsequently, it seems unlikely that there's going to be many more games this year with quite that many incidents.
Watching the game post-facto merely hammered home just how many potential turning points there were. If Berbatov had, as he perhaps should have, scored at 1-0 or 1-1 we would not be celebrating today. Only Clichy's body and an incredible recovery tackle by Kolo saved us on those two occasions. I would talk about the Darren Bent miss, but I'm still laughing.
The first half performance wasn't great, but wasn't completely abject. Bale, a player with considerable talent, scored a cheeky, if technically impressive, free-kick to give Spurs the lead. It's difficult to know where to apportion the blame. On the one hand, Almunia should have got down to save it; on the other, Hleb should have blocked the shot. Coupled with Almunia's rush of blood which led to the Berbatov chance at 1-0, I don't think it's harsh to say doubts remain about his big-game ability. But I am warming to him, especially when he showed the fire to stand up to Huddlestone.
The other player who disappointed was Diaby. Not only did he miss an absolute sitter - again - he looked somewhat lackadaisical at times. He couldn't deal with Chimbonda or Malbranque, which is a pretty powerful indictment of his performance on its own, but he doesn't always look like a player giving his all. It takes a lot for Arsene to haul a player off before the 70 minute mark, and that Diaby exited after 50 or so minute says a lot.
But what is most heartening about our current squad is their ability to play for the entire 90 minutes - to grind out wins or draws even if it takes until the last minute to do so.
No-one epitomises this never-say-die attitude more than Flamini. You can question his ability, although he actually passed the ball around and broke up play well yesterday, but his sheer drive and spirit is a joy to behold. Every team needs a Grimandi, as it were.
Adebayor similarly embodies this spirit. In truth, he missed a hatful of sitters yesterday, chances that often decide matches. But he never gave up, and yet again he came up with the goods in a big match. And as for his second: an early goal of the season contender, not just for the strike but for the flick. Joyful.
Yet we all know who the star man is: Cesc. At 20 years of age, he is dangerously close to becoming the complete midfielder. Last season I criticised his lack of goals, as many others did. So this season, patently, he's decided to start scoring, and start scoring when it really matters, when it's 1-1 at the Lane and pride and points are at stake. Trophy winning teams have players like Cesc at their heart; that's all I'm saying for now.
Kolo also deserves a mention for some truly heroic defending and leadership. Clichy was excellent, and Sagna must be in the running for the player to adapt most quickly to the Premiership and to the club. Gilberto did a job at centre-back, but we really need Gallas to return asap to look really secure in that area.
Last year, we came from a goal down at the Lane, before falling to a last-minute equaliser. This year, we won, and as I wrote a few weeks ago, the draws are turning into wins. So, yesterday wasn't just a lovely derby win, it was another sign that the current team has the ability to win trophies.
They no longer shirk from the fight; they're finding the last-minute winners; end-product is being produced. And the team have successfully overcome the first real test to their credential as title-contenders.
But the Premierhip is a marathon, albeit one with a pretty hefty pace. When injuries really start to kick in, perhaps then we'll know just how much this result really means.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Thursday, September 13, 2007
So, it's genuinely a pleasure to report that the England Russia match last night was actually enjoyable, something that I haven't been able to say about watching England for what seems like an age.
And why was this so? Less galacticos; more team-spirit. Instead of the England team being the 'Can David Beckenham win 1,000 caps' show, (watched by ten viewers in America), balance and and a degree of coherency was evident in the team.
So in central midfield we had Barry and Gerrard, a pairing that actually compliments and balances each other. Barry is one of the players who's patiently and quietly been plugging away for quite a while now, turning out consistently good performances for Villa. He's also one of the few players in the England set-up with a genuine left-foot. His performance last night was wonderful, one of the best I've seen for a long time. He did all the things a holding midfielder should do: break up the movement of the opposition from midfield to attack, and in turn push England's play from defence to attack. If Lampard replaces him, it'll be a tragedy. The central midfield partnership for England should be Gerrard or Lampard with Barry or Hargreaves. Only then will there be any balance to the midfield.
The need for a holding midfielder has been obvious for some time now; what hasn't been as apparent is the need for balance in the forward line. Rooney and Owen can work together, but it remains to be seen whether they can really bring the best out of each other. Yet what is clear, is that Owen loves Emile Heskey. Yes, Heskey. Owen is an instinctive poacher, and a great finisher, but he needs service of the type Heskey can provide. Should McClaren keep Heskey in the team over Rooney? It's almost incredible that this question is being asked, but it is, and McClaren somehow needs to come up with the answer.
The other area which appears to have improved is the right-wing. Now, SWP is clearly not perfect. His final ball often leaves a lot to be desired, and he still has moments of tactical naivety. But how refreshing is it to see a winger who can actually take on and beat players? For too long, we've been in the thrall of Beckham-mania, especially since his false renaissance in Estonia. Yes, he can pass the ball well and take free-kicks with metronomic accuracy, but SWP is a better overall player than him now, far better in fact, and SWP is first choice for the foreseeable future.
So, England finally play like a team, and it's no coincedence that this has happened when some of the bigger names have been forced out due to injury. Whether McClaren takes this on board or not will remain in question until the next round of qualifiers. I hope he does.
Elsewhere, Eduardo scored, again, and Slavan Bilic thinks he's one of the best strikers in the world. Excellent. We also don't seem to have suffered any injuries, although Lassana Diarra maybe feeling a little shame-faced after France's humbling to Scotland last night.
Right, so international fortnight is finally over. Next stop, The Lane.
Friday, September 07, 2007
It's been obvious for a few days now that this has been on the cards; one can only presume that any delay caused was due to Arsene inserting a number of his own specific clauses:
Section a. 1) I will not be made to buy any player over the age of 21 years of age. Ever. In fact, make that 18. No, 17.
Section c.3) I will get a large tub of Haagen-Daz, cookies and cream flavour, after every home match. With chocolate sauce.
Section d.2) The club anthem will be changed from 'The Wonder of You' to 'The Wonder of Arsene', or 'Hey Arsene you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind, hey Arsene! hey Arsene!'.
In all seriousness, it's great news. Arsene is a visionary manager, who's brought the longest sustained period of success to the club since the 1930s golden-age. More than that, he's ensured we have a club to be proud of, both on and off the field. For all the anguish some of us sometimes feel about him not always buying established talent, there's something noble about buying young and developing, rather than gratuitously spending unsavoury amounts of money, and in turn fuelling the hideous bling-culture of (post)modern football.
When we win Arsene's way, it seems right. I would prefer fewer trophies using Arsene's way of management, than many with a shady Russian oligarch fuelling our success, whether that be Abramovich or Usmanov.
The signing also brings some much needed stability to the club, at a time when greedy businessmen - that's you Usmanov, Kroenke and Dein - are trying to exploit our club for all its worth. It's good to know that the core people running the club, Wenger, Fiszman, Friar, Edleman, Peter Hill-Wood et al., are decent, honourable people, who care about the values and traditions of the club, not just its money-making potential.
Arsene had this to say about why he stayed:
"Arsenal is the club of my life. I have been entrusted with complete freedom to implement and execute my plans on what will make the team successful and that means I have a responsibility to the fans to deliver silverware and also a responsibility to the players to help turn our potential into prizes. This Club has deep-seated roots and a tremendous heritage and it is my aim to uphold these important values and help create new history for future generations to recount."
Well, Arsenal is the club of my life too; it's good to know the manager shares my opinion in this area. It's also wonderful to see that he recognises the club's values and traditions which he has, and hopefully will continue, to uphold.
Arsene says he has 'complete freedom' in his job. I still think appointing a director of football would be a good idea, as people who try to micromanage every activity in their jobs often get bogged down in detail and seriously tired after a while. But if that's the way Arsene wants to work, so be it. It's worked pretty well so far, after all.
This may not be Arsene's last contract at the club; indeed I'm pretty sure he'll stay until we forcibly eject him as an octogenarian. But this is still great news. Here's to three more years of Arsene, and, hopefully, more years of silverware.
Monday, September 03, 2007
At half-time yesterday, it seemed the game was all but won An early penalty by Adebayor and a wonderfully scrappy goal by Fabregas - from a corner, a corner! - had helped put us in the driving seat to such an extent that the second half almost seemed to be a formality. Pompey's defence was shocking. They failed to put a man on the post that would have prevented Cesc's goal, and further japes continued in the second half.
Yet football matches have a knack of changing very quickly, and when Senderos was, very harshly, sent off for pulling Kanu down with his little finger, the game immediately came alive. How the referee instantly judged this to be a professional foul, whilst letting James stay on the field is a trifle baffling, I must say. I certainly don't think that we benefit from the 'Old Trafford' effect that certain other clubs get when referees turn up there.
But we dug in and scored next, thanks to quick thinking from Cesc and Rosicky, and some comically awful Pompey defending. Adams, who again kept a low profile on the Pompey bench, must have been rubbing his eyes in disbelief.
We then conceded after what I thought was a moment of utter brilliance from Kanu, but which turned out to be one of the flukier goals you'll see this year.
That we didn't concede further was partially due to luck but also thanks to some titanic defending at the back. Kolo and Gilbs were, to put it simply, utterly heroic. Clichy was magnificent on the left, and Flamini continued to show that full-back should be his position of choice.
In midfield Rosicky had his best game for a long, long time, Hleb did well before tiring (undoubtedly due to the illness which almost ruled him out of the game), Denilson made a few sloppy passes but otherwise did well, and Robin played well for the team without threatening as much as he would have probably liked.
Almunia made a number of saves, but his distribution remains absolutely rotten. At times it was the same as the CL final: he kept on punting the ball back to Pompey time and time again through futile long-balls to Adebayor. He needs to learn how to re-start play more effectively.
Diaby and Adebayor remain enigmatic. Diaby displayed some lovely close-control to carve out openings, but was let down by a poor final ball and, to put it mildly, some sloppy finishing. A work in progress, undoubtedly, but what will the final work look like? As for Adebayor, he's clearly giving his all at the moment, yet his shooting, decision making and crossing were all poor. I'd still like to see Bendtner given a bit more of a chance.
Fabregas almost flotated on air during the game. He is the heartbeat of the team; the fulcrum around which everything revolves. My main criticism last year was his lack of goals, which now no longer seems to be an issue. The main problem will be keeping hold of him.
Overall, it was a wonderful performance, full of fight and spirit but also blinding technique and passing. At one moment a man near me stood up and let out a heartfelt cheer due to a piece of sublime passing. That's how good we can be.
A team is clearly also being formed and its for this reason I can say that I genuinely haven't missed Thierry yet. We now have eleven men who play as a unit and play for each other, in a way that simply wasn't present during Thierry's tenure as captain. Teams win trophies - that's an important point to remember and why I'm increasingly optimistic about this season.
Whether we can keep it up is the big question. It's been a tremendous start to the season, but the first real acid test is coming up in two weeks time: White Hart Lane. A win there and this season could prove very interesting.
Goonerboy was quoted in the Financial Times on Saturday. Whilst I am obviously proud of this, I was also blissfully unaware until I was told by a fellow blogger. So, if you see me quoted anywhere again, unlikely as this may be, do drop me a line via the comments or the contact form, as I may not actually be aware...
Saturday, September 01, 2007
Lassana Diarra is an excellent player. A Chelsea supporting friend of mine told me how he had become frustrated at Mourinho's unwillingness to give young Lassana more of a chance, as he was clearly a very talented guy. Indeed, and as Gunnerblog has already pointed out, the sale has raised the ire of internet-using Chelsea fans. They clearly wanted to hold on to him, even if Mourinho didn't.
The eleventh hour nature of the deal was undoubtedly due to the fact Chelsea didn't want to sell Diarra to us; but, and like the Ashley Cole situation last year, the player must have clearly have wanted to leave, and to specifically join us. Chelsea, even with their wealth, don't want to carry dead-weight, just as the sale of Glen Johnson earlier in the day had shown.
But notwithstanding his abilities, do we really need a player like Diarra? He's a central midfielder who can fill in at right-back. Now, of all the positions in the squad, central midfield seems, just about covered, as does right-back. The signing seems to bolster my belief that Arsene likes to target central midfield players due to the fact that technical and passing abilities are needed above all in this position, two attributes that Arsene values most highly. As he has consistently shown, he clearly feels that if a player has sufficient technical ability, he can play in a range of positions.
Yet what we clearly needed, and what we've needed for over a season, is a left-winger, and we've done nothing in this transfer window to remedy this deficiency.
I would hazard a guess that Diarra is being earmarked by Arsene as Gilberto's long-term replacement. The combination of a contract that soon needs to be renewed, reaching the dreaded 'logan's run' age, and the fact that Arsene overlooked Gilberto when it came to the captaincy seems ominous. Is Gilberto still in Arsene's long-term plans?
If nothing else, another body is always another body, and Diarra is clearly a very good player.
But is he what we need to compete this season, or is he another part of a future machine? I'm not so sure.