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Found 15 results

  1. The Dark Side entered football He kept his darkest side for Wenger Note: the Steve Bruce mentioned as the author is not Steve Bruce footballer and manager but possibly a poet/writer which I found on the internet. It is difficult to be certain as nowhere seems to have actual details on who the author is. Regular readers will remember a blog I wrote some time ago https://arsenal-bulgaria.com/site/team/london_calling/the-fickleness-of-football-fans-r488/ in which I posited that Alex Ferguson underachieved at Manchester United because they were easily the richest team in England and the world at some points. And yet he never really came close to winning everything and certainly underachieved in the Champions league in that context. I can imagine the foul mouthed abuse I would get if I dared to suggest that he underachieved at Manchester United. Don't speak out, Rafa A new book has come out called The Dark Side of Alex Ferguson by Steve Bruce. I have recently read it and I feel it is worth a blog. Now there is nothing really new in it but he does manage to show the hypocrisy Mr Ferguson had and the power to keep the whole football community in thrall, FA, referees, journalists, the BBC and the media in general. This book reminds you of a lot of the incidents that you may have forgotten about but I feel the biggest remark I can make is that you could not write this about any other manager no matter how great. None had the insidious control to silence both the football authorities and the media once remarked upon by Rafa Benitez. Bully boy Alex The book is short at 100 pages. It covers his early years as a manager in Scotland in which he seemed more of an overt bully than he managed to get himself portrayed in later years. Gordon Strachan was a particular target saying the treatment he got was horrendous. Ferguson never let the enmity drop throughout his life. It also shows his hypocrisy in claiming he was from a poor background and because of that he became a champion of the underdog. Many footballers were truly poor, mostly from Africa and South America but they never tried to make it a defining element of their character. Ferguson was never really poor and a champion mostly of himself not the underdog. Gordon Strachan got dog's abuse We are reminded of his atrocious treatment of John Motson of the BBC when he had the temerity to ask Ferguson about discipline after Roy Keane had received 3 red cards. He managed to fit many fucks in there at a decent man only asking what anyone would ask. Ferguson never forgot to hold a grudge. Destroying Manchester United And so we are treated to the many indiscretions. Roy Keane, after they fell out, went from being the greatest footballer he ever had to not even getting in Ferguson’s top Man Utd team he had managed. Perhaps the biggest was the takeover by the Glazers, which is directly attributable to Ferguson. The Rock of Gibraltar chapter is the most significant of the whole book. If Man Utd fans want to know how the Glazer’s took over, saddled the club with enormous debt, and presided over their drift downtable and downmarket, it is all in there. Ferguson created the Glazer's Briefly put, two main directors of Man Utd, The Irishmen John Magnier and JP MacManus known as the Coolmore Mafia, had promised Ferguson an equal share of the horse’s winnings in return for investing in the top racehorse Rock of Gibraltar. Ferguson decided that it was a share of the stud value he should get, which was worth far more. After a hugely destabilizing court case, Ferguson backed down. The 2 Irish millionaires decided that they could not work with him anymore and sold their stakes in United to the Glazers, who promptly bought it by leveraging the sale with all the physical assets, including the ground and the buildings, which meant Utd would have to pay it all back to the Glazers. A club which was generating huge profits suddenly became massively in debt and caused a vast amount of resentment in fans, which is still felt strongly even now. Ferguson cheerleaded the Glazers and continues to do so to this day. Wenger alone got to Ferguson But this is an Arsenal blog so let’s move on to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. Wenger got under Ferguson’s skin far more than any other, mostly because he was dismissive of Wenger when he came. Japan was rubbished as was Wenger’s five languages, with Ferguson claiming he had a young uneducated foreign footballer there who could also speak many languages. The Professor, he sneered, but then Wenger straightaway won the double, putting Ferguson in his place. Wenger transformed how footballers trained and where, how and what they ate, rotation of squads, and all of that Ferguson had to swallow as he also had to make such changes to Man Utd if he was to keep up. So the insolent Frenchman made him change his ways. Oh, the indignity. He alienates two Keanes The book is an enjoyable read, showing so many petty grudges, jealousies, bullying, hypocrisies, and sometimes downright nastiness of a man who ruthlessly fought off any attack he perceived, whether justified or not. It covers Roy Keane and even a cruel and unnecessary remark about a very young Robbie Keane. It covers agents, his manipulation of so many football people in favour of his sons, his treatment of journalists, banning so many for the most trivial of crimes such as asking him a question about his team. It goes over a life characterized by bullying, but somehow getting away with it in a manner no other manager has ever managed. A big falling out And so he is revered as a great, often referred to as the greatest ever manager, and has had so many hagiographies written about him it is almost unreal. But perhaps the greatest criticism he should get, but doesn’t, is that Man Utd’s troubles, stemming from the Glazer takeover, are squarely down to Alex Ferguson believing he could bully the Coolmore Mafia. They were Utd fans, unlike the Glazers, and they would have backed him to the hilt without putting the club in debt. The moral of the story is bullying will always do badly in the end. Arsenal finished above Man Utd last season. This season we are challenging for the title. I hope we always stay classy and never have such a book written about any manager of ours. It is ok to attack a 19 yr old Robbie Keane
  2. Winning Victory through our own harmony, I say We must win at all costs? Last week I spoke about losing, but the other side of the coin is winning and maybe there is not so much difference in some ways. I mentioned drawing last week as being similar to a defeat as you didn’t win. They take away from your win percentage so despite Wenger’s great years he had only a 57% win ratio. But what can we analyse about winning that is useful to a managerial team and the players? I am going to argue something here that I believe should be critical to all team’s planning. You must, at all costs, beat the teams below you. These boys don't lose often to lower teams To explain, we were beaten by Brentford, Manchester United, Everton, Palace, Brighton, Southampton plus Forest in the cup. Draws – Brighton, Burnley and Palace. Convert them to wins and viola! Equal to City on 93 points. Second on goal difference only. Defeats happen for a reason So why do these defeats happen? The only logical conclusion is complacency and luck determine these defeats. Bad luck, maybe cannot be foreseen, but complacency can. I want to draw your attention to Mr Mourinho, who, regular readers know, I have little time for. He bucked the trend of modern managers of resting players (of which a major proponent was our own Arsene Wenger) in playing his strongest team wherever possible. He wanted to win all and pushed his players to their limits. It meant Chelsea rarely lost to lesser sides and they eclipsed the two giants of the time, Arsenal and Man Utd. I think this aspect he got right. Jose Mourinho -win at all costs I believe dropping top players against lower sides adds to the complacency. The manager is saying we can beat these teams with an unfamiliar side. Players don’t find each other so easily, the rhythm is disrupted and last season we got defeated too often against lower sides. I strongly believe we should treat these matches as the must win ones. We might get beaten by the top sides when playing our best players and last season we were beaten at least once by all the sides above us. We only managed 2 wins against Spurs and Chelsea. But it wouldn’t have mattered at all being beaten all those times as in the scenario outlined above, we would have ended up with 93 points if we had beaten all the lower sides. If changes have to be made, make it against the top sides as we were beaten pretty much every time anyway. We might still get 2 wins out of eight by resting some players. Fire them up against the little teams You need to play your best players, fire them up, get in a motivational speaker to say let’s go out and beat these Palace or Brentford fuckers for all those fans in the stadium who love you. Get the tactics right, get the preparation right as these are the matches that will win you the title. Our players are fired up for the Liverpools and Citys anyway. Wenger regularly rested players This is the bleeding obvious, yes? So why am I saying it? Because managers have been duped into complacency and the necessity to give squad players games. Mourinho never cared about that, only winning. It meant he made enemies and never stayed too long at a club as players start to grumble. As a football manager, you are not there to make friends, your only friends are the players you play all the time. The winners of Chelsea, Lampard, Terry, Drogba, etc., loved Mourinho because he made them winners. They didn’t care about the players who were just backup, made most appearances as subs or whatever. Let them be unhappy. Winning is your job as a football manager and that was probably Wenger’s biggest weakness, despite having, I believe, the best team in Europe, he never won the Champions League. I don’t believe Mourinho would have tolerated Bergkamp’s refusal to fly or arduous driving to matches. Thierry Henry rated Bergkamp as the greatest player he ever played with but we had to do without him in a lot of away matches in Europe. We could have done with him away in Europe Coping with losing is key to winning Last week, I concluded that winning means coping with losing, quickly turning things around and having the ability to pick yourself up off the floor. Plus having a top team around you, both staff and players to bring you back up to the top. Lewis Hamilton had the magical Mercedes team to pick him right back up from defeat. Losing some matches should help you win matches by closing matches out when necessary. The excruciating pain of defeat helps you not to lose. In the optimistic scenario outlined above, we would have been beaten 6 times by Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, and Tottenham and still might have won the league. Winning and losing are two sides of the same coin. Should we learn from Mourinho? What does it mean for this season? I reckon if Mikel Arteta made that one tweak, that the must win matches are the lower sides, played his best side and convinced his players that these are the matches we absolutely have to win, we could be an awful lot closer to the title. Mourinho made his career out of a ruthless focus on winning matches, the League Cup was not a joke trophy to him. He won most finals he contested. Arteta is not Mourinho, you can see he tries to look after all his players and have a relationship with them, He will play mostly second string in the Europa League, The League Cup and the Fa Cup and against some of the lower teams he will rest some players. He is thinking long term and the overall good of the club. Players need games to improve and show their ability. We need to send these home crying Maybe he is right. However, it does mean sacrificing some games to losses. Do we really want to be beaten by Olympiacos at the Emirates? Or Brighton? We must start a new culture that we send the lower teams home crying again and again. Not the ruthless focus of Mourinho where players play second fiddle to winning, perhaps, but a merciless aim to take the victories we deserve. Victoria Concordia Crescit yes, for sure, but only harmony amongst ourselves, we don’t owe the Brightons or the Olympiacos anything else.
  3. Arsenal, English? Really? My top 2 English teams for Arsenal (at least 100 appearances) David Seaman John Lukic Ashley Cole, Lee Dixon Kenny Sansom, Viv Anderson Tony Adams, Sol Campbell Martin Keown, Steve Bould Peter Storey, Michael Thomas David Platt, Ray Parlour Bukayo Saka, David Rocastle George Armstrong, Charlie George John Radford, Ian Wright Alan Smith, Malcolm Macdonald Arsenal are an English team. Arsenal are an English team? Really? So who is our best ever manager? The Englishman Herbert Chapman or the Frenchman Arsene Wenger? Not so easy to say but Wenger has far more trophies and upgraded Arsenal to the top of the pile when Manchester United, full with money, stars, and a huge fanbase, were in their prime. I think you have to put the Frenchman ahead, just. More trophies = Better? Our best ever player? Also French. The magical Thierry Henry. It is very hard to put a real English contender against him, especially in my time, which, as I find it too hard to judge players from the past, means I can only go on their records. So, Cliff Bastin (396 appearances, 178 goals) is behind Ian Wright (288 appearances, 185 goals). Not a true reflection as they are totally different eras. Ian Wright is a big favourite of mine, as he is to us all here in ASCB, but I have to concede he wasn’t as good as Henry or Bergkamp. The tall one is Ian Wright Our English defence were so good Our best goalkeeper? Well, certainly Seaman has some competition in Jennings, or Lehmann, with all three having their champions. I would go for Jennings. With fullbacks there is an argument for English dominance as indeed in defence generally. David O’Leary, Terry Neill, Frank McLintock, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson were super players but as you can see from my 2 teams up above, the English defenders could hold their own against the best of the outside brigade. In midfield not so much. Brady, Vieira, Fabregas, Cazorla, Pettit, Pires, Ljungberg, Rosicky, Ozil, Ramsey, and others would have to be just that bit stronger than the 4 I have nominated above. On the wing, I chose Saka and Rocastle with just behind them Charlie George and Geordie Armstrong, who often played in a 4-3-3 which was a bit different from today. But are they better than Brady, Pires and Ljungberg who often played on the wing and Marc Overmars, Sylvain Wiltord and others? I would say that again the outsiders were a bit stronger. Super, super foreign stars up front Up front, it is very hard to make a claim that the best English forwards are a match for the best foreigners. The four Englishmen I have chosen were super players but the contest is phenomenal. Henry, Bergamp, Kanu, Anelka, Sanchez, Aubameyang, Van Persie and others of the Wenger era were true superstars. In the end, I probably have to concede that only in defence, including goalkeepers, can Arsenal claim to be an English team and even then with strong competition. Anyway this week I decided to take a look at who would be our first and second best English team. One rule was at least a 100 competitive matches so it knocked out guys like Ramsdale, who is surely itching to make my list. Send me VIP tickets for every match, Aaron, and I will put you top . I chose Seaman over Lukic, mostly because that is probably the consensus choice but truly John Lukic was a superb keeper and only a shade weaker. Ashley Cole and Lee Dixon over Kenny Sansom and Viv Anderson, Very little difference. Superb players with lots of England caps. Adams and Campbell, wayhey! In central defence, I chose 2 legends, Adams and Campbell over Keown and Bould and probably most people would agree with that. Again I should say that I am choosing from 1969 onwards, the year of my conversion to the Arsenal cult, so the great defenders of the past are omitted. Surely a dream defence? In central midfield, I chose Peter Storey, who was true class. He could play across the defence and in midfield, always won the ball and made himself available for a pass. Alongside him the legend that is Michael Thomas, who scored what was for me our greatest ever goal against Liverpool at Anfield to win us the title. It’s only Ray Parlour and David Platt provide good backup but probably the first 2 have the edge here. Saka our future GOAT? On the wing, Saka is surely destined to be a world great and we all love David Rocastle but the competition is huge with Charlie George, a massive fan favourite in my time, and the sublime Geordie Armstrong, our top appearances up to David O’Leary. Very little difference here. Ramsdale next to make my list? I chose John Radford and Ian Wright up front against SuperMac and Alan Smith. Radford was my hero, scoring vital goals, always leading the line and scoring 149 times. Always someone ahead of him for England and he only got 2 caps. Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton, anyone? Ian Wright also lost out to Lineker and Shearer but battled his way to 33 caps all the same. In my time no Arsenal centre-forward claimed the top English spot for any length of time. Can Nketiah? He has managed to be the underage top scorer. Time will tell but at this juncture it seems unlikely. Does Englishness matter? And so there you have it. Would My top English team beat my second best? I guess so as in one or two areas they are stronger. But it is tight and could not be guaranteed. I don’t feel they could beat the best foreign 11 though. Spot the Englishmen! So, to answer my question, posed at the start – is Arsenal an English team? Sort of is my answer. The best players come from everywhere, including England. The fans also come from everywhere as anyone who has been at the Emirates can testify. The owners are American and lots of the staff are from everywhere. Is it important? I don’t know. I think it could be if Arsenal don’t get back to the top. You do need the locals to support and a strong English presence will always help in that regard. Now we have so many English guys playing and starring in all sectors that we probably have the strongest English team at the moment of the teams in the top five. I await the day the Irish make a comeback and we get a Bulgarian superstar for our English team. And c’mon the Arse! These Englishmen looked to be the future. It is hard to make it at Arsenal
  4. Arsenal v Man Utd part 2 Handbags, surely? A most serious war Fighting! That’s the key to Arsenal vs Manchester United. So many fights, and so spectacular. The thing is, though, it became the biggest derby in English football purely on football terms, which is unusual. Normally it is your local rivals who are your biggest opponents, not so these two. It was football, it was that mad scramble for superiority, to be better. Yes we had big games, the FA cup final of 1979 which I wrote about here being one. I also wrote about the brawl at Old Trafford in 1991 here. I was there in 1991 when Arsenal had a 20 man brawl with Man Utd at Old Trafford. As far as I am concerned, Man Utd were the instigators as any examination of the videos will confirm but Arsenal got the worst punishment. The beginning of the belief that Alex Ferguson always got better treatment from authorities. It was spectacular, with almost everyone involved although not really vicious except maybe for Brian McClair kicking Nigel Winterburn on the ground, for which Winterburn got booked! Arsene Wenger Vs Alex Ferguson But they were just tasters, little morsels to whet the appetite for the big battles first with George Graham and Alex Ferguson and then the supreme one, when Arsene Wenger arrived on the scene. He seemed straightaway to get under Ferguson’s skin and of course in his first full season he was 12 points behind and going nowhere when he did the impossible, reeled them in and essentially got the title with a Marc Overmars wondergoal at Old Trafford. From then on, they all knew, there was a new kid on the block and they were Arsenal. No wonder Ferguson was sickened and bitter. No more Mr Nice Guy Of course, Arsenal never quite managed domination under George Graham, but Man Utd, under Matt Busby, not that long past, were a great and dominant side just as Manchester United were becoming under Ferguson. They seemingly could just march to the title every season. Eh hello, Arsenal are here now. It was our first Premier League title. And the true start of what was to become the biggest rivalry in English football. They hated each other, hyped themselves up for every match as if their life depended on it and they were always feisty affairs. Both sets of players were desperate to win Now, Ferguson and Wenger seem friends. Ferguson, though, then, was far more responsible for the war. He liked to use any method to gain an advantage, mindgames, a sense of us against the world, firing players up, diving. Even the arrival of Arsenal he used to push his team to their first Champions league. They had to get better to beat Arsenal and that was also good enough to beat Bayern Munich. Wenger always wanted it to be about football, sporting competition, and doing things the right way. Thanks, Patrick, for the eye examination However his players didn’t see it that way. They also wanted to win in any way possible, Adams, Keown, Vieira and others would try to intimidate opponents, to fight as hard as they could for victory. Witness Patrick Vieira intimidating Gary Neville in the famous tunnel incident. This fired Roy Keane up so much that he wanted to fight Patrick Vieira before the match. I had never seen this before in football and kept expecting Keane to be sent off before the match had even started. Maybe that is not in the rules so he wasn’t and United went on to win 4-2. Keown was the hardest fighter of all Martin Keown’s most famous image is when he screws up his face at Ruud Van Nistleroy when he missed a penalty at Old Trafford after Diego Forlan had gone down soft. It ended 0-0 and all the Arsenal players celebrated wildly, so wildly that several of them got suspensions. Nothing for Man Utd. Ferguson, unbelievably said that Arsenal’s conduct was the worst he had ever seen in football. Ah, good old Fergie, always playing the mindgames. Get closer, Martin I have to mention Pizzagate as well. The next season, at Old Trafford, Utd ended our great unbeaten run with Van Nistleroy scoring a late penalty and Wayne Rooney scoring even later to give them a 2-0 win. Arsenal had played the better football, controlling the game to that point. It boiled over into the tunnel, and Mr Ferguson got pizza thrown over him by a young Cesc Fabregas, allegedly. This time, both teams kept shtum and no punishments were handed out. Surely not innocent Cesc Fabregas? So there were plenty of fights, red cards, yellow cards, wild tackles, squaring up, and sly grins when intimidation worked, as Wenger vs Ferguson, Keane vs Vieira, Keown vs everybody and lots of other battles raged all around us. It was a time of heightened emotions as the two great teams of English football battled throughout new players in a ten or so year yoyo war for supremacy. Every time a team got knocked down they got back up and knocked the other down. It was a fantastic football war as well But what about the football, I hear you ask? It was high class. Dennis Bergkamp had brought football to a new level as did Thierry Henry, Vieira and superb players for the Arsenal. Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, and others were world class for Utd. Ruud Van Nistleroy ramped up the rivalry by trying to keep up with Henry, but eventually conceded Henry was better as he skulked off to Real Madrid. They fought on football skills though, I never remember them getting physical with each other. Nistleroy was beaten by Thierry Henry During George Graham’s time, Ferguson famously said that Ian Wright was destroying us and he did acknowledge that Arsenal players could play. He also thought that Tony Adams should have been a Manchester United player. And Ferguson learned from Wenger. All the modern ideas he brought were swiftly introduced at Old Trafford, diets, training methods and grounds, pitch technology, large squads, rotation, he was always one of the best learners in football. One thing both managers believed in was attacking football, always trying to score. They were never good at holding on to a lead, always wanting to increase it by preference. Hence the high scoring matches as both sides, once they fell behind, kept trying to win, leaving gaps for the other to exploit. The infamous 8-2 to Man Utd was not as one-sided as the scoreline suggests, as Arsenal continued to press forward, looking for a miracle. Watch it again if you don’t believe me. Are there battles to come? There is no doubt in my mind that Utd had reached an easy pinnacle until Arsenal arrived to challenge, winning title after title, and that push helped Ferguson to get his players to perform better. Both sides had managers and players who only cared about winning, battling and fighting to the end for that top prize of not losing. For trophies, they have the edge and we would need a long great spell to catch them up. It is not impossible, though. Can we overtake them on money, however? Probably not, they are at the top level of fan support with an income to match. They can pay huge salaries even as they are struggling at the moment. A long period for us in the doldrums makes it harder to get the owners to spend money. Again we would need that long great spell to match them for money. They do go in with an advantage, a bigger fan base, a bigger ground, owners who spend more money, and, of course, a stronger modern tradition. What do plucky little Arsenal have to offer? A potentially exciting young manager, who, if he tackles his weaknesses in dealing with players, could become a true great. We also have an extraordinary range of young talent, which, with improvement and some of that battling ability which I have written about here, could bring us that dream spell of dominance. I believe in this team, do you?
  5. Arteta vs the rest I love his smile Can he be the best? I think it is fair to say that Arteta has the support of most fans. Emery didn’t. Wenger did for most of the time and it is even difficult to say if he may have had the majority of fans at the end. George Graham had his doubters, too, and some indifferent seasons but came from a low base, we had won little in the years preceding him. Our glory days were under Herbert Chapman with a couple of nice cameos from Bertie Mee and others. Chapman: read the second line - Arteta did And so, today, I will attempt to see how we can place him against his Arsenal competition. I will start with Chapman. Chapman got nine years before succumbing to flu in 1934. He was a master tactician, credited with creating the famous W formation, which is still the basis of all line-ups today. He believed in coaching, innovation, counter-attacking football, and giving players the best facilities to increase their chances of success. He had a belief in how best to play and stuck to that, but was never afraid to refine it, to make it better. He had an emphasis on dwelling on the ball, dribbling, and possession. We were called lucky Arsenal, boring Arsenal by rivals but were the most successful team of the 1930’s. He was also unafraid to replace players he felt were past their best or no longer good for the side. Can he get nine years? As you can see from this, he has a definite counterpart in Arteta in playing beliefs. Now, will Arteta get nine years or more? It is hard to say. He needs to win matches and challenge for trophies, plus win some of them. He needs Champions League as well. That would get him the nine years plus. He does have a strong belief in what he wants and how to get it. So he could do it. Will he bring in similar big changes off the field championed by Chapman – floodlights, European footbalI, physiotherapy, marble halls for a sense of grandeur, the W formation? Probably not as I feel most big innovations are already here. But I will give him a sporting chance of being able to emulate Chapman as to me, this is the most exciting squad of youngsters Arsenal have ever had, and if we keep most, and they develop, they should be serious contenders. He seems to have their trust and he is credited by his players, not only at Arsenal, of being a great improver. If this squad improves, the sky is the limit. A mirror image of George And unto George Graham. In many ways, Arteta and he are most alike. He believes in strong coaching, in every player knowing their role, what to do if this happens, and what to do if that happens. Covering for each other, organizing each other, passing the ball only to your own players, and that strong belief in counterattacking that arose since the legendary Herbert Chapman. They all saw a clean sheet as a great goal. Graham saw his players as chessmen as, I believe does Arteta. He had an idea in his mind as to what type of player he needs for each position and will ditch a popular player in order to get it. Seaman for the hugely popular Lukic was an example. This is true of Arteta. You can see that in the type of player he gets as cover. Tavares is similar to Tierney, Lokonga to Partey. There's even a little bit of physical similarity Football as chess, highly coached players, and only having players around with full mutual trust. You can see George Graham in Arteta. I am certain he is well aware of what Graham achieved. Can he do the same? Again, if this youthful squad achieves its potential, why not? I don’t see him having the misjudgment that marred Graham’s career, though. But he does have to do what Graham did, topple a team or teams that have advantages over Arsenal. City, Liverpool, Chelsea and even Man Utd have advantages over Arsenal at the moment. Graham got nine years like Chapman. Arteta, if he manages 2 league titles like Graham and consistent Champions League could get longer. Certainly if he matches Graham with the other trophies, he should get longer. Graham might (he seems like a young 77) still be here if it wasn’t for his misjudgment of right and wrong. Yet different to Wenger And so I come to his part mentor, the extraordinary Arsene Wenger. Surprisingly, though, I don’t feel that they have similar beliefs. Wenger believed in coaching players on skills, short passing, one twos, quick movement, etc., but all the books I have read emphasized that he was no great tactician and also that he believed in players expressing themselves, knowing themselves what to do on the pitch, and so instructions were kept to the minimum. If you ever get a chance to go to the Emirates or an away game, you can see Arteta constantly giving individual and group orders to his players. Not so Wenger. The master is different from the pupil Wenger believed in attacking football, with Arteta much more a throwback to Chapman and Graham with counter punching. Wenger never seemed to fall out with players and didn’t like confrontation, preferring players to work out themselves where they had gone wrong. As far as I can see, he never wanted Anelka, Henry, Vieira, Fabregas, Van Persie, or others to leave. Arteta has already shipped out top players and seemed to be unable to deal with them. Ozil was a big puzzle to me as no manager before Emery ever complained about him. Now maybe the damage was already done by the time Arteta arrived or maybe it was Ozil’s Chinese comments which caused a huge backlash from the Chinese, a large part of the Arsenal fanbase. Maybe we will never know. But for sure, Wenger never fell out with players like Arteta does. Niko, you should have listened to the man who knows Wenger, of course, brought in the modern Arsenal, the superb stadium, the extraordinary training and medical facilities, and his long tenure was due to his incredible talent at keeping Arsenal competitive every year, despite the quality of player going down. Plus Wenger seemed an ace at getting players to perform for him. Often, when they went elsewhere, they were not as good. Anelka, in particular, must rue the day he forced his move from Arsenal. Can he do it? I think we can take it for granted that Arteta will never match up to Wenger and Chapman for the off pitch innovations. Most things are already there. Can he match their’s, or Graham’s achievements? I, as an optimist, have a belief in him. We, potentially, have players that can match the glory days of Wenger, Martinelli for Henry, Smith Rowe for Bergkamp, Saka for Pires, Partey for Vieira, Odegaard for Pettit or Ozil, Gabriel for Adams, White for Campbell, Ramsdale for Seaman, and so on. Arteta needs to stay competitive, he needs to keep his best players, he needs not to fall out with them, he needs to bring in the right ones, he needs to win matches and trophies, he needs to keep the support of the fans, and he needs that little bit of luck to get him over the line. At this moment, I wouldn’t dream of changing him. He is young, if he does all I am saying, he could outlast Arsene Wenger and his 26 years. I would love that to happen as it would mean we are heading into a great period of success. But even to get Chapman and Graham’s nine years would mean some more good years and trophies. If this guy becomes the new Henry we can do it I love the way the fans are getting behind him and cheering and singing like crazy. That is unique to him as we were not called the Highbury Library for nothing. That could be the little factor that brings us the great years, my long term wish for ten years of dominance. C’mon Arsenal and c’mon Arteta and the exciting young guns!
  6. The BFG’s tower above us They like winning trophies Last time I spoke about the hapless Spuds and how our biggest rivals are not really rivals at all. They only manage to be better than us when we are poor. So I never felt the hate that some supporters on both sides feel. Some teams and managers did get under my skin, though. And today the rivalry that I will talk about is a team that have got under my skin. I came to hate the sight of them whenever we drew them because they always seemed to win. This rivalry all but the younger fans among you will be well aware of. The BF Germans, our nightmare – Bayern Munich. The thing is, in these blogs, I am not trying to depress you, and so, when I write about a bad season, I try to find the positives, the good things that happened. And I will try to do so here. It’s not going to be easy. You see, regular readers know that my biggest dream is the Champions League, and these BF’s destroyed the dream season after season, often giving us a football lesson as well. But I could have taken the easy way and only write about English teams because, no matter who I choose in this series, if they are English, I can find plenty of good things. But the BF’s? They haven’t given us much. They are destroyers of dreams, wreckers of worlds, and, as they only appeared on the scene lateish in my life, maybe ensured I will never see my dream fulfilled. We are not even getting into the Champions league lately. Bayern Munich? We can beat them. Strangely, the earliest competitive match I can find is the Champions League of 2000 and we haven’t played them in any other competition. Of course, if you were to throw a dart at the Bundesliga winners of any season, you would most likely hit Bayern Munich. 31 championships, well ahead of any English club, and us. Kanu got the winner or did he? But back in those 2000 days, I was starting to feel more positive about our European ambitions. For the first time, we waltzed through the first group stage and got Bayern, Lyon and Spartak Moscow in the second one. We nearly did great in our first match at Highbury, Henry got an early goal and then Kanu got the second on 55. Except Bayern did what they always seem to do to us, they scored and seemed to crush our self-belief on 56 minutes. Ten minutes later and they scored again for the final score. We had a top side out, except for Manninger in goal and Kanu in place of Bergkamp so we had no excuses for quality. Adams, Keown, Vieira, Henry, Pires, Llungberg, Cole, etc., were all there. They beat us 1-0 at home and topped the group. We came second and qualified. The truth is, Bayern are one of the legendary teams in Europe, and had to be the target to aspire to. They were who I wanted Arsenal to be, imperious in putting teams to the sword. Feared from the moment you are drawn against them. In every direction they are better So, in fairness, we can not claim to be their equals. There are only 2 metrics I can find where we are their equal. 1 UEFA Cup and 1 European Cup-winners Cup. But then, they normally play Champions League. Even the German Cup they have won 20 times. Champions league 6 times. Don’t go looking, Arsenal fans, you will only get depressed. You shouldn't have taught Arsenal how to gift goals, Kolo The next time was 2005. We were getting better in Europe, qualifying for the knockout stages regularly. My heart sank a little when we drew them but we had such good players I figured if we played to our best, we could beat them and others like them. I felt head to head, our players were better than theirs. We were not long past being Invincibles. But in the first few minutes Toure did something that we have become familiar with at Arsenal since then. Our biggest problem, in fact. He gifted the BF’s a goal. They scored 2 more to leave us clutching at straws. Toure gave us that straw on 88 minutes to give us an away goal. We won 1-0 at Highbury but that, our first win against them, was rendered meaningless as we went out. A nightmare rolled up in Armageddon The next time was the start of a sickening sequence of results. 2013, the knockout stages and at the Emirates they taught us a lesson 3-1 after being 2-0 up after 21 minutes. Amazingly we beat them 2-0 in Munich to record our second meaningless win. Arsene Wenger complained about the away goals rule after the match but to no avail. Next year we got them again in the first group stage, and another lesson at the Emirates 2-0. Ok a draw in Munich 1-1 but they go through, we just look on bewildered. The Pep knocked out of us Next year again, but this time group stage. Pep Guardiola was their manager. 2 late goals gave us what looked like a meaningful win 2-0. Ah, Arsenal, you are having a laugh. 5-1 in Munich and we looked like amateurs and bye bye. Send us home crying? Screaming more like. Who are these BF’s? Guardiola taught us a lesson Our biggest nightmare, that is who. 2017 we get them again, first knockout stage. Carlo Ancelotti had replaced Guardiola but not the score. 5-1 in Munich and it was dreadful to watch. A pub team against the masters. The tie was over but I felt at the Emirates we could salvage some pride. Theo Walcott scored on 20 and we were 1-0 at half time. No real chance of winning the tie but I was hoping for a respectable score. Eh, hello, we went back to being an amateur team, they threw the ball into the net 5 more times for three 5-1’s in a row. And so did Ancelotti twice We were supposed to be Arsenal, not a Sunday kickabout team. There was only one way to watch these final 3 games against our BFG rivals, with your hands over your eyes. Arsene Wenger was our manager for all these matches here. I can only imagine the pain he feels when he hears the name Bayern Munich. Destroyed and made fun of And so, what does it mean? I’ll tell you what it means. The BF’s are laughing at us. They are laughing at me if they read this blog. For me pretending that we are rivals. Arsenal the bums, is what they think. I doubt if we have been beaten so easily 3 times in a row ever. And they don’t care that my biggest dream is winning the Champions League, and they don’t care that I am getting older like my dream. Close to the end, Arsene But surely we are Arsenal? Surely we can come back? Howabout these Arteta youngsters standing up to these BF’s at their own stadium in a Champions league final and sending them home screaming and crying with a 5-1 victory? That is one way I can say there is a metric that says we are better. C’mon the Arse!
  7. Santa Gus comes down your chimney with lots of presents Hey all you wonderful Arsenal fans out there, do you want ideas for Christmas presents and maybe warnings for stuff to avoid? You have come to the right place here on the most wonderful Arsenal fan site of all. https://arsenal-bulgaria.com Because today I will give out some recommendations for Arsenal books and some that you can miss unless you have a particular interest in the esoteric. Now, as you can probably guess, the team here at Arsenal Bulgaria.com are an erudite bunch. We have our own messenger space where deep philosophical brooding on the state of the Arsenal is the norm. Highly intelligent argumentation happens all the time. A poor simple guy like me gets lost, they are so smart. No spam ever comes from their lips. Seriously, though, they do an incredible job, writing, analysing, going through the history and staying up-to-date on what is happening at the Arsenal so you can read straightaway the latest news in Bulgarian. For those of you who don’t speak English, this is a great boon. My little sideshow, London Calling, tries to give a different perspective on what you can read anywhere else. And this is my take on some of the books I have read this year. Well worth reading I will start with Ian Wright, because we all love him. My Life in Football is his second one and has been translated for you by the team here. You all have a copy. So is it worth reading? Yes it is. It covers his later career mostly, and also his domestic life and his difficulties with relationships. Lots of great football stories, insights to the various managers in his career, Steve Coppell, George Graham, and Arsene Wenger, and his disastrous relationship with Bruce Rioch. There is an honesty about Ian Wright’s 2 books and I can strongly recommend both. And this is even better Which brings me to Mr Wright: The Explosive Autobiography of Ian Wright, his first one. Honestly, I enjoyed this more, it gave a real feel for how he struggled in his early life, the immense difficulties in trying to make it all intertwined with a lively writing style that has you turning page after page. He scores a lot with this one It’s Only Ray Parlour, however, is the second best of the Arsenal bunch. This is such an enjoyable read, lots of funny stories, pisstaking of so many incidents and people, even Arsene Wenger is a target. Check out his story about drinks on the plane. And his story about Martin Keown’s final match. Grab this one, you will enjoy it. Our leader, our winner Sober by Tony Adams is also strongly recommended. This is an epic story of a man who came to personify Arsenal. A deeply flawed human being who had to battle against his demons to succeed. Bizarrely ending up in jail at the peak of his career, but coming out of it stronger, he was a winner, an onfield and off-field coach while still playing, the inspiration behind the team, putting up with all sorts of insults in his early and even middle career but ending up Mr Arsenal and still today, the icon of the team. Again you will enjoy this, lots of great insights and anecdotes. A great read My favourite will surprise you, I reckon. True Storey by Peter Storey is an immense book that never got the recognition it deserved. Probably because he was dismissed as just a hardman and a bit of a villain. He ended up in big trouble when his career ended with several criminal convictions and this was his attempt to give his side of the story. He was a good footballer and made a big difference to the Arsenal. Alf Ramsey famously dismissed him as a clogger for most of his career but when he finally picked him, chose him over several big names. He had a run of 15 straight games for England in his 19 caps. He never seemed to miss a penalty. But it is his after career that a lot of the book concentrates on. In those days footballers did not make big money and he set up several businesses which didn’t go well. Partnerships went wrong and there was a strong feeling of naivety in the real world waters he was now swimming in. Overall, a picture emerges of a good man struggling to get out, not having the nous to say no to a bad deal, but finally finding love and a sanctuary in the South of France. A story of redemption that would make a good film. It was mooted but never happened. It should. Everything is good about this one and its in Bulgarian Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby was also supplied by us for free and it is a great read for Arsenal and football fans. His god was Liam Brady and his description of the famous Liverpool Arsenal game is unmissable. Read it and enjoy. Interesting but not very exciting Arsene Wenger’s My Life in Red and White? Truly, it is not very exciting. A good insight to his early life and his football philosophy, his inner destruction when he lost, his man management, his attention to detail, his time in France and Japan and the glorious English years, it doesn’t really touch too much on the stories I wanted to read. The rivalries with Ferguson and Mourinho, the celebrated incidents, the sendings off to the stands, the insider personal football stories are at a minimum. Read it if you are interested in the minutiae of football. Oh and forget about Arsene Wenger - The Unauthorised Biography of Le Professeur by Tom Oldfield, it doesn’t bring much to the table. For the real fan, I suppose The same can be said of The Big Friendly German by Per Mertesacker. Great for those who want to find out about how German football is organised, how it was ahead of its time in training facilities, medical and physiotherapy and such treatments, but it is short on good football stories and insights. Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top by Phillippe Auclair did little for me. I don’t think I even finished it. Nothing new in it. A great laugh I want to mention one more which has little about Arsenal in it but is truly worth a read – How to be a Footballer by Peter Crouch. This is a collection of funny stories about his time in football. Really superb, laugh out loud and you just keep turning the pages until you are finished. Hey, have a great Christmas, I hope you and Arsenal have a wonderful time and if you want a copy of any of these books, even the ones I don’t recommend, send me a message at gus_worth@yahoo.co.uk and I can send you a digital edition.
  8. 2005-2006 We won trophies at this stadium The end of Highbury. Highbury was a great ground. I loved it and I cannot say I get the same buzz from the Emirates. To go on to the terrace and mingle with the real fans, listen to the banter, get shoved around whenever something exciting happened, sometimes struggling to see what happened when being shoved, all added to the fizz in my belly as I watched my team becoming close to being a great one in the late 80’s under George Graham. We were finally able to go toe to toe with the giants of English football, Liverpool and I was able to go to Highbury to watch them climb that mountain. People accused it of being the Highbury Library but it never seemed that way to me, there was always a noise, lots of singing, and sometimes some very witty comments. And, something that might surprise people who only watch on tv is the negativity of a lot of the crowd. Cries similar to “The team is fucking useless and always have been”, “the manager is an idiot” and many others came out of the lips of fans regularly from the terrace. That has died out dramatically since we changed over to the stands. There is still a little banter now but nowhere near the same. Football is worse for that, although I have to say I do like being able to sit and have a bit of comfort watching Arsenal, I miss the connectness of the terraces. But not at this one And I miss Highbury. The financial argument was inescapable. Roman Abramovich had altered the landscape of football as he transformed Chelsea into a contender for the best team in Europe. A seemingly bottomless supply of money and an aggressive attitude towards managers not achieving it meant that even Mourinho got sacked after toppling the 2 giants of English football, Manchester United and Arsenal, both with far greater resources at the time in terms of fans worldwide and ability to coin money from that fanbase. The big teams of Europe, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, the Italian giants, and several within England had much bigger grounds. And so the plan that had started several years before had come to fruition and Arsenal would spend their last year at the hallowed and exquisite turf of Highbury. Arsene Wenger and David Dein, along with the board, set it all in place. A new ground, close beside Highbury so fans are not discommoded, with around 60,000 fans, a huge increase on what was there before, and a far greater amount of corporate boxes to cater for the sexy image football had garnered for itself. Arsenal needed that money to be able to take on the big boys. The banks insisted on Arsene Wenger The banks got that call right Perhaps not so well known is that the banks insisted that Arsene Wenger had to remain at the helm to guarantee the loans.This was certainly prescient as, although attendances have not been hit too badly since Wenger moved on, they have certainly taken a hit now that we are no longer challenging for honours. The shiny new stadium did come at a price on the pitch though. Although lots of new players came that year, none had the impact of Bergkamp (believed to have been a Wenger choice), Vieira, Henry, Petit, Overmars, Campbell, Pires, Llungberg and others that became legends. Adebayer, Walcott, Diaby, Song, and Hleb did come on board and made various types of impressions but none are contenders for greatest player in their position for Arsenal as those previous players I mentioned are. It looked like Wenger could get us good but not great players now. Our greatest midfielder gone This guy frightened players And so we lost one of our greatest this season. Patrick Vieira finally left for Juventus after grumbling for a few seasons about a move. Cesc Fabregas came through from the academy finally as first choice but he was no like for like replacement. He did not have the aggression or the physique of Vieira but he did bring a superb skillset to the team so that Vieira’s loss was not so keenly felt. Fabregas almost bridged the gap Lots of teams sent us home crying Still, on the pitch, we weren’t so good, 11 defeats in the league meant we finished a distant fourth to Chelsea. We fielded understrength teams in the FA cup and the League cup because Wenger concentrated all efforts on winning the Champions league which meant we went out to Bolton in the 4th round of the FA cup and Wigan in the semi-final of the League cup. We played lower teams in the league cup and got away with it until the semi’s where Wigan drew 2-2 over 2 legs but went through on the away goals rule as they scored a goal at Highbury in extra time of the second leg. We were beaten at Highbury by Chelsea and West Ham in the league, our only 2 defeats there that season although Wigan got a sort of a victory in the League cup. Highbury was always a difficult place to come to and the Emirates has never quite managed to achieve that. At least I got to feel it throughout my whole body And so we got our send off. Every match had a theme like players day, European night, 49-er’s day, Wenger day etc. and there was a party type atmosphere all season. Highbury was no more and I could never recreate my days of younger as we moved into our new giant stadium with its dizzying heights. Impressive, yes, and lots of interesting parts around it but without that buzz which so many of you will never experience. I am so glad that I got to feel it all through my body as I looked around at all the fans, strangers yet family, buzzing and fizzing and erupting as the goals went in. Next week I will talk about our Champions league campaign that season. It will be the final, for now, of this series My life as a gooner. The 49 has significance. The Champions league is the title I have always wanted and we came so close. List of themed matchdays at Highbury Matchday Date Players Day 14 August 2005 Goal Celebrations Day 24 August 2005 European Night 14 September 2005 2 November 2005 Doubles Day 19 September 2005 Internationals Day 2 October 2005 Wenger Day 22 October 2005 Memorial Day 5 November 2005 49-ers Day 26 November 2005 League Cup Night 29 November 2005 24 January 2006 Boxers v Jockeys Day 7 December 2005 Great Saves Day 18 December 2005 Hat-trick Heroes Day 28 December 2005 Back Four Day 3 January 2006 FA Cup Day 7 January 2006 1913 Day 14 January 2006 London Derbies Day 1 February 2006 Home Grown Players Day 11 February 2006 Managers Day 8 March 2006 Captains Day 12 March 2006 Junior Gunners Day 18 March 2006 Decades Day 28 March 2006 David Rocastle Day 1 April 2006 Dennis Bergkamp Day 15 April 2006 Records Day 19 April 2006 Kits Day 22 April 2006 Goals Day 7 May 2006
  9. 2003-2004 Unbeaten A rare picture of Davis Dine I am going to let you into a little secret, a conspiracy in fact, Arsenal were actually beaten in the Invincible season but Davis Dine, a shadowy yet powerful man with Arsenal, was willing to conspire to make sure that didn’t happen. Poor Mr Dine didn’t like the way everyone was laughing at his favourite person as, last time out, Arsenal had been beaten 6 times on the way to coming second after comical Wenger said we could go the whole season unbeaten. He resolved a plan which involved gathering all the dirt he could on all his rivals to make sure results would be changed if necessary. First he had to secure the Premier League and their managers but that was easy as he had been in a major position ever since the start. He knew all their secrets, their illicit affairs, their secret bank accounts, the bribes for votes, and as he was squeaky clean himself, they couldn’t get back at him. Or could they? Undefeated Harry Redknapp masterminded a win over Arsenal And so to the matches. Dine was hoping that somehow we would never be beaten and he would never have to unveil his plan. We started so well with 4 wins over Everton, Middlesbrough, Villa and Man City. On September 13th, though, he came up against Portsmouth and he didn’t even think he would need anything for this one as they were, well, Portsmouth. But the ageless Teddy Sheringham scored on 26 minutes putting Dine in a panic for a moment. Then he remembered that Harry Redknapp had bank accounts in the name of his dog and Tottenham was his dream job. So he quickly spoke to him, promised to keep shtum on the accounts and would use his contacts to make sure he would manage the Spuds in the future. Miraculously, Henry got a penalty soon after. We failed to score another so that would have been a loss. 1-1 and we were still unbeaten. Redknapp was no fool, though, and he insisted that the second match also had to be 1-1 and so it was on 4th May. And was it a coincidence that he finally got to manage the Spuds in 2008? Van Nistleroy: The star pupil of falling over But then the next match was Manchester United. Mr Dine had no worries here, he had a secret video training session recorded where players were taught to dive. Van Nistleroy was the star pupil. If anything went wrong he could pull it out. It was nervy as it was 0-0 but that remained the final score and Dine didn’t have to worry. He was really hoping they wouldn’t score late as it gave him little time to organise but in the end, all was fine. Unassailable Then 3 wins against Newcastle, Liverpool and Chelsea and Dine could breathe easily. An easy game against Charlton next, eh, no, they scored after 27 minutes with a Paolo Di Canio penalty. Dine was scrambling around trying to see what he could do when Henry popped up with a goal on 39 minutes. Luckily the scores stayed like that to the end as Charlton were a bit of a problem for him. He hadn’t got much dirt on them. Leeds, Tottenham and Birmingham fell to our sword next so no need to worry. Fulham next and 0-0. Again Dine was nervy about a late goal but we got through it. No need to pull any strokes. Leicester away next and this time we were one up after 60 minutes with a Gilberto goal. Ashley Cole got sent off on 72 and it got stressful for Dine but we held out until the 93rd minute when they scored an equalizer from Craig Hignett. But 1-1 and all is well. Indomitable A nice win against Blackburn 1-0 to the Arsenal and then Bolton away. Davis Dine wasn’t worried at all about this one as he knew where Sam Allardyce kept his secret stash of pies and would reveal his big secret. As it happened, Robert Pires scored after 57 minutes, Bolton rallied on 83 with Henrik Pederson to leave a risky 1-1. Big Sam’s pies were safe. We weren’t beaten. Your secret is safe, Sam 3-0 and 1-0 to the Arsenal next against Wolves and Southampton and all is good. Then Everton at Goodison. Kanu put us ahead on 29 and it seemed all was well but then Radzinki scored one for Everton on 75. Dine kept his nerve and it ended 1-1. Unconquerable Then we had nine wins in a row. Dine was wondering why he had never done this before. We were Arsenal, we were winning, we were sending teams home crying. And if we needed a little bit of help, he should have been providing it. Next step would be all other trophies. Suddenly, Manchester United were next at Highbury. He had his secret diving video as back-up here but he needn’t have worried. Henry scored after 50 minutes and even though Saha got one back on 86, it was enough for 1-1. No need to pull any tricks. We were still the Arsenal. Indestructible 4-2 against Liverpool. Easy peasy. Then 0-0 Newcastle. He had an ace up his sleeve with them if necessary. He would threaten them with Mike Ashley taking over if they gave him any problems. Leeds 5-0 then, and this was looking so good. Too late, Robbie The Spuds away. Mr Dine wasn’t worried as they always fell over for Arsene Wenger. It was his favourite ground. And so it proved as first Vieira on 3 minutes and then Pires on 35 scored to make us 2-0. Ah, Spuds, you are useless, the only team Mr Dine didn’t have to collect any scandal on, you make life easy for us. Although Jamie Redknapp scored on 62 and Robbie Keane got a late consolation on 94 to make it 2-2. These Irishmen can be a nuisance but we were still unbeaten. Invulnerable Birmingham 0-0 and no need for dramatics. Portsmouth next and the deal held as agreed earlier, another 1-1. We let them score first then we equalised. All good. One nil to the Arsenal against Fulham then 2-1 vs Leicester to give us the invincible season. But we would have been beaten at Portsmouth thus ending the dream. Who would have thought that Harry Redknapp was the mastermind who actually should have beaten us? Invincible We are Arsenal, we are the best, the invincibles, and Arsene Wenger the genius who made us so. A pity for Davis Dine, though, as he was to go out of favour at Arsenal, and his dream of having an ace in the hole for every match was never to be. Until today, this story never came out. But now you know the conspiracy behind the invincible season. As for me, I was delighted. Manchester United, who are you? No-one will ever beat us.
  10. George Graham showed the way in 1991 It couldn't be done 2003 - 2004 Was Arsene Wenger a fool of a manager, in 2002-2003 when he unwisely said we could go the whole season unbeaten? The media loved it, taking every opportunity to laugh at him. We lost 6 times in the league and came second. Only in the early days of the league was it possible when Preston won in the first ever league campaign unbeaten in 1888-89. However, it was a much smaller league with only 22 matches and they had, a bit controversially, brought down a load of Scottish players to boost their team. None of the great teams after that could do it, Ourselves in the 1930’s, Huddersfield earlier, Wolves, Manchester United, Liverpool and many other great teams tried, but it never happened. The league had expanded to 42 matches although the Premier League knocked that down to 38, and the difficulties of travelling long distances, playing on cold, wet, muddy pitches, injuries, loss of form, bad luck, bad refs, sendings off, and a myriad of factors contributed to it taking mythical status. Few teams had even got close, with 5/6 losses quite normal for champions. George Graham did show the way though in 1991 with only one defeat. But Wenger said it could Wenger argued that he sent out his teams to win every match, and, as they were pretty much better than the rest, it should be possible. Manchester United never really came close, 3 defeats in 2000 being their best under Ferguson. Particularly as in parts of the 90’s, they were clearly better than the rest, but, of course, you have to play your close rivals twice and cope with trying to motivate players once the season is won, which it often was with matches left to play. Jens Lehmann: A good buy Lots of defeats But Wenger had said it. And didn’t even win the league let alone go undefeated. Manchester United had come back at him again so now could he take down old red nose again? Honestly, the transfer activity didn’t inspire much belief. Players were brought in who would turn out to be very significant, Van Persie, Fabregas, Clichy, Senderos and Djourou would all go on to claim first team spots but not this season. Only Jens Lehmann, and to a much lesser extent, Jose Antonio Reyes, would get much of a chance this time. Lehmann, taking over from David Seaman, was an ever present, but as Seaman was top class, it was hard to make a case that the team had improved much. Kolo Toure, though, emerged as Sol Campbell’s partner and they just worked so nicely together. It was a partnership that performed really well, Campbell dealing with his defensive duties superbly but Toure reminded me of Bobby Moore as to how he would win the ball and distribute it very well. He was mobile, flexible and a good ball player. In fairness to Wenger, we had top players, all, with the exception of Bergkamp (who anyway was rested), still with plenty of miles left on the clock, and he was never one to buy for the sake of it. The quality of our players was not a barrier to going undefeated as we had shown we could beat Man Utd home and away and they were the best of the rest. We really only worried about Manchester United Chelsea had been moving steadily upwards and this season Roman Abramovich had taken over, promising a Blue revolution with an unlimited war-chest to spend, but surely that was unlikely to happen straightaway? Liverpool, Newcastle and Blackburn were also close but for a few seasons now, it had been Arsenal and Man Utd as the biggest rivals. We did expect to come at least second. Around this period, under Wenger, we would play close to 60 matches a season, and if you were to win all your matches, it would be closer to 70. I am going to say that winning all matches is never going to happen, the different demands of the various trophies mitigate against that. So could we really go undefeated in the League, which I feel is what Wenger was talking about? Was comical Wenger right? I feel that he, having said it, felt it as a pressure that started to build the longer the run went on. Ray Parlour, in his autobiography, said that the players didn’t really feel pressure about this for a long time. They didn’t really feel it was possible and they had other trophies to worry about. Could we win all trophies? So how did we do in the other trophies? The Charity Shield and Manchester United gave us our first defeat although it was only after penalties. In the league cup we came close although we struggled against Rotherham in our first round scraping through 9-8 on penalties after extra time. Then much easier against Wolves in the next 5-1. Then 2-0 against West Brom before the 2 legged semi-final against Middlesbrough. We were beaten home and away despite playing quite well for an aggregate 3-1. 3 defeats. We were taught a lesson at Highbury against Inter The Champions League was a bit of a disaster. We were beaten first time out against Inter 3-0 at Highbury, then a draw against Lokomotiv Moscow in Moscow before another defeat against Dynamo Kiev away 2-1. Our poor European form was a true puzzle to me, it never made any sense. Wenger was from continental Europe, he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the teams, he had players that most teams craved but somehow couldn’t put them away. But maybe he was stung by these defeats as we won our next 3 to top the group including destroying Inter in Milan, 5-1, and, a match I was at, Dynamo Kiev at home where Ashley Cole got a late goal to give us a chance as that was the first game of the second half of the group. Ashley Cole gave us hope against Dynamo Kiev Then Celta Vigo 5-2 over the 2 legs of the first knockout round. Then Chelsea, doing really well under Roman Abramovich, beat us in the quarter finals with 1-1 at Stamford Bridge and 2-1 at Highbury with Wayne Bridge scoring very late to send us crying back to North London. 3 defeats in total in the Champions League. No, we couldn't And the FA Cup? Our trophy? Leeds first and dispatched 4-1. Then Middlesbrough 4-1. Then Chelsea 2-1 and Portsmouth 5-1 to leave us Man Utd in the semi’s. But they beat us 1-0 thanks to a Paul Scholes goal. 1 defeat. Scholes scores for our old enemy Which left us with 3 defeats in the first half of the season and 4 in the second. It only left us the league to be undefeated. Could we do it there and prove that Arsene Wenger was not stand-up comedian material but instead soberly looking at his team and saying “We can do it”? Some good results in those other trophies aside, there weren’t a huge amount of reasons to have that idea. I don’t remember having much belief myself. In October, I was in a pub in Dublin watching Arsenal draw with Charlton 1-1 and was talking to a random stranger who opined that Arsenal are not so good this year, too many draws. It was hard to argue. Next week I will take a look at what happened in the league in what was maybe our most momentous season.
  11. 2002-2003 No, they were laughing at you, Arsene The year when we won everything! In the previous year we had won the double. Now we were ready to win all. Champions league, League Cup as well as league and FA cup. And our first trophy was the Charity Shield. By rights we should have played against ourselves as we were the holders of both qualifying trophies but we played Liverpool who were enjoying a resurgence under Gerard Houllier and had finished second the last season. We played super, were all over them but only won 1-0. Gilberto, making his debut, came on as a sub and scored. I always liked Gilberto. He acted as a sort of sweeper midfielder/defender but could play and sometimes score. He gave a stability to the team. This is the famous year that Arsene Wenger said we could go the whole season unbeaten and was laughed at. In fairness, what he also said was that no manager ever sets out to lose, and that for every match he planned for a win. I am sure Alex Ferguson and the rest agreed with that. He rarely, even for the league cup, played a totally raw team, with always some experienced players to back up the youngsters. I would argue that by playing weakened teams, though, he was giving a lie to his argument that he always planned to win. He would often play a weakened team either side of a European match, if they were from low in the table, as well. I do accept his argument, though, that no manager sets out to lose. I cannot imagine a manager saying “Lads, I know it’s only Tottenham but you are going to lose”. But he averaged 30 or more players getting matches in his period and, in all honesty, all of us Gooners knew what he thought of as his top team, (Seaman, Cole, Lauren, Keown, Campbell, Gilberto, Vieira, Pires, Llungberg, Henry, Wiltord, with Bergkamp kept fresh for the important matches) so he had to believe that the fringe players could also get a win for him. He did have a good record against lower teams in cup competitions, in truth. Always nice to beat this team An undefeated season? So could we? Go undefeated for a season? I am not sure any team has ever done it anywhere but maybe a statistician could enlighten me? It is not fully clear, from what Wenger said, if he meant all competitions or just the league but anyway, if we could do it this season, we would finally win the Champions League, the prize I wanted above all else. Anyway, despite a good start to the season, October arrived and we had back to back defeats against Everton and Blackburn to disabuse us of any notions of being undefeated. Also back to back defeats in October in the Champions League against Auxerre and Borussia Dortmund. Strangely enough, all defeats were 2-1. We went out soon after in the League Cup to Sunderland on November 6th in our first round. The joke was on us. Undefeated? Could we even win anything? In my time as an Arsenal fan, we had never retained a title but in fairness, we were doing well to this point. A bad spell always knocked me back and every season we had them. Often October/November was the catalyst for the bad spells. Wet, muddy grounds conspired against our artists. Other teams were catching up but grass technology was expensive as was undersoil heating. Too many defeats left us a bit deflated We were to have 2 more defeats before Christmas against Southampton and Manchester United to leave us chasing retention. In the Champions league we finished top although level with Dortmund. This was an improvement. We at least finished top. But still the calibre of the teams were below us. We couldn’t seem to transfer our league form to Europe and this was borne out in the next round. We were drawn against Valencia, Ajax and Roma, all teams that we should have been better than but we went out in 3rd place, only Roma below us. There was no transfer to Uefa cup at the second stage so we were out of Europe. But we had bounced back in the league and were top all over Christmas and looking like retention would happen, finally. Some nice results on the way, 3-0 Tottenham, 5-2 West Brom, 3-0 Charlton, 4-1 Leeds, and 3-1 Villa and Sunderland. It was a time when we played lovely football, the neutrals came to love us, we scored almost every match, and Henry seemed to only score magic goals. But then the double came back on How did Giggs miss? So we were looking good when the Fa Cup came around. The first 2 were Oxford and non league Farnborough, we despatched them easily enough only to draw the biggie – Manchester United away. I had a strange feeling of confidence going into this match but Ryan Giggs did everything right early on as he skipped through Arsenal, but somehow managed to miss the easiest goal chance he ever had in his life. It sticks in everyone’s head and I am sure he still has nightmares about it. Watch it on Youtube, you will not believe that he missed. But then Edu (yes that Edu) whacked in a free kick, it took a wicked deflection from the Man U wall and left Barthez in goal no chance. Later the same Edu went on a nice run, slipped the ball cleverly to Wiltord and he jinked past the Utd defence to put our second past Barthez. 2-0 to the Arsenal and a sign that we could retain both trophies and leave the Mancs to cry for the rest of the season. Edu could play, you know Chelsea next and 3-1 after a replay. Then Sheffield Utd in the semi’s and 1-0 to the Arsenal. On to Southampton in the final. Robert Pires scored the only goal and again 1-0 to the Arsenal. Always nice to sing that one, particularly when we win the Fa cup and become the only team to retain it in a long time. And our first time for me as a fan for us to retain a trophy. Wenger was breaking all records. One half of a double – is that such a thing? But a stuttering end to the season in the league including 2 defeats to Blackburn Rovers 2-0 and Leeds 3-2 meant Man Utd had made a comeback and finally finished 5 points above us in 1st. We were second again as we had been many times before to them, on 78. We scored 85 goals in the league, easily the most, 10 above Man Utd, and finished well ahead in London. So no undefeated season for us. Not a bad season but not great. My dream of Champions League seemed to be just a dream and I reckon Wenger’s dream of going undefeated was also just a dream, but I was still going into 2003-2004 with a lot of confidence. We had pushed Man Utd hard, been a little better in Europe and had finally retained a trophy. We were Arsenal, c’mon boys, prove it.
  12. Our very own ‘Nam In contemporary American folklore, Vietnam (The ‘Nam) has a unique place. Many soldiers came back traumatised or got attacked for having been there in the first place. It was an unpopular war and the ‘Nam has a grim place in American folk memory. But we here at Arsenal have our own ‘Nam – Totten-Nam! But as we will see here, In contrast to the American one, they have a happy place in our folk memory. And why? Because they were mostly crap and we flew high above them. I will take a look at the 90’s this time and our position versus London clubs and the ‘Nam. It is good reading. Even their badge is a cock on a ball. What were they thinking? What cocks! As I have mentioned before in these pages, most of the time I have been an Arsenal supporter, The ‘Nam were second best. The only real times The ‘Nam were better than us was when both were struggling. The ‘Nam have not won the league since I became an Arsenal supporter (1969) whereas we have won it six times. They have won the FA cup 3 times compared to our 10. The League cup is better for them at 4 times to our 2. They won the Uefa cup twice compared to our one and European cup-winners cup one apiece. Overall we are very clearly ahead up to the end of the 90’s. The same is true of the other London clubs, Chelsea, West Ham, Crystal Palace, QPR, Watford, Fulham, etc. 3 Immense managers Mr Chapman, you gave us so much class I think it is fair to say that Arsenal have had 3 great managers: the incomparable Herbert Chapman, who brought titles, innovations, marble halls, physiotherapy, training, and an Arsenal way of doing things that oozed class. You could be proud of Arsenal. George Graham took on the mighty Liverpool, then undisputedly the best team ever in English football, and cut them down to size. He won many trophies and brought a level of onfield organisation that has never been seen before or since. And of course the magnificent Arsene Wenger, who comes close to matching Chapman in how he organised the club off the pitch, with his superior stadium, training and medical facilities. And he, of course, surpassed the previous 2 in terms of trophies, although he did get a lot longer. Graham and Wenger coexisted in this decade, the 90’s, and that is unusual, to have 2 superlative managers in the same decade. So we were easily the kings of London in this decade as The ‘Nam were pretty good by their standards , as also were Chelsea, and other London teams were popping up and sometimes doing good things but we were well ahead. For the previous 2 decades I made a case that we were the best as we were the only team to win the league, which is the ultimate domestic trophy. But in the nineties, I do not have to make a case for Arsenal. We were the best. Not the best in England, as Man Utd had that distinction, but Kings of London for sure. A little stutter at the start 4, 1, 4, 10, 4, 12, 5, 3, 1, 2 was our final league standings giving us 2 league titles, one better than the previous decades. We had 2 Fa cups compared to The ‘Nam one. We both had one league cup but we had 3 Charity Shields to their one. The emerging Chelsea won the Fa cup once, League cup once, Cup-winners cup once and Uefa Super cup once. West Ham had 2 promotions from the second tier in this time. Promotion was the best for the others. But let’s take it year by year. 1989-90 we were 4th, the ‘Nam 3rd and Chelsea 5th with the rest down the table. Palace were 15th but got to the final of the FA cup to be beaten by Man Utd. So the ‘Nam in the lead but waiting for us to knock them down again as we always did. But then we took off Bye, bye, Spuds 1990-91 we were top, Palace were 3rd, the ‘Nam, Chelsea and QPR were 10th, 11th and 12th respectively. The ‘Nam won the cup but now us clearly in the lead. Can you even see us? We can sell you binoculars. 1991-92 we were 4th but Palace were next in 10th, QPR 11th, Wimbledon 13th, Chelsea 14th, The ‘Nam 15th and West Ham had come up but went straight back down. Further into the lead. We can offer you a telescope. 1992-93 10th but we did the double of both domestic cups. QPR 5th, The ‘Nam 8th, Chelsea 11th, Wimbledon 12th, and Palace relegated. I say further into the lead. A long range telescope might help. 1993-94 4th. Wimbledon 6th, QPR 9th, West Ham 13th, Chelsea 14th, Tottenham 15th. Chelsea got to the FA cup final but we won the Cup-Winners cup. Again further into the lead. A space telescope might be needed. 1994-95 12th. Tottenham 7th, QPR 8th, Wimbledon 9th, Chelsea 11th and Palace relegated. The ‘Nam got to FA cup semi and Palace got to both domestic semi’s. But we got to the Cup-Winners Final. Maybe we moved back a tiny bit. 1995-96 Again top London team at 5th. The ‘Nam 8th, West Ham 10th, Chelsea 11th, Wimbledon 14th and QPR relegated. A semi in the League Cup fpr us as well means back out in front. By now the ‘Nam need to start tracking us by satellite. We are that dot in the sky laughing down at you. 1996-97 We were 3rd, Chelsea were 6th, Wimbledon 8th, Tottenham 10th and West Ham 14th. Chelsea won the FA cup. Possibly a little bit back this year because of Chelsea but still well out on front over the ‘Nam. They need to get on to the Space Station telescope to see where we are. We put a rocket up our Arse 1997-98 Ah, but now Mr Wenger had properly come and we nearly did a domestic sweep winning League and Fa cup and being beaten by Chelsea in the semi of the League Cup which they won. Chelsea 4th, West Ham 8th, The ‘Nam 14th, Wimbledon 15th and Palace up and back down. We had flown so far ahead at this point no other London team was remotely close. The poor old ‘Nam now needed the Hubble telescope to find us. This could help you, Spuds 1998-99 Arsenal 2nd, Chelsea 3rd, West Ham 5th, the ‘Nam 11th and Wimbledon 16th. We got FA cup semi-final and Chelsea Cup-Winner cup semi. Further away from the pack for us. Oh, what fun we had as the ‘Nam went down to Greenwich observatory begging for advice to see where the stars of Arsenal were, and will they ever be able to get into our orbit again. Spuds scurried down to Greenwich to find where we were Ah, we had a great big laugh No London team got close to us in the 90’s as you can see. Chelsea had started the investment process and were moving closer. The ’Nam and the rest were nowhere near. I have to say that was the case for me regarding the ‘Nam, they were mostly well behind us. I never hated them as they were very rarely serious challengers when we were good. I think that is why they always seem to hate us more, because we were much better. And we had a habit of humiliating them on their own ground. And they couldn’t afford space telescopes. And we had got the magical Wenger. The guy we didn’t know we wanted was our saviour. He transformed Arsenal, we had great great players, he was to give us a magnificent stadium, unbelievable training and medical facilities, an exhilarating style of play, lots of trophies, 2 doubles, an unbeaten season, oh, the wonder of it all. We still needed to be better In fairness, though, yes, we were clearly kings of London but not of England as the Millennium approached. We had a good decade and in most other decades it would have been a great one but Manchester United had an unbelievable decade. They had to be our target. The ‘Nam were a joke by comparison and Chelsea were still well behind us. We needed to be Arsenal and we needed to send the Mancs scurrying home north crying all the way. We could not, and should not accept second best. Having a laugh at the ‘Nam was good fun but that was easy, getting on top of the Mancs was harder.
  13. 1997-98 But then it all went Wright? The transfer market was crazy, players were flying in from all over. Players who had shown a bit of promise were shipped out and also Paul Merson was sent on to Middlesbrough, seemingly not rated by Wenger. And so we didn’t know who the team were going to be, and also who most of these new players were. A young Matthew Upson was brought in from Luton who never quite made it at Arsenal but went on to have a pretty good career elsewhere. He was the only Brit brought in and he was cover for the fabled back four. Matthew Upson: one Brit and many foreign in Now, Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars are well famous. Gilles Grimandi, Christopher Wreh and Luis Boa Morte were good players but turned out to be more squad players than certs. Alex Manninger was signed as cover for David Seaman. Only Alberto Mendez from Germany never really featured much and he moved on with scarcely any games. A scary side Wenger showed early on that he was good in the transfer market. Petit and Overmars soon showed that they were among the best in the Premier League. How about this for a side? Seaman Dixon Adams Keown Winterburn Vieira Petit Parlour Wright Bergkamp Overmars Frighten the life out of you? For sure. But Bould could come in at the back without a hint of weakness. David Platt was an unbelievable midfielder and could come in to change a game. And so could Nicolas Anelka up front who was showing signs of an immense talent. He looked like he would become a world superstar, yes raw and sometimes ungainly, but frighteningly good at times. Give him a chance to develop his game and his nous over the next few seasons and we have got a player. I think most fans agreed with me on this point. Over our next few blogs we will see what happened to him. A Dark December Emmanuel Petit was an immense midfielder and formed a superb partnership with Patrick Vieira. They were big, they were strong but they could play. They were potentially the best midfield pairing in the world except that Vieira was still raw, still struggled with heavy, greasy pitches and this was reflected in our dour November/December were we lost 4 league matches in a row to seemingly drop out of the title race. We were 5th on the 31st January, having occupied a similar position since November. The newcomers, in general, struggled with the weather and the pitches, Overmars, Petit and Anelka also flailing and sliding with abandon. Petit: one of the best Discipline was also a problem with Vieira and Petit picking up 3 red cards and 16 bookings between them, a lot of it due to being unable to play at the intensity and speed they desired and keep their balance. The famous Wenger ill discipline was in full force, and, despite not being a dirty side by any means, managed to clock up unimpressive disciplinary stats. And what about Ian Wright? I posed a question at the start “But then it all went Wright?” because I guess all you Gooners know what happened at the end this season, but for Ian Wright it was a mixed season, never shown better than when he pulled up his jersey against Bolton in September to show that he had broken the Arsenal scoring record. Eh, no, you didn’t, Ian but at least he did later on in the game and he had to pull it up again. Cue much ribbing in the dressing-room and the newspapers. Wright good fun However, he only got 11 goals in all competitions, a bad year for him and only 26 appearances in those, 2 as sub. Anelka had 2 more although 12 were as sub and he got 9 goals. Bergkamp played 40 and scored 22 and this was a new experience for Wright with only half the scores of the top striker. Competition was tough and getting tougher and there were rumours of famous strikers being lined up but that is a story for next week. The Wenger way was the only way Again lots of players got games, a massive 29 and the pattern was truly set, the cups were for the fringe, as were games against weaker sides and there was no ever present. Nigel Winterburn, again got the most with 35 in the league and 48 in total. Ray Parlour was next on 34 and 47, again, as I suggested last week with Winterburn, probably reflecting that Glenn Hoddle wasn’t playing him for England. Overmars, Petitt and Vieira had strong figures too and the latter 2 picked up suspensions so their figures would have been higher. I think we can all agree that playing these two would have been an easy choice for us. But the extraordinary Englishness of the side had been transformed, midfield and attack now reliant on Johnny foreigner, and only the legendary defence was sacrosanct. Wenger had made his mark, and we were hearing that the changes to Englishness were happening everywhere. The fondness for pints was out as it was for fish and chips and Mars bars. In were steamed vegetables and healthy portions. The best of everything Wenger believed in state of the art in every area, from the grass on the pitch, to the medical facilities, the training ground, and diet and focus. The old English ways were gone, despite the fact that they had dominated European football in the 70’s and 80’s. European football had moved on and it was time for English football to do so also. Alex Ferguson at Man Utd had his ear to the ground, he was aware that a new challenger had arrived, with new ways. He would never let his team fall behind for long. London Colney: it wasn't too long before this appeared So how did we get on on the pitch in Arsene Wenger’s first full season? I guess you all know the answer but I will take a look next week at how it went, and were we really happy that season.
  14. 1996-97 No, he didn't look like a football man. Arsene who? Bruce Rioch was a disaster and his career never recovered. But there was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that we knew nothing about. Stewart Houston was appointed temporary manager and again, it seemed like the typical cheap Arsenal way of doing things. As fans, we couldn’t understand why. Why not get a proven winner, with a team that had won many trophies in the recent past and was packed full of England regulars and Dennis Bergkamp? Even Alex Ferguson might have been possible if they were willing to splash the cash. But Houston was told he would not get the job despite a pretty good start to the season, even hitting top. He resigned, presumably feeling he deserved his chance. He became manager of QPR and had a reasonable career as a manager without ever hitting the heights. Pat Rice then took over but even in those largely pre-internet days we knew he wasn’t going to be the man. Johan Cruyff was mentioned and even a return for George Graham but it instead went to Arsene Wenger and, as he revealed in his autobiography, he was keeping in touch from Japan and Grampus 8. And so we had 4 managers in 2 seasons, astonishing for Arsenal. At least his name fitted He was David Dein’s man for sure. But we didn’t have Google search and instant access to information and we didn’t really know what was going on until he turned up. My reaction was no, I hadn’t heard of him and foreign managers had done little in British football up to then. The players reaction, I have learned since reading several biographies, was similar. He didn’t look like a football man, tall and skinny and with a schoolmaster feel. Of course he had managed England stalwarts Mark Hately and Glenn Hoddle at Monaco and they had got to a Euro final, so they couldn’t have been too ignorant of him as most seemed to claim. But I didn’t know of him and few English journalists seemed to know much either. It seemed another Arsenal stupidity but I was intrigued at his name, it fitted so well with Arsenal and I was always of the mindset that managers should be given a chance. Vieira: Always falling into bookings Favourites out, new ones in The transfer market was busy, Remi Garde and Patrick Vieira was brought in, our old favourite John Lukic was brought back as cover but Irishman Eddie McGoldrick was out as was Bulgarian Paul Dickov both to Man City. There’s only one Johnny Hartson, David Hillier, Steve Morrow and Andy Linighan also moved on, all players who had different types of significance for Arsenal fans. But a young kid came in from Paris Saint Germain called Nicolas Anelka who we will never forget for both good and bad reasons. He didn’t get many chances that year but I will return to him in later blogs. He has a good story. Anelka should have been an Arsenal great Remi Garde didn’t play much but let me give you my impressions of Vieira. He was good, we could see that, but as soon as the pitches got muddy and heavy in the autumn and winter, he kept slipping and sliding all over the place, he got 12 bookings mostly by slipping into players. Somehow, he avoided a red card, but I despaired that he would ever be useful for us as he couldn’t keep his balance. Grass was not for smoking Grass technology was improving all the time and Wenger paid particular attention to this area with Highbury becoming the benchmark for all other teams on the planet. But it took time for others to catch up and unfortunately Vieira could not do it on a wet night in Stoke as the saying goes. He looked ungainly and awkward but as soon as spring started shining, he was back to himself. It was very hard for me to see the great superstar that he would become. Pitches now look like video games As for Wenger, it was hard to say, really, results improved when he came in, but not to a huge extent, although we went top in October and were still top until 7th December, but other teams had games in hand on us. It was a rare position for us in the Premier League so the fans were happy. It was mixed, though, overall, Man Utd beat us twice, although we took 4 points off the Spuds. We were beaten at home by Liverpool and Newcastle, who we ended up level on points at the end with 68, 7 points behind Man Utd. Joint second on points, 3rd in the table and our best Premier league. Bergkamp, Wright and yes, Vieira were showing signs that we could be good, that we could challenge. What would Bertie Mee have done with 28 players? We didn’t do much in the cups but it was the start of a pattern that we were soon to become familiar with, fringe players would play in them. We played 28 players that season and 12 scored. Considering that Arsenal won the double in 1971 with little more than 12 players you can see the difference, the one player who couldn’t guarantee his place was Charlie George and he was fighting all the time with Bertie Mee. Even George Graham’s last champions in 1991 only used 19 players in all competitions. Wenger saw the league as priority and never liked using any player in all matches. Only Nigel Winterburn could claim that distinction that season but he was never an England regular and that might have played a part in Wenger’s decision. Most other regulars were also first choice internationals. Yo-yo Wenger? Up My verdict was a bit yo-yo. We were challenging, up near the top all season. We struggled against the top teams but we conceded less than them. The football was more adventurous, the flair players were given their chance, but we were picking up lots of bookings and some red cards, mostly through petulance, arguing with the ref and shoving other players, presumably as retaliation. Ill discipline was a byword for the Wenger era and this season presaged that. and down Was I optimistic? Yes, sort of, but Man Utd and Ferguson looked scary. He was building his second great team around the ‘92 youngsters and they fought and dragged results out even when not playing so well. Probably we needed more players. Were we going to get them? Read on next week and you will see.
  15. Годината бе 2005! Денят – 21-ви май! Мястото бе Кардиф! Финала за FA Cup. Съперникът? Мисля, че сами се досещате… Остава само една дузпа… Номер 4 се засилва…. ВИЕЙРАААААА!!!! И ТОВА Е ПОБЕДА ЗА АРТИЛЕРИСТИТЕ. Противно на всички очаквания и с човек по-малко, отбора на Венгер постига невероятен успех, с което вдига купата на ФА за 10-ти път. Picture credit: www.nationalfootballmuseum.com Този ден се превръща в емблематичен по няколко причини, но преди всичко белязва последния мач на El Capitan, Патрик Виейра! Запомнящ се финален акорд за Човека на момента! Тази снимка попада в ТОП класацията в моето артилеристко сърце, изстрадало и добри, и лоши дни! Но този ден бе от наистина великите… Но всичко е преходно в този живот. Кой ли е вярвал, че ще последва 9-годишна суша откъм трофеи, след напускането на френската машина. На 12-ти октомври се състоя премиерата на автобиографичната книга “My Life In Red And White” на Арсен Венгер. Чакайки книгата ми да пристигне от острова, с нетърпение ще искам да прочета анализа на „Професора“ за всичко това, което се случи след 2005 година. Защо толкова дълга прелюдия, дами и господа? Мисля, че заглавието на този мой анализ е достатъчно подсказващо – „ Без Томас – Няма Парт(е)и“. Този хаштаг се превърна в изключително популярен от 5 октомври насам, когато официално Арсенал закупи правата за ганайския полузащитник Томас Партей. За мен това е не просто хаштаг, това е жива метафора в очите на мнозина артилеристки сърца. Защо ли? Ами, ще ви отговоря подобаващо още сега! Изминаха 15 години от този далечен спомен на финала през 2005 година. Тези 15 години се усещат буквално като една отминала епоха, в която се изредиха няколко поколения футболисти, които минаха през Арсенал – кои се задържаха за кратко, кои за по-дълго – всеки помни историите. Но за цялото това време имаше една зона, която на анатомичен език се казва „гръбнак“, който сякаш бе счупен на хиляди парчета след заминаването на Виейра в посока Ювентус. Тази зона ( с изключение на, за съжаление, неуспешния поради сериозни контузии престой на Абу Диаби) бе престъпно неглижирана през годините и Арсенал наистина страда и кървя. Факт е, че през последните години футбола и спорта като цяло се промениха необикновено много в посока залагането на физиката и чистата мъжка сила при единоборствата. Факт е, също така, че след 2005 година Арсенал така и не успя да се възстанови напълно след залеза на звездното си поколение. Една неизменна част от гръбнака на това поколение бе именно Патрик Виейра. Защитната стена в центъра на игрището. Е… човек не може да живее в миналото, поради което превъртаме лентата до 2020 година. Голям процент от фенската база някак си отдъхнаха след успешното развитие в края на трансферния прозорец, тъй като не бе тайна за никого, че Томас е цел номер 1 по време на изминалото лято. Много очи се огледаха в ганаеца като потенциалния, дълго търсен заместник на Виейра! Разбира се, срещнах и няколко по-въздържани реакции от страна на мои познати фенове на Арсенал, тъй като, както знаем, нищо не е само черно или бяло. Информацията в нашето ежедневие може да се предава в бинарен вид, но погледът върху света никога не трябва да бъде само True или False. Интерпретациите, опита и времето са част от неизменните елементи от формулата за успех. Всеки един от нас е свободен да разтълкува трансфера по свой собствен начин, базирайки се на опита си, а само времето ще покаже кой бил крив и кой прав. Истината е някъде по средата… Където се намира и Томас. Но Томас пристига с репутацията на добър дефанзивен полузащитник с щипка импровизация в атака, но в никакъв случай не идва на Емирейтс като японски робот, спечелил редица престижни международни награди за безпогрешност. Нека му дадем време да оправдае цената и репутацията си! Томас е роден на 13-ти юни 1993 година в Гана, като през 2011 година подписва с Атлетико Мадрид, където приоритетно прекарва следващите 9 години. В периода 2013-2015 той кара 2 последователни наема в Майорка и Алмерия преди да бъде повишен в първия отбор на Атлетико от Симеоне. Носител е на трофеите от Лига Европа (2018), Супер Купата на Уефа (2018), както и играч на годината в Гана за 2018 и 2019 година. Повечето специалисти го определят като изключително стабилен в двете фази на играта (защита и атака), както и това, че притежава невероятна работна етика и професионализъм, характерни за мнозина африкански играчи изминали тежкия път от бедността и мръсотията, до европейската сцена. Picture Credit: https://www.estadiodeportivo.com Интересно е да се отбележи, че флирта между Томас Партей и Арсенал започва още през 2018 година, когато дори са били проведени разговори между ганаеца и вече бившия ръководител на скаутското звено (Франсис Кагигао), в които Томас е бил омайван от част от армадата отговорна за трансферите в клуба от северен Лондон. В тези дискусии полузащитникът споделя своите виждания относно предпочитаната от него позиция на терена. Споменава се, че той изразява мнение, че се вижда като партньор в двойка с друг дефанзивен халф (4-2-3-1 или 4-3-3), като дори се изказва ласкаво за Гранит Джака, смело отбелязвайки, че биха заформили стабилен дефанзивен тандем. Стил на игра На модерен език казано, Томас е класически “box-to-box” полузащитник, способен на това да дирижира всичко от вратаря през защитниците до нападателите. През последните 3 години в Атлетико обаче, той става неизменен титуляр и твърдо “Cinco” (5-ца на испански) във формацията на "дюшекчиите". В Аржентина „No 5“ се превърна в нарицателно за описване на най-отбранително настроения полузащитник на отбора. Понякога аржентинците описват типичния № 5 като „pacman” – сноване по цялата дължина на терена, „изяждане“ на трева и обиране на всички топки от противниците. На български казано – играч, който излиза и изяжда всичко по терена. Позволявам си и тази шега от моя страна, с надеждата, че наистина тези големи отбори ще бъдат похапнати от Томас. Picture credit: Georgi Goranov На световните първенства номер 5 е бил представляван от Фернандо Редондо, Матиас Алмейда и Естебан Камбиасо (национали на Аржентина). В идеалния случай, представителите на т.нар. “cinco” съчетават в себе си проницателен поглед в защита и интелигентен усет при изграждането на атаките (т.нар. build-up play). Редондо веднъж заявява следното: „ Когато говорим за номер 5, това трябва да е играч, който да поема отговорност на 200 %, постоянно да търси топката и да контролира темпото на игра на целия тим. Това е позиция от особено значение, а играчът натоварен да отговаря за тази роля трябва може да умее да чете играта отлично и да бъде максимално прецизен в разбиването на пресата на противника.“ Самият Симеоне, който има 106 мача за Аржентина, е бил 5-ца - или както той обича да се описва - човек, „държащ нож между зъбите си“. Именно 5-цата бе харизана от Симеоне на Партей в Атлетико - същият номер, който той би наследил в Арсенал, ако не беше проваления трансфер на Сократис в Италия. Безспорно 5 е повече от просто цифра - това е показателно за начина, по който Симеоне се е опитал да формира Партей. По време на наемите в Майорка и Алмерия, в които за пръв път привлече вниманието на Арсенал, ганаецът играе различни роли - box-2-box халф, дясно крило, дори № 10. Едва когато се завръща в Атлетико, Симеоне започва да го шлифова в полузащитника, който му е необходим. Предвид интелигентността си, Партей бързо попива тактическия план, който Симеоне чертае пред него. Неколцина скаути от отбори във Висшата Лига умело отбелязват, че Томас внася необходимата доза стабилност в дефанзивен план, и то не защото е висок, силен или пък супер бърз, а поради факта, че ганаецът чете играта отлично и е наясно с термина “пространство”. По времето, в което е бил наблюдаван от скаути на Арсенал, Партей бива описван като доминантно печелещ дуелите с противниците и същевременно допринасящ със спокойствие при владеенето на топката. Томас не притежава физиката на Виейра или Яя Туре, например, той е по-скоро висок и атлетичен, но за сметка на това се отличава с немалка доза присъствие и мощ. Другото характерно негово качество е техничността му, придобита след годините школовка в испанския футбол. Изискванията, които е трябвало да покрива в "Атлети" са били предимно ориентирани към това да се старае да отнема колкото се може повече топки, да задържа умело кълбото и да спазва строга тактическа дисциплина и организация на игра. Именно дисциплината и организираността са все неща, които в момента Артета се опитва да стилизира като открояващ се белег за начина на игра на артилеристите. На 27 години, Партей навлиза в пика на кариерата си, като дори вече е завършил и допълнително обучение на футболна тематика, а освен това владее свободно английски, което би следвало да направи адаптацията му сравнително гладка и бърза. Конфигурации в халфовата линия С пристигането на Томас се открива чудесна възможност за прекрояване на схемата на игра от моментното 3-4-3, което Артета ползва, към класическото 4-3-3, с което се внася много повече стабилност в защитата и халфовата линия. На следващата схема съм представил един от възможните варианти, в които би могла да бъде построена 11-торката в повече мачове. Томас като класически дефанзивен полузащитник застава в центъра на полузащитната тройка, играейки роля на медиатор. Във фаза атака осигурява така необходимото плавно изнасяне на топката, получавайки от защитниците зад него, след което по ефикасен начин осъществява връзка вляво или вдясно, съответно с лявостоящият Джака или дясностоящите Себайос/Уилиян. Във фаза защита пък, Партей ще трябва да се грижи за протекцията на дефанзивната четворка при прехода на противниковия отбор в нашето поле. Друга есенциална роля, с която очаквам той да бъде натоварен е отнемането на топката и спирането на опасни атаки срещу отбора противник. Друга интересна формация, в която си представям да видя отбора, е такава, в която Томас и Джака оформят партньорството си в схема, която по-скоро изглежда като 4-2-3-1, в която Себайос/Уилиян играе ролята на плеймейкър в центъра, зорко пазен от Джака и Партей зад него и търсейки свободните пространства напред към нападателите. Разбира се, всяка една формация в днешния футбол е гъвкава и се адаптира в процеса на всеки мач спрямо противника и сценария на двубоя. За отбелязване е, че не е изключено да има и епизоди, в които Партей бива изнесен малко по-напред, тъй като той притежава и доста добър удар от дистанция. Според статистика от Ла Лига, Партей е играчът вкарал най-много голове извън наказателното поле през последните три години. Това говори само по себе си за дозата изненада, която на моменти бихме могли да очакваме от Партей при по-редките му включвания в нападението. Това, от което със сигурност трябва да се възползва Артета, е експанзивността и страхотния дрибъл, който Томас притежава. Това е ключов елемент при т.нар. transition , или прехода между двете фази на игра, който през последните години стана обект на множество анализи. От видяното до момента, си личи, че пъзела пред Микел Артета започва да се нарежда. Капитанът Обамеянг преподписа така дълго чакания нов договор. С такъв още бяха възнаградени Сака и Мартинели. А привличането на Габриел Магаляеш, Уилиян и Дани Себайос (наем) говори само и единствено едно - амбиция. На първо време приоритет трябва да бъде връщането в “Лигата на Богатите”, тъй като настоящата икономическа и здравна карта на света се пренаписва докато четем това. Бе изчислено, че Арсенал би загубил над 80 милиона паунда от провеждането на домакинските си мачове без публика за следващата 1 година. Но по традиция, бих искал да завърша поредния свой анализ с нещо положително. Очевидно думите на Артета да му вярваме, че е подкрепян на 100 % от борда и техническия директор Еду са били истина. Очевидно Обамеянг е получил обещание, че отбора ще бъде подсилен само с играчи, които, както се казва, да влезнат от воле и да вдигнат видимо класата на отбора. Засега вятъът на промяната е попътен, а новите хоризонти са пред нас. Смело напред, Томас! Смело напред, артилеристи! Cover Picture: www.arsenal.com
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