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Can we win the league? Man City Guardiola Manager Possible strongest 11 Ederson Walker Laporte Dias Cancelo Rodri Gundogan Silva De Bruyne Haaland Mahrez Arsenal Arteta manager Possible strongest 11 Ramsdale Tierney Gabriel Saliba/White Tomiyasu Partey Xhaka Odegaard Zinchenko/Vieira/Smith Rowe/Martinelli Jesus Saka Are Arsenal better than Manchester City? And so where are we? Can we compete? I have decided this week to check us out against the champions. Does it look good? Well, before I get to that I have to make a disclaimer that you never really know until a few weeks into a season what the line-ups are. I have had a go at guessing both Arsenal’s and Man City's top 11. I could easily be proven wrong as players pop up every season but I am going on what I know so far. It is surely something like what I am saying. City won't play worse players than these, for sure. Let’s start with Guardiola vs Arteta. Easily Guardiola, he has won everything. Maybe Arteta, over time, can prove to be better, but it will be an extraordinary achievement. One nil to the City boys. Their defence is better Goalkeepers? Ederson is the pick over Ramsdale but at least that competition could swing Ramsdale’s way in the future. He is very good. But few would make that case at the moment. Or would you? Two nil to the Citizens for me. Left back? Tierney vs Cancelo. Cancelo made the Premier league team of 2021-22 and could be the best in his position whereas we don’t know if Tierney is going to start. He could be a great but he badly needs to get over his injury problems as he is such a good player but three nil to the Blues. Right back? Kyle Walker vs Tomiyasu or maybe Ben White. I have to give it to Walker again although this is a bit harder to choose. Cancelo also plays right back as City’s defence is so strong so he would also be better at the moment than any of ours. Four nil to the Blue Mooners and it is all going wrong for us. Kevin Campbell says these are the future Centrebacks? Oh no, not Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte? I’m sorry I don’t think so. I don’t see how you could put Gabriel, White or Saliba in front of these two who were in the best Premier league team of 2021-22. Two goals in quick succession from the Man City boys and we are already almost beaten at half time. Six nil to the Sky blues. But these guys are superb Their midfield is better Holding midfielder? Thomas Partey vs Rodri. Honestly, I can’t put Partey in front of the sublime Rodri. Maybe if he stayed fit and reached his full potential it is possible but I defy any Arsenal fan to say Partey here and now. Nightmare as we go seven nil behind to the Etihaders and now we are beaten. Defensive midfielder? Ilkay Gundogan vs Granit Xhaka. Why did I start this exercise? I must like punishing myself. Xhaka is a better player than some of our fans like to admit but he is also a liability, liable to get sent off or give away a penalty. Gundogan is superb and don’t see any genuine contest here either now or in the future. Are we really eight nil behind the Shark Team? Attacking midfielder? Bernardo Silva vs Martin Odegaard. It is a bit more even but 13 goals for Silva, 50 games and Premier league team of the season. Can anyone help me out here? Give me a reason to put Odegaard in front? OMG – nine nil to the Blue boys. Zinchenko better than De Bruyne? Does anyone really think so? Attacking midfielder? Did I say nightmare? This is a zombie apocalypse vampire nightmare. Kevin De Bruyne? Up next, Let’s go home now, crying all the way. I am not sure who will be playing there or even where De Bruyne will be playing but surely not as a false nine with Haaland there now, but it doesn’t matter as none of Vieira, Zinchenko or Smith Rowe can match up to the master. Ten nil to the Gallaghers. Can we match their forwards? Can he set the league alight? Centreforward? Haaland vs Jesus. Maybe, if Haaland struggles with Premier League and Jesus shines like crazy. But both are a bit unproven as Guardiola didn’t really trust Jesus as a nine, often playing De Bruyne as a false nine instead. I have to respect everything Guardiola has achieved but I am going to be generous to us and give Jesus a draw here. I may look very stupid this season but hey, I am used to that. Still ten nil to the Blue side of Manchester. Magic, magic, magic is what we want, boys Winger? Saka vs Mahrez. 24 goals in 47 games for Mahrez against 12 in 43 for Saka last season. Mahrez has won everything but I would love to give it to Saka. I am not sure I would be honest to do so, though. In the future maybe he can overtake him and that would be a great achievement. But eleven nil to the Champions, the irresistible Blue Shark Citizens. Not many players better than this boy Mahrez Judging player by player doesn't win championships - confidence, form and a winning mentality does. Depressing? Yes. It shows what we need. We have potential, they have proven players. Maybe Haaland won’t make it but in all honesty, I expect him to light up the Premier league and score lots of goals. I didn’t include Foden, Grealish and others who will surely get many games but those two for sure would be strong competition for our best players. I asked a question at the start and the answer has to be no, judging by the players we are up against. I could do the same against Liverpool and get another bad result I suspect. We are probably close to City in some positions but definitely behind in others. We need our players to step up, to play without fear, and take the game to the opposition. We need a bit of luck, we need momentum, and a good consistent start. Crystal Palace haven’t liked doing us favours in recent years and we need to change that. Let Patrick win other matches, not ours. Then Leicester, Bournemouth, Fulham and Villa for August. Maximum points and we are ready to frighten them all, maybe even Guardiola and his supremos. Forget the depression, Gus, Arsenal are the greatest football team!
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
Our best of our crop The home grown team Martinez VS Jennings Rice Adams O’Leary Cole Dixon Toure Campbell Sansom Saka Fabregas Storey Brady Ljungberg Cazorla Vieira Pires Radford Smith Rowe Bergkamp Henry This week I turn my attention to our best home grown players. The rules being, like last week, that they have to be brought through from the younger age squads and also in my fan timeframe from 1969 onwards. Again it is incredibly hard but I have made my choices and this week, as promised, I will go head to head against the bought team I chose last week. Martinez was the only choice in goal It is hard to find a keeper from my period 1969 to today. We don’t bring them through homegrown. Graham Stack never made it and he was my second choice. Wilson, Rimmer, Jennings, Lukic, Seaman, Lehmann and the rest were bought. So step forward Emilio Martinez, a true Arsenal man who dedicated a great part of his career to us. He only had one great season but what a season. He never let us down. And he won’t let down this team. But on the head to head from last time I have to put him behind Pat Jennings. So one-nil to the buys. Defence was far harder to choose Pat Rice against Lee Dixon? Well, this is difficult. Rice was such a great servant for us and Northern Ireland, but Dixon probably had that touch of class above him so I am going to go 2-0 to the buys as they race into a big lead. Pat Rice -one of our greatest servants Ashley Cole vs Kenny Sansom and Cole has to be the choice. 107 England caps. Lots of trophies and surely an England all time great. He shades Kenny Sansom in a tight race as Sansom was superb. 2-1 to the buys. Cole: Not so popular because of his (bad)choices Martin Keown couldn’t get into this team as a centreback despite being a giant of a player but our 2 longest serving players, Tony Adams and David O’Leary did. And I am going to give it to evens with Sol Campbell and Tony Adams leaving Kolo Toure and O'Leary out. So now it is 3-2 to the buys. No, I am not going to tell you who these legends are Midfield even harder Saka vs Ljungberg, oh no, how can I make this choice? I am going to give it to Saka for one reason. He is our best player at the moment, causing danger all the time whilst getting kicked unmercifully. Ljungberg was never our best player because, well, we had extraordinary players like Bergkamp, Henry and Viera in his time. So now it is 3-3. I couldn't leave these two out Fabregas vs Cazorla? Gus, why did you start this? This is impossible. Looking at great players we have bought vs players we have brought through and they are all brilliant. But I think I will go Fabregas, he was a genius, he stepped into the boots of Vieira, despite being a different sort of player and we didn’t really feel the difference. And now the homegrowns have made a comeback, 4-3. We did bring through some great players, didn’t we? The genius Spaniard that was Fabregas But now Peter Storey vs Patrick Vieira and I am so tempted to go for Storey. He was truly tough, but he made himself available all the time and was incredibly under rated. Alf Ramsay didn’t pick him for England for a long time regarding him as a clogger. When he finally did towards the end of his career, he said he had made a mistake and should have been playing him all along. He was like Roy Keane, he drove the team on and was always available for the ball. We could do with such a player now. But still, Patrick Vieira is Patrick Vieira. I have to give it to him. Now it is 4-4 and it is looking tight going down to the wire. Probably the most underrated player we ever had - Peter Storey Robert Pires vs Liam Brady? I hope you now realise how difficult this is. Two legends, guys we will love forever. But I am going to give it to Brady for the same reason I gave it to Saka. He was our best player in the team winning 1st division player of the year. And so now the homegrowns have got in front late in the game – 5-4. Brady- our best player of his time Attack was also a hard choice I put Smith Rowe in that Bergkamp role as I feel that is where he can be killer for us. Scoring goals, creating assists, making a danger all the time around the box. He could turn out to be a world superstar. But John Radford, despite being a super forward, and always being a threat, was no Henry. Frank Stapleton and Ray Kennedy were my next choices. At least the front two are easy. Bergkamp and Henry. I need say no more. And so the buys wing it at the end 6-5. I would love to see this team playing against the other in real life assuming all players are at their best. I suspect the buys might just shade it again but you never know. John Radford - a seriously under rated striker Some of the decisions were so hard. But I had to choose 11 for both sides. For the home grown team in defence there were Sammy Nelson, Terry Neill, Martin Keown and others who didn’t make it. In midfield there was a huge choice, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Graham Rix, Jack Wilshire, Charlie George and lots of others were considered. In attack we aren’t so strong, though. Ray Kennedy, Kevin Campbell, Niall Quinn and Frank Stapleton spring to mind but none are like the legends up front of Bergkamp and Henry, one of the strongest partnerships ever at any club. Nketiah and Balogun, or Biereth could make it and displace the two I chose but I can’t see them being better than Henry/Bergkamp. Let's cheer for our own So there you have it. I have chosen my best bought team and compared it to the home grown. My conclusion? That the bought team is a little better than the home grown. That buying well is the key to a great side, but bringing on your own gives far more satisfaction and fun for the fans. The Arsenal chant of “He’s one of our own” reverberates throughout the decades. And for sure they will play football the Arsenal way. And hey, let’s raise a goalkeeper or two.
This week I am going to take a break from my usual and reflect on The Euro finals. It was a good finals with plenty of exciting matches although 2 teams with a cautious approach got to the final. But that is not what I want to talk about. It is racism and bad behaviour. Is England to blame? One of the earliest major incidents was the Christian Eriksen one. It turned Denmark into the neutrals favourite and meant a level of respect was shown by fans and players alike when playing them, except for England who booed their national anthem and their players as they did other teams. A great player no matter what team Several teams got beaten on penalties, but I didn’t hear of any scapegoating of players or racist abuse because of it, except for England. I have watched many finals of all types since I started watching and I have never seen players taking off their medals before, except for England. England take the lead in the dark side England rightly take pride in being the home of football. They seem to take a perverse pride in also being the worst in bad behaviour. I started going to matches in England in the 70’s and it was a revelation how much police there were and how tight the security was. The bile between opposing fans and the many hooligan firms that cropped up was frightening. Now pubs could erupt in sickening violence if a stray innocent(s) from the wrong side popped in. This was in general contrast to Ireland where I remember being at an Ireland match in Lansdowne road and a group of Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers fans were congregated in a pub. They started singing songs slagging their opponents and the reply was always an even wittier song which seemed to be made up on the spot. It was great fun. Are England the worst? Now, only an idiot would suggest that bad behaviour in football is confined to England but are they the worst? I say yes. If I am aware that England fans are about, I am cautious and ready to get out quickly if necessary. I have also had great times with England supporters and have been in many grounds in the home section without getting into trouble as an away supporter. I learned to jump inside. I have seen England fans wanting to take on the home supporters though when in the same situation and I cannot understand their logic at all. They take a perverse pride in standing up for their colours. This whole area is complicated, though. Football has slowly but surely become a place where cheating and bad behaviour is tolerated. I saw Robbie Savage of Wales commenting on the Euros recently and he wanted the Wales players to start kicking their opponents to stop them going up the field. A commentator should never encourage cheating but it happens all the time. The players need to be clever is often the euphemism for cheating. Pull a jersey slyly, take a dive, back into a player and go down so you get the foul, surround the referee, claim everything, play mind games and probably others that I am not even aware of. It is endemic and it is not going away soon. Can we show love instead? Would you do that to your own kid? So now we have Bukayo Saka as the touchlight for the darkness that is in football? Nonsense, surely? It seems like he has done 2 things wrong, he missed the last penalty and he is black. 2 things he can do nothing about makes it acceptable for him to be abused? Gareth Southgate and Stuart Pearce memorably missed crucial penalties for England and got hammered for it, yes, but not for the colour of their skin. It is horrible for any player to be abused for something they can do nothing about. They make a mistake on the pitch and get hounded, sometimes for the rest of their career. Emmanuel Eboue was one such at Arsenal. He fell foul of the wrong type of Arsenal supporter and his career never recovered. When you are playing, you have been selected by the manager and will try your best. But you will miss goals and passes, give away fouls, get sent off, score an own goal, miss a penalty, fail to stop a player or move to an opposing side and myriad other things can happen even to the best players. This can mean you get booed all your life. And if you are black or a race that is not white, you get that anyway. It is certain and inevitable even if you are a big superstar who is well liked like our own Wrighty. What’s the answer? So what can be done? First thing to look at for me, is the waters that this abuse swims in. It is racism, it is hooliganism, it is cheating, it is club and country tribalism, it is bad behaviour. There have been so many efforts to curb racism and it is difficult to say with what success. The same with all the other elements mentioned. Some progress has been made but mostly in the area of security, banning and punishments. I feel that we need to reach people’s hearts first. The only way I can think of to do so is to imagine the people being abused are our own children. I would be heartbroken at the abuse Bukayo Saka is receiving if I was his parent. My beautiful fun teenager who has stupendous talent is given horrific abuse because a goalkeeper made a good decision, and he is black? It is nonsense, surely? My pride in his amazing achievement at being selected as the crucial penalty taker for his country is dependent on sporting achievement being suspended? That he has to win? If, in any sports, only one person or team can win, it is not a sport. We have to be able to accept that the other side can win, and congratulate them, and determine that next time it will be me, us. Our Children? They ARE our own children so we should treat them as such. We feel their pain, we let out a collective groan of disappointment that we couldn’t win but we rush over to hug them, to show we love their courage and we support them no matter what. Did he know he would get such hate when he grew up? I pinpointed England at the start. We must not be fooled, though, it is in all countries to a greater or lesser extent. We need to call out our own fouls, stop applauding any cheating, stop booing players, countries and refs, and finally, start treating all participants as if they are our own children. Can we make a start? Can we stop calling Tottenham shit? Can we stop saying we hate them and standing up to show it? Have fun with the opponents, but remember they are somebody’s children and an accident of a different sort could have made us Spud supporters. Or is that too much to ask? Gareth Southgate showed us the way