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  1. 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!
  2. Man City (H) Spurs (A) Burnley (H) Wolves (A) Brentford (H) Watford (A) Leicester (H) Villa (A) Wolves (H)? A sea of improbabilities This is probably the hardest time to predict results as a transfer window is happening all around it. I don’t know what players we will have or our opponents will have. Newcastle will probably spend big, for example, maybe transforming their squad. If Eddie Howe gets to pick players he likes they could be a lot better. But we don’t have them over the next few matches that I will cover. With 3 of these gone, will we miss them? The African cup of nations will deprive us of Aubameyang, Pepe, El Neny, and Partey with the last 2 the biggest problem at the moment. As far as I know the teams in this run are not going to lose significant players like us so that might have an impact, El Neny and Partey being defensive midfielders. If Maitland Niles goes and Xhaka gets sent off or injured I am not sure what DM’s we have left. Asking a lot of Lokonga who is still a little wild. It will more impact our 2 cup runs in this period and it could leave us out of both. But’s let’s be optimistic. I am hoping for a cup win this year. Can Auba make a deadline for once? Aubameyang? Can he come back, show the skills and scoring ability we all know he has? I have reservations about such types of players, who seem to think that the rules are for the little guys. But I do feel he has a genuine love of the Arsenal and if he got a wake-up call with this, knuckled down and worked like a demon, he could yet show us how he can be world class. And that would make a huge difference to the rest of the season. Listen to your manager, Auba With this Covid we also don’t know what or if any more matches will be postponed. I have included Wolves twice as I suspect they will try and include that match in this period. Neither ourselves or Wolves have European games. All the results – right here right now Anyway I am not going to give up, I will still try and predict the future. I have done pretty well so far last season and this, considering how impossible the task is. I seem to get to within 3 points all the time and again this time, I was optimistic by 3 points, we got 35 I said 38 in my last attempt. Waving your hands, Pep, may not help against your protege Man City at home. Surely the toughest match of all? They are knocking over teams in their sleep, good or bad ones. And we have looked poor against the top teams so far. So a guaranteed win for the Light Blues? I have a sneaky feeling that they are due a bad match. Why not against us? Arteta knows City in a way Guardiola cannot know Arsenal. If he can figure out a way, and we play to our best, we have a chance. Our big problem is the way we hand chances to everyone, including Norwich, with disastrous back passes and suchlike. City will destroy us if we do that. But if City misfire, then away we go. I am going to say 2-1 to us and a great start. 38 points What’s their new stadium called? And then the Spuds. In their shiny new stadium and their dogged new manager, I can’t see it being easy. We struggle with teams unafraid to defend. There are so many inponderables, Covid, injuries, transfers but I am hoping that we get an undeserved win this time. We don’t play all that well but somehow get a win a bit like Mourinho contrived against us some time ago. 1-0 to the Arsenal. 41 points Burnley? This is a game we have to win, surely? Sean Dyche has had a few unlucky defeats against us and this time the gods favour him and he gets a lucky draw where we totally outplay them but the ball refuses to go into the back of the net. 0-0. 42 points Almost Eaten by Wolves Wolves away? Away games are getting better for us but this is a banana skin. Wolves are an up and down team, like us and I feel this is going to be one of those games where, in the end, we get a late goal to give us 2-2 and the euphoria of the first two wins dwindles. 43 points Brentford at home and we are out for revenge. We are ready, we are pumped, we challenge for everything, Tomiyasu and Gabriel stand strong and Ramsdale laughs at the Brentford hard men and their jeering supporters and we run out 2-0. Back on track and 46 points No cojones? Wat For? Watford? We will never forgive Troy Deeney for saying we have no cojones and despite home advantage, we grind them into the ground 3-0. 46 points Stick your cojones in your ear, Troy Leicester. There was a time when Brendan Rodgers was linked with us. To be honest I didn’t feel he was right but he has done a good job with Leicester. They have good players and with them all fit, are a match for most. I feel that this is the one that gets away from us despite the fact mostly we do well against them. 1-2 to Leicester. Still 46 points Stevie G crying The Villa? Under Steven Gerrard? No, no, no. We bounce back. We play well. We send them home crying. First we sing 1-0 to the Arsenal then 2-0 to dee Arsenal. 49 points. 2-0 to dee Arsenal, Stevie G And Wolves in the rearranged fixture at home. We are just too good for them at home despite the fact they score an early goal. We are so annoyed that we can’t sing one nil to the Arsenal that we fire in 3 against them. 52 points We can see Champions League And so nicely set up for our final assault. With our closing 9 matches we can get to 79 points if we win them all. We can push up around the 70 if all goes well. That would be a repeat of the first half. Should be enough for Champions League. However, we badly need to keep our good run going and we need to do much better against the top teams. It is asking a lot of a young team to be so consistent. Like I said earlier, if Aubameyang finally acts like an adult, uses all his experience and abilities, that would make a difference. One more experienced player in the transfer window, maybe a class DM, could add another layer of maturity. We could finally get back where we belong, in the Champions league. Last season, I said in this blog that without Saka, Tierney and Leno we are in trouble. Now that has all changed, we have lots of key players all over the pitch. The only areas I am a bit worried about is Tomiyasu, Gabriel and yes, that man Ramsdale. We do not have like for like cover for those. Let’s hope they stay fit. Go Arsenal and a final little thought. Rumours persist that Jack Wilshire may get another chance. Now that is a fairytale thought, but sometimes, if you dream hard enough, fairytales come true. Go Jack! Come back, Jack!
  3. 23 trophies over ten years We need an awful lot more trophies, Mikel, for me to be happy That’s what we need, Gooners, to become the best team in England. The best ten years ever in English football was achieved by Liverpool from 1975 to 1985 and if we equalled it we could certainly argue with Manchester United and Liverpool as to who is the greatest. We are unfortunately, well behind those 2 and we have strong rivals to overtake us in Chelsea and Manchester City. What did Liverpool achieve in those ten miraculous years? 4 European Cups (Champions League) 7 First division (Premier League), 1 FA Cup, 4 League Cups, 1 UEFA Cup, 1 UEFA Super Cup, and 5 Charity Shields. The quiet man, Bob Paisley did it Where would that leave us if we did the same? 20 Premier league - at the top with Man Utd 15 FA Cups – at the top 6 League cups – behind Liverpool and Man City on 8 21 Charity Shields – at the top as we have only one shared and Man Utd have 4 4 Champions League – behind Liverpool on 6 2 UEFA Cups – behind Liverpool on 3 Add the European Cup winners cup which we share on one with Man Utd and Liverpool have never won. So that is the benchmark, an astonishing standard to be fair. And we would need our kids all to become major superstars and stay with us for it to have a chance of happening. But dreams are the hallmark of fans and without them a fan’s life is not worth living, I think we all agree on that. And because this was actually achieved, we can say it is possible. Yes, these are different times, and many teams have incredible resources to ensure a dream like mine would never happen. But if Saka, Smith-Rowe, Tierney, Ramsdale, Martinelli, White, Gabriel, Odegaard, Tomiyasu, Lokonga all improve as they mature, and say Tavares, Balogun and Saliba also come into the reckoning, we potentially have a frightening team coming through. Amazing young players These two conjurors could become the world's best These are all young players with so much prospects, who could learn to play together as a dazzling unit exactly like the Lacazette wonder goal against Southampton at the weekend and could eclipse the giants that will oppose them. The 2 Manchesters, Liverpool and Chelsea, maybe newly rich Newcastle and even the hapless Spuds or West Ham with their fabulous grounds and extensive fan base are all hoping for their ten years, too. Leicester, Villa and Everton also. We will need saves like this Is this the real life, or is it just fantasy? I say my dream is possible, despite all these teams. Of course, those of you of a practical bent will say that Liverpool and Manchester United would also need a lean ten years for us to be able to make a strong argument that we are the best. That’s true. But if we win all those trophies, there aren’t all that many left for them, are there? Anyway, let’s say I am right and these players stay and become better, and let’s say that we also do well on transfers, what else do we need to make it happen? I will first go through what we have and not what we potentially have. We have a fine big stadium that gets filled regularly, comparable to the top teams. We have a large amount of corporate boxes to generate huge sums. We have a worldwide fanbase and are particularly strong in Africa. We have an attractive image well suited to kickass marketing campaigns. We have training and medical facilities equal to anyone. We have an academy system which is superb and surely as good as any worldwide. We have the tradition of winning trophies as our position in English football proves. We are 3rd but best in FA Cups and not hugely behind the 2 beasts of Liverpool and Man Utd in that my magical ten years would push us right up there. This noisy man also had ten great years Do we have a great manager? So, we have these things going for us, what do we potentially have? Is Arteta the right man to take us forward? We would need a top manager for sure and at this moment I am not sure Arteta is that man. I would like to believe he is. In fact, I would love to believe that he is, because I like him. He has undoubtedly got great football knowledge, he has won trophies at Arsenal and Man City, the players seem to like him and most play with a smile on their face. He has brought through superb young players and he has been a disciplinarian, which is necessary in a manager as players can never be bigger than the club. The exquisite ten years will only happen with a great manager, though, and the verdict on Arteta is unproven. The 2 teams which have had a great ten years in my lifetime, Liverpool and Man Utd, both had managers who had a lot of critics before going on their great runs, though. Bob Paisley was reckoned to be only a lieutenant and Alex Ferguson considered to be out of his depth after several years of failure. Without their trophy hauls, Arsenal would now be the greatest team in English football, let’s not forget that. Ah, but the owners, the Kroenke’s, they are the imponderables in my wonderful dream of a fantastic ten years. Could it happen with them? Hands up any Arsenal fans who think so? Please put up your hands, I can’t see any. Sorry, let me put on my glasses. Ok, my sight is good now. Can you put up your hands again? There must be something wrong with my glasses, I still can’t see any hands up. Make it real So is that it? My daydream, or it can become a reality? I will take you back to the Arsene Wenger magic years of 7 FA Cups, 3 Premier Leagues, and 7 Charity Shields and an Invincible year over more than 20 years. I was ecstatic with that and I truly never expected it when he took over. Still a long way short of Bob Paisley’s achievement, though. And if Chelsea or Man City have such a ten years I would have to listen to them shouting in my face. My face doesn’t want that. Wenger gave me reason to dream C’mon Arsenal. Give us the Liverpool 10 years from 2022 to 2032. Or even 2023 to 2033. But don’t leave it too long, I am not getting any younger and I would love to be able to argue that my team is truly the best, better than all the rest, better than anyone. And Arsenal are the greatest football team.
  4. 2005-2006 Champions of Europe? My biggest dream - Old Big Ears I will say here at the start that this is my last in this series, for now at least, of My Life as a Gooner. It is 49 and I will talk about when we were almost Invincibles again. Invincibles of Europe, that is. I will write about different things from now on but if there is any aspect of Arsenal that you would like me to write about, please request it and I will do it. Up The Arse! One of the defining matches of my life was the European Cup Final of 1968. I was 10 years old, my older brother was a Manchester United fan and we watched it together in black and white. It was magical. The quality of the football was superb, although played at a slower pace than we see now as grounds were heavier, as were balls and boots. Fitness technology had not really entered football so diets were also heavy. Everything was heavy. It’s no wonder heavy metal music had its origins in that period. The Joy was unprecedented for Man Utd It was 1-1 at full time. Then George Best and Man Utd upped their game against Benfica to score 3 times and it seemed like everyone in Ireland celebrated. Worldwide that must have brought in lots of new Man U fans. The European Cup was the glamour trophy to win in club football just like the World Cup was the one to win for a nation. The magic of Bestie trumps all When I chose Arsenal a year later, they didn’t make me wait too long to get our own crack at the European Cup. In 1971 we won the double and we also started our first attempt that year. We did well until March 1972 when we came up against the amazing Ajax side, who were champions, in the quarterfinals. Ray Kennedy scored an away goal for 2-1 in the first but they beat us 1-0 at Highbury. They went on to win it and we gave them a harder time than any other team. The great Ray Kennedy got to lift Old Big ears R.I.P. Not allowed to play But we didn’t win the league again until 1989 and we were barred from Europe then. That team, under George Graham would have had a chance. George was always good tactically and a strong defence was always important in Europe. And so it was 1991-1992 that we got our second chance but we didn’t even make it to 1992. We were knocked out by Benfica in the second round. So we had to wait for Arsene Wenger to weave his magic but he left it behind in Europe. We were constantly being beaten by teams that were lesser than us. It didn't look possible By then, though it was up to four teams getting through so no longer true champions. And 2005-2006 was one of those. We were not champions. And honestly, how many of you out there would agree with me that once we lost that Invincible tag, we had gone backwards and it was difficult to be optimistic for this venture? And like I said last blog, the players we had got in were not of the calibre of the greats of the past and money was tight because we had staked all our cash on the Emirates stadium. But somehow in Europe, we looked like Invincibles again. We waltzed through the group stage like they didn’t exist. Thun, Sparta Prague and Ajax were thrown aside like the fodder they were. A final game draw with our reserves against Ajax the only dropped points. Yes, lesser teams, but teams like these had been our downfall in the past. Could we dream again? My biggest wish always was this trophy, ever since 1968 but I was afraid to dream at this point. Galacticos vs Invincibles And, of course, we got Real Madrid in the first knock-out round. The one club that never worry about money, never worry about buying the best, and never worry about Arsenal, either. We had them away in the first leg, so we needed to keep ourselves in it for Highbury as Real were never beaten at home. Except we were the Arsenal, we had our own royal in Thierry Henry and he popped in a goal to mean that Madrid had to come to Highbury to win. My eyes nearly jumped out of my head, we had beaten the magnificos at home! Our king beats the Royals Ok, it was 0-0 at home but that was good enough. If we could beat Real Madrid, surely we could beat anyone? Except we then got Juventus, the Fiat juggernaut of Italy who had our monster Vieira playing for them. Ok, I thought, the gods don’t want us to win. They don’t appreciate how much this trophy means to me. A nice monster beats a scary monster But we beat them 2-0 at Highbury. Fabregas scored to make a point to Vieira that we now had a nice monster who played pretty football to replace him. And our king Henry scored the other. They had no away goal to boost them and 0-0 in the second leg was good enough to send them back to their villas crying. We were Arsenal! And we were invincible in this Champions League! But then we got Villareal in the semi’s. They were very good at the time and even had a young Santi Cazorla in their squad although he didn’t feature. The first leg was at Highbury and it was the last European match played there. For some reason I can’t remember, we played in our change strip but it didn’t stop us playing well. Late in the first half, Henry took a corner that was headed back out to him, he fizzed it into Hleb who popped it across to Toure, who was still lurking in the goalmouth from the corner, and he stook out a leg to knock it in. 1-0 to the Arsenal rang out across the stadium and that was good enough. Another 0-0 away and we were through, for the first time, to my dream trophy. We can beat them all Heartbreak no.1 It was Barcelona, another giant of the game, with some of the best players ever lined up for them. They had Giovanni von Bronkhurst, one of our old boys, against us, as well as huge stars such as Ronaldhino, Eto’o, Puyol and the rest. We had a top side, most of the Invincibles were there and we were the Champions league Invincibles that year with 10 clean sheets and no defeats. I was allowing myself to dream big. We had already knocked over monsters and there was just one left. I watched it in Murphy’s in Sofia as I had an English visitor, Ian McMaster, a West Ham supporter over. I guess some of the Arsenal Supporter’s club in Bulgaria were there with me but I wasn’t aware of their existence at the time. Heartbreak no.2 Maybe it is petty of me but I have never fully forgiven Lehmann for dragging down Samuel Eto’o to get himself sent off. Almunia came on for a visibly distressed Pires, who was very angry with Wenger and left the club next season. I feel Wenger made the right choice as, with ten men, you can’t take off a defender or holding midfielder and it was between him and Llungberg and he probably felt Llungberg would run harder. It took him a long time to repair that rift. And then Belletti kills the dream And so it had all gone wrong. Barcelona had the wind in their sails and were looking the better team but somehow Campbell scored from a Henry free kick. Could we do it? Had the gods decided to reward me for my longstanding hope of lifting this immense trophy? But the loss of Lehmann and Pires was too much. Eto’o scored a probably offside goal on 76 minutes and it was hard to see how we could come back. I kept hoping for a miracle but Belletti, who had come on as a sub not long before, knocked in their second to sink us. Heartbreak no.3 The dream died that day. If Lehmann had done anything else bar foul Eto’o, I believe we would have won. And now, 15 years later, we are not even qualifying. Please Arsenal, understand that I am 63, qualify this year, and give it to me as a Beatles present for when I am 64! All you have to be is Arsenal again.
  5. 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.
  6. Entering the Twilight Zone A strange season, the strangest yet. And about to get even stranger? Probably. Arsenal are halfway along with a few others. Where can we end up? Today I am going to come up with a few scenarios and in the end, plump for what I feel will happen. There are lots of variables but some conclusions can be drawn all the same. The first is that it will be a low points season. However that may not translate into 4th place as at the moment that is looking high. Looking at the table as it is now 20/1/2021 and giving Man City, Man Utd and Liverpool wins in their final matches for halfway as they all look winnable, let’s see where we are. Can We Win All Our Matches? Maybe In a Parallel Universe? Arsenal, if we win all our matches, will have 84 points. City, on the above scenario will be at the turn on 41 and top. A repeat for them would be 82, a low total by recent years. By that logic, Arsenal need to win all their matches to claim the league. However, if we could, I feel that this year it would be enough. Realistically, though, the league is not a likely option. Even the most blinkered Gooner won’t think we can win the championship this year. Maybe not impossible but close to it. A typical Arsenal training session this year So what else is out there for us? Let’s say we repeat the first 19 total of 27 points. That gives us 54 points. We had 56 last year and 8th. I would say outside the Europa league spots and somewhere between 8th and 11th. No danger of relegation but a mediocre season and hoping to win one of the 2 cups left to grab a Euro spot. We are all hopeful that we can do better than the first half, but we need to win a lot more I feel to grab the prize we want, Champions League. Can We Win Our Weirdest Wenger Trophy? The lowest ever 4th place was Liverpool in 2004 with 60 points. That is very doable for us, we would only have to be 6 points better over the next 19 to get that. However, Liverpool will be on 37 points at halfway on the above scenario and that is 74 on a repeat. As the other teams around them are close enough it seems to me that 70 or more is the target. So now we need 70+, can we get that? That is at least 16 points better than the first half or 43 points, better than any team has managed so far with City, if they win their last 2, on 41 as I proposed above. We will need a very strong finish to the season to get Champions league. And by the way, our worst ever 4th place was 67 points in 2006. We Don’t Know Who We Are. Seems we don't need a second goalkeeper like normal teams One problem we are facing is that nobody seems to know our best 11. Leno in goal for sure as we don’t seem to have anyone else. Tierney and Cedric for me as fullbacks. Or maybe Maitland Niles instead of Cedric. Bellerin is poor at the final ball. Holding has grown into the job but Gabriel and Mari could be our best bet. Smith Rowe, Partey, Xhaka and Saka with Auba and Lacazette up front but if Martinelli gets fit I would prefer him. But I guess there is no agreement as to our best 11. Can we put a strong enough winning run together, though? A couple of injuries to key players like Leno, Tierney, Saka or Smith Rowe and we could be in trouble. We have a young side, and we badly need to keep them and develop the others coming through, and with that in mind, I could live with a mediocre season if necessary as long as we develop the kids. They will come good for us. Injuries to key players could derail us Is That Light a Train Coming Through The Other Side of The Tunnel? One possible chink of light is our last six matches, all winnable with Chelsea the toughest. If we are in with a chance by then we could pile on the points and maybe even squeeze into the big prize and Champions league. So what do I think? I think we will end up with around 64, and that may get us Europa league. If we don’t improve our points total enough, I think that will affect our cup chances so this year we may not have a back door to Europe. A bit better than that 64 and we are challenging for Champions League. And that would be to me science fiction, but it is a weird season.
  7. Can we wait? Whether you are a supporter of Mikel Arteta or not, you are unhappy with the performances of our team in the league. If we were doing ok in the standings, say like on 24 points and 6th like Southampton, but had the same great run in the Europa league, the pressure wouldn’t be so great on Arteta. But it is what it is. We are struggling to win in the league and the reasons are obvious. We don’t put enough pressure on teams in the box because we are too slow to break forward. We play with fear. In the Europa league, by contrast, we chase down everything, the young players move the ball faster forward and there seems to be no fear. It is asking an awful lot at the moment. So, let’s break down the strategy as I see it. He persists with a measured build up all the time and doesn’t want to change that. The logic being that if we keep the ball, the opponent cannot score. Trying to get the ball forward quickly risks losing the ball, our runners being forward, and the opponents finding space. Under Arteta, we don’t go forward without cover, for example, if Tierney bombs forward, Xhaka covers for him. Punting the ball forward, hoping that our players can win a first or second ball, the famous long ball, is not part of the strategy. Those with long memories will remember Palace, with twin strikers Mark Bright and our own Ian Wright, playing with 2 banks of four at the back, relying on the speed and tenacity of those two to get goals, being a great exponent of this style. A perfect system He believes in this process, believes he has good players and I believe that part, by the way. Our players are good, mostly. He believes that once we get confidence, hold the ball, frustrate and tire your opponents, find a way to score, and continue to hold the ball and frustrate your opponents, they will give up more chances. The young players, with their exuberance in the Europa league, bomb forward, lose their shape a bit, and concede goals against lesser teams. If I understand correctly what Arteta is trying to do, he is trying for a perfect system, where you have a machine that holds the ball, only gives it up when the ball is in the net, then chases down the ball to get it again off the kickoff, to start the process again. That explains the amount of passes, the build up from the back, the covering movements, the reluctance to shoot until a perfect opportunity arises. The going back when forward seems better, because going forward risks losing the ball. Can we win this, our ultimate dream? Is it possible? So, can he make it work? First let’s look at Klopp, Liverpool worry first about scoring and can live with conceding as long as they score more, they play an aggressive style which is about getting at the opposition. They need top class defenders to minimise the goals conceded. It works for them. Guardiola’s style has echoes of Arteta’s, keeping the ball, but he often has his players breaking like lightning and there are elements of Klopp’s style there too. Again Guardiola tries to also have a top defence as he accepts that aggression means concession, so you must concede less than the opposition. Arteta seems to want no risk, a patient buildup, frustrate the other side, and win all. Arsene Wenger was a proponent of winning every match and perhaps that is where Arteta gets his vision from. He is right, let’s concede that point. If you keep the ball until you score, you will win every match. Of course, nobody in the world thinks it is possible. They laughed at Wenger when he said they could go through the league unbeaten. He saw it as possible. It was. However, could Arteta be right? If you look at what is coming through, the amount of talent, Saka, Willock, Martinelli, Reiss Nelson, Balogun, Smith Rowe and many others, coupled with Aubameyang, Tierney, Gabriel, Partey, etc., maybe it is. It is a very big ask, to ask players to be disciplined, hold the ball, pass only to your own players, wait, be patient, play as a team, be a unit as disciplined as the famous George Graham defence. If you watch the youtubes of Dixon, Keown, Adams and Winterburn, you will see what I mean, moving as if on string, which took a long time to perfect but brought us glory against arguably the greatest team in English football, Liverpool in the 80’s. Or are we staring at competing in the Championship? A visionary or a false prophet? So we are tasked with waiting, to see if a new style can work, holding, discipline, learning to be a unit, a minimum of aggression, and good football winning out. And I don’t feel the system is negative, as always the intention is to score. In the meantime, as they are working on it, they get beaten, the extraordinary levels of discipline that means no hoofing it into the stands but always trying to find a teammate, or getting the ball back, has brought about a pressure that has led to sendings off, leading to defeats. Let’s contrast Mourinho, who believes the opposite, give the opponent the ball, let them come at you, then break through the holes they have left. A park the bus approach that relies on defence, and top class movement a handful of times per match. Certainly, an easier approach, but also requiring discipline. The big problem, as I see it, with such a system, is that the weaker teams, which are still good in the premier division, play a tight game, inviting the opposition to come at them. They are happy for us to keep the ball, have a slow build up, and hope they get a chance or two. Stringing 20 or more passes together will not give us any necessary advantage. And they know if they pressure Leno and the full backs, mistakes will be made. The big teams will give us chances, and judging by the Europa League, we can beat the weaker ones, but can we notch up enough wins against the Brightons and Burnleys of this world with this system, which will be necessary to win the league? The only way to find out is to wait and see. If Arteta is right and a collective 11, working in harmony, squeezing the opposition, playing beyond their individual abilities, brings us to the equivalent of Real Madrid or Liverpool in their prime, then we should be willing to wait. Of course, he could be wrong and disaster could strike. The question is are we willing to wait to find out? I would love to have foresight I will mention 2 managers here, Alex Ferguson took many years for success, and he booted out some of United’s top players like Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside and others at their peak in 1989 because of a drinking culture. But at the time he didn’t say that was why, to hold their transfer values. The fans didn't like it. It took 3 more years before he won the league. A lot of United fans were calling for him to go, if they had succeeded, maybe United would still be scrabbling for success. And Klopp has been at Liverpool for 5 years. For 4 years he won nothing. He could have been let go but if Man U and Liverpool had known what was to come they would never have complained. One never knows. I do feel that we should support Arteta to the end of the season. Stop the constant abuse from some quarters and get behind the team. We are still in 3 trophies, although the best we can hope for in the league is a Wenger trophy, and we would bite your hand off if that was offered to us now.
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