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The best always win? Ah, cheating. Winning is all that matters. The ideal of sport that is whoever is better at the skill would win does not apply to football. And yet it is hard to say which sports that applies to, nowadays. Golf, darts and snooker spring to mind. What else? Let’s take athletics. At least you have to be over the line by yourself to win. It is clear who has won. But drugs are a serious problem in so many sports where at least the winner is clear. Cristiano Ronaldo - always cheating Soccer is no longer a sport where the winner is clear nor probably has it ever been. There have been many apologies since VAR has appeared where teams have lost or drawn matches they should have won. And prior to VAR a referee could cost you the game. But you never get it back. Last season Arsenal had a few VAR decisions go against them, Man Utd, Brighton and Brentford spring to mind. We were a short few points off Man City and getting the correct decisions could have won us the league. What is cheating? That is the starting point of this discussion. Football is not about sportspeople playing better than the other team but rather those who use every trick in the book and are writing new ones up to gain an advantage that wins the match. What are those advantages? I probably can’t list them all, but let’s give it a go, in the order they come into my head: Calling for everything Surrounding the ref Verbals – abusing players to try and put them off their game Diving and tricking refs by screaming Going down with little contact A new one, since the introduction of almost universal handball, is hammering the ball into a crowded box in the hope that it hits an arm when there is no sight of goal. Is the use of excess money cheating? Most of these things did not happen in English football when I started watching. Dirty Leeds in the Sixties, with a truly top squad of players, started a lot of gamesmanship and fouls. The most notorious being Jack Charlton standing on top of the keeper at corners. But all the other things mentioned above were starting to appear. Of course, football was never clean Now, it has to be said that football was never really clean. There have been many instances of the dark arts since soccer appeared in its present form around 150 years ago. The problem is, if it is not clean, is it truly a sport? I say no. The definition of a sport has to be that the best at the discipline wins. And only golf, darts and snooker comes to mind where that applies. This is the sign that football is clean In this modern era, you would have to be a genius to figure out the blurry lines between what is acceptable and what is not. Money? The big teams spend egregious amounts to gain advantage so that they have at least two top players for every position. They have also campaigned strongly to allow more and more subs giving them another big advantage over poorer clubs. In the old days you had one sub which was normally only used late in the game, if at all. And yet I rarely remember teams being down to ten because of injury. But subs were originally supposed to be only for injury, not for tactics. I say 5 subs are cheating as the advantage is to the big clubs. Will anything be done? Yes, when you see a member of the porcine species use its wings to fly past your window. Just give me one million of that and I will delete this piece, Sheik Money allows you to buy players that other teams want just to stop them having them. Chelsea and Man City are possibly the worst at this but all big teams are guilty. Is it cheating? I can’t see any reason to say it is not. Analysing ways to cheat What about analysts? Is that cheating? There are teams of guys with laptops spread around the grounds relaying information to the bench and the manager is stood on the pitch bellowing instructions. Why are they allowed do that? We would laugh if at an athletics event if there was 20 managers screaming at the runners. In the past, the manager sat on the bench and I see no reason for anyone on the bench to be allowed give instructions. It should be the best sportsmen win. They should be talented enough to use their own ability, brain and reason to be able to play. A guy is free on the edge of the box at the corner? Get out and cover him, how do you need to be told to do that? Educating young people to cheat is good, is it? Will we see the days of hidden earpieces on the captains or all players? Is it already happening? I suspect the technology is already there so it could well be. Is it cheating? I say yes. I covered drugs already here and you will see that my belief is that drugs are endemic in football. We do, most of us, see drugs as clearly cheating but the world of pharmacy is very clever. They are like Hydra, you cut off one head and 2 more grow in its place. A putrid sport ready to collapse? The problem is, that if one big team cheats, then they all will, to try to stop them having an advantage. We have gone so far down this rabbithole that we can’t see any possibility of anything getting better, we keep accepting the new ways to cheat and the new charlatans, the Chelseas, the Man Citys, the PSG’s, etc., will continue to use their money to whitewash the cheating and the old big clubs will scramble to catch up on their cheating and surpass them if they can. And so here we are. A rotten sport without much semblance of fairness. Where anything at all, no matter how outrageous, is acceptable. Cristiano Ronaldo is perhaps the biggest single example, always diving, harassing the ref, waving for cards and so on, yet he was still one of the most popular players of his time and not castigated and banned for being a lowly cheat. In golf, also a huge money sport, he would have been cast into the darkness long ago. Tiger Woods would have been with a tiny amount of cheating. For all golfers, being a true sport is what matters, especially Tiger Woods You must call foul on yourself and a sport has to be about the better person or team winning. Soccer has left that ideal far behind. Is it the right road that it has taken or will there be a sudden, dramatic, realization that cheating and sport are incompatible? The most dramatic event of my lifetime, the collapse of the Soviet Union, was inconceivable to me until it happened. But people then realized how rotten it was and didn’t want to go back. Could it happen in football? I will say a definite maybe.
The Table of Doom is Over Arsenal Current 81 Max 90 Brighton(h) Man City Max 94 Brighton (a) Gone: Man Utd Max 75 Newcastle Max 77 Brighton Max 70 Man City (h) Arsenal(a) – kept because they play key matches. Liverpool Max 71 Tottenham Max 66 And so my Table of Doom is over. The countdown of those teams that could catch us for a Champions League slot are all gone, having bit the dust early. Will we get 90 points? Maybe. I am hopeful. We are certainly better than our 3 final opponents but that may not translate into wins. Brighton have become an up and down team of late being beaten comfortably by Forest and Everton, both of which may be having their last days at the top table. We have to hope they are up against City and down against us. They are a good side on their day. Will Jurgen Klopp stay as Liverpool manager? Anyway I will discontinue this slot until next season as you all know who we will play, who City will play, and all the permutations. The only surprise will be if we win the championship without winning all our last 3 matches, I think we can all agree on that. City will now have another mind-bending game against Real and that might take its toll. We can only hope. Look what losing to them did to Liverpool in the final last year. They were rubbish for most of the season. We have hope. So bye bye Table of Doom. Who will be the top four next season? Today, I am going to take a strange tack and look at next season and who will be up against us. I am going to say from the bat that I expect us and City to be top four leaving only 2 places to play for. We assume Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea and the Spuds are contenders even though 3 of those may not play Champions league next season. That could be an advantage for them as they may not be in Europe at all like Chelsea or in one of the minor European trophies. They can play fringe players in these. They all have big income streams from many years at the top, bigger than the rest of the league and so have a natural advantage. Can we now expect Newcastle as well? I am not so sure. Champions league will play its toll assuming they get there. They, despite having some super players and a great manager combined with big pockets, might do a bit of a Leicester and go down a bit next time. They didn’t have Europe this year. They need to buy top players because some of these guys, like Dan Burns and our own Joe Willock, are not quite of the calibre they need as first choice if they are to battle on 2 big fronts. Sponsorship and merchandising income is still a lot smaller than the established sides although they do have an attendance capacity of almost 53,000. Their money plus their overall structure means they have a good chance of getting into the big boys club. Into the Big Boys Club So who else can we look at based on this season? Brighton for sure. They still have an outside chance of Champions league but that will surely stretch them. They may go back a bit and they may lose top players but they seem adept at producing young players and buying in superb ones. However a top attendance of less than 32,000 and without the ability to attract the sponsorship deals and marketing of merchandise of the more attractive clubs, combined with a rich, but not as rich as the top clubs, owner, means it will be really hard for them to truly compete at the highest level. Unai Emery could chase a Champions league slot next season Aston Villa, under Unai Emery, have been the real surprise packet of the season. Sprinting up the table with league winning form when under Steven Gerrard they were in relegation trouble, it has been astonishing how Emery has transformed them. They have a ground capacity of almost 43,000 and incredibly rich owners. They would have pretty good merchandise sales and sponsorship, although not like the big boys. They could jump up and take a slot very easily. Even this season, with a maximum of 63 points, they could be in Europe. Unai Emery seems to be at his best with an emerging side and I believe they will be a threat. Who else is there? Brentford's new stadium still only holds 17,250 Brentford? I think Champions league is beyond them. They have a good team with a potentially great manager but low revenue from merchandise, sponsorship and attendances. 17,250 is not going to get you Champions league. Their owner is only worth 20M pounds and that is a pittance by today’s standards. Lose Thomas Frank to a big team and they could suffer from 3rd season malaise and even get relegated. If they keep him and their best players they could still do well. But I am putting them out of contention for Champions league. Matthew Benham - probably the poorest Premier league owner Fulham? They could well surprise again. Marco Silva has done wonders with them and they have a multi-billionaire owner. Shahid Khan is surely a serious contender with big plans otherwise why Fulham? Lower income streams and attendance at 22,238 is far less than the big boys, though it will be brought up to 29,600 for next season. I feel they would need a long-term project and a much bigger ground to get up there but that should be his plan. No Champions league for them next season, I predict. But I feel they will make strides and 5th or 6th may not be beyond them. Fulham's new stadium will only get them to 29,600 The Dark horses and the Shambles For me the 2 dark horses may be Wolves, and Notts Forest (if they stay up). Both sides have had some terrific performances this year. Wolves 3-0 vs Liverpool being one standout. Forest drew with City and beat Liverpool and Brighton. Both sides big disadvantage is that their grounds are around 30,00 capacity. The astonishing Chelsea collapse The other factor is the shambles of Man Utd (at times), Liverpool, Spurs and incredibly, Chelsea. Can they turn themselves around? I think it is possible Jurgen Klopp may resign if he does badly in his last 3 games. Even if not, he may decide to go for a new challenge. I am not sure what will happen to them if he does go. They are a big side to manage and they will need a big manager and there are not many out there. The Spuds will be in the hunt for one as will Chelsea. All 4 may well not make Champions league next season but I do feel that Ten Hag is a good manager. As long as he gets Champions league this season he is safe unless the potential new owners think differently. They are my strongest tip of the four above. Chelsea and Spurs seem to have a lot to sort out to really challenge. So who am I going to predict? Arsenal number one, Man City number two, Man Utd number three and yes, Aston Villa in fourth. Unai Emery has a great record in pushing Real Madrid and Barcelona from the much lower base of Sevilla, Valencia and Villareal. He likes being with the underdogs. And hey, you read it here first. You can also bash me over the head for getting it badly wrong. Don’t bash me too hard, though.
Liverpool H, Leeds A, Southampton A, Forest H, Chelsea A, Wolves A, West Ham H, Brighton A Getting it wrong and being happy And so I got it wrong. Could anyone really predict 7 wins out of 8 and even that one we were caught by 3 sucker punches? Well, yes, one of our own ASCB supporters did predict 8 out of eight in the comments section of my first attempt https://arsenal-bulgaria.com/site/team/london_calling/where-can-we-finish-2023-part-1-r506/ I predicted 17 points, we got 21. I have substituted Spurs for Everton as we didn’t play them but I predicted 4-1 so similar to the Spuds result. This time the World Cup could have a big impact on us or other teams and I have no way of knowing what players will be affected. So now I will have a go at predicting the next eight – eight wins! Ok, bye bye, see you next time! … Maybe the Liverpool machine is coming to an end Ah, ok, I can’t really say that but I am worried about Liverpool in the first. No, they haven’t played well. No they haven’t played a team of the quality of Arsenal and yes, we are playing at home. But we have not got a good record against them and worryingly, they have had the third highest shots on goal of any team, eclipsed only by us and the marauding City. Any Arsenal fan thinking Liverpool are ready to be beaten are fooling themselves. And they always seem to get the best of the VAR decisions. I am hoping for a win but will settle for a draw. 2-2 in an open game, but very feisty. We need to be brave and disciplined as Liverpool have seasoned pros who know all the tricks. 22 points Tomiyasu: Key for Japan - key for us? Leeds away? Last year we beat them 4-1 and might do it again. I do expect a win although they are not doing badly, a respectable midtable. I was at the game at the Emirates and we won 2-1 but how I don’t know. We totally outplayed them for long periods and yet had a nervy finish. Another 2-1 would do me. 25 points. Is there danger here? Southampton away? Last year they beat us exactly when we needed wins. We cannot allow them to do so again. If we perform well I would like to see 2-0. They are on a bad run but they were also on one last season so please Arsenal don’t let them be a bogey team. 28 points. Saka might be our only England player Forest at home? I am planning being at this fixture although tickets haven’t popped up yet. ASCB I need you. They are down in relegation position and surely cannot cope with our energy, our strikers, and the understanding we have forged. They have bought one billion players and seem to have no understanding. No Robin Hood for these boys as we send them home crying 4-0. 31 points. Maybe Jesus and our other Brazilians may not play much in the World cup We are all getting excited. Points keep coming in. Man City have also got a draw against Liverpool by this stage so we are still top. City are going like a machine but so are we. It is frightening to watch. Blue demons or not? Chelsea away? Our record at Stamford Bridge is not so great but last year we reversed games. They won at ours and we won at theirs. They have good players, and they are close to Champions league position. Surely this is not going to be easy. I would again settle for a draw but hopeful of a win. 1-1 and 32 points. Key for France - key for us Wolves away? They are doing disastrously. Now without a manager, Nuno Espirito Santo could make a comeback. He is doing ok in the Saudi league but surely would like to come back home? They could be a different proposition under him or a new manager. They gave us 2 hard games last year. But surely we will be too strong? 2-0 and 35 points. A world cup hangover? West Ham at home? I might try and get to this game. I expect a win although I feel the Hammers will be nicely up the table by then. We have a good record against them, particularly at home, and I think we can do it. Last year we did the double and this should be the start of another. This is our first match after the world cup and it is very hard to know what players we will have and what condition they will be in. Assuming no banana skins I am going for 2-1 in a hard fought game. 38 points. Xhaka has become key Brighton away? This is a game we could lose. We only took one point off them last year and they definitely look better this year. Roberti De Zerbi could be a excellent fit and the equal to Graham Potter. He did great work at Shaktar Donetsk. I feel we will need all our key players fit and firing for this one. If the world cup is unkind to us that will make it more difficult. Maybe another draw 1-1. 39 points. And Arsenal are soaring above everyone That would be a massive improvement of 13 points over last season, however City, at this point were 38 so 39 would probably see us still top. I am being optimistic but then again last time I thought I was being optimistic with 17 points after 8 games and we got 21 so I hope I am wrong the same way again. City are going so strong at the moment that it is hard to see them losing any match but they do have off days against lower teams sometimes. If we win all we have 45 and surely starting something unstoppable. Even a repeat of the 21 making 42 would make us very difficult to catch. Partey-We need a safe world cup Can we do it? My experience is that every team suffers a bad patch. Ours are often in November but this time November is short. As for the World cup it is possible that our Brazilians may not get much playing time. Saka may be our only English player. Xhaka will definitely play as will Partey, Tomiyasu and Saliba. So some key players will play. We need them to stay safe. Still it is not too bad unless they all struggle. We can probably survive one or two injuries. Let us hope for a great eight games. COYG.
The fickleness of football fans AFTV epitomise fickle fans Suppose, as we all expect, Spurs gain 4th and Arsenal fifth this season, then there will be many complaints, moans, and even downright abuse of Arteta, the players and the visible staff like Edu. We will read a mountain of bile directed at Arsenal. But suppose, again, that Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs are involved in some scandal and are demoted. Arsenal get crowned champions then suddenly the fans go wild, cheering their manager, their players, and everything about the Arsenal. We wouldn’t care that we finished fifth, only that we are champions. And so, this week, we will listen to all the sob stories as we lament losing our chance at Champions league, how useless Arteta is, how useless the players are, how we will never qualify for Champions league again, and bla, bla, bla. But suddenly, we beat Everton. Spurs fall down a black hole at Norwich. We are in Champions League. WE ARE IN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE! This makes us happy And then the stories change. And so does the song: We’ve got Super Mik Arteta, He knows exactly what we need, Kieran at the back, Gabi in attack, Arsenal on the way to Champions League. Thus it has been since I was a boy, I guess thus it will be after I am long gone. And honestly, having been writing all my life, people don’t want to read measured reasoning about their teams. Generally football fans fall into two camps. Those that are negative and those that are positive. When I was growing up, I had almost no Arsenal fans around me, so I didn’t have the negative ones, and Arsenal overachieved by winning the Fairs cup (Europa League) and then the magical double. Then lots of Irish and successive FA cup finals. And so to me, we were overachieving. And I am mostly naturally positive so probably am mostly in that camp. But I pride myself on trying to be objective, to make a true calculation of where we are, and not one based on the fickleness of fans. Small steps might be wiser A wise member of the Arsenal backroom team here in Bulgaria, Zdravko Talvi, outlined his opinion, that realistically, Europa League would most likely be best for us next term. He made a lot of sense when I thought about it. The team is young, inexperienced, and new young players are coming through that we either let go and may regret doing so like Gnabry, or we have the scope to play them in the Europa League. We probably can’t play them much in the Champions league. The thing is that such reasoned debate is rare in football fans. All they want is victory, no matter how it is achieved. Even in the hypothetical situation outlined above, where the top teams are demoted, we would cheer our great victory. The question is: did we overachieve this season with a minimum fifth? I say yes, we have far too many young players with great potential but not enough experience. Son and Kane are two of the wiliest operators in the league, using every trick to their advantage. Kane knows he doesn’t even get booked no matter what he does, and Son goes down when he feels the wind change direction. Our players need that vital experience. It may surprise younger fans but Patrick Vieira took a long time to stop getting cards all the time. He frustrated us enormously as we saw the great talent but lamented the time spent out suspended. Martin Keown never totally lost his penchant for getting carded but at least we had Steve Bould as cover. I feel, objectively, that that team of Wenger’s and the next one, the Invincibles, were the best team in the world but underachieved because of indiscipline. No team had better players than Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg, and the rest. All the way through both teams, we had top players. But we never won Champions League and only 3 Premier Leagues. I reckon we had at least 8-10 years of being the best team in England and a few as the best in Europe. So, bizarrely, we underachieved. Points out a flaw in Wenger, he was superb in assembling a team and getting them to play for him, but ill discipline and a certain lack of tactical nous were probably his weaknesses. Me? I am innocent, ref! The greats underachieved I wonder does he agree with me, that his team should have accomplished more? I would love to ask him. But those were our wonder years, maybe the best spell I will ever see. And so back to the current team. All the teams around us, City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and Man Utd, even West Ham, have lots of scheming old pros, ready to fool a ref all the time, even VAR. Combine that with the Northern preference of the refereeing system and we did have a disadvantage. The only old pro we have that plays all the time, Xhaka, is a target for refs and can never gain any advantage. He will never escape that, I feel, even if he went on a summer camp with Son and Kane. He battered me, ref In that context, with such young players, we have overachieved this season no matter where we finish. Does that make Arteta better than Wenger if we accept my previous assertion? Of course not. A manager is judged on their overall achievements. Arteta has such a young team because he seems to have a problem with experienced players and even some young players like Guendouzi and possibly Saliba. He got rid of, or doesn’t play the experienced ones. That is his flaw, more so than any other. He then needs these young players to grow with him, keep improving and playing for him, and not giving him much trouble. Then we can see if he is any good or not. All managers have flaws, but the best ones make sure that theirs don’t stop them winning things. Trophies are all that matters To underline my point, Manchester United, under Ferguson, were the richest team in the world and certainly in England, yet that did not mean he won everything every season. Far from it. He rarely came close to winning everything. That is an argument that he always underachieved. A manager who underachieves surely is not a great manager, yes? I hope you can see where I am coming from, a manager is judged entirely on trophies. Gain enough and nobody digs too deep to say whether you underachieved or overachieved. Ferguson and Wenger are two of the greatest to have lived, despite my argument that they both underachieved. And so you can see the fickleness of fans. If Arteta gets us into Champions league, due to a St Totteringhams day, or due to a crazy scandal that demotes 4 teams down the league, or even if Chelsea alone get demoted for some Russian reason, he will be deemed for the moment to be a great manager. I believe it is fair to say that he overachieved this season no matter what, 4th or 5th, and I also believe that it is fair to say that a manager who overachieves deserves plaudits. But the sniping will continue with 5th. The achievement of a trophy, the mythical 4th spot, no matter how it is done fair or foul is the definition. A Russian scandal demotes Chelsea? Shout louder so everyone will hear you The problem with the fickleness of a lot of fans, and I have no idea if they are in the majority or just shout louder so we think they might be, is that the negativity doesn’t help their team. Personal abuse of the managers, players and staff doesn’t help. I hope this piece has underlined for you how difficult it is to even decide if your manager and team have overachieved or not, but one thing I am certain about, it is the attitude, epitomised by our own Zdravko Talvi, that what fans should really care about is the long term welfare of the team, and in that context, EL may be better than CL. I believe our young players will prove the knockers wrong