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Our United Nations An Easy Pick? Ha ha. Supposing Don Corleone got Luca Brasi to put a gun to your head and pick 11 players from the current squad from different countries do you think it would be an easy choice? Surprisingly it’s not that difficult, except when it comes to the English and Brazilians. It begs the question – why does Arteta buck the trend of most managers of appointing players from their own country? In the team I have picked there is not one candidate from Spain. I decided that on loan players don’t count but anyway Pablo Mari would not have made mine or anyone’s final 11, I reckon. It is very unusual and, as he is there around 3 years, a bit surprising. I can’t think of any topflight manager who has done the same. Only one choice for goal - Matt Turner Anyway, getting back to my task, and difficulty with the 3 English players players currently first choice in the squad, Ramsdale, White and Saka. I am a big fan of Emile Smith Rowe as well and can’t wait to see him back but at the moment I am going for Bukayo Saka, he plays for England and is a constant threat to opposing sides. Which means Matt Turner the American gets in goal. Saka - we need our star boy fit and well The Brazilians are immense And so to the Brazilians, In some ways this is harder as all 3 are crucial but I will go for Gabriel Magalhaes in order to keep the defence as strong as possible. It kills me to leave out Martinelli and Jesus though. Alongside him the easy choice of William Saliba the Frenchman. Gabriel - won't go to the World Cup this time And so to fullbacks and I have decided to go for Kieran Tierney from Scotland and Takehiro Tomiyasu from Japan. Aleksander Zinchenko from Ukraine is a strong candidate but I have decided to have him as my 12th man as he is very versatile and he hasn’t had the body of work for Arsenal yet as those two have. Xhaka up front? Defensive midfield is a bit of a problem as I feel that I will move Granit Xhaka of Switzerland closer to the front as he seems to be revelling in his forward position. Which means Thomas Partey of Ghana and one other of Mohamed Elneny of Egypt or Sambi Lokonga of Belgium. Probably Lokonga is the best longterm option but for now I will go with Elneny. Xhaka - Immense for Switzerland The next midfielder is easy in Martin Odegaard of Norway. No argument there as he is one of our best. Out wide I will go for Fabio Vieira of Portugal and Bukayo Saka of England. And in the middle as a false nine I will put Granit Xhaka to see if he can plunder lots of goals. The only real other option is Nicolas Pepe of the Ivory Coast but I have already excluded loan players. We will struggle without our Brazilians in attack Yes, one of Jesus or Martinelli should be included but that would mean a rejig of the defence. I could put Tomiyasu in the centre with Saliba and Zinchenko and Tierney as fullbacks. But I feel that would weaken the defence and the understanding built up between Gabriel and Saliba. So my team is in Arteta’s established 4 3 3: Matt Turner Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Margalhues, William Saliba, Takehiro Tomiyasu Thomas Partey, Martin Odegaard, Mohamed Elneny Bukayo Saka, Granit Xhaka, Fabio Vieira And Aleksander Zinchenko as 12th man All our squad will go to the next World Cup? It isn’t a bad team and not too far off our first 11. But what it tells us that we need our Brazilians and our English players badly, probably particularly our Brazilians. So maybe it is good that only Saka is likely to be first choice for the world cup of the Brazilians and English picked. The next world cup in North America will I feel decimate our squad as our players will be established top players by then. Luckily it will be in summer and not in the middle of the season. Partey - we need him to come back safe. Is it strange that 2 countries are highly represented but no other country has 2 players? It seems strange to me. And no Spanish players currently vying for a place at all? This team seems to be bucking all trends that I have known all my life. Arteta seems to have a focus that I have not seen before. Wenger liked the French, Ferguson liked the Scots, Mourinho liked Portuguese and so on and on. Is he the only foreign manager in the Premier League that has none of his fellow countrymen? George Graham sometimes had only Englishmen and rarely had Scots but I am not sure why. Those were different days and the pool of players were mostly English and UK and Ireland. Arteta the Alien No Spanish players needed here Anyway, what do people think? Could you do a better job of picking an 11 plus one sub from different countries? Does the makeup of players matter at all? Certainly when it comes to major tournaments it can make a difference. The African cup of Nations happens exactly when the English Premier League is going on, leading to complaints from managers. Jurgen Klopp anyone? Now only Partey, Elneny and maybe Pepe is a problem for us. Not so bad at all. And if all our players come back fit from the World Cup it could be a big bonus for us as other teams will have virtually their entire squads there. Some will come back injured or jaded. Maybe we can start to dream. It is a long time since I have dreamed of a big title with Arsenal, so can a Basque, with his only focus on the strength of his team no matter where they come from be the one to bring us back to the top and stay there? Let’s dream and c’mon the Arse!
Transfer madness and badge kissing The Athletic has done a survey on Premier league teams signings over the last decade. It is very interesting, particularly when it comes to Arsenal. They have analysed the nationalities of all signings and to me, at least, there are a lot of surprises. Biggest for me is the sheer number of signings some teams make. Fulham number 2 at 127! And the top of the pile – Nottingham Forest at 162! That is unbelievable to me. More than a team signed each season. What must that do to the loyalty of players? Yet they all kiss the badges. I don’t remember players doing that for a lot of my time supporting Arsenal. The top two for churning players Football is a totally different world from when I started as regular readers will remember from my series My Life as a Gooner. Do you know how many players we signed when we first won the double in 1970-71? None! And we sold 2 – Bob Gould and Terry Neill. Unbelievable, Jeff! Big clubs sign less players The other big factor that is a surprise to me is that the big clubs have signed far less than the smaller ones. Arsenal at 58 is 5.8 players per year. I will leave you to say who the .8 players were . But City and United are less than that at 45. Chelsea, Liverpool and the Spuds are also in the low end close to the Arsenal figure. I guess the players cost more at these clubs so they can’t afford too many players. They don’t get many frees whereas the lesser teams would take numerous. I should point out that this survey is confined to the current Premiership twenty so some of the teams would have been in lower divisions. Amazing- these two bought the least I took a trip down memory lane for this blog and the Arsenal bought 2-3 players a year for most of the 70’s, 80’s and well into the 90’s with an occasional blank year. Wenger’s first year saw him bring in Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka, Remi Garde, plus John Lukic on a free. After that the numbers started to go up. 10 the next, and 5 the next two seasons giving an average of 6, close enough to the current state. If we take all Wenger’s signings over 23 years it makes 126 giving us a rounded up figure of 5.5, again not far from the current situation and of course, Wenger was involved for much of the past ten seasons so the original figures reflect that. Vieira - one of four in Wenger's 1st year Managers bring in their own nations The Athletic’s article concentrated on nationalities and one of the things I noticed was that managers often opt for their home countries. Pochettino at Spurs brought in many Argentinians, and Wolves have had more Portuguese than any other nation. Guardiola brought in many Spanish as well. But not Arteta, as Arsenal have brought in more Brazilians than any other nationality. I guess that is the influence of Edu Gaspard, who seems to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Favelas of Brazil and every promising youngster that surfaces. It is an English league and a striking factor is that the top teams have not bought English players as their main choice whereas most of the lower teams have. I could be wrong but I reckon that situation is not the same at the other top leagues in Europe. As far as I can see, in Spain, Germany, France and Italy, the majority of players are from those countries. Arsenal are now bringing through English players Arsenal are at the bottom of the pile for signing English players over the last 10 seasons at 8%. Bournemouth at the top, are at 49%. Arsenal, to be fair, have brought on a lot of English players from their academy and brought in Ramsdale and White recently. Holding earlier, then from the academy. Chambers, Saka, Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Willock, Nketiah and others. Arsenal could put out a fairly strong team just with English players and that is a factor that just looking at signings ignores. I suspect we have, potentially, when we look at the names in the academy coming through, the potential to have the largest number of England internationals in the coming years irrespective of whether we sign any. Manchester City at 20% English signings are the highest of the top teams giving a boost to those English fans who would like to see their team win a trophy. Players fly through clubs but never forget to kiss the badge But the biggest factor for me is the sheer churn that these numbers represent. Even the biggest teams like the 2 Manchesters are buying 4.5 players a season, virtually a new team every 2 years. Some teams buy more than a new team every season. How can partnerships strike up? What about team bonding? How can you stop players getting demoralised with all this moving around? To me, it is funny how the players grab the badge to signify that they love their club. Oh, yeah? When you have only been there 2 seconds? Talk to David O’Leary or Tony Adams, they understand what playing for the badge means. Modern players abuse fans, in my opinion, by such actions. They abuse the gullibility of fans who lap it up. Please put in a decent shift for your club before such gestures, unless, of course, you were a lifelong Arsenal fan before joining, which is something different. Xhaka Stayed Deserves to kiss the badge Granit Xhaka is a prime example of the opposite, he has got dog’s abuse from Arsenal fans, made lots of mistakes, but soldiered on, played all over the park according to what the managers wanted and finally got the position he is best at, and the one he does so effectively for Switzerland, as an attacking midfielder/playmaker. If he kisses the badge, and the fans applaud him doing so, he deserves it. He has come through hell for the Arsenal. Strangely, though, at only 6 years there, he is the longest serving regular. It shows you how the modern game is about churn, about movement of players, and the badge seemingly meaning very little other than a gesture to credulous fans. Are the scouts watching? One other factor that I would like to mention about the Athletic’s survey is the sheer amount of countries represented by the overall signings at 108. Staggering! And there are probably others who have come through the academies from other countries. What next? Will they have a scouting system in the Vatican in case some young priest emerges with a load of tricks up his sleeve? I seem to be the only one that is concerned by tossing through players all the time, players turning up at this club or that club, thousands of players bought then promptly put out on loan, wondering if they will ever make it at the club who seems to have had enough belief in them to buy them? But please don’t insult me by evoking players playing for the badge. That day is gone, except for the players who have made it at their boyhood club, and those that stick around long enough to have earned the right. Maybe even Harry Kane, that great servant of the Spurs, hasn’t really got that privilege as he has been pushing for a move these past seasons. Kiss my arse, I say, stop pretend kissing the badge.
He keeps coming back - makes him a winner? Winners are people who hate losing Have you ever thought about losing and top class sport? The effects it has? Granit Xhaka recently said that he cannot sleep after he loses and Aaron Ramsdale is the same. Arsene Wenger famously said that I cannot remember all my wins but I cannot forget my defeats, they stay with him forever. Defeat is a consistent part of football. You lose many times a season, even at the best clubs. The invincibles? Lost six times in the Charity Shield, FA cup, League cup and Europe. Losing ten times, even in a very successful season, is common enough. Add to that international matches and it could be even more. And what about draws? They are not wins so they have to be added to the totals. Wenger had a win record with Arsenal of 57%, a huge number of times he had to cope with not winning. So you have to find a way to cope with losing. Not so big a winner now, Mike? I think it is fair to say that it always has an effect. The end of the Invincibles run was also the end of Arsenal as league winners up to now. Look at Mike Tyson, when he was dumped on the floor by Buster Douglas, no-one was ever afraid of him again. His career spiralled out of control, getting big fights mostly on his attraction as a prize draw. In boxing, losing is something that few fighters come back from, but in soccer, you have to come back as you lose regularly, even in big matches. Look at Liverpool and Man City last season and the heartbreak they endured in major matches towards the end. Has it had an effect on Liverpool’s stuttering start to the season? City have come out of the blocks as if it had no effect but Klopp’s team? Losing has a big effect on such players Let’s look at Ramsdale, he got relegated at most clubs he was with, and had a live link up with losing regularly. That must have been unbearable and hey, if he can’t sleep after losing, he must scarcely have slept at all. How did that affect his keeping and his well being? He must have found a way to cope. Those of us who have watched All or Nothing – Arsenal will know that he is cranky as hell in the dressing room after a defeat so it is not obvious that he has found a way. 15 losses last season and 15 sleepless nights mean that life as a professional sportsperson is a tough life. Try and get some sleep, Aaron I suspect that an eternal optimism is a requisite for coping. Another match comes around and you say I will win this. If you do, then the confidence comes back. But then if you lose the next and the next? You can find yourself like Everton, struggling to avoid relegation. We had our famous three in a row last season and all of us were in despair, but new players came in, the next 2 matches were the doomed Norwich and Burnley which we scraped home with one nil to the Arsenal and then a big turnaround against the hapless Spuds, going through a managerial crisis of their own, 3-1 to pump us up and believe in ourselves again. So we can say that winning helps you cope with losing, I think with certainty. Even winning may not be good for losing However long unbeaten spells may not be so good. Celtic and Rangers in Scotland have had spells when they were clearly on top, winning almost every match to capture all domestic trophies. However, if you watched them in Europe they were often poor, as they could only play one way, attack, and they hadn’t the nous to see games out, and play cagey, ensure a win. So losing helps you become a team that can hang on to win, going back into defence and the corner flag if necessary to play ugly football for a win. I want to go on a diversion for a moment into other sports, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are two of the biggest names in golf. Woods played 371 events and lost almost 300. McIlroy played 429 and won only 33. Roger Federer in tennis played 367 and won 103. Lewis Hamilton in F1 had 301 starts and 103 wins. Losing is the norm in those sports. Lots of top players scarcely ever taste a win. How do they cope with being losers? They continue being losers? Maybe. The Ballon D’or is the answer And that maybe is the question? Do players become great because they are in a winning team? And the reverse is true, players don’t become great because they are in a losing team? Is Harry Kane a great? He has never won a trophy. I would argue that it is a black mark against him and is why he seemingly wanted to leave for Man City or Real Madrid. Spurs, quite rightly, have done everything they could to keep him. Unless he gets a move to a top side soon or Spurs start winning trophies I doubt if he will ever be regarded among the true greats. I don’t see him doing a Van Dijk or an Aubameyang and forcing a move by going on strike. But it does mean a Ballon D’or is a distant dream. Only goes to the lucky winners? But does that mean there is an element of luck in how we regard the best players in a team sport? Are many players regarded as great because they managed to get in a top side and gelled? And others never quite made it because they were in modest sides? Jamie Vardy was ignored and unknown for most of his career well outside the top rank. He got in a Leicester side who gathered together a superb squad and became a superstar, playing for England and with that magic title that made him a winner. It is so rare that a non league player makes the grade at his age that it virtually doesn’t happen. Did bad luck stop Jamie Vardy for most of his career? Does it all come down to luck? But he does give evidence to the suspicion that luck plays a big part in whether you make it or not. Suppose Vardy had made it at a big club early in his career, winning lots of trophies, scoring lots of goals and playing regularly for England. Nobody doubts he had the ability to do so, but for whatever reason he was overlooked. As Harry Kane came up via Spurs, he would have found his way blocked by Vardy, being older. He may have struggled to get in, and not have had the respect he has now. Vardy, with the ability he undoubtably has, could have become a huge superstar to be ranked with Lineker and Shearer - and Kane? Not so well respected. Our own Ian Wright had his way blocked by Lineker and Shearer and does not have the respect accorded to those two. Kane - destined never to be a true great? Now to answer this question truly, I probably need to ask top sportspeople how do they cope with losing. Personally I would love to do that as it is a subject that fascinates me. My only conclusion at this moment is that losing only matters if you cannot lift yourself off the floor over and over again like Woods, Federer and Hamilton and indeed top soccer players, but also be in a top team that starts winning again, or you may find yourself being regarded as a lesser player than people without your talent. And that, I feel is the answer, coping with losing is about being in a top team that collectively lifts itself up time and time again. Let’s hope this new Arsenal will prove such a team.
Arsenal v Liverpool part 2 They would never have dreamt of the heartbreak they would have that season Scouse made us sick If you were to look only at the early part of our life with the Scousers, it would make you despair. League division 2 was unkind to us. 4 defeats including 5-0 in the first match. They showed us who is boss straightaway. All other league matches were in Division one. As Woolwich Arsenal we had 4 wins to their 11 and 6 draws. We did pay them back for their 5-0 in 1909 with one in return but overall we didn’t seem to like eating Scouse. But if you take away the Woolwich Arsenal days it becomes 82 to 77 wins in their favour. Not so much better. It seems we developed a taste for Scouse. The emperors of Scouse I am going to kickoff with the FA cup. We beat them in this one without any arguments, we have 8 wins to their 5 and 4 draws including one tie which took 3 replays. We also have more trophies. 14 to their 7. We have 2 final wins to their 1. They will probably never pass us out in my lifetime so that is one area we are the kings of eating Scouse. Ah, I like it. But it looked bad at the start. 1-4 at home both times. Then we had 3 in a row which we did twice. They never managed that. The matches, though, were extremely tight after their first 2 wins. Truly we would have needed a sharp blade to separate the 2. We won by 2 goals 4 times, the rest either draws or one goal difference. Magic games But what about the famous games? The first final meeting was in 1950, well before my time, and we had the final score 2-0 by 63 minutes. Bob Paisley, Liverpool’s greatest ever manager, then a player, was dropped for the final. But my greatest memory was the double year. I was a kid and Liverpool in all honesty were ranked higher than us. We had just beaten the Spuds at whatever cabbage patch they play at to claim the title and that seemed a miracle by itself. To win the double was considered almost impossible. And so when Steve Heighway scored on 2 minutes of extra time with nothing being scored in normal time, it seemed like it truly was impossible. My head dropped. But Arsenal are Arsenal, we came back with Eddie Kelly and the iconic Charlie George goal still shown everywhere. It was the greatest moment of my young footballing life. The Spurs match wasn’t shown on TV. One of my favourite Arsenal pics: Charlie George wins the 1971 final The next great tie was in 1980 and the semi-final. 3 draws led us to the final match. Bob Paisley, Liverpool’s manager was famous for mixing up player’s names. Before every match he said, “watch out for Osborne coming through from midfield”. The players were puzzled as we didn’t have an Osborne. He clarified that it was the player from Ipswich. And hey, it was the player from Ipswich who sent maybe the greatest team ever in English football home crying – Brian Talbot scored the vital goal to send us through to the final after a very tight fought series. Scouse made us ill The next time was the Wengerball era. 2001 and most of you remember this one. Freddie Llungberg won it for us on 72 as we were outplaying them and they couldn’t come back. Except Michael Owen didn’t read that script, he scored on 82 and 88 to snatch it away from us and I ended up very upset. Always disappointing to lose a big match when playing better. Michael Owen: Broke my heart The next 3 times we played them we won in 2002, 2007 and 2014 in the earlier rounds. So no matter what metric you look at for the FA Cup, we are their daddies. The best league games And so to the league. Now I covered in depth the greatest match ever here, 2-0 to the Arsenal and I won’t talk too much about it here except to say that when Michael Thomas scored very late on, I was sent to an area I never experienced before, I was up high, watching down as magic unfolded before me, the Liverpool players slumped, devastated, their eyes glazed, and Arsenal celebrated like crazy. Oh, what a night for Michael Thomas Other fantastic league matches? Well, I have to mention Andrei Arshavin to give a good mention to a Russian at this time. In 2009, Liverpool looked like winning the league but we drew 4-4 to give the impetus to Man Utd to win the league. They only conceded 7 goals in their final 10 games and four of them to Arshavin. Some Russians are good guys: Andrei Arshavin Also notable was the 3-3 draw at the Emirates in 2017. They went 2-0 up with Coutinho and Salah, then Sanchez, Xhaka and Ozil put us ahead only for Firmino to get them the draw. Score again tomorrow, Granit Liverpool push on ahead There have been many tight games but also many good wins for the Scousers and our latest results in the league have not been good. Since 2014 they have won 9 times to our 2 and 5 draws. They have 19 League titles to our 13. I have to concede the metrics on the league to them. But we have 3 doubles to their one so we are well ahead on that one. The thing is, we have played them almost 250 times over 3 centuries. They won 93 to our 81 and 62 were drawn. I can’t begin to cover all these matches and I am left with a sprinkling of games to mention and the broad statistics which show a long and tight rivalry. Lots of difficult games and the numbers close enough that Arsenal could potentially overhaul Liverpool with a good spell. They have pulled away in the past years but I hope that a win this week will see us move a little closer. Our young team need to attack and defend like demons against them but that we can do. A little luck could see us do it. Are they our biggest rivals? Only Man Utd are the other claimants to that title and I will get to them in due course, but as you can see, sometimes we could eat Scouse and sometimes it made us sick. If London Colney could serve it up for lunch every day up to this match I think we have a chance. Where can we finish 2022 update: 87 if we win all. Second place probably. Realistically we have 4th place for us with a reasonably good run. Beating Liverpool makes all the difference. We can’t afford many losses. They will be desperate to win to give them a chance of the title. Arteta seems to have form with Klopp and will want a win for Pep. He has double the incentive. However I am not sure he would stand much chance in a boxing match with Klopp. Concentrate on winning on the pitch, Mikel.