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  1. The Table of Doom Update Arsenal Current 75 Max 93 Man City(a) Newcastle (a) Brighton(h) Man City Max 94 Brighton (a) Arsenal (h) Man Utd Max 83 Brighton(a) Newcastle Max 83 Arsenal(h) Brighton Max 76 Man Utd(h)Man City (h) Arsenal(a) Liverpool gone Tottenham gone And so the hapless Spuds are gone, hit by a tornado, juggernaut, hurricane, express train, tsunami and a Howe as six disasters fell upon them at the new, the shiny, and the emptying White Hart Lane. Champions league is looking difficult for them and I feel the only answer is to bring back ‘Arry. Harry Redknapp is the answer, Spuds. But don’t tell any Gooner I told you that, I might get lynched. If Harry Kane goes, life could get worse for the Spuds Brighton now look like kingmakers. They play Man Utd and could easily have won their FA cup semi-final. They were the better side and I think they will beat them at home, leaving the Mancs with a maximum of 80. Brighton are just hanging on to the Table of Doom but could have a big impact on Champions league places and the title. Once we destroy Man City in our next match Man Utd will have 80 max, in this scenario, leaving them almost gone from the table of doom. Then Brighton have Man City at home. They might just get something, they are a tough side home and away. And then they have us away. Beating them could be key if we are still in it. I reckon most neutrals want us to win. The City money machine is not popular. Nuke Hassle away is also going to be tough for us. Every game is going to be crucial. I hope we can stand up and be counted. This is a great season And if I could turn this season on its head, I feel we would have totally different emotions. If City had blazed out in front and we were coming up behind them now for top spot, winning all our matches like earlier and they were struggling a bit, and we end up a close second, ahead of Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea, the Spuds, and even the new moneybags, Nuke Hassle, we would be so happy. Some happy Gooners Oh, and by the way, if anyone had read my previous piece, The Art of Prediction, you would see that I was hit by the commentator’s curse. I said that we either win or lose, rarely draw, and now we have had 3 in a row. Let’s get back to being Arsenal, Mikel, I told you many times, the only currency you can trade in is wins. And let’s start by putting ourselves right back in it by beating City. Although, as I have said last week, it is common for teams to drop points in the squeaky bum part of the competition. Has this been the strangest season in the modern era? Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham all look pretty certain to finish outside the top four and Champions league places and only Liverpool have not gone through traumatic manager changes. I wondered if this is the first time only one of the top four remain from the previous season. I decided to go back to 1998 when Uefa changed the qualifying rules allowing multiple entrants from countries. Frankie ready for the boot So, in 2021, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea all qualified but Spurs changed with Man Utd. The world is as we expect. In 2020, we had the same top four, Liverpool, City, Man Utd and Chelsea. In 2019 we had Man Utd change places with Spurs. No surprises, so. In 2018, Spurs changed places with Chelsea. In 2017, Chelsea changed places with Man Utd. In 2016, we had 2 changes, Leicester won and Arsenal came second with Tottenham and City also there. In 2015, Chelsea and Man Utd for Leicester and the Spuds. Again 2 changes. A merry go round with the same faces In 2014, Liverpool came in for Man Utd. In 2013 we had Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd and Man City with Utd replacing Liverpool. In 2012 we had the Spuds come in for Chelsea. In 2011 they swopped places. In 2010 City was replaced by the Spuds. This was the last time City was out of the top four. Even this seismic event only produced 2 changes In 2009, Liverpool replaced the Spuds. In 2008, same again. In 2007, again the same. In 2006, the same. In 2005, Everton under David Moyes replaced Liverpool. In 2004, Liverpool had been in, alongside the 3 main contenders, Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea. In 2003, Newcastle were there instead of Liverpool. In 2002, Liverpool were there instead of Chelsea. In 2001, Leeds Utd were there instead of Newcastle. In 2000, It was no change. In 1999 we had Man Utd, Arsenal, Leeds and Chelsea. In 1998 we had Arsenal, Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea. In 1997, the first year of challenging for multiple entrants, we had Man Utd, Newcastle, Arsenal and Liverpool which is one change. Money is the deciding factor I am pretty certain if I went back further it would be similar. Only one of the current top four to remain has to be very unusual. Of course, Liverpool could make it in to the top four this year but they are 9 points behind Man Utd and Newcastle with Utd having a game in hand and only 7 matches for Liverpool to make up the deficit. It’s possible but unlikely. In fact the normal seems to be one change or no change since Arsene Wenger’s fourth trophy has been up for grabs. Leicester’s remarkable season and the one before produced 2 changes. Roberto De Zerbi has done an amazing job at Brighton One thing that has changed in football has been money. Big money brings Champions league and Man City, Man Utd, Newcastle and ourselves have big money at their disposal. So have Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. Villa, making a probably doomed late charge for CL, have billionaire owners. Brighton has more modest ownership and is the only one of the contenders who has. Also he is English, a rarity in the Premier league. Spurs have a quasi English ownership. I would love Brighton to do it but as I also want us to beat them we could make it even harder for them. As has Unai Emery at Villa The craziest year And so we are left with a crazy year. Liverpool, the mentality monsters, look very fragile. Chelsea spent zillions but are playing like headless chickens. Tottenham refused to back Mr Conte and he very definitely showed his displeasure in an unexpected outburst. It all seems to have gone wrong for them. Newcastle jumped up from 11th but spent a lot. Credit must go to Eddie Howe, an unlikely choice but it seems like an inspired one. And it is probably good to have an English manager challenging. Could Balogun make an impact? It makes me wonder about next year. 8 teams with big money, and Brighton, Brentford and Fulham looking good. Logically, Champions league is going to be a mighty battle next year. City, surely, will be there, but of the rest? Who knows? Maybe we could go astray because we have Champions league to negotiate. We need to strengthen, particularly at centre back and centre forward. Could Balogun make the grade? Maybe a top goalkeeper as well as Arteta doesn’t seem to trust Turner. But above all else, no matter what happens this season, we need our young boys to improve, we could do with some of the academy guys pushing for places, and we need to develop that killer instinct which makes us Arsenal. The process continues and long may it reign.
  2. Eddie at the Crossroads Lots more phone calls required, Eddie Eddie Nketiah’s career has been stop start, for sure. He has always managed to score goals, that is indisputable, particularly for England where he has managed almost a goal a game, 37 in 38 starts. He has 27 in 112 for Arsenal which is not so good but in a huge number of those he came on as a sub, often near the end for a few minutes. His record in cups is good. 39 games and 16 goals and some of those were also as sub. It seems he has now got a chance to make it impossible for Arteta to drop him. If he displaces Jesus that would be amazing. Or could they play together? It doesn’t seem to be in Arteta’s mind and Saka and Martinelli surely won’t make way. Jesus can't make phone calls at the moment I really don’t see him starting both Eddie and Jesus short of an injury to either of our wide-men. Jesus could certainly fill a role on the wing but I really don’t see Eddie doing it. He has that poachers feel about him that Jesus doesn’t have. Jesus wants to do everything, be involved in all the action, a truly modern player, but he is not so prolific. Nketiah always seems to be there when the ball comes in the box. Every match he has chances. I suspect he will score more goals if he stays in that position to the end of the season than Jesus would had he not got injured. Impossible to truly say, of course, but Jesus’ goals tally of 339 club games and 128 goals, and 59 games to 19 goals for Brazil indicate that goal scoring is not his forte. What he does is terrorise teams, creating spaces, winning and receiving balls from everywhere, making him virtually impossible to mark. Arteta will buy him out? I suspect Arteta will buy a striker, if a suitable one becomes available. If he gets put in the team, then Nketiah won’t really get his chance. What then, for him? He must leave. I know he doesn’t want to, like Martinez before him. But Emi waited too long. He should have left well before for the sake of his career. Look at him now, a World Cup winner. Nketiah is in a similar boat, stick or twist. My opinion is that if Arteta buys, then Eddie goes back to the bench. Can he score for the senior squad? He may get 4 more matches to the end of January, Brighton, Newcastle, Spurs and Man Utd. He needs goals and to be dangerous throughout. But they are unlikely to be big scoring matches as they are 4 of the current top 7. Newcastle rarely concede goals. So, that is his task, score goals against the top sides, but also, crucially, Arsenal need to garner many points in these matches. A striker is judged on goals, yes, but also on his team winning. Scoring when losing is not the same as scoring when winning. An unlucky time to be our striker He has a tough task ahead of him. It is hard to see him knocking in too many. It is often said about even big players that they can only score against lesser teams, a charge levelled at our own Thierry Henry, but that is the reality. In the big games, not many goals are scored and even top strikers have run up their tallies with hattricks against small teams. Their record against the best are not so impressive. Assuming that to be so, then Nketiah probably won’t score many in these matches and we will surely drop points in January. Win those 4 and it will be amazing but maybe that’s a fantasy. His position will be shaky if we drop points. Towards the end of last season, he scored goals but the team lost. He is unlucky that it is such a challenging series of matches. Emi - the right decision made him World champion If we buy, I feel that he is sunk. He will never get his chance really as the new guy and the returning Jesus will be in front of him. Will he stay many years as second choice? This season is surely his defining one. Grab this opportunity now or leave for the sake of his career. He is young enough to get his profession back on track. If he stays on like Martinez, then it will be so much harder. I love this guy I like Eddie. He is pure Arsenal, a Hale Ender and one of our own. When he kisses the badge he has the right to do so. Yet he has the right to leave. It may even be the best thing for him. There are lots of top players who never quite made it at Arsenal and I reckon Nwankwo Kanu was probably the best of those. There are many others like Podolski, Pepe, Arshavin, Rosicky, Charlie Nicholas and maybe even my old favourite, Charlie George, who just didn’t nail down a starting position for any long period of time. Sometimes injuries were part of the reason but with Kanu it wasn’t that. Kanu - even as a sub he was voted our 13th best ever player Kanu was with us for six seasons. He played 198 times and scored 44 goals, often as a sub. The thing is, Arsenal were winning trophies and there was one big factor, Dennis Bergkamp didn’t want to fly. Kanu played in an astonishing 53 European matches out of that total and won African footballer of the year twice. He won 2 leagues and 2 FA cups with us. Even as sub, he would come on quite regularly with plenty of time to make an impact unlike what Arteta seems to do with Nketiah. If Wenger wanted a fresh approach then Kanu was brought in. He was, in my opinion, just a shade behind Bergkamp as he was superb. And of course, he played for the Invincibles season. Second choice Eddie? Will Nketiah do the same? Play on when he is second choice? Even if we win trophies? He would certainly strengthen the squad if he does so, as he could pop up with a late goal. But If I was him, I wouldn’t. If he doesn’t hammer down a starting position this year, he should leave. Martinez was right to leave but if I was him I would have done so earlier. In a struggling Villa he is one of their most reliable players. And in a dominant Argentina probably second MVP. He got them their shootouts and Messi must love him. Second string for Arsenal would not have got him first choice at Argentina. Eddie’s career will flounder also as second string. If he doesn’t get his big chance after this difficult period, if someone is bought and replaces him or Jesus is back and Eddie is cast aside, then he has only one choice, I feel. Go, and show that he does have the ability after all. He could well turn out to be the best player never to quite make it at Arsenal. He needs to take that step. Don't replace Harry Kane at Spurs and be better than him Hey, don’t get me wrong. There would be no one happier than me if he finally steps up, makes himself undroppable and becomes an Arsenal scoring legend surpassing Henry’s figures. He is young enough to do that. Maybe though, he might need to leave and become another team’s legend. Best of luck to you, Eddie, if that is what you desire, but please, not the Spuds. Pat Jennings and Sol Campbell came from them to win trophies, but don’t sicken us all by turning the Spuds into a winning team.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
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