Friday, 9 March 2012

Wen's Arsene Gunner Be Gone?

The big question for Arsenal is how long do you stick with Arsene Wenger

This week's 3-0 win over Milan merely papers over the cracks in what is yet another trophy-less campaign for the Gunners. A season of thoroughly inconsistent results has included an 8-2 defeat at Man U but massive 5-3, 7-1 and 5-2 wins over Chelsea, Blackburn and Spurs respectively. A thumping defeat in the San Siro may have been followed by a convincing second-leg victory, but the fact is that Arsenal have fallen short of the Quarter Finals, and are out of every competition by early March, with a lot of work left to do to qualify for Champions League football for next year. 

There is little doubt that Wenger and Arsenal's policies and philosophy are admirable in terms of investing in youth and playing attacking, attractive football. But what good is investing in youth if you then sell the young players when they have matured and have the experience and steel required (e.g. Fabregas, Clichy, Nasri)?

And if you look at the youth investment policy, how well does it stand up to close scrutiny? Exceptionally gifted players like Fran Merida, Denilson, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Mark Randall have all been sold/released despite showing great promise. Some of the best young talent that Arsenal are known for (Walcott, Ramsey, Chamberlain) have been bought for big fees (£9m, £5m, £12m) from smaller clubs, rather than genuinely brought through the youth set-up (notable exceptions are Wilshere, Gibbs and Frimpong). 

In some quarters they are admired for not spending big, and in others they are admonished for not putting the financial backing to the ambition of the fans. No-one is suggested they have spent in the manner of City, Chelsea, Liverpool or United, but the last time they didn't spend at least £10m on a player during a season was in 06/07 when Eduardo was the top signing for £7.5m. And don't think that all of those signings have been the youngsters with unbridled talent and potential: Arshavin £15m aged 27, Koscielny £10m aged 24, Mertesacker £10m aged 26, Arteta £10m aged 29, and as of today, Podolski £11m aged 26.

'98 FA Cup Final scorers - sold for
a combined profit of £40,500,000
They do collect big on a few players (most notably Overmars, Anelka, Fabregas, Nasri and Adebayor), but being a property developer is not really what most north Londoners want for their club. What difference then between Arsenal making a profit off such names and Southampton doing the same with the Ox and Walcott? 

In the last 20 years Arsenal have spent a net £21.6m (£17 of which was before Wenger), compared to Newcastle £99m, Spurs £175m, Man U £177m, Liverpool £226m, Man City £487m, Chelsea £516m*. No question then that financially Arsene has worked wonders to be competitive for so long, but which Gunner wouldn't gladly have traded another £100m or so for another couple of cups? It may have made the move to the Emirates financially viable but another Premiership title or two would have made Highbury perfectly inhabitable for a while longer.
*thanks to for all the transfer spend stats. 

So would a win against Birmingham in last year's League Cup Final have made such a difference? Had Wilshere's left-footed hit dipped two inches lower and not struck the crossbar, all of the talk of the Gunners not having won anything for years would be redundant. Would any consideration of the great Arsenal Wenger being sacked consequently be dismissed as absurd? Similarly, is the discussion entertained purely because they failed to convert more than 1 of their 20 shots on goal?

In a time when managerial positions seem so fragile (just ask AVB, Gary Megson or Lee Clark), the likes of Ferguson, Moyes and Wenger are quite simply inspirational. Harry Redknapp is now 10th on the list of longest serving current managers in England, and he's been with Spurs for less than 4 seasons. Put it like this, Di Matteo is already climbing out of the relegation places, currently sitting 3rd bottom after a total of 4 days in charge. He'll be pressing for the playoffs soon. 

Of course the longevity of a manager is a positive thing for a club and for a chairman to show faith and consistency is fantastic and universally lauded, but is there a time to draw the line and recognise that no more progress can be made by the incumbent? How long can a policy of "building for the future" be sustained? Man U seem to do that and win the league while they're waiting. And what does it say for a club's ambitions when all the talk after being knocked out is of a "brave spirit" and "positive signs"? It sounds like the English national teams...

What it comes down to is the simple question; are Arsenal moving forward and becoming more competitive under Wenger or not? 

*I appreciate I've presented a pretty one-sided perspective on this but I am not actually convinced Wenger should go, just putting some things out there. Intrigued to see if any Arsenal fans want to have a say? Or Spurs/Utd/Chelsea etc. fans for that matter?!

Monday, 5 March 2012

A Welsh Grand Slam?

From the seal and porpoise-infested currents of the Pembrokeshire coast, to the peaks of Snowdonia, to the royally inhabited island of Anglesey, to the sprawling metropoleis of Rhosllannerchrugog, Llanfair Caereinion and Ystradffin, south through the Brecon Beacons into the urban centres of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, a few weeks ago a gentle breeze began, swirling to a quiet whisper, growing louder each weekend, and now at a level audible across the land of the dragon, building to a crescendo and a mighty Welsh roar at the Millenium Stadium on March 17th...

Y Gamp Lawn" "Y Gamp Lawn" "Y Gamp Lawn" "Y Gamp Lawn"

A straightforward win against the Italians this weekend will leave Warburton, North & Co. all lined up for the Grand Slam (I know my educated readership didn't need a translation of 'Y Gamp Lawn' but who knows who else might stumble on the blog and feel a little lost).

They've come through tough matches in London and Dublin, despite being second best for significant parts of both matches. Neither Ireland nor England took advantage of a Welsh sin-bin, and some poor decisions didn't help either host close out winning positions, but the World Cup semi-finalists showed a determination and skill to fight back and get impressive results in both matches. And winning ugly is part of being champions. Just ask that well known battling midfielder Samir Nasri, who knows about as much about winning ugly as Tim Henman.

After a strong showing in the World Cup, lots of talk discussed Welsh prospects for the Six Nations and if Graham Price is right, this team is on the verge of a great achievement, earned by a mixture of powerful attacking rugby, grit, determination and some lack in clinical finishing of their opponents. 

But let us not forget that Wales were lauded after a World Cup in which they actually lost 3 times (South Africa, France & Australia), and could easily have been heading home after a weak display against Samoa. It was Les Bleus that ended the dream in New Zealand and Les Bleus who could do it again on St Patrick's Day. In all likelihood the French will have beaten England in Paris and so will be vying for the Six Nations crown themselves. And after all, how many times have Wales beaten France in the Six Nations at the Millenium Stadium?

Once. 2008. After home wins over Scotland and Italy, and away wins at Ireland and England (sounding familiar?), they sealed the Grand Slam over the French. They'll need much of the same in a couple of weeks...