Didn’t come with any satisfaction guarantee

Didn’t come with any satisfaction guarantee

Recently I attended a course for reasons of professional development. Naturally, I ended up applying everything I absorbed to the situation at Arsenal. At both Villa Park and Goodison Park, the atmosphere amongst the away support has been febrile and furious. I have seen countless faces twisted and contorted into shapes of rage and hatred.

It’s probably not for me to judge, but scanning these expressions of ire as they rain expletive strewn epithets on Arsenal players, the Arsenal manager and fellow supporters, I’ve begun to wonder if many of the away contingent actually enjoy being at matches any longer. (I think this sense of apoplexy is more diluted at home games, drowned in a sea of contemplative apathy).

Many do seem to actively despise every single second of the experience. Like I said, it’s not for me to judge so much as observe, but I sense that many are getting off on the hate. A fortnight ago, I wrote that, despite the assortment of supporter disenchantment, the manager’s name had yet to be taken in vain in any orchestrated or tuneful way.

The chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing!” at Villa Park when Giroud was replaced by Coquelin smashed that glass ceiling. The taboo has been broken and the piñata exploded again at Goodison Park. As Arsenal defended a corner in stoppage time, the chant “You don’t know what you’re doing” went up again. It didn’t seem to have been invited by any particular event, other than that time was running out and the song had yet to be aired!

I totally understand that the frustrations are cumulative. A 1-1 draw at Everton on a wintry Wednesday night is never a bad result in isolation. (In the unbeaten season, we drew 1-1 at Goodison on a wintry Wednesday night having led. In fact, if memory serves, Wenger replaced Kanu with Gilberto shortly after Everton’s equaliser to preserve the point). But below par results against the likes of Sunderland, Fulham, Aston Villa and Norwich predicated the need for three points at Everton.

But if we have arrived at a stage where the final whistle is greeted with “We want our Arsenal back!” by a significant section of the upper tier following an away draw, then we really are at a tipping point where relations between the club, the manager and the supporters have soured into mutiny. Incidentally, the penultimate letter in this F365 mailbox from Tom, Cheshire Gooner asks some very rational questions of which Arsenal it is people want back.

The course I attended spoke of the twin dangers of ‘confirmation bias’ and ‘narrative fallacy.’ Confirmation bias happens to all humans to some extent. Once we have formulated a theory, we will see evidence of its fruition everywhere we look. (See the dizzying debates on the ills of zonal marking). For football fans, this will often manifest itself in its adoption of scapegoats. Aaron Ramsey and Andre Santos have been rounded up and identified as Arsenal’s bête noirs’ by many supporters this season.

You may care to disagree, but I don’t think Andre Santos to be a bad left back at all. In fact, at about this time last year I considered him to be one of the form players in our team, but Arsenal’s defending has changed tack this year. Gone is the ‘pressing high up the pitch’ model, in favour of holding a solid defensive shape and getting behind the ball. One of Santos’ biggest strengths is his ability to nick the ball off of a winger’s toes on the halfway line, before prompting an attack. Arsenal’s strategic shift no longer allows him to make use of his greatest assets.

He is also somewhat inhibited by the presence of Podolski ahead of him who prefers to attack the same channels that Santos likes attacking. As a result, the two cannot build a relationship and Podolski is a more important player to us than Santos. It’s true to say that we no longer play in a way that gets the best out of him and, as such, his use has probably expired in the current squad. (I would be very surprised if he were still an Arsenal player next season).

It happens. It doesn’t mean he’s dog shite per se, but people can get locked into a way of thinking that filters out mitigation. “He’s fuckin’ shit!” becomes a default setting and everything a player does confirms it. Even to the point that accepting his mate’s shirt is forged into a fat, nobbly stick to beat him and abuse his wife on social networking with.

Likewise, Aaron Ramsey only gave the ball away three times at Villa Park on Saturday and whoscored.com rated him as our most productive player at Everton. I know statistical analyses have flaws and I do understand why some don’t rate Ramsey. For instance, I totally agree that he has a tendency to slow play down. (He was caught in possession a few times by Everton players and it’s a fairly common occurrence with Aaron).

But the rare occasions upon which he did give the ball away against Villa were greeted with visceral howls of derision. It’s conformation bias at work and it becomes contagious to others when voiced loudly. Like a barking tabloid headline about youth crime rates, it can lay eggs in your head and convince you that it’s more commonplace than it is. Every single flaw is picked on and amplified to support a thesis.

At half time, one urinal raconteur at Goodison told me, “We’re in the shit we’re in cos people like you back cunts like Ramsey.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not accusing everyone that doesn’t think Aaron Ramsey is Arsenal quality of such vein bulging disposition. But I witnessed more than a few different individuals subject him to the sort of abuse (I don’t use the term lightly) that I’d reserve for Tony Pulis charging headlong at me in a bath towel.

I genuinely struggle to see how a figure such as Ramsey could invite such hatred. I understand people not rating him as a footballer, but the froth mouthed bile I hear aimed at him so regularly is confusing. He seems a nice enough lad. He doesn’t lack application, whatever you think of his competence. Eduardo returned from a horrific injury with his quality compromised and became a sympathetic darling of our affection for it.

The manager too is now fair game for the acid tongues of the terraces. I wrote a few weeks ago that I’d become something of an Arsene agnostic. The more I think on it, the more I wonder if a new manager would genuinely perform what would have to be regarded as a minor miracle in finishing higher than 3rd. But for the disenchanted, replacing Giroud with Coquelin becomes bona fide confirmation that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Of course there was more to the substitution than “replacing a striker with a defensive midfielder when we need a goal.” Roberto Mancini replaced Sergio Aguero with Alexander Kolarov at Wigan on Wednesday with the score at 0-0. Our intent and our formation didn’t shift one iota. It’s more accurate to say that Gervinho replaced Giroud (I know, I know). Arshavin moved to the left and Cazorla to the right. I didn’t see it as a change for the sake of preservation. There was more to it than met the eye.

We’ve looked on with envy green eyes as more moneyed competitors have hovered up silverware. In the last seven years I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest we should have won one of the domestic trophies. But in terms of league and Champions League performance, we’ve been about par where we should be. No more, no less. The journey has been frustrating and at times you wonder if we might have done more. But I’m not convinced we’ve adjusted our expectations appropriately as a fanbase.

The emergence of Mansour and Abramovich were ‘Black Swan events’ likely to continue affecting the competitive environment for us for at least another two years. That’s presuming FFP does its job and that we can keep improving our commercial incomes. The reality is that we won’t be winning the league any time soon no matter who our manager is.

Finishing a touch closer to the leaders is a justifiable aspiration, but you have to say it’s unrealistic to expect us to win it until the competitive environment contracts.

Call it excuse making if you will, but that’s the situation. There are frustrations of course, but we should be finishing about 3rd or 4th every season, which means the manager, though not the miracle worker some would have you believe, is far from a bumbling fool either. Till next week. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

Contracts, January, media + Arsecast 257

Contracts, January, media + Arsecast 257

Morning all, welcome to Friday. I’m just awake from a dream where Lily Allen was a three-legged ninja sent to kill me but her weapon of choice was a rifle which shot Cadbury’s Creme Eggs. Deathly delicious. I survived, as you can see.

Lots of talk this morning about contracts and clauses in them and all kinds of stuff but I’m just not sure why this is a story. Have Arsenal just picked up a copy of Football Manager 2013 and discovered that contract clauses actually exist? Are we supposed to get on board with news that after signing a large new sponsorship deal, with another one to come, that we’re going to be looking for wage cuts from players? What about all those stories, down the years, that had people up in arms when we said we could cope with life outside the Champions League from a financial point of view and actually budgeted around that?

Incentive clauses are nothing new, they’ve been part of player contracts for years, but at a time when we’re trying to tie down players like Jack Wilshere, and others, to long-term deals it strikes me as a bit odd that we’d even mention the possibility of a wage cut for non-Champions League qualification, let alone consider it in the first place. Especially when the scrap for the top four is more competitive than ever. Bonuses for achieving qualification, yes, slashes in wages if we don’t, that just sounds dense to me.

Of more interest is the fact that Arsene Wenger says we’ll be in the market for a couple of players, and probably take Thierry Henry on loan, in January. Speaking the other night he said:

This winter we will work very hard because we have some funds available. It could happen that we buy two players, but I cannot reveal the names.

And on Thierry:

A loan is still a possibility, but we will still try to strengthen for the long term.

I don’t think there’d be a single person who’d argue this team doesn’t need some fresh blood. We’re hugely reliant on a core group of players and if they don’t produce in a game we have little in the way of options to try and change it. The return of Tomas Rosicky could certainly add some spark to the midfield but when the likes of Arshavin and Chamakh can’t even the make the bench you know their time is pretty much up.

It will spark much speculation, the Mirror suggests double-Dutch with Huntelaar and PSV’s midfielder Kevin Strootman, and no doubt there’ll be plenty of names added to that list over the coming weeks. Which is all fine and dandy but none of those names will be able to help us with the eight games we’ve got in December. On paper there are a lot of points to be taken from league fixtures against like Wigan, Newcastle, Reading and even Swansea this weekend. West Brom is another you’d want to take maximum points from but their season thus far has been excellent and it won’t be an easy game by any means.

We don’t play on paper though and the manager has got to get this group of players firing again and forgetting about the tired legs they have because they’re needed in every game without much possibility of rotation. I think it’s fairly true what they say about players not feeling tired when they’re in good form and winning matches – and with no possibility of supplementing the squad for a few weeks yet perhaps that’s our best bet to cope with the busy schedule.

In the meantime he might look to Rosicky, to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to step it up a bit, to Francis Coquelin and maybe even to use Andre Santos (when fit again) in a more advanced role, because other than that it’s hard to see how he can keep the squad relatively fresh in the next 6 weeks or so. And that must really be the focus now. January may well provide a chance to spend and to add some quality and depth to the squad, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re still in a decent position in the first place.

Elsewhere, if you want a perfect example of how the media can create a story out of nothing much at all, I heartily recommend this post on Arseblog News by @aallensport. Wenger is asked about Wilfried Zaha, says little about it and never names him, press write stories, press go to Ian Holloway and say ‘Wenger is talking about your player’, Holloway loses his tiny little mind. As others have pointed out Holloway ought to know better but it’s a quite wonderful deconstruction of the way the media works.

And when you consider the fact that the majority of people won’t read it, the story they’ve created becomes the accepted truth of the situation when it’s anything but. It’s also why Football 365’s Mediawatch page is one to bookmark and catch up with every day.

Right then, onto this week’s Arsecast and I’m joined by Julian H from Gingers4Limpar and Tim Stillman to discuss Everton, Villa, Arsene Wenger, fan frustration and more. There’s some Arshavin in there too and your chance to win a scarf from our friends at Savile-Rogue. Remember, you can get 10% off any order from Savile Rogue by using the code ARSEBLOG12 at checkout.

You can subscribe to the Arsecast on iTunes by clicking here. Or if you want to subscribe directly to the feed URL you can do so too (this is a much better way to do it as you don’t experience the delays from iTunes). To download this week’s Arsecast directly – click here 25mb MP3) or you can listen directly below without leaving this very page.

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And that’s your lot. We should have some pre-Swansea news later on, it’s not looking good for Bacary Sagna as he has an ankle injury, but you know where to find updates ahead of tomorrow’s full preview of the game on here.

Have a good one.

Everton 1-1 Arsenal: a hard earned point

Everton 1-1 Arsenal: a hard earned point

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In isolation that wasn’t a bad point at all last night. It was a hectic, frenetic, exciting game of Premier League football against an extremely hard-working Everton side, and in the end I don’t think we can have any complaints at all about the draw.

There were changes. Wilshere and Walcott came in, Vermaelen and Sagna returned to the full back positions (in Vermaelen’s case temporarily), while ‘illness’ ruled out Lukas Podolski. That meant Aaron Ramsey started on the left and he had an immediate impact, feeding a return to Walcott after the winger’s run inside from the right. His shot deflected off Tony Hibbert’s boot and looped over Tim Howard to put us 1-0 up inside 60 seconds.

The joy of the goal was tempered by the loss of Laurent Koscielny who strained his groin and is likely to miss around three weeks. Gibbs came on at left back, Vermaelen pushed central alongside Mertesacker and all in all it wasn’t too disruptive. Which isn’t to say we didn’t have our struggles – Everton’s pressing made it very difficult for us to keep the ball and they looked dangerous constantly. Some last ditch defending was necessary and I have to say that Arsenal defended well throughout, there was real discipline from the midfielders and even the forwards to track back and make tackles.

But it was carelessness that cost us the goal. Szczesny had it comfortably at the back and maybe should have taken a bit more time to allow us to get our shape. Sagna’s pass to Arteta wasn’t great, his effort to mop up when the Spaniard lost it under pressure gave it straight to Fellaini and his left footed shot from 25 yards is one that the keeper will probably look back on think he should have done better with.

To be fair to him he made up for it with a strong performance in general. He saved one off the line from Fellaini, stopped one near post from Jelavic, dealt with free kicks and corners well, and made one outstanding save from a Sylvain Distin header which had goal written all over it. He was also thankful to Kieran Gibbs who made a quite brilliant intervention as Naismith was almost presented with a tap-in – it might stick in your craw a little bit but it was reminiscent of Ashley Cole at his best.

At the other end the best chance we created came from a Theo Walcott cross (he swapped sides with Ramsey after about half an hour and stayed on the left until the end) only for Olivier Giroud’s header to drift just wide of the top corner. You could see the shadow of the ball on the post as it skimmed by. Howard had to deal with Ramsey toe poke which went through a number of players and Cazorla worked him with a left footed drive as Everton faded in the last 15-20 minutes.

And here is where I come back to our squad depth and not being able to take advantage of those tired legs. Everton had worked themselves into the ground and had changed from playing good, short passing football to lumping it long towards Fellaini. An effective option, no question, but one which was borne out of tiredness. A look at our bench and it was hard to see how we could try and take advantage. Rosicky travelled but was unlikely to feature after the manager said he needed some reserve action first. There was no Arshavin, no Chamakh (I know, but once again it’s a game without a striker on the bench), Oxlade-Chamberlain wasn’t used and in the end all we had was Gervinho for Ramsey.

It wasn’t enough to swing the game in our favour and you do wonder if it might be time to look deeper into the squad. Despite their youth perhaps Eisfeld or Gnabry might have offered something different. The difficulty though is that if they don’t produce it’s further evidence of the paucity of our squad (reliant on kids) and it is a lot to expect them to come on and perform at the highest level. And if we do take a gamble and lose what would have been a hard earned point, well … you don’t need to me to tell you.

So I can understand the manager’s reluctance to use them, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have an issue. But With eight games in December, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them at some stage, because the tired legs aren’t going to get any less tired.

Another thing to note is that you want all your players as involved as possible in a game like this. Walcott will have a goal to his credit, and fair play to him for it, but when you look at the stats (which I know don’t tell you everything), you have to ask if he did as much as he could for the team last night. In 90 minutes he made 18 out of 22 passes, 11 from 13 in the attacking third of the pitch. That’s not great when you look at what those around him did:

Ramsey 45/53 (18/20) – Cazorla 44/53 (20/24) – Wilshere 61/71 (18/23) – Arteta 59/66 (9/12)

I know he’s a different kind of player, not as comfortable on the ball, more direct and seen as something of an outlet, but at the same time to have contributed less than Wilshere in the final third and far less than Ramsey who was also playing as part of the forward three is quite telling. As I’ve said before his stats are a wet dream this season, but it’s hard not to look at him as a bit of a soggy blanket overall at times. I do have to give him props for some excellent defensive work though, he got back well all night and once or twice tracked back a good distance to help snuff out Everton attacks. I’d just like to see him want the ball more and not just when it’s easy for him to have it.

Anyway, those are observations which people can take, discuss, dissect and do with as they please. To my mind it was a good point last night, the frustration comes from the fact that we were looking to make up for the bad one at Villa Park last weekend. That was the poor result, not this one. We worked our socks off and really earned the point against a side that worked just as hard. The pace and intensity of the game was incredible and overall I have no issue with the draw.

Our next two league games are at home and as I’ve mentioned we have a run of fixtures from which we should be capable of picking up a good haul of points from. We’re going to have to dig deep to do it though, starting on Saturday against Swansea.

Till tomorrow.

Everton v Arsenal – live blog

Everton v Arsenal – live blog

Join us today for live blogging of Everton v Arsenal in the Premier League, kick off 19.45.

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Everton preview + Sagna contract update

Everton preview + Sagna contract update

Time to put Villa behind us with another tricky away tie this evening at Everton.

In terms of team news, Theo Walcott returns after his shoulder knack and I expect him to come straight back into the side in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I think we’ll also see the return of Thomas Vermaelen (who scored the winner at Goodison last season) at left back and Bacary Sagna on the opposite side, while Jack Wilshere will come into midfield – more than likely at the expense of Aaron Ramsey. Other than that I don’t see any changes to the team that drew at Villa Park.

Unless there are some tired legs or some minor niggles we don’t know about it’s not like we have a great deal of choice anyway. Giroud, being the only striker Wenger has any faith in, will continue up front and while Gervinho is fit again it’s difficult to see him start ahead of Lukas Podolski.

While Arsenal didn’t play particularly badly against Villa we were certainly missing some attacking verve and with just one shot on target throughout you can see we struggled to create, but I suspect the return of Wilshere, somebody who can get through the lines, may help us out in that regard. Not to mention Walcott’s pace too but he faces Leighton Baines who certainly won’t make life easy for him.

The manager knows it’s going to be tough and wants the team to take advantage of the fact that Everton have been going through a difficult time of their own. They’ve won just one of their last seven games and after an unusually bright start to the season have struggled a bit recently:

They fight at the top of the league every year. They are one of the contenders for a Champions League spot as well. It is a period where we establish consistency. To go through with a positive result is very important.

They have gone through a more difficult spell as well recently. It is just down to us and the quality of our performance.

And while there’s no doubt the Villa game was frustrating, perhaps some of that was because it had come off the back of two very good results – the spanking dispensed to that lot in the North London derby and the controlled, professional win over Montpellier in the Champions League. We knew that the two away fixtures this week were going to be difficult and of the two Villa looked more winnable, but victory tonight would make the points haul perfectly respectable.

Of course, Arsenal being Arsenal, we’ve heaped the pressure on ourselves by not winning the more winnable game and needing to take three points from the more demanding one, but that, my friends, is very often the way we do things. We’ve spoken this season about the character in this side and while some might scoff we have seen there’s a bit of backbone to us (even if said backbone appears to have some jellyish spots).

So we need the players to react. They’ll know that Villa was a good chance of three points and one they didn’t take advantage of, thus tonight is crucial both in terms of our league standing and to continue to build some momentum and an unbeaten run. Come on you reds.

In other news, Arsene Wenger says that the club are talking with Bacary Sagna about a new contract:

We are in talks at the moment. We are hopeful. He had some big injury issues but, with him and Carl Jenkinson, you need two players and we want to keep them.

That’s certainly positive news. It wasn’t long ago that Sagna revealed that he had yet to be approached about a new deal, and when you consider that, injuries aside, he’s been one of our most consistent players it’s hard to understand. I like how Jenkinson has progressed, and I think he can develop further, but I think keeping Sagna is hugely important.

It was interesting to hear the manager admit that the new sponsorship deal will help him keep existing players as much as bring in new ones, and perhaps Sagna is first to fit that particular bill. That said, knowing the way we do business, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if we allowed the Frenchman to run down his contract and leave on a free in 18 months time. At which point you’d be looking at an even better Jenkinson to take over, but my feeling is that letting Sagna go that early (he’d still be only 31) would be a mistake.

A team needs experience and reliability. You know what you’re going to get with Bacary Sagna, that’s 100% in every single game. He’s an important player and we should, with this new money on its way, ensure that we cut out this process of selling off experienced players when they can still bring a lot to proceedings. Running to stand still is no fun.

If you can’t see the game live tonight there’ll there’ll be full live blog coverage 7pm. That means up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. Check back here later for another post with all the information and team news, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

We’ll also be sending important updates, goals, red cards, half-time etc, directly to Twitter from inside the live blog.

And remember, if you fancy betting on the game, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register.

Finally for today, congratulations to John O’Reilly and James Gasson who have won a pair of tickets each to the Swansea game with thanks to Thomas Cook Sport. I’ll be in touch to get your details.

We’ll have news throughout the day over on Arseblog News, back here later for the match. Until then.