There are many things which could be said but Arseblog has captured it beautifully this morning.
There are many things which could be said but Arseblog has captured it beautifully this morning.
I feel like I ought to be launching into a pastiche of Bjørge Lillelien’s infamous commentary but I don’t have, that I am aware of, any Hungarian heritage. Nor for that matter, do I have sufficient knowledge of Norwegian history to make it last much beyond a couple of names. “Jan-Aage Fjortoft! Pål Lydersen! You’re boys took a helluva beating” doesn’t really have the same impact.
The upside of Hungary winning the first leg of their Euro2016 play-off will only be seen if they finish the job in Budapest next week. At least then we may see footage of their footballing ancestors in their prime and an acknowledgement that the game existed before Murdoch’s millions corrupted history. We might also find it wasn’t half bad either which be a shock to many systems.
Elsewhere, David Ospina faced Alexis in the World Cup qualifiers last night where honours finished even; neither side won and no bragging rights particularly for their individual performances, according to some reports. More importantly, no injuries to the Chilean although ninety minutes won’t have helped with any plans for a rest Arsène might have devised.
Others will represent their countries tonight. International football at this point in the season is a blight on the calendar. I understand the South American countries and their competitive games, and to some extent, the Euro2016 play-offs, even though I dislike the contrived nature of making up the numbers in the finals. But given the majority of matches this weekend are friendlies, is there much point.
Yes, the national teams don’t get much time together over the course of a season and if there is to be a break, surely it would be more beneficial in the long-term for them to train together and not playing irrelevant matches? Certainly those in the Premier League might find the ‘rest’ helpful when they seem knackered by the time the business end of the season comes around. Their continental counterparts enjoy a winter break not afforded the English-based players, and seem better prepared for the final run-in. Yes, I realise I could have ended that sentence after the word ‘better’.
Internationals also encourage selfishness among players. Deschamps insularity – who can blame him for being so – has already seen mutterings of discontent from Debuchy with Giroud also questioning the manager’s decision to start Theo Walcott. It was a question of tactics and form – Walcott was playing better – but national team managers offering the view that players need to move to be included is hardly conducive to a happy club atmosphere. Those words aren’t short-lived either, they nag away in the back of the player’s mind all the while he is out of the starting XI.
Historically, we always seemed to suffer with this international break more than others or at least that’s how it felt. Hopefully the tide is turning in that sense with so many players injured that hardly any of the squad has gone on national team duties. One of those staying at home is Nacho Monreal which whilst I am not unhappy from an Arsenal perspective, is surprising. It underlines how good La Roja are although home-based players quite often get more prominence and support in the media, particularly if they play in a top four side in their country. Like Winterburn, he is destined to be under-appreciated on the world stage.
Monreal continues the tradition of reliable left backs at the club. Certainly in my adulthood, I have been fortunate to see first hand Sansom, Winterburn, Cole and now Monreal arguably playing the best football of their careers. Gibbs and Clichy as good as they are, could be defensively weak at times. Certainly in the former’s case, the contrast in consistency with the Spaniard has cost Gibbs his club place. It also came at a time when he seemed poised to break into the England team on a regular basis; that won’t happen for a while yet, if at all.
It is that level of performance week in, week out which encapsulates the point Monreal and Cech made recently about the Premier League campaign so far this season. Having won just about everything at club level with Chelsea, Cech knows about consistency both individually and collectively,
Since [the opening day of the season] we’ve been picking up points and as a team we’ve settled into the way we want to play. I think everybody understands their role within the team. People try to do their best every day to make sure we are ready to compete, and so far it’s been bringing the success.
It’s [down to] the work ethic of the team. You never win things without going for it, without being focused, without being right in the training ground. So far, I have to say that the team are focused on what we are doing every day and I have to say that this is the key.
You prepare every day and if you are really focused in what you are doing every day, then you give yourselves chances to win games. I believe that this team has that ability to be focused and ready to achieve. We are giving ourselves the chance to win every game.
Monreal’s inclusion in The Guardian Premier League Team of the Season So Far – along with Hector Bellerin and Mesut Özil – recognises the level he has reached. He has also not forgotten the way the 2013/14 season crumbled,
We need to learn from that…I think the level of the team is better now and I hope we can do something special this season. At the moment, everything is right so we need to carry on. The secret? I will say that we are playing more compact, like a unit.
The players are playing with more solidarity, all players try to defend. I think this is the [reason for] that.
We can but hope. The impact of the drubbing in Munich was clear on Sunday and in that sense, the break from the club may well do them some good. Who would have thought we’d be grateful for an international break? Not me, that’s for sure.
It’s so quiet at the moment with the international break, we’ll revisit the pivotal moment of the 1990/91 season.
12th November 1990
Judgement Day: all it needed was Arnold Schwarzenegger to arrive a year early and the moment would have been complete. Arsenal and Manchester United were in the dock following the well-publicised brawl at Old Trafford during their league meeting a month earlier. Both clubs had fined players, Arsenal had fined their manager and frankly, anyone who had an opinion, offered it.
The Football Association deemed it so serious that they convened a Commission. Not an Inquiry, a Commission. Not quite sure what the difference is but the FA were and they used it.
Immediate expectations were of a points deduction for Arsenal, the previous season’s misdemeanour during the match against Norwich City had raised that prospect. Despite The Canaries being held as the provocateurs, Arsenal were also fined and this was expected to count against them.
Out of the blue and with more than a hint of reverse psychology, Ron Noades offered the prospect of some sort of reprieve. The outspoken owner of Crystal Palace – and a Football League bigwig – didn’t expect the FA to have the brass balls to dish out such a severe punishment. “Wimbledon or Sheffield United would stand less chance than Arsenal before the FA”, he argued, “and that’s not right.”
Even so, Noades was in favour of a suspended sentence with a substantial fine. Arsenal were the only realistic challengers to Liverpool for the title and he felt that ought to be taken into consideration. “More is riding on the decision than a straightforward points deduction”, he observed, before arguing that he wanted Arsenal and other clubs treated the same when they found themselves hauled before the FA.
Football clubs had long suffered points deductions for financial indiscretions, failing to fulfil a fixture or fielding ineligible players but for on-pitch fights? It hadn’t happened before. Nor since either.
The Football Association weren’t in the mood to listen and duly announced the punishments: fines and points deductions for both clubs. The provocation of the United players which led to the flashpoint was recognised as they lost a single point. Arsenal’s sins were held against them and they received a two-point deduction.
It was open season for the media. It was front page news; not quite usurping Margaret Thatcher’s impending downfall but muscling its way into our living rooms nonetheless. Focus turned to Arsenal and the apparent destruction of their title challenge. David Lacey in The Guardian offered solace by pointing out that appearing in the UEFA Cup as First Division runners-up could be quite lucrative. Not raising as much revenue as the revamped Champions Cup but something nonetheless.
Arsenal took it seriously. In the post-season review video, George Graham laid down the law whilst trying to foster a siege mentality. A show for the cameras, sending the message that the club took it seriously. Except I am sure the late Denis Healey would have viewed it as the players being “savaged by a dead sheep”. When the cameras weren’t rolling, I am sure that a more choice turn of phrase was employed and a lot more was made of being the victims in all this. The world was writing the players off and he would have enjoyed that no end; it made his job in that sense, a lot easier.
Surprisingly, James Lawton hit the right note with his Daily Express column (right). The ones who suffered immediately were the supporters, he argued. Not just those of Arsenal but of English football in general.
Or so it seemed.
In fact, you could argue that we benefited from the extra incentive that the Football Association provided, in much the same way Graeme Souness had in 1989 when he had written off in the build-up to the final match at Anfield.
David O’Leary echoed everyone’s sentiments with his comment about champagne being uncorked at Anfield. It seems surprising that anyone could hear them speak over the clinking of glasses in celebration, even if the words of the Liverpool players and manager were focussed on not becoming complacent.
Anders Limpar stood alone in this, convinced in the immediate aftermath that the title was still on. That mood became more prevalent among the support as the week progressed with a view surfacing that Graham could use this to good effect. Liverpool were due a stumble at some point and a defeat with a couple of draws would see Arsenal all but close the gap.
All Arsenal had to do was keep on winning.
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It says pretty much everything about the state of football today. FIFA, we all know, is corrupt and Greg Dyke calls “Foul!” on the bidding process for the World Cup. “You begin to be convinced that almost no World Cups have been allocated without a pile of bungs“, Greg reckoned. “Like The Archers“, he continued with reference to the Radio 4 serial that many people thought had long since ended. Nothing is sacred, England never stood a chance in any ballot.
It’s good that Greg recognises the feelings of helplessness, of times when all hope has disappeared. Now he knows how supporters of the teams in the FA Cup final feel, particularly those of clubs whose stadium capacity is more than double that of their allocation. OK, so not everyone who goes to Arsenal is a home fan, there is an away section too. We know that, we get it.
But there are more than 25,000 Arsenal supporters.
According to Charles Sale in The Heil this morning, Arsenal are leading the way to see that figure increased. Sale reports that there is resistance from the National Game – the representatives of amateur football – who don’t want to see their allocation of 23,000 cut even though they returned 10% to the FA.
So that’s 26,150 now.
Equally, the FA Councillors themselves returned 25% of their personal allocation. No figures are given, of course, the gravy train doesn’t want to spill a drop on its way around but there are around 125 Councillors so let’s assume that they get four tickets each. 500 tickets just for being an FA Councillor.
Think about that for a moment. FA Councillors are rewarded with a personal ‘allocation’ of tickets. Words are an interesting subject and in the media prone to inducing exaggeration when you think about what is being written. I think I’ve been conservative in my estimate of four tickets. With the excesses at the highest level, it would come as little surprise if they got more.
In just two areas, another 2,400 supporters are able to attend the Final. Proper supporters.
And there’s the gap in all this. So far, we have the two teams, the Amateur game and an estimate of the allocation to FA Councillors. My rough calculations shown that accounts for 74-75,000 of the tickets. Where do the other 15,000 tickets go?
That’s the real crime here. There is no justification for sponsors and other liggers being given over 15% of the stadium capacity in tickets, none at all. And in opposing the move to increase finalists allocations, those charged with running the national game prove how far out of touch with reality they are. Have they not seen the corruption which engulfs FIFA? It’s not on anywhere near the scale of that but there is a disconnect when the officials don’t see that anything which means they profit personally is unacceptable.
And all this at a time when ticket prices are on the agenda. And they consider themselves the best people to run football? What are they smoking at Wembley.
Fair play to Arsenal though for bringing it up. At least they listened to supporters groups.
It can easily be construed as a vain fight, much like the one Arsène chose to pick over doping, the proper kind not the financial one. Wenger noted,
I try to be faithful to the values that I believe to be important in life and to pass them on to others. In 30 years as a manager I’ve never had my players injected to make them better. I never gave them any product that would help enhance their performance. I’m proud of that. I’ve played against many teams that weren’t in that frame of mind.
There are those who disbelieve that. Wenger robustly denied Paul Merson’s allegations that he was given injections which were of an undisclosed substance. Perhaps it was the inference that he personally carried out the injections which stirred the manager into action. Whilst I doubt that anyone overtly pressurised any player into taking substances of an unspecified nature, it’s not hard to see the conditions put the players into a position where it was an offer they couldn’t refuse, particularly someone like Merson who knew he was on the fringes of the manager’s vision of the future.
Most likely, the substances players mention were creatine or something similar. In Arsene Wenger: The Inside Story of Arsenal Under Wenger, John Cross mentions the use of such supplements in the early years of Wenger’s regime whilst Henry Winter ‘confirmed’ it earlier than that. There’s nothing wrong in using them, FIFA even suggests it might help some people. That’s the black and white of it all.
The moral ground is less clear. Alex Ferguson disliked the use of supplements and I’ve never heard or don’t recall reading anything of their use at Old Trafford. That’s not to say they didn’t, they were just more discreet if they did. Is it right to use supplements is down to basic philosophy. Is there anything wrong in taking a supplement others are using? Because others are using them, does that make it right or is it simply a case of using them so that you don’t get left behind?
Winter notes the practice stopped when players complained of side-effects but had they not done so, would Arsenal have carried on? Did it play a part in the success enjoyed in the first part of Arsène’s reign and is there a coincidence that success stopped when the players weren’t using supplements? That’s the issues that build around their use in sports, it always raises uncomfortable questions which cannot truly be answered. In turn, it lends itself easily to innuendo.
Doping, an entirely separate issue, has been an issue in football for a long time and like other sports, will always be. Whenever money and ego is involved, there will be cheating going on. There was always an assumption that football was cleaner than other sports and by comparison to cycling or athletics it is. Or was. Even so, that damning by faint praise, because the reality is that it acknowledges the transgressions.
Dinamo recently fell foul of the anti-doping regime but as it was one player, no punishment will be meted out. UEFA regulations require at least two players be caught in the same testing cycle before action is taken. Can one player be that influential on a result or is it a signal that UEFA should have ordered the entire team be tested? It will be after the event with no guarantee that any other guilty party won’t have flushed the drugs from their system. With the Russian scandal emerging, the question of drugs in all sports is going to stay on the agenda, more so for football with the World Cup due to be held there in 2018.
Murky waters indeed.
10th November 1990
David Seaman had been called into the England squad for the Euro’92 qualifier against the Republic of Ireland when first choice ‘keeper, Chris Woods, was injured whilst playing for Rangers.
Woods recovered and played in the turgid 1 – 1 draw in Dublin which featured Tony Adams and Lee Dixon. David Platt scored for England and England’s Tony Cascarino scored for Ireland.
To this day, it’s still unfathomable why Seaman wasn’t first choice. A key part of a near record-breaking defence yet not good enough for his country. Only Graham Taylor kno…oh.
Before then, the Commission into the ‘brawl’ at Old Trafford would pass judgement. Arsenal were widely expected to suffer a points deduction having previously sinned. They needed to gain every point possible and had won both of the subsequent First Division matches, as well as a Rumbelows Cup tie at Maine Road.
Palace though, were riding high. Beaten cup finalists the previous season, they were sitting in fourth place with their only defeat so far at Old Trafford the previous weekend. They had racked up five draws in their eleven games though, as well as one with Leyton Orient in the Rumbelows Cup.
And they got their sixth in this game. It still feels weird reading about Ian Wright of Crystal Palace even though he only played thirty more games for Arsenal during his time at the club. His partnership with Mark Bright was one of the most talked about in the game around this time and both featured in the top scorers chart. Anders Limpar led the way for Arsenal with seven, one more than the Palace duo.
There’s not a lot to say about the match itself although Tony Pawson deserves credit for getting the word ‘boring’ into a sentence about Anders Limpar. Even if he didn’t mean it in that sense.
Arsenal remained second, dropping a further two points behind Liverpool who won at a canter at Luton. Lars Elstrup proved to be master of the overstatement when he called them “the best team in Europe”. Unless he thought Arsenal transcended mere geography, of course.
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