Bolton 2 Arsenal 1 Review and some soul-searching

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Apr 252011
 

It’s hard to know exactly where to begin; how to summarise a game that cruelly ended our title hopes. From 4 possible trophies a month or so ago to zero is a massive disappointment.

And it’s not the first time. For the third season in a row we have been fighting on all possible fronts, in with a shout of all possible trophies, only to slip away at the end of the season. AW mentions mental strength and mental fragility more than any other manager I know of; why is it then that we seem to lack the fight, the resilience, the edge – the mental strength, if you will, Arsene – to see the season through to the end?

I can’t be bothered, frankly, to go through all the games we’ve come close to winning but failed. Some just stick in the memory. That ridiculous game at St James’s Park, the recent game against Spurs. We just cannot seem to get through the last few minutes of a game without conceding a goal. And just taking the Bolton game as an example, can a side that concedes two goals from two corners compete for the title?

I’m a big AW fan (as you may be aware!) but reading this on the official site really p*ssed me off:

The facts are the facts. I feel the players [have] had an outstanding attitude [during] the whole season and they are not to blame. If there is someone to blame, it is me. I pick the team and I choose the players. For me, the players [have] had an outstanding attitude all season.
Yes, it is very unsatisfactory because that is one of the easiest run-ins we have had for a long time. We didn’t take our chances many times during the season and that is frustrating because you feel that the potential is there. But we live in a job where you have to take your chances and be realistic. We still lack something that is called maturity, experience or calmness in important situations.

Firstly, I’m not so sure that the attitude has been right. Attitude and the inability to keep a clean sheet for the last ten minutes are closely linked. The right attitude should mean that we do not, ever, concede such goals. And all too often some players – Arshavin, Bendtner, Clichy, I’m looking at you – have been respectively completely anonymous, unbelievably useless, and on a different planet.

Secondly, in terms of “something that is called maturity, experience or calmness in important situations”, that just can’t be used as an excuse any more. Let’s not forget it was Eboue who gave away the penalty to Sp*rs. An experienced international, not someone who can be marked down as young and inexperienced. The rest of the Arsenal ‘youngsters’ – Jack Wilshere excluded – all have years of Premiership experience and international tournaments behind them. It’s about time that youth stopped being an excuse. It never was a good excuse anyway, and for one thing, they’re just not that young any more.

So what is the future for this Arsenal team. I’m not going to join the ranks of those who campaign for an end to AW’s tenure, but I am going to suggest that this team requires some major surgery to turn it from a group of promising also-rans to a team of winners.

The problem is, will AW and our new owner countenance such changes? Do we need to change the philosophy of the club and buy experienced players? Do we need to change the way we play? These are difficult questions, and the answers requires more thought than a simple knee-jerk reaction to an awful performance, even it is a performance that relegates us to third, and puts an end to any hopes of silverware this season.

In my opinion, it’s certainly a good thing to be able to laugh at oneself, and a necessary ability in any gooner. Have a look at this from the Daily Mash.

Arsenally and unhappily yours,

Will

Stan Kroenke Takeover & Blackpool 1 Arsenal 3 Review

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Apr 112011
 

Yesterday’s game against Blackpool has paled into insignificance against the news that Stan Kroenke has taken over control of Arsenal, bringing his stakeholding to 62.9%. Much to write about that news – but first, the game at Bloomfield Road.

I was happy to visit my local bookies and walk out with my Arsenally wallet bulging with my takings. It’s been a while since I’ve got one over the bookmakers.

It was a bit of a scrappy affair, and we certainly had some nervous moments. Blackpool should have had a penalty when we were only 2-1 up; Ian Holloway’s claims that v Persie was offside for our third were way off the mark. He admitted that according to the rules, he wasn’t offside. Well that’s that, isn’t it?

Having laid into our ‘reserve’ players in my rant of a preview, I was indeed happy to see Diaby prove me wrong with a fine goal, and delighted to see Eboue notch one up as well. I maintain that we rarely see consistent good performances from the Frenchman. I truly hope he proves me wrong against Liverpool this Sunday.

Onto the bigger news as Kroenke’s investment vehicle Kroenke Sports Enterprises announced this morning that it was paying £11,750 a share to increase its stake in Arsenal FC to 62.9% from 29.9%, by buying out Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith and Danny Fiszman. The offer values the club at £731 million, which is about $1.2 billion. To put that in perspective, in 2009 ManUre were valued at $1.9 billion.

We knew that Lady Nina had been trying to sell her shares for a while, and I can’t help but feel that Fiszman’s decision to sell has something to do with the fact that he is seriously ill, and if rumours are to be believed, not long of this earth.

I’m thoroughly relieved that Fiszman and Lady Nina didn’t sell to Usmanov’s Red and White Holdings. If you believe even some of what has been written about the man, the less he has to do with Arsenal the better.

The notion that any owner or shareholder must be someone who grew up within spitting distance of Herbert Chapman’s bust and a season ticket holder from birth is antiquated. In the modern, 21st Century Premiership we must recognise that billlionaires will buy clubs for financial reasons, as well as for the traditional “true love of sport”. And from what I can tell, compared with Hicks and Gillett at Liverpool and the Glazers at ManUre, we’ve got the best deal by a country mile.

Stock market rules necessitate that Kroenke makes an offer for the remaining shares. This may result in him upping his holding, but it is extremely unlikely to result in full control of the club passing to “Silent Stan”. Usmanov may sell – seeing as he now has no chance of a takeover himself, has no seat on the board, and in short no future as any kind of influence on the future of the club.

The Arsenal Supporters Trust will more than likely hang onto its shares to a man, and the other shareholders are current members of the board and thus unlikely to sell themselves.

The absolutely crucial point about this takeover, is that unlike the American purchases of Liverpool and ManUre, the buy-out has not been leveraged against club assets. Kroenke is not saddling the club with debt. That is something for which we have to be overwhelmingly, exultantly, jubilantly thankful.

So, what do we know about the man? And what will he bring to the club?

Nice Tache

I approve - all but the moustache

He originally made his money in property, and his wife is a scion of the Wal-mart owning Walton family. Nicknamed ‘Silent Stan’ because of his low profile, he collects sports clubs, already owning Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Avalanche (Ice Hockey), St Louis Rams (American Football) and Colorado Rapids (MLS).

The 63-year-old claims his love of sport stems from listening to baseball on the radio with his grandfather. His father clearly was sports-mad, as his full name Enos Stanley Kroenke was given in tribute to baseball players Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial – part of the St Louis Cardinals team that won the World Series three times in the 1940s.

Born in Missouri, Kroenke also owns a regional sports TV network, a sports arena and soccer park and a real estate portfolio that includes shopping centres, office and apartment buildings, vineyards and ranches throughout North America.

Forbes magazine listed him last year as worth $2.9 billion, while his wife Ann Walton Kroenke of the Walmart Walton family has a net worth of a similar amount.

According to Paul Andrews, VP of KSE:

He is just a brilliant man, a legendary businessman, who has done things in his life that 99.9 per cent of the world didn’t have the amount of drive and success to do. He has built something from when he was a kid until now and he is just a very genuine individual that likes to play basketball, loves to talk sports, loves to watch sports. If he was sitting with you and me now, he would be just a normal guy.

I’m not going to be fooled by such a sycophantic quote from an employee clearly after a bonus, but it does hint at a quiet, family man who has a genuine love of sport.

An American journalist tried to track him down for an interview concerning his Amercan sports interests:

Kroenke descends into town like a whisper and vanishes like an apparition…Kroenke tends to deliver long, elaborate and detailed answers to questions, seemingly completing one thought but then immediately adding a follow-on statement just when you think it’s safe to blurt out a new question…He dodges few subjects, or at least he is skilled enough to avoid the appearance of dodging them, but at the same time delivers little pith. He is hardly the sort of mogul who can fill a writer’s notebook with colorful quotations, although he does seem to become genuinely excited when talking about NBA players and athletics in general.

I found Stan Kroenke’s public mien to be understated, mannered, polite and thoughtful. He was, as it turned out, quite normal. Or at least as normal as a billionaire can seem.

So, why Arsenal? To quote the superb Swiss Ramble:

It’s the biggest football club in London with a brand-new world-class stadium that generates over £3m revenue a game. While other clubs struggle financially, Arsenal are making good profits and paying down their debt.

Another reason is that there is an appreciable amount of under-performing in the commercial aspect of the club. Expect to see more of Arsenal abroad, in the States and the East. I’m not sure that we’ll be spending our usual pre-season in a quiet Alpine resort this summer; I imagine we’ll spend it across the pond. In the commercial side of things, we already have Ivan Gazidis’s experience of MLS, and another Arsenal employee is a Stan Kroenke-influenced hire who came from the NBA – Tom Fox, our Chief Commercial Officer. Expect some changes in the way our TV and internet content is owned, marketed, and priced. To quote Ivan Gazidis on Kroenke a while ago:

Look at Stan Kroenke in the Denver market. He not only owns sports teams, he owns stadiums and the TV station that distributes the sport on local TV. He aggregates content and he distributes it. He even owns the in-house ticketing system (TicketHorse).

As for the all-important question of whether he’ll provide more money for transfers, all the statements that have come from the official site stress that he wishes to continue the self-sustaining business model that Ivan Gazidis already has in place.

It’s worth bearing in mind that in past transfer windows, it has been Wenger himself who has taken the decision not to spend a fortune on an established name, and it’s not the case that the board denied him a player that he really wanted in the squad.

Silent Stan has pledged to take Arsenal “to new success”, and we can only hope that we enjoy the same success as Colorado Avalanche. They won the 2001 Stanley Cup in their first season under Kroenke’s ownership.

Will the American usher in a new period of prolonged success at the club? To quote the official site:

This information on the Web Page, including information included or incorporated by reference in this announcement, may contain “forward looking statements” concerning the KSE Entity Group and the Arsenal Group. Generally, the words “will”, “may”, “should”, “continue”, “believes”, “expects”, “intends”, “anticipates” or similar expressions identify forward looking statements. The forward looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those suggested by them.

Arsenally Yours,

Will

Blackpool v Arsenal Preview & Odds

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Apr 092011
 

I wanted to wait until today’s results were in befoe writing my preview. As expected, ManUre beat Fulham at home, or rather the referee and Fulham beat Fulham, and the Mancs lead at the top of the league has stretched into double figures.

Can we stay in the title race? We have 2 games in hand on United, and we face them at home. Chelski also face the Mancs. In theory, we should still be positive about the run-in. If we beat them and Chelski do us a favour, we win the title for the first time in 7 years.

The press thinks we are struggling, even the official website stating it very plainly:

Wenger refuses to accept the result nailed down the coffin lid on their campaign…when asked .. how he assessed this season, he retorted immediately: “The season is not over.”
His point was simple. Eight games represents 24 points and, in this title race especially, that is a massive margin…Yes, having gone five games without a win, Arsenal are at a low ebb right now but this is a season when presumption and prediction have often led to embarrassment. So Wenger is not going to give up now.

I’m not entirely sure what the logic is at the end there. It’s not about embarrassment, it’s about pride.

Elsewhere in the press it’s been reported that four Arsenal players will be on their way out. And that bastion of reliable football news, the Sun has reported that AW “is happy to be second rate”. This is their quote:

As long as you are second in the league, I am ready to sign for the next 20 years. I believe we have done well. We have been hit very hard with big disappointments but we have not lost in the FA Cup or the Champions League against anybody, we have lost against good teams. Personally, I am very proud of the attitude, the behaviour and the quality of our season.

I don’t really believe that he said that for one minute. I bl&%#y hope not.

Seeing trash like this does make you wonder who among the players might be on their way out ion the summer. You’d have thought that for the sake of their careers players like Almunia, Rosicky, Clichy, Denilson, Bendtner, maybe Diaby and Arshavin too might be looking at their futures.

The little Russian just doesn’t seem to fit in at times, in a footballing and psychological sense. He’s seems completely on his own on the pitch, hardly even acknowledging his teammates between play. He does hook up well on the left flank of times, and has popped up with some important strikes, but I wonder if he’s happy at the club.

Nicklas Bendtner certainly not lived up to his own publicity this term and needs to find his shooting boots. Half-chances have not gone his way, his strikes have too often whistled wide.

Rosicky and Denilson have both been injured, and given their places to Wilshere and Nasri. Clichy hasn’t progressed further in the last two seasons, with a fit Kieron Gibbs the natural progression. We need a quick return to form from the young Adam Ramsey.

We need Almunia to show some of his considerable maturity and put aside contracts and concentrate on his responsibility to the club that’s paid his wages for such a long time. And stop flapping.

We do need squad players, but I think unless the current crop can take this title race by the balls, I think they should think about their futures, and I expect AW and the board to bring in some fresh talent.

Players who challenge the likes of Nasri, Wilshere, Walcott, and not be content to be second string. I’m getting sick of hearing about ‘second’ – second place in the table, Wenger settles for second…

The question I’m asking myself about the state of play at the top at Arsenal is whether repeated statements like this find their source in the manager’s stubbornness or intellect:

We’ve had a change in policy to sign younger players. It’s important for football that there’s another way than to just come in, put money on the table and buy a star. The way we are doing things is right. Whether they play here or somewhere else you’ll realise they’re big players.

I think that’s true but we haven’t signed even a slightly big name in a while. We need to bring in another Vieira or Adams. Their is a serious lack of a fit, regular starter who has a big enough vocal presence on the pitch to bring the game to the opposition. I’m a big Vermaelen fan, but he’s missed the whole season.

Buy another player like the Belgian and have two strong physical and vocal players. It would be worth £15-20 million. Don’t we have that kind of money?

I hope that they prove me wrong and dispel the gathering media gloom around the Grove. I want them to succeed and put us right back in the title race at Bloomfield Road tomorrow. I expect:

Almunia; Sagna – Koscielny – Djourou – Clichy; Fabregas – Wilshere – Ramsey; Nasri – v Persie – Arshavin

Odds

No team have kept a Premier League clean sheet at Bloomfield Road but Blackpool have scored in every home game. Blackpool are also the only promoted side we’ve beaten this season, the 6-0 romp at the start of the season. A few Arsenally pennies left my account on 3-1 to the Arsenal, widely available at 10/1. The optimist in me like the idea of a giving the Tangerines a 4-0 drubbing at 19-1 with Unibet. The highest odds on a Blackpool win are 15/2, with us the clear favourites to get the three points at 4/9. As for first goalscorer, v Persie is a clear favourite at 10/3 with William Hill and others. That got a few Arsenally quids, which are in drastic short supply. If Koscielny scores first, I’ll be up at 33/1, but such trying times called for a small punt.

I’m well up for the game tomorrow, and can’t wait to cheer the boys on. A turn-around in form is more than possible against a Blackpool side that have shipped 63 goals this season.

Let’s hope that just like his horse, Fergie’s side fail to finish this season. But we need maximum points tomorrow to kick off this critical league run-in. We can’t finish as poorly as we did last time around.

COME ON YOU GOOONERS!!!

Arsenally Yours,

Will