Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Where do Arsenal go from here?

Once again, for the umpteenth year running Arsenal Football Club find themselves facing another trophy less season. The humiliation they suffered last week in the San Siro against AC Milan was repeated at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland on Saturday where they went crashing out of the FA Cup in an all too familiar show of disarray. The distinct lack of quality, aligned with a clear lack or purpose and leadership now means it is seven years since the club last won a trophy. For a club that consider themselves to be one of the top sides in Europe this is simply not good enough.

We all know that they of course lost two of their best three players last summer which would cause any side to enter somewhat of a transitional phase. However, the replacements that the current manager Arsene Wenger brought in before the season began are quite simply not good enough for a team with title aspirations. The season of course couldn’t have started any worse but did improve for a time; however, these recent results will no doubt be the end of their season and there is a distinct possibility that they could collapse again as they have done for the past two seasons.

It is not just the departures that have severely affected the club; the goings on behind the scenes appears to be approaching the farcical stage as reports emerging in recent days suggest serious financial mismanagement. Reports from the club suggest that the wage bill currently stands at £130 million a year which is hampering the club from signing new players because the club simply cannot afford to pay them. Two examples of this are Abou Diaby and Denilson who are both pocketing £60,000 a week; when you consider one is permanently injured and the other one has been sent to Brazil (in an attempt to sell him) this is truly staggering. It has also been revealed that the club employ 71 professionals who are all on the wage bill – 71! Something has gone seriously wrong at the club and a quick fix seems unlikely.

Another interesting and decidedly worrying fact is that the club only earn £14 million from their shirt sponsors. The modern day football world is primarily about making money and for a club of Arsenal’s stature I find this unbelievably incompetent; Liverpool, themselves in turmoil on the pitch, earn £40 million a year – and they don’t even play in the Champions League. How can these things be allowed to happen at a club who pride themselves on their financial prudence?

The problems on the pitch are there for everyone to see. They seriously lack the quality to remain in the top four this season and unless Chelsea and Liverpool’s malaise continues they will not finish in a Champions League place. The distinct lack of defensive quality is now beyond a joke and how they have managed to ignore this when it is clearly something that has hindered them for years must now be put down to ineptitude rather than anything else. The fans barrack Squillaci and others for their individual errors but collectively they stand and together they should all fall. The Belgian Thomas Vermaelen who was regarded as their stand out defender has looked hopeless recently and clearly didn’t deserve his £600,000 loyalty bonus last season (another shocking financial decision as he hardly played).

There is no doubt that Wenger was a fantastic football manager once upon a time but he is managing a sinking ship at the moment and failure against Spurs this weekend should signal the end of his tenure in my opinion. If he cannot galvanise his troops and instil more enthusiasm and effort they surely have to find someone new to develop a new team. However, with the astronomical wage bill and serious lack of quality who would want it?

We have all been lead to believe that Arsenal were going to be the example of how to run a football club off the field and this statement simply has no credibility at the moment. Unless something dramatic happens at the club in the coming months the on field problems could have a lasting effect on the club’s future. Everyone associated at the club called initially for patience but surely that is waring thin now, something has to change, and fast.

Monday, 20 February 2012

How good are Spurs?

This season must be the most enjoyable Tottenham Hotspur fans have had in recent memory; they lie third in the Premier League and look set to be involved in the European Champions League again next season, for only the second time. Having spent many years investing in youth the fruit of their labors is finally there to be enjoyed and the style of their football has probably been the best in the league so far this season.

During the summer they added the experience of Brad Friedel in goal, the rugged determination of Scott Parker in midfield and the much maligned Emmanuel Adebayor up front. All three signings have been integral to their success this season and playing alongside the likes of Gareth Bale, Ledley King and Luka Modric the club appears to be going from strength to strength. After a sluggish start to the season they then went on a ten game unbeaten run which was only ended by Stoke City in December. In January they strengthened their attacking options with the loan signing of Louis Saha from Everton.

Some of their attacking play in particular has been breath-taking; with Bale and Lennon on either wing and Adebayor proving to be an immense spear head the goals have come thick and fast but it has been the manor of them that has really made people sit up and take notice. Bale has been a revelation this season and has given them the balance on each wing that they have been striving for. The wingers have also enabled Spurs to allow Modric to truly express himself in the centre where the addition of Scott Parker has taken defensive duties away from the playmaker and allowed him to flourish.

However, the Premier League is an odd place this season with at least three of the supposed top sides going through somewhat of a transition. There is no doubt that Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are not at the level expected of them and there is even enough doubt to suggest that the current Manchester United team is not as strong as those we have seen in the past. At the start of the season Spurs lost convincingly to both sides from Manchester and are about to enter the crucial stage of their season. By the end of March they will have played Arsenal, Chelsea and United in the return games.

There is no doubting that Spurs are a side in the ascendance and thus are a rare commodity in the Premier League. Indeed, if it weren’t for Manchester City I genuinely believe Spurs could have won the title, as it is they look likely to cement third place in the coming weeks. However, there are several things they have to improve on if they are to mount a title challenge next season.

Both of their first choice strikers are on loan from parent clubs which means they could leave at the end of the season and not return. With Jose Mourinho expected to reappear in the Premier League next season Adebayor’s future could be in doubt after the two worked successfully at Madrid last year. It has made such a difference having a focal point who can hold play up and play in the likes of Bale, Lennon and Modric and having finally acquired it they don’t want to lose it.

It is imperative that someone tells Gareth Bale to remain on the left wing! Every time I have seen Spurs recently he is playing through the middle and it is not his area. He is at his best when he is steaming up the left wing and whipping a ball across the six yard box. There is a feeling he is being advised to play more centrally to score more goals but for the meantime it is detrimental for the team (and yes I did see the Norwich goal).

I do not intend to be disparaging about Spurs; they have been a breath of fresh air this season and it will be fascinating to see how they get on in the coming months. A couple of key signings in the summer could well see them established as one of the regular top four and with a new ground on the horizon the future looks bright for Spurs. It is however difficult to assess just how good they are at this moment in time.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Valencia provides the spark

In the last seven days there have been glimpses that Manchester United are beginning to approach their best form. Their second half performances at Stamford Bridge and this afternoon at Old Trafford have been noticeable for the goals of Wayne Rooney; however, it is Antonio Valencia who is providing the creative spark the United talisman has been craving all season.

The top sides this season have been really struggling for creativity and it has been refreshing to see Valencia returning to his best form. He is tremendously quick and is built perfectly for modern day football; he is strong and slight whilst remaining incredibly fleet of foot which makes him very difficult to play against. The Ecuadorian winger is predominantly found hugging the right touchline where his crossing ability can be demonstrated to full effect.

What makes Valencia so integral to United’s current set up is his understanding with Rooney. A couple of seasons ago the winger was responsible for assisting many of the striker’s goals and their understanding is clear for everyone to see. More than once this afternoon Rooney drove one of his trademark passes out to the right touchline where Valencia would control the ball, beat a defender and then find his teammate in the area with a delightful cross. His assist for Rooney’s second was his ninth of the season and it looks like more are on their way.

Many of the Premier League’s other strikers would kill for the service Valencia provides. What separates him from many of his counterparts is his fantastic selflessness which enables his strikers to score so many goals. One of the biggest problems that Fernando Torres has is that many of Chelsea’s players will do something themselves after creating an opening rather than play in the Spaniard. At United once Valencia has an opening he usually finds a red shirt to score the goal. This unerring selflessness is one of the defining features of this current United side and is one of the key factors in their success.

This is his third year at United after an injury ravaged second season and he is proving once again that he is one of the best wingers around. In a recent interview Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola actually stated he believed he was currently the best winger in the world; if his form continues like this until the end of the season he could well be proved right.

It appears that the title will be remaining in Manchester this season but its exact location will remain a mystery for the next few months. It must worry Manchester City and their manager Roberto Mancini that United are beginning to crank up through the gears as the title race enters the final stages. Few would back against United if the gap remains small until the later stages and with Antonio Valencia in this kind of form goals are not going to be hard to find.