Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Premiership Team of the Noughties

I had the misfortune to turn on Talksport one night recently and listen to Stan collymore harp on in a vaguely xenophobic manner about his "team of the decade" in the Premiership. After he dismissed Robert Pires from his rightful position on the left of such a dream team, on the supposed grounds that he LAcKED END PRODUcT, i could take no more.
So here is my riposte to mr. collymore and all of his dumbass callers- especially the guy who suggested Didi Fucking Hamann in central midfield. Admittedly, about half the team will probably be the same as his, but anyway...

I suppose there's still a question mark hanging over Given, and it goes a little something like this: if he's a truly great keeper, isn't it something of an unfortunate coincidence that he seems to always find himself behind a shambolic defence? Does he lack the organisational skills that would render it unnecessary for him to be making five amazing saves every game? Or is it his relative lack of height as a goalkeeper that dissuaded any of the Big Four from ever making a move for him?
Despite these reservations, it remains that Given has been, over the last decade, an unsurpassed shotstopper in the English game. Van Der Sar and perhaps Petr cech could be seen as rivals for this spot but the former always struck me at United as a merely very decent keeper playing behind an exceptional defence, whereas the latter has suffered a crippling loss of form, understandably perhaps, since the Stephen Hunt incident.

consistency wins the day here. He's never been the most pyrotechnic of full-backs, but in terms of longevity and reliability he hasn't had much competition in the past decade. And a shedload of medals doesn't do any harm either. This was probably the easiest choice. Arsenal have had good right backs and Lauren deserves credit for his part in the glories of 02 and 04. Let's hope that in the coming years Bacary Sagna makes himself a shoo-in for the best right back of whatever the next decade is going to be called.

I had to think long and hard about this one. I wanted one centre back adept at carrying the ball out, and one big stopper- so it soon became a question of Terry vs campbell. I've had to go for Terry, probably because we haven't had the pleasure of viewing his inevitable decline yet.

This is a poignant choice in a way because there is already a whiff of stagnation about Ferdinand, not just on account of his injury problems but also due to his form. As a ball-playing centre back who sweeps up behind an aggressive partner, he had serious competition from our own Bill Gallas and Ricardo carvalho. But you have to admit that for the last few years especially Ferdinand was imperious and he seemed to have a special place in his pocket reserved for Thierry Henry.

Moving swiftly on...

So far this team is populated almost exclusively by players I have an intense hatred for. What an awful decade. Here it was a battle between Beckham and the Portuguese ponce. If you gave Ronaldo Beckham's delivery, it would be frightening, but as it is Ronaldo is superior in every other department. And, apart from the ability to score a whopping forty goals in one season- comprising tap-ins, solo goals, twenty-yard thunderbolts, free kicks, penalties, and salmon-leap headers- it's his searing pace that really seals the deal and makes Beckham look a little one-dimensional.

At first I was thinking of picking one of these guys, and a more obviously attack-minded player like Lampard or Gerrard to partner. But here is my logic for picking these two. Firstly, I'm playing a 4-4-2, and Gerrard and Lampard have in my view always been at their impressive best playing in a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 with two other central players to aid them with the workload and allow them to roam forward quite freely. I'm not convinced that either have proven themselves as true midfield generals in the mold of Vieira and Keane in their pomp. Perhaps this is indicative of one big change in the last few years of top-level football. Whereas a decade or so ago, we had players who played from box to box and could dominate games almost single-handedly, now midfield play is more specialist. Neither Vieira or Keane were simply holding players. Both were terrific ball-winners but could also be termed playmakers- witness Keane's famous performance in Turin in '99 where his hypnotic passing provided the platform for United's great comeback. But with the now widespread use of Makalele-style water carriers, it is usually possible to call a midfielder either attacking or defensive, and most teams have one player or even two focussed on shielding the back four. Illustrative of my point is the problem that England had with pairing Lampard and Gerrard in a 4-4-2, with neither really capable of curbing their offensive instincts. Vieira and Keane would never have had that problem. Both could drive forward to devastating effect at different times, with one always willing to drop back and add stability and solidity.
All that being said, there are still players of that ilk today. The fantastic Michael Essien could easily play in a 4-4-2, rampaging from box to box. It is an impossible fantasy of mine to see him in tandem with Fabregas, although both are now playing those aforementioned specialist roles in three or four-man midfields.
Anyway, sorry for banging on, what I really just wanted to say was, Keane and Vieira in tandem, early part of the last decade- when you were done shitting your pants, what would you do to beat that?

Despite Ryan Giggs' recent renaissance, there was only one winner of the left-wing spot. Football Writers Player of the year in 2002 after an astonishing season of roaming creativity from the wing, Pires reinvented himself subtly after a knee injury as a goalscoring midfielder who scored peaches and poached goals in equal number. He had a wonderful understanding with my team's left back, not to mention its two strikers....

I've got to admit this is a sentimental choice in a way, as he is my favourite footballer of all time. But I want my team to be a work of art, not an ungainly battering ram, so there's no better man to drop into the hole and provide the ammo for Pires, Ronaldo and....

I was a bit harsh on him after that handball. He is a bit of a poser but it would be ungrateful to disregard just how staggeringly good this guy was for pretty much eight years on end. Probably, in terms of keeping up an amazing standard for a very long stretch of time, the Premiership's player of the decade. And nearly ever goal was a thing of beauty...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Happy christmas??

I put off writing anything after the Liverpool game, because of a niggling feeling that our cracks had simply been papered over by the Pool's growing tendency to self-destruct. Another unconvincing away performance against Burnley, yielding only a lucky point, seemed to confirm my suspicions. Anfield had been a false dawn, not a turning point. After that, a home win against Hull was the minimum we could expect. So, it was not the 3-0 win yesterday that was significant, rather the continuing bizarre results elsewhere, results which continue to suggest that, against all logic, this unbalanced Arsenal team could mount at least a semblance of a title challenge.

Trust me to find the negative side even of this happy turn. There is a growing feeling, to me at least, that Wenger missed a trick, even more than is usually the case, last summer. You look at this Arsenal side, and as much as you want to believe that they can win the league, there still seem too many areas of doubt. Our goalkeeper convinces nobody. If either Vermaelen or Gallas get injured, the alternatives as they are now don't bear thinking about. Alex Song has probably been our player of 2009, but he's soon off to Africa leaving no suitable replacement. And, last but not least, Robin Van Persie's devastating injury has left us without a true candidate for the centre-forward position until Bendtner returns (and it's not like everyone's in love with him). Surely a team with all these doubts, with a height and strength deficiency, with a number of players who don't look up to the task (Walcott, Vela, Diaby a lot of the time), players who are almost always injured (Rosicky, and almost ten more), and players who are detested by a lot of their own supporters (Eboue, Diaby), surely this rabble cannot come out on top.

But the tale of the table at the moment is that IF Arsenal continue to win, and win their game in hand (all of this far from certain), they will leapfrog the worst United team in more than a decade, and trail not far from a chelsea side who everyone was ready to inaugurate as champions elect only three weeks ago but who are now showing signs of weakness.

Suddenly the January transfer window takes on serious significance. Frankly, if Man Utd and chelsea do shrewd business, they can in my view make Arsenal an irrelevance in the title race. But all three teams have areas they can improve. Arsenal will lose Song for some weeks, so some back up would not go amiss. I am not expecting this to happen. It would be just like Wenger to entrust Denilson with the task, and hope it works out. He'll probably get injured, and Diaby will be left "patrolling" the area in front of our backline in his own inimitable way. Oh dear.

The long-term injury to Djourou was a particularly cruel one. He would have been the first line of back-up at centre-half and could also fill in at defensive midfield. Instead, we need players in both positions. Wenger might be a tad more likely to buy a defender, seeing as Senderos seems likely to move on- he doesn't even make matchday squads anymore. Silvestre is not, I think it's fair to say, an option worth contemplating for more than a couple of games at a time, if that. So when Gallas picks up his inevitable annual injury, we'd want to have a new man in place.

But Wenger, being the attack-obsessed tunnel visionary that he is, will doubtless prioritise finding a temporary replacement for Robin Van Persie. And that is fair enough, having watched recent games. It is the most pressing issue, but as we've seen far from the only one. And that's not to even mention the goalkeeping situation.

One worry I have is that United and to a lesser extent chelsea will be looking for similar players and wield the greater cash power. United, somehow having seen Vidic, Ferdinand, O'Shea, Brown, Evans and Neville all ruled out at once, are in the midst of a defensive crisis that may need a solution from outside, although one feels Ferguson may be patient enough to ride it out- they really have suffered a bizarre run of luck that is unlikely to either sustain, or repeat, itself. Ferguson may be more perturbed by the inability of either the languid Berbatov or the powder puff, shadow of his former self that is Michael Owen, to compensate for the loss of Ronaldo. So perhaps they will plunge for the Valencia pair, Silva and Villa. Neither of these players are likely to be on our radar- the former we don't need, the latter is agonisingly out of our price range. But United may also be on the lookout for a big, physical striker, much like the one Arsenal crave. Wolfsburg's Edin Dzeko is sure to be a man in demand this January.

For chelsea, the feeling is that their squad may only need slight tweaking. But with the possibility of a long transfer ban hanging over the club, Ancelotti may be tempted to do big business. Michael Essien is injured now and will not play before the ANc so they may feel they need a defensive midfielder as badly as Arsenal do (John Obi Mikel hasn't really convinced, and will also be absent in any case). We saw last season just how much they miss his bite and dynamism, and we're already seeing it again in the short time since his latest injury. Ancelotti presided over the retirement home that is Ac Milan, so names like Vieira and Gattusso have been thrown about. But it's upfront where they are most likely to add a player. Drogba will leave for Africa aswell, and both he and Anelka are the wrong side of 30, so with the aforementioned transfer ban a necessary consideration names like Aguero and Pato will be the subject of much rumour. While either of those playing for chelsea THIS season seems a little unrealistic, you could see a deal being struck in advance of a summer move, perhaps.

So all in all, with Wenger having said he only wants to add top quality at the right price, there is a grim possibility that any move we try to tie up could be hijacked by either chelsea or United. And don't forget new city boss Roberto Mancini will doubtless be looking to put his stamp on the club in the shape of one or two signings- again, centre backs are in real demand, and short supply.

What would I like to see? A lot of the time, people moan about the problem but don't have an idea of the solution. I've been guilty of that, so this time I will make one suggestion. Midfielder. He's French. He used to play for Arsenal. He is NOT Patrick Vieira- Paddy's legs have gone, he'd be a good character to have around but we need more. We need the Flamster. I half-follow Italian football and Mathieu Flamini seems inexplicably underused in an ailing, aging Milan side. 10 million. Test their resolve. I know he went for free, but the time has come to disregard economics and shoot for glory. I know, not a hope. But still, I've been pining for the bite and tempo that he provided. Scott Parker would suffice if there's the expected firesale at West Ham... Either of these would be worth having around even after Song's return. In fact, I think a midfield of Song-Flamini-Fabregas would at last provide the solidity we need, without compromising flair. And Ramsey, Denilson and Diaby would be there as cover. Wouldn't it be nice.

Ok, I'm off to dream on something else.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fuck Blind Faith

It's been hard to motivate myself to write anything at all since the chelsea disaster. Games and talking points have come and gone. We've had the carling cup drubbing at the hands of city, followed by more embarrassingly ungracious behaviour by Wenger; the comfortable victory against Stoke in the league, when Arshavin finally found form as an emergency centre-forward; and an outing for the "young guns" in Greece, which showed that the reserves have learned pretty, ineffective football as the first-team, and that carlos Vela may be in danger of becoming the new Jeremie Aliadieire.

Every time I tried to gather my thoughts on the above into something coherent, there was a festering feeling of pointlessness. As if none of it really matters after the team's flaws were so ruthlessly exposed. You can hope, if you are so inclined, that lessons will be learned after such a painful result. But think back a few months- there was that home champions league tie against United in which the boys failed to perform, and got destroyed. Days later, chelsea scored four at the Emirates. And now this. I invite anyone to show me the proof of progress there. So much of the manager's rhetoric rings hollow in the face of these powerful facts.

The sad thing is, we shouldn't be far away. I'be been saying it since the end of 07/08, when Flamini left. He had to be properly replaced, he wasn't, and we've been paying for it ever since. If we had the right players in a couple more areas, I could say with genuine hope that Liverpool are out of the race, that United look vulnerable without Ronaldo, and that chelsea are due a mid-season blip. All of that is true; but it doesn't, or shouldn't, matter to us now because Arsenal have no chance.

It's a sad state of affairs when a once great man allows hope to become the preserve only of the blind.