Coquelin’s importance and ticket supply/demand vs PR

It’s Thursday, the countdown to the top of the table clash between us and Chelski is now rolling in to full-on ‘countdown’, the players are starting to trickle out little tit-bits of information and Arsène will no doubt give us an injury update later on today before addressing the press tomorrow (unless his pressed is pulled forward to today). 

Francis Coquelin is on the official site talking up the challenge of Fabregas and Hazard. For me, this represents one of the most intriguing duels, because both Chelski players have impressive offensive stats (if you take into account the whole season you can excuse Cesc’s supposed dip in form into 2015 to date) and they come up against a guy who has as equally impressive stats since he established himself in the first team as our number one ball-winning defensive midfielder. 

The focus on Le Coq will be to shield the back four, but his pace and discipline will be called into question more than anything else this weekend, because I suspect Chelski will try the old ‘rope-a-dope’ style formation to try to catch us with too many bodies pushing forward and on the counter. As shoddy as United were at The Emirates, I expect Chelski to employ the same tactics. So the role of Le Coq will be to ensure he doesn’t go all ‘Alex Song’ on us and try his hand at a number ten-esque playmaker style of play when we will have plenty of those on the pitch already. 

I’m pleased that he’s readily available to talk to the official site now. He seems to be becoming the modern day Johan Djourou – a PR teams wet dream – but he’s showing that he’s got the minerals to back up the talk with the walk. Or tackle. It is funny though. We all rolled our eyes whenever another player took to the official site to talk up the team, the mental strength, the belief, four years ago, but these days you kind of believe it. We seem to be able to dig out results more frequently, which adds to ones own sense of happiness and wellbeing, the net effect of which being that we are quite happy to see players talk up the team on the official site. It’s amazing what winning a few – nay, a lot – of football games can do. Us football fans really are quite docile when our teams are winning you know.

When matters turn to off-field issues however, sometimes nothing can prevent exasperation, with the latest hot topic is once again the price of match day tickets. West Ham have played the ultimo PR card this week by announcing their reduction in tickets for the first season of their new life in the Olympic Stadium. It has – rightly so – been lauded by fan groups, the Premier League and various other bodies and individuals with an interest in the game, as a great move. 

It is a good move and with all of the increasing TV money tumbling in to each team almost every season, it does feel like the right thing to do that match day goers can experience the live game at a reduced price to the norm, but I don’t think anybody is truly believing that this is the crack in the damn that will see all other Premier League clubs follow suit, are they? 

This is very much an isolate instance. West Ham are in a position where they have a stadium that they simply have to fill. I pick up copies of The Metro and Evening Standard and over the last six months I think I’ve seen a full page ad taken out by the Hammers offering people the chance to watch “The last season at the Boleyn Ground” next season. That’s West Ham’s 32,000-odd seater stadium in which season tickets haven’t been sold. Supply is simply outstripping demand.

West Ham know this, so their plan is clearly to create the same amount of cash in the new stadium, but bringing the price down by half means they need to sell double the amount of tickets. It’s fairly simply economics and shows a unique position the Hammers are in.

What they’ve cleverly done however, is to spin this as much as possible as a club that has listened to the plight of fans everywhere and has reacted, by reducing ticket prices as a way of showing that they are listening. I’ve seen Karen Brady interviewed in print and on TV no less than six times in the last week. She’s no mug; she has realised the awesome PR opportunity and is milking it for all its worth. You can’t really blame her, or West Ham, because if free PR is there to be taken you have to grab it with both hands. But let’s not pretend that this charm offensive is anything other than a fortunate coincidence of the fact demand outstripping supply here.

For Arsenal the reverse is clearly true. We have a waiting list that, in theory, will see my wife (The Management) get a season ticket in about 20 years time. Supply is well and truly dwarfed by demand. Would West Ham have taken this step of reducing tickets if that was the case for them? Would they have said “doubling Matchday ticket revenue is one thing, but think of all the great PR we’ll get if we half the price of tickets instead”? Doubtful. Great PR isn’t worth an extra million quid per Matchday to football clubs and so I don’t expect any of the big ones to reduce ticket prices any time soon. As much as we’d like to see it. In fact, why would any team reduce prices? The teams towards the bottom end of the league are already in a different financial league to those at the top, so by reducing their tickets if the big teams don’t, would only increase the fiscal gap further.

So I think we’re stuck with the situation we’re in for quite some time. 

Anyway, there’s enough negativity online without me adding to the energy like that pink ooze in Ghostbusters II, so I’ll end on a humorous note that we can all chuckle about: Michael Owen still believes Raheem Sterling is better than Mesut Özil this season. Oh Michael, you are funny.

Arsène on tomorrow, me on Szczesny, as well as the new TV deal

I do like FA Cup weekend. Especially when a load of teams I would traditionally ‘fear’ have been knocked out in the previous round. Now, if only Preston and Palace can do me a big flavour and do the business against United and Liverpool respectively, then the FA Cup will become super awesome.

Of course, we still have to navigate Middlesborough and they will be very tough to break down, as well as full of confidence and fancying an upset. But at this moment in time, before a game is kicked, we are apparently favourites and I like that. I like that because on paper – again, at this moment in time – there is nobody that I would fear us playing either home or away in the competition. Obviously United or Liverpool away will be two of the toughest games, but hopefully we won’t have to face them if we can knock out Boro *touches wood for Boro win and not facing the aforementioned teams away*

Yesterday Arsène faced the media and thankfully, after hearing that Karanka has said that Boro won’t be a surprise, he was equally expressive in assuring the assembled hacks that we won’t be taking the Teesiders likely. There’ll be more on thoughts of how we’ll line up tomorrow, but with injury news confirmed today as Alexis, Ramsey, Ox, Diaby (!?!), Arteta and Debuchy still the major absentees, I think we’ll see Arsène not take too many chances with the first XI tomorrow. He did confirm that Gabriel was close to his debut and one would expect that to be tomorrow too.

What I did think was interesting yesterday, was the way in which Arsène talked up Szczesny, confirming he’d start tomorrow. Of course, you’re you always expect him to be uber positive about his players, but he seemed to my untrained eyes to be especially so with the Pole. I can’t give you any real insight other than gut feel, but I just wonder if this little spell out of the side has been Wenger’s way of motivating Wojciech again like he did with Fabianski previously, which will inevitably lead to Szczesny’s return to the side. The only probably Woj has, however, is that if tomorrow’s game goes how we all want it to go, he won’t have very much to do, so he won’t be able to force himself back into the first team. That said, I think Ospina will be one fatal mistake away from losing his place in the side, where as I think Szczesny would need a couple before being given the boot. Many will argue the Southampton game showed otherwise (he was good against West Ham only a few days earlier), but I think that omission from the team had more to do with his puffing than his ‘keeping.

So he might have to wait a little longer before he gets his chance again after this weekend methinks.

The other major talking point from the presser yesterday was the bumper TV deal. Arsène rightly said that it will improve the strength of the league because teams will be able to pay more to players, as the Premier League passes on the most of the revenue hike on to the clubs. But whilst I can agree with the manager that it will increase the global brand of the competition, as well as the desire of players to play in this league, I can never see such massive figures as a good thing for the long term future of the game.

This deal feels like it has nothing but bad omens about it. For one thing, the TV companies are not going to pay such vast sums for the rights to show football, only to absorb those extra costs and not pass them on to the consumer. It’s just not going to happen. There might be a price freeze for a year, but that will be an exercise in PR, rather than a genuine desire to keep the cost of watching football so low.

It means that as a season ticket holder, I’ll probably be paying upwards of £2,500 per year for a combination of Sky, BT and my season ticket. That’s a massive chunk of my disposable income and means I have to make sacrifices in other parts of my life just to be able to watch my team. The alternative is streaming, which I haven’t done to date because I have the world’s worst personal laptop, but it will probably become something I have to consider more and more as time goes on.

Should some of the cash be passed on to consumers in the form of reducing Matchday ticket prices? Of course. But whilst the clubs already have customers paying for tickets at the moment, why would they reduce them? The answer is of course that they wouldn’t. So the Matchday experience will remain an expensive day out. I dread to think what it would be if I had a couple of sons who had season tickets.

Anyway, I don’t really want to talk about this any more, because it’s depressing me. Let’s hope Palace can cheer me up later today. Cheerio folks.

Arsene’s admission helps nobody, neither does ‘price-per-goal’ comparisons

Before I start off with my usual daily ramblings and before you can switch off, roll your eyes and say “not him again” (although unless you’re seeing this for the first time I’d question why you keep coming back – it’ll never get any better than this!!), I thought I’d give a little plug for a book written by a good friend and really nice fella, Dave Seagar, who has written what I’m sure is to be an inspiring telling of an Arsenal legend, George ‘Geordie’ Armstrong. I haven’t picked up my copy yet, as I’ll be handing over my cash at The Tollington for the book launch on Saturday before the Hull game, hence why I don’t want to come across as all knowing about a man who whilst before my time, I am already starting to feel had a significant impact on Arsenal’s history.

Anyway, the book can be ordered here so make sure you order a copy and read about what appears to be one of football’s genuinely nice people in Geordie. I can also recommend you scoot on over to Dave’s blog to see some of his stuff – you won’t be disappointed.

What you might be disappointed with is the comments from Arsene that he made in a recent interview on French TV with regards to Mesut Ozil’s injury. Arsene explained that he was actually aware of Ozil’s injury during the game, as the German had described that he heard a ‘crack’ and that Arsene had told his physio team to ‘keep an eye on it’. That’s a shocking admission and I’m afraid does absolutely nobody any favours no that this has come out. Firstly, it shows what the litany of injuries over the past few years lead us to suspect – that sometimes the club are negligent in it’s duties to make tough decisions and act in a responsible manner towards player fitness. How can you have an admission from a player – bearing in mind most players would rather keep information like this to themselves so they can stay on the field – and not act on it? What are we doing here? Are we deliberately trying to push our luck to see how much we can get away with? Because let me tell you, that hasn’t worked for the last six or seven years and so it’s hardly going to start now. By keeping him on the field when he had clearly suffered some sort of injury, it shows a recklessness that I don’t think you’d see at any other club. It’s not as if we are even short in the attacking positions. IF it was one of the centre halves, then we’d probably all be a bit more understanding if the feeling was that we need to see if we could play on with the player (ignoring the fact that the lack of defensive resources are a product of our own making), but in the forward positions we have enough bodies not to take any chances.

I am becoming more and more baffled by some of the decisions that are being made at the club these days. I really try not to be drawn into the stereotypical despairing online Arsenal fan, but with issues like formation, players playing out of position and the constant glut of injuries, it’s hard not to look at the football side of the club and wonder if we’re deliberately trying to make life difficult for ourselves.

As a result of the poor performance of Ozil against Chelski, he was lambasted by all corners of the media, yet it’s quite feasible that he was only playing at 30 to 40% of his capability through injury. A player will never tell you he is injured unless his leg is hanging off, so it is up to the management on the side of the pitch to make that decision for the player for the benefit of them and the team. That clearly has not been happening. I said earlier in the blog that nobody benefited from the admission from Arsene that Ozil played on whilst injured, but actually that’s wrong, because at least it gives us a bit more of an explanation as to why he was so poor. Who knows, maybe this is a classic Arsene self-sacrifice to paint Ozil in a more favourable light, but it just comes across as if the club don’t really know what it is doing when it comes to injuries.

Not only is there the data to now back up this school of thought, but we’re getting testimony from the manager too now, which is slightly worrying.

There’s the AGM later today, which will no doubt draw up lots of pre-approved and probing questions for the board at Arsenal……so I’ll leave that one parked to one side I think because I’m about as knowledgeable on these things as Neil Ashton is about employee value. But there is one area that I suspect might be addressed by the club (or not) which is the ticket price issue. I watched BBC news last night and was treated to yet another volley from the sports section of the report about ticket prices, which had the inevitable comparison with Arsenal and the price of tickets compared to, well, just about any other team on the planet. It’s funny because my in-laws immediately gave me chapter and verse on the price of an Arsenal ticket being expensive and looking at me as if I am the root cause of it all. But as you’ll know doubt know, we Arsenal fans are just as cheesed off with the price of tickets as the next fan. It’s something that we are bound to be continually cheesed off because we won’t be seeing reductions in ticket prices soon and unless the club announce some sort of a ten year price freeze (I can hear you all laughing) then we’ll always be held up as the most expensive. And as for the whole ‘value ‘thing and referencing the amount of money I spend per goal for my team (which is the latest barometer the media appear to be using), all it really does is perpetuate the blinded ignorance of most of the world to the issue of over-inflated markets that have been driven by the petro-dollar clubs. Telling me that Manchester City fans get around £4 per goal as opposed to my £27 is like showing a poor kid the latest Playstation and telling them that the rich kid round the corner got a better deal than them when their parents bought his console because his parents bought four at a discount so they could have one in each of their play rooms. Moneychester City are subsidised, so holding them up as some sort of paragon of virtue is one of the biggest ironies of football in my opinion.


Anyway, that’s enough of my ranting for one day. See thee tomorrow.

Scraping the barrel and ranting on tickets

I must apologise if today’s brain dump of a blog is a little bit ‘meh’, because quite frankly, there’s bugger all to talk about at the moment (way to sell a blog and entice Gooners to read on, Chris).

I mean, you’re really scraping the barrel when the lead story on the official site is about a tour of the clubs training facilities, a Per Mertesacker admission that we need to be better at set-pieces, or a note about how Mikel Arteta acts as a ‘father’ figure for new players joining the club.

It all feels like that deafening silence you get before a 100 metres race before the starters pistol rings through the air. I feel like I’m waiting patiently for the build up to the weekends game. I only hope Arsenal make it worth it, because it’s always frustrating when there’s no Arsenal for a period of time. And let’s not forget how lucky we are; we get to watch Arsenal a lot more than the average Premier League fan watches their club. We’re playing weekends and midweek most times during the season, which is a-ok for me. It helps to scratch the itch of Arsenal and the relief is very obvious come match day.

At least most of the players will be returning by today, which means we’ll probably get an indication of how the squad will shape up in terms of player availability, so that will be a welcome bit of news. As the Arseblogger pointed out yesterday, it looks like Alexis will be unlikely to return in peak physical form, so we’ll probably have to wait a wee bit before we see the rapid pace of Walcott, Welbeck and Alexis all forming a front three that will have back fours sitting so deep they’ll probably have a permanent camp set out on their own six yard line, but we still have plenty of other options in that part of the pitch, thankfully.

It’s the other end that terrifies us all.

I so wonder if Arsène might be tempted to ‘unfreeze’ Lukas Podolski for the weekend’s game though. He came on as a second half substitute against the Republic of Ireland yesterday and, although I don’t know how he performed, he is clearly still an asset that Jogi Low rates. So I don’t see why, against an established but not spectacular Hull team, he doesn’t give Lukas a chance to prove he can still eek out enough game time at least until January to secure a move. Think about the last time we played Hull at home, with a Bendtner inspired header that set us on our way to a comfortable evening. Why not give our only fit German international a shout? Who knows, he may just surprise a few by taking his chance to start. And with plenty of other players available should he not impress after an hour, there is always the opportunity to make that trademark Poldi sub that Arsène has perfected, which has seen him hardly ever finish a game.

More on an actual formation and the predicted line up towards the end of the week I think, because I suspect we’ll not see Poldi anywhere near the first 11 com Saturday. It’s fair to say that his longer term future is not at Arsenal, which will be a shame (especially for Steve, who will weep silently in his cul-de-sac corner of the world where his Poldi shirt will be ‘retired’ forever come January), but we’ll all have to move on. Much like Ivan has been talking up with his comments on Arsène eventually being replaced as manager at Arsenal. It is mental to think that there are human beings on this planet that will be legal drinking age and still unable to comprehend a life without Arsène. I myself have only really known three major managers at Arsenal since supporting the club as a kid and, whilst I’m hardly a great reference to pull the old chestnut of ‘you don’t know what hard times are as an Arsenal fan’, I did sit through a season of Bruce Rioch, so I sort of know what it feels like to be less successful (although he admittedly was the man in charge when Bergkamp signed, so I guess I can be a little bit more grateful).

It will be a strange feeling when he does eventually go, but it’s interesting that Ivan seems to already be laying the foundations, whilst doing it in a platitude-infused manner because he’s probably more mindful than most of the power that Arsène has at the club. With another two years after this one on his contract, it’s a strange time to be talking about replacements I think, because two years is an absolute eternity in football. Two years ago ‘Arry was the heir apparent to the England job and the greatest manager of all time. Now he’s looking a bit ropey with an ageing QPR team that are rooted to the bottom of the league. So speculating on the next manager after Arsène is probably not a worthwhile way of spending any cash you’ve decided to hand over to the bookies.

Will you afford me a bit of a licence for a rant today to finish off the blog? It’s about ticket prices, so if that isn’t of interest then you can say your goodbyes to me now and I’ll catch you tomorrow, I won’t mind.

So, for those of you that remain, I do have to have a little bit of a moan about ticket prices. It’s a regular occurrence in the media that prices are trotted out whenever there seems to be a slow news day on the back pages, but it certainly leaves a sour taste in my mouth whenever I hear some of the price comparisons between football clubs, mainly because we get the rawest of deals from across the whole of Europe it seems. I’m too simple a fellow to give an in-depth analysis of ticket pricing and comparisons, but comments about the number of additional games we get as part of our season ticket, or that London prices are expectantly higher are all balderdash in my opinion. Even when you take into account the additional seven games, the cheapest season ticket (which I have) is still far more expensive than most teams in most competitive leagues across the globe. And I just can’t accept that ticket prices are linked to player wages or transfers. Other organisations like the AST have already proven that this simply isn’t true.

What is true is that we are paying a premium on a product that is positioned as elite, but the reality is that we do not receive an elite version of the product or in simplistic terms, more glory and trophies and one of the best teams in the world. I might put us in the top ten – just – but given our own financial outlay on the club, is that acceptable? I would put it to you that it is not.

Anyway, just some thoughts, much of which you’ve no doubt heard before but I wanted to share anyway.

See you tomorrow.

Vermaelen’s potential sale and the comfort blanket of self sustainability

So as we count down to the curtain opener of the Premier League season this weekend, it appears as though the Thomas Vermaelen situation is slowly juddering towards the inevitable conclusion I suppose most of us thought it would.

With both United and Barcelona interested in his services what with them having completely ignored purchasing defenders who were either more useless than a chocolate teapot, or just as old as a Galapagos Turtle, it’s fair to say that wherever Thommy V goes he’s a lucky boy. And might I say, it’s nice for us to be holding the cards for a change, as well as sitting back with our hands behind our heads smirking at the prospect of United and Barcelona engaging in a bit of a bidding war.

Utopia has to be the Belgian eventually moving to Barcelona for somewhere approaching £15million. That would ensure we haven’t offloaded to an English side, but also that we’ve made a profit on a player whose game time has been very limited for 18 odd months.

Look at me, I’m talking about a human being like a commodity, all callous and ‘where’s the money’. After all, it’s not like I will actually personally see any of that cash, and lord knows I could do with a smidge of it to use on my new/old house which has more creaks than Abou Diaby’s knees. And ankles. And muscles. Repeat to fade…

But I guess that is what modern football has done to the average fan. Well, the average Arsenal fan, anyway. We’re all concerned with getting our ‘monies worth’ and the value of a footballer seems to matter. It’s because the more money we get, the more we want reinvented in the club – I know that – but I do wonder sometimes if it helps us grasp tightly on to the moral high ground of footballing sustainability. With the Petro-dollar clubs having had a few years of carte blanche to spend what they want, we Arsenal fans have found solace in the comfort blanket of self sustainability. Playgrounds, offices and pubs across the world have sounded the defence of our straying from the trophy trophy laden path (thankfully we look to have found a cut through back to it now) with the shield of sustainability, so to be able to turn pseudo accountant and extol the virtues of spending what you make whilst managing a debt, has been important in the justification process of the clubs actions.

So when an indoctrinated fan like myself hears of bidding wars and extra cash for The Arsenal, we et all warm, fuzzy and smug inside. Because it means we’ll get extra cash for a player that can be reinvested (I would assume, unless Arsene is playing centre half Russian roulette with our current defenders’ fitness all season) that we know won’t be eating into the coffers and will allow us to maintain that moral high ground status as a buffer in case we don’t see any trophies this season.

There’s still rumblings about a defensive midfielder and various journalists are still trying the old ‘rehash’ or ‘different take’ on the Khedira/Carvalho, but I suspect that their knowledge is as advanced as yours and mine, which means their looking for attention with comments about withers agent in London for talks. It’s clear we’re open for another midfielder, but I think it’s touch and go as to whether we actually get one. I see Arsene doing the whole Gallic shrug thing and picking up a player as long as the price quoted isn’t extortionate in his eyes, but he knows he has the benefit of early business already being done and the fans being placated already, so he can play the waiting game and hope something comes gift wrapped with a red bow on top.

Just to close off on today’s thoughts and to go back to our captain’s almost inevitable departure, I think I’ll go on record to say that I’d probably prefer us not to lose Vermaelen this summer, as he brings experience and quality to that third centre half role. I understand that he would want to get game time and I know Arsene is very good at understanding and empathising with the needs of his players, so that’s why this sale is likely to be inevitable, but I will be sad to see a player who has carried himself so well, been a decent player for us whilst he’s been at the club and from my perspective will be missed.

Especially if the alternative is the injury prone Daniel Agger. A decent player, but nothing more than a different name in my opinion. Let’s see how that one evolves though.

Let’s just hope we don’t have to see him every week for that lot in Manchester.

Cheerio for today.

Trying to understand Sagna’s motives

I had wanted to take today’s blog and have a look across our whole defensive line today, so perhaps it was fitting that the contract news about Bacary Sagna securing himself a bumper payday by agreeing a £120,000-a-week deal with Moneychester City seems to have broken across multiple media areas.

I had a brief chat on Twitter with Tim Stillman (well, when you’ve only got 140 characters every chat – no matter how many exchanges – will always be brief) about the extremes of how much more money impacts a situation like this one that we find ourselves in. I find it hard to imagine how, when you’re earning a certain amount i.e. Millions and millions, that money really has too much of an impact on your life. There’s only so many fast cars, houses and holidays one can have before one starts becoming wasteful (you can only drive one car at a time, after all!) and so to somebody earning £14million over a four year period, does it make a massive impact on their life if they’re earning £28million. I’m still not sure. Tim’s valid point was that it’s about perspectives i.e. A £10k pay rise to a person earning £30k a year will seem an unnecessary increase to somebody earning considerably less. I get that. The person earning that much more can look at doing more things with their lives, perhaps going on a more expensive holiday than they would, but to the person not going on holiday it seems an extravagance even going on one.

I still, however, am not sure why money remains an issue to multi millionaires. Particularly in this case. More than anything else, my surprise comes when I look at where Sagna is going to, rather than the fact that he’ll get a bumper pay rise. We can all talk about greed, about the haves and have nots, but Sagna has never struck me as anybody who wants to do anything except make the most of his time on the pitch. So why City? Surely he could walk into PSGs team and play week-in, week-out? Why join a team who already have a world-class right back with whom, whilst he’ll play, he won’t play regularly.

Sagna will probably only get between 15 to 20 games next season, which to a player who is now reaching the autumn of his playing career, that seems a bit surprising. He’s good enough to walk into most teams in Europe and play regularly, so why choose the blue half of Manchester? I’ve heard some say that his family might want to remain in the UK (although why Manchester is beyond me. It has more rainfall than the tropics every time I go there) which I can understand. But He would most certainly get himself into the red half of Manchester and, as much as we’ve all found it hilarious to see United’s fall from grace this past season, I cannot in my wildest dreams imagine they will be as poor as they’ve been with Van Gaal taking charge with a supposed bulging wallet to improve the team.

You might think this is the bitter war-cry of the disappointed Gooner, perhaps that is a little bit true, but more than anything else I’m just trying to understand the motives. After all, if you take a ‘generic everyman’ example of the £30k guy being told they can get an extra £10k per annum, if they could earn that across a number of different companies and therefore could take their pick, would they opt for the company that has the biggest brand where they might not feel as valued through their time, over a smaller company where they will feel valuable at work every day in which they go in to it?

Or, perhaps we should throw in a conspiracy theory, as Gareth Stringer suggested in the same conversation string I had yesterday. What if, after two broken legs and a long season this year in which he played around 50 games, Sagna realised that his body probably couldn’t cope with another full season of top flight football, hence why he’s going to a place in which he can earn more, yet his body is not worked as hard. A sort of ‘winding down’ period before he retires. It’s one heck of a conspiracy theory, I’ll say that much, but if there was some semblance of truth behind it then you’d have to say that Moneychester City is the perfect fit for him and he’s a clever lad for timing it perfectly. I’d raise a glass to his planning if that were the case.

Anyway, I’ll probably have to finish off a review of the rest of the defence tomorrow, because you don’t want another thousand words bolted on to this online monologue on a Friday.

See thee in the morrow.

Financial Farce Play

Howdy y’all.

Welcome to Saturday, a day in which there’s yet again no Arsenal of which to speak of, but there was a press conference for the manager yesterday. He spoke of a few issues, including who’s fit for tomorrow, the impact of too many managers changing their jobs and of course, Financial Fair Play (FFP). You’ll have to forgive me for today’s blog, because i’m going to go a little bit ranty because it’s that final topic that I want to focus on.

It should be renamed to Financial Farce Play. But I suspect we all knew that anyway. This week UEFA engaged with nine clubs that they have stated have effectively broken FFP and have put the sanctions to these clubs before publicly making announcements next week.

So next week we will essentially find out how effective FFP is to control the excessive overspending of money that football teams do not generate themselves. That this list of nine clubs has been whittled down from the original 76 UEFA had previously announced should raise some eyebrows. I for one would be very interested to find out what the criteria is for the 67 clubs that were originally being investigated to be dropped, but transparency in football governing bodies is like asking for the cats around where I live to stop dropping their fecal matter on my black and white graveled front garden. You can shout all you like, they either don’t understand you, or won’t listen to you anyway.

The likelihood is that we’ll never really know what type of investigation was conducted.

The second issue that must have the football world scratching their head is why UEFA have deciding to negotiate with these clubs as part of this process. Supposedly, UEFA have spent this week talking to the clubs in question asking them to accept their punishment, or appeal. I can understand this. It’s a little like the plea before the trial – guilty or not guilty – will need to be the response of the clubs and UEFA will know whether or not it will need to get together the evidence for a trial or whether the admission of guilt from the clubs will allow UEFA to dish out it’s ‘sanctions’ without fear of a long and drawn out contesting period. I understand the process and it seems logical, but why the secretive nature of the discussions? If UEFA have identified the clubs, engaged with these clubs to find out their ‘plea’ this week, do the clubs deserve anonymity?

Is it UEFA covering their own arses in case they’ve got a Club Financial Control Body that have trouble counting? I know i’m being slightly facetious here, but if a club is about to be charged with breaking the rules in some way, why do UEFA have to negotiate with them first? Surely the most transparent way of conducting this exercise is to announce who the clubs are, give them an opportunity to respond to state if they are innocent and present the evidence. By keeping it so secretive it merely adds fuel to the cynicism of the footballing world in my opinion.

This is where the cynic in me also comes to the fore, winning over any other part of my cerebrum and immediately telling me there’s something fishy going on. I suspect the only ‘negotiation’ is to decide how much money it is going to take to get these Sugar Daddy reliant clubs to Carry On Camping, so to speak. UEFA are as corrupt as FIFA and if their only intention of FFP is to impose fines on clubs where money is no object, they make a mockery of the entire system. You might as well tax a Saharan Desert Nomad by taking some of his sand from him.

Arsene was asked his stance on this yesterday and whilst I can be as brazen as possible in my opinions, he must be more measured in his approach. His response was to say that if FFP is not regulated effectively then the club would feel let down. He also intimated that there were a number of other clubs and a kind of ‘union’ of the big clubs that have come together – naming Bayern Chief Exec Karl Heinz Rummenige as somebody also involved – to support the concept of FFP that would also feel let down. It was an interesting comment from Le Boss and it was a subtle message to the public that, should FFP be seen as a bit of a sham, there will be some powerful clubs that might have something to say about it.

What some of these clubs can do is very difficult to work out. After all, they can hardly break away and form their own tournament can they? What would Arsenal do, for example, play the Emirates Cup during the season? We seemed to have hung our hat on FFP when it was first announced a few years ago, with Ivan Gazidis telling the world that we were supportive on it and that other clubs would need to fall in to line or fall out of European competition (as was being suggested at the time). However, the clubs position appears to have shifted to that of skepticism in recent past, as was pointed out to me in a quick Twitter exchange yesterday with Tim Stillman. So have the club always been of this mind, or did they ever really believe that FFP would be effectively implemented. That’s a question to which none of us will ever really know, but what we do know is that there seems to be very little anyone can really do should FFP be shown up as the farce that many suspect it will be.

What can the clubs do? Protest? Get a few bedsheets and stand outside the UEFA HQ in Nyon saying ‘Platini Out’? Start a new league? Publicly chastise UEFA? That would simply give them another opportunity to syphon money out of the clubs through fines. Non of the above is even remotely feasible. Which is why it gets people like me in such a vexatious mood, because I start to suspect that the net effect of the implementation of FFP will have absolutely no impact whatsoever on the way in which finances in football are regulated. If a billionaire wants to take over a club as his or her plaything, and they know that at worst they will face some fines, all they’ll need to do is give the club a pot of cash labelled ‘for fines, sanctions or any other taxes from UEFA’ and carry on with the spunking of their cash on their new toy.

If all that becomes of FFP when announcements are made next week is that we see clubs with sugar daddies racking up some fines, then it will all become too clear exactly what FFP is: a tax on the rich clubs. It would be like the UK Government’s handy little trick of putting on a speeding camera on a road where there has been no real safety issues, so in effect it becomes a great way to generate a bit of cash from people without having to whack their income tax or any other tax up. FFP could end up nothing more than a stealth tax on clubs that can afford it.

But worse than that, it will be the most obvious indication that UEFA are a club that just fancies a little bit more cash for it’s coffers. They are corrupt already, they might as well profit from it.

Arsenal – and many clubs like ours – operate the correct way to run clubs to ensure their long-term sustainability. But unfortunately that means the square root of naff all when money is involved. Hoping that UEFA would put the kibosh on a worrying trend in football for unrestrained financial excess was always a bit of a long shot for most fans eyes, but it appears that we’re finally having the veil lifted from our peepers to see it for what it is.

That’ll do from me for one day. Back tomorrow with a match preview guys.

Have a good ‘un.

Mourhino’s media infallibility, Puma is cool and Southampton will be tough

Blimey, there’s so much to talk about this morning, that I’m not sure my 45 minute Met Line journey into the Big Smoke will allow me enough time to digest. Usually, on the day of a game, all of my prose is reserved for reviewing our opponents, our injuries and how we approach the game. But yesterday we had a smorgasbord of news.

Firstly, we had Arsene’s presser, in which Le Boss did come across as a little spiky with the journos asking him questions. I thought I caught a glimpse of an Arsene Wenger with a ‘little bit cold and flu symptoms’, which may have explained why the usual jovial Wenger – certainly this season with our league form – seemed a little off colour. Literally.

He was also pressed about Mourhino’s comments about Arsenal having more rest time and therefore being favoured by the authorities, which I’m sure an Arsene in usual chipper and playful mood would have retorted with a simple wry smile and a ‘move along’ style response. Instead, he sounded off on a scarily similar Rafa Benitez-style commentary about ‘facts’, to which the media of course latched on to straight away. Almost instantly we had TalkShite talking about how Arsene has already lost the ‘mind games’. Eh??? What mind games? And how has he lost? It seems to be the accepted narrative that Mourhino moaning is seen as ‘mind games’, but from any other manager in the league it is a sign of weakness. If the British media could just for a second retrieve their craniums from the Portuguese’s rectal passage, I’m sure they’d probably see what the rest of the world sees. You only have to look at his return to the Premier League and the fawning that happened, to see what the press want to see, because they were one-stop short of bringing him into his first presser in August on the back of an elephant surrounded by velvet cushions.

Anyway, enough of that, as it leaves a nasty taste in my mouth that no amount of burning Listerine can wash away. The club yesterday announced the biggest deal in our history with Puma, who after months of us all basically knowing the details already, have now been brought in on the worst kept secret at the club. It’s a great deal and further cements our global pulling power. It will also help to give more stability to the club and hopefully will be used – at least in part – to reinvest in the playing staff. Ivan said nice things, the Puma CEO said nice things, everyone smiled and you can read the comments on the official site.

I like Puma. It’s quite a cool brand.

So, how about tonight’s game then? It’s an interesting one and a few weeks back when I said the run up to the Liverpool game had key fixtures that had to be won, the fixture that I looked upon with most trepidation was Southampton away. They have a good core of players, they have a strong ethos of pressing high up the pitch and they will be a threat tonight on their home turf, make no mistake.

I’m normally quite good at remembering games and reliving them in my mind. But where a game has been pretty dire, I tend to compress the memory of the game (to save file size in my brain), then archive it in a corner somewhere where I’ll only have to access it perhaps once or twice, ever. That’s what happened with last years game. It was such a turgid affair that I’ve only stored the fact it was 1-1, we played poorly and it was on New Year’s Day. Everything else is a blank. Even the scorers. And I like it that way. Suffice to say we need more from the team tonight than we got last year.

There may be question marks over the Southampton team – having stuttered somewhat over the Christmas period and into the New Year – but on their own soil they won’t want a repeat of the Chelski drubbing they took and so I expect Porchettino’s men to be up for this big game under the floodlights. I think they will press us high, look to catch us cold in defence and if they get a lead, sit on it. The danger of that is that they sit too deep and invite pressure, but rather than be in that situation I’d much prefer us to get a goal or two ahead and concern ourselves with hitting them on the counter when they push bodies forward.

I know they’ll be missing Danny Osvaldo due to a club-imposed suspension and I believe they will also be missing Loevren as well. He’s been a good player for them defensively this season and it will be a blow, but they will still have enough defensively with their two holding midfielders, plus the threat of Lallana, Lambert and Rodriguez to give our back four food for thought.

Our news is positive, with the return to the first team of Arteta and Ramsey bolstering our numbers at the perfect time. I don’t think either will play, but I do think at least one will be involved from the substitutes bench at least. Our back five should remain the same as our last game, with the only query surrounding a. Nacho/Kieran inclusion. After some fine performances from the Spaniard recently, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were given the nod, with the view that we will need a more offensive-minded Gibbs against Crystal Palace at the weekend.

Wilshere is a doubt for tonight and it’s for that reason that I think Arsene won’t risk him. He doesn’t have to; we have enough quality in the middle of the park to ensure that we make up for the drive that he has. So I think we’ll see Flamini and perhaps Rosicky sitting as the ‘double pivot’, with Cazorla, Özil and Gnabry in front of them and Giroud up top. It will be a little harsh on a Podolski that performed well against Coventry, but with questions still arising over his fitness, I’d be surprised if he was used from the start having started against Coventry.

Tonight is yet another one of those games that, if you want to win the league, you have to be going to win. We have had a lot of these obstacles that we’ve overcome so far this season, i.e. Tricky away games that always offer a banana skin or two, but we’ve managed to navigate them for most of the season so I hope we do the same tonight. I don’t think Liverpool, Chelski or Moneychester City will drop points tonight or tomorrow, so the onus really is on us to try and keep them at arms length at the top of the league.

Keep those fingers crossed Gooners, because I think this is going to be tough tonight.

Building a legacy takes time – a Gooner Guest blog

Good morrow to thee dear reader. I hope today finds you well and in good spirits. For today’s serving of your daily dosage of Suburban Gooner chow I thought I’d bring unto thee a fellow Gooner, drinking buddy and all round nice chap, Kevin Green to regale us with some musings from all things in his Arsenal world. But I’ve been wanting him to come on here and give me something different, so as a person in a senior position and experience of management at C-Level and running a business, I wanted him to come along and give us some of his thoughts from a business owners point of view. You know me, I’m not one for that sort of stuff, so having Kevin along provides a nice change to my incessant ramblings. Anyway, I’ll hand the mic over to the man himself, so he can tell you a little bit more.


I’ve been asked by Suburban Gooner to contribute a guest blog occasionally, to provide a holistic, strategic and perhaps a longer term view of what’s going on with the mighty gunners. He’s fantastic at providing a daily cocktail of insight and if we’re honest frustration and angst of a true fan. These blogs will try to be objective, balanced and thought provoking in a world where its speed of the news rather than thought which is pandered to. This is the slow lane to his fast lane.

Firstly my credentials a Gooner: since I was small, Arsenal have been in my family; my father started going to Highbury in the late 40s, my first game was in the early 70s with Bobby Gould playing up front as one of my earliest abiding memories. However, the goal that sparked my real interest was Charlie George’s epic cup final goal of 1971, then losing to Leeds the following year. So I am a child of the Bertie Mee and Don Howe era, if those names mean anything to you at all.

A regular attendee throughout the late 70s and most of the 80s, triumph and disaster alike (who can recall our record signing Peter Marinello! Our George Best; more like his cleaning lady!) greeted my early Arsenal life. I must confess I lost my way for a while, but then returned for the odd game under George Graham, then more often once Mr Wenger arrived. He came with a totally new approach to the game and we were transformed from the defensive 1-0 winners into team of passers with exceptionally talented players including Vieira, Henry, Bergkamp and Pires; we were all of a sudden truly world class.

My son was born in 95 and so his early visits to the Gooners were to see the 2002 league winning team followed very quickly by the 2004 Invincibles! He thought life was always like this and in the last few tougher years he can’t quite accept why we haven’t been challenging for Trophies. On some occasions all three generations of Green gooners have come together at home games, and when I see Steve and Chris in the pub all three of us are quick to tell my boy not to panic, although sometimes I think Chris gets close to doing so himself!

These days for me are what footy is all about; a shared experience win, draw or lose – its about doing it together with others that care.

In 2008/9 my son and I became season ticket holders.

Now, as someone who has run businesses I think I have a different view from my son and most Arsenal fans. I love so many things about our great club I love the tradition, the Marble halls, the history and the true class we have. And we do have class. Class is built by doing things the right way. One of our great differentiators is that we have always built for the long term, we don’t want to be a ‘flash in pan’ club with great success for a couple of years followed by decades of under acheviement.

In the last few seasons the fans have understandably been restless, having not won anything for eight years which, believe it or not, isn’t a new thing for The Arsenal. I’ve been through this many times before and I can see what the board, Wenger in particular, are doing. They are innovators who have transformed us once already from a team of mid table grinders to a team with aspirations to compete not just in England but in Europe.

The business strategy of building a new stadium and paying off the debt quickly from the new revenue generated is not only good business but the right way to run an organisation which wants long term success. Sometimes I must admit
That I think the legacy being established is just not appreciated: a new stadium (no one else has done this), a world class training facility and a highly effective commercial strategy that will deliver results long term. The Arsenal board are planning for us to compete for honours over the next 20 or 30 years, not just the next two or three seasons, so they were right – we had to invest – and not just in the playing staff. That’s short term-ism to look there alone. As we now remerge from this investment phase we are able to compete not just with the nouveau riché of Chelsea and Manchester City, but with the Real Madrid’s, Bayern’s and Barcelona’s. We have a sensible and well run club which now has the ability to bring in top notch talent which the signing of  Özil clearly demonstrates. We must recognise what’s being done for the fans benefit. The leadership of the club will be proved right over the next few years and the fans should accept that sometimes you have to stand still while you regroup before the next phase of growth or development. The fans request for instant gratification had to be ignored for long term success to be built. Building anything of substance takes time, dedication and leadership. I am delighted to say we have this in abundance and at which other club could you honestly say they have a sustainable long term strategy ??

So Arsenal fans, my overriding message to you; take the time to think about Mr Wenger – he chose to stay when he knew that for a few years we would not be able to compete financially. He must have been offered the chance to jump ship and buy instance success at PSG or Real Mardrid. But he chose to stay, I believe because he recognised that Arsenal are different, so he accepted the challenge by trying to grow a team of young talent only to be let down by the greed of the players.

So in the next couple of years as we start to win again, I am hoping the fans appreciate that we are different, we are class. The best things in life are never the easiest to achieve, they taste so much better when you have had to overcome adversity to succeed, and I hope that those in the media who say we have been going backwards will eat humble pie when they see what the mighty Arsenal have built a great future for themselves.

Have faith in the boss he will be proved right in the long term, the futures bright it’s red and white.

AGM comes at perfect time, with Arsene speaking from the heart

Happy Friday you Goontastic, Goonerific and downright goonerly people you. How are you feeling? Dandy? Super Dandy? ‘Super quality Top Top’ Dandy? Yeah ya are…

It’s a good place in the Arsenal world. A happy place. A non-international football inspired place. I feel refreshed and reinvigorated and excited to watch The Arsenal. This weekend we play Norwich whilst starting the weekend at the top of the pile. And yesterday we had the clubs AGM. Boy, aren’t the board and Cowboy Stan happy it came slap bang in the middle of a feel-good love-in amongst fans off the back of some great form we’re in? Of course, the realities of an event like yesterday are purely symbolic in terms of content, which includes reappointing a majority shareholder back on to the board. But still, the niceties must be observed, I guess. I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert, so any efforts to read on about the composition and make up of the board room and governance of Arsenal Football Club PLC into any kind of analysis of how Arsenal are run, isn’t really my fortay and I’d suggest you take a gander at some other sites that will be far much more eloquent than I could ever attempt to be on such matters.

What I can do is give you my opinion on what was said at the AGM from a footballing side. Which means that I’ve pretty much looked at Arsene’s speech in isolation, because I take every single utterance from The Silent One with a huge slice of sodium. I just don’t really care what he has to say if I’m honest. I probably should look for ominous signs, signs that he’ll sell up and drop us in the proverbial, but I know that what he says will have been poured over with a fine tooth comb and reviewed by an army of slick PR execs to ensure that no oral stone be left unturned in the pursuit of the blandest speech that could possibly exist. No doubt similar PR execs will have looked at Arsene’s words, but the man is so all-powerful at the club, that you can be pretty sure it’s 99.9% what he wants to say, so at least there’s a modicum of honesty in his comments. And having read them again twice you can also tell that, despite the issues some of us have had with him over the last few years, he does love the club quite dearly.

If you were at the AGM and were playing Arsene bingo, you wouldn’t have had to wait for your first box to be crossed, as he got underway within the first three paragraphs. Arsene spoke of the ‘mental strength’ of the team and, whilst that phrase uttered in the past has led to groaning in Arsenal fandom, it’s hard not to agree with Le Boss based on what we’ve seen in 2013. On the brink of losing that what we have come to expect (Champions League football) under the Frenchman’s tenure, the team has shown great character to come back and with a settled nucleus of players – something else Arsene touched on yesterday when describing life after the departure of That Dutch Bloke – we have seen the benefit and reaped the rewards of consistency. It is a foundation that has built and paved the way to our great start to the season and is the bedrock of our smiling outlook on life as Gooners. Stability is about getting the right blend of the attitude, hard work and talent of the group, something that we’ve all commented on in the pubs over the last nine months or so. None of us believe that this squad has the same quality as The Invincibles, but when it comes to winning trophies, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Just look at Ferguson, who managed a dominant league title with an ailing team that Moyes is now picking up the pieces of.

Tied into the AGM comments was the discussion about our three-fold strategy, which is to educate internally in ‘The Arsenal Way’, to buy players and make them stars (Giroud and Koscienly used as examples) and to get the megastars like Özil. This I find interesting. If this is what Arsene sees as the blueprint to success, he’s only really had two of the three in this checklist until recently, if you believe his intimations. We have emerged from a self-imposed financial jail cell and are now ready to smell the sweet air of freedom through our commercial deals and signing of players the likes of which we all go a bit goggly-eyed over (every pub completely intended). It’s all stuff we have sort of known ourselves for some time, but for the club to speak so openly of such matters- I.e “we ain’t ‘ad no money until now folks”, does leave a slightly uneasy feeling within me. After all, if they can attempt to pull the wool over our eyes for so long, what is to stop that happening in the future? Or is it already happening? Dunno, perhaps I’m reading too much into words which mean little…

What isn’t little is the competition that we now have in all major competitions, and Arsene was spot on with his assessments not only about domestic competition, but Champions League as well. The football landscape has evolved, competition amongst elite spenders is at it’s peak, and we are fighting to keep up. But the message from Le Boss was positive and was one that suggested that perhaps he has his sparkle back. If he has, and he’s rolling back the years to Arsene pre 2005, then I’m all for it and we should give him a few more years.

We’ll find out soon enough.

We should get some team news a little later today and I’m hoping that there’s a dose of excitement and a twinkle in the eye when Arsene speaks, because that might mean Santi is ready, willing and able to play. Then we can start to get excited.

Peace out y’all.