Am I The Only One Not Concerned About The GoalKeeper?

August 31, 2010

Before I say anything else I will acknowledge that I completely understand why many fans wanted a new goalkeeper. Yes, we’ve seen mistakes by our keepers, some of which were really poor. So I can relate to the demand for a new keeper.

But saying we need a new keeper and getting the right guy are not the same thing. Almunia, Fabianski, and Mannone have all made some mistakes. So who can guarantee that a fourth guy will actually do better? In order to answer that we cannot just rely on silly statements like, “anyone is better than Almunia and Fabianski.” Fans can say that but a man who has to make the decision cannot.

I’ve given this issue a great deal of thought and analyzed plenty of goals that we’ve conceded in a great deal of detail. I showed the Keepers were not the primary culprits at Birmingham and Blackburn last year and I’ve done this analysis for many other goals but didn’t have the time to create an article for each game. My conclusion is that our Keepers are not perfect but we’ve much bigger defensive problems that leave our Keepers with an extremely difficult job. This has been my stance on this issue for the last few months.

One issue that many raise about the Keepers is flapping. My theory has always been that Almunia, Fabianski, and Mannone have been forced into coming for balls that others Keepers leave to their defenders. If our defenders deal with most of the balls into the box the Keepers will be able to focus on their jobs better. We saw clear evidence of this in the last game against Blackburn when Almunia rarely came out for a corner or a throw and our defenders/midfielders dealt with most of the balls in the penalty area. That allowed Almunia to maintain his focus and he did well each time he had to act – catching, punching, coming out to clear, and distribution (First goal came from a quick free kick he took just after he was fouled).

Our defending at Ewood Park wasn’t exceptional but it got us a result. I see that as a step in the right direction. Our title chances will depend a lot on our collective defending and although the keeper will be an important part of that, he should never be the main protagonist.

I don’t care much about the no-hopers who just wait for a chance to attack Arsenal and Wenger. They’ve just got new reasons to moan over this issue but their moronic groaning will be harmless as long as the majority of the fans can maintain their perspective.

It is interesting to note that while many wanted a new Keeper there is no consensus on who is or isn’t good enough. I’ve seen plenty of comments which said Schwarzer was no better than Almunia (I agree with that), I’ve seen plenty of comments saying we should have signed Given but also some that said Given was no better than our keepers as far as aerial presence goes (Stewart Robson explained this well and I did an article last year that exposed Given’s woes in three games against Stoke), there were some who didn’t think Stekelenburg was that good after a series of errors in the World Cup, and same can be said about many other Keepers.

Does that mean there is no Keeper better than the ones we have? No. It just means that it’s easy to say someone is not good but very difficult to establish that someone else is a significant improvement. And once you do find one who you like there is no guarantee that the transfer will work out unless you’ve the kind of cash City have.

I believe the single biggest factor (apart from training and getting the system right) that will determine how our defence performs this year will be confidence. Unfortunately, the anti-Arsenal media and pundits, along with the misery brigade, have successfully created an air of uncertainty about our defence. I’m not saying our defence (including Keepers) was great but constant criticism has certainly created some negative vibes and ultimately that does affect the players’ confidence. The saddest aspect is that nowadays people actively look for reasons to blame the Goalkeeper even when he isn’t the real culprit. More than the technical aspects that was the reason I supported a new Keeper signing. It would have been a confidence booster but we can live without it.

From what I’ve seen in the three games this year and the whole of last year most teams have keepers who are not better than the ones we have. If you really think about it, most often when a keeper gets accolades for a Premiership performance it’s because of his shot-stopping i.e. the number of saves he makes. I’ve not seen a single goalkeeper so far who has punched or claimed most of the balls put in the box. And established keepers like Reina and Howard have actually cost their team some points because they couldn’t deal with an aerial ball. Even Cech has been caught in a no man’s land quite often but his defence has bailed him out.

As far as the second keeper goes, I think Fabianski is far better than Hilario, Cudicini and Kuszczak. Seriously, think about it. Or just look at the Wigan goal against Cudicini, or any game in which Hilario has been the keeper.

Obviously, Wenger and his team have also worked on this. They identified some targets but it didn’t work out. I don’t really buy the three months arguments because Man City had three months and unlimited resources but they got a rollicking against the Tinies and lost to Sunderland. If you say Wenger had three months to do something you’ve to explain how City dropped 5 points in their first three games. Bottom-line is, it will never be as simple as signing as cheque.

Clearly, Arsenal have also changed their approach to defending the aerial balls. We saw much better contribution from our outfield players at Ewood Park and I’m convinced our Keepers can do well if we sort out the organization, awareness and concentration issues in front of them.

Undoubtedly, naysayers will be out in hordes and will scrutinize every mistake in great detail. They’ll also find faults where none exist. We’ve exposed ourselves to this nuisance, but if the team remains focussed and we get the defensive training right, it will be nothing more than a nuisance.

As Song showed last year and Walcott is showing this year, the best way to answer the critics is with performances on the pitch. They’ll need a little help with a positive atmosphere at the stadium and I’m hoping most of the Emirates faithful will get behind the team.


Wenger Shares A Drink With Holloway But Not With Allardyce?!

August 30, 2010

Before the Blackburn game Fat Sam was trying to create some controversy by raising a ‘British V Foreign’ issue. I don’t know how the topic of sharing a drink after the game came up but this is what the master of the primitive arts said,

He’s [Wenger’s] never been the type of man to do that and neither have most foreign coaches that have been here. Rafa Benitez was the same and Carlo Ancelotti never came into my office last year. British coaches see it as an unwritten rule that no matter what they pop in and see the manager after the game. It has never been the case with Arsene.

At that time I just laughed it off with as a sensationalist comment from a man who wanted some airtime. Sadly, but as expected, those words launched a thousand headlines portraying Wenger in a negative light.

Then yesterday I read some quotes by Blackpool manager Holloway. Speaking with The Independent on Sunday, Holloway said:

It was great to sit down with Arsene Wenger and talk football for a few minutes after our game at Arsenal. He had a glass of wine, I had a beer and he was lovely to speak to.

As well as being someone whom I hugely admire, he is simply a very nice man, a total gentleman. He is quietly spoken, very thoughtful and he was very complimentary about us, despite the scoreline.

It’s funny how two ‘British’ managers have had such differing experiences while dealing with Le Boss. But it’s not surprising at all, is it? Clearly, Wenger understands and appreciates what Holloway is trying to do. So when such a man would have popped into his office after the game, it’s natural that Wenger would have shared a drink with him (I really can’t imagine Wenger drinking beer) and with that some thoughts on the game.

In contrast, I’d use the word respects and tolerates with a somehow thrown in when talking about Wenger’s feelings towards Fat Sam. I think most of us can appreciate a manager trying all kinds of tricks when he has limited resources but when such a man gloats in referee gifted wins for anti-football it really becomes intolerable bordering on the repugnant. If fans can get so riled up by a rival manager how can we expect the manager to feel much different?

Even then I think Arsene has been more than respectful about Allardyce and I wonder if Fat Sam ever did what he claims all British managers do i.e. pop into Wenger’s office after a game. After all, it does work both ways, doesn’t it? I tried imagining a conversation between the two over a drink and ended up in splits. One would talk about hoofing the ball and roughing it up while the other would be wondering when his misery will end.

That I think is the key. Holloway is a football manager. It’s possible to have a genuine conversation with him. Fat Sam is a relic. Drinks would not be an issue but talking to a man with such dated thoughts and an obnoxious attitude would be a serious challenge, one I’m sure Wenger can do without.

On a side note, does anyone else wonder why Holloway’s comments didn’t get as much media attention as those of Fat Sam? “Wenger is a total gentleman” doesn’t really cut it as a headline, does it!?


Many Improvements, Some Mistakes, One Big Result

August 28, 2010

Winning, while not playing well in an away game – that is the sign of champions. I think this game showed us that Arsenal have learnt some lessons and made many improvements over the summer.

I was most impressed by our collective defending. We all knew what Blackburn were going to do. Their primitive style is not a surprise for anyone. Last year a depleted Arsenal side lost at Ewood Park against that ‘route one’ approach so this was going to be a real test of our credentials.

I’ll analyze the tactical and technical aspects of the game in detail in a separate article after watching the game again. In this piece I just want to share some top of mind observations.

Improvements

  • Collective defending, most of the balls into the box were headed away by the outfield players
  • Keeper wasn’t forced to come for everything and looked solid when he was called into action (As I’ve often said in the past, the real problem has been in front of the keepers)
  • We didn’t lose many physical battles anywhere on the pitch
  • No one was afraid of knocking the ball out for a throw in or a corner. If we can do this more consistently many of the suicidal clearances that end up in dangerous areas will be eliminated
  • There was no panic in the box although initially we were a bit nervy
  • The team had a lot more confidence in the second half and knew they could deal with the primitives
  • We held on to a lead against a system that is our biggest weakness!

Some Mistakes

  • We lost our concentration a bit after the first goal and got sloppy
  • Gave the ball away far too often by our standards
  • Defenders got caught ball watching in the box (this really irritates me)
  • We weren’t clinical enough in the final third even though the hosts gave us plenty of space

Any way you look at it, this was a big, big result from a confidence point of view and sends a clear message to the rest of the contenders. On a day when the Tiny pretenders lost at home we clearly showed the gulf in class between the top teams and the wannabes. That made the result doubly sweet.

I must also acknowledge Wenger’s genius. He put Chris Foy under the spotlight with his comments about the Stoke — Spuds game. Those were perfectly valid observations but the timing and the fact that Foy was refereeing this game made a big difference. This time Blackburn didn’t even try to go near the keeper because they knew the ref will be forced into calling the fouls. That made a huge difference. Last year we conceded both goals because of fouls on the keeper/defender and once that was eliminated Blackburn didn’t look threatening.

Yes, they got a lot of balls into the box but that style is considered primitive for a good reason. The percentages of scoring from such tactics are negligible. For the million balls they put in our box the hosts barely created three half chances. One was headed over, one was cleared off the line, and the keeper saved the third.

The only clear chance they created was, ironically, from open play and with the ball on the ground! I found Fat Sam’s comments laughable when he started talking about the chances they’d created. And frankly, I don’t see them troubling other top teams this year unless they improve their defending. As Wenger said, that might happen once there is a genuine fear of relegation.

Individual Performances

Almunia: Excellent. Caught what he had to, punched when he had to (only once if I remember right), and saved whatever came his way. He is not a bad keeper by any means and if the defending in front of him stays solid I can see him do well all season.

Sagna: Excellent. He did a great job at the back and made some impressive contributions in attack. Many players were involved in the second goal but Sagna did the best work in that move.

Koscielny: Got caught out physically against Diouf but apart from that he had a solid game. Won a number of headers in the box and read the game well. He was composed under pressure and his distribution was good.

Vermaelen: Was caught ball watching but I wouldn’t blame him for that goal. Another one who defended well in the box.

Clichy: There were five or six players at fault for the Blackburn goal but I’d say Clichy was the worst offender. After all these years he has to be better aware of players running from behind him especially when there was no other threat in the box. Had a great game on the left as he cut out many diagonal balls and did well to restrict the crosses from that side.

Song: Not close to his best but he had a relatively solid game. The only negative was the number of times he gave the ball away. Good contribution for the first goal.

Diaby: I was impressed by his physical game, was probably the strongest player in our team. He too won a few headers in the box. Even his distribution was better than what we saw last year.

Cesc: He looked far from his best and disinterested at times. His work rate was quite poor by his lofty standards. It’s a different matter that he was still the best midfielder on the pitch. I’m not sure he is mentally ready right now. Hopefully, he will be more focussed once the transfer window closes.

Arshavin: Lost the ball quite often in the first half hour. Played much better after that. Did his share of defending as well. Took his goal well, I was surprised the ball went through that many home players but it was a well placed strike.

RvP: Really sad to see him go off injured but if the Dutchman misses only the international break then it will be a blessing in disguise. Once again showed his value with an inch perfect assist.

Walcott: Didn’t get on the ball as often as I’d have liked but he was my man of the match. I wasn’t sure this would be a good game for Theo to start but he proved me wrong. The first touch and technique for his goal was amazing and showed he was a natural. Looked lively every time he was on the ball.

Subs: Chamakh worked hard and played his part in the second goal. Rosicky and Wilshere did well defensively and helped us hold on to the lead.

Last year we were in top form but had two wins and a loss after three games. This year we haven’t been anywhere close to our best but have two wins and a draw. I think it will get better if we can get through the internationals without many injuries.


Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven For The Rugby Game

August 27, 2010

The first rugby game comes quite early in the season this time. I think it’s coming at a good time for us as we have close to our full strength squad available. This should allow us to dominate this game and get a win.

Having said that, I’d suggest fans don’t take a win for granted – Arsenal do not have a divine right to win and Blackburn only lost 3 home games last year (Did not lose to Chelsea or United) so it’s safe to say this will be a hard fought game.

I know its early days, but this season Blackburn have the lowest pass completion rate (56%) and Arsenal have the highest (87%). Anyone who follows the league knows that these two teams are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Before we get into tactics and starting eleven for Arsenal let’s look at the system the hosts will use.

This chart from the Guardian Chalkboards shows the 125 passes Blackburn attempted against Everton in their first home win this season. Yes, you read it right and I’ve not made a mistake. The whole team, in 90 minutes, made 125 passes and successfully completed only 63. Nonetheless, they got away with a 1-0 win.

The secret to their relative success at home is simple. They defend in numbers and as if their lives depended on it. They have big players and practice set-pieces a lot so they can concede fouls and corners without much concern as they defend these well. Then at every opportunity they kick it long.

Once they put 15-20 balls into the opposition penalty box and foul the keeper most of the times they can be certain that the ref will miss one or two. It’s also possible that the defending team might make a mistake or two. This is how they try to score. It’s no surprise that 59% of their League goals last year came from set-pieces.

Now with this in mind we need to think of our tactics and starting eleven. Firstly, we need to acknowledge that if you and I can understand this, so does everyone at Arsenal. They know what’s coming and will be prepared for it, but it’s not easy to play football with Rugby rules.

Broadly speaking we have two options. One would be to fill the team with physically strong players. Chamakh and RvP up front, Diaby, Song, Eboue and Cesc in the middle, and the regular back five. That team would be physically strong and technically not that bad. But by doing this we might end up playing into their hands and focussing on their strategies.

The other option for us is to play the Arsenal way. Technical skills and speed are our strengths. If we can pass the ball quickly, have good off the ball movement, stretch their defence, and force them to foul repeatedly there is a good chance we can dominate this game. They’ll try to break the flow of the game, they’ll kick our players and try to force a reaction, and they’ll win most duels in the air. David Dunn will try to shoot at sight. We need to take our free kicks and throw-ins fast, keep the ball moving, take shots from distance, use the width and get in behind as often as possible. Our crosses should be low and aimed for dangerous areas instead of hopeful high crosses that they’ll easily defend. We also need to maintain our focus for the duration of the game and cut out lapses in concentration in our own box.

I think this game will be a big test for Koscielny. I hope his inexperience doesn’t force him into a rash tackle or something that will get him sent off, especially early on. He will also have to read the game and the aerial balls really well. Cesc is another who will have a big game. Now that Wenger has said Fabregas and Van Persie are fit and available “as normal”, I expect El Capitan to be back in the middle. He will have to show that the summer nonsense is behind him and we can trust him to be at his best this season.

I think the following line up will have a decent balance of size and skill,

Almunia; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song, Cesc, Rosicky; Chamakh, RvP, Arshavin.

We can bring Walcott for impact or Eboue for balance late on. Although I can see the argument for starting either of them in place of Arshavin, I’ve a feeling they might not be best suited to start this one. Some might also suggest Diaby is a better option in midfield, ahead of Rosicky, especially for an away game. Of course, these are just my thoughts and Wenger has often surprised me in the past so I’m looking forward to the boss’ selection.

Arsenal have not won away from home against a team managed by Fat Sam since 2002. That includes the invincibles period and a few games with Lehmann in goal. So it won’t be a surprise if we don’t get a win tomorrow. On the other hand, three points will send a big message to the other challengers some of whom are sure to drop points at Ewood Park.


Champions League Draw Not As Easy As It Might Seem

August 27, 2010

The one thing many gooners were concerned about before the draw was the distances we might have to travel. Ferguson seems to agree with us on that,

It’s a good draw for us. You always look at the travelling side of it. The only one of any great distance is the trip to Turkey.

From the travelling point of view we don’t have a very good draw. The following image gives a rough idea of the distances we have to travel.

None of our trips is going to be a short hop. Spuds are lucky in this regard as they have to travel to Holland, Germany and Italy.

We are also going to Ukraine early in November. I’m not an expert on the weather there but we do have a history of losing some players around that time as it gets colder. Hopefully, injuries will not be a problem this year. I’m sure we are all sick of them one way or the other.

From a scheduling point of view the draw is not as bad as it could have been. As I’d mentioned in yesterday’s article, we have five away trips immediately after the CL games.

We have a very difficult away game with Chelsea on 3rd October after the first away trip to Belgrade on the 28th of September. The Tuesday – Sunday combination should be helpful and also the fact that we face WBA at home before leaving for Serbia. Hopefully, Arsene will be able to rotate the squad to rest some key players before the big one at the Bridge.

Thankfully, after our longest trip of the group phases to Donetsk we have a home game against Newcastle. That one is a Wednesday – Sunday combination so once again we will benefit if we can rotate the squad a bit.

The final away game in Portugal falls on a Tuesday after a North London Derby (home game) on Sunday and just before the trip to Villa on a Saturday. That means we will play three big games in a period of seven days. If we do well in the first four games then the game against Braga might not be that important and we might be able to play a weaker team.

We also have some big away games following all our home fixtures in the first round. After the home game against the Portuguese side we visit Sunderland. Eduardo’s return to the Emirates will be followed by a trip to the Eastlands for a big one against City. And the home game against Partizan Belgrade will be followed by a trip to Old Trafford. Ideally we should have the group tied up before the final game and that should give us a chance to rest some players before we take on United. Interestingly, United have a Tuesday game and we have a Wednesday one before the battle on Saturday.

I guess some of you might say we should be doing well in most of these games if we want to have title aspirations. I agree with that and I think we can do it as long as we don’t lose too many players. In the last couple of years we’ve really stretched our key players in this period and have ended up short at the business end. I hope Arsene gets the opportunity to spread the work load a bit better this time around.

From a football point of view I think our draw is not as easy as some others and not as tough as a couple of groups.

Groups after the Champions Leage 2010-11 Draw

I think groups A and G will be closely fought, while C and D look like easy ones. Amongst the teams we will face the Ukranians will probably be the toughest, especially in the away game. We cannot take Braga lightly either as they’ve just knocked Sevilla out. I’ve not idea about Partizan.

More importantly, all the stadiums that we will visit are likely to create a hostile atmosphere and we will have to be on top of our game to get results.

Having said that, I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t take 9 points at home and at least 4 from the away games. That should see us top the group. All in all, I think it’s a tricky draw and not as easy as some might suggest mainly because of the travel and fixtures coming after these games. At the same time it could have been much tougher (for instance, visit to Ukraine before the United game) so I’m fairly pleased.


Wenger Deserves His £6M Salary + Hopes For The Champions League Draw

August 26, 2010

I saw an article today that ‘revealed’ Arsene’s new contract was worth 6M pounds making him the highest earner at the club and the second highest earning manager in the Premiership.

Given the vitriolic nature of some doom mongers it won’t be a surprise if some gooners come up with ill-conceived rants against this. I for one truly believe that Wenger deserves his bumper salary and a lot more.

The argument against him is not difficult to understand. 5 years, no trophies. These four words capture the essence although you can be certain the misery brigade will find different ways of attacking the manager. No big signings, faith in useless players, no ambition, no tactical knowledge, and so on – over the years we have seen many such pearls of wisdom.

Some fans don’t understand what the club has achieved in the last five years. It’s not just about profits. It’s not just about financial stability. It’s not just about living within your means. It’s all of that and much, much more.

Five years ago, before the move to the Emirates, Arsenal were in the 100 odd million income group. This was roughly in the same ball park as the likes of Villa, Everton, Spuds, City, and others (We might have been a bit higher due to regular Champions League football even in those days). It was also a long way short of what United were making.

In the last five years, Arsenal have more than doubled their revenues. Revenue wise, we are now amongst the top 5-6 clubs in Europe. I’ve not checked the exact figures or position but I’m sure you get the point. This means we’ve left the pack far behind and established ourselves into the elite of European football. Performance wise we haven’t been bad either. This is also backed up by our ranking amongst the top seeds for the Champions League draw, which, let me remind you, is better than what the free-spending Madrid have achieved. That is a testament to our consistency at the highest level.

This is a staggering achievement, especially because it has come without any kind of financial doping by a generous benefactor or an unmanageable debt. To put this in perspective, think about Spuds, Everton, Liverpool and other clubs.

All of these clubs have been trying for a new stadium. So far no one else has even come close. People criticize the sponsorship deals Arsenal signed because these days we aren’t getting anything close to the amount other clubs are making from such deals. They fail to see that these deals allowed us to accomplish something almost everyone wants but no else has.

All these clubs have spent and spent and spent. They are desperate for the Champions League that we take for granted. They are trying to find a manager who can take them to the top four and keep them there. Once again something we’ve taken for granted, although for the last few years many a doomer has made a fool of himself by predicting that Arsenal will drop out of the top four because the others have spent big!

In short, what Wenger has achieved is this – Arsenal are amongst the top 8 clubs in Europe in terms of football and finances. We’re amongst the very few who are financially stable. We have a phenomenal youth system that is about to yield its first crop of world beaters and gives us a strong base for the future. We have a world class stadium that will generate revenues that will help us compete with the biggest clubs. All this while many others have put themselves in serious financial difficulties, haven’t caught up with Arsenal, and can only go backwards. And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that we play the best football in the Premiership.

In Wenger’s early days we competed with United who were far ahead of us in terms of financial strength, which obviously gave them a big advantage. Now we’ll be competing with the likes of United, Chelsea and City with a much stronger base. We cannot come close to the wealth that Chelsea or City owners have but there is a good chance that the new home grown regulations and financial fair play rules will limit their extravagance in the years to come.

If you can’t see the difficulties involved in reaching this stage and the monumental nature of the accomplishment then there isn’t much to discuss.

It’s ridiculous to compare Wenger to someone like Mourinho on a single parameter of trophies. In the last five years Arsenal couldn’t have paid for a manager like the Dark Lord who cannot win much without hundreds of millions in spending. We never had and still don’t have over a hundred million pounds to spend.

In fact, it’s ridiculous to judge any football manager on a single parameter of trophies. By that logic Redknapp should be a God at Portsmouth. The best way to judge a managers performance would be to see how far he has taken the club given the resources he had and whether he built a foundation for the future or not.

In that sense, apart from Fergie, I don’t think anyone else even comes close to Arsene. If you put it all together even Fergie hasn’t done better than Wenger. Others like Benitez, O’Neill, Redknapp, etc haven’t really succeeded. That doesn’t mean these guys are not good managers. On the contrary it just highlights that Wenger is really the Special One!

During the summer PHW said that Wenger was the best manager in the world and it’s good to see that the board have backed his words by unanimously giving Arsene a 20 percent salary hike. I hope he sticks around for a long time even after his present deal and we can all enjoy the fruits of his labour in years to come.

In a quick side note, I’m hoping the Champions League draw throws up something like this,

Barcelona Bayern, Real Madrid, Spuds, Rubin Kazan.

It will be some serious fun. Given their luck this might not happen but I’m sure the Tinies will give us enough laughs no matter who they end up with. As far as Arsenal are concerned I’m not too worried. Hopefully we will avoid the long away trips. We have 5 away League games immediately after the midweek Champions League games and these aren’t just trips to the likes of Blackpool or West Brom. We travel to Sunderland, Chelsea, City, Villa, and United. Is that just bad luck? I find that difficult to believe but a good Champions League draw will surely help.

Update: Sorry got a bit carried away there, Farca and Madrid can be in the same group!


Classic Mourinho, Still Envious of Arsene

August 25, 2010

The Sith Lord of Anti-Football recently gave an interview where he was talking about the Premiership title contenders and the clubs he might end up at. The headlines that came out after the interview were along the lines that Jose dismissed the title hopes of Liverpool and Arsenal.

Before I go further I must confess that I don’t like Mourinho at all. He is a genius no doubt, but an evil one who achieves success with the worst possible anti-football. The simplest way to define my problem with him is this – if the managers at the top ten clubs were like him no one would be able to watch football; the beautiful game would end up as the most boring sport in the world. If you don’t realize how this can be just go and watch the Liverpool V Chelsea (Benitez V Mourinho) games that almost always ended in drab scoreless draws or were decided by a freak goal from a set-piece.

Anyway, debating the Dark Lord’s strengths and weaknesses is not the point of this post. I believe that deep down inside Mourinho has always envied Arsenal and Wenger. He is too smart a man to let it be known but it’s not difficult to see why this is the case.

While Mourinho was in England his Chelsea were never considered a joy to watch. They won plaudits for their success but never for playing the beautiful game. Arsenal were always mentioned above Chelsea as the most entertaining side, even when Arsenal were playing kids. I think part of the reason the Dark Lord was fired (let’s not fall for the mutual consent euphemism) was that the owner, who’d invested hundreds of millions, never really enjoyed watching the team. For a man with his talents and with the kind of success he’s achieved that knowledge must surely be a thorn in his flesh. Even at Inter, Mourinho spent a crazy amount of money and was successful in terms of trophies, but could never entertain.

Now he faces a Real challenge! I’m not sure the Bernabeu crowd will accept what he did at Chelsea and Inter. They might for a year or so because even their indiscriminate spending has not taken them anywhere and they must be desperate for trophies. But, just as Capello found out, he can get the sack even if he wins a title or two with mind numbing anti-football.

The Dark Lord is also smart enough to realize that he is in his dream job only because Wenger turned it down!! Imagine that, a manager wins the League title in three countries and the Champions League with two different clubs but is still second or third choice at his dream club behind a man who hasn’t won a title in five years!

I can clearly see why Mourinho is jealous of Arsene. Another factor that must rankle him is the fact that Arsene has developed so many youngsters on a tight budget while he has been spending with gay abandon. For every Sneijder who has starred for him there is a Mancini who has flopped; for every Milito there is a Quaresma. His achievements get diluted when his transfer success is taken into account.

It wasn’t surprising that Mourinho mentioned finding and developing a youngster as one of his managerial goals around the time he signed for Madrid. Once again the man is bright enough to know that developing an odd kid will not prove anything but it will at least give him a counter argument.

In this light, I found his recent comments quite amusing.

I don’t think Arsenal can win. Year after year it looks like they will but no. It’s always the same type of comment, ‘It’s a young team, it will be next season. I remember we played them in a Carling Cup final [in 2007] with a team of young boys, but they are no longer a team of young boys. They are now a team of 25, 26, 27-year-olds.

Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Gael Clichy, Alex Song, Bacary Sagna – they’re not a team of kids any more, they’re of an age to win things, but I don’t think they will do it.

Are you surprised that he still remembers that Carling Cup final? An Arsenal team full of kids gave the multi-million pound Chelsea a real scare and stole the spotlight from his title win. A clear indication of how well Arsenal have developed is that Mourinho actually thinks Fabregas, Walcott, and Song are 25, 26, 27 year old pros.

In reality that’s been a problem for Arsenal. The kids have been so good and performed so far above the level other teams with kids would have that many people don’t truly understand the ‘it’s a young team’ argument.

Interestingly, in the same interview, Mourinho had a go at Liverpool and Benitez. The Dark Lord’s dislike for Liverpool is not difficult to understand either. After all, Benitez dumped his Chelsea out of the Champions League on two occasions. Surely, that was another factor that contributed to his dismissal from a club where he couldn’t win the Champions League in spite of spending the combined transfer budget of ten, perhaps twelve clubs.

Now I’m sure many of you will see why I find the Dark Lord amusing and don’t really buy his doom and gloom predictions. On one point though I agree with him, we are no longer a team of young boys. That makes him envious and fills me with confidence.


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