Stoke Deserve A 10 Point Penalty, Shawcross A Long Ban

February 28, 2010

I’m still quite pissed. It was such a great game by our players, on another day I could keep talking about the positives for days. Right now everything seems trivial. The injury to Rambo casts a dark shadow over all else. It feels worse because I thought the young Welshman was having a brilliant game and was poised to play a big role for us in the run-in.

I was really incensed when I read what the ring master said to defend his animal. There was nothing surprising or different in what the master thug said,

It is a bad challenge but I know Shawcross, I signed him as a 19-year-old.

He has got no bad blood in him whatsoever and there is no way in a million years he would ever go out to hurt anybody. I really mean that.

Everyone else at this football club sends their condolences on the incident, we wish him well for a speedy recovery and as a fellow Welshman I am devastated.

But Ryan has come off the pitch broken-hearted, met his mum straightaway and gone straight home.

For me the game is insignificant, the incident has really spoiled it.

Wow! How can somebody get away with spouting so much crap?

If I break Pulis’ leg with a baseball bat and then run to my mum with a broken heart, will the cops leave me alone? I’ll say I just wanted to “get stuck in” and never intended to break his foot. My dad will vouch for me, he’s known me for almost thirty years now. We will all send our condolences too!

The whole argument is so fundamentally flawed, I tend to wonder if we really are in the Twenty First Century. Across all industries and human endeavor the first priority is to protect the people involved and rightly so. In football the safety considerations are a joke.

The moment a team is encouraged to be “rough and aggressive”, “get stuck in!”, “go at them hard” and so on, we are setting ourselves up for a disaster. Obviously, every rough and aggressive game will not lead to a horrendous injury. But that is no reason to condone it.

These teams go out with an intention to push, elbow and kick at every opportunity. So they need to guarantee that their kicks won’t cause serious damage. I cannot believe a football player can always control the impact of his kick. There is no scientific way to get stuck in with X% intensity so that there is no damage. In the heat of the moment a physical player can get carried away or just be clumsy and irresponsible.

I can understand that Shawcross didn’t intend to break Ramsey’s leg. But that is not a valid and acceptable defense. There was definite intent to kick and hurt. Shawcross could never control the degree of hurt and extent of damage, and that makes him guilty of a criminal offense.

It is unacceptable that one promising young player misses the rest of the season, perhaps more, while the offender gets a three match ban. In such instances, there is no justice in football right now. I believe we need to solve this and here is what I propose.

The onus has to be on the team playing “rough and aggressive” to guarantee that they will not damage someone. They have every right to play hard as long as they make sure such an incidence will not happen. Their word and their condolences are no use to the injured player, his team and the fans.

Across industries, when we give someone a right we expect certain responsibilities. And failure to act responsibly always leads to repercussions. So why should football be any different? We must not go and tell a technical player to not play the beautiful game, so if we want the thugs to have the right to be physical, we have to hold them accountable.

This can be implemented by the following suggestions,

  • If a player commits a foul like the one by Shawcross, he is banned till the time the injured player recovers.
  • The offending team gets a 10 point penalty.
  • The referee’s decision making needs to be scrutinized and appropriate action should be taken if he has not protected the players. In this case Walton should be banned for life.

Justice will be served only if we have such penalties imposed. I know it is a little difficult to accept something that sounds so harsh. But if you think about it, this is closer to a fair judgment than a three game ban!

I understand that football is a physical game and unfortunate injuries can occur, injuries when there was really no intent. I think that the injury to Fabregas last season in that tackle with Alonso would fall under this category. But when a man with his full force and high momentum smashes an opponents leg, it simply cannot be defended as an accident.

Accidents are part of life. I can accept that. We don’t seek retribution for accidents. In spite of these rules there will be a few accidents. But it should not be difficult to distinguish between an accident and a rank bad challenge. Every bad challenge needs to be punished. Players have to be protected.

I don’t expect any action against the English club Stoke by a biased and impotent FA. Maybe, we will see something if Rooney gets his leg broken just before the world cup!

Arsenal though must take this seriously. I do not know the legal intricacies but we should explore a criminal case of assault against Shawcross and Stoke. Even if the end result is not in our favor we need to shake them hard. We also need to push for an immediate change in rules and a serious ban for the offending player and points deduction for his team. Of course, Wenger and the players must not be dragged into this. It is something Gazidis and his team have to get into.

All our players deserve to feel secure and know that the club is willing to fight. They were fantastic on the field even after such an incident and that shows how much they all have grown. Now the club must replicate the same spirit outside the pitch.

(Apologies if you think I’m going on and on about this. I need to get it off my chest)

Peter Walton Should be Banned For Life

February 27, 2010

I hope Ramsey recovers soon and his injury won’t be as serious as that of Eduardo or RvP. There isn’t much I can do for him so I’ll just pray and hope. The injury was really bad so I don’t want to dwell on it too much right now.

The team responded brilliantly and the spirit was phenomenal. Hats off to each and every one of them. If anyone still doubts this team then they can go fuck themselves. I’ll deal with a proper review later.

Stoke are disgraceful, third grade thugs and such an injury was waiting to happen. I don’t care what Shawcross feels after the incident, I think he deserves a serious ban and Arsenal should press criminal charges against him. Stoke should also receive a points deduction for such a tackle. This is a suggestion I have which I will develop in another post.

This post is dedicated to an impotent, imbecile called Peter Walton. Being an Arsenal fan I am used to biased refereeing. But this joker’s performance in this game beggars belief.

I’ll leave out two clear penalties that he didn’t give. They seem trivial and something we are used to.

The point is not whether this was “accidental” or “unintentional”. The point is that teams set out to hurt Arsenal players. No one can deny that. Once teams set out to hurt others and hide behind being physical, it is impossible to control the extent of damage a kick can cause. The moment a team starts fouling intentionally, there is clear intent and malice.

It cannot be defended by saying they are not a dirty team. If they are not a dirty team who are!?

The only way this can be managed is if the Referee imposes himself right from the beginning. Peter Walton was clearly biased and encouraged Stoke.

Stoke consistently took throws at least 10 yards away from the place where the ball went out. But Walton only penalized Arsenal for this. Stoke were the ones committing all the fouls but the idiot in black booked Song even when he was the one being fouled by Delap. How is this not clear evidence of bias?

The thugs started the game with some pushes and small kicks but the ref didn’t take any action, didn’t talk to any player. It was as if he was enjoying seeing Arsenal players being hit. His impotence encouraged Stoke to continue with their “controlled assault”. The only problem is, it is impossible for a player to always be in control. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

We have to ask how often do these injuries occur in other leagues? I’ve not seen any team in any other league suffer as much as Arsenal do. There can be no question that Garbage like Stoke play with malice and ill intent.

Consider this, a cop comes across a drunk driving a car. The drunk says I’m not a dirty driver. The cop lets him go and he runs over someone. The cop cannot let him go and by that same logic the ref cannot let such ill intent thrive. To me Walton is just as responsible as Shawcross and Pulis.

I believe Arsenal as a club need to raise serious questions about Peter Walton and about all referees in general, thereby bringing their whole association under scrutiny. It’s about time the club imposed it’s might on these idiots. Even if there isn’t a direct legal case, a sustained PR campaign is absolutely necessary so that such events don’t repeat.

Peter Walton should be at the center of that campaign and the club should push for a life ban for him. I know it’s not realistic but the campaign in itself would be a start. The media will always be anti-Arsenal if left on their own, so the club have to be proactive about this problem. I hope Gazidis takes this up with his staff and lawyers and hires a specialist agency if necessary. Peter Walton has to be held accountable.

Stoke V Arsenal: Fans Need A Statement Of Intent

February 27, 2010

Over the last few weeks many people have analyzed the run-in for the top teams. Most are of the opinion that Arsenal have the easier path when compared with United and Chelsea. In such an analysis people tend to focus on the top four and other contenders like Villa, Citeh and the Tiny Totts. There is nothing wrong with that but I feel it does not do justice to teams like Stoke who offer just as big a challenge, especially at home. This fact is evident from the way Stoke have troubled the moneybags from Manchester in the last three games.

To my mind this game is easily our toughest in the run-in, on par with the trip to the Totts or the visit from the moneybags. Stoke are on an 11 game unbeaten run, their style has always troubled us, and in Delap they have a weapon no team has completely neutralized.

On the positive side, Stoke have just won a tiring mid week FA Cup fixture that took them to extra time. We will see if Wenger’s theory of a team lacking sharpness due to midweek excursions holds any water.


Stoke will do what they have done effectively against us in the last two home games. They will pressurize the man on the ball with some heavy challenges flying in. They will also try and win a set piece on every opportunity, especially in the first few minutes. This gets the crowd going and it plays on the opposition’s nerves.

Arsenal need to come out of the blocks fast. If our players are fit and fresh we should control the speed of the game early on as that is the best way to negate their threat. If we can push them back and draw a few fouls it will put them under pressure for the rest of the game.

For us it’s important not to concede an early goal. The whole team has to contribute defensively and we should not expect the goalkeeper to deal with everything thrown into the box. Defender’s have to win the individual battle with the man they are marking.

The longer this game goes without a goal or if we get an early goal, we will be in better control.


Since winning promotion to the Premiership a couple of years ago, Stoke have lost all six games in which Peter Walton has been the referee.

Stoke have scored 14 of their goals at home from Set-Pieces. That’s more than one per game!

Stoke have not conceded more than one goal in their last nine games in all competitions and are unbeaten in eleven.


Stoke are getting their key defender’s back after suspension. I would particularly keep an eye on Andy Wilkinson as he is quite likely to injure someone with his rough tackling. Hopefully, Peter Walton will stamp his authority early on.

We don’t have any real positive news on the injury front. Although as an Arsenal fan, not losing players to injury should be good enough. Eduardo might be back but I’ll be surprised if he starts.

There might be some changes to the starting line up from the one that played against Sunderland. I expect Sol Campbell will come in for Silvestre, Denilson for Ramsey and Rosicky for Walcott.

I would certainly prefer if we played Nasri or Rosicky in the middle and move Eboue on the wing. For such games we need players who can hold their own in a physical midfield battle. I am not sure if Denilson can do it. On the other hand, this could be a good opportunity for the Brazilian to redeem himself after some costly errors in recent games.

In the goal Almunia needs to continue his recent form. A couple of good moments early on can really lift the team.

The starting line-up I’d like to see is,

Almunia; Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song, Cesc, Nasri; Eboue, Bendtner, Rosicky.

Walcott would be a good introduction in the last half hour when Stoke are tiring.


I am sure we will concede one goal, most probably from a set piece so we need to score at least two. Normally, the Arsenal website previews are quite dull but this time they have it spot on,

Chelsea and Manchester United have both taken away maximum points from the Britannia Stadium this season. If Arsenal can do likewise, it will inject pure, unadulterated belief directly their veins.

Shay Given Shows He’s Not Got Enough For Arsenal

February 26, 2010

I feel this season we have seen unprecedented complaints against our keepers. All three of them have come under scrutiny and have received widespread criticism. As regular readers will have noticed, I have defended our keepers time and again. The point I always made was that anyone who comes under that kind of pressure and who plays in a team with overall defending issues will make mistakes. No matter who we buy, the keeper cannot and will not work magic for Arsenal.

Many of the critics in the media and the blogosphere have this ill conceived notion that buying someone like Shay Given would have solved all our problems. I like Given as a goalkeeper but I don’t see him as our savior.

Over the last couple of weeks Man City have played Stoke thrice. It is worth observing Given’s performances in these games. At this point I will confess that I haven’t seen any of these games live but the highlights do have a story of their own.

The first game was an FA Cup home tie that City should have won comfortably. I’m not saying this based on the match but on the fact that they have spent millions and have Shay Given. After all, those are the great solutions some expert Arsenal fans have put forward. You can see the highlights on this link.

City were on their way to the next round thanks to some sloppy work by Sorenson (another one we should have bought) and Shawcross. But just before the hour mark Given brought Stoke back into the game. Around two and half minutes into the highlights you can see Fuller’s goal from a Delap throw. Given was half way in his six yard box when the throw was taken and inexplicably went backwards to the goal line instead of coming for the ball. Reminds you of Almunia, Fabianksi, Mannone?

The next game between the teams was a league tie at the Brittania. This game also ended in a stalemate and Given cost City two points. On this link you can see the Whelan goal. It reminds me of Fabianski’s error against Porto, only the angle was different.

Finally, in the FA Cup replay, City were dumped out in extra time. Taking the advice of some arsenal fans, City owners have spent millions and even changed managers but it’s not taken them anywhere.

Anyway, on this link you can see the highlights from that game. Around the tenth minute in this video, Delap fires in a throw and Given comes for it this time but flaps at thin air. Shawcross heads it home. Once again reminding us he is no better than Almunia, et al.

Interestingly, just before the throw is taken the commentator says, “…chaos has ensued almost every time he has flung it in.” Not words you expect to hear when in the goal there is a superman goalkeeper who is supposed to solve all our problems, are they?!

While we are on the subject of Given, this is the link for one of the most famous bloopers of all time. Apologies for the quality. Just goes to show that young keepers can make mistakes and it’s stupid to discard them based on those.

If I apply the same yardstick as the critics of our keepers do then in just a couple of weeks, Given has forced his team into an FA cup replay, lost two points in the league and then got the team dumped out of the FA Cup. Food for thought, if thinking is your thing!

I am not trying to say that Given is a bad keeper and our keepers are fantastic. It’s important to have the right perspective when analyzing a football game. Arsene was right when he said goalkeeper was the toughest position. Every mistake is a catastrophe. But the solution is never as simple as buying a new one!

Inter Do To Chelsea, What The Blues Do To Us!

February 24, 2010

I was in splits while watching this game. In so many ways it mirrored out recent losses against the big teams that I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony.

Chelsea got caught out early on. How many times have we seen that happen to us?! There wasn’t anything really wrong with Chelsea in the first few minutes but Inter were just a bit quicker off the blocks and boom, they scored from nowhere! Chelsea defense and the keeper might have made minor mistakes and that was enough for the home team.

After that Chelsea responded like we do so often by throwing men forward. Inter responded by going into a shell and sitting really deep. There is a slight variation here as Inter never created any counter attacks but that was because they were sitting too deep to create anything of note. Some might even say they never cared for the second goal until they conceded, so they never made an attempt to counter.

Chelsea tried everything, a lot of it looked like pretty football, but there was no end result. The Blues had bulk of the possession, got to the final third easily and still failed to create any clear cut chances. Julio Caesar wasn’t being tested.

Suddenly, Drogba didn’t look menacing did he? Big strikers, physical players, crosses, shots from distance, well nothing seems to matter when a well organized and highly trained defensive unit decides to park the bus.

As Chelsea were huffing and puffing without going anywhere I was thinking, is this what is called “Men against Boys”? It’s a phrase I’ve never understood in a footballing context. But if it’s applicable to games we dominate against the big teams and end up losing, surely it’s applicable to this game as well.

My joy was spoilt to some extent by a bad mistake by the Inter keeper but the mood was lit up within minutes by another freak goal from the Real Madrid reject Cambiasso. Once again the cycle resumed.

At the end of the game I was wondering if some of the moaner Arsenal fans had been Chelsea supporters, they would be saying Cech was a joker and a hopeless keeper. He let one in at the near post and didn’t recover in time for the second. They would also be having a go at Ancelotti for not buying and on Abramovich for sitting on his millions! After all, they brought a youngster like Daniel Sturridge on as a substitute and not some superstar. How could a big club’s supporters accept that!?

To me it just shows that when a team decides to sit back and when luck goes their way there isn’t much you can do no matter how much money you’ve spent and what tactics you use. This is not an attempt to defend some of our play which has been amateurish, but it does put a lot of the results and consequently the criticism into perspective.

As I’ve said often before, defending is the easier part in football and teams that focus on defense will always be hard to beat. Throw in a manager like Mourinho who knows how to suck the life out of any football game and we see a bunch of La Liga discards turned into a defensive unit that can win trophies.

I’m not trying to judge anything based on one game, nor am I mocking Chelsea or Inter. This isn’t an attempt to defend Wenger, his policies or the Arsenal players either. The point is very simple, results are important but true understanding can only be developed by taking distance from the results.

Chelsea won’t become a bad team overnight or even if they crash out of the Champions League and Inter Milan won’t become the greatest team in the world if they get through. The media will project it that way and some fans will fall for it but the facts don’t change based on a couple of results.

Hopefully, some Arsenal fans will have seen this game and will get a better perspective on the complexities involved in our problems. Or am I just flogging a dead horse!?

Can Bendtner Do A Van Persie?

February 24, 2010

Robin van Persie played in the first 11 league games of the season. During that period we scored 36 goals, averaging a cool 3.3 goals per game. Since his injury we have managed another 27 in 16 games. Of course, I wouldn’t say this is down to his absence alone. Bendtner too was out for most of this period and Eduardo missed large phases as well. In effect, we have been without three first choice strikers.

It’s not difficult to see why some people wanted a striker signing. I think Wenger wanted to sign one as well but he didn’t find a top quality player who could hit the ground running. Some people read famous names that are bandied about in the media and feel that player can just come in and solve everything. The more balanced observers know that it can always go either way.

Now that the transfer window has come and gone and Bendtner has returned to fitness, it does not make sense to dwell on the what ifs. The most important question at the moment is whether Bendtner can do the job Wenger and fans expect from him and one he has always been confident of performing.

If we can reproduce our early season scoring form, and we should because we have only one game remaining against the five tightest defenses in the league, we can come close to the 100 goal mark and have a great shot at the title. By the way, I was really surprised when I realized the tiny Totts were amongst the five best defenses in the league based only on goals conceded.

In some ways, the Danish player of the year fits the bill as a big, tall central striker that a lot of fans have been demanding. I’ve often said that height is not our main concern and we need other qualities in the striker. In that sense Van Persie was developing into the perfect player for us until his unfortunate injury. Can Bendtner take over?

I am not sure he can. This is not an attempt to criticize an up and coming player. I really like him and I think he has enough ability to be a big player for us in the future. And I also consider him better than the likes of Carlton Cole, Huntelaar, and such others with whom we had been linked. But there is a clear difference in class between these players and the likes of RvP, Rooney, and Drogba.

Some might consider it unfair to compare a youngster with established strikers. I don’t think it’s unfair, it’s just a matter of fact comparison.

In order for a striker to be successful in our new system, he needs to have phenomenal ability with his back to goal. That is an extremely rare quality and one that does not develop without experience. A great first touch and the vision to bring others into play supplement the ability to hold the ball up with ones back towards the goal. Height and strength are useful attributes but not prerequisites for success.

Even an experienced campaigner like Van Persie took some time to adapt to the new formation and his new role. But once he got the hang of it, the whole team reaped the rewards. Something similar happened to Eduardo as well. In his first few games in a central role, he wasn’t too comfortable. But once he got used to the role, he was able to play some nice one-twos around the box and bring others like Cesc and Arshavin into play.

Our Russian magician also struggled in this role mainly because he prefers running towards the goal instead of facing away from the goal.

Height is important but it can be overcome with technique and experience. And some people confuse the idea of holding the ball and consider height to be an important part of it. Being tall can only help in receiving some long balls, no one keeps heading the ball to hold it up. Top strikers use their feet and upper body strength to hold the ball. Someone like Hleb was a master at this even with his slight frame. Even if you look at the counter attacks that United had against us, Rooney received the ball with his feet and held it up by using his upper body.

Anyway, I don’t want to get into the technical details and the issue of height. The point is, Bendtner will take time to adapt into this role in spite of his height and physical presence. I cannot see him having an impeccable first touch right now. Similarly, I am not sure he will have the vision necessary to bring others into play.

An important question for Arsene is, should we expect Bendtner to adapt or should we adapt our game to suit his skills? The obvious answer would be that one player should adapt and it does not make sense for everyone else to change to suit the striker.

We might get a better idea if we think of the young Dane’s strengths. He was brilliant for Denmark in the qualifiers as he excels in the role of a classical center forward. That means he is at his best when playing inside the box, receiving crosses and through balls from all sides.

When Bendtner drops deep or comes farther away from the box, he struggles to keep the ball and move it quickly. This pushes the whole team deeper. We struggle with our defense when we are pushed deeper and slowly the whole thing leads to chaos. Against smaller teams we win the ball back quickly enough and the damage is limited but it might not be the same in some tricky away games that we have.

In such a situation we might be better off in moving to a little more conventional system with a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1 with Arshavin sitting in behind. This allows us to keep Bendtner higher up the pitch and use his height and presence. In other words, we play to his strength.

The obvious risk is that it takes some time for everyone to adapt to any new system no matter how good they are. Some might also say we are really poor with crosses and there is no guarantee that it will work.

Another argument for sticking with the present system is that Bendtner will not learn unless he plays in that role. And we need him to develop these skills. The counter argument could be that we need to develop multiple systems and not be predictable!

Wenger has to balance the risk of Bendtner struggling in a Van Persie role or some of the other players struggling in a change of system. I’m really hoping we find the right solution because the Cup is withing striking distance.

Is Wenger A Moaner Or Just Too Intelligent For His Own Good?

February 23, 2010

I don’t think we need any evidence that Wenger is widely considered to be the biggest moaner in the premier league. Every other week there is someone in the press moaning about Wenger’s moans!

The most recent example comes from Graham Poll. In this article, which I guess you must have read by now, Poll goes on to make an ass of himself once again. He wants to drive home the point that Wenger is a poor loser. I’d have thought that if a former referee is writing an article he will focus on the technical aspects of the job and analyze the incidents from that perspective. Instead, the man who can’t count goes about digging up some irrelevant quotes from the past to write a sensationalist piece.

Wenger had specifically pointed out 5 technical errors in Ref Hansson’s decision. I started reading the article thinking that Poll will give some valid counter points. These are some of his counter points,

On Saturday, a neutral observer would have thought that Arsenal’s first goal looked offside and their second came from a dubious penalty award in stoppage time.

On his list of five problems with the goal was the fact the ball was not on the exact blade of grass where Fabianski picked the ball up. It was petty in the extreme

Wenger himself would be the first to complain if referees took him at his word and made every restart be taken from the precise point the offense occurred. It would simply interrupt the beautiful game which he admires so much.

How dumb can you get!?

Even die-hard Sunderland fans would not claim that Bendtner was offside and I have seen Poll give far worse penalty decisions during his career.

How easy is it to use rhetoric against rationality? How many times have we seen refs being particular about the position of the ball when the free kick has been given inside the box or just around? If you are not particular about where such a free kick is taken from you might as well take a penalty from the six yard line!

There are other aspects about the ref’s position, his arm not going up and so on which Poll conveniently ignores. Anyway, I don’t really care much about an individual idiot like him but the problems are serious because there are just too many of them.

I don’t deny that Wenger has a habit of protecting his players and turning the focus away from them when something goes wrong. Similarly, he brings attention to the team when the result is good. How can anyone expect anything different from a manager and does any other manager behave differently?

The real problem is that most of what Wenger says is really well thought and demands proper observation and analysis from the listener. In that sense, part of the problem is Wenger himself because he makes life difficult for those with limited thinking abilities.

People laughed at Wenger when he said in November that Chelsea will drop points. Once he was proven right, did we see a single article acknowledging the fact accompanied by an apology to Wenger!?

If you look at his analysis of the play-off proposal, Le Boss has given some valid points that would force anyone to think,

Who guarantees you the fourth spot is available for the Champions League?

You only have the fourth team as well because you have a strong co-efficient in Europe. The biggest danger for that coefficient to drop is that the seventh team finishes in the Champions League and your co-efficient drops because you go out of the Champions League early and you lose the fourth spot.

Pretty much everything Wenger has said on the subject shows how quickly he has analyzed the topic and identified the problems. Contrast this with what Fergie had to say on the subject,

I don’t know why people would want to change the format of the Premier League – it’s very good. The product is good. It sells well all over the world. People want to watch English games on television. There’s no real need to change.

It’s a really ordinary and doesn’t mean anything at all. At the same time the listener doesn’t need any effort to understand what is being said. In fact, if you think about it, those are precisely the reasons why a play-off is being proposed. The product is good and people want to watch such games on television. It would generate more revenues!

Similarly, if you look at his words after the Everton defeat,

Whatever it was, it was just too much for us today. We had some good chances early on and we could have been two or three up. The equaliser changed the game a little bit. But it was the second half that let us down. Our second-half performance was very poor and when you are going for the championship you expect Manchester United to respond to the importance of the game

Once again, it’s something you don’t need to think about. Just harmless, generic stuff. This simplicity is what the media wants – The team that wins was good, the one that lost was not good. Finito. Anything more and it’s a problem.

I am not saying that Fergie is dumb and Wenger is intelligent. But Fergie knows how to talk dumb when facing a bunch of morons. Arsene Wenger, on the other hand, becomes a victim of his own intelligence.

Wenger Is Right – UEFA Refereeing System Needs Overhauling

February 22, 2010

After the Porto game Le Boss launched an uncharacteristically scathing attack on the referee. Normally I wouldn’t associate the word scathing with anything Arsene says. By now you must have heard/read the interview in which the boss thinks Hansson is either incompetent or dishonest. If not you can read it here. Pretty strong words indeed.

Many in the media ignored the depth of thought in these comments because they couldn’t dissociate themselves from the win/loss aspect of the game. Wenger is an extremely objective man and these comments are no different. Later on Arsene specifically pointed out the technical mistakes by the official. If you haven’t read those you can see them here.

Frankly, I don’t know much about these technicalities and was hoping someone in the media will actually get to the facts but no one seems to care.

Over the last few years, while watching European competitions, I get a feeling that referees are impotent idiots. It must not be easy for UEFA because these men come from different countries and have a different interpretation of the law. I see a lot of the English league and a little bit of Spanish and Italian. Even in each of these top leagues I see a unique approach from the refs. So an English ref might allow a physical tackle while a Spanish one might send someone off for the same thing! How does UEFA bring parity and consistency? It’s a complex task overshadowed only by their monumental botch up.

As Arsene pointed out, there are two aspects to a referee’s decision making, judgmental and technical. Wenger said he does not have a problem with judgmental mistakes like the Rosicky penalty but the ref made serious technical mistakes. I am not qualified to comment on the technical mistakes but if he did then that’s just one big aspect of the problem.

As a fan, I am more concerned with the judgmental aspect of refereeing. Over the last few years I think UEFA has given the ref’s a thumb rule, “When in doubt let the game flow!” or I could rephrase it as, “Avoid judgment calls to the extent possible!”

Judgmental decisions can lead to various game changing moments like penalties, red cards, bookings, etc. If these decisions are given and prove to be wrong, there is a huge furore and people tend to remember them. On the other hand, if they are not given, the issue is normally forgotten within a week.

How many people remember clear penalties that were not given or obvious red cards that were not given? On the other hand if they are given incorrectly the mess is difficult to manage because they have a direct impact in the form of  a goal or result of the game. Sometimes, like the Henry handball incident, a judgment call not given can also lead to a goal but that is rare.

If you look at the Chelsea- Barca semi-final, or if you look at our game against Porto, or the Bayern -Fiorentina game, or the Milan-United game, there are many instances where the ref has simply avoided a difficult judgment call and let the game flow. In fact you can see this in pretty much any game.

In direct contrast, referees are keen to impose stupid technicalities. For instance, Michael Carrick was sent off for rolling the ball not more than two yards. The amount of time wasted by that dismissal and Carrick walking off was lot more than the time that was wasted by the ball moving two yards! It’s not that I was not delighted by a Red Card for a Manc, but that does not change the stupidity of the whole thing.

We see people not getting sent off or booked even though they keep kicking someone like Cesc all day long. It’s a judgment call and ref’s are keen to avoid them. This is also the reason why we don’t get a lot of penalties.

It’s easy for the ref to make a judgment call somewhere on the ground and give a foul. Most of the time they don’t book the players and thus damage to either side is minimized. It’s like a lame compromise. By the same logic, if a ref makes a judgment call inside the box he might be forced to give a penalty as well as take action on the defender which could be a double blow for the defending team, especially if the man in charge gets it wrong.

I don’t think this is down to one or two individuals. It seems to me that UEFA has trained all it’s referees to be impotent and they are harming the integrity of their tournaments. Add to it the technical problems that Arsene has pointed out and we have a refereeing system that is literally good for nothing and in need of a serious overhaul.

Classy Arsenal 2 – 0 Sloppy Arsenal: Sunderland Make Up The Numbers

February 21, 2010

This was one of those games where the opposition didn’t really matter as Arsenal controlled 70 percent possession. Normally when we dominate games, we are in the high fifties or early sixties in the possession stats. The Black Cats were tame and didn’t have even a five minute spell of sustained pressure.

To me this game was about our quality in possession and what we do with it versus our mistakes in defense and what the visitors could make of it. In a way I am a little disappointed that we didn’t do more with the ball, especially in the final third. This is not a criticism but more a matter of fact observation.

Some might say that Sunderland had enough chances to score and but for the late goal the result might have been different. I say, let them say it. It doesn’t matter and will be forgotten within a week. We all know Arsenal like to give the opposition some chances but very few are clinical enough to take them. There isn’t a great revelation here, is there?

If anything, this game showed why Kenwyne Jones would not have made a good January signing! I would say the same about Cana, although I can see why some fans might still be impressed by his rugged approach.

Right from the start we were dominant and opened them up with ease. If we had a little more composure and a better final ball the visitors would have been embarrassed. In any case, I’m happy with the three points. Now is not the time to dwell on goal difference.

Nasri, Cesc, Theo and Bendtner went close before the big Dane opened the scoring with a tap in. Eboue’s run into the box was dazzling and once again highlighted the importance of taking people on in the final third. I am not sure whether his pass was a measured one or a mishit shot on goal, but there can be no doubt about our young striker’s positioning. Some people don’t respect tap in’s but I feel this one must have done his confidence a world of good.

In the last ten minutes it seemed to me that Steve Bennett was trying to help the visitors. First he didn’t give a clear foul by Mensah on the edge of the Sunderland box, which could easily have seen a second booking for the Ghanaian defender. On the other end he blew for a foul when Vermaelen lost his footing and Bent stumbled over him. I cannot describe how agitated I was with that decision.

After that heart-in-mouth moment that came to nothing with a lame Zenden effort, we got the second goal deep into injury time when a clumsy foul from Campbell resulted in a penalty. Yes, we finally got one! Once again Cesc stepped up to take the penalty and I was left wondering why!?

It’s not that I doubt the abilities of El Capitan, but there seems to be too much pressure on him and adding the spot kick responsibility to that does not make any sense. Maybe it’s a way to increase his goal count but that doesn’t seem like a good enough reason. It’s Cesc we are talking about not Lampard!

Interestingly, Sunderland had three one-on-one opportunities in this game. Almunia saved two and Jones was wasteful on one occasion. I have defended Almunia quite a bit over the last few weeks and this seems to be the right time to point out that his technique on a one-on-one is perhaps the best in the league. I know a lot of people are not ready to even think about this but I’ll give it a try.

If you look carefully the Spaniard spreads his arms wide and keeps his body upright. He also stretches one foot out and bends the other one tucking the knee down. This way he covers maximum possible width and height and leaves no gap between his legs. He does a good job of narrowing the angles as well.

Darren Bent actually did well with his strike and many goalkeepers would have conceded that one through their legs but Almunia made it look easy. Most goalkeepers either lean towards one side leaving an angle free or concede through the legs.

United lost again while Chelsea managed a good win even though Wolves had more shots on goal. Wenger often says it’s difficult to play away from home after a midweek game and such results show the depth of his thinking. Suddenly, a six point gap doesn’t look all that daunting, does it?

Individual Performances

Almunia: Had a fantastic game. Got a good punch, came out at the right time and made a couple of excellent saves.

Eboue: Was exceptional in the final third even if his delivery wasn’t always right. Made a few mistakes defensively but others were there to cover for him.

Vermaelen: Another good game.

Silvestre: Was caught out once while trying to play off-side. Put enough pressure on Bent and Campbell on other occasions without conceding a penalty. I was quite impressed by his physical battle with Kenwyne Jones but his lack of pace was a concern. Still a good job for a man who doesn’t get too many games.

Clichy: Sunderland didn’t have any threat on the right and Nasri did a good job of supporting him. Looked quite comfortable in defense and attack. I think he can and should do much better in the final third.

Song: Class. The big aspect of his game is that he never stops. Even if he loses a ball or someone gets past him the Cameroonian always sprints back and that’s a quality Denilson has to learn.

Cesc: I thought he did a Denilson. A really bad game by his standards. It’s a different matter that he was still better than most on the pitch.

Ramsey: Apart from a big mistake that allowed Richardson to nick the ball and put Jones through the youngster had a great game. He was available in defense, held onto the ball well and his passing was excellent.

Walcott: Some reports I read said he had a great game. That’s strange because the commentators were very critical and I was worried be might get a lot of negative press. I thought he made some very good runs and looks like he is improving. Still doesn’t have the feel for the ball and his delivery or finishing wasn’t very good. As Wenger always said, he needs a little time and it’s only fair.

Bendtner: Good to see him get a goal but I am not sure he is anywhere close to his best. Another one who needs more games. I also get a feeling he isn’t opportunistic enough right now. There was a brilliant chip from Ramsey in the first half that eluded Mensah but the Dane never attacked the ball, probably thinking that it might never reach him. There was a similar moment against Chelsea when Fabregas cushioned a header in his path but he didn’t anticipate the opportunity.

Nasri: My man of the match. Did a great job of helping Clichy, made some good runs, took people on in the final third, and drifted around the pitch effortlessly. Has to improve his final delivery.

Subs: Didn’t have much to do.

Arsenal V Sunderland: Will Porto Become Another Birmingham?

February 19, 2010

After seeing our players lose some of their fighting spirit in the final half hour in Portugal, there is only one question in my mind right now. Are we in for another implosion like the one we saw after that horrific game at Birmingham?

I don’t go around spreading doom and gloom stories and this is not an attempt at that either. I am just genuinely worried. Right now we are in a good position in the league and have a run of games coming up where we can really gain momentum. I can keep the faith but I am beginning to wonder if all the players can as well.

There is no point dwelling on the topic as it’s a problem for Arsene to diagnose and treat. Let’s shift the thoughts to the game at hand. Am I the only one who feels this is a good game for us to be playing at this point?

Sunderland are competing with us for sure, but it’s in the injuries department and not on the field. In fact, we can expect a considerably weakened midfield from the visitors. On the other hand they are getting some of their defenders back from injury and that will give them some belief of repeating the clean sheet from the reverse fixture.

When they got massacred at Stamford Bridge the Black Cats had Cana playing at center back and they still tried taking the game to Chelsea. Now that their first choice defense is coming back I expect Steve Bruce will come to the Emirates with the intention of parking the bus. I don’t think they have the midfield that can press us high up and their main hope will be that our generosity in defense continues.

If Bruce does take the brave option of attacking us I am sure we will be in for a goal fest. I haven’t seen enough Sunderland games to know for sure whether he will or will not come with a positive mindset. The safe option given their team sheet looks to be a highly defensive one. In case they do sit back, Bendtner’s presence in the penalty box will be extremely important to us.

Our team news is not very good. It’ll definitely be good to have Song and Almunia back but I am a little concerned with the mysterious injury that Diaby has picked up. After getting a run of games the lanky Frenchman was looking like imposing his mark on the league but a Medial Knee Ligament injury sounds serious. I’m hoping it’s a false alarm and will vanish just as mysteriously!

There are two other question marks for this game. Can Sol Campbell and Tomas Rosicky play two games in three days? If there is any doubt at all about their fitness I’d prefer that they are rested. The replacements in Silvestre, Walcott or Eboue might not be the most popular but should be strong enough to do a job at home against a struggling unit.

I would also like to see Nasri get another chance in a central midfield role. With Song back and the likelihood that Sunderland will mostly rely on fast breaks and long balls, we should be able to give Nasri a chance. It’s his preferred position and I feel Fabregas will get more freedom to push forward. Anyway, I’ve said this often enough and it seems to me that Arsene must have a very good reason for sticking with Denilson so I won’t get my hopes high.

I think this would also be a good game to have Eboue in the final third. He brings a direct thrust and can take players on. When a team packs the defense it is important to have such a player in attacking areas. By reverse logic this isn’t the best game to give Walcott a start. He thrives on open spaces and a parked bus isn’t exactly his playground.

In case Rosicky isn’t fit, I’d love to see Vela get a game. Maybe it’s just me, but I do think the young Mexican and the big Dane play well together and seem to have a better understanding with each other than with the rest.

I would like to see the following starting line up,

Almunia/Fabianski; Sagna, Campbell/Silvestre, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song, Cesc, Nasri; Eboue, Bendtner, Rosicky/Vela.

It’s about time we started scoring for fun once again. I think we’ll match our average home result, 3-1 to the Arsenal.