25 Player Limit Is Bad For Arsenal, Home Grown Rule Good

April 29, 2010

The Home-Grown rule and the squad quota have come under the spotlight in recent times even though the initial announcements were made early in September 2009. The salient aspects of the new rules are as follows

  • Teams will have to register squads of 25 players at the end of both transfer windows
  • Eight of this 25 will have to be home grown i.e. trained by an English or Welsh club for three years between age 16 and 21. But they need not be U-21 at the present time.
  • The squad can be supplemented by unlimited number of U-21 players, popularly known as the B-list. These players will have to be Under-21 on January 01 in the year in which the season starts. In effect, Jan 01, 2010 will be considered the relevant date for the next season

Details can be seen on this link.

Intuitively, it seems that this is a very Pro-Arsenal rule. Moneybags like Chelsea and Citeh will have to take a look at their squad and come up with some balancing act. They cannot just go on buying big names from around the world and cannot have a disproportionately large squad. Since Arsenal have the best youth system in England, we can have much better depth in the B-list.

For the record here is how the present Arsenal squad looks,

(c) DesiGunner 2010

The names in Red are those who qualify both as Home-Grown and U-21 for the next season. Those in Blue are Home-Grown but NOT U-21. In total, this list has 29 names, 8 of whom are in Red and another 8 in Blue.  I’ve left Diaby out because I think he joined Arsenal after his 19th birthday and does not qualify as a home-grown player, but I’m not sure about it.

I’ve included Vela as home grown but he has spent a lot of time on loan out side England which could lead to a complication. As he is U-21 for this season it’s not a big deal.

We can consider the 8 players in red to be part of the B-list. This means without making any changes to the primary squad we can still add 4 more players without thinking about nationality or age.

Assuming that at least one defender and a keeper might move on, this will give us the opportunity of signing 6 players. In short, as far as buying players is concerned we don’t have to worry at all.

It’s also safe to assume that our youth and reserves players are all eligible as most of them are U-21. Players like Kerrea Gilbert and Jay Simpson might have to move on. There is a theory that we might get a good price for some of our surplus “English” talent but that would depend on the player being Premier League quality.

It all seems quite rosy up to this point and you might be wondering why I said the squad quota is bad for Arsenal! Well, the first issue is the age limit. 21 is not a good age limit for deciding whether a player is good enough or not.

We’ve invested heavily in youth and it would be good for us to keep these players as long as we want. Unfortunately, as these players grow older the 25 player limit could force our hand. For instance, Walcott, Vela, Gibbs and Traore will be over 21 next year. Merida, Ramsey and Szczesny will be over 21 the year after. Some of the promising players reserves will also cross the 21 year limit in the coming years.

Most of these players will develop to their full potential around the age of 23-25. It would be a real shame if we were forced to sell some of them at 21 just because they aren’t good enough at that age. Of course, there are other options like sending them on loan, and selling them with a buy back clause, etc.

The real problem is that we need a bigger squad to cope with the injuries that we have. Some of the young players help us on that front, although the counter argument could be that the likes of Vela and Merida have hardly featured this year so we might as well make space in the squad by sending them on loan.

I feel a limit on squad based on numbers is illogical and artificial. The best limit should be based on the total salary expense which should be limited to a percentage of revenues. In this way clubs would have the freedom to use the money they earn in any manner suitable to them.

There is another argument about the legality of this rule. I’m not sure how this can be considered illegal because it doesn’t really say you cannot sign foreign players. Putting a limit on how many you can sign is just the same as UEFA saying you cannot spend more than what you earn. It’s a means of control and as long as it is reasonable I can’t see a legal problem emerging. Having said that, you can never underestimate the power of money and how the rich can get the rules tweaked to their advantage based on some or the other technicality.

Assuming the rule is implemented and stays on in the coming years, amongst our rivals United are quite well placed, Liverpool seem to be in the most trouble and their recent signings point towards a course correction, and the rich daddies will have to think about their play-things a lot more carefully.

Arsenal don’t have a problem this year and we can buy whoever we want. The inherent assumption being Arsene won’t sign more than two or three players unless there are a significant number of departures. In the coming years we will have to be more careful with how we develop our younger players but that’s a headache for another year. Right now we can focus on developing the squad to challenge for the titles next year.

Update July 27, 2010: From the above list, Gallas, Silvestre, and Eduardo have left and we have signed Koscielny and Chamakh. That means we have 20 senior players (above 21). That leaves us with room to sign 5 more. If Campbell does not sign, we’ll have to leave his spot vacant or promote a junior home grown player or sign a senior home grown player.

If we sell a goalkeeper and buy a new one it will not affect our numbers and we are not likely to have 4 keepers in the squad of 25 so that will open another place.

We will have to have room for players like Walcott and Vela who will be over 21 next year but we have enough room to spare. I think Arsenal are amongst the best placed teams in this regard.


Barca 1 – 0 Inter: Revenge of the Sith

April 28, 2010

Those who believe ends justify means will hail the Sith Lord for his victory. Others who believe in doing the right thing over and above everything else will cringe at the sight of the Dark One standing at the Camp Nou arms raised, index fingers pointing to the sky.

One of the major reasons I’m a staunch Arsene supporter is that Le Boss does the right thing. The man’s adherence to principles and the right ones at that makes him stand out amongst all the top managers in this world.

I can understand some Arsenal fans like to take a blinkered view of success measured only in terms of silverware. I can also understand why people appreciate the manager who must not be named. I just don’t agree with it.

Inter achieved their objective and it doesn’t matter that they had a disgraceful 14% possession or just one shot on goal, the scuffed Chivu free kick that was way off target.

This image for shots on goal would make you wonder if this was a training exercise of attack vs defence. The majority in the world will only remember who qualified and in the eyes of some that’s enough justification.

The reason I hate top teams playing with 10-11 defenders is that it sets a very bad example. The nature of the game is such that defending is much easier than attacking. Consequently, mastering defence is much easier than creating a strong attack.

When a team like Inter goes through against the best attacking team, it tells all the small teams they must start putting men behind the ball if they want to get results. Is it a surprise then that so many teams in England park the bus and make it difficult for the top teams? If relegation battlers do that I can understand. But when you see a team that’s been winning the Italian league do that against the team winning the La Liga, you really worry for the future of football.

If Bojan had put his header one yard to the left all negative tactics, hard work and discipline would have been meaningless. I doubt anyone but Barca fans will remember this a few weeks down the line, leave alone a few years. But it does bring some perspective to the result and highlights a very fine line between winning and losing.

I’m not taking anything away from Inter. They did enough over two legs and Barca really didn’t have enough in attack. The Italians forced them wide with an impenetrable core and had a six man line ready to deal with any cross. It was simple, really, and the keyword for success was discipline. You could say the keywords for failure were unimaginative and insipid.

The Nerazzuri always had three or four players on Messi when the diminutive wiz got the ball and that rendered him ineffective. Busquets, Kieta, Toure, Maxwell, Pedro, Bojan and Alves were just not good enough in the final third. Xavi didn’t have enough support and his limitations are exposed when the opposition is so well organized. Ibrahimovic was so bad Barca must be ruing the day they swapped him for the extremely professional and effective Eto’o. After this game that looks like the transfer blooper of the season.

I don’t think there is much else Barcelona could have done. Perhaps, they could have played Pique as a centre forward right after the sending off. In hindsight, that seems a good solution as the defender was their best player. Messi could have dropped deep more often and made some runs on the flanks. Beyond that the Barca squad were quite limited in what they could offer.

If anything this semi-final just shows how difficult it is for teams like Arsenal and Barcelona when a top quality defensive unit sets its stall out. In the first leg Barca lost 3-1 in a manner reminiscent of our recent defeats at the hands of United and Chelsea. In the second leg the Catalans struggled to create chances of note, once again reminding us of our struggles against the strong defensive units fighting for the Premier League crown.

Should Arsenal and Barcelona change their approach or is there another way around this? Both can certainly improve their defence. I am all in favour of playing the beautiful game but that doesn’t mean you have to be stupid and naive at the back. The goals we concede against the top sides and those that Barca conceded in the first leg were down to fundamentally poor defending. You have to learn the tricks of the Dark Arts even if you wish to conquer them with magic and beauty. Here’s hoping that next year we see the Return of the Jedi!

P.S – Will this make Barca even more desperate for Cesc!?


Barcelona Or Inter, Who Are You Rooting For?

April 28, 2010

From a footballing point of view there isn’t much left to look forward to as far as Arsenal fans are concerned . The couple of games left are mostly academic in nature. The season-end autopsy and transfer madness will get into top gear only after these games and that puts us in a state of limbo.

At such a time this Champions League semi-final clash comes as a respite. What can be more exciting than the battle of Good vs Evil on a football pitch when you have the luxury of watching as a neutral!?

With due respect to Bayern, I feel this game is potentially the title decider. The Germans proved me wrong when I thought United will get past them with ease and they might prove me wrong again by winning at the Bernabeu, but somehow, I just can’t see it happening.

The Catalan attack is too strong for their defence and the Italian defence is too strong for their attack. Of course, a moment of magic from the supremely talented wingers in the German side could make a difference but the odds of that are slim.

I’ve made no secret of my dislike, bordering on hatred, for the Dark Lord of Anti-Football and his tactics and this game will be no different. I normally support any team that plays against the manager who must not be named and Barcelona are my second favourite team anyway, as I assume is the case with many Gooners who don’t live in England. Nothing against English Gooners but the assumption is that they might have another local team that they support.

In the group stages the Catalans won 2-0 at the Camp Nou and a similar score line should see them through. Easier said than done, I know. It gets progressively tougher against the master of the dark arts once he gets time to study a team’s style and devise his negative tactics to counter them. Result – a nil all draw at the San Siro in the first meeting but a 3-1 win for the home side in the game that mattered a lot more.

It’s ironical that Barcelona conceded three for the first time this season against a team that is amongst the most defensive in the world. But more than ironical, it’s insightful as it revealed inherent weaknesses in the Catalan midfield and defence. Once their all conquering attack was blunted by intelligent and diligent defending, their vulnerabilities came to the fore.

This is quite simply the biggest challenge that Guardiola has faced in his illustrious but young management career. At the same stage last year, Guus Hiddink asked some serious questions and was helped by the referee but a profligate Drogba and an injury time strike saw his team through.  This year he will need a lot more than that and I’m really looking forward to the Spanish Wizard’s tactics for this game.

Inter will be happy to sit deep with their lines close together. They will allow the hosts to have the all the possession in two-thirds of the pitch, knowing fully well that chances of conceding from such a range are freakish at best. At the same time the Italians will be ready to pounce on any mistake by the Spaniards. As we saw in the first game, the likes of Eto’o, Milito and Sneijder can really hurt a team if they slip up.

In effect, this is the first time Barcelona will be forced to attack while keeping guard on the back door. It’s something we have struggled with this season so there’s an added bit of intrigue involved. Will Guardiola have a trick up his sleeve, will Messi rise to the occasion and slay the demons from Italy, or will the forces of evil thrive on a gloomy night?


Arsenal 0 -0 City, Shrek Undeserving Winner, Team of the Year, More

April 26, 2010

I never like the idea of missing an Arsenal game but somehow my luck has been more than favourable. Last year I missed the 0-0 at Old Trafford and this game turned out to be another borefest with the team from Manchester intent on getting a draw.

There’s no point in going into the details of such a game but I’ll mention a few observations

  • City, who scored 3 at Old Trafford and 4 at Stamford Bridge, managed only 3 shots on goal in the whole game. It’s perhaps the combination of their defensive tactics, the importance of having Song on the pitch and Arsenal taking fewer risks while going forward. It always makes me wonder if we can stop such an attacking team from even creating any chances, why do we concede stupid goals against smaller teams!? Let’s not forget we had Silvestre and Fabianski playing in this one whereas we’ve conceded stupid goals with Gallas and Vermaelen in the team.
  • Arsenal fullbacks did a great job on Bellamy and Johnson.
  • Van Persie looked in good touch but lacked support.
  • In general our players worked much harder than what I’ve seen in the last few games.
  • Tactically we still make the same mistakes.
  • The game left me rooting for Villa to take fourth spot.

In other news, as expected, Shrek has been crowned the PFA player of the year. I’d analysed this in detail and there is no doubt Fabregas should have been the deserving winner. This just goes to show how the media can influence the minds of ordinary people by repeating some nonsense over and over.

The team of the year is a decent one but it could have been better,

Hart; Ivanovic, Dunne, Vermaelen, Evra; Valencia, Cesc, Fletcher, Milner; Rooney, Drogba.

The first and most obvious change would be to have Malouda in for Valencia. The Chelsea winger has been far more impressive than the United player and is a naturally left footed offering better balance to the team. I’d also pick Song over Fletcher any day but some might consider that an Arsenal bias. And I can’t see anyone taking the place of Reina in goal.

The rumour mill has been surprisingly silent in the last few days after Arsene quashed all speculation by a sweeping denial before the City game.

I read some transfer rumours in the newspapers and they are all wrong, all of them. So you do not even need to ask me one name – they are all wrong.

The transfer market will get its due and I suspect Arsenal will be amongst the busier teams. But for now I think it’s important for everyone at the club to focus on the games that remain and a couple of wins would certainly give our final standing a lot more respectability.


Arsenal V Man City: Thoughts and Fears

April 23, 2010

When we had 12 or 13 games remaining and there were talks of us winning all the games, I’d thought of this fixture as our toughest. Now that the challenge for top spot has fizzled out and we’ve lost more than half our first team to injuries it looks even more daunting.

I guess my weekend travel comes at a good time. I’ll be missing this game and somehow that comes as a relief. As a consequence of the travel the match analysis and other posts will be delayed till I’m back and can catch the game on ATVO.

Tactics

This section is getting irrelevant. I can write whatever tactics I think of but Arsenal hardly change their tack. We will line up with the same formation and play pretty much the same game.

The only tactical change I can see in our approach would be that our full backs might stay deeper in this game to counter the threat of Bellamy, Johnson and co. We just have to hope that our defence can handle their forward line and counter attacks.

Citeh for their part will fight for every ball as they have a lot to gain. Arsenal can at best hold on to third spot and hopefully that should be motivation enough for our players.

Team Thoughts

The other change could be in personnel. Van Persie might get a start although I’m not sure he’s fit enough to play in a game of such intensity. Song could come back into the starting line up and that will automatically make us twice as strong as the team we sent out at Wigan.

Diaby and Nasri will keep their place and so will the back four.  Is it possible that we see Mannone between the sticks? If Fabianski can get chance after chance why not Don Vito!?

Up front Arsene will have some tough choices. If RvP starts, then Bendtner has to move to a wing. He could play Eboue on the right and Bendtner on the left. Or he could have the young Dane on the right and Rosicky might keep his place on the left. That makes more sense as we’ll need at least one technical player along with Nasri to control some of the possession.

The team I’d like to see is,

Mannone; Sagna, Campbell, Silvestre, Clichy; Song, Diaby, Nasri; Bendtner, RvP, Rosicky.

Bottom-line

This game would have been a challenge for our full first team. City have done the double over Chelsea and have troubled United in both the games. If our reserve team can get a draw it’ll be an achievement.


Detailed Analysis Proves Fabregas Deserves Player of the Year

April 22, 2010

The PFA Player of the Year awards are coming up. The shortlist is quite predictable. Cesc is up against Shrek, Drogba and Tevez and I believe El Capitan is by far the best player in that group.

No doubt all three strikers have been in great form and are the best players in top quality teams. Each of them deserves special mention but the moment you put them alongside Cesc, they don’t look in the same league.

With due respect, I’ll leave Tevez out of this discussion. He’s been brilliant but just a tad short of the others.

There are different ways of looking at this argument. Stats tell one part of the story.

Cesc – 15 G 15 A @ 73 mins per G/A

Shrek – 26 G 5 A @ 82 mins per G/A

Drogba – 25 G 11 A @ 69 mins per G/A

We can also look at the ratio of total shots to goals scored. It would tell us who finishes better.

Cesc – 15G 63S – Roughly just over one in four.

Shrek – 26G 122S – Just below one in five.

Drogba – 25G 130S – Just above one in five.

Would it be safe to conclude that if Cesc had the luxury of being in the attacking areas all the time he’d have scored and created a lot more?

Simply on these numbers Drogba is the front runner. If Chelsea win the league he’d be entitled to it even more. But we all know football isn’t only about goals and assists.

Let’s look at passes, which show a player’s general involvement in the game.

Cesc – 1385 successful out of 1784 Total @ 78%

Shrek – 871 successful out of 1210 Total @ 72%

Drogba – 326 successful out of 580 Total @ 56%

Even I was surprised with Drogba’s stats. Both Rooney and Drogba have played as central strikers but Rooney is far more involved with the game than Drogba is. It’s Interesting to note that Drogba has a lot of assists from relatively few passes. I tend to believe that’s because he is mostly in or around the penalty box.

If I digress for a minute, do you remember the time when Arsene said something like – Drogba is a very good striker but he doesn’t do much else on the pitch! His words were twisted into “Drogba doesn’t do much” and everyone had a go at Wenger for being senile. Take a look at the stats above and you’ll see what Arsene said made perfect sense.

Okay, back on track, lets take a look at tackles.

Cesc  — 43W 19L – Success Rate 69%

Rooney – 15W 5L – Success Rate 75%

Drogba – 13W 8L – Success Rate 62%

I’m certain if we can get stats for distances covered in total and on average, Fabregas will do better than both the strikers. Those numbers could be pretty similar to the ones for passing.

I know some of these stats are not glamorous. Who talks about tackles and passes when discussing player of the year!? But put them all together and we get a very clear picture of the most valuable player. And that’s my understanding of Player of the Year – the man who stands out as the most influential.

Then we have subjective factors and there can be a lot of difference of opinion on these.

Firstly, Fabregas has to contribute a great deal in defence. So he can’t focus his energies mostly on attack. How do we calculate the impact of that?

Secondly, how do we measure the impact of team mates? Half the time Cesc played without a proper striker in front of him!

Thirdly, can anyone measure the pressure of captaincy on a 22 year old in a team that is constantly under scrutiny and where the previous captain had some torrid times?

Finally and most importantly, Cesc gets kicked all the time. Most of those aren’t called fouls because he still manages to keep the ball and the play continues. Sure, Drogba gets fouled a lot but that’s mostly a wrestling bout with a defender. I don’t think Rooney and Drogba put together get kicked as much as Fabregas. Add to this the fact that he’s seen three of his team-mates’ legs snapped into two and countless other injuries from bad tackles. How do we take this into consideration?

Conclusion

Drogba is clearly an outstanding centre forward. His stats are phenomenal, especially his 69 min for a goal or assist. If the Ivorian took penalties it could have been even more impressive. If the award had been for the best striker he’d have won it hands down.

Rooney has worked a lot more than Drogba and his striking stats aren’t too bad either, although some might say 82 mins per goal or assist isn’t earth shattering given the fact that the other two have done much better. It’s a shame that the British media is trying to brainwash everyone into believing that Rooney is a shoo-in when in fact he is a distant third.

El Capitan’s attacking stats are as good as any striker’s and his passing and general involvement is better than most midfielders. Based on the subjective issues I’d also say the Spaniard has had to fight against the odds and literally battle on the pitch in most of the games.

All said and done, Fabregas is the best player in the league and clearly deserves the Player of the Year award.


Inter Showed The Change Of Pace That Arsenal Have Been Missing

April 21, 2010

I hate the self styled Special One. I’ve often called him the Dark Lord of anti-football, a man capable of taking all joy out of the beautiful game. Irrespective of how one might feel about him, no one can deny the tactical genius of the manager who must not be named.

I had mixed feelings about this semi-final. I want football to win and by consequence I want Barcelona to win. Yet, the performance of Inter had some beauty in itself. Any fan who considers himself a student of the game would have learnt a lot watching the Nerazzurri carve out a win against the reigning champions of everything.

A supposedly defensive team with only 28% possession scored three goals while an impeccable attacking machine boasting the greatest talent in world football and 72% of the ball could only fashion one. Can it get any more counterintuitive than that!?

The simple truth of the game was that Inter were far more efficient with their possession than Barcelona were with theirs. Of course they were helped by the vast open spaces in the Barca half and to some extent by the referee and his assistant but no one can claim the result isn’t a fair reflection of the game.

With less than half the possession the hosts created almost the same number of chances as the visitors.  In part it is a testament to the dark arts of defence that Dark Lord has mastered and the rest to the uncomplicated nature of their attack. One of Inter’s strengths was the speed with which they converted a change of possession into a chance on goal.

It took me back to the days when Arsenal could massacre a team that pushed forward and lost the ball. One player wins a challenge, the striker exploits the space available, a couple of support players blitz forward and the ball is in the back of the net before the opposition realizes they’ve lost possession.

Look at the goals Inter scored. They always had 2 or 3 players in the box and Barca hardly got their midfield back in support. Their back four just wasn’t equipped to deal with a rapid attack in numbers, very few defences can.

A number of Arsenal fans have been wondering why we can’t do this anymore. Yes, we do score some goals on the counter but not as many or as often as we should be. I remember the other day, I think it was against Wolves, when we had a 4 V 1 situation in injury time and still managed to mess it up. These days even the likes of Wigan and West Ham can set up camp in the Arsenal half leave alone the might of Barcelona.

This isn’t an easy question to answer. The simplest explanation is to blame the quality of the players. The obvious counter argument is that if we have so many sub-standard players how could we have been in the title race with 5 games to go and comfortably above teams that have outspent us for years!?

As I said, it’s not an easy question to answer. What we do need is an acknowledgement of the fact that we’ve lost an edge on our counter attacks. Then we need serious work on improving this aspect of our game. For a long time I’ve been getting a feeling that we are content with only one style of play. We try to keep the ball and break the opposition down.

On rare occasions, we come up against a team like Barca who can keep it better than us. Result – a clueless Arsenal side running around in desperation, fighting but yielding to elementary mistakes borne out of an unfamiliar game style.

Our other problem games have been against teams with a solid defence and a strong counter attack. United and Chelsea have mastered this game plan against us, Man City and Tottenham have taken a leaf out of their book. Sunderland were defending for a draw and got a freak goal for the win, while the Wigan game was too crazy to be classified into any category.

If we wish to develop into a squad capable of challenging on multiple fronts we need adaptability. A complete change of personnel and manager cannot be the answer. Acknowledgement of the need, dedicated training, hard work and some tweaks in the squad could be.

As always, the onus is on Arsene. His future and that of many of his youngsters depends on it.