PFA Awards Disappointing + Mourinho Learns From Arsene + Original Cesc Interview

April 19, 2011

I want to start with a mention of the PFA awards and the Team of the Year. Congratulations to Wilshere for picking up the Young Player of the Year award, and deservedly so. Gareth Bale was chosen as the Player of the Year and Nasri came in second. And in case you haven’t seen it, the team of the year is,

Van der Saar – Sagna, Vidic, Kompany, Cole – Nani, Nasri, Wilshere, Bale – Tevez, Berbatov.

Rather uninspiring if I may say so. One thing that struck me about this seasons list, and by extension the performances of the teams, is that none of the players really stood out. Last year Rooney, Cesc, and Drogba had truly great seasons. I don’t think the same can be said for the likes of Nasri or Bale who have been good in patches but have had relatively little impact in terms of goals, assists, or match winning contributions when compared to their counterparts from last year.

Even looking at the whole team, it’s difficult to say anyone apart from Nani or Wilshere would have gotten into last year’s selection. So have all these players suddenly dropped their performance levels? Has the league got that much tougher this season? Has this season been more about grinding out results than mesmerizing displays?

I don’t know the exact reasons for this change but one thing is for sure, when any team’s best player doesn’t perform at his peak the performances of the whole team suffer. In that sense it is safe to say the top three teams have been a little below par this year, for different reasons though. Rooney has been moved to a different position where he is more useful to the balance of the side but does not have enough personal stats to show for it. Cesc has struggled with injuries while Drogba was down with Malaria and more recently Torresitis (an affliction where a good player cannot get enough games/starts because a more expensive one who plays the same position is in the squad).

One interesting question that arises is – Has Wenger been justified in promoting Wilshere rather than breaking the bank on Yaya Toure as many fans wanted?

The smaller teams have certainly improved a lot. This could have led to lesser space in attacking areas, better organization and marking, more competitive games, and consequently fewer chances for any individual to truly stand out. I don’t think this is the sole or main reason for the distinctly lower quality individual efforts but it is certainly a crucial factor.

Moving on to Spain, I was watching the El Classico last weekend and noticed something interesting. Real Madrid really had a go at Barcelona in the final 15-20 minutes and almost stole a win. This might never come out but I am fairly certain Mourinho saw the way Arsenal troubled Guardiola’s side and has adapted his tactics to follow in Wenger’s path.

Of course, we will know more in the coming days as there are three more Classicos to play. Many might not understand this or believe it but to me it is a great testament to Wenger’s tactical acumen that an evil genius like Jose is copying his approach as he can’t really deploy the Inter style at Madrid. Kudos to the Special One too for being such a quick learner.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Wenger is a tactical genius (regular readers know my reservations on this topic) but it is certain that Arsene is not a tactically clueless idiot as some would have you believe. As always the truth is somewhere in between. More on this topic at some other time.

While we are still in Spain, I wanted to share a couple of links from the Don Balon site. These look like the original interview transcripts but I am not sure. Can someone who knows Spanish please provide a better, more in keeping with the tone and context, translation than the one we have seen in the English media.

On this link you will see the interview about the need for Arsenal to choose between winning and training. On this one Cesc talks about the Champions League tie, his performance, and injury. I’d really love a good translation of the second one as it seems very relevant and is quite a short one. Unfortunately, Google translate didn’t do a very good job.

I’d also like to mention that fans should not fall for the sensationalism of the tabloids or the doom mongers. Cesc is an honest person and has given his genuine opinion. It is not an ultimatum to the club and I don’t think he is trying to talk his way out. It wasn’t the best thing to say but I have said this about Arsene and the players on more than one occasion – they don’t know how to play the media and often give intelligent answers that come to bite them in the backside because the words are twisted way out of context.

Nobody including Wenger denies that there is plenty of room for improvement at Arsenal. I don’t want to get into this discussion right now, it’s a never ending argument so will leave it for the summer. But we must respect Fabregas for saying what he believes to be true. We can criticize him for the timing and perhaps a little lack of tact but it’s harsh to say he is sulking or trying to force his way out. In fact, if anything, it seems he is mentally preparing himself for the long haul.

Finally, I wanted to mention something about the last article and the responses. One chap left ten or more anti-Wenger replies under different names. I just saw them this morning and have since removed them. I don’t know how people find the time and energy to write so many pointless comments but it’s not difficult to see why many Gooners consider such commentators to be Spuds in disguise. From now on if I believe that the same person is leaving abusive comments without any real contribution I will delete the comments without any explanation.

I have no problems with those who disagree with the manager, the board, or any other part of the club. I am also quite happy to allow comments that don’t concur with my opinion. But I will not tolerate an abusive person pretending to be ten people while not making a single meaningful effort to make a point.

Those fans who genuinely support the club should also remember that if it seems there are hundreds of people against the club and Wenger, it is quite likely to be a handful of disgruntled idiots and some Spud trolls polluting the sanctity of the Arsenalsphere.

That’s it for now, I’ll do the NLD preview a little later in the day.

Bale V Walcott: Have You Been Conned By The Pundits?

January 18, 2011

Anyone who’s been following the Premiership this year will undoubtedly have heard rave reviews about Bale. Many players divide opinions but it seems to be that the Tiny Tott winger has been universally lauded. Some have gone so far as to compare him with Messi!

Speaking of players dividing opinions while talking of Bale the name Theo Walcott comes to mind. The Arsenal youngster has had his share of critics all through his Arsenal career to date. I have read plenty of opinions from pundits and fans that Walcott will never be good enough.

It’s an interesting contrast to say the least.

Before going further I’ll acknowledge that Gareth Bale is a very good player. He has pace, good technique, and is quite intelligent on the field. I have nothing against the Welshman and don’t wish to take anything away from his accomplishments.

Upon closer examination we do get some interesting facts about the two players in question.

Bale has scored 7 goals and has 3 assists in the League this season in roughly 1947 minutes. That comes to an average of a goal or assist every 195 minutes or more than two games. In contrast, Walcott has 6 goals and 4 assists in 664 minutes or one goal or assist every 66 minutes.

Someone might argue that we cannot read too much into those stats but they’ll have to give a strong justification in my opinion. If the numbers had been closer I’d have accepted that argument but as we can see Walcott makes an impact in one-third the time that Bale does. It’s too big a gap to ignore.

Let’s look at some other stats and performances in big games.

Theo doesn’t make as many passes as Song or Cesc. That is understandable. It’s not part of his job description. But he makes an impact, and even in the big games. One just has to look at the recent game against Chelsea to see an example of this.

In contrast, Bale has been a flop against the likes of Chelsea and United. In the last 0-0 borefest against United, Bale attempted 40 passes and completed 65% of those. He just had one shot on target and that was a lame free-kick. Out of his 9 crosses only two were successful and one of those two went all the way to Hutton on the right touchline.

Earlier, against Chelsea, even when the Blues were out of form, Bale only attempted 25 passes and completed 13 of those. And this was with Paulo Ferreira at Right Back.

When combined with the goal and assist stats mentioned earlier this does show that while Bale is a very good player, he is not really the world beater he’s made out to be. If he moved to a better team Bale might improve his numbers significantly but for the time being he isn’t shattering the earth.

This analysis made me wonder why is Bale hyped to such an extent while Walcott gets criticized even when he has a good game. Since both are British, that is certainly not a factor.

The first thought that comes to mind is the club these players play for. I’ve always believed and often mentioned, and I guess this is a feeling shared by many, that some pundits just can’t be positive about anything Arsenal. Then there are those who feel so inferior in front of Wenger that they just have to berate Le Boss and the Gunners.

On the other hand, Redknapp has a reverse effect on these pundits. He is almost at their level and makes them feel important. They reciprocate by hyping ‘Arry. It also rubs off on their analysis of the Tiny Totts. Bale has obviously benefitted from this.

The second thought, and this seems very relevant to me, was that Bale is an archetypal British player – Wide player, quick, with lots of crosses and shooting.

When the ball fizzes across the penalty box at pace it excites these pundits. It’s the point where their understanding and Redknapp’s tactics come together. They see it as the best form of football. It doesn’t matter that in most cases, no striker will ever be able to get on the end of these crosses. They don’t realize that statistically these crosses are extremely inefficient and are directly responsible for Bale having such a low minutes per goal/assist ratio.

Ideally, in their opinions, Walcott should have been a similar player. But he doesn’t always “whip it in with pace”, or “get it into the right areas”. They don’t like it. They don’t like the fact that his manager is trying to teach him something different, more intelligent, and three times more effective!

These pundits are happy if half a dozen meaningless crosses whiz across the penalty box. They don’t appreciate it when a player gets to the byline and tries to look for a good pass. They deride him when he tries to think at a high speed and fails.

When I thought of it this way, it wasn’t difficult to see why Walcott is treated the way he has been. Nor is it hard to understand the hype around Bale. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Walcott is great or that Bale is no good. I like both players. I just don’t like the differences in general perception about the two, especially as they’re completely unjustified and fuelled by ignorant, misguided punditry. Unfortunately, too many people seem to get conned by these experts. Are you one of them?

PS: Sorry for going AWOL in the last couple of days. It’s really hectic. Even for this piece I barely found time at midnight. And apologies if that’s led to any bloopers. I haven’t been able to double check the details or proof read the post.

Pictorial: Terrific Dive By Gareth Bale

September 30, 2010

I was watching the highlights of the Champions League games when I came across this work of art. Let’s have a look at some pictures.

Bale brings the ball into the penalty area. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a clever approach. Then he keeps it closer to his left foot and away from the defender. Once again, an intelligent bit of football. So far so good.

Then he kicks it forward with his left foot as he sees the defender diving in. Still nothing wrong.

After that is the truly artistic part. Keep an eye on his right leg and the defender’s left leg.

There is a great deal of daylight between the two.

In the above image, the defenders leg is on the ground. Bale could have easily continued his run but he lets his left leg hang.

We can see he is already on his way down without any contact. In a way he forces contact by falling on the defender.

Let’s look at this from another angle.

The first angle showed us just how much distance there was between Bale’s right leg and the defender’s left leg in one dimension. This angle shows us the other dimension. It’s clear from the picture above.

Even when the defender’s leg is on the ground, Bale’s leg isn’t even close.

Finally he just drags his right leg onto the defender.

The angle from the back clearly shows us daylight between the two players. The last three images also give us a perspective on the distance between them. If you only see the last image or this angle alone, something that the ref might have seen, it could look like a penalty. But see both the angles and try to visualize in three dimensions, you’ll see it’s a pretty blatant dive.

The funny part is the ref’s assistant was barely five yards away just behind the goal line. What’s the point of having these assistants if they can’t see such a dive? One could argue that a true artist can fool a ref’s assistant even at five yards. By that logic Bale deserves an Oscar for his theatrics.

If you add to this the fact that the first and third penalties were a joke, Huddlestone should have been sent off for a violent arm in the face of an opponent, and the inconsistency with the penalty not given for the Crouch handball, you have to wonder what’s going on?

Wonder what ‘Arry, he of the ‘Nasri dived’ fame, thinks of this? Perhaps, in twitchyland, it’s only a dive when your shirt has been tugged and not when you just milk a mistimed tackle that doesn’t really touch you.

The sad part was that almost everyone in the media has missed this one. Could it be that they didn’t even bother checking since this is an honest British lad we’re talking about? Someone please enlighten me if the definition of contact or foul is different in the British Isles.

Anyway, this dive or the diabolical performance by the ref doesn’t bother me. As long as Sagna knows what he will be up against I’ve no concern. For now, let’s just applaud an artistic genius.