Monday, 25 April 2011

Arsene Wenger's Title Aspirations Gone and Next Could Be His Legacy

Arsenal's capitulation in the final third of the season became all but complete, thanks to a 2-1 defeat to Bolton yesterday. This familiar end of season vibe really has come to no real surprise, as some argued it was simply a matter of time before Arsenal dropped out of the title race. Just to add insult to injury it seems they've even sacrificed runners-up spot to London rivals Chelsea. As I write this, this has basically become the norm for Arsenal fans over the past seven seasons.

I took my time to write this blog post as I wanted to get the full response from Arsenal fans, and let the dust fall from yesterdays defeat. I didn't want to hear hasty emotional responses with no real substance such as "Sack Wenger, hire Pep Guardiola and buy Lionel Messi!” The serious and somewhat emotional response I got was all too familiar; Wenger must change his philosophy or Arsenal must change their manager.

Now let's be clear, I think it’s fair to say that to some extent every football fan in the World can appreciate what Arsene Wenger has done for modern game, let alone the English premiership.

I understand that Arsenal excellent "self-sustaining business model" is an example of the correct way football clubs should be run.

I also appreciate the football players Arsene Wenger has developed into some of the best to ever play the game; names such as Vieira, Henry, Bergkamp, Pires, Fabregas, Campbell, Ljungberg and many more have all flourished under Wenger’s tutor ledge and won major honours, whether it be club or country level.

Now Wenger’s fully deserves these accolades and plaudits, but there is an undeniable black mark on Arsene Wenger’s track record, and that is that for six years (soon to be seven) he has failed to win any form of silverware with the North London side.

Now speaking frankly, if you were at any other big club, no matter what league it is or what the level may be, three years without a trophy let alone seven is a catastrophe. Especially considering the profit Arsenal have made over the past few years from selling on some of their well known players, not to mention the money they have made from the fans in ticket sales and merchandise.

Arsenal as perennial runners-up since their last trophy win
2004/05 – 2nd Premier League, FA Cup Winners
2005/06 – 4th Premier League, Champions League Runners-up, League Cup Semi-finals
2006/07 – 4th Premier League
2007/08 – 3rd Premier League
2008/09 – 4th Premier League, FA Cup Semi-finals, Champions League Semi-finals
2009/10 – 3rd Premier League
2010/11 – League Cup Runners-up

It would seem that if Mr. Wenger was a manager of a mid-table club, in which it's only ambitions were to be finishing in a relatively comfortable league position every year while working on a tight budget he would be one of the greatest managers in history, but he is the manager of Arsenal Football Club, one of the most successful and well supported clubs in European domestic football.

In no way am I saying Wenger should blow a load of money, and begin to work within dept, but I'm saying there are no more excuses and there is no excuses for him not to dip into the transfer market and sign either experienced class individuals (baring in mind experienced players does not have to be 30 plus, as a player like Gary Cahill is 25 years old and has vast Premiership experience), or either buy a difference maker. A proven match winner. Why? Because the period in which Wenger had to nurture and develop this current batch of players into world beaters, has been and gone (these past seven years).

I also feel it is now time to remove some of the dead wood from the squad, and add depth to an excellent starting XI. The main response from a select group of fans is the despite the good defensive record this season, the current back five just don't cut the mustard.

For me, the main culprit is Gael Clichy, and has been for some time. A new left back is needed, in part with a new central defender with Premiership experience and who can play at the highest level. Step forward a Gary Cahill or a Brede Hangeland. Either of these two would add some much needed steel to that shaky back four, and go some way to improving their poor set piece defensive record (Arsenal have conceded 20 goals from set plays this season, with only Blackpool, Sunderland, Aston Villa and West Brom conceding more).

At right back, Bacary Sagna is a very good and consistent footballer, but has no adequate cover. Emmanuel Eboue is now pretty much a right midfielder and his indecisiveness (and attacking mentality) makes him a liability at right back.

An all too familiar problem with Arsenal is their Goalkeeper. Since Jens Lehmann, Arsenal hasn’t had a reliable and class goalkeeper. A key attribute of being a goalkeeper, is having resilience and having character. Woljiech Szczesny has both of these attributes, but his lack of experience has faltered him twice this season. In the Carling Cup final where he was to blame for not taking control of simple defensive clearance, and in the 3-3 draw with rivals Spurs, giving away a rash penalty after Arsenal seemed likely to withstand the pressure and hold out for a win.

Now Szczesny should be the backup goalkeeper and learn the tricks of the trade from a world class experienced goalkeeper, for this, Mr Wenger must look no further that Manchester City's benchwarmer Shay Given.

Fabianski is unreliable, Almunia is most likely to leave in the summer, and if Lehmann’s experience is so vital, hand him a coaching role. The Arsenal board must put a bit of pressure on Arsene Wenger, but subsequently back him financially in pursuit of these players.

Up front, it’s simple; either get rid of the faltering 4-2-3-1 formation and switch to 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 to get the best out of Arsenal's strikers. Not only does this formation expose Arsenals fullbacks, but the high line imposed by Koscielny and Djourou makes them susceptible to the ball over the top, and also on the turn against quick strikers.

Also when players like Clichy, Sagna, Walcott or Nasri get the ball into wider areas, they deliver crosses in the box, aiming at one striker who is surrounded by five defenders. So it’s pretty much crossing to nobody. Two strikers up front (Bendtner or Chamahk with Van Persie) would mean they would obviously be the main target for these wasted crosses.

Arsenal have completed 156 out of 813 crosses, giving them a 19% success rate, the 2nd worst after Man CityLink
Robin Van Persie is a world class striker and we have seen this since his return from injury, and it is vital for Arsenal to do everything within their power to make sure he gets adequate protection in order to stay fit for a whole season. Scoring in the 2-1 defeat yesterday meant he became the first striker to score away goals in seven consecutive games. Van Persie has also hit 18 goals in his last 19 appearances in all competitions. Vital.

On to Nicklas Bendtner, who has the qualities to be a very good striker, but he is very arrogant. He needs to prove himself on the football pitch, but currently isn't getting this opportunity under Wenger. A Bendtner/RVP combination I believe, could work since the two players styles complement each other quite well.

As for Marouane Chamahk; I really can’t see him being cut out for the Premiership. To play consistently for 3 months straight and then disappear off the radar completely (since December, and say he is suffer from “tiredness”) just shows he lacks both the physical and mental attributes need to succeed in England.

On a final note regarding the strikers, Arsenal might as well Carlos Vela. The young Mexican is synonymous with a lack of goals, and is very poor compared to his fellow countryman Javier Hernandez who has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water.

That’s my take on the Arsenal squad, and the current crop available, who are simple not cutting it.

Now I haven't been sitting here thinking of Fantasy Football or spent the whole afternoon playing Football Manager, I have looked at the most viable options available, and the likelihood of the transfer. I mean Arsenal fans would love to have a Samuel Eto’o or Lionel Messi, but that would be very farfetched and financially unattainable for Arsenal (or so they have you believe). Many Arsenal fans I have spoken to, concur that the likes of Cahill and Given are the players needed in order to strengthen their quest for a trophy. It’s come to the point where Wenger has no more excuses and subsequently no more alternatives.

My final point is an issue I have with Arsene Wenger’s attitude. He is a terribly sore loser and that has rubbed off onto Arsenal fans. Instead of admitting fault and accepting responsibility, he comes out with ridiculous excuses hence making his responses to journalist’s questions more evasive than Floyd Mayweather's defence.

His conduct on the touchline is very disconcerting. He argues with opposition managers, and then refuses to shake their hands when things don't go his way. It is quite poor behaviour, from someone who is so well respected and should be an example to younger managers on how to conduct themselves appropriately. The period of this behaviour (Which can only be described as that of a sore loser) need to be eradicated. Managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes do not conduct themselves in this manner and neither should the Arsenal manager.

This stubbornness, and refusal to admit some sort of fault, is demoralising Arsenal fans and really an insult to everything the club stands for. If Wenger continues in this manner, it’s no myth that all his hard work, achievements and innovations are going to be forgotten which threatens to leave his legacy in tatters.

Arsenal and football fans I would love to hear your views on Wengers decisions, tactics and behaviour. What do you think Arsenal should do? What should Arsene Wenger do?

Leave a comment below, or tweet me @RealTalkFB

Real Talk Football

Saturday, 23 April 2011

PFA Awards - Results

Earlier last week we highlighted the nominees in each of the Professional Football Associations player of the year categories.

The PFA has subsequently voted and at the award show last Sunday, Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere won the PFA Young Player of the Year award, while somewhat surprisingly Tottenham’s Gareth Bale won the PFA Player of the Year, ahead of my favourite Nemanja Vidic.

The PFA also voted for their team of the year, and it consisted of the following:

Edwin Van Der Sar – Goalkeeper - Manchester United – 40 years old

Bacary Sagna – Right Back - Arsenal – 28 years old
Vincent Kompany – Central Defender - Manchester City – 25 years old
Nemanja Vidic – Central Defender - Manchester United – 29 years old
Ashley Cole – Left Back - Chelsea – 30 years old

Gareth Bale – Left Midfielder – Tottenham Hotspur – 21 years old
Jack Wilshere – Centre Midfield - Arsenal – 19 years old
Nani – Winger - Manchester United – 24 years old
Samir Nasri – Attacking Midfield - Arsenal – 23 years old

Wayne Rooney – Forward - Manchester United – 25 years old
Carlos Tevez – Striker - Manchester City – 27 years old

Finally the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year 2011 award went to West Ham’s Scott Parker. If ever a player has inspired and carried a team as much as this man, then I would like to meet him. West Ham are in the midst of a relegation battle, and as of today, sit 19th in the league on 32 points.

Unfortunately for the Hammers, they are favourites to go down, as the remaining fixtures do not make for good reading. They face two tough away trips to Chelsea and Man City, and matches against fellow relegation candidates Blackburn, Wigan and Sunderland. West Ham may not be in the Premiership next season, but it’s likely that Scott Parker will be, as with this award, his hypothetical football stock has gone up.

Real Talk Football

Saturday, 9 April 2011

PFA Awards - Part 2

PFA Young Player of the Year

As stated, the Professional Football Association announced their nominees for the Barclays Premier League awards for both Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year.

Real Talk Football takes a look at the nominees in each category, concluding with the Young Player of the Year award.

Here are the players who have been nominated for the award, along with Samir Nasri and Gareth Bale.

Seamus Coleman (Everton)

Age: 22
League Apps: 28 League Goals: 4

The young Irishman has been superb for Everton this season, operating in a more advance position down the Toffee’s right hand side, playing right midfield instead of his normally playing right back.

He spent the latter part of last season, impressing with Blackpool, and was instrumental in their promotion campaign. This season, he has come on leaps and bounds, and has been one of the best and most consistent players performing under David Moyes, in an Everton side which has been crippled by injuries this season.

This Premier League campaign, Coleman has received his first International cap for the Republic of Ireland, he scored his first ever goal (against former side Blackpool), and signed a new four and a half year contract with the club due to his fantastic form this season.

Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

Age: 19
League Apps: 27 (3) League Goals: 1

The Arsenal midfielder, in my opinion has been the best young central midfielder in the Premiership and in Europe this season. The 19 year old spent six months on loan at Bolton last season, and gained some vital Premiership experience.

This year, despite interest from many Premier League clubs keen to take Wilshere on loan, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger felt he was more than ready to be a part of the Arsenal squad. How he was right.Link
Wilshere probably wouldn’t have expected to be as vital to the Arsenal starting XI as he is now, but injuries to Abou Diaby, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas and the continued absence of Aaron Ramsey saw him play in 30 Premiership games, and scoring a solitary goal against Aston Villa.

He also made his England international debut, and impressed in the international friendlies against Denmark and Ghana, and is now considered a senior England international.

If you’re looking for justification to why he has been so impressive, watch both legs of the Arsenal v. Barcelona Champions League tie and see how well the England international played.

Joe Hart (Manchester City)

Age: 23
League Apps: 31 League Clean Sheets: 14

At the start of this season, there was a much heated debate to who would occupy Manchester City’s goal this season. It was up to Roberto Mancini to decide whether to select England international Joe Hart, who had had a sensational season with Birmingham City last year, or to go with one of the best goalkeepers to play in the Premier League; Shay Given.

The Italian was impressed with the ability, confidence and tenacity of the 23 year old. He has started every single Premiership game this season, and is the only Man City player to do so. He has kept 14 clean sheets this season, giving his team the most in the Premier League.

Javier Hernandez (Manchester United)

Age: 22
League Apps: 22 (12) League Goals: 11

The Mexican has been a revelation at Old Trafford this season, and it’s clear that Sir Alex Ferguson has uncovered another jewel. He has the movement of Filippo Inzaghi, and the goal scoring instincts of Raul, with the tendency to score vital goals from the bench similar to that of another Manchester United legend; Ole Gunnar Soljskaer. Testament to this is that all his goals have come inside the penalty box.

Nani (Manchester United)

Age: 24
League Apps: 27 (2) League Goals: 9

A player blessed with fantastic ability, with speed, flair and great technique. The Portuguese winger has had a very good season this year, and has produced some of his finest football. He recently stated that Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson doesn’t let him express himself as he wishes, and I believe this is why he has been so important this season.

The key reason for his nomination, the fact he is leading the Premier League table in assists, with 16 in total, 5 clear of nearest rival Andrei Arshavin. His assist have been vital in helping Manchester United leading the goal scoring charts with 68 goals, averaging 2.19 goals per game.

So that concludes our look at PFA Awards, remember to leave a comment below and let us know who you think will win in each category. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and add us on Facebook.

Real Talk Football

Friday, 8 April 2011

PFA Awards - Part 1

Early today, the Professional Football Association announced their nominees for the Barclays Premier League awards for both Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year.

Real Talk Football takes a look at the nominees in each category, starting with the Player of the Year award.

Players nominated for both awards

Two players have been nominated in both categories, both of which ply their trade in North London. Arsenal’s Samir Nasri and Tottenham’s Gareth Bale.

All stats and information is correct as of the 8th March 2011.

Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)

Age: 21
League Apps: 25 (1) League Goals: 7 goals

The Welshman has continued his development from last year, and impressed both domestically and internationally. Bale has played in 26 matches this season, and has scored a career best of 7 goals.

He has been in captivating form this season and made the Tottenham left midfield berth his own. Some notable performances this season include the 2-3 fight back win over rivals Arsenal, the two decisive winners in the 2-1 win against Stoke, as well as a hat trick against Inter Milan in a 4-3 defeat in the San Siro.

Injuries saw him miss six weeks of the Premier League campaign, while speculation regarding his future have seen his performances tail-off towards the business end of the season.

Samir Nasri (Arsenal)

Age: 23
League Apps: 24 (2) League Goals: 9

The Frenchman has had a breakthrough year at Arsenal, and internationally with France as well. He has a career record total of 9 goals, and was named France captain despite being left out of the World Cup squad.

Nasri has scored an array of goals displaying fantastic acceleration and technical ability, along with a wonderful goal against rivals Spurs, against Manchester City, and both goals in the 2-1 win over Fulham.

After much criticism for Arsenal midfielders not scoring enough goals, he has finally added this dimension to his game. Nasri, similar to Bale is another who’s performances have tailed off towards the latter stages of the season, and his anonymity in the Carling Cup final was something which disappointment many, as that was seen as a great opportunity for Nasri to showcase his ability.

PFA Player of the Year

Charlie Adam (Blackpool)

Age: 25
League Apps: 28 (1) League Goals: 9

For a player from a promoted team to be nominated for the Player of the Year Award, it is testament to how impressive both Ian Holloway and his Blackpool side have performed this season.

Charlie Adam has the same amount of goals as fellow nominee Samir Nasri this season, chipping in with vitals goals in the 2-1 win over Liverpool, 3-1 win over Tottenham and two key goals (including a sensational free-kick) in a 2-2 draw against relegation rivals Blackburn Rovers. He also has six assists to his name this season.

The only blight on his maturing career with The Seasider’s, is the persistent transfer rumours linking him with a move away to Liverpool. Adam handed in a transfer request during the January transfer window, but Blackpool rejected the request.

Scott Parker (West Ham United)

Age: 31
League Apps: 29 League Goals: 5

Captain Marvell. One of the most influential and hard working players in the Premiership, has finally received the well deserved plaudits, and has subsequently found himself back in the England squad.

With West Ham in the midst of a relegation battle, no one is writing off the Hammers chances of staying up, and that’s because of players like Scott Parker. A demonstration of his courage was playing in the 0-0 draw against Tottenham, just a few hours after his father passed away.

Finally, striker Carlton Cole led the plaudits back in February after a rousing half-time team talk which inspired the Hammers to come from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 with West Brom.

Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)

Age: 27
League Apps: 27 League Goals: 19

The controversial Argentinean has been one of the top strikers in the Premiership, and is just 4 goals away from equalling his tally from last season. He scored the winning goal in the 1-0 win over title rivals Chelsea, as well as a hat trick against West Brom and four doubles this season (against Liverpool, Blackpool, Newcastle and Wolves).

Manchester City currently sit third in the league, and Tevez continues to outshine other big money signings Mario Balotelli and Eden Dzeko, and lead Manchester City to their first UEFA Champions League campaign.

Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)

Age: 29
League Apps: 29 League Goals: 4

The Manchester United captain has been the stand out performer for the Red Devils this season, and has received the plaudits for holding together a depleted back four. His no nonsense style is highly impressive, while his strong tackling and physical ability has been as impressive as ever, and is rightly regarded as one of the best defenders in the world.

He has however, had a few shaky performances this season, and Manchester United have only the fourth best defensive record in the Premiership, which means Vidic should be considered a dark horse for the award.

Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham Hotspur)

Age: 28
League Apps: 21 League Goals: 10

Signing of the season? Without a doubt. The Dutchman transfered from Real Madrid for a snippet (in terms of today’s transfer market) at just £8 million. He has featured in 21 games this season, and scored 10 goals. He is the highest scoring midfielder of all nominees.

He scored a brace in the 2-1 win of Aston Villa, important goals in draws with Everton and Sunderland as well as the all important leveller against Arsenal, which Tottenham went on to win 3-2.

These are the nominee's for the PFA Player of the Year awards, leave a comment below and let us know who you think will receive the award.

Part 2 featuring the Young Player of the Year nominee's will be up tomorrow.

Real Talk Football

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Champions League Quarter-Finals 1st Leg: What We've Learnt

After all four first legs in the Champions League quarter-finals were completed yesterday; Real Talk Football looks at what we have learnt from four ties, who were the stand out performers, who underachieved and what we can expect from an exciting round of matches.

Real Madrid v. Tottenham – 4-0

Tottenham fans got their wish of facing one of the tougher sides left in the competition, and ended facing up to the harsh consequences. A mystery illness to Aaron Lennon before the game as well as an early red card from Peter Crouch already meant the North London faced an uphill battle.

Emmanuel Adebayor put in a class performance, reminiscing of his best years at Arsenal, and he scored two goals on the night taking his tally to 11 goals in 10 appearances against Tottenham.

Angel Di Maria scored a wonder goal, while Cristiano Ronaldo added the fourth; finally getting on the score sheet after having 14 attempts on goal during the game.

There aren’t too many positives for Tottenham to take to the second leg, Real Madrid are yet to concede at home in the Champions League, and only have only conceded 3 goals altogether. All Spurs can do is go all out attack, and hope for the best.

Inter Milan v. Schalke 04 – 2-5

Inter Milan cannot defend. This is their biggest hindrance in this shaky defence (no pun intended) of their Champions League title. If you look at Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United’s defensive records so far in this campaign, you understand why they are all clear favourites ahead of the Nerazzurri.

Inter are missing their experienced and solid central defensive partnership of Lucio and Walter Samuel, upon which they built their Champions League win last season. During that victorious campaign, they only conceded 9 goals in 13 matches, where as this season they have already shipped 19 goals in just 9 games. They also have the worst defensive record of the last eight teams in the Champions League, conceding an average of 2 goals per game.

In a finaly note on Inter, Dejan Stankovic's unbelievable volley opened the scoring, and is too good to leave out of this review.

Schalke were seen as dark horses to make it into the latter stages of the competition, and thanks to the pacey powerful performance from Jefferson Farfan, the clinical finishing from Striker Edu, along with the fantastic attacking prowess shown by legendary striker Raul all led to thrashing Inter.

The final high point for Schalke, apart from the five away goals, was the performance of 19 year old centre back Joel Matip; who has played in all but one of Schalke’s Champions League game. His composed and confident performance, at such a young age against the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito, was a joy to behold for the Schalke fans.

Inter need a big turnaround if they are to progress.

Chelsea v. Manchester United – 0-1

Manchester United has been labelled lucky this season, but I believe it’s time for this label to be relinquished. They have this never give up attitude and winning mentality, and now look favourites to progress after beating Premiership rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. As well as giving themselves that desired away goal advantage.

Despite the critics, Michael Carrick had his best appearance in a Manchester United shirt last night, making seven interceptions against Chelsea, at least three more the any other in the game.

Also Ecuadorian international Antonio Valencia had to fill in at right back during the second half and was excellent throughout the match. He created more goal scoring chances than any other player during the match.

Finally Manchester United’s evergreen goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar was also in great form, making two brilliant saves in the game. It’s noted that he has the best saves-to-shots percentage in the Champions League this season with 93%, followed by Petr Cech, 90%.

Chelsea are not completely out of the tie, but it seems older players like Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, who were instrumental in Chelsea performances last year, seem to no longer be the match winners they once were, with Chelsea distinctly lacking in the final third of the pitch.

The £50 million striker Fernando Torres, who’s price tag will not be shaken off until he starts putting the ball in the net, played okay, but just like this Chelsea side were just not clinical enough. Torres linked up well once the full backs (Bosingwa and Cole) got forward and got the ball into the opposition box. His partnership with Didier Drogba however, is somewhat non-existent.

Heading up to Old Trafford, Chelsea will need to take the game to Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, while there are murmurs that the Champions League is Carlo Ancelotti’s last lifeline. This is the closest remaining tie left in the Champions League, and should be another tightly contested game.

FC Barcelona v. Shaktar Donetsk – 5-1

First things first, you cannot give Barcelona an early goal. This alleviates any kind of pre-game nerves the Barca side would have had, and settled them quickly. Lionel Messi was phenomenal, as was Andres Iniesta. Sergio Busquets was solid at the back, while Adriano and Dani Alves were brilliant in the full-back positions, just as they were against Arsenal.

Shaktar had their chances throughout the game, as striker Luiz Adriano even hit the post and missed a one on one with Victor Valdes. But it was Barcelona who was potent in front of goal, and in all honesty always looking capable of exposing the Shaktar back four.

Iniesta, Alves, Pique and Xavi all took their chances in great team moves. The goal of the night came from Seydou Kieta who ran onto Lionel Messi’s pass and smashed the ball into the top corner and past Andriy Payatov. Barcelona showing they don’t need David Villa or Lionel Messi on the score sheet in order to put five past a side.
Shaktar’s record coming into this game was 39 wins in their last 44 games, so that gives you an idea of the quality of side Barcelona were taking on.

Finally: just a word on Barcelona full back Dani Alves. The Brazilian international, who recently signed a contract extension with the Catalan giants, if for me one of the best footballers in the world, but is overlooked for this acknowledgement for the simple fact he play’s a right back.

Last night apart from a few early wobbles in the first half he was vital in all of Barcelona’s attacking moves, and he was the first outlet for every single one of these Barcelona attacks. Also his no nonsense hard working style is something which also is really impressive, a hard worker, a team player and a great individual.

That wraps up the Real Talk Football’s views on what we learnt from the first round of matches, remember you can follow us on Twitter, to get all the latest football news, and remember to cast your vote on who you think will win the Champions League by voting in the poll on the right hand side.

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