It was the 88th minute against Champions League “minnows” Anderlecht, and Arsenal were trailing in a game that Wenger said they needed to win in order to have any chance of progressing as group winners.
Despite an awful start to their Bundesliga campaign, Borussia Dortmund had been running riot right from the start at the Turk Telekom Arena, hammering Galatasaray with relative ease in one of the most hostile environments in world football. This only highlighted the fact Arsenal needed something miraculous to happen to have any chance of catching Dortmund.
In fact, maybe more worryingly, even though the chances of Arsenal going out still would have been slim, if the game ended on the 88th minute, Arsenal would have been in third, a point behind Anderlecht at the halfway stage in the groups.
Okay, so Arsenal still have Anderlecht to come at home, but they also have Dortmund to come to the Emirates Stadium and a tricky away tie with Galatasaray. Therefore, being on six points rather than three was imperative to keep Arsenal fans sane.
Social media was ablaze with the remnants of the heated debate about Mario Balotelli swapping his shirt as the majority of neutrals tuned in to see Real Madrid’s “La Decima” side overturn Liverpool’s somehow insignificant “half-Decima.” However, as Arsenal’s game rolled on, the same old ramblings appeared Twitter once again.
In my short 27 years as a football fan, I’ve not quite seen a manager go from being loved to loathed in such a short space of time and vice versa—literally in the space of a couple of months.
It’s sometimes hard to differentiate between those trying to rile Arsenal fans into a reaction and real distain from the people that matter, but recently one can spot the difference without much effort, and this is something that should concern the powers that be at Arsenal.
The demise of the once great Arsene Wenger
It might be somewhat controversial given everything Arsene Wenger has done in the past, but unfortunately, I cannot see Arsenal challenging for either the Premier League or the Champions League while Wenger remains in charge, and I believe that the end of the 10-year plan has highlighted why.
His continued failure to buy the right players in an ever-evolving market
Arsene Wenger will go down as one of the best bargain hunters of all time. Some of his buys at the start of his time at Arsenal were nothing short of exceptional. His eye for relatively unknown players from smaller clubs was something that all other managers admired.
However, throughout his time at Arsenal, Wenger has struggled when it comes to big-money signings and often times they’re the players who make the real difference—think Andrei Arshavin, Jose Reyes, Alexsander Hleb, and maybe to a lesser extent, Lukas Podolski and Oliver Giroud. One could even argue that Mesut Ozil, when played as a winger, is not worth £4.25 million let alone £42.5 million. Okay, maybe not to that extent, but you get the point I’m trying to make.
The end of the 10-year plan
Wenger constantly reminded spectators, especially towards the end of the plan, about how fourth was a priority for Arsenal.
During the barren years (2005-2014), fans were becoming irate that Wenger “preached” about the importance of fourth when they had been used to challenging for the title.
However, as Wenger and the board had put pressure on the completion of the 10-year plan, fourth WAS significantly important if they wanted to meet their fiscal targets and remove the financial shackles associated with a new stadium.
The fact remains that to the board Wenger’s job, in that 10-year period, was to continue to guide Arsenal into the top four on a “shoestring” budget and get as far as possible in the Champions League at the same time to earn huge revenues.
The year 2014 was the end of the 10-year plan and signings like Gervinho and Hleb have turned to Alexis Sanchez and Ozil—a clear improvement in quality, but for reasons only known to himself, Wenger has continued to ignore the pleas of just about every Arsenal fan.
One could argue that the purchase of Sanchez, despite his impressive start in red, has actually brought up more questions about Wenger’s post-10-year plan transfer policy.
It’s not a secret that Arsenal have at their disposal an array of players who can play on the wings or behind the striker; as well as Sanchez, Arsenal have Ozil, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Tomas Rosicky and to a lesser extent Danny Welbeck.
Wenger has moaned about his defensive crisis a few times this season and the reality is that he has the money to spend, but he is not spending it. Jose Mourinho once stated that he always wanted two players that could play in each position, but Arsenal only have seven first-team defenders in an injury-prone back four. Then for reasons not quite clear to anybody, he went and loaned Carl Jenkinson to bring his number of recognised defenders down to six. That move, when you think about it, is almost incomprehensible.
Despite the “main” reason, there are two additional problems that Wenger seems to be overlooking.
His failure to adapt his system against the bigger teams has seen some of the giants of Premier League football walk over Arsenal in recent years. Add on to that the fact that an increasing number of fans are becoming more disillusioned with Wenger’s ineptitude and you have a recipe for disaster.
Despite the fact that Arsenal turned around the game against Anderlecht and won, Paul Merson, while slightly theatrical in his summary, got the point across: “I’ve seen lucky teams in my time but that’s the luckiest I’ve seen for a long time.”
Many on fan forums and social media echoed what Merson had said. Arsenal played awfully and managed to turn the game around. Now, many fans would have been celebrating the fact that even though they played poorly against an inferior side they managed to get the win. In fact, some may have even pointed out that it was “the sign of champions,” but now it is different. Arsenal fans continued to lambast Wenger, and that is where the problem lies.
Once that thought process takes over it is hard to win those people back. These fans will go to games, talk about performances and boo at the end of games. Negativity breads negativity and ultimately that could lead to the end of Arsene Wenger.
Written by: Footie Writer
Click here to join the uMAXit Football revolution
After a squad overhaul in the summer, many tipped Southampton to struggle this season. Despite the new look, the Saints have produced some of the best Premier League football of the season and have been rewarded with 16 points from their opening eight Premier League games.
The Hampshire-based side faced the difficult task of improving on an impressive eighth-place finish last season. This task was made even more difficult when Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Calum Chambers all left the club in the summer. Despite the overwhelming loss of talented players, many felt Mauricio Pochettino’s departure would be the hardest to cope with.
Instead, whilst Pochettino’s Tottenham struggle in ninth place, new manager Ronald Koeman has guided the Saints to five wins in their first eight fixtures.
With such a colossal loss of talent, former Feyenoord manager Koeman was faced with the difficult job of replacing Southampton’s most productive players and three key defenders.
Holding on to the in-demand Morgan Schneiderlin has proven to be a vital part of the team’s success this season. Everything runs through the French midfielder. He has strength, a great passing palette and a composure on the ball that can’t be taught. As well as Schneiderlin, keeping Nathaniel Clyne away from the predatory top clubs for another season has allowed Southampton to keep some stability in their back four.
Previous plunges into the Dutch market from Premier League clubs have seen anything from successes such as Luis Suarez to uncomfortable fits like Ryan Babel. With this in mind, Koeman took a gamble when he spent £20 million on Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle—a gamble that has well and truly paid off. The duo’s quality was epitomised in their 8-0 win at the weekend where Tadic managed four assists and Pelle two goals.
Whilst Pelle’s goals are vital, Tadic is the player who has really caught my eye. He has a creative instinct and would not look out of place at a Champions League club. With seven assists in his first eight Premier League games, it’s fair to say Tadic has adjusted to Premier League life with ease.
The attacking duo of Sadio Mane and Shane Long are yet to fulfil their potential in red and white, but both offer quality alternative attacking options.
The 8-0 win last weekend is no doubt the highlight from a strong set of results for the Saints. Another important victory came against the in-form West Ham where they comfortably won 3-1, despite falling 1-0 behind.
Losses to Liverpool and Tottenham in the league leave question marks as to whether the Saints are capable of beating the bigger clubs. The test for this will come in the winter when they face Arsenal twice, Manchester United, Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea within five weeks.
Next up Southampton host Stoke City—a fixture where they will hope to pick up another three points. With games against Hull City, Leicester and Aston Villa to follow, the Saints could be in a very strong position ahead of a very tough looking, busy winter schedule.
Southampton’s brilliant academy has produced the likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gareth Bale and many more high profile footballers. With a never-ending chain of top talent being created at the roots of the club, the Saints have created a sustainable club model.
The likes of James Ward-Prowse, Sam Gallagher and Harrison Reed are the latest academy graduates to make an impact in the first team.
Southampton, like every club, are likely to hit a poor patch of form this season and the real test for Koeman is how they negotiate that period. With quality in all areas of the squad, I expect them to be challenging for a European spot come May.
There’s still a way to go before Southampton can be realistic contenders for the top four, but with their recent rapid progression, you can expect that to be the target for ambitious chairman Ralph Krueger.
Written by: Oli Price-Bates
I must start this article with a little confession: I have never really taken much notice of West Bromwich Albion, even labelling them as the league’s most irrelevant team. Not blessed with great individual talents, over the past few years they have flown somewhat under the radar each season.
In fact, the last player they sold to a top-four team was Tomasz Kuszczak in 2007. A midfield consisting of Chris Brunt, James Morrison and Graham Dorrans is hardly the most inspiring and, much like Chandler from Friends‘ job, you do struggle to think of anything you actually know about them.
To combat my disgraceful lack of knowledge and respect for the Baggies I decided to explore their club a little deeper, and despite a close shave with relegation last season I believe there is deserved reason for optimism for West Brom fans—in this season and for the future.
This campaign was tumultuous for the Baggies even before it started. Alan Irvine succeeded Pepe Mel as manager—a move which drew much criticism and scepticism from the fans as this would be his first managerial role in the Premier League. The task confronting the Damon Hill lookalike was a daunting one; the squad had been decimated of players with 160 appearances from the previous season, including five defenders.
Given that West Brom had finished one place above the relegation zone the season before there, was a lot of work to be done. Pressure mounted early, and even captain Chris Brunt was booed by fans as they went the first four games of the season without a win. Finally, after wins against Tottenham and Burnley, Irvine’s team look to be progressing.
Regardless of having relatively little managerial experience, a fact that drew criticism from the fans, Irvine has accrued great praise from fellow managers. Roberto Martinez, for whom Irvine worked at Everton, said he had great respect for Irvine and commended him for his work at Everton. Tony Mowbray, himself a former West Brom manager, described Irivne as having a Ferguson-like work ethic, often the first on the training ground at 7am.
What will stand Irvine in good stead is the coaching experience he has gained over his career. Too often managers are thrust into managing a Premier League club as their first coaching role. However, Irvine has gained valuable experience as both an assistant manager and a youth team coach at Everton, Newcastle and Blackburn. He will be helped too by the club’s acquisition of a director working above him.
Mowbray explained how, in his time at West Brom, this helped ease his work load, with more trivial tasks being delegated. For an inexperienced manager, who appears to be very dedicated to on-field matters, this will no doubt be blessing.
It is testament to the work done by Irvine that, despite the upheaval in his side’s defence, there are currently only 4 teams who have conceded less goals than West Brom so far. This is despite a fixture list that has pitted them against the 2nd-, 3rd- and 5th-highest scorers in the league. Irvine has worked under Kenny Dalglish, David Moyes, Sir Bobby Robson and Roy Hodgson, who he will no doubt have learnt a lot from.
In phases of West Brom’s play so far this season you can already see the influences of the slick football Martinez used to play, with Lescott and Dawson both capable of splitting wide and playing the ball out from the back. Late to managing in the biggest league Irvine may be, but he seems very much ready for it.
The support for the new manager is particularly strong in what appears to be a well structured club. Terry Burton has been brought in from Arsenal as a technical director. In Burton’s previous work at Arsenal he played a significant role in bringing though Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Paul Merson before recently managing the U-21 team. In Burton, West Brom have a man with all the experience and ability to help the club progress.
Despite the excessive spending of many clubs around them, West Brom have spent frugally and effectively over the past few seasons. Youssef Mulumbu, Claudio Yacob and Jonas Olsson, vital components of the side last season, were bought for a combined £1million.
Backing up their transfer market dealings is a particularly promising youth setup. Adil Nabi and Callum Jones have both been with the first-team squad in training and on matchdays, while Saido Berahino has already broken through. Berahino, a member of their academy since he was 11 years of age, has performed exceptionally this season, scoring seven goals in 10 games. His pace and calmness in front of goal is not far off gaining him international recognition and West Brom have produced a striker genuinely capable of 20 goals a season.
Having weathered a particularly stormy start, Alan Irvine and West Brom look to be on track. The layout of the club from the very highest to lowest levels appears to be extremely well structured and should provide an excellent platform to develop the club further.
In Alan Irvine they have a manger who is coming into the role at the perfect time; consequently relegation battles should be a thing of the past.
Written by: James Wareing
Chelsea. An unstoppable machine. Ready to stare down, and ultimately destroy, any team that dares stand in there way this season.
We may aswell order the Chelsea-blue ribbons and polish the trophy already. Heck, let’s store it just down the road from Stamford Bridge for convenience shall we, because it’s over isn’t it?
To begin writing off the reigning champions as early as October is ludicrous, and all the premature talk of Chelsea claiming the ultimate domestic prize come May is exactly that, too. Premature. Frighteningly premature.
One man fired Manchester City back into the minds of fans, and so-called experts, this weekend with a masterclass. A lesson to any young players of exactly how you play as one of, if not the world’s best striker. Sergio Aguero was relentless on Saturday afternoon; he was in the zone—a zone he, worryingly to all opponents, finds himself in almost each and every single game.
In 79 league games, Aguero has found the net 61 times. In just eight games this season, Aguero sits atop of the goalscoring charts with a hugely impressive nine goals, despite being eased into the season by Manuel Pellegrini. Let that sink in: he has scored nine goals despite starting just six games. He finds himself level with Chelsea’s tour de force Diego Costa, in what could be the battle that ultimately decides the location of the Premier League trophy.
Chelsea have some serious strengths. Diego Costa seems to possess an almost telepathic understanding with Spanish compatriot Cesc Fabregas. Eden Hazard, on his day, is one of the league’s best and young Belgian shot-stopper Thibaut Courtois is on course to become a goalkeeping great.
For every Costa, Fabregas & Courtois however, it should not be ignored that Chelsea, as a squad, do have their weaknesses. Dare it be said that Chelsea are finding themselves in a real situation of becoming reliant to the form of Fabregas and Costa? Let’s face it, when Costa is fit, he plays, leaving Loic Remy feeding off any scraps of playing time that Costa’s hamstrings may allow—hardly an ideal situation for a second striker expected to fit straight in and pick up Costa’s goalscoring burden. An even worse situation looms now, as Remy has injured himself in Chelsea’s 6-0 victory against Maribor.
The form of Willian, Oscar and Andre Schurrle is inconsistent at best, and the natural rotational aspects of their positions again prevents them from playing themselves into any inkling of form. The notoriously impenetrable Chelsea back line also appears to be showing minor cracks; no longer do you enter a Chelsea game and expect a clean sheet for the men in blue.
Manchester City actually find themselves in a better position this season than at the exact same stage last season. More points. Fewer losses. Less goals conceded. Yet we are only casually throwing them into conversation about a possible title charge for the necessity of debate.
Manchester City, with the evil overlord of FFP looming overhead, had to spend their money much more wisely than was perhaps necessary last season. Receiving a combined £25 million for Jack Rodwell, Gareth Barry and Javi Garcia helped fund the £32 million move for Eliaquim Mangala. The signing of Fernando for £12m could well be the bargain of the season when you consider a move for William Carvalho, gathering interest from Arsenal, looks likely to be upwards of £30 million.
Bacary Sagna for free was a no-brainer and £6 million for Willy Caberello is fantastic business to ensure a consistent challenge to Joe Hart. Throw in the loan move for Frank Lampard, and with a net spend of only £24 million, you have considerably improved the reigning English champions.
There is no escaping that with Jose Mourinho at the helm, Chelsea will always challenge, but to write off Manchester City this early in the season, and hand Chelsea the title may be the inspiration that Pellegrini and his squad need. No-one expects them to win; it’s arguable no one wants them to win. But let’s not be surprised if, come May, we are once again met with the image of Vincent Kompany holding the Premier League trophy aloft.
Written by: Sam Parker
Click here to join the uMAXit Football Revolution
We have some cracking fixtures in the Premier League this week as Manchester United host league leaders Chelsea at Old Trafford, and second plays fourth as Manchester City take on West Ham. At the other end of the table Burnley will be looking for their first win of the season against an Everton side that could be suffering from Europa League fatigue.
Here are our five things to look out for in the Premier League this weekend.
- Manchester United vs Chelsea (Sunday October 26, 16:00pm).
Undoubtedly the Premier League’s colossal clash of the weekend, Louis van Gaal and his Red Devils lock horns with Jose Mourinho’s early high-flyers, Chelsea. The London club have romped to the summit of the Premier League table—winning seven of their first eight fixtures—and are looking in fine fettle. It has been a shaky start for Manchester United, but the atmosphere inside Old Trafford is sure to be electric for this one.
Mourinho has “confirmed” that the current top goalscorer in the Premier League Diego Costa—alongside Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero on nine goals—will not make the trip to Old Trafford, with Loic Remy also absent. Some speculation persists surrounding whether this is just Mourinho playing at his usual “mind games,” with many critics and fans alike believing the pair could make the squad.
Irrespective of Costa’s presence, Chelsea still have enough firepower regardless, and United’s midfield will have to be tight to Spaniard Cesc Fabregas, who has provided seven assists already this season—level at the summit of the assists table with Southampton’s Dusan Tadic.
Despite Van Gaal’s side seemingly light years away from being back to their best, this Sunday’s afternoon game promises to be a treat. Look for the superb Argentine Angel Di Maria to take the game to the opposition for the hosts, as they attack in numbers. With a weak defence that has an inclination for making key mistakes, you would expect Chelsea to break the home side down as well. Evidently, Van Gaal’s biggest game yet in charge of United will be sure to have you on the edge of your seats.
- Southampton’s Graziano Pelle & Dusan Tadic
After Southampton ran rampant 8-0 over Sunderland at the weekend, all eyes will be on Ronald Koeman’s squad as they look to carry on their splendid run of form by staying in the top four of the Premier League table. On Saturday afternoon they host Stoke City in a game that many will expect them to win—particularly with their current confidence and free-flowing football.
Southampton bought incredibly well this summer in the transfer window, looking to the Dutch Eredivisie for their investments. The Saints picked up Graziano Pelle from Feyenoord for £8million and Dusan Tadic from FC Twente for £10.9million. The former has, in just eight Premier League appearances, already registered six goals and once assist. Tadic, on the other hand, is proving the perfect provider, notching up seven assists and one goal in his eight games in the English top division.
This is a duo that are ready to dismantle any team with ease, and Stoke will be wary of their threat.
- Alan Pardew
The furore seems to have died down a little with regard to Alan Pardew and the safety of his job at Newcastle United, but the threat of being sacked still lingers threateningly over his head. The Englishman has curtailed some of the abuse of late, with a 2-2 draw away to Swansea—and a 1-0 win over Leicester City at the weekend—but if Newcastle do not continue to pick up points, they will be in trouble this season.
Tottenham Hotspur host the Magpies at White Hart Lane this on Sunday, and will be looking for all three points after slipping to a 4-2 defeat to Manchester City at the weekend. Sergio Augero’s four goals routed the North London club and they will be licking their wounds while readying themselves to face Newcastle this weekend. Expect Spurs to come out fighting and the rumours surrounding Pardew to resurface should the Newcastle boss’ side not take any points from the game.
- West Ham vs Manchester City (Lunchtime, Saturday)
In all fairness, our Saturday lunchtime kick off this weekend also promises not to be a dull affair. Ordinarily, you would expect Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City to put West Ham and big Sam Allardyce to the sword. However, the Hammers have been in fine form, and sit fourth in the table, just four points behind the Citizens.
Sergio Aguero—fresh off his four goals against Tottenham last weekend, and fit to burst with confidence—will be ready to lead his team in their charge to track down early league leaders Chelsea, before they disappear altogether. Three points against Allardyce’s in-form side will not be easy, but should they overcome the hosts—as one would expect their significant firepower and class eventually to do— and they will be looking to Old Trafford to see if their neighbours Manchester United can do them an early favour in the title race.
Worth a watch if only to see City set out to bring the Hammers back down to earth.
- Ross Barkley
Ross Barkley’s impressive return to action last weekend against Aston Villa inspired Roberto Martinez’s Everton to a solid 3-0 win and a much-needed three points after a slow start to the season. Barkley was marvellous—proving why he is such a highly-rated young talent— and after missing the early part of the campaign will be eager to get the Toffees back up the right end of the table, picking up victories again. Everton’s visit to Burnley on Sunday gives them the chance to win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
For Burnley manager Sean Dyche, this season—Burnley’s return to the Premier League—has been a bit of a disaster, as they sit in nineteenth, winning not one of their opening eight fixtures. Everton have a midweek trip to Lille this week, and the Turf Moor faithful will be hoping they make the most of the potential fatigue.
If they do not manage to register a victory soon, the 2014-15, from a fan’s perspective, will go from worrying to drastic fairly quickly.
Written by: Ben Johnson
Click here to join the uMAXit Football Revolution