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Another one of these would do nicely. © Getty Images.

And so, our weary warriors trudge from a massacre at the hands of the Villans to the site of epic battles in our distant past. Can our leader revive their tattered morale? Can he restore the vestigial signs of defensive organisation and midfield drive that we saw at the Old Toilet and raised our hopes only for them to be cruelly dashed by a Villa team playing with verve, drive and style? Can he find a creative spark and a fox in the box within the depleted squad? 

We carry many scars from previous meetings with Leeds United that didn’t make the cut in TTG’s excellent last post. We need not go back to the battles with Revie’s Dirty Leeds whose players could have served as models for Tolkein’s orcs. The sharp practices of Bremner, Giles, Charlton, Hunter et al achieved such depths of infamy that they permanently colour any view of the Yorkshire team. However, we have more recent scars from encounters with this opponent.

In May 1999 we looked a good bet to retain our Premier League Title but our hopes were cruelly obliterated at Elland Road by David O’Leary’s Leeds. A familiar story unfolded as the champions squandered many chances (‘twould actually be a fine thing to make many chances again, methinks!) only to be suckered by a Hasselbaink goal 5 minutes from time, losing 0-1 to allow Manure to win their ‘famous treble’. That scar has never healed.

In May 2003, dreaming of creating history by retaining the Double, we hosted Peter Reid’s struggling Leeds team at Highbury with three games to play. All season long we had looked odds-on to retain the Premiership trophy, standing 8 points clear on 2 March. A hapless defence missing Lauren and Campbell conspired to dash our ambitions and an 88thminute goal from Viduka consigned us to a 2-3 defeat, ended all hope of a back-to-back double and preserved Leeds’ Premiership status. Another deep unhealed scar.

In 2003-4 we took revenge at Elland Road winning 4-1 in both League and FA Cup and 5-0 at Highbury to condemn them to the relegation from which they have only now emerged. The latter was a masterful display with 4 goals from Thierry Henry after a Robert Pires opener. I well remember after the Highbury game meeting an extremely disconsolate Leeds fan on the platform at Arsenal Tube Station. He was beside himself with grief and observed that as Leeds were relegated his hopes that Manure would never win the Premiership again rested with the Arsenal. I reassured him that our lads would do their level best but I wish Hasselbaink and Viduka had shared his sentiments in previous years.

In the intervening period we have met Leeds three times in the FA Cup Third Round, beating them 3-1 at Elland Road after a 1-1 draw at the Emirates in 2011 and winning 1-0 at the Emirates in 2012 with a goal from a New York Red Bulls loan player who seemed very familiar. In our most recent meeting in January we beat them 1-0 at our place through a second half Reiss Nelson goal. However, in the first half Leeds ran rings round us with their high intensity, aggressively pressing game. They had 63% possession and 15 attempts on goal in that first half but fortunately lacked a cutting edge. We could easily have been 0-2 down at half time but MA8 read the riot act in the dressing room and a reorganised and refocused Arsenal team carried the day. Mikel said later that he had warned the players what to expect but post-match Nelson admitted that Leeds’ intensity surprised them! Forewarned is forearmed this time, I hope.

The return of the hero. © Getty Images

The Opposition

The enigmatic, highly regarded Marcelo Bielsa swiftly revived Leeds’ fortunes on his arrival as head coach in 2018. In his first season Leeds remained in the Championship’s top two until running out of steam late on, losing in the play-off semi-final. In his second season they again stayed in the top two for most of the season and finished 10 points clear to gain promotion as Champions. In the Premiership Leeds have been exhilarating to watch with several high scoring games. On the opening day of the season they lost 4-3 with a brave display at Anfield, reversing that score-line with a home win against Fulham before a 1-0 away win at Sheffield United and a 1-1 home draw against Shitteh. Then a narrow 1-0 home defeat by Wolves preceded a striking 3-0 away win at Villa. However, Leeds come into our game on the back of a pair of 4-1 defeats, at home to Lesta and undeservedly away at Palace.

Without the ball, Bielsa’s Leeds teams line up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with an aggressive press as their key tactic. On losing possession every Leeds outfielder presses aggressively aiming for one of two outcomes: (1) to regain possession within seconds and mount a high-paced counter-attack using swift interplay or (2) to force opponents to play a long ball upfield to be hoovered up by their big centre-backs because the effective midfield press blocks all other out-ball options. In possession, Leeds players transition to a 3-3-1-3 with the full-backs bombing forward to provide width in midfield with Phillips dropping back centrally to form a secure back three. Meanwhile one of the two central midfielders moves forward between the lines to create scoring opportunities while the other drops back to provide cover between the full backs. As the attack moves forward the two wingers move inside to add to the creative midfielder’s options. Their build-up is based on short passes between players progressing through diamonds up the pitch ending in the opposition penalty area with the advanced midfielder, the ‘wingers’ and Bamford. This summarises an excellent and more detailed analysis of Bielsa’s 2019/20 Championship tactics by Sachin Prabhu Ram (https://eflanalysis.com/analysis/marcelo-bielsa-at-leeds-united-201920-tactical-analysis-tactics).

The Leeds team we face on Sunday will largely be the one that ran us ragged for 45 minutes in January. Their key deep-lying midfielder Phillips, now an England international, has been out for several weeks with a shoulder injury but is returning earlier than expected. Left winger/wing back Alioski is a doubt having returned early with a tight hamstring following exertions for North Macedonia but I expect him to be fit. Bamford is their main goal threat with 7 Premiership goals in 8 PL games this season, a significant improvement on his respectable career average of a goal every other game. He will probably be flanked by Costa (2 goals, 2 assists) and Harrison (1 goal, 2 assists) as wide attackers. Leeds’ captain is Luke Ayling, formerly a youth team captain of this parish and a dynamic right back whose play epitomises the Bielsa project. Luke will certainly be up for this match! He is matched on the left flank by Dallas (1 Goal). Their high energy roles and augmentation of the midfield and attack are key to Bielsa’s strategy. As are the roles of the mobile and intelligent central midfielders, usually Klich (2 goals, 3 assists) and Hernandez though the latter is apparently a doubt and will probably be replaced by Roberts or perhaps Raphina. 

The Arsenal

The Arsenal come into this game without scoring a goal from open play for over six hours and despite a handful of missed chances, we display an abiding lethargy and creative drought. Despite an encouraging first half against Lesta and a rare display of midfield drive and domination against Manure, we produced the most lacklustre display of the Arteta era against Villa. In 8 PL games, we have averaged just 1.12 goals per game so it’s no surprise that we are in the bottom half of the table.  The reason for this is not rocket-science. Last season’s top scorer has taken just 10 PL shots and is playing further left than Magic Grandpa while last season’s second top scorer has made only a single PL start. Meanwhile, our new playmaker/winger who has started ahead of him has taken as many shots as our new centre half. 

Our team selection will certainly be affected by Interlull events. Two players are certainly out of contention. Elneny has had two positive tests for coronavirus and is quarantined in Cairo. Less damagingly, Kolasinac tested positive with the Bosnian team and has also entered quarantine. Willian has been gadding about in Dubai, and was barred from training, subject to the result of a coronavirus test which I presume was negative. KT3 has played 3 full games plus an extra 30 minutes in 7 days and Saka has played 2 and a half games over the same period. Meanwhile, Auba merely played twice but spent an overnight on the floor of an airport in Gabon. Gabriel and Pepe played virtually two full games and Xhaka played a game and a half. At the time of writing, I have seen no reports of further coronavirus tests or injuries but there are certainly going to be weary limbs and tired minds down our left flank! Much more seriously, Thomas Partey’s thigh strain sustained in the Villa match, has not recovered sufficiently for involvement in this match. That is a major blow.

I had hoped that MA8 had seen enough creative malaise and had resolved to amend it by changing the pattern of play going forward. There is little doubt, despite the three goals shipped against Villa, that he has improved our defensive organisation and individual performances. Gabriel has further stiffened the defence. I hoped it was time to shake-up the midfield and attack. In his pre-match presser, MA8 observed that although the Villa game “left a really bad taste”, he added that “after a bad result to change everything you do” is “a really bad temptation because a lot of things are working and it’s really clear the things we want to improve on and how we’re going to”. That sounds more like a tweak than a shake-up.

The possibility that the focus on improving the defence has contributed to the decline in our attacking potency has been debated at length in other fora. The third centre back stiffens the back line at the cost of a third midfielder. Unless you ask your centre forward to drift so far back that he is effectively the third midfielder meaning he is rarely in the box to finish an attack (!). Ultimately, we need two trustworthy centre backs screened by an energetic, defensively smart, deep lying midfielder to allow the other two midfielders freedom to join the attack. I think we should give Aubameyang the central attacker role rather than confine him to the left-wing pinging in crosses which he himself should be finishing. I would advance Saka to the left attacking position and start our ‘wild-card’ Pepe, (and give him the ball) because of the threat he poses when he gets an opportunity. Had we had Partey available, I would have started Joe Willock as the third midfielder because of his ability to get between the lines, join the attack and score goals but in Partey’s absence, I think we should add Luiz’s defensive nous and creative passing range as a deep-lying third midfielder between Ceballos and Xhaka. We need a third midfielder against Bielsa’s Leeds and Luiz can drop back into a back three as necessary. Hence my selection plays 4-3-3:

Leno

Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney

Ceballos, Luiz, Xhaka 

Pepe, Aubameyang, Saka

I am certain that this is not the team that MA8 will start as I expect him to stick with 3-4-3. Of course, he can do that with the above selection simply by dropping Saka back to left wing back and replacing Luiz with Nelson in the left attacking slot but I think MA8 will keep Auba wide left and start Laca centrally. He will also almost certainly choose Willian over Pepe. An absence of major changes is understandable as his key players left after the Villa game and only returned on Thursday, allowing him just three training sessions with his full squad. I suspect tired legs and the absence of the successful OT midfield pairing of Partey and Elneny will see him be very conservative. Willock, Nelson, AMN and Nketiah will start on the bench to provide energy in the second half. I expect MA8 to approach this game the way he approached Manure at OT though we will have to work harder to deal with the intensity of the Leeds press and I fear for the inevitable midfield pair of Xhaka and Ceballos against Leeds’ mobile midfield and attack. Despite the time pressures, I hope MA8 does manage to make clear to his players the improvements that he says he knows are required and that he can transform Arsenal into an effective attacking force again. 

The Holic Pound

The value bet is 20/1 on a 3-2 victory for the Arsenal. However, our recent inability to create scoring chances or even take shots, let alone score goals, leads me to believe that such an outcome is unlikely. I really cannot see us scoring three goals even though Villa and even lowly Fulham managed to do just that at Elland Road. Despite improved defensive performances this season the Arsenal still don’t keep clean sheets very often, otherwise I would have plumped for a good old 1-0 to the Arsenal at 17/2. Thus, I’m going to have to push the boat out on us scoring twice (!) with 2-1 to the Arsenal at the shorter odds of 15/2. 

Fingers and everything else crossed. We need a win. However, I think a point from Elland Road would be a good outcome given the circumstances. The first goal is going to be vital.

Enjoy the match, Holics.

Defeats that struck deep at our hearts …but were far from terminal

The desperate feeling that we all felt as we were taken apart in the second half against Aston Villa is a relatively rare feeling for an Arsenal fan but from time to time we experience a defeat that is so important or profound that at the time it feels like the world is caving in. This has happened to Arsenal teams down the ages, some of them extremely good teams and when the defeats occur it is easy to feel a season is likely to end in massive disappointment.

Some defeats are epically disappointing. The two most cataclysmic for me, in emotional terms were the 1969 League Cup Final against Swindon Town and the 2006 Champions League Final v Barcelona. That they occurred in finals accentuated the pain. At the closing whistle the contrast between the rejoicing opposition fans and us was stark and painful. A long journey home is always far more daunting with a massive defeat to contemplate.

But defeats can also be watersheds and can provoke responses that transform a seemingly hopeless situation and underline the character of a side. I shall touch on three such moments that prove there truly is darkness before the dawn.

First let us flip back to May 1989. There are three matches to go in our season and after enjoying a massive lead in the title race, the Hillsborough tragedy caused a delay in the season. We watched as agonisingly Liverpool clawed back our lead. At kick off time we were two points ahead of Liverpool with a marginally better goal difference? Our opponents were Derby and we were confidently expected to beat them. I remember a girl in our office asking if she could attend the game with me because her new boyfriend was a Gooner and she wanted to surprise him with her knowledge of the team. The real reason was that I was clearly irresistible to women but I remember being deeply irritated by her constant questioning as Arsenal stuttered unconvincingly and missed a slew of easy chances. Never mind – news came through that Liverpool were losing at Wimbledon. Midway through the half, against the run of play, Dean Saunders lashed a half-volley past Seaman and in off the bar. Liverpool turned the score around against the Crazy Gang and as the second half wore on a clumsy challenge on Saunders by Tony Adams in a Derby breakaway resulted in a clear penalty which Saunders dispatched comfortably. A very late Alan Smith goal was not enough to bring us back meaningfully into the game. A few days later we entertained the Crazy Gang. Despite leading twice through a Winterburn right-footed screamer (honestly!) and a Merson close-range effort we were pegged back twice . Liverpool’s five goal victory against the spineless Hammers left us needing to win by two goals at Anfield. A completely impossible task… the rest is history!

Moving on eight years we had entered the Wenger era. The 1997-8 season had begun very promisingly but two recent defeats had seen us slip seriously behind Manchester United. We welcomed Blackburn Rovers to Highbury and the game began well with Overmars seizing on a long lobbed pass and dinking it past Flowers in the Blackburn goal. It is salutary to think that we fielded our legendary back four but in the second half we fell apart as we allowed Blackburn back into the match. Firstly Wilcox volleyed the equaliser and then Kevin Gallacher swept a bouncing ball past Seaman into the top corner. As we pushed up for an equaliser the loathsome Tim Sherwood (looking several yards offside) found himself clear of the Arsenal defence and beat Seaman at the second attempt. The reaction from the Arsenal fans was vitriolic. Several around me talked of another season written off (in November) and outside the main entrance in Avenell Road a distressed Ian Wright berated the critical fans.

The defeat prompted a heated team meeting in which Tony Adams (who had a very flawed game rather like the Derby performance) called out his two French midfielders for not protecting the defence more. It is interesting that we tend to think of those players as infallible but there were periods in their Arsenal careers where the wheels seemingly came off. Arsenal did not lose another game in the League that season until the title was secured and for good measure completed the League and Cup double. Might a defeat that comprehensive have been a blessing in disguise? On Easter Monday in the return fixture, (played in snow for long periods!) we were 4-0 up at half-time and ran out 4-1 winners.

Defeats can definitely represent watersheds in a season.

Just to prove that even the best teams can slip to defeat my final example is in the marvellous Invincible season. We sailed on serenely until March in all three competitions. Chelsea were still within reach of us in the League but we had already prevailed over them three times that season. Fate decreed that we should play them again in the Champions League, four days after an FA Cup semi-Final against United. Arsene has subsequently said that he needed to rotate more given the size of the stakes facing us in that week. A traditional Nemesis, Paul Scholes, scored the only goal of a semi-final in which United employed the tactics that they employed to combat us during that period by trying to kick us off the pitch. We didn’t bring Henry on until late in the second half but on a frustrating afternoon, the chance of a domestic double had gone.

Credit: Professional Sport / Contributor

But we still had the Champions League. As we prepared for the second leg we were drawing 1-1 after the game at Stamford Bridge where a rare Pires header had given us the crucial advantage of an away goal. After a first half in which we were well on top, Reyes scored just before half-time to put us ahead on aggregate. Surely this was to be our year? We reckoned without a rare handling error by Mad Jens who palmed a Makalele shot (as unlikely as a Pires header!) to Fat Frank Lampard who tied the score up. Anxiety grew as even the Invincibles failed to take control of the game and then with about ten minutes left Wayne Bridge proving a cruel and unlikely assassin, latched onto a pass in the inside left channel and slotted home. I think that was one of the cruellest goals I have ever seen Arsenal concede as that team would have faced a very beatable Monaco and then Mourinho’s Porto in the final, if we had prevailed over a team we used to beat for fun at that time. That team carry one wonderful title as ‘the Invincibles’ but nothing will persuade me that we weren’t the best team in Europe that season and that was our time.

Three days later, on Good Friday, we met Liverpool in the Premier League at Highbury. We trailed twice and were losing at the interval but a fine second-half rally illuminated by one of Henry’s finest ever individual goals saw us run out convincing 4-2 winners. That win assured us of a title which we clinched, to our delight, at the Swamp a couple of weeks later.

Is there a moral in this story? I think there is. Even fine sides – and these three sides were among the finest Arsenal have ever had, are human. Great defenders make mistakes and fans lose heart and belief. But fine sides and talented managers react in the right way and we need to have faith that while we may not see league titles from this current Arsenal side they will improve and be ready to challenge in the future. The darkest time really often is before the dawn.

A guilty secret – I have to start by owning up to watching the whole of the Amazon Prime series, All or Nothing, about Tottenham Hotspur. I was, of course, expecting it to be a whole load of Nothing, and given the subject matter and the terms of the series title, it was. 

Like everything to do with Jose Mourinho, who was about to enter the fray at the dark end of the Seven Sisters Road, the series was really All about Mourinho. In reality, what else was there to talk about at a club that has a Cheese Room instead of a Trophy Room and whose main current boast seems to be the longest catering counter in the world, next to its own brewery? Mourinho proved himself, once again, to be a miserable, four letter word spewing, dinosaur of a coach, whose most urgent instruction to his players was, when on the pitch, to “be nasty C u next Tuesdays”, (just in case any minors are reading).

Anyway, we all know more than enough about Jose Mourinho. The point is, I had enjoyed a lot of pleasure from watching more acrimony, chucking under the bus and ultimate failure at the Totts, and was drawn to another Amazon football series, this time featuring Borussia Dortmund, which I began watching straight away.

The difference was immediate and stark. The Head Coach of Borussia Dortmund is a man called Lucien Favre – an apparently quietly spoken, intelligent man who seems to foster a trusting relationship with his players, rather than the snide suspicion engendered by Mourinho. The atmosphere in the changing room seemed to be one of friendliness, the players looked relaxed and smiled and laughed a lot amongst one another and the staff. 

In contrast, the Tottenham dressing room was quiet, glances were cast sideways, blame was directed from one to another, just as it is always Mourinho’s way to point the finger at someone for every failing. Mourinho demands from individuals, then threatens, omits and ignores players who can’t deliver what he wants. There always seemed to be a player in the manager’s office demanding to know why he wasn’t in the team, or being dressed down for his latest shortcomings. His way is to buy big and his teams seem to be collections of individuals.

Favre has a different way. For him the team is vital, at the heart of everything. Then comes “running”. He says that before you worry about the mental fitness to play at the highest level, you must first have one other thing – running. If you can’t run and don’t have physical fitness, mental fitness is useless, if not impossible. He also says that it doesn’t matter how gifted players are if there is no “team – you have to really build a team”. That will come as no surprise to us, after 22 years of Arsene Wenger and now the similarly inspired Mikel Arteta.

These comparisons led me to wonder how football compared in wider terms between England and Germany. If these two randomly chosen clubs appeared so different in the way they operated, were there other cultural or organisational differences between the two leagues? 

I may be only just in time, as there are now moves afoot to either radically change the organisation of the top European Leagues, or add a Super League to what we already have, possibly in place of the Champions League. 

THE CLUB OWNERS

It’s not really a surprise that multi-billionaire owners from America, Russia, Arab states and the Far East are now looking to take their product of European football to their own huge home audiences at far more conducive kick off times than European countries currently offer. They will also be able to offer glamorous top-quality opposition for their clubs every week, rather than the harder sell of Burnley or Sheffield United on the infamous wet, freezing Tuesday night in November. Clubs would presumably either leave their domestic leagues or expand their squads as they prioritise the big money on offer in the Super League and still try to operate a team in their home competition.

In either case it’s hard to imagine that the quality of the domestic leagues will not be seriously diluted unless someone comes to their senses, as far as most fans are concerned, and throws the idea out. It does, however, bring us to the subject of club ownership, for which purpose let’s return to the comparisons between England and Germany.

In Germany, in order to obtain a license to compete in the Bundesliga, a club must abide by the 50+1 rule. The 50+1 Regel is an informal term used to refer to a clause in the regulations of the Deutsche Fussball-Liga which states that a club must hold a majority of its own voting rights.

For example, who owns Bayern Munich? The club is majorly run by spin-off company FC Bayern München AG which accounts for a 75% stake in the club. There are then three other companies who share the remaining 25% stake equally. Sports manufacturer Adidas, car company Audi and the Allianz insurance group each own an 8.33% stake in Bayern Munich. Day to day operations and workings of the club are controlled by the football club board directors. Interestingly, in November 2019 the legendary Uli Hoeness was replaced as club chairman by Herbert Hainer who until then had been CEO of club sponsor Adidas Group. It’s almost like there was a succession plan!

The chairman of the football club at Bayern, however, represents the club members, of which there are some 293,000, who all pay an annual membership of between €60.00 for a full adult member, to €30.00 for children u17, senior citizens and disabled members, while young adults aged 18-25 pay €40.00. Assuming equal proportions at each level that would raise €13,000,000 per season in fees before match tickets are taken into account. In addition, the club runs its own subscription TV channel, FC Bayern TV Plus for €4.00 per month or €36.00 per 12 months.

Their commercial department is clearly knocking spots off our own. In terms of revenue, Bayern is the largest sports club in Germany and the fourth highest earning football club in the world, generating an estimated €660.1 million in 2020. In the 2018-19 season they reported revenue of €750.4 million and an operating profit of €146.1 million. That was Bayern’s 27th consecutive year in profit. The club runs other departments for a variety of sports including handball, basketball, gymnastics, bowling, table tennis and a senior football section with over 1,100 members. At the end of the 2019-20 season, Bayern was ranked 1st in the UEFA club coefficient rankings.

This is not supposed to be a Bayern Munich love in, but compare and contrast with what has happened at the Arsenal since moving to the Emirates Stadium in 2006, which was supposed to propel us into the top five or six clubs in Europe. Our current UEFA ranking puts us in 10th place, due mainly to our record of continuous involvement and points accrued in the Champions League with Arsene Wenger – I don’t even want to think about where we would be if it was recalculated every year. 

Bayern have achieved all this without an Arab sheikh, a Russian oligarch or a state financed investment company and with a fan base of comparable size to our own. When we moved to the new stadium there were reckoned to be 200,000+ fans with an interest in attending matches, including season ticket holders, silver and red members, people on waiting lists estimated to run for ten years, and would be “casuals” who would wait for general sale.

Our ownership, as we know, is now in the hands of a single shareholder and our executive management has lurched from Gazidis to Sanllehi and the influence of a couple of “super agents”. Between them, they have allowed our contract management to become a disaster, our squad to become badly unbalanced, ticket waiting lists have dwindled and our accounts have slid worryingly into the red. In fairness there have been recent signs of a determination not to let us continue the slide, with the signings of Tierney, Gabriel and Thomas Partey, and the re-signing of Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka. Overall, I have to say it makes me personally gaze with envy at the German model.

WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO?

One obvious place is to PLAYER SALARIES. In the current times of Covid-19 pandemic some players are lucky to get paid at all as clubs battle to stay afloat, while elite players are extremely lucky, as they continue to be paid sums that most of us can only dream of.

In Germany, in the 2019/20 season, Bayern were the highest payers with an average annual player salary of US$ 8.12 million, while Paderborn were the lowest paying Bundesliga club at US$ 0.42 million.

In England, Manchester City were the highest payers with an average annual salary of £6.99 million ($ 9.08m @1.30/£) and Newcastle were the lowest payers at £2.09 million ($ 2.72). Arsenal are fourth highest in the Premier League at £4.79million ($6.22m) average annual salary.

In terms of individuals, we have:

Bayern 

Manuel Neuer (GK) $10m, Robert Lewandowski $20m, Coutinho $24m(!!)

Man City

Ederson (GK) $5.3m,  Sergio Aguero $15.47m,  de Bruyne $23.66m

Arsenal

Leno(GK) $6.76m,  P-E Aubameyang $16.9m,  Özil $23.4m

Another area of obvious importance is TRANSFER INCOME AND EXPENDITURE.

Here the Premier League really flexes its muscles* / threatens to go bust* (*delete as appropriate) against its German counterpart. 

The summer 2020 window went as follows:

Bundesliga

Departures 232           Total Income £292.7m     Income Per Club £16.3m 

Premier League

Departures 260           Total Income £399.2m     Income Per Club £19.9m

Bundesliga

Arrivals 237    Total Spend £292.2m       Spend Per Club £16.2m

Premier League

Arrivals 293    Total Spend £1,329.3m    Spend Per Club £66.5m

Bundesliga

Total Balance £468,000            Balance Per Club £26,000

Premier League

Total Balance -£930,200,000     Balance Per Club -£46,500,000

This suggests either amazing coincidence or extremely tight collective management of funds in the German league and, to a financial incompetent like myself, the eventual suicide of many clubs in England. But we all want or need nice shiny new players, so how did Arsenal fare against the big spenders of the two countries?

(Last set of figures, I promise.)

Bayern Munich    

Total Income £19.8m       Total Exp £55.8m             Total Balance  -£36m

Arsenal FC        

Total Income £16.8m       Total Exp £77.4m            Total Balance  -£60.6m

Man City         

 Total Income £55.5m       Total Exp £154.6m            Total Balance  -£99.1m  

So, Arsenal sits right in the middle of the biggest German and English spenders, but it seems that at the top of the game in both countries, we’re all still in business at the whim of the banks and extremely rich individuals.

These levels of spending do of course have an effect on probably the most important issue of all to match going fans – the cost of attending matches, buying the latest shirts and TV subscriptions. Because of the ownership and control model of clubs in Germany, at least the cost of attending matches in the Bundesliga is much cheaper than attending matches in the English Premier League. 

COST OF ATTENDING MATCHES

In Germany, SC Paderborn have taken the opportunity to cash in on their promotion to the top flight and, despite being the lowest payers in the Bundesliga, have the most expensive Standing Season Ticket at €225 / £202 (no, that is not a typo!) while Bayern Munich charge €219 / £197 per season.

All season tickets in the Bundesliga are cheaper than their English counterparts but getting your name on one can consequently be difficult. Last season, Bayern again sold out of their €145 / £130 season tickets and shifted every single ticket for their 17 away league fixtures.

Ok, swallow hard now folks. Arsenal have the most expensive season tickets in the Premier League, despite freezing prices for five seasons in a row, and actually reducing them when we dropped from the Champions League to the Europa League. The cheapest adult season ticket at the Emirates is £891 – £96 more expensive than the next highest price which is at Tottenham. 

My own season ticket at the Emirates was in centre block, half way up the upper tier, right over the half way line where the players run out. A superb view but which cost a shade over £2,000 per season before reducing to around £1,750 when we dropped to the Europa. To take my daughter to one of our Barcelona CL home games, including a hot dog and a cup of tea, cost a combined £250+. Club Level at the Emirates is about twice as much.

England’s lowest payers, Newcastle United (our own SC Paderborn), charge £658 for their cheapest season ticket, while a season in East Stand, Category One will set you back £811. At Liverpool, the cheapest ticket is in the Kop at £685 and the dearest is in the Main Stand at £869. 

It’s therefore much more affordable for families and younger fans to attend Bundesliga matches than the Premier League, which results in younger, noisier crowds and atmospheres than many matches here. Those atmospheres are also improved by the competitiveness of the league and the fact that standing is allowed in German stadia.

THE COMPETITION 

The Bundesliga is made up of 18 teams, each therefore playing 34 matches per season. Their boast is that the league remains competitive throughout, maintaining fans’ excitement to the end. Bayern Munich are clearly the dominant side but what changes on a regular basis is the composition of their “top four”. Borussia Dortmund are always there or thereabouts and have been joined in recent seasons by RB Leipzig, fuelled by cash injections from Red Bull and driven by their highly rated head coach Julian Nagelsmann. Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen are regular challengers, with Freiburg and Hertha Berlin making advances and Borussia Monchengladbach improving under Marco Rose. Wolfsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt make up the top ten and they are quite capable as we found to our cost last season in the Europe League, losing 1-2 to them at home, having beaten them 3-0 on their own ground.

In England it is still rare for a new team to break into the top four or five positions in the league, which generally reflect the teams’ budgets. Perhaps the increased competitiveness across the German league is the result of their more controlled and similar spending patterns. 

THE MANAGERS

Of the 18 managers in the Bundesliga, 14 are German. 

Niko Kovac, the Croat who was in charge of Bayern until the end of last year, has now been replaced by Hansi Flick (yep ok, ‘Allo, ‘Allo fans!). 

Lucien Favre at Dortmund is Swiss, Oliver Glasner at Wolfsburg is Austrian, Ante Covic at Hertha Berlin is Croatian, and Urs Fischer at Union Berlin is a Swiss who has taken the lesser known Berlin team into the top flight for the first time in their history.

That is clearly a very high proportion of indigenous managers, with no superstar names among the “imports”, and those brought in tend to come from the German speaking countries, Austria and Switzerland, although Lucien Favre is from the French speaking Saint-Barthèlemy area of Switzerland. This policy presumably helps with the development and integration of German youth players on which their teams rely so heavily.

I was slightly shocked to discover that in the Premier League, traditionally infamous for not giving British managers a chance, there are no less than 10 “home-grown” managers currently operating – at Villa, Brighton, Burnley, Chelsea, Palace, Fulham, Leicester, Newcastle, Sheffield United and West Ham. Only Chelsea amongst the usual top six – if you include Tottenham – employ a British manager – a count which improves by one if you replace the LWCs with Leicester and Brendan Rodgers.

WHAT REALLY MATTERS

When all the facts and figures are done though, the most important things in football to fans are not matters of the head, but most definitely of the heart – the emotions tied to your team, the rivalries, the memories – often from early childhood, glory days, suffering, the friendships cemented over years of supporting your club whether in England, Germany or from afar, as many of the readers here have proved.

As Super Leagues and the resulting travel, time and ticket costs threaten to soar for fans across Europe, there is a lesson to be learned which has been rammed home in no uncertain terms by the curse of the Covid-19 pandemic. It doesn’t matter how many hundreds of millions of pounds, euros, or dollars owners spend on trying to buy glory, security or even bigger broadcasting profits for themselves, without fans in the ground, elite football matches become mundane, echoey, uninspiring, glorified park kickabouts.

For the sake of their own investments, the game and especially the fans who have made it what it is, let’s hope the owners recognise that fact before they destroy the thing we all love so much.

Credit: Professional Sport / Contributor

I’m sorry that this review comes so long after the publication of Arsene Wenger’s autobiography, not least because it has given time for some apparently genuine anticipation to build up. With matches coming twice a week, each calling for a preview and review, it has had to wait for an international break. It only occurred to me a day or two before the book came out, that I might conceivably have been able to get hold of an advance copy against a promise of a website review. Fortunately, by that time it would clearly have been pointless even to have made the attempt, so I was spared the embarrassment of a refusal. With luck, when Mikel comes to retire and publish his autobiography, this bar will be so well established that the publishers will approach us. We have, of course, already published extracts from the autobiography of Mikel’s successor.

Arsene’s autobiography starts with an account of the young Arsene Wenger growing up in Duttlenheim, a small village near Strasbourg. We learn a little of his early life, of his family and his early education in people skills as he watched the behaviour of men of the village in his parents’ bistro – “I listened to their conversations, I noticed which man talked loudest, which one lied, who was the conceited one and who the retiring one…”

The next chapter deals with Wenger’s playing career. Having been spotted by Max Hild, the opposing coach, Wenger joined Mutzig and then followed Hild first to Vauban and then to Strasbourg. Hild also noticed the latent coach in Wenger and offered him the position of Training Academy coach while he continued to play in the first team. Wenger’s playing career came to a sudden end when, aged around 30, the club president told him he was getting too old. This was as great a surprise to the rest of the team as it was to Wenger himself who watched in the next match as his erstwhile teammates outdid themselves, leading him to resolve to concentrate his full efforts to coaching.

Chapter 3 covers Wenger’s first couple of coaching jobs – a year at Cannes, then in Ligue 2, and three years at Nancy in Ligue 1. His job in Cannes was the first time that Wenger had left Alsace – there’s a nice story that he made his first signing en route to the South, when after arranging to meet the player in a motorway services, they played four-on-four and one-on-one games of football by way of audition. Life in Cannes was very different to north-eastern France and Wenger gained an insight into the feelings of a newly-transferred player struggling to come to terms with new team-mates not knowing anyone, in a new town. We also learn a little of Wenger’s beliefs regarding player development – learn technique between the ages of 7 and 12; develop physically from 12-16; mentally from 17-19 and gain intelligence and motivation between the ages of 19 and 22. He tells us that football “depends on three criteria: ball control, decision making and the quality of execution”. An illustration of Wenger’s understanding of finance (some might call it parsimony) comes in the shape of another story of him making the 1000 mile round-trip alone to a trade fair in Munich where he negotiated a good deal on 100 footballs for the club.

After Nancy, Wenger moved back to the south coast, this time to Monaco. Perhaps a description from chapter 4 of his relationship with the Monaco players tells us a little about what Wenger misses most from the old days: “It was possible for us to talk. They were not yet surrounded by lawyers, agents, advisors who are really family members, all those middlemen who would gradually get between a player and his coach”. There’s a nice story about George Weah, who was recommended to Wenger while he was playing in Cameroon. Wenger brought him to Monaco, where he was initially thought “hopeless” and “clumsy”. After a great deal of work and encouragement Weah went on to win the Balon d’Or in 1995. By now managing in Japan, Wenger happened to be in Milan for the ceremony and when he found out about this, Weah insisted he come along, vouching for him to the security staff when he arrived and tried to gain entry without a ticket. At the presentation, Weah had dragged his former manager on stage and given him his prize. Wenger says that he still speculates on what the security men must have thought as he left the building at the end of the night carrying the trophy.

Chapter 5 tells of Wenger’s time in Nagoya, where he came across players with a completely different cultural background. He tells us of their extraordinary commitment and how their trust in a manager’s infallibility would lead them to follow his instructions without question and to rely upon him to make all their decisions (even those in the middle of matches) for them. Wenger tried to re-educate the team to believe that his job was to train them to be able to take decisions for themselves – something he achieved fairly successfully to judge by the team’s rise from being the laughing stock of the J League (17 consecutive defeats) the season before he joined to finishing second in his second and last season. It was in Nagoya that Weneger and Boro Primorac (whom he had met at Cannes) formed their coaching partnership. They also shared living accommodation and the book includes a curious story (of which Wenger is apparently very fond) of a social evening the Primorac and Wenger families had enjoyed together, when Boro and Alphonse (Arsene’s father) spent most of the time deep in conversation. Afterwards, Wenger asked his father what they’d been talking about and received the reply, in effect, “No idea, I could hardly understand a word he was saying”. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this chapter about Japanese culture – I liked the story about how Wenger saved his interpreter’s job – but this review is getting far too long.

Credit: Clive Mason / Staff

Chapter 6 marks the main event – Arsene Wenger’s arrival at Arsenal. There is a description of how the young Arsene had watched FA Cup Finals on a black-and-white TV growing up and had conceived an ambition to step onto the perfectly prepared Wembley pitch; of how he had flown to England one summer in his playing days to learn the language and had wandered around Cambridge knocking on doors in search of rooms to rent. By sheer luck, he ended up with a landlady who taught at a language school and got him enrolled on her course. After a description of Arsenal’s history and culture – well known to drinkers at this establishment – there’s a paragraph each on many of the players Wenger found at the club – Adams, Seaman, Berkamp, Wright and Keown – and descriptions of his first few acquisitions – Vieira, Petit and Garde. He follows up with a list of notable players that he brought in over the years – Ljungberg, Gilberto, Arshavin, Ramsey, Gallas, Sagna, Vermaelen, Walcott, Mertesacker, Fabianski, Clichy, Gibbs, Coquelin, Szczesny, Cygan, Senderos and Kanu. After an account of his first few, eventful and successful, seasons – the double in 97-98, the disappointment of 98-99 and that goal by Ryan Giggs, Wenger tells the story of the replayed FA Cup tie against Sheffield United in 1999 and the purchases of Henry, Wiltord and Pires. The chapter ends with the 2001-2 season, when Arsenal won the title without losing away, and the start of the quest to go one better by going through a season without losing at home either.

The achievement of that ambition is covered in chapter 7, which starts with brief appraisals of Campbell, Toure, Lauren, Cole and Lehmann. (The paragraph on Cole includes the sentence “It is one of the great regrets of my life that I lost him to Chelsea, thanks to a misunderstanding in the negotiations with his agent”.) There are no descriptions of any of the 49 matches which include the Invincible season – no comments on the circumstances surrounding Arsenal’s equalising penalty in the home match against Portsmouth, nothing about Thiery Henry’s individual excellence at home against Liverpool (just two of my own memories of 2003-4) – but there is much about the spirit of the team, how they “were solely focussed on the objective of playing very well during every match, swiftly correcting any individual faults, maintaining the level of our ambition”. There is a brief description of the away match against Manchester United that brought the run to an end before the chapter turns to an account of the press reaction to Arsenal’s team for the home match against Crystal Palace in February 2005 in which there were no English-born players, and a discussion of the role of foreign-born players in improving (or otherwise) the quality of English players in the years since then. The chapter ends with Arsenal’s FA Cup win in 2005, courtesy of Patrick Vieira’s last kick of a ball for the club.

Chapter 8 covers Arsenal’s move from Highbury to the new stadium finishing with a brief description of the 2006 Champions League final. Wenger describes how he always lost in “unbelievable circumstances” in the Champions League and says that the 2006 final hurts the most and he has never been able to watch it again.

Chapter 9 deals with a period when the organisation of the club and the game itself was changing and becoming more complex. Arsenal’s staff grew from 70-80 when Wenger arrived in 1996 to over 700 by the time he left in 2018. Television revenues increased from around £20 million to £180 million in the same period. Much of the chapter is devoted to a description of these changes and their effects of day-to-day life at the club. Hanging over everything were the loans that had been taken out in order to build the stadium. Among the conditions of these loans was an agreement that Arsenal would spend no more than half of their income on player salaries. With a hard limit in place on the wage bill, it became harder to compete when other clubs came knocking on the door trying to recruit our best players and so, with regret, Wenger had to part company with a number of well-known names, who left with more or less dignity, leaving corresponding good or bad memories behind them. While he was hugely disappointed to see young players leave – Wenger says it was as if “we were being cut down before the harvest” – he understood their desire to win trophies and how Arsenal’s lack of players with more ”maturity, experience and clear-headedness” was making it appear unlikely that they would be able to do so without moving on. (Perhaps Alan Hansen had a point after all?)

The final chapter is about Wenger’s life since leaving Arsenal and deals mainly with his new job as Head of Global Football Development at FIFA. He tells us that he sees FIFA’s roles as: organising competitions; being custodian the Laws of the game; and education, and that he sees his role principally as educational. He speaks briefly about his ambition to set up a research centre to develop teaching methods and ways to measure performance and his desire to focus on the development of young players.

Credit: Visionhaus / Contributor

As a card-carrying fan of Arsene Wenger, I was surprised to discover after reading the book, that I had found it somewhat disappointing. I rather enjoyed the first few chapters as I knew little about his early years, but the chapters about his time at Arsenal contained little that was new to me. There’s a lot of interesting stuff about man-management and team building, but to be honest, nothing particularly new or startling. I hadn’t realised how much of a family man Arsene Wenger is – there’s a couple of pages of quite moving tribute to his daughter Lea in the middle of chapter 6.

I guess my disappointment should be directed as much toward myself as toward the book. Although it was silly to think that Wenger would be indiscreet, I had hoped to get some insight into some of the more controversial transfers of the post-Invincible era (think Gilberto, van Persie, Fabregas) but the only hint I spotted was the remark about Cole in chapter 7 that I mention above.

I would have been interested to know how things might have been organised differently in Wenger’s latter years to avoid some of the problems that became evident – maybe the lengthy description in chapter 9 of the way the game has changed might be an oblique admission that he had too much influence in the club, but there are many other statements of the importance Wenger attaches to a manager being involved in everything about a club.

I was reduced to trawling the book to find something that might have been emphasised more than I expected, or an omission that surprised me in search of enlightenment. I’m not the only one, I’ve read reports that the current Tottenham manager is devastated that he doesn’t get a mention. Never mind Jose, one day perhaps.

Perhaps the explanation of the unrest that marked the end of Wenger’s time at Arsenal is simply that as in politics, all football managers’ careers eventually end in failure. In a career as long as his, perhaps the sheer number of players you have disappointed, fans you have upset by selling their idols, journalists to whom you haven’t given decent quotes and opponents that you’ve beaten once too often just becomes too long.

Food for thought? (c) Getty Images.

Last week we spent Sunday evening with a spring in our step after a gutsy, organised win at Old Trafford. Today would tell if we could maintain this momentum.

In the weird world we inhabit now with no fans, eccentric VAR decisions and a much less physical game which if today’s Sunday Times is to be believed, may see heading outlawed by 2040, it was a concern to learn that Villa had not conceded away from Villa Park this year. 

Arsenal went with a predictable team. Holding, Gabriel and Tierney were at the back, Elneny and Partey in midfield and two rather fortunate individuals, Willian and Lacazette joined Aubameyang upfront 

As I looked up at the start of the game, McGinn scored a cracker from a Grealish pullback within the first minute. It was then referred to VAR because Barkley was in Leno’s eyeline and leapt into the air in front of the goalkeeper. To our massive relief the goal was chalked off. Shades of Leicester??

Tierney then slipped to let in Watkins but his cross was overhit. In the early minutes I couldn’t help feeling that we were starting too slowly again. On 9 minutes, an under-hit pass by McGinn almost let in Partey who just failed to reach the ball before Emi Martinez. The greasy surface was tricky, holding the ball up at times and occasionally causing passes to skid on uncontrollably. But pitches in November when I started watching Arsenal were much trickier than this. 

Thirteen minutes in Partey won the ball in midfield and sent Aubameyang clear but Willian completely skied a presentable chance. Then on 17 minutes nice play down our left put in Saka but he mullered the cross. 

Grealish playing wide left was a real handful for Bellerin. What a signing he would have been for us! Aubameyang accelerated past three Villa players on the left and was brought down near the byline. The free kick was well-worked but Tierney scuffed his shot.

After 23 minutes the increasingly infuriating Willian gave a ball away in midfield sloppily and Villa worked it patiently around before cutting us apart with a through ball and cross from Targett which Saka turned in at the far post under pressure from Trezeguet. 

Arsenal 0 Villa 1 (Saka og, 25

Villa were good value for their lead. I would already have been inclined to remove Willian but Arteta has greater belief in him than me. Towards the half hour we finally got behind Villa twice and a great block by Konsa denied Tierney’s driven cross. That was better and importantly quicker but when Villa moved forward they looked much more dangerous. A fizzed corner screwed behind off an Arsenal foot. Our midfield, so impressive last week and good here sometimes in possession, was struggling to win enough ball to influence the game. Partey lost possession and Trezeguet’s shot was blocked by Bellerin. Then a great ball by McGinn found Grealish and Gabriel blocked the shot. 

Bellerin moved menacingly onto a Holding chip, rode two tackles but rather than pull the trigger he laid the ball back and the attack fizzled out. Willian clipped in a fine cross that wasn’t converted and then a fine build up with Saka and Aubameyang saw Emi frustrate us with a block and as the ball ran loose Partey hammered wide. Better and importantly, quicker. 

On 40 minutes a wonderful Tierney cross was disappointingly headed over by Lacazette. A huge chance and indicative of the poor form of the Frenchman at present. 

Watkins was impressing with his strength, control and movement and he engineered a situation that saw a desperate block by Elneny after McGinn turned dangerously. A graphic appeared before half time showing Lacazette had only 8 touches in the first half. It was little surprise!

The half ended in the same pouring rain in which it had begun and Arteta faced his fourth home game where we were not leading at half-time. 

Half – time Arsenal 0 Villa 1

Mrs TTG emerged during the interval to inform me the name of the departure from Strictly Come Dancing and commented that I had been quiet! She appreciates that this is not a good sign but neither does she like me yelling at the TV. She then commented that losing to Aston Villa was not impressive. That was a little unfair to a very well-drilled Villa side that Smith has improved significantly in the transfer window. 

Our first decision of the second half was to add Danny Ceballos to the mix. He replaced Partey who surely must have been injured during the first half. That didn’t appear a good omen or a productive substitution. 

Elneny lost an early ball to Grealish and Trezeguet fired in a shot which Leno touched wide. Willian then screwed hopelessly wide after Lacazette couldn’t gather an Aubameyang cross. The game was starting to  cry out for Willock. Then Willian wasted another cross-field ball, something Don Howe used to call, ‘a Hollywood ball’! There was little glitz about the performance so far. Saka was fouled on the edge of the box on 54 minutes. They worked the free-kick to Ceballos who curled wide. 

At the other end an impressive move down the Villa left between Barkley and Grealish saw Grealish force a terrific save from Leno. Grealish then had a volley blocked by Tierney but we were being outplayed. Arsenal’s ball movement was cautious and slow and invited pressure. This was an obvious indication that Arsenal lack leaders on the pitch and we also seemed to lack an effective right side defensively as Villa played through us at will. 

We had the respite of a corner on the hour and Gabriel played in Holding who fired wide. Heads were dropping on the Arsenal side, especially Saka and Lacazette. Substitutes were clearly required and Nketiah and Pepe arrived to replace Willian and Lacazette. Not before time! 

Immediately Elneny hit a Tierney cross straight at Nketiah. It was wide of the target though and this was becoming a major mental as well as tactical test for Arsenal. It looked like we were now playing a front two. On 68 minutes Pepe fizzed a shot just wide but his aggression was heartening. We were playing a bit more direct football and Nketiah was creating more problems than Lacazette had been.

But then Villa got their second with a fine move – a cross-field pass was turned across goal by Barkley for Watkins to head home from close range. 

Arsenal 0 Villa 2 (Watkins, 72)

Immediately after this Ceballos blocked a Grealish shot on the line. However, their third was not long delayed as Grealish played in Watkins on the right of our box and he finished clinically.

Arsenal 0 Villa 3 (Watkins, 75) 

It was becoming a complete humiliation, the sort of defeat that provokes a massive reaction from the people you only hear on the blog when things are going wrong. All the benefit of last week’s win at Old Trafford had evaporated. The defence was torn asunder but largely because Grealish and Barkley were running through them almost unimpeded in midfield.

Saka was brought down in the last minute but it scarcely occurred to anyone to appeal. 

Defeat of this sort is hard to take but it is part of the life of a supporter. Sadly, this will increase pressure on Arteta from a fan base that are becoming increasingly fickle. Villa are a substantial side but lost recently 3-0 to Leeds. Arsenal’s next opponents are … Leeds! 

We must retain faith in Arteta who has done much more right than wrong since he took over the club but the nature of this defeat and the reaction it will provoke will set him unenviable problems. Certainly, we are largely toothless despite fielding one of the best strikers in European football. Willian is currently not worthy of a place in the side and it is surely time for us to find a role for Joe Willock. Bellerin had an alarmingly bad evening defensively and few players could hold their heads high although Tierney, Ceballos and Gabriel were among our better performers albeit at a disappointingly low level.

Arteta’s first crisis arrives as we go into yet another Interlull. When he needs time to work with the players he will be denied it. Let us remember he is a fine and resilient coach but he has much to digest tonight 

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