Champions League Group H
Arsenal 6 – 0 SC Braga
1 – 0 Fabregas (pen 9)
2 – 0 Arshavin (23)
3 – 0 Chamakh (29)
4 – 0 Fabregas (53)
5 – 0 Vela (69)
6 – 0 Vela (84)
A record-breaking night for Arsenal, following hot on the heels of Tottenham’s equally impressive evening on Tuesday. Still, I am sure that ‘Appy ‘Arry is more than satisfied with his charges being the first English team to drop a two-goal lead. It’s all about ambition.
Sporting Braga are derided for putting in a poor performance; there was an element of that but to dwell on this aspect diminshes from the professionalism shown by the Arsenal players. From the kick-off, Arsenal set about their opponents, determined to seal victory. The points were won at a canter, expressive individualism combined majestically with expansive passing, the ball slicing through the Braga midfield and defence with the ease of the sharpest knife through the rarest of Sunday roasts. One can never tire of watching such performances, no matter how commonplace they become.
The starting XI contained but one surprise, Jack Wilshere preferred to Denilson, indicative of the attacking verve demanded by the manager. His ambition was rewarded with an excellent performance by the youngster, partnering Alex Song in a more central and deeper lying role than is normally expected at this stage of a fledgling career. Yet this did not stem his attacking verve, his movement off the ball shaming many older than himself.
The formation allowed Cesc Fabregas more freedom on the pitch, supporting Chamakh in attack, the duo played in tandem and holding a tight formation throughout the evening. The captain richly deserved his brace of goals, perhaps disappointed to have not finished with more, unselfishly declining a late opportunity for himself, instead creating Carlos Vela’s late finish.
Fabregas’ display brought forth praise from his manager, post match:
He has taken on another dimension…He is a fantastic influence and it is important that he leads this team to winning and I believe it is a fantastic opportunity for the young players who play alongside him to improve as well…I like that he gave the ball to Vela instead of trying alone. That reflects the way we want to play the game and it reflects the real attitude of a leader. He does what the game wants and is not selfish.
Wenger’s praise is richly deserved for an outstanding return to form in recent days. Equally deserving of commendation is Marouane Chamakh. He pulled the defence out of position, signalled his availability for any colleague to pass to, no matter how close the Portuguese side’s attention and crucially, I cannot recall a time when he lost possession cheaply. Many summers have been shorn of their glory since such a ‘traditional’ strikers performance was seen in an Arsenal shirt.
Within minutes of the start of the match, it was clear that Arsenal would not broker anything other than a win. Two early penalty appeals emerged from hoarse throats, plainitive looks dismissed by the officials. But if you knock on that door often enough, mistakes happen. Fabregas found Chamakh free in the area and as the Moroccan rounded Felipe, the goalkeeper tripped him. Fabregas drilled home his first Arsenal goal since Barcelona in this competition. Wilshere might have been the opener goalscorer moments earlier, flagged offside to spare his blushes as his dinked shot edged the wrong side of the post. He might have doubled the lead shortly after the opener, Fabregas’ deft header let the youngster shoot, Felipe blocking well.
Disconcertingly for Braga, Arsenal were not in full flight but still utterly dominant. Their reward would come as the first half reached its midpoint. Nasri was flagged offside but the referee allowed play to continue, Braga in possession. The clearance was poor and quickly snaffled by Song in the midfield. The ball was worked through to Fabregas who, with a hop, skip and jump, found himself at the edge of the area, fed an unmarked Arshavin, who drilled home from ten yards.
As delightful as the football for the second was, the third was mesmeric. Fabregas and Wilshere wove patterns through the Braga midfield, Sagna’s cross headed clear to the captain, retaining possession and keeping pressure on the visitors. He fed Chamkh on the edge of the area, the Moroccan gratefully received Wilshere’s delightful backheel, passing the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net. Just reward for a sumptuous performance.
The interval brought no respite. Eight minutes into the second half, Song fed Fabregas, his attempted one-two with Chamakh rebounding to the edge of the area where the Spaniard’s forward run allowed him to smuggle possession wide to Arshavin. The Russian’s cross was inch perfect, his captain providing the straightforward header to set the goals flowing once more.
Would Fabregas seal his third to cap a wonderful individual performance. It was surely a matter of time. Arshavin freed the Spaniard whose effort was sufficiently deflected by Felipe, Moises hooking the ball clear close to his own net. The Russian then went closer, drilling the ball across goal, rattling the woodwork before Braga cleared. The rotation of the squad with a comfortable lead in hand was not going to be an excuse for any easing of pressure.
Braga were then treated to a move which rivalled that of the weekend drubbing of Bolton. Passing simply, the ball went along the back four and returned to the centre, Fabregas and Wilshere moved around the midfield and forwards, Arshavin on the left scampered into the area, Vela lifted the ball gently into the net for the fifth. Truly scrumptious.
As intricate as the fifth was, simplicity was the key to the sixth. Fabregas chased a long pass, Felipe’s clearance was returned with interest as the cushioned header into the path of Vela who calmly slid the ball home at the near post.
Throughout the team there were excellent displays. To pick holes in performances on such evenings is churlish, to ignore mistakes, naive. The ease with which Arsenal controlled the match was due to hard work from Almunia to Chamakh. The team’s improved defensive awareness is showing more with every match.
Clichy knows he was let off the hook before Braga were put to the sword, an error which may have been more costly in another match. Yet defensively he is continuing to improve, regaining the form he displayed before injuries interrupted his progress. Squillaci and Koscielny both had comfortable evenings, intercepting and distributing well. Sagna provided good width on the right and is reaping tangible rewards for his efforts on the training pitch, his crossing consistently better than before.
This day is one to reflect positively on the performance. ’til Tomorrow.
A day away packing up the house and what did I miss? Not a great deal actually.
So Spain deservedly won the World Cup for their performance in the Final. The nature of tournament football is such that you are only as good as the match you play and whilst they have not been the best team in South Africa, on the night they were better.
Will this sound the death knell for the functional football which has been in evidence in recent months? No. Internazionale proved you can win titles and trophies by being unadventurous, beating ‘footballing’ sides along the way. Indeed, had the Dutch taken their chances, the outcome might well have been different. However, it seems that going against the grain of their national team’s style through the years, attempting to shore up a defence which has been found wanting in previous tournaments, stifled them somewhat in the final.
That and an inability of his team-mates to utilise the strengths of Robin van Persie, cost them dearly. His spell out of the game last season appeared to be some hinderance but the tactics of the team did not help either, the movement he is used to at Arsenal was only sporadically evident for his country.
Cesc set up the winner and post-match immediately consoled Robin van Persie immediately afterwards. Nothing can be read into that aside from it showing the friendship between the two, the decent act of a well-brought up young man. Likewise, the media are making something of a prank by the Spanish team and one that Cesc found amusing but did not participate in, to the extent that he did not co-operate with the attempt to put a Barcelona shirt on his body. Some have got bent out of shape over it but let’s be honest, it was doesn’t even begin to register on Ince-scale.
I don’t think that anyone has doubted the affection he has for Arsenal – simply the desire to return home has never, understandably, been hidden whether that be now or in the future. He re-affirmed his appreciation of the club and supporters in his speech in Madrid last night:
All I can say is that this World Cup victory is for all the Arsenal players and fans — they are a world-class club.
I am an Arsenal player and proud to be.
The player asking for a move seems unlikely as that is a rarity in the modern game, prinicipally down to money forsaken in doing so, although I hasten to add that there is no evidence that this would the case for Cesc. Whether that is hurt pride over the manner of his departure to Arsenal or they are brassick, nobody knows for in the same way that you decide the clothes to wear each day, Barcelona has so many faces that it chooses which one each morning for the day ahead.
Back to the World Cup. Overall, it was a disappointment. There were some good games, teams from all continents gave us entertainment, some through good play, others through being so awful that unless you laugh, you will cry if you follow those countries.
The key thing is that the big stars failed to live up to their reputations. Few of the ‘media favourites’ brought any joy to the screen or stadia; it was left to lesser lights to brighten the sky. Fifa will proclaim this World Cup a success and for the hosts, in terms of organisation, the fears printed or broadcast beforehand never played out. There were other aspects which render this a failure, the stadia are beautiful but what happens to them now.
A forlorn hope is that Fifa learn lessons over ticketing. Never more should they bow to the corporate buyers who dismally failed to turn up for the latter stages to the unsaid huge embarrassment of the governing body. Pricing for tickets must be aimed at the local market because if they fail to turn up, empty seats will remain forever a problem.
A final wish is for football commentators and pundits to cease stooping to the lowest level. A commentator should describe the action adding authority to embellish the action. Those who were forced into English homes during the tournament would have had Peter Jones and Bryon Butler spinning in their graves. As for the pundits, the only hit was Roy Hodgson, a rare twinkle of sanity in the grey skies of banality. There have been lucid individuals who have a genuine analysis of the action before them. Too often the depth could be skimmed with a spatula such was the flimsy nature of their comments.
You are reading the latest edition of Doom & Gloom Times. Thanks to John Murphy from yesterday’s comments for providing a laugh that has yet to fade…
Show me the money! Show me the money!
So where are we at with the Catalan posturing? Aaaah, yes. First of all, you have, with your constant and incessant, deflated the mood of a young man who is to represent Spain in South Africa. It isn’t Arsenal who have done this, it is you who seek to wreck your nations chances at the World Cup by distracting a player when he should be concentrating on matters between the painted lines.
You might recall Cesc Fabregas. You know the one who scored the winning penalty against Italy in the last European Championships? No? What of the penalty where he broke his leg and destroyed your two-goal lead at The Emirates? No? You know, the one who ‘did one’ when but a teenager because he knew that Arsenal would develop him in a way that you never could. Aaaah, yes, you remember. That one.
Not that the Spanish media would have you believe it was Barcelona’s fault that Cesc is downbeat. Oh, no, that’s the fault of Arsenal. That mean Mr Wenger, those horrible directors. They won’t let him leave for a rock bottom price, 25p and a bag of mouldy M&Ms. Oh no, they want those millions of Euros that you don’t have. At least that is what the leading candidate for Presidency, Sandro Rosell, told the world the other day.
His tune has changed slightly. The Pied Piper of Catalunya piped the rats onto the Highway To Hell when he noted that Barcelona – “More than a club” – were skint. He omitted to mention that it was not just financially but morally as well. Pursuing their quarry through the back pages rather than being up front. Talking of respect. Hand them a dictionary. Show them the meaning of the word. You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! Arsenal do not want to sell.
And still you, Laporta, talk of €35m being a fair market value. This ain’t Primark. You are shopping in Harrods.
You tell us that Wenger is doing exactly what you would do; protecting his club’s interests.
Let the player know how much you love him. Let the player know how much you want him. Let him know that he is the object of your desire. Yet still criticising them for doing so, for refusing to cower before your mighty ego.
Or continue to talk down the price. A signal of your vanity-fuelled pursuit, dangling him on a lead, disrespecting him, his family and Arsenal Football Club. Let him know that he is merely an object of your ego, that you don’t care for him, simply that you don’t want anyone else to have him.
So, here’s a thought. Make Arsenal an offer they can’t refuse. Put your money where your mouth is or quite simply, do us all a favour and shut the f*ck up.
Yeah, Capello And Pearce, I’m Talking To You
So Theo Walcott was omitted from England’s World Cup squad because he is not the player he was before he was injured. No remorse for the selfish motivation that saw him play for the senior and junior international last summer and begin twelve months of injury-riven woe. Mr Capello, you are reaping the harvest of your previous efforts.
It is not all Capello’s fault; Walcott failed to produce consistently in the short time available before the World Cup was upon us. There was flashes of the ability but not frequently enough; that weight rests on Walcott’s shoulders. That it was a close run thing between inclusion and omission is suggested by the comments of Capello that Theo would be playing in the Euro 2012 qualifiers.
Here is a small suggestion for the England manager. Leave Walcott out of the squad to play Hungary in August. Let him play for his club and get form back. Let him build his confidence away from the England set-up. And then see the good that rest can do rather than flogging him to death, fit only for the glue factory through over-exertion.
And ban Stuart Pearce from ever calling him up for the junior team again.
Other Transfer Gossip
Jean-Louis Tiraud, Bordeaux’s President, is nothing if not practical. He may have been less than amused with the departure of Marouane Chamakh to Arsenal but that is not going to stop him dealing with Arsenal again, if the money is right.
Yoann Gorcuff is expected by the media to Fabregas’ replacement at The Emirates but rather than being outraged, Tiraud is putting this down purely to the media, refusing to participate in their games of speculation.
Should Arsene decide to come knocking, the price will be high, perhaps higher than he would like to pay but nonetheless talking will be done. Tiraud may have been annoyed beforehand but seems to have realised it was his own obstinacy that caused a lot of the discontent with Chamakh last summer and beyond. Arsenal were not blameless, no club ever is but water has washed under the bridge and money talks. Whether it is the right language is another matter.
A couple of requests have been sent in. Firstly, and with many apologies for my slack-jawed deliquency in posting this yesterday, Elliott Quince is running a charity art exhibition based on football stickers / cards throughout the World Cup – see his site GotGotGotNeed for details. 1 player from each of the 32 competing nations is to be featured, Robin van Persie is the Dutch player. All proceeds go to the Luton and Dunstable Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, who cared for his daughter last year.
Secondly, Dr Jamie Clelland, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise at Staffordshire University, is carrying out an anonymous survey on fans’ views towards gay football players. The address is www.topfan.co.uk and the site is being managed by Staffordshire University.
The official offer from Barcelona was contemptuous in its submission, resoundingly swatted away. £27.3m, £29m, £31m in England or €35m in Spain. Not the €40m suggested. Not the €45m they are willing to go to. Far removed from the £80m Arsenal reportedly wanted. Certainly nowhere near the players true value. Cesc, you may love Barcelona but they do not love you enough. Or as much. Yet.
Of course, it was an opening gambit with an improved bid likely to include Dmytro Chygrynskiy. Even so several things can be read into the derisory offer.
Firstly, stories of stung pride receive validation. Whether or not it is an urban legend, the tale that on taking office Joan Laporta found a note attached to Fabregas’ file suggesting that ‘you will have to explain how this one got away‘, lovingly left by his predecessor gains traction in the root of the soon-to-be former Barcelona President’s obsession.
And it has been an obsession. Certainly in the last four years, barely a summer has passed without mention of the ‘Golden Boy’ returning to the Camp Nou. Quite whether various coaches have shared that view has yet to be publicly acknowledged.
Secondly, they sought some crumb of comfort or opening to exploit. Much grandstanding has gone on in the media from the Catalans, a day has not passed when they have failed to have someone proclaim that the King of Catalonia is coming home, it is only a matter of time. Big words which were short on action.
Lastly, for Barcelona to get their man, they have to move up several notches on price, Arsenal descend equally. That seems an unlikely scenario. So, Cesc has to ask for a transfer to leave, forsaking his bonuses, etc. Is that likely to happen? No.
I suspect that the next tack taken by Team Fabregas will be the homesick and unhappy player route, trying to publicly coerce Arsenal into a sale. Fabregas Snr will be the one to watch; whatever he comes out with next is the official line of Junior.
Arsenal has stated its position unequivocally: The player is under contract to 2015 and will remain at the club. There was no room for manoeuvre in their words. They are, in essence, setting Barcelona up for a Fifa enquiry for tapping up. especially as they have not encouraged the Catalans. I suspect the club has proof of this, using the media clippings to emphasise the point.
The Spanish media report that Barcelona have read the statement and decided that it means they have to improve their offer and try again. AS hints that the timing of the offer had nothing to do with the opening of the transfer window – something that Laporta’s cronies have been emphasising in recent days, as if they are acting properly by waiting until June 1st to make their official approach – but more to do with influencing the outcome of the Presidential elections.
Sandro Rosell, not Laporta’s preferred successor, has collected more signatures supporting his candidacy than his three rivals could muster between them. Certainly the logic applied by the Catalans does not fit with the two unofficial approaches where they were told politely to stop pestering Gazidis and then threatened with being reported to BT as a nuisance caller.
El Mundo Deportivo reckons, without any substantiation, that the player is going to put pressure on Arsenal, hurt that his wishes have not been obeyed and absolutely furious that Wenger has not helped him leave the club. They also claim that the offer had two bonuses attached to it, increasing the price should Barcelona win trophies but again they decline the opportunity to elaborate on this. Had it been known by them, we would as well simply to make the rejection more sensationalist.
The English media seem, for once, largely supportive of Arsenal’s stance albeit using quotes attributed to Barcelona ne’er do wells from a few days ago rather than last night.
Where does this leave Fabregas? Well, aside from being missing off the club’s official membership letter. There is a limbo in which he is operating. He can telephone Wenger for another long conversation but given that he has apparently or wilfully misinterpreted the initial chat, it seems pointless. He has to force the issue if he wants to leave.
Either that or start to build the bridges which although not entirely turned to cinders, are substantially charred. His only public statement as ‘Arsenal will decide my future‘ even though the remainder of his words made it clear he wants to leave. That is counter-productive, signifying a malcontent who would rather not be here.
The public pronouncements of love for Wenger and the club have washed into the seas of hollow words. Kissing the badge now seems more out of concern for removing the mud on his shirt than any profession of loyalty. That is not to say he has to leave, simply that the relationship with us has changed. His motives are now questioned and questionable if he stays. We expect him to give his all, 100% in every performance if Arsenal stands fast.
And he will receive our support because he is an Arsenal player, albeit diminished. I doubt he would ever be subjected to catcalls, he is simply too good a player to allow his pride to be stung by putting in a performance of such poverty. He will find his every move scrutinised, his play analysed to the nth degree, signs sought to support the view he would rather not be at The Emirates.
The trust is gone. The trust he built so assiduously, even though we knew one day he would be gone, has evaporated as his departure was not expected this summer.It is going to be a long summer for Arsenal supporters on this one unless Rosell wins, staying true to the view that Barcelona simply cannot afford to buy Fabregas.
Elsewhere, Mark Schwarzer won’t go away, Fulham apparently looking at David James to replace the Australian so that he can join Arsenal whilst reports of a deal being done with Joe Cole seem premature, the Chelsea player wanting to concentrate on the World Cup. Maybe the Arsenal negotiating team will be flying out to see him which would make the plane a ‘Cole Shuttle’.
Arsène noted that he wanted his transfer activity completed before the World Cup and he may get his wish. Marouane Chamakh completed his transfer yesterday, presented to the world with only an ATVO camcorder present. Decidely low-key compared to the reported 35,000 fans at the Nou Camp for David Villa, highlighting the difference between the two clubs in their operations.
Chamakh arrives with high expectations from his manager:
Chamakh is a striker of real quality and has all the attributes suited to come to England and do very well. He is also a fighter, not only a good football player, but a fighter as well. He is very good in the air and also a good team player. He is a great addition to our squad
You would not expect him to say anything else. His scoring statistics are remarkably similar to those of Henry and Adebayor in the French League. Not prolific, averaging around a goal every four games through his career. In the past two seasons he has improved that but crucially, he was part of the title winning Bordeaux side that had also won the French League Cup.
Add to that a runners-up medal in the 2004 African Cup of Nations, a tournament in which he scored twice, and the player has experience of competing for, and winning, trophies which is the type of experience asked for.
He may not be the ‘big name’ signing that is craved but seems to be a solid squad player with a very good record of scoring at international level. The usual platitudes were said by Chamakh about how he had been an Arsenal supporter since childhood and that he wanted to win. I wish him all of the best on his Arsenal career and hope he achieves the latter for the rest of us as the former will indeed be very happy.
The biggest hope though is that he is given time to settle, failure to score twenty goals in his first five games not used a stick with which to beat him. Impatience is deemed a virtue now amongst supporters despite being a failing. There is an air of negativity, the rumours surrounding Cesc havde exacerbated the mood and hopes of providing a positive boost for the weekend were dampened slightly thanks to events in the Catalan capital.
At the press conference for Villa, Txiki Begiristain told the world that they had sent Arsenal a fax asking if they wanted to enter into negotiations and that Barcelona would conduct these ‘respectfully’. Having failed to do so in the past week, it was too much to expect that to happen and in announcing it to the world, the Technical Director immediately proved his word meant nothing since ‘respectfully’ would have included not announcing it.
Fran Merida has apparently decided to seek first team football in Atletico de Madrid’s colours despite a late offer from Arsenal. It is the least surprising news since this has been more widely rumoured than the Cesc to Barcelona ‘move’ albeit without the intensity of the latter.
Although there is no formal transfer fee, a ‘training fee’ will be set by a tribunal unless the clubs come to a prior agreement due to the player’s age. It is a disappointing feeling to see him leave as he is undoubtedly a good player. His first team opportunities were nonetheless limited and he could blow hot or cold, excellent against Liverpool and Bolton compared to a nondescript performance at Upton Park in the FA Cup.
Such inconsistency is to be expected in a young player and the departure is something we will have to get used to in coming seasons with the production line of talented youngsters outstripping the opportunity for first team football in all but the exceptional cases.
WTF has gone on in the last twenty four hours? Presumptuous and speculative ramblings from a Catalan Ne’er Do Well have taken on the shadow of truth. A Spanish journalist, seeking readers and hits to quench the rampant monetary desires of his advertorial and footballing paymasters is treated as the font of all knowledge.
Dismissal of Ballague as a source though is as trite as total condemnation. Whilst I doubt that he or any other journalist has been able to persuade the Arsenal captain to bare his soul in their presence, may be approval – tacit or otherwise – has been given to someone close to speak authoratatively on his behalf.
Obituaries have been written for the end of a great Arsenal career, agendas hidden so that the prophecies become self-fulfilling. Journeys well planned in advance have been twisted into meanings unintended and as of yet unproven.
The Spanish Inquisition has been reborn, a tea party that even Bostonians would shy away from. The Great and The Good tell us that their “well-sourced” stories are true; we can do nothing but sit on the sidelines as lie becomes fact, fiction reality, watching this mass hysteria. Perhaps the ghost of Phineas T Barnum will join us, quoting himself to give us a reminder that, “I am a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me”
As the late, great Marvin Gaye crooned, What’s Going On?
Arsenal Football Club is not passing comment, or in the words of TV presenters, “refusing to comment“. By their inaction, they fuel the fire, not providing any knowledge, reassurance or words of action that make the whole thing more palatable. Possibly, they are not because a replacement in being lined up and they want that resolved before any announcement is made. Whichever way, it is another PR own goal by the club at a time when a grip seemed to have been taken over previous debacles.
Could Cesc be leaving? Perhaps. Could he be staying? Perhaps. Should we read anything into the resounding silence from Arsenal Football Club? Perhaps. Now substitute the word “Perhaps” for “No” or “Yes” and in any combination that you want to. They all fit. We know nothing and the reliance upon the words of those who have been trying to convince us that their unreliability is a virtue.
The presumption is that the lack of denials confirm he is leaving yet the logic is twisted. Until events occur which prove or disprove the notion of a transfer then inaction is not a signal of intent. No farewells yet either since he has not gone. Henry and Vieira have been in this position before, persuaded to stay by the manager. Perhaps the manager will or has succeeded once more.
But that is the key to this. The whole story is a big pile of ‘Perhaps’. Perhaps something will emerge to move this story off the back pages although I suspect as far as the English media is concerned, only the sale of Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney or Torres would be sufficiently high profile enough to warrant that happening. Perhaps negotiations are ongoing. Perhaps Arsenal will do something reactive in a pro-active sense and tell us what the true position is. I’m not holding my breath.
This morning brought forth the first mention in less than a week over the future of Cesc Fabregas, apparently to be the subject of a £50m bid from Manchester City. Apparently, they have not been “put off” by the initial soundings made over any offer for the player’s services. Presumably those soundings were much more polite than any private thoughts may have been on the matter. Still, nothing like a good laugh to start the day.
Wenger invited such speculation by mentioning that he will be dipping into the carrier bag of used fivers stashed behind the pot plant in Ivan Gazidis’ office. It will be a summer where he will hope to get his business completed early, before national squads meet up for the World Cup. Transfer windows around international competitions tend to be a sellers market, clubs hoping that their saleable assets perform well to inflate their values.
For Wenger this is the problem. Players such as Villa – even if he were to perform admirably – will not increase their values greatly. €40m – €50m will always be his price unless there is a bidding war. With the price bracket that Wenger tends to buy in, the increase tends to be more marked, a €5m becomes a €10m player on the back of a good tournament.
You notice that the currency is Euros; quite simply, I cannot think of many English players whom Wenger would consider technically adept enough to sign. The members of the England squad diminish that number further. Of the international players from overseas who ply their trade in the Premier League, their price will already be overinflated as it is so the manager is within his rights to look further afield for comparable or perhaps better, individuals.
Sol Campbell has spoken in the aftermath of the defeat in Barcelona, offering the view that the Champions League tie should be viewed as the benchmark for this Arsenal squad. Being one of the few squad members to have won the title, his colleagues would do well to listen to his belief, something he hopes they will do.
The hunger and desire Campbell speaks of is assumed to be shared, it is a mental requirement for champions. The likes of van Persie, Clichy, Bendtner and Cesc have always spoken of this desire, the remainder you assume have it as well. The ability to learn from the defeat will be the key. Being on the receiving end of the constant Barcelona pressure – as Real Madrid were last night – gave the midfield and attack the level to which they have to raise their game, starting at White Hart Lane.
Comparing this team to The Invincibles as the media likes to, is a pointless exercise. The Champions of 2004 were at the peak of their powers whilst the current squad are not on that level yet. Even so, they are challenging for the title, the outcome of which will be decided in a little over 500 minutes of football.
Campbell raised an interesting issue. He said:
You’ve got to respect football in every way. You’ve got to go for the League Cup; you’ve got to go for the FA Cup, you’ve got to go for all competitions because you never know which one is going to come your way.
I agree with Campbell in one respect. The first trophy the players win will break the mental barrier, prove to themselves that they are winners. Wenger strives to maintain a balance. The League and FA Cups are used to blood younger players and keep squad members fresh, preparing them for Premier League action when called upon.
That policy has not borne fruit in those competitions and with the League Cup in particular, it is hard to see that it will. The mentality of the top six teams has changed in recent seasons. Manchester City, United, Villa, Tottenham and Chelsea have all reverted to fielding strong line-ups from the quarter finals onwards. It means that Arsenal’s talented younger players learn from playing seasoned professionals. Yet the squad as a whole could learn from winning a trophy, irrespective of its value.
That said, if the youngsters start in the League Cup, over time there is a probability that they will gain reward, assuming of course that this taste of first team football does not lead to them moving to another club, Fran Merida may be a prime example of that this summer.
There is a balance to be struck and Wenger has to bear in mind the injury risks for players, particularly in the junior competition which coincides with the group phase of the Champions League. The stats I noted last week show that Arsenal suffer a significantly higher number of injuries than their close rivals, missing players who arguably could make a difference in the key competitions.
It is a matter of priorities, the decisions for which Wenger is paid his salary. His obvious targets are the Premier and Champions Leagues, two competitions which are extremely difficult to win due to the consistency required in the former, the quality of opposition in the latter. There should be no suggestion that either be sacrificed for the sake of another trophy. It hints of desperation and defeatism to suggest that they should be. The question is whether Arsene can continue to give the lesser tournaments the lesser attention.