...what happened to the fourth Champions League place the last time an English team won the thing. Plus, who would want to pay £60 to watch the current England team?
A Sunderland fan in the mailbox is surprised by Jack Colback's call up to the England squad. Plus, thoughts on Welbeck and Liverpool's Champions League draw...
If you have anything to say on any subject, mail us at email@example.com
Liverpool Won't Win Title With Allen
All of the superlatives used to describe Liverpool's attacking play in Winners & Losers were exactly right - as apt perhaps as Brendan Rodgers' self-regard has turned out to be. But to say that Gerrard's deeper role limits the necessity of Lucas Leiva's inclusion could not be more wrong.
While Man United were too impotent and tactically obtuse to take advantage of Brendan's widely lauded midfield diamond formation, it is worth noting that Cardiff did do their homework and identified its weakest link: Joe Allen. At Old Trafford it was an egregious Allen giveaway and lazy tracking back that led to United's one good chance on target, the shot by Wayne Rooney. On Saturday all three Cardiff goals, and most of their attacks, came directly from exploiting Joe Allen's woeful attempts at shielding Jon Flanagan on the left. There may be enough goals in the side to overcome this weakness against Sunderland or Spurs this week. But against City and Chelsea we will likely be annihilated.
The cure for this, at least the one Brendan has to hand, is to go back to a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1 if you like with Suarez in a #10 role) with Lucas and Gerrard holding in front of the back four and Sterling and Henderson on the flanks. This way Lucas can help Sterling on the left with young Flanagan (or Agger at left-back with Sakho coming in to partner Skrtel). This formation would largely sideline Coutinho, or if preferred to Sterling force him to play a wide position that he is not best suited for, but it would make for a much more defensively resilient side.
Oh Xabi Xabi Xabi
Loved the Top 10 Long-Rangers article but you really should have included a trigger warning before using that marvellous picture of Xabi Alonso and his perfect, Übermensch technique in kicking a ball. If Leni Riefenstahl had made films about football Xabi would be her muse. I used to have a t-shirt with that same picture in stencil form, with the words 'A Game of Two Halves' (get it?!).
Now I find myself going through every video of the man in a red shirt, reminiscing with the depressive nostalgia of a person in a place during a time that will never come around again. Thanks f365.
Sid (it'd be greater than Fowler coming home) LFC
Sod The Neutrals
Neutrals won't be rooting for Liverpool to win the league because one of their fans is writing in telling everyone else that they SHOULD support Liverpool's title bid because of how bloody wonderful chihuahuas they are. Who cares what neutrals think anyway? If you win it, screw everyone else and take a warm bath in the glory!
Jay (Personally rooting for Arsenal as the least-worse-case scenario and also sad face re Utd fans being neutrals in the title race), MUFC
Neutrals Just Want Thrills
I hate it when people explain to me what I should want in football outcomes. So why are we currently campaigning for 'neutrals' to do so? It will result in the exact opposite happening. Will it make a difference to our league position if United fans started supporting Liverpool's title challenge? No.
If I were a neutral, I would be praying for a situation where Chelsea, Liverpool and City all have a chance of winning the title on the final day as well as five-six teams all potentially playing for their survival. A final 45 mins of Premier League football refreshing the live table on your phone whilst flicking between three live televised games, is the best way to end a season when your team is done for the year surely.
As a previous titl- challenging neutral I have great memories of Aggggguuuueeeeeerrrrrooooo and the WBA/Saints/Palace/Norwich relegation. I also believe neutrals still talk about these as opposed to teams deserving to win it or walking to the title with four games to go.
Dan LFC (brackets)
In Praise Of Mourinho
A few more conclusions from the weekend from a Chelsea fan:
- Jose Mourinho is a brilliant manager. Strong in every department - player development, recruitment, motivation, tactics, ability to change matches with substitutions, press management. Virtually every Chelsea player is better than they were last season, the side is better balanced, all of his signings have come off, and we're transformed from also-rans to one of the title favourites. He appears to be an even better manager than during his first stint at Chelsea, and the transformation he's achieved in one year is astonishing.
- Arsene Wenger's culpability is overstated and misplaced. By my reckoning, Arsenal were missing Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott, Ozil from their first team at least. Had Arsenal not suffered the annual injury crisis they have, I think they'd be top of the league right now. Considering the fuss that was made when we beat City because they were missing Fernandinho and Aguero only, not enough is made of this point. Of course, the injury crisis is also Arsene Wenger's fault - and to be fair to him, the fact that he's launched a thorough review of this situation suggests an ability to learn (albeit slowly)
- Agree with Aravind that the Luiz/ Matic partnership is worth playing more often - every time they've played together, it's worked well. But that doesn't mean dropping Ramires, necessarily,
- Also agree we should keep Eto'o, though he'd likely only be third choice next season. The summer priority must be to find a long-term striker solution - looking across Europe, Diego Costa, Hulk and Balotelli all seem like realistic options to me and would improve the side materially. Keeping Eto'o (or Torres) and bringing back Lukaku would give us a formidable group of strikers in front of an improving set of attacking midfield players. Good times to be a Chelsea fan.
Tim Colyer, Chelsea fan, London
Why We Flip-Flop On Wenger
As an Arsenal fan I read John Nicholson's recent article on Arsene Wenger in resigned agreement, for it is impossible to fault his argument, from my perspective at least. However, I'm not exactly writing in to present an 'Arsene Wenger out' diatribe, more a defence of the oft=ridiculed 'flip-flopping' Arsenal fans, who switch endlessly between viewing Wenger as a genius and a lanky pretender.
Has there ever been a manager who combines moments of such intense brilliance with such awful negligence and seeming lack of managerial ability? While it may often seem like an innate inclination towards fickleness that leads Arsenal supporters towards swaying opinions, I'd argue it's a reasonable response to an incredibly confusing manager. The phrase 'stubborn to a fault' has never been as applicable as it is to Arsene Wenger - gaping holes in the squad, clearly visible to all, surely cannot (even despite his well-documented poor eyesight) be invisible to a man like him, with well over 20 years in the job. No, he chooses not to address them, but for what reason? Because he has unyielding faith in his squad, a squad that again, people can see is not well enough equipped? No, again surely even he can see that they are not good enough. Which leaves us with a man prepared to sacrifice the success of a club in his own attempts to prove his failing methods right.
And yet despite that, even in the many years without trophies, these methods have created teams that have put in some amazing performances, even incredible runs of form, to placate the doubters, and not just placate, but make them believe again that this team or this squad now has what it takes. And there are times where it truly looks as though they do. This is the problem; like an artist who tricks people into believing his photo-realistic drawings are actually photographs, you can't blame the viewer for having been fooled and fooled again (and again and again), but eventually they'll cotton on, and despite the increasing quality of the replicas, nothing but the real thing will suffice any more.
Michael (AFC), Crawley
A Compelling Case For Wenger
10th, 4th, 12th, 5th.
3rd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 3rd, 4th
The first numbers listed are taken fro the time 'football officially began' and marked Arsenal's finishing positions in each of those years. Let's not bother talking about style of football here, let's talk about performance. So Arsenal had one quality fourth-place finish in the 93/94 season but it was not anywhere close to the title winner Man Utd and second-placed Blackburn. In 95/96 they had a very good season and a return to form, but were not as good as a 4th placed Aston Villa. What Arsenal had going for them that made this era a success was cup performance, they did the FA Cup/League Cup double in 93, and went one better and beat the mighty Parma in the 94 European Cup Winners Cup final (remember that). A year later in a wretched 95 they nearly retained until 'Nayim From The Half Way Line' put paid to that.
The second row of numbers is quite damn exceptional. It takes into account 17 seasons (and counting), and there is NOT ONE bad finishing position. NOT ONE. In Wengers first season he made Arsenal one of the best teams in the league, and I seem to remember they were in a bit of chaos before he joined a few games into the season, and from then on, WHOOOSH! In the last eight seasons, they have PLUMMETED, all the way down to either third, or fourth position. Oh the ignominy.
Wenger is quite rightly lauded in football circles because look how damn impressive his record is? It is phenomenal. If Arsenal never had Wenger they would have been mediocre/bad finish, nice finish, medicore/bad finish, nice finish, etc. etc. throughout the Premier League era. Since he took over 'good finish, amazing finish, unlucky not to win finish, amazing finish, unlucky not to win finish, amazing finish, good finish, good finish, good finish, good finish etc. etc'.
Arsenal may not win the league this year, but I sure as hell believe they will finish at least 4th. Which is GREAT! Just because not winning titles means you can't walk around with your dicks hanging out and you have to be 'humble' about things, doesn't mean that 'sack the manager' should happen. During Wenger's time, the great Louis Van Gaal had led the mighty FC Barcelona to a whopper 6th-place finish in La Liga, Bayern Munich have finished a season in a league where they are expected to win at a canter (a one-horse league), 4th place (imagine if Arsenal were the only team in England, won nearly every year, and finished 4th, that would be 4th in a bad context), Inter Milan have dropped significantly, AC Milan have had their drops, Napoli had to go down to Serie C and come all the way back up to get near where Wenger's side have been, Monaco have gone down and needed a huge cash in flow to get anywhere again, Chelsea, Man City, and PSG have had to spend shed loads to even be competitive (and enough to be more than competitive), while Man Utd have just lost the man who made their club what it was an have suffered a sudden shellshocking decline.
Arsenal have never EVER had it so good.
If you sack Wenger, you will have a big, big drop, and then you might get somewhere again but that consistency, relevancy in Europe, it will be more or less gone. If Wenger decides to stay for another 1,000 games, you'll be the luckiest motherf**kers in the world.
Rooney The Problem, Not RVP
I would argue that it's not a case of RVP holding United back, but rather, Rooney's holding RVP back. Abilities wise, there's no doubt that RVP is the better player. Sure, there may be some recent revisionism on Rooney after his two-goal performance but don't forget, Rooney often scores in spells and that is partially down to his preference for a free role to be fully involved in the play.
The real problem with RVP is Rooney. When played together, Rooney's lack of creativity behind the striker is hindering the team. But this seems to be the only way for them to play together. Big names don't always work well together, for it's important for their qualities to complement each other, rather than just sticking the two biggest name up top and hoping for the best.
I find it a pity that some United fans are getting on RVP's back. To call for the departure of your best player only to replace him with a lesser - though good - player simply doesn't make sense to me.
Odemwingie Is Signing Of Season
Can't believe we swapped him for Kantbearsedwyne Jones! You'd think Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be able to spot a talented striker. Wingie is exactly what we needed and has slotted in seamlessly, enthusiastically, happily, skilfully, sound defensively and, err, goalscoringly.
Arnautovic for £2.4m is an absolute steal as well. He showed flashes of his ability earlier in the season but now he has settled and struck up an understanding with his fellow forwards (Crouchy has been superb the last couple of months too) he is absolutely beasting the oppostion. We haven't had a true 'flairy, get arses off seats maestro' since Lord Ricardo Fuller was in his pomp (I miss Ric). He's racing toward cult hero status and I just hope we get a few more years of seeing him in the red and white stripes.
Full credit to Mark Hughes for the evolution and for the work in the transfer market. Ireland, Arnie and Wingie (for about £3m) have taken us to the next level and those additions allied to the new style have really improved the performances of Charlie Adam and Steven N'Zonzi, building perfectly on the rock solid spine TP left behind. Glenn Whelan has improved massively too. Even Shawcross has played two magnificent passes in as many games that would lead to mass wij creaming if they'd been played by Captain Loathsome Lecher or someone else more high profile. It's a joke that he's 6th or 7th choice for England as he wizzes all over most of the other candidates. Smalling, seriously?!
Very exciting time to be a Stokie!
Best Bet Ever?
I'm interested to know mailboxers' best ever bets that came off and why they were so, so sweet. And don't make stuff up. We'll all know you're lying.
When Arsenal made it to the Champs League final my little work clique spent a good couple of weeks chewing the possible outcomes and the odds over and over and couldn't settle on a 'group bet' to place.
A few days before the final I (genuinely) woke up with 2-1 to Barca in my head. To stretch the odds, I suggested we call Arsenal winning at half-time, Barca at full-time, final score 2-1 (disappointingly, only 25/1).
The four of us chucked a fiver in each and placed the bet, then picked a first scorer for a laugh.
Campbell at 50/1? Go on then! Why not? Another fiver in each and this time it was Sol Campbell first goalscorer and Barca to win 2-1.
I watched the match with the only four Spurs fans I know, and being a Chelsea fan, two fellow Blues for good measure. In a pub, split between spurs (Barca) fans, and Arsenal fans.
When Jens walked we laughed. When Sol scored we hoped. When Barca's second went in we went absolutely crazy-paving raving bloomin' loony.
Those two Barca goalscorers only went on to grace The Bridge didn't they? So not only were we quids in (£1800ish split between four) but Eto'o and Belletti have now etched their names in to my personal hall of fame, albeit separately.
Best bet ever.
Ash (Azpilicueta: Amazing. Underrated. Bargain.) London
Best Dream Ever?
I just had a dream that Arsene Wenger and Harry Redknapp were in a relationship, they were giving post-match interviews about how they could 'no longer go on hiding this' and how much they loved cuddling...why did this happen to me?