Arsenal Really Shouldn't Blame Injuries...

We have mails on Arsenal, World Cup squads, the idea of relegation play-offs (it's gone down well) and a tiny selection of the 'Oi, how dare you diss Scholes?' swathes...

Last Updated: 15/05/14 at 15:29

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An Overcapped England XI
Great e-mail from Jonathan Wells (aka Gringo Hairpiece) (Great nickname too..)

How about a team of 'over-achievers' to play his team of under-achievers (tried to keep it more modern, for the Kidzz!)

Min 20 caps

David James (53 caps)
Wes Brown (23)
Joleon Lescott (26)
Matthew Upson (21 caps)
Wayne Bridge (36)
Ashley Young (30)
Shaun Wright-Phillips (36)
Kieren Dyer (30)
Stewart Downing (34)
Jermaine Defoe (55 caps)
Emile Heskey (62 caps)

It's a bit week in the 'middle of the park' and not too many goals in there.
Neil (a total of 406 caps between them. Wow, just wow) Surrey

Wayne Rooney: Fat Albatrosss

As I continue to immerse myself in the frenetic world of Panini stickers and Beckett sports magazines I am getting more and more excited about England prospects of success at the World Cup.

Our young and attack-minded squad hints that Hodgson may actually take the shackles of the team and allow them to express themselves on the world's biggest stage.

Though most people have focused on the inclusion of Frank (ate all the pies) Lampard or the exclusion of Cashley Cole, I however look to the fat, balding albatross that is Wayne Rooney.

Pinning your hopes on Wayne Rooney is a lot like the waiting for your alcoholic dad to pick you up from football practice. Will he even show up? If he does show up what kind of condition will he be in? When he comes will he just have a blow up and leave forgetting the reason he showed up in the first place.

Unfortunately he is also one of the finest footballers of his generation and the key to England's hopes. This fact made makes all of my good feelings dissolve.

I haven't watched all of United games this season but the few I have watched (generally the major ones) he has failed the impress. Now this may be down to Moyes or the rest of the squad underperforming or it may be down to the fact that United gave him the keys to the city along with a quite ludicrous contract.

Whatever the reason, here's to hoping that Hodgson has the managerial ability to motivate Rooney because we are going to need him to fire on all cylinders next month. Something he hasn't done for a couple years now.
Brian (Liverpool 2nd, Manchester United 7th) LFC

Judging World Cup Squads (Thankfully Not All Of Them)

What are everyone's thoughts on the World Cup squads that have been put out so far.

I've looked at the (arguably) eight biggest name nations England, Germany, Holland, Spain, France Italy, Brazil and Argentina (obviously not in order or England wouldn't be first.)

Here are my arbitrary grades:

(Note: Some of the Nations have only released 30-man provisional squads, the ratings are based on an educated guess on what the final 23 will look like in each case.)

1. England: B,
Too many Meh players (at the WC level). Too dependent on players who have a track record of failing at tournaments (Rooney and Gerrard) and the exciting young talent is as yet still too not fully developed and prone to major fluctuations in form (Sterling, OX, Barkley) or broken all the time (Wilshere). Also, Joe Hart.
Verdict: No chance in hell of winning it.

2. Germany: A.
Solid defence and stacked in midfield but lack a top forward. Volland is a good young prospect and Klose is Klose but the lack of an in-form quality striker in his prime is definitely a major drawback, albeit more or less the only one in this squad. Finding the right midfield combination is also important as having too many talented players and trying to shoe horn those all in can go badly wrong. Need to get Khedira fit and ready ASAP.
Verdict: Not quite favourites but definitely up there amongst the main contenders.

3. Holland. C+.
This has to be one of the poorest Dutch sides I have ever seen going to a major tournament. The key players are all old and more or less past it and they younger players aren't particularly exciting barring Wjinaldum who has apparently only played twice all season (he's also scored twice to be fair). This squad makes England look well equipped.
Verdict: May well crash out in the group stages having drawn a tricky group with Spain, Chile and Australia.

4.Spain. A.
Wait, let me out my Cliché Hat on. There...winning is a habit, tried and tested, know what it takes etc and so on...
Honestly, this is a fantastic squad with maybe a few caveats. Nothing really needs to be said about the positives so I'll just cover the potential negatives/issues. Firstly, some key players have had indifferent seasons and have either underperformed or played too little including Pedro, Cazorla, Mata and perhaps most importantly Iker Casillas. The long-term issue of not having a first-choice striker who is on par with the rest of the team (since injury stalled Villa's career) may have been resolved with the ascent of diego Costa but getting and keeping him fir following a gruelling season will be extremely important.
Verdict: Still favourites in my eyes.

5. France, B+.
Somewhat surprisingly, this looks like a fairly decent, if inexperienced squad. A defence made up Lucas Digne, Koscielny, Varane/Mangala and Sagna looks like one of the better ones at the tournament. The midfield and Forward line are not quite as established and in form with Ribery's indifferent form lately and Benzema's extraordinary potential for undperformance matters of concern. However, in Pogba, Griezmann and Matuidi they have some exciting and in form players as well.
Verdict: A favourable draw should see they progress out of the group stages but I can't see them going past the Q/Fs at best. Will probably go out in the round of 16 if drawn against any of the other countries on this list barring the Netherlands.

6. Italy. A-
Italy have a number of great players and have a pretty healthy balance between experienced and youthful. They have an embarrassment of wealth in the centre of midfield with Pirlo, Verratti, Marchisio, Motta and De rossi all likely to make the final 23. Talent on the wings is limited with the likes of Antonio Candreva not quite on the level of the players just mentioned. Up front, there's Balotelli of course but Ciro Immobile may be the surprise main man. Contrary to conventional wisdom, defence is where this Italian side looks most ordinary. Players like Abate, Bonnucci and Rannochia are not what you would call sub-standard but they're not brilliant either. Chiellini stands alone as the only top drawer defender (in his prime) in this squad.
Verdict: Not the best team in the competition by any means, but then again, they weren't in 06 either. Unlikely to repeat thus exploits as they don't have the likes Cannavaro, Totti and Del piero to pull them through anymore. There's only so much Pirlo can do. Will make Quarters most likely, unlikely to go further.

7. Brazil. A
Another promising and young squad. In defence, a back line of Alves, Dante, Thiago Silva and Marcelo is not one to turn one's nose up at. Midfield is similarly packed with some Europe's top performers with Fernandinho and Chelsea trio Oscar, Willian and Ramires (c*nt) the stand-out names. Hernanes is pretty handy too. Going forward, there isn't much to write home about beyond Neymar and maybe Bernard. Jo, Fred and Hulk are not exactly names that will case opposition defences to wet their pants but their already silly names sound even sillier when said altogether, so that's good.
Verdict: Well, it's in Brazil... and nobody knows whether that will be a terribly good thing and carry them on a wave of energy to success or bog them down. I don't think I can make a prediction even of the vague sort I've been making here.

8. Argentina. A.
Looking at the Argentinean defence, Pablo Zabaleta is really the only name which jumps out (without allowing FM to colour judgement). The rest is pretty Blech. Garay and Otamendi are highly rated but I haven't seen much of either so I won't comment. Similarly the midfield isn't exactly brimming with talent and experience either. There's an awful lot of players who have returned to Argentina following underwhelming careers in Europe in this squad and that's unlikely to be a good thing. Up front, well what can you say? They can leave out Carlos Tevez (19 goals in Serie A this season) and still have the best set of forwards of any Nation by a country mile.
Verdict: If those forwards all click, there's no stopping them. If even two of them have good tournaments they'll make the semis. If however they don't come good or blow hot and cold as they have done in the last four-five years, there are enough deficiencies in this squad for them to be shown up and dumped out early in the competition.

Feel free to tell me I don't know what I;m talking about, I probably don't.
Harsha (Caan'twait till Sunday) Arsenal

Ronaldo v Van Basten

Now I'm willing to ignore Mark Whyte Donegal's use of whom instead of who as if it's just a way to make you look more cleverer, but I can't agree that Van Basten was a 'more complete' striker than Ronaldo. Better is absolutely arguable, he was incredible, but he was essentially a phenomenal finisher and not a great deal more. Ronaldo, on the other hand, was, well, Ronaldo. He could touch the ball anywhere on the pitch and a defender would have good cause to let a little bit drip out.
Paul (between 30 and 35), Wirral

Defending Scholes (We Only Included The First Three Mails We Opened On The Subject)

Just a quick note to Ted and his Xavi v Scholes stats: If you actually watch football instead of just reading stats about it, you may notice that Scholes spread his 60-70 passes around the pitch, whereas Xavi would send half of his 100-110 passes two yards away to Iniesta, who would then give it back. Xavi would then pass it the whole two yards back to Iniesta, who would then give it back..repeat to fade.... Watching Barcelona/Spain and the Tiki-Taka football could be incredibly boring for exactly that reason. As a mate once said, who the hell wants to watch a team make 50 passes to move the ball two yards up the pitch?
Adrian McHugh

...Stats don't lie but any fool can make terrible conclusions from them - on Ted's Scholes vs Xavi point, normalise the stats for the teams' possession in a match or an average pass length if you're really statistically obsessed.

Or if you watch football for enjoyment rather than an excuse to crack out the spreadsheet just imagine Scholes in his prime in one of Guardiola's midfields. Would he have made more passes per game? Yes. Would some have played Messi through for one of his million goals? Yes.

I'd advise anyone who thinks Arteta is comparable to Scholes to try watching some football.
Paul (Not Scholes), Manchester United fan

...In response to Ted from Thursday's Mailbox - aside from the total joylessness of judging a wonderful midfielder on his number of 'key passes', and the ridiculousness of ignoring the fact that United play a completely different style of football to Barca, Arsenal and Liverpool, looking at Who Scored they only started collecting stats in 09/10 - ignoring the first 14 seasons Scholes had at United!

If you need any proof of Scholes sheer quality, you only need to look at how much United improved when he returned in 2012, almost dragging a pretty ropey United side to another league title, or his over 700 appearances in the most domestically successful English side of all time
James, MUFC (Charlton is head and shoulders above the likes of Gerrard anyway, if we're going for all time)

Arsenal's Injuries No Excuse

I wanted to weigh in on today's piece about Arsenal's season. Firstly, I think they've had a solid season, pretty much bang in line with most (reasonable) people's pre-season expectations.

But in my opinion Arsenal, and especially Wenger, can't use a long injury list as an excuse for not being able to push on. Not anymore. It's the same every season. This is not some new phenomenon that has suddenly befallen the club. It's can't be pure coincidence, or that they've been unlucky enough to sign all of the most injury prone players in the game.

There can be no surprise in it anymore, so there is no excuse not to address the issue, whether that's recruiting a few more warm bodies or looking at the training and treatment methods and figuring out why so many players not only get injured, but seem to keep getting injured and struggling to recover.

But I fully expect next March to roll around, Arsenal to get hit with an injury 'crisis', their season to fall apart, and them to sneak fourth. Again.
Chris (Impressed by Wenger signing pre-injured players to save time though. Genius) CAFC London

Why You Can't Compare Real With Arsenal

I'm sure lots of Arsenal fans will write in and have their say on Storey vs Stanger = and their opinions on whether they have had a successful season or not.

However, I write in merely to take issue with one statistic, that in comparison to Arsenal, Real Madrid have spent £1.3bn on transfers in the same time period.

While a worthy statistic, I think it's a little bit unfair seeing as Real have spent that money trying to WIN the Champions League, as opposed to merely finishing fourth which Arsenal have done for the past few years. The reasons for Arsenals paucity in the same period can be argued, but I think this goes to expectation - Wenger has lowered Arsenal's to the point where finishing fourth is considered 'good enough' because they have been outspent.

It all comes down ambition...
Conrad Wiacek (We've got our own problems) MUFC

On Relegation Play-Offs

Kudos to Matt Hennessey!

The only problem I have with it is that the incumbent Prem teams would be at a significant money/squad advantage. To compensate, maybe you have a two-leg tie and replace 'away goals rule' with 'Prem team needs to win over the two legs - draw and they get relegated'.
Aussie Red in Singapore

...The relegation play-off idea is a rubbish idea. The bottom half is getting worse each year. If you start punishing more of the scabs with relegation can you imagine the sort of dross that is going to start replacing them? One bad season for a few too many teams and you'll have everyone from Burnley to Bournemouth piling in at once.

I don't want this.
Daniel Benvenuto

...Matt Hennessey suggested a relegation play-off, with Championship sides playing some of the Premier League's dross for the right to get tooled by Man City next season.

That's actually how the play-offs were when they first started in the late 1980s. You had three sides from the old second division and one from the first. One year my team, Blackburn Rovers, got battered in the first round by Chelsea, who ended up getting relegated by Middlesbrough.

So that's what you get from that particular system: Middlesbrough. No wonder they abandoned it.
Martin, BRFC

...I really like Matt Hennessey's suggestion of a minimum points total to avoid a relegation play-off. It also reminded me of a similar idea I once had, which is that the CL places should only be automatic if the chasing teams get within enough points of the league champions, a bit like making the cut in golf by being within a certain number of strokes of the leader.

In some recent title races even the teams in second have been so far off the pace (last season when United won by 11 points and Jose's first title when Chelsea won by 12 points spring to mind) that it would be hard to say they put up much of a challenge and were therefore automatically deserving of CL football. In 2005, Everton qualified for the CL despite being 34 points away from the title. In comparison, they were only 28 points away from relegation!

For example, any team finishing in second to fourth but more than, let's say, nine points off the champions don't then automatically qualify. Instead they would then have to play against the teams below them in the league as follows:
2nd vs 7th
3rd vs 6th
4th vs 5th

So if only the 4th place team don't make the cut, then only the 4th vs 5th play-off occurs. The teams finishing higher still get some reward in that they get a (theoretically) easier tie. In the season just gone the teams at the top wouldn't be punished since they were all in with a chance right up the final couple of games. Even Arsenal would be safe if the margin were nine points. But in seasons with runaway leaders, the CL battle could go right down as far as 7th. Even David Moyes might have been in with a shout!

Combine this scheme with the minimum points total, and could have seasons where very few teams would have nothing to play for in the final few games.
Michael, Basel

...I'm a big fan of Matt Hennessey's idea regarding relegation/promotion. As a Derby fan (who would be going up in his system by the way, not facing West Brom!) there has been a fair amount of teeth-gnashing from some of my Derby-supporting mates/family regarding the fact that our promotion rested on facing a team that finished 13 points below us and we beat twice during the season. While I generally enjoy the play-off system, it was hard not to agree with them that a loss would have felt like rough justice for a team that were firmly the third best over the course of the season. Of course we should win on the day (which we did thankfully), but it sort of feels like we shouldn't have to be in that position.

Matt's system also contributes to the excitement of both leagues, as it removes the capacity for certain Premier League teams to set themselves 'on the beach' by March, and it rewards the Brightons, QPRs, and potentially the so-very-nearlies like Reading and Blackburn this season in a way that doesn't feel outsize to their contributions.

One problem I can see it throwing up is an even larger scrutinizing/blame shifting towards referees. I would imagine that managers falling just below the required points total would immediately start totting up matches where they 'should' have got more points, despite the illogical nature of this. This is already a pointless and harmful activity for me, and could potentially get worse without action.

It might also remove the opportunity for slow burners - teams like Stoke and Southampton that have generally built on staying up and improved over time. It would be a shame to see a team like Hull go down despite generally exceeding expectations, and wouldn't feel a whole lot less arbitrary than the play-offs, although the relative strengths and resources available to each team do even this out somewhat. It is possible the system could punish a team for having the misfortune of playing against better opposition, though. The teams in the bottom half/top of the Championship are already a bit samey, and there is a possibility that this could exacerbate that. Perhaps a cap on teams falling into this bracket during their first season?

Despite those caveats I do generally think it's a great idea, and would love to know whether financially and logistically it could actually work. Well done Matt!
Mark, DCFC

What's So Terrible About Thursday?

Please can someone offer some light on to why playing Wednesday/Saturday is as normal as it gets and Thursday/Sunday is akin to some sort of horrific punishment that will only lead to disaster, pestilence and fatigue. It is the SAME AMOUNT OF TIME. It is not as though the players are travelling back on public transport and are going to miss the last bus on a Thursday and have to sleep in the station. They will board their private charters, be whisked home in luxury and then have two full days to prepare.
Dave (AFC Telford - 1st championship for 62years), Telford

Why English Clubs Don't take It Seriously

I agree that English clubs should be playing to win in the Europa at all times and have been embarrassed by some teams that Tottenham fielded in the past, especially when we have prioritised the hunt for fourth over trying to win a trophy in a competition we are actually in the knock out stages of (didn't happen this season to be fair).

However some views like 'the competition provides some mouth-watering away days (the Portuguese, Spanish and Italian teams particularly)' are a bit rose-tinted. Those away days sound like good jollies, Tottenham though had the mouth-watering trips of Russia (> 2,500 miles), Moldova (> 1,500 miles) and Norway (> 2,000 miles) in the group stages, these are long trips and will take a toll on players and coaching staff.

I really think that the Premier League need to try and help teams who are in Europe, rather than pander to the whims of the TV giants (obviously they are contractually obliged at the moment). If there is more success in Europe the league/TV companies can add that to their bragging rights.

Hopefully the place in the CL for the winner will make everyone take this competition seriously now, it's a move that has been a long time coming in my opinion, given how teams that fail in the CL are allowed to drop down (another annoyance).

The Spanish teams have been taking it seriously and bossing it for a while, but I think that has to do with the Spanish TV money being so biased to the top two ('With around €150 million each from their current TV deals with MediaPro, Barcelona and Real Madrid earn roughly three times that of the nearest in the revenue stakes in La Liga'), the teams that qualify for the Europa from Spain are probably receiving €50-60m from TV revenues. This means that the prize money is a bigger draw for the Spanish than it is for the Premier League teams. This site suggests that about €10m could be made in a perfect run from the Group stages Teams placed 5th and 6th in the Prem on the other hand are already getting €100-110m for being on the box a few times in games they would play anyway, it's a grim way to look at it, but it's a lot more games for a comparatively small amount of money. Top-end Premier League teams have ideas above their station, because they are already rich and they want to go to the Champions League next year, where just for being in the group stage they get €8.6m even if they lose every game.

As a fan I still want glory and that's why I am embarrassed when we field a weak team, rest individual players, that's why we have a squad after all, but don't rest the first 11. I hope that whoever comes in to manage us next year is not as dismissive of the competition as others have been in the past.
James Smythe, THFC

Song Request

It's nearly Friday and the sun is shining so I'm almost in Friday mode so consequently thought I would put forward this idea of mailboxers nominating a song for another club in the Premiership.

This is mainly because my club Arsenal have been trying unsuccessfully to play a song at the ground that the fans could get on board with and all we've managed so far is The Wonder of You by Elvis was has been dropped because it's a bit pants.

I would like to nominate Monsters of Sunderland by British Sea Power. It's a great tune and should be played at all games at The Stadium of Light.
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London

No Non-Football, No Cry

I'll be honest; it was a refreshing change not to have the image of a severed penis in my head whilst finishing my lunch today.
James Pow

...Truly excellent Mediawatch today. I have nothing clever or funny to add - I have just come back from sitting in the sum with a pint and a burger and wanted to share my appreciation of someone at the top of their game. And no ball-shrivelling story of the day. Bonus.
James Williams

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Do Man City Have A 'Small Mentality'?

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