Mails: Wenger’s Invincibles underachieved

Date published: Friday 2nd October 2015 6:47

Arsene Wenger Arsenal Football365

Arsenal would have won more with a George Graham-type manager than Wenger. Also: no defending Rooney, some strange loans, and plenty of Haikus...

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‘The Invincibles underachieved…’
‘In its simplest form, the role of a football manager is to make the squad greater than the sum of its parts’ – Daniel Storey.

Storey raises a good point but in truth Wenger has never achieved this.

Even the Invincibles underachieved. I’m sure other fans will argue the point and yes I am biased but they were the greatest English club team I have ever seen and they should have been European champions but the fact is they never achieved this feat.

Contrast Wenger to the other great Arsenal manager of my lifetime and you have the direct polar opposite and not just in style of play.

George Graham got us playing dour, defensive football but his teams went to Anfield and won the league after an 18-year barren period for the club, beat a far superior Parma team in the Cup Winners’ Cup final and became the first English team to win both domestic cups in the same season.

Graham achieved all of this with a team that was far inferior to any of Wenger’s and he did this on a budget and without Dennis Bergkamp.

If the challenge is to achieve more than the sum of their parts, given the moneymen in other clubs Arsenal won’t be champions until they have a manager more in the mould of Graham than Wenger.
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London


Transfers revisited
At the beginning of the season a lot was being said about some of the high-profile transfers, some of which has been covered in your ‘things we got wrong’ piece, but I think it could go a little further. I just wanted to draw attention to a couple that leapt irresistibly to mind (admittedly because United were involved somehow), with how I remember it being received…

Schweinsteiger (£14.4m)
Then: Why are United spending so much on such an old player with such a bad injury record who wasn’t wanted by Bayern?
Now: Pretty much established as a key cog in United’s performances, and as a leader.

Martial (£35m)
Then: Who is this kid, and how desperate are United for buying someone so unproven and unknown (to them) for so much? #panicbuy
Now: Goals and exciting performances, from the off. As F365 said, no one is citing the alleged full price any more…

Firmino (£29m)
Then: He’s been ripping up the German league, bargain purchase bound to do great things with Liverpool.
Now: New league, played out of position, but not exactly replicating his form or showing his value.

Otamendi (£32m)
Then: United lambasted for apparently hesitating, letting City jump in to snap up for a relative bargain price for one of the best defenders in the Spanish league.
Now: More Mangala than Zouma

De Bruyne (£55m)
Then: Ripping up the German league, no bargain but will be brilliant.
Now: No failure, but so far it’s much of Di Maria trajectory for a similar price.

Pedro (£21m)
Then: United hesitated and Chelsea jumped in to snap up a bargain price for a an excellent fast winger in the Spanish league.
Now: Who?

Final set of figures for your pleasure: United’s playing squad cost £397m to assemble, City’s cost £466.9m, while Chelsea’s cost a bargain £334.8m (although they’ve still spent more than any other club to date by a long way). Arsenal are way back with a squad costing somewhere around £230m… maybe that will help Arsenal fans understand why fourth is perfectly ok?
Guy S


Big boys cry too
I just wanted to throw my two-penneth into the ring regarding a couple of things that have come up in the Mailbox recently: whether fans of the top clubs have a right to complain about their situations given how much worse it could be, and a certain apathy towards group games in the Champions League (mainly from Arsenal fans).

To me the amount of enjoyment a fan gets from a match or a season is based on the result compared with the expectation beforehand. And for most fans (and I mean those who don’t watch for entertainment, but because they have absolutely no choice in the matter anymore and are chained to this uncontrollable roulette wheel of ecstasy and despair forever) it doesn’t matter what level the game is played out, or particularly how the result occurs. The joy United fans get from beating City should be the same as that which Plymouth fans get from beating Exeter, whether the winner comes from a Rooney scissor kick or bouncing in off Mickey Evans’ arse. Whether they think about it or not, every fan has an internal scale which they measure their happiness against. If 5 is par, then what’s a 9? For a Chelsea fan it might be winning the Premier League, but for a team at the bottom of League Two it might be survival by the skin of their teeth.

Last season was a bit of an anomaly in which fans of Chelsea, Arsenal and United were all fairly/very happy with their teams’ season. But generally it is unlikely that any more than one of the top teams will have a ‘positive’ season: there is only room for one at the top. This is why there are fans at teams like Arsenal who cannot raise themselves for some games: these are true fans who are as invested in their club as anyone, but they know from the experience of the last 10 years that it’s very unlikely that they’ll do anything but finish 3rd/4th and get knocked out of the Champions League in the second round – so how much pleasure can you take from a ‘par’ result of a 2-0 home win against Stoke? When there is such a small chance of exceeding expectations, at best you can only meet them, and at worst (which is more likely) there is huge downside potential.

Fans of the 86-odd teams (and beyond) outside the top group certainly have a chance of similar huge downside potential, but there is also a lot more room for upside potential: a surprise finish in the playoffs, a great cup run, waking up one morning and finding Steve Evans is no longer your manager.

So yes of course it could be worse for the top clubs, and not even the most infatuated fan of a top 4/5/6 club should think finishing outside the Champions League spots is as bad as what fans of Chester and Wimbledon and Coventry and Portsmouth and Plymouth and many others have had to endure in recent years. But that also doesn’t mean that these fans also don’t have a right to be disappointed or angry when their teams fail (in some cases drastically) to get close to expectations. After all what else do they have left?
James (There is no present or future – only the past, happening over and over again, now), North London Gooner


Storey’s right, Miller’s wrong
As I found myself reading the fallout from London’s poor CL showing this week, I couldn’t help but agree with Daniel Storey in that, perhaps the Premier League is too competitive for English teams to be competitive. For the record I also think there are other factors, grass-roots coaching, cultural preferences and also I think many of the best stars would rather play elsewhere in the world, particularly true of South American players I feel. But I do feel that the EPL is particularly draining, it is more physical than other leagues anyway due to a historical preference from brawn over guile, but also, as much as it is a cliche, there are no easy games and we know that from just looking at such teams as Leicester, Crystal Palace and Watford. And this is borne out when the tables are examined at the end of the season. This must surely be more draining than for, let’s say Bayern, who seem ready to steamroll opponents at will, and have a bench that reads like a fantasy football first XI, or Real Madrid/Barca who can turn up against most teams in and not only bank the three points but can expect a a bucketload of goals. Perhaps the answer to this is bigger squads with all our money, but then it goes back to whether English players receive good enough coaching from a young age across the country and whether we can attract the best stars.

I found I could not disagree with Nick Miller more however. The EPL is patently not mediocre. In recent seasons English teams have not faired well, but since the 2004/5 season, English teams have made the final 7/10 times. Admittedly the last time was in 2012, when Chelsea won, but the notion that the Premier League is in decline is premature and misguided. Looking at Manchester United since 2012, the 11/12 season was an unmitigated failure, but the following season we went out arguably at the hands of a very questionable decision, when Nani was sent off against Real Madrid, after that our opponents would have been Galatasaray, then Dortmund. Not a shoe in, admittedly but all winnable. The following season we had Moyes at the helm and nobody expected to get beyond Bayern, but for some including myself it was a shock to find us that far. And then thanks to Moyes we didn’t even qualify for the Europa League. Anyone could have predicted Liverpool would not get far last season and Arsenal are so regular in their CL failings I heard they set Big Ben by it. Last season Chelsea were England’s hope for the CL but then Mourinho does what he does every big game and makes his team try as hard as they can to not play football and smother the game, sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t, and that’s a beauty of knock out competitions. None of this means that the English game is inherently flawed or is in decline, or is evidence that it is mediocre. It means that there are some failings at each club competing, in individual matches, on the day, whether it’s choosing Ospina in goal instead of Cech, or trying to smother a game instead of trying to win it. And as Van Gaal says, it requires a bit of luck too, and he is absolutely spot on, much as I disagree with him and want him out (even when we’re at the top of the league). Other referees would not have given the penalty against Wolfsburg last night, other referees would have sent off Moreno. I’m not trying to deflect the root cause of failures but when the situation is on a knife’s edge, it only takes a small nudge to send a CL campaign tumbling.
Daniel (Van Gaal out! Why is Valencia still at the club why was Nani sold?) Cambridge


…I have a longstanding gripe about one argument used by Nick Miller (and others on your fine website in the past) to say the Premier League is rubbish, namely the fact that no one team is dominating the league and that any team can beat another on its day is proof that the overall standard of the league is poor.

For the last (ok actually maybe also the first) time, you cannot tell the quality of a league by looking at the league table. A win equals 3 points at all levels of football so no matter how bad a team is they can still be way ahead in their league if everybody else is worse. If you were shown league tables from all over Europe (England, Romania, North Tipperary & District League) with the team names removed, you could not tell which one was the best standard league. Go on, try it!

At best, all you can tell from the closely bunched nature of the Premier League is that there is no one outstanding team. Whether this is from the top teams declining or the rest getting better is a matter of opinion. Results in Europe are the only real barometer of how good the English league is relatively. These certainly haven’t been great over the last few years but it could just be a blip. Personally I think the only league that you could say is clearly better than England is Spain. Some of the other leagues have top top top teams (e.g. Bayern Munich) but with perhaps a weaker chasing pack.
Michael, Washington DC


Arsenal’s Pep talk 
While I realise this sets me up for a massive fall, I seriously don’t believe Pep Guardiola will go to Arsenal.  Here’s why:

* His style of play requires his players to think.  Who can see the problem with that and British footballers?

* His style of play requires his players to be ultra fit.  Who can see the problem with that and Arsenal footballers?

* He built his all-conquering Barcelona team by bedding in tactics at Barcelona B, so that when he and those players progressed to the first team, they already knew the system.  This clearly took a number of years, something he won’t have before success is demanded at Arsenal.

* At Bayern Munich, he inherited an incredibly strong squad, that needed fine-tuning rather than overhauling.  At Arsenal, he will have a good first team but nowhere near enough depth.

* In Bayern Munich he joined a club rich enough through consistent Champions League qualifying to financially outmuscle everyone and  cherry pick the best players, even from their nearest rivals.  Who can see the problem with that and the Arsenal board?

* In most of Europe, he is revered by the generally more intellectual football writing; if he came to Arsenal, he would be slagged off constantly by Adrian Durham.

* At Bayern Munich and Barcelona, he took teams that were heading in the right direction and took them on further.  At Arsenal, he would inherit a team going nowhere.

I can see why Arsenal fans are excited by the prospect of perhaps the best manager in club football joining them.   However, the truth is that Guardiola would be slumming it at Arsenal, in a way that would feel dirty in the short term, and destructive in the long term.

The literary Ed Quoththeraven, CPFC the Glaziers, Notts


Rooney was rubbish
Harry The Manc makes a decent point about people judging Wayne Rooney differently and I definitely agree he gets more than his fair share of criticism. Rooney has been a brilliant player down the years and that is evident in the amount of medals he has accumulated and the general praise he receives from people within the game.

However, he deserves every bit of criticism for his recent performances. Wednesday night was one of the most abject performances I have ever seen. Someone said earlier that he couldn’t be called awful because you have to touch the ball to be awful. That hits the nail on the head. Twice in the last 15 minutes he lost the ball in dangerous areas when they were under pressure. He is the captain, he is supposed to be the leader, talisman etc., he is not contributing close to enough to justify his guaranteed spot in the line up.

And therein, in my opinion, lies the problem. Van Gaal has publicly said he will play every week when fit, because he’s the captain. At the moment he absolutely does not deserve a guaranteed place in the first 11. I think, Herrera offers more at the moment. He is more energetic, his passing is sharper and he looks far more likely to get into the box and score. Rooney just keeps dropping deep to hit 50 yard passes to the wings before jogging towards the box. He also missed an absolute sitter last nite, that’s not a huge problem if your general play is good but when you do little else, you have to put those chances away.

I’m not writing Rooney off by any means, he’s still a good player. But he is not showing it now, and there are players there far more deserving of a place in the line up. I would like to say being dropped may give him the kick up the a*se he requires but we all know with him that will probably set him back about a month fitness wise. I am a fan of Rooney and would love to see him do well again. I don’t think he’s over the hill yet, but he needs to start influencing games a bit more often.
Dan,Ireland MUFC (Maybe he should ask Mike Smalling how he improved so much)


Harry The Manc.  I admire your support of Rooney, but he’s been rubbish this season.

I liken it to Ivanovic.  I once heroic figure, who deserves all the adulation he gets, but who’s fallen off a cliff performance wise over the past year.

He may be the captain, but he’s been awful and doesn’t bring anything to the team (currently) and therefore needs to be dropped.
Neil, Surrey


…Was Harry the Manc’s criticism of Robin van Persie in his vehement defence of Wayne Rooney ironic?  Or just completely hypocritical?

While not at his best, RVP scored 10 in 29 last season, while he was in and out of the team, and had injuries.  The season before, 18 goals in 28 appearances.  Now of course, stats don’t show the whole picture, but they are good returns for a player who had injuries and didn’t get a good run of games in poorly performing teams.

To say that was ‘totally f***ing sh*te’ while claiming that Rooney is playing well this season (he’s not) is lunacy of this highest order and just plain wrong.
AS Camden


Wenger off the hook over Smalling
To Paul, London aka Captain Hindsight

While you can certainly criticise Wenger for missing out on Alonso and Suarez, I really don’t think you can make the same point on Smalling. Until this season Smalling had never lived up to the hype since his mega-money move from Fulham, and so Wenger spending £20million on him when he already had Koscielny, Mertesacker and Gabriel, plus Chambers and Debuchy as cover, would have made no sense. I also think Smalling needs to keep up this level of consistency (and fitness) for an entire season before we can truly start singing his praises as a player who can be the difference between a club’s success or failure.
Nik, London


Burn baby, burn
In response to  Bernard (put 2 sets of brackets in the email so don’t need to put anything clever in here) MUFC’s question as to whether you should risk burning our Martial by playing him so much so young, the answer must be ‘hell yes’. You know Real or Barca will just come and swipe him in a few years if he’s any good anyway so why not send them a timebomb and milk him for all you can right now. Not a charitable view of course but something to consider.
Derek from Dundalk.


Rodgers’ rebuilding
I notice the Brendan is now referring to Liverpool being “a rebuilding job again”.

Fergie used to do that from time to time but his rebuilding phases typically followed a period of years collecting trophies, Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup etc., and often included picking up the odd cup and in one case the league mid rebuilding.

Just sayin.
Dave Mack


…So here is my dilemma: I want to support my team as I have done for over 30 years. I want them to do well, win every game and start playing better. But, and it as big BUT, I can’t. I know it is wrong and goes against the full depths of my moral fibre but it is a fact.

Oh footballing Gods, please forgive me for my sins but I have been, and continue to want my team to do badly, play terribly and lose. Only these things will speed up my repenting these sins and allow me to enjoy watching, cheer on and regain my football fan mojo.

Why? Two words. Brendan Rodgers. Two more words to help: Bell End. Same thing.
Paul (Say the team were outstanding again and I’ll scream).(LFC) Mongolia (Not really but would be nice as couldn’t watch the matches from there!)


Strange loans
Yossi Benayoun from Chelsea to Arsenal. Seemed weird at the time and weirder looking back.
George (also scared of a Moyes style collapse when Wenger leaves) AFC, Wellington, NZ


…Nick, CFC, Inverness, may I offer Andy Kellett of Bolton Wanderers Reserves to Manchester United as my suggestion for the most bizarre loan of all time.

‘Ah, we’ve loaned out too many under-21s. Better borrow a kid from another local team to make up the numbers…’


Literary corner
Inspired by Mark Faulkner’s mail, I decided to try my hand at Haikus. Can you guess which clubs I’m talking about?

Tall buses hinder
Our enemies from outside
Iron rots within.

Days of glories past –
A rusted blade yearns to shine
Like the master’s teeth.

The phoenix rises
From the flames with radiant hope
Monsoon always comes.

Great general is gone –
Young men must carry our dreams
And the balding man.

An adopted Son
Is cheaper than a stranger
Master’s purse is tight.

Eternal chaos reigns
In the ensuing darkness
Fists find horse’s chin.
Lego, CFC (quite obvious to be honest)

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