Let’s make the afternoon Mailbox a belter. Send your missives to firstname.lastname@example.org…
A pageant to keep us in false gaze
One of the more egregious deceptions occurring in the English footballing media at the moment is the unwillingness to admit that Arsenal are Premier League title contenders. Much has been made recently about the ‘North London Power Shift’ that was widely touted by the media in the lead-up to the most recent NLD, and much also has been made of the degree to which that hyperbolic praise has been revealed as premature and foolish.
But I would argue that there is a larger agenda to use ‘the power of the media’ (whatever each of you might deem that to be) to (a) exert unrealistic pressure on Arsenal’s opponents whilst, (b) simultaneously, shielding Arsenal from any pressure themselves. Arsenal’s four PL matches in November have all followed that precise pattern: over-the-top praise, in the buildup, for Manchester City (the entire enterprise), Tottenham (wind-ups about which Arsenal players would even fit into Spurs’ Best XI, plus Poch adulation), Burnley (Dyche encomiums), and even Huddersfield (best performance of anyone against City this season). Inevitably what has followed this puffery is an undue amount of pressure being placed on Arsenal’s opponents. Shakespeare put it best, in Othello, when he said: “‘Tis a pageant to keep us in false gaze.”
This (Arsenal) is a team that has the key players, in key positions, with enormous depth, very little modification in an already-strong squad, and the financial resources to bolster all of that—mid-year, if they so wish—to mount a totally legitimate title challenge. Add to that the fact that the Europa League is an opportunity to play not just their second team but their ‘third’ team as well, and there are no excuses for this deeply talented team.
In short: what I am arguing here is that ‘pressure’ is not a matter of negative articles being written in the aftermath of when teams lose and/or perform poorly. These guys are all professionals, so when they turn in poor performances they all are accustomed to the obligatory criticism that follows. What does serve to exert pressure on professional footballers is the hype / hysteria / false hyperbole being piled on one team only in the lead-up to a fixture. And I for one am baffled at why (a) Arsenal never receive this pressure and (b) why there, of late, seems to be a truly concerted endeavour to deliberately help a team that needs no extra help whatsoever. Let’s stop pretending that Arsenal are not good enough to win the Premier League this year. In fairness, this website is one of the lone places where this deception is not occurring. But just you watch: in the lead-up to this Saturday’s match between Arsenal and Manchester United, all of the pressure—all of the narratives about which team needs it more, which team is heading in the most exciting direction, which team will suffer most if they fail to capture all three points—all of the pressure will be squarely on one team, and it won’t be on Arsenal.
Wonder if anyone has paid special attention to Ozils goal on Wednesday night? If you have, you may have noticed the finish was something quite special. Instead of chipping the keeper he hit into the ground so it bounced over. Absolute genius. Seems to have been monikered the “Ozil Chop”
And if you think he didn’t mean it, you haven’t seen him in a pre game warm up.
World Cup draw
It’s the day of the World Cup draw and, as usual, it’s the laziest day for football journalism in four years.
“What would be a good draw?”
“Russia or Poland”
“What would be a bad draw?”
“Germany or Brazil”
It’s all lazy and dumb. There are three things England should be wishing for:
1. Avoid Iceland, Denmark and Serbia. With two teams going through from each group, it’s not the identity of the first seeds that’s important. It’s whether we’re unlucky enough to end up in one of the three groups with two from UEFA and one from South America. This maximises our chances of getting out of the group.
2. Have Russia or Poland drawn in the “group next door”, by which I mean the group that will provide two teams to play two teams from England’s group in Round 2. The maximises our chances of reaching a quarter final.
3. Of the remaining first seeds I’d like one of the favourites. Germany, France, Brazil, maybe Spain or Argentina. Not Belgium. The pot one team in our group will end up on the opposite side of the draw to us in the knockout stage. Let’s hope it’s someone good and stop going it’s Russia.
Toffees target and Talksport
Now that Sam Allardyce has been confirmed as Everton manager, what should our realistic targets be for this season? He wasn’t my first choice and its obvious that he wasn’t Everton’s first choice. The phrase beggars can’t be choosers comes to mind, but it’s difficult to say without a grimace given the wages these particular beggars are paying out; but with Pep unavailable I guess we must get behind the new manager and start looking at the season ahead. For all the talk of a relegation battle, I’m never sure that was really on the cards, although I may well be proven wrong given time. We have played abysmally over the last few months, worse than I’ve ever seen us play. But amazingly there were still almost always 3 teams below us who have played worse. I think it would take a great feat of self sabotage for the players that would lead us to relegation, but now I’ve said that… watch this space.
I think we should still be targeting top 6. No doubt that is what is in Allerdyce’s head. I don’t want to hear any talk of 40 points and we’re safe. We can all breath a sigh of relief when it happens, but it should not be our goal this season. In order for Allerdyce to shake off his image as a relegation-avoiding specialist, he needs to take this Everton team further than where they were under the previous 3 managers. We are 10 points behind 6th place with 72 points up for grabs. Realistically I don’t think its going to happen, but I don’t want to fall in to the trap of lowering our expectations to the point where we accept that just survival is the goal. It’s not even about the type of football we play… I’m not precious about our possession stats, I’d rather win. Evertonians (well I might be wrong I can’t speak for everyone) only really want 3 things: for the players to at least look like they’re trying; a high tempo; and attacking football. Direct play is fine, running the channels is fine, hitting a big target man is fine. Aimless long balls or a 7 man defense in every game is not fine, although I’m resigned to seeing that at least a few times this season.
On a completely un-related note I thought I would write in in defense of Talksport. I read an article on here a while back slating it, and while I am disappointed they were taken over by Sky, I haven’t stopped listening to Adrian Durham and Darren Gough on my way home from work. Yes, they know (and pander to) their audience, and some of the phone calls are full on cringe, but they often debate wider footballing and sporting issues with humour and sensitivity. Adrian Durham, especially, is a wind up merchant, and it is a delight listening to irate Arsenal fans or Spurs fans phoning in to disagree with him; but he does have a genuine passion for football, especially the lower leagues, that comes across clearly if you listen to a couple of shows. Does anyone one else on here listen to Talksport? Or am I the only one?
Anyway better get to work.
I noticed in the midweek Winners & Losers column (a must read every Monday morning and the occasional Thursday) that the English goalkeepers were ranked according to save percentages. Fair enough but with Buffon, Neuer, a vintage Casillias, or even a vintage Southall behind that shambles of an Everton defense, they’d look poor too. Ask any Evertonian and we’ll be honest with you. Yes we spunked 150M on a bunch of number 10s, a CB who hasn’t come good yet, and a La Liga striker still finding his footing in the pace of the Premier League to get where we are.
But EVERY Evertonian will tell you Jordan Pickford has been class for us the entire year. England would do well to have him as their number one. Unbiased here, honest.
TX Bill (glad to see Unsy go out with a win) EFC
No neutral’s favourites
Yes I agree that City have been playing attractive football, have a talented manager and an assortment of skillful players. And they have also been winning matches in style.
Yet, let’s not start calling them neutral’s favorites OR the team that everyone supports ( except Utd, of course). This is the same what people were saying about Spurs last year or the Liverpool team with Suarez. Yes these teams were good, but they are not supported by everyone else.
If you notice, most of these stories are usually spread by supporters of the said club. Supporters who gloat that their team is so good, that everyone must be too foolish (or a Utd fan) to not support them.
Well, news flash, we are all happy with our clubs and don’t want to support yours. And if you notice closely, City has beaten a lot of clubs this season. And we all don’t really feel happy about it.
So let’s not start peddling this trope that City are neutral’s favorites (if anyone is a neutral anyways)
Gaurav (Leicester the only neutrals favorite, even then not really)
Pep taking liberties
How dare he!
How dare Guardiola come over here and passionately encourage, compliment and praise our young English players.
Never mind improving the ones in his Man City team, who does he think he is telling young english players in opposition teams how good they are!
Amo Singh (LFC)
Man City are finally performing proportionate to their resources. I hate to resurrect this horse and start beating it again but how much has Pep spent assembling this squad again? And considering the sheer depth they have there is no excuse for slipping during the upcoming busy period of Christmas and January. Rotation shouldn’t be a worry for them.
As for those who say that it’s not easy managing such a group of players despite their talent you’ve got to be kidding. It’s far more seamless to manage such a gifted set of players as opposed to managing Burnley or West Brom.
If City don’t run away with the title this year, they’ve flopped. Simple as that. It’s the least we should expect from a side with their skill and depth.
Vish (AFC), Melbourne
…I tuned into the last fifteen minutes of the Man City game hoping for a draw. Admittedly that last minute Sterling goal was the stuff of champions and, given their football, it’s impossible to say they don’t deserve it. But, I am going to put the handbrake on Stijn, who’s already given them the title, because in football, you don’t always get what you deserve.
I’d like to pick up on the PSG point who, it’s true, look unlikely to be stopped in their march to the title. There’s just one significant difference when comparing Ligue un to the Premiership: winter fixtures.
There’s always a lot of hoo-har about the lack of winter break in England. I love the winter fixtures because they’re the great leveler of the English game.
One of the reasons English football is so beautiful is that anyone can beat anyone else. These upsets are in part because of the ridiculous upcoming schedule with 3 games a week for most teams. During this period the game is about the squad. Key players get injured or lose form and teams have to adapt quickly and most title winners go defensive to get through this period with just a few grazes. City aren’t going to do that which could dent their title ambitions.
Last season, Man City collected half of their season’s losses (3) in the month of December which is precisely why it’s so crazy to say “we’re already in December”- we’re not and the next month is the litmus test of true champions. Let’s see the table come January before we pick our outfits for the awards ceremony.
Liam Gabriel Hoskins (pouring cold water on title ambitions since 2003) AFC
A United fan on City
I’m surprised anyone, United fan or otherwise, is getting worked up about City.
I mean, they are really, really good. I don’t actually buy the theory that they’re playing the best football ever seen in history, but they’re bloody good. Better than anyone else. They’ve spent a lot of money over the past decade and got a very good manager, and it’s working out well. This is not back-handed, nor is it a criticism – you only need look at certain iterations of United and Chelsea to see that this isn’t always a recipe for success.
So they’ll win the league. They definitely will, they’re the best by miles this year. And good luck to them. As a United fan, I’m surprised and relieved they’ve a complete pigs ear of the past few seasons, but now they’ve got their shit together. Sometimes, you just have to accept that a team is better than yours.
We’ll just win it next season, with Mourinho putting the finishing touches to his 3 year project by finally getting rid of Matteo Darmian and Mike Smalling. Not even Pep could make them look good.
…Can we please stop saying that Man City have won 19 games in a row? Their match against Wolves ended in a draw. They went through on penalties, but the result of the match is still a draw.
This is the official FIFA/FA truth, so you know it must be right.
City are good enough without people making them seem better.
Calum (yes I’m bitter about the number of jammy own goals, penalties, deflected goals and injury time winners), MUFC, Wokingham
Boring, boring football
Whenever anyone mentions the fact that City have bought the league the reaction is that they’ve only just outspent United and that Chelsea have spent similar amounts proportionally in the past. I understand their sentiment but I think the average fan is not looking to compare against the other financially bloated teams in the premiership but are looking to compare against their own teams, the Burnley’s, WBA’s and other such teams who’s most expensive signing at £20mm is dwarfed by teams that are able to field a startng 11 and subs with players far in excess of that value.
It’s a small wonder that the top teams now regularly annihilate everyone else. Be prepared for more of the same for years to come. At some point it’s bound to lose its appeal in a league where the best you can hope for is 7th.
Paul (Come back DiCanio!!)
Calling out Storey
For every Sarah Winterburn you have a Daniel Storey. And for every Daniel Storey there will be a chosen one who gleefully calls him out on one of his clangers in misjudgement. Glad to be back boys, the punisher is here.
In the recent big midweek, the one-on-one battle to watch was Lacazette vs Schindler, or to paraphrase, the Disappointment vs High Performing CB with Fist-Pumping Style. Enjoyed how that went and penned this letter 2.5 minutes into the game when ice-cold Alex buried one past the German and his defence.
I can see how Lacazette’s arrival is underwhelming, but give the man kudos for taking every chance he’s been afforded. He’s played, on average, up until the 68th minute of each game he has started and a grand total of zero minutes in the Europa League where he’s probably getting mad FOMO for not being risked against the illustrious names of Koln, BATE and Crvena Zvezda. He has 7 goals in the league, 1 behind PL stalwart and 75 million pound man Big Rom as well as new-boy-come-good Alvaro Morata, also at eight. Guess which of these guys has the least minutes on the clock. Yep.
I love Storey’s articles and his features, and the Portrait of an Icon book is excellent (I own a copy). But if he couldn’t see the impressive movement and top-quality finishing of the Frenchman ever since he arrived on these shores, I can only assume he is a) stubbornly myopic in his silly feuds with Arsenal fans or b) just fails to get the required erection that inspires a lot of his wonderful pieces when watching Lacazette. Either way, I’m here bud and love to say you might have missed a trick this time.
PS: Love the stats displayed in Big Midweek to drive home the point, Daniel. I guess Alexandre needs to be creating more chances than Ozil, Sanchez, Ramsey and a host of central midfielders rather than the other way around. I guess the ‘problem’ is he is a goalscorer- said no-one ever.
Not a Storey Fan, Exeter
Calling out Neville
I’m writing in response to a piece of punditry featured recently on this site, in which Gary Neville claims that the key for United to beat Arsenal and City is for them to ‘unleash their attack’ because ‘if there is a way to get at Arsenal and City is through their defence’. I agree with his conclusion, but not with his reasoning.
Frankly, the narrative of Arsenal and City being terrible defensively is tiresome and just plain wrong. Machester City have, in the premier league, conceded a whole 1 extra goal (9 vs 8) than the Mourinho’s (admittedly very good defensively) United. Meanwhile, the Arsenal back three of Mustafi, Koscielny and Monreal (i.e. the back three without Coquelin or Kolasinac shoehorned in for whatever reason) have not conceded in any of their last six games. The first choice Arsenal defence, the one that will in all probability start on Sunday, have not conceded for 9 straight hours of football. That doesn’t seem weak to me, and yet this narrative is endlessly trotted out.
Instead, look at United’s attacking stats. They have scored 4 more goals that the much praised Liverpool (32 vs 28), and in fact sit second in goals scored behind only Man City. So unleash the attack not because the defences you are up against are weak, but because your attack is actually quite good.
Trent (Just your typical defensive Arseanl fan), Brisabane, Australia.
I read that Santi Cazorla had to have another operation on his ankle. I hope I’m wrong, but this has to spell the end of his career, at least at Arsenal if not for good. If this is the case it’s a crime against football, watching him brings back the absolute joy of watching football and playing it when I was a kid, which has been lost thanks to modern football.
He is just marvelous on the ball, his pure joy of being on the field is the sort of thing I would have had when I would have pretended to be in the dying seconds of an FA Cup final as a kid. If we have seen the last of him trotting out on the field with that big smile on his face it will be a shame. I still remember that wonderful free kick he took in the FA cup final against hull that woke the team up and got us on the road to pulling that victory out. To not have him in an Arsenal kit is going to be a sad day for us. I truly hope he heals and gets to play again because for it not to happen is just unthinkable.
Wade (oohhhhh Santi Cazorlaaaaaaa) Gunner
So late last Saturday while watching the Ashes with some mates, test cricket can be a bit…. slow, so we started coming up with some different XI’s. Being folically challenged myself we tried for a bald XI. Rules are you must not be able to grow hair on the top of your head during playing career, no wet shave so we dropped Roberto Carlos, and Henry we suspect is bald but can’t prove.
Thuram, Stam, Lebouf, Konchesky
Ljunberg, Cambiasso, Zidane, Robben
Can anyone add some better baldies (looking at Konchesky), or maybe
take them on with a luscious long hair XI?
Jimmy (Climp) Sham