Arsenal fans are getting a proper kicking in the Mailbox after some paranoid musings. We also have praise for Bournemouth and Spurs.
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We’re killing the players for your entertainment
Taxson, Singapore has left out some important people to thank for how entertaining and competitive the Premier League is this season: namely the footballing authorities. You know how, at Christmas, all the players are exhausted and so you have mental results that make no sense? Well, thanks to the combined efforts of FIFA, UEFA and the English footballing authorities, the elite Premier League players have been worked like dogs for the last two years, meaning that they’re permanently goosed. It’s Christmas all year round!
This in turn means that the slightly-less-elite players who aren’t playing European or International football can be a little more competitive, and as a result we get ridiculously entertaining games like Luton 3:4 Arsenal, or Liverpool 4:3 Fulham.
I mean, obviously there are downsides to this; we’re almost certainly doing lasting and permanent damage to the bodies of fit young men in our desire for excitement, but, hey: what’s Jarrod Bowen’s ability to walk at the age of 50 compared to my desire for thrills?
Are you not entertained?
Dara O’Reilly, London
Credit to the mighty Cherries
I was fortunate to be in the away end at Old Trafford on Saturday, for what is arguably Bournemouth’s greatest ever result. It wasn’t lucky, it was a humiliation of one of the so-called biggest clubs in the world. It could, and possibly should, have been 5 or 6. The press (‘no disrespect to Bournemouth but…’) would have you believe it was because United were a shambles. Anyone in the ground would tell you it was because the team from the south coast were excellent in everything they did.
The quality on display in yellow and blue was there for all to see. Defensive solidity, tireless in midfield and frighteningly aggressive in the attacking third with the press. Individual players at the top of their game, instructed by a young and decisive coach with a game plan. It was mind-boggling that this level of commitment and fitness was displayed throughout the 3rd game in the space of 7 days (check out the press for the disallowed 4th). This was Iraola-ball at its irrepressible best.
The challenges for Iraola this season have been many. He arrived without any of his backroom team (none can get visas) so he is trying to completely change the way the team play without any of his trusted staff (they are still not here). He is working on the training pitch, not only trying to get his ideas across to his players, but also to the coaching staff. In a foreign language. The fixture list was unkind to him, playing a number of the more fancied teams early in the season. He has been without key players, including arguably his two marquee signings (Adams and Scott).
He has got Lewis Cook playing his best football since earning an England cap and has made Ryan Christie into arguably our most important player. Dominic Solanke is having his best goal scoring season in the PL and looks like one of very few top quality English strikers. On Saturday, we also were missing our two first choice full backs. So we had a third of a team out and still won easily. And yet, even with all of these challenges, as we move into mid-December, Iraola finds himself away from the relegation zone in a fantastic run of form.
Iraola was questioned from day one. Media darling Gary O’Neil (Monday night football anyone??) had been sacked, and Iraola was seen as the bad guy, replacing the chap that had kept us up last year. This was a brave decision from the owners, GON had done a great job and comes across as a very decent guy. But the football was boring, with little or no sign of this changing. It appears the decision is paying off, our brand of football is now energetic and exciting. And we are winning football matches. It also looks like GON is doing a pretty good job at Wolves – I hope he keeps them up (so long as it isn’t at our expense).
If the upward trend continues at Dean Court, it will be interesting to see how long young and obviously talented players such as Zabarnyi and Kerkez stay. We are a ‘small’ club, with a tiny fan base and a shed for ground. But, with the suggestion of a new stadium within the next 4 or 5 years, a brand new, state of the art training ground being opened next summer and an owner that wants to win, these are exciting times to be a Cherry.
Bigger challenges than Manchester United at Old Trafford will come (Luton on Saturday for starters), but this seems to be the start of something exciting.
Up the Chezzas!
Robbie Sargent, Milton Keynes (yes, the irony of travelling back to MK on the Euston train with hundreds of Cockney Reds was not lost on me!!)
We’ve got our Spurs back!
I meant to write this email yesterday, before the Newcastle game, as I felt that we would win well, and I didn’t want my email to be accused of revisionism, hindsight etc. But a combination of hoovering and Call of Duty procrastination got in the way.
I started supporting Spurs in 1986. I grew up in Oxford where in one of the first examples of financial doping, the team was Robert Maxwelled into the first division and won the Milk (League) Cup in 1986. But my family is from North London and so it was always Spurs or Arsenal. For me, Hoddle, Waddle, Ossie, Clive Allen etc won the day and I have never looked back since.
It’s a funny thing being a Spurs fan. We don’t really win anything. We’ve even stopped winning the FA Cup when the year ends in a 1. But someone once said this: “the great fallacy is that the fame is first and last about winning. It’s nothing of the kind. The game is about glory”. That is the Spurs mentality that I feel at the ground. It’s why the ground was still bouncing when we were down to 9 and playing a high line against Chelsea and losing 4-1.
It’s why we love Big Ange. He gets the club and what we stand for. Winning isn’t everything. We play our way because we are Spurs and that is who we are. Ange has talked extensively, perhaps more than about the actual football, about leadership, mentality and character being his key focus points. This is not about winning as the sole goal. It is about constructing an identity and using that as the means to the end: a more successful team.
It’s why the Mourinho/ Conte years were awful, even though we were playing Champions League. We were not out for glory. Whether we were successful or not.
It’s why all this talk of Ange needing to temper his tactics and be a bit more circumspect when we have a lead is nonsense. He has a new team and basically no squad, and needs commitment to one way of playing. We will not compromise on that and the players know they have a safe place to fail. Yes, we could have tried to hang on to leads (we tried and failed to do this so often in the Continho years), but so what? Maybe we get a win. Maybe we get a draw. Maybe we lose. But we have lost who we are. If we lose the game then we literally have nothing left. Even if we win, we have lost our identity. In some of our recent losses (Villa and W Ham, for example) we should have been out of sight by half time.
It’s why I never understood Arsenal chanting “1-0 to the Arsenal”. Grinding out turgid wins with the back four the most famous part of the team. A philosophy diametrically opposed to that at Spurs. Where is the fun in that? Ronnie O’Sullivan said pretty much the same in his documentary: he’d rather lose and play well than play sh*t and win. It’s why for all the recent years when we were finishing above Arsenal, we never felt the need to have the equivalent of St Totteringham’s day. We are happy in ourselves, thank you. It’s why our manager doesn’t behave like a toddler having a tantrum.
It’s why being called “Spursy” is water of a duck’s back. Supposedly we choke a lot. But if you look at the investments made by our competition, both in terms of fees and wages (ahem Arsenal), we shouldn’t really be in the top six. Seventh or eighth is about our spot. We are about the same size as Villa – that’s not meant as a slight on Villa, but then I doubt Villans would take it as such as they also seem less entitled than fans of the so called big six. What we have achieved in recent years is far more than the sum of our parts. And sometimes we won’t stay the course because our lack of experience at the sharp end, or our lack of squad depth (recently exposed again) or perceived tactical naivety.
But this is who we are. And I’m bloody loving it again.
Responses to the Arsenal fans
That’s quite the rant from Maw, LA Gooner.
The mental gymnastics to say Arsenal could have won a treble as they were only 1 game in each competition away from playing Monaco, La Coruna and Porto in the CL AND Millwall in the FA Cup final. You must be a regular on AFTV?
Liverpool were 7 points ahead in 18/19? That was in January, and City had a game in hand. Liverpool lost 1 game that whole season and won their last 11 PL games in a row AND won the CL. They ended that season with 97 points.
In 21/22 Liverpool won 16 and drew 3 of their last 19 games. They went unbeaten at home. They didn’t lose 1 domestic game in the PL, the Carabao or the FA Cup from December 26th onwards. They got to the CL final and were 1 Aston Villa goal on the last day of the season away from winning the title.
By contrast, Arsenal dropped 15 points from the last 27 available last season. Losing to City, Brighton and Forest and drawing with West Ham, Southampton and Liverpool. That’s bottling a title. They did the same the season before when challenging for top 4.
In 18/19 Liverpool lost 1 PL game and accumulated 97 points
In 19/20 Liverpool won 27 of their first 29 PL games, lost 3 and accumulated 99 points. Two of the defeats came after they won the title
In 21/22 they lost 2 PL games and accumulated 93 points.
The invincible season Arsenal only accumulated 90 points and drew 12 games. That’s a draw virtually every 3 games. The invincibles also went out in the quarters of the CL to a Chelsea team who sacked Ranieri a month later.
You say Liverpool didn’t challenge for 30 years? They’ve taken the title to the last day of the season 3 times in the last 10 years and should have won titles in 1991 1996,1998,2002 and 2009.
Since Arsenal last won the title, not ONCE have they taken a title challenge to the last day. In fact, City won the title without playing when Arsenal lost at Nottingham Forest. THAT’S bottling a title.
…An 11-paragraph rant from “MAW, LA Gooner” about how Arsenal compare to Liverpool but he’s only going to start really caring until February or March? Firstly can I point out that you couldn’t score against a Villa team who’d left everything out there against City, had a full days less rest, and who then scored early against you and then gave you the ball for 85 minutes?
The only other area I’m going to pick him up on is Arsenal’s “Invincibles”. A 26 win, 12 draw 90 point season. A fantastic achievement. But just for perspective Liverpool were one inch away from doing a 30win, 8 draw 98 point “invincible” season in 2019 (as well as winning the CL) As for how close Liverpool have come to going undefeated in a domestic season well we came pretty close just two years ago I think?
Oh -and isn’t it 20 years this year since Arsenal won the title? Well happy anniversary!
…My, Arsenal fans are a touchy bunch. Monday’s mailbox was a smorgasbord of insecurity, paranoia and good old-fashioned neuroticism, as they queued up to tell us that:
a) they are better than Liverpool because they say so (and to think otherwise is an outrage and literal nonsense), and because Liverpool haven’t beaten them for a year
b) that they would have won the treble back in the “invincible” season if they hadn’t lost in cup competitions (quite the revelation that one).
c) that everyone hates Arteta, poor fella,
d) (a real doozy this one) that Arteta is definitely doing a better job than Emery would have done had he stayed and this is undebatable because we don’t know what would have happened if Emery had been given longer,
e) that Arteta and Edu don’t get enough credit for the job they have done because of Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand.
f) that referees are plotting to give bad decisions against Arsenal because Arsenal are literally the only team that gets dodgy decisions given against them even though Havertz didn’t get sent off when he should have done.
g) that a big factor in the loss was because Arteta was in the stands because he broke a rule but he shouldn’t be punished because he got excited.
I think that’s the overall gist. You need to calm TF down boys. I have written in about what football does to (presumably) intelligent and rational grown-ups, citing fans of United and Spurs, but this is new level shit. I know it’s been a while since you were professional also-rans, but it’s not worth a stroke. FWIW, I would have Arsenal as slight favourites at this point. Liverpool have been very lucky, for the most part, especially in recent weeks, it seems unlikely that Villa will sustain this form and City seem to have lost their mojo (but of course will probably win the last 15 games), so this is a proper chance for Arsenal, even better than last year.
But gentlemen: it’s only a f**king game.
Matthew (Oscar Wilde and being spoken about comes to mind. Revel in it)
…Oh my oh my…. Arsenal fans aren’t happy are they? Mainly with the FA/PGMOL/referee/linesman/lineswoman/Emi Martinez/celebration police/God.
Firstly, the disallowed goal. For whatever reason the laws of the game currently have a higher threshold for the attacker handballing in the lead up to a goal than the defender. It might be a horrible rule but it’s not a 50/50 decision. It was correct.
Diego Carlos swung around and caught the guy with his elbow. No replay I saw categorically confirmed it was deliberately done to cause injury, more to stop the guy running. He got a yellow for it. Fair enough.
The penalty decision… possibly. It didn’t feel like one to me but as the saying goes, I’ve seen them given.
Now let’s pretend for a moment that the establishment is biased/corrupt against Arsenal. Either consciously or unconsciously.
Like why Arsenal? You only got in a position to disrupt the Liverpool/City dominance last season. What possible reason would all these people in power have to either decide to give all these decisions against you or do it unconsciously?
They are worried you are so good you will take over football in this country? Sorry mate, that’s Man City. You have reprehensible owners? Nope, that’s City, Newcastle and West Ham. They just don’t like you? That’s primary school level reasoning. Man City and their owners have bought off the PGMOL to ensure they win the title? Well that’s a conspiracy theory and a half. I’m going to need some evidence for that other than some refereeing decisions you don’t like.
So please… why the bias against Arsenal?
The Wolves fans I know are justifiably upset/annoyed/murderous over the decisions gone against them this season but none of them I’ve spoken to claim an anti-Wolves refereeing agenda. Just that it’s been poor.
Regarding the game itself, we were on the back foot a fair bit but the goal was absolute class. Starting with Martinez playing it through the whole of the Arsenal team and a lovely finish. I will point out too that for all the ‘domination’ Arsenal had they had the same number of shots on target than us (3) and only 2 more shots off target than us.
We will probably drift off to 5th or 6th but it’s been an amazing week to see Villa compete against the top teams and get results. Love it!
Funstar (biased) Andy
…Just a quick message to the bitter Arsenal fans in the mailbox this morning.
1) Arteta wasn’t banned for the Villa match due to his celebration against Luton. It was due to an accumulation of offences over the season, with the Luton yellow card being the final straw. Giving how close he is to the pitch in every game, it’s amazing it took this long for him to be banned.
2) early for the conspiracy theories from Arsenal fans to start on decisions against them. Apparently the only one they have had in their favour is Havertz not being sent off against Newcastle. How about Nketiah not being sent off against Spurs for his lunge at Vicario? Or the penalty against Spurs for accidental handball from Romero? Clearly forgotten about those 2.
3) Similar to your manager you don’t understand the laws of the game. Accidental handball from a defender isn’t a penalty but an attacker cannot score a goal if they handle it and they score. That’s why Cash didn’t give away a penalty.
Ed’s Palace corner
* Two of my sporting heroes died on Saturday. That might have affected this mail.
* I don’t have loads to say about Crystal Palace v Liverpool itself. At the start of the season if you’d said Palace would lose by a solitary goal to the team at the top of the league, most fans would have said fair enough, last time a Roy Hodgson Palace team faced Liverpool they lost 7-0.
* Not being able to watch the match live (a small mercy, house full of Liverpool fans and all that) I was following the game on Twitter from a mix of people in the ground and watching on television. If nothing else, it painted an interesting picture of how people believe there is a media conspiracy against their club, or at the very least, how it comes across that various outlets care more about some clubs than others. I’m not sure if former Crystal Palace manager Terry Venables commentating on their 1990 FA Cup semi-final win over Liverpool was the last time the underdog was represented on mic and the favourites weren’t, but it doesn’t happen that often anymore. Unless you count Gary Neville doing Manchester United games. However, at one point the commentators referred to Ray Lewington as “Doug Livermore”, and they said the Eagles’ reserve keeper was “Randy” Matthews, instead of Remi. Given how meticulous commentators are in their preparations, the lack of attention to detail (whether ignorance or apathy) was jarring.
* Jordan Ayew’s first yellow card was the correct decision, he prevented the quick free kick being taken, even if, as Hodgson suggested afterwards, van Dijk cynically kicked the ball into Ayew to get him booked. A rare moment of van Dijk knowing where an opposing forward was, and cheap play every bit as snide as diving, but if Ayew is doing anything other than standing still right in front of the ball, it doesn’t hit him.
His second yellow card did look harsh. It was a genuine attempt to win the ball that was careless rather than reckless, and one of those situations where the threshold for a second yellow seems far lower than for a first. Not all fouls are equal but it did seem surprising that significantly more cards were shown to Palace than to Liverpool. Five Palace players committed two or more fouls, three of whom were shown yellow cards; of the six Liverpool players who did the same, only Luis Diaz had his name taken. I suspect three of them (Endo, Quansah and Ryan Gravenberch) were substituted before they became a liability, a luxury Liverpool could afford anyway, but Palace couldn’t as they had been forced into early substitutions for injuries.
This is hardly a new phenomenon – Mark Clattenburg had a reputation as a bit of a starf***er, referring to famous players by their forename or nickname and everyone else by surname and number, and Frank Lampard got away with a number of reckless tackles because while everyone else was pushing and shoving he’d have an arm around the referee being matey. But it does feel like it changes the game. Palace played for 15 minutes failing to defend a lead, and being on a yellow card does change your approach – you do stand off because you feel that the slightest mistiming, no matter how well-intentioned, will end your participation early. A side as good as Liverpool will always exploit either of those things, and so it proved. Harvey Elliott’s shot was fantastic but he’s given space to roam with players on yellow cards hanging back.
* VAR corner. It took three minutes to decide Will Hughes had committed a very soft foul on Wataru Endo. Endo is trying to shield the ball from Hughes, who attempts to break through. If Palace don’t go on to win a penalty, it would have been let go by the referee in a “midfield players are supposed to be battlers” way. On the penalty itself, it’s yet another instance of Virgil van Dijk being caught in the wrong position and making an error he was lucky to get away with.
The second penalty shout took 105 seconds to adjudicate and was a clearer cut foul. Jarell Quansah gets nothing of the ball, kicks Jean-Philippe Mateta and while it’s understandable the referee didn’t see it in real time, it was a good use of VAR.
* Overall a decent performance with nothing to show apart from a few more absentees: as well as Ayew’s suspension, Sam Johnstone and Odsonne Edouard both went off injured. The number of muscle injuries Palace players appear to be accumulating is incredibly worrying. It hints at issues in either the players’ preparations, or the way they are being (over)used in games.
* Away from football I’m involved in an organisation that in the past couple of years has tried various measures to modernise and also keep costs under control. One such move was to stop producing paper copies of a monthly newspaper, a decision that was far more controversial than it needed to be. My own position on it, and I was a very minor part of the decision-making process, was that the print deadlines meant that any “news” in it was very out of date by the time it reached the readers; if you’re interested enough to read about a subject several weeks after the fact, but not enough to seek it out more regularly, you’re not really that interested in it. However, there was plenty of support for retaining the newspaper, and a lot of the loudest voices were men over the state pension age who had been involved since the 1970s.
Then, there was the letters page, which theoretically ran in parallel with various online discussion platforms. However, you could write an email to the newspaper or post something on a forum on the same day, and obviously the forum discussion moves along more quickly. Then, several weeks later, you get to read the letter and instead of furthering the debate, it just looks a long way behind the curve. That’s what Roy Hodgson’s refereeing rant on Saturday felt like: a lot of us have had conversations about “handball interpretations”, “where is the game being refereed from if there’s VAR” online and moved the discussion on, whereas he’s still on the letters page several weeks ago.