Look how much better Arsenal were before Wenger…

Maths with Martin
During last week’s pre-Sutton United press conference in which Arsene Wenger made headlines by suggesting he might manage somewhere else next season, he also said the following:

“If you look at the history of the club, Arsenal had less Champions League games when I arrived than I had in my career. It is not like Arsenal had already won the European Cup five times – they had never won the European Cup. They had played 10 games in the history of the club, so you have to take some perspective on the demands.”

Had you heard those words – and many didn’t – you may have nodded and said ‘fair enough’. After all, Wenger’s record in reaching the knock-out stages of the Champions League is pretty much unparalleled.

Not so, Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail; he pledged to right this venal wrong. He accuses Wenger of being ‘disingenuous’ and then proceeds to out-do him in this and every department.

‘Wenger is right in saying Arsenal had never won the European Cup before he arrived – but they haven’t won it since he’s been there, either.’

True. But we are pretty sure Arsene Wenger knows that. Of all the ‘crimes’ Wenger may have committed, one of them is not claiming to have won the European Cup.

‘They had, however, won two European trophies – the 1970 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and the 1994 European Cup-Winners’ Cup – which is two more than they have won under him.’

Also true; Arsene Wenger has unashamedly failed to win two competitions that no longer exist.

‘And, yes, they had only played 10 matches in Europe’s biggest competition, but that was because the European Cup was a much smaller affair than the bloated Champions League, and only the champions of each country went through, rather than England’s top four.

‘Also, in one of the years when Arsenal would have qualified as champions, 1988-89, English clubs were banned from Europe.

‘So, without the ban, and using modern Champions League rules, Arsenal would have played 22 games, minimum. Their six-game European Cup quarter-final run in 1971-72 would have been worth between 10 and 14 games, depending on the format, while their four-game round two exit in 1991-92 would have been worth at least six, even had they gone out in the group stage.

‘Another group stage exit in 1989-90 would have brought six more matches, meaning a conservative estimate of Arsenal’s pre-Wenger European Cup record, under Champions League rules of engagement, would have totalled at least 22 games and maybe nearer 30.’

That’s a f*** of a lot of mental gymnastics to come up with a figure that is still a f*** of a lot less than the 190 Champions League matches they have played under Arsene Wenger.

Obviously aware of this disparity, Samuel has another idea…

‘Now let’s apply European Cup rules to Wenger’s time in charge.’

Yes, having applied modern football rules to pre-Wenger times to boost those numbers, he then proceeds to apply old European Cup rules to Wenger’s record to bring down those numbers. Ingenious.

So having set out to prove that Wenger was not comparing like with like, he decides to switch all the criteria around so that he is also not comparing like with like. But crucially, he is now right.

‘Far from qualifying in 19 consecutive seasons, Arsenal would have made it to the tournament on three occasions: 1998-99, 2002-03 and 2004-05. Their campaigns in those years amounted to 26 matches — a group stage exit, a second group stage exit and a round two knockout.

‘Yet considering they did not make the quarter-final in any of those years, Wenger’s record in European Cup terms would have been measured at around 12 games at best.’

So bingo! Arsenal were actually loads better in Europe before Arsene Wenger came along. And they definitely haven’t reached two European finals.


Name that tune in six…
Mediawatch’s favourite line from Martin Samuel’s monstrosity:

‘Wenger’s Arsenal once played 14 Champions League matches to reach exactly the same stage of the European Cup competition that Bertie Mee accomplished in six.’

That this is delivered as a criticism of Wenger is simply wonderful. Because of course beating Stromsgodset and Grasshoppers over two legs each and then losing both games against Ajax is far, far more impressive than beating Sparta Prague, Shakhtar Donetsk, Lazio, Lyon and Spartak Moscow before eventually losing on away goals to Valencia.


Bagging Arsenal
At 10am on Monday morning, the leading headline on the MailOnline football page is as follows:

‘How to be fantastic on plastic: Sutton and Keown tell Arsenal what to expect in FA Cup clash after playing on Sutton’s ‘sticky’ 3G pitch’

Snappy. Headlines ain’t what they used to be.

But the implication is clear – especially in a blurb that begins ‘If Arsenal’s problems weren’t bad enough, on Monday evening they must negotiate a tricky FA Cup tie on Sutton United’s plastic pitch’ – that Arsenal face a potential banana skin at Sutton.

Further down the page we have this preposterous concept – ‘LIVE: Sutton vs Arsenal countdown…latest news and pictures as Wenger’s men get ready to face non-league side’ – as well as the startling news that Arsene Wenger is ‘hoping to avoid shock defeat at Sutton’.

All of which is rather odd because, having looked at the back page of the Daily Mail on Monday morning, we thought Arsenal were already in the quarter-finals…


Think you don’t need a live blog on a football match that starts in ten hours? Think again…

‘Stick with us throughout the day to make sure you’re up to date.’

Oh we shall. The last thing we want is to find ourselves out of the loop on a football match when it is mere hours from kicking off. On the national broadcaster’s main channel.


Poetry in motion

‘WITH an hour gone and Manchester United locked in a fifth-round stalemate with Blackburn Rovers in the Lancashire drizzle, Jose Mourinho turned to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba.

‘It was a power play, a graphic demonstration of what separates these two clubs in the modern era, 22 years after Blackburn pipped United to the Premier League table.’

One man’s (Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail) ‘power play’ and ‘graphic demonstration’ is everybody else’s ‘double substitution to win a close game of football’.


Knees have gone all trembly
You may remember that The Sun’s Neil Custis spent the best part of two years kicking Louis van Gaal, with the daily grind only interrupted by the Dutchman calling him ‘Fat man’. Terrible scenes. Nobody wants to see that.

Custis has spent the majority of the last six months crawling inside the warmest cavities of Jose Mourinho, so it’s no surprise that his match report from Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Blackburn begins thus:

‘MANCHESTER UNITED sang of going to Wembley – and it could well feel like their second home come the middle of May.

‘Jose Mourinho’s men are on course for six visits in 13 months if things go to plan.

‘They had victories in the semi-final and final of last season’s FA Cup and returned for the Community Shield win over Leicester in August.

‘Next Sunday they will walk out at the National Stadium in the EFL Cup final against Southampton and…another semi-final and even the final could beckon.’

Wow. Well done Jose. You may still be sixth but imagine being on the verge of six Wembley visits in 13 months.

And there isn’t even the slightest hint of self-awareness from Custis as he goes on to write that ‘Mourinho has healed the wounds still raw from the Louis van Gaal regime and got the Red machine motoring again’.



The magic of the cup

‘WHILE their relegation rivals have ducked out and made excuses, Middlesbrough remain, the only club outside the top six in the quarter-final of the FA Cup.

‘Prolonged participation may yet come at a cost – they are two points above the drop zone – but that is not dampening the mood on Teesside.

‘Boro’s fans, players and management are refusing to subscribe to the notion that that the Cup is a distraction from their prospects of survival…’

Yes, Daily Mail, which is presumably why Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka made only six changes before scraping a 3-2 win over League One Oxford.

Haven’t they done so very well to beat Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley and Oxford United while relegation rivals Sunderland, Swansea and Crystal Palace lost to Premier League opposition.


Could it be magic?
The Daily Mirror’s
attempts to sell Sean Raggett as a ‘HERO FOR THE AGES’ in the style of Ronnie Radford is slightly tarnished by the Lincoln defender’s admission that he has never actually heard of Ronnie Radford.

Look Sean, you could be a ‘hero for the ages’ just like this bloke you’ve never heard of…

Aw shucks. Can I?


The Daily Mirror’s John Cross has bagged an interview with Sutton United’s Roarie Deacon, once of Arsenal’s youth team.

The headline is cringeworthy…


…and clearly hints at some kind of black magic.

The sub-headline goes further…

‘Sutton’s superstitious Cup hero warns his former club: We’re planning a shock to top the lot.’

And what are Deacon’s superstitions? Does he take a black cat to every match? Does he always put his socks on before his pants? Does he listen to Shania Twain before every game?

‘Deacon, who prays before every game….’

Now Mediawatch is not religious but ‘superstitious’ and ‘hex’? We really do live in odd times…


Recommended reading of the day
Sean Ingle on research into the danger of heading footballs
Robin Bairner on the fall of Auxerre
Jonathan Liew on Sutton as the centre of the universe