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28.2.14
Joel Campbell - How Arsenal benefit from the Loan System

Joel Campbell reminded Arsenal supporters what a fantastic prospect he might be on Tuesday night, picking up the ball in the right channel he slalomed across the pitch, slicing through (an admittedly static) United defence and then unleashed a thunderbolt past the despairing De Gea - fabulous. Throughout the game Campbell was a thorn in United's left flank and was spiky and dangerous. Although he needs to learn to release the ball a little earlier and gets himself tangled up too often, he is obviously an excellent young footballer.



Campbell demonstrates how Arsenal use the loan system effectively. He was signed by Arsenal in 2011, but as the club were unable to secure a work permit, he was sent out on loan to FC Lorient and subsequently to Real Betis and Olympiakos. In the last two and a half seasons, he has played 81 times and scored 12 goals. Ignore the fact that he hasn't scored too often, it's the games that a young player gets under his belt that are critical when being placed on loan. Arsenal currently have 13 players out on loan, most are young hopefuls like Chuks Aneke and Chuba Akpom, but Ju-Yong Park and Johan Djourou, established internationals are also playing at other clubs.

The beauty of the loan system is that it offers different opportunities to different players. Some are extremely successful, I live in the north west and a couple of Bolton supporters I know maintain that Jack Wilshere's loan period at their club in 2010 was as important for Bolton as it was for the 18 year old Jack. In fact, they go further, they believe that Wilshere is the best "Bolton" player they have seen. This loan period was in the premiership and enabled Jack to sharpen his competitive spirit, be part of a first team set up and get regular matches in the top flight.

For other players (like Park and Djourou) the loan system is focused on giving footballers surplus to requirements the chance to impress and put themselves in the shop window. However, as a supporter I'm more interested in players who are honing their abilities at other clubs with a view to returning to Arsenal to make the first team. A few in this category have been there or thereabouts, Francis Coquelin is a good example. Coqeulin has played 21 times for Arsenal, but seems to fall in to the "needs games to improve" cohort, as does Ignasi Miquel, currently at table topping Leicester City (10 appearances this season).

The player who seems to be arousing the highest degree of interest (apart from Campbell) is Chuks Aneke. Chuks is a 20 year old Londoner who is currently on loan at Crewe Alexandra. Chuks is 6"3 and is a midfielder who can score goals, 11 this season in 29 appearances and, if he is able to make the transition back to the Arsenal squad, will be another beneficiary of a successful loan. Other notable loanees at the moment include Benik Afobe (who had an excellent loan period at Huddersfield Town), Chuba Akpom, who has just gone to Coventry City and Damian Martinez, playing at Sheffield Wednesday (with Benik).



When the Arsenal consider a player for a loan move, the primary factors they consider are:

  • How compatible is the loan club are to Arsenal's playing ethos?
  • Do we know/rate the manager?
  • Have we done loan business with the club before?
  • How likely is the Arsenal player to lay at the loaning club?  
For example, in the past, clubs managed by Roberto Martinez and Steve Bruce have taken several Arsenal players on loan. Martinez is an interesting case in point when it comes to discussing the loan system. Like Arsenal, Everton also use the system to put playing time at a competitive level into their player's psyche. In an interesting interview before Christmas, Martinez cited the fact that in Spain, practically all players are loaned out to a lower league team between the ages of 18 and 21 as a major factor in the success of the Spanish national team. Martinez (a possible future Arsenal manager), claimed that, until a player has been involved in the relegation and promotion battles that materially affect the established players at lower league clubs, they are cosseted and lacking in "real world" skills. I think it's a good point. Let's not forget that both Kieran Gibbs and Aaron Ramsey have been loaned out to clubs in the lower divisions at points in their career, when it was deemed appropriate to do so and it doesn't seem to have done them any harm.

By Ian Byrne

Follow me at @RightAtTheEnd and I'll follow you back









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18.2.14
Arsenal to sign Balotelli?

When I told my ten year old that we were being linked with signing Mario Balotelli, her answer was simple: "whooooaahh!!" Ten year olds still have the ability to be wowed by potential links to players of this type but we can't overlook the fact that Balotelli is the type of player that makes supporters (of all ages) sit up and notice.

I don't think for one moment that Balotelli will actually sign for Arsenal (neither does the ten year old probably...), but we are being told that Arsenal, thanks to a series of major commercial deals and a diminishing debt picture, now have the ability to buy a player in the £30 - 40 million bracket every year. The point about signing Mesut Özil, was the merest fact that "we signed Mesut Özil" and this made a huge statement of intent and lifted everyone in around the club. 

Record or marquee signings are delivered in such a manner on purpose, this is why Real Madrid and Barcelona grandstand their record signings at special sessions in their stadiums. So I think it's important that Arsenal approach the market aggressively and shouldn't be afraid of spending big on a highly gifted player and for the record, I think that Balotelli is a fabulous footballer. 



Herbert Chapman knew the benefit of signing big name players which is why he was willing to spend £10,890 on David Jack, the first man to score at Wembley, from Bolton Wanderers in 1928. He then went on to spend £8,750 on Alex James the following year. These were visionary transfers and both footballers played a vital role in building Arsenal to become the team of the 1930's and the world's first super club. Furthermore, at this time, the bulk of a club's revenues were drawn from the number of supporters it could attract to it's home games. By the mid-30's, Arsenal had built the best ground in the country and were regularly packing it with 60,000+ spectators who were paying to watch players like Jack, James, Bastin and Drake.



In any era, the transfer cost of a player is the most memorable, but actually more important, is the bulk of the cost of a player's contract, his wages.

Today, a club like Arsenal generates revenues from a disparate base, and a critical aspect is the funds derived from broadcasting. This is closely tied to the club's success in the Champions League, and in a vicious/benevolent circle, those clubs in the CL, make the most money, and by the same token they are also more likely to attract the best players. Another critical factor in this equation, is the reputation that the club enjoys for paying, or not paying, spectacular salaries. This week Wayne Rooney will sign a four and a half year contract worth over £70 million, £300,000 per week. 

In Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski's book "Soccernomics", they draw the simple but effective analogy of the most successful businesses (and therefore sports teams) paying the highest wages. In one respect, Arsenal pay the highest wages, but to the manager as opposed to the players. A further significant factor in the arrival of Mesut Özil, was the acknowledgement that his weekly wage was c.£140,000, an impressive flexing of financial muscle, but still less than the manager earns.



It's great that Arsenal have more intent in the market, but until we increase the headroom at the top end of our salary scale (for players, not the manager), we may still struggle to attract the vey best.

On a separate note, Arsenal played well on Sunday afternoon and just about deserved the win over a team that had given us a real hiding just over a week before. The shape was better and there were some excellent performances from Oxlade-Chamberlaine, Fabianski and Koscielny and in particular, it was a relief that Mr Wenger had been able to rest some key players ahead of the home game against Bayern Munich. Last season, at this stage, we lost at home in the FA Cup to Blackburn Rovers in a classic case of losing a game in a tournament we could win to improve our chances in one we probably won't. Nice when it works.

RIP John Judge.

By Ian Byrne

Follow me at @RightAtTheEnd, I'll follow you back


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14.2.14
Mourinho - What's Portuguese for nasty piece of work?

Fact, Arsenal haven't won a piece of silverware since the FA Cup in 2005, indisputable and very disappointing for a club with Arsenal's pedigree and track record.

Another fact, Arsenal spent over £650 million on the land purchase, and construction of a brand new 60,000 seater stadium.

Fact three, Jose Mourinho oversaw the final re-building stages of Chelsea, a club owned by a Russian oligarch with the financial prudence of a smackhead on giro day.


As Arsenal supporters, we are allowed to criticise our manager, board, players, anyone and anything related to the club really. We pay our money and we make our choice. It's hard facing down glory hunters who have made conscious decisions to support a successful side, but it's the yoke you choose. Here's one last fact, no other manager in the world could have kept a team in the Champions League season after season with the budget restraints placed on him by Arsenal Football Club.

Since, 2008, the northern lottery winners have spent £694 million on footballers, almost exactly the amount with which we built one of the finest stadia in the world.

So when the manager of the southern lottery winners criticises our manager for being "a specialist in failure", it may be true, but it really says more about a man who has no idea where to draw the line. Because he is devoid of the class you need to manage a truly big English club, not one that wins cups for a few years and then disappears when Abramovich gets bored, or the lickspittles in Whitehall and at the FA create some meaningful rules to govern who should be allowed to own a club in this country. But a truly big club.

Perhaps, this is why United passed on Mourinho as manager? He's bad news, it's one thing to have opinions, but remember his behaviour as Porto manager at the UEFA Cup against Celtic, or poking Tito Vilanova in the eye at Barcelona?

Mourinho is entitled to his opinions, he's earned them, but he needs to be mindful that although he chooses to surround himself with sycophants and our football reporters are too cowardly to take him on, supporters know the truth, he's lucky to have worked for owners with very deep pockets.

By Ian Byrne

Follow me @RightAtTheEnd, I'll follow you back.
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13.2.14
Arsenal v Manchester United - Points Dropped

After the debacle at Anfield it was rewarding to see Arsenal's defensive shape return, despite Mikel Arteta's desire to give United a goal lead in the first two minutes. The game was a poor spectacle and having previously lobbied for the return of Tomáš Rosický, it was disappointing to see him repeatedly picking the wrong pass and giving the ball away in dangerous positions on the pitch.

I felt that this was a game that we could and should have won, Arsenal lacked bite and although it's unfair to say that the team is misfiring (Arsenal average just under two goals a game in the league), there was something missing. It's pointless bemoaning the fact that we didn't sign a striker in the last two windows, and that we are missing the goal threat of Walcott and Ramsey. However, in matches like last night, it's incumbent on players to assess the situation and take responsibility for making the difference. Far too often last night United found it too easy to isolate our centre forward.



The build up play was good, Cazorla and Ozil having their best game for a while and against decent opposition, but we needed a player to make the run into the area to support Giroud. This is the run that Ramsey makes time after time when he is fit and playing well. It's decisive, simple arithmetic really, it gives an extra man in the most dangerous area on the pitch, but last night it wasn't happening.

That having been said, Arsenal did have chances to win the game as did United, with both keepers making important saves. But after the drubbing we received on Saturday, it was important to exorcise the ghosts of that display with a strong defensive performance. I though Koscielny was excellent last night, he reads the game well, but his job was made far easier by United's front three being on different wavelengths.



For those who think that the highest priority is to win a trophy this season, the most important game of the year is this Sunday against Liverpool in the FA Cup. With that in mind, a clean sheet last night was very important. However, Arsenal's toothless display in front of goals underlines just how critical it is for the manager to buy at least one proven goal scorer in the summer. It's going to be a long wait.

By Ian Byrne

Follow me on twitter @RightAtTheEnd, I'll follow you back.






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10.2.14
Tony Adams - Arsenal Legend - Mr Arsenal

Anthony Alexander Adams was born on October 10th, 1966. Tony spent his entire 22 year playing career at Arsenal Football Club and for many supporters, he embodies everything that Arsenal stands for. Although Tony had some titanic personal battles to face and overcome, and served prison time in 1990/1, he typified the courage, leadership and honesty that is at the heart of our football club.

Tony signed schoolboy forms in 1980 and made his debut on November 5th 1983 against Sunderland, he'd just turned 17. I remember George Graham talking about a story that had been relayed to him by one of the England under-21 coaching staff; that on the plane flying back from an international away game, Adams took it upon himself to organise a whip round for the cabin crew. It showed leadership, but also a keen consideration for others, he worked hard and by 1985 was becoming a regular in the first team.


Tony is one of the bravest players I have ever seen, I was at Old Trafford for a 1-1 draw played in fierce Mancunian rain when he scored at each end. The goal he scored for us involved him diving between flying boots and bodies to power the ball into the back of the net. Minutes later, the ball skidded off his boot and over John Lukic but that was also typical of Tony - he never shirked or hid from anything. He was made captain of the team when he was 21 and kept  the armband for 14 years until his retirement. Tony's mixture of grit and graft embodied the George Graham era.

Tony played alongside David O' Leary, Kenny Sansom and Viv Anderson initially and he obviously learned a great deal from these three established international defenders, but it was as a critical part of the back four (bizarrely immortalised in the Full Monty), of Winterburn, Bould, Adams and Dixon that he is perhaps best known. When Arsenal won the league in season 1990/1991, this back four let in 18 goals in 38 matches and lost only one game all season. It was also the season of the mass brawl at Old Trafford, where we were docked two points, United one (never worked that one out) and also the year Tony crashed his car into a garden wall in Rayleigh in Essex and was sentenced to four months in prison. 

It was in the aftermath of Euro'96 that Tony embarked on a phenomenal "bender" (he writes about it in stark detail in his autobiography, Addicted), that led him to consider the impact his drinking was having on himself and others. Forced to face the fact that he was a hopeless alcoholic, he sought and found treatment and ultimately established the Sporting Chance Clinic with his friend Peter Kay. This excellent charity is possibly Tony's greatest achievement and has helped a number of players and sportsmen and women to get their life's back on track.

  
After beginning his battle with alcoholism, Tony changed as a person and I think in the period between 1996 and 2002 he played his best football. He embraced the new open playing style of Arsene Wenger and once again, became the essence of the new Arsenal. He could really play, he would carry the ball out from defence, swap passes with midfielders and build attacks. Tony's strength of personality was also fundamental to the double win of 1997/98. Early in the season, there was a feeling in the English hub of the team, that the baby had been chucked out with the bath water, in that insufficient support was being given to the back four (five). In a heated meeting, Tony argued that one of the midfield players was needed to cover and screen the back four and Arsenal developed a solidity that provided the platform for some of the best football I've seen from an Arsenal team.

Tony retired after the 2001/2 double season, having played 668 times for the club. He won four titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups and a Cup Winner's Cup with Arsenal and also represented his country 66 times scoring 5 international goals.


My favourite Tony Adams memory happened in the 4-0 win over Everton on the 3rd of May 1998. In fact nothing illustrates how much our club and this player had evolved as  eloquently, as the moment  he ran onto a through ball from Steve Bould (playing in midfield) and smashed a left footed half volley past the keeper in the last minute of the game that won Arsenal the title.

Since retiring from the game, Tony has struggled to forge a managerial career, but I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping that he returns to Arsenal in a coaching capacity at some point. Quite simply, he is our greatest ever captain.

By Ian Byrne

Follow me at @RightAtTheEnd and I'll follow you back.
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9.2.14
Liverpool v Arsenal - Anfield Capitulation

The pre-match atmosphere in both The Arkles pub and the ground was excellent yesterday. There's nothing quite like being top of the league before a big away game somewhere like Anfield. Our support was fantastic, in fact, we were the only positive from yesterday, so well done Gooners, shame that our team didn't show the same resolve.

I was speaking to a couple of coppers and stewards before the game and as they always do, they asked what prediction I had for the game, I had to admit that I thought we were due a hiding, but this was probably more down to the age old protection blanket of pessimism that most supporters adopt from time to time. 4-1 I said, the stewards laughed at that, "no chance mate!" they said.

25 minutes later, Liverpool had scored four and missed a further three. Arsenal were nowhere.



This was one of those perfect storm moments in football, when a team that gets everything right plays a team that gets everything wrong. The only player I feel sorry for after yesterday is the keeper, he was given no cover or support at all. In fairness, Liverpool were first rate, they had been building towards this point with some promising performances and especially the hiding they'd dished out to Everton. All of their front five players were excellent and Rodgers had really done his homework.

At the home game earlier in the season, Arsenal had spilt Sturridge and Suarez and controlled them very well, nullifying Sturridge in particular. In this game Rodgers played Suarez and Sterling very wide with Sturridge given a spearheading role through the middle. Henderson did the running, Gerrard just sits in front of the back two these days and take free kicks, saving his legs for Brazil. Coutinho was a revelation, his passing was top class. So well done Liverpool, they thoroughly deserved the three points.

However, I do feel that they deserve better support. I remember going to Anfield and being almost awed by the kop and the support from across the stadium. These days they make a lot of noise when they score and then that's it. Reykjavik and Oslo must have been empty yesterday.


As for Arsenal, it's too painful to list every player's errors over poor placing, lack of tackling and bad decision making, analysis isn't always cathartic. However, the early loss of two goals from set pieces is extremely damning, not only were our defenders in the wrong positions, far too easily exploited by Liverpool, but the midfield decided to leave them to it. I wrote a blog a month or so ago, speculating when the real Mesut Özil was going to turn up. Well it wasn't yesterday was it? He was shocking, he looked like George Weah's cousin. Jack Wilshere carried the game to Liverpool in the second half and we know he has spirit in bucket loads, but in the first half he was continuously out thought and out played by Coutinho, who is a good player, but is really just a kid.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was having a go, but both he and Jack look 85% fit at best and the game was crying out for a player like Tomáš Rosický tostart, but yet again the manager went with Cazorla and Özil, with Arteta holding. Flamini having got himself sent off against Southampton, we weren't going to have his bite in midfield, so keeping our shape and not losing the ball was going to be vital. Rosický is that type of player, responsible, clever, tidy. I love Santi, but when he's bad, he's really bad.

So, no real positives to be taken from the game. But on one level, just as Liverpool had been building toward their excellent performance, we have been shuffling towards ours. The warnings were very evident in the first halves against Southampton and Palace. The consequences of yesterday's capitulation will be the answer the players provide against United on Wednesday. So far this season, they have responded well to poor results and performances. We didn't enjoy standing at the Anfield Road End yesterday as a group of Noggies held up five fingers at us, let's hope that the real Arsenal turn up against Manchester United.

By Ian Byrne

Follow me at @RightAtTheEnd, I'll follow you back.
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6.2.14
Liverpool v Arsenal 1989 - "You haven't got a prayer Arsenal"

I've kept this headline, the whole back page of the Daily Mirror actually in a file full of press clippings from the time. It was printed the day after Liverpool had thrashed West Ham 5-1, a few days before we were due to play them at Anfield on May 26th 1989, 25 years ago. I hope that everyone reading this knows what happens next, if not, it was the reason Youtube was invented. It was the best Arsenal game that I never went to.

We play Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday, it's a crucial game in a series which see us play them twice, as well as Manchester United and Bayern Munich, currently being touted as the world's best team (unless you're Tim Sherwood). I thought it might be interesting to compare the position modern Arsenal finds itself in the league, with the team 25 years ago.


There's a scene in the film of Fever Pitch where the Nick Hornby character is playing Subbuteo with his mate and they decide to pit modern Arsenal (1989) against the 1971 double winning team. They agree that it's a preposterous idea as the two teams are a world apart in terms of fitness, diet etc.. I met Alan Smith a couple of years ago and asked him how his side would fare against the modern Arsenal team? "They'd bloody destroy us" he said.

So rather than compare Smudger to Olivier Giroud or, God forbid, Kevin Richardson to Mesut Özil, let's consider the relative likelihood of league success. In 1989, we won the league by the tightest margin ever - goals scored, we were level with Liverpool on every other parameter. In 2014 we are two points clear at the top of the league, and not really given much of a chance to be honest. I read a very good blog from an American Arsenal supporter who wrote about Gary Lineker (on a US football programme) talking at length about City and Chelsea as title challengers but rarely mentioning Arsenal.


The context to both seasons therefore, seems to be an assumed inability to win the league. The 1989 team was still in it's building phase, we had beaten Liverpool two years previously in the League Cup, which was taken far more seriously in those days, especially if you won it, but George Graham's side wasn't the finished article. To the same extent, the current side is also short of a a few players.

For those unfamiliar with football in the 1980's, Liverpool were a fantastic team. In their way, more dynastic than the United and Arsenal teams of the 1990's. They dominated 80's football and were deemed almost unbeatable at Anfield, by anybody. Before May 26th 1989, we hadn't won there for 15 years. So, when the pundits talk about this City team in hushed tones of awe, let's get things in perspective, in season 88-89, we were deemed to have literally had no chance.

In the 1980's, there wasn't a feeling that one club had a greater financial depth than any other (in the top half of Division 1), in fact Arsenal was always assumed to be one of the wealthiest. Liverpool seemed to be better than other clubs at attracting and "building teams". This was the quality that George Graham and Alex Ferguson were trying to emulate. Also, football wasn't popular in the way it is now; attendances had been declining for a while, there was violence off the pitch and on it, and grounds were decrepit. In a nutshell, only an imbecile would invest serious money in any 1980's English team, given a time machine Abramovich and the Mansour family might try and buy Juventus or Milan but City or Chelsea? Never. As a result, it was a fairer fight, but we were always considered second best.


Football has changed dramatically in the last 25 years, but I feel that there are some similarities between Arsenal 1989 and 2014. The blend of youth and experience, both teams are strong defensively, and both boast a centre forward highly adept at leading the line and playing with his back to goal, allowing other players to "come in", and both teams have lost a goal scoring wide player in the latter part of the season (Walcott and Marwood).

Still, although we play Liverpool with 14 games to go, as opposed to the cliff hanging, final game of May 26th, the points that we gain, or don't, on Saturday dinnertime are just as critical. It's far too early to judge how close this season is going to be, but the point is that we're still very much in it, two points clear in February? Not bad.

If we play as well as we did against Liverpool earlier in the season we have a real chance, I think we all know how to stop them, if Koscielny neutralises Suarez as effectively as he did in the home game, we can beat this Liverpool, not many people said that 25 years ago.

By Ian Byrne

Follow me at @RightAtTheEnd, I'll follow you back.
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