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Chelsea - A Cautionary Tale

Once upon a time there was a man who had worked hard all his commercial life. Over a period of many, many years he had built a very successful business which he expanded carefully, out of a strong profit base, this company was called "red/white". The successful industrialist was a wealthy man and as such was accorded a good deal of respect by the business community, his company won awards and on a regular basis.
When he decided that he had outgrown his existing premises, and it was time to plan a move to a larger, newer and more prestigious base, he did so with care and consideration, ensuring that those affected by his new business base were properly compensated. As a result, when construction work was completed on his new company headquarters, people were genuinely pleased for him and impressed by his shiny new complex.
However, the cost of building the new corporate HQ dictated, that for a period of time, the company was unable to head hunt the very top corporate talent, but after a few years this position abated and the business was able to compete for the best business brains once more.
Across the town where "red/white" was based, there was another company, which had not enjoyed the same success, this company was "blue". Their company HQ was a little tatty, and had seen better days. They didn't invest in their employees with training or development and as a result rarely won awards and when they did, failed to build on any momentum offered. However, one day, a man arrived from a country far away, who had prospered from being in the right place at the right time when a new ruler handed out riches to those who had helped him seize power.
The man was clever and resourceful and was keen to live in a city that wasn't as cold as the one he lived in and where there were nice shops and things he could buy. One day, he came across the tatty company and after thinking for a while bought the business from it's grateful owners who laughed all the way to the bank believing that man was a fool. However, the man decided to spend vast amounts of money on new managers and engineers who came from all over the continent and they were paid huge salaries and word soon spread about the man's opulence and generosity. However, although the new employees enabled the company to win awards for the first time in half a century, the new owner neglected to improve the company's premises which were still tatty, despite being in a very plush part of the town.
Sadly, the employees and shareholders of this company didn't react well to their new award winning status. They became selfish and nasty and several of the key employees were found guilty of petulant, vicious acts and they became unpopular with those around them. The new Managing Director of this company even began to talk in a dis-respectful way about the MD of the old, established business. What was worse, was that there were people who worked in the town's press who were very keen to bow to this man's every word and were supplicant and sycophantic.
Some time later, there was a change in relations between the country where these two companies were based and the country where the new owner of the "blue" company hailed from. The man in charge of the biggest, wealthiest country in the world had decided that this country was being a bully to those smaller countries around it and ordered that people who had become fabulously wealthy from this country had to return to live there.
The man left the "blue" company hurriedly and decided not to give the company any more money. As a result, the company fell back into neglect, the employees who had joined the company purely because of the money available saw no reason to stay, as they had little loyalty. However, across the town, the older company (which had been ridiculed) continued to prosper as it invested wisely, and carefully and grew from strength to strength.
By Ian Byrne
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Chelsea V Arsenal - Arsenal Meltdown at the Bridge

It wasn't the defeat, it wasn’t even the dramatic nature of the score line; it was the manner of the defeat that was most depressing. Let's face it, just about everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong and even the referee's ridiculous mistaken identity interlude couldn’t detract attention from what was an utter spanking.

This was the manager’s 1000th game and it was with some inevitability I suppose, that he made the essential mistake that he had made in countless games before: he decided that Arsenal would play the Wenger way, therefore Arsenal were wide open in exactly the same manner as Arsenal were at Anfield and the Etihad. Arsenal’s performances against the top four in the last few seasons have been routinely feckless and the planning abject. In three away matches we have conceded 17 goals, Bertie Mee will be spinning in his grave.

Arsenal set up with Arteta as a sole defensive cover for the back four. In front of him were: Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, Rosicky and Giroud. It took Chelsea just 17 minutes to score three goals; Liverpool actually managed it a minute faster. It was totally embarrassing, when you go away to a top three team why choose one holding player and then play a high defensive line, when the opposition has a fast mobile centre forward with three others able to bomb on? It’s madness. Furthermore, why pick a “holding” player, who lacks pace and mobility and then push his midfield colleagues far up the park therefore isolating him and leaving him with acres of space to cover on his own? Madness compounded. Only a manager of huge stubbornness, mixed with a tactical naivety could even consider it.

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to play Arteta between Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain? We’re away from home, so keep it tight for 25 minutes or so, if we get the ball, play on the break, both Podolski and Cazorla are adept at hurting teams from wide areas and you can support attacks but still leave the door shut by keeping two players back. In effect, we needed more of the same from the away game at White Hart Lane. That was a very encouraging performance that demonstrated that Arsenal had developed a spine which was able to defend. How wrong could we be? No Wenger being Wenger decides that the team, as viewed by his benevolent rose tinted contact lenses is totally capable of beating Chelsea and sets it up to go for the jugular. Result a 6-0 spanking.

When I read Mourinho’s disrespectful comments about Wenger’s 1000 games on the morning of the game, I was annoyed, but reading them again now, they have a certain truth, there have been plenty of “bad times” since 2005. Saturday was just one in a lengthening line. I wrote last week that I felt that Wenger should go with dignity at the end of this season. Results like 6-0 away at Chelsea reinforce that, this man simply refuses to learn from his mistakes.

By Ian Byrne

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Wenger to quit Arsenal?

Arsene Wenger takes charge of Arsenal for the 1,000th time this Saturday and then there are a further eight league games and hopefully two FA Cup matches until the end of the season. Wenger's current contract lapses in August 2014 and in the past he has usually signed a renewal by this stage of the season. There is nothing specific that suggests Wenger is ready to leave Arsenal, apart from the delay in actually signing a renewal, but it does beg the question what would be the impact on the club were the Frenchman to decide to leave.

Wenger is 65 this October and as he usually renews for a three year period, does he want to be 68 year old working 14 hour days, six days a week? However, were he to go now, would it be a case of leaving Arsenal (which he has built in his own image), just as it's finding it's financial feet after years of Emirates Stadium induced parsimony?

Wenger has steered the club through one of it's most testing periods, few managers have the skills and acumen to guide a team to consistent Champions League qualification with the budgets he has had to work with. Arsenal now boasts one of the best stadiums in the world and has a state of the art training facility, both built in the last 12 years. His mark on Arsenal is a significant one, BBC Sport said that: "he has spent his career building teams that combine the accumulation of silverware with a desire to entertain and attack" and the Daily Mail declared him a "purist, dedicated to individual and collective technical quality". But there is no hiding from the fact that Arsenal's complete lack of recent silverware has become an albatross around his neck.

It's this trophy drought which animates the anti-Wenger brigade, and although Thierry Henry recently said that "you need to be careful what you wish for", there are varied and valid criticisms of Wenger's time at Arsenal. I've always felt that, about ten years ago, he agreed an almost  Faustian pact with the board of directors, that in exchange for his agreement not to challenge the myth that the club did indeed have transfer funds available (but which the manager refused to spend), he was allowed to build a position of extreme authority and able to dictate every aspect of the club's footballing activities.

This hasn't been healthy, Peter Lawlor, the excellent Celtic CEO, turned down an offer from Arsenal because he maintained that the manager was too powerful and he couldn't fulfil the CEO role properly because of this. When one individual is able to consolidate too much power, inevitably decisions aren't analysed and questioned rigorously, if at all. Consider Arsenal's recent glut of hamstring injuries, Wenger's reluctance to change his back room staff, his persistence with not practising set pieces, all these fly in the face of common sense management, but is there anyone at the club willing and able to challenge Wenger? Clearly not, Arsenal is one of the few businesses in the world, where the Operations Manager is more powerful than the Chief Executive.

 There were reports a year or so ago, that Wenger had bought a very expensive apartment in Paris (£3 million), and recently Yohan Cabaye emphasised his desire to play for Arsene Wenger, where does Cabaye play now? Paris St Germaine. I'm clutching at straws of course, but in lieu of an announcement of a new contract being signed, they are they to be clutched at. Succession planning is vital in any business,  and were Wenger to go who should replace him? Critically two things can't be allowed to happen: Wenger can't take a "job upstairs" and he can't be allowed to pick his successor, just look at what's happened at Old Trafford.

Arsenal Football Club in the 21st century is Arsene Wenger and his contribution to the club is extraordinary. However, if he were to decide that he'd like to live and coach in France, then we should wish him well and seize the opportunity to build on the fantastic foundations he has laid at the club. Wenger's best sides were among the most exciting in world football, the 1998, 2002 and 2004 teams were simply fantastic and on their day could beat anybody. But 1,000 games is a lifetime in football. In a way I'd be happy if Wenger did agree to stay, but this is probably fuelled by a feeling of "better the devil you know". What better way for Arsene Wenger to bow out than holding the FA Cup at Wembley?

By Ian Byrne

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Tottenham V Arsenal - A Good Old Fashioned North London Derby

Just like old times. Arsenal go to White Hart Lane and put in a classic backs to the wall
performance, score early and defend the lead for a further 93 minutes. We'd have been forgiven for thinking that the spirit of George Graham had squirreled it's way into Mr Wenger's psyche.
A year ago, I wrote a piece called "Time to defend Arsenal". It was written the day before we were beaten 2-1 by Tottenham with a sense of trepidation inspired by what I felt was Arsenal's lack of defensive cohesion. In the article I called for Steve Bould to be given a greater coaching brief, the recruitment of a defensive midfielder and the need to fix on a solid back four and stick to it. Although Arsenal can still be torn apart by teams at the top of their game; City and Liverpool away, Bayern Munich at home being good examples, when we face more predictable, traditional "English" tactics, I have a degree of confidence in Arsenal's defensive strength which I haven't felt for a few seasons.

The major factor in this return to the club's core values, is the centre half partnership of Koscielcy and Mertesacker. Their commitment and desire to keep a clean sheet yesterday (fundamentally important as Arsenal didn't look scoring twice), was first rate, especially the double block on Chadli in the second half. It's well known that when these two have played together for the entirety of the match, they have lost only once. Football is about partnerships and this duo are as good as any in the league at the moment and give tremendous confidence to the midfield, full backs and goal keeper. In fact the only time that Arsenal looked in danger yesterday was when Wojciech Szczęsny fumbled the ball twice presenting Tottenham with excellent opportunities, gladly both were spurned.

The game had exploded into life on 72 seconds when Tomáš Rosický exchanged passes with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and fired a rocket into the top left hand corner, Oxlade-Chamberlain had an excellent opportunity minutes later when he found himself clear, with just the keeper to beat. Proving that he can put a foot wrong, Alex tried a clever lob when he had time to round the keeper. This was a frustrating miss, but we did have the chance to see Tim Sherwood impersonating Basil Fawlty in the immediate aftermath. Barney Ronay was spot on in The Guardian this morning: "On this evidence Sherwood has not lost the dressing room but is instead leading it very eagerly and at high speed down a dead-end country lane with a crate full of energy drinks in the boot of the car."
Because Tottenham did indeed enjoy the lion's share of possession and the statistics give credence to Sherwood's insistence that "we were robbed guv". Sherwood is a passionate, but limited coach. There were an awful lot of long balls smashed towards Adebayor and his decision to play Chadli centrally and Eriksen (their best player) wide sums him up, the emphasis is on hard work and getting the ball to the front quickly. His plight reminds me of that of David Moyes, another earnest hard working man that doesn't quite get it (Mata as a winger?)

This was Arsène Wenger's 999th game in charge of Arsenal and he was delighted with the result but is wise enough to compartmentalise the performance:
"Tottenham played very well. We had an early lead and we were juggling between protecting the lead and finishing the game off. We absorbed a lot of pressure from Tottenham, they gave everything and we needed a special resilience and good defensive performance.
"It was an unbelievable start with Tomas Rosicky's goal coming from nowhere. Tottenham put the effort in and had the quality to go forward but I don't feel they had a lot of clear-cut chances.
"It was a must-win game. We maintained the focus to not make the mistake that would cost us."
Football is doing what's necessary and this game illustrated that Arsenal do have a Plan B, and aren't afraid to use it when needed. This is especially relevant with Arsenal's next fixture being an away game at Chelsea.
By Ian Byrne
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Nicolas Anelka - A Sad Tale - Where did it go right?

Nicolas Sébastien Anelka was born 35 years ago yesterday, 12 miles west of Paris, close to Versailles. It was sad, but no surprise, to hear about the latest episode in Anelka's troubled career a couple of hours ago; namely that he had quit West Bromwich Albion and that he had chosen to do so via the medium of twitter.

I remember hearing about Anelka in 1997 - he'd been picked up for £500,000, when word was starting to filter out from the club that Arsenal had managed to sign something really special. The word was that his pace made Ian Wright look like a goalpost and his finishing was deadly, he was likened to a Van Basten but faster. 

Anelka broke into the Arsenal team in the double winning year of 1997-1998. Ian Wright was injured and the manager had no hesitation in blooding Anelka and giving him a sustained run in the team. He announced himself to the football public by scoring the first goal (always the most important in any game) in the home match against Manchester United in November 1997, a 3-2 victory, and quickly became pivotal to Arsenal's style. Wenger had been working on the concept of "stretching" teams to a point of disorientation which he was able to do with the power of Petit and Vieira as a base in midfield, the pace out wide of Marc Overmars and, critically, the burst of acceleration Anelka could summon up in an instant through the middle. Before the rest of the league could work out what was happening, Arsenal had won ten on the bounce and a league and cup double. The season after, Anelka was still the club's top scorer, albeit in an understandably anti-climatic year.

 In life, it's all too easy to consider what might have been, but if we apply the guessing game to Anelka's career, what if he had stayed at Arsenal for another two or three seasons? Selfishly, Arsenal would have won more as it was clear that Wenger was building his team behind, as opposed to around Anelka. However, I think that it would have given Anelka more time to adapt to the spotlight with the careful guidance of our manager and the comfort blanket that Arsenal tries to provide for it's players.

Sadly for him, he had brothers like Claude and Didier. The brothers were desperate to cash in on their prize sibling asset and Nicolas seemed all too supplicant. He was, in effect hawked around Europe to the highest bidder, at times he was on the cusp of joining Juventus, then Lazio, finally, he joined Real Madrid for £22.3 million, almost the exact amount it cost to build Arsenal's new training centre, aptly named the "Nicolas Anelka Training Centre" by Bob Wilson. 

From there, the story goes like this:

Real Madrid: Starts well, falls out with coach, players and fans and incurs a 45 day match ban for refusing to train. Transferred (for £22 million) to:

PSG, where his career began: Falls out with the coach, French international hero Luiz Fernandez, moves to:

Liverpool, on a protracted loan basis, where he plays intermittently for 30 months before the club decide not to offer him full time terms and he moves for £13 million, to:

Manchester City, a record signing for the Citizens at the time (drop in the petro-dollar ocean these days...) where he actually enjoys his best spell of football (apart from his Arsenal career), but then, rather inexplicably he moves to: 

Fenerbache for £7 million, then Bolton (for heaven's sake!) for £8 million and Chelsea for £15 million. After this there are spells at Shanghai Shenhua, Juventus and finally, West Brom.

All in all, that adds up to £87 million of transfer fees and given that the accepted wisdom is that a player sees 15% of that in signing on fees, that's just over £13 million in Anelka's (or his brothers back pockets). Not bad.

If you google Anelka "images" you're bombarded with pictures of him doing the "quenelle" that landed him a five game ban, characteristically crass and stupid.

The point is, Anelka on form was a top, top footballer, fast, explosive actually, tactically intuitive and with a fantastic power in his shot, remember the goal he scored against Arsenal at the Reebok from 30 yards out? Furthermore, since his conversion to Islam, his team mates at the club he's played at, testify to his humility, decency and consideration. Unfortunately for him, his decision making and more importantly, his attitude have stunk the place out too many times when it mattered. I'm not sure what he'll do next, but perhaps, when he's sitting on a beach somewhere nice, thinking about whether or not to appear in the French version of Celebrity Big Brother, he'll wonder, "why didn't I listen to that nice Mr Wenger?"

By Ian Byrne

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Tottenham V Arsenal - The North London Derby

Sunday at 4.00pm, those Arsenal supporters lucky enough to have secured a ticket will be standing in the Park Lane Stand, some having had a few cheeky lagers in the Elmhurst. The atmosphere will be characteristically toxic, from both sides, and the noise level will be deafening. This is one of the greatest matches in world football.
Critics like to cite the Old Firm as the most passionate British derby, but they miss the essential difference between that match and this one: this is a territorial dispute, with a lingering sense from Tottenham supporters that Arsenal are the late comers, arrivistes with no natural home in North London, Arsenal moved to Highbury in 1913. Having watched North London Derbies at three grounds, I can testify that they are every bit as nasty, fantastic, violent and glorious as Celtic V Rangers, Barca V Real, and Liverpool V United.

This fixture has always been feisty; for both sets of supporters (and especially those from the boroughs of Islington and Harringey), it's about bragging rights, but in recent years, the derby has had real teeth, as the outcome of matches has decided which team qualifies for the holy grail of the European Champions League. This season will be no different, going into the game Tottenham are fifth with 53 points, Arsenal are six points clear of Tottenham (with a game in hand) and in third. This buffer indicates that, barring a really bad run of form, Arsenal's ECL qualification looks promising, this year I think it will take a minimum of 70 points to stay in the top four and therefore Arsenal need 11 points from 10 games. So this season, it's more about Arsenal damaging Tottenham's chances of qualifying for the prestigious European competition, while shoring up their own.
Both teams have had a troubling week in their respective European competitions. Arsenal knocked out by Bayern Munich, Tottenham needing a minor miracle in Portugal having been beaten by Benfica and this following on from a 4-0 thrashing at Chelsea. Arsenal will be missing: Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey, Walcott and probably Gibbs, Tottenham will be missing Dawson, Lamela and Capoue, but despite Arsenal being without more high profile players, I think that their starting eleven should still be stronger.

I believe that there are two deciding factors most likely to affect the outcome of the game: the centre forwards and the referee. Arsenal will start with the always game Giroud, Tottenham, the despised Adebayor. Whichever, is sharper, more mobile and more aggressive may win the day. However, the man in the middle may also be influential. I've written about this before, but in a nutshell, when Mike Dean officiates Arsenal matches, the club win less than 10% of them , as opposed to about 68% with other referees.

The last time the two teams played each other, Sherwood elected for two banks of four and his team was comprehensively out-passed and out-thought by a fluid Arsenal side. He won't repeat the mistake, he'll crowd the midfield and when Arsenal have possession, will get as many white shirts behind the ball as possible, trying to play on the break. There should be penalties, but will there be? We'll see....

Having said that the strikers will be crucial, one game changer could be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He is on fire at the moment, the highlight of the performance in Germany was the aggressive runs he made through the Bayern midfield and if he continues this form and is given a degree of protection from the referee, Alex could be very decisive.

My take on it? 2-1 to the lads from Islington.

By Ian Byrne

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Bayern Munich V Arsenal - Mission Impossible?

The first task facing Arsenal as they prepare for this European Champions League game is just how seriously to take the prospect of defeating, probably, the best team in Europe. Bearing in mind Arsenal are now clear favourites for the FA Cup, still in contention (just) in the Premiership and facing a huge North London Derby on Sunday, would they be forgiven for assuming fortune will takes it's course and fielding a weaker eleven tonight in the Allianz Arena?

Of course they won't, Arsenal are managed by Arsene Wenger who, despite coming across like football's leading technocrat, is as much of a romantic about the beautiful game as the bulk of people reading this blog. Furthermore, Arsenal will be buoyed by the knowledge that they beat Bayern last season and by a scoreline that would take the match to extra time this evening and Wenger also owes it to the few thousand Arsenal supporters that will have travelled to Bavaria yesterday and today. So, let's assume that Arsenal will be taking the game very seriously indeed, for starters, the derby game is at 4.00pm on Sunday afternoon.
Much will have been made by the football media about Mr Wenger's comments before the match about the impact of the referee and his assistants on tonight's game. I think Wenger's comments were well judged in that he was very much reading from the "manager's guide book", by applying subtle (or perhaps not) pressure on the man in the middle pre-game. In truth, Arsenal have played more than a few European Champions League matches with 10 men. In the main, the red cards have been warranted. Wojciech Szczęsny's red card in the first leg was probably right, Arjen Robben just made sure of the big Pole's departure with his reaction to the peripheral contact with Arsenal's keeper.
However, I was in the Stadio San Paolo in December last year and felt that Arteta's sending off was harsh, this being a vital game that doomed Arsenal to the second pot in the draw making a clash with a club of Bayern's calibre a certainty. More pointedly to support Mr Wenger's argument, I was in the Nou Camp four years ago, when the referee made the preposterous decision to book Robin Van Persie for a second time for kicking the ball away - madness. Although Mr Wenger doesn't appear to subscribe to conspiracy theories, he's far too analytical for that, he evidently does harbour, as do I, a sneaking suspicion that UEFA love the really big, tier 1 clubs: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich etc..
So by talking about his fears for refereeing neutrality, he is "playing the game" and I would fully expect a manager of his experience and pedigree to do so. He has also mirrored, albeit in a calmer, more reserved manner, Manuel Pelligrini's concerns over selecting a referee from Scandinavia for a match of this importance. We'll have to wait and see, if he's right. All eyes on Mr Svein Oddvar Moen.
In the first leg, Arsenal played well for 20 minutes, but when they went down to 10 men, Bayern's class told and they showed great quality and patience, before carving open the north London team. After he missed the weekend's FA Cup quarter final, Arsenal will be pleased to welcome back Koscielny for this match. The French international's perceptive skills and his ability to step in and intercept danger will be critical tonight. I remember his performance against Barcelona at The Emirates, four years ago, which allowed Arsenal to take a 2-1 lead to Catalonia - he was exceptional. To marshall Tony Kroos et al, Koscielny and his defensive partners will have to be at their very best this evening and I also believe that the match calls for Tomáš Rosický's mix of tactical nous, passing ability and game reading skills.
It looks very likely that Thomas Vermaelen will play at left back, which means that a degree of cover will be necessary as he isn't a natural full back in any sense. Mesut Özil made a brief to return to form on Saturday in the FA Cup and Santi Cazorla looked very spiky and dangerous, the other player that should get a shirt tonight is young Alex Chamberlaine, who was prominent in the win over Everton, but can't afford any of the clumsy errors which featured in his performance at The Emirates.
I feel that this is very much a game where the team that scores the first goal will have an excessive impact on the outcome. If Bayern score first, the ties is theirs, if Arsenal can get to half time at 0-0 and then score early in the second half, who knows? However, ultimately, as you win very big games from the bench (Bayern's is very strong, Arsenal's far less so), I think that, sadly, Arsenal will need to see the FA Cup is the best route to silverware this season.
By Ian Byrne
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Arsenal V Everton - What's wrong with being a good Cup side?

Arsenal host Everton in the FA Cup this weekend. I was tempted to write a piece about whether or not our esteemed manager would field a weakened side with the trip to Bayern Munich in mind and therefore blow the chance of continuing in a cup competition we can win, to strengthen our team in a cup competition we can't. However, I think that's unfair, I expect the manager to field a strong side on Saturday, although the injury to Jack Wilshere will have interrupted his plans. As an aside, just how many Arsenal players have been injured in pointless international friendlies?

The FA Cup as we all know, is the last trophy Arsenal won, in 2005. Arsenal were comprehensively outplayed by Manchester United and won on penalties, very un-Arsenal like and all the better for that. There's an old phrase in football: "they are a decent cup side but won't challenge for the league" but I was  wondering, that given our trophy drought, whether that being a "good cup side" was such a bad thing?

Over thirty years ago, Arsenal made it to three successive FA Cup finals, 1978, 1979 and 1980 as well as a Cup Winner's Cup final in 1980, (winning only one of them). The club's final league placing in those seasons was respectively, 5th, 7th and 4th. Arsenal were a good cup team, but they were never going to challenge for the title. Scroll forward 13 years and the club again reached four finals over a three year period (winning three this time) and Arsenal's league positions in these seasons was: 10th, 4th and 12th. So, no challenge for the title there either.

The late 1970's side was managed by Terry Neill. Belfast born, Neill played for the club from a junior, signing in 1959 and leaving in 1970. After two years managing another North London club, Neill was recruited by Arsenal in 1976 and was only 34 when he took over the reigns. He built a team that was easier on the eye after the more "traditional" style favoured by Bertie Mee. Neill gave ex-youth players like Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton, Graham Rix and David O' Leary a regular start in the team as well buying in established talent like Pat Jennings, who another north London team bizarrely thought was over the hill at the age of 32, Malcom MacDonald and Alan Sunderland.

The team had flair, I always thought principally because of Liam Brady, but the ball was moved quickly, this Arsenal team actually passed the ball really well and in MacDonald, Sunderland and Stapleton Arsenal had three excellent forwards, the defence waas also very solid. Looking back, I can't see why this team didn't finish further up the table in the late 70's, although at the time, Liverpool had a team which won league titles as well as three European Cups in four years.

Nevertheless, this Arsenal team should have won more, the side beaten by Ipswich Town in 1978 was cut down with illness and in 1980, we didn't turn up against a West ham side playing out of their skin. But three successive finals was a great achievement and the1979 final (the five minute final), was fantastic.

By the time Neill had been replaced by Don Howe in 1983, (he managed to limp on after finishing third in season 1980/1981), Arsenal didn't look like winning anything, the Clock End used to cheer corners, as goals always looked unlikely. George Graham arrived and built a team that did challenge for the title and won two, 1988-89 (the most exciting game I've seen) and 1990-91, when Arsenal lost only once all season. In May 1991, Arsenal were two games away from a double, but played poorly against another side from north London, giving away a two goal lead.

George Graham was said to decide at the outset of a new season which trophy the club would set it's sights on and then focus the squad/team towards it's singular aim. In 1993, Arsenal developed double vision as it won a unique domestic cup double, beating Sheffield Wednesday in each final, the FA Cup being won after a replay. A year later, George must have decided that European silverware was most important and Arsenal beat Parma in the final of the Cup Winner's Cup, beating a far superior Parma side (we were hammered but Smudger scored in the 20th minute and somehow Arsenal held out). It's interesting to remember that our midfield that night in Copenhagen comprised: Paul Davis, Ian Selley and Steve Morrow. Morrow was 23 and Selley 19.A year later, Arsenal were beaten by Real Zaragoza. 

Just over two years later, Arsene Wenger was made manager and the rest is (recent) history. Wenger has won the FA Cup four times and as an avowed lover of English football, has always gone on record to acknowledge how special the competition is. It would therefore be rewarding to see him put his money where his mouth is, with a strong team selection on Saturday.

By Ian Byrne

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Arsenal V Stoke - Time for a Speed Merchant

I rarely enjoy matches involving Arsenal and Stoke City. Yesterday was certainly no exception, okay the penalty was "Old Traffordish", but over 90 minutes an Arsenal team blessed with some fantastic talent hit the target twice - that's not good enough.

I am a big supporter of Olivier Giroud, he is an all heart centre forward, who leads the line with genuine courage and his work rate is top notch. He has 12 goals to his credit this term and in a team where there are no other credible attacking options, he has to shoulder alot of the burden. Giroud is an old fashioned English centre forward.

In the early 90's having worked with Alan Smith and Niall Quinn for a few seasons George Graham, saw the opportunity to recruit Ian Wright and in one move, changed how Arsenal played. Quinn was always "game" and Smudger was a top player, but both would lead the line in the same manner that Giroud does today. Essentially, they play off the centre half, often with their backs to goal, seeking to play in supporting midfielders and then spin the defender to get on the end of the resulting pass. They do this because they lack the raw speed to ghost past defenders. It's not a weakness, it's a fact. Wrighty was phenomenally quick and Arsenal started stretching teams and centre halves hated marking Ian, and how many times did he score the first, vital goal?

Arsenal are crying out for a forward to complement big Olivier with his missing ingredient: pace. It's the one aspect of our game that is become glaringly obvious; Mesut Özil became a superstar in Spain by playing balls into Christiano Ronaldo which were usually converted into goals. We don't have the funds (yet) to buy CR9, or Luis Suarez, but I'm assuming that Arsenal's multi-million scouting system, should be able to pinpoint a couple of players who play centrally and are genuinely quick.

I didn't realise just how much we would miss Theo Walcott, and to be honest, I'm not his biggest fan, but he is vastly improved over the last two seasons and if he'd been available even as a substitute yesterday afternoon, would have given Stoke's back four kittens. Without Walcott, we are starting to look slightly pedestrian and a tad predictable, and when you display these characteristics, teams like Stoke, even with neanderthals like Charlie Adam can match you.

I believe that we will continue to make a challenge for the title in that we will turn up for every game and we'll qualify for the Champions League, but win the title? No chance. We're two to three players short (fast striker and two defenders), but with those players, we're closer than we've been for years. Giroud still has a big part to play at Arsenal, and there are some matches, or rather periods in matches, when he is exactly the leader that you need, I'd also be keen to see him play alongside a genuinely fast striker.

But make no mistake, that striker has to be signed in the summer.

By Ian Byrne

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

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