Arsenal are Riding on their Survival Instinct, but Where is their Killer Instinct?


I can just imagine how, going back about two decades ago when the Arsenal Board conveyed a special meeting on ways to position the club to take the greatest advantage of the nascent global outreach of the Premier League, one smart fellow in the BoD must have come up with a strange name, Arsene Wenger. Arsene who? Equipped with facts and figures, and with a gift of the gab, that smart guy, I imagine, must have swayed the listening Board members from downright scepticism to a bullish mood: they couldn’t wait to see and hear from this great economist who was also managing football on the field. He was, the BoD must have enthused, exactly what the time needed. Football and finance were becoming inseparable and this ‘Arsene Who?’, looked every inch their fused incarnate.

Arsene arrived. The blue print was established. In came Overmars, Vieira, Ljungberg, Henry and others, and in a flash Arsenal football team was winning laurels and rubbing shoulders with the mighty Manchester United. Arsenal, within those few years of Wenger’s appearance on the scene, had attained the critical velocity required to join first class the globalization train with all its commercial benefits. But the BoD, now with the compelling voice of Wenger, also looked around and saw the match day ticket-takings of Europe’s super teams, and knew that with time they would be found out and thrown out. A larger capacity stadium had to be quickly put in place. But that would mean losing the muscle power to bring in the Overmarses, the Vieiras, the Henrys; and so did we start investing in youth, bringing in the Van Persies, the Fabrigases, the Denilsons, the Songs.

That also meant recalibrating our targets. To keep riding on the globalization train, we needed to keep our Champions League appearances going. We redefined our boundaries and in the process reshaped our mentality to being content keeping our heads above the waters of the Europa League and the out-of-Europe competitors. The club lost its juggernaut instinct that created the Invincibles and instead was content to just get by. On the field, we ceased to be a raging fire that consumed everything on its path.

Of course, the idea was that when the new stadium gets going we would again recalibrate our targets upwards and swing back sustainably to the summit of European football. As simple as that, they must have thought, failing to contend fully with the might of something called the force of inertia which force we are now up against. After over 10 years of being content with just keeping head above waters, the BoD has gotten pinned down by this inertia. Psychologically they are finding it difficult switching gears to a new level. The player recruitment policy is head locked by this force. The amount of money to be budgeted on players, existing or as targets, is entangled with this inertia. So, pervading and surreptitious is this force that our coaching crews must be victims also, explaining why our players on the field feel cosy at 0-0 against the opposition, only to wake up when they find themselves trailing with 25 minutes to go as their survival instincts kick in. Gone a long time ago the killer instinct of the Invincibles that smelt blood just at the sight of the prey. We need to become the beast again. Leading 3-0, with the opponent demoralized, is when to get even more ferocious while stinging like a scorpion should not be reserved for only when we are trailing Bournemouth by three goals That’s the difference that makes the champ. The king of the jungle is blessed with plenty of the killer instinct. When it brings down its prey it goes for its jugular. When it gets wounded, reduced to 10 men, it sees its own red and transforms into a wounded lion, a creature of evil omen. It never whimpers.

I can see a ray of hope in this 2016/17 season. The fierce competition of the top six teams is that ray. Dropping out of the top four this season is a spectre that is unrelentingly dwelling with us, so much so, that our survival instinct is all alive driving us forward so fast that we might even breast the tape ahead of all. Crunch time is near. Wenger has already said that every Premier league match remaining is for his team a cup final. I can bet his eyes are fixed on the rear mirror, not straight ahead, a victim still of that powerful force of inertia. Candidly, I don’t mind our winning the championship by default i.e. through a wrong mentality, because the winning of it would provide the impulse that would bring back the killer instinct of our invincible era. Otherwise, it would have become time enough to start talking of a major strategic overhaul in the system that is carefully contrived to unshackle the club from its psychological barrier. We want to ride first class on this amazing EPL transcontinental train. We have tasted it before and nothing else will now do.

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Double Glory Days

By Pony Eye

Arsenal’s Youth Policy: Does it Serve Our Needs as it Should?

Discussion Post–Arsenal’s Youth Policy; Does it Serve Our Needs as it Should?


Thanks, in advance, for reading…As an “incentive” for getting through all these words, I’ll preview the conclusion… A shift towards a more aggressive (in my opinion) youth recruitment policy might be a chance for the club to move Arsene Wenger OUT of management and into a new role…

Here at Bergkampesque, a more “participatory” blog than most, there’s been a large drop off in, well, participation.  In part, I think, this can be attributed to the frustrations many Gooners are feeling with the very disappointing start to the season after a reasonably promising summer.  Our depleted squad has been tested–repeatedly–and found wanting.  Now we face a week off before our next make or break run of fixtures.  Will we go on a run and get back into sniffing distance of the league leaders (if they stumble), or will the couple of nice results before this little break be just another false dawn for the Arsenal?  The recent convincing wins–both by the same 4-1 score lines–albeit in a meaningless Champions League group match, and against a not very motivated looking Newcastle team, perhaps overly chuffed with beating some other London club the week before…may have dulled the points on the pitchforks, but certainly haven’t mollified the masses…

On this site, although there is a diversity of opinion about the manager, there is also an acceptance that nothing will change quickly, mostly because the board and the principal shareholder seem perfectly pleased by financial results.  Additionally, we have a small cadre of writers (including myself) who do not have a great tolerance for the usual arguments and highly repetitive one-liners trotted out after each disappointing result.  As such, those would-be new members of the BK community who come here to “blow off steam” or otherwise rant about our “woeful” situation are sometimes challenged.  It doesn’t mean we’re a happy lot but just that we attempt to take a wider view.

After all, how many different ways can we point the finger at the manager and suggest that all would be solved with a new man at the helm?   A lot, it appears…

The winner this autumn has been the myriad variations on the criminal activities of the manager at the rear positions.  Despite spending 16 million pounds on Calum Chambers and 12 million on Mathieu Debuchy (not to mention 4 million on David Ospina in goal),  “Should’ve bought defensive cover” is the mantra of the I-know-more-than-the-manager brigade.   It replaces that chestnut of the past few years, “Fire the physio,” even if the new guy in that arena, Chad Forsythe, is walking a tightrope as twangy as Aaron Ramsey’s hamstring or Laurent Koscielny’s achilles tendons.  Good public relations work, in naming dates for a couple (of kissing?…) French fellows (Debuchy and Olivier Giroud) may yet save the German as they both came back early and strong.  If his countryman, Mesut Ozil, comes back on schedule (or ahead) and makes a good contribution in the New Year, those Gooners looking to blame the boss may have to buck up their ideas and find a new way to aim invective at the manager.  Already, however, the twin tines of  “We didn’t (or we won’t) spend enough (in the Summer or January),” seems on the tip of many a Gooner’s (pitch) forked tongues…

What’s interesting, around these parts at least, is that a small group of writers with a heavy interest in the development of young players and especially the development of young English players, has emerged.  Despite the troubles we’re having meeting the club’s expectations this seems a very good time to take an interest in Arsenal, if you enjoy watching these sorts of players and trying to predict who will make it on the big stage.

Arsenal’s overt recruitment of young British talent, even at oftentimes inflated prices, has yet to truly yield tangible results–both in our first team and for the National set-up–but the signs appear promising.  Clearly, finishing 3rd or 4th in the league is tiresome for Arsenal supporters, much as merely qualifying for the International tournaments is not enough for supporters of the Three Lions.  Still, players like Walcott, Gibbs, Welbeck, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chambers are already, or likely will be, core players for both club and country.  Guys out on loan, notably Jenkinson and Aneke, are huge contributors at their current clubs, while very young guys like Chuba Akpom and Dan Crowley are pouring in goals in the U-21 and U-19 matches.  A real favourite amongst many (see the proposed starting line-up mooted for the Newcastle match) is Isaac Hayden, a guy who surely would’ve made his league debut given injuries to our back line, but for one of his own.

Of course, many Arsenal watchers don’t limit their support of the youngsters to Englishmen.  19 year old Spaniard, Hector Bellerin, with 90 minute outings in the hostile environs of Dortmund and Istanbul, and a great display Saturday vs Newcastle, which included a 60 yard run capped by a stunning assist, will surely see more time with the first team despite his age.   17 year old Gideon Zelalem (who has yet to declare at full International level but seems to be leaning towards the crowded group fighting to play for the world champion German team) got another run out in Turkey after last year’s league cup debut.  Other international players are doing very well at the academy, including Semi Ajayi who took up a bench seat on a couple of occasions even if he hasn’t made his full bow yet.

All of this, of course, is merely review for the guys who watch the coverage of the reserve team or follow the excellent blog “Jeorge Bird’s Young Guns.”  And it is to you fellows I’m reaching out.

Arsene Wenger, who sometimes has been ridiculed for his, er, use or support of young players in the songs of opposing crowds, has also been skewered by his own for statements along the lines of, “We don’t buy because it would kill (insert name of player)…” or “We were a bit naive because we lack experience,” etc., etc.

Playing young players, especially too many all at once, can be a double edged sword which cuts deeply.  Additionally, the acquisition of young players (and then sending them out on loan) and the building of academies is a real frontier in the Wild West of football finances.  Benevolent owners can hide losses in such policies and projects under current Financial Fair Play rules while developing their own future stars AND a revenue stream from sales of the ones who don’t quite make the grade.  Moreover loan rules, which (in my opinion) desperately need reform, allow clubs down the financial pecking order to employ and develop players away from the (often harsh) floodlights of their home clubs’ stadiums.  This spares those who spend the relatively lavish sums to buy a seat at places like the Emirates or Stamford Bridge (Princes and Emirs themselves, at least relative to the more working class wages of the football fans of yesteryear) from having to watch young players “learn on the job,” as it were.

Chelsea are stockpiling talent and working the loan system at an unprecedented level.  Their group of players out on loan (26 in total, including some older guys, like 50 million pound purchase, Fernando Torres) could probably compete adequately to win the English Championship or other less powerful leagues.  Manchester City are augmenting their buy-him-to-try-him system (with a shadow squad of Bridges, Barrys, Rodwells, Johnsons and Sinclairs, etc.) to this:

In the decade since our last league title (won in spectacular, invincible style) and the move to the new stadium, Arsenal have endured a period of relative financial austerity, especially when compared to the lavish spending in South London or up in Manchester.  In this period our focus on youth development has been a bit of a bright spot.   Things looked especially good in the first season after the stadium move with an appearance in the final of the league cup and a narrow 2-1 loss to Chelsea.

Since then, however, things haven’t seemed as rosy and the second time we made that final, and also lost by a similar score line, it was to a club (Birmingham City) which would soon be relegated.  That one may have actually been a sizeable set-back, given that would-be young leader Szczesny, and Koz, were at fault for the loss and left the pitch in tears, respectively, surely not signs of maturity, in deed nor action.

This season has been a further test as injuries to experienced players like Ozil, Giroud, Debuchy, Koscielny and Arteta have given extended chances to many a young Gunner.  Results have been mixed (at best), and Arsenal approach the festive period in 6th position in the league and already eliminated from one of the kids’ best venues–the League Cup.  Even a moderately kind draw in the Champions League group stage didn’t result in substantial opportunities for the younger players.

In my opinion, we’re actually getting the worst of all worlds.  We spend big (relatively) on young talent but still spill points or otherwise sacrifice immediate results in the hopes that the young players we are using can come good.  We’re forced to use players who are too young or are hopelessly below Arsenal standards and we put them in situations which probably carry too much pressure given the demands of the fans who sit in the (famously) “highest priced seats in all of Europe.”  Now, even our travelling support have grown tetchy.  Hostilities on difficult trips no longer end at the final whistle.  Recent video footage, amidst shameful treatment of our manager, contained the hilarious warning to a young player, Joel Campbell, to wise up and leave the club.

That warning (“Get out while you can”) begs the question: what should Arsenal do with its youth players?  

Some here (notably a writer named “Steve”) seem to favour playing many of them, most all the time, no matter the results.  Others, including our own man of the horses and dogs, Gerry, scouts them like a handicapper and sees opportunities as the first team is challenged with injuries.  Still others demand that we recall players from loan spells as individual positions are depleted.  With the recall of Coquelin (and his appearance late on vs Newcastle this past Saturday), it appears management concurs.  As we’re not privy to the individual deals made with other clubs, it’s difficult to know what’s actually possible.

Certainly, between transfer windows, at least, bumping up kids from the under 21-s IS the way to go and sometimes, if they’ve got the inherent quality and they’re given enough support, a player can make the step up.  Given the success–and versatility–Hector Bellerin has shown in his last two outings, I’d expect him to be a regular presence on our bench (and in the FA Cup matches).  Given continued development he seems a very plausible back-up and successor to Debuchy (28 now) at RB.  (Calum Chambers, a young but expensive player, has by and large made the most of his opportunities, too, and may be Debuchy’s long term successor, if not used more in other positions.)

Bellerin and Chambers, however, I think, are exceptions to the rule.  Arsenal, if we aspire to become a world class club will likely need world-class players in every position, or as Jose Mourinho famously stated when he was awash in money during his first stint working under Russian Oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich, “I (we) want two world class players at every position.”  If Arsenal aspire to such heights, we likely need to buy or otherwise develop our players to the point that they are world class on the day they make their Arsenal (first team) debut.  If that means loaning out our most promising youth players, at the highest level possible and to clubs who might buy them, then so be it.  It’s not a sign that we don’t support our guys by suggesting that they must make a career elsewhere.

Personally I love to see guys like Seb Larsson–a guy who never played for the first team at Arsenal–find success at a club like Sunderland.  I much prefer his story to that of guys who played for us, but ultimately didn’t make the grade, and quietly moved on.  Where, for example is Larsson’s fellow Scandinavian, Nicklas Bendtner, this season?  This is only my opinion, of course, and others may have very different views.  This is a discussion post, after all.

Overall, until loan rules are changed, using other clubs (who have more immediate first team needs) seems the best way to develop and vet our best young players.  It’s a balancing act, of course, and an act of speculation on the player in question.

Buy low and sell high is the mantra of Capitalists and our owner (one of the best, in this realm at least…) and managers must try and follow this course.  We need to play this game at the highest possible level and also assume that our money allows us to treat almost all players at almost all clubs as if they’re on loan.  Yes, to get adequate players we may not get our exact favourite.  We may have to play one potentially world class player off against other would-be recruits and, be willing to lose them to offers from the clubs willing to pay (waste) even more money to hoover them into their shadow squads.  Still, I think we can likely improve upon options already at the club or among the small group of players we have on loan.

We need mature players, ready to take their chances.  No more “learning on the job” or making allowances for players simply because of their youth.  We shouldn’t have one standard for youth players and one for older guys.  If Mertesacker (or Arteta or Flamini) can’t race back or rise up and make a decisive intervention why do we cut him less slack than we do a guy like Bellerin or Chambers?  (It’s called age discrimination, if you’re wondering…) Time to “bed in” and get used to the league and its players, is one thing.  Playing young guys who clearly lack the physique or stamina or technique to play at the appropriate level is just as bad (or even worse, perhaps) than playing guys who are clearly past it.  

Moreover, this type of player acquisition seems an ideal way for a great man, with a great eye for young talent, to travel and find future world class Arsenal players.  Arsene Wenger is surely already trying to do this while he does his off season commentary work for French television.  If he were to continue this work (and perhaps–while he continues as our manager–brings a younger manager our way who might succeed him with the first team…) it might suggest a way he might continue to contribute to the growth of his–and our–club.

As such, youth policy might (indirectly) suggest a direction for management policy or for handling the inevitable retirement of our iconic manager.  Sorry, if that’s not really the Wenger Out conclusion I promised, but there you go… 😆

What say you, fellow Gooners?

Written by; 17highburyterrace

Why were so many off their normal game on Saturday?

Rotation v Fatigue

Giroud has often disappointed many Arsenal fans this season.
The hardest working Striker in the CL is seldom appreciated for the total impact on our game (comment TA).

Rotation? Do it to beat fatigue? Or don’t do it and ignore fatigue as long as possible?

Fatigue? Is it all in the mind? Or is it a genuine reason for under-performing?

I must admit I do find it strange that so many see fatigue, either as an irrelevance, or should not apply to professional footballers. So that is my starting point.

In almost any sport you care to mention, from Darts and Snooker through to Tennis and Track and Field events, those involved will, without exception, say that back to back performances get harder and harder. So why should footballers be any different?

Dart players need to concentrate to repeat actions over and over again. You may think that is simply a mechanical thing, so that if you practice a lot you don’t have to think about it. Well certainly practice helps. But in the pressure of performing in front of a live audience needs control of both emotions and their concentration level. Distractions can mean just the slight deviation in the flight of the throw that can mean victory or defeat? Repeated demands on the concentration levels always leaves its mark.

In snooker too: you are in a one on one situation, where you alternate between playing and not playing, but with a difference. You never know how long the sitting out periods may be. In darts, it is three arrows from your opponent and you are on. With snooker you can sit out a whole frame without getting your cue in action. You can play short round matches that may only last and hour. Or you can play the longer matches over two days, with several sessions a day. Worst still, you could be playing late into the night getting through one round, and then have to be ready to do the same again the following day. So even if the previous night was one of great satisfaction, and a great boost to the confidence level, if you have beaten a higher ranking opponent. But the records show that it is rarely repeated at that same level the next time. All snooker players can claim to have an advantage if they have just one day off between each match.

Moreover, with both these high intensity sports that lack the physical aspect, the victors at the end of a long tournament say they need a break. A physical break, before they can look forward to competing again.

But if you want to throw in the physical aspect on to an individual sport, then singles tennis events are probably the most demanding? The intensity of a partisan(?) crowd, the strength of your opponent, and often the climatic conditions are all their to test their mental strength. They too, see an advantage of having longer gaps between games than their opponents, irrespective of how they played previously. They too are drained at the end of a tournament where these demands are the most extreme.

With track athletes it is all about the physical performance. So they may have to stretch their stamina resources when they have two elimination rounds in one day. By the time the final rounds come along, it is usually the ones with the most ability that have been able to ease through the qualifying rounds, without extending themselves too much, that come out on top.

So when it comes to football, they not only have the physical effort to manage, but also the concentration levels too. Not for the two hours of a marathon runner, unless their is extra time, but way above the 10 seconds of the 100 metres sprint. Yes it is a team game, and the players are not involved all off the time, not to the physical extreme that is true. But the concentration level should always be on alert, because you can never be sure when you are going to have to make a tackle, or receive the ball. Fatigue in this area is what is so costly. An unexpected error will throw out what your fellow players were planning for, and that can be more draining on them?

So, just because professional footballers are well paid, have good facilities to train and recover from matches, does not mean that playing up to 95 minutes once a week does not leave them below their full level of all round fitness – mental and physical.

I have read that top football coaches think as much as 50% is lost by the following day. This is probably why if they do any training the next day, it is only light by nature? They then go on to say that by the second day, a player may recover 75% of what was lost in their last match. Which is still a significant drop, and will vary amongst the players. Another variable is just how demanding the previous game was? Another may be just how many demanding games have gone before the latest one? Travelling too, is not as relaxing after a bit of light training?

On top of all that you have the different demands that these factors are taking on the individual players. I said with the track athletes, if they are real top class performers they can breeze through their early rounds. However, the athletes that just scrape into the qualifiers are very unlikely to beat these same athletes in the final round because of the extra effort it took out of them? It is the same with teams of footballers. Some players will be stretching their ability in every game, while others are capable of making hard things look simple, because they can. So, a team of all round better players will be able to get through matches easier. That does not necessarily happen because of the ‘one off’ factor, when a lesser team has a game when it all comes together. But over the longer term, a full season, ‘the usual suspects’ are invariably somewhere near the top?

So, I ask again. Why is it so difficult to accept that football is a demanding game, and fatigue will play its part?

Take the run of games that Arsenal played:

Sunday match v Everton: Tough match, slightly added to (mentally) by not holding the late lead?

Tuesday fly out to Italy, probably still only 70% recovered?

Wednesday they played Napoli: tough game. Guess a %age below peak around 90%

Fly back early hours Thursday, now only 45% fit

Friday, just getting up to 65/70%?

Saturday, early kick off. What? 85% recovered, playing away from home against a very talented side.

Well, you know what happened. Does it make a bit more sense why so many were way off their normal game?

I hope so. Because this is why rotation is not just an option. Playing every 3 days will mean if we played the same 11 players for all these matches, there are some that will not make it past the third game, given they will not have recovered fully by the time the next game comes along, which compounds the drop in their ability to deliver once more.

The pros and cons of our run over this periods are: We have 3 good days to recover from the Chelsea game; Away match against West Ham, no real travelling; Unlike 2 good days, but match messed up by travel to Newcastle – the tricky tie I identified earlier.: We then have two good days, before we play Cardiff at home. The previous three results will help, but we are going to be down on our levels. Be warned, Cardiff will be fighting for their survival!: Next, FA Cup v Spurs will be just the tonic, even the most knackered will find something deep down for this one, albeit with only 2 good recovery days on top of all the rest. But then we get a 9 day break before our repeat fixture with the Villa.

A bad result against West Ham could mean one set of 11 players will be running on empty by the time the Cup match comes around.

So, all agreed? Rotation Rotation Rotation.

Done sensibly of course?

Written by: Gerry

Arsenal – Dortmund: a beautiful game and great learning opportunity

So what have we learned from our narrow defeat against last year’s CL runners up? Almost nothing, other than this team is still a work in progress, but has made progress nevertheless.

Arsenal played with a bit more tension and less fluidity than Dortmund, and that in my view made the marginal difference. Klopp is a top-top manager: second best in the world after Louis van Gaal. He knows how to make his players play in a system of football with clear tasks and expectations per position. If a top player leaves, he will find a quality replacement in no time and gets them to fit into the system incredibly fast, and that is what makes him such a good manager in my opinion. Arsene is more laissez-faire in his approach to ‘system-football’ as he allows his players more freedom to ‘express themselves’.

Dortmund was a well-oiled machine and if and when they won the ball back, they passed it better round than we did. We struggled with fluidity in the first half as too many passes went astray and we suffered from continuous miscommunication between the players. The fact that they were a tat nervous did not help either. But the boys fought back slowly but steadily and deserved their equaliser.

We had a great shape in the first half and gave away little. However, in the attacking third we struggled to combine effectively as the continuous and ferocious pressure of the Germans allowed us less time on the ball; and then, you need certain automatism to kick in (as our opponents demonstrated so effectively to us last night) which are not fully there yet. This will come, though, and I am sure the team will learn quickly. It is these sorts of games that will speed the gelling and finding each other automatically up for us.

Now, we can say that it is the little things that make the difference in games like these, but this is the case in most games. We can also say we would not have lost this game with Flamini in the team, or even won the game with Theo and Podolski available. Maybe this is so, but we just don’t know. We can also say, we should have played for a draw and remain more compact at the back; and although there is merit in this too, we could also have lost the game with exactly that approach after which we would have said we should have played for the win – attack is the best defence and all that sort of stuff. Hindsight smindsight.

What is most important: compared to the Munich home game, Arsenal have made tremendous progress and with a bit more luck we would not have lost, possibly even have won, this game. The team has made a lot of progress in a short period of time.

But Dortmund did not reach the CL final last year by luck and once a team has humiliated a team like Madrid, collective confidence levels go sky-high, and this will last for a while. At times we played better football than them, but unlike us, they were always in control and played with a better established and ‘oiled’ system, and that’s why they scraped past us, I reckon. Nothing to be ashamed of, though.

So let’s not go on and on about certain individual players who apparently underperformed on the night, or whether certain players are far more effective in another position than they played in yesterday. Let’s also not use this game as a ‘yardstick’ how good our team really is and see failure to win as evidence that our good run until now is down to just playing the lesser lights of the footballing world (as if there are anymore lesser lights).

Let’s just see this as a great game of football, at the highest possible level, that we were not far away from winning. Let’s see it as confirmation that the team has made great progress in the last twelve months and more is likely to come. Let’s see it as a great learning opportunity for the boys without too much immediate damage done. Just wait and see how the team will progress in the next few weeks as a result of this game: Liverpool will feel the full brunt in two weeks time.

And with regards to our CL group, we are at least the second strongest team and that will tell in the end.

Written by: TotalArsenal.