So, gonna kick this off with a bit of a moan this morning. Obviously yesterday’s article was a bit of a beast and generally, with a beast article you get some beastly criticism.
‘Yu are torking shit’
Which is a perfectly acceptable way to take down a 2000 word essay on a Monday morning. However, just for the record, I’d like to layer some context over what I write and explain a few things.
Firstly, this is a blog, written by an amateur who has no desire whatsoever to become a journalist. I like blogging, it’s fun and it gives me the chance to share my passion for total Arsenal immersion. We started out 7 years ago and have written something daily since then. Over the years, it’s given the site access to some pretty amazing people and experiences. So generally, the structure to what I write here is a piecing together of a jigsaw puzzle that’s been accruing pieces for 7 years.
You don’t have to believe what I write. You can disagree with the points. You can demand I provide digital evidence of the issues that go on at the club. I can’t do that. Pat Rice isn’t at the club anymore and Jack Jebb and I aren’t on speaking terms.
However, it’s important to know that I get around. I live in London and have been afforded access to many things. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of a tour of the training ground. I was shown the facilities with Colin Lewin and Gary O’Driscoll. Good times. Did I land a playing contract? No. Did I get to see the world class training facilities? Yes. Was it clear that medical staff don’t injure players? Yes.
Ok, so if medical people don’t injure players, who does? Well, Arsene Wenger has gone on record (Arsenal.com) as saying he intensely trains players to get the best out of them towards the end of games. Tony Colbert brags about having players fit for the last ten for the additional goals we score. The club also have GPS tech and Wenger has gone on record at least twice talking of ignoring redzone data. Even this season, David Hytner said that Aaron Ramsey was played despite being in the redzone. Now, with a bit of investigation into sport science, it’s not difficult to find out detail about the basics. If you overwork players, they break or under perform. Simple as that. Then you have programmes like the Footballers Football show who have the heads of fitness for Chelsea, Liverpool and Leeds. All talking about recovery, strength and conditioning and diet. Top people giving their view on a fairly new discipline for football. All looked to be under the age of 40. Who is our man? Tony Colbert. Have you read his bio on the Arsenal website? Compare it to Ryland Morgans on Liverpools. Chalk and cheese.
Again, piece it together. Arsenal have almost double the injuries that last longer than a week than the nearest team in the league. Aaron Ramsey breaks down before he returns from injury, Jack Wilshere had a double break down two years ago and Thomas Vermaelen did. What’s that telling you? How about the talk of Robin having his own fitness coach. Cesc wanting his own fitness coach. Smoke without fire?
That isn’t enough? Well how about looking at how often we’ve come out of the traps since December. We are slow, we lack zip and we look a million miles away off teams like Everton, Liverpool and City. Now, I’d be game for just saying it’s a player thing, but these players didn’t look like that earlier on in the season. Giroud was a monster at the start of the year. Arsenal pressed hard at the start. Where has that gone?
Does it take a genius here to see that something is flawed in the way our players are trained? I don’t think so. Can I confidently tell you I sit in on those training sessions? No. But if you take the circumstantial evidence, it’s not hard to see there’s a problem there. I mean, even the manager says they’re going to investigate what they’re doing.
How about players rotation? Again, this is another point meshed in with training. But look at the injuries we’ve had this season. Rambo, Theo, Aaron, Koscielny and Jack. Jack aside, those players were all beasted in some way, shape or form with regards to on pitch playing time. It was clear at the time, and I wrote it, that those guys would get injured if they didn’t get rotated. Sure enough, they picked up injuries. How did I know they’d get injured?
… because Wenger beasts players every single year! This season isn’t an anomaly. It’s the norm!
Now, that Raymond chap who is the expert rent-a-quote guy when it comes to fitness issues beasted Arsene when it came to the Theo issue. My pals who support other clubs mailed me the quotes, ‘Theo comes back from injury and then plays 5 games in 16 days, then he picks up an injury’. Until it’s slapped in your face, you don’t realise how kamikaze it is. Then you start layering the same thought process over our other players. Chambo played a similar amount of games for us recently culminating in the Chelsea disaster. Is it a coincidence that player coming back from injury exhaust quickly? How can the club not be picking up on these patterns?
I guess the final nail in the coffin for me with the rotation thing was the selection for the Coventry game. He has Ozil, a player famed for only playing 60minutes, playing all the games, looking dead on his feet… and he plays him for the full 90 in the cup against a league 2 side. Along with Rosicky, Jack, Kos and Mertesacker. What a joke! The most incredible selection ever!
Then with things like having a game plan. I’ve always insisted we don’t have one, because it’s pretty clear we don’t. Ian Wright said on Talksport last night he didn’t do any opposition analysis under Wenger. Cesc Fabregas came out after the world cup and said we don’t do analysis. Yet the myth is still perpetuated Wenger is some sort of super analyst. We’ve seen countless times this season the manager clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing when it comes to planning. We’ve never won the Champions League, despite, at one point, having the best team in the world.
Gary Neville tore Arsenal a new one last night on tactics. He also made the most obvious point the other week on Twitter when he said something along the lines of, ‘you can have all the skill, but without power and pace, you won’t win the league’. Again, these aren’t things you need to be told by a professional footballer, you can see it with your own eyes.
With regards to the backroom set up of the club, again, I’m not working there, but it’s pretty apparent the game has come on a long way in the last 5 years. The fact that Arsenal have been falling behind for ten is besides the point. Take a read of Soccernomics and read about top clubs approach to transfers and managerial set up. It’s not about the individual manager anymore, it’s about the team around him. Is this new wave thinking? Of course not. It’s how business has worked for decades. Now look at Arsenal’s set up. The same people, on-going, for 17 years. Look at how many assistants Ferguson had. Look at how many went onto better things. Look at our backroom team. It’s old. Very old. Look at the problems, the same, all the time. What’s the correlation here? Every year the backroom team stays the same, every year we get further away.
Barcelona have a committee of people that work on the backroom stuff. They decide on transfers like a proper business. Arsene Wenger strictly doesn’t believe anyone should have control outside himself. He’s on record as saying so. So would it be fair to say that someone who talks of authoritarian rule probably enacts it? Of course! That’s not just a guess either, I’ve sat with people like Alex Fynn who wrote a fantastic book on the manager. I’ve met with player agents feedback some great stories, I get to speak to journalists who feed me the bits they can’t publish. It’s incredible what you hear! When I podcasted with Simon Kuper (Soccernomics cowriter), he said Arsene is the last manager at a top European club who controls like a king.
Then you get into the detail of how top sports clubs work and it’s really interesting, because it is exactly the same way top marketing agencies work. A marketing agency is all about the talent. Simple as that. Top talent goes, so does the agency reputation. Same with football. Heritage means little if you have crap players and staff. Last season, I had the pleasure of working closely with a professional sports club. The way they operate is very similar to the best football clubs. The CEO builds a team around the strengths and the weaknesses of the manager. Arsene Wenger has a great footballing vision, but he’s crap at the tactics. So why not build team around him that can take on board his footballing vision and layer it with a bit of substance? We consistently have issues with our keepers. So here’s an idea, why not ask the question… what’s going on with the keeping coach? He’s the only consistent over the years along with regressive keepers.
There is stuff all over the web if you dig deep enough, mainly in tech magazines, but this article in Wired was excellent and I’m going to try and get one of these guys to chat to me on a podcast. This is Simon Wilson on his vision at City.
“After a game there wasn’t any kind of analysis. Emotionally, the manager and the coaching staff would just draw a line and move on. It was part of the culture. They wouldn’t ask themselves if the game plan had been right or even well executed. My team of analysts had to fight that habit and create a continuous loop between what happened in games, why it happened and what we are going to do next time.”
Tell me people, does it look like Arsene has ever challenged his game plan? Of course it doesn’t. We’ve come undone spectacularly in the same way 4 times this season. We never ask if the game plan is right. We never learn. We never challenge norms. We never look to evolve what we do. I mean, maybe I’m totally fucking wrong here, but who is our Manager of Strategic Analysis? Do we have one? Is that what Boro gets up to? Is Gerry Peyton running this as a sideline? Just to give you a bit more detail, that guy runs 5 departments. Yep. 5 DEPARTMENTS! Liverpool have a director of research, called Ian Graham, who has a PhD in theoretical physics. The Guardian had this piece on Roberto Martinez…
‘Aged 40, with a postgraduate diploma in business and marketing from Manchester University – attained while he was a player at Wigan – you might expect him to be a passionate advocate for analytics. The Numbers Game describes Martínez as a “hero” and its authors, Chris Anderson and David Sally, devote a chapter to his work as Wigan manager, which they approvingly call “Guerrilla Football”‘
Call me a total chancer here, but I think if you look at the information available, we’re quite a long way off our rivals. We don’t have those departments on our website. If we do have those departments, who is using the information? Who is analysing what went wrong at Everton and feeding it back into the manager? I’ve no idea. But the simple fact of the matter is you don’t have to be Columbo to draw pretty damning conclusions.
… and look, if someone wants to take any of this down with a comment that sits outside, ‘I refuse to believe it’ then go ahead, I’m all ears.
I’ve seen the training ground, it’s world class. I’ve met the medical team. They didn’t treat my hernia, but they clearly know their stuff. I’ve sat with Ivan and I rate him and don’t believe he’s oblvious to all this. His backroom team are world class. I’ve met people who’ve marketed Nike and Pepsi. Surely he recognises that Arsene hasn’t taken the same approach to his team? Surely he can see that things aren’t working? Because I’m a total amateur here with nothing more than an obsession about the game… and I can see that it’s pretty clear that things are going horribly wrong and no one is there to help Wenger. No one is talking to him on the bench. Wenger is so shell shocked, he doesn’t even get up in a game he’s being spanked in. Who is sitting with Wenger and delivering the news? Someone needs to be… because he’s floundering.
Anyway, a bit of an impassioned defence you can choose to either accept and investigate further yourself… or you can ignore. It’s your choice. I’m just piecing the obvious together. For me, it’s over for the manager, I don’t think, at 65, he has it in him to install an 11 person analysis team. I don’t think he wants someone in the company with a PHD. I don’t think he could deal with the emotional drain of sacking people who are clearly offering very little to the cause. I’m not sure he has the guts to go out and spend £140m on players that might have been suggested by someone outside his inner circle. I think it’s all too much… I think he might walk.
I might be wrong though. All this information, from all these different places, might be a case of me piecing together a story that doesn’t exist.
I doubt it though. I seriously doubt it.
If it looks like a mess, performs like a mess… chances are, it’s a fucking mess.
See you in the comments.
Tomorrow, we talk the fixture run in…