Thursday, 28 April 2016

Protest or No Protest - That Is The Question

In house fighting, protests, empty seats – safe to say, Arsenal football club isn’t the best place to be at the moment.

The atmosphere is quite toxic, yet I still keep going.

Being slightly controversial, the West Brom game at home was most enjoyable game I’ve been too recently – yes it had empty seats however, because of the situation, many kids had come with their parents, grasping the opportunity to watch Arsenal play. The enthusiasm shown by them was refreshing. There are probably too young to understand the politics and were funded by their parents so they just came for the Arsenal. They didn’t care if it’s Wenger out or Wenger in and probably have no idea what WOBS or AKBS are (mind you, it took me a while to understand – in game that I have been brought up to understand as something that is not black or white, yet…) and even cheered Theo Walcott! It helped that Arsenal won, and it was quite an easy evening on the pitch -  I wouldn’t go far as saying West Brom were hopeless but let’s say they were clearly saving their energy for their big game at White Hart Lane.

Don’t get me wrong, it was refreshing but I wished we were in a title race and right up there. Can you imagine the reaction with 60k packed in the ground and Arsenal chasing a title when the second Alexis goal goes in – it would have been magical.

We enter Saturday with the word ‘protest’ ringing in our ears – in fact, the word protest has been mentioned over 300k times on social media, admittedly only a small % would be Arsenal related but the word protest isn’t something Arsenal fans have come to see (much) in the last twenty years. There have been a few but this one feels different and much bigger.

It’s an interesting one – I’m a board member of the Arsenal supporters trust and despite what people think, we have a number of conversations behind the scenes, scan social media, use the results from our surveys to members, talk to members at meetings and read, listen and respond to all the emails we get in (we get quite a few) to help us with our stance. For years, I’ve been very pro Arsenal – I would say, compared to most, I still am but even I couldn’t argue against all the people who wanted to support this protest but at the same time, you have to be fair to every member, and respect the wide range of views.

I’m also a part of The Gooner Ramble which is a podcast / blog with various social media aspects – we all have differing views but as we are not a fans group and feel we do not need to get involved too much in things like this. However, every members thinks something has to change. Some won’t be at the game on Saturday so in terms of this particular protest are irrelevant but still should have an opinion.

Lastly, I’m a supporter and Fan – I go home and away and into Europe so as much as the AST position or the Gooner Ramble position is important for me, the most important thing is for me to do what I want to do.

Even if the AST were strongly supporting a protest, it does not mean I have too personally and I make that clear with my fellow board members and our members. Like in any company, if you get out voted, you get out voted (not suggesting I was outvoted here!).

The protest is one that every individual has to decide for themselves – that’s the reason (and I’ve spoken to other fan groups and people that came up with the idea) the words are quite vague; a protest about something specific can divide supporters. Protesting about Arsene Wenger would certainly divide supporters and despite what some individuals have said, it’s not a specific Arsene Wenger protest. It’s not even really a Anti Stan protest (as a few newspapers said), it’s simply a ‘something has to change’ protest, whatever that may be.

Do I think it’s time for a change? Yes, I think home ticket prices could be lower, I think TV companies changing kick off times with limited notice should be changed, I think Beer at the ground should be cheaper, I think Arsenal should have added to their squad last summer, I think the major shareholder should come out and talk to supporters more, I think there should be more initiatives to get younger fans to the Emirates (young guns section is obviously a good thing but isn’t selling out and there could be reasons for that which the club need to look into it), more football people on the board etc. I think there is plenty at the club that needs to change.  Dare I say it, Arsene Wenger will not go on forever, there must be a plan for when he does move on (whenever that will be), does he stay at the club in some capacity, does he go completely, if so, is there a project plan in place?

Will I print out the #TimeForChange stuff and display it – I honestly haven’t decided yet. On one hand, I think certain things do need to change but on the other, there is a game to win.

One of the biggest fears I have is surrounding our two key players- Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. Both have hinted they will wait till the summer before they sign a new deal and that scares me. But you know what, I don’t blame them, why would you sign right now? Arsenal fell out the title race in some fashion, have had a hopeless 2016, fans are not happy so waiting till the summer, waiting till they see what the club do, what happens with Arsene Wenger is quite natural. Arsene Wenger may have said he is confident they will sign, but I’m not so sure. I don’t think Arsene Wenger is either but saying anything otherwise would invite bids from top clubs across Europe and unsettle the two players further.  

Liverpool walked out in a game as an protest against Sunderland when they were 2-0 up and went on to draw 2-2; if something similar happens at Arsenal and points are dropped and the unthinkable happens with Arsenal falling out the top 4 then I think we can say good bye to Mesut and Alexis; I can’t get that thought out of my head.  

The AST and AISA have both said that fans need to decide for themselves and I think that is the only way – something does need to change but Arsenal need to win a few games to ensure they are in a better position to keep their best players.  

I see both sides. 

Up The Arsenal

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Title Race As I See It

Having spent yesterday morning with Leicester and Spurs fans, it was evident that Leicester fans do think they will end up as champions this season. Mind you, the scarfs were a good giveaway on Sunday.
It’s clear that the title IS Leicester’s to lose. 
Seeing and speaking to Ian Wright yesterday gave me an insight on how a footballers mind should be working – realism that it’s Leicester title to lose but at the same time, remembering that football can be a funny old game and if they were to slip up (he doesn’t like the word bottle it!) and Arsenal didn’t take advantage, that would probably hurt more than not being in the position to win it in the first place.

Another ex pro, who has won the Premier League title as an underdog was Alan Shearer for Blackburn who also gave his view a few days ago – he said even though he believes Leicester will win the title, they WILL start feeling the pressure in the last 5/6 games when everyone believes they have done it as he did with Blackburn. He went on to say that Blackburn were lucky others didn’t take advantage.

For me, giving up isn’t an option – why would you? At the worse, we should finish second – finish below Spurs? Behave. We are one point behind them IF we win our game in hand at home against West Brom. ONE POINT! I hope the players and manager and everyone who interacts with them keeping banging the drum about NOT allowing Arsenal to finish behind Spurs. Can you imagine that, Spurs going for the title, in their best season ever in recent seasons yet finish behind Arsenal. Small consolation on missing out on the big one for us but one I rather have then not have.

 I think if we do miss out on the title, there should be a post mortem, that should include the performances of every player, every major decision of the manager, the performance of the board / major shareholders but that post mortem should wait until the season is over.

Going back to what Ian Wright said yesterday about the club – he was asked ‘Why’? Why we fell apart, why we seemed to ‘bottle’ key games? – his answer was fairly simple, ‘Mentality’. He was strong in indicating that he doesn’t think changing the manager is necessary what is needed but for the manager buying a few players with leadership qualities and that winning mentality that is so key to winning league titles. We have the odd one, but need more and I don’t think many Arsenal fans would disagree with him – yes many of them may want a change in manager TOO, however, will not argue on the mentality / leadership front. Wrighty remembers when Dennis Bergkamp first came to Arsenal and had Adams, Bould, Dixon, Seaman etc around him, that made him stronger despite already having a winning mentality.

The way Wright spoke about the club was a joy to hear and I hope the players can show similar passion in the remaining games – we have seven games and we want seven wins.

You know what, Leicester probably won’t slip up despite having some tricky fixtures against Manchester United and West ham but for God sake Arsenal, please win your games….just in case.

Up The Arsenal.

Monday, 29 February 2016

From The Heart: A Must Win That We Bottled

‘We work hard all season for this period’ said Arsene Wenger at his pre match press conference; if we work hard for this period and perform like we did on Sunday, we may as well not bother working hard in the first place. 

As I saw on my seat at the final whistle at Old Trafford, extremely disappointed, watching the fans leave the ground, I thought to myself ‘bottled it’. I used those words a few more times when conversing with fellow fans leaving the ground and on Twitter. The next thing I saw was everyone was using it (I am not claiming responsibility, don’t worry!) including people on TV and media.

For me that showed how everyone was thinking the same thing – usually you get some people thinking we played well or we were unlucky but here, I struggled to find a single fan who didn’t think we bottled it. We had a handball shout at the end of the first half and from where I was, it looked quite close, yet not me, nor anyone else tried to use that as an excuse. In an ordinary game, a decision such as this which can level the game is HUGE, yet no one even wanted to use that as an excuse. It highlighted the mood of Arsenal fans leaving Manchester.

 I’m a positive person, I love the club, ‘love’* the players, the manager and go to the majority of games excited and believing Arsenal will win the game. After yesterday, I’m struggling for motivation. The team cannot score, too many players are out of form at the same time and the is a severe lack of confidence issues with some players.

Alexis Sanchez is badly out of form and getting frustrated with his team mates and himself, Aaron Ramsey seems intent on holding onto the ball for longer than he needs just to ensure he does not give it away, Theo Walcott seems so scared to receive the ball, he hides away, Hector Bellerin is having a dip that anyone of his age would be expected to have, Olivier Giroud cannot score and Francis Coquelin is struggling to get back to the level he was at pre injury. That is far too many players to carry and near impossible.

 Another problem this season has been that I’m not sure Arsene Wenger has ever really known what his best team is. We played our best football of the season with Santi Cazorla in the middle, Aaron Ramsey right and Theo Walcott upfront. The first twenty minutes against Manchester United or the performance against Bayern Munich (despite Ramsey going off injured) were incredible but you got the feeling that Theo Walcott was never first choice up front and since his injury, has looked nowhere near good enough to start but to coincide with that, Giroud has gone through a patch where he cannot find the back of the net. Ironically, his last goal (his second at Anfield) was for me, a terrific striker’s goal. He received the ball, had a small trick, created space and turned and shot – something Torres used to do in his prime. He has since produced two sublime assists for Walcott and Ozil but with a lack of goals in other positions, the pressure on him to score is much bigger. If Alexis and Ramsey were scoring then Giroud doesn’t have to carry the cane!

I actually don’t think there was much wrong tactically for either of the last two games – certainly not against Barcelona when we obviously had a press at half way strategy which was working but we just got a little excited and lost the game in literally one moment. At Old Trafford, when I saw the team, I was genuinely excited with all the pace on show but for whatever reason, they all bottled it! Even Flamini wasn’t in the squad, much to the delight of many!

 I don’t know the answer to this but I began started thinking about what sort of work do we do with the minds of the players – I remember Liverpool working with Steve Peters and the reason why I remember the name is the work he did with Ronnie O’Sullivan in which he worked with Ronnie and persuaded him to play in the World Championships when Ronnie was struggling to even pick up a cue.

I have no idea what Arsenal do and I’m sure a club like Arsenal would be doing something but it seems there is a real mental block at some grounds, against some managers and maybe, some outside help could get them through moments like this – I’m no expert and I’m sure many will tell me I am wrong.

I believe the players are quality, yes some are out of form, some are struggling and some are low on confidence but no one will convince me that they are not good players and that they are not good enough to win the league.

I try and stay out of the Wenger In or out debate because 1. The love and respect I have for him makes it very difficult (although, I question his decisions daily) 2. Because we cannot control anything that happens in that boardroom.

Henry Winter’s tweet about a lack of leadership in the board room really hit home to many people and even if you believe Arsene Wenger is great, he should be accountable and should get, what we would call ‘performance reviews’ – off course again, these may happen anyway but it shouldn’t matter if you a CEO of a major company or a football manager, you must be accountable to your employers. Even if that is just to bounce ideas around, question decisions etc.

Again, there is no excuse for yesterday, it was a complete bottle job in what was a must win game – the title dream for many is over and I would tend to agree but to say true to myself, some positivity for you:

Spurs and Leicester have never been in this position, you can argue so haven’t Arsenal in recent years but Arsenal have some experience in their squad who have. 11 games is a long time in football (unless you are in the middle of a fixture congestion!) and there will be plenty of time for the other teams to panic. Leicester have a tough May and Spurs have a tough April, teams will look to sit deep against Leicester which will make it harder as we saw against Norwich and on top Kante is out for two games.

Momentum can shift very easily and if Arsenal were to beat Swansea and go into the NLD and somehow win it, the table will look very different – it’s a VERY big IF but equally possible.

Problem is, do you trust Arsenal to win their remaining matches? I’m not too sure anymore….

Up the Arsenal, as always.


*love doesn’t mean I think some are useless or dislike them but if they belong to Arsenal football club, they have my backing
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