Posts Tagged With: Chelsea

Merlin’s Premier League Stickers of the Week: I Remember When You Played… Chelsea ’98’s Coaches

Following Roberto Di Matteo’s unbelievable end to the season as Chelsea caretaker manager, here’s a look back at when he played as well as his team-mates from circa 1998 who have also tried their hand at management (they’ve all been at it!).

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Featured in 1997/98: Ruud Gullit (Terek Grozny manager; managed Chelsea, Newcastle, Feyenoord & LA Galaxy)

Featured in 1997/98: Roberto Di Matteo (Chelsea caretaker manager; managed MK Dons & West Brom), Gus Poyet (Brighton manager, was assistant at Swindon, Leeds & Tottenham), Gianfranco Zola (managed West Ham, was assistant for Italy U21), Mark Hughes (QPR manager; managed Wales, Blackburn, Man City & Fulham), Dan Petrescu (Kuban Krasnodar manager; managed Rapid Bucureşti, Sportul Studenţesc, Wisła Kraków & Unirea Urziceni), Gianluca Vialli (managed Chelsea & Watford), Steve Clarke (was assistant at Newcastle (& caretaker manager), Chelsea, West Ham & Liverpool), Dennis Wise (managed Millwall, Southampton, Swindon & Leeds)

Featured in 1998/99: Pierluigi Casiraghi (managed Lenano & Italy U21)

[All these (and more…) can be found in the Sticker Archive]

 

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Champions League Final Build-Up (3/3): Planning for Penalties

It’s 2008 and at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow Avram Grant’s Chelsea have taken the Champions League final against Manchester United to penalties. Luckily Avram has received the following advice for this very situation:

  1. Van der Sar tends to dive to the kicker’s ‘natural side’ more often than most keepers do. This means that when facing a right-footed kicker, he will usually dive to his own right and when facing a left-footed kicker, to his own left. Chelsea’s right-footed penalty-takers therefore have a better chance if they shoot to their ‘unnatural side’, Van der Sar’s left.
  2. The vast majority of the penalties Van der Sar stops are kicked to a mid-height and hence penalties against him should be kicked just on the ground or high up.
  3. Christiano Ronaldo often stops in the run-up to the ball. If he stops, he is likely (85%) to kick to the keeper’s right-hand side. He also seems to be able to change his mind about where to put the ball at the very last instant. That means that it is crucial for Čech not to move early. When a keeper moves early, Ronaldo always scores.
  4. If you win the toss you should choose to go first. Teams going first win 60% of the time.
Now that you’re aware of these instructions, here’s the penalty shoot-out that decided the 2008 Champions League Final… (The audio begins 10 seconds in.)
Chelsea lost the toss and (although not in the video) as Rio Ferdinand asked the bench what to do John Terry did in fact offer to go first. United unsurprisingly knew better and took the opportunity to go first themselves. As the shoot-out progresses Chelsea clearly follow the advice to great effect even though Ashley Cole very nearly ruins it all by ignoring point 1 and hitting his left-footed penalty to his ‘natural’ side (the keeper’s right). His penalty does creep in however, perhaps due to it being kept low as point 2 advised (all the initial Chelsea penalty-takers aim either high or low). With Čech following point 3 perfectly to thwart Ronaldo these simple instructions would have seen Chelsea crowned champions of Europe if only John Terry had not slipped.

85% of the time, he hits it there every time

The instructions were written by Basque economist Ignacio Palacios who was put in touch with Avram Grant by a professor of economics and mathematics at an Israeli university who knew them both. As the shoot-out goes into sudden-death Kalou is also able to follow the advice to the letter to beat Van der Sar with ease but by the seventh penalty the pressure was on. Chelsea’s first six had all gone to the United keeper’s left and although they varied in height, this repetition is approaching what economists call a ‘pure strategy’ and the problem with pure strategies is that they are predictable. As my girlfriend said straight away when I showed her the instructions: “Won’t the goalkeeper work out what they are doing?“.

Whether Cole putting his left-footed penalty to Van der Sar’s right would have thrown the Dutchman off the scent or whether he would equally have noticed that every penalty had been placed to the ‘unnatural’ side is hard to say but by the time Nicolas Anelka steps up, Van der Sar is onto them.

If you missed this the first time you have to go back and watch it because it’s simply brilliant: as Anelka is preparing to take his penalty Van der Sar actually points to his left, to where Anelka has been told to hit his penalty…

This undoubtedly fazes the Frenchman who hits a tame right-footed penalty to Van der Sar’s right at a mid-height, the type of penalty that Van der Sar is statistically most likely to save and the exact opposite of what Anelka has been told to do but he only did it because Van der Sar had let Anelka know that he knew that Anelka knew that he usually dived to the right against right-footed penalty-takers…

from Get Him To The Greek (Click for gif)

You would of course expect any team to do their research although this is usually primarily made up of working out what certain penalty-takers are most likely to do. A famous example of this that was also interlinked with some shameless mind games took place during the penalty shoot-out in the World Cup quarter-final between Germany and Argentina in 2006 where German keeper Jens Lehmann consulted a piece of paper from his sock before every Argentinian penalty!

As it turned out, the sheet featured hardly anyone that took one but it did for Ayala (“waits longtime, long run-up, right” i.e. keeper’s left) and after getting close to the other penalties, by the time Cambiasso stepped up to keep Argentina in the game he must have been wondering what on earth that piece of paper said about him! It said nothing at all but possibly still did enough to allow Lehmann to make the stop that put Germany through.

Crazy Jens with Andreas Köpke’s cheat sheet

Mind games aside for a moment, a good penalty-taker is of course neither as predictable nor as easy to stop as such ‘cheat sheets’ suggest. Long before advising Avram Grant, Ignacio Palacios took a sample of 1,417 penalties from 1995-2000:

Penalties to taker’s ‘natural’ side & keeper goes wrong way = 95% success rate (5% miss)
Penalties to taker’s ‘unnatural’ side & keeper goes wrong way = 92% success rate
Penalties to taker’s ‘natural’ side & keeper goes right way = 70% success rate
Penalties to taker’s ‘unnatural’ side & keeper goes right way = 58% success rate

This means that to maximise their chance of scoring a penalty-taker should shoot to his ‘natural’ side 61.5% of the time and to their ‘unnatural’ side 38.5% of the time. The players in the sample placed 60% to their ‘natural’ side and 40% to their ‘unnatural’ side – almost perfect.

The goalkeepers meanwhile should dive to the kicker’s ‘natural’ side 58% of the time and their ‘unnatural’ side 42% of the time. The actual figures?: 57.7% and 42.3%.

To be what economists call a true ‘mixed strategy’ however, penalty-takers must also alter their placement in a random sequence with no pattern at all – when looking at regular penalty-takers (those involved in more than 30 penalties in the sample) Ignacio showed that, unbelievably, players are capable of exactly that! It is impossible to predict which way a regular penalty-taker will decide to place their penalty.

Franck Ribery: subconscious game-theorist

The most impressive thing is that these players follow such perfect theory seemingly intuitively. Franck Ribery, to bring in a protagonist from tonight’s match whose penalties follow the theory, apparently doesn’t know which way he will shoot even once he has started his run-up!

This is not to say however that all penalty-takers are as unpredictable, the beauty of the penalty shoot-out is that it drags players who are not regular takers into the fray as well as, if it goes on long enough, players who don’t want to take one or have little aptitude to do so. When the penalty-taker is not an expert, they are far more likely to simply place it in their favourite spot and far less likely to make it un-saveable, meanwhile the pressure of the occasion may even have the same effect on even the most clinical penalty exponent (looking at you Cristiano!).

Ronal-D’oh!

I’ve been watching the tapes of Bayern’s games. I’ve seen everything I can but in the end it’s all about the moment and whether the penalty taker is strong enough to keep calm and place it well. If he does that then the keeper has no chance, so in a shoot-out you try to force people into mistakes.

In 2008, we had plenty of information about Manchester United penalties. We’d lost to them in a shootout before but you can’t always rely on what you’ve seen. You need to rely on your instincts.

Petr Čech

I always prepare myself for such situations, Our goalkeeping coach, Toni Tapalovic, showed me on his laptop before the match (the semi-final against Real Madrid) how Ronaldo usually takes his penalties. I learned that Ronaldo prefers to send the ball low to his left. In the penalty shoot-out, I was convinced that he would aim for his favourite spot.

Manuel Neuer

Whether Bayern are aware of the work of Ignacio Palacios is impossible to tell but it seems unlikely that Chelsea would employ such a bold team strategy in a Champions League Final shoot-out again (assuming even Ignacio could come up with pointers for facing Neuer!) but having won only 2 out of 9 penalty shoot-outs in the last decade if tonight’s match were to be all square after 120 minutes then Chelsea fans will certainly be wanting to win Pedro Proença’s coin toss!

Information primarily taken from:
 Why England Lose & other curious football phenomena explained by Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski

Related Posts:

Champions League Final 2012 Build-Up (1/3): The Stats

Champions League Final Build-Up (2/3): The Robben Final?

 

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Champions League Final Build-Up (2/3): The Robben Final?

In 2010 Dutch winger Arjen Robben suffered the heartbreak of losing what most would consider to be the two most prestigious finals in world football: the Champions League Final and the World Cup Final. Two years on and he has a third opportunity to claim the type of winner’s medal that most players can only dream of.

Oranje & Tangerine

Almost sixty year earlier with England only having bothered entering the World Cup for the first time in 1950 and with the Champions League’s forerunner, the European Cup, not beginning until 1955/56, the winner’s medal that England winger Stanley Matthews dreamt of was an FA Cup winner’s medal. Like Robben he too suffered heartbreak in the final twice, in 1948 and 1951, before he had a third shot at glory.

At 38 years old much was made of the 1953 FA Cup Final being Matthews last chance and in his autobiography (that I happen to be reading at the moment…) says that he knew it was his “final of finals” despite firmly believing that he could keep playing for several years as no doubt Robben does at only 28. (As it turned out Matthews, almost unbelievably, played for a further 12 years but he would never reach the FA Cup Final again.)

It was third time lucky for Matthews however as despite being 1-3 down with only half an hour to go his Blackpool side fought back to win 4-3 with the final goals coming in the 89th and 92nd minutes! (Man City eat your heart out!) The injury time winner was set up by Matthews himself who tore Bolton apart in the final thirty minutes of what is still known as the Matthews Final…

 

Interestingly though, Matthews says that the final should forever be known as the Mortensen Final insisting that it was his hat-trick scoring team mate Stanley ‘Morty’ Mortensen who was the real star of the show. According to Matthews, when he cut the ball back for the winning goal he was aiming for where, thanks to his near-telepathic relationship with Mortensen, he thought his team mate would be and was mortified to see that he had actually taken up a position at the far post.

Mortensen though, far from not being on the same wavelength, had decided that he was being too tightly marked to be sure of scoring and so vacated the area he knew the ball would come to, taking the markers with him, and called for Bill Perry to run into the space who duly converted. (Mortensen also scored a rocket of free-kick earlier in the match, undoubtedly he and Matthews were both in inspired form that day and the highlights are well worth a watch.)

Stan M & Stan M

So are Robben’s dreams of making it third time lucky himself largely dependent on the performance of and his relationship with Bayern’s enigmatic forward Mario Gomez? Robben may hope not as despite his impressive scoring record very few football fans would back Gomez to be either as clinical, brave or unselfish as Stan Mortensen was in 1953! Luckily for the Dutchman though he may not have to rely on Gomez at all as his style of play is very different to the one Matthews had developed:

“I was beginning to be tightly marked by full-backs, so I made a conscious effort to drop deeper to collect the ball… My goals had come from coming inside as wingers were apt to do at the time. Having given this much thought, I decided (in 1937/38) I would be better employed taking the ball to the dead-ball line and cutting it back for our oncoming forwards who couldn’t be offside if they received a backward pass or centre from me… I wasn’t scoring goals anywhere like I had been but this ploy created far more opportunities for our forwards.”

-Sir Stanley Matthews

Robben’s primary strengths lie not in what we would now consider ‘traditional’ wing-play, the style that Matthews helped pioneer, but in doing precisely what Matthews removed from his game: attempting to cut inside to deadly effect. Robben is more than happy to do it all himself if he has to as well as being capable of producing moments of pure magic such as his volley that did for the last English opponents he faced in the knock-out stages of the Champions League back in 2010… (The video below is great because it also shows the Bayern move before the goal, with Robben cutting in and attempting to shoot.)

Having already overcome one former club Real Madrid, knocking out Casillas, Ramos and Alonso who had beaten him in the World Cup Final and Mourinho (a former manager of his) who had beaten him in the Champions League Final, the script seems written for Robben, like Matthews, to finally have his cup final moment.

Robben & Čech in 2006 – only one will lift the cup this Saturday

In his way of course stands another former club of his: Chelsea. With a depleted defensive line and midfield due to suspension as well as players coming back in who may not yet be fully fit (similar can be said of Bayern of course), Chelsea may be hard pressed to contain Robben but if they are to win they will need to do more than tightly mark him as players started to do to Matthews. Formations and tactics have changed in many ways over the last sixty odd years and to deal with Robben they will need to take a leaf from Borussia Dortmund’s book and cover well, trying never to allow him a situation where he only has one man to beat whilst not leaving gaps elsewhere in the defense (no mean feat of course!) or else hope and pray that come Saturday night it doesn’t quite happen for the Dutchman leaving him perhaps to wonder, however briefly, whether a different approach to his game may have led to more overall chances for his team. Of course now I have written that he will probably win it with a cross from the byline!

Matthews picks up his hard earned medal in Coronation year – will Robben receive his in Jubilee year?

Finally, it would be criminal not to mention that Blackpool themselves have a rather important match this Saturday as well. Best of luck to them in the Championship play-off Final! “Suuuper, super Kev… Suuuper, super Kev… Suuuper, super Kev! Super Kevin Phillips!!!

Related Posts:

Champions League Final 2012 Build-Up (1/3): The Stats

Champions League Final Build-Up (3/3): Planning for Penalties

 

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Champions League Final 2012 Build-Up (1/3): The Stats

Click on the image below to view a graphical run-down of the task facing Chelsea on Saturday evening…

CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR THE FULL INFOGRAHIC

Some key statistics from the infographic:

  • Bayern will be only the fourth team to ever play the Champions League final at home.
  • Bayern Munich haven’t lost a European game at home this season.
  • Chelsea have only won one game away from home in Europe this season.
  • Bayern Munich have faced English opponents in the final twice before and lost both times – Manchester Utd in 1999 and Aston Villa in 1982.
  • Chelsea have lost seven of their previous nine penalty shoot-outs.
  • Bayern Munich suspensions: Badstuber, Alaba and Gustavo.
  • Chelsea suspensions: Terry, Ivanovic, Meireles and Ramires.

This piece from Raphael Honigstein (@honigstein) for BBC Sport is also well worth a read:

Champions League: How Chelsea can beat Bayern Munich in final

Related posts:

Champions League Final Build-Up (2/3): The Robben Final?

Champions League Final Build-Up (3/3): Planning for Penalties

 

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Merlin’s Premier League Stickers of the Week: Are you still playing??? (Part 2)

Following on from Are you still playing??? (Part 1) this week it’s a selection of well known current players as they were in 1997/98…

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Featured in 1997/98: Shay Given (currently at Aston Villa), Nicolas Anelka (left Chelsea in January 2012, now playing for Shanghai Shenhua), Kevin Davies (currently at Bolton Wanderers), Rio Ferdinand (currently at Manchester United), Philip Neville (currently at Everton)

[Every player mentioned above can be found in the Sticker Archive]

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Three and Out for Pep’s Barça?

Pep following defeat in El Clásico at the weekend

“The third year,” the great Hungarian coach Béla Guttmann always said, “is fatal.” If a manager stays at a club more than that, he said, his players tend to become bored and/or complacent and opponents start to work out counter-strategies…

– Jonathan Wilson

Back in January I read this Jonathan Wilson piece for the Guardian Sport Blog that outlined how at the very highest level the greatest teams in history often only last a maximum of three years (especially those who played a pressing game) or ‘Béla Guttmann’s Three-Year Rule’ as also mentioned in Wilson’s excellent book Inverting the Pyramid. The piece was written following a draw against Espanyol that saw Barça fall five points behind Real Madrid in La Liga but having comfortably defeated their rivals in El Clásico in December and with them still being most people’s favourites for the Champions League.

Fast forward three and a half months and with the end of the season approaching Barça now find themselves trailing by seven points in La Liga having just been defeated in El Clásico and having been knocked out of the Champions League by 10 men from a team that are currently only sixth in the English Premier League (twenty-five points behind Man Utd).

(left to right) Béla Guttmann, Victor Maslov, Johan Cruyff, Arrigo Sacchi

Dynamo Kyiv 1966-68 (3 consecutive Soviet titles under Victor Maslov)

Ajax 1970-73 (3 consecutive European Cups)

AC Milan 1987-90 (1 Scudetto & 2 consecutive European Cups under Arrigo Sacchi)

Barcelona 2008-11 (3 consecutive La Liga titles & 2 Champions Leagues under Josep Guardiola) ?

Decay can have numerous causes. A shape-based game saps players because it requires constant thought, and because training to get the shape right is boring and repetitive. Pressing is physically exhausting, demanding perpetual running. Players living and working in close proximity for three years will start to get on each other’s nerves. And then there is hunger: when you’ve won a league title three times, does the fourth really matter as much as the first?..

…Yet in many ways, Barcelona are a side set up to endure. Like Ferguson, who reflected last week on how those who have been brought up at a club have more instinctive loyalty, Guardiola has a stock of homegrown talent. The impression is that most players play for Barcelona because they want to rather than because it’s a convenient way of paying for the cars and clothes and rounds of Jaegerbombs…

If they can kick on, if they can overcome Guttmann’s three-year rule, then their achievement will be truly historic; if it does all slip away, then they will merely have been another excellent team.

Chin up

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Merlin’s Premier League Stickers of the Week: You Played For Darlo!!! (Part 1)

Division 3 Play-Off Finalists 1995/96

A footballer’s career can be a funny thing, whether essentially a one-club man or the consummate journeyman you can find yourself playing at the very highest level of English football as well as Feethams football ground over the years (or if you’re really lucky the Reynolds Arena / New Stadium / Williamson Motors Stadium / 96.6 TFM Darlington Arena / Balfour Webnet Darlington Arena / Northern Echo Darlington Arena, soon to be the only 25,000 seater stadium in the Conference North).

Here is handful of players who did just that: Premier League players who also ran out for the mighty Darlington F.C.

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From 1993/94: Gary Pallister – Darlo (loan) 1985/86 (also appointed operations director in 2010)

From 1994/95: Neil Maddison – Darlo 2001–2007

From 1997/98: Matty Appleby – Darlo (loan) 1993/94, signed for 1994-96 and 2005/06

From 1998/99: Julian Joachim – Darlo 2006-08 (club record signing of £100,000); Phil Stamp – Darlo 2005–2007

[All these (and more…) can be found in the Sticker Archive]

 

As an extra treat here is some semi-unrelated but absolutely fantastic Pathé News from 1957/1958…

Can we start referring to Chelsea as The Pensioners again? What a nickname!

Categories: Merlin Premier League Stickers of the Week, You Played For Darlo!!! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Arsène We Trust?… Yes of course. Here’s why.

Originally posted on Mountain’s Blog

Recently Hani (@hanicinnamon), a friend of mine, sent me a message on twitter containing the following assessment of Arsène Wenger: “the man’s stubbornness has cost #Arsenal dear #sadbuttrue” followed by:

@Jake_Mountain arsene’s net spend in recent yrs is ridiculous considering the club’s aspirations.why is he so reluctant to dish out?!

For a while, I wondered how on earth I was going to respond to this in 140 characters before realising that not only was it impossible but it was about time I entered the ongoing Wenger debate properly anyway…

Five seasons without a major trophy (six if we don’t win the league at this time of asking) is the statistic most commonly used to criticise Wenger. If you consider also that Wenger finished either 1st or 2nd every single year from 1997/98 (his first full season) to 2004/05 and that we have finished either 3rd or 4th every year since, this would appear to be further damning evidence of our performance in recent years.

What must be considered however is what has been happening at Arsenal as well as what has been happening outside the club during this time. The past few years of Le Professeur’s tenure must be considered against this backdrop as well as the ongoing strategy that he has employed.

Firstly, the long term investment in the Emirates Stadium is no small expense. Construction of the new stadium started in 2004 with Arsenal moving in for the 2006/07 season. It cost around £390m (depending on source, plus related costs) although £100m was recouped through selling naming rights to Emirates Airlines. With a capacity of over 60,000 generating £3m per match compared to Highbury’s seated capacity of under 38,500, the stadium will pay for itself in time but in the short term this expenditure necessitated a change in transfer policy.

Alongside this development at Arsenal, Roman Abramovich would move the financial playing field of English football in the opposite direction when he bought Chelsea in 2003, spending £100m on players (the equivalent of £222m in 2010’s football prices) before the 2003/04 season alone. Whilst Arsenal’s average starting eleven cost 94% of champions Man Utd’s in 2002/03, the league winning Invincibles of 2003/04 had only the fourth most expensive average starting eleven behind Newcastle, Man Utd and Chelsea, costing just 64% of Chelsea’s. By 2004/05 this was down to 50%, in 2005/06 it was 42% and unbelievably in 2006/07 Arsenal’s average starting eleven cost just 26% of Chelsea’s. With prices adjusted to those of 2010, the Chelsea squad of 2006/07 was the most expensive squad ever assembled in the Premier League weighing in at £439m!

Wenger’s overall success in the transfer market is demonstrated by the table below (from Paul Tomkins, Graeme Riley & Gary Fulcher’s Pay As You Play: The True Price of Success in the Premier League Era). He actually makes a profit during his Premier League career whilst Benitez who is less well known for his prowess in the transfer market also comes out extremely well with only a slight loss. Ferguson, despite the golden generation of Giggs, Scholes, Beckham and the Nevilles that cost him nothing and a willingness to sell players such as van Nistlerooy whilst still in their prime, does not fare so well. What the table shows most clearly however is the extravagant transfer policy of Abramovich’s Chelsea and the advantage they had over their rivals. It is of little surprise that they were able to break the duopoly at the top of the table.

Manager

Profit/Genuine Increase in Value

Loss/Genuine Decrease in Value

Ratio

Wenger

£208,922,365

£194,105,347

1:1

Benitez

£65,342,062

£68,895,851

1:1

Ferguson

£83,924,300

£367,913,518

1:4

Mourinho

£20,736,577

£261,207,169

1:13

Ranieri

£4,199,955

£249,457,937

1:64

Considering Arsenal’s increasingly modest budget and the on-set of the Abramovich era, our ability to remain as competitive as we have done is extraordinary. An interesting indicator is ‘cost per point’ in the Premier League (cost of average starting eleven divided by points achieved during season). Between 2001 and 2010 the cheapest ‘cost per point’ for a team finishing with 70+ points belongs to Arsenal in 2008/09 at just £797,545 compared to Chelsea’s £2,506,549 and Man Utd’s £1,760,409. Amazingly we had only the ninth most expensive average starting eleven that year but still finished in the Champions League places (something we have achieved 13 years in a row). The second cheapest ‘cost per point’ (and only other below £1m) also belongs to Arsenal with £864,868 in 2009/10.

Combine this with the fact that we have continued to play a brand of exciting and attacking football that is much admired and our ability to remain competitive is all the more impressive.

This has not purely been a period of frugality and attempting to hang on to highflying rivals however; it is a deliberate and thought out strategy to meet the situation we were in but also looking forwards to the future. As Wenger says, he has sought to “create a culture at the club” that will “give us strength that other clubs will not have”. By developing players from as early an age as possible to play together in the Arsenal way, the potential rewards are massive as Barcelona have demonstrated.

Following a 3rd placed finish in 2007/08 where we were 4 points behind Man Utd and only 2 points behind Chelsea having led the table at Christmas, Wenger further explained his plans in September 2008:

When you are not on the transfer market you are a little bit ignored at the start of the season because the attention is focused on the big signings, most of the time, big signings mean you are favourites. We have gone a different way. We are trying to build a young side with a cohesive way to play the game with a culture of football we like. We were close last year so there is no reason why we should not be in there again this season. Today we had Denilson 20, Fabregas 21, Bendtner 20, Walcott 19, Song 20. When those players fight for the title one year you can hope they will be better the next year.

With the best camparison being with Barcelona’s development of players through their La Masia academy such as the likes of Messi, Busquets and Pedro it must be remembered that these players are supported by the more senior La Masia graduates Puyol, Xavi and Valdes (and even Guardiola himself!). Our nearest equivalent would have been Ashley Cole had he not defected. Iniesta and Pique meanwhile are both still older than Fabregas, captain and one of the more senior players to have been at Arsenal since a young age. In the first leg of the Champions League meeting between the two sides this year; the average age of the Arsenal team was 23.2, the average age of the Barcelona team was 27.4 and as Wenger said at the time: “four years at that level is absolutely huge“. At the start of last season he stated that:

I agreed on a structure to the club four or five years ago, I believed it could work and we are at the period now when we will see whether I was right or not

What this means is that his project is just starting to come into fruition as our young players start to come of age. It is only now that this team was ever expected to be challenging for trophies, ironically just as a few Arsenal fans appear to be losing patience with Wenger and as rather more are saying they are in support of him but continue to claim that he needs to ‘change his philosophy’. Perhaps this is born of too many seasons where they believed that ‘this is our year’.

I am not saying that this is our year or that next year is our year, rather that thanks to Wenger we are in a position where we should be able to challenge over the next few years as we continue to develop young players and others continue to gain experience according to the model we now have in place. We will do this from a new and impressive stadium that has a capacity that matches our stature. The fact that we have remained as competitive as we have done before reaching this point is testament to what a great manager Wenger is.

As the debts of the Glazers’ Man Utd soar, sensible financial planning off the pitch means that we will not be saddled with debt indefinately and as Sheikh Mansour starts to make Abromovich look tight-fisted the UEFA Financial Fair Play Rules will start to affect teams from 2011/12 onwards (although any sanctions won’t affect teams until 2014/15).

At the time of writing Arsenal sit 2nd in the Premier League table, 4 points ahead of Chelsea and only 5 points behind Man Utd with a game in hand. The weekend meanwhile saw a Euro 2012 Qualifier between England, with 19-year-old Jack Wilshere of Arsenal in the heart of midfield, and Wales, captained by 20-year-old Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal.

 

The future is bright.
In Arsène we trust.


[Statistics relating to transfers and the costs of average starting elevens/per point taken from Paul Tomkins (@paul_tomkins), Graeme Riley & Gary Fulcher’s (@TransferIndex) Pay As You Play: The True Price of Success in the Premier League Era – thanks also to Kieron O’Connor (@SwissRamble) & Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) for their contributions to the same book]
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