Posts Tagged With: Premier League

Sunday 13th May: Man City, Madrid, Milan & Memories

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you are probably aware that on Sunday 13th May Manchester City were crowned champions of the Premier League in one of the most dramatic climaxes to a title race ever, right up there with likes of Liverpool v Arsenal 1988/89 and the final day of the Eredivisie 2006/07 both of which have featured on Mountain’s Short Thoughts & Bits in recent weeks. Add in the three-way scramble for the final guaranteed Champions League place not to mention relegation battle controversy and it was some end to a truly memorable season.

 

In Spain and Italy the titles were already wrapped up but far from making the final day meaningless, it was still one that will be long remembered…

Real Madrid signed off in style by beating Mallorca 4-1 to end the season on a record breaking three figure points total, topping Barcelona’s record of 99 points from 2009/10, whilst the win also saw them break the record for matches won in a single season.

Their 121 goals scored is also a record (an average of over 3 per game!). Their goal difference of +89 is also a record. Their 16 away wins is also a record. Sunday 13th May was the day that Madrid set down a marker, they didn’t just successfully prise the title away from the current Barcelona team, they redefined what was possible in La Liga and placed themselves firmly back at the top of the domestic pile.

A  Very Special Season

In Italy Sunday 13th May saw four true club legends bring their AC Milan careers to an end in a 2-1 win against Navara. Having each given at least a decade of service (a combined total of 43 years at the club) Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf are moving on in search of one final challenge before hanging up their boots for good.

Thank you for Everything

The fab four’s Milan trophy cabinet contains 2 Champions Leagues, 2 Scudetti, 1 Coppa Italia, 2 Supercoppe Italiane, 1 Club World Cup and 2 European Supercups. As Cassano says injuries may have cost Milan the title this season having been leading as late as March, robbing the outgoing heroes of a fairytale ending. The truth however may be far more interwoven with the tale of the departing four as there is of course one man missing from the picture above, somebody who was also at Milan for a decade and was there with them for every single trophy but who found another challenge at the end of last season before it was too late to do so at the top level. That man is of course Andrea Pirlo who was instrumental for Juventus in 2011/12 providing more assist (13) than any other player in Serie A. Milan’s loss was Juventus’ sizeable gain and it seems likely that this may have been the real difference.

Despite having already missed out on the title ‘Super Pippo’ Inzaghi, who scored in the World Cup in 2006 on his last ever appearance for Italy, did not of course disappoint scoring the winner on his final, emotional appearance for Milan…

Elsewhere in Italy another outgoing legend did get his fairytale ending. Sunday 13th May saw Alessandro Del Piero play his final game for Juventus in a match, like Madrid’s, where only a place in the record books was at stake. A 1-3 victory over Atalanta, in which Del Piero of course scored, saw Juve complete an entire Serie A season undefeated; the first team to do so since Capello’s Milan in 1991/92 and the first ever to do so in a 38 game season.

Invincible

Those of you who read my piece on Ronaldo’s retirement last  year will know that these era ending moments in player’s careers give me pause for thought. That piece contained quotes from Del Piero about Il Fenomeno as well as one from Batistuta who said “For me, Ronaldo is football“, well for me (along with Paolo Maldini who retired in 2009), Del Piero is Calcio going right back to my childhood. Thank you for the memories.

Sunday 13th May 2012, quite a day in football.

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It’s Up For Grabs Now! – The Title Decider

[Including: Merlin’s Premier League Stickers of the Week: Arsenal Legends… 1988/89]

With Premier League leaders Man United set to face second place Man City on Monday night in a match that could decide the fate of the title this season it seems like a good time to look back at another title deciding bout from the season I was born. In 1988/89 however, due to the Hillsborough disaster the meeting between the top two clubs was postponed until the very end of the season.

POS Club Pld W D L F A GD PTS
 1 Liverpool 37 22 10 5 65 26 +39 76
 2 Arsenal 37 21 10 6 71 36 +35 73

Anything other than an Arsenal win by at least two clear goals would see Liverpool clinch the title, the problem for the Gunners was that Liverpool had not lost by two or more goals at Anfield in three years, Arsenal hadn’t beaten them there since 1974/75 and Liverpool had never lost a match with both John Aldridge and Ian Rush up front!

“Now I’ve heard of Liverpool. They’re famous for being good, aren’t they? Gary Lineker, Peter Shilton, all that lot.”

– Jo in Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch

Despite Lineker and Shilton never having played for Liverpool, Jo had it about right.

Over to Mr George Graham…

 

“Arsenal come streaming forward now in surely what will be their last attack. A good ball by Dixon, finding Smith, for Thomas, charging through the midfield… it’s up for grabs now… Thomas, right at the end!!!”

– Brian Moore

Level on points, level on Goal Difference, Arsenal had won the league on goals scored:

Pos Club Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
 1 Arsenal 38 22 10 6 73 36 +37 76
 2 Liverpool 38 22 10 6 65 28 +37 76

Which brings us to the Premier League Stickers of the Week: the Arsenal team that started that day and brought the Division One trophy back to Highbury (although O’Leary features as an 80’s Panini because I somehow failed to collect him as either a player or a manager!)

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From 1993/94: John Lukic (Leeds United), Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, David Rocastle (Leeds United), Kevin Richardson (Aston Villa), Alan Smith (repeat)

From 1994/95: Steve Bould

From 1995/96: Michael Thomas (Liverpool!!!)

From 1996/97: Paul Merson

[Panini 1987/88: David O’Leary]

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

Categories: Arsenal Legends, Flashback, Merlin Premier League Stickers of the Week | 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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