Posts Tagged ‘Arsenal’

There’s a lot of talk this year about the league being more competitive.  It is the job of the mainstream English press to hype up the Premier League, and managers like Arsene Wenger have repeatedly said the league is getting better overall.  But the undeniable truth is that the Premiership is no longer the best league in Europe. The  reason that teams like Sunderland and Newcastle have been able to take so many points off the big four isn’t that the overall level quality has improved, but that the big teams have gone downhill. In fact it’s rather alarming at how badly the big four have all declined. If the current Liverpool, Man Unt., Arsenal, and Chelsea teams were to play against the squad they had five years ago, all of the current teams would have their asses handed to them in a basket.  Just look at the comparison I have made below. Each of the starting elevens from five years ago are vastly superior to the 2010 vintage.  And thats also ignoring the overall squad depth. For example the 2005 Arsenal team I’ve listed leaves out players of the caliber of Dennis Bergkamp, Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini (all players who could easily have walked in the first XI of Arsenal today).

Liverpool 2005-06 Liverpool 2010

GK Jose Reina Jose Reina

RB Steve Finnan Glen Johnson

CB Sami Hypia Martin Skyrtel

CB Jamie Carragher Jamie Carragher

LB John Arne Riise Paul Konchesky

Defensive Advantage : Liverpool 2005

RM Steven Gerrard Dirk Kuyt

CM Xabi Alonso Raul Meireles

CM Dietmar Hamann Steven Gerrard

LM Luis Garcia Maxi Rodriguez

Midfield Advantage : Liverpool 2005

ST Peter Crouch Fernando Torres

ST Djibril Cisse David N’Gog

Attack Advantage : Liverpool 2010


Arsenal 2005-06 Arsenal 2010

GK Jens Lehman Lukasz Fabianski

RB Emmanuel Eboue Backary Sagna

CB Kolo Toure Sebastian Squillaci

CB Sol Campbell Laurent Koscielny

LB Ashley Cole Gael Clichy

Defensive Advantage : Arsenal 2005

RM Freddy Ljunberg Samir Nasri

CM Cesc Fabregas Cesc Fabregas

CM Gilberto Jack Wilshere

LM Robert Pires Andrei Arshavin

Midfield Advantage : Arsenal 2005

ST Thierry Henry Marouane Chamakh

ST Jose Reyes Robin Van Persie

Attack Advantage : Arsenal 2005

Manchester United 2005/06 Manchester Unt. 2010

GK Edwin Van der Sar  Edwin Van der Sar

RB Gary Neville John O’Shea
CB  Rio Ferdinand Rio Ferdinand
CB Mikael Silvestre  Nemanja Vidic
LB John O’Shea Patrice Evra

Defensive Advantage : Man Unt. 2010

RM Cristiano Ronaldo  Park Ji-Sung

CM Darren Fletcher Darren Fletcher

CM Park Ji-Sung Michael Carrick

LM Ryan Giggs Nani

Midfield Advantage : Man Unt. 2005

ST Ruud Van Nistelrooy Dimitar Berbatov

ST Wayne Rooney Wayne Rooney

Attack Advantage : Man Unt. 2005

Chelsea 20o5/06 Chelsea 2010

GK  Petr Cech Petr Cech

RB William Gallas Branislav Ivanovic
CB John Terry John Terry
CB Ricardo Carvalho  Alex
LB Asier Del Horno Ashley Cole

Defensive Advantage : Chelsea 2005
RM Joe Cole Florent Maluda
CM Michael Essien  Michael Essien
CM Frank Lampard Ramires
CM Claude Makelele John Obi Mikel
LM Arjen Robben Solomon Kalou

Midfield Advantage : Chelsea 2005
CF Didier Drogba/Hernan Crespo Didier Drogba/Nicolas Anelka

Attack Advantage : Chelsea 2005

Why is there such a huge gulf in quality from five years ago? The most obvious answer is that it comes down to financial reasons. Five years ago the state of the economy was much better than it is right now. But that explanation doesn’t hold up for very long. First of all most clubs have increased revenue over the last couple of years, drastically so in Arsenal’s case. Yet Arsenal’s improved finances have not meant any improvement in the first team. Secondly, football clubs live in their own universe far removed from reality. Unemployment in Britain could reach 20% and footballers would still be making 200 000 pounds a week.  In the same time as the global recession has forced governments to cut spending, Real Madrid signed Kaka for 56M and C. Ronaldo for 80M pounds.  There’s as much money as ever in football, and English clubs are still swimming in it.

The only reasons I can  think of the decline in quality is a rather quaint explanation. I think the cliche of money ruining football has come true and is a key reason that the players coming through today are not as good as 10 or 12 years ago.  Youngsters who were graduating from academies in the late nineties were still influenced by old school players who came from the pre-prawn sandwhich brigade days. If you were trying to break into the first team at Man Unt. it meant that you would be training with guys like Roy Keane. At Arsenal you might be training with Tony Adams. Those were the last players to come through before the massive commercialization of today.  I think that for this reason players had to work harder to get a big money contract. The money comes too easily for players now which is a disincentive to push themselves to their limits.  This is why players today are just not as good as they used to be. Hardly any of those who were still up and comers around 2005 have lived up to their full potential. Robin Van Persie isn’t half the player Dennis Bergkamp was and Michael Carrick has never lived up to the expectations of replacing Roy Keane.  One of the only youngsters from five years ago who has lived up to expectations is Carlos Tevez. And that’s about it really.

SO yes, the problem is money I suppose. Too much of it.

The most inspiring men are not those who excel at what they do.  The ones who inspire me at least are the ones who somehow have slipped through the cracks and bungled their way to wealth and fame.  Men who are inexplicably paid high wages in a field which they clearly have zero aptitude.  That moment when you’re watching a schmuk  on tv and you think to yourself ‘I could do X better than that guy’ is a sorely underrated boost for ones self esteem.  For me that moment usually comes when I’m watching the news and some wooden generic news anchor drones along in a colourless monotone and over-enunciates every foreign name.  I think at least half a billion people had the ‘I could do a better job’ moment throughout G W Bush’s  two terms in office.   And depending on which football team you support, you probably have that moment on a weekly basis.  Daily if you support Newcastle, and maybe monthly or bi-monthly if you support Chelsea.  If you support Barcelona, the feeling I’m talking about has probably never overcome you while watching football.

Since the introduction of modern sports coverage and the increased amount of monies involved, people easily forget that football is a game, and the object of a game is to have fun.  And,  unless you are a sociopath with no sense of humour,  winning is not the only fun part of sports.  Drama and hi-jinks add to the soap opera nature of football, and is one crucial element which helps make it so addictive.  It is for this reason that Liverpool FC supporters are truly the luckiest fans in the world.  We get to experience the full spectrum of what it is to be a football supporter.  We can match Real Madrid in terms of how famous we are.  Inter Milan  for the amount of silver ware we’ve won.  We also have more stories of  nail biting moments of glory and failure than a team like West Brom who are continuously in relegation and promotion battles.   It is not just the fact that we have more trophies than any other club in Britain which makes us the greatest, it’s how we won those trophies. Five years ago we were crowned European champions after the greatest comeback in history, and now we are sitting in the relegation zone.  You need a sense of humour to support this club, one thing scousers are legendary for.

Which brings me back to the original reason I started this article. Bad players.  Winning the European Cup in 2005 still makes me go all misty eyed when I think about it.  When the expert pundits run down a list of the ‘greatest’ teams in football history, none of them will mention Liverpool of 2005.  But for me and every other Liverpool supporter,  that lineup which orchestrated the Miracle of Istanbul will always be the one in our hearts because they embodied the best aspects of the game.  That was a team which had Sami Hypia, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Dietmar Hamann – ALL brilliant players who were arguably some the best players in their particular positions.  But rounding out the team were guys who were continuously derided by the press, their own supporters, and all the other so called experts.  Jerzey Dudek, Igor Biscan, Djimi Traore, Josemi, Antonio Nunez….

I’m about as a loyal a Liverpool supporter there is, but I will admit that Djimi Traore was not very good, and Josemi was downright bad.  The number of times anyone watching Josemi stumble around the pitch thought ‘I can play football better than that’ , would have left you convinced you actually had what it takes to be a pro footballer- no matter how fat you are, or how bad at hitting a cross field pass you happen to be.  But all these players had some part in Liverpool hoisting the trophy against the much more talented  AC Milan team.

Ultimately, all those George Bush moments we had to endure throughout that long season made us feel closer to the players on the pitch, and more united as a sports family.  Perhaps we broke through the glossy veneer television producers try to attach to professional players.  In hindsight I look at George W as an ordinary man who somehow ended up with the worst job in the world.  W was a mere human burdened with unrealistic expectations.  For us Liverpool supporters, the players became human too.  We identified with them, largely because they had some clear and obvious short-comings to go along with their brilliant gifts.  But through good old fashioned pluck, determination and grit they kept on running as hard they could til they got to the finish line.  And they beat the bookies favourite to do it in the process.

The moral of the story is to never say die when pursuing your goals, and never be distracted or intimidated because your opponent has a flash car or is married to a lingerie model.  Let people misunderestimate you, and when you win it will feel all that much better.

On a final note, just think about the fact that Pascal Cygan made 51 appearances for Arsenal the season that they went undefeated.