Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pardew's job is now untenable

Joe Kinnear is the new Director of Football at Newcastle United. Most people will wonder what does this job mean? Is Kinnear taking up an advisory role where he works in tandem with the manager and the club's scouts in targeting players? That's all you'd think he'd be doing because the manager has the final say in everything else to do with football, right?


So there you have it. Joe Kinnear is the new manager of Newcastle United (again). No, you say? Alan Pardew is the manager? True, that's what it says on his office door, it's what Sky Sports and BBC and the newspapers will call him but in reality he's lost control of one of the key aspects of being manager of a team: the personnel in his squad. From not having the final say over who's bought (the chief scout enjoys that) to not even having the final say over who's sold, Pardew's role is becoming more and more restricted.

Amazingly, losing control of who's sold is probably the least of Pardew's worries. Going by what Guardian journalist Daniel Taylor has tweeted above, Kinnear's "in charge of all football-related matters". That's a far broader role than being in charge of player recruitment and far more unnerving if you're Alan Pardew.

So Pardew has essentially been *demoted, but why wasn't he just plain sacked instead? He's clearly no longer trusted to make football decisions so why not stick Kinnear in as manager instead? In order to explain that we need look at why this appointment is being made in the first place and why replacing the manager was arguably justifiable but not realistic.

Newcastle were awful last season. The club lost 11 places and 24 points on the position it achieved in the league the previous year. Only for a very kind run-in, Newcastle would have been relegated. They tanked massively in a season where the bare minimum expected would have been a top-half finish.

After having such a poor season, most owners would justifiably consider replacing their manager.  But sacking Alan Pardew wasn't really an option.

Ditching Pardew would have been terribly embarrassing for Mike Ashley and Newcastle. After stating how the club wished to emulate the managerial philosophy of the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United, it would have looked awful had Newcastle parted company with an incumbent who is less than 12 months into an eight-year contract.

So they did the next 'best' thing they could, they significantly reduced his influence over the direction of the club. And what does this mean for Pardew? In my opinion, it leaves his job untenable. The terms and conditions he signed up for in September have been completely changed and if he has any integrity he should resign. He is no longer master of his own fate and the decisions he'll be judged by this season and in the seasons beyond will no longer be entirely his own.

In my opinion, you can't redesign the management structure of a business without sacking or reassigning personnel. Pardew is now a glorified coach, he's no longer manager, which was the job he was hired to do. This Independent piece states that he's prepared to continue provided Kinnear knows who's calling the shots. But from listening to Kinnear, I doubt he'll give a f***.

*I realise Pardew worked with a Director of Football in Derek Llambias but as Kinnear alluded to in a Talksport interview, he was more financially-orientated in his role and therefore wouldn't have had as big an influence on the sporting side.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Case Study - The Modern Striker

Football, like all sports, progresses and evolves from year to year. As new fitness regimes are designed and playing surfaces are improved, the styles of players change along with the roles of each position on the pitch. And the forward-position is one that has seen a considerable change recently.

In the last half a decade, the role of a forward has been redesigned by many clubs. They are no longer expected to just score goals, and must contribute to other aspects of the team as well. Reasons why this change has taken place vary but most would point to the ever increasing importance of midfield supremacy. Less and less teams are playing a style involving diagonal, high balls to the forward line for strikers to compete for, and midfielders to win at the second phase. Instead the game is seeing a renaissance.

Teams who play the aforementioned style are considered archaic and regressive in modern footballing society. The accepted style of the modern game is based around controlling midfield and using this foothold as a platform for breaking down opposition defences. The 'passing game'. The most common aspect of this style is having a three-man midfield and one striker instead of the traditional two-man midfield and forward pairings. This increases the pressure a team can place on opposition midfields - particularly those of the two man kind - as the extra player provides another tackler and an additional option for simple five-ten yard passes. The striker must also be able to contribute to the midfield's cause and can no longer be idle until the ball is around the penalty area.

This means a striker in the mold of a Van Nistelroy or Inzaghi no longer provides enough to merit a start in most football teams. Whilst goalscoring prowess is still essential, it is no longer the deciding factor in who most managers will start up front. Finishing off moves must now be supplemented with contributions in build-up play. A striker must either have the competence of a mifielder in possession or must be able to stretch backlines and provide openings for other players to penetrate. The traditional no.9 role in football is obsolete in most teams. And the fall of Andy Carroll's fortunes is a fitting example of such. 

A big, powerful centre forward, Carroll was able to bulldoze his way through defences in his time up front for Newcastle. And the team was more than happy to provide the long, high balls and crosses for him to use his height to maximum effect. Now the most expensive player Liverpool have ever signed, Carroll is completely out-of-sorts. He does not have the technical efficiency to impose himself on Liverpool's style of play which requires players with pace and nimble feet in order to be effective. His stats for this season reflect this with the player starting only 12 league games for the club and contributing poorly with two goals and one assist.

Consequently the most successful forwards in modern football aren't big and powerful. The era of strikers like Didier Drogba and Alan Shearer will most likely end with the Ivorian's retirement. Players like Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi are now here to take over the mantle of those players. These strikers are as comfortable on the wings and deep in midfield as they are playing off the shoulder of an opposition centre back. Wayne Rooney's recent stints as a midfielder for Manchester United are an example of such versatility. But they are all devastating goalscorers on top of their contributions in other areas of the pitch.

Robin Van Persie plays as a lone striker for Arsenal as well as the Netherlands. The player is a fulcrum to his teams' attacks as he rotates with his wingers and comes deep to support his midfielders to help start attacks. But he finishes his fair share of them too as he scored an astonishing 50 goals in all competitions last year. And this is despite having none of the physical traits that were essential to Shearer and Drogba. Van Persie instead relies on his abilities to identify weaknesses in opposition defences as well as his perfect technique and instinctive reactions. His goal against Everton combines all three of these attributes. Former Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas described him as "the perfect striker":

"For a midfielder to have a player like him, it is fantastic because he gives you all the options that you need."

The best modern strikers represent a change in footballing philosophy that sees more technically-adept players being preferred to physically imposing ones. They are also the ultimate multi-taskers of the game and represent a new headache for defences who must devise ways of stifling them.

Product Review - Arsenal Player

Arsenal Player Logo

On the field, Arsenal's team has had its struggles in achieving its targets for the season. Online however, Arsenal's presence is rarely matched by its competitors as the efficiency and content of the club website have made using it a joy for fans, rather than a chore as most other football websites are. And it is safe to say that Arsenal Player meets the high standards of its parent-website.

With value for money something all customers seek nowadays, the subscription charge of £36 annually (about €43 for Irish and other European subscribers) is very reasonable. There is a diversity of content available from videos of the manager's pre and post-match press conferences to the live fan's forum hosted by radio presenter and Arsenal fan Tom Watt.

The interviews with the club's players provide the fan's with a link to the people they come to watch on matchday in a football world where fan-player relationships are disparaging. The radio commentary for senior games give fans the ability to follow Arsenal matches where television broadcasts aren't available. Content is constantly updated so it is something the most supporters will find themselves using daily and, in essence, getting value for their subscription fee. 

One of the aspects where Arsenal Player falls down in comparison to other club video services is the streaming of reserve games. Liverpool's website has this facility and it is an element that could improve Arsenal Player if it was brought in.

Other than that the service is diverse with plenty of content to give the subscribers value for money. The service is also linked with the club membership so subscribers will be sent a season pack which this season included a commemorative badge celebrating the 125th year of the club's existence, the club yearbook and a book about the club's legendary manager Herbert Chapman and his reflections on football.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Arsenal's Gamble

First of all, Wenger isn't stupid. But I do feel he is influenced by the favouritism he has for Arshavin. The Russian is an enigma. When he played in Euro 2008, when he first signed and when he played at Anfield everyone acknowledged that this man was a gem. He can dribble with both feet, he has an eye for a pass, his shooting ability is exceptional and the power he generates in his shots is surprising for a man of his stature.

But alas, while those abilities remain, the mentality of that man we signed is gone. Wenger longs to see the ambition Arshavin had to prove himself outside of Russia - which would subsequently see the return of the abilities. So in a way it's easy to understand the persistence with the Russian.

The other factor is that Wenger lost Nasri, Clichy and Fabregas in the summer, three players that he had so much love for, and he can't lose Arshavin too.

People speak about the Man United game yesterday as a watershed moment for Arsene Wenger. But I'd be sceptical of that view myself. Yes we suffered our third defeat in a row but all is not lost either. The team will get stronger in the next month with the returns of Wilshere, Sagna, Gibbs and Gervinho pencilled in. And the team we are seeking to catch is in dire need of reinforcements - even more so than Arsenal. Chelsea's full team lacks balance but ours does not. That will give us an advantage over them coming into the next few months.

If there was a watershed moment for anyone yesterday, it was for Arshavin. Wenger had faith to replace Chamberlain, for whatever reason, with the Russian. And Arshavin let his manager down in a big way. He was quiet in attack and was responsible for Valencia getting inside for United's winning goal. It's hard to imagine Arshavin getting many more chances to show what worth he has left in the remaining games. That's with injuries permitting his disuse of course.

Overall, the team played very well yesterday. Arsenal is not as far away from United as the league table might suggest. Yes Manchester United has a far more resilient side but, player-for-player, there's not too many in the United squad that I think would improve ours except perhaps their strikers (I would take Danny Welbeck at Arsenal any day of the week) and Vidic.

Saying all that though, there are deficiencies in this squad that probably won't be addressed in the next week.   RVP still does not have a solid deputy striker, and a replacement midfielder for the perpetually injured Abou Diaby needed strong consideration this month too.

Yet, I can't help but be positive about this team. Arsenal has so much going for it. Koscielny and Vermaelen will be an awesome centre-back pairing once Sagna and Gibbs are back in their fullback positions. Wilshere's return to midfield will revolutionize our attacking play (some might say that is over-enthusiasm for an inexperienced midfielder but I would turn their attention to how he matched - and at times dominated - Xavi and Iniesta against Barcelona in the Champions League last season). And Chamberlain's first start yesterday can be seen as nothing but a huge boost for Arsene and the squad.

Eight defeats looks awful. The goals conceded in the last few weeks have looked even worse as a lack of fullbacks cost the club nine points. And boos aimed at Wenger yesterday were tough to observe.

It's pretty obvious-looking that Arsenal and Wenger have taken a gamble this month. They have gambled that we can finish fourth without new signings. But the teams around Arsenal aren't exactly demolishing all in their path and more importantly, Wenger isn't stupid. So the gamble may just pay-off yet.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Leeds Preview - Henry Returns

Leeds in the FA Cup feels a little like deja-vu since we played - and struggled past - them last season. Hopefully Henry will start tonight so we can see what he can contribute to the team straight away. Anything close to this and we will have a really good option to interchange with RVP for the next two months:

It's highly unlikely that he will be able to go on those swashbuckling sprints that destroyed many-a-defence when he was at Arsenal last. But with Theo Walcott - and potentially Oxlade-Chamberlain - in the team the pace-aspect of Henry's previous style can be compensated for.

But anyway, Wenger was never looking for that when he re-signed him because what the team really needs from Henry is his sniper-like abilities in front of goal. I've bemoaned in several previous posts (Van Persie aside) the team's increasingly-crippling profligacy in front of goal and hopefully Henry will help arrest that.

In my opinion, the dream for Wenger in the next two months is that Henry provides a reliable option to rotate with - and support - Robin Van Persie, assists in getting the likes of Ramsey and Walcott amongst the goals more consistently and of course provides a few himself. Hopefully by the time Henry returns to the States, Park or Chamakh (or both) will have shown signs that they can be counted on to interchange with Robin, Gervinho and Chamakh find their touch in front of goal while away on international duty and Vermaelen, Sagna, Gibbs, Wilshere and Diaby all recover fully from there respective injuries. Its an idealistic outcome but it isn't completely out of the question either. The injured players just mentioned are all on course to come back in the next month. Chamakh will play consistently for the first time in a year at the ACN which will certainly give him a confidence boost. And Henry undoubtedly has the ability and presence to improve the team and his team-mates significantly.

It's hard not to feel positive when we have our all-time top goalscorer back at the club. It may only be a temporary fix as regards the size of the squad but it might be enough to propel the team towards the top four and maybe even engineer sustained challenges for the Champions League and the FA Cup.

So on to tonight, and the Leeds game will provide Wenger with a chance to rotate players - albeit not many considering the size of the injury-list. Van Persie and Arteta are nearly guaranteed rests after being involved in almost every Premier League game since the start of the season. The boss might consider bringing Yennaris in at the back since Djourou is suspended and Coquelin is worth another start tonight after giving a good account of himself against Fulham. Up front, it will be curious to see who gets the nod. Henry is likely to start with Arshavin and Chamberlain taking the wide-berths either side of him. What will be very curious to see is if Park plays any part in the game. He hasn't played a single minute of any of our Premier League games and wasn't even worth a place on the bench for most of those this season. If he plays no part again tonight then the situation regarding the reason for his place in the squad will become highly perverse.

As for the game, the Gooners really should ease through this one. Leeds have been struggling of late, losing three of their last four games in the Championship. However, the longer the game stays level tonight the more they will fancy an upset so the Arsenal players will have to keep their concentration and take the initiative early on in this match. I'm thinking 3-0 with Henry to score.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Lack of Options and Outstanding Goalkeeping Hold Arsenal to Fifth

Arsenal 1 Wolves 1

So we miss out on fourth for the time being and a potential record-breaking tally for Van Persie seems to be out of sight as well. Poor finishing, a typically fantastic performance from an opposition 'keeper and ineffective substitutions contributed to a frustrating day at the Emirates as Arsenal couldn't find the solution to break down Wolves' stout resistance.

Even with a man sent-off, Wolves seldom looked more than marginally stretched. The loss of Walcott just before the game was costly as we lacked width and pace down the wings. Also the lack of proper fullbacks in the side was again found out as Vermalaen and Djourou lacked the offensive mindset of a Santos or Sagna to overlap and whip in dangerous crosses. Djourou played very well actually but his big, burly frame left him technically inefficient when trying to force the play down the wings as he took hefty touches and on one occasion he even kicked the ball out of play as he searched for Gervinho on the wing who was charging at the Wolves' defence.

Up front it was a day to forget for Van Persie as his legs simply refused to do what his mind was telling them. The seemingly impending record clearly compromised his normally cool and efficient decision-making as at certain times during the game he couldn't decide whether to go for goal or play in a team-mate. One particular incident that stands out in the mind is when he was bearing down on Wolves' penalty area in the first half. Alex Song had managed to keep up with him and was free on the inside. Van Persie simply had to roll the ball across the box as Song had a clear shot and a chance to put his team two-nil up and out of sight. Instead the Dutchman took the ball even further out wide to the left as he tried to line up his own shot but ended up being fouled by Johnson. It proved to be costly as six minutes later Wolves equalised.

If Gervinho's goal could be described as a wonderful, counter-attacking move of exceptional quality and class with Rosicky and Benayoun playing clever passes to release the Ivorian who coolly stepped past Hennessey to slot home, then Wolves' goal could be described as one of the most loathsome you are likely see at the Emirates.

A Wolves' corner was cleared as far as Hunt on the edge of the box. Rosicky went to challenge and missed man and ball completely. Hunt took a shot that was going well-wide of the goal but it took a wicked deflection and flew straight to Fletcher who was standing alone seven yards out. The Scot showed quick reactions as he redirected the ball to the far corner of Szczesny's goal. The young Pole was well beaten as Wolves had their equaliser and something to hold onto for the rest of the game.

In the second half Arsenal turned up the tempo and really went for Wolves albeit without the composure necessary to pull the Wolves players out of position consistently. We were too rushed in our play and then at times to slow to release the ball. Quite a paradox but the balance in the team's offensive manoeuvres just wasn't there. The team's decision-making faltered with Van Persie's. Indeed it would be fair to say that on a day when the Dutchman wasn't having the luck or the composure needed in front of goal, the team was short on players who could be the difference between three points and one.

Saying that though, there were chances to win the game too. Mertesacker and Vermaelen had efforts well saved from the excellent Hennessey but as regards penetration from midfield, we had none. Arteta and Rosicky couldn't be faulted for their effort but they never looked like scoring. Rosicky in particularly had a few good chances but his finishing was sub-standard. Ramsey came on and failed to have an impact.

Wenger's other two substitutions were a disaster. While Arshavin had plenty of possession and tried to no considerable effect, Chamakh was abysmal. The only memorable incident he was involved in was when Van Persie headbutted him while going for a corner. After that it was as if the team was playing with ten men for all the good he did as Arsenal's chances of claiming fourth faded and Wolves claimed a precious point in their battle against relegation. And with Park yet to play in the Premier League, the need for another striker to rotate with Van Persie is becoming increasingly apparent. Chamakh, our back-up to Van Persie, has scored one goal this season to contrast with the Dutchman's 20. And while it must be difficult to play second-fiddle to a man on such form, it is still an appalling record for any striker.

And it may sound like the pleading of a simple-minded fan but Wenger needs to act in January to address this chasm of quality between his frontman options. In contrast, the teams ahead of Arsenal in the league have a plethora of choices. Chelsea have the experienced goal-machine Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres (despite his form there can be no doubting his incredible underlying quality) and the ever-improving Daniel Sturridge. Tottenham have Adebayor, Jermaine Defoe, Rafael Van Der Vaart and Pavlyuchenko who all score goals. The Russian, who is fourth choice at White Hart Lane, scored the winner against Sunderland the other week. Arsenal don't even have a recognised fourth choice striker. Then when you look at the two Manchester teams, their options are on a totally different planet to ours. Aguero, Ballotelli and Edin Dzeko make up a strike-force worth €100 million for Man City while Man United have the almost ever-present Wayne Rooney to lead their line with the youthful and potentially brilliant Welbeck and Hernandez to play with him. Berbatov, who scored a hat-trick in their match yesterday, can barely get a game in the United side.

To sum up we have nothing like those options and are only Van Persie sustaining an injury, or losing form, away from a meltdown upfront for the team. The rumours of Thierry Henry returning are encouraging but that would only be to March as the MLS season kicks off again then. Arsenal and Wenger need something more permanent. For now though, the team has another big game coming up at the weekend against QPR and the team's attention must refocus to that.

Wolves - A Win For Fourth

The Arsenal team has just been announced as I write this and despite some speculation to the contrary, Van Persie will start.

The Dutchman is just two goals from equalling Alan Shearer's record of 36 Premier League goals in a calendar year and with two matches to go and with the form Van Persie is in at the moment, it would be hard to bet against him reaching and possibly exceeding that tally.

Wolves are in poor form at the moment. I follow Mick McCarthy's team because of the Irish connection and I'm really surprised about their struggles. Matt Jarvis, Stephen Hunt, Steven Fletcher and of course Kevin Doyle are very good attacking players. Jarvis and Hunt are tricky wingers and will provide a good supply to any forward over the course of a season. And I think Fletcher and Doyle complement each other very well, they both work hard and they both run the flanks very well to stretch defences. The only problem I can see with them is that they don't score enough so that's something that they'll need to improve on if the team is to escape a relegation scrap.

Arsenal's form is very contrasting with the opponents today. If it weren't for the fact that all four fullbacks are injured we would probably be scoring more goals and might have even got a result against Man City the other week. The only problem that I worry about is the lack of goals outside of Van Persie. While it was great to see Yossi Benayoun come on and score the winner against Aston Villa, its an occasion that has come against the norm of Van Persie providing the necessary finesse to get the team three points. I said it a few weeks ago but Ramsey really needs to step it up along with Arteta and Gervinho. Unfortunately though, the Ivorian won't really have a chance to overcome his profligacy in front of goal until after the African Cup of Nations. The other two however don't have that excuse and really need to get in amongst the goals more.

Ramsey has been particularly awful in front of goal. He wasted a great chance against Villa the other night and that came in a long succession of bad misses for the Welshman. He is fitter than he's ever been, being one of the first players to achieve over 100-miles of distance covered in the Premier League this season, but his position will be under very serious threat by Jack Wilshere - when he returns - if this wastefulness in front of goal continues.

By all accounts, today's game really should be a comfortable home win and if that's the case it will more than likely coincide with Van Persie equalling or even breaking Shearer's record. Wolves are a tough side despite their position in the league so the team will have to be prepared to match them physically for our passing game to overcome them. I'm going to be positive, seeing as it is that jolly time of year, and say that we'll win 3-0 with a Van Persie brace and one of the defenders to score off a set-piece.

Finally, I just want to say that it would be a fantastic achievement to go into the new year in a Champions League place. We all remember earlier in the season lingering in 17th place and being written off so it's exceptional to have turned that around so fast and to have the season back on track.