Monday, 28 April 2014

The fight for fourth, Moyes' sacking, Newcastle preview and CL thoughts


It's been a busy week of football, one I regret missing out on.

A lot has happened in terms of football in general, so please forgive me for turning my attention away from Arsenal in this post. Without further ado, let's get right into the thick of it.

Hull was the performance of the old...
...and by old, i mean six months ago. The 3-0 win against Hull displayed football by Arsenal that we had gotten used to around the September-December period. And there was one man who was at the centre of it, just like he was in the thick of it half a year ago.

Aaron Ramsey was simply... well, Ramsey. I didn't expect much from him because he had just returned from injury, and one assist against West Ham didn't exactly mean he was 'back', as such. Indeed, I tried to downplay his importance to every Gooner I knew, for I didn't want to increase the burden on his tired shoulders.

How wrong was I? Ramsey bossed it. His direct, purposeful running was an acceptable surrogate for Theo Walcott's absence. His all-action midfield play is irreplaceable, really. He immediately got back in his groove with a goal and an assist, not to mention being significantly involved in the third. I had genuinely forgotten how good he was, and didn't want to hype his earlier season form for fear of setting unfair expectations on him.

However, I didn't need to. Ramsey's performance leaked of efficiency and enthusiasm. It's getting impossible to raise the bar on his expectations. Had Wenger not overplayed him and rashly attempted to bring him back to action, we could have been a lot better off than we currently are.

Podolski deserves mention too. Even though I'm increasingly of the opinion that deploying him on the left flank in a 4-3-3 isn't the best idea, I want Podolski to do well at Arsenal. His second goal was one only Aaron Ramsey could have scored in this present Arsenal team, which highlights how much we need him.

Podolski is a rarity at Arsenal. He gives us that cutting edge, the final product and covers his defensive deficiencies by smashing the ball into the net. Goals win football matches, to use the redundant footballing cliche, and Podolski offers that. Which is why, in the absence of Theo, the guy is becoming indispensable.

Work out the math. How many players currently at Arsenal would have scored the goal that Podolski did against Hull, or even West Ham? Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and maybe Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky. With the latter two not exactly in their prime currently, Walcott injured and Ramsey only being one guy, Podolski continues to deliver the goods. And that's why Arsenal need him.

Moyes had to go...
I'm not saying this from an Arsenal perspective. As a Gooner, I think what he was doing was hilarious. Bringing a title winning side to practically mid-table unwittingly is beyond remarkable. United were hopeless and hapless under him.

However, hearing United supporters protesting to Moyes' sacking and trotting out "#InMoyesWeTrust" was almost stupid. Moyes was given time to gel with the players and build on a foundation set by Ferguson, and he failed miserably. He lost the dressing room, pampered Rooney, never found a stable backline and mismanaged van Persie and Kagawa.

However, the reason why he had to go was because of what he did back in last summer. By firing a backroom staff full of winners, he was drilling a box of nails into his grave.

As a football fan, I believe that modern day managers can be successful by living off the information from their backroom staff. By piecing together knowledge from your medical staff, your transfer negotiator, your scouts, your first team coaches, etc., you could make informed decisions and take the club forward. By being a figurehead to experts working behind the scenes, the manager can mould that information to take calculated risks.

Maybe that's what Ferguson saw in Moyes. Maybe Ferguson believed that Moyes could act as a nominal leader, take advice from United's superb backroom staff and carry on business as usual. It is a lesser known fact that Ferguson was an awful tactician, so instead of going around with his own tactics (like Wenger does), he took advice from his coaching staff.

However, Moyes blew it. Inspite of Ferguson's pleas, Moyes made what was his worst decision as Manchester United manager, in my opinion, by hiring Everton's staff and firing Ferguson's staff. Is it really a surprise that their negotiating staff failed to lure Coentrao, Alcantra and Ozil to their team?

As their dog turd of a season wore on, he eventually lost the players, the support and the plot. He panicked into giving Rooney a megadeal, and overpaid for Juan Mata. He made insane decisions like playing Januzaj as central attacking midfield and Valencia at right back. Some legacy.

If the replacement, touted to be Louis van Gaal, does come in, he'll have to sort out the backroom staff. Otherwise, if the new manager's pedigree is modest, I'd expect to see more of the same.

Perhaps this should be a lesson for Wenger. While Moyes took the advice of incompetent ex-Evertonians in the backroom, it is widely known that Wenger acts as a one-man army. He does not heed the advice of his backroom staff at all, a result of his egocentric and dictatorial mindset. Would any medical staff sanction playing Ramsey for 112 minutes, only after two days of full training?

Wenger has to learn. Ferguson took the advice of his coaching staff and became a footballing legend. Moyes ignored it and became a laughing stock. Wenger, for a good decade, is ignoring the advice of behind-the-scenes men and is watching his Arsenal regressing.

For me, the writing is on the wall.

Real Madrid have exposed Bayern's weaknesses...
While I think Bayern are currently the best footballing side in the world, that doesn't mean they're flawless. There were glaring errors in their matches against Arsenal, errors that a better manager would have taken advantage of. Ancelloti did.

After our 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena, I had said:

"I still fancy Bayern to win the Champions League. However, I say that because I don't find any other team that can match their prowess. Real Madrid, maybe, but I'm not so sure."

I didn't see the match, so I don't know the tactics Real employed. I did hear people say that Real should have had a bigger lead going into the second leg, so it seems like Carlo got his tactics right. Either way, the second leg at the Allianz promises to be a cracker. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Anyone but Chelsea...
Since the season began, I had predicted Chelsea to win the Premier League. It wasn't a pleasant thought, and I wasn't supporting them in any way. And even though Jose somehow managed to get his buses past Anfield, it's unlikely they'll win the title.

However, I have this nagging feeling that they are going to win the Champions League. I don't know why, because they certainly are underdogs against the might of Real and Bayern. They may even be too weak to get past Atletico.

Looking at Mourinho thumping his Chelsea badge against the sea of Anfield incensed me a bit. It was then, when I realized that I want Chelsea to suffer as much hurt as possible this season. I hate the club, the plastic fans, the mafia owner and the anti-football manager. Why the fuck do you spend billions and then play like Stoke City?

I think I hate Chelsea more than Tottenham Hotspur, which really is saying something. And that is why I find the nagging feeling, that they might win the CL uncomfortable. Should they perform that feat, the niggling thought might eat me up.

Anyone but Chelsea.

Everton did us a massive favour...
I didn't expect them to lose against Southampton, be it at St. Mary's. However, to lose like they did - by scoring two own goals - was as surprising as it was delighting. Needless to say, fourth is well and truly in our hands now, and looking at City's win over Crystal Palace, we're forced to be happy with what we have.

Today could be St. Totteringham's day...
With Newcastle United coming up in a few hours, three points would seal Arsenal's superiority over Tottenham for the 19th season running. Remarkable, really.

On comparison to the previous two seasons, where we had to wait till the last game of the season to establish North London superiority, it shows how much we have progressed and how much Tottenham have regressed. St. Totteringham's Day has almost gone under the radar due to the prospect of going four clear of Everton.

I find it surprising how little I care over St. Totteringham's. I barely even care about top four, really. Bar the FA Cup, this season is over for me. All I care about is Wenger's possible departure and decisive additions in the summer.

Until then, it's just getting through another Matchday.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )