Tuesday 30 October 2012

Back from the dead! 7-5 to the Arsenal

It was a painful and bizarre first half.  Somehow we conceded four goals without really being dominated, that unique mixture of suicidal individual defending and poor team defending saw us concede four before the half was over, only a late Theo Walcott goal saw a glimmer of hope salvaged.  The starting eleven was extremely attacking with Chamakh/Arshavin/Walcott/Gnabry all starting, so no wonder that we looked extremely fragile as a direct Reading side started well and attacked us hard with a very high tempo.

Kos was culpable for the first two goals, caught napping for the first which was a very well taken goal by Roberts, and then a poor attempted clearance with the left foot left Martinez with no chance at preventing the own goal.  Martinez then dropped a clanger for the third, but the time and space allowed was symptomatic of some really poor general team defending again.  The fourth saw acres of space yet again appear on the flank and our defenders were weak in the aerial challenge despite outnumbering Reading in the box.

Theo's excellent goal and then a lightning bolt of a header from the substitute Giroud with about twenty minutes to go gave us some hope, then Koscielny's header from a corner with a minute to go.  It seemed like it was not quite going to be, but then Theo got the ball over the line with over 95 minutes on the clock, the linesman didn't give it but Jenkinson expertly tucked home the rebound, 4-4, the recovery was complete, utterly amazing!  Extra time then came.

Then came the most amazing and incredible thing, as if scoring twice from corners wasn't enough, but Chamakh came inside from the left wing and struck a beauty into the bottom left corner of the net, the comeback was now truly complete, 5-4 to the Arsenal, unbelievable stuff.  We then seemed to be cruising but incredibly Reading found an equaliser out of nowhere, a lucky deflected shot was headed home by Pogrebnyak who was just about level in offside terms, 5-5, blimey.  Giroud was then inches away from winning it in the 30th minute of extra time, his shot flashed narrowly wide.  With penalties looming both teams were still pushing for the win, we broke, Arshavin destroyed, the ball was cleared off the line and Theo hammered home, 6-5, words were failing me at this point.  Then Chamakh scored again, I thought I was hallucinating at this point, fortunately I was not.

Overall the appalling first half showing seemed too much for us to recover from.  Great credit must go to the players for keeping going and never lying down, great credit also to Reading for being truly excellent opponents. The thing that really frustrated me in the first half was not the effort of the players, nor the commitment shown, it is the naive way that the manager sent the team out and the terrible defensive shape we showed for so much of the first half.  Without the ball we have been too poor for some time now, we too often lack solidity as a unit and seem prone to conceding far far too easily when not under a great deal of pressure.  Anyway we showed terrific fight and courage to come back, well done the lads.  Many questioned your commitment and effort, unfairly in my opinion, and you proved them all wrong.  Amazing, incredible, in fact words struggle when it comes to games like that, awesome and spectacular, a truly magnificent game of football.

What do Mike Riley and the PGMOL have to hide?

So Mike Dean is set to officiate yet another Arsenal game as he takes charge of our away trip at Old Trafford this weekend, there is something so desperately wrong with a system that allows one official to referee almost a quarter of one team's games.  The massive scandal surrounding referee selection in the Premier League is going to run and run, the fact that the media routinely fail to investigate this gaping chasm says a lot about the sad lapdog state of many of the mainstream journalists out there.

I sent the PGMOL some rather simple and basic questions almost a year ago now, unsurprisingly this 'open' and 'transparent' organisation simply cut off contact with me as they do not want to reveal what actually goes on as regards their organisation and referee selection in the PGMOL.  Here are the basic questions that the PGMOL will not answer:

1. Would it be possible to see the template scoring systems (for both match assessor and match delegate) used for assessing the performance of referees at games?  Obviously I do no expect to see specific scored but would like to see the blank marking sheets to see what they are scored on for each game.

2. Are referees routinely scored based on the review of match videos after games?

3. If the answer to 3 is yes, then are they scored for their technical performance ie whether specific decisions were right or wrong in games?

4. The figure quoted by Mike Riley is that 99% of assistant referee decisions on offside are correct.  Where does this data come from, it is based on video review of the decisions or some other form of review (match assessors or delegates)?

5. Does the PGMO think that the region of the country from which a referee originates may result in some unconscious decision making bias?

6. Does the PGMO agree with the susbstantive body of research that shows referees will tend to unconsciously favour the home side with decisons?

7. Are you able to give me some basic details of who makes up the PGMO?

8.  Are you able to give me any details on how referees are selected? ie how often are the meetings and who is involved?

 You can make up your own minds as to why the PGMOL will not answer any of these questions or even dignify my questions with any kind of comment.  Personally I think it is utterly shameful that the biggest football league in the world is run in such a hidden and shady manner.  Their refusal to answer does not make them appear open, transparent or honest.

The Lance Armstrong scandal in cycling has shown how corrupt sport and business can become, and that assuming things are fine just because they should be is about as naive and stupid as one can get.  The Premier League is a multi-billion pound business, the way it operates should be transparent and open, alas beneath the shiny brochures and glossy pamphlets lurks a very dodgy world filled with numerous huge conflicts of interest.  Assuming football to be clean when everything is hidden from view and when everything is pointing in the other direction is about as stupid as one can get.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Manu aided and abetted by suspicious Clattenberg

There is bad luck, there are coincidences and there is blatant systematic corruption.  Today Manu have been massively helped on their way to another highly contentious victory by some highly dodgy refereeing from Mark Clattenberg at Stamford Bridge.  This is the same Mark Clattenberg who didn't referee Manu for over thirty games after having the audacity to send off a Manu player at Old Trafford.

I don't like either side so I can be pretty objective in analysing the game.  Clattenberg was spot on with the first red card, Ivanovic left him no choice at all with a cynical last man challenge.  The problem was with what came after this.  Being down to ten men is one thing, it is manageable, but going down to nine is another, and this is what Clattenberg did to Chelsea when he unfairly sent off Fernando Torres for 'diving'.

Evans was beaten by Torres and he wasn't far off being clean through on goal, he slid in and made decent contact with Torres' shin, Torres was then inexplicably given a second yellow for 'diving', ridiculous.  A few moments later Clattenberg then made an incredibly suspicious decision by failing to send off Wayne Rooney for a clear yellow card offence.  Rooney had been rightly booked in the first half, he was skinned in the midfield, effectively rugby tackled his opponent to the floor, Clattenberg gave the free kick but didn't book Rooney, inexcusable and inexplicable, a decision that really stunk of flagrant bias.

Chelsea were now up against it with only nine men on the field, they had previously been in the ascendancy before the sendings off, and to add insult to injury Manu won the game with an offside goal, this was a tough call for the officials though.  When one remembers how Manu got a draw at Stamford Bridge last season with two clear non-penalties given to them, this is a sickening way to lose a game of football.

Overall it is extremely suspicious just how keen referees are to send off Manu's opponents, while the same harsh hand is rarely applied to offences committed by Manchester United players.  I am no Chelsea fan, far from it, but it is appalling that such injustice is so very commonplace in the modern game.  The way Alex Ferguson bullies and intimidates people is disgraceful; it has also has a massive affect on the decisions made by many referees and the governing bodies.  Until we have a fair and transparent referee selection process with video technology and the use of regular retrospective bans, the Premier League and football in general will continue to look very very bent indeed.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Squad weakness exposed by Schalke

It was a depressing watch, we never really looked the better side and we could have gone behind on several occasions before Huntelaar finally broke the deadlock.  There was no lack of effort from the players on the field though, it was simply that this team was not good enough and that the manager had not set-up the players as effectively as he might have done.

A few injuries and we are looking very weak indeed, we are down to the bare bones on the bench and there were very few options for the manager in terms of personnel.  Santos is a defensive liability, Ramsey was deployed in a role that he simply cannot perform in, while playing Gervinho centrally and Podolski wide was simply bizarre.  Even if the team had been set up a bit better, I still doubt whether we could have really dominated the Germans as we should be able to.

This squad is simply too weak and it pains me to say it.  This was demonstrated by the options on the bench, the experienced attacking players were Chamakh and Arshavin, it's just not good enough.  With Ox and Theo out there was absolutely zero width in the team, one of the few positives was the outstanding performance of Francis Coquelin, he was combative and sharp, a great display.

We lack forwards, we lack width and we lack quality squad depth.  These things were all so predictable at the start of the season and it is so frustrating to be pointing them out again now.  It is no surprise that our injury prone players like Diaby and Rosicky are currently unfit.  I can't fault the effort of the players on the field tonight, they largely did their best, they just weren't as good as Schalke.  We need our injured players back fast and we need to turn this poor run around.  This squad is in danger of producing our most average and mediocre season for a very long time.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Simply bad defending (again)

I have left it a few days to give my verdict on the Norwich defeat and I hope that taking the time to calm down gives me an advantage in terms of perspective.  It is easy to see things out of context and get overly depressed, not that I think it was a good performance by any means, it was not.  Certainly there were several factors in our defeat but I think it can be simplified down into a few key problems.  It is also worth remembering that we were not outplayed, we had a lot of the ball, it was more the fact that we couldn't convert our possession into chances.

The first point is that goals change games and the first goal is open pivotal, this was emphatically the case against Norwich.  It was also a very poor goal to concede from a defensive point of view.  Firstly Mannone's goalkeeping was awful, he couldn't hold onto a moderately decent shot and he palmed the ball out across his own goal, poor on both fronts.  Santos also played Holt onside, the rest of the back four were nicely in line.  Having controlled the opening few minutes conceding midway through the first half in such fashion changed the game, Norwich could sit deep and defend in numbers, thus making it very tough indeed for us to find space and break them down.

So having gone one nil down we never really created enough in front of goal, we did have several half chances but nothing that clear cut, so given the amount of ball we had why was this?  I think we rely too much on our full backs for width, the midfield three don't give us width, while our forward line can also be rather narrow.  This all adds up to it being too easy for Norwich to defend against us, our lack of width means that can defend narrow and in numbers, making things very congested and making it very hard for us to create anything clear cut.  The answer to this is to play with more width and simply apply pressure by hitting a lot of balls into their box from wide areas, eventually the pressure will tell.  However if you do not bombard their box then the possession may well not tell and this proved the case on Saturday.

So the bottom line for me is that we need to stop making such basic defensive errors as it becomes very hard to win football matches if one goes behind to such sloppy goals time after time.  It also begs the question as regards goalkeeping depth, I don't rate Mannone or Fabianski, I would like to see a better more experienced no2 at the club.  Tactically we also need to have more options at our disposal for when teams decided to park the bus, sometimes we need to stick two men up front, we need to have two wide men in the midfield and we have to change tack.  Come on you Gunners, bring on Schalke.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Random mix including Serbia shame

I have largely taken my mind off football for the last few days and the lack of Arsenal games has made it a very stress-free period indeed!  I spent an evening listening all about Lance Armstrong's disgraceful cheating and bullying, the rank corruption within the cycling authorities and how they still have many miles to go before they can claim their sport is even remotely clean.

It also brings up a very interesting point which makes those who write off talk of systemic bias in the Premier League as mad 'conspiracy theories' look like idiots.  When there is a lot of money around in sport, do not underestimate just how bent and corrupt things can become.  Networks of nepotism and corruption grow and thrive, this is life, simply assuming that things are fine when one has a lot of good evidence to the contrary is nothing other than naive.

Oliver Giroud's confidence must be climbing up there after his excellent last minute goal away to Spain, many other Arsenal players have been in action and touch wood, there is no terrible injury news as yet.  I just hope we get a full set of players back for Norwich, it is just the kind of game we need to get three points out of, there is no room for complacency or error.  The other fantastic news is that Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna both came through a behind closed doors friendly against Chelsea, again I am touching wood.

Finally onto the most serious issue of all and that is racism.  It is no surprise that racism is rife in certain corners of the globe, both FIFA and UEFA have failed to adequately take on this disgraceful cancer in the game, they both seem intent on punishing other more trivial matters such as Arsene texting people during games.  I suspect the reason UEFA and FIFA are so reluctant to properly punish the racists like Serbia is that the Presidential votes of many countries may be lost if they do show the balls to stand up to racism.

The Serbian FA have behaved just as badly as the significant number of supporters who racially abused Danny Rose in a quite disgraceful and sustained manner last night, they have launched a pathetic attack on Rose, labelling him 'inappropriate and vulgar'.  Words fail me at moments like these, the Serbian FA have truly plumbed new depths with their complete failure to look at their own ugly racist face in the mirror.  No player should have to endure what Danny Rose did, we are all human beings and racism has no place in sport, or in any aspect of modern life.  Shame on the Serbian supporters and the Serbian FA.  Only a ban from all competitions will suffice now.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Dodgy first half forgotten as Ramsey ices cake

The starting eleven was pretty much what we had expected, le Coq coming in for Diaby in midfield, perhaps slightly surprisingly there was no Giroud up top though, Oxo starting on the right with Podolski and Gervinho making up the front three.  The rain poured and we showed some nerves early on when Mannone's bungled ball to Vermaelen amost set up a chance for Olympiakos.  The full backs started brightly and it came after a foul on Gibbs, that Cazorla tested their keeper's fingertips with a fizzing free kick.

We seemed to lose our way as the first half wore on, Olympiakos kept men behind the ball and made things tough, it resulted in us making several loose errors.  We had plenty of the ball but couldn't make it count, several corners came and went, but Olympiakos has the best two chances, one good save forced from Mannone and a missed sitter by Machado.  Kos was fortunate not to see red for a terrible lunge after a heavy touch, Vermaelen gave away another free kick by lunging in recklessly.

Then out of nowhere we took the lead, good work on the left by Cazorla and the ball came infield, it broke to Gerivnho whose touch and finish were excellent.  A rather fortunate 1-0 lead all things considered.  We then seemed to slacken off completely, thinking the half time whistle would just come, it didn't, Jenkinson stood off his man, a good cross was whipped in, Kos and Vermaelen were again caught napping, Mitroglou headed home and left Mannone no chance at all.  It was exactly what we deserved, we had been poor for most of the first half, defensively sloppy, too weak in midfield and lacklustre in attacking areas.

The second half began brightly, Gervinho's excellent work teeing up Cazorla who should have hit the target with his side footed attempt.  Shortly afterwards more great Gervinho work on the left edge of the box saw him centre to Podolski, who was now thankfully playing more centrally, and he dispatched the ball hard and low, in off the keeper's back side.  The second half had started so much better, the tempo was right, the ball was being zipped around as it should, rather a contrast to much of the first half.

Kos then missed an absolute sitter with a free header from about five yards out.  The game gradually faded away, we did look a good deal more solid defensively, Theo's introduction certainly made a difference, one cross was well captured by their keeper, another led to a decent Giroud flick that was well saved.  The Greek diving became rather tedious but the referee seemed to slowly lose the plot, gifting Olympiakos soft free kick after soft free kick.  There was still time for the unfortunate Giroud to see his goal bound shot deflected wide off a shoulder for a corner.  The final icing on the cake was Ramsey's expertly taken goal, he did a Henry impression and magnificently lobbed the ball over the keeper after nailing the defender for pace.

Overall job done, despite a dodgy first half, we showed good character to grind out a good win with a far better second half performance, and this was against a well organised side who made it very difficult for us to break them down.  The positives were Gervinho, the full backs, Giroud and Theo.  The negatives must include the dodgy defending at times from the centre backs, the shaky Mannone and our lack of togetherness in the first half.  Can't grumble though, six out of six ain't bad!

Alex Ferguson and referee selection: too many coincidences?

It is a well known fact that human behaviour is modified by rewards and punishments, therefore in order to have a fair system of refereeing it is vital that all referees are treated equally and objectively when it comes to assessing their performances.  It is also vital that for a referee selection process to be free from bias, it has to be pretty random and free from outside influence.  Unfortunately the PGMO's referee selection and assessment process, run by Mike Riley, is flawed, subjective and highly  subject to outside influence.  Mike Riley's own objectivity and bias has been called into question by managers in the past.

Yet another blatant example of Sir Alex Ferguson having an obvious influence on referee selection has reared its ugly head this week.  Chris Foy, who refereed Manu's defeat to Tottenham, has been bizarrely demoted to a League 2 game this weekend, his first League 2 game since 2006.  Obviously our friends at the FA deny  this is a 'demotion' and claim it is just part of his normal refereeing rota.  Alex Ferguson insulted the refereeing after the game and should have been charged by the FA, instead Alex Ferguson appears to have got his own way yet again.

If one looks back at referees who have dared allow Manchester United to lose games in recent years, there is a clear trend of great concern after these Manu defeats.  Alan Wiley refereed United’s 4-1 loss to Liverpool in 2009 and in that game, he gave both United and Liverpool penalties and sent off Nemanja Vidic. All 3 decisions were reasonable and Wiley was praised by Sky TV co-commentator Andy Gray for his performance; not even Ferguson complained.  Later that year, Wiley was given another United game to referee and despite sending off Kieran Richardson of Sunderland, Wiley was lambasted by Ferguson for being “fat and unfit”. The game ended 2-2.  That would be the end of Wiley’s refereeing career. Wiley, it says cryptically on his Wikipedia page, “agreed to retire” at the end of that season. Agreed with whom? No one knows.

Last season, Manchester City romped to a 6-1 win at Old Trafford, inflicting on their rivals their biggest embarrassment under Ferguson. The referee on that day was Mark Clattenburg. He sent Johnny Evans off in the second half for a clear professional foul.  There have been 34 Man United league games since that day and Clattenberg has not refereed a single one of them. The same absence of United fixtures after refereeing a United defeat is common to Martin Atkinson and Chris Foy as well.  There are also some other remarkable coincidences after the refereeing of United defeats.  

Whether there is rank corruption or just biased decision making as a result of dodgy processes is open to question, however what is clear is that the referee selection procedure and system is far too open to influence and consequently bias.  Untold Arsenal's statistical analysis of referee performances show this is now beyond significant doubt.  Manchester United have far too much influence within the game and on referee selection, and this is consequently giving them an unfair advantage over their competitors.  Referees like Howard Webb know that it is career dynamite to be favourable to Manu with one's decisions making, while it is career death to dare to upset Sir Alex with a defeat.

The PGMO is not fit for purpose, it is simply not good enough that the richest league in the whole of the world has such a hidden and subjective method of selecting referees for games.  We have seen in many other countries including in Italy how just a bit of influence on this process can result in massive bias, this appears to be happening under our very noses in the Premier League.  The silence of the media is one of the most worrying aspects of this, journalists are either scared of the ability of Ferguson and Manu to end their careers, or they are more involved than we know, either way the world's 'greatest' league is beginning to stink of corruption.