Sport Soccer

Sunday 31 August 2014

Outside the box with Aidan O’Hara: Gunners' failings a lesson from history

Aidan O'Hara

Published 12/11/2012 | 05:00

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IT was a game in which Arsenal were comfortably the better team, took the lead, had legitimate gripes over crucial refereeing decisions, missed chances to kill the game off and were undone by two goals in five minutes that cost them a trophy -- but it wasn't last week or last month.

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It was 11 years ago in the FA Cup final when Arsenal played Liverpool off the Millennium Stadium pitch before two goals from Michael Owen which, if they'd happened this season, would have been said to show up all of Arsenal's "familiar failings".

The starting XI on that day was Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Cole; Pires, Grimandi, Vieira, Ljungberg; Wiltord, Henry -- players that are being lauded by the 'we want our Arsenal back' brigade whose sense of entitlement and nostalgia-wallowing is bordering on delusional.

They'll tell you that, in the last minute of a crucial game in the glory days, there would have been a player with the mental strength to score a last-minute penalty, which Mikel Arteta couldn't on Saturday.

But they'll forget that Dennis Bergkamp missed a late penalty in an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United in 1999 that would have stopped the treble before it had started.

Poisoning

They'll say that the Arsenal teams of the past would never have been satisfied with fourth place. But they'll forget the bout of food poisoning which struck Tottenham players before the final game of the season in 2006 which helped Arsenal to sneak into fourth spot, 24 points behind champions Chelsea.

The players that played in the league that season? Sol Campbell (20 times), Cesc Fabregas (30), Mathieu Flamini (19), Thierry Henry (30), Aleksandr Hleb (17), Lauren (22), Jens Lehmann (38), Freddie Ljungberg (21), Robert Pires (23), Jose Reyes (22), Gilberto Silva (33), Kolo Toure (33) -- players of the 'our Arsenal' era, who finished 15 points behind third.

There'll be an argument that Wenger should take the League Cup more seriously after being 4-0 down to Reading, but few will remember their elimination in 1999 when they were thumped 5-0 at home by Chelsea.

Those emphasising Wenger's fall from grace will point to games against United which were never as one-sided as this year's 2-1 win for the Red Devils or last year's 8-2 hammering. But they'll forget the 6-1 destruction at Old Trafford in 2001 when a team with Seaman, Cole, Sylvinho, Ray Parlour, Pires, Vieira, Wiltord and Henry were every bit as much of a rabble as the one beaten there in the last two seasons.

The reality is that, with one glorious exception in the 2003/04 season, Wenger's Arsenal have always been infuriatingly inconsistent, but so many positive and negative myths have built up around his era that it becomes difficult to recall a clear picture.

One of the criticisms is that he has never had a good defence other than the one he inherited -- which ignores the Lehmann, Lauren, Cole, Campbell, Toure quintet who were the bedrock to see them through the 2003/04 season unbeaten with the best defensive record in the league. But why let a fact get in the way of condemnation?

The mental and physical strength now attributed to the earlier years of Wenger's reign is undermined by their inability to retain a league title. In 1999, they lost to Leeds in the penultimate game of the season as they surrendered their crown by a single point; they were five points off the top in 2003 and, in 2005, after losing their 49-game unbeaten run, they finished 12 points behind Chelsea.

It's in the area of player recruitment where Wenger has been most under fire and, last season, 'spend some f****** money' was the favourite chant from those who now want 'their' Arsenal back. Yet those who demand established world-class players fail to realise that they will also attract interest from United, City and Chelsea as well as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris St Germain and, if that scenario develops, Arsenal haven't a hope.

Where once they had a chance of signing the likes of Sol Campbell for free, there are now at least three clubs in England, and several from abroad, who could offer him significantly greater wages. And in football, money doesn't just talk, it screams.

Wenger has made some poor decisions, though -- the glory era also included over £10m spent on Francis Jeffers and Richard Wright -- but the club record remains £15m on Andrei Arshavin. In contrast, United's current squad has 10 players who cost more than that, Chelsea's has six, while Man City have 13.

Instead, Arsenal must rely on Wenger's greatest strength, which has always been developing players and, when the alternative is a bidding war against billionaires, that is the only realistic option -- the same as it is for the rest of the Premier League.

With the exception of Robin van Persie and Ashley Cole, very few of the players sold by Wenger have reached the levels which they did at Arsenal. Some of Petit, Overmars, Hleb, Pires, Ljungberg, Henry, Vieira, Adebayor, and Nasri picked up club titles elsewhere but most found that, without Wenger, they weren't as good as they used to be.

If the club decide to listen to those demanding 'our Arsenal back', they might just suffer the same fate.

The question nobody asked

How much has Joe Cole cost Liverpool per minute played?

Joe Cole signed for Liverpool on a free transfer in July 2010 but has never lived up to the reported £100,000-a-week wages which the club agreed to pay him.

Last week's 76-minute appearance against Anzhi brought his total minutes played for the club to 1,902 (excluding injury-time) and, in his 37 games, he has only completed 90 minutes nine times.

In a little over two years since being signed by Roy Hodgson, he has made just 20 Premier League appearances -- which included a red card against Arsenal in his debut at Anfield.

In his season-long loan at Lille, Liverpool also paid 70pc of his wages meaning that, since he signed, Liverpool have paid out a total £10,710,000 in wages to Cole in the 120 weeks he has been a club employee. That includes a barely believable £3,010,000 (43 weeks at £70,000) when he wasn't even available to play for them.

That means Liverpool have shelled out £5,630 -- give or take a few pence -- for every minute that Cole has played in a Liverpool shirt. Were he a normal worker and being paid for every hour worked (ie, for every hour he played football), that would work out at an hourly rate of £337,854 per hour.

Nice work if you can get it.



Bet you should have done

Manchester United to beat Aston Villa 9/1 (in running)

If it were possible, there are certain scenarios which should set off an automatic reminder on your phone. One would be when Arsenal take the lead -- bet on them not winning the match.

But Manchester United falling behind will always offer value in a win-market, given their comeback ability.

On Saturday, against a team they have done it to before, United fell 2-0 down to Aston Villa. Those that then backed United at 9/1 had a nice profit as the Red Devils won 3-2.



Tweets of the week

Monday

Steven Reid (@stevenreid12)

Longy don't look injured to me!!

Reid praises his West Brom

team-mate Shane Long for his display against Southampton -- and has a dig at the Ireland set-up too.

Tuesday

Louis Saha (@louissaha08)

Billions$ for campaign of president is crazy when u know the american people who vote are struggling. Sad!

Sunderland striker bemoans money being wasted -- a subject he should know plenty about.

Wednesday

Gerard Pique (@3gerardpique)

Unlucky that we lost even I think we played well. Happy to be back. No words to describe the atmosphere at Celtic Park.. #ChampionsLeague

Barcelona defender has high praise for the Parkhead bearpit.

Thursday

Michael Owen (@themichaelowen)

#Movember update

Stoke striker (right) finds something to do with his time by taking the handlebar option for his charity moustache.

Friday

Dietmar Hamann (@DietmarHamann)

You make your own judgement but I can't recall any club who paid nearly £90 million on 5 players and none of them had an impact for the team

Former Liverpool midfielder underlines the club's problems.

Saturday

Raheem Sterling (@sterling31)

Morning tweeps I've just woken up to this rubbish i can assure you I've not asked for that stupid amount where waiting til 18 2 sign

Liverpool's 17-year-old winger assures fans he's not demanding £50,000 a week. Then scares them by deleting the tweet soon after.

Sunday

Padraig Amond (@padraigamond21)

Some of the abuse James McClean is getting is shocking. People who are calling him uneducated when in fact they are the ones who are....

Accrington striker sums up McClean's poppy decision nicely.

Irish Independent

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