2009/10 – SO FAR, SO GOOD

2009/10 – SO FAR, SO GOOD

In the end, a comfortable win on Saturday against beleaguered Portsmouth. You’ve got to feel for their supporters, some of the loudest and most passionate around. They’re now suffering the effects of ownership that spent money on player transfers and wages like the proverbial drunken sailor. At one stage their pay-bill was ninety percent of turnover. Madness.
Whilst it was a comfortable win, we displayed some of the worrying defensive frailties of last season. There was down to Manuel Almunia I’m afraid. Even under challenge the ball into the box should have been his. I also thought at the time that William Gallas could have gone for a last-man foul with the Pompey player through on goal and Big Bad Bill beaten for pace.
Television replays showed that the referee got it right though. No foul. Credit where credit’s due. Replays also showed that both Emmanuel Eboué and Abou Diaby were both just onside when Cesc Fàbregas played his excellent pass out to Eboué pushing forward on the right wing. Portsmouth manager Paul Hart did his crust about both these incidents on Match of the Day. He was wrong about both of them in my view. You’ve got to feel for the bloke however. He’s been left holding the bag as all the club’s best players have left in a fire-sale forced by the club’s huge debts. When will football club owners grow up and realise clubs need to be ambitious but also need to live within their means?
I’m crossing my fingers that Cesc Fàbregas’s hamstring problem which forced his substitution for Aaron Ramsey at half-time isn’t serious. Oh, injury gremlins, go away! Stop tormenting us! Out demons, out! The silver lining was a very encouraging second half showing by the young Welshman (particularly pleasing to me as a fellow Taff). I’m also not completely convinced about so much “rotation” in the side. We rested four from the side that won 2-0 at Celtic Park, all dropping to the bench. As I’ve said before however, Arsčne Wenger knows a lot more about the game than I do. He’s earned our trust I think.
On that note an interesting book has recently been published about how to succeed in football, co-authored by Dutch football writer Simon Kuper and fundamentalist free-market sports economist Professor Stefan Szymanski of the Cass business school in London, which is part of City University.
I’m not particularly enamoured of Kuper’s style. Professor Szymanski is a man of considerable intellect with a solid body of work in his field as an academic economist who has studied the economics of sport closely. His ultra free-market orthodoxy and application of market economic theory to professional sports leagues is however, in my view, a classic example of the limits of theory, important as it is in developing policy.
What’s so interesting about this book, called Why England Lose: And Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained, is that one of its conclusions, based on a mass of empirical data, is that the way to football success is by paying out high wages but skimping on the transfer fess. Maybe Arsčne Wenger is on to something after all? Our pay bill is one of the highest in the world but we consistently spend much less in the transfer market than other clubs. You can read a review of Kuper & Szymanski’s book which appeared in The Economist here:
On the subject of football books, two others to mention. Alex Fynn, a football commercial and broadcasting consultant and Kevin Whitcher, editor of that estimable organ of all things Arsenal, The Gooner, have revised and updated their book ARSÈNAL – The Making of a Modern Superclub for its paperback edition just published, including two completely new chapters on the goings-on at the club post the defenestration from the Highbury House boardroom of Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith and an analysis of last season. A very, very informative read. I thoroughly recommend it.
Another book I’ve read recently on the history and development of the game’s tactics and formations is Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics. It too is now out in paperback. It’s quite simply the best thing I’ve ever read in terms of the football layman who wants to be better informed about the tactics of the game. Again, thoroughly recommended.
Returning to events at the Grove last Saturday can I give a hearty thumbs up and well-played to the club for the latest stage of “Arsenalisation” of the ground. It all looks great and I can’t wait for the next stage of this process. Congratulations all round. The club is finally listening to supporters, at least on this issue. Likewise a huge well-played on the fifty thousand free scarves which were on the seats for all Arsenal supporters at the game. A big, BIG thank you has to go to all those out there in the Gooner Nation who volunteered their own time gratis on Friday afternoon and evening to lay the scarves out on the seats. Well played, ladies and gents. VERY well played. All those who I meet who participated shall be the recipient of a pint or other beverage of their choice as and when I run into them. That wurling sea of red and white looked brilliant when the teams came out onto the park. More, more, more of this type of initiative working with the fans. Let’s all big it up for those GOOD people at REDaction who pour their hearts and souls into this work for all of us.  
On a more negative note, I arrived at the ground to find the lift I customarily use to get to the upper tier was out of order – again. As was another of the lifts in the ground, so one of the stewards told me. The number of occasions on which the lifts at the ground are out of action is unacceptable. Many of us, me included, have disabilities which make using the stairs very difficult. The club’s had all summer to sort out this problem which has plagued the ground since it opened three years ago. Somebody at the club needs to “own

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