First, let me declare today’s blog an Andrei Arshavin-free zone. His name shall not pass my lips, or more accurately, be tapped into my keyboard until a) he has officially signed or b) officially not signed or c) the transfer window is closed until July.
Big, BIG game tonight. David Moyes has done a great job at Everton on relatively little money. All things are relative, mind. Barnet’s entire playing budget including manager and coaches doesn’t come to a million quid!
Anyway, Moyes has done well. I confess to a soft spot for the Toffees. They always tried to play football when they came to Highbury when I was a youngster under the great Harry Catterick. It must have been bloody hard work on Merseyside being a blue for large parts of the 1970s and 1980 when Liverpool was carrying all before it at home and in Europe. That Liverpool team was great. I respected but cordially detested them. If I’m honest though I had a great regard for Bob Paisley, a fantastic manager and tactician never given the credit he deserved in my opinion. Perhaps it’s because he looked and dressed like your favourite uncle. A very shrewd football brain, one of the European greats in fact. I always loved his comment when he was in Rome for the first of Liverpool’s European Cup wins. Asked how he liked the city he replied saying the last time he’d been there he entered the city sitting on the back of a tank with the British Army. Class!
I digress. I’m worried about tonight. We’re not playing that well and Everton are the sort of team we tend to have problems with. They’re in reasonable form at the moment. We’re not firing on all cylinders and have injury problems. It’s often difficult to see turning points in a season in the midst of it. I have a feeling that tonight might be one of them though. Our minimum target must be third in the League for qualification for the Champions League group stage next season and the very furthest we can go in the FA Cup and Europe.
We will best achieve this I think with an old-fashioned “one game at a time” policy. It’s sometimes possible to be too far-seeing. Arsčne sensibly plans to have the players with plenty left in the tank at the end of the season. This is sometimes difficult with so many of our players playing for their countries in the summer. It’s a problem I’m frankly happy to put up with. It means we’re attracting and developing class players. I’m old-fashioned enough to think it’s an honour for the club when our players are capped internationally. In the midst of the season though too much planned “rotation” as it’s now called can be a curse I think. Continuity is very important.
I think rotation should be approached pragmatically. If a player is going like a train then let him continue. If he’s running out of steam a bit, leave him out for a game where possible. Even send him off for a few days R & R. I think our Carling Cup selection policy is fine too; controversial as it was when it started. It gives a whole different feel to the Grove on Carling Cup nights with so many season ticket holders taking the night off and gives the yoof a chance to shine, one they frequently take.
In the “big three” (for as long as we’re blessed with Champions League qualification which we’ve all started to take for granted) we should be going all out to win however, one game at a time. Tonight being the next game, I think three points would be huge, especially with Villa having won at Fratton Park last night. United absolutely tonked the Baggies at the Hawthorns. They are now the team to beat in the League. Anybody finishing above them wins it in my view. Not likely to be us but we need to keep on plugging away. I’ll guarantee the only way we will win it is one game at a time.
On a different subject, an email popped into my inbox yesterday afternoon from the club telling me that if we beat Cardiff City next Tuesday night in the Cup replay, we’ll be playing either Burnley or the Baggies at home on the Monday night live on Setanta in the Fifth Round. The £275,000 television facility fee from the FA will no doubt be welcome by the club bean-counters, assuming we beat the Bluebirds which I’m not taking for granted – at all. I do so detest games being moved from the weekend to Monday night though. It’s an imposition on travelling fans, and that’s not just the visitors. Many Gooners travel long distances too. I’m lucky to live a stone’s throw from the ground now. I used to travel down from Scotland, Wales and the north and north-east of England when I worked outside London for many years so I know exactly how much time, effort, money and loss of holiday is involved, believe me.
This match would be, if we go through, the eighth European/FA Cup home tie this season. I think the club should be seriously considering cutting the prices to reflect the inconvenience of a Monday night game, especially as its one which will have been moved from the weekend. This will considerably reduce the visitors’ travelling support I’d imagine. It’ll also deter Gooners who live a long way from London. Cutting the prices by say a quarter so they’d run from £25 to £48.50 would help boost the crowd closer to capacity than it’s otherwise likely to be. I can see the problems with doing this when we’re within the seven cup matches. Season ticket holders would be likely to object when they’ve paid in advance at full price if silver/red members and visitors were offered price cuts. The same objection doesn’t apply when season ticket holders are asked to dip into their pockets again for another game.
The upside of the club’s switch of policy a few seasons ago to effectively give additional games over the seven to season ticket holders on “tick” until renewal time was no inconvenience in going to the ground to claim your seat or spending a lifetime trying to get through to Ticketbastard on the phone (it was pre-internet sales then). The downside is it effectively makes the additional games compulsory for season ticket holders. Personally I prefer the convenience on balance but I’m tightening my belt financially as I’ve no idea if I’m going to be in work for much longer with the recession.
A concession on prices for this match would be a welcome sign that the club appreciates our support, recognises that a lot of us are struggling with the recession and increased bills (thanks so much Mayor Boris for putting up the fares on the buses, Tube, trains and trams by 6%. Just what the doctor ordered. Not) and would I think make sound business sense for the club. We should be ahead of budget on gate receipts at the moment, given two home Carling Cup ties, an FA Cup tie and a replay so far. We played seven home European/FA Cup ties last season. We’d be well ahead of the race with eight, even though we only keep 45% of home FA Cup gates net of match expenses (42.5% for replays).
Memo to Ivan Gazidis. Make yourself a star, mate. Give us all a break if we get through against Cardiff.
That’s all for today. Good luck and well played to all those flogging up to Merseyside for the game tonight. I know you’ll be loud and proud as ever for us.
Keep the faith!