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Arsenal Diary

All about Arsenal and sometimes, other small clubs.

The Race is Over, Arsene.

I started writing this post after Crystal Palace match which we won comfortably. A 2-0 score line, an audacious Giroud goal and a clean sheet. Things looked fine (sort of) and people were again talking over Arsenal still being title contenders.

Giroud's celebration

I am posting this now after 3-3 draw with Bournemouth. For those who have not followed the match, Bournemouth was ahead 3-0 by the hour mark (yupp). Alexis Sanchez started the Arsenal’s comeback in 70th minute and managed to complete it by 92nd minute with help of one more injury time goal by Olivier Giroud. The script is pretty standard, isn’t it? Get into a hole dug by you and then pull yourself out.

I did not watch the match. But I read that Olivier Giroud was celebrating the injury time leveller with a new kind of celebration- the scorpion kick goal. And his team-mates were urging him to get back to the centre line and go for one more as around 4 minutes were still remaining. I read that Alexis Sanchez threw away his gloves and had his face covered by hands as he again saw his team slipping away in a familiar way in a very familiar kind of scenario at full time. This is his 3rd season here and he has seen quite a lot. Arsenal did not win the match and Bournemouth is no Manchester City. This should have been an easy win, with all due respect to Bournemouth and manager Eddie Howe. The Christmas schedule was announced six months ago. Not fair to blame it.

Sanchez looks dejected

The debate whether Arsene should leave or continue is not new and not baseless either, as we are seeing every week. Earlier, we did not have world class players. Today, there should not be an excuse like that. Sanchez, Ozil, Mustafi, Koscielny, Xhaka all are regular nationals. They have done quite a lot in their national career. So what stops them from doing the same at Arsenal? You might want to kill me but I believe it is the head coach.

I think it is time for Wenger to say goodbye. He has done a lot for the club, given almost entire of his coaching career and two decades is hell lot of time. But there comes a time when a man needs to take a call. And this is Arsene’s time to take the call. And there is a very easy (in my humble opinion) explanation for the same.

The truth is that Arsene is not able to cope up with the younger generation of the managers. He is an old lion who has seen his glory days but now the time has come to concede ground to the younger and fierce ones. He can choose to fight but chances of his winning are less. He may come up on the top in a couple of those battles but odds of his being embarrassed are higher.

The difference here is that this is not jungle where you can lose, go and sit in wilderness and lick wounds while you contemplate the next step. This is Premier League football with lots of passion and money at stake. Fans are breathing down your neck and media is questioning every decision, even the choice of over coats. And seeking wilderness is not just possible. Either perform or perish is the norm in today’s world, unless you are Arsene Wenger.

Wenger signed for Premier League when he was 46. He was young, fearless and his football philosophies were sharp and fast. Football at that time was not at this pace. He came and took Premier League by storm. He signed players, converted wingers to strikers and voila! Everything was working for him. Fans were drooling, fellow managers were cursing and press was having a gala time. He was so good that even Sir Alex Ferguson conceded ground to him, although he regained it eventually.

Almost a decade later, never-seen-before money signed Jose Mourinho to manage Chelsea and football was never the same from that point. He was 9 years younger then Wenger and had just won Champions League with a club from a country outside of Europe’s big 4. And he had a swagger about him. It was time for him to make people bow in front of him. Arsene and many others kept on complaining about the money, then and now, but the truth is, till date, even when finances are pretty much on the level field; Arsene has defeated Mourinho just once in an irrelevant Community Shield match.

Arsene’s record against other ‘young’ managers in the world is not exactly pretty. You may find a win here or there against Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique but as a whole, it paints a bad picture. And I can only deduce one thing from all this blah-blah- Arsene has not evolved. He is behind the curve and the sooner he admits this, the better it is for him and the club he loves.

Do you remember the last time when Arsenal played with a formation other than 4-2-3-1? Or when we were behind 2-1 in 75th minute, Arsene might have taken a DM off and made 2 upfront? There might be rare occurrences but frankly, I do not remember. When we are losing, the formation remains same but the reshuffling of players’ positions is done. Any message sent through the head coach, I seriously doubt that. We have always played with one formation for quite long. When we are winning, nothing matters. It is the losses that uncover the cracks. I seriously doubt that before a particular match, Arsene even tells his players how to hassle the opposition. He has one philosophy- score more than the other team. Letting got 4 is ok if you are scoring 5. More often than not, we are witnessing only one side- the letting in. The reason is not that hard to see- teams know how Arsenal are going to line up and they find the flaws. How to score and how not to concede becomes comparatively easy when the other team is not preparing tactically.

Arsene Wenger has always been an eternal optimist. He buys couple of world class players, mixes them with whole lot of youngsters with potential and throws them into a formation, hoping that his players will conjure some magic with the ball and will score 3-4 miraculous goals. Every slick pass will come off; every counter attack will be lethal and shots on goal will be converted. And all that with a backline of Squillaci and Djourou as centre halves. If this is not optimism, then I don’t know what is.

I will be very glad to be proved wrong but I do not think Arsenal have in them to win the title. May be we can again see a run of 15 undefeated games from here after some soul searching against the Bournemouth draw but championship looks far off. I don’t know how Arsenal is preparing for the next match but I know one thing- Wenger is hoping his squad can motivate itself.

It is time to Arsene Wenger to go. And there cannot be the right time. He is in the last year of the contract. And Arsenal has not exactly progressed in last 5 years (sorry to say so). And not many have placed their bets on Arsenal’s season this time. Expectations are low. Time is ripe. He can choose a graceful exit and enjoy his retirement in France. Or he can fight. But the latter does not looks like yielding a positive result. And if he is looking for some motivation, he can read how Indian cricket team’s most successful and the greatest captain ever decided to relinquish captaincy and be a part of team like a normal player.

At this time, I do not know who will be his successor. Hell, nobody knows whether the boardroom is looking for a successor. Or a top 4 finish will add 2 years to Arsene Wenger’s rein at Arsenal. To be honest, I will take anyone as his replacement. I am kind of getting bored seeing Arsenal play these days. I will accept anyone who is young and willing to make changes and take tough decisions. But the team, the players and the fans need a new face on the touchline. Someone who is more animated and does a lot more than just complaining to fourth officials about silly shoulder pushes.

Time to leave, Arsene. 

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The Leicester City Story

The title celebration (Credits : Marca)
The title celebration (Credits : Marca)

I know it is an old post. I mean which happened 4 months ago. But nonetheless, a fantastic story worth telling 1000 times. So, read on.

PART A

People who know me personally; some of them know that I am trying to make a game based on football. It is a simulation game, on the lines of Football Manager game series by SEGA. The human players (called managers in game) select their playing 11, set strategies and tactics and then play a match with a team with different kind of players and tactics. The final result is generated when the stats of the playing 11 of two teams is matched as per the algorithm written. To keep the uncertainty factor alive, the coders throw some non playing attributes like motivation, morale etc. This way, there is always an odd chance that a team like Barcelona can be defeated by a bad team if they have a bad day and the smaller team is highly motivated. Simulation is trying to create real life results with some input through Artificial Intelligence. And we all know that AI has come a long way in last few years.

Simulation, as I said, is based on players’ attributes. For example, a midfielder A has attributes like Passing- 16/20 and Creativity- 14/20. Midfielder B has Passing- 15/20 and Creativity- 14/20. Same goes for defenders and strikers. Take many of these attributes for 11 players each side and you will get a result. So, in layman terms, simulation will be matching of the stats and see who is better. You may find odd result here and there but on a longer timeline, the average will be in favour of the better. In the above example, it is clear that Midfielder A is better than B and will outplay him. But sometimes, certain attributes like motivation can push midfielder B to play better. And if you will simulate this 100 times, you may get the result 85-15 in favour of midfielder A which clearly says that there may be couple of hiccups for A but he is certainly better than B and will win on a longer comparative study.

PART B

Heard of Manchester United? Yes, probably. It is one of the biggest football clubs in the world; most successful in England’s premier club competition and boasts of ex-players like Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham. Enough said.

Heard of Leicester City? Probably not. They play in the same competition with Manchester United in English Premier League (EPL). In 2013-2014, they won promotion to the first division from 2nd division. In 2014-2015, they were almost on their way back to the 2nd division due to bad results. The league ends in May and in early April, they were in bottom 3, with fans not sure whether they will be in first division or not. But some spirited performances at the end of the campaign saw them miraculously survive and stay in first division. At the start of 2015-16 campaign, they saw their manager who plotted the survival previous year, leave. It was again to be a tough season. They were supposed to be doomed.

Four games to go in the current season and Leicester City are at the top of the table. 4 more games, favourable results and they will be the (likely) champions of England. And mind you, England is one of the toughest leagues in the world. With so much money coming in from gulf countries like Qatar, UAE and Russia; the gap between the big and small teams is widening. And the smaller teams are not supposed to dream to be a champion. At least not when you had a bad previous campaign. They are in the league to continue their quest of survival and cause a couple of upsets. But Leicester City has been an outlier by a big margin- the margin of squad cost and quality. To put into perspective of not-so-known, these figures may be helpful. Leicester’s squad cost is 55 million pounds. Manchester City, the richest club in England has a squad worth 400 million pounds- money worth buying 8 Leicester City squads. And that is why their achievement is a big talking point in football universe these days.

So, how do the two stories relate?

One of the reasons why I thought about making this game was because the original game had become somewhat predictable. The surprise element of the game was reducing. I want my players (managers) to feel the thrill of unexpected. To be fair, Football Manager is very unpredictable. There are upsets happening every now and then. Even when I have picked my best team and I am playing a bottom placed team, there is no guarantee that I will win. But I wanted more uncertainty. And now that I have seen Leicester this season, I am sure there is no simulation that can chart this run of results. How can you simulate someone’s spirit and desire to win against all odds?

For those who follow football and EPL, Leicester’s story is nothing less than that of a fairy tale. As I said before, they were only hoping to stay in the first division, a better campaign which will be a comfortable mid table position. They had seen enough excitement in previous season. This season, they wanted fewer thrills. You listen to all the pundits and experts before the season started and they had one thing to say- another tough time coming up for Leicester City. For the quality of the squad and money they have spent, they just did not belong to the top of the table. Even when they were on the top after half the season finished, it was not about if but when Leicester City will run out of steam and occupy their usual position of mid table. Nobody took into account the spirit the squad possesses; the confidence their manager put in them. Leicester City had nothing to lose. The absence of any fear; fearlessness took them to heights nobody imagined. No pundit predicted; no simulation based on players’ quality, past form and results declared them as champions come May 2016. There were usual candidates like Chelsea, Manchester City. Some dared to mention Arsenal. Leicester City- they should be languishing in the bottom half. It never happened.

Today, if you ask any neutral whom they want to win, they have only one choice. Everybody wants Leicester City to have that grand finish for one reason- they are winning the league teams used to win when there was no extra money to buy the players. Today, in these times when big clubs waste 20 million pounds on fringe players, they are winning with nothing in their bank account. Nobody bought the club and funded them Messi. It is just their team- half of which was playing in the second or third division of the country. They are comfortably ahead at this moment and a bad run may take away the best dream their fans, their people have ever seen. But, unfortunately, if that does not happen, nobody can take anything away from Leicester. Theirs has been the story which everyone would love to see culminate. And forgive me for overuse of the word ‘story’ in here but I can’t help it. Do not be surprised if couple of years from now; you read this fairy tale documented in a book. This is surely one thing that should be taken into records. How one team, a collection of 25 individuals with no proven pedigree behind them and with everything to prove to the world and their fans, took the so-called giants by their horns and bullied them. What a fantastic story!

In all fairness, for what Leicester City has got, they have grossly overachieved. But this has not been just a ‘they got lucky’ thing. Leicester has put in whatever they got in this effort. The players- their body and energy; the manager- all his experience and the fans- every single decibel of their voice to support their warriors. Not just in win but also in defeats. They had the belief. Remember when we were taught that no machine works with 100% efficiency. There has to be some effort which is not accounted in the results. The club Leicester City’s every bloody part was working, fuelled by their desire which no one could imitate. The perfect machine.

In here, I have not mentioned the name of single Leicester City player. Yes, there have been some special standout performers without whom the club would not have found themselves where they are. But this is not about couple of players. This is about the entire club. The club is also known as The Foxes. And the club can very proudly say that every player has fought like a fox with grit and wile. They have grind out results in matches they almost lost. They had snatched points from the worst of positions.

Leicester City would be playing in Champions League next season- the world’s most elite club competition. Their opponets will be Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich- the best of Europe. The unknowns of few years back will be rubbing their shoulder with Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahmovic and Neymar. It is a different thing whether they will be able to emulate this success next season but there is no reason they cannot. Who listens to pundits when they cannot separate wheat from chaff?

After their last win over the weekend, the manager of the club had tears in his eyes. May be, now there is a realization that what they were fighting for since last 9 months has actually come closer. You have seen players lying on the ground with their face hidden, tough men trying to control their emotions. But a 60 year old man who has probably seen everything; when he let himself go and is in tears in front of cameras and fans; you have to believe it. The emotions are real. They are not fake sentiments. He had also written a piece over here expressing what his team is feeling. You have to read it and feel the goose bumps.

Today, every football fan wants Leicester City story to continue. They have done the hard part but the job is not done. The championship of England is in their grasp and now they have to start building to compete in Europe. It is hard to find people who will hate Leicester City. They are the old-school club. They run the club within their means. They fight till the last whistle. You can buy quality for 50 million pounds; you can buy free-kicks, the eye-pleasing orgasmic goals, the trademark celebration. What you cannot buy is the spirit to survive against all the odds, the passion to win and desire to create history. Leicester City armed with everything that money cannot buy, is very well on its way. I hope I don’t jinx them.

For my game, I may get it done one day but I will never be able to simulate Leicester City. 

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The Short Football Memory

Football has a short memory and the past 10 days has been a perfect example of the same. What looked gloomy has changed completely and we have forgotten the short lived bad days.

Champions League again proved to be a thorn for us. With all due respect to the Croatian side, the result against Dinamo Zagreb is an embarrassment. Arsenal was supposed to be cruising in that fixture, even with half the side replaced. Instead, we came back to North London with a 2-1 defeat and a real battle to qualify for knockout stages.

Then, (Chel)shit happened. Jose’s side again got the better of Wenger’s Gunners although this time, Mike Dean played for the Blues. He did not see the blatant slapping and theatrics of Diego Costa. Instead, he opted for sending Gabriel off who was getting a handful for the Chelsea forward at the stroke of half time. Needless to say, Chelsea found a way to the goal and then they played their boring, boring football. What a shame to the game!!

The Scuffle Ruined the Match

I think the retrospective bans and punishments should be more severe for the players. A. The player played the entire match in which he should have been actually sent off. B. Players will know that their actions won’t go unnoticed. The game would have been different had Costa been sent off. Moan-inho would have probably started crying on his bench. Unfortunately, things did not happen that way and Arsenal finished the game with 0-2 and 9 men; with Cazorla sent off for two bookable offenses.

Midweek, a much needed win came at Tottenham Hotspurs in League Cup where a certain Mathieu Flamini scored a brace to win the game 2-1. While his first goal came for being on the right spot at the right time; the second was a sumptuous strike. For a defensive midfielder, he could not have hit the ball more sweetly on volley via a failed clearance. 2-1 win at the home of the arch rivals- the perfect way to kick start things.

Flamini Scored 2nd with a Sweet Volley

And then, the party continued to high flying Leicester City where Alexis Sanchez scored his first goal of the season and a hattrick. With goals on both side of his hattrick by Arsenal’s two forwards, Theo Walcott (a composed finish) and Olivier Giroud (typical finish) and amid a threat by workhorse Jamie Vardy; Arsenal won 5-2. Few teams will win here this season and these may just be important points.

Sanchez is Back!!

After 7 matches, Arsenal stands at 4th with 13 points, 3 points away from the leaders Manchester United whom we host this Sunday. In between, there is a must win match with Olympiakos in Champions League. Win both of these and Arsenal will go to the international break with lot of optimism. The defeat will bring back the bad memories.

But one thing will remain constant- the Short Football Memory.

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