Arsenal don’t care - but what a bore-fest.

Published: Monday, 09 October 2023

Arsenal v City. The two best teams in the league last season. It was by far the biggest game of this season. I couldn’t wait. And the nearer we got to seeing it the more excited I got.

It should’ve been a stormer. Something for the whole world to watch and admire. The perfect advert for the best league in the world. But no - it turned out to be a bore-fest. 90+ minutes of tedium. A game often played at walking pace as centre-backs and goalkeepers put their foot on the ball and stood still.

I said on the day - it was a game organised by two ‘clever’ coaches who tried to ‘out-clever’ each other. Two guys who must’ve looked at our league from afar, desperate to work in it because of its pace, goal action, excitement and often blood and thunder. Arteta played in it for goodness sake and in some big games as well. Games that had us on the edge of our seats. Guardiola arrived as a coach, wanting a piece of the action, but immediately set about turning us into La Liga.

Kevin Keegan was wrong about a few things when he spoke at his recent much publicised Q&A - but he wasn’t wrong when he said he finds City boring and doesn’t watch them. They can be. I’ve said this myself. And they were on Sunday.

I’ve read one reason after another as to why they were so bad at Arsenal, but there are no excuses. City are the most expensive team ever assembled and they boast a front man who is arguably the best in the world. They starved him of the ball again on Sunday and he left a frustrated, disgruntled shadow of what we saw last season.

Ok. City are enjoyable to watch if you like your football served up in precise exhibition moments. And Haaland couldn’t have had any complaints about how things went last season, but I guarantee you the way Madrid and Bellingham are playing right now won’t have escaped his notice.

We read that City want him to sign a new deal. If what we saw Sunday goes on much longer it’ll be Haaland wanting to do the escaping. It’s one goal in six now - and it’s not his fault. He can’t score if he isn’t seeing the ball.

It’s only a couple of weeks since he went to the dressing rooms at Burnley with a flea in his ear from Guardiola, because, almost on the half-time whistle, he had the temerity to want a ball played into space that you know he would’ve scored from. ‘No No’ said Guardiola. ‘Shape. Keep the ball’. At Burnley ffs? No. Go for the jugular when there’s nothing to beat. Excite people. It’s what fans pay good money for.

Arsenal fans will have left the Emirates delighted with the win, but for the neutrals amongst us it was a tough watch. If I hadn’t been working I wouldn’t have watched it. That’s how bad it was.

Thank goodness for big Ange and Klopp right now. They’re both playing expansive, exciting football. The re-build at Liverpool is complete (maybe they still need a good No6) but they’re still getting to know each other and that’s one reason why they‘re conceding too many right now - but they’re still a good watch going forward. Their first goal at Brighton was terrific - a series of one-touch fast passes right through the heart of the home team. It was vintage ‘Klopp’ Liverpool. Rock and roll.

Spurs are getting our attention as well aren't they? The win at Luton - with 10 men - was first class. And I’m really pleased to see their ‘Cov kid’ James Maddison in such good form. He’s no Glenn Hoddle, but he’s doing that No10 shirt proud. What a good signing he’s proving to be.

Now. Here’s a line that had me sit up and take notice when I read a piece by Hamzah Khalique-Loonat in The Times Saturday. “The list of games they watched one season, when I played 25 games, they saw 24 of them - not only with one scout but with, like, (why does everybody have to use the word ‘like’ all the time? It’s infuriating - worse when a journo writes it) with, like, 15 different scouts, different sets of eyes. I had contact with the manager (Thomas Frank) and Manu (Sotelu) the goalkeeping coach, even during the period I was still with Freiburg”.

This is Mark Flekken talking, Brentford’s new ‘keeper. No-one can stop a club doing homework on a player they fancy - no problem there. And we know contact is often made by a club - perhaps with a players’ agent - to express an interest - but directly with the player? That’s illegal.

But it gets worse. Here’s the bit that really bothered me “they sent me video clips of things they really liked, and things they thought I should improve, and can improve”. Did they? Why did they? Did Freiburg’s coaching staff know about this? All totally illegal. How widespread is this behaviour? And something should be done about it if it is. It strikes me Brentford certainly have some questions to answer.

How would Frank and Brentford react if they found out a team was currently coaching one of their players by sending video clips and calling him with advice? I think we all know the answer to that. Brentford are bang out of order.

But wait. Then I read this, in an excellent piece by one of my favourite journo’s, Jason Burt, in The Telegraph “He demands a lot in training. When I spoke with him before I signed, he said ‘I don’t care what you do, do whatever you want. But when you have me on the [training] pitch you have to be focussed. If not, I will smash you”.

Again. “When I spoke with him before I signed”. This time it’s Erling Haaland talking about cosy chats he had with Guardiola before he joined City. So when was this Erling? Was it when you were still at Dortmund by any chance? My best guess is that it was. So - illegal. Totally illegal.

It seems this sort of practice is now fairly common place - but it shouldn’t be. I understand that in a modern world it’s hard to police and if we are accept that it goes on, I don’t want to hear clubs bleating about ‘illegal approaches’ anymore.

What certainly can not be the case is that a club can be coaching another team’s player. There is no excuse for that.

And finally….. I’ve just had a look at the Championship table. I had to be certain that I’d seen Birmingham in 6th when I looked at it Saturday night. Yep - 6th. And they’ve just sacked their manager. Wow. I’m sure John Eustace won’t struggle to get work - he’s done a fantastic job at St. Andrews, but the in-coming manager might struggle to win over a crowd that likes Eustace and has clearly been grateful to him for picking up a mess and giving them some respect back. Good luck Wayne.
You’re going to need it.