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We have mails about Arsenal and Mikel Arteta, Mahrez vs Fabinho, football food, Mike Riley’s performance at Old Trafford in 2005 and lots more.
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Mikel Arteta is already up against it?
I find it quite funny that Mikel Arteta’s pair of eighth placed finished are often given without much context. I don’t think he’s void of criticism by any stretch, but I’ve got a few issues with Ian King’s piece today.
His first finish, where he replaced a sacked Unai Emery around Christmas time, did result in finishing eighth. But we’d been bad up to that point, and we showed signs of improvement after, including winning the FA Cup and beating some damn good sides to do so. The second season – his first full one as a manager – began not too long after winning that cup thanks to the pandemic.
Now, granted, every manager had to deal with that. But for Arteta embarking on his first proper season as a manager, it must’ve been a weird one and not what he’d hoped for, planning wise, when he took charge the previous December. The cup win was in August and the new season began a month later – not an ideal first pre-season in charge.
The plan last season was to get back into Europe after those poor finishes, and we did it – comfortably. This year hopefully there’ll be more progress, but in neutrals eyes (and it must be remembered King is a Spurs fan), Arteta is already up against it.
He’s spending big money but he had to – the quality of the squad was nowhere near the level it needed to be for top four. Even just recently we nearly did it with Cedric, Tavares, Elneny and Lacazette playing far more football than they probably should’ve for a side with those aspirations.
King is right when he says: “Neither Spurs or Manchester United seem likely to be as bad as they were at points last season, while many expect Newcastle United to be considerably more competitive.” But Arsenal are more than capable on improving on 13 losses themselves, and with a World Cup chucked into the middle of things, who knows how that’ll impact sides whose national team’s hopes are pinned on their star players like Kane or Ronaldo.
Look, Arsenal do need to get back into the Champions League and I’m not saying that they don’t. But people are acting as if Arteta’s “not going to have any excuses” if Arsenal aren’t good. Problem with that is a) they might be, we don’t really know yet given there’s still lots of business to do and b) he’s not really ever made excuses before anyway – I think Arteta is well aware of the job he needs to do.
Hopefully Mikel Arteta will “start delivering more than promises for an indeterminate point in the future” much like he did last season, when it was widely viewed by fans that a European placed finish via improved league performance was the aim.
Joe, AFC, East Sussex
I wanted to reply to Macca, Herts, lamenting Mike Riley’s performance from 2005. I’m not an Arsenal fan, or a United fan for that matter. But I do remember that match from 2005, and it’s come up often in the mailbox. One mail a few years back even linked to highlights on youtube which I watched.
The thing that stood out both from the match, but more strongly from the post match stuff that is still online, is that United set out to kick the living buggery out of Arsenal; Their game plan barely involved the ball, and instead focussed on navigating the line of fair play, rotating the fouls to ensure that when they stepped over that line they could mitigate the sanctions. If I remember rightly, G Nev and a few others have admitted as much, either in interviews or formal autobiographies. Yet at the final whistle, probably due to the broadcast media being absolutely terrified of Sir Alex, that barely got a mention (said with jealously of Fergie; not a critique of fergie). Instead, forensic analysis was given to the referee’s decisions and no comment on how one of the teams involved had set out to play. And that’s where the ire has been for the last 17 years. On one person in black, not 11-14 people who set out to use gamesmanship (‘nous’) rather than tactics.
It should apparently be on the ref to control that. But how exactly? Riley’s professional body and the broadcast media have a powerful combination of no backbone and a business model rewarded by vitriol and controversy. So he’d have had no backing if he took a stand. If he’d sent two off after 10 minutes he’d have never had a top tier game for another 2 years. So in the absence of any tools to address it, one plan could just be to just get it over with? That’s certainly how it works in lower leagues, or even university leagues. there’s always one team who are arses who no-one looks forward to playing, and the objective of the day is to just get through it and get on with the next game. But apparently at the professional level, you can’t just get it over with. it’ll still be spoken about 17 years later.
And we wonder why there’s an argument on the quality of refereeing in this country going downhill.
Not that broadcast media, social media, fan channels and now bloody VAR are making it impossible for them. Teams set out to cheat, but their success at that is the fault of the ref?
To take this beyond United, and hopefully prevent claims of bias etc. But it was Jose’s standard practice at Chelsea and Inter. Foster all the bile, then use that bile to claim the ref was at fault; never him for literally instigating it in his team, with an intent to spoil the game. No doubt Evertonians will have cause to criticise Liverpool in the derby. Certainly some Gerrard, Lucas, Kuyt and Mascherano games; Liverpool obviously feel that way about Everton. Spain’s reaction to Howard Webb, when it was the dutch who set out to niggle their way to victory. No team is innocent, but there are certainly some teams who are far worse than others. Italy in the Euro’s just gone, especially versus Belgium. The ball was in play for barely 15 minutes of a 45 minute second half, and the entirety of injury time taken up by the (non) injury of their goalie from a foul that wasn’t even a foul. ‘Oh we love to see it’ say a cretinous few, when in effect they stopped playing belgium after the first half whistle and set out to systematically play the referee instead for the rest of the game.
I would wager the game has always had teams like this. It’s not getting worse, or better. But what is massively getting worse is the faux analysis of these games, and where there is controversy we’re never at any point challenging the teams (‘oh the shithousery rofl…’) but instead saying this is entirely the fault of one person.
So Macca, you may rejoice at the departure of Mike Riley. I’d suggest if we are okay ‘shit-housery’ at industrial scale not getting challenged, we’re going to set up some other poor bloody sod to be the face of refereeing incompetence.
Kroenke wins again with Arsenal money
Stan Kroenke just added to his Super Bowl win with the LA Rams with a Stanley Cup win with the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL. That Arsenal collateral money seems to be well spent with his US and more important investments!
Ken, St. Louis expat and Gooner
There are a couple of ironies to John Nicholson’s latest piece, about football food. I don’t consider myself some sort of social media vanguard, but it’s amusing that John calls some people behind the times, when he appears to be behind the curve in discovering and subsequently moving on from Footy Scran. Along with several others in my acquaintance, the moment we decided to leave Footy Scran to it was when they announced they had teamed up with a bookmaker to sponsor their Twitter World Cup of Scran, an arrangement that saw the bookmaker offering odds on the various entrants. Irony number two is that John has spent many a previous column justifiably ranting about the gambling industry’s all-pervading influence on football.
The real reason I’m inspired to write, however, is that the whole article reminded me of an idea I’ve been kicking around elsewhere, about the popularity of the ordinary. In 2011, Heston’s Mission Impossible on Channel 4 saw Heston Blumenthal attempt several food-related challenges, and in one of them, he noted that cinema popcorn is one of the most ridiculously marked-up foods on offer, with an A4-sized bag costing more than £5 to purchase but less than 50p to produce. He tried to tempt people away with healthier, more interesting snacks, but in the end, people still wanted popcorn. John’s article reminded me a bit of Blumenthal’s incredulity, but people weren’t going out for a gourmet experience, they just wanted a snack to eat through the film. Elsewhere, I see similar from beer aficionados who hate that the biggest selling cask beers in the UK tend not to have especially exciting hop flavours or malt bills, but they are primarily drunk by people who don’t look for that; they want a beer with their friends, not a sensory experience.
All of which comes back to football. It’s great that clubs are working with street food vendors and expanding the range of products available, especially (but not exclusively) in non-league, where local businesses help each other, but it comes down to what you as an individual want out of going to the football. Do you want a gastronomic experience with a game to watch, knowing that eating something that requires cutlery makes clapping, chanting or celebrating a goal more difficult? Or do you want an easy to eat snack before the game or at half time?
That isn’t to say ordinary is the opposite to good quality: burgers and sausages that taste identifiably of the meat they claim to be, because they’re from a reputable butcher, are enjoyable, even if they lack the complexity of dishes with more elements. It’s not about being narrow-minded or suspicious of foreign food, it’s about knowing there’s a time and a place for exploring the many fine cuisines of the world, and believing it’s different to “during a football match”. Besides, we’ve all been sat near someone who’s wanting to squeeze past every few minutes fetching food and drinks instead of watching the bloody game, and they are the last people who need encouragement to turn it into a tasting menu.
Was reading that piece on food at football stadiums this morning and found the focus on cultural aspects of the phenomenon a bit odd. Maybe it’s a factor, but I think the piece vastly over-stated it.
Arsenal charge £11 for a pretty miserable looking burger and chips. It’s a rip off, as I’m sure everyone can agree. However, I believe the following points are worth considering:
1. This was the club who sacked loads of staff during Covid, including Gunnersaurus, as a cost-cutting measure (the club seems to be finding an awful lot of change down the sofa for transfers these days, mind.)
2. They were one of the architects of the glorious super league.
3. There are usually in the region of 60K people at an Arsenal game, which means being stuck in a massive crowd coming out of the game and the pubs/restaurants nearest the stadium are generally packed, as is the tube.
Considering factor 3, food and drink at the Emirates is subject to the same tax you find in any cinema or gig, where the proprietors want to capitalise on your lack of alternatives. If you’re hungry at a game you won’t have many other options.
So, it seems fairly clear to me that the motivation here is pure profit. Buy burgers, buns, cheese and pre-cut chips dirt cheap and in massive quantities and sell for as much as possible.
The author seemed to perceive some kind of condescension in the menus found at football matches, that they didn’t seem to think fans could handle a fancier menu. Honestly I think they just don’t give a toss about anything but profit margins and it’s really that straightforward. If they think they can make more money off introducing vegan ramen I’m sure they will eventually (Burger King and subway didn’t introduce a veggie option out of the goodness of their hearts,) but I wouldn’t hold my breath on it being very nice.
-Fin, Navan Gooner
Wow, that was quite an article by John Nicholson. Ostensibly about food at football stadiums, but in reality another chance for him to show us how cultured and superior he thinks he is.
Just to recap: anyone who doesn’t share his political views and/or his refined tastes in food is a “twat”, a “droog” and is much further down “the evolutionary ladder”.
But in reality, he is only contemptuous of working-class (and predominantly white) English people. Sadly, whereas he once wrote amusing anecdotes about working as a gigging rock band in the US, now every article has to feature repeated references to and political or social trend of which he disapproves. The EU referendum was one of the very few times where everyone’s vote counted equally. But it is obvious the John, and many others like him, feel their votes should be worth more as they are “much further up the evolutionary ladder”. Of course, there are certain cultures who are, for example, unlikely to be displaying too many Pride flags this month, but ‘progressives’ like John never seem to mention this. Similarly, for such a strident feminist who talks about toxic masculinity so often, he never seems to mention things like child grooming. Perhaps he thinks this is a less deserving of mention than yet another comment about Boris Johnson. Or more likely it raises a few awkward questions.
If you choose to put politics into your articles, it is only reasonable to be called out on what you choose not to talk about.
On the actual subject of food though, I do generally agree with him. But if he thinks it is so easy to achieve, why not set up a catering company, bid to take over a concession at a big PL ground and show everyone else how it is done?
Just read Johnny Nic’s article and I think Roy Keane would like a word. He looks quite angry….
Good to know poor grub at the footie is all the fault of Brexit and Brexiteers though…
Bladey Mick (Get to Wigan and try a pie sandwich – cheer yourself up. Again.)
Mahrez vs Fabinho
Andy D’s mail this morning trying to justify how Riyad Mahrez isn’t a “squad player” by comparing him to Fabinho with cherry-picked stats is either brazenly intellectually dishonest, or brazenly stupid (there is no way for us to be sure, in fairness).
Riyad Mahrez: 15 league starts, 13 appearances as a substitute, 1,491 minutes played.
Fabinho: 26 league starts, 3 appearances as a substitute, 2,316 minutes played.
That “sounds like a squad player to me”, Andy. And comparing Mahrez to Sancho and Pepe seems a lot more appropriate than comparing him to a player who is literally one of the first name’s on Liverpool’s teamsheet.
Andy does make a great point at the end of his mail, “who knows what could have happened with an actual left back in the fine margins games of the Champions League Semis and Finals” – maybe Pep would have chosen to play the actual left back as a goalkeeper or something, smile.
Oliver Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland
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