By Tony Attwood
I really do want to start with my thoughts about the Armistice commemoration at the Ems yesterday. I have stood for so many moments of silence to show sympathy, understanding and thanks, that in the end the silence can (for me) start to lose its meaning. Not always, of course: when I stood at the war memorial with my mother just before she died, that was incredibly moving, because then everyone in her small town who was there very much wanted to be there. But at football matches where if you wanted to see the game you had to be there, the meaning has worn away.
But not yesterday. The reading of the poem, followed by the full playing of the whole of the Last Post was beautiful, poignant, meaningful… and I write as one among many who grew up hearing of family members whom I would never know, who gave their lives so I could have my life in a free country.
It was observed in perfect silence – as of course it should be – on London’s most tribal day of the year. A day on which police helicopters circled (though thankfully this time, not during the commemoration), and on which there were many, many more police around the ground than we normally see. As I walked round the Ems to my entrance whole gangs of very fit stewards were to be seen running fast towards the north bridge. I don’t know why, I kept going in the opposite direction, but it didn’t feel good.
But inside for the commemoration the silence was perfect. I think, no matter what else, this should be a tribute to all north London supporters. Arsenal-Tottenham might be the ultimate football rivalry in England, but everyone, everyone there really knew what matters.
As for the game, Arsenal entered it with seemingly most of the squad injured – or at least that is how it felt in reading the papers. Eight of our players were out – and not just eight, but some of the most important players in the squad. Tottenham had just four men out, and some of them were thought to be ready to return.
And then to heap problems on problems, we gradually realised something was seriously wrong with Santi Cazorla, and he went off at half time. Tottenham were effectively playing ten men through the first half. (And in case the media are blaming Wenger for this, from the description I’ve heard of what was wrong with Santi, it is one of those things that has to be reported by the individual, before tests are done. Unless the player says what he feels, the manager won’t know until you see him play).
So everything was stacking up in Tottenham’s favour. Arsenal had just come back from an utter humiliation in Europe (according to the papers and TV) or a bad defeat (according to those who manage to avoid being drama queens in every sentence written or spoken). Ten men, low morale, half the squad injured, Wenger at fault for not buying more. We were easy picking for the Tinies.
But even then they couldn’t beat us. They played better than Arsenal for much of the game, but we still, through sheer doggedness, kept going. One of the my new neighbours in the stadium this season was very unimpressed by the arrival of Gibbs, and for once in the ensuing debate I got it right, I said it was a good move to bring him on, use Flamini for the power, and put Arteta alongside Coquelin, and Gibbs replacing Campbell, I thought, did well throughout his short appearance, including of course the vital goal.
So, ten men, multiple leading players injured, a tough time in Europe – and of course Tottenham on the up, showing no signs of their supposedly heavy schedule (not that much different from ours) – and they still couldn’t take Arsenal out. Two games played so far between the two sides, 1 win for Arsenal, and 1 draw. Tottenham will be lucky if they get a better chance to beat us than this.
On the way home to Northants I heard no mention of the injury crisis, on the radio. And checking the figures we can see why.
In fact we had never actually been top of that table – although you wouldn’t know this from the media hype so clearly picked up by their lapdogs the bloggettas. Here’s the current situation. We have two more injuries than Man U and Man C – and we know that by the next match three, if not more of our players will be back – and with fewer players playing lunatic pointless interlull games, we might be slipping further down the league.
|8||West Ham United||5|
|19||West Bromwich Albion||1|
But there was more new information that came out yesterday. On Radio 5 as I drove to London I heard Damien Comolli being interviewed. He was the guy who joined Arsenal in 1996 and was the European scout credited with the discovery of Kolo Touré and Gaël Clichy.
He then became technical director of AS Saint-Étienne before taking what turned out to be a poor career move and becoming director of football at the Tiny Totts, where he had overall responsibility for the medical, academy, scouting and club secretarial departments. He was the replacement for Frank Arnesen who you may recall was later yet another man to be illegally approached by Chelsea.
So he is a man of wide experience and when asked about Arsenal’s perennial transfer crisis, he expressed shock, and said quite clearly that this was not right. The problem, he said, is totally different. The problem is mostly a British player injury crisis, and within that primarily an English player injury crisis. (If I might explain, that last point is logical. 90% of the British population is English, 7% Scottish, 2% Welsh, 1% Northern Irish. So a British problem is generally primarily an English problem).
I can’t quote Mr Comolli’s exact words of course, as I was driving, but it was something along the lines that no country, not one country, ever goes into international matches and tournaments with as many of its first choice squad missing, as the British nations. Other countries have injuries – but it is the English players that get the injuries the most.
Now I haven’t heard this put before, but as soon as I got home last night I started taking a look, and indeed missed Match of the Day I was so busy checking figures. I am a long way from getting a true comparison of figures but just look at this list below. It is our first team squad.
I have marked in column three the players who are UK citizens by birth and in column four whether they are part of the current injury “crisis”.
We have six UK nationals by birth in our first team squad and we have seven players injured. Five of those seven are UK nationals. 23 players of whom 30% are injured. Six UK nationals of whom 83% are injured.
|2. Mathieu Debuchy||Defender|
|3. Kieran Gibbs||Defender||UK|
|4. Per Mertesacker||Defender|
|5. Gabriel Paulista||Defender|
|6. Laurent Koscielny||Defender|
|7. Tomas Rosicky||Midfielder||Yes|
|8. Mikel Arteta||Midfielder|
|10. Jack Wilshere||Midfielder||UK||Yes|
|11. Mesut Özil||Midfielder|
|12. Olivier Giroud||Forward|
|13. David Ospina||Goalkeeper|
|14. Theo Walcott||Forward||UK||Yes|
|15. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain||Midfielder||UK|
|16. Aaron Ramsey||Midfielder||UK||Yes|
|17. Alexis Sánchez||Forward|
|18. Nacho Monreal||Defender|
|19. Santiago Cazorla||Midfielder|
|20. Mathieu Flamini||Midfielder|
|23. Danny Welbeck||Forward||UK||Yes|
|24. Hector Bellerin||Defence||Yes|
|28. Joel Campbell||Forward|
|33. Petr Cech||Goalkeeper|
|34. Francis Coquelin||Midfielder|
So according to Damien Comolli the Arsenal figures in terms of English players is not unusual. He didn’t try to suggest why it is true, he just pointed it out that it is true. It would be good to do some more checking, but my first quick looks suggest there is something in what he says in terms of players in other Premier League teams.
If this is true, the cause is going to be difficult to track down. Is it the education the youngsters get, the way they play at school, the expectations around them, being driven by parents, the English diet from birth, or some genetic factor that passes on through the generations? Another area for Untold to research, a bit like our work (now regularly cited everywhere) on why England does so badly at internationals (it is the lack of coaches when measured against the number of players).
And indeed I wonder if there might be a link here – the lack of coaching affects the way the youngsters play and their propensity to be injured. We know that in many countries young players, when given a ball, practice ball skills. In England the tradition is “jumpers for goalposts” and play a game even if it is just three a side.
Anyway, all of that is for future articles, and it probably is down to Untold to sort out the research, because I would be surprised if the media picked this up until we have the answers and have been hammering away at it for a couple of years.
So for now, here’s the league table as usual with the net spend on transfers over the past five years.
|1||No democracy please||12||8||2||2||26||9||17||26||£322m|
|5||The Tiny Totts||12||5||6||1||20||10||10||21||-£36m|
|6||State Aid United||12||6||3||3||23||16||7||21||£93m|
|10||The title is ours by rights||12||4||5||3||13||14||-1||17||£163m|
|13||West Bromwich Albion||12||4||2||6||10||16||-6||14||£51m|
|16||Please help us PGMO||12||3||2||7||16||23||-7||11||£224m|
|18||I do like to be beside…||12||2||2||8||12||25||-13||8||£27m|
|19||Very Fat Sam & Co||12||1||3||8||13||26||-13||6||£59m|
|20||Remi to the Rescue||12||1||2||9||10||20||-10||5||£33m|
PS: I know changing names is childish. I just like being childish sometimes. All suggestions for other name changes very welcome. Meanwhile the table still shows little link between transfer spending and position in the league.
PPS: I was thinking of adding a link to another web site at the end of each posting. If you write a blog and think some Untold readers might be interested in it, email Tony.Attwood@aisa.org and give me the URL and I’ll see if I can give you a mention.
PPPS: The Untold Banner is still looking great… I still get a warm glow from seeing it, each time I take my seat.
Anniversaries (full list for today appears on the home page)
- 9 November 2002: Arsenal beat Newcastle 1-0 to move one point behind Newcastle after two defeats in October. The Guardian said of Patrick Vieira: a “demonstration of tackling, control, awareness and movement that was exceptional even by his standards.”
- 9 November 2014: Swansea 2 Arsenal 1. Ten players (five from each side) were yellow carded during the game which Swansea won 2-1. The Arsenal cards went to Ramsey, Mertesacker, Chambers, Alexis and Gibbs. Alexis scored the Arsenal goal.
- How to Become a Football Scout: the first in an exclusive series for Untold by the man who discovered Joel Campbell
- Arsenal in the 70s, part 1: the re-birth of the club. 1969/70 – part two of the series should be published later today.