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Fast football, why Alexis’ departure could be good news, and football racism. Just another window.

By Tony Attwood

It’s not often that I find Amy Lawrence in the Guardian writing an article that I can agree with wholeheartedly, but it has happened today.  Annoyingly hers is not only written in a much better way than I could ever do, but she got there first.

The issue is one about movement, and her article refers back to the incredible speed of the team in the years around the turn of the century and for a few years thereafter.  Speed of players, speed of thought, speed of the ball.

I always loved watching that team, not just because we won lots of stuff, but because of the football that was played.   For me, the speed was what made the team successful.

Across the years we’ve tried to find more such players like Theo and of course Alexis, but never had a whole bunch of them together.

But now I begin to wonder if we might not be close.   Lacazette, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan.  All supplied with brilliant through balls from Mesut Özil.  No wonder that the club was willing to meet whatever demands Mesut made.  They need those through balls with a forward line of those three.

What Amy Lawrence has done however is not just beaten me to it, she has also come up with a stat that we missed, when publishing the details of Aubameyang with regards to games and goals.  It is this…

In the last campaign that Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan played together at Dortmund, 2015-16, their combined figures were superb: 59 goals and 31 assists between them, with a lot of the goals reflecting the rapport they had with each other; one providing and the other finishing.

The point about this is that the construction of the forward line affects the way the entire opposition XI plays.  When we had Henry and Pires, the opposition knew that they were going to have to keep close tabs on those two, even when Arsenal were on the defensive.  Indeed I remember seeing teams attacking Arsenal but still leaving two (yes two) players man marking Henry and one lurking around Pires.

Those teams that didn’t go for the three man constant defence would put one defender on each player.  Their problem was then that if Henry got the ball he would mesmerise one defender and that would pull the other man across, leaving Pires unmarked.  That’s how Pires came to score so many goals.

It was all fairly obvious after the first anniversary of Pires joining the club (and it did take a year for him to fit in with the whole performance) but still clubs couldn’t find a way of coping.

Of course the worry is about the number of goals that Alexis, Giroud and Theo scored for Arsenal.  Indeed people like me who run blogs get sent sponsored statistical analyses regularly, and one of these noted just how many goals these three scored, before making the point that they have now all gone.  Cue complaints about Wenger not knowing what he is doing.  (I was already adding up how many goals our new forward line had scored in their prime, which seemed a more interesting approach).

Because whatever Arsenal do is going to be wrong (according to many commentators), because it is done by Mr Wenger, actually admitting that it is just possible that the removal of Alexis might actually prove to be a bonus is not something that will appeal to some, but it might, it just might be true.

So I’m looking forward to joining the usual gang in the journey from the East Midlands to London for the Everton game, even though the stupid kick off time means I shall miss my saturday night out.  However I am not sure West Ham will be thinking the same way as the club has been accused of racism and unlawful discrimination in their transfer market dealings.

According to the ever righteous Daily Mail, West Ham’s director of football, (Tony Henry), rather than being all conquering and returning to the office today with a smile on his face as new players are paraded, he has allegedly spent time telling agents that West Ham did not want to sign any more African players.  Allegedly this is because (he said) “they have a bad attitude” and “cause mayhem” when they are not in the team.

The director also denied the policy was racist. He told the Mail: “It’s nothing racist at all. It’s just sometimes they can have a bad attitude. We had problems with Diafra Sakho. We find that when they are not in the team they cause mayhem. It’s nothing against the African race at all.”  When pressed on the issue by the Mail he also suggested the policy was supported by club management.

West Ham have suspended Tony Henry “pending a full and thorough investigation.”  A spokesperson said, “The West Ham United family is an inclusive one where, regardless of gender, age, ability, race, religion or sexual orientation, everybody feels welcome and included. The club will make no further comment until the investigation has been concluded.”

Lord Ouseley, the chairman of Kick It Out, has said that some of the comments made by Henry in an email are potentially unlawful.

The issue looks to me, from the outside, as one of underlying attitude, and reminds me of what happened when I objected to homophobic statements made by a dance teacher at a club in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.  My complaints were greeted by laughter from the club owner, and comments from other members of the club that the teacher “didn’t mean anything by it” and “it’s just his way”.  I stopped going to the club. I don’t think anyone else did.   That’s how it seems to go these days.

Sadly there are many people around who still seem to think it is perfectly ok to make the kind of statement reported in the Mail, and to excuse such statements by simply saying they are not racist.  Hopefully West Ham will do the right thing.

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9 comments to Fast football, why Alexis’ departure could be good news, and football racism. Just another window.

  • Al

    How long before we hear from mr henry saying he’s not that type of guy, he has black friends bla bla bla. The authorities need to throw the book at anyone guilty of making racist comments, but sadly they just make them pay a token fine, everyone shrugs their shoulders and we move on. Sad.

  • Chris

    Tony,

    just read the words again : I have nothing against the African race at all….

    I mean . african race ?!?! Maybe for the guy Africa is one country in some valley and each person comes from the same ancestor ? Does the guy even know there are 56 (I think that is correct) countries, and some countries have several ethnies, 1 billion diverse people from different DNA, upbringing, cultures etc.

    Probably he will be saying a 2 years that he does not want to hire ‘european’ players because they are not strong or blond enough, etc etc ?

    I’m astounded that a PL club, which basically is an enterprise with serious financial means and worldwide following, can have such an incompetent and uncultured !*&%@ (- add your own expletive) occupying a such position of responsibility, or any position at all in the club.

  • Josif

    Tony

    The sheer magic of Henry and Pires would have been impossible without Ashley Cole on their flank and our central midfield capable of winning the ball higher up the pitch.

    I’ve been watching videos of our title-winning campaigns. We didn’t exactly shy away from long balls forward for our pacey forwards (Overmars, Anelka, Henry, Ljungberg) but what was most stunning thing was our ability to win the ball high up the pitch. Nowadays we seem to be unable to dispossess our opponents. We don’t make a structured pressure on the ball ever since the partnership Cazorla-Coquelin had ended due to long-term injuries. Back in days, we would simply dispossess the opponents thanks to players like Lauren, Vieira and Gilberto higher up the pitch and start the counter-attack in which our attacking players would already be marauding forward in the moment when our defender won the ball.

    Take two best games Arsenal have played in the last two-and-half years – Man U and Chelsea at home (two 3-0 victories). In each of those Cazorla was running the show and in each one we were capable of fast transition of the ball from one flank to the other because of our ability to take the ball high up the pitch. Coquelin tackles their player with the ball, Cazorla or Mesut sends it forward, Bellerin makes a low cross from the right side and someone – Theo or Alexis – would put it home. (That’s why Bellerin’s pace should be one of our strongest assets but, for some reason, we can’t make a decent counter-attack anymore.)

    Ainsley Maitland-Niles might be the internal solution for the ball-winning problem but it must be followed with a collective defending.

    Xhaka was supposed to solve our problems with transition of the ball in a way Manu Petit did it but he looks lost in our current set-up. Jack could be the solution but his long-term problems with injuries can pop out any time. Ramsey prefers to be around the box, more like Ljungberg used to roam around the box waiting for Bergkamp’s pass that nobody else could predict. Coquelin is no longer at Arsenal. Elneny is a decent back-up but hardly a first-team material.

    With all due respect to Henry, Pires and Bergkamp, they had the worst league campaign once Vieira had left us because balance of the whole team relies on the midfield axis. We had an awful away league campaign in 2005-06 with just six victories in 19 games. Also, our 2000-01 was somewhat underwhelming, especially in big games, when we lost Petit to Barcelona.

    Then again, the 2005-06 team reached CL Final so this season’s team might still make amends in Europa League.

  • goonersince72

    Tony
    I was also impressed with Lawrence’s positive article. Refreshing. And I, like you, loved that fast paced attack of the early 2000’s.My favorite thing about it being the incisiveness of the quick, one-touch play. It had a purpose, i.e., getting the ball into the goal. I’d like to see that again.
    I’m happy with the January business, in and out with one exception. Giroud. I understand the dynamic of the 3 teams involved but wish he could have been sold elsewhere. AFC just helped 2 top 4 rivals in the same window. Also, his physical presence up front has not been replaced. Welbeck is a strong guy but doesn’t have the back to goal, hold the ball up strength that’s needed against certain opponents. (plus he can’t put the ball in the ocean). Re Sanchez there was no choice. Didn’t want to be here and made an ego driven, mercenary decision. To Alexis I’d say ‘thanks for the goals, adios’. Is he the 4th best player in the world? He’s being paid that way. Only Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo will earn more. Please. He had a great season, in part because AW made him a focal point of the attack. Will he be that player or the above average, not great player he was at Barcelona?

    I think AFC still need a CB in light of Mert’s retirement and the rumoured possible loan of Holding. And as we’ve said for 10 years, what’s your midfield pairing? I’ve seen enough of Xhaka to say that while he has ability his defensive lapses cannot be tolerated. I’d play Elneny and Wilshire. Sorry Ramsay, you never had a place in the side and still don’t, especially if Jack recommits. Not his fault, another talented player. I’ve always suspected AW would love to play ten No. 10’s and A GK, lol.

    A larger issue is how does AW inject some spine into this group? Make it tougher for opponents to play through the middle. It’s not just the defenders, the whole side switches off (except Ozil)for long periods. Where is the tenacity, toughness, pride, will to win? Re toughness; the only player I’d hate to meet in a dark alley is Kolasinac. And I’m 68 FFS! The great teams of AW’s reign had skill, pace and toughness. Guys like the Captains – Adams, Vieira absolutely, positively, VISIBLY hated losing. Who even worries about his place today?
    All in all, at least it’s not same old same old. Change is positive. COYG!

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    Let’s not mince our words, with the 2 audacious signings they’ve done in the last winter window, the onus is on Arsenal to do very well in all competions before the season ends. And I believe the Gunners will not only perform very well but they’ll perform remarkably too winning all their remaining 13 games in the PL and equally wins the Carabao Cup final match at Wembley against Man City irrespective of Pep Guardiola signing of players from the Jupiter will not deter Arsenal from lifting the Trophy in the final match. And I also believe Arsenal will overrun any opposition team that comes against them henceforth in their remaining Europa League match to lift the Trophy this season. And Arsenal making the top four place table finish this season is not an issue that should make us the Gooners apprehensive. For, the Gunners are more that ready and set to win all their remaining 13 PL games this season which by so doing will see them get the top four place table finish if not the third in the table at the end of this season’s campaign.

    As for Amy Lawrence writing positively on Arsenal in the Guardian, I always said it using this forum on this site that, the Lady is a genuine Arsenal fan who loves Arsenal to the core in her mind. And thus will defend the interest of Arsenal in her write ups at any time and any day in her journalism career.

    As regards to the suspended West Ham recruitment officer whose comments has been taken as racially inclined. Let’s not take it away from this guy for his saying what he has seen and experienced. I think we should try to differentiate what is a belief from opinion that is based on what one has experienced. Call a spade a spade irrespective of whose Ox is gore.

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    Let’s not mince our words, with the 2 audacious signings they’ve done in the last winter window, the onus is on Arsenal to do very well in all competions before the season ends. And I believe the Gunners will not only perform very well but they’ll perform remarkably too winning all their remaining 13 games in the PL and equally wins the Carabao Cup final match at Wembley against Man City irrespective of Pep Guardiola signing of players from the Jupiter will not deter Arsenal from lifting the Trophy in the final match. And I also believe Arsenal will overrun any opposition team that comes against them henceforth in their remaining Europa League matches to lift the Trophy this season. And Arsenal making the top four place table finish this season is not an issue that should make us the Gooners apprehensive. For, the Gunners are more than ready and set to win all their remaining 13 PL games this season which by so doing will see them get the top four place table finish if not the third in the table at the end of this season’s campaign.

    As for Amy Lawrence writing positively on Arsenal in the Guardian, I always said it using this forum on this site that, the Lady is a genuine Arsenal fan who loves Arsenal to the core in her mind. And thus will defend the interest of Arsenal in her write ups at any time and any day in her journalism career.

    As regards to the suspended West Ham recruitment officer whose comments has been taken as racially inclined. Let’s not take it away from this guy for his saying what he has seen and experienced. I think we should try to differentiate what is a belief from opinion that is based on what one has experienced. Call a spade a spade irrespective of whose Ox is gored.

  • para

    Name calling is/has always been a part of society and calling someone names because of their skin colour or differences has also been a part of it, in fact this(on account of skin colour) started from the official media in that time of “discovery” of other peoples, “slavery” and the decimation of indigenous peoples from their land, so no wonder then that the people have carried on this tradition, passing it on to their children and their children’s children.

    This is something embedded into a certain mindset, and this mindset will not be changed by little rules designed to take focus away from the institutionalised racism that continues in society, the racism that does affect melanated people throughout their lives.

    Until the institutionalised racism, that oh so subtle racism that permeates TV and Media is gone, people will always be subconsciously brainwashed by it and continue to use it.

    To try to teach people with a savage and animalistic mindset is hard work, and it is clear that one cannot force people to think differently, only a long term solution, the solution of being an example to these people, especially at a young age, will be able to change it, sadly all the posturing and making rules does not help especially when the media is so good at projecting it in their oh so subtle and hidden ways, even so that some melanated people are also affected by it.

    Children are not stupid, they are told one thing and yet see the opposite being played out before them, they either become confused or in the end they bow to what is actually being played out before them.

    To be able to see through the mass deception is a first step, but also to really look deep inside and make sure that one does not foster these feelings at a subconscious level. That is the real task of each one, to conquer, that is, to win the battle raging inside and become a human being instead of an intelligent animal.

  • Vieria wasn’t part of the invincible s.

    I had a similar objection to homophobic treatment of my temp manager, it was shockingly and they threw in racism for good measure. I didn’t leave I’m rescheduled in and HR have no choice burn to pay me for being off plus wages stolen.

    Patiently waiting. I said African players were discriminated against on wages due tin AFCON and that was somewhat legitimate, but AFCON shoiuld Ben moved in terms of date, a window of some kind toward new year would also allow the man to leave without such a great impact. Later kick off, to represent teneprature consideration.

    We should have later kick off times here. And what’s with 3pm kick offs not being televised in U.K. But Americans watching at stupid o’clock?

    West Ham are racist, Chelsea, Miwall, QPR, vasically soith London teams are all governed with a slightly new racist attitude, as isn’t representative of the natives demographic. However it’s interestingly that the gentrification of London and its suburbs is changing attitudes. Go NW and it’s lottle aftica and everyone is gunner. No on real gas a shirt! 🙂

  • goonergerry

    There is definitely something to some of these points.
    Much as I have loved watching the virtuoso that is Sanchez , I have believed that he never really fitted into a the one touch movement and pattern of our team play- in short he slows our game up even disrupts it-and when his virtuosity doesn’t work as it didn’t against some, there were vulnerabilities- loss of possession in areas making us more vulnerable to counter attack.
    Its difficult to know whether we had any choice over selling Giroud. Would Chelsea have sold their player to Dortmund if Giroud was not going to them-and then Dortmund would not have sold Auba?
    I like to think that we got the player we really wanted and sold a fringe player to get him. Yes he will make Chelsea stronger- and slower.
    I remain worried about the defence and defensive capability of our midfield when we are not in possession of the ball. We concede too many goals-the keepers at the club are looking increasingly viulnerable-is this all going to change now we can transition the ball quicker and force sides to keep more back? That seems very very unlikely to me. Simple fact is we need better defenders of crosses and a keeper and we haven’t done a lot to get them..