Premier League

The Curious Case Of Laurent Koscielny

More often than not, the sleepless nights are about the heartbreak, the disappointment, the anguish and the despair. They’re about the anger and disgust for the punditocracy and the hacks who consider it open season on Arsenal.

You can almost taste the bile from the disdain and contempt in which Arsenal is held in the footballing media circles from Sly Sports to the BBC, from Talk Spite radio to the tabloids. There’s a macabre-esque enjoyment of Arsenal’s agony in every sense – and when we say it’s a conspiracy, we’re called paranoid.

Today though, there’s so much to say and write about such an amazing day for the spirit of Arsenal football club. For that however, I’d like to encourage you to visit ACLF where my friend Yogi has written a wonderful piece that captures the emotion and captures the moment. As George our resident pedant puts it, for all the days of anguish that Yogi has kept our sanity, it’s days like these that he deserves the stage to express the magic of the moment.

I have chosen today instead to focus on Arsenal’s most influential unsung hero, Mr Laurent Koscielny. There’s more than enough analysis all over the internet and the media of the now legendary shafting of the heathen horde at Stamford Bridge.

You see, the problem with the English football establishment is that there’s a collective determination to exercise cultural incompetence of breath-taking magnitude. Take the lack of understanding of the fundamentals of football business and finance. English football is the only place on this planet where people still think it’s OK to spend the GDP of most developing countries just to chase trophies.

It’s either a brazen and reckless disregard of the laws of economics as they pertain to football, or spectacular incompetence from a collective that has the IQ of a fence post. It’s the sort of culture that equates high spending to quality, notwithstanding the fact that the rationale for the market pricing is fundamentally flawed. How can it be justifiable for example for Andy Carroll to cost more in transfer fees than Thomas Vermaelen and David Silva combined.

So when the Arsenal scouting system pluck Laurent Koscielny from the wilderness of the French league, he is considered a pariah since he doesn’t conform to the text book definition of a Premiership defender. It’s almost like it’s a crime that they don’t know him so he can’t be that good. Koscielny’s not only fighting the PR battle against the football media and pundits, he’s had to contend with undeserved criticism from Anti-Arsenal Arsenal supporters.

Yet this brilliant young man has something that a lot of defenders don’t have. He is tenacious, dependable, perceptive and applies himself with finesse. He is a dogged defender with absolute class when it comes to the art of intercepting, one on one defending and recovery defending. He is exceptional in the air and excellent in working with the ball on the ground.

Koscielny is also silky in offence and has an uncanny ability to convert defence into attack with one touch football. A very confident player with the ball, he links up very well with the midfield and is perhaps one of the best ball playing defenders around.

The fact that people still talk about Arsenal needing quality defenders without paying Koscielny any respect for what he is currently doing is an insult of the highest order in my humble opinion. If Koscielny isn’t one of the best defenders in the league, I don’t know who is.
In yesterday’s post match punditry by Sly Sports, the punk Jamie Redknapp had the audacity to suggest that Laurent Koscielny had now arrived after that performance against Chelsea. As I was reminded, Jamie was probably the only person in the country who didn’t notice Lionel Messi in Koscielny’s pocket when Arsenal beat Barcelona with panache in perhaps the greatest match of football ever played in an Arsenal stadium.

From the first game that Koscielny played at Anfield, it was so obvious that the boy oozed class. And I gather it’s not just the class. I know a few female Gooners who are willing and ready to copulate with the guy and bear his children.
Granted, he has made some mistakes – but point out to me a defender in the league who walks on water. The media even hail Sideshow Bob at Chelsea as the second coming of defensive messiahs. That’s David Luiz in case you’re wondering who Sideshow Bob is.

If Luiz was that good – why the hell didn’t he play to stop the horror show at Stamford Bridge yesterday. Even after they wax lyrical and go sycophantic about Luiz because he cost £24m while Koscielny cost a few bob according to them, you can’t hide from the fact that Laurent Koscielny stands head and shoulders above the Brazilian defender. Everything they say about Luiz, you can say that about Koscielny with compound interest.

Let’s not forget, Fernando Torres might as well have been sitting on the bench yesterday, that’s how effective Koscielny was. He’s done it to Messi, he’s done it to Rooney and he’s done it to Drogba – and folks still think of this guy like a step child from the wrong side of the rail tracks.
And yet, Gooners around the world are debating who will lose their place in central defence to accommodate the equally magnificent Thomas Vermaelen.
I think people are missing the point. The question is not who will partner Thomas Vermaelen in central defence. The more substantive question is out of Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Djourou, who will be Laurent Koscielny’s preferred partner.

My sense is that Vermaelen and Koscielny will be Arsenal’s first choice central defensive pairing, but if you take it that there will be suspensions and injury as well as the need for tactical changes to counter different opposition – there’s enough games to go around for everyone.
The most exciting thing for me is that Koscielny, Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Djourou are either 25 or 26 years of age. The central defensive solutions at

Arsenal for the next 8 to 10 years are on solid ground, notwithstanding the fact that young shining lights like Ignasi Miquel and Kyle Bartley are on hand to complement the squad depth.

Dont forget, if you haven’t yet, follow Stone Cold Arsenal on Twitter and join the growing community. We’re trying to find out where Bruce “We’ll beat the crap out of Arsenal” is hiding.

Sunday, October 30th, 2011 Analysis, Arsenal, Media Talk, Premier League No Comments

The Arsenal Requiem, Armageddon In The Gooniverse

Here I was thinking it couldn’t get any worse, but believe it or not, the Philistines are in town. They say bedlam is taking over. They’re taking no prisoners as the battle to control the asylum thickens.

“Bring me the head of Arséne Wenger” is the deafening refrain that can be equally heard from the shadowy alleyways around the Holloway road and the ether that is the Arsenal blogosphere.

Sir Harry Pearce and his Spooks have gawked in amazement at the sheer noise and traffic that is overwhelming their listening stations only to find that bitching about Arsenal is spiking internet traffic like a nonsense. Off he sends Dimitri and Malcolm (no wait, Malcolm left the service, right?) – it’s minimum wage Tariq – Yeah, off he sends Tariq to redirect the Arsenal chatter on the web to the Samaritans website and TheSuicideBunker.com.

“If those Arsenal bastards want to commit suicide, then get them off my frigging grid before I blow a gasket”, Sir Harry demands. We’ve got the Russians to deal with.

Meanwhile, at the Islington Cathedral, the masses file into the church awaiting the arrival of the doomed casket carrying the remains of ArsenalHasNotWonATrophyFor7YearsAndHaveOnlyGot16PointsFromTheLast16Games FC. The casket slowly navigates the streets of Islington towards the cathedral in a cortege flanked on either side by twin cannons mounted on top of carriages drawn by the 4 horses of the apocalypse.

Sly Sports News lead the procession with Mr Transfer Deadline Day himself – Jim White marching as he blows the trumpet to the tune of “Judgment Day”, as Jeff Stelling, Paul Merson and Phil Thompson sing along with gusto that would put the town crier to shame.

The front pews of the cathedral are filled by a smug Red nosed Ferguson and his lackeys Alex McLeash, Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce and Phil Brown. Happy Harry sits in the row behind though he’s constantly occupied on his Blackberry trying to confirm whether his case file with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs was hidden in the imminently arriving ArsenalHasNotWonATrophyFor7YearsAndHaveOnlyGot16PointsFromTheLast16Games FC casket.

As the Right Reverend Alan Brazil of the Talk Spite parish rises to meet the casket, the multitude stand and join in a solemn chorus of “Kumbayah my

Lord Kumbayah – Arsenal’s dying Lord Kumbayah”.

“But where’s Arséne?” a voice murmurs from the shadows of the media box at the balcony.

“You didn’t hear?”, John Cross responds. “They beheaded him like William Wallace, quartered him and had his head mounted on a stick outside the

Waitrose on Holloway Road. Looks like he’s a bit short for this funeral”.

“What about the Arsenal fans? Don’t’ they attend their own funeral?”

“Well, I hear those whose bodies were recovered from the mass suicide on Saturday evening are still awaiting identification and can only be processed after that”.

As Reverend Brazil takes the pulpit, the congregation sits and awaits the final sermon as the Arsenal Armageddon is complete.

“Dear friends. We gather here today to witness the demise of an institution that dared challenge the establishment, an institution that despite our warnings and cautionary advice, thought that they could get away with doing things differently from anyone in the game”.

“Let this be a lesson to any other club that tries living within its means and refusing to sign the English backbone that we told them to sign. How dare they”

“We will hunt you down and kill you. At Old Trafford, At Ewood Park, even abroad at the Nou Camp. We will hunt you down and crush you with the wrath of a mighty iron fist that will ensure we make an example of you”.

“When we tell you to spend money, you must. When we tell you to buy Gary Cahill and Scott Parker, you must listen to us. When we tell you that Man City are taking over the world by spending the equivalent of the GDP of most developing countries around the world, then you must respect that. This is the way football will run, otherwise you will end up in this casket in front of me”.

As the camera pans around the enclosure usually reserved for family, the spokesman for the Arsenal Supporters Trust can be seen weeping silently next to an equally silent gentleman and former owner who watches sombrely. Happy Harry receives a text that his fixer at Southwark Crown Court was arrested by his namesake Sir Harry Pearce, defender of the realm. He too starts weeping but it’s not in solidarity with the Arsenal folks, its more to do with his case file still being active.

As the pallbearers led by Wright and Merson picked for selling their souls to the highest bidder are joined by Stelling and his crew to lead the procession out – the Camera spans to a quiet corner of the cathedral where Cesc sits with his minders Xavi Hernandes and Carles Puyol, who constantly whisper in

Spanish “you could have been in that coffin my friend”.

The casket for ArsenalHasNotWonATrophyFor7YearsAndHaveOnlyGot16PointsFromTheLast16Games FC is led out to its final resting place at the Royal Arsenal Museum in Woolwich. The deafening silence for this final procession is only disturbed by the sound of Rednose Ferguson loudly masticating his chewing gum.

Damn wait! Was this a dream?

5 games in and judgement day has been written. If you didn’t know better, you’d think United has already won the title. What do we know anyway, Arsenal is in a relegation dog fight, we better start acclimatizing to football grounds we’ve never been used to – some of which hold 67 people with room for a few dogs.

Mind you, a game against Shrewsbury Town is just the game we need to get us used to playing in the lower leagues.

If you want to find out what happened in the rest of my dream, follow me on Twitter and I might just reveal all.

Monday, September 19th, 2011 Arsenal, Media Talk, Premier League No Comments

Football, Racism, 40 Acres and the Regulation Mule

Last evening, there was a captivating debate on ACLF about the extent of racism in football. Yogi’s joint has this eclectic mix of fascinating characters who occasionally take a spin outside football and indulge in profound discussions about politics, police states, the economy and many other colourful topics.

What struck me about the discussion yesterday was the level of understanding and ignorance in equal measure when it came to the reality of racism in football. It was a discussion triggered by the suggestion by former West Bromwich defender Brendan Batson that affirmative action was needed in

English football to open up opportunities in management for blacks and other ethnic minorities.

So, in the sporting world’s rendition of General William Sherman’s 1865 special field order No. 15, is it time for English football to start handing out the

“40 acres and the regulation mule” to managers of colour?

The redistribution of arable land to freed slaves was an effort to give them a chance to make a living in recognition of the clear disadvantage they already faced. Even as far back , that representation of affirmative action was deemed necessary to try and redress inequalities stemming from generations of slavery, despite its revocation after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

And here we are nearly 145 years later, and the “Rooney Rule” (nothing to do with that other one from Manchester) is seen as the only viable mechanism to break the establishment’s stronghold on the status quo when it comes to the lack of black managers in football.
Racism, like with most other “isms” is an emotive subject on any given day, and one commonly misunderstood characteristic is how racism manifests itself. It doesn’t have to be overt or explicit for it to exist. And in most cases, it is subconscious, subtle and hidden under the surface.

We’ve seen the numerous high profile initiatives and campaigns in football like “kick It Out” that in my opinion, are feeble and toothless PR exercises for the establishment to show that it is doing something. Only this week, the England football team were training with the “Kick it Out” bracelets to show the media and the world that they were sensitive to the racism experienced in Bulgaria during the fixture last week.

I know it’s feeble and spineless because it’s not nearly enough and not gutsy and deep enough to effect any changes. Footballing authorities are more interested in spending time witch-hunting banned managers for misdemeanours like sending signals to the bench from the stands via mobile phone, instead of tackling clear cases of racism.

It was only recently that Sergio Busquets of Barcelona blatantly abused an opponent with explicit racist slurs and FIFA and UEFA concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence. Gil Grisham from CSI would have built a case against Busquets from the TV footage even without leaving his sofa.
But it isn’t just the racism in the stands and terraces, and the racism on the field of play. When it comes to management, officiating, and the board room, the trend continues. It’s shocking that out of the 92 registered association football members, only Chris Hughton at Birmingham and Chris Powell at

Charlton are black.
At the highest level of football, we’ve seen the likes of Paul Ince, Ruud Gullit and Jean Tigana take charge of top football clubs, but is that nearly enough?
I don’t buy the argument that there aren’t enough black or minority professionals capable of doing the job at the highest levels. The fact that not many are even pursuing the opportunities in management is symptomatic of the fact that they are not likely to get the chance to manage at a high level, even if they were extremely competent and capable.

Nobody’s advocating for not giving the best man or woman the job. In an ideal world, the best candidate triumphs. But idealism and reality are two parallel universes. The reality is that the footballing establishment still live in the stone age and represent values and principles that are out of step with the modern world.

There’s a lot of noises about change, and a lot of noises about inclusion and diversity. They say “but, can’t you see how colourful the Premier league and the football leagues are? We have black, Asian and Hispanic players happily plying their trade alongside white folks”.
The blunt truth is that despite the player diversity numbers, racism is still alive. It’s taken a long time to get to where we are, but there are still tangible cases of racism towards players. My sense is that it got to a tipping point where it was impossible to ignore the talents of exceptional black players and that’s the reason barriers started breaking.

Sweden in the summer of 1958 was probably not prepared for a black 17 year old Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pele), but history will suggest that the world will never forget him. Pele spectacularly announced himself on the world stage despite the “hostile” conditions towards black players.
Much more work has to be done in other areas of football, whether in management and coaching, or in the board room. As much as the establishment might want to rationalize or justify what is happening or what initiatives have been put in place, not nearly enough is being done.

If we need to hand over footballing’s equivalent of 40 acres and a mule, then it needs to happen. It’s criminal that opportunities for minority professionals in a game of such a high percentage of minority players is almost non-existent.
This isn’t about handing over jobs to disadvantaged folks for the sake of political correctness. It’s about recognizing that we’re not even starting from a level playing field and we have to do something drastic about it. It’s about getting them to the table. Those who are good enough can take care of themselves from there.

Don’t forget, we’re getting into this tweeting thing now. Join me on Twitter.

Friday, September 9th, 2011 Analysis, Football, News, Premier League No Comments

Arsenal’s Season Starts Here

As the troops roll in from the wilderness of international football, Arsenal fans look forward to a mouth-watering prospect of seeing the long awaited new faces grace the hallowed turf at the Emirates. Ordinarily, playing Swansea wouldn’t be such a big deal, but it’s safe to say that Arsenal probably didn’t get the memo about the Premier league starting on 13th of August.

Well, considering our freakish start to the season, a game against Swansea at home, with shiny brand new signings and a rejuvenated spirit is the only way to go. Everyone from the tea lady at Stoke City FC to my 82 year old neighbour has had something to say about Arsenal’s alleged crisis.
Perhaps the most rewarding thing in all this dooms day nonsense is that despite the worst start to a season Arsenal has ever made in my memory, Tottenham are still below us on the table. There are indeed still small mercies in life. Even when you consider the witch hunt against the Arsenal medical staff for allegedly engineering constant injuries to our players, the only other team with a worse injury record than us are Tottenham.
My sense is that it’s a good thing that we’ve got the demons out of our system early this season. It’s hard to see how things can get any worse than they have been, and thankfully, the ghastly transfer window is closed for another 114 days. It’s been a summer of torturous nonsense, speculation, conjecture and outright bullshit peddled by all and sundry in the name of “exclusives”, “transfer talk”, and everyone thinking they know what is happening yet they know bugger all.

The negativity around Arsenal has been nothing short of suffocating and some sanity should be restored when the football comes back. There’s no hiding from the fact that since we lost the Carling cup final, we’ve only won 2 Premier league games against Blackpool and Man United. Clearly, that isn’t good enough, and steps have been taken to improve this. We need to let the changes take shape and back the team to the hilt when they step across that white line.

It’s a long season and Li’l Jack and Vermaelen in particular should not be rushed back under any circumstances. Abou Diaby is also due back in training by the end of this month, with Song and Gervinho being let out of jail after this weekend. With the 9 new additions, the squad looks healthy and we can focus on the football.

There are many who still have a hangover about the prodigal son’s return to Broke Back Barca, and the assertion that he should have been replaced therefore we are a weaker squad. Assuming you can find a replacement for “he who sold out to Broke Back Barca” – you have to ask whether elevating an individual to superstar status is the answer.

Surely, Thierry Henry and the prodigal son should have taught us the downside of building a team around an individual. My sense is that we need more players in the team to take responsibility and not to have the expectation that the team will be carried by an individual with superhuman ability when times get tough.

We now have experience with the introduction of players like Santos, Mertesacker, Arteta, Benayoun, Gervinho and Park to complement our resident generals like Van Persie, Vermaelen, Sagna, Arshavin and Rosicky.

My sense is that Wenger is tweaking our style of play to a more direct “in your face” counter attacking style to deal with the teams that come to the Emirates to park an aircraft carrier in front of goal. Possession football has its flaws and hopefully the pace of Theo, Gervinho, The Ox and Ryo will help with getting behind the defence lines.

The season starts Saturday and we’ve got everything to play for.

Thursday, September 8th, 2011 Arsenal, Premier League No Comments

One Nil To The Arsenal As The Fight Back Begins

That’s 1 down and 12 to go. One game at a time and the home stretch doesn’t look as daunting as it did for the last fortnight.

This was a week where everyone was taking pot shots at Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal charges. From Fleet Street hacks to despondent Arsenal ’customers’, from opposing team’s players to the tea lady at Stamford Bridge – criticism of the Arsenal team has been dished out in plenty from all corners.

Wenger observed that it was funny how Arsenal’s qualities are lauded when the team is winning by playing champagne football, yet quickly identified as the team’s Achilles heel when the Gunners hit a difficult patch.

It was never going to be a straight forward game last night. The air of doom and gloom around the Gooner nation, coupled with the collective naval gazing and low spirits that haunted the environs of London Colney, made last night’s task an arduous affair.

If there’s one thing that stood out most, it’s the sheer determination of the Arsenal players to put things right. It was the way they each played for one another and took responsibility for their individual and collective roles.

In the last two defeats, the way Arsenal gave away the counter attacking goals was as painful to the players as it was to supporters. There were already signs during the Chelsea game that some work had gone into the collective team effort, especially in the second half of the game at Stamford Bridge.

There was more evidence yesterday of the teams determination to fight. Liverpool gave a fistful as they sought to take advantage of what was comically described by a certain player as a one dimensional Arsenal style.

One dimensional it wasn’t for Arsenal most definitely mixed it and rightfully gained a result for the spirited effort.
If you believe everything you read, you would have got the impression that there was a runaway train with the title contenders sitting above Arsenal in the league table.

Perhaps what made the victory against Liverpool sweeter was the fact that elsewhere, other teams who recently accused Arsenal of being predictable were themselves employing predictable one dimensional tactics in trying to retrieve a sticky situation at the hands of the Toffees.

The Arsenal players will have drawn encouragement from the fact that their endeavour was also supported by the loss of 3 and 2 points for Chelsea and Manchester United respectively.

The title challenge that seemed to have slipped their grip was tilted back in the Gunner’s direction by a twist of fate that smiled kindly. All Arsenal can do is take a game at a time and ensure that they aim for maximum points.

Man United and Chelsea still have more points to drop and it’s paramount that Arsenal focus on doing what is in their control – and that is fighting tooth and nail for every point they can get in the last 12 games.

The spirit and work rate that the Gunners employed last night will have earned them the belief and confidence needed to approach the next stage of the campaign. The most impressive aspect for me last night was the way the players defended as a team. I would have been happy with a draw simply based on the shift that the team put in – but of course, I’m ecstatic about the win.

A classic example of how this team ethic was supplemented by individual responsibility was shown by William Gallas. The veteran defender literally took no prisoners when a through ball acquainted David N’gog with the whites of Almunia’s eyes.

Gallas appeared from nowhere just as the Liverpool striker was about to pull the trigger and executed the text book definition of a world class tackle. That single incident alone was enough to galvanize players and supporters alike.

It was also heart warming and kind of amusing to note that for a change, very few if any Arsenal fans left the stadium before Howard Webb blew the final whistle. In fairness though, the Arsenal crowd did stand up to be counted, despite a slow start.
All in all, it is a brighter day in the Gooner nation, if only to return to our world famous refrain of ’One nil to the Arsenal’.

Saturday, February 20th, 2010 Arsenal, Football, Match Reports, Premier League No Comments
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