Sunday, 23 March 2014

Arsene Wenger at 1,000 games

(Pic : Daily Heil)

Well, I suppose that's a very twisted way of celebrating 1,000 games as manager of a football club. Arsenal fell a "leetle beet short" and lacked "mental strengx". I wish I did not see the incident.

Chelsea harvested Arsene Wenger's soul again, giving the media another opportunity to drop to their knees and chow down on Jose Mourinho's cheesy member.

I find these thrashings funny, which is perhaps a worrying sign. Half of all Premier League goals Arsenal have conceded this season (34) have come from three games : Man City (6), Liverpool (5), Chelsea (6).

17 goals against, but only 9 points dropped. The title's won or lost, ultimately, at places like Stoke and Southampton.

I don't want to overshadow the 1,000 game achievement, but yesterday underlined Arsene Wenger's biggest weakness –  stubbornness. For his intelligence he can be a dunce, especially when it comes to line-ups, addressing the lack squad depth, blind faith in some very poor players and substitutions.

It was obvious Arsenal needed a striker in January – instead bringing in a crocked Kim Kallstrom. Barring a miracle, the title challenge is over for another year, with all hope of salvaging what's otherwise been a decent season resting with the FA Cup.

1,000 Games : Arsene's Achievements

(Pic : FOX Soccer Flickr)
You can broadly split the Arsene Wenger era into two halves : before the Emirates Stadium and after.

Before the stadium move, Arsene Wenger brought with him alien concepts to English football. It's well trodden now, but that includes things like new diets, new training methods and a mainland European intellectualism that's absent from English football. In doing so he managed to turn Arsenal around from a club of ageing journeymen into, for several years, the only club that seriously threatened Manchester United's 1990s-2000s hegemony.

Prior to Wenger's arrival, being a football manager in England was more about being "a football man" (c/o Football 365). That translates into, "a bit fick but able to shout a lot and talk normal" – like Tim Sherwood, Sam Allardyce and Harry Redknapp.

Wenger isn't a football man, he's a football professor who not only knows the ins and outs of the stuff on the pitch and transfers, but everything else around it – the economics, the media, the global picture and changes in footballing philosophy.

Most foreign managers have that, but English mangers don't because they tend to know nothing else but playing football. They see management as a vocational apprenticeship and something you do after you finish playing, almost as a God-given right - not a professional white-collar job that's as much about fronting a multi-million pound business as managing 11 players.

Every club that has changed from being a club "for football men" to a "white collar" club has gone on to  success – though they perhaps lose their soul getting there.

That's what led to the Emirates Stadium move. It made sense in financial terms because it would increase match day revenue, allowing Arsenal to compete on a sustained level with the "elite" of European football by boosting coffers to spend on players and wages.

It was a massive risk due to the debt the club took on and the complexities of actually getting the thing built. All it needed was a "little beet" of self-sacrifice.

What Arsene Wenger didn't forsee was Roman Abramovich and his petrol money, subsequently joined by Arab and American billionaires – including Stan Kroenke.

So things were cut back. Players – including club icons like Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie – left because they were either unwilling to wait to win trophies, or wanted a chance of instant success at clubs without a £300million stadium-shaped millstone around their necks.

8 years after the move, Arsenal are finally starting to come out of the period of enforced financial hibernation, but it's a different football world.

The fact Arsene has managed to steer the ship so consistently under some very serious constraints really is a brilliant achievement.- you only have to look at the likes of Leeds United, Spurs and Chelsea pre-Abramovich to see how badly that can go. However, if he were at any other "big" club run by an oligarch, on his current record he would've been sacked around 2008-2009.

Although I believe the Wenger era is drawing to a close – I suspect any new contract will be his last and he'll call time in 2016 – he's building a legacy that's going to outlive himself, let alone every single Arsenal fan alive today.

Yes, the last eight years have been massively frustrating, and the club have over promised and underachieved – mostly because of Arsene's blind faith in his players, which isn't always repaid in kind as we saw yesterday.

However, the club are still lucky to have him, and any Gooner should consider themselves privileged to be living during this period.

Wenger's Best XI

It seems everyone else is doing their best Wenger XI, so I'll join in too. None of this "Christmas Tree" bollocks. 4-4-2 all the way.
 Pure footballing sex.
(Click to enlarge)
Most positions pick themselves – Ljungberg, Pires, Vieira, Henry, Adams, Campbell, Cole – and you can't have an Arsenal XI without Dennis Bergkamp (peace be upon him) even if he was a Rioch signing.

I chose Jens Lehmann over David Seaman as his performances were pretty much vital to the Invincibles season and Champions League run in 2006. I genuinely believe he was technically better goalkeeper better than Seaman, albeit eccentric, as we all know from that Champions League final. It's no worse than Nayim, surely? Though it's a very, very close call. Similarly Dixon v Lauren, Pires v Overmars, Petit v Fabregas v Gilberto Silva, Anelka v Wright.

Kolo Toure is an archetypal Wenger signing - unknown, becomes world-beater - and makes the bench. Laurent Koscielny also makes the bench, the only current player there. He's arguably the most consistent defender since the "Legendary Back Four" and I suspect both he and Per Mertesacker will be pushing Adams and Campbell in future XIs.

And even if I'm including Robin van Persie, he's still a cunt.

Wenger's Worst XI

Even Arsene Wenger has brain farts.
The myths, the legends, the shite.
(Click to enlarge)

Francis Jeffers is probably Wenger's single worst ever signing (£9million?). Though that's not really his fault due to chronic injury problems, and I was excited when Arsenal signed him from Everton because I thought he was of the Michael Owen mould and would bang them in. He didn't.

Manuel Almunia, Emmanuel Eboue and Denilson probably compete for the title of worst regular starting player for Arsenal during the Wenger era. Almunia's a very good shot stopper, but practically everything else about his game's suspect, and he always had a haunted look on his face. How he managed to play more than 100 games for the club is beyond me.

Denilson definitely isn't a bad player – neither was Eboue – but both could just do something completely moronic at the wrong time. Ditto Pascal "Zinedine" Cygan - though I have fond memories of him scoring a brace against Fulham (?) once.

Andrey Arshavin, Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh are examples of players who started incredibly well, but ended up – for a multitude of reasons – not working out in the end or not living up to their potential. They had their moments, definitely : Arshavin v Barcelona.

Then there are the odd signings – Junichi "T Shirt" Inamoto, Amaury Bischoff (now ploughing his trade in the German Third Division) and Park Chu-Young (still nobody knows why he's here).

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Soul Food : Meals to die for


People neglecting their own health is something beautiful to behold.

There's just something about people demonstrating their belief in the futility of life through their irresponsible approach to basic biological necessities like eating and drinking. It puts a smile on my face and a spring in my step. They're telling the world that life is definitely short, so it's worth living through unnecessary risk.

To start this journey, you have to visit the birthplace of culinary nihilism – the Scottish fish and chip shop.

"God is dead".
(Pic : The Independent)

The flagship delicacy, of course, is the deep fried Mars bar - glorious combination of an energy-rich, nutritionally baseless clump of sugar (in various forms) and artery-clogging coating, all forged in the intense heat of boiling lard. Diabetes entombed in semi-liquid heart attack.

How can something so wrong, be so right?

The Americans never want to be outdone in anything, so they took the principle of wrapping benign, but unhealthy, treats in a coffin of cardiac doom further.

There's the phenomenon of deep fried drinks, for instance – cola, beer, milk.

Americans also really like cheese for some reason. I don't. They also like deep frying it. I don't. It's not unusual though as there are several dishes with fried cheese.

Americans also have something called a "State Fair"  which seems to be a codeword for a mass experiment on the public/attempted war crime which tests out really unbelievable combinations of foods and cooking process which would usually remain well apart.

Butter and deep fat frying - together at last!
(Pic : kkittygirl.blogspot.com via guestaraunt.com)

They've gone one step further than cheese, with deep fried butter. Even saying that is giving me heart palpitations.

Why go through the inconvenience of frying? Scoop it out like ice cream and put it in a cone. Make sure the cone is made of bacon. Would you like melted cheese with your embolism?

"God is still dead."
(Pic : CNN)


Then it went mainstream, with KFC leading innovation in food technology by using meat as bread in the form of the "Double Down". The name even sounds like a bet - doubling-down on your coronary health. It's like Tyrannosaurs never went extinct, or they asked a dog to come up with menu ideas.

It would be wrong to say this is restricted to "unhealthy" foods. The Japanese are pretty good at this too, and they have a reputation for a wholesome, nutritious diet. If the Americans like cheese, the Japanese love vending machines because they seem to abhor human interaction of any sort.

I can understand that, but it's also created the miserable, post-apocalyptic, Clockwork Orange eating experiences :

                                     

In Star Trek they have automatic food dispensers that reconstitute shit into attractive food. This is the anti-Star Trek, serving piping hot shit as food....to an 8-bit rendition of Three Blind Mice and Yankee Doodle stuck on a loop.

Returning to America, you've probably all heard of the doughnut burger, right? That's too obvious.

On rare occasions, the spirit of endeavour and curiosity cross to create something so different from what we're used to, it challenges our most fundamental beliefs about what it means to be human, walking the fine line between genius and criminal madness.

We have a new, trailblazing challenger to the orthodoxy.

"O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O, brave new world, that has such people in it!"

(Pic : foodbeast.com)
That is a cake burger. With icing, sprinkles and cheese.

This isn't just an affair between sweet and savoury, it's a full blown sex scandal involving fisting and golden showers. Mixing sweet and savoury has never been more obscene.

I can deduce at least three things about someone who would indulge in such a culinary delight.
  •  They've probably gone through several nutritionists – they all committed suicide.
  • Their pancreas is the size of a rugby ball and makes groaning noises.
  • They're on a first name basis with their consultant cardiologist.
Someone who eats this is saying non-verbally, "I don't need me no goddamn Commie cir-ur-laydory system! Ma blood ain't red - it's red, white n' blue!"

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Guilty Pleasures : Coach Trip

My idea of hell, but immensely entertaining.
(Pic : The Guardian)
The latest series of Channel 4's cheap and cheerful, light-hearted reality game show Coach Trip has just ended. I'm comfortable with my sense of style and taste, which as you can tell is brilliant, so I'm happy to admit I like it.

The premise is simple enough. Several couples travel around Europe on a modified coach for up to a month, voting each other off using a football-style red card and yellow card system. They then vote for an overall winner on the last day who wins a....voucher for a coach trip.

It's a good cross-section of UK tourists abroad. Gay couple – check. Overweight woman wearing a brightly coloured sleeveless top – check. Young men on the pull – check. Old hippy women – check.

The winners this year were the utterly dense but completely lovable Emily and Annabelle from Sunderland whose names are suspiciously similar to characters from Thomas the Tank Engine.

When you've only got 30 minutes to fit a day or two of events in, the show needs big characters, and it never fails to disappoint. Unlike shows like Big Brother these seem a bit more "real". This year there was "pwopa man's man geezer" Roy and his wife Julia – or Woy and Jewja. The other stalwarts were Cornish couple Darren and James who saw conspiracies everywhere. There was also a bloke who was an Essex version of Carwyn Jones.

The real star of the show is, of course, the camp, tighter than a duck's arse tour guide Brendan. He's a consummate entertainer, producing such one-liners as – what he describes - the Yorkshire battle cry of "Ow mooch!?" and after Woy hit a particularly long golf drive - "Eee, by eck he can whack a ball."

After Annabelle was left in charge of the money following an injury Brendan suffered in some Krav Maga demonstration, she subsequently spent €50 on confections. A bed-ridden Brendan's ballistic, Mr Bumble-style response of "Caaaaaaakes!?" was perhaps the best bit.

It's not without drama. Firstly there was the most childish 50-something woman ever, throwing a strop at the vote like an unruly teenager and storming off the show, slamming the door in Brendan's face several times when doing so.

An ambulance was called out three or four times. One couple lasted a day IIRC before one of them fell ill. The most serious incident involved another guy, who started doing an impromptu Harry Redknapp impression at a Moorish palace in Granada. "He's twitching good", I said. That's called tact, that is.

Turns out he wasn't throwing a Redknapp, but was having some sort of diabetes-related fit and had to be taken to hospital after collapsing.

In future though, I really want to see them push the coach to its limits and go around Central Asia or Africa.

"Today we're going to....*cue people drumming on the tables*....ASHGABAT! And we'll be....GOAT WATCHING!"

I long for the day Brendan says, "Eee, I tell ye what, we could be in trouble if we can't get t'coach to Bangui by sunset", before doing his trademark dramatic flounce from the camera after dropping a bombshell.

Good stuff.


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