Arsenal’s November jinx and losing big money
November has traditionally been tough for Arsenal and they are delighted to have performed so well against title candidates Liverpool, securing a 1-1 draw. Arsenal usually average fewer points in November than any other month of the year. I am not sure why this happens, unless you are superstitious. However, the Gunners current run of 14 matches without defeat should help them overcome this psychological barrier. Arsenal’s defence is still cause for concern and I have seen manager Unai Emery concentrating on tightening things up at the back during training. In 11 league games this season, they have only kept two clean sheets against Watford and Everton. Meanwhile, Arsenal’s transfer policy seems to be in the same chaos as it was under Arsene Wenger. Take the situation with Aaron Ramsey for instance. He is out of contract next summer and at the age of 27 is a valuable asset. Before Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis departed for AC Milan he organised a lucractive contract for Aaron. When Gazidis left the club, senior management decided, along with manager Emery, that they would not honour that agreement and it was withdrawn. Aaron has no idea why the club has changed its mind but there is no doubt he is upset by the apparent poor treatment. It was obvious when he showed his state of mind after scoring a superb goal against Fulham. Aaron simply shrugged his shoulders. It is also a strange approach by Arsenal because they are fighting at the top of the league against clubs owned by billionaires, super wealthy Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern sovereign states. Money is no object to these teams but it is to Arsenal. The Gunners need to be more clever in the transfer market. Typical examples of losing huge sums of money are Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez for whom they could have got mega-money but they went cheaply because their contracts had been allowed to run down. And don’t forget Jack Wilshere who’s contract expired and he left for no transfer fee at all...a top player who was in demand. The fact is Arsenal have lost a lot of money...here is how the top clubs have brought in money from transfer deals since 2014: Chelsea £494million, Liverpool £442million, Manchester City £225million, Tottenham £225million, Manchester United £211million and Arsenal lagging far behind with only £161million.
The reason Chelsea are succeeding
When I visited Chelsea’s training ground I was genuinely impressed with the upbeat ‘feel good’ atmosphere amongst the players and training staff. The toxic, poisonous feeling around the ground last year under Antonio Conte has disappeared. The players laughed, joked and worked their socks off. Mauricio Sarri has brought a new belief to this club…a belief that they can be the best. To underline this, both David Luiz and Ross Barkley said this week how they are thriving under Sarri’s style of management and his ideas and strategies. Barkley was tired of being labelled the boy with huge potential, the new Paul Gascoigne, Rooney and Gerrard. The fact is, before Sarri arrived he was struggling. Now he is playing good intelligent football, scoring and assisting in a team that is a pleasure to watch. David Luiz has also been singing the praises of Sarri. Rejected and dejected under Conte, Sarri recognized immediately that the Brazilian is world class and made use of his talents to boss the back line. I have seen Luiz four times this season and believe me, he is the real deal. Luiz has praised Sarri’s man-management skills and said, “I am so happy because Sarri is a great human being. He knows how to teach and improve us. So when it is like that, it is easy to understand and easy to be a fantastic player. I know that under his guidance we will get better and better.”
Morata finally finding his feet
When a player leaves Real Madrid you expect someone special. When a player costs £58million you expect something extra special. Both of these apply to Chelsea signing Alvaro Morata but up to now he has been anything but special. Chelsea bought him to take on the mantle of two of the best strikers the club have ever seen. Didier Drogba scored a remarkable 164 goals for the Blues and Diego Costa spent three seasons at the Bridge and scored 57 goals and won two League titles and a League Cup. 26 year-old Morata started brightly but quickly faded and this season started with only one goal in nine matches. However, under Mauricio Sarri a new Morata has emerged, full of confidence which he was lacking, full of aggression which previously was not part of his game and most of all his head seems to have been sorted out. He now has a run of five goals in six games. However, many Chelsea fans are still not convinced he is the man to lead them and point out how quickly Morata goes to ground when tackled and misses simple chances. But then again, you could say that about this season’s sensation Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling. When Sarri was asked about Morata he simply replied, “He is still a little bit fragile from the mental point of view but he is getting stronger every week.” This weekend the Blues face Everton at home which should give the striker more than a good chance to add to his goal tally.
Liverpool’s secret to success
Talking to Jordan Henderson this week, he was describing the training routine and fitness programme which manager Jurgen Klopp has installed at the club. He said, “We do our fair share in the gym when it comes to weight training, but weight training is mainly in the pre-season to build up our strength and then we move towards more plyometrics (see below) and body weight training when the season is underway. These help with our agility and core strength, both of which are important when it comes to football. The coaches usually give us a good blend of training; setting out the drills and giving us all our programmes to follow when we are in the gym to help focus on what we have to do in our positions. On a daily basis we usually do two sessions a day. That first session focuses on our fitness and strength, then we get more into training and tactics.”
Klopp has also appointed nutritionists and a performance manager and a new head of fitness and conditioning.
All of this is designed to have Liverpool players at their peak fitness levels. Henderson also revealed that he uses protein supplements and mixes them into his smoothies and porridge to give him more energy and quick recovery from exhausting training sessions. Liverpool are sitting at the top of the Premier League with Man City so Jurgen Klopp’s methods are proving successful. *Plyometrics is an intense training programme that stretches muscle fibres and generates strength when a player is running forward.
Backbone of Monaco has gone
I couldn’t help noticing this week just how much Monaco have been affected by selling off their best players. Gone are Anthony Martial, Kylian Mbappe, Bernado Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Thomas Lemar, Fabinho and Ricardo Carvalho. During the 2015 season, with all those players, Monaco were challenging the very best in France and later Europe. They were constantly in the top three of the French Liga 1. Now they are second to bottom in the League. Who said money doesn’t talk!
Burnley search for the mole
All is not well at Burnley. Manager Sean Dyche has become somewhat distant from his players and he collected them together in the dressing room a few days ago and demanded to know who is leaking inside information to the media. His own wages and why he has made decisions to drop certain senior players have all been published and can only have come from within the club. The meeting produced no results as to who is responsible but Dyche seems to have retained the backing of his players despite several of them unhappy with his recent decisions to drop long-serving Ashley Barnes from the first team and playing goalkeeper Joe Hart instead of Tom Heaton who is part of the inner circle of players.
Raheem becoming world class
Raheem Sterling has discovered the two main ingredients missing from his game. Aggression and confidence. And he can thank manager Pep Guardiola for helping him to unlock his missing box of tricks. In his last league game against Southampton his finishing was clinical and his assists were perfect. Suddenly he looks like the player City are willing to pay £300k a week for. On the training field Pep has spent long periods with Raheem, coaching him to be more assertive. Pep says, “When I first arrived at City I found him to be very talented but he was scared in the box, spending split seconds worrying about the defender in front of him and who he could pass too instead of making that aggressive shot on goal. I told him in training to believe in himself, be more aggressive and try to score goals and it doesn’t matter if you miss.” I have a feeling he is now enjoying scoring goals and making assists and winning games. He is becoming a winning player and don’t forget he is still only 23 years old. He is in incredible form, sharp, fast, clever, fighting, ambitious and decisive. Pep also said that Raheem must and will improve and he will become one of the world’s top strikers.