Troubling Signs for Arsenal

Michael Cummings for Bleacher Report:

For Arsenal, on the other hand, it’s the latest disappointing result in what is becoming a disastrous season. Having lost their last two league matches, the Gunners are off to their worst start since 1982, and fans are increasingly calling for the club to part ways with longtime manager Arsene Wenger. Saturday’s loss ended a 23-match unbeaten run at the Emirates Stadium.

Counterattack to Win Arsenal

John Brewin for ESPN FC:

Dominance, calamity and then agony. Even when Arsenal and Manchester United are in the reduced circumstances of beginning their day in sixth and seventh, the game plan is the same. Wayne Rooney’s 80th minute strike, United’s second goal, was a repeat of a formula that Sir Alex Ferguson revealed in his autobiography: Let Arsenal play, intercept and then counterattack.

Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United

Daniel Taylor for The Guardian:

Arsenal have now won only one of their last 15 games against these opponents and the most galling part of this one was that it was against a team that had Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair and Chris Smalling making up the defence, in a return to the 3-4-1-2 system that most United followers must have hoped had been seen off in conker season.

It was a scratch team and Arsenal really ought to have done more to exploit it during an opening half an hour when they did at least remind us of their ability to play quick, penetrative football.

They were ultimately undone by their own wastefulness and what Wenger described, amid suffocating deja vu, as “naive” defending. It has been the recurring theme in a season that has brought them only four wins in the league, all against sides currently in the bottom seven.

Friday Foreplay – Gameweek 12

My Fantasy Premier League weekly preview articles for All Things FPL have been published:

From the Friday Foreplay:

Sergio “Kun” Agüero is the best statistical bet of the Gameweek, as laid out in Captain Foresight. The lightning quick Argentinian has been almost single-handedly keeping Manchester City in the title race, as the Citizens have been lacklustre in recent weeks. His FPL numbers are out of this world, with seven goals in the last four Gameweeks in addition to eight bonus points. Suffice to say that a player that has blanked only three times so far this season; scored 11 times in 12 league games; is backed by fantastic underlying numbers; and is playing at home is the default captain pick.

Check them out.

Sold Out

A fantastic infographic for the Bundesliga from Bundesliga.com. The most impressive statistic?

The last 264 Bundesliga matches featuring FC Bayern have all been sold out.

“Doing It in Plain Sight”

Marina Hyde for The Guardian:

Since then, Fifa’s ethics committee has published its summary of Fifa ethics committee member Michael Garcia’s investigation into allegations of unethical behaviour within Fifa. Mr Garcia has taken the post-satirical step of disowning this report into his own investigation. Two whistleblowers have lodged complaints – with Fifa – about their treatment at the hands of Fifa investigators. Fifa has made an opaque criminal complaint to the Swiss attorney general, which, on past form, will probably end up being about England. And the Football Association chairman Greg Dyke has sent a letter to all exco members which contains the line: “We cannot go on like this.”

I know what you mean, Greg. But can’t we? Let’s face it, experience would indicate overwhelmingly that we can. Going on like this is what we do. Without wishing to put a precise date on it, we’ve been going on like this since at least the second Wilson administration.

“Well-Thought, Robust and Professional”

David Hills for The Guardian:

Nigeria’s Exco member Amos Adamu, caught naming his price in a Sunday Times sting, months after telling colleagues: “The public sees every football administrator as corrupt, and I cannot explain why it is so. We must always be transparent to prove them wrong!”

Italy’s New Breed

Will Stratmann for Licence to Roam:

Yet while those two currently comprise Italy’s starting duo up top, Conte has also been keen to experiment with other forwards who’ve endured far from standard paths to the national team. Graziano Pelle, who recently scored on his international debut against Malta, had to wait until he was 29 to get the chance to play for his country. Stefano Okaka, meanwhile, was sent out on a series of loan moves during his time at Roma – everywhere from Bari to Fulham – and it hasn’t really been until his recent transfer to Sampdoria that he’s found his feet as a professional. Conte handed him his debut in Italy’s most recent match against Albania, and the burly front man didn’t disappoint, scoring an 82nd minute winner to secure victory for his nation.

Along with Immobile and Zaza, these are the faces of Conte’s new Italy. They’re hungry, determined and eager for success, and given that the Azzurri are still unbeaten under Conte – the only blemish being a 1-1 draw against Croatia – it seems as though that attitude has permeated throughout the entire squad.

Arsenal vs Manchester United Moments

James McGlade links to a nice video of Arsenal vs Manchester United moments, compiled by talkSPORT. Hope we have a nice game this weekend, but there is no way it compares to the era when Wenger and Ferguson were true rivals.

Faroese Win the Biggest Upset since International Rankings

John Ashdown for The Guardian:

By our reckoning, the Faroes’ stunning win over Greece can claim to be the biggest international shock ever when it comes to the Fifa rankings. Greece were No18 in the world coming into the latest round of international fixtures, the Faroe Islands No187 (sandwiched between Chinese Taipei and South Sudan). A rankings equivalent to the Faroes’ win would be the tiny Caribbean island of Monserrat beating Germany. Or Brazil losing to São Tomé e Príncipe (though the players could at least talk in that fixture – São Tomé e Príncipe is, fact fans, the smallest Portuguese speaking country in the world).

Arsenal Looking Better This Year

Mike L. Goodman for Grantland:

The good news for Arsenal is that this year everything is better — except the number of points. They’ve already gone on the road to face Chelsea and Everton, and they’ve hosted Manchester City and Tottenham. Against those teams, it’d be natural if their fundamentals suffered some, but that actually hasn’t happened. In fact, they have the best TSR in the league, the second best expected-goal tally, and the best expected-goal-conceded tally. This year, it’s Arsenal’s opponents who are relying on superb finishing from a relatively small number of shots. The Gunners’ 85 shots conceded is the lowest number in the league — Southampton is the only other team lower than 100 — but their opponents have scored 13 goals from those shots. No team has faced a higher shooting percentage (15.3 percent) than Arsenal. On the other end, Arsenal have upped their own shooting volume to 16.82, almost three shots per game more than at this point last year.

FIFA’s Endgame

Sam Wallace for The Independent:

For many there was the usual sense of dismay at Fifa’s latest efforts to distract attention from the non-publication of Garcia’s investigation. A personal view is this is a move so inadequate that Fifa must have precious few cards left to play. Perhaps the endgame is approaching more rapidly than we thought.

“In Isolated Cases”

FIFA has asked the Swiss criminal authorities to investigate the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid campaigns for corruption.

But Sepp Blatter insisted he will not bow to the demands from the FA and UEFA President Michael Platini and publish the full report compiled by US lawyer Michael Garcia.

In another remarkable development, FIFA announced it had agreed with Ethics Judge Hans-Joachim Eckert to supply the Swiss Attorney General with the Garcia findings to allow a legal probe into ”the possible misconduct of individual persons in connection with the awarding of the hosting rights of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups”.

Conveniently, Sepp Blatter has not read the report. It’s not like he needs to know “these things”.

Lahm’s “Glück im Unglück”

Jonathan Stockitt reporting for Bundesliga.com:

In terms of the number of matches Bayern’s Mr. Versatile will miss, the impact might not be as drastic as it first appears. Assuming club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt’s prognosis of a mid-February return is accurate, then Lahm could make his comeback on Valentine’s Day at home to Hamburger SV on Matchday 21. Given the month-long winter break in Germany, that would mean an absence of nine Bundesliga fixtures; a significant but not disastrous figure.

Furthermore, the German record champions are already guaranteed top spot in UEFA Champions League Group E, so the remaining two group stage fixtures are effectively dead rubbers. The Round of 16 dates have yet to be finalised, but mid-February is when they have taken place in recent years – and Lahm should be back by then. Meanwhile, the DFB Cup is currently on a three-month hiatus of its own and Bayern do not face Eintracht Braunschweig in the last 16 until 3 March. Therefore, if recovery goes to plan the 31-year-old will not miss many decisive games. Glück im Unglück as the Germans say: fortune in misfortune.

Jones, Carrick, Evans, and Falcao Back for Arsenal Game

Mark Ogden, writing at The Telegraph, is reporting that Manchester United could possibly have Phil Jones and Evans back in defence, Michael Carrick in midfield, and Radamel Falcao up front for Saturday’s game against Arsenal.

It would be a big boost for Louis van Gaal, following reports of Daley Blind’s injury, especially if he’s able to field Carrick in midfield.

Manchester United’s Injured XI

Jamie Sanderson’s picture of Manchester United’s injured XI is quite the read. Missing Carrick, and now Blind, is the biggest loss.

Manchester United’s Injury Nightmare

Rob Dawson for Bleacher Report:

But four months into his reign, the biggest problem he has is the injury list. It’s prevented him from fielding anything like his best XI. There’s been no consistency in his team selections and, as a result, no consistency in results.

Van Gaal has been forced to use 12 different centre-back combinations in just 11 Premier League games so far this season. It’s likely to become 13 in 12 at the Emirates on Saturday.

12 different centre-back combinations is absurd. No team would be able to field a stable defence with that kind of rotation, plus the necessary use of youth players with so many veterans unavailable.

“The Opportunity of a Lifetime”

Grant Feller for The Huffington Post:

The world’s biggest brands should all pull out of their relationships with FIFA at the same time, complete with the knowledge that every single football fan – and pretty much every other consumer too – will hail them as heroes. Let their competitors take their place, let them spend billions propping up one of the world’s most loathed institutions and face the opprobrium of customers whose sense of right and wrong will have been heightened by a mass walk-out.

Exhausting

Richard Whittall, writing for Soccer Gods:

Let me be the first to say, this is all incredibly exhausting. Exhausting to keep track of various newspaper investigations into corruption allegations, from the Times of London’s massive expose on Qatar’s alleged World Cup bid shenanigans last June to the New York Daily News’ recent look into former FIFA ExCo member Chuck Blazer’s co-operation with the FBI in a bid to uncover FIFA corruption – two major stories released in only the last four months. Exhausting to put these in context of FIFA’s sordid history of corruption involving a whole host of various enterprises stretching back decades — FIFA presidential elections, World Cup bids, TV rights bids, etc., etc. — involving several now-disgraced former FIFA executive committee members, envelopes full of cash dropped at governance meetings, illegal ticket schemes, gold watches, expensive junkets. It’s exhausting following FIFA’s trail of denials and diversions and dodges, exhausting remembering the names of former ethics advisors, like Alexandra Wrange, who quit last year in frustration when their recommendations were watered down. It’s exhausting to see this all happen and have literally nothing substantially change as a result.

“Assurances of confidentiality were breached by Eckert”

Owen Gibson for The Guardian:

The two whistleblowers whose anonymity was effectively blown by Fifa’s summary of its probe into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments have submitted complaints about their treatment at the hands of investigators.

Phaedra Almajid, who made allegations about Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid, said her identification has threatened the safety of her family. She has written to Michael Garcia, the head of the investigatory arm of Fifa’s ethics committee, to protest at her treatment. Her intervention comes amid growing disquiet about the way whistleblowers who spoke to Garcia under condition of anonymity have been publicly traduced by the judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, whose 42-page summary was disowned by the New York attorney.

This whole thing is leaving bad taste in everyone’s mouth and it seems to only be getting worse every day.

Underdog Day Part 3 – The Joy of Faroe Islands

Jack Briden, writing for Mail Online:

You can forgive the Faroe Islands for going all-out with their celebrations following their shock 1-0 win over Greece in the Euro 2016 qualifier on Friday night.

The tiny footballing nation recorded just their 20th win since beginning international play in 1988 following a hard-fought victory against the Greeks.

Joan Edmundsson’s 61st minute goal gave the Faroe Islands the win, their first in competitive action since 2011… so a celebration was certainly in order.

Watch the video. It’s amazing to see the joy of the Faroese players.

Underdog Day Part 2 – The Point of San Marino

Darren Richman at Project Babb:

This was the first point San Marino have ever managed in the history of European Championship qualification. Goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini kept only the fourth clean sheet in the history of the tiny nation.

This is what sport ought to be about. A bunch of plucky part-timers triumphing (well, drawing) against the odds. And the best part? Look how much they enjoyed it. Some have suggested such nations should no longer be involved in qualification but it is hard to watch the video at the top of the page and come to the same conclusion.

Underdog Day – Part 1

First part of three of teams and players you seldom hear of: Giuseppe Sole’s opener for Woking in the Conference Premier is one of the best free-kicks you will see.

Hopefully Not

Joe Mewis, writing for Mirror:

Ultimately, the main thing that we’ve learnt from today’s report is that nothing will change.

Russia and Qatar will host the next two World Cups, Blatter will be get four more years in the top job, the sponsors will keep the cash flowing into FIFA and the world keeps turning.

The most likely outcome, but hopefully not.

“But What a Way to Learn That Lesson”

Sam Wallace for The Independent:

For all the anger directed at Fifa, the sadness is that the FA participated in the 2018 bid at all. It should have got out at the first opportunity. Yet it took the calls from Jack Warner and danced to the tune of one of the biggest weasels on the Fifa executive committee (ExCo). All in the naive belief that a free Burberry handbag and a sponsored dinner might make the difference. The FA had only one option when it realised that Warner’s attitude represented the corruption of the whole Fifa bidding process. It had to get out of the race. After all, no bid can be a little bit corrupt. It either is or it isn’t. Warner’s reputation was just one of many on the ExCo that the FA already knew about.

That’s true but it’s so hard to be the man that blows the whole thing open. On the other hand, just imagine the position FA would be in now if they had opened up about ExCo members asking for bribes immediately and withdrawn from the bid.

The FA would have been in the perfect position to relentlessly hammer FIFA without a chance of valid criticism and not opened themselves up as the misplaced target of FIFA excuse.

“FIFA Looks at Itself and Nods in Approval”

Juliet Macur for The New York Times:

FIFA, the money-printing outfit in Zurich that serves as soccer’s world governing body, said on Thursday that it “welcomes the fact that a degree of closure has been reached.”

Yes, at last, FIFA has closure, well-earned closure. You see, after widespread reports emerged suggesting that something funny was behind the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids — awarded to Russia and Qatar — FIFA started an investigation. That investigation ultimately resulted in a 42-page report by the organization’s head ethics judge that basically said, shockingly: “Keep moving, folks. Nothing to see here.”

A fantastic title — an image of a self-satisfied Blatter nodding instantly pops to mind.

Flappy Birds Scandal

Eric Beard at A Football Report:

On Sepp Blatter’s Perceived Involvement: “Despite lacking a compelling reason to investigate Mr. Blatter, this investigatory commission requested bank statements, phone logs and email access to Mr. Blatter’s personal accounts. After a thorough investigation, no financial malfeasance was discovered, save for a single credit charge of $2.50 charged to “Flappy Bird.” Within days, Mr. Blatter repaid the charge.” (p. 24)

A humorous look at the FIFA report thingy. It’s well done and quite funny.

FBI Getting Involved in FIFA’s Matters

By Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz, writing for CNN:

U.S. investigators are stepping up the pace of a corruption investigation into senior leaders of FIFA, even as the world soccer body is giving itself a clean bill of health, according to U.S. law enforcement officials.

This could get interesting.

Eckert’s World Cup Report Criticised by FIFA’s Chief Ethics Investigator

Martyn Ziegler with a fine summary piece on the World Cup report:

Garcia has now issued a statement saying: “Today’s decision by the chairman of the adjudicatory chamber contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the investigatory chamber’s report. I intend to appeal this decision to the FIFA Appeal Committee.”

Russia and Qatar were guilty, but of “a limited scope”, whatever that means:

German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of FIFA’s independent ethics committee, effectively confirmed Qatar and Russia as 2022 and 2018 hosts respectively, stating any rule breaches by the bidding countries were “of very limited scope” and would not require the bidding process to be reopened.

Eckert has previously ruled out publishing the Garcia report in full.

Surely the easiest thing to do, if there was nothing fishy going on, would be to publish the report in full.

And speaking of transparency, the Russians have the “best” defence:

Russia and Australia also came in for some criticism in the report. The Russians failed to provide copies of all their emails from the bid organisation on the basis that their computer equipment has since been scrapped.

You couldn’t make this shit up.

BBC: Russia and Qatar Cleared by FIFA to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups

The English Football Association has been accused of flouting bidding rules in its attempt to stage the 2018 World Cup – but 2022 hosts Qatar have been cleared of corruption allegations.

Some of the statements are incredible in the story. And I mean incredible, as in they are most likely not true. We’ll be hearing about this report for at least several months.