Aston Villa vs. Arsenal Preview

It was just over 13 months ago that Arsenal were beaten 3-1 by Aston Villa, and Chris Hudson’s post-match promo on Ivan Gazidis, Arsene Wenger, Tim Payton and John Cross effectively paid off Robbie from Arsenal Fan TV’s mortgage. It was a truly spectacular day, all things considered – Arsenal pretty much went about devising the most Arsenal-like home defeat ever recorded. It was a full-house on the Arsenal-loss bingo card. Squandered an early lead: check. Penalty conceded: check (x2). Laurent Koscielny mishap: check. Player(s) subbed due to injury: check. Late goal conceded on the counter-attack: check. “Spendsomefackingmoney” chants: Check.

The Gunners are going to have to really pull something special out of the bag to top that performance, but after their midweek display away to Dortmund, Wenger’s side are definitely in good shape for it.

Fans have been pondering the reason why their side have been so bad, and now seem to have placed the blame squarely on the subtle formation change from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3. It is funny how Arsene Wenger turned down the chance to Cesc Fabregas in the summer because he wouldn’t fit into Arsenal’s system, before changing to a formation that would only actually benefit Cesc Fabregas.

Let’s not pretend, however, that a tactical re-jig is the only reason that Arsenal – excluding Community Shield matches that their opponents obviously didn’t care about – have been rubbish in every game they’ve played this season. A more likely theory would be the dip in form of Aaron Ramsey directly affecting that of the team. Arsenal’s performances last season can basically be split into two categories: Games when Ramsey played (good) and games when Ramsey was injured (bad). Him playing and playing badly is rather uncharted territory for this post-Gervinho Arsenal, but it seems as though the dependency on Ramsey is already mirroring that of Henry, Fabregas and van Persie in years gone by. In other words, Arsenal could probably do with Aaron Ramsey playing well.

Anyway, Arsenal’s record at Villa Park is actually pretty good. They haven’t been beaten there in the league since 1998 when – in not-very-Arsenal-like fashion then, but very-Arsenal-like fashion now – they threw away a 2-goal lead to lose 3-2. Since then, it’s generally been a mixture of 0-0s and narrow Arsenal victories. At the risk of venturing a serious prediction here, one of these two outcomes is probably quite likely to happen again.

It is quite easy to overlook the fact that Aston Villa are actually second in the table. This is mainly because after ten straight weeks of occupying that position during the off-season, they’ve managed to camouflage themselves from the select few who actually study the league table after four rounds of matches.

However, with a fourth-annual result at Anfield under their collective belt (which was actually a clause inserted in the Stuart Downing deal), Aston Villa may feel pretty confident about their chances of picking up a win against a deflated Arsenal side. Either that, or they’ll try to play for a nil-nil, then look around in a rather bewildered manner, mouthing “what do we do now?” to each other when Alexis Sanchez finally breaks the deadlock in the 76th minute.

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Rafa Benitez and Tottenham would be a great match

Rafael Benitez sometimes finds it hard to be loved. Aside from Liverpool, where he won the Champions League and FA Cup, he has struggled to endear himself to the fans of both the clubs he is at, and fans of more neutral leanings. Ranting Rafa, Crazy Rafa, Control-Freak Rafa, Fat Spanish Waiter Rafa – his two spells in England have left him mocked by pretty much anyone without an affinity with him. Yet he does offer some fantastic entertainment and comedy moments (overlooking some of the awful jokes about him – waiter stuff for example; for fuck sake) and also, trophies.

For all his faults, of which there are many, Rafa Benitez’s CV is actually pretty impressive considering his reputation. Two Champions League finals (one won, one lost), two Europa Leagues/UEFA Cups, two FA Cups, two La Liga titles with a team who weren’t Barcelona or Real Madrid, one Copa Italia, and one World Club Cup Thing That He Can’t Really Take Much Credit For Because Mourinho Won The Champions League To Get Inter There But He Still Had To Win It So Fair Play To The Lad Really.

So actually, he probably wouldn’t be the worst manager for a large team looking to recruit this summer. Like Tottenham.

When Daniel Levy decided to relieve Tim Sherwood of his duties this week, he took from us one of the Premier League’s great comedy characters. A man who believed he was a straight-talking, says-what-everyone’s-thinking man of the people, when in fact he – like anyone who believes he is a straight-talking, says-what-everyone’s-thinking man of the people – was just a bit of a weapon. His hubristic, cringe-worthy actions made Sherwood great entertainment value for everyone other than Spurs fans, with his self-delusions second only to Big Stevie Kean. After the over-intellectualism of the dossier-wielding Andre Villas-Boas, Sherwood’s anti-tactics, anti-intelligence approach to management was hilarious viewing. Sherwood’s decision to offer his seat (and gillet, oddly) on the touchline to a supporter last weekend was poetically ironic, considering Tim himself spent his 5 months in charge behaving like a fan who had been given the opportunity to manage his beloved club.

Sadly for him though, Sherwood was clearly taking the North London side nowhere fast. Comedy and success don’t often come hand-in-hand in football, unless, of course, you are Rafa Benitez.

How many managers would buy David N’Gog, Andrea Dossena and Albert Riera in one summer, then spend circa £20million on Robbie Keane, only to sell him back to his old club 6 months later, and still finish second? Only Rafa. How many managers, post-Keegan, would allocate an amount of time in a pre-match press conference to rant about Sir Alex Ferguson in an unsure, socially awkward manner? Only Rafa. How many managers lack both the shame and self-awareness to start players like Jermaine Pennant and Djimi Traore in Champions League finals? THE MAN IS A BLOODY HERO.

The arrangement of Benitez going to Tottenham would, essentially, be perfect. He would inherit a talented group of players and probably take them to a cup final (be it domestic or continental), yet would still offer all the day-to-day slap-stick humour that you’d expect from a Rafa Benitez league campaign. And, let’s face it, Tottenham would probably be happy with that. Unlike Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United, a regular Champions League place is not sewn so heavily into Spurs’ identity, so finishing somewhere between 6th and 8th would hardly be a disaster – and coupled winning a cup or two would make for a pretty successful season. Maybe even an enjoyable one.

Benitez would also have the chance to form a hilarious partnership with Franco Baldini. Previously Fabio Capello’s side-kick, Baldini was the man who oversaw the re-investment of Gareth Bale’s world record transfer fee, recruiting hapless jokers like Roberto Soldado and Nacer Chadli, as well as a seemingly abstract representation of Roma’s Erik Lamela. Fused with Rafa’s record of overspending on players who would quite obviously be useless (Ryan Babel, Robbie Keane Alberto Aquilani, Mark Gonzalez, even Glen Johnson), Tottenham could continue their recent form of spending hefty sums on players who don’t actually improve their squad in any way.

Let’s not ignore the main point here, mind, Benitez would be successful at Tottenham. Along with the madness, he brought plenty of impressive wins in big games whilst at Liverpool, winning away at Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Barcelona. His obsession with trophies may well bring more silverware to Tottenham than their one League Cup since the turn of the century. But Rafa’s erratic nature would combine that success with hilarity, pleasing both Tottenham fans and non-Tottenham fans alike.

Arsenal Could Do With Not Crumbling

Over the past six or seven years, Arsenal have been a club striving to achieve one thing – and no, it’s not a trophy. Well, okay, winning some silverware would probably help, but if the Wengerian attitude had ever been ‘just win a trophy, any trophy’ there would have been some won by now, but a few less top-four finishes too – and that’s Rafa Benitiez’s gimmick. There would also have been more painful and – let’s face it – hilarious incidents like the 2011 Carling Cup Final. So no, not simply trophies; above all else, Arsenal desire one thing: to be taken seriously. Seriously.

Since Patrick Vieira ran away celebrating his winning penalty in the 2005 FA Cup Final (and kept on running until he reached Turin), Arsenal have challenged for the title, in the broadest sense of the term, on three occasions. Each time the venture has started promisingly, and each time football pundits have been asked the same question: “is it time we started taking Arsenal seriously?” Of course, the answer is irrelevant. The question itself implies the main problem – Arsenal aren’t taken seriously. Anyone or thing who is considered to be prominent or important doesn’t need a bi-annual vote of confidence to reaffirm their position. They are, or they aren’t.

In the grander scheme of things Arsenal are, obviously, a pretty good football team, but because of the outrageous nature of each of their seasons, it’s very hard to take them seriously – they’re hilarious. Arsenal fans are often accused of being fickle and hysterical, which is pretty fair if you consult the very decent body of evidence they themselves document on social media, but then not many teams are quite as bipolar as Arsenal are. Maybe Liverpool – but their fans are often tarred with the same (or at least a similar) brush.

Arsenal’s 4-4 draw at Newcastle was a perfect example of this. No Premier League side had ever thrown away a four goal lead before, yet no side combined sheer brilliance with slapstick awfulness the way Arsenal circa 2011 did. Which other teams in recent memory would be good enough to take a 4-0 away lead at half-time, yet also bad enough to completely bugger it up in the second half?

This also works on a larger scale, as the conclusions to of each of Arsenal’s three most recent title campaigns have shown.  In the 2007/08 season, Arsenal travelled to Birmingham City five points clear at the top of the league, having lost just once in 26 games. In 2009/10, Wenger’s side found themselves top on 27 games in, and were considered in some corners as ‘dark horses’ in a three-way race with Chelsea and Manchester United. The following season (that’s 2010/11), they were second after 27 matches, but just a point behind Manchester United, who were still to visit The Emirates.

Of course, at around each of these respective points Arsenal went from saturation and into decline, resulting in them effectively conceding the title by mid-April. Rather than following through with the potential they showed by winning 6-1 at Goodison Park, 3-1, against then-title holders Chelsea, or 2-1 against Guardiola’s Barcelona, Wenger’s team collapsed in comical fashion, making said victories seem more like build-up to a springtime punch-line than serious demonstrations of ability.

Arsenal should win the FA Cup this season, considering they are the only Premier League side left in the tournament who aren’t Hull City, yet it still feels like another opportunity for everyone to laugh at them if/when it goes Pete Tong. Even if they do avoid embarrassment by winning the competition – which would unquestionably be good – finishing fourth would still raise questions about how much they have actually improved. Since finishing second to Chelsea in 2005, fourth is where Arsenal have placed in five of the last eight seasons, reaching only third in the other three.

Indeed, their late-season collapses could just be viewed as simply as regression to the mean. In the same way as they conspire to actually finish strongly when their Champions League spot comes under threat, Arsenal fade away every time they attempt to perform above themselves over 38 games. In fact, even the few times Arsenal have finished third in recent years is when a team who traditionally perform better than they do in the league have a far more significant collapse – e.g. Liverpool’s demise in 2010 and Chelsea’s prioritising of their Champions League campaign in 2012. Manchester United’s post-Ferguson decline could also fall into this bracket, should Arsenal fend off Liverpool’s assault on the automatic Champions League positions.

Obviously the FA Cup is nice, but would serve as more of a pain-killer than antidote for Arsenal. It would obviously quell the trophy cabinet/empty/dust jokes recycled by Footy Humour accounts, but the truth remains that Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri didn’t leave to win domestic cup competitions; they left to win league titles.  There is a train of thought that Arsenal’s side need to learn how to become “winners”, and winning one cup would be the catalyst for more; this theory is often partnered with the example of Jose Mourinho winning the League Cup before going on to triumph in bigger competitions at Stamford Bridge. But let’s not kid ourselves – Mourinho’s Chelsea were the strongest team in the country, and won back-to-back titles because of that. Anyone who thinks they’d have done anything other than win those two Premier Leagues had they lost to Liverpool in the 2005 Carling Cup final is, er, wrong.

If Arsenal do indeed suffer from vertigo, and need a cup-win to remedy that, then the FA Cup needs to be won. However, being able to keep pace with Manchester City and Chelsea until the end of the season could be far more useful for Arsenal. This would, at the very least, prove to everyone (themselves included) that this current project of Wenger’s has more potential than any of those from the previous eight years.

Five stages of supporting a big club in decline

This piece was first posted on BFTGT just over a week ago.

Supporting a big, successful club is a pretty damn easy way to enjoy football. Seeing your team trounce all on-comers week after week, watching the best players in world football play for and against your team, being able to brag that your side is the best at X, or holds the record for Y; it could be worse. That’s why so many people elect to support successful sides at a young age, rather than, or at least alongside, their local team.

However, being overindulged with such glory does have its drawbacks. After spending so long watching your side fly so high, it’s understandable that some fans find it hard to cope with the altitude drop.

For example, certain characters from the Arsenal and Liverpool Twitterati, two sides who have seen their teams decline in recent seasons, are some of the most deplorable individual supporters on any social media format (there’s no need to name names here, really).  Some of these people are just awful, regardless of their sporting affinities; however, in some of the more football-obsessive cases their behaviour may be a result of a personal struggle to cope with their side’s underachievement. After all, they probably spent most of their lives watching their side enjoy success, so now they’re screaming like a teething toddler.

It’s a painful process, and, with David Moyes now in control at Old Trafford, one that Manchester United fans may have to experience this season. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross didn’t factor in the pain of a football fan when hypothesising her five stages of grief, but maybe she should have (she shouldn’t have):

1. Anger“WE’VE LOST AGAIN! Whose fault is it? Who can we blame? The referee? The FA? Our American owners? The Weatherman? Dave Kitson?”

After a pre-season of confidence and/or promise, your side slips to their third defeat in four games. After losing a couple of tricky away games against powerful opposition, your side hits the nadir of their season by losing an ostensibly straightforward home game. Naturally, and understandably, you are overcome by rage. This shouldn’t be happening to your club. This is something Newcastle fans go through, not you.

Don’t fret, help is at hand. Suppressing this anger does no one any good. Let it out. Take to Twitter and vent. Vent your heart out.

Another method of release would be to call a football phone-in: BBC’s 606 and TalkSport are both more than happy to offer you a way to release your fury in a safer, more constructive environment, with either Adrian Durham or Ian Wright as your counsellor and confidant.

You may find the prospect of phoning one of these programmes embarrassing, but don’t worry. Football phone-ins are like dating websites – the only way someone you know can expose you is by incriminating themselves. Dial that premium-rate number and rage away.

2. Denial“He needs time, let’s be patient. It took Sir Alex Ferguson 40 years before winning a trophy with Manchester United, and this is actually the best start any new United manager has made since the Premier League began”

After throwing your lot in with this new patriarch, you find it hard to believe that he is anything else but The Chosen One. He’ll come good, won’t he? It’s a long-term project. Anakin Skywalker was “The Chosen One” too, and look how long it took him to kill off the Sith and bring balance to the force.

The concept of not challenging for the title may, at first, seem confusing to you. Having a controversial opinion has been in vogue for a number of years now, and pundits have declared your squad unfit for silverware-challenging in the past.  After years of proving doubters wrong, and screaming “eff tha h8rz” at the end of every season, the prospect of actual failure seems, at best, rather far-fetched.

Coming to terms with these changes can be difficult. Even if you yourself question an action by the manager, you may well take the “He works in mysterious ways” route, disregarding your inferior opinion in comparison to his footballing omniscience. (For further reading on this subject, please refer to Liverpool fans’ staunch faith in Kenny Dalglish during the 2011/12 season.)

3. Bargaining“Maybe we could put him on gardening leave and bring Sir Alex back until the end of the season, just to steady the ship. Or maybe we could get Bayern Munich to swap Pep Guardiola for him. They would be okay with that, right?”

Whilst coming to the realisation there is indeed a problem, you may find yourself trying to concoct a cunning plan for your side to help them escape their downward spiral. You might even convince yourself that there is something you can do.

The negotiation is usually with a higher power – so, in the case of Manchester United, the Glazer family. This summer’s campaign to “Bring Ronaldo Home” was a strong example of this, with certain fans seemingly of the belief that buying replica shirts with Ronaldo’s name on the back would ensure his return to the club.

Of course, bargaining is futile. As you can see from the BringRonaldoHome campaign video, the narrator clearly believes it is within his power to make a change, despite conclusive evidence suggesting otherwise. Indeed, if you now check the domain www.bringronaldohome.org, the page is now blank. As the transfer window slammed shut, fans finally understood that the direction of the club was completely out of their control. In dire scenarios, this often leads to…

4. Depression“We’re rubbish; we won’t win anything ever again. We won’t make the Champions League places, our best players will leave, and the club will fade into obscurity.  What’s the point of even watching anymore? I hate football.”

This stage is where you understand the certainty of you club’s decline. Winning major European and league titles feels little more than a distant memory, while the future seems far, far bleaker in comparison. You may find yourself trying to ignore football altogether, focussing on other parts of your life which are, of course, equally miserable. You may even choose not to watch your side play – hey, you could do with the extra money, so working on Saturdays might be best.

5. Acceptance “The league might be beyond us, but let’s get behind the team, and hopefully we can push for a top 4 place.”

After a 2-0 home win against Hull, thanks to a couple of questionable penalty decisions, your side’s season isn’t looking quite as gloomy. Chelsea are too far in front for you to consider yourselves contenders, but you certainly won’t get relegated. Hoping for a Champions League spot is a tad optimistic, but certainly not a pipe-dream. Maybe at the end of the season your side can bring in some new players, and/or a new manager, and you’ll be back on track. This season won’t be easy, but it isn’t unrealistic to think that your team could again be quite good.

Maybe Shinji Kagawa is better off on the bench

Doing nothing is underrated.  In a world where everyone is trying so hard to do things to impress people and achieve some sort of success, doing nothing can be a very good tactic – especially if you realise things might be going wrong.

For example, if you ever find yourself sinking in quicksand, an article from todayifoundout.com (who are definitely, definitely experts on the matter) suggests to “stand completely still” as “the lowest you are likely to sink is to around your waste [sic.].”

The article goes on to advise that: “thrashing around, however, has been shown to cause the sediment and water to separate somewhat. This will cause you to sink deeper and deeper the more you thrash, to the point where you’re almost completely submersed; then your thrashing, due to some suctioning effects, can pull you under.”

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, there has been a general feeling that Manchester United may be in a rather troubling position. Even for a side who won the league by 11 points last season, every turn seems to be laced with a nagging doubt in regards to their ability to defend the league title; the recruitment of David Moyes rather than a manager with more prestige, Wayne Rooney’s transfer request, the quite obviously futile pursuit of Cesc Fabregas – even the 4-1 win at Swansea had the echoes of a false dawn rather than the beginning of a new, successful era.

Moyes has also spent the last few months complaining about the fixture list – specifically regarding how his team have so many difficult games so early in the season. This, of course, overlooks the basic concept of a league format: everyone (who doesn’t get sacked after a bad start) plays everyone (who doesn’t get sacked after a bad start). Ah.

In fairness to David Moyes, many of United’s problems are not his fault. He inherited a team from a man who was so brilliant that – on the evidence of United’s ragtag collection of midfielders – he began taking a ‘look, no hands’ approach to management towards the end of his tenure.

Ashley Young is dreadful. Ryan Giggs is 40 in November. Antonio Valencia has spent the last 12 months looking incapable of beating a man or delivering a threatening cross (previously his main two strengths), while Anderson comes across as someone who has genuinely just given up at being a sportsman. As the only player who can actually complete the most basic of midfield tasks, Michael Carrick has essentially become one of United’s most important squad members by default.

Then there is Shinji Kagawa. After seemingly being mollycoddled in his debut season in English football, many expected to see more from the Japanese schemer in his follow-up year at the club. However, it appears that Moyes doesn’t like the cut of his jib quite as much as the critical onlookers do.  And considering United’s results have, at best, been rather mixed, Kagawa’s omissions have been used as a stick to beat the Scot with.

Kagawa is quickly becoming considered a player Manchester United are worse without, despite any solid evidence they are actually any better with him. His action this season only provides us with a limited sample: his one start came against Bayer Leverkusen, where he was rather peripheral in United’s 4-2 victory.

However, being peripheral is absolutely fine for Kagawa. Hell, maybe even better than fine. While he didn’t perform particularly well against the German side, he didn’t do anything notably bad either. Rather than constantly failing to beat his opposing full-back or launching a profuse amount of poor crosses into, and subsequently out of, the penalty box as Young or Valencia would, he instead kept schtum.

Of course, it is the games that Kagawa hasn’t played in where his stock has really risen. By missing the entireties of the defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City, he was completely absolved of any sin. Indeed, the poor performances of those playing in similar positions to the Japanese, leads to a swirl of opinion that Kagawa should be playing and that United need him in order to avoid 4-1 defeat at Eastlands.

As United continue to sink without Kagawa, his stature appears higher and higher in comparison. But, despite the illusion, he hasn’t become any better than the player who was on the fringes of United’s title-winning side and only really put in a handful of notable performances; those around him just look worse.

So don’t feel sorry for Shinji Kagawa, he’s standing still. And the longer he does this for, the more chance he has of being found by someone with a nice long branch, and the willingness to pull him out. David Moyes and Ashley Young are the ones you should be worried for; they could end up sinking completely if they continue thrashing about.

Jack Wilshere isn’t as good as everyone thinks he is

Forward: I wrote this for Arsenal Latest in August. The tagline for this blog comes from one of the comments on that original post.

Since Dennis Bergkamp joined Arsenal in 1995, N5 had been home to the most talented footballer in the country (give or take a Cristiano Ronaldo). Thierry Henry joined as the aviophobic Dutchman entered his thirties; Cesc Fabregas upped his game when Henry departed, and then Robin van Persie finally decided to stay injury-free for longer than 6 months, propelling him to definitely-important-PFA-Player-of-the-Year-winning heights.

But now they’ve all gone. All of them. Succumbing to old age, Barcelona, Barcelona again, and a metaphorical little boy-cum-careers advisor, respectively.

So what happens when the one-man-team loses its one man?

Does someone else try to take their place, or does the cliché die? Well, both. The former first, and the latter second, that’s why I wrote them in that order. But the cliché doesn’t die valiantly, and in a blaze of Hollywood “no I in team” glory, but a whimper (unless, of course, you win things AND ARSENAL DOESN’T WIN THINGS LOLZ).

In light of Robin van Persie’s departure just over a year ago, the wisdom of crowds named Jack Wilshere as Arsenal’s most valuable asset. Anyone who makes a joke about Arsenal selling their best player now uses Wilshere as the default. Any Henry Winter clone who wants to construct a narrative about an Arsenal hero looks straight to Arsenal’s number 10.

But there’s a problem here. Have you spotted it yet? If not, go back and read that first bit again. I’ll wait for you… Got it now? Good. The problem is, of course, that Jack Wilshere isn’t the league’s best player, or indeed Arsenal’s best player.

Wilshere probably wouldn’t even be in Arsenal’s best XI at the moment.      

Naturally, he is one of Arsenal’s most gifted players, but doesn’t really fit into any part of the midfield. He’s too young, and not direct or penetrative enough to play where his squad number suggests (in “the hole”), yet doesn’t have the discipline, strength or defensive qualities to partner Arteta in a deeper role.

This partly isn’t Wilshere’s fault. You can’t blame him for Arteta, who isn’t mobile enough to cover the back four on his own, and you can’t blame him for Rosicky or Cazorla, who aren’t really capable of dropping deeper when he goes gallivanting up-field. But his need to be accommodated for means he does have issues within his game that need to be addressed.

Are Game of Thrones references in vogue? Okay, I’ll use one then. If you don’t watch the programme, you can skip this next paragraph.

Jack Wilshere is definitely Tyrion: small, crafty, intelligent and sharp-tongued. But all this often gets him into trouble, so he can be pretty vulnerable without Bronn – that would be someone strong and quick enough to jump to his vertically challenged partner’s aid, yet also offers more intelligence than your average bodyguard. That was Alex Song, but he upped and left a year ago, so now Wilshere is stuck with Arteta, who is probably more comparable to Varys.

But Jack Wilshere is important to England though, right?

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And in this land, Jack Wilshere’s one-eye is his ability to pass a ball.

Yes, Carrick can do that too, but he’s 32 now, so he’d be a constitutional monarch at best. In the fallout from the 2010 World Cup, there seemed to finally be a realisation in this country that, in order to have a good football team, having good footballers might help. How convenient, then, that Wilshere’s breakthrough at Arsenal came the very next season. And look, he’s small and good at passing, just like those Spanish guys that win everything!

Sorry, I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I am, so there you go.

Of course, Wilshere is a good player. But this in itself is part of the problem: he knows it. And, just like everyone else in the country, he overrates himself.

Jack Wilshere absolutely believes his own hype.   

And this is where we return to the one-man-team thing. Everyone knows it is rubbish, yet so many people lap up the narrative. Don’t believe me? One of the biggest pieces of football fiction in this country is Roy of the Rovers: a story essentially based around one man winning matches virtually by himself. But we all know real football doesn’t work like this, just don’t tell Jack Wilshere. Or perhaps do.

Actually yes, scrap that last bit, definitely tell Jack Wilshere.

You see, Wilshere has a massive Roy of the Rovers complex, and it needs to stop. When Arsenal are losing and/or playing badly, little Jack decides to *deepens voice* ‘take responsibility.’ This equates to him picking up the ball in the centre circle, and running past three players and being tackled by the fourth. To an extent, the thought is appreciated, so thanks Jack, but as gallant as these efforts are, they aren’t particularly productive.

For Arsenal, having Jack Wilshere is good. He’s a home-grown talent who’ll sell shirts and probably does have some affinity with the club. And one day, if he stays fit, he might be Arsenal’s best player. Hell, maybe even the league’s best player. But for now, let’s at least look for someone else to pin all our hopes and dreams on. Hi Santi Cazorla!

Why would Cesc Fabregas want to go to Manchester United?

Forward: I wrote this piece three days before Fabregas publicly announced he wanted to stay at Barcelona, so it got made redundant before seeing the light of day.

I actually emailed it to the editor of Backpage Football immediately after writing it. I had previously sent him a sample piece of work, and he seemed very enthused, asking if I could write something new for them to publish. However, after sending him this article, he never emailed me back, or ever again. I can only assume he’s a big fan of The Vaccines.

Manchester United: What did you expect from post-breakup Cesc?

Really? I’m starting with a Vaccines reference? Oh well, it’s been done now. Thanks to Robin van Persie’s removal of the in-no-way-biased “Wayne Rooney is the best striker in the world” sentiment from Old Trafford, it seems that Manchester United’s extended family have discovered that Arsenal did actually have some good players in 2010. So now they want Cesc Fabregas; who, by winning a league title, became better than Anderson for the first time last season. Or something like that.*

You can understand the logic behind the “#Champ20ns” wanting Fabregas. Without investing in another midfielder, their midfield could end up looking like this. And, yes, that joke has definitely never been made before.

But in all seriousness, while United could get away with a near-non-existent midfield under Sir Alex Ferguson, they may not be able to do so under David Moyes – mainly because Ferguson is probably the greatest football manager ever. And because, y’know, it’s David Moyes. Also, with Wayne Rooney deciding that he would rather play for any manager other than Moyes (and at Chelsea, he’ll probably have a few of those to put that preference to the test), Old Trafford will be a potential match-winner lighter in their already-threadbare central areas. United may well have to replace that lost creativity if they want to stop their number 10 carrying the Premier League trophy out the front door, clumsily stuffing it in the boot of his sports car, and driving it to West London.

So United could do with another midfielder or five, and Arsenal’s former teenage icon (sorry, Vaccines again) fits the person specification rather well. He’s a very good midfielder, and they are a very good team. However, he’s already at a very good team – a better one than Manchester United at this moment in time, in fact. So while United’s fans have been sniggering about the prospect of signing another darling of The Emirates, and mocking the Gooner pipe-dream that he may yet make a prodigal son-esque return to North London, the question remains: why would he want to go to Old Trafford either?

There seems to be a train of thought that Fabregas isn’t happy with the amount of game-time he’s getting at Barcelona, which may well be true. However, he played 32 games in La Liga last season, as well as starting against Real Madrid (thrice), AC Milan, and Bayern Munich. That doesn’t suggest he would feel sufficiently under-valued to want to leave his boyhood club for a second – and probably more permanent – time.

But with a World Cup approaching, would moving to a team who would build their game around him help Fabregas obtain a starting berth for Spain? Probably not. He is already competing – and playing – with most of his international midfield rivals at Barca anyway. It seems, for Fabregas, that proving he is capable of breaking the Iniesta-Xavi-Busquets trifecta, or joining it, would be more beneficial to his cause than ostensibly admitting defeat.

Meanwhile, despite him spending most of his tenure with their captain’s armband making eyes at Barcelona, Arsenal are also keeping track of Fabregas’ situation, probably saying something along the lines of: “if you wanna come back, it’s alright, it’s alright.”

(That’s three Vaccines references now. There’s a special place in hell for people like me.)

But this continuous flirting with the Catalan side whilst at Arsenal explains exactly why he wouldn’t want to go there either. What would be the point in spending your final three years in London pining for a move to your dream club, only to return two years later?

All Manchester United’s seemingly futile courtship does is strengthen Fabregas’ position at Camp Nou. Barcelona will be aware that their helmsman, Xavi, will turn 34 this season, so with Thiago abandoning ship this summer, Fabregas will be needed at the bridge sooner rather than later. Having United show an interest in his services gives Cesc a chance to remind his current employers of that fact should they ever ask him to swab the deck.

From this perspective, this saga seems completely pointless, although the notion that Manchester United have been strung along the whole time to empower Fabregas’ role at Barcelona is rather funny – unless you’re a Manchester United fan. But on the whole, the continuous reportage of bids being prepared, submitted, and then rejected has made the narrative seem a lot like a Vaccines song: over-hyped, repetitive and droning.

*At this point I would have linked a wonderful piece by United blogger “Yolkie” for stretford-end.com, in which the writer goes about “exploding the Fabregas myth.” Alas, it has been removed from the website.