Match Preview: Arsenal vs Manchester City

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Ok so we kick off our formidable fixtures list with a home game against City. Last time around at the Etihad in a 1-1 draw we were treated to a game of 2 halves, in which both teams stamped their authority on the match at different times. Let’s not sugar coat this, it will be a tough match for Arsenal to win and here’s hoping our tremendous record against City at home, continues to ring true.

This is however possibly the best time we could have to play City since they have many of their players out, both with injury and suspensions and also the African Cup. City will have to make do without Nasri, Kolo Toure, Aguero, Yaya Toure and Maicon. Unfortunately this does leave their defense pretty much intact but takes away from their physicality in midfield and creativity and finishing quality in attack. Arsenal meanwhile will have to make do with Gervinho which will be a terrible loss I’m sure and unfortunately maybe also Giroud who has a nasty cut over his knee thanks to a Swansea player stamping on him. Last time around it was very much a game of who could counter-attack better and somewhat amusingly, both goals were scored against the run of play. This time without the presence of Yaya Toure in midfield and the threat of Nasri on the wing, I would expect Arsenal to be able to assert some form of dominance over the middle and force City to play on the counter, rather than their usual tactic of short passing and possession in their opposition’s own half.

The defensive pairing for this match will be a big decision for Arsene Wenger and could play a crucial part in this match. On one hand we can play Mertesacker for his organisational abilities at the back, governing the offside trap and starting each attacking play, or we could bring in Koscielny since City possess players with good dribbling skills who could turn the slow German inside out, much like Aguero did to him last time. Given that City have scored over a quarter of their goals this season from set pieces, I would choose a partnership of Koscielny and Vermaelen, both for being able to stop tricky dribblers and because for some reason, both of these shorter players are better in the air than Mertesacker. I also think aside from the set pieces, one of the biggest threats we will face in this match will be Tevez’s movement and spontaneous shooting, so two players who are able to get tight to their markers and prevent shots on the turn will be ideal.

Attacking-wise, last time Wenger chose to use a striker with pace in behind their defensive line and deployed Ramsey at right wing to drift inwards and gain a man advantage in the midfield battle. I don’t expect this to change, though I feel Ramsey might be on the left wing this time, with Podolski coming off the bench in the second half, hopefully in the same explosive form as he was against Swansea City. With Giroud in doubt for this match, I expect Wenger to use Walcott as our striker and it remains to be seen if he’s physically tough enough to deal with the attentions of Nastasic and Kompany. I would expect Arsenal to attack mostly through the middle with Oxlade Chamberlain cutting in on the right at times to mix things up. I almost hope I’m wrong though as I’d like to see Podolski start this match, partnering with Gibbs and Ramsey on the right wing, with Oxlade held in reserve to use his pace and trickery to our advantage late in the match. The midfield trio is the key to success in this match, Arteta and Wilshere will surely have their hands full with Silva drifting in off his wing, looking to exploit any space and two volatile forwards like Balotelli and Tevez moving in and around our lines. Yet Cazorla can do the same at the other end of the pitch and unless City commit a Center Back to his movements, the City midfield may have a busy day as Cazorla is at his best, moving around and finding space even out on the wings and there’s no way he’ll just stay central in a match like this.

So overall, we have a good chance at this one, the real game changer in question is whether Mancini starts in a 4-5-1 as expected or his much-experimented 3-4-1-2, as this would change the entire dynamic of the game, for better or worse. It’s unlikely though and in the expected system this game would look to be a real arm wrestle in the center with neither having great options on the wing. Gibbs could be a deciding factor with his pacy bursts forward and Wenger’s decision on both his starting Center Half pairing and whether to start Podolski or hold him in reserve will dictate the tempo of the match, particularly in the first half. The other telling factor will be how well we deal with any set pieces they have, which also means not giving away fouls in dangerous areas of the pitch and defending corners properly.

Manchester City Dangermen: Well they’re all dangerous but the biggest threats will most likely be Tevez, Balotelli and Silva. And also Dzeko who I would expect to sub on in the second half and can be a real game changer.

Result Prediction: The similar pressures in midfield from the two teams, suggests a draw to me, I’d say 2-2 but hopefully we can nick a late win.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Chamberlain, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Walcott

Conclusion: Both teams will compete early for control of the middle, which could be quite a high tempo start. Expect only a few clear cut chances created by either side and a rather cagey affair until the first goal is scored with City playing on the counter and Arsenal breaking their teeth on City’s defensive line. Impact subs in the second half have the potential to blow the game wide open and make it a very exciting last 25 or so minutes. Who knows, maybe Giroud will be fit enough to sub in late and make an impact along with Podolski.

If you live near the Emirates, get down there and show the timid home support how to REALLY cheer on our team as it plays a major part to a team’s performance in a big match such as this. It will be a huge 3 points if we get them and considering the fixtures that await us, a real momentum boost. Come On You Gunners!

 

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Match Review: Swansea City 2 – 2 Arsenal

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Well once the dust had settled neither side emerged victorious and to be honest it was that kind of game. On the face of it I can understand how people could be quite bored watching the game until the second half when the game exploded into life, thanks to the injection of Michu into the match. But for me it was an enthralling tactical battle and one that we didn’t do so badly in as it may have appeared. Wenger sprung some real suprises with the starting lineup and while I have my doubts on why the great lumbering Mertesacker started against a team who like to attack via thru balls, I can’t fault the rest of his tactics. Ramsey may be playing out of his comfort zone as a left mid but there’s no denying he was effective at cancelling out Swansea’s usually dangerous right wing attack and also helped to keep possession in midfield. As a direct result of this, Swansea were unable to use their normal tactic of slowly pushing down the right and instead chose to fire in dangerous diagonal long balls to any of their 3 attackers. Arsenal meanwhile kept possession and played high up the pitch while Swansea sat deeper and counter-attacked.

And this is what undid us for their first goal. To put it simply, we took the bait. We were pressing forwards, playing a high line defense while Swansea happily sat back absorbing the pressure, made easy by the slow tempo of the match and then they brought on Michu. And suddenly they had a speedy attacker getting in behind our high positioned defense and the first of these diagonal long balls was pounced upon and finished off by the Spanish talent. Playing Mertesacker as the last man is always risky when playing a high line in my books and while I guess one can argue he was playing to add defensive height in the box, there is more to being good aerially than just being tall and I tend to think both Koscielny and Vermaelen are better aerial defenders than him and should’ve started this match as he had no chance of catching Michu in a foot race. What suprised me most of all is that Swansea didn’t try targeting Sagna at right back who was left isolated and unsupported by Walcott for the majority of the game and as a consequence, appeared to play poorly. Aside from looking tired I don’t think he did much wrong except for the usual lousy crossing attempts. Offensively Walcott’s movement was so random he often didn’t know where to pass to and defensively he was basically left to deal with everything thrown at him on that wing and managed the majority of it with a minimum of fuss, only helped out occasionally by Koscielny.

Our attacking formation throughout this match was uncharacteristically narrow. With Ramsey playing on the left and Walcott drifting inwards, outwards and wherever the hell he damn well pleased there was only Gibbs left to stretch Swansea’s defense even a little bit and this made our attacking efforts much harder. Little wonder then that we had very few clear cut chances in the first half and didn’t really explode into life until the second half where we suddenly started moving the ball around much quicker. Swansea’s midfield went from comfortably passing the ball around and having time to pick a pass, to being aggressively pressed and making individual mistakes as a result of the pressure. This is where we started to dominate, even before Podolski was subbed on and turned the match on its head, Swansea started panicking, lost their midfield composure and dropped deeper still to try and defend their 1-0 lead. Big mistake. Inviting that much pressure from Arsenal when you’re a top team is a bad idea. When you’re a mid-level team like Swansea it can be catastrophic and quite frankly, they were lucky we didn’t blow them completely off the park. Gibbs who had been an attacking threat all match, suddenly became a deadly force with the introduction of Podolski and Swansea’s defense buckled almost immediately. Giroud was unlucky not to bury a good chance but we never looked like not scoring and 2 in quick succession looked to have the game won, if not for some good old crappy Arsenal defending from a corner. People will blame zonal marking for the goal but really it was a lack of effort to win the ball that caused it. Szczesny did his best to make the goal bigger for Graham to score in by going to ground far too early but it doesn’t change the fact that, like the first goal this one was soft and could’ve easily been avoided with a little more enthusiasm in defense.

So overall I don’t think we did too badly except for not putting away the chances at the end that could’ve made the score a complete blowout. Gibbs was fantastic all game and together with Wilshere’s driving runs forward they spearheaded the attack. Cazorla looked a bit fatigued and could probably do with a match off and Walcott’s positioning was also a little odd for me. I don’t know if Wenger gave him free reign to roam where he pleased but against a more dangerous team, if he leaves Sagna alone like that we could be in real trouble and with Manchester City coming up it’s not something I want to see more of. This is more or less the formation we used and the blue arrows illustrate the way Swansea chose to attack.

swansAs you can see, as a result of our pressing, Swansea were reduced to bypassing our midfield trio and using the width and their pace in behind our defense. This is something to be wary of but reflects well on our midfield.  You can also see the lack of width in our attack and the lack of a forward passing option for Sagna, who unsuprisingly racked up quite a few long ball pass attempts in his match statistics. In the second half when we sped our passing up, Swansea enjoyed even less of the ball and sat deeper as they ran out of ideas, inviting the 15 minute onslaught that was made worse by the introduction of Podolski on the left wing, who drove the ball forward and allowed Gibbs to decimate their back line. We scored twice and should’ve scored more. Since many people are complaining about Bould’s preference of Zonal marking I thought I’d also cover that in this review by demonstrating the system. So let’s have a look at that moment when victory was snatched away in true smash n grab style.corner1So if we take a look we can see how the zonal marking system works. Swansea are setup pretty basically with a near receiver to flick on the ball(next to Podolski) and 3 runners who have the task of pushing into the Arsenal goalbox once the flight of the ball is determined, meaning where they have to be to attack the ball. Arsenal have a man on either post and 3 men setup in zonal formation to block the incoming runners, challenge them aerially etc. At this point I’m a bit critical of the two men standing forwards of all this, Arteta and Walcott, since they should really be a part of the blockers wall with only 5 minutes left to play. It’s worth noting here that it is our midfielders that are closer to the goal than the defenders. There are two reasons for this. Firstly to speed up the quick counter-attack by advancing the positioning of the defenders and allowing the midfielders to pass to somebody as they sweep forwards once Arsenal have cleared the danger. And secondly to play a higher offside trap incase a player should accidently misplace a pass and leave an opposition player right in front of our goal with the ball at his feet. This goal however was just unfortunate, the red arrow on the photo shows where Podolski’s glancing header ended up and the green arrow shows the safe heading option that would’ve secured the game for us. Nothing to do with zonal marking, just a missed clearance and subsequent poor defensive work by the blockers who made no move to shut down the runners’ movement, resulting in the goal.

In conclusion this is a game we should’ve won but didn’t do anything terribly wrong in. We lacked some energy in defense and fell for a very good sucker punch when Michu scored but overall we got the basics right, successfully upped the tempo when necessary and passed the ball around better than we have in previous weeks despite the deceptive appearance of the game. If we play like that in the replay I am confident of blowing Swansea City out of the water and for now I’m content to simply look forward and await the match against Manchester City.

And finally, one more look at this, what a beautiful lobbed pass and volley!

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Match Preview: Swansea City vs Arsenal

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FA Cup time! And a must-win match for Arsenal against a Swansea City side that quite frankly we didn’t turn up against last time we played and lost 2-0 to them. So assuming the players aren’t too exhausted from their disappointing match against Southampton(where they didn’t appear to use any energy) we should be in for a better contest this time around. Looking at Swansea’s recent form and efforts this season in the league it would be reasonable to expect a game in a similar mould to the recent one against Newcastle, although without the ridiculous scoreline. Let me explain.

Swansea play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, opting to attack down their right wing and through the center,  prioritising thru balls as their chosen method of breaking through defenses to score. This is similar to the style Newcastle employs in attack and like them, Swansea also like to play possession football in their own half with short sharp passing and don’t heavily pressure their opponent. Where this game will differ is that Swansea have the majority of their starting eleven fit for this match and are far better at both keeping possession and holding onto a lead once they have it. And this is the biggest problem we will face against them, stopping them from scoring first. If we look throughout the season, Arsenal have done best against teams that have played somewhat erratically. By that I mean teams that have come out swinging, tried to score goals and allowed us to play counter-attack and in general, they’ve been games that are very open with end to end action, and Arsenal have simply outscored their opposition. So it stands to reason that if we manage to stop them scoring first we could do some real damage. Teams like Swansea with thru ball strategies and slightly shaky defense lines are far better suited to playing counter-attacking football so to take the lead against them would really be grabbing the initiative in this match.

Defensively is where they are weakest, Swansea have struggled to prevent teams from creating scoring opportunities this season, which is in sharp contrast to their impressive home record of last season. Their biggest weakness unfortunately for us is allowing teams to get in good positions to take long shots and conceding from set pieces, neither of which we are very good at, unless the likes of Arteta or Cazorla decide to have a ping from range(and I hope they do), so we’ll be much better off exposing the other weaknesses they have, which are winning aerial duels and dealing with tricky, skillful opposing players. To this end I think we’ll see Giroud starting at Center Forward for this one with Walcott’s pace and trickery utilised on the right wing. Swansea’s left wing isn’t particularly geared towards attacking so the chances of Walcott getting in behind their back line will be less and I would expect the game to therefore be decided from the left. Assuming Arsenal mean business in this match I’d expect Podolski and Gibbs to be too much for Swansea’s right wing to handle and although their midfield is strong, Cazorla should still be able to link up well with these two and create enough chances for Giroud to do some damage. The fact that they have trouble defending aerially will just play into Giroud’s hands all the more and I expect him to play an important role in this match.

Overall our lineup is likely to be similar to previous weeks with the exception of Walcott playing at right wing instead of center forward.  However we may see a change at the back also, given that Swansea are fond of thru balls and their rather deadly player Michu is no slouch I wouldn’t be suprised to see Koscielny partnering Vermaelen at the back instead of the slower Mertesacker. I would also expect Arsenal to really come out of the blocks tonight as I believe Wenger would be most keen on giving some rest to key players like Cazorla with the match against Manchester City looming just around the corner. A tactic of going out guns blazing, taking a solid lead and then consolidating by bringing on a holding player like Ramsey may well be Wenger’s tactic for this one.

Swansea City Dangermen: Without a doubt it’s Michu. The 2 million pound Spanish wonder has been scoring goals for fun in the Premier League with 13 already and last time we played them and sat back in the final minutes he made us pay. Their right winger Hernandez must also be kept quiet.

Result Prediction: Assuming Arsenal come out to play this time I’ll say 3-2 Arsenal

Predicted Lineup: 4-4-1-1 formation – Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny,Vermaelen, Gibbs, Podolski, Arteta, Wilshere, Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: This has the potential to be a really open ended game, both teams boast attacking firepower and questionable defensive flaws. A game where if either team doesn’t come out firing and put in the effort, the other team could really humiliate them on the scoreboard. I think Arsenal will pinch it but I’m expecting a high tempo, mistake-riddled match and a real nail biter. Fortunately this is an away match so we can rely on our mad away fan support to cheer the boys on to victory, Come On You Gunners!

Match Review: Arsenal 7 – 3 Newcastle United, A Krul Day for Newcastle..

Arsenal v Newcastle United - Premier League

Oh god, it’s in the net again!

Wow, what a cracking match! While we may have just witnessed some of our best and worst football that we’ve played this season, there’s no denying that it was entertaining. As I discussed in my match preview, Newcastle unsuprisingly changed their formation to a 4-5-1 to better deal with the threat posed by our midfield trio. Before the 1st whistle this showed the respect they had for the capabilities of our midfield and as a direct result of the middle being stifled, both teams opted to attack through the wings, with much of Arsenal’s offense channeled through Podolski and Gibbs on the left. Weirdly both teams stood off each other and gave the players room to play and despite an early chance for Chamberlain, Newcastle had the better of the chances in the first half, while Arsenal were reduced to playing counter-attacking football and managed to take the lead with a good run and finish from Walcott after Podolski picked out his run. Podolski in particular was a constant threat to Newcastle but for all the movement down that wing it was still Newcastle creating more dangerous plays with the exception of their final passes.

Most uncharacteristically of late, both our fullbacks had a bad game defensively, with Sagna and Gibbs both caught out on multiple occasions. Koscielny also looked rusty after his time off injured and coughed up the ball several times, while Vermaelen by contrast was pretty consistent throughout. The goal we conceded before half time from a set piece, will go down as Wilshere’s fault for ducking and turning his head but with the recent head trauma suffered by Van Persie who can blame him? Wilshere’s a brave lad but he must’ve been fearing for his life after Ferguson’s revelations early in the week on the danger of a ball striking a players face. Clearly Newcastle’s players should be arrested for attempted manslaughter, first Van Persie, now Wilshere, who’s next? Back on topic, Szczesny’s setting of the wall could’ve been far better and this contributed to the goal along with Arsenal’s penchant for using the shortest players in the wall. Oh and maybe Wilshere will just cop the hit next time.

So on to the second half and this is where the game’s tempo suddenly jumped. Wenger must’ve told the players at half time to get tight to Newcastle’s players and deny them room to play because that’s exactly what they did and suddenly the momentum shifted. If not for some poor decision making from Wilshere and Walcott in the final third, Arsenal could’ve been out of sight within 15 minutes. Newcastle to their credit, refused to go quietly and despite 2 good goals from Arsenal the drew level twice, the first time through the most shambolic Arsenal defending I’ve seen in a while and the second time through a defensive error and a great finish.The most interesting stat in this match was the lack of involvement by Arteta, who had only 59 touches, his lowest all season. The other more worrying stat was the lack of support given to their fullback by either winger which contributed to the goals conceded. Offensively speaking though, Arsenal were irrepressible, Newcastle were on tired legs after playing United 3 days earlier but instead of empathy, Arsenal were ruthless. The sharks smelt blood in the water and went into a feeding frenzy.

Now while I’ve mentioned that the lack of early goals was partly to do with Wilshere and in particular Walcott’s poor choices in the final third, not all of this is his fault. With Walcott up top, Arsenal were playing a 4-2-3-1 and with Cazorla playing too far from the double pivot, Arsenal were not keeping possession enough in the middle of the pitch to create the sort of chances Walcott needed and in turn, Walcott was not dropping deep enough to help win the ball and dominate the midfield battle. That’s because if you were to typify Walcott in a forward role you would say he’s a Striker, not a Center Forward and therefore isn’t accustomed to dropping deep into the midfield from a central role. When Giroud was subbed on late, the effect was immediate. With Giroud dropping deeper and aiding Cazorla, Arsenal suddenly looked like a new team. Factor in Newcastle’s tiredness and it’s no wonder we ripped them apart in the final minutes and I wish to god Giroud’s third shot had gone in rather than hit the post but still, 6 touches of the ball for 3 shots, 2 on target and 2 goals is not a bad return for our sexy frenchman. But it was Walcott who will grab the spotlight for his hat-trick and 2 assists and it’s hard to argue with the quality of finishing(and 1 beautiful cross) on display for those 3 goals, though the same can be said for Giroud. There’s no doubt in my mind that Podolski’s technical solidity, workrate and attacking efforts in the first half wore Newcastle down but in the end the flood gates opened once Walcott shifted to the right wing and along with Giroud, their combined movement completely confused the defense and had Newcastle chasing shadows in the final phase of the match, ultimately destroying them. All in all this was a strange match with Newcastle playing the possession football and Arsenal for a change, playing a deadly counter-attacking strategy.

I realise it’s hard to criticise a team when they score 7 but with matches against both Manchester City and Chelsea looming in the New Year I feel I should highlight some problem areas made apparent in this game. Firstly the 2nd goal scored by Newcastle was catastrophically poor positioning in defense. This in-game shot shows you everything you need to know. Even before Sagna is beaten far too easily, Wilshere is caught out jogging back slowly rather than realising the problem and getting tight to the player in the middle Gibbs is marking and Gibbs is unaware of the unmarked player at the back post who scores a tap in uncontested.

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For the 3rd goal Gibbs was guilty of again leaving a player unmarked at the back post and despite a wonderful first time volley from Demba Ba, no striker should be given that kind of freedom. So onto the attacking errors we made. Or rather, the poor choices. The choice the player made is marked in red, while the green shows the choice they should’ve made and the player they needed to work with.

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It may not matter missing these chances when you stick 7 past your opponent but against a tougher team where chances are fewer, these kind of poor decisions will often hurt you on the scoreboard. Overall I think the players tried a little too hard to give thru balls to Walcott, Podolski sent several balls that resembled a missile in pace, whizzing his way, while Arteta made a few 50 yard long balls to him and in general the tactic didn’t work. The chemistry on the wings is also questionable. While Gibbs and Podolski doubtless work well together I have my suspicions about Chamberlain and Sagna as a partnership. I couldn’t help but notice during the match how Gibbs and Podolski would either give a back slap, high five or yell encouragement to each other whereas on the other wing when Chamberlain played a pass to where he thought Sagna would run he was rewarded with a “what the fuck” stare instead. I’m still not sold on Walcott up front despite the hat-trick and if anything I believe he is a good plan B to have. Wilshere’s lack of determination to shoot was frustrating yet again and our defensive efforts need to sharpen up a bit before we take on the big boys. I also feel it’s important that we keep Walcott during the summer transfer window, both for his ability and to prove that we can hold onto our players. Whether it be for playing as a striker or in his proper role on the right wing, I don’t care. Just sign the damn thing.walcott

Finally I’m disappointed that after 3 wins in a row, the home crowd were just as silent as ever. The sooner these useless yobs are thrown from their seats and replaced with boistrous, thunderously loud fans the better. Time now for the team to get ready for Southampton and dish out another thumping, Come On You Gunners!

And as always after a goal-fest, enjoy…

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Finally, is anyone else disturbed by this? :D

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Match Preview: Arsenal vs Newcastle United

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So the Toon Army is coming to the Emirates! And on the back of 3 wins in a row this is another must-win to get 3 valuable points before we head into an extremely torrid list of fixtures in January where it’s reasonable to expect we will drop a few points. By contrast to our recent form, Newcastle are not currently enjoying their season and with our team well rested thanks to a screwup with the trains at Christmas and with an energy sapping 3-4 loss to Manchester United just 3 days ago for the toons, now is the perfect time to hit them hard.

Newcastle’s suprisingly poor form this season owes a lot to what I call “Arsenalitis”. This is a condition where the team lacks proper depth and suffers injuries to several key players right when they go up against tough opposition. This usually leaves the team with less offensive power and a shaky back line. In Newcastle’s case they are missing the defensive solidity of Steve Taylor, the playmaking skills of Yohan Cabaye and the star quality of Hatem Ben Arfa on the left wing. So what does this mean for Arsenal? Well let’s look at how they like to play first of all. Newcastle have been favoring playing through the middle with Arfa out injured, they like to retain possession in their own half and attack fairly quickly, using either long balls or thru balls. I think the most telling factor in this match will be whether Alan Pardew opts for playing Newcastle’s standard 4-4-2 formation or the occasionally used 4-5-1 with Cisse on the right wing. Very few teams have dared to play more than one striker against Arsenal this season and most that have learned quickly that it is a mistake. Reading changed to a 4-5-1 after half time to stem the goal flow and even Manchester United who are the undisputed kings of playing 4-4-2 in the Premier League, changed to a 4-5-1 with Rooney dropping deeper to pick up Arteta and make life hard for our midfield.

The only team thus far this season to play a 4-4-2 against us somewhat successfully was Spurs and Adebayor’s stupidity ended that problem for us pretty early on. So if Newcastle do end up playing a 4-4-2 against us I predict that they’ll realise their error fairly early and switch to a 4-5-1 to try and nullify the effectiveness of our midfield trio. This isn’t bad news for us either way as it would mean taking Cisse away from our goalbox and leaving Demba Ba as the only main threat. It’s likely that the combined skills of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla will be too much for Newcastle’s midfield without Cabaye and I would expect their reaction to be sending even more long balls than normal towards Demba Ba, which is why it is vital to have either Vermaelen or Koscielny man-marking Ba and the wings and this provides a selection headache for Wenger. With Koscielny fit and rested, does he stay with the combination of Mertesacker and Vermaelen? Or does he instead play Vermaelen and Koscielny at the back. Newcastle have enjoyed good success this season by playing thru balls for Demba Ba and although they haven’t been great at beating a well organised offside trap, it only takes one to make you pay the price. Per Mertesacker’s greatest weakness is his lack of pace and against a team utilising this tactic he may not be the best choice at the back. He was caught out last match against Wigan in this manner, which we very nearly paid the price for and with Demba Ba taking the shot we probably would pay dearly. Mertesacker is also not as good in the air as Koscielny and since Newcastle will be attacking both with the aforementioned thru balls and also long balls I don’t see him as a great choice for this encounter although Arsene Wenger does suscribe heavily to the theory of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when it comes to his defensive selections. This would be an even more dangerous selection if Newcastle choose to play a 4-4-2 and have both Cisse and Ba looking for thru balls.

Looking further forwards we can analyse where the potential for Newcastle’s destruction lies. Steve Taylor may be out but their defense are still a physical bunch and due to this I would expect Giroud to start up front, using his power and intelligent movement to break up their defense. Meanwhile on the right wing I would expect Walcott to start although this may not be our best avenue of attack, since he’ll be facing off against Davide Santon, a youngster who I regard as one of the best left backs in the league and certainly their most consistent defender. Without Ben Arfa supporting him the wing will be less dangerous to defend and if Walcott keeps a high line it’s possible he can be exposed but I think it’s far more practical to target Danny Simpson on the other wing and to this end I would hope to see both Gibbs and Podolski heavily involved in this match, particularly if they play the attack-minded Papiss Cisse as Simpson’s support in a 4-5-1 formation.

There’s no reason why we can’t also attack through the middle but I expect Newcastle to try and stifle the center since that will be their own avenue and as a result Cazorla will drift towards Podolski where the space will hopefully be. Defensively Newcastle have been poor of late and Wilshere’s bursts forward can certainly cause problems for them but the majority of play should be centered on crosses from the left wing unless Walcott decides to have “one of those days” and rip Santon apart. Overall I think both teams will score but as we tend to make less individual errors, have much fresher players and a tighter defense than Newcastle at the moment, I would expect Arsenal to emerge victorious at the final whistle. If Newcastle prove to be too fatigued to make a match of it, this is a game where Walcott’s pace in behind from the right could prove devastating. If the defense doesn’t get tight to him they will pay a hefty price.

Newcastle United Dangermen: Demba Ba and Cisse. Ba has been a big goal threat this season with 11 goals already and Cisse has the ability to turn on the skills at any time. Neither player must be underestimated or left unmarked in the box for a second.

Result Prediction: I think Arsenal’s offensive capability and lack of injuries to key players will give them the edge in this one. Both teams will probably score so  I’ll say 3-1 Arsenal.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Walcott, Arteta, Wilshere, Podolski, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: Newcastle are tired from battling United just 3 days earlier. The Emirates crowd have been louder of late and on the back of 3 wins in a row, they should spur our boys on well. Expect an early battle for control of the middle with occasional wing attacks from Arsenal and thru balls towards Demba Ba. Once the game’s tempo is decided, Newcastle will most likely opt for a long ball game while Arsenal concentrate the majority of their attacking through the left side of the field. Right then, let’s get behind the team and enjoy the match, Come On You Gunners!

Match Review: Reading 2 – 5 Arsenal

Great Determnation

Great Determination

A decent away win for Arsenal, though a clean sheet was carelessly thrown away. We were once again guilty of not firing straight out of the blocks, causing some early shaky defensive moments before settling into our rhythm and dominating possession and the match. Reading made this easier for us by producing what was probably their worst 45 minutes this season in the first half and I’m sure United’s players are wishing this was the Reading they played the week before when they escaped with a 4-3 win. One has to wonder if that 7-5 defeat in the League Cup was maybe preying on their mind as Reading showed Arsenal far too much respect, allowing our midfield trio of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla far too much space to move and pass the ball and in return they rightfully ripped Reading’s defense apart.

Wenger sprung a bit of a suprise in his team selection, starting Oxlade Chamberlain on the right wing and placing Walcott as the Center Forward. In my Match Preview I mentioned that Reading’s defense had conceded more goals from counter-attacking and thru balls than any other and what better way to exploit that than with the fastest player in the Premier League? Add to this the fact Giroud had a minor injury and Gervinho is in the naughty corner after his efforts against Bradford and it’s easy to see why Wenger would select Walcott in this role. Nevertheless I can see the headlines forming about “Arsenal bending to Walcott’s contract demands” and all the other conspiratorial Bullshit. The combined pace of Walcott, Podolski and Oxlade Chamberlain proved deadly against Reading however so full credit to Wenger for this change in tactics.

Playing Walcott in this role also had an effect on our formation. Instead of our usual 4-4-1-1, Arsenal played a 4-5-1 but I was quite impressed with the fact Walcott continually dropped deep to help build the attack. The trio of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla that we waited so long to see is starting to build nicely with a significant increase in passes between the three of them, suggesting they are starting to get on the same wavelength. The buildup for Cazorla’s third goal was a perfect highlight of this understanding with all of them involved and Podolski providing a good assist also. That goal to me was classic Arsenal, a quick incisive pass from midfield, good buildup play with runners on the edge of the box before a perfectly placed low cross was tapped in at the far post. It was also really good to see Podolski getting far more involved than he has been in previous weeks, making me wonder if perhaps he’s been playing with a niggling muscle injury or similar. While Cazorla will rightly get Man of the Match for his hattrick and great attacking play. he owes a lot of this to Podolski’s great movement. Time and again as Arsenal broke forwards, Podolski drew 2 or more defenders before either releasing Gibbs or passing back inside to our unmarked players, of which Cazorla was the man who best understood how to exploit the space. Looking at the stats, Podolski and Cazorla combined for 10 key passes, 4 goals and 3 assists between them, truly a magnificent performance and partnership by them and the best I can remember since our 2-0 win when we made Liverpool our bitch.

The other reason for Podolski’s resurgence might be Wilshere, who has given this side what it has lacked since Diaby hobbled off against Chelsea and went back to banging the nurses in our hospital ward. Wilshere’s taken it on himself to drive the ball forwards out of midfield, something he shouldn’t really have to do all the time but has managed to do anyway. Rosicky did this last season from a more advanced position and it’s what Cazorla needs to start doing also. The man is magic with the ball at his feet but he needs to stop dropping so deep and be available as a diagonal pass for Arteta or Wilshere, in order to bring the ball forward with Wilshere running off him and giving the opposing defense too much to deal with. In this game, Cazorla performed this better but in previous matches I believe this has been a factor of Podolski’s limited influence on matches by drawing Cazorla further away from him, making those exquisite tika taka style passes we saw at the start of the season from them, much harder.

This shows how our shape should’ve looked both when we have possession and when we don’t.setupars

You can see how this brings Cazorla and Podolski closer together and it’s this factor that is crucial to Arsenal’s success of late. Every match that they have linked up in, Arsenal have been impressive. Essentially we should be trying to play a sort of 4-1-4-1 when attacking, with either Arteta or Wilshere staying back as an anchor and the other 2 mids(usually Cazorla and Wilshere) pushing forwards, becoming left and right attacking mids and running into the channels in and around the box, overloading the opposition’s defense like the Arsenal of old. You’ll notice that this isolates Chamberlain somewhat but in this match it didn’t matter as he was able to single-handedly rip up Reading’s defense regardless and if not for some poor finishing, would’ve certainly bagged a goal.

So on to the bad bits. We were not as defensively solid as we have been in our past few matches, for the first 10 minutes of the match Reading looked dangerous and we were slow to close them down and deny space. We also conceded two more rubbish goals to add to the collection, one from a terribly lax pass from Gibbs, who was caught out several times in this match playing Reading onside. And a second from Podolski tracking a runner back past the offside trap which I put down to inexperience. He’s not a defender so he’s less familiar with staying in line with the last defender than any of our back 4. Two technical errors, two rubbish goals and not good enough for Arsenal. The renewed fight in Reading during the second half had a lot to do with McDermott changing their formation from 4-4-2, to a 4-5-1 in order to put an extra man in midfield to try and cope with our wonderful trio. Wenger bringing on Ramsey for Chamberlain ended this revolt by having Ramsey drift inwards towards Wilshere and once more stacking the midfield numbers in our favour. It also forced Reading to come further forward to try and win the ball and resulted in the inevitable counter-attack for Walcott’s goal. Walcott was reasonably impressive playing as a striker sitting on the last defender but he lacked finishing quality for his chances. He could’ve had a hattrick in this match and while he’s a great plan B in the absence of a real striker, I think I still prefer him on the wing at this point.

On a final note, the stats from both this game and the one against West Brom reveal a very interesting fact. The average Arsenal player has managed a passing accuracy of about 86-88% this season with Arteta, Mertesacker topping the charts with 92.6% each. As these two are the men who pass the ball out from the back and start our attacks this is unsuprising but what does stand out is that in the last 2 matches, with the exception of these two that passing accuracy has dropped to about an average of 83%. Yet Arsenal have managed more possession, created more key passes and looked far more dangerous in these two matches, which suggests to me that we’re trying to be more incisive with our passing and taking more risks in order to create chances. This is really good news as nobody wants to see a toothless Arsenal knock the ball around for 90 minutes with hardly a shot in anger and I’d put a lot of it down to the increasing chemistry of our midfield trio, who have the ability to be one of the best midfield combinations in the Premier League.

We travel to Wigan next so there’ll be more rousing choruses from our incredible away fans. Let’s hope this is the start of something good heading into Christmas. Let’s do what we did to Reading and leave Wigan feeling like they’ve been kicked in the balls…WILSHERE-NUTSHOT

And of course the goals.

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Match Preview: Reading vs Arsenal

readingim

OK so here we go again in this roller coaster season we’re having. On paper Arsenal should have no trouble travelling to Reading and knocking the stuffing out of them but how often do things actually pan out the way they should? So let’s take a look at what Reading bring to the plate since the last time we played resulted in an epic 7-5 victory for Arsenal in the League Cup, which is unlikely to happen again…

Brian McDermott’s Reading side attacks in an interesting and innovative way. They use the width of the park to stretch the defense and create crossing opportunities much like Arsenal do but then they utilise their forwards to pull the defense out of position by drifting wide and working the channels, taking the Center Back with them, before pulling the ball back for their midfielders to score from the edge of the area. While this is their primary tactic they also field strong independent strikers in Roberts, Hunt and Le Fondre. Their standard formation of 4-4-2 includes 2 of these threats for Arsenal’s Center Backs to contain, as all three are quite capable of bringing the ball down on their own and turning a defender to shoot. Whichever Center Back pairing Wenger chooses will have to be very alert and quick to shutdown any long range shooting from both the strikers and midfielders if we’re to win this game comfortably.

Looking at the last time we played them and the way that we were shockingly down by 0-4 before halftime is actually quite comforting. The primary problem in this match for Arsenal(besides appearing to be hungover) was the weak secondary defense of Jenkinson, Djourou, Koscielny, Miguel and Martinez, that we fielded for the league cup and boy did I feel sorry for Koscielny having to be paired with that lump. Yet Reading deployed their strongest team and still managed to blow a 4-0 lead. This suggests that they are not good at holding onto a win, evidenced further with their 3-4 loss to United the other week and the fact they’ve lost their last 5 matches. A lot of Arsenal’s problems last time stemmed from having a poor defensive line and Martinez(our 4th choice keeper) in goal. Reading found it incredibly easy to run overlaps past our fullbacks and deliver crosses for Roberts to create chances from. Against the likes of Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Gibbs this is far less likely to happen. Particularly with Szczesny also in goal, so we can expect to concede far less stupid goals like the one’s Reading scored that day. I tend to think the primary threat that Reading carry is their scoring from set pieces, 37% of their goals this season have come from this and given Arsenal’s poor record at defending these it’s something we need to be very wary of. While it’s true that Arsenal have become much more solid at defending corners over recent times, freekicks from dangerous positions still fill me with dread. United learnt just last week how deadly Reading can be from these and I believe this will be the main test for Arsenal to maintain a clean sheet.

The best news for Arsenal is that while Reading can score goals, they can’t defend them to save their lives. In particular their penchant for playing possession football in their opponent’s half, coupled with their inability to retain possession for long periods of time makes them extremely vulnerable to counter-attacking football, something that Arsenal do very well. Despite being good at defending set pieces their defense isn’t as organised as it should be leading to a vulnerability against through balls and rather suprisingly a weakness for winning aerial duels. With this in mind I really hope Giroud is sufficiently fit enough to start this match, we saw in the League Cup match against Reading how he changed things after subbing on, quickly ripping their defense to shreds with his intelligent runs off the ball and sending them into disarray for Walcott to take advantage of. This may also be a game for Podolski to redeem himself somewhat in the eyes of Arsenal fans since the last few matches he has appeared invisible on the pitch for unknown reasons. The talent is there for all to see but the desire and hunger seems to be lacking, which I suppose goes for almost the entire team at the moment.

Overall I believe this is a game we should win and win well, which will be dictated by how Reading approach this game. Will they respect Arsenal’s attacking firepower and sit deep in 2 defensive banks of 4 hoping to hit us hard on the counter-attack through the speed of their wingers? Or will they try to play their possession game in our own half despite going up against one of the toughest midfields in the Premier League and having one of the lowest average match possession stats in the league of 41%? The former seems more likely and while on the counter Reading carry an offensive threat, with Vermaelen increasingly looking like the “Verminator” again and not a mouse and the ever impressive Mertesacker, we should have a strong back line further reinforced by the in-form Szczesny. Reading didn’t have to deal with the likes of Wilshere, Arteta and Cazorla last time and I truly believe we carry too much firepower for them to prevent us scoring a few goals. Just don’t let Gervinho start at Center Forward… And for the love of god, please let us have an offensive option on the bench just incase, not Gervinho!

Reading Dangermen: Roberts, Hunt, two offensive threats up front that warrant close attention but the biggest threat is Nicky Shorey, the defender responsible for delivering Reading’s dangerous set pieces.

Result Prediction: I don’t see either team keeping a clean sheet unless Arsenal produce a vintage performance. I’ll say 4-2 Arsenal.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Walcott, Arteta, Wilshere, Podolski, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: Playing away to Reading means our mad away supporters will get behind the team just like they did in the League Cup match. Arsenal should possess to much firepower for Reading to deal with, there are doubts on if Walcott will start but Oxlade Chamberlain has looked impressive lately and should do a fine job. Overall this should be a good match for our team to gain some confidence from by securing the 3 points. Come On You Gunners!

 

 

Foreign ownerships effects on the English Premier League (Part 2)

This is the 2nd part of the article on the effects of Foreign ownership. If you haven’t read part 1 yet than I’d advise you to read it before you jump into the this part. Part 1 can be found here!

2. Foreign ownerships effects – The Externalities of Business football

As I have outlined in part 1 foreign ownership is unfair in nature as the fans do not know if the owner will look at the club as a project (which lets face it most fans would love), nor does the owner sign a pledge to act in the best interest of the club. Some owners might just be there to siphon whatever money is left in the club. But these issues only look at the club itself (partial analysis) and don’t mention what effect the actions of sugar daddy’s have on the league and the national team which the owners don’t account for (general analysis). From this point onwards when referring to foreign ownership I mean ”project” type ownership as this has an external effect which is felt the most even if only a small portion of teams are under this type of ownership in the league at hand.

2.1 Effects on the league (economics, marketability, quality) – It’s all about the money, money, money.

Since I finished Part 1 by looking at the different types of ownership and how they look at the league I shall start by looking at how the exuberant attitude of business ownership might have external effects. Please note that this section will look at externalities/external effect, which means that the owners don’t necessarily want these things to occur and might not even account for them. Another thing to note is that these externalities might be positive for the league) and might be negative. Since in part 1 I concluded that “project” ownership is neutral to the financial success of the league the owners won’t mind these externalities occurring and will not do much (if anything) against it. Whether “project”ownership actually takes a neutral stance or not is definitely up for debate but the assumption of neutrality makes the analysis of externalities simpler.

According to Nauright et al. (2010) the EPL is now a highly commercialised league thanks to foreign ownership. And indeed if we just look at televising deals we will see that the televising rights for 2013-2016 cost BSkyB and BT an astounding £3 billion. This figure is huge by itself but if we compare it to the value of the first EPL televising deal (1992-1997) of £191 million it is evident that the EPL has turned into a marketable league. The reason the EPL has rose in marketability is due to the fact that the “foreign players and managers that are involved in the EPL are generally of an extremely high quality” (Del Bosque, 2010). And indeed it is the quality of the players, managers and  ultimately the teams, which make a league attractive but does the league reap the benefits or only the club with the well off owner? The answer is yes.

Length Total Value (£mn) Games covered Per year (£mn) Per game (£mn) Broadcaster
92-97 191 60 38.20 0.64 BSkyB
97-01 670 60 167.50 2.79 BSkyB
01-04 1200 110 400.00 3.64 BSkyB
04-07 1024 138 341.33 2.47 BSkyB
07-10 1706 138 568.67 4.12 BSkyB and Setanta
10-13 1782 138 594.00 4.30 BSkyB and Setanta/ESPN
13-16 3018 154 1006.00 6.53 BSkyB and BT

The smaller teams benefit from the marketability of the league as well but ONLY because the televising rights are negotiated and distributed centrally. “Domestic broadcast revenue is divided on a 50:25:25 basis; 50% is divided equally between the clubs; 25% is awarded on a merit basis determined by a club’s final league position and the final 25% is distributed as a facilities fee for the number of matches shown on television involving the club.” (English Premier League Website). International broadcast revenue is distributed equally among the 20 teams. Therefore this is a huge positive externality for foreign ownership but only due to the fact that televising rights are negotiated and distributed centrally by the EPL.

It can be argued that a league full of well managed teams would have a high marketability as well but it is definitely undisputed that foreign ownership can act as a catalyst to speed up the rate at which this occurs. The value of the broadcasting deals of the EPL have increased exponentially in the past couple of years and this is to a large extent thanks to the presence of 2 “project” owned teams in the league. However I can’t emphasise enough that it is only a positive externality due to the central bargaining process of broadcasting rights. If these rights would be negotiated on a team-by-team basis the benefits of league marketability could only be reaped by the teams with owners willing to invest in the squad.

This commercialisation of the league allowed  foreign owners to focus on a number of different revenue streams which include television rights (apart from the EPL which is negotiated centrally), premium seating options, club branding and other goods and services related (Nauright et al., 2010). The increase in foreign ownership increases the money involved in the league and thus the ability for the league to attract high profile players. This is one of the underlying reasons why the value of broadcasting rights has increased exponentially: the more marketable names are in the league the more value it can fetch in the market. However it is important to note that these marketable players should be dispersed in the league more or less evenly. If the title competition is shared by many teams (top 6 last year) and the season is only decided until very late into the season (last day of the season last year) the more the league can ask for its broadcasting rights.

Another interesting point Nauright et al. (2010) makes is that the increase in foreign ownership is linked to the commodification of the EPL (just to clarify commodification basically means turning something into a ‘commodity’. A Marxian example is commodification of labour in capitalism which means that in order for labour to survive in a capitalist system they have to sell their expertise, essentially commodifying themselves). The intriguing point this implies is that although “project” ownership catalyses the process of commodifying a league (by making it marketable), by doing so it attracts other foreign investors to the league who are not necessarily of the “project” type. Therefore in the EPL Abramovich’s attitude towards Chelsea FC initiated a whole spiral which commodifies the league further. However at this point the commodification of the league is not an externality but an aim for the clubs which ended up with an ownership of the “self-sustaining” type (such as Kroenke of Arsenal FC, Short of Sunderland, Henry of Liverpool). This spiral only occurs in leagues where televising rights (which are affected the most by the commodification of the league) is negotiated and distributed centrally!

Although foreign ownership undoubtedly makes a league more marketable, Nauright et al. (2010) warns us that both players, and the ‘Americanization’ of management/marketing have to be incorporated with moderation into the league otherwise there is a potential that the foreign catalyst displaces the English core.

2.2 Effects on transfer market and wages – Exuberant Inflation

It is important to make a distinction between wages and transfers (eg: one cannot say that Robin Van Persie cost Manchester United £70 million) The reason behind this is because the transfer value can be looked at as an investment where the enterprise acquires an asset. However wages come out on the operating side of the enterprise. Therefore it is vital to keep the two concepts separate from each other. This distinction is more important for regulators (such as FIFA) who want to create financial rules (such as FFP) than it is to the everyday fan but I’d like to ask the reader to keep this in mind when reading through this section.

First let’s look at transfer activity and how foreign ownership has affected it. In order to do this however we have to construct a Price index so we actually know what the real value of the players are. The Bank of England (and every Central Bank of the World) produces Consumer Price Index (hereinafter CPI) which is a comprehensive measure of inflation for consumer goods. However since the football player market is not really a consumer good we cannot rely on CPI data to measure inflation in the transfer market. Fortunately for us Tomkins et al. (2010) already constructed such a figure and termed it the Transfer Price Index (hereinafter TPI). The idea is to take the average transfer values of a base year and see how the average transfer value of players in other seasons compare to this value. The reason we take averages is due to what statisticians call the ‘law of large numbers’ which essentially means that the trends will emerge the more observations we take into account.

If Tomkins et al. (2010) 2011/2012 update is to be believed ever since the creation of the EPL (1192) there has been a rocking 730% inflation on average transfer value. For comparison the Bank of England in the same period recorded a 77,1% inflation in CPI. To put this into perspective: The record signing of £5 million of Chris Sutton to Blackburn in 1994 is today’s average transfer price while the record transfer made by a Premier League side is £50 million submitted by Chelsea FC for Fernando Torres. However it is important to note that TPI doesn’t increase year-on-year which is shown in the figure below.

Image taken from transferpriceindex.com

So some important dates to go with: Roman Abramovich purchased Chelsea FC in June 2003; Sinawatra bought Manchester City in 2007; September 2008 marked the purchase of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan; 2010-2011 season is the first season with the 25-an rule in place the EPL. With these in mind when looking at the above figure we can see that it took 2 not just 1 “project” owned firms competing with each other to have an extensive effect on transfer prices. One might argue that this is logical as the two sides will try to outbid each other which leads to a flurry of astounding bids. Of course every club is aware of the soft budget constraint these firms have and will hold off their supply of players until a huge offer is received. This is the rational behaviour of the clubs as they have to balance the books at the end of the day and selling a player for a vast sum can finance their own transfer activities. However other clubs will be aware of the sell and of the approximation of the transfer sum and they in turn will up their asking price for their own players. A perfect example of this chain reaction is the Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll sale. Liverpool sold Torres for an astounding £50 million to Chelsea and then enquired about Andy Carroll. Newcastle were aware of the Torres sale and told Liverpool that they would only part ways with Andy Carroll for a heftier sum. In the end Liverpool bought Carroll for a massive £35 million. Whether the sum paid by both clubs is reasonable is not the point of this piece but it perfectly illustrates the chain reaction which leads to inflationary pressure on the transfer market.

The drop in transfer prices in 2009-2010 can be attributed to the effects of the credit crunch which led to less transfers which were of lower prices as teams became more risk averse. However such a trend was stopped thanks to the FA with the introduction of the 25-man rule in 2010 as a means to save the English national team. This lead to English players ‘turning into gold’ and their prices shooting up on the transfer market. One just needs to look at Liverpool’s squad and the amount spent to assemble it to see the adverse effects of the 25-man rule. In conclusion: it was a mixture of “project” ownership and the FA’s decision that lead to the inflationary pressures prevailing in the EPL right now.

If you are a theorist and would like to explain the TPI fluctuations in terms of a general model then I feel a good starting point would be the shortage phenomena as outlined by Kornai (1992) mixed with the inelastic supply of players. I will not go much into detail about this in this piece as it would be too much of a tangent from the original question: What are the externalities of a “project” type ownership? Having said that if there is a demand for a piece to outline a general model of transfer activity I will write one up. Just leave me a comment if you would like to read about what I think is a good model to explain transfer prices.

Now let us turn to the wage bill of the big six (Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea) in the EPL. To some extent wages are more important than transfer prices as Kuper et al. (2012) find that 90% of league position can be explained by the wage bill of a team. Of course this doesn’t mean that the path to glory is to offer your players as much money as you can. Also this 90% correlation between the data doesn’t take into account the incentive schemes put in place via the wage structure of a team. Please note that I will use data up until 2011 because some teams have not yet published their 2012 annual reports at the time of the writing. Also these wage bills represent total wages of a club so they include: first team players’ wages, reserve team players’ wages, coaches wages, board members wages, other staff (medical, scouting, match-day staff) wages, pensions and insurance, and bonuses. Therefore the below figure will have some uncertainty but we are only interested in the general trend which the below figure clearly shows:

Data for Manchester City and Tottenham for the years 2003 and 2004 not available (if anyone knows them please leave it as a comment below and I shall edit the figure)

Tottenham’s admirable performance for the wage bill they have is clearly shown in the figure. They have the lowest wage bill of the big 6 and perform at a level to compete for a Champions League spot. Sure they only made it to the Champions League once but for a wage bill that low compared to other teams that is an achievement worth mentioning. Liverpool’s abysmal wage policy is also apparent in the figure as they have now overtaken Arsenal with their wage bill but have finished several positions below Arsenal. This is surely something Brendan Rodgers will have to address if he is to make it at Liverpool.

From the figure we can see that Chelsea and Manchester City have the highest wage bill which is not much of a surprise if we take into account their soft budget constraints. In fact we can see a sharp increase in Manchester City’s and Chelsea’s wage bill after their sales. The reason behind this is quite intuitive: Both teams wanted to attract big names to the team and since they didn’t have the marketability and tradition of Liverpool and Manchester United they had to lure the player with the help of what they had more of than their competition: money. To lay the blame completely on the teams (“oil money”) and the players (“money grabber”) is not completely justified though as the presence of agents in the modern game definitely play a huge role in the wages the players earn.

The figure above leads to a question which is beyond the scope of this piece but is worth thinking about: Is tradition/football culture a substitute for money in football? Looking at the above figure it can be argued so as it is not unheard of for players to take a wage cut in order to transfer to a team (Arteta to Arsenal) but it is mostly true for players who transfer to a team with a long-standing, proud tradition or to a team with a Champions League spot. Another question that  this raises: Once Chelsea and Manchester City cement their place as a consistent dominant force in Europe will they relax their wage bill? It is hard to tell right now but if they do so it will require massive wage restructuring. Whether they aim to do so remains to be seen-

Now let us look at how the wage bills of these teams affect the overall average annual pay of an EPL football player. The argumentation is the same as it was for transfer prices: Chain reaction. I find myself in a fortunate position (again) as sporting intelligence has published the average footballers wages in England from the 1992-1993 to the 2009-2010 season. We have to keep in mind that the figures are merely guestimates so we can’t take their values quote for quote; however we are only interested in the general trend of wages therefore we need not worry about the exact value of the average annual pay of an EPL footballer in a specific year.

Numbers from sportingintelligence.com

From the figure above the reader can see that although wages increase at a tremendous rate in the EPL, compared to the real sector of the economy, foreign ownership doesn’t seem to have any distinguishable effect on average wages. So then why did wages rise so dramatically? Kuper et al. (2012) argue that the rate at which football wages are rising can be explained by the principal-agent problem (note: agent in this case refers to the players not to the players agents. I’m sorry for the confusion this may cause but this is how it is termed unfortunately). They argue that wages have increased as a way to increase incentives and the reason wages have risen at such a preposterous rate is because the effort of football players is unobservable, therefore to minimize shirking the players are offered massive wages and frequent rises to increase the incentives of work. However I argue that the effort of a football player is anything but unobservable. In fact nowadays football practices can be visited, not just games so incentives to perform should already be in place since monitoring of effort is outsourced to the fans for money. I think the answer behind the massive rise in football players wages lies in the presence of players’ agents, and the ability to soak up an operating loss.

The fact that the EPL has become highly commercialised has already been looked at. This has led to more commercial income for all the teams in the EPL, however players’ agents are also aware of this fact and their aim is to appropriate as much of that extra income for their client as possible (within reasonable means of course). Thus as the teams gain more revenue the more agents will want for their client. The presence of agents therefore acts as an inflationary pressure in the football world and the teams with the biggest revenue streams are expected to have the largest wage bill assuming they have a hard budget constraint. The reason teams with a soft budget constraint won’t fit this trend is because they can successfully soak up an operating loss (in the short run). With these two conditions in mind it is not surprising that the 2 teams with the largest wage bill are teams with soft budget constraint while 3rd place is the most financially successful team in the EPL.

The reason players’ agents can act as a catalyst is asymmetric information. These agents know how many teams are in the race for the player he/she  represents but the teams negotiating do not. This is a reason why free and cheap transfers are attributed with high wages as there is a potential for many teams willing to match the price. This is also the reason behind high profile players sometimes earning ludicrous amounts: Ibrahimovic reportedly earns over £900,000 a week. This wage is rational given the fact Manchester City and Chelsea might have been interested in the services of Zlatan as well something his agent knew for certain while PSG didn’t.

Now there is a problem with this, which the UEFA has realised:  Gianni Infantino, UEFA’s general secretary has said “this [spending spree] may be sustainable for a single club, [but] it may be considered to have a negative impact on the European club football system as a whole. […] The problem is that all clubs try to compete. A few of the biggest can afford it, but the vast majority cannot. They bid for players they cannot afford, then borrow or receive money from their owners, but this is not sustainable, because only a few can win.” What this basically means is that this high inflation in players wages and transfer prices might be sustainable for a very few in the short run but in the long run it may lead to the destruction of several football clubs. Long story short: football is a bubble economy and if it bursts many teams will have to go into voluntary bankruptcy. Teams who have strict financial rules in place won’t really be affected by this; while the teams that are amassing huge debts will be in trouble unless they are able to get rid of their debts.

That’s it for Part 2. Part 1 covered the different types of Foreign ownership. If you missed it click here! Hit the follow button on the right if you don’t want to miss Part 3 which will look at the effects of foreign ownership on youth development and the English national team. The FAs 25-man rule will be looked at as well.

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Sources

Match Review: Arsenal 2 – 0 West Bromwich Albion

I've never seen someone look happier about scoring a penalty

I’ve never seen someone look happier about scoring a penalty

Well done gunners! That’s my first impression after this match. After several disappointing results recently and constant reassurances from players, the manager and the club etc the fans demanded a response and truth be told West Brom didn’t look the easiest target to try and pick on given their season so far so full credit goes to our lads for delivering on their promise.

On the whole our play looked light years better than it has in recent weeks and while fatigue certainly has to stand up and accept it’s fair share of the blame, I chalk up a lot of our resurrection to Jack Wilshere’s constantly improving level of fitness. He was superb in this match and while lacking a bit technically speaking, he provided the surging runs from deep midfield that we’ve lacked since Diaby sneezed too hard and injured half the muscles in his body. As a result our midfield was able to keep it’s shape and not over-commit players forward, resulting in a much more consistent looking Arsenal display. It’s funny reading comments that Cazorla appeared more lively and “fresher” in this match. While fatigue may’ve indeed played a part it was more the fact that Jack’s bursts in midfield created an extra threat for their defense and therefore they weren’t able to closely mark Cazorla, giving our brilliant Spaniard more space to be creative. Oxlade Chamberlain on the right wing was similarly industrious and worried the West Brom defenders all game, producing one of his finest matches in the red and white jersey.

Taking a second to tactically analyse West Brom’s approach to this match, I believe they played into our hands somewhat by choosing to play deep. West Brom curbed their usual attacking enthusiasm and played to hit us on the counter. However this meant less pressure on key players Vermaelen, Arteta and Wilshere, who were able to pass the ball out defense comfortably before beginning our attacks. This wasn’t so much a defensive mistake or indeed a choice by West Brom, as it was a direct result of our pressing midfield play early in the game. Arsenal essentially won the battle for midfield supremacy(largely thanks to Jack) and West Brom were never able to exert their influence and play the free flowing attacking football that has shamed many a team so far this season, so effectively we didn’t allow them to play their natural game which is a nice switch since that’s what many teams have been doing to us lately. It’s nice when the boot’s on the other foot for a change…

There were two unsavoury things to take out of this game, firstly the penalty claim by Cazorla. I’m pretty certain by now most people realise that it was a dive so I won’t make a big deal about it. Diving is something that Wenger’s really not a fan of, despite having had several olympic class ones in the past, most recently Chamakh and no diving team would be complete without mentioning Robert Pires’ efforts. Suffice to say it’s something Wenger usually removes from their game whether that be through simple instruction, forced listening to Justin Beiber, or by chasing the player around the training ground with a big stick, I’ll leave entirely up to him. Secondly and much more frustratingly, the finishing displayed by our attackers. One has to wonder if both Podolski and Gervinho put their boots on the right feet before they played with 2 efforts that will be standing strong in the charts for worst miss of the season. Wilshere although having an otherwise excellent game, also managed to miss an empty net from 5 yards. I think it was unfortunate that Giroud hurt his back early on because he just didn’t have the same impact after that and with him fully fit we might’ve converted a few more. I am however a great believer in the law of averages. If you do the right thing, enough times in a match eventually you will be rewarded and whether by open play, set piece or penalty, I think it was inevitable that we would score and win the game. Just looking at the end stats, Arsenal had 19 shots, with a pathetic 3 on target while West Brom had 9 shots and 1 on target and although this simply isn’t good enough, the sheer amount of attacks and chances we created meant we deserved the 3 points.

Once again our defense was solid, Szczesny had a quiet game in goal but made a good save when he was called upon. His continued solidity at the back, coupled with ice cold displays from Vermaelen and Mertesacker give real hope for the future and the many clean sheets that await us. It’s easy to see the impact Wilshere’s improved performance had as it meant that we were once again playing a true 4-4-1-1 formation, defending in 2 banks of 4 and restricting our opponents movement. In all it looked much more like the Arsenal we saw in the early season, not suprising really when you consider that this is the first time our double pivot pairing has worked perfectly since Diaby’s injury. The increased amount of passes between Wilshere, Arteta and Cazorla is also really encouraging although I believe the best is yet to come. It was always going to take awhile for this formidable trio to get going but these early signs are all we could’ve hoped for. Vermaelen’s increased confidence and defensive display is also a massive boost for the team, as is Chamberlain’s performance in light of the increasing shadow of doubt being cast over Walcott.

Overall, a very well deserved win for the Gunners and hopefully a sign of things to come, provided our players can stay fit and injury free! Hopefully Giroud’s injury is minor and Koscielny will be back from his thigh injury soon. With Rosicky returning to fitness and rumours of Thierry Henry wanting to play for Arsenal till the remainder of the season, the future is positively mouth watering. Bradford City are our next opponent in an important Quarter Final match for the League Cup. While it may only be the Mickey Mouse trophy we all know too well the repercussions for losing in the final stages of the competition, whereas it might provide a springboard and a well of hope and belief for the team and fans if we were to triumph. So let’s take it seriously and field a strong enough team to get the job done,

Come On You Gunners!

Oh and just a teensy morsel to whet the appetite on watching our midfield maestros in the near future…

tikitaka

Foreign ownerships effects on the English Premier League (Part 1)

What are the effects of foreign ownership on a League? Are they primarily positive or do the negatives outweigh the positives? These are questions one often stumbles upon when discussing football nowadays.  Foreign ownership is not exclusive to football, however, as its roots are in the business world where it happens rather often. It basically means that a local company is being bought by a Foreign Investor. So why is it so different when it comes to football? The answer is: you. The presence of fans who love the club they support can make foreign ownership in football a bit messy. This piece will be a 3 part analysis with part 1 having the aim to explore the the types of foreign ownerships. Part 2 will look at its effects on the financial success of the league and foreign ownerships’ effects on the transfer market prices and wages. Part 3 will look at the National team and the youth and how foreign ownership affects it. It is in part 3 where we will see if the 25-man rule of the FA was the right decision or not.  The English Premier League (hereinafter EPL) will be the focal point simply because that is the league I follow and thus have a deeper understanding of how things work in it (compared to other leagues).

Even the lampposts hate Glazer

To date there are primarily three scenarios that can happen to a club when it is taken over. I will name these three scenarios as “Project“, “Business“, and “Self-sustaining”. The first twp scenarios are exactly the opposite of each other which will have an effect on the way the fans perceive it. Generally speaking “project” type ownerships are more welcome by the fans (of the club that is being taken over) while “business” ownerships will most probably bring grief to the fans. Whether foreign ownership sells the soul of the club remains to be seen (and I will not spend much time on this specific issue myself) but I will state that foreign ownership is unfair by default as the fans do not know if the owner will look at the club as a business opportunity or as a project, not to mention a project ownerships external effect on the league. 

1. Foreign ownership in general – Selling the soul of the club?

First of all we have to note that currently the majority of the 20 clubs in the EPL are under foreign ownership, and that out of the big six (Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Tottenham Hotspur, and Liverpool) only Tottenham Hotspur is in British Hands (with Joe Lewis being the majority stockholder owning 85% of spurs). Newcastle United are a team that looks like they can break the top 6 that I have named and they are also a team in British hands.

1.1 Project ownership – Expensive toys for rich (overgrown) kids

By project ownership I mean an owner who looks at his team as a project. In the EPL the first owner to do this successfully was Roman Abramovich whose business attitude towards Chelsea FC, which lead the team to become an EPL force, paved the way for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Manchester City. The basic idea behind a project ownership is to inject funds into the Football club which will then be used for transfer activities, as illustrated by the table below:

Transfer Market Activity (from Transfer League). Values are nominal and not weighted against inflation

Please note that I only used EPL teams for the representation, and since the EPL was created in 1992 most of the data used in the calculation will be from 1992 onwards. Also note that the table above merely looks at  the dealings of the clubs at hand in the transfer market (in no way are these numbers a representation of the boards dealings) and that I only looked at the clubs within the top 6. There are other clubs that would fit the description of project buyout in the EPL: QPR, Sunderland (prior to Short buyout).

Looking at the table above one might ask if Liverpool FC really does fall under the banner of “project” ownership and it might be argued that to some extent yes it does (especially with last seasons transfer dealings).  But these numbers do not show other revenue streams apart from players being sold and when that is being factored in, Liverpool’s financial activity on the transfer market does not stand out like Manchester City’s and Chelsea’s. In short, John W Henry is a massive improvement over Hicks and Gillet (regarding funds invested in the team), but is far from following the classic “sugar daddy” concept. Instead Fenway Sports Group is aiming at maximising its revenue streams similar to Stan Kroenke of Arsenal FC and and Elis Short of Sunderland.

What is a distinguishing feature of this type of ownership is that the enterprise will have a soft budget constraint. This basically means that the clubs management (this is a wider group than just the club manager) can negotiate with the owners to invest more money into the enterprise’s squad. This is a vital difference as it leads to these clubs having seemingly  limitless demand for players since when they would need to balance the books they simply engage in vertical negotiation with the well off owners to invest more into the club. However by doing so the clubs management loses some control over the club and allows it to be shaped by the owner.

In a “project” ownership the personality of the owner will very much define the managerial aspect of the football club. Ever since Roman Abramovich took over Chelsea, the team has seen 10 different managers at its helm which is roughly 1 manager/season (!!!). This is an alarming figure by itself but factor into the equation the amount of money needed for these manager changes and you get a fortune being paid just for hiring and sacking managers.There is nothing wrong with this but a manager tends to plan for a longer term than 1 season and most of the times the real benefits are only reaped in the 2nd or 3rd season when the manager figured out which tactic is suited for the team and who he should ship in (and out) to make the team better.

If we look at André Villas-Boas record with Chelsea it is not horrible in fact it is better (by a very small margin) than Mancinis record was when he got the Manchester City job (as represented by the table on the left). From the table and the fact that Roberto Di Matteo was just recently sacked after being in charge of Chelsea for a shorter time than Villas-Boas,  it is apparent that Abramovich’s impatience is starting to define Chelsea FC’s decisions. Roman Abramovich wants to produce a team that can consistently win (such as Barcelona FC or Manchester United) but in the process of doing so he is actually taking 2 steps back every time he sacks a manager. If Chelsea do want to be a European force they might have to consider parting ways with Roman Abramovich. The real question is: can they afford to?

Suddenly this doesn’t just seem like a joke

Indeed the first issue that most teams under this type of ownership will experience is that they are essentially locked into a position. Due to the excessive transfer spending (and commercial deals that come from the owners network) these teams generally become indebted to their owner to the extent that they can no longer afford to walk different paths. This dependence is the reason why the personality of the owner will start the define the football club. In fact the more money the owner invests in the club the more it can define what it will look like as the more dependant the club becomes the more superior the owner becomes in any vertical bargaining situation. Of course it is not to say that if the owner leaves the club has to file for bankruptcy but the lavish transfer lifestyle the fans are used to will suddenly come to an end and these teams will have to look to their academy for survival, assuming their academy is good enough to supply the quality needed to stay on top.

Apart from the monetary issues when the enterprise parts way with their ‘sugar daddy’ there is the issue of the managers (Im referring to the boardroom staff here not the manager of the team) having a different set of skills under this type of ownership. Due to the soft budget constraint the teams management will not be as responsive as other teams when the transfer is negotiated. If there seems to be a financial issue the management of these teams usually just go to their owners and engage in vertical bargaining. This does not mean that these  managers are inadequate (vertical bargaining needs skill as well after all) it merely means that the management has a different set of skills. Thus if the owner decides to leave the club it will be a financial and a managerial challenge which is extremely hard to mount.

However the most important question is: Is this type of ownership sustainable? The answer is no. It creates an extreme subordinate-superior position where dependence is what keeps things in place. What if the owner decides to not pay for the team? For a recent example we have to venture into la liga which has recently become another attractive prospect for investors as “there are no more clubs for sale in the Premier League” (Rossell, 2011). There is a high chance that foreign ownership will be popular in this league as it has a financial disparity that stems from televising rights (will talk about this later) which has the potential to “kill Spanish football” to quote the words of Villareal manager Fernando Roig (2011). The team I shall look at is Malága CF which is currently under the hands of Abdullah bin Naser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani. In the summer of 2012 Malága CF were struggling financially and didn’t pay their taxes or the player wages for the past weeks. The management of the team engaged in vertical bargaining with the owner to ask the owner to finance things. However things did not work out and the team was forced to liquidise its assets. This meant that Santi Cazorla and José Salamón Rondon left the club on the cheap for the team to be able to continue. Many things can be said about the owner and how he ‘doesn’t understand the ‘sugar daddy’ concept’; however this attitude doesn’t look at the management of the team: Why did they start vertical bargaining rather than sell their less wanted players? When it was obvious the owner won’t pay the team was at a disadvantage when negotiating their players sales. Of course Malága continued on to the Champions League after the sales but the damage dealt to the club puts it at a huge deficit if it wants to be in the Champions League the next season.

1.2 Business ownership – Fans money in businessmen’s  pockets

Ownership of an EPL team (or ex-EPL team) is a very lucrative investment fuelled by huge amounts of income from television deals. The reason behind this is that televising rights are centrally negotiated and distributed to keep financial equality between the teams. Without a doubt teams such as Manchester United and Arsenal FC could negotiate better television deals than the likes of Wigan Athletic or West Ham United. Of course this all sounds fine but Walters et al. (2009) raises a concern that the foreign investors might be solely driven by business and profiteering and not really interested in the success of the team and the league in general. This moral hazard problem is aggravated by the fact that the fans continue to pay their ticket prices which then end up with an owner who has no interest in reinvesting these funds (neither in the squad nor in increasing revenue growth). Very often these type of foreign ownerships are brief (1 or 2 seasons long) and end up with the owners leaving the club with heaps of cash siphoned from the club. This was the case for Portsmouth FC

Fortunately these types of ownerships are not common for teams who already cemented their place in the EPL; however the same could not be said for lower league teams where the respective team is ambitious to break into the EPL. Breaking into the EPL is lucrative as an average EPL club gets 45 million while an average Football League division team gets 1 million (from televising rights). Naturally this invites investors to buy teams which have a high probability of breaking into the EPL and once they make it (if they do) sell the club for a higher value. Some might even argue that this is the reason why newly promoted clubs often get relegated in either their first or second season. Whether this is the case is debatable, however it points to an obvious gulf between the EPL and the lower divisions of England.

Why should we care about this gulf? The reasoning is simple: The larger the gap in financial power between the EPL and the lower divisions the more desperate the management becomes to break into the EPL. This desperation will lead to the active search of people who are willing to invest in the team. The investment required is minimal and the rewards are huge if the team does make it. The worrying part is that the FA does nothing to address this issue and the EPL is only concerned with maximizing the profits for the top division. In fact if a team is relegated from the EPL it is subject to receive funds from the EPL to help it rise back to the top division. As ‘altruistic’ as this might seem it essentially creates a private club of EPL teams that are always financially better off than their lower division counterparts even if their managerial skill is subpar to that of lower division teams. How to tackle this problem is beyond the scope of this piece, but it does present a question to ponder on: Is financial elitism healthy for the league?

1.3 Self-sufficiency – The clubs that desperately want to fit the bill

This is the category that is the exception to the rule (so to speak) and is the broadest in definition. The owners (foreign or not) will want to make the club as self sufficient as possible. One could think of this as the middle ground for foreign ownership. It is not a “business” ownership since the owners do not siphon money out of the club (YES, Kroenke and the board does NOT take money out of Arsenal Holdings plc.). However these owners don’t handle their clubs as a “project” ownership either by throwing money at the squad. Instead these owners aim to maximize revenue streams. According to Dobson et al (2001) these owners of the football club assess the success of the club not solely on trophies but on five factors: profit, security, attendance or revenue, playing success, and health of the league. It is important to note that just like the “project” owners, the “self-sustaining” ownership model also invests/reinvests into the club. However instead of investing completely into the squad, clubs under this model invest in the enterprise itself in an effort to maximise revenue streams.

The degrees to which how much is invested in the squad and how much in the enterprise varies a lot and is often dependant on the saturation of current revenue streams and the potential of revenue growth. Manchester United and Liverpool FC were both capable of increasing their commercial revenues (Liverpool against the odds since they fell out of the Champions League) which allowed both teams to invest in their squad knowing that revenue growth can cover these expenditures. Arsenal FC, however drove its main revenue streams (matchday revenue and property development) close to saturation before attempting to increase commercial revenue via the Asia tour. Now of course Arsenal are tied down in certain deals until 2014 but nothing would’ve stopped the commercial team to attract new secondary sponsors (think about it: Manchester United have 2 different shirt sponsors for their playing kit AND their training kit). Because of this Arsenal are lagging behind in commercial revenue and in order to keep themselves afloat are forced to dip into their squad and sell their assets (More on this here). Of course for Arsenal this is mainly due to the debt they had to incur to construct the Emirates Stadium, a project which left a huge dent on its finances but in the long run, with a strong commercial team, can make the club a European powerhouse as the board envisioned it to be. But for this to become a reality it is imperative for the commercial team of Arsenal FC to ‘up its game’ otherwise the team will start to drift out of the top 4 on the football field as the management will dip in the squad to keep its accounts healthy.

Another point to note is that “self-sustaining” ownerships interest is making the league better as the financial success of the owners are closely related to the financial success of the league (to a large part due to televising rights) as Dobson et al. (2001) rightly point out. In this sense it is closer to “business” ownership since both of these types of ownerships look at the success of the league for potential financial profit. However while  “business” ownership free-rides the success of a league a “self-sustaining” ownership aims to create the success of a league. “Project” ownership takes a neutral standpoint on this matter and one might even argue that it is against the financial success of the league as it decreases financial disparity between teams (increasing competition), and decreases the teams dependency on the owner. However this is debatable and I will stick to “project” ownership being neutral to the success of the league as the team under the owners control has nothing to lose if the league becomes financially successful.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in which the financial success of the EPL is looked at and how foreign ownership affected this. If you are interested in transfer market prices and wages and how  foreign ownership affected it then this is the piece you don’t want to miss out. Part 3 will be published shortly after part 2. Youth development and the national squad will be looked at. If you are interested in how the mixture of the 25-man rule and foreign ownership turned out to be then this is what you’re looking for.

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Sources