Arsenal’s European woe’s continue…Harry compares Arsenal to the ‘benchmark’ that is Barcelona.

Sloppy error’s mean that Arsenal are crashing out of the Champions league and once again the second leg is yet to be played. My beloved Arsenal have had some really difficult draws in the last 16 over the past 6 seasons but its not just down to bad luck. Failure to win our group has put us in a position to draw the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich & Milan (before their demise). Perhaps the most disappointing one of them all was the defeat to Monaco – a side we really should have beat over 2 legs. Once again a disappointing result at the Emirates has left us with too much to do on our travels.

This time around the defeat at home was a harder one to swallow. For the most part of the game we were able to contain the deadly trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar until we (yep, you’ve guessed it) pushed the self destruct button – that’s what is so frustrating.

Being at the Emirates last night and having spoken to many different fans it’s seems this was the failure the ‘Wenger Out’ mob were looking for to cause another uproar.  I still don’t entirely agree with them but I can understand some of their arguments and I guess as paying fans everyone has the right to voice their opinions.

I don’t necessarily think we lost due to employing the wrong tactics.  I actually thought Monsiuer Wenger set us up right and the first 70 minutes of the game supports my view.

Where did it all go wrong?

My conclusion on this one is simple really, you can sit and watch the game over and over again and try to find a thousand reasons as to why we lost but in all honesty you would be wasting your time. The fact is they have a whole team of world class players whereas we have three or four at best.

Comparing Arsenal & Barcelona – As Club’s and Tactically

FC Barcelona – ‘Mes Que Un Club’ (More than a club)…Never has a slogan been so true, they’re not just a football team who have overspent their way to success after years of mediocrity like a Man City or Chelsea. The Catalan club have a philosophy, one that is followed right throughout the club. There is no doubt in my mind the fact that they play the most attractive football in the world is a much bigger attraction for the top players than the salaries they can pay. FCB is a brand and one that doesn’t look like fading away any time soon.

Arsenal – A club of tradition and one of the UK’s largest and successful clubs, since Arsene Wenger took the reigns back in 1996 he has instilled a philosophy and a brand of football that the club are globally recognized for. The move to the Emirates stadium limited the Gunners resources for a number of season’s but the fact they managed to stay in the champions league places through this transition has put them in the strong financial position. Despite all of the off the field positives there has simply not been enough success on the pitch where it matters.

Many would argue that Arsene Wenger’s team are the best passing side in the Premier League but does that mean we are as good as the mighty Barcelona in possession?

Two teams with similar idea’s of how the game should be played but in reality we play in two totally different competitions (The EPL and La Liga). In order to succeed in the EPL you require a higher level of physicality than in La Liga and the game is played at a totally different pace. I’m not saying one is harder than the other and I won’t disrespect any other league, what I will say is there are clearly differences in the attributes Arsenal and Barcelona require to flourish in their respective league’s.

Barcelona must be doing something right, they continue to dominate both domestically and in Europe and overcome talented sides from all over the continent with relative ease. Since 2005-06 they have won the UEFA Champions League 4 times and are probably the favorite’s to lift the trophy for the 5th time in just over a decade. Therefore proving that technical football, played in the right way conquers all. This is the benchmark, to play the game in the ‘Barcelona’ way and be successful is what I call perfection.

At the Emirates on Tuesday night Luis Enrique’s side faced a stubborn Arsenal for the most part of the game. A narrow, compact and well organised Arsenal were able to keep them out but eventually on 71 minutes the resistance broke and the rest is history.

One of the key reason’s Barcelona are such a formidable force is that they are able to completely control the pace of the game, whether home or away they dictate the play. There were some short periods in the game where we had them on the back foot and were able to create the odd chance but whenever there was a sign of the game becoming ‘fast and furious’ they would win possession, slow the game back down and string together 20-25 short passes. The perfect way to kill your opponents momentum.

A criticism I often throw at Arsenal is that when teams come and ‘park the bus’ at The Emirates Stadium we struggle to open them up.  This was evident in the recent draws versus Southampton and Hull.

Barcelona don’t seem to have that problem and here’s why…

• Width – when struggling to open up a compact team I believe you need to try and stretch them as much as possible.  Pull defenders out of position and widen the gaps between the individual defenders therefore creating openings for midfield runners to expose the space.  Barcelona are extremely effective in this.  For example when their GK is taking a goal kick the two full backs pull out to the touch lines and so do the wingers (Messi & Neymar) I’m talking chalk on their boots!!! The starting positions of Neymar and Messi are so wide that they either a) pull the full backs out with them creating gaps between FB’s and CB’s or b) in the case the FB stays tucked in they recieve the ball in space and have plenty of time on the ball. We all know how dangerous that can be.  With both playing on the ‘wrong’ side if you like, them starting so wide allows them to move into space on their stronger feet.

• Pass completion/ball retention – They simply do not lose the ball, their ability to hold possession gives them rest bite when on the odd occasion their opponent is giving them the run around.  Barcelona had a huge 66% of the possession on Tuesday! I thought we kept the ball well!  The truth is Arsenal don’t anymore and it’s proving to be a problem, more so when you face the likes of them.  I mentioned in my blog a few weeks back that I don’t feel we keep the ball well enough without Santi Cazorla in that midfield and I’m only being proved right.  Aaron Ramsey was much more disciplined yesterday and for that I give him credit, he also worked his socks off! Problem is he gives the ball away far too much and maybe at times tries to play that killer pass too early.  On the rare occasions we won possession last night we had to keep it for periods and make it count.

• Dictating the tempo of the game – Arsenal at times on Tuesday tried to up the tempo and really get at Barcelona, unfortunately we couldn’t sustain it for any period of time. At times, when Barcelona wanted to they were slowing the game down so much they were almost walking in possession.  They have that ability to switch it up at any time with such ease.  Once they have ‘passed you to sleep’ they wait for that lapse of concentration, the slightest gap and they’re in!

Finally, back to my original point… They just have a different calibre of player and the likes of Messi only need a chance whereas the Oxlade-Chamberlains, Theo Walcotts and Olivier Giroud’s of this world need far too many opportunities to score a goal.  It’s not just at the top end of the pitch though, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano at the back fit into that bracket of technically gifted footballers whilst managing to not make the costly errors Per Mertesacker has been making of late in the vital games.  Different class. That’s why they’re winners and those are some of the things we could implement and learn from, I mean we’ve lost to them enough times by now!

Harry

UTA

‘Khan’ he do it – Alavi

I’m a massive Khan fan and have been since even before his Olympic silver medal in 2004. After Rigondeaux – him and Haye are my favourite current fighters. I pride myself in wanting to know all about him as soon as it happens, but I didn’t see this coming. No-one did. Very simply- CANELO ALVAREZ VS AMIR KHAN.

I won’t go into a technical breakdown of the fight because it will bore you and no doubt depicts Khan as a massive underdog. Which he is and admits. so. No-one is denying that. Most are calling it a mismatch and a massacre. Nearly everyone has labelled the possibility of Khan winning as the biggest Brit shock win of their generation.They say he doesn’t pot shot like Floyd or enforce the negative style of Lara (who many, including myself, thought beat Canelo). Khan likes to throw in flurries utilising those fast hands to put together crisp 4 punch combinations. However, this time, he won’t be able to out-strength Canelo through any method to get out of danger as he is up against a much bigger and stronger opponent. But this is sport. Leicester are top of the league. Anything can happen.

During the last six months Amir Khan has been overlooked by both Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, but he has finally agreed terms to fight one the best and most feared active boxers in the world, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, in Las Vegas on 7 May. The fight will be made at 155lb, but will be for the WBC’s 160lb middleweight title, which Alvarez, who has lost just once in 48 fights, won last November when he beat Miguel Cotto in what was a boxing masterclass and also a catchweight fight. Khan has not fought since May of last year, when he officially weighed 146lb. Since that fight, which was a wide win over Chris Algieri in New York, Khan has been in and out of serious and ultimately disappointing negotiations with representatives from the Mayweather and Pacquiao camps.

On fight night itself, after the previous day’s weigh in, many expect Canelo to weigh considerably more than Khan, who has never fought above the welterweight limit (with only three fights here) and has now chosen to fight a beast of a man at a Pound (lb) above the Light Middleweight limit. It’s certain that Khan won’t weight as much on fight night as Alvarez but Amir will be aiming to put on muscle.If you are an athlete in any sport, your training has to have positive transfers to competition.This means that a boxer cannot train like a bodybuilder to put on muscle. They still require a functional approach to improve movement, speed and co-ordination. Traditional methods to increase muscle hypertrophy often consist of high rep ranges and training large volumes. This type of training is likely to stimulate slow twitch muscle fibres and activate motor units at lower thresholds. This could negatively affect the speed of muscle contractions, and when you couple that with an increase in body mass, resulting in a much slower athlete. So if Khan looks to put on muscle, his team needs to make sure effective strength and conditioning practices are put in place to maintain speed.

We already knew fighters are not like the rest of us. Professional boxers require at minimum a rare courage to enter the prize ring, society’s only venue where a man can be killed but not legally murdered, for a most public accounting of their manhood. But there’s bravery and there’s Amir Khan’s decision to fight Canelo Alvarez. This is something different.Simply taking the fight earns Khan a respect that’s proved elusive since a knockout loss to Garcia and 54-second destruction at the hands of Breidis Prescott. Canelo is boxing’s biggest star, having inherited the Cinco de Mayo platform traditionally reserved for the sport’s top draw from the dormant Mayweather. He’s coming off a career-best win over Miguel Cotto that earned him the WBC and lineal middleweight titles, one that generated nearly a million pay-per-view buys or well over double Mayweather’s last fight.

Boxing isn’t in the best state right now. The best fights just aren’t made- we are lucky if we get one per year. Politics and money are ruining the sport, which is why I’ve enjoyed UFC in the last few years, where the big fights DO get made. Let’s take say five fights: Haye vs Joshua, Kovalev vs Ward/Stevenson, Inoue vs Gonzalez, Rigondeaux vs Quigg/Frampton winner, GGG vs (insert any big name). I’d be surprised if one happens. I’m not saying Khan is saving the sport. But at a time when many others aren’t, Khan is as brave as they come. It’s valour, and corageous, and it’s why so many of us can’t help but be drawn to the barbaric simplicity of the Sweet Science

Oscar de la Hoya (the promoter of Alvarez) has labelled Amir Khan’s fight against Saul Alvarez as a blockbuster. “When has Amir Khan ever been in a boring fight? Amir Khan is a warrior. This is what a true champion is all about and I tip my hat to Amir Khan.” Retired World Champion Carl Froch added “Amir has got some courage, that’s for sure. You have got to respect him. He didn’t have to take it, did he?

Any-one with any degree of intelligence can see why Khan has taken this golden, yet dangerous opportunity. Any-one saying he is ‘ducking’ brook to fight Canelo is a bitter Kell brook fan and really should re-evaluate their boxing knowledge. It’s like saying you’re avoiding the happy meal hamburger because you want the big Mac meal. Thankfully there aren’t many people in this group here. Most acknowledge that Tuesday’s shock announcement prove his courage beyond dispute. However, many people dislike Khan and want to see someone who represented Britain in the Olympics get knocked out. I’ve never understood this. In my opinion it’s a combination of jealousy and undoubtedly race and religion comes into it to, which I’ve unfortunately seen and heard first hand when it comes to Khan. Any other country would get behind him. A shame but no surprise. I guess what must wind the anti-khan brigade up is that Khan is in constantly exciting fights and this proves that he has massive “Cogones”. Add to that the ridiculous amount of charity work he does and high standard of life he has lived. Amir, you deserve all the credit in the world and continue to be an inspiration.

At the end of the day he’s fighting one of the world’s most feared boxers and getting paid handsomely for it. Most people wouldn’t dream of getting in the ring. And will end up paying to watch him. So whilst you are busy being a keyboard warrior and slating Khan, just have a moment to contemplate- who really is the winner here?

Rafael Nadal – Alavi

I’ve always been fascinated by people’s choices between the sport and individual preferences. Let me explain what I mean. I love boxing more than I support any boxer, i.e. In most cases I’d rather see a great fight where my preferred fighter loses rather than a dull affair that sees the favoured fighter win. It’s the same with UFC (despite an adoration for Connor Mcgregor), formula 1 and football. Even when I watch Barnet I’d still rather see the best opposition players play despite that inherently increasing the chances of losing. In tennis, lies the exception to the rule- Rafael Nadal. Happily would I sit and watch the Spaniard cruise to consecutive Grand Slam wins in uncompetitive affairs that would bore most viewers. Naturally, this makes watching his fall from grace all the more painful, encapsulated most by a video of him walking back to the changing rooms after the latest early US open defeat (type into Youtube Fognini vs Nadal The most heart breaking video US Open 2015).

Every Grand Slam I’m secretly praying for a Nadal revival whilst trying to ignore the 25/1 long shot odds for each tournament. At the moment it feels like the end of an era. At his peak, Nadal lit up the court with his delicious forehand, the topspin hitting thrilling winner after winner. Poetry in the curve of his perfect bicep alone. Dare I say it, Nadal at his peak would beat any-one at their peak. Winning the greatest Wimbledon final of all time, beating Roger Federer in a sublime match left everyone else wishing neither would lose. It was thrilling, a genuine display of tenacity, emotion and genius, the men embracing at the end and the other victorious one in despair. I’ve always thought the 2009 Australian Open final between the two was just as good. It was a golden era for tennis: Here were two players surpassing the greatness of Borg and McEnroe. Nadal’s style of play always meant he was never going to be going strong in his mid 30s. Federer, of course, quite the opposite. Conversely, Nadal’s style of play would attract fans from around the world, particularly the youngsters. A very good friend of mine is a Tennis coach by profession. “Nadal may not be near the top anymore but 90% of kids are still trying to copy his forehand, they still want his racquet, they still wear his vest.” No doubt, the rigour he put his body through means despite clocking in at four years younger than Federer, his inevitable decline is more pronounced, and more painful for it.

Instead, 2015 was about two tennis players. Or rather two tennis athletes. 34-year-old Serena Williams in women’s circuit and 28-year-old Novak Djokovic in the men’s, with both winning three of the four Grand Slams on offer.
Amidst the duo’s successes lies the failures of a few, and the most staggering of them all was that of former world number one Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has had the worst latst year as a professional in more than a decade, as the 14-time Grand Slam champion failed to win a single major for the first time since 2004. Nadal has faced a torrid time this year in majors and failed to even reach a single semifinal, with his best being last eight appearances at Australian Open and French Open. It is indeed a disappointing run for a champion who featured in 20 Grand Slam finals in the last ten years.

He lost only three matches against top 10 rivals in 2014, two against Djokovic and one against David Ferrer, and in comparison he has so far lost eight of the ten meetings against his main rivals. As a top player he will be meeting those guys more in the business ends of the tournaments and his dismal record against them directly reflected in his trophy cabinet. Forget Slam, he failed to even win a single big ticket ATP Masters last season playing only one final in Madrid. He also managed to reach only five finals in 19 attempts in 2015, winning three of them but all were in minor events.

His latest season 75.4% win percentage is way below his career average of almost 83%. His win percentage of 81.36% in injury-ridden 2014 was also way better than what he has achieved in 2015. 14 majors in 13-year professional career is no mean achievements, and add to that he also finished runner-up in 30 more events including 6 in majors. All of it highlighted a highly successful career for the player known as undisputed ‘King of Clay’ because of his exploits at Roland Garros, where he won a record nine times.
All is not lost though as no one has forgotten his dream comeback in 2013, winning ten titles including two majors after seven months away from the sport with injuries, which is a stuff of legend in the tennis world. And every Nadal fan must be hoping a similar return in 2016.

Nadal has failed to get past the second round of Wimbledon for four years, and he picked up a measly two titles in 2015. “It’s not the end. It’s a sad moment for me but life continues,” he said at a press conference. With those in the know saying the surface has changed at Wimbledon, with the faster grass not suiting Nadal’s topspin, many are predicting the end of the once-great player’s career forever The chances of Nadal beating or even equalling the Grand Slam record are slim. However, I’m backing him to win one more Grand Slam, his favourite, the French Open. If the tournament tennis happens to be good then that’s of distant secondary importance.

Le Champions? – Alavi looks at France’s chances of winning the Euro’s in front of their own fans.

The Euro 2016 draw takes place tomorrow (Saturday 12th December). I wouldn’t bet on France to win the trophy on home soil above Germany, who remain rightful owners of the betting favourite title. However, they’re not a bad bet to reach the final at least. Here’s why-

International European trophies are not won on the grounds of history but, as French Legend Henry pointed out “we managed to win the World Cup [1998] and Euro ’84, which was pretty big for us. “Yes it is in France, yes the expectations will be big. I think the team is good enough, they are actually really good.”

Really good, if anything, is an understatement. Manager Deschamps is a popular man with the backing of the nation. Crucially, the squad boasts a perfect balance of youth and experience. The youngsters talents of Pogba, Varane, Kondogbia, M’Vila, Guilavogui, Sakho, Rabiot, Coman, Bahebeck, Grenier, Kurzawa, Areola, Laporte, Griezmann, Mangala, Schneiderlin, Cabella (to name a few!) will have the guidance of more established players such as Benzema, Sissoko, Lloris, Debuchy, Evra, Koscielny, Giroud, Payet and Cabaye.

There won’t be many better keepers in the tournament than Spurs man Lloris, or indeed many better players full stop than Pogba. Many predict, he will a Ballon D’or winner soon enough, and I wouldn’t disagree. Like many of the top European sides (Portugal aside) there isn’t a star player. There is no ‘Ronaldo’. Sure, it would be hard to argue against Pogba being technically the most gifted player, but an injury to the Juventus man wouldn’t instantly erase any hopes of lifting the trophy in Saint Denis on July 10th.

Schneiderlin & Cabaye are solid and stead. They may not start every game, but Cabaye especially is perfectly suited to the pace of summer international football. I’ve said a couple times on the pod, that Mangala will go on to be amongst the world’s elite defenders. Varane, is already there. I feel he’s been unlucky at times with City, much like his fellow countryman Kocsielny was a couple of seasons ago for Arsenal, when every mistake would be coupled with a keeper error resulting in conceded goal. And thus, highlighted and scrutinized by pundits worldwide. The aforementioned Kocsielny is as good a centre back as there is in the Premier League. Cool and composed but stronger than his slender physique would indicate. The ‘engine’ Matuidi and the skillful Cabella are just two others earning deserved plaudits.

Varane and Pogba may already considered two of the outstanding young players in their respective positions in world football, but young Martial has a point to prove following his £36m move from Monaco to Manchester United. It is a squad that screams power and strength, yet still possessing players such as Griezmann and Benzema who can unlock defences. Underachievement has been the story of the French national team in recent years, although this is a seriously good crop of players. There are a number of obvious reasons why France should make a serious impression, but football aside, the importance of home support cannot be downplayed.
Henry went on to comment “The only thing I will say that will be tricky, can they handle the pressure of playing at home?” the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winner said. “We all know what Germany can do. Spain had a bad World Cup but they will be there or thereabouts, and Portugal are almost playing at home. There’s a big Portuguese community there” in France. But I back them to perform, to actually win it. I’m not just saying that because I’m French.

Annoyingly, as someone who enjoys Arsenal losing, Henry is usually right.

SPECIAL FEATURE: Alavi talks us through Tyson Fury’s huge win over Klitschko

There’s nothing in the world I dedicate more hours to than boxing, and as such, Saturday night will always live long in the memory.

Tyson Fury burst the heavyweight bubble that is Wladimir Klitschko before bursting into song. I urge anyone who hasn’t seen it to youtube his version of Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” before the most sincere “I love you my wife” you will ever hear. In a boxing ring at least. Tyson Fury, famous for punching himself in the head many fights ago is now the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion of the world. In boxing terms he’s the no.1 man in the most glorified division of them all.

It was a messy fight. In truth, I only enjoyed the result. A few of the rounds were close but the crisper, cleaner work was done by Fury, who deservedly took a unanimous decision 115-112, 115-112, 116-111. Some had suspected that the 39-year-old Klitschko was slowing down. But few gave Fury a hope of so conclusively proving it. After all, Klitschko was unbeaten in 22 fights over 11 years and was making the 19th consecutive defence of the title. This was also his 28th world title fight, eclipsing Joe Louis’s old record of 27. Fury had only had 24 fights in his entire career.

Fury came charging out of his corner at the sound of the first bell but thereafter it was a cagey first round which the challenger probably won courtesy of a couple of ramrod jabs. The second was another tight affair but with Klitschko unwilling to open up and unleash his fabled right cross, the more ambitious Fury – who looked remarkably relaxed given the circumstances – probably nicked it again. Fury’s switch to southpaw at the start of the third failed to draw Klitschko out of his shell and it was becoming apparent that the champion was finding his British rival more difficult to work out than perhaps he had anticipated. After the fourth, during which Klitschko was again frustrated, there was a sense of disbelief among the German fans that their hero was finding the task so onerous
In the fifth Klitschko was lightly cut under the left eye after a clash of heads, but landed with a good right hand for the first time in the fight. Fury responded with a sharp right of his own, though, and was confident enough to talk to his opponent as the bell sounded. Through the middle rounds the pattern was similar, with Fury presenting a puzzle that Klitschko was unable to solve. He tried to switch his attack to the body, but with only limited success. It was a desperately messy fight, with lots of cries from the referee Tony Weeks to “stop, stop, stop” as the two men grasped and grappled. Fury had made Klitschko look bad. Now he was making him look worse. Finally in the ninth round, the action became less measured and more intense as both men landed with big right hands. But Klitschko was still struggling to break through. As his camp told him at the end of the 10th: “You’ve got to get this.”

In the 11th, the referee deducted Fury a point for repeatedly hitting Klitschko behind the back of the head. Given this was Germany, a country notorious for rewarding the home fighter, some wondered whether it might have given Klitschko renewed hope. It certainly looked that way in the final round as he rushed forward and appeared to hurt Fury for the first time. The crowd began chanting for Klitschko, but both men were desperately tired. It was messy but manic … and when the scorecards were announced, Fury – the fighting gypsy-Irishman with the glint in his eye – was the one left smiling.

There is a rematch clause in the contract but people are already sceptical about seeing the rematch. I’d like to see it, not because it was a great fight, but because both fighters deserve it for a variety of different reasons. My prediction is that Wladimir will take the rematch believing he has nothing to lose and everything to gain……or re-gain

One name being mentioned as a potential opponent is David Haye. However, Fury has not forgiven Haye for pulling out of two scheduled fights against him in 2013 and causing him “mental and physical torture”. Fury added “David Haye will never get a fight against Tyson Fury after what he did to me.” I can’t lie and say that Haye isn’t still my favourite heavyweight, but Fury is well within his rights here. David Haye and everyone else need to let the Manchester man Tyson have his moment. Whatever you think of Fury outside of the ring, don’t take away this achievement from him.

The best pound for pound fighter on the planet retired recently. Floyd Mayweather, although not physically a “big man” is known for giving it the big talk and delivering. Tyson Fury is a a very big man, who gives a lot of big talk. But boy did he deliver.