Rating Arsenal’s Performances in the Month of September: The Nominations

Arsenal began the month of September with a hugely satisfying win over their free-spending fierce rivals, Tottenham, and after a long break due to international football, Mesut Ozil made his long-awaited debut in the 3-1 victory over Sunderland. The Gunners began their Champions League adventure with a hard-earned victory over Marseille in the south of France.

The victory in France was followed up with an unorthodox win over Stoke, as Arsenal beat the Potters in their own set pieces game, while the away side played good football, shockingly. The kids and injury returnees were given a chance in the Capital One Cup third round against West Brom but they had to rely on the lottery of penalty shootouts to qualify for a hugely-anticipated fourth round clash against Chelsea. The Gunner ended a memorable month with another well-earned victory over Swansea in Wales.

At the end of each month, Gooner Daily rates the performances of the Gunners using a series of categories. There will be three nominations for each category and the blog’s readers will place their votes on each category. A post will be published afterwards with the full results of the voting sequence.

SAVE OF THE MONTH

Wojciech Szczesny featured heavily in Arsenal’s Premier League and Champions League fixtures in the month of September while Lukasz Fabianski made his first and only appearance in the Capital One Cup encounter against West Brom. The new recruit, Emiliano Viviano, will still wait for the chance to make his first team debut.

The nominated saves for the month of September are Szczesny’s save from Jozy Altidore’s blazing shot when the Gunner’s visited Sunderland, Szczesny incredible save from Jermaine Defoe in the North London Derby and Fabianski’s magnificent save from Youssouf Mulumbu in the Capital One Cup third round.

GOAL OF THE MONTH

Arsenal all its six games in the month of September, scoring 12 goals in the process. There were a lot of wonderful goals scored in the course of the month but here’s my pick from the pack. The nominated goals are Olivier Giroud’s deft finish against Tottenham, Aaron Ramsey’s first-timed piledriver against Sunderland and Theo Walcott’s technically-astute volley against Marseille.

ASSIST OF THE MONTH

Arsenal’s 12 goals scored in the month of September came from 12 assists supplied by some of the players in the team, and it’s heartwarming to know that 33 percent of these assists came from the new recruit, Mesut Ozil. Here’s my take of the top three assists in the month of September – Nicklas Bendtner’s inch-perfect pass to Thomas Eisfeld for his goal against West Brom in the Capital One Cup, Mesut Ozil’s first assist in Arsenal colors for Olivier Giroud against Sunderland and Carl Jenkinson’s perfectly-cushioned cross for Aaron Ramsey against Sunderland.

MATCH OF THE MONTH

Arsenal were victorious in all six games they played in September, making them one of the most in-form teams in Europe. In these six games, there were three games that stood out from the rest, as it endeared the players to the hearts of their ever-loving fans. Here’s Gooner Daily’s list of the top three matches in the month of September – Arsenal’s victory over their fierce rivals, Tottenham, in the North London Derby, Arsenal’s hard fought away victory over Sunderland and Arsenal’s latest triumph against a hard Swansea side.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE MONTH

This goes to the player that excelled admirably with vastly improved performances in the course of the month. Despite the fact that many players put up improved performances in the month of September, the performances of these three players certainly caught the eye; Mathieu Flamini, Kieran Gibbs and Wojciech Szczesny.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH

Arsenal’s great form in the month of September can be attributed to the standout performances of some players that were phenomenal in the month of September. Without further ado, here are the top three players in month of September; Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey.

Feel free to vote in the various categories as you please.

The results will be published tomorrow after the Napoli match report.

Sayonara.

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Arsenal vs. Napoli Preview: Time to Gain Control of the Group

Giroud scored a wonder goal against Napoli in the Emirates Cup

Two of the most in-form teams in Europe would clash together in what would be one hell of a pulsating encounter, as Arsenal hosts SSC Napoli with a place at the summit of the group the ultimate prize for the victors of tonight’s game. Arsenal began their Champions League adventure with a difficult trip to the Stade Velodrome in the French riviera and they emerged victorious. Napoli on the other hand, hosted last season’s finalists, Borussia Dortmund, and had enough in the tank to see out the German juggernauts.

Following good transfer business in the summer, both sides are reaping the fruits of their new recruits and both teams are currently on the summits of their respective local leagues. Arsenal’s record signing, Mesut Ozil, has already supplied four assists in the Premier League and the Gunners’ 2-1 win over Swansea sent them two points clear of Liverpool and Tottenham.

Napoli has gained considerably from the services of their star striker, Gonzalo Higuain, that has netted four goals in five appearances for the club. Following their Goran Pandev-inspired victory over Genoa, they lead the Serie A alongside AS Roma with the defending champions, Juventus, not far out in third place.

Arsenal have only lost four times in 18 matches to Italian opposition since 2000 and should be confident of a result. The last was a 4-0 defeat to AC Milan in Italy in the quarterfinals in 2012. They did manage to restore pride in the return leg at the Emirates thanks to a 3-0 scoreline as Koscielny, Rosicky and Robin van Persie all scored.

As recently as August, Napoli locked horns with Arsenal at the Emirates Cup and they lead with goals from Lorenzo Insigne (did you see his free kick against Dortmund) and Goran Pandev but goals from Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny salvaged a draw for the hosts. Only four managers in this season’s Champions League have won the competition, and Arsene Wenger’s opposite number, Rafa Benitez, is in that illustrious class.

The last time both managers clashed in the Champions League, it was a rather painful affair as Arsenal drew 1-1 at home to the Reds in the first leg of the 2007/08 quarterfinals before a rather excruciating defeat at Anfield that sealed the Gunners’ fate.

Benitez Wenger

Abou Diaby had equalized for the Gunners in the first half but after a goal from Fernando Torres put Liverpool ahead again, Theo Walcott made a world famous dash in the heart of the Liverpool rearguard before feeding Emmanuel Adebayor for an easy tap in. While the Gunners were basking in the euphoria of a potential semifinal berth, Kolo Toure blatantly fouled Ryan Babel in the box, leaving the ref no chance but to point to the spot and Steven Gerrard obliged. Babel added salt to Arsenal’s wounds with a fourth to put the game beyond doubt.

While the Gunners would have half an eye on Higuain, they also have to be mindful of Napoli’s skipper, the mohawked Marek Hamsik, that has been a creative force as well as the versatile Lorenzo Insigne, that has been one of the bright sparks of their campaign thus far. To injuries, Napoli has a full squad to select from with the only injury concern being wingback, Christian Maggio, that’s nursing a knee problem. Arsenal are still without Theo Walcott (stomach), Santi Cazorla (ankle), Yaya Sanogo (back), Lukas Podolski (hamstring), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby (both knee) but Tomas Rosicky will be fit enough to make it to the bench.

To team news, I would expect an unchanged lineup from the side that was victorious against Swansea. Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen are on their way to full fitness but the Gunners can make do without their services as they have proved all season long. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

I would expect both lineups to look like this,

Wenger has spoken about the counter-attacking threat Napoli poses, and his players will have to be on alert, because avoiding defeat in this fixture is key, as the Gunners are bracing themselves up for a double header with Dortmund in Matchdays 3 and 4.

It’s time to gain control of the group.

Sayonara.

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A Statistical Review of Aaron Ramsey’s Performances: The New Vieira?

Arsenal’s man on fire

The Premier League fixtures of Gameweek 6 had more twists than a pig’s tail and more turns than a merry-go-round. It all began with a pulsating encounter between one of the Premier League’s emerging sides, Tottenham, with a proud defensive record and they took on Chelsea but in the end, Gyifl Sigurdsson’s strike was cancelled out by John Terry’s glancing header.

Up stepped the Manchester giants against teams you would expect them to beat seven days of the week but the shock results proved once again that there are no pushovers in the world’s most exciting league, as West Brom grabbed all three points in the Theater of Dreams while Aston Villa showed great resilience to fight back from deficits to put the game beyond doubt. Luis Suarez made his long-awaited return from his biting chronicles and capped it up with two goals.

At Arsenal, things are going on well on the pitch after that embarrassing defeat to Aston Villa, as the Gunners are certainly setting the pace in the Premier League with 15 points after notching up five straight wins. In Europe, the Gunners eased past Fenerbahce in the qualifiers before winning Olympique Marseille in the first Group Stage fixture. The kids of the Capital One Cup also prevailed, albeit on penalties, against West Brom.

A player that has been instrumental in Arsenal’s rich vein of form this season is Aaron Ramsey, that has scored eight goals thus far in his numerous games for the club this season, his best goalscoring tally in a top-flight campaign. His first three goals were scored in the two-legged affair with Fenerbahce, He followed this up with a brace against Sunderland, scored the match winner against Marseille, the match opener against Stoke and another match clincher against Swansea making him indispensable to the team.

Ramsey won the Man of the Match award against Swansea (see his post-match interview) and he posted a picture of his award on Instagram alongside Thomas Vermaelen and the World’s Best Striker, Nicklas Bendtner. In the wake of his recent performance against Swansea, former Liverpool great and son of the Twitchy one, Jamie Redknapp, has likened the Welsh Dragon to Arsenal’s former enforcer, Patrick Vieira (via HITC),

“Ramsey is their go-to man at the moment. He was outstanding again against Swansea and certainly in the second half, he drove the team on.

“Last year when he got into those areas, would he be driving forward? I really doubt it. He would probably back up the play. “This year, he wants to carry on. He desperately wants the ball & I felt all game he was the player they looked to all the time.

“When I used to play against Arsenal, I always used to think about Vieira. Whenever they were in difficulty, the first thing they would do is pop it into Vieira, because they knew there was a bit of safety and a bit of calmness about his game.

“That’s exactly what he’s (Ramsey) becoming for them. It’s early, it’s seven games into the season, but I’m seeing a young man who is really growing into himself.”

According to WhoScored*, Ramsey’s defensive side is quite impressive, as he has made 33 tackles (averaging 5.5 per game), which makes him one of the highest tacklers in the League. He also has 10 interceptions (1.7 per game), committed 12 fouls (2 per game), made nine clearances (1.5 per game) and he has blocked three shots.

His offensive side is commendable, as he has notched up four goals in six Premier League appearances (eight in total), two assists, a total of 14 shots (averaging 2.3 shots per game), eight dribbles (1.8 per game), attempted 456 passes (with 87.5 percent pass completion), 31 long balls (3.5 per game) and eight through balls.

Ramsey has worked very well on his technique and his confidence has been a massive factor in his performances this season. Despite starting every game in the holding midfield role, Ramsey strays forward from time to time like a box to box midfielder and his finishing has been clinical. He hardly gets much chances in the games he plays but he has matured to keep a cool head in front of goal and he even has more goals than Olivier Giroud, Arsenal’s alpha-dog in attack.

Like Vieira, Ramsey has improved on his defensive side and he pops up in the box to finish good team moves. We all hope that he continues this good form, as it can only get better from here.

Here’s to Aaron Ramsey – Hardwork, Determination, Class

Sayonara

* Premier League stats only

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Swansea 1 Arsenal 2: The Ramsey Juggernaut Remains Unstoppable

This Welsh Dragon is on Fire

Liberty Stadium (Premier League)

Swansea – Davies 82?; Arsenal – Gnabry 58?, Ramsey 62?

In a rather surprising weekend of Premier League football that started with Tottenham and Chelsea sharing the spoils of an intense London derby, the Manchester clubs rolled over against opposition you would expect them to steamroll past, which meant that Arsenal had the chance to go back to the summit of the table with a win against an in-form Swansea side in Wales.

Canas and Jonjo Shelvey tried to draw first blood with tame efforts and Arsenal had efforts from Per Mertesacker and Aaron Ramsey. Ramsey almost put his team in a rather precarious situation when his heavy back pass which wasn’t controlled adequately by Wojciech Szczesny and with Miguel Michu charging down at the goalie like a raging bull, the Pole tried to attempt a dribble but the ball was blocked and went beyond the goal line for a goal kick.

There was an injury concern for Giroud but a late surge from Serge Gnabry saw the youngster take on all comers before sending Olivier Giroud through but the striker’s shot was wide off the mark.

The second half began with a weak Gnabry shot from a Mesut Ozil pass but Gnabry wasn’t going to be denied a second time after some intricate passing play between Giroud, Ozil and Ramsey saw the young German through on goal and he drilled his effort past Michel Vorm to score his first goal for the Gunners.

Arsenal launched a counter attack and Ramsey covered a lot of ground with the ball before threading a perfect through ball to Ozil. The German schemer had all the time in the world to pick his spot but his shot was straight at Vorm which was parried away for a corner kick.

Arsenal doubled their money shortly afterwards, when Ramsey teed up Wilshere that did well to win a challenge before feeding Giroud. The Frenchman wasted no time in executing a neat one-two with Wilshere, then he fashioned a chance for Ramsey that had a touch before slamming the roof of the net with a piledriver.

In the space of four minutes, the Gunners were two up and the fans in the away stand of the Liberty Stadium made their voices heard, as the “Aaron Ramsey, he scores when he wants” chants reverberated around the stadium.

Nathan Dyer was afforded a chance at goal and fired a rasping shot to Szczesny’s far post but the Pole made a great save. Wilshere almost gifted Swansea a chance back into the game when he shockingly fed Wilfried Bony with a chance but the Ivorian’s shot was blocked by Szczesny on his near post. The keeper voiced his frustrations on Wilshere after making the save.

Wenger removed a clearly jaded Gnabry for Mikel Arteta to add some steel into the midfield. The Gunners had another chance to go three up but Mertesacker nodded Ozil’s free kick wide. Late on, Ben Davies gave a pass to Bony and continued his run but the Ivorian forward stunned Arsenal’s defense with a brilliant over the top pass that was finished aplomb by Davies, to give a nervy end to the game.

The Swansea players and fans went berserk when Bacary Sagna fired his clearance into Mathieu Flamini’s hands but the ref was having none of it, as he didn’t deem it enough to warrant a penalty for the home side. The manager made two more defensive substitutions as Nacho Monreal and Carl Jenkinson came on for Ozil and Wilshere.

The Gunners held on to another famous win to continue their impressive away run of consecutive victories to 12 games. The victory also sent them to the summit of the log table.

PLAYER RATINGS

Szczesny (8) had a solid game and dominated his area by plucking out a lot of lofted balls into his box.

Sagna (7) balanced his attacking and defensive play superbly.

Gibbs (7) didn’t threaten much offensively but he was solid at the back.

Koscielny (9) was a colossus at the back, making interception after interception, ensuring that Michu had a bad day in the office.

Mertesacker (7) had a good game but his lack of athleticism was exposed as it took him an age to turn when Bony’s ball went over his head.

Flamini (8) continued his dirty work in midfield and got a booking for his troubles. He’s taking his “unfinished business” rather seriously.

Ramsey (10) was on fire yet again, battling extremely hard for his team, supplying an assist and scoring what proved to be the match winner. MOTM

Ozil (6) was a bit overwhelmed by the game and would be utterly disappointed for the clear-cut chance he missed.

Gnabry (8) put up a wonderful shift after playing 120 minutes of football in midweek. That goal must have done wonders to his confidence.

Wilshere (7) was industrious in midfield and battled hard for his team.

Giroud (6) bar his assist to Ramsey, he struggled a lot in the game and looked a bit off the pace. Maybe he’s fatigued.

Arteta (7) added solidity to the midfield after replacing Gnabry.

Monreal and Jenkinson (N/A)

Arsene Wenger celebrated his 17th anniversary with the club win three massive points that has sent him clear of Tottenham. He was pleased with the performances of his lads and with some inured players returning, all focus will be fixed on the Champions League encounter against high-flying Napoli on Independence Day.

It’s quite lonely at the top, I must say. But I’m loving it. :D

Sayonara.

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Swansea vs. Arsenal Preview: Can the Impressive Away Form Continue?

6104262 michu Arsenal issued ‘hands off’ warning for their pursuit of Swanseas Michu

Can Arsenal keep him at bay?

The last time both teams played competitive football, they both featured weak squads in the Capital One Cup. Arsene Wenger fielded a special blend of experience and youth but he still had to rely on the lottery of penalties to seal an enticing fourth round fixture against Chelsea. Swansea on the other hand, weren’t so lucky with their overhauled squad, as they crashed out of the competition following a 3-1 surprise defeat to Birmingham City.

In the Premier League, Swansea is currently on ninth place after five games, and they are level on points with Manchester United, Hull, Stoke and Newcastle. To be fair with the Swans, they have already faced Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool this season, losing to the first two clubs in the aforementioned list but they salvaged a draw against Liverpool in their last home game, with Jonjo Shelvey grabbing the headlines for more reasons than one.

Going into this weekend, they had the best pass completion rate in the Premier League this season (87.3%) and with victories over West Brom and Crystal Palace, Michael Laudrup’s side are finding their feet and Arsenal has to be mindful about the fact that they have scored the earliest goals this season with Shelvey scoring Liverpool after 87 seconds and Miguel Michu scoring Palace after 80 seconds.

Swansea’s greatest threat against the Gunners will be the man that scored three goals in three games against them last season, Michu. Following his impressive start to his Premier League career last season, Michu has already scored two goals and he has had his fair share of assists as well, making him a creative force for Swansea. Michu has created 12 goalscoring chances this season already and he has the most shots (18) from open play for Swansea.

Arsenal on the other hand, would hinge their hopes on the goalscoring forms of Olivier Giroud and the Welsh Dragon that’s returning home, Aaron Ramsey. The midfielder has a little thigh injury but the manager has confirmed that he will be fit for the game. Ramsey has made 387 passes this season with a pass completion percentage of 89 percent. He also leads the club’s goalscoring charts with seven goals in eight games, which is hugely impressive. Last season, Aaron Ramsey scored one goal from 46 shots in the league. In 2013-14 he has so far scored three league goals from 12 shots and has seven goals in all competitions.

To injuries, Swansea are sweating over the fitness of their captain, Ashley Williams, as he’s currently nursing an ankle injury and he remains doubtful for the game. However, they will be without winger Pablo Hernandez, that is still out with a hamstring injury. At Arsenal, the usual suspects Arsenal: Rosicky (hamstring), Sanogo (back), Cazorla (ankle), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Podolski (hamstring), Walcott (abdomen) and Diaby (knee) are still out, but the Czech maestro could be in line for a timely return against Napoli.

To team news, I expect Wojciech Szczesny to return in goal with his usual defensive rearguard in front of him, as Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna would man the fullback positions while Laurent Koscielny would replace Thomas Vermaelen to play alongside the ever-present Per Mertesacker.

Arsene Wenger will have some problems in midfield as the absence of Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and the Ox will ensure that he has to play one of his versatile midfielders out of position on the right wing. Serge Gnabry played when Walcott pulled out of the Stoke game but his performance in midweek has clearly shown that he’s not ready to make that step up required of him.

With this in mind, Wenger would probably start Mikel Arteta and the fit-again Mathieu Flamini in the middle of the pack, while moving Aaron Ramsey to the creative hub of the team. With Ramsey’s confidence in front of goal, he certainly wouldn’t mind playing here. This would mean that Jack Wilshere could start on the right while Mesut Ozil would man the left flank. Ozil has created more chances (10) in two Premier League games than any Manchester United player has done all season. Giroud would lead the line.

I expect both lineups to look like this,

The Gunners are looking to extend their club record of consecutive away wins to 12 and they have have lost only two of their last 21 Premier League games. (W16, D3, L2).

The million pound question would be – can the impressive away form continue?

Sayonara.

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England U18s Return With Hungary Friendlies

Two England U18s fixtures have been added to the calendar for the month of October. The England U18s will play Hungary in two friendly matches, both held at St. George’s Park. As non-competitive fixtures, all England U18 matches are not officially recognized by UEFA (or FIFA), but it will allow six uncapped faces to be evaluated at the hands of the England coaching staff.

Given Dan Ashworth‘s remit to incorporate more competitive fixtures into the calendar, it’s a progressive arrangement that will hopefully see the likes of the U20s gather more frequently over the course of the season as well. The England U18s will be coached by Neil Dewsnip, The FA’s Technical Lead for the 17-21s age group and he will be assisted by Dan Micciche, Technical Lead for 12-16s. Both Dewsnip and Micciche were recruited from Everton and MK Dons, respectively, by Ashworth last month.

England U18s v Hungary U18s

  • Friday, 11 October
  • Monday, 14 October

Goalkeepers

  • Angus Gunn (Manchester City)
  • Ted Smith (Southend United)

Defenders

  • Josh Aina (Chelsea)
  • Reece Burke (West Ham United)
  • Brendan Galloway (MK Dons)
  • Kyle Knowle (West Ham United)
  • Ben O’Hanlon (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

Midfielders

  • Dele Alli (MK Dons)
  • George Green (Everton)
  • Will Miller (Tottenham Hotspur)
  • Bryn Morris (Middlesbrough)
  • Kasey Palmer (Chelsea)
  • Ashley Smith-Brown (Manchester City)

Forwards

  • Brandon Barker (Manchester City)
  • Bradley Fewster (Middlesbrough)
  • Alex Gilliead (Newcastle United)
  • Ryan Kent (Liverpool)
  • Alex Kiwomya (Chelsea)

About England Football Blog

England Football Blog is dedicated to the evolution and growth of English youth football, coupled with the development and continued success of England - at every national level.

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2013 England U16 Squad vs Wales

After the release of the names attending the 2013 England U16 training camp, the first squad has been unveiled for the clash with Wales on 4 October. For those interested, you can also reference the England U16s from the 2012 summer training camp and do a quick ‘where are they now’.

Most notably, the amount of players coming from the Football League has spiked, year-over-year. The full 18 man England U16 team that will officially kick off the 2013 Victory Shield campaign can be found below

England U16s vs Wales

England U16s vs Wales U16s

Victory Shield
7.35pm, Friday 4 October 2013
Aggborough Stadium, Kidderminster Harriers FC

England U16 Goalkeepers

  • Connor King (Burnley)
  • Ryan Sandford (Millwall)

England U16 Defenders

  • Danny Collinge (MK Dons)
  • Benjamin Cull (Southampton)
  • Ro-Shaun Williams (Manchester United)
  • Reece Oxford (West Ham United)
  • Ben Sheaf (West Ham United)
  • Charlie Wakefield (Chelsea)
  • James Yates (Everton)

England U16 Midfielders

  • Liam Bell (Newcastle United)
  • Tom Davies (Everton)
  • Jacob Maddox (Chelsea)
  • Will Patching (Manchester City)
  • Chris Willock (Arsenal)

England U16 Forwards

  • Rushian Hepburn-Murphy (Aston Villa)
  • Kaylen Miles-Hinds (Arsenal)
  • Layton Ndukwu (Leicester City)
  • Adam Phillips (Liverpool)

About England Football Blog

England Football Blog is dedicated to the evolution and growth of English youth football, coupled with the development and continued success of England - at every national level.

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#fanwall Leads US to Victory

Well, what if US Soccer hadn’t put inspiring messages on the wall of the tunnel before the game?  Maybe that’s what Mexico is missing, ever think of that? As nobody predicted, the Mexico-Panama game one month from today will decide the course of the Hex.  We’re to the point now where adjusted standings tend to be more autopsical than predictive, especially when the cause of death is so clearly “Failing to win at home.”  Still, let’s look at them anyway. The Kyle Dane Standings – should I recap how these work?  Okay.  Kyle Dane used to do a chart where you start with the assumption that each team is going for a win at home and a tie on the road.  Accomplishing this gets you zero points.  Losing on the road is -1 point.  Tying at home is -2 points.  Losing at home is -3 points.  Winning on the road is +2 points.  Doing anything but winning at home is a hideous idea, and losing at home is the dumbest thing you can possibly do. Here are the current Dane standings: US: 0 points Costa Rica: -1 point Honduras: -4 points Panama: -8 points Mexico: -8 points Jamaica: -12 points Win at home, win at home, win at home.  The United States (edit – and Costa Rica, duh) clinched because they are the only teams that have not done anything at home – wherever that home is – except win.  This is what Mexico used to do, in case that sounds familiar. I also invented the Cupcake Standings, which probably didn’t bear close scrutiny this time around as well as I’d hoped.  The theory is, the last place team in the group should be a source of free points…to the point where if everyone is getting them, what matters is if your team doesn’t.  Jamaica...

Keep reading this post at http://www.bigsoccer.com
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Greg Dyke’s Landmark England Speech

New FA Chairman Greg Dyke has firmly put a stake in the ground regarding the future of English football. In a keynote speech, Dyke outlined his lofty goals for where he wants to see change – both immediate and long term – as well as where he would like to see England be by Euro 2020 and Qatar 2022. Now is the time for unity and now is the time for action.

While the focus of today’s speech is the future of the England Men’s teams, after a disappointing summer with both our development and women’s teams, I’m encouraged to report back on a very good performance by our Women’s U19 team who reached the final of the UEFA U19 Championships in Wales on Saturday and only lost in extra time to France. As we look to appoint a new Women’s Head Coach and a Women’s Head of Elite Development this gives us a strong platform to build on.

I have deliberately chosen to make this speech in an international week because I want to talk about an issue which I think almost everyone involved in football knows is the biggest problem the England team faces going forward. The issue, quite simply, is this. In the future it’s quite possible we won’t have enough players qualified to play for England who are playing regularly at the highest level in this country or elsewhere in the world. As a result, it could well mean England’s teams are unable to compete seriously on the world stage.

Now before I get into the meat of today’s speech it is important I say this: This speech is not designed to start a ‘blame game’. It is trying to set out the reality of a situation which should concern anyone who cares about the future of our national team. So let me stress up front this is not a criticism of the Premier League. I genuinely want to work hand in hand with the League to try to address what I see as a serious and growing problem.

The England team does not have a history of success. One World Cup win on home soil and a few semi-finals does not compare with the records of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy and more recently, Spain and France. However, just because we have not been as successful as we think we should have been in the past doesn’t mean we should accept the same going forward.

Let me be clear The FA is the organisation with the primary responsibility for giving the nation a successful English football team and on our past record we have to accept we have not done as well as we should. This means if we want to do better things have to change.

We have to get our development teams playing the right way, we must create an environment where the players want to play for the England teams and enjoy the experience and we need to ensure that our clubs feel that their young players are going away to learn and develop from the best coaches when they are part of the England set up.

We also have to improve how we identify talent, how we nurture it within our teams and we need to be clearer setting our targets so that players and everyone connected to English football knows what we are trying to achieve.

In St. George’s Park we have the most fantastic facilities. However to maximise what they can offer the England teams we must ensure we have the best of the best when it comes to specialist performance areas such as medical, sports science, psychology and analysis. We also must ensure we have the right Club England structure in place.

A lot of work is already going on, starting with the recruitment of Dan Ashworth who is based at St. George’s Park. Already we have appointed three of the games outstanding youth development coaches to join him, while Dave Reddin will be joining The FA as head of performance in the New Year.

Meanwhile we have appointed Gareth Southgate as our Under-21 Head Coach and we have deliberately broadened the role so he will oversee all our development teams. This should ensure more consistency in preparation, coaching and playing styles.

All of this is within the direct control of The FA and we can and must do better.

However, there are areas that we do not directly control – Youth Development in particular. In the late 1990s the club academy system was introduced, The FA’s National School at Lilleshall was closed and responsibility for developing players from eight years upwards became the responsibility of the clubs.

To be fair to the clubs there’s been huge investment since then, but as yet, nobody can say the game is seeing a strong return on that investment. This limited success resulted in the recent introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan.

So The FA doesn’t control player development, the clubs do, and we also don’t determine how many young players break into first teams or how many games they get to play – or importantly start. Again this is the responsibility of the clubs.

There is also an issue about clubs releasing players. There have been numerous examples of clubs withdrawing players from our development squads over the years. Other nations don’t seem to have this problem. Only last week a player was recalled to his club from a development squad after we were told he was desperately needed by the first team, either as a starter or sub. After sending him back to his club he didn’t even get a place on the bench. That doesn’t help the boy or the England team.

Now some history. I was involved in the establishment of the Premier League when I was Chief Executive of London Weekend Television back in the early 1990s. I was the host of the original dinner when the five clubs decided to break away and set up The FA Premier League.

Back then no-one could have predicted that the League would be such a massive success, that it would be watched and discussed wherever you go in the world. In short no-one would have predicted it would become the most successful league in the world which it has.

At that famous dinner, some 20-odd years ago, the participants genuinely thought a strong Premier League attracting the best players from around the world to play alongside our English players would help create a stronger England team, that our players would learn from the best. That was how the idea was sold to The FA and at the time The FA said it was the main reasons why they sanctioned the breakaway league.

It would of course be disingenuous of me not to highlight the fact that I am of the view that The FA didn’t use the unique opportunity it had to make stronger demands or seek necessary assurances from the fledgling league. But that’s all history now – we are where we are.

One of the interesting things about life is what I call the law of unintended consequences. What none of us at that dinner could have foreseen was that because of the very success of the Premier League, 20 years later we would end up with a League largely owned by foreign owners, managed by foreign managers and played by foreign players and that, as a result, it could be argued that the England set-up has been weakened, rather than strengthened, by the creation of the Premier League. Saying this I am not being xenophobic but my job is to help ensure that English football and particularly the England team is in a healthy state.

I’ve been planning this speech almost from the day I was offered the job as FA Chairman and I have read with interest recently people arguing that English football needs a 10-year plan. I agree with that. But if we need a plan we also need targets so we can judge whether or not we’ve been successful.

So today I want to set the whole of English football two targets. The first is for the England team to at least reach the semi finals of the Euro Championships in 2020 and the second is for us to win the World Cup in 2022. Now this doesn’t quite give us ten years – the first tournament is seven years away and the other nine years – but what’s a year here or there. Oh and by the way to show we are making progress along the way I’d like to see us do well in the Under-20s World Cup in 2017 with the objective of that squad then moving on to the Under-21 Championships.

This takes us to Euro 2020, where we would expect Wembley to host a number of games, possibly England’s group games. This will give us a focus and a platform to have a real crack at making inroads into the later stages of the tournament. Home advantage at tournaments, has provided England with two of its best three showings over the past 50 years. And from there, we would expect to move on to the 2022 World Cup.

So are these realistic targets? Well without targets what are we working towards? I’ve no doubt some will say that targets are only burdening our players with more pressure but I don’t see it that way – top players have to be able to handle pressure if they want to be winners and we want to be winners.

Let me also make it clear that this does not mean we are writing off our chances before 2020. Qualification for Brazil is hugely important and I know how hard Roy Hodgson and the current players are working to get us there. I, for one, am confident we’ll make it.

One thing is crystal clear. Going forward we will certainly give ourselves a much better chance of winning tournaments if we have a bigger talent pool of players to pick from, which means having more English players who are consistent starters in the Premier League.

English football – and in this context I mean football played by Englishmen – has got a problem which is much bigger than just not doing well in a couple of tournaments. As I’ve said England is already short of players who regularly turn out at the top level for their clubs and are qualified to play for England but the real problem is that, year by year, the position is getting worse.

Clearly the first question to ask is does this matter?

It could be argued that if our top clubs are doing well in Europe – which most years they are – and the Premier League is incredibly popular around the world and bringing in large sums of money to this country, surely it means football in England is in a healthy state?

Well in the months since I was offered this job I have talked to quite a lot of people involved with the professional game and the one thing they all agree on is that English football needs a strong England team. Success in the Champions League with teams largely, but not exclusively, made up of foreign players is all well and good but it is not a replacement for a successful national team.

Sky commentator Martin Tyler summed it up in an e-mail he sent me when he wrote “the football industry seems to have lost sight of one major premise – when England does well everyone in the game is a winner whether you are Manchester United or Maidstone United”.

Fans certainly want a successful English team, television ratings show this quite clearly. Club matches occasionally get audiences in excess of 10 million when teams are playing an important match on free to air television. But when England are playing in the finals of the World Cup or the European Championships as many as 20 million people watch a game.

So if building a successful England team is important the question is how do we make it happen?

Let’s look at the numbers. Twenty years ago 69 per cent of all the players starting matches in the Premier League were qualified to play for England. Please note the statistic I am using in this argument. I am not talking about the number of English players registered to play for a club, what is relevant here is the number of English players who actually start Premier League matches. Now I know statistics can be manipulated but no-one can argue that the overall trend isn’t anything but alarming.

As I’ve said in the 92/93 season the figure for English players in the starting line-ups of Premier League clubs was 69 per cent. Ten years later that figure was down to 38 per cent. Last season, another ten years on, the same figure was down to 32 per cent.

But we already know the problem is going to get worse in the future. In that same 2012/13 season – last season – the number of English players under the age of 21 who appeared in the Premier League filled only 2.3 per cent of the total number of minutes played. This compares with 6.2 per cent in Germany and 7.3 per cent in France. In fact the CIES Football Observatory reported that only 35 English players under the age of 21 made appearances in the Premier League last season.

And just look at the transfer activity this summer. Two years ago 37 per cent of all new signings by Premier League Clubs were qualified to play for England. Last summer the figure was 28 per cent. This summer the figure was 25 per cent.

According to Deloitte, of the ?630 million spent by Premier League clubs during the transfer window which closed on Monday, some ?490 million went to overseas clubs for foreign players and a great deal of the rest was spent on foreign players already playing within the Premier League. In fact it has been reported this morning that only 9 per cent of that overall spend was spent on English players and of the total summer transfers only 32 players, 22 per cent, were English.

Last weekend only 65 English players started in the Premier League with another 14 coming on as substitutes. Taking into account that some of these players are not international standard I think it’s fair to say we already have a very small talent pool and it’s getting smaller.

Let me just explain with a couple of recent examples.

We were all thrilled when Wigan, the underdog, won The FA Cup last season – all except for Manchester City fans that is – but only one of the eleven players who started for Wigan that day was qualified to play for England, although to be fair another qualified player did come on to score the winner.

A second example, Sunderland have signed fourteen players during the summer transfer window. They are made up of four Italians, three Frenchmen, one Swiss, one Czech, one American, one Greek, one Swede, one South Korean and a sole Englishman. In fact, in Sunderland’s first game of the season against Fulham there were only four players on the pitch at the start of the game who were actually qualified to play for England.

Mind you in the Newcastle team beaten 4-0 by Manchester City on that same opening weekend it was even worse – there was only one English player in their starting line-up.

This is not, repeat not, a criticism of those particular clubs, of Premier League clubs in general or even of the League overall, but it does illustrate the growing problem we face. No-one planned this but it is the result of my law of unintended consequences.

When Sir Trevor Brooking reported on the England Under-21’s 6-0 victory over the Scotland Under-21’s to The FA Board two weeks ago he was enthusiastic about the performance of many of the players. But he went on to tell the Board “what I can’t guarantee is that these players will play regularly enough at the top level to develop into full internationals.”

In fact only three of the 23 players who were in that Under-21 England squad for the Scotland game actually started for Premier League teams in the first weekend of the season.

This is not only an English problem, although I suspect the problem is more acute here than elsewhere. But I was interested to read Italy’s coach saying this week that Italy needs more home-grown talent. He said: “It was thought that the presence of so many foreigners could be an incentive for our youngsters, but, as we’ve seen, that hasn’t been the case. We need to reflect on this. We have to study and plan.”

English football has come together in recent years to try to address the issues of youth development and there is no doubt progress has been made. The collective efforts following England’s poor performance in South Africa resulted in changes to pitch sizes and team numbers at grassroots youth level, while the Elite Player Performance Plan, led by the Premier League, is aimed at producing more top level players. The game has shown through this work that it can work together.

Where it seems we still have a serious problem is in the transition of young players – and particularly young English players – out of academies into first team football.

But this isn’t only a problem in the Premier League. If you look further down the system into the Championship, which, incidentally, is the fourth-best attended  league in Europe, there are now a large number of foreign players from all corners of the globe playing in that league as well.

Now all this comes at a time when very few English players are themselves playing overseas – we are not Belgium or Holland where most of their top players are playing abroad or even France, Spain or Italy who are now frequently exporting significant numbers of players. Almost uniquely amongst the top footballing nations virtually all of our top players are playing in their home leagues so if the best of our emerging young players can’t get a game here it means we do have a serious problem.

Now we can’t say we weren’t warned. Six years ago, in December 2007, the Professional Footballers’ Association produced a remarkably prescient report entitled Meltdown in which it outlined the emerging problem.

Perhaps most important of all the Meltdown report said “What is at stake is not just the future of the England team, but the fundamental right of English players to rise as far as their talent will take them. That right is now denied. The truth is that we have become a finishing school for the rest of the world, at the expense of our own players.”

Of course since that report was produced in 2007 the problem has got worse, not better. Perhaps no-one in football was listening, maybe they didn’t care or, most likely of all, they didn’t know what to do about it.

So the question I want to ask today is a simple one. Do we let this trend continue or do we actually try to do something about it? Last season’s figure for the Premier League was 32% English players starting games. What happens when that declines to 25 per cent, to 20 per cent or even 15 per cent? Do we still ignore the problem and hope it goes away? Or do we take action now?

Personally I think the situation is serious, very serious. But saying that is easy. Before we can actually do anything we need to understand why this is happening. Almost everyone I have spoken to in recent weeks recognises the problem but they have offered a whole range of different reasons for why it is happening and, as a result, have suggested a whole range of different possible solutions.

So today I am announcing that I intend to set up and chair an FA commission, starting this month and reporting in the New Year, to ask three simple questions – firstly in the commission’s judgment why has this happened, secondly what could be done about it and thirdly to work out how, if possible, we actually make those changes.

The third is important because what I’ve discovered over time running a range of organisations is that getting the policy right isn’t always the hardest task. Often the toughest challenge is implementing ideas for change, particularly when the tanker needs turning. And English football, I think, is a tanker which needs turning.

Now I know setting up a commission might be seen as a bureaucratic response to a serious problem but if we are to have any chance of success going forward it’s important that football as a whole recognises the problem and also buys into the possible radical solutions which is why I have invited the Chairmen of both the Premier League and the Football League to join the commission along with the Chairmen of the League Managers Association and the PFA.

I would also like to take this opportunity to invite a wide range of organisations and individuals to come forward, to give evidence to our commission and to come up with ideas. Organisations ranging from the leagues and clubs to players organisations and supporters groups; Individuals ranging from former England managers and players to current players and coaches, from academics who have studied football to interested journalists. We want to hear intelligent views on what could be done.

OK, before people rush away and say the solutions are obvious let me tell you just some of the possible causes of the problem people have put forward to me over the last three months – and these have come from a range of serious people in football. They all agree there is a problem but, as I’ve already said, the causes they have put forward are many and varied.

Some say it’s because English kids are simply not good enough. That technically they don’t learn enough when they are young – up to the age of eleven – and as a result can’t compete with Spanish, French, Dutch or German kids as they get older. This theory would also partially explain why we weren’t winning European Championships and World Cups even when many more than 70 per cent of the old first division players were English.

Related to this explanation others say we simply haven’t got enough coaches trained to a high enough level. The figures here are interesting. England has 1,161 coaches at UEFA ‘A’ level compared with 12,720 in Spain and 5,500 in Germany.

At Pro Licence level England has 203 coaches, Spain has 2,140 and Germany has more than a thousand.

Now I am told by UEFA that these figures could be misleading because they are not necessarily comparing apples with apples. Some of our leading coaches have also pointed out that what matters is quality not quantity. Well the commission will investigate all this but on the face of it the numbers are worrying.

Now some of the youth team coaches I have met argue we do have the kids with the potential to be top class players but their argument is that not enough of them get a chance in the Premier League because it’s so much easier to sign someone from overseas rather than give the kid from the youth team or the reserves a chance.

I was interested to read Gary Neville’s view recently when he said “I’ve always felt the cream would rise to the top but I’m not quite so sure any more. I’m no longer sure that if a player is good enough he will have a chance of getting through.” If Gary is right who knows what talent the England team is missing out on?

Then there are others who say the problem of having so many foreign players is caused by the owners of Premier League clubs who are so impatient for success that no manager dare take a chance on English kids when it could mean putting his job on the line, it’s much easier to buy someone from overseas. They point for evidence for this lack of risk taking to the fact that in the year gone by the managers of the two English clubs which won the Champions League and the Premier League in 2012 both got sacked for not being successful enough and that the expected life of a Premier League manager continues to decrease.

Another explanation put forward by a lot of people is that it is cheaper to sign overseas players. They argue that the transfer fees clubs have to pay to sign foreign players are lower and that the wages English players demand are higher. This would explain one manager’s comment to me that English football is now full of a lot of very average foreign players as well as some brilliant ones.

Others argue that if your top league is largely foreign owned with foreign managers why should those in control care about developing the England team? Their national allegiances are elsewhere and they don’t have that fire in their belly for England. Why would they? For them England is just another national team not their national team, just one amongst many. Of course it would be remiss of me not to point out that The FA itself has appointed two well-paid foreign managers.

Now a lot of people say that things are already changing with the recently introduced elite structure for youth players. Fine but what I am told is if you look around the youth set ups of our most successful clubs today what do you find? A lot of young foreign players brought to England to be developed by English clubs. The argument goes that these foreign youngsters are not super numery, they are taking the places English kids could have had. This, too, is something the commission needs to investigate.

Yet another explanation came from a senior figure at one of our most successful clubs. His argument was that the gap in quality and playing styles between the Premier League and the Championship is just too wide. In short his case was that English boys playing in the Championship were not developing their skills in a way which would enable them to be good enough to become Premier League players so instead Premier League clubs buy from overseas.

OK so they are just some of the theories that have been brought to my attention, theories which the Commission will look at. And try to say: ‘do we believe it or don’t we?’ Other suggested remedies which we will consider include looking at if it’s possible to introduce quotas, in legal terms a complex matter but one which should be explored. We should also examine how the current work permit system operates – and it is worth pointing out that roughly 30 per cent of the players who received work permits this summer did not meet the standard criteria – and we should review the loan system to see if it can be made more effective in terms of developing players. I would also expect the commission to evaluate the pros and cons of a mid-season break.

Now I don’t know which of these many and varied explanations, if any, are valid. The one thing I’m certain of is that there won’t be one single cause for our problem. This is a complex issue – that’s why the Commission needs to listen to and examine the evidence, commission its own research, understand how other countries deal with this issue and then, and only then, make some judgments and propose some changes.

Of course the irony of my argument today is that the Premier League club which has probably done the most to bring through young English players over the past 20 years is the club which has also been the most successful over that time – Manchester United. Perhaps giving more English players a chance doesn’t necessarily spell doom and disaster?

Now as a former journalist I know this speech could well be written up as “Dyke declares war on the Premier League” but it genuinely isn’t that. English football has a problem. English football has to find a solution together. As I said earlier at The FA we know we have to up our own game.

But it is also crucial that English football finds a solution without undermining the undoubted success of the Premier League. We don’t want to kill the golden goose in the search of the golden egg but we do have to do something if the English team is to prosper in the future.

If not it’s hard to see England even challenging for the World Cup or the Euro Championship in the years ahead let alone meeting the targets I’ve set today.

If not we will be letting down generations of English kids who might otherwise have made it at the top level in football but weren’t given the chance.

If not we will be letting down the England fans who turn up in their thousands here at Wembley or watch the England team in their millions on the television. They want a successful England.

If not we will be letting down the 400,000 volunteers who work with kids every week across England in the belief that the very best will find their way through.

In short we all have a responsibility to do our best to reverse this frightening trend because if we fail we will be letting English football down and we will be letting the nation down.

I believe my job, as Chairman of The FA, is to ensure that the structures are in place to give future England teams the best possible chance of achieving success and that is what I intend to do.

Some have noted that Greg Dyke‘s visions have somewhat ignored the base level of professional football in England. The issue of a winter break was, however, touched upon, but the idea of serious fitness and injury worries in today’s game due to packed schedules is very real.  Things such as the winter break and Maxitone shop supplements could help sustain our raw English talents and keep them fit, strong and injury free.

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Why Gareth Southgate Is The Right Choice

New England U21 manager Gareth Southgate will start his new job off with matches against Moldova and Finland. After being hit by two withdrawals (Jonjo Shelvey and Connor Wickham), Southgate will not only have to push for a positive start to his reign by way of results, but also attempt (by proxy) to impress the angry mob who wanted someone else in the role. What people don’t seem to realise, however, is that Gareth Southgate is truly the right man for the job. Here’s why you need to get excited and why you need to trust in his appointment.

Gareth Southgate (England U21 Managers)

For starters, The FA were always going to look at home in order to fill the position. Ignoring the fact it would be folly to look abroad while such a huge part of Greg Dyke‘s remit as Chairman is to reverse the influx of foreign players, there really was only going to be an Englishman for the very important role of helping curate that special crop of players on the cusp of the Senior squad. Turning to a man that has a pre-defined vision of how football should look from the grassroots to the professional English game coupled with an ethos on how England teams should play (throughout all age groups!), it makes for a welcome breath of fresh air.

The role that Gareth Southgate is set to step into will not only have him act as a conduit between the Seniors/U21s, but it will bring together a whole new aspect of the job that sits under the umbrella of Dan Ashworth‘s vision for England. What does that mean exactly? With the international setup needing to act more like a club environment, mirroring the experience players get day-to-day, the job that Gareth Southgate is tasked with will take him a step beyond coaching and promoting talent and will also entrust him with overseeing the U16s through to the U21s. It requires someone who will be able to carve out a more holistic perspective of England (both playing and coaching staff), while deepening ties with all of the clubs that provide the nation with its talent pool. Affable, forward thinking, someone desperate to get England ‘on track’ and something of a realist? Again – right man for the job.

The fact there’s a degree of trust between Hodgson and Southgate is one step ahead of where Stuart Pearce was. The identification of talent is another plus. A subtle change in the sharing of players across the U21s and Seniors is also a welcome change. While Ross Barkley, Wilfried Zaha and Raheem Sterling all elicited spirited responses on social media for their respective Senior call-ups, the fact it gives Hodgson a chance to further evaluate as well as present that proverbial ‘carrot on a stick’ – it’s all additive.

As for the temporary appointment of Steve Holland to help coach the U21s? Shrewd! Here’s Holland speaking about the new gig:

‘I met Gareth Southgate this week and we spoke about plans for the England U21 team and the FA are looking forward with Roy Hodgson and the England senior side.

‘We spoke about the type of player they are looking to select going forwards, the playing style that the FA are looking to apply across all the national teams now and I was very impressed.

‘I think it is an exciting time to be involved as I believe there is a strong will within the FA to try to improve the development of our young players, and I am very excited to be asked to be involved.’

Next steps…figuring out which of the best centre-backs and central midfielders to play at once!

Three areas Gareth Southgate will immediately focus on:

  1. Individual Development (as players and people)
  2. Playing Style (with freedom and expression > results)
  3. Pride in Playing for England

Some excellent Gareth Southgate articles for the ‘on the fencers’, as much as the supporters:

England U21 Squad

Goalkeepers: Jonathan Bond (Watford), Jack Butland (Stoke City), George Long (Sheffield United)

Defenders: Eric Dier (Sporting Lisbon), Ezekiel Fryers (Tottenham Hotspur), Todd Kane (Blackburn Rovers, loan from Chelsea), Michael Keane (Manchester United), Jack Robinson (Blackpool, loan from Liverpool), Luke Shaw (Southampton), John Stones (Everton), Tom Thorpe (Manchester United), Andre Wisdom (Liverpool)

Midfielders: Tom Carroll (Tottenham Hotspur), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea), Will Hughes (Derby County), Nick Powell (Manchester United), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Sammy Ameobi (Newcastle United), Jesse Lingaard (Manchester United), Nathan Redmond (Norwich City), Wilfried Zaha (Manchester United)

Forwards: Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)

About England Football Blog

England Football Blog is dedicated to the evolution and growth of English youth football, coupled with the development and continued success of England - at every national level.

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