Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: A battle with insignificance

Making his TFN debut, Harry Wallace looks at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s struggle for the limelight at Arsenal…

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s career has been oddly inconsequential. He was uncapped when he was called up to the England squad for a major tournament. But this was Euro 2012, when Roy Hodgson had been hurriedly planted in the manager job. Everyone around the country, press and fans alike, swiftly agreed that this tournament was a free hit. There hadn’t been enough time to amass a plan, let alone a squad to fit it.

In the Euros Oxlade-Chamberlain would start the first game against France and make two late substitute appearances in the other group games, before being an unused sub against Italy. On his debut he was lively the few times he had the ball, as many young fresh-faced players are. However he was restrained by one of Hodgson’s now stigmatized formations against France, looking to protect in only his third game in charge. It was also partially due to Rooney’s suspension, and Oxlade-Chamberlain could count himself unlucky not to feature ahead of a slumping Ashley Young in later matches. But the whole tournament lacked the pressure or scrutiny that has formed such a bemoaned companion for England. Certainly it was no comparison to Wayne Rooney’s dazzling Euro 2004, or even Raheem Sterling repeatedly scaring Italian defenders in Manaus. The Ox’s official arrival on the international scene was barely even a sideshow.

A year later, England traveled to the hallowed Maracana to face Brazil. Following a characteristically tepid England first-half performance, Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Glen Johnson. He then scored a goal that was a god send to narrative-seeking writers covering the game, a stunning drive in the same stadium that his Father had played in 29 years prior. It was a magnificent moment, or at least as great as it possibly could have been. After all, it was merely an exhibition game that not many would quickly recall now. Continue reading

The Race for the Champions League: A Re-imagining

TFN debutant Will Magee re-imagines the top four and the race for the Champions League…

Do you like football? Any football at all? Then the chances are you’ve read several astoundingly reprocessed ‘top-four race’ pieces in the last few weeks. These articles are the reanimated undead of the Premier League season, the phantoms that plague the minds of hungover sport writers, the ghosts at the top-flight feast; they appear every year at exactly the same time to remind us that our lives are, essentially, hauntingly repetitive – and that Arsenal will most likely finish fourth.

The prediction for this year goes like this: Chelsea in first, Manchester City in second, two of Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool in the lesser Champions League spots. It’s really no more complicated than that. A maverick journalist will throw Tottenham into the mix every once in a while in an attempt to break the cycle, but do so with the poignant knowledge that this is totally, utterly futile – a puny act of rebellion in an uncaring existential void. Likewise, somebody will always root for a rank outsider, the last hope of escaping his or her recurring top-four nightmare. This never comes off, and said somebody is quickly institutionalised.

Still, at the risk of my own mental wellbeing, I fancy making an attempt at exorcising the eerie persistence of the ‘top-four race’ article and re-imagine the entire thing. Despite our numbing collective awareness that it will never be so, what clubs would we actually like to see finish in those coveted Premier League places? And in what precise order? Let’s settle down, hold onto our minds, disregard those creepy voices telling us to do terrible violence against the ones we love – and bloody well find out. Continue reading

The Race for the Champions League: A Short History

With the race for Champions League places at its tightest in history, James Dutton takes a closer look…

Another chastening week for English football in the Champions League and Europa League. Much like many knock-out round evenings in the last five years, a lack of quality, adaptability and in-game intelligence, a naivety that has once again exposed the flaws of the best sides in the rough-and-tumble Barclay’s Premier League on the European stage. All the money, facilities and resources but barely a hint of nous between them; English teams obsess over qualifying for the continental competitions yet have little idea what to do when they get there.

Qualification for the Champions League is that pot of gold at the end of a 38-game-long rainbow; as equally exalted as silverware now is the opportunity to be knocked out by a side from a second-rate European league in the knock-out stage. Priorities may be skewed but when the financial reward for a top four finish is so grandiose it becomes, as Tim Sherwood would say, a no-brainer.

As money has proliferated in the Premier League so the Race for the Champions League™ has become ever increasingly hard-fought. This is where it has been heading since Jesper Gronkjaer sank Liverpool in 2003 and scored the biggest goal in the history of Chelsea Football Club. TV deals have increased manifold since, and with that prize money and the desperation to gatecrash the party. Continue reading

The State of the Game: Andy Kellett & the Under 21 Premier League

In the first part of a new series, Hugo Greenhalgh reveals why the Andy Kellett move is a damning indictment of player development in English football…

Anecdotally, it’s a brilliant story. Local boy gets shock move to European giants. It is little wonder Andy Kellett thought Manchester United’s move for him was a ‘wind up’. Theories did the rounds that Jim White had misread ‘Sheffield’ as ‘Manchester’ on Sky Sports News. The whole matter seems totally implausible, yet beneath the surface Kellett’s loan actually serves as a damning indictment of youth football in this country.

The January window saw seven young United players head out on loan to clubs in the Football League. This is where the emphasis now lies with youth policy for the big clubs; the U-21 Premier League offers little in the way of a challenge as the players are simply competing within their age group. Conversely, the Football League allows them a test outside their comfort zone, both mentally and physically. They get the chance to work with more experienced players than their contemporaries in the youth team and compete against tougher, stronger opponents. Continue reading

Football narratives: a departure

TFN’s Alex Stewart returns with a column on football’s dreaded “narrative”…

Football is confusing, isn’t it? I mean, take Arsenal. Arsenal are shit, aren’t they? We all know that. They’ve a porous defence, weak full-backs who can’t head the ball, injury problems galore, and Arsene Wenger is so confused about who to buy he’s actually taking suggestions by text. Sure, they’re probably top six this season, but only because everyone else is so woeful. And Manchester City are fantastic, right? They’ve qualified for the next round of the Champions League at long last, they’ve got the best striker in the Premier League and they’ve just bought another really, really good one. Vincent Kompany is more than a footballer, he’s a heroic saviour of all that is good and decent in this world, as well as being an elegant, handsome man to boot.

And then Arsenal go and beat City at home and suddenly, aren’t City shit? The Vincent Kompany rare error is becoming the Pepe Reina rare error, according to someone on Twitter. Forget the strikers: City are a one-man team who always lose when Yaya is away on duty with his national side. They have no plan B and no way of rousing themselves from their indolent, slightly apathetic superiority complex and when pushed, often fall over. And aren’t Arsenal amazing? I mean, Alexis Sanchez is the best player in the league, and Wenger was absolutely right to stick with Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud and bring in David Ospina; the man is a genius. And Santi’s Cazorla’s not lazy; he’s just been saving himself for the big occasions. Continue reading

Premier League Gameweek 22: 5 things that (may or may not have) happened

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Joe Devine returns to look at 5 things that may or may not have happened over the recent Premier League game week…

1. Liverpool Regain Identity

In the midsts of the celebrations after Liverpool’s jubilant 0-2 win over Aston Villa on Saturday, Brendan Rogers revealed that the club have finally “regained” their identity”. Liverpool fans will be pleased to hear that control of the club has returned to the right hands, though some might be confused as to why they knew nothing of the fraud in the first place. Few details have been revealed as to who may have stolen the Merseyside club’s identity, though early reports are suggesting that North Korea might be involved. Life-long Steven Gerrard fan Kim Jong-Un was rumoured to have offered the Liverpool captain a lucrative offer to coach Pyongyang F.C. The offer was declined and some tabloid journalists have speculated that the recent identity theft might be an act of furious revenge. The broadsheets pooh-pooh this theory, however, and according to The Guardian “£117m worth of average players collected over the summer clearly suggests that this identity theft might well have been going on for longer than most initially imagined”.

2. Wenger Disgusted With Lack of Possession

Despite leaving the Etihad on Sunday with 3 points after their 0-2 victory over Champions Manchester City, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger privately bemoaned his players’ lack of possession and attacking flair. In a dressing room speech in which the Frenchman told his players he’d rather “be a dead donkey than kick a dead donkey”, Arsene Wenger allegedly beat Santi Carzorla furiously around the back of the head before storming out chanting Kant’s Principles of Aesthetic ExcellenceThe False Nine newsroom is reliably informed that “heads will roll” should Arsenal defy their aesthetic responsibilities in the name of winning ever again. Continue reading

Yuletide Hoarding: When Stockpiled Loan Players Embarrass their Parent Clubs

Simon Smith looks at the growing examples of loaned-out players outperforming their parent clubs…

This Christmas I will have to contend with a shocking and unexpected horror when I visit my family for the annual yuletide celebrations. As an Arsenal fan, albeit one who always strives for objectivity in my writing, having a cohort of West Ham fans in the family has on occasion provided me with opportunity for many a laugh at their expense. The Hammers have had their revenge on occasion. They were the first team to win at the Emirates Stadium, and their often pragmatic underperformance in the Premier League is at least easier to deal with than the aneurism inducing heartache of disappointment all Gooners know all too well. But nonetheless I have usually been able to content myself with beating them most of the time and generally being the better club.

Barring a series of favourable results this weekend, I will have to arrive late on Christmas Eve knowing that my beloved Arsenal are lower than West Ham in the table. What’s more, they have done so playing largely eye catching and attractive attacking football, and by getting some of the best out of loan signings Carl Jenkinson and Alex Song.

Song has proved to be something of a coup: if his move to Barcelona seemed a little bizarre, a touch above his pay grade, then it should still be accepted that West Ham is a little below the level that the football community might have expected to drop down to. That shouldn’t be taken as any disrespect to West Ham, especially given their excellent form throughout the season so far, so much as an indication that his status as something of a joke figure in English football was misplaced. Continue reading