PFA Player of the Year nominations and David Luiz

Firstly I’m going to start off by giving a shout out to David Luiz. It is not your fault that PSG decided to fork out a monumentally stupid sum of money on you, man. It meant Jose Mourinho and Chelsea were laughing their way to the bank, €50 million wasn’t it? Even so, when Luiz has a defensive rock like John Terry or Thiago Silva next to him he has the heart of a roaring lion, it goes with his permy mane of hair that envelops his cranium, a cranium where defensive knowledge and solidity doesn’t seem to inhabit. Now I like Luiz, I think he’s a good footballer but defensively he can be so slack. With Germany, Luis Suarez and Barcelona being the most notable beneficiaries of such mistakes. Suarez loves a nutmeg on the poor guy doesn’t he?

Now onto the real business; PFA Player of the Year nominations, and here’s my take on them:

Diego Costa – Chelsea

The Spaniard arrived at Stamford Bridge at the start of the season with a rough reputation and equally as high expectations. But his goalscoring exploits and all-round play have more than justified the hefty price that Chelsea paid for him. His strong and robust style of play have helped the Brazilian-born frontman in the Premier League with a lot of opposition players also trying to get under his skin, but Costa has risen above any negativity drawn towards him and scored goals for his new club.

His great start to the season saw him combine with fellow new signing Cesc Fabregas to devastating effect. He scored seven goals in his first four games and now currently stands on 18 in 22 in the league, which looks set to have contributed to firing Chelsea to their first league title since 2010.

Harry Kane – Tottenham Hotspur

21-year-old Kane has had an incredible breakthrough season in his first full season in the Tottenham first-team. He was initially restricted to cup and Europa League games but his good goalscoring form saw him usurp Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor and demand a place in Spurs starting 11 where his rise to prominence has been a shining light in a mediocre season for Tottenham. 

He is currently the joint-top goalscorer in the Premier League with 20 goals and he became the first Spurs player to get 30 goals in a season in all competitions since Gary Linekar in 1991-92. His fine form was recognised with a call-up to the senior England national team where he scored on his debut after 79 seconds of being on the pitch after coming on as a substitute.

Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal

The Chilean winger joined from Barcelona in the summer for a fee of £35million, making him Arsenal’s second most expensive signing ever. After being a consistently good player for Barcelona and Chile (especially during the World Cup) there were initial doubts as to whether Sanchez could adapt to the Premier League but he quickly dispelled any doubts by producing moments and goals of class and ingenuity for Arsenal consistently over the course of the season.

Sanchez’s work-rate and determination are just as vital in his repertoire as his South American flair.  It is these traits which have endeared him to Arsenal fans just as much as his 22 goals in 45 games in all competitions this season. 

Eden Hazard – Chelsea

Personally, I think Hazard is the favourite for the Player of the Year crown and it’s a long-time coming as it’s the second time in a row he has been nominated. He is the current holder of the PFA Young Player of the Year award and has been the main component in Chelsea’s title chase.

He’s a vital part in the fluid attacking unit that Chelsea possess with his brilliant dribbling skills, balance and touch which have helped him wreak havoc among defences this season. He has scored 18 goals in 45 appearances in all competitions this season as well as laying on heaps of assists for his Chelsea team-mates. In my opinion he has consistently been the best and most exciting player in the Premier League this season and him winning Player of the Year would be a just reward for his efforts.

David De Gea – Manchester United

The Spaniard used to be a scapegoat for Man United’s failings but his talent and potential was never in doubt. After a bad start to his career in England he is now regarded as one of the best goalkeepers not just in the Premier League but in the world.

The Red Devils had a poor start to the season by their high standards and many fans were rightfully frustrated with the team. Even when they did manage to win fans were still disappointed with their play, one player they were never disappointed with was De Gea. He has produced countless match-winning saves and on occasion looked unbeatable between the sticks and is one of the main reasons why United sit so pretty where their early and mid-season form suggested they wouldn’t be so well off.

Phillipe Coutinho – Liverpool

The 22-year-old playmaker has been a controversial inclusion in the shortlist but he is in the shortlist nonetheless and there are obvious reasons as to why. He has been a standout member of the Liverpool team this season producing brilliant goals and moments while consistently playing well to help their push for a coveted Champions League spot.

Countinho’s pace, vision and dribbling skills have allowed him to influence games like no other Liverpool player has been able to do. He has produced important goals in big games and has really stepped up in the eyes of not just Liverpool fans but his Premier League peers as well, which despite the disagreements as to whether he should be in the shortlist or not, justifies his inclusion.

23 reasons why I love Arsenal

Recently I posted 23 reasons why Arsenal upset me. I thought I would balance out the scales a little bit and give you 23 reasons why I love Arsenal. I said this would happen after something more positive had happened in the season; what better way to light the fuse than knocking Man a united out of the FA Cup at Old Trafford with Danny Welbeck scoring the winner and winning in Monaco? Albeit in vein.

Here’s my 23 reasons!

1) History

It is a matter of fact that Arsenal are the third most successful team in English footballing history, behind Manchester United and Liverpool who have a richer history than John D. Rockefeller. Arsenal boast a wealth of excellent achievements in their past; three league and cup doubles, the Invincibles, the players who Arsenal have had play for them, Herbert Chapman, Highbury. Arsenal are a team who have a lot to be proud of in both their history and their traditions.

Arsenal have a trophy-haul which boasts 13 league titles, a joint-record 11 FA Cups, two League Cups, 13 Community Shields, one European Cup Winners’ Cup and one Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (European competition, abolished in 1971 but we still won it, okay?). The Emirates Stadium has a trophy room which isn’t exactly heaving but overall, Arsenal’s trophy room is the third largest in England so overall, we make a good name for ourselves.

2) Arsene Wenger

The Frenchman is all I’ve ever known at Arsenal. Taking over in 1996 when I was four to the cries of “Arsene Who?” He quickly made a name for himself as he won the league and cup double in just his second season. Wenger has had so much longevity that Arsenal have changed stadiums in my lifetime but not managers, this shows not just the longevity of Wenger but the loyalty, which you will read about round about…

.. Now. 

Wenger had offers to go to pastures new with Real Madrid, PSG, France and Barcelona among others. Clubs who had the money and the players that Wenger could use as he pleased and dominate European football along the way, but Wenger had a plan and project at Arsenal which he is determined to finish. Whoever takes over after Wenger has left (or retired) will be envied as he inherits what will be a good squad, no debt and a big stadium. All put into his hands by Mr Wenger.

Another reason why you have to love Wenger is because of his impact not just on Arsenal but English football. Not only did he develop his own style of play and philosophy which became synonymous with his team, but he also changed diets of players and stressed the importance of nutrition by bringing in dieticians managing to get the very best of his players and their bodies. He is given credit for helping to revolutionise training and diets in the highest level in English football.

3) The Invincibles

What a brilliant time this was to be alive. Arsenal went the whole league campaign unbeaten, the first time since Preston had gone the whole league season unbeaten in 1889. The thing which made Arsenal’s achievement even better was the fact that Preston only had to play 22 games, whereas Arsenal had to go 38. Won 26, drew 12, lost 0.

The following season, Arsenal stretched their unbeaten record to 49 games when they ultimately succumbed to a controversial loss against Manchester United at Old Trafford, but history had been made already. Arsenal went unbeaten in the league from May 2003 to October 2004, an amazing achievement in anyones eyes.

Arsene Wenger predicted that Arsenal could go a season unbeaten but was a season too early in his predictions, making himself look foolish at the time. But Le Professeur had the last laugh when his team led by the likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires went on to become arguably the greatest team ever assembled to play in the top flight. 

4) Firsts

Arsenal are a team of firsts; first team to go a whole 38-game season unbeaten, first English team to beat Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalonstadion, first English team to beat Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, first English team to beat Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, first English team to beats AC & Inter Milan at the San Siro. Arsenal’s pedigree in not just the league but also the Champions League is of an enviable stature to most clubs in the country.

5) Thierry Henry

This man gets his own spot. My favourite player ever to grace a football pitch, let alone the Premier League or an Arsenal shirt. The Frenchman was a player that opposition fans couldn’t hate because he was simply that good. Pundits, fans, managers and other professionals will also argue that Henry was the greatest player ever to play in the Premier League, and he was ours!

228 goals in 376 games for the club meant he went down in history as not only the clubs top scorer but he was voted the clubs greatest ever player. The fact I got to watch him in my lifetime is something I am immensely happy that I have seen.

He went from promising striker to failed winger to deadliest striker in the world in the matter of five years and under Wenger’s tutelage he became a legend both for Arsenal and English football. Two Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two Community Shields in his spell at the club. Ladies and gentlemen, Thierry Henry.

6) Alexis Sanchez

From the best player of the clubs past, to the best player in the clubs current squad. I haven’t been so excited or happy that we have a player in Arsenal’s team since the aforementioned Henry and Sanchez is a player who demands the best from himself week in, week out.

His attitude is second-to-none, if he loses the ball he will chase back and try to win it back which is the attitude our entire squad needs to take up, which some have in recent weeks/months. 

His endearing mix of power, skill and heart has made the Chilean winger an instant hit with Arsenal fans and with 19 goals in 40 games so far in his first season he is up for the signing of the season award as well as breaking records held by Henry if he carries on in the same vein of form.

7) Faith

I mentioned in my previous 23 reasons why Arsenal upset me post that Wenger put his faith in deadwood and an all too familiar story was brewing that players weren’t quite what was expected of them, but Wenger has produced world class players time and time again through just having faith in them when signing them, or alternatively, when they have come through being a youngster.

Cesc Fabregas, Jack Wilshere and Ashley Cole, to name a few, were players that came through the ranks as youngsters and Wenger backed them. Pires, Henry, Vieira and Robin Van Persie (again, to name a few) were all players who came to Arsenal with wavering reputations that Wenger backed and he bore the fruit of their talents through all of them becoming world-class players.

As a player if everyone is against you, you need to have the backing of someone and Wenger put faith in them even at their worst, which is why he was able to get the best out of the majority of players he has worked with. It can take one person to turn your confidence, and who better than the boss who delegates when you play? 

8) Star Players

A couple of which I have previously mentioned, but Arsenal’s past (and present, sort of) has a plethora of established international players and world class footballers. From players in the past like Liam Brady and Kenny Sansom, to Henry and Bergkamp to the current squad in Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, Arsenal have always boasted world class players in their prime who have made a difference at the club.

9) Emirates Stadium

The Emirates Stadium is the second biggest club stadium in England with a capacity of just over 60,000. The seats are designed to give maximum comfort to everyone inside and there is not a bad seat in the house in terms of view. The design of the stadium and everything behind the scenes has been built with the specific purpose of giving Arsenal the edge over opposition both pre and post-match.

The truth is that The Emirates is just starting to feel like home, after the move in summer of 2006 Arsenal had a good home record and things were starting to fall into place but there was always something missing. Now that Arsenal have settled the debt to the stadium, claimed their first piece of silverware since the move and completed the “Arsenalisation” of the stadium things can really begin to take off. 

We should be proud of the stadium and start to make more effort to make teams fear going there – make noise, don’t leave before 90 minutes and please, please, please.. NO empty seats.

10) The 10 Year Plan

 A sturdy economic plan which would be stuck to and seen out until the clubs debt had been wiped out. In today’s game usually that would mean a Sheikh or Russian billionaire taking over, but not for Arsenal. With his masters degree in economics and the backing of the board, Wenger would draw up the blueprints for our clubs future which would consist of the 10 year plan, not spending over the odds on wages or transfers, consistently bringing in money and maintaining their stature challenging for trophies and being in the Champions League while being a self-sustained modern club, a truly rare spectacle among the top teams.

The trophyless period was unfortunate , but it was also a time of transition. Arsenal had just lost the greatest team in their history due to moving on, old age etc, but under Wenger it has been as predicted, a success. Deals with Puma, Fly Emirates and other smaller commercial benefactors as well as increased ticket and merchandising sales since the move have meant in falling back behind other competitors in terms of on the field success and trophies, they have propelled themselves ahead of their rivals in terms of revenue and self-sustainability. Which was exactly the point.

11) New Finance

Touched upon in the last point, they go hand-in-hand. Arsenal’s new found finance in the last couple of seasons has seen them be able to spend big on Ozil (£42million) and Sanchez (£35million), which Arsenal fans were crying out for, we wanted marquee signings and we got them. 

We had to see the pain of selling big players; Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure all left for a minimum of £15million each and that was to see the 10 year plan through. Now Arsenal are reaping the rewards as they are able to spend more freely due to having no debt, and no debt means no worries. 

Arsenal were able to record £301.9million turnover from 2014 alone. Driven by improved broadcasting income, commercial deals and FA Cup success this can be only a foundation for things to come. In 2014 Forbes estimated the club as the fifth most valuable association football club in the world, with the value at over £1.3billion.

12) Champions League

Yes, Arsenal have never won the Champions League. Yes, I still cry about that night in Paris in 2006. But Arsenal have consistently been in the competition, delighting us with epic European nights (and upsetting us) for 17 consecutive seasons, a feat only surpassed by Real Madrid and Manchester United.

We have had the revenue which Champions League football brings, as well as the type of player it attracts when it comes to signings for that entire period – sometimes it’s like we’re spoilt when we complain that we’ve only got in the Champions League. Yes, we’re used to challenging but we consistently are seen as one of the top teams in Europe, a major footballing power and it’s something we take for granted.

We also hold the record for most consecutive clean sheets in the competition with ten, so it’s not as if we’ve only been there making up the numbers this whole time.

13) Never had debt problems

Arsenal have never been a team with major debt problems. So it’s a good basis to becoming a self-sustainable club right? Before the signing of Ozil, Arsenal’s biggest spend on a single player was Andrey Arshavin at £15million, which is a relatively small fee compared to other clubs at the time. The wages were never astronomical so Arsenal were always spending within their limits.

The move to The Emirates did produce a debt of £370million but Arsenal adjusted accordingly, balanced the books and now with the debt wiped off things continue to look up for the Arsenal accounting team.

14) Pre-season hope

Because what is better than false hope, right? It is hope nonetheless after all and without hope you can’t create a dream. Arsenal will always do well in pre-season with fringe players and younger players having a promising campaign, signings made and Wenger’s usual words of optimism. It always gives you a nice little warm fuzzy feeling doesn’t it? Which is usually eradicated by February, but we have the hope nonetheless.

15) “Arsenal goal”

This term was used whenever a team would score a goal with multiple team members getting involved in a team move, or a fast-paced counter-attack. This term was used because of Arsenal’s fast flowing attacking play which is a philosophy brought in by Wenger which has brought the manager and his teams a lot of plaudits.

Goals in recent seasons from Jack Wilshere (vs Norwich) and Olivier Giroud (vs West Ham) have rekindled the type of play which Arsenal were renowned for, I just hope it can continue and lead to more silverware on a regular basis!

16) Good Squad

The fact is this probably the best squad we’ve had since 2007/2008, and it certainly has a lot more depth than that squad did! The fact is that every single member of the Arsenal first team is an established international and all back-up and rotational members are still of good enough calibre to be good replacements. Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin have come into the squad as replacements and staked claims to make their spots their own.

For the first time in years Arsenal have multiple good options in every position and that is going to be an excellent advantage going into this summers transfer market with only a couple of players needing to come in.

17) Club Stature

Eluded to earlier. Arsenal are the third most successful club in English footballing history. The only team ever to go 49 league games unbeaten, joint record FA Cup winners with 13 league titles too and a fan base of over 100 million supporters – making them the third lost supported team in the world. Yes, we have faltered since our dominant period but we are still regarded as one of the biggest clubs in the world, something we should be extremely proud of.

We have one of the best records in the top flight, having accumulated the second most wins and the second most points and We would be placed first in an aggregated league of the entire 20th century. 

18) No-one can say we’re glory hunters

After a nine-year trophy drought no-one in their right mind can say we’re glory hunters.

19) Three League and Cup doubles

Arsenal have the joint-most league and cup doubles with Manchester United with three each. We are one of two to achieve it in the 20th century and one of two to achieve it in the 21st century. We are the only team to achieve it in two different centuries. Arsene Wenger is responsible for two of the doubles which Arsenal have won and he won his first in just his second season in charge of the team.

20) Highbury

It was unfortunate that Arsenal had to move away from Highbury but for the clubs future it was the best thing to do, but the history ingrained at the old stadium is one we can be proud to carry over to The Emirates. Parts of Highbury have been reinstalled at The Emirates Stadium as part of the “Arsenalisation” of the stadium – the clock which has been at Arsenal since 1930 was repositioned on the south stand. The marble halls were reinstalled along with the bust of Herbert Chapman.

Arsenal were at the old stadium for 93 years and it would have been lovely in the final season to bring the Champions League as a curtain call but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way, but the history that Highbury holds is no doubt a huge part of Arsenal Football Club.

Highbury has now been developed as a residential development known as Highbury Square with parts of the East and West stands being incorporated due to their listed status.

21) At least we’re not Tottenham

Imagine a club moving from South London onto your doorstep in North London and building a richer history and greater stature than you. Congratulations, you are now Tottenham.

No matter how bad a season goes for Arsenal, you can almost guarantee that a season has gone worse for Tottenham. Tottenham haven’t finished above Arsenal since 1995 and it’s starting to annoy them somewhat, even coming to within a matter of goal difference a couple of times since. Arsenal also hold the cards in terms of results with Arsenal winning 77 ties and Tottenham winning 55. So there you go, we could have it worse.

22) English core

Now I don’t feel that an English core is key, but I do feel that having a core of a particular nationality is vital for communication and harmony in a dressing room. The English core is able to give the media what they want and keep the critics quiet but with Aesenal’s core of English players there really is an excitement that follows the talent on show. 

Gibbs, Chambers, Wilshere, Welbeck, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain are all extremely talented players and with the oldest being Theo Walcott at just 26 years old, you can’t help but feel that as this squad gets older they will get closer and ultimately Arsenal will profit when their talent and maturity bears fruit.

23) Nurturing young talent

Arsenal, and more specifically now Wenger, have become renowned for finding young, talented players and nurturing them into something world class.

Henry, Fabregas, Van Persie, Vieira, Nicolas Anelka and Marc Overmars, to name a few, have all come to Arsenal and left after getting success at the club and leaving for fees astronomically bigger than those which they were signed for – a trend which has carried on unfortunately but Wenger’s penchant for finding talent in youngsters is second-to-none.

Top five wingers in the world

Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid

Since the Portuguese winger moved to the Spanish capital he has gone from World Class status to legendary. His goals to games ratio since his then record-breaking £80million move is greater than 1 in 1 standing at 290 goals in 281 games.

Ronaldo is the current Ballon d’Or holder after a historical 2013/2014 season with Real Madrid as he helped fire them to their much anticipated La Decima Champions League title. His scoring record in the Champions League campaign was record-breaking 17 goals in 11 games, making him the competitions top scorer for the second consecutive season, helping take his total number of goals in the season to 67 goals in all competitions – which was the fourth consecutive season he had scored over 50 goals in all competitions.

Ronaldo has been viewed by many players, coaches, pundits and legends as the complete attacker with his pace, strength, fitness, goal scoring ability, his ability to use either foot as well as his aerial prowess. He is also widely regarded as one of the greatest players of his generation and hailed as one of the best players ever.

He has made 604 career club appearances, scoring 413 goals, having played for Sporting CP, Manchester United and Real Madrid. He has also made 118 appearances for the Portuguese National Team, scoring 52 goals and he has been Portugal captain since 2008.

He has won three English Premier League titles, one FA Cup, two English League Cups, one FA Community Shield, two UEFA Champions League titles, two FIFA Club World Cups, one La Liga, two Copa del Rey, one Supercopa de Espana, one UEFA Super Cup and he is also the current holder of the Ballon d’Or.

Neymar – Barcelona

Neymar has been a superstar since the age of 18 when he rose to the attention of Brazil (and the world) by shining consistently for Santos. The skilful winger gained notoriety for his pace, skill and playmaking skills and was linked with Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid before eventually joining Barcelona in 2013.

Since breaking through as Brazil’s next big thing, a lot of pressure was put on the electric wingers shoulder’s but he has consistently shown he is up to the standard for both club and country. He is currently Brazil’s fifth highest goalscorer in their history despite only being 23.

Neymar is one of the first names on the Barcelona team sheet and has forged an excellent understanding with Lionel Messi and new arrival Luis Suarez, making one of the most fearsome attacking trios in world football.

Neymar has made 295 career club appearances, scoring 175 goals. He has played for Santos and Barcelona. He has also made 60 appearances for the Brazilian National Team, scoring 42 goals and being named vice-captain in 2013.

He has won three Campeonato Paulista titles, one Copa do Brasil, one Copa Libertadores, one Recopa Sudamericana, one Supercopa de Espana, three Supercopa de las Americas and one Confederations Cup.

Gareth Bale – Real Madrid

There was a fascinating stat for Bale when he was at Tottenham – he didn’t register a single win in his first 20 games for the club – fast forward to his final couple of seasons at Spurs and he was the reason for a lot of their wins and now he is rivalling Cristiano Ronaldo to be the main man at Real Madrid.

Now I won’t lie, when he first started to shine at Tottenham, I claimed he was over-rated. But he has proven time and time again that I was wrong – whether it be beating full backs for fun, drilling free-kicks in the top corner or lashing a shot into the back of the net. After a PFA Player & Young Player of the Year award, as well as the FWA Player of the Year award and an £86million move to Real Madrid in 2013, I think it’s safe to say he proved me wrong.

Bale’s outstanding attributes have always been his incredible pace, stamina and set piece ability, but when you add into that his efficiency in the final third with his passing and finishing which has consistently improved, you have one of the most lethal wingers in world football – not bad for someone who started out as a full-back.

The Welshman has made 326 career club appearances, scoring 96 goals. He has played for Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid. He has also made 45 appearances for Wales, scoring 14 goals.

Bale has won one UEFA Champions League, one Copa del Rey, one FIFA Club World Cup and one UEFA Super Cup.

Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal

Barcelona’s acquisition of Suarez and the heavy speculation around the time meant that they could afford to let Sanchez go for the right price – and Arsenal certainly came up with the right price at £35million and I’m glad they did, as I’m sure 100% of Arsenal fans are.

Sanchez’s final season in Barcelona was a pointer of things to come as he scored 21 goals in 54 games in all competitions, the best season tally in his career so far.

Sanchez’s style of play which mixes flair, technical skill and a determination which has become synonymous with South American players has become an instant hit at the Emirates, endearing him to team-mates, coaches and fans alike – not to mention his stat of 18 goals in 32 games helping him in his first season so far.

The Chilean forward has made 414 career club appearances so far, scoring 111 goals. He has played for Cobreloa, Colo-Colo, River Plate, Udinese, Barcelona and Arsenal. He has also made 77 appearances for the Chilean national team, scoring 26 goals.

He has won two Chilean league titles, one Argentinian league title, one La Liga title, one Copa del Rey, two Supercopa de Espana titles, one UEFA Super Cup, one FIFA Club World Cup and one FA community Shield.

Eden Hazard – Chelsea

There was a huge transfer saga before the Belgian finally decided to move to Chelsea – and I mean one of the biggest transfer sagas I remember. But Hazard eventually revealed he would be moving to Chelsea and immediately made people question his ability –  by saying:” I hope I don’t become a big-money flop.” But Hazard has proved to be anything but a flop since his £32million move to London. 

Hazard has gone on to be one of the best players in the Premier League consistently since his move from Lille and last season his contribution at Chelsea was recognised as he was named  2013/2014 PFA Young Player of the Year and Chelsea’s Player of the Year.

Hazard’s style of play means he can play as an attacking midfielder or winger. He possesses excellent pace and acceleration which is coupled with his ability to pass or shoot with both feet making him one of the most unpredictable players in the league, meaning he can create goals and score them in abundance.

He has made 341 career club appearances, scoring 94 goals. He has played for Lille and Chelsea. He has also made 53 appearances for Belgium, scoring 6 goals.

He has won one Ligue 1 title, one Coupe de France and one UEFA Europa League.