Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “You can criticise me and say I’m a bad manager. I’d never come back to you on that. But I think when you work like that, you will never find any story about me that I’ve taken money anywhere, or things like that. When you criticise (about being too far behind) on that then it is true. I can only say I am sorry, you are right, we are far too far away from Manchester United. We are of course criticised for that. But we are not the only ones. Some clubs have invested more money than us for years and they are behind as well. We accept that kind of criticism. I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am 30 years in this job and if I was paranoid you would know it already. I just think that when I worked for 16 years in the country I expect a certain respect. You can criticise me and say I am doing a bad job, but manipulative things, when they are wrong, I don’t accept.” – Arsene Wenger.
Runner-up: “Sometimes you can say it is boring being in goal. The secret is we defend really well as a team. We close down the spaces really well and you can see it for yourself, we have conceded only seven goals in the Bundesliga all season.” – Manuel Neuer.
Has Arsene Wenger lost the plot?
Arsène Wenger defends Arsenal’s chances in mix of anger and passion (Daniel Taylor, Guardian) There was a moment, early in what possibly ranks as the spikiest press conference of Arsène Wenger’s 16 years at Arsenal, when he turned his head sharp-left, fixed his eyes on an unwitting member of his audience and it started to become apparent this was not going to be any ordinary event. He was almost grey with anger. “Why do you look at me?” he wanted to know. That was in the broadcast section but it was when the television cameras moved away that he properly let out all that pent-up frustration and we saw Wenger in a way that nobody in that room had witnessed before. It was a mix of anger, defiance and confrontation and it is just a shame, perhaps, that not all of his players can show the same passion. If he could bottle it and pass it to his team before their game against Bayern Munich, then maybe it will not be the ordeal that so many anticipate.
Wenger’s ire won’t halt looming day of reckoning for prolonged failure (James Lawton, Independent) There is no kindly way of putting it because Arsène Wenger has been among the greatest and most passionate of football men and you simply cannot patronise such a figure. You cannot assail with your workday version of life’s realities a man who won so gloriously and so often reminded us that as long as the game was played his way, with his values, it would always be uplifting and worthwhile. You cannot find any easy cover while suggesting it is time for him to find his own route to the door because what you are saying is that something he had, uniquely, has gone beyond recall.
Wenger made mistake… but players owe him (Ian Wright, Sun) Arsene Wenger must be regretting the time he claimed finishing fourth in the Premier League is like winning a trophy. It is not. My former manager approaches tonight’s clash with Bayern Munich under unbelievable pressure and I hope the Arsenal players he has shown such faith in are aware of this. It’s time they repaid Wenger with a massive performance. But Wenger has once again made life incredibly difficult for himself by not fielding his strongest team against Blackburn in the FA Cup on Saturday, with the result an embarrassing defeat. Another one. Wenger made a big mistake by not making the FA Cup his top priority. This means the Champions League is Wenger’s final chance of winning a first trophy in eight years.
Arsène Wenger needs heroes like Patrick Vieira to emerge at the Emirates (Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph) Arsenal have never replaced Vieira’s energy and ball-winning in their midfield nor his ferocious will-to-win. Arsène Wenger has brought in graceful ball-users but insufficient gritty winners. They’ve lost that winning feeling. Arsenal can field some robust competitors, bold souls such as Jack Wilshere while Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain mature promisingly, but the painful reality for those whose lives revolve around events off the Holloway Road is that their beloved club lacks leaders on and off the pitch. Nothing new. They miss Vieira. They miss David Dein. Laments frequently expressed in recent years resound ever louder this season. Where have all the Vieiras gone? Arsenal have become a selling club, developing talents to go off and win prizes at Manchester City, Barcelona and (soon) Manchester United. A culture of submissiveness has led to defeats by Bradford City and Blackburn Rovers in the cups.
No consequences: The truth is Wenger is not under pressure at Arsenal.. and that’s precisely the problem (Matt Law, Daily Mirror) Arsene Wenger is not under any pressure. Those seven words sum up exactly what is wrong at Arsenal. The manager is not under pressure, the players are not under pressure, the chief executive is not under pressure and the owner most certainly isn’t under pressure. In fact, nobody at Arsenal is under any pressure. They might tell you they are, but they can’t be really because there are never any consequences. Wenger is one of the highest-paid managers, Ivan Gazidis is the highest-paid chief executive and Andrey Arshavin must be one of the top-earning reserves in the country. Stan Kroenke charges some of the highest prices and doesn’t even feel the need to go to games. He can stay away and watch the money roll in.
Arsenal v Bayern Munich
Can Arsenal breach rock-solid Bayern? Self assured Neuer and Schweinsteiger gunning for first blood in Emirates leg (Mike Dickson, Daily Mail) Munich ‘s famous Christmas Market was in full swing when the city’s flagship football team last conceded a goal, way back on December 14. And you have to think back to last orders at Oktoberfest, on the 28th of that boozy month, to find the previous time they lost a match, their solitary defeat in the German league this season, against Bayer Leverkusen. So, 67 days and counting with a clean sheet and 15 points ahead of their nearest opposition in the league, no wonder they rolled into London on Monday with a Bavarian swagger ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League match against troubled Arsenal.
Bayern Munich, the superpower with a liking for soap operas, hits town (David Hytner, Guardian) There is the unmistakable feeling that many English fans do not fully comprehend the scale of Bayern. When the continental giants are considered, it is two from Spain and three from Italy that spring to mind before anyone from Germany. Yet Bayern is the club whose elite status is underlined by their four European Cups, their commercial pre-eminence and their massive fan base. They ought to have had more titles at Europe’s most rarified level. The romance that clings to United’s last-gasp 1999 Champions League final victory over the Germans obscures the reality that it was a brutally unlucky result for Bayern, while the midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger tells the story of how Chelsea were apologetic en route to beating them in the final last time out.
Jack Wilshere’s burst of pace for may catch Germans on the back foot (Alan Smith, Daily Telegraph) As proved against Blackburn when Wilshere was not there, it is the midfielder’s drive that makes a difference. It is that burst of acceleration over a few yards, that ability to commit opponents with a powerful surge before releasing the pass at the right time; either that or forcing his man to give away a foul. In this respect, Javi Martínez has a real job on his hands on Tuesday night. Working alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, the imposing Spaniard will have to move his feet quickly when Wilshere makes his move. Martínez is a very talented player who, through good positioning, can spot danger and snuff it out. That said, it will be interesting to see how he copes when faced with an onrushing Wilshere. For someone quite tall, Martínez may not be the most agile when it comes to twisting.
Manchester United reach the FA Cup quarter-finals
Battle Royal: Why Reading boss’ priority is Premier League survival not FA Cup romance (David Anderson, Daily Mirror) McDermott was true to his word and Reading gave their all, bucking the trend of so many visiting teams who come here and lie down. Noel Hunt epitomised their spirit and despite a couple of trips to the touchline to patch up a cut to his head suffered in a clash with Nemanja Vidic, he chased every lost cause. Adam Le Fondre, who comes from a family of United nuts, relished his rare start at Old Trafford and he tested David De Gea with a couple of shots. Adam Federici made a couple of fine saves from Ashley Young, Nani and Anderson to show he was also up for the fight. It was a wholehearted display from Reading before their resolve was broken in the final quarter and demonstrates they love to scrap as much as McDermott professes to love the Cup.
Manchester United 2 Reading 1: match report (Mark Ogden, Daily Telegraph) Sir Alex Ferguson knows all about the value of a good substitute and if Manchester United win another Treble this season, he might just add Nani to his list of crucial game-changers. Deemed to be surplus to requirements when Ferguson named his eighteen man squad against Real Madrid last week, Nani may not even be at Old Trafford next season following Wilfried Zaha’s January capture from Crystal Palace. But after replacing the injured Phil Jones three minutes before half-time, the Portuguese winger scored one and made the other as United overcame a resilient Reading to secure an FA Cup quarter-final at home to either Middlesbrough or Chelsea.
Manchester City move for Neymar
City strike for Neymar! Champions make move in race to land £55m-rated Brazilian (Charles Sale, Daily Mail) Manchester City, the club with the biggest spending power in the Barclays Premier League, have made the first move in the race to sign Brazil star Neymar. City’s top two executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain are said to have held initial talks with Neymar’s family and his representatives in a box at Wembley on the night of England’s friendly against Brazil on February 6. Chief executive Soriano and director of football Begiristain were guests of the FA in the VIP Wembley suite for the 150th anniversary match. But the pair went to the trouble of visiting the IMG hospitality box – located on the other side of the stadium – in order to make contact with the Neymar camp and were spotted during their half-circuit of the corporate areas. Sports management giants IMG are understood to have been entertaining Neymar’s father Neymar da Silva and the £55m-rated player’s marketing team from IMX Talent. The company is a joint venture with IMG to exploit sports business opportunities in Brazil.
Dzeko heading to Dortmund
Dzeko set to cut and run (Antony Kastrinakis, Sun) Edin Dzeko is willing to take a pay cut to seal a £20million summer move to Borussia Dortmund. Dzeko, 26, is thought to earn around £120,000 a week at Manchester City. But the striker has become increasingly frustrated at not getting a consistent run in the first team. And the German champs believe the Bosnian will jump at the chance to join Dortmund where he will be the main man. The 26-year-old joined City in a £27million switch from Wolfsburg two years ago.
BT try and lure Rio to be a pundit
Career change for Rio? BT Sport target Ferdinand as big-name TV pundit (Charles Sale, Daily Mail) Rio Ferdinand, whose Manchester United contract expires at the end of the season, has been offered the opportunity to become BT Sport’s main football pundit. The TV network want a marquee football name as their leading analyst after paying £738million for the rights to 38 Premier League games in each of the next three seasons, and Ferdinand would be their first choice if he decides to retire. Ferdinand, who is heavily involved in a number of his own media projects, is understood to have other broadcasting offers too. But the central defender, 34, is still a first choice for United manager Sir Alex Ferguson – if not England – when fit.
Di Canio resigns at Swindon
Paolo Di Canio resigns as Swindon manager over ‘broken promises’ (Press Association) Paolo Di Canio has resigned as manager of the League One side Swindon Town. In a statement the fiery Italian cited “a number of broken promises” and claimed his position had “become untenable” with continuing uncertainty over the club’s ownership. The former West Ham forward claimed he had tendered his resignation last Tuesday but had met the club’s prospective new owner on Friday. As a result of those discussions, Di Canio revealed he agreed to stay on as manager, only to make another U-turn with this announcement as a takeover had yet to be rubber-stamped.