5 Painfully Obvious Arsenal Facts Exposed During Aston Villa Loss

The British Premier League kicked off yesterday and for Arsenal fans many of our worst nightmares materialized. A 1-3 home loss

Aston Villa 3 - 1 Arsenal.

Aston Villa 3 – 1 Arsenal.

to Aston Villa left many of those at the Emirates in open revolt against Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.  Many of the problems that Arsenal have been fighting for the last several years reared up again in this game.  Let’s take a look:

1. Inability to hold a lead / no killer instinct? Yep.

Just over five minutes into the game and Arsenal are up 1-0 thanks to some really nice play from Walcott and Giroud. That should have been a cue to put the pressure on and make a statement.  When Man U took a 1-0 lead today against Swansea, the put in another two minutes later and eventually went up 3-0 before winning 4-1. Arsenal however went into half tied 1-1. This seems to be a recurring issue with Arsenal – when does a lead ever feel safe? Not only do we seem unable to get that second quick goal, you always feel like we’ll leak the equalizer at the other end.

2. Lack of focus/desire on defense? Yep.

Too many times it just looks like Arsenal treat defense as something not to be too bothered about. On the first goal, Gaby Agbonlahor bobbed and weaved his way through several Arsenal defenders. Once he did so, several other players decided to become spectators rather than pursue the play. On the second goal, Arsenal gave the ball away easily in midfield. Bad call on the penalty? Yeah, probably, but don’t turn it over like that and the penalty/non-penalty never becomes an issue. Yes, on the third goal Arsenal were pressing hard to get an equalizer, but where was the left back? Did no one have defensive responsibilities on that play?

3. Lots of possession, not much to show for it? Yep.

Arsenal have an abundance of skilled players and as a result often have the bulk of possession. Yesterday was no exception as the Gunners enjoyed 64% of time on the ball. But that possession resulted in only four shots on goal (as compared to Villa’s 6 shots). Would we have taken more shots if Podolski had come on before the 93rd(?!) minute, or if Cazorla had played more than 45 minutes? Probably, but they didn’t, and Arsenal only managed one goal. Either the players on the pitch must simply have a go more often, or the manager needs to come up with a new game plan. Either way, four shots on goal, at home, against mid-table opposition is going to result in a poor result, greater possession or no.

Arsenal player injured? Shocker.

Arsenal player injured? Shocker.

4. Brittle players? Yep.

I don’t watch many games from the other BPL teams, so maybe this is common across the league, but Arsenal players seem to be injured, nicked and bruised an awful lot. Putting aside the players who were unavailable before the game started, during the game Gibbs, Sagna and Oxlade-Chamberlain all seemed to pick up injuries of some degree. Even if none of them miss time, their losses within this game shows the brittleness of our players. It just doesn’t seem to take much to bang our guys around.

5. Lack of squad depth an issue? Yep.

For the last several weeks Arsenal fans have been waiting for the transfers we all thought were coming. Sure, the transfer window is still open, but the games count now. Arteta is out for 4-5 weeks, Vermaelen is also out till mid-September. Monreal missed the first game… I appreciate that Wenger doesn’t want to go out and just pick up any player, especially at an inflated price, but if bringing in players earns the team points on days like today, well then they aren’t over-priced. 16 BPL teams found players worth purchasing this summer, why couldn’t Arsenal?

It’s just one game, but let’s see if this result spurs Wenger to make moves now.

Real Madrid, Manchester United and FC Barcelona: Kingmakers for adidas, Nike, Audi and others

Christiano Ronaldo Real Madrid adidas and Bwin - Top of the charts

Earlier this week I read an interesting post on the 20 Best Known European Football Brands on The UK Sports Network site. The article referenced a Sport+Markt 2009-2010 study of brand recognition among football fans in the top five markets (UK, Germany, Spain, France & Italy). You can read the report yourself here.

I thought it might be interesting to look at this data and try to extrapolate from it which club brands were the most powerful. Unscientific of course, but I wanted to see to what degree being aligned with a specific club (or clubs) is a factor, in addition to sponsoring tournaments like the FIFA World Cup, UEFA Champions League or UEFA European Championships. So, let’s take a look. Here’s the 2009 Delloitte & Touche Money League of clubs* along with the brands listed in the Sport+Markt survey (and the brands ranking in that survey) associated with them:

1. Real Madrid – adidas (1), Coca-Cola (5), Audi (8), bwin (9)

2. Manchester United – Nike (2), AIG (6), Audi (8),

3. FC Barcelona – Nike (2), Audi (8), Unicef (15)

4. Bayern Munich – adidas (1), Coca-Cola (5), Audi (8)

5. Chelsea – adidas (1), Samsung (10), Heineken (20)

6. Arsenal – Nike (2), Emirates (5)

7. Liverpool – adidas (1), Carlsberg (7)

8. AC Milan – adidas (1), bwin (9)

9. AS Roma –

10. Inter Milan – Nike (2)

11. Juventus – Nike (2)

12. Olympique Lyonnais – Umbro (16), Orange (18)

13. Schalke 04 – adidas (1)

14. Tottenham Hotspur – Puma (3), Carlsberg (7)

15. Hamburger SV – adidas (1), Emirates (5)

16. Olympique Marseille – adidas (1), Orange (18)

17. Newcastle United – adidas (1)

18. VfB Stuttgart – Puma (3), Coca-Cola (4)

19. Fenerbahce – adidas (1), Audi (8)

20. Manchester City – Umbro (16)

*I looked for the list of official club sponsors on official team websites as of February 2010.

Who from the Sport+Markt list weren’t represented by a club from the Delloitte & Touche Money League clubs?

11. Reebok

12. Opel (Read this Sport Business story from 2001 calling them the ‘most successful shirt sponsor’)

13. Vodafone

14. Ford – Champions League

17. MasterCard – Champions League

19. Sony – Champions League

Wayne Rooney, Manchester United, Nike and AIG - winners (ok, not AIG)

So, the two odd men out appear to be Reebok and Vodafone. Now, Vodafone is a massive sponsor of sport and had a run with ManU a while back from which they may still be seeing a halo effect. Reebok sponsors Ryan Giggs (ManU), Thierry Henry & Iker Casillas (Barca) and formally kitted out Liverpool and Man City. AS Roma are the only club in the top 20 not aligned with a big sponsor.

I think a big winner here may be Audi. Not a name I immediately associated with big time European football, I was surprised to see them so high. But they have a variety of partnerships with leading clubs, allowing them to also create the Audi Cup in July 2009, which featured ManU, Bayern Munich and AC Milan along with Boca Juniors of Argentina. I don’t think they’ve spent the same type of money as some of the other top 10 brands, bet I suspect they are reaping rewards from their associations.  Look too for Umbro to move up the charts if the English National Team can make a run in the 2010 FIFA World Cup this summer.

Two Notes:

#1 – This post uses last year’s Delloite & Touche Money League information. The new league table just came out yesterday I believe, with very little difference. Just wanted you to know I saw it.

#2 Much more importantly, this post can also be found over at The UK Sports Network, a group I am pleased to now be writing for. Well worth checking them out if you have any interest in global sports.

The (Sports Marketing) World Is Flat: The Arsenal Brand

In addition to my job at Taylor, I’m also the founder of Arsenal America, the official supporters club in the U.S. for Arsenal FC. Occasionally I can combine these two passions, and one such occasion was my interview with John and Matt Simmons, lifelong Arsenal fans who together wrote Winning Together: The Story of the Arsenal Brand. This interview, originally published in April 2006 when the book came out, seemed worth reprinting here now that the English Premier League season has got underway:

Up the Arse!

Arsenal: A club with a solid brand heritage

Many people don’t like to talk about the commercial aspects of the game. Like frightened ostriches they shove their heads in the sand, recalling the ‘good old days’ when fans were smashed into pens, blacks weren’t allowed to play and getting piss drunk and in a bust up was considered a good afternoon. Fortunately most Arsenal Americans live in the 21st century and understand the era in which we live and follow the Arsenal. Recently John and Matt Simmons, a father-son Gooner pair wrote a book entitled “Winning together: the story of the Arsenal brand” (you can get it here). It’s an intelligent look at the game today and how Arsenal are ‘playing’ off the field. It reveals that in fact Arsenal supporters have much to be proud of. I recently caught up with John and Matt and they were kind enough to answer my question regarding Arsenal FC, U.S. fans and their book…

Rick Liebling: You talk about Brand Identity in your book, and I think it is a great point. It is something that has been lost here in the States as teams, especially new ones, try to be all things to all people. I think fans play a critical role here – what can fans do to shape the identity of a team (brand), and should a club embrace fans more in this area?

J. & M. Simmons: Brand identity is not something you hear discussed a lot in football, but it has always been there. It goes with obvious things like the team colors and crests, but is more deep-rooted than that as it’s based on our perceptions of what the brand/team stands for. We set out what we believe these values are in the case of the Arsenal, but we argue that the values are based on the reality and tradition that have built up over many years. And those values are the bedrock of the brand identity. They’re not a marketing concoction, although you can use marketing to make them even more powerful. But Jeff Bezos of Amazon says “a brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”, so the brand’s real identity in the case of Arsenal is in the minds of fans.

But fear of loss of identity is a very real one for fans “over here” [the UK]. Identity and location have always been closely linked for most fans – which is why the infamous case of the MK Dons (previously Wimbledon FC) so shocked and scared people. Of course, the MK Dons were following the lead of American sports, where several established franchises have been re-located in more welcoming (or profitable!) cities.

The fear for Arsenal fans was that we would go down this road. We’re sure we would never have relocated to another city altogether (I think even the English FA would have said no to that), but we could easily have found ourselves playing 20 miles outside London in a soul-less new development by the side of a motorway. For us, and many other ‘local’ Arsenal fans, this would have been a massive blow to our sense of identity. It might not have been such a big issue for our foreign fans, or even our many fans from around the rest of the UK.

When it comes to shaping the identity of a club it is the local fans who will inevitably play a larger role, if for no other reason than it is very hard to consistently influence people from thousands of miles away. This said, at a big club like Arsenal it is hard for even local fans to directly influence the club’s identity. Manchester United fans have found this to their cost recently in their losing battle with the Glazers. United fans now have two choices: pay up and shut up (accepting that the club’s identity is no longer their own) or go and support FC United instead (the ‘real’ United, established by fans and currently playing way down the league pyramid).

In this respect fans of small clubs are luckier – with the recent proliferation of supporter’s trusts, many of whom now have a seat on their club’s boards, more and more fans are able to directly engage with their clubs. This is something that should be happening at every club. At the moment it only happens when clubs are in desperate trouble, and need their supporter’s money!

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Eyecube Buzz9 for August 4: Sports-related topics I’m buzzing about

Eyecube Buzz9: Sports-related topics I’m buzzing about:

1. Beijing Olympics: Check out the NY Times PLAY Magazine.

2. The NFL is back.

Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly - US Women's Soccer Heroes

Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly - US Women's Soccer Heroes

3. Let it Out: The Movie. (Disclosure1: I work for the PR firm behind this endeavor. Disclosure2: You will need a Kleenex when watching, it is emotional).

4. Pre-season tournaments mean we’re getting close to the start of the EPL season.

5. America Held Hostage Day 25: The Brett Favre Saga.



6. MLB – Post Trade Deadline: Manny being Manny.

7. Big win at the Hungarian Grand Prix for McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen.

8. X-Games gets off to a hot start.

9. U.S. Open Tennis to miss Sharapova.

 On the horizon: Madden 09. Little League World Series.

In the rearview mirror: Competitive Eating Contests.

Eyecube Buzz9 will appear on Monday.

Time to Start Thinking About Football

As the calendar flips to August, we can start to think about football again. Real football, the kind played with, you know, your foot.

And what better way than to relive one of the greatest moments in English football history. Courtesy of Nike (Wieden+Kennedy London).

The (Sports Marketing) World is Flat: Basketball & Soccer

The Sports Economist points to an article in the New York Times talking about foreign-born NBA players and their backgrounds growing up playing soccer in places like Canada, Brazil and Europe.

As a big fan of Arsenal, I’ve seen a lot of the basketball – soccer overlap. Spike Lee, a big hoops fan, has been wearing soccer jerseys for a while (I’ve seen or heard of him wearing Brazil, Arsenal & Inter Milan). The Arsenal team from several years ago were all big hoops fans, led by Patrick Vieira, Kanu and Thierry Henry, who is good friends with the Spurs’ Tony Parker.

With the global popularity of the two sports, it’s interesting that teams or leagues haven’t tried to work partnerships. Maybe we’ll see that in the future.