They think it’s all over?

With John winning the Champions League, and me winning the World Cup, I think we can call that a draw.

Only kidding. John was the clear winner here, and congrats to him.

So, what’s next? Well, I’ve already completed season 11, and will post updates here. After that? I think I’ll continue the save, but probably not post on here very often.

8 Seasons to Glory

As the famous anthem goes:

Die meister,
die besten,
les grandes équipes,
the champions

And Arsenal finish season 2023/24 as all conquering champions.

After Manchester United were dispatched 5-0 on aggregate in the quarter-finals we were given a relatively good draw in Benfica for the semis. It was actually much closer than expected. We won the first leg 3-1 at home and Benfica took an early lead in the Estadio da Luz (which means Stadium of Light but it’s a long way from Sunderland). They then proceeded to pass up two great chances and John van Heulen was at his best to deny them the 2nd goal that would’ve put them through on away goals. A late equaliser from Isaac Adam gave us a 4-2 aggregate win. Then, the final.

Manchester City were our opponents, who had lost to their city rivals in the previous seasons final. After a cagey first half, with few chances, I decided to read the riot act to my players at half-time and it had the desired effect as an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain double and Mathias Simoncelli’s 53rd goal of the season sealed a 3-0 win.

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The Champions League was added to the FA Cup, which we won the week before with a 4-0 win over Everton, the Premier League and the Community Shield to complete a memorable quadruple.

Simoncelli cleaned up at the player of the year awards, winning:

  • FWA Footballer of the Year
  • PFA Player of the Year
  • PFA Young Player of the Year
  • Barclays Team of the Season
  • Barclays Top Goalscorer
  • Arsenal Fans Player of the Season
  • Arsenal Fans Young Player of the Season

And I assume he’s going to win the European Golden Boot as well.

What to do next? Well I’ve enjoyed the save, and the challenge, so I’m going to keep going. My contract is about to expire at Arsenal so I’ll leave the Gunners as there’s not much else to achieve here. I think I’d like to take a smaller team to glory. The dream would be to return to Siena and win Serie A (or even the Champions League?) but right now they have a ‘secure’ manager. I think I may just kick about and see what comes up. Maybe wait for a nice little challenge in Germany as I’ve never managed there before.

The Meaty End of Season 8

As Ronnie safely negotiates the group stages of his first crack at the Champions League I find myself in my 2nd consecutive UCL quarter final. Since my last update our record, in all competitions, reads:

WWWLWWWWDWWWWWWLWWWWW

It’s been a remarkable run that has seen us move 9 points clear at the top of the Premier League although, disappointingly, that second defeat was in the final of the League Cup. Man City got revenge on the 4-0 pumping we gave them in the final last season by deservedly beating us 2-1. I was undefeated since joining Arsenal in the League Cup so it was a shame to lose that record, I was also surprised to learn that Arsenal have only ever won the LC twice in real life. Who knew? I have a chance to rectify the loss as we will play Man City in the FA Cup semi-final.

The league form has been relentless. The run includes victories away to Liverpool (who were 2nd at the time) and away Man Utd and the gap we’ve established, with only 7 games to go, means we can fully concentrate on the Champions League. In the Champions League we dispatched Celta Vigo 6-1 on aggregate and were rewarded with a QF tie against fucking Manchester United.

I’m updating after the first leg which we won 4-0 at home so revenge for last seasons semi-final defeat is definitely on the cards. By the end of this season we’ll have played United 12 times in only 3 seasons, this isn’t Scotland, by the way. The current record stands at:

P10 W6 D1 L3 F14 A7

So that’s where I’m at. Mathias Simoncelli has now scored 46 goals in 37 appearances this season and broken all Arsenal single-season scoring records. I’ve, so far, refused to sign a new contract and I’m likely to leave the Gunners at the end of the season. Hopefully, as a Champions League winner.

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Season 8 – 1st Half

So, another season, another stab at the Champions League. The summer transfer window saw little action. As champions I felt the squad was pretty good with a few ‘wonderkids’ ready to step up and get more game time. Alex Kalisse was the subject of a £105m bid from Atletico Madrid but I see him edging out 33-year-old Aaron Ramsey this season so the bid was rejected and a new contract agreed. Fending off interest from other teams was the biggest challenge of the summer as Isaac Adam, Nathanial Cook, John Moore, Mathias Simoncelli, Lucas Digne, Hector Bellerin and Alain Mbia were all targeted by clubs so we had to renew most of their contracts to keep them. The only major transfer in was 18-year-old wonderkid Andres Guerrero from Cruz Azul for £18.75m. He can play D(C), DM, M (C), ST (C) so is an excellent, and useful, prospect to have in the squad. There were £53m worth of transfers out but mostly talented youngsters you I couldn’t find a place in the squad for.

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The summer also saw me interviewed for the Barcelona job but for the 2nd time in 2 years they decided to go with someone else. It’s beginning to become quite clear that they don’t like the cut of my jib.

Domestic

The season started with another trophy as we retained the Community Shield with a 3-0 win over Liverpool. The league campaign started reasonably well with 6 wins in our first 7 games, our only blot coming in a 2-1 defeat away to Chelsea. The run ended when Newcastle beat us 1-0 but so far they have been our only league defeats of the season.

At one point it looked like the title race  might be much closer than last season with 6 teams separated by just 5 points after about 15 games but it has stretched out a bit in the last few matches. We currently sit a point ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand and Manchester United are a further 4 points back but they have played two less than us due to their participation in the World Club Championship, again. Although not miles back, none of the teams below United have shown the consistency to make a charge in the second half of the season.

In the League Cup we are into our 3rd successive semi-final after a pretty easy run of fixtures that saw us defeat Brighton, Burnley and West Brom. Swansea await us in the semi and we have an FA Cup 3rd round tie against Scunthorpe coming up pretty soon. I’ve yet to get past the 4th round of the FA Cup so hoping to improve that unimpressive run this season.

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Europe

Our Champions League group was one full of narrative as I was drawn alongside my old club, Lazio, and my boyhood heroes, Celtic. Atletico Madrid were the 4th team in what looked like a horror group for Celtic. We made heavy weather of the group and put ourselves in trouble by losing 2 of our first 3 matches. A 3-2 defeat to Lazio and a 2-1 defeat to Atletico, both away, sandwiched a comfortable 3-0 home win over The Bhoys. Although we had a lot of work to do we knew we had Atletico and Lazio at home and that made the difference as we beat them 3-0 and 3-2, respectively. We still had to beat Celtic in the final game to win the group as Lazio and Atletico played in Rome to see who would join us in the last 16. Both ourselves and Atletico won 3-0 to wrap up qualification for the knockout rounds.

Even before the draw was made there were not a lot of potential opponents that would worry us. We couldn’t draw Atletico or Chelsea which basically left Napoli and Borussia Dortmund as the teams to avoid, and avoid them we did as we were drawn to play Celta Vigo. Looking at the draw though the next round is likely to be full of the big boys but, if you want to win the cup with the big ears, that’s who you have to beat.

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Mathias Simoncelli has been the stand out performer so far this season. As I play 1 through the middle I like to have 2 strikers and rotate them as much as possible with, hopefully, a youngster available in emergencies. Unfortunately Andrew Smith got a bad injury on international duty with England and was out for 4 months and Simoncelli has really stepped up. He’s currently on 30 goals from 23 starts with 22 of those coming from only 16 Premier League starts. He’s bang on course to beat Thierry Henry’s league record of 30 goals in a single season. It is also the Arsenal record for goals in a season within the save and it’s still only December. Smith is close to full fitness but he’s really going to struggle to get anywhere near the pitch.

As always I don’t expect much transfer business in January but, again, plenty of our players and attracting interest from the vultures. Shkodran Mustafi, Daigo Miki (he can go if he wants), Lucas Digne, Andres Guerrero, Adrien Silva, Alex Kalisse, and Simoncelli are all wanted by other clubs so I’ll probably spend most of my time renegotiating contracts again.

Can a quadruple be disappointing?

So in the end season 7 finished ended on a high, but not the high I had hoped for. With 7 league games to go we locked together on 70 points with Man Utd with a home game against the Red Devils looming on the last day of the season. At that point we also had a Champions League quarter final against PSG to deal with.

We started with an away trip to Liverpool, easily our most difficult game in the run-in (aside from United, obviously). A decent 1-1 draw at Anfield was made all the better as United drew away to Swansea. I’d rested a fair few players as well with the midweek trip to Paris next up and we got a great 0-0 draw over there. Bournemouth were then dispatched 3-0 and, yet again, United matched our result against Crystal Palace.

The return leg against PSG was surprisingly straight forward as an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain double and a rare goal from Shkodran Mustafi saw us into the Champions League semi-finals. Alongside us in the last four was Man City, Monaco and Man Utd. Of course we got Man Utd. That would mean 3 of our last 5 (hopefully 6) games of the season would be against the Mancunians, we would define each others season.

Back in the league Everton were dispatched 2-0 with United beating Norwich 4-1. Was someone going to blink before the big game on the last day? Yes, and it would be us. An away trip to 17th placed Palace shouldn’t have worried us but the Champions League semi was the following Wednesday so I chose to rest, well, everybody. Laurent Koscielny, who is retiring at the end of the season, even made his first league start of the season. It was a big mistake. Despite taking the lead through wonderkid Conor Ashton after 2 minutes we then crumbled. 2-1 down at half-time we ultimately lost 4-1 and Palace missed a penalty. Had they scored that penalty it would’ve been the worst result of my career, that is currently a 4-0 defeat to Juventus while at Siena. Seems like a long time ago now. Man U didn’t take full advantage though as they drew 0-0 away to Burnley but they did have the upper hand now as a draw in that final game would suit them, previously our greater goal difference was keeping us on top.

Off to Old Trafford it was the the 1st leg of the semi. We were shit. Again we took a very early lead, thanks to Aaron Ramsey, but again we crumbled, this time escaping with only a 3-1 loss. It just about kept us in the tie but I was worried our season was in grave danger of petering out. We needed a reaction and, thankfully, we got it as Norwich were pumped 6-1 at home. It was helped that they had two straight reds for horror tackles. United also won, 4-1 against West Brom.

In fairness we never looked like getting back into the 2nd leg of the semi-final and Marcus Rashford scored the only of the game after 23 minutes. The dream was over for another season. Incidentally, Marcus Rashford is the 2nd most expensive player in the save, after Bosnian Nikola Vidovic, interesting to know if that’s the same in Ronnie’s save? Also, he always scores against me. ALWAYS.

A fairly straight forward 2-1 away win against West Brom set us up for the big finale. However, big news, United had lost 1-0 away to Leicester. This put us back in pole position as a draw was now good enough for us. It was a tense opening 40 minutes before the Gunners were awarded a stonewall penalty. Mathias Simoncelli, who had missed his previous 2 penalties including one against David De Gea in the semi-final, stepped up and smashed it straight down the middle as De Gea dived to his left. As the fans celebrated Man Utd attacked straight from kick-off but Mustafi made a brilliant interception and we broke up the park and the Ox added a second. 2 goals in less than 60 seconds, the title was ours.

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Despite winning the Premier League, League Cup, Community Shield and European Super Cup it was still a little disappointing to come up short in the Champions League. Not a lot of changes to be made but I think I do want a new centre mid and we will need to replace back-up keeper Jack Butland who is off to RB Leipzig on a free.

We dominated the end of season awards. I got Manager of the Year, van Heulen got Golden Glove and van Heulen, Hector Bellerin, Nathaniel Cook, Mustafi, Lucas Digne and Gustavo Menacho all got in the team of the season. But Menacho wasn’t finished. The 22 year-old left winger finished the season with 24 goals and 12 assists from 44 apperances with an overall average rating of 7.62 and ended up winning:

  • PFA Young Player of the Year
  • PFA Player of the Year
  • PFA Team of the Season
  • FWA Footballer of the Year
  • Arsenal Fans Player of the Year
  • Arsenal Fans Young Player of the Year
  • Arsenal Team of the Season

Pretty impressive and looking at his history I don’t think he’s a regen.

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In other news I gained my Continental Pro Licence and now have a 4 star reputation. Man Utd went on to win the Champions League, their 4th win in 5 years. They’re beginning to annoy me.

March – Season 7

As I’ve reached the March international break I thought this would be a good time to post an update. Back in December Man Utd were running away with the title but we were in the Champions League 1st knockout round, League Cup semi finals and an FA Cup 4th round tie to lower league opposition to look forward to. Here’s where we are at now.

Premier League

Basically Man Utd have heavy shat it. Since that update their record reads:

P16 W8 D5 L3

It’s not shocking form but it’s not great either. In the same time we have played 14 games (United had games in hand due to the World Club Championship):

P14 W10 L0 D4

The result is we are now neck-and-neck in the title race with 7 games left. The toughest game in the run in is our away trip to Liverpool so both will be confident of taking it right to the wire and just look at the final fixture of the league season!

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You may notice that Tottenham result. That was a pivotal day in the league season. In the early kick-off Man City thumped United 5-0 so we went into the North London Derby knowing a victory would put us top. A goal by top scorer Matthias Simoncelli after 1 and a half minutes put us in control but defensive midfielder Dariusz Bartosiewicz was sent off for a horror tackle after 8 minutes. Simoncelli doubled our lead after 14 before having to go off injured just before half time. Incredibly the Ox put us 3 up before the Spurs fight back began. Ried Zarabi netted a double to make the score 3-2 with 12 minutes remaining. Then the chaos really began. Youngster Andrew Smith restored our two advantage after 79 minutes before Zarabi got another double and heading into injury time we were locked at 4-4. Reiss Nelson scored in the 92nd minute to give us an astonishing 5-4 victory. Absolute scenes at the end. Zarabi got 4 goals and still ended up on the losing side, like a modern day Dariusz Dziekanowski.

You may also have noticed a 7-3 victory over Leicester. Basically those two results have taken the shine off our excellent defensive record. The two of them, and a 2-2 draw with Spurs earlier in the season, are the only games we have conceded more than 1 in the league. In fact our 3 games against Spurs this season (we also played them in the League Cup) have an aggregate score of 13-9 in our favour.

So with 7 left this is how the table looks, I’m hoping those draws don’t come back to haunt us:

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The Cups

We successfully defended the League Cup. Bournemouth were dismantled 6-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals before we destroyed Man City 4-0 in the final. The FA Cup was more disappointing. Drawn away to Championship side Aston Villa we were perhaps guilty of over-confidence, especially as the game came in the middle of our great run in the league. Unfortunately, Hector Bellerin was sent off in the first half and we never recovered, ultimately losing 3-1.

Anderlecht in the Champions League was as comfortable as you’d expect. We won 2-0 in Belgium before wrapping it up with a 5-0 home win to progress 7-0 on aggregate. The next round will not be so easy as we’ve been drawn with Paris Saint-Germain.

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Squad

Pretty happy with how everyone is playing. Young RB Diego Filho made his recovery from ligament damage recently so we have no major injuries right now. 3 of our players were named in the World XI. Full backs Hector Bellerin and Lucas Digne were joined by goalkeeper John Van Heulen which I’m especially pleased about as he was one of my young signings.

For Arsenal 2022/23 see Man Utd 2016/17

Due to work commitments I haven’t even turned my laptop on for 2 weeks so I’m now way behind Ronnie in game time. As he finishes off season 8 I’m currently at Christmas in season 7 and embarking on the first Champions League campaign of the challenge.

Premier League

In the previous 6 seasons of the save our title victory last season was the only time Man Utd haven’t won the league, and they clearly didn’t take it too well. Our stats are pretty good as well; we’ve only conceded 6 goals in 17 matches, scored a league high 36 goals and only lost 1 match. Unfortunately, United have been sensational (and they have 2 games in hand due to World Club Championship commitments).

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Like United in real life draws have been our downfall. It’s way to early to give up on the league but I certainly think we need United to drop points from their games in hand and then beat them in the upcoming clash. The board expects us to qualify for the Champions League via the league so if we can’t win it then I don’t really care if we finish 2nd or 4th.

Champions League

Ultimately the point of this challenge is to win the Champions League so, frankly, if I finish 10 in the league but win the UCL I’ll be happy. With that in mind I’m delighted to have qualified for the knockout rounds.

The group was pretty straight forward with Fenerbahce, Dinamo Zagreb and Inter Milan alongside us. After winning the opening game away to Inter I played mostly back up players which I think accounts for the 8 goals conceded in only 6 games. Nevertheless we won 5 of the 6 games and progressed with ease.

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So the next big moment was who would we get in the First Knockout Round and there were big teams lying in wait. Juventus, AC Milan, Lyon, PSG, Man Utd & Inter had all finished 2nd in their groups (although I couldn’t draw Inter or Man Utd) but if you’re going to go far in the tournament you’ll need to play the big boys. I drew Anderlecht. Best draw I could’ve hoped for and if we can get through we’ll have met the board’s expectations for the competition.

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So that is where I’m at. As usual I don’t expect any major business in January although world class left-back Lucas Digne wants to leave to join PSG so I’d need to replace him if he goes. We’re in the semi-final of the League Cup but, let’s be honest, no one cares about it, I’d rather resurrect and win the Tennents Sixes. I’ll try and post regular updates as the season progresses, assuming I’m making headway in the UCL.