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.

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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.

Oh, did I mention that I’m manager of France now, too?

Towards the end of Season 8, I was approached by the French FA and asked if I wanted to manage them. Of course, my time at Uruguay was so dull I obviously wasn’t going to accept. Errr….

My thinking was that, if I manage the country in which I’m based, maybe I’ll get some high-profile players to like me and that would subsequently make them more likely to sign for Montpellier. I guess only time will tell.

International competitions seem to have changed slightly, over the years. We now seem to be part of some European League, and France are in Division A alongside the likes of Russia, Sweden, Germany, Iceland, Belgium, Ireland, England, and Holland.

By the time I take over, there are 3 games (plus a friendly) remaining in the competition, and the FA have asked that we don’t embarrass ourselves. Fingers crossed.

First up is a friendly against Belgium, and we start with the wide 4-3-3 that we’ve playing at Montpellier. To be honest, the players don’t seem that comfortable with it, so a change might be in order, but we emerge with a 2-0 victory, after goals from Rayanne Monnier and Aymeric Laporte.

Next up was a proper match at home to Iceland and we sneak a 3-1 victory. Our 2nd and 3rd goals come in the 81st and 85th minutes, so while the same formation got us another victory, if wasn’t as comfortable as I would’ve liked. Our goals came from real-life players Anthony Martial and Thomas Lamar, and regen superstar Heidi Camus.

A 1-0 defeat to Germany follows next, before a 3-0 away win against Iceland. The Germany game is tight, and they probably deserve their 1-goal win, but I’m not happy with the players’ comfort with the formation, so for the Iceland game, we go to a standard 4-4-2 with very few instructions, and we dominate.

And that’s the end of the European League Division A Group 2 fixtures.

Next season, we’ll be aiming to qualify for the 2026 World Cup.

7 years as a manager

Starting off at Vendée Herbiers Football, and making my way to Montpellier via ESTAC Troyes* and Uruguay, my profile is looking a bit healthier than it did at the start.

I’m currently studying for a Continental A licence, and my stats are looking pretty good. Mental is the highest attribute, with 14 and I’ve not yet been able to move from the lowest score of 1 for Working with YoungstersAdaptability, and Discipline. I’m not sure what I need to do to improve these.

* Technically, I went from Vendée Herbiers Football to Nîmes Olympique, but I lost my save before I did more than manage a couple of friendlies with them. Find out how we resolved this issue.

Things are going alright, if you discount the cups

We’ve got the post-Christmas blues. Knocked out of the Coupe de France in early January, our poor form continues unabated. It picks up eventually, but not before the chance of winning some silverware disappears into the distance.

Actually, I’m being a bit harsh. We do alright, but just not quite good enough. Remember that Skol Cup Coupe de la Ligue final I mentioned? I was sure we were going to win it. We bottled it against lower-league opposition, losing to Amiens SC on penalties. And we were lucky to get that far, having to rely upon a late equaliser from Giovanni Simeone.

The Europa Cup was even more frustrating, and we fell at the quarter-final stage against an AC Milan team that had bettered us in the group stages. Rafa Benitez manages them now and he’s taken a dislike to me. I tried to calm things down between us, but he was not for taking my olive branch. In the end, they beat us 2-1 on aggregate over the two legs. Prior to that, we’d beaten Sunderland 5-3, and PSV 4-1 over two legs, all four games drawing great performances from us.

And so we finished the campaign with only the league to play for. A Europa Cup spot was what we were charged with providing and it was close. In the end, we were only 3 points shy of a Champions League position (3rd), which was close enough to convince our wonderkid Haris Ahmetovic to stay. I’d previously promised him Champions League football, but he seems content to stay given how close we came.

In fact, we did so well that, as the season ends I’m offered a job interview at Olympique Lyonnais. They finished midtable, and seem to be about the same size as Montpellier, so I decline their advances

At a time like this, I have a tendency to rip it up and start again but I think next season’s team will look very much like this season’s, with only two or three positions improved.

I say that, but I’ll end up buying a dozen players and struggling to keep them all happy.

Things are going alright, if you discount the league form

Towards the end of our first 10 league games, our form started to slip and, unfortunately, it’s kinda continued into the second 10 games, and up to the end of the calendar year.

An inconsistent run of games against OM, Bordeaux, Monaco, Lyon and Stade Rennais  aren’t great, but then we hit a patch of form (or lack of it) that sees us pick up only 3 points in 5 games. Particularly hard to take is a 6-1 defeat at the hands of league strugglers LOSC. I’ve no idea what happened, but I’m blaming want away captain Clément Lenglet.

DWLDWLLLWL

Lenglet had been angling for a move – to Stoke of all places – and I’d refused to budge. He took the huff and his morale plummeted, and I think it started to affect the rest of the squad. Not only was he our captain but he was also a pretty decent left-back so I was loathed to leave him out. But this form couldn’t continue, so I took the armband off him, relegated him to the reserves and sold him for £12m in the winter transfer window.

That same transfer window also saw us lose our star man, Hilton. He left for Stuttgart for a cool £31.5m, and so we were able to recruit a few players, ensuring that – hopefully – he’ll not be missed.

In the end, I recruit four midfielders to bolster the centre of the park. Alexander Díaz is an 18-year old Colombian with 4.5 star potential and who was as cheap as chips.

Steven Kamphuis is the great white hope, and at 22-years old and costing £10m (rising to £20m) he goes straight into the first team. And then gets a hernia injury. Admilson Cardoso is a carbon copy of Kamphuis and will likely replace one of our exisitng midfielders in the first 11.

Finally, Mattia Franchini is a 24-year old who comes into the team as the 2nd best midfielder at the club.

The cup competitions are going well – except the Coupe de France. Board expectations were for us to reach the 11th round, but we went out to Monaco in the 9th, in what was a very close 1-0 defeat.

The Coupe de la Ligue (which I believe is the lesser of the two French cups, like the SKOL Cup) is going well. We’re into the final, having been expected to reach the semi. Hopefully by the next update, I’ll have a trophy to showcase!

The Europa Cup form continued after the first couple of games, and we qualified for the knockout stages with two games remaining. The only game we lost was at home to AC Milan, where they won 1-0. As a result, we finished 2nd in the group, and went into the first knockout stage, and a game against Sunderland.

We should win that, shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we? Yeah, we should.