Ripped Theo Ripped Fifa

The international breaks are over and players are returning to London ahead of the big clash this weekend between Arsenal and their farm team, Southampton.

Arsene already took a training session with the players available including Mustafi, Walcott, Özil, and Lucas. We can’t judge much from these training sessions — Mustafi is snapped pointing and looking like a laser-focused defensive killing machine. But you can’t tell much from a photo because that is exactly how I remember Thomas Vermaelen looking when he first moved to Arsenal. Let’s hope Mustafi has a better Arsenal career than Vermaelen.

One of the more remarkable photos of the session (used here for illustration purposes only) is one with Walcott, his muscles bulging. His body transformation over the years has been quite remarkable. He went from skinny kid to suddenly packing on the muscle in the last two years.


I would imagine that he’s put on this weight in order to help deal with the rigours of the Premier League but it could just be part of his tireless efforts to stay fit and regain a starting place in the Arsenal front four*.

One thing to note about such a body change is that it can take time to adjust as a player. I know, I know, “we’ve given Theo all the time” but wouldn’t it just be perfectly Arsenal for Theo Walcott to suddenly blossom into a 20 goal a season striker? Maybe he’s like that corpse flower and it takes him 28 years to bloom? His defensive work has also improved this season when he was deployed wide, again, indicating a player hungry to prove himself.

On a not totally unrelated point, new defensive recruit Shkodran Mustafi gave some quotes. My favorite is about Perez where he says: “He’s someone you can play well with. He doesn’t just run around and wait for someone to give him a pass to score a goal. He works a lot for the team as well and he creates chances.” I know that Mustafi isn’t talking about Walcott in that quote but he could be. Not in the “works hard” part but in the other part about “just run around and wait for a pass”.

That was the biggest problem for Arsenal when Walcott was deployed as a center forward, he couldn’t (or didn’t) drop to collect and bring his teammates into the game. Instead he seemed to always be making a run and demanding service. Now that he’s back on the wing, Walcott is back working for the team again. It’s almost as if — and I don’t want to get too technical here — Walcott didn’t know how to play center forward.

Xhaka didn’t practice yesterday because Switzerland were playing Portugal. His team beat the 2016 Euro Champs 2-0 but Xhaka went and got himself a second yellow for a silly challenge from behind. But hang on, maybe it wasn’t silly? Maybe he got himself a nice little break from the next international break! Smart kid that Granit.

While we are talking about international breaks that aren’t breaks: can we address the fact that Fifa is running these young men to death? Look no further for proof of Fifa overworking these players than Chile sitting in 7th place and running a major risk of losing out on World Cup qualifications.

There is literally no debate here. I don’t care about Fifa one drop. Fifa is a criminal organization which does no good for football and exists simply to enrich its board members through bribery. If Fifa would like to sue me for defamation I welcome them, they are the ones who most recently admitted that they were taking bribes which they had to do because essentially every single board member for the last 20 years has been convicted of bribery.

Fifa are nothing but a machine which uses forced labor to extort capital from players, fans, clubs, and countries. Fifa’s rules allow them to compel players to show up to their national teams when they are called up. If a player refuses a call, his local FA is required to ban him from club football for a period equivalent to the time he would have spent playing for Fifa. There are also complicated emotional ties that these players have to their national teams which Fifa uses to keep everyone in line.

We literally just finished with Euro 2016 (run by Fifa’s gangster cousin UEFA) and the contrived “Copa America Centenario” (run by UEFA’s gangster cousin Fifa) and three weeks into the new season we are back playing more international matches — two games in a week. And with Chile, the number of matches that they have played for Fifa over the last two years is astonishing.

And Fifa also extracts capital out of clubs. This weekend’s match is the perfect example. Arsenal have two players they can start at center forward: Giroud or Alexis. Both of those players went to the final game of their respective summer tournaments and both just went to this absurd international break. That leaves Arsene Wenger with a choice of either playing one or both men or throwing on his newest player, a guy with zero Premier League experience. Fifa (Chile, France) don’t rest players, the club has to be the one to rest players. And it’s the club who pays these players. It’s the fans of the club who pays these players. And we fans are the ones who pay the price for Fifa to have yet another money-spinning tournament, where they can extract bribes, like the Copa America Centenario.

I feel like I have said this 20 times over the last 10 years. Probably every single time that we have an international break and Fifa gets to force players to play for them. I feel like this is never going to change as long as the players allow themselves to be used like this by Fifa’s rules. Some brave player is going to have to stand up to Fifa and say no mas, I’m not going to go play in a tournament that is used simply as a means to extract bribes.


*Sort of a joke. We do seem like we play a 244 for most games.


  1. I’d love to see either a player or a league stand up and tell FIFA where to stick it. Unfortunately, it’ll have to be a player, as the leagues seem to just a corrupt as FIFA is. And any player brave enough to do it should expect to get Kaepernicked.

  2. ‘but wouldn’t it just be perfectly Arsenal for Theo Walcott to suddenly blossom into a 20 goal a season striker?’

    You could add ‘just as he enters the final year of his contract’ to that particular sentence.

    I’m only half joking…I think.

    1. I don’t think 20 goals is beyond Walcott under the right circumstances.
      If he stays fit and other players around him stay on form , he is perfectly capable to score 20 goals this season.
      His bulging muscles are a result of Shad Forsythe’s work with players ( remember Ozil bulking up a season ago), but unlike Ozil, Walcott’s style of play ,which is based on running by people at frightening
      pace( or into them unfortunately) isn’t impeded by bigger muscles.
      Players with close ball control might suffer by balking up, but not Theo.

      I hope Arsene takes a good look at Theo’s quads nex time he has a notion of subbing him in for some injured player, without any warm up on a 10 degree Celsius night ,like he did against Sheffield last season.
      Some of Wenger’s decision making and in game management is trully baffling.

  3. Ha I will then.

    Seriously, it would probably be worth our while doubling his wages if we could get him on a rolling yearly contract.

  4. The obvious answer is unionization. The NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, and MLS all have organizations that represent and negotiate on behalf of the players. Good freaking luck pulling that off though.

  5. The answer to your FIFA question is a player’s union that basically spans the globe. Which considering the amount of professional footballers that appear to exist (google says ~265 million so 3.75% of the worlds population) should probably already be a thing. Pulling that off though, man, good luck.

    1. No way there are 265m professional footballers. Google must be counting Sunday beer leagues, losing team buys a round.

      1. Yeah…that way seemed off. More digging shows that’s the total number of registered players with FIFA and the vague guestimation says 50,000 players are “professionals”. Which would make unionizing even more difficult.

  6. I think Theo will have a good season. I’m already been impressed with his two-way play. I also like that he is staying wide be it for Arsenal or for the England team.
    The dilemma with the international breaks are that players always want the prestige of the call up and they want to play in their nations’ shirt if they are not injured.
    Xhaka knows that Switzerland should cope with Latvia without him and he doesn’t get the penalty for an injury withdrawal.
    Good on Wenger for no truce, no compromise and no neutral ground with the likes of Mourinho:

  7. International football no longer has a charm to it.

    I remember watching the Euro 96, and especially France 98, and being overwhelmed by the colour and festivity of it all. To be fair, each of the subsequent world cups have held their own charm (or annoyance – vuvuzelas) in terms of the event.

    But the football. Till around 98-2000. Perhaps even 2004, TV still hadn’t come to dominate football. It was a global game, but it wasn’t the globally viewed monolith it is today.

    Italians still pretended to have the best league and didn’t select anyone who played abroad. Spain couldn’t stop the infighting between players of their two biggest clubs. Netherlands were similar. Germany was plodding along. England was England. Brazil and Argentina dominated South America. France had just come out of Le Bleu.

    Doesn’t sound great, but each country had their own character. Their own way of playing football, and all of it was not regularly seen or dissected on TV every week.

    Today there is no national character which the game exhibits. There are no tactical surprises. Hardly any player creates an unexpected wonderment in the audience. You have the biggest players bigged up on all the hype, and a few other stars to follow. You get their clips and vines and are supposed to be filled with awe on the basis of those, rather than the 90mins and the pressures of tournament football. With players moving between countries not just at club level, but also international level, there’s something of an obsolescence about it.

    I suppose smaller nations still have this romance. The Iceland story at the Euros. Albania getting there. Wales making the semis. They add something. But that’s where the issue of quality comes in.

    The club game is now just of a much higher quality. We’ve had Spain and Germany show quality football on the world stage, but it just lacks something. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just nostalgia that makes the past better.

    But when you add the Fifa corruption, and the increasing sway they have over, and damage they do, to host nations, it becomes nearly impossible to get excited by the ‘product’ of international football. And that’s for their best product, the tournaments. These intl breaks. I don’t even know when it’s a friendly or when a qualifier. There needs to be a new, better system than this.

  8. One of my problems with international football is that the months between each game means i’ve usually forgotten what’s happened and how things stand by the time the next game comes around. I honestly think people would have less of a problem with international football if the calendar was rearranged to have all the qualifiers played at once over a period of a couple of months. The regular league wouldn’t have the constant interruptions and it would be easier to be invested in qualifiers as their own mini tournament.

  9. I suspect Theo will have a good season. Going by your own data that you put out on him last season, Theo’s performance curve is W-shaped. A good season from him is followed by a bad season which is followed by a good season and so on. I think he will continue in that pattern and so far the signs from him are encouraging. Moreover, we seem to get the best out of him when he plays a supporting role to a good cast. The season where he was our 2nd best player after RVP comes to mind. It’s also good that he has accepted his role as a wide forward. If he can continue to work hard on the defensive side of his game he will be better suited for that role than Ramsey. His compass is pointing north.

    International fooba… zzzzz

  10. “Some brave player is going to have to stand up to Fifa and say no mas, I’m not going to go play in a tournament that is used simply as a means to extract bribes.”

    That takes courage. Not the kind of “courage” that it took for Apple to ditch the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 for lousy sounding wireless earbuds that dangle off your ears like misplaced earrings and cost a 160 bucks. That’s what one of their execs called it yesterday, either Phil Schiller or Tim Cook, I think: courage.***

    No, it takes the kind of courage to reject decades of conditioning and football culture around being “capped”, being a full-fledged “International” as the other greatest achievement for a footballer after competing for domestic trophies.

    It also takes a certain awareness or conscious acknowledgement – about the politics and business of football – that a lot of otherwise very smart and capable young men who play the sport conveniently ignore in the pursuit of playing for their country.

    *** I’ve been around the tech industry for a long time and I’ve seen many such examples of companies trying to force the market to a new standard or proprietary technology. I love a lot of things about Apple but what they did yesterday will backfire and further slow already declining iPhone sales.

  11. It’s unfortunate that it’s come to posts like this just a few years after that famous photo of “the British core” (Jenkinson, Wilshere, Walcott, Ox-Cham and Ramsey) putting pen to paper for new Arsenal contracts.

    Wtf happened? Yes, I kind of know but still, wtf happened?

  12. He’s not really that ripped, the camera just captured his thigh muscles as they were contracting, which exaggerates size. I would expect any athlete to have bulging thigh muscles if caught in such a moment. I wouldn’t think he looks any different on that front to 3-4 years ago. Upper body though? Maybe bigger but hard to tell. He seems a bit more “sturdy” than he used to be and I agree that that’s a good thing.

    Also to follow on your Vermaelen comment, he looked like a revelation in his first season. He was strong in the air (especially for his size), strong in tackles and good on the ball. He was very adept at beating forwards to outlet clearances and could even start counter attacks and score goals. His career was derailed by injury, which led to a loss of confidence, loss of form that he never recovered from fully; still he was bought by Barcelona so it’s not like he was a trainwreck even at that point (a questionable purchase by them to be sure, but still). in my mind what undermined his Arsenal career more than anything was his habit of getting caught out of position in transitions of play which was exploited ruthlessly by many teams. He would mark forwards too far forward and wingers would run in behind the spaces he he would leave. Neither he nor the manager made enough adjustment for this. He’s far from alone in the ranks of otherwise decent (from serviceable to very good) defenders who came to Arsenal only to have their careers derailed by a system that often leaves them far too vulnerable. it takes someone special to hold it together at the back in Wenger’s Arsenal with the freedom he gives his midfielders and forwards and the resulting sometimes lackadaisical attitude to closing down. Even a special talent can struggle in such an environment, so let’s hope first and foremost that Wenger and his charges have finally learned their lesson on that front. If, on top of that, Mustafi is also a special defender then we could have a truly special season.

    1. I think you’ve got a case of Halcyonitis.

      Vermaelen was never strong in the air. His aerial duels rate was sub par from day one. He won 58% of his aerial challenges in his first season. He also attempted 171. Koscielny in his second season was already better than Vermaelen, by his third season, Koscielny was already up to 64%.

      Most center backs tackle at a high rate and both Koz and Vermaelen are no exception.

      Vermaelen was adept at the long key pass. He made at least 1 in every season at Arsenal, something that neither Koscielny nor Mertesacker have managed. He also did get forward quite a bit which you point out would “start counters” and would “leave space”. At that time, Arsenal were literally devastated by counter attacks and yet, Verm would keep going forward to the detriment to his team.

      In 2011/12 Vermaelen was made co-captain. He scored 6 goals for Arsenal and Wenger claimed that he and Koscielny were defensive “rocks”. Arsenal conceded 49 goals that season, including the 8-2 pounding at Old Trafford. The most goals Arsene Wenger has ever conceded as Arsenal manager.

      What had started to develop was a serious problem with Vermaelen that season. Vermaelen took more shots per game than any time at Arsenal, had more key passes, but also had more fouls, more loss of possession, had more yellow cards, and attempted the most tackles. He even had the most errors. Far from a “lack of confidence” or “loss of form” Vermaelen suffered from an abundance of confidence and lack of defensive awareness. He was bombing forward way too much. He was running out of position too often. He was losing the ball too often. And he was forced to make up for it with awful tackles, fouls, cards, and then more bombing forward to try to “help win the game.” It was an awful season.

      Wenger doubled-down on his faith in Vermaelen after RvP left, giving him the captain’s armband in 2012/13. Half way through the season he dropped the shit out of him, after the 2-1 loss to Tottenham, where Vermaelen had tried to clear the ball but ended up flying through the air like a man on a trapeze. The nuclear option I called it. He had made 6 errors that season, just up to that point.

      I don’t know why Barcelona bought him. I also don’t know why they bought Song. Maybe they had some kind of deal with Arsene over the Fabregas deal?

      Yes, Wenger’s defense is often problematic and so too is his coaching (from my perspective). But there is no doubt that Vermaelen has himself to blame for his own defensive frailties. Just because Wenger’s system gives you the freedom to go forward doesn’t mean that you should.

      1. Yeah I remember this debate well. The argument was that your stats don’t show everything, and that though Vermaelen may not technically win the header, he would challenge it really close and that would result in the ball not going where the attacker wants it.

        Even though I can understand why people felt that way, at best they were saying that Vermaelen introduced an element of unpredictability. Usually that is not a sign of a great defense. I suppose the more charitable comparison would be like basketball defenders who can get tight or wave their hands in the face of the shooter even when they can’t block it. But Basketball has now devised stats for measuring that. Football hasn’t yet. Not in the public domain at least.

        Barcelona presumably bought Vermaelen because there were very few CBs moving that year, and they don’t need a great defender to play backup CB for them. He had great technical ability and that was what they were looking for.

        Where is Vermaelen now? He was a free agent linked to Arsenal last I heard.

      2. Good points but I can’t be accused of having inflammation of my Halcyon, sorry (forgive the medical pun).

        I agree, freedom doesn’t have to equate to reckless abandon, only it did for Vermaelen too often and the manager never made adjustments for that until it was too late. I think they both fell in love with an image of him as a cultured ball playing defender and he stopped putting enough emphasis on being a defender. The loss of confidence came later, after he was out for a full season while captain; Arsenal moved on without him and he never could regain that early form he showed in 2009-10 I think it was. Arsene learned his lesson though and bought the uber cautious Mertesacker to partner Koscielny, who had himself developed some penchant for over-zealous play.

        Also I have to make a medical tangent here; Vermaelen had inflammation of the plantaris tendon which wasn’t diagnosed until months after the fact. He then underwent surgery on the one side only for the other side to act up. This is a rare “freak” injury which wasn’t his fault or Arsenal’s fault, that’s just the kind of luck we were having with players around that time (Rosicky, Diaby, Van Persie, Eduardo, Ramsey, etc.)

        Shard, wikipedia tells me Vermaelen is still a Barcelona player and that he has been loaned to Roma.

        1. As I recall, Walcott went through something similar with his shoulders, both of which needed surgeries to fix underlying issues he’s had since childhood. Maybe it’s me but it seems like only our players have these freak injuries.

        2. That’s another point of contention: he wasn’t as good with the ball as people make out. Yes, he could pick that sliderule pass out but his overall completion % was low.

          What was Wenger supposed to do to adjust for Vermaelen’s crazy bombing?

          Also, the reason why Arsenal put up with these players and their injuries during that time was that we had little choice. RvP was a world class striker in the making, Walcott showed some greatness, etc. It was hard to find replacements in our budget.

          Any other team would have just dumped them. All of them. Diaby, Rosicky, Walcott, Vermaelen, probably even Wilshere.

          1. This gets into why mistakes happen and who is to blame… for me if the same mistake is repeated over and over it’s on the manager. Vermaelen’s positioning was costing us goals, it needed to change and it didn’t. Maybe TV5 was ignoring Wenger but that’s unlikely; Wenger liked him enough to make him captain despite the errors, so he was hardly a loose cannon.

  13. Wenger has never reconciled the dichotomy of the free-form creativity he wants his attacking players to express on the field vs. the rigid discipline a proper defense has to display. He’s pretty much on record as saying that he expects defenders to sort themselves out, hence why he doesn’t do nearly as well with the development of young CB’s as he does with the development of other positions. The best defensive performance of the past two years, when we went to Man City in 2015 and played two banks of four was the result of the players meeting and agreeing on tactics, not anything the manager installed on the training ground.
    Koscielny is the type of personality Wenger needs in defenders; naturally self-reliant, up-by-the-boot-straps, self-motivated to learn the position and craft. Mertesacker is less athletic but he brought experience and self-reliance to the role. Vermaelen (like Gabriel I fear) had all the tools to be an excellent defender, but needed a manager/coach who could discipline him and steer him away from his worst impulses. By the time he went to Barcelona he was already wrecked physically and confidence-wise. Had he gone though to Serie A earlier where he might have been instructed in a more regimented defensive style, I think he may have been rescued and done quite well. I have a feeling he’ll do OK at Roma now that he gets his chance. We’ll see.
    I like that Chambers went to Karanka who may actually teach him some things. What I like about Mustafi is that I don’t think he’s going to need Wenger to help him; he’s an experienced international and has Mertesacker and Kos to acclimate him.

  14. You see articles and comments like this,not to mention the cheers he gets in the stadium,no wonder Theo Walcott’s been at Arsenal for a decade.He’ll probably end his career here and get a statue.Then we’ll probably have articles on how he could’ve been a 50-goal striker if the conditions were right.

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