The way I see it - Chelsea v Arsenal

Last updated : 20 February 2004 By Jason Hogan

Why? Well you only have to look at what happened on Wednesday night. Both Gilberto and Ashley Cole played for their respective countries and went and picked up injuries.

The thing that annoys me most, particularly in the case of Ashley, is that he probably didn't really need to be called up for this friendly. I think that most football fans up and down this country can virtually name the squad that Eriksson is going to take to Portugal for Euro 2004 (give or take a player or two) and it's 99% certain that Ashley will be part of it. So seeing him pick up an injury in what was no more than a glorified kick about was galling in the extreme.

This brings me nicely round to the subject of the true merits of international friendlies. I know that being a coach of a national team is often a thankless task and that the likes of Eriksson only get a very limited amount of time to work with the players of his choice. I also understand that playing international friendlies is the only means at his disposal to assess the progress his players to any degree.

The trouble is, because there is no real structure in place then, more often than not, these friendlies degenerate into farce because there is a facility for coaches to call up 22 players to a squad just for a one-off game and use them all in the game if he so wishes.

I think that this is madness. I mean, where is the need for a national coach to have up to THREE goalkeepers on call for a one-off friendly game for a start? And look what happened in England's game last night. Eriksson sent on no less than THREE subs with less than five minutes of the game left!! For the life of me, where is the value in doing that!!

This may be only a plaintive plea at best but I think that FIFA should really start looking at how these international friendlies are co-ordinated.

Obviously, I don't think that they can dictate on what players are picked by national coaches though I think that if national coaches DO decide to pick their best players they should do it with the purpose of using them properly (i.e. for most if not all of the game) or not bother to pick them at all. What's the point of picking your best players for a squad, dragging them halfway around Europe if not the world just so that they can play 45 minutes or maybe an hour? It doesn't make sense to me.

Outside of that, there are definitely one or two things that FIFA could also implement where friendlies are concerned. Firstly, they could put out a directive whereby national coaches can pick a PROVISIONAL squad of 22 to be part of the training camp but (like they do in the Champions League) they can only pick from a squad of 18 for the game itself.

Secondly, whereas in the Champions League you can only use three replacements from the seven substitutes available in the Champions League, I would allow the international bosses to use FOUR replacements.

Implementing guidelines like this would not only cut down on the needlessly excessive amount of substitutions at a stroke, it would, at the same time, that coaches will still have the flexibility to potentially replace a player in defence, attack, midfield or indeed in goal if he so wishes.

I also think that such guidelines will actually make coaches really think about what he wants to achieve from a friendly match and give him more scope to actually learn something genuine about the players he has.

In other words, less is sometimes more. If friendlies are to become better as a spectacle and more meaningful in concept then surely if FIFA put something along the lines of what I have suggested in place then surely it would be the way forward. Like I said though, it's only a plaintive plea I'm making and I will not be holding my breath waiting to see if my theories become reality.

Still, moving swiftly on, let's look at Saturday's game against Chelsea at the Bridge.

Well, first of all I make no apologies for repeating what I said the other day. Beating this lot last Sunday was the SWEETEST moment of the season for so far this season - bar none.

People talked after the game about how Chelsea lost because they went missing in the second half. It was closer to the truth to say that Chelsea lost because the Arsenal, when it mattered, did NOT go missing.

I thought it was hilarious that sections of the press and media pundits such as Peter Schmeichel were back peddling furiously after the game claiming that Chelsea are just an "up and coming club".

All season long people in the press have been calling this lot the best thing since sliced bread yet as soon as things go a little pear shaped they all come out making excuses both for Ranieri and Chelsea.

Now, Ranieri is a very likeable chap and I do have a little sympathy for him in as much as he has been trying to do his job despite the press sticking microphones up his nose and asking him to speculate on Eriksson every five minutes.

The only thing that irritates me about him is that despite all the resources he has at his disposal he has often had a tendency to hedge his bets. One minute he says that Chelsea are not able to match up Arsenal or United the next he saying that Chelsea are the real deal.

Either way the chap is definitely under pressure to deliver this season and the reasons why, have been well chronicled. Indeed, almost as an acknowledgment of that, Ranieri has come out, somewhat uncharacteristically, pulling no punches this week making it clear to his team and everyone else that this match is effectively a win or bust situation for his team.

On the other hand, from Arsenal's point of view, I don't think we have either anything to fear or prove. We have beaten this lot so many times in so many different ways over they years. We have beaten them despite being a goal down or even two goals down. We have beaten them with vastly under strength sides.

We even went into their own back yard and beat them in last season's FA Cup with an under strength side that was reduced to ten men.

For us, whereas the focus last week was on us protecting what currently belongs to us, the emphasis for the Arsenal this time is to focus in on taking another step towards getting back what SHOULD already be ours - the title.

The only thing (and I mean the ONLY thing) that makes me remotely wary about Saturday's game is the law of averages. No Arsenal can deny that this could be a factor on Saturday. Still, we have been good enough not to let that hinder us on so many occasions in the past. Let's hope we can prove to the nation that we are good enough to do it again.