Category: Arsenal

Making your mind up

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More than 26 years ago, another band of plucky Brits set forth to conquer Europe. Their manifesto was straightforward: overcome the perils of conformism, and single-mindedly dedicate yourself to following the path of individuality. Above all, simply make your mind up, and stick to your decisions thereafter. As uncomplicated as it sounds, it’s one tough prescription to follow.

Faced with a campaign on three fronts – the league, the domestic cup, and garlicky old Europe – the PES Master League player is faced with a dilemma. Who to play, and in what fixtures? Even with a squad packed full of top players in peak form and condition, there will be casualties along the way.

You can field your top strikers in a big league game (and every league game is a big game, rightly considered), but if you then play them in the big Cup game afterward, they’ll likely be unavailable for the next big League game. Either their stamina or their form, or both, will be borked (as I think people still say on the internet).

One solution, if you have a big enough squad, is to make your mind up about which competition is your priority, and formally establish a Second XI of players to play in the lesser competitions. And stick to your decision.

For me, the league is the #1 priority. I doubt I’ll be able to catch Chelsea, but second spot is well within my reach. That would mean automatic qualification for the European Championships (i.e., the Champions League) next season. A top-six finish would be the next best thing. Playing a load of pre-tournament qualifiers in the first weeks of next season would be a pain, but it’d be better than finishing outside the top six and not being there at all. More games means more points for the transfer kitty. And what do points make? That’s right. Prizes.

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So the First XI (plus/minus one or two players as circumstances dictate) is the one I want to play in every league game. For the Cup and the European Masters Cup, I came up with a Second XI (pictured left) who would – notionally – always play in those fixtures. In this way I hoped to preserve my good league form, and also give myself a fighting chance of progressing in the two Cups.

It’s a good plan on so many levels. You preserve your first-choice players’ fitness levels, and you give several rising stars a full game.

Bradley in particular is in need of full games right now. I’ve resisted starting with him in the First XI so far because he feels a little bit ‘unfinished’. I think that playing him regularly in Cup games will take him that extra bit further and hopefully establish him as a first-choice regular next season.

All of this is good in theory, right?

If you stick to it, yes. I didn’t stick to it. When it came to the crunch I followed the old advice to always play your best team regardless of other fixtures coming up. Thus I embarked upon my worst run of form and results all season. Things haven’t been this bad since the dark days of 2010.

Out of seven games, I lost five and drew two. Portsmouth thumped me 3-1 at home in the league. Mattsson was sent off in this game. A bad day at the office for everyone.

As for the Cups, the First XI/Second XI thing went out of the window almost straightaway. Before the D1 Cup tie against Arsenal, I saw that Schwarz had an almost-full stamina bar and a red form arrow, and selected him for the game without giving it a second thought. Always play your best team is all well and good. But I had a plan, and I should have stuck with it. I drew the Arsenal cup match and lost the second leg. I also lost the league games in between times.

Espanyol almost contemptuously disposed of me in the Masters Cup. They beat me 3-1 at home, and the fixture at their place ended 1-1. They were all over me in both games. It looks like the standard of play in Europe this year is a lot higher than the domestic game.

So much for Europe. #Don’t let your indecision take you from behind…# How I wish I’d really listened to that sound advice. Coventry City, nul points.

#Spit on the Villa…#

Aston Villa away. After I started the season like a rocket, and grew concerned about PES2008 becoming too easy for me, the CPU teams have just stepped things up a gear. I’ve taken a couple of sound beatings. I not only want and need to put one over on the PES version of the Villa, I also would like the 3 points, thank you very much.

In real life, the rivalry between Coventry City and Aston Villa football clubs is mostly one-way. We care about beating them, and we used to beat them very rarely in the English top division. Villa don’t care about beating us, and they used to beat us a lot. There’s some kind of lesson in there somewhere.

In PES – the 2008 flavour, or any other – there’s a definite forlornness about the whole local rivalry thing. The FIFA series has all the real-life licenses, and has always modelled local rivalries particularly well. In PES, you more or less have to imagine it for yourself. This is something I have always done with gusto. Whenever I finally make it into the top division I always look through the calendar and make a mental note of the two league fixtures against the Villa. Then I start preparing for them a couple of games in advance, resting key players, and licking my lips…

I made a fantastic start. Literally, the stuff of fantasy: two quickfire goals in the first 10 minutes from that man Schwarz. I was punching the air here in my sad little room.2-0 up, then, and almost guaranteed to be in a winning position. You’d think. But this is PES2008.

All matches for me at the moment in Master League seem to follow the same pattern. Taking a 2-0 lead is almost guaranteed to invite a response from the CPU in the form of a cheeky goal that it seems you are powerless to prevent. Aston Villa got themselves a corner, and I braced for the inevitable.

Recently. I have started to be able to defend corners with about 95% success. I had been automatically trying to defend them using the method from the last couple of PESes. In PES5 all you had to do was stand a defender in the sweet spot on the corner of the six-yard box; in PES6, the sweet spot was a yard or two deeper.

I got hold of my defenders in the box and dragged them over to stand on the Villa strikers’ toes. Over came the corner. The ball was dropping directly at my defender, Mattsson. There was no way the Villa attacker – who was not only smaller than Mattsson, but standing behind him relative to the ball’s approach vector (bear with me here) – was ever going to get his head on that ball, right? Right?

I waited until the appropriate time, and then pressed for Mattsson to make the kind of routine clearance that I have been routinely performing for many dozens of games now, ever since I discovered how to do it. Mattsson didn’t move, and somehow the ball went over his head, onto the Villa attacker’s forehead, and into the net.

1-2, and I would have fumed if I had any fumes left with which to fume. PES2008 has almost completely defumed me. Bless its little heart.

At this stage, things can go several ways. The CPU will maintain its supercharged drive forward to get a goal. What you need is another goal yourself, to kill the game off.

I got it. Again it came from Schwarz, completing his hat trick:

The game ended that way: 1-3. I was happy to have bested my virtual local rival on their own patch. I resisted the urge to soil a sheet of toilet paper and send it to the real Villa Park along with a rude note (again). I’m way past that.

I moved onto the next games with increased confidence. It seemed I was through the bad patch. I beat Fulham 3-0 despite the CPU once again being in perma-God Mode. I’ve discovered – or rediscovered – how to cope with God Mode in PES2008. It’s simple: remember that you’re playing a game, not locked in a life-or-death struggle for your family honour. When you feel your fingers cramping up as though you’re trying to strangle the joypad, you’re doing it wrong. Pause the game for a few moments, take literal and figurative deep breaths, and then resume.

I played the return leg of the Division 1 Cup tie against Spurs. It was at their ground, and it ended 1-1. It was a hard match but I held on to go through on the away goal. It’s my Cup and they’re not taking it off me.

The session concluded on a downbeat note with a mammoth encounter against Arsenal. It ended 3-2 to them after I had been 2-1 up at half time. They got the equaliser on 70 minutes from a penalty that I thought was a blatant dive. Referee!

I quite like the inclusion of diving in PES2008. Like it or not, diving is a feature of the real-life game. Any football video game that aspires to represent the sport must include diving, however unsporting it is. Q.E.D. What’s next, then, an objector might, er, object. Hooliganism? Point taken, but diving in PES2008 enriches the game, in my opinion. It leads to contentious moments, exciting scenarios, fair and unfair outcomes. I’ve tried it myself, off and on, with almost zero success. But it’s still early days.

When Arsenal clicked into their turbo mode in search of a winning goal I started to ignore my own advice. I could hear the joypad creaking under the pressure, but I never let up. I was clamping again: pressing R1+X+Square. Will I never learn? Clamping doesn’t actually benefit you a great deal. All it does is drag players out of position, tires them, and send them into a virtual panic. While your players are hurling themselves pell-mell all over the place, the CPU delves into its box of tricks, with this kind of result:

Oh, the pain.

Going into the mid-season negotiations period, I’m still holding steady in fourth place, but Chelsea at the top of the table are starting to pull away. They’re 7 points clear of Man Utd in second place, and 12 points clear of me. It’ll be difficult for anyone to catch them now. I wasn’t expecting to challenge for the title this season, though, so I’m not disappointed. What I wanted from this season was to avoid relegation. I will avoid it, I think, so a top-6 finish and qualification for next season’s European Cup is now my new ‘bonus’ target.

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Another bonus: at the moment, Schwarz is second in the top scorers’ league. He has 12 goals. Rooney, in first place, has 15. I’d like to get Schwarz to the top of this list by season’s end. He deserves it.

I’ve always said to anyone who will listen (i.e., to no one) that the greatest PES striker ever was PES5’s Dennis Bergkamp (after he had regenerated, of course). Schwarz in PES2008 isn’t quite there yet. But he’s a contender.

Disappointment at a cafe

I have played my long-anticipated first game in Division 1.

Arsenal 1-0 Coventry City

Hmm. This isn’t how things were supposed to be. I was supposed to streak to the top of the table, laying waste to all who crossed my path. Schwarz was supposed to be a one-man team. Donadel would stop everything that came within 40 yards of him. Kim U Don would safely catch every single shot on goal – including the CPU’s magic free kicks.

It was looking that way for most of the first match against Arsenal. I started superbly, having 62% of possession and 9 shots on goal in the first half . Arsenal didn’t have a single shot.

As the second half started I thought I’d cruise to a win easily. For most of that second half, that’s the way it was looking. By the 80th minute, though, I still hadn’t scored. The CPU suddenly upped its game, but I held them off, and held them off – and then in the 90th minute I conceded a free kick a few yards in front of my penalty area…

If you’ve played PES2008, you know what happened next. About 80% of CPU free kicks in the ‘Hot Zone’ will result in CPU goals, and this is a conservative estimate by some accounts. See my sophisticated and scientific diagram:

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The Arsenal player took his run up to the free kick… and the ball sailed into my net, as I knew it would. I’d even dragged a defender to that side of the goal and stood him on the line. But when you put a defender on the line, they never jump. You can press the button all you like but it just won’t happen. Even if they did jump, the ball is so exactly placed in the postage-stamp corner of the goal that he wouldn’t stop it anyway.

Even if the CPU doesn’t score directly from its Hot Zone free kicks, the ball very often hits the bar or post, and they’ll score from the rebound while your unresponsive defenders stand and watch.

Grrrrr.

Despite the loss I am in a reasonably healthy 14th spot. Losing by only 1-0 has its advantages.

Preparing for Division 1

Below is a screenshot of one of my player’s current stats.

The player is Schwarz. On the left are his stats back when he joined my club two and a half seasons ago. On the right are his stats now. He has a good many years of continuous development ahead of him yet. It’s almost frightening. All of the youngsters I got in the first and second seasons are starting to come good in a similar way.

So I don’t think I really need to get some great new players during the off-season – but it would be nice.

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PES2008’s players’ stamina gauges are frailer than eggshells. They cannot play two full games in succession. Well… they can, but then you lose them for two or more games while their stamina builds up again. You really need at least three players to cover for every position. No wonder the starting squad was so huge this year.

Things got off to a good start in Week 1 of negotiations. An offer came in for Van den Berg. That was a very welcome 2400 points, right there. This boosted my overall points to 26000. My wages at the end of the season would only be 14500 or so. I had lots of points to play with.

Here’s who I got, and why:

KIM U DON (GK, age 17)
Due to those stamina issues, I really need a third goalkeeper in the squad. This Korean youngster is 3 years younger than Friedel but already has better stats than him in every department but one (stamina of course). In addition he shares two key special skills with Friedel: 1-on-1 saves, and Penalty saves. Rather than just lazily looking at the Show All Players and the Openness to Negotiation lists, it’s always worth doing Advanced Searches for players with the exact attributes you want. I searched for a keeper aged 17-26 with the two special skills and a minimum Keeper Skills rating of 80. There were about 30 players who matched the criteria (including my own Friedel). Kim U Don was among them. Yes, a more experienced head would have been preferable, but Friedel at 20, and Ivarov at… whatever age he is, have got the experienced angles covered.

FELIPE (CB, 25)
Not much to say about this one. I traded Valeny for him, paying a couple of thousand points on top. Good stats, good height, good heading ability.

REYES (SS, Age 26)
One of Europe’s brightest real-life stars was sitting on the Unbelonging list, just waiting for a club to come in for him. His abilities actually look a little poor right now, but his development chart shows he still has a ways to go yet. He is primarily an SS, but has alternate positions of AMF and CF. Always handy, that.

CHIESA (SS, 17)
Another worthy name from real life popped up in the Youth list as a regenerated player. I snapped him up in the last negotiation week.

VAN STEENSEL (SB, 26)
I wanted a left-sided SB to replace Ruskin, wonder goals notwithstanding. In the last negotiation week I Advance Searched and found this player. His stamina is pretty poor but in all other respects he’s better than Ruskin. I traded Ruskin for him, paying only 500 points on top.

And that was all – just the four players. I hunted high and low for a great DMF with the precious Middle Shooting ability (or Shooting from Distance as it has been renamed in PES2008).

Mathieu’s club still won’t let me make a bid for him. He’s 27 now. If I don’t get him before he’s 31 or so, it won’t be worth getting him at all – I’d wait for him to retire and then reappear as a Regen. But I’ll be trying for a few more negotiation periods yet.

I did find a DMF (with Middle Shooting) called Muntari. I tried to trade Mao Molina plus 7000-odd points for him, but negotiations broke down in the final week, and Muntari went off to Valencia in the end. I left it alone for now. I still have Donadel, who is still playing just great. And Duffy is starting to mature too.

So, on the verge of game 1 in Division 1 – against Arsenal, no less – here’s my full current squad:

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From which I have chosen this First XI:

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I’d prefer to stick with Friedel in goal, but I want to give Kim U Don a little run to settle him in. And technically he is the better keeper anyway.

I’m going to start with Chiesa on the right up front as often as I can. One thing I have learned about young players is that they’re ultimately worth it.