Stop the presses – Arles Avignon have won a game

Photo: Icon Sport

After 1080 minutes of football in Ligue 1, AC Arles Avignon have finally grabbed their first win in the top flight.

Last night, Arles defeated Caen (the only side with similar form to Arles-Avignon at the moment) 3-2. Arles upturn in form in October gives them some remote hope of scaling the chasm between them and Nice in 17th. Only 8 points.

One of the rarest things you will ever see in football is Kaba Diawara either playing well or scoring. The 34 year old former striker, who has played for more or less every club around Europe scored his first goal for Arles, then bettered that by converting a penalty. The only rarer thing you are likely to see on a football field is Karl Henry making a spectacular tackle. Wait, that happened yesterday as well…..

Only Steve Claridge can rival Diawara in terms of the vast number of sides he’s turned out for. Difference being Claridge tended to score.

The match wasn’t one for the defensively minded out there. Caen took the lead through Youssef El-Arabi’s strike in the 10th minute, after a well worked move by Caen that left the entire Arles defence scrambling.

But Arles didn’t let their heads drop (you think they would after 11 games without a win.) Gael Germany equalised after a sensational through-ball from Hameur Bouazza, which he deftly put past Caen keeper Alex Thebaux.

Then in the 33rd minute, Camel Meriem’s high free kick was found with a glancing header from Diawara found the corner of the net. Cue jubilation in the crowd.

However, not to be outdone with a free-kick routine, Caen responded after half-time magnificently as Kandia Traore bicycled kick the equaliser. Lovely finish but question marks over the Arles defence who appeared static as the free-kick came in, leaving Traore unmarked.

More drama followed in the 76th minute after Thebaux lunged in recklessly on Franck Dja Djedje. Penalty given, although Thebaux may have touched the ball. Either way, Diawara hit it straight and true and Arles held on for their first win in Ligue 1.

Manager Faruk Hadzibegic  reflected on the monumental win, he said: “We suffered a lot, but we deserved the win. Caen played well, but that’s football.”

“We won thanks to the determination. We had some difficulties early in the game but the team has managed to remain calm and make a difference. It’s good for morale and I dedicate this victory to all those who work for the club and the supporters. It is a victory that we can revive from even if the road is still long.”

So modest, the threat of the wooden spoon the day before clearly scared Arles Avignon and congratulations to them on their first win and the fact they doubled their goal tally for the season in one game. Still on -18 goal difference and 8 points behind at least for this weekend, there’s a mountain to climb. At least Arles have actually started to climb it finally.


The hunt for a win in October – AC Arles Avignon

Finally, there is relatively good news to report about Arles Avignon. Well I say good news, that maiden win in Ligue 1 still eludes our renegades from the south coast of France. They’ve finally managed to get some points on the board this season, with back-to-back draws against fellow promoted and now surprise run-away leaders Brest and Lyon too.

It really is remarkable seeing the contrast between Arles-Avignon and Stade Brestois. It was fairly obvious that Arles-Avignon were going to find the transition tough at best, but the Brittany club have been sensational this season, with only 2 defeats in those 11 games. They started fairly poorly but have been on a roll since with the Arles game being the only blemish in their form.

Brest have done something which is often not associated with promoted sides, and that’s having a rock-solid defence. They didn’t concede a goal in October, mainly thanks to Ahmed Kantari and Moise Apanga being almost ever-present in that back four. Hardly big names but both have grasped their opportunity, and Kantari has said that they deserve their place at the top. It would be hard to argue with him.

The game with Arles was a toughly contested game but featured fleeting opportunities for both sides. Lady Luck smiled on Arles’ side for the first time in the campaign, after Brest hit the woodwork twice in the second half. Nolan Roux’s header was the key chance in the game for Brest and it rattled the crossbar. Coincidently, Roux, only 22 has been superb this season, with the press speculating where his next move may be.

So, Arles managed to grab their first point, next up was Olympique Lyonnais. Now, Lyon haven’t had the best of starts to the season, but October saw them pick up some semblance of consistency under Claude Puel and they finally progressed up the table to 10th. The game was highly anticipated, a must win game for under-fire Puel, but it will be more fondly remembered for the weather. Stormy conditions caused the football quality to deteriorate , even more so with Arles playing.

Bizarre scenes before the match started. The Lyon players all stood on the pitch embracing each other, shaking hands and such possibly showing their backing of Claude Puel. This was after reports that Cris had led a revolt against the manager in a meeting, mainly due to his decision to drop him in previous games. Low and behold, Cris made the biggest impact in this game, literally by elbowing Camel Meriem, forcing him to be stretchered off.

Arles made the most of the slippery conditions at Parc Des Sports and they finally scored their first home goal of the season, through Franck Dja Djedje with a superb jink around Hugo Lloris and slotted in between two Lyon defenders. Cue jubilation and a half-time lambasting from Puel. It worked as Jimmy Briand scored straight after half-time with a downward header that should have been held by Cyrille Merville.

Either way, a fantastic draw for Arles, even considering Lyon’s problems this season. To quote the song – Sur le pont d’Avignon. L’on y danse, l’on y danse.

They took that result to Lorient and were roundly treated to a Kevin Gameiro masterclass. Ah well, a massive improvement in October for them. Here’s some highlights and November’s fixtures for Arles-Avignon:

6th Nov – Caen (H)

13th Nov – Monaco (A) – (biggest game in terms of league positioning)

21st Nov – Bordeaux (H)

27th Nov – Valenciennes (A)

Also we should note that Arles Avignon and Willem II are both on two points this season. If the two end on the same points at the end of the season, and rock bottom of the leagues across Europe, then a fixture should be contested at a neutral venue (DW Stadium) to decide who is the worst team in Europe. I think it has legs Platini….it should be dubbed UEFA Wooden Spoon

Arles Avignon vs Willem II - UEFA Wooden Spoon final?



AC Arles-Avignon – Wake me up when September ends

Derby day destruction: Arles-Avignon brushed aside by Marseille

After August’s abysmal start to Arles-Avignon’s first time in Ligue Un, hopes were slim for September’s fixtures. Low and behold, Arles-Avignon didn’t deliver on the field and are still yet to achieve a point, But they certainly delivered in terms of off the pitch ludicrousness.

The main story of the month at the club was the dismissal of manager Michel Estevan. Now, this happened before as you may recall in July, after Estevan has brought the club to the promised land (a term Arles probably don’t want to say anymore) and the disagreements over his salary. He was reinstated soon after, mainly down to the players protests. Not this time. Estevan was suspended for 5 days after their 4-0 away defeat against PSG and right before their derby against Marseille. He was soon sent packing.

Now, you can’t dispute that Arles-Avignon’s early season form was the worst possible, but the lack of loyalty to the coach who brought this team from the 5th tier of French football to the top, is in my opinion rather sickening. The chances of Arles staying up beforehand were remote, but it seems the club president Salerno is intent on stopping the rot and the power struggle in the boardroom is well documented, and Salerno decided it best for the club to change the coach now rather than later. Bold move.

His quick-fix solution was the appointment of former Bosnian coach Faruk Hadzibegic. Not exactly a big name to anyone outside of his native country, but the 52 year-old has been around the blocks a bit. A former Yugoslavian sweeper (possibly useful having a defensive minded manager considering that Arles have conceded 20 goals this season already) in the 1980’s but more famously remembered for his penalty miss at Italia 90. You can’t take away anything from a man in that terrific Yugoslav side, featuring Pompey legend Robert Prosinecki.

Estevan's replacement. Best of luck Faruk

His foray into management started in France at Sochaux in 1995, whom he took to Ligue 1 within 2 years.  Spells at lower league French clubs such as Troyes, Dijon and his last side Bastia suggest that he could be the man to work something out at Europe’s most dysfunctional club. Then again, the amount of teams he’s managed in a decade, and the fact he was relegated last season with Bastia makes me think this spell in Southern France won’t end favourably either.

Also, in rather predictable news this month, Robert Duverne, the notorious fitness coach from the French World Cup squad jumped ship after around  two months as part of the set-up. Now, it would be wrong of me to suggest a Frenchman is a quitter, a unfair stereotype, but there is something slightly unnerving about Duverne. However, it hasn’t put Gerard Houiller off bringing him to Aston Villa as a fitness coach. Let’s hope he doesn’t fall out with John Carew a la Anelka. That’s a fight you are bound to lose.

Salerno told Reuters of the club crisis: “What worries me is what I saw at the Parc des Princes. Some players have no place at Arles-Avignon.”

He wants to stay at the top table, but unfortunately doesn’t have the quality to stay there. Risky signings such the Greek contigent of Angelos Charisteas and Angelos Basinas plus Spanish duo Francisco Pavon from Real Zaragoza and Alvaro Meija from Real Murcia  just haven’t paid the dividends. Old stock in most cases and Meija given the unenviable task of trying to stop the continous barrage from opposing teams.

Keeper Vincent Plante with Ligue Un's toughest task

One glimmer of hope for the side is keeper Vincent Plante, who’s been very good between the sticks often saving Arles-Avignon from a thrashing and limiting the damage. Arles can always rely upon Benjamin Psaume, their talismanic midfielder to show passion for the team, unfortunately the rest of the team seem condemned to relegation. Already.

Arles-Avignon’s results in September took a turn for the worse, although the opponents were that much tougher. As mentioned previously, PSG hammered them 4-0 in the Parc Des Princes. This was followed by a huge home derby against Marseille and it seemed destiny for Andre Ayew to grab two of the goals in a 3-0 win for OM. Ayew didn’t celebrate much, and the fans applauded his performance upon substitution. He was an integral part of their promotion last year, it seems a long way away now. It was a much-needed win for Marseille after their problems in the opening weeks.

Next, a cup game against Caen, where only 4,000 Arles fans saw the team succumb to a 1-0 loss. Respectable considering Caen’s good start, and a fabulous strike by Kandia Traore. Finally, a 3-1 loss against Montpellier compounded the all-round general misery, although Yann Kermorgant grabbed Arles third goal in 8 games. Yes, the only thing remotely positive to say.

So what of October. Well the weekend saw Auxerre destroy Arles 4-0, but maybe they can turn it around. Here’s the fixtures for this month after the international break (or a rest for Arles’ case.)

16th Oct – Brest (A)

24th Oct – Lyon (H)

29th Oct – Lorient (A)

Two tough away games to teams who’ve had great starts to the season and hosting another giant, slumbering this season in Lyon. Their best chance is probably the Lyon game, again unlikely but with Lyon this season, anything is possible.

Here’s some highlights of Arles-Avignon’s ‘performances’ in September, with the rather strange choice of ‘Starlight’ by the Supermen Lovers. Arles aren’t a shining star, more a supernova of a club.

AC Arles-Avignon: Harsh reality of top-flight football (August)

Arles-Avignon line-up united against Rennes, but ultimately another defeat (Photos Jean-Pierre LUPI)

About a month or so ago, I wrote a piece about Ligue Un’s newest side AC Arles-Avignon. Within that, I attempted to chronicle the recent history of the small club, with their astronomical rise through the lower tiers of French football and the expectations of tricky times ahead for the side. So with four fixtures down, are the French underdogs emulating the start of their English counterparts Blackpool?

In a word, no. Arles-Avignon have started the league campaign with four straight defeats against Sochaux (who’ve stunned critics with their start), Lens, front-runners Toulouse and Rennes. They stand rock bottom of the league, 3 points adrift of Champions League qualifiers AJ Auxerre, who clearly have bigger fish to fry, or at least attempt to in the Group of Death.

That doesn’t mean Arles Avignon have been outclassed. Far from it in fact. Each defeat has been by a single goal, which is better than many pundits in France have been suggesting they would get on. The manager, Mr Marvel himself, Michel Estevan has been busy in the transfer market attracting no less than 15 new players in the window. The main draw being attracting Greek hero Angelos Charisteas, the man who scored the winning goal in the Euro 2004 final against Portugal of course, to the club.

Distant fairytale memories for Charisteas as he finds a new fable to write his name in

This could be an indication of how far the mighty have fallen in a matter of 6 years. Quite possibly considering that Fernando Santos’ first act as Greek coach was to drop him from the national side. He may have been declining since then, notably at Nurnberg, but no one can dispute the coup that Estevan has made actually bringing him to a club of Arles-Avignon’s stature. Couple that with fellow Greek, and former international captain Angelos Basinas, Estevan must be praised for bringing them to Arles but also for taking a gamble.

Some other players may be recognisable to English football fans, mainly for the wrong reasons. Yann Kermorgant, exiled by Leicester due to his penalty chip in the Playoffs, has played in all 4 games so far. Algerian Kamel Ghilas has been acquired on loan from Hull, after making 13 appearances last year in Humberside but never really showing any class and effectively playing in the reserves a lot of the time.

His best signing appears to be Vincent Plante, the superb keeper from Caen. If you need anything at this level, it’s an experienced pair of safehands in between the sticks, and he’s pulled off some magnificent saves so far this year, limiting the damage on occasion.

Arles-Avignon have been unlucky so far in Ligue 1. In the last game against Rennes, they were unfortunate to not at least get a point, dominating following on from Victor Montano’s 28th minute goal. Even Rennes manager, Frederic Antonetti sympathised with the task of Estevan. He said: “This team of Arles-Avignon has caused us many problems and they will create surprises in this league. When you rise up the league, from CFA2 to L1, with a club that does not have deep pockets, it shows you how good the manager is!”

The club president, Marcel Salerno was also confident that Arles could get out of the early season slump. He said on the club’s official website : “Against Rennes we showed that we had our place at this level, contrary to certain statements. We are on the right path.”

The main issue for the club at the moment is to create attendance at the Parc Des Sports. Now with a capacity of 17,518, the first two home games saw attendance around half of that. Of course this is mainly down to the fact that the club moved to to Avignon as they rose up the league to conform with league stipulations. Maybe that will change if the results do, you should back your local team.

Things won’t get easier in September for Arles-Avignon. Next up is a daunting trip to the capital to face PSG, not as tough a fixture as it was in the past though, followed up by the visit of the French champions, Olympique Marseille. Tough task, but if Arles want to make an impact in the league, this is surely the time to do it, with several teams having backroom issues and consistency only being found by Toulouse (4 wins from 4).

I hope to make this a monthly blog, keeping you up to date with my favourite French side. Here’s the highlights from Arles-Avignon’s home games so far