Arsenal must find a way to replace Theo Walcott’s goals

Screen shot 2012-12-29 at 23.46.36

It’s rare that a piece of Arsenal news shocks me. We live, lest we forget, in a world where Nicklas Bendtner has claimed to have the potential to be the best footballer in the world, and in which Emmanuel Eboue once dressed as a tiger.

However, when I saw the news that Theo Walcott would miss the remainder of the season and this summer’s World Cup, I was genuinely taken aback.

When Theo Walcott first pulled up against Spurs, I was immediately concerned. His knee bulged in that unnatural way that one associates with cruciate ligament injuries. However, in his post-match press conference Arsene Wenger played down any major fears. The talk in the press room was that Walcott would be out for a few weeks at worst.

Some Arsenal fans were unwilling to countenance even that. It seems hugely ironic now, but I saw The Guardian’s David Hytner being pilloried on Twitter for publishing an article saying Walcott “could miss four weeks”. The trolls accused him of jumping the gun. They said he ought to wait for the scan rather than posting speculative news. How right they were. And yet how wrong.

The truth is far worse than anyone could have feared. The official statement says Walcott will miss “at least” six months. In reality, it could be closer to a year.

I’m actually surprised by how gutted I am for him. He’s not a player I have a particularly strong emotional attachment too. He has probably caused me as much frustration as joy.

However, I have huge admiration for the way his game has evolved over the past 18 months. As my friend Tobi said, his head finally seemed to have caught up with his feet. Walcott has overcome criticism and some fairly serious injuries to become a bona fide star of the Premier League. He had earned the prize of a legitimate title challenge and a World Cup in Brazil.

Ah, the World Cup. It’s not Arsenal’s problem, but it’s hard not to feel sorry for a guy who will miss out on a second World Cup in succession. Theo plainly loves playing for England, and it will crush him to know that, despite being selected for one aged 17, he will have no chance of playing on world football’s greatest stage until he is 29. It pains me to say it, but by then Walcott’s pace and subsequently his star may be fading — especially with the added complication of a cruciate injury.

It’s often said that it’s tragic that the likes of George Best and Ryan Giggs never got to play in the World Cup. I get that. However, they had their chance to qualify like everyone else. What about playing through a qualification campaign, earning the right to grace that stage, and then being cruelly robbed of it by a freak injury? That’s a tragedy of it’s own.

As for Arsenal? Well, it’s an enormous blow. Whenever I allowed myself to envisage Arsenal winning this season’s Premier League, our success was always contingent on the availability of our best players.

I’ve tried to work out whose injury would hit the team harder. I’ve come up with a list of three: Wojciech Szczesny, Per Mertesacker, and Olivier Giroud. As important as players like Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil might be, we have others capable of doing a similar job.

Walcott offers something special: goals.

Replacing Walcott in his starting position on the right wing is not that difficult. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has returned to training and will soon be ready to bring his direct running and skill to the side. In the meantime, young Serge Gnabry looks more than capable of bridging the gap.

However, neither Chamberlain or Gnabry is likely to offer a goal threat to match that of Walcott. Despite missing two months with another injury, Theo’s goal tally is bettered only by Giroud and Ramsey, and his recent form suggested he was preparing to build on his total of six thus far. With Giroud’s prolific start to the season now a distant memory, Walcott’s presence in the side became increasingly important.

Theo loves goals. Some accused him of being overly selfish against Spurs, but the truth is there are few players in our squad who share that unbridled desire to see the ball in the back of net. Even our resident centre-forward, Olivier Giroud, can be unduly generous at times.

Walcott’s determination to be recognised as a striker sees him repeatedly putting himself in a position to score. Look at his brace against West Ham: the first was a tame effort, but he at least had the self-confidence to take the shot on and test the goalkeeper. As for the second goal, how many other players in this Arsenal team would make a lung-bursting sprint to stick their head on a cross? Not too many.

Wenger will doubtless talk about ‘internal solutions’. There is one: Lukas Podolski. The manager has always been loathe to field both Walcott and Podolski on the flanks. However, Walcott’s absence might allow him to rebalance his midfield and include the German international regularly on the left-hand side. Although he lacks Walcott’s blistering pace, he does possess a nose for goal and a fine shot.

However, Wenger must also be considering a move in the transfer market. Prior to this incident, I received word that Arsenal had made tentative enquiries about signing a diminutive dribbling winger. I was dismissive of the news, but wonder if that interest might now intensify.

I’m not sure it will. Arsenal have plenty of wingers. Arsenal don’t necessarily need to replace Walcott, but they do need to replace his goals.

Arsene Wenger must scour the market for someone who is capable of making up that shortfall of 8-10 goals created by Walcott’s absence. They might be a winger or attacking midfielder in the ‘Draxler’ mould, or they might be a supplementary centre-forward.

The truth is that in recent weeks Theo has almost been playing as a second striker, so acquiring a front-man still seems like the priority.

The season might be over for Theo, but it’s not for Arsenal. Arsene Wenger must act fast to ensure that the rupture of Walcott’s ligament does not also precipitate the tearing up of Arsenal’s title dreams.

Twitter & Transfers

I really love Twitter. I use it every day. It’s an amazing way of interacting with folks the likes of which I would never encounter in day-to-day existence. That ranges all the way from the far-flung readers of this blog, to the wife of Bacary Sagna.

It’s also an incredible source of news. The sheer breadth of contributors means it is inevitably faster than any newspaper or television channel. If something happens, anywhere in the world, you can be pretty sure that someone, somewhere has tweeted about it.

I must confess, however, it is rather trying my patience at present. The winds of change have blown the transfer window wide open, and suddenly every @Tom, @Dick and @Harry is telling you who is going where, when, and for how much.

Transfer windows have always been testing times for those who value the truth. Journalists play fast and loose with facts, turning whispers and nudges in to concrete stories to sell papers and attract hits. With the rise of self-publication, millions of individuals are now doing just the same.

It’s a fairly easy game to play. I make an informed guess that Jan Vertonghen will end up at Spurs; I tweet something to that effect, and when it comes off I am proclaimed as being ‘ITK’ – an acronym which supposedly anoints those who are ‘in the know’. If it doesn’t come off, I can always claim the deal fell down at the last minute due to some minor technicality – the kind of insider knowledge that only reaffirms my ITK status.

The big boys are just as bad. Take Sky Sports News, who have developed a habit of ‘understanding’ something about twenty minutes after every newspaper journalist, blogger and fan has heard it via the online grapevine. Twitter poses a threat to their position as the sport’s most prominent newsbreaker, and they need to up their game and do some proper investigative journalism on a day other than transfer deadline day.

Sky have fallen behind because the whispers and rumours that used to be exclusively theirs are now public long before they reach them. A true ‘exclusive’ is almost impossible to maintain – the risk of someone getting to it before you is simply too great. It’s the same old pyramid of murky untruths and occasional scoops. It’s just a bigger, noisier and possibly more irritating pyramid than ever before.

It takes a little of the joy out of it aswell. The ‘surprise signing’ may become a thing of the past. Whoever your club signs, there’s a chance someone’s claimed a deal is in the offing somewhere, so you’re probably bored of the idea before it even happens.

I’m guilty too. I pass on the small bits of information I get here and there, when permitted, in order to try and keep fans in the loop. I’m feeding the machine. The distinction, I hope, is that I’m not fabricating anything. Maybe none of these people are, but I find it hard to believe that there as many ‘ITK’ people as Twitter would have you believe. There simply aren’t enough people working in football to have that many friends/associates to pass information on to. Something, frankly, doesn’t add up.

There is, of course, a very simple solution: switch Twitter off, cancel my Sky subscription, and wait till everything is announced and confirmed on Arsenal.com. But I’m hardly going to manage that now, am I?

Let The Longest Summer commence.

Official: Joel Campbell to jet in on Sunday

campbellwide

Hello all.  In the broader scheme of things at the club, this is not big news, but having followed it all the way I wanted to carry on the story: Costa Rican striker Joel Campbell has confirmed he will fly to England on Sunday, when he is expected to sign for Arsenal.

Campbell gave the news to website EverardoHerrera.com, who initially broke the news of Arsenal’s interest.  Although Campbell has not yet explicitly confirmed that Arsenal are his destination, he laughed and joked with the presenters when wished luck wearing the red and white shirt of the Gunners – and confirmed to journalists off-record that he would be joining Arsenal during the u-20 World Cup.

He is saving the announcement itself for a press conference which will be held by his club, Deportivo Saprissa, at 1am UK-time.  Spanish speakers among you can listen to the interview here.

Arsenal would like the player to become part of the first team squad immediately, but that will be dependent on whether or not he receives a work permit.  There are some rumours flying round that he has Irish grandparents: he doesn’t.  He is as Irish as Ryo Miyaichi (ie. not very), so like the Japanese winger would most likely have to be awarded an ‘extraordinary talent visa’.  There is also a rumour you cannot only make one application for an extraordinary talent visa per season; this is also untrue.  It’s one application per season per individual, if that makes any sense.  Anyway, Campbell will have his day before the FA panel, and that will decide whether he stays in England or goes out elsewhere on loan.  His caps for Costa Rica will certainly stand him in good stead.

UPDATE: Arsenal just confirmed the deal on the official website.  Arsene said:

“Joel Campbell has already shown that he is a player with great ability, and has also performed well on the international stage at a young age. We look forward to the formalities of the transfer being completed and working with Joel when he joins us at Arsenal.”

Why have the club chosen to announce the deal now?  Well, partly because they knew the press conference in Costa Rica was about to steal their thunder somewhat.  But there is an amusing sub-plot: Barcelona officials are currently waiting in their offices for an email confirming the deal for Cesc after the clubs reached verbal agreement this morning.

Catalan journalists close to the club have told me that Barca leaked news of an agreement and are now left feeling embarrassed and concerned that an official agreement has not been forthcoming.  Arsenal, meanwhile, are presumably enjoying making them suffer a little.  Announcing Campbell now shows we have staff on call – we’re just letting them stew.

Petty, but amusing.

Right.  The rebuilding continues.  Till tomorrow.

Afternoon update: Arsene’s press conference, Cesc, Dann, Mata, Eboue

Greetings all.  Wipe away those tears and sit down for your second blog of a big day for Arsenal.  It’s been busy for me too, but I’ve managed to keep an eye on the traumatic events at our beloved club.

First up, at 9am, was Arsene’s press conference.  Reading the quotes coming in I was quite sure that our manager had cracked under the strain and gone completely mad.  A couple of choice quotes:

“I expect nobody to leave the club.”

“At the moment we have too big a squad – We are not in a position where we are short of players.”

Naturally the twitterverse was up in arms about this.  It seemed for all the world as if The Emperor was indeed well and truly naked, and frankly it was becoming a little awkward and embarrassing.

Until, that is, I saw the video.  You can have a watch of it here.  It proves that, as ever, context is everything.  The familiar curl of the lip and the twinkle eye instantly give an entirely different reading to what Arsene says.

He’s playing a game.  And the aim of that game is “give nothing away; disturb the squad as little as possible before the Newcastle game”.  And, on reflection, he does it rather well.

Of course it’s frustrating for us as fans – when Arsene communicates with the press he communicates indirectly with us, so when he tries to pull the wool over their eyes he simultaneously deceives supporters – but he has his reasons.  What’s very clear to me is that Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri due to depart imminently.  Both players have accordingly been left out of the squad for tomorrow’s game at Newcastle.

If you believe some reports, the Cesc deal is already done.  There are conflicting stories coming out of the two clubs on this one, and the smart money is on the move being finalised on Monday.  I for one won’t be saying my goodbyes until he’s definitely off.  We’ve put up with this one for so long that another 48 hours or so isn’t going to hurt.

In Manchester, Roberto Mancini said still were “still working” on a deal for Nasri, but conceded it was “not easy”.  I’m sure a few million pounds would smooth over any difficulties there.

In his pre-game interview for Arsenal.com, Arsene was asked about Birmingham centre-half Scott Dann.  He said:

“He is one of the centre-backs we look at.”

We know Phil Jagielka is one of the others.  Hopefully Arsene’s ultimate decision is driven by quality rather than value.

According to The Guardian’s Richard Williams, Arsene later told the newspaper journalists there was no deal for Juan Mata and none was likely, whilst reports of an agreed fee for Jadson are premature.

Finally, the club today announced their squad numbers for the 20011/12 season.  New boy and possessor of “exceptional qualities” Alex Chamberlain inherits Denilson’s 15, suggesting the Brazilian probably won’t ever be back, whilst Ryo Miyaichi takes 31, Jenkinson 25, and Szczesny downgrades his 53 to a 13.  One the major reasons for the delay in announcing the numbers was that Gervinho wanted compatriot Eboue’s 27, but the club were waiting for the right-back to be sold.  Now, they’ve decided to just give it to him anyway, leaving Eboue without a squad number.  It’s safe to assume he’ll be joining Cesc and Nasri in leaving the club before August is out.

Right. Tomorrow I’ll be back with a piece more focused on the Newcastle game and the season ahead.  Till then.

Jadson identified as Cesc’s replacement

jadsonwide

Tomorrow is the first day of a new season.  Ordinarily, I’d be hugely and embarrassingly excited about that.  Today, it feels like a speck on the horizon as compared to the impending horrors of the transfer market.

The trio of Arsenal, Barcelona and Manchester City have been very quiet about the futures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, until last night, when Arsenal.com released this small clip. Give it a watch.  Arsene doesn’t say much, but he doesn’t have to.  It’s clear that Cesc Fabregas is on the way out, possibly as soon as today.

The player himself has maintained his silence, breaking it only to say:


Presumably it’s a new work phone.  Or perhaps this was the clincher in negotiations.  €29m + €6m + €5m + blackberry bold 9900.

Joking aside, it looks like I’ll have to roll out the ‘Cesc’s Arsenal career’ obituary imminently.  I might start pre-writing them for any decent player we ever have.

On Nasri, meanwhile, Arsene says the situation is “stable”.  Stable how, exactly?  Even if he’s not sold he’s still at most ten months away from leaving.  My increasing feeling is that both players will indeed be sold, and probably over the next few days.

As worried as you are about Jadon coping in the Premier League, he looks far more worried himself

The surest sign yet that the pair of playmakers are on the verge of leaving the club comes in the form that Arsenal have already identified his replacement: the Brazilian JadsonThe Independent go as far as to say a £12m fee has been agreed – and my information is that this deal is very much on Arsenal’s agenda, with the only concern surrounding the playmaker’s eligibility for a work-permit.

With all the talk about Juan Mata, I was reminded of what happened when we lost Thierry Henry.  The expectation was that we would move for a big name, like Nicholas Anelka.  Instead, Eduardo da Silva appeared from nowhere.  It’s much the same with Jadson, who ironically now plays alongside Eduardo currently for Shakhtar Donetsk.  Some papers are suggesting Arsenal would like to sign both Mata and Jadson, but I’m not convinced Arsene will move for more than one dwarfish attacker.

Jadson is even smaller than Mata, standing just 5’6″ tall.  To put that in perspective, it’s an inch shorter than Arshavin.  His age would also make him an unusual Wenger signing – he’ll be 28 in October.  Yesterday he tweeted:

“If everything goes to plan, I’ll have some news for everyone at the start of next week. Hope it works out. #happy”

If Jadson does arrive, I hope it’s as part of a concerted spending spree in order to restore morale and strengthen our ever-weakening squad. Joel Campbell, another potential signing from across the Atlantic, is due to hold a press conference in the next 24 hours at which he will announce which club he is due to join.

Speaking of press conferences, Arsene will step before the media at 9am UK-time before travelling to Newcastle.  The chances of taking Cesc or Nasri with him have got to be slim to none.  The rest of the team news is here.

For more on Cesc, Nasri, Newcastle and the season ahead, keep your eyes peeled on Arseblog for the first Arsecast of the season, with myself and Goonerholic.  I won’t, I hasten to add, be rapping.