Exodus; Chapter 1: Goodbye Gael

It has begun.

For the past few days Arsenal fans have been reading stories linking a number of first-team players with moves away from the club.  Yesterday, Gael Clichy became the first card to fall when he joined Manchester City in a deal valued at around £7m.

It’s a funny one really.  Clichy is one of those players I’ve never really imagined leaving the club.  I guess it’s because he broke in to the first-team squad so young, and is in some respect synonymous with Arsene’s reign, straddling both the Invincibles era and the current crop.  It’s a bit like when Kolo Toure left – they’re players I imagined growing old at Arsenal, instead moved on to pastures new.  And both have ended up at Manchester City.  Coincidence?  Probably not – they’re good friends, and a few quid doesn’t half soften the blow of leaving the club you love.

I remember when I first saw Clichy play as a seventeen year old triallist at Barnet.  I couldn’t believe his speed and the similarities with our first-team left-back with the time: Ashley Cole.  After some injury plagued early years, Arsene Wenger eventually saw fit to choose Clichy as Cole’s successor, with mixed results.  Whilst Clichy undoubtedly gave everything and was occasionally a driving force from left-back, he was also prone to high profile lapses of concentration – never more so than last season.

With his contract a year from expiry and the player seemingly seeking a new challenge, we had little choice but to sell.  There are, it seems, no hard feelings on Arsene’s part:

“We would like to thank Gael for eight years of terrific service to Arsenal, during which time he gave absolutely everything for the Club. He has grown and developed so much since joining us in 2003, and has been a crucial part of the team over recent seasons. Gael leaves with our respect and best wishes. We wish him the very best for his future career.”

Whilst Gael said:

“I have had eight fantastic years at Arsenal and made many friends. I have so many great memories from my time at Highbury and Emirates Stadium. I would like to say thank you to everyone at Arsenal for all of their support and friendship. I also want to send a big thank you to all the Arsenal supporters, who have always been so good to me.”

Arsene now has to decide whether to buy in an experienced replacement, or instead try to repeat the succession trick he pulled with Cole/Clichy with Kieran Gibbs.  It’ll certainly appeal to the economist in him, and he might come out with a few quotes about how buying a left-back could “kill” Gibbs’ career.  The problem is that Gibbs is so injury prone that he’s as likely to “kill” himself in a freak shaving incident.

Armand Traore is seeking a move, so we can’t possibly go in to next season with just one specialist left-back.  Some have suggested moving Thomas Vermaelen across, but there seems to me little logic in displacing your best centre-back.

I think he has to buy.  Both Leighton Baines and Jose Enrique have been mentioned, and both seem like sensible purchases: good going forwards and backwards, with Premier League experience.  Wait and see, I suppose.

Any kind of signing strategy will be dependent on what happens to Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas.  Reading the papers today, the press discuss their departure as an inevitability.  I don’t think it’s as clear cut as that, but there is a common thread between Clichy, Nasri and Cesc that worries me: Darren Dein.  The son of former Arsenal vice-chairman David, Darren is working as a representative for all the mentioned players in their negotiations with our club and others.  Worryingly, he’s also recently begun acting on behalf Robin van Persie.  He’s the man who took Thierry Henry to Barcelona, and if he can repeat the trick with Cesc this summer he’ll pocket himself more than a few bob.

For so many stars at a club of our stature to want away speaks volumes.  As the back end of last season showed, something is deeply wrong.  Even those outside the club can see it.

Some reports say that the captain will meet Arsene Wenger today, and restate his desire to leave.  Nasri is expected do the same when he returns to Colney on Thursday.

For now, we wait.  Wait to see if Cesc and Nasri get the moves they want, and if Arsene responds accordingly.  If they do go, this exodus will come to represent two things: the failure of an idealistic but ultimately flawed project, and the potential start of a new era for the club.  One in which results takes precedence over prettiness and penny-pinching.

For now, though, we just wait.

July 1st is here. Let the mayhem commence.

Today is July 1st.  It is, for all intents and purposes, a day like any other.

Except, that is, for the Arsenal-supporting inhabitants of Twitter, who seem to have spent the last fortnight or so convincing themselves that the lack of transfer activity is due entirely to the fact that the transfer window ‘officially’ opens on this arbitrary dates.  Never mind the fact that other clubs (notably Manchester United) have set about doing their business already, or that Arsenal have actually already signed someone (the Anglo-Finn defender Carl Jenkinson).  A certain section of our supporters expect today to be a parade of press conferences, in which Gervinho, Ricky Alvarez, Gary Cahill and the still-living Elvis Presley are unveiled as the latest additions to the Arsenal squad.

It’s not entirely their fault.  The press have contributed to this myth too, with the Dailly Mirror suggesting a week or so ago that a trio of signings would be unveiled.  I have to say, I consider it extremely unlikely that any player will be joining the club today – even if some of those moves are imminent.  If anything does get tied up today, I doubt it has anything to do with the mystical ‘July 1st’.

It’s not a date that passes entirely without significance, though.  Within the club, July 1st has been spoken about since the Spring as the deadline for Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri to put pen to paper on new deals.  As you all know, neither has done, and Clichy’s departure now seems imminent, with reliable sources indicating that a fee of £7m has been agreed with Manchester City.

If the move goes through, I wish Gael all the best.  He’s served the club well for eight years and given his all – although some would suggest his all has not been quite good enough to bring the club the success it craves. £7m for a left-back with a year left on his contract is a good deal, and hopefully enough to give the club the chance to identify a worthy successor. Kieran Gibbs’ susceptibility to injury makes it impossible to rely on him across the course of an entire season.

With Arsenal and City locked in discussions over Clichy, it was probably inevitable that someone would link the super-rich Mancs with Samir Nasri. Nasri continues to stall on discussions over a new deal, and City could offer him wages that Arsenal simply aren’t prepared to pay. However, whilst Nasri is doubtless on City’s radar, there has been (contrary to reports) no concrete bid. The longer this drags on, and the closer to his contract’s expiry date we go, the more power Nasri holds, so I suspect he’ll be happy to sit back and let this one play out. If City’s interest firms up, it could enable us to cash in on a player who we risk losing for free in twelve months time.

With Barca having reportedly submitted a second bid for Cesc Fabregas of around £35m, we face a very uncertain week or two at the club, which could see three first-team players heading to the exit door.  We thought we’d be losing the dead wood – the Denilsons, Rosickys and Bendtners – and instead we could be losing the last Invincible and a couple of real stars.  It is, thus far, a very Arsenal summer.

Finally today, it amused me to read that Hector Bellerin, the latest youth we’ve poached from Barca, has already said he hopes to return to Barca one day. Talk about Groundhog day.

Transfer update: Cesc, Alvarez, Diaby & Gordon

Hello all.  Quite wanted to write this blog yesterday but, frankly, London was too hot.  It was muggier than the room containing the world’s largest collection of mugs, and I was sweating like I had hyperhidrosis.

Today, however, things have returned to normal somewhat with the promise of thunder, lightning, and lots and lots of rain.  And, of course, with a story about Cesc Fabregas and Barcelona all over our back pages.  Yesterday the BBC published an article quoting a ‘senior Arsenal official’ as saying:

“The offer was made formally in writing to our chief executive (Ivan Gazidis), and we said no straight away.”

Asked if the club expected another bid, the source said:

“Possibly. If it’s enough I expect we’ll have to sell.”

Which is as close to an admission of availability as you’re going to get, and rather different in tone from the bullishness of twelve months ago.

It looks to me as if we’re trying to smoke out Barca’s interest early in the summer.  If their second offer is in the region of £40m, a deal will be done.  If it’s not, they can forget about it for another twelve months.  Cesc is privately insisting he has no interest in agitating for a move, so the ball is firmly in Barca’s court.  With their bid for Alexis Sanchez seemingly stalling, perhaps there’ll be some movement on this one within the next seven days.

The latest on Ricky Alvarez is that our interest is definitely concrete.  There has been contact between the player’s agent and Arsenal executives, and negotiations with his club, Velez Sarsfield, have begun.  It still seems an odd signing, but at this stage it’s impossible to guess how many could leave the club this summer.

One who looks like staying is Abou Diaby, after sources close to the player told me Arsenal had rebuffed a £10m offer from a Turkish club for his services.  I’m sure that’ll drive some of you potty – it seems like a good deal to me, too – but perhaps with the possibility of both Denilson and Fabregas leaving this summer Arsene feels the need to hold on to the remaining central midfielders.

Finally, a few people on Twitter have been linking us with Sunderland’s Scottish goalkeeper Craig Gordon.  It’s nonsense.  I’d be surprised if we bought a goalkeeper at all this summer.

For now, I don’t know anything more about Gary Cahill, Gervinho, or others.  It might be of interest to you that Arsenal.com have launched our 125th anniversary away kit, which instead appears to be a 124th anniversary Wycombe home kit.

Tata for now.

Ricardo Alvarez agrees contract with mystery club

Supposed Arsenal target Ricardo Alvarez has agreed a deal with an unnamed club.

Sources close to the player have told Gunnerblog that any club entering negotiations at this point is wasting their time – Alvarez has an “agreed commitment” to a mystery club.

Intriguingly, an hour or so after I posted this news to Twitter, journalist James Horncastle quoted Palermo chief Zamparini as saying he has missed out on Alvarez as he “has already signed for Arsenal”.  The full story, in Italian, is here.

Whether or not this turns out to be true remains to be seen.  Zamparini is not the most reliable of sources, and the newly wealthy Malaga are also rumoured to be on the case.

Alvarez holds an Italian passport, so would not require a work permit for any move.

I’d be lying if I said if I knew he was any good, but nonetheless, here’s some video clips so you can get unduly excited about the possibility of his arrival:

Barca are wasting Cesc’s time

One almost has to admire the gall of Barcelona.  They doth bestride the narrow world of European football like a colossus, and occasionally they behave as if they’ve got an ego to match.

Speaking to Catalunya’s TV3, club President Sandro Rossell revealed:

“I don’t know if Cesc will sign or not. We’ll offer less than €40m and if Arsenal don’t agree, then Cesc will not come. Have no doubt, he has a great desire to come here.

We have €45m for signings, plus money from sales. There is no more money.”

The immediate retort is that Cesc is worth more than €40m, so Barca’s offer is redundant.  Further analysis suggests that they’re about to spend €35m+ on their primary summer target, Udinese winger Alexis Sanchez, leaving no money for Cesc.

I’m sure at some point this summer a derisory offer will whirr through the fax machine at Highbury House.  And at that point it will, rightly, be dismissed out of hand.  Barca can tell their fans they tried, Arsenal can hold on to a player whose contract runs until 2015, and we can all wait while this tedious saga drags on another twelve months.

That’s currently how I see things panning out.  At the end of last season I thought Cesc would go, but I overestimated Barca’s desire to sign the player.  They’ve made it clear that Sanchez is more of a priority, with talk of a move for a centre-half (perhaps Milan’s Thiago Silva) also overshadowing any bid for Fabregas.

The only thing that could change things is Cesc forcing a move through by handing in a transfer request, and I consider that extremely unlikely.

It’s a good job it looks like Cesc is staying, as there are a whole load of other players heading towards the exit door.  We’re just a matter of days away from the end of June, which was seen by many as the deadline for Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy to sign new contracts with the club.  Neither has, and Clichy is now being heavily linked with a move to Serie A and Roma.

The likes of Bendtner and Denilson will also be on the move imminently – the former has been linked this morning with Newcastle, which is a move that’d make a lot of sense: they have money to burn and a vacant number nine shirt following the sale of Andy Carroll.

Meanwhile, QPR playmaker Adel Taarabt says he’s being tracked by both Arsenal and Chelsea.  I’m sure we watched him a few times last season – his form was so good it would’ve been neglectful not to – but his comments read like a ploy to extract more money from his current billionaire owners than a hint at a realistic possibility of a move.

I’m a little surprised that Arsenal are yet to do any major business.  Perhaps it will all happen in a flurry.  Perhaps it won’t happen at all.  Eek.