Countdown to the new season: Giroud’s fee; Podolski’s performances

Hello all.  As Euro 2012 hurries to a close, a new reason rapidly approaches.  In little over a week, Arsenal’s players will be back in training.  A fortnight today we have our first pre-season fixture: two 45-minute games against Southampton and Anderlecht at St. Mary’s Stadium.  It’s all tantalisingly close now.

Germany’s elimination on Thursday night means Arsenal’s interest in the competition is officially over.  Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker will go on holiday now, and return in time to join Arsenal on their trip to the Far East at the end of the month.

Whilst Mertesacker did not play a minute of competitive action during the tournament, ousted by Hummels and Badstuber, Podolski was recalled for the semi-final, only to hauled off at half-time, prompting criticism in both Germany and England.  I don’t think Arsenal fans need worry: the Podolski we saw at this tournament was shackled by a very disciplined system.  He played more as a left-midfielder than winger.  At Arsenal, the wide forwards are given more freedom to come inside and roam, and I think that will suit him down to the ground.  International football is known to be a more compressed game, with less space for attackers, and I think that is reflected in the relatively disappointing showings from some of the continent’s leading strikers – including our own Robin van Persie.

I’m still looking forward to seeing him in action next season.  Arsenal are in the unfamiliar position of having completed their major incoming transfer business ahead of pre-season.  I’m sure I’ll get flak for saying this, but I don’t foresee many big names arriving – despite what you may read elsewhere about Yann M’vila.  When you look at the squad, I just can’t see many gaps that require filling.  There are two obvious exceptions: we probably need a goalkeeper, and would hypothetically need to further strengthen the attack if Robin van Persie departs.

If the Dutchman were to go, it’d be too great a burden  to rely solely on our other new boy, Olivier Giroud.  On the subject of the Frenchman, my understanding is that the release clause we met to snare him is €13m rather than €15m – quite the bargain.  The player himself has admitted he rejected the advances of Chelsea, and can’t wait to get going in red and white:

“It is incredible for me. To already be a champion in France [with Montpellier], then play for Les Bleus, and now Arsenal.

I repeat myself, but this is a beautiful story. When I was little boy, I wanted to play in the Premier League. My heart has always looked for Arsenal.”

Not long to wait now, Olivier.  And not long for us fans, either.

Giroud signs: A good piece of proactive business

And so, Arsenal have confirmed the signing of France forward Olivier Giroud.  It’s not yet July and we’ve already completed two major transfers.  This is unusually proactive behaviour from Arsenal.

Arsene Wenger, who has made plenty of unofficial statements about the player already, officially said this:

“We are delighted to have secured the signing of Olivier Giroud. He has a very good physical presence and is exceptional in the air, with a great work ethic. We are excited about Olivier joining us and he will add an additional dimension to our attacking options next season.

He has proved that he is capable of performing at the top level with club and country, and we saw what a big influence he was in Montpellier’s championship-winning side last season. We all look forward to Olivier joining us and seeing him play in an Arsenal shirt.”

Giroud himself, meanwhile, is clearly delighted to have signed.  Presumably it was the player’s strong desire to make the move that saw this deal tied up relatively quickly:

“I am delighted to be here at Arsenal and to be part of one of the great teams in English football. It’s a huge satisfaction to join this great club and it’s been a dream since I was young to play in the Premier League.

I was attracted by the philosophy of football and Arsène Wenger’s ‘touch’ at this club. I have always admired Arsenal with its great history and reputation, and I now hope to achieve great things here. I’m very proud to be a Gunner and I will give my best for all the Arsenal fans.”

We owe a debt to Giroud’s France and former Tours team-mate, Laurent Koscielny, who doubtless helped convince him of the upside to joining Arsenal.  We were aided too by a very reasonable release clause in Giroud’s contract, pricing him at around £13m – not bad for the top goalscorer in Ligue 1.

This remains a big step up for a man who was playing football in France’s second division a few years ago, but Koscielny has shown such a transition can be managed with talent and hard work.  A quick glance at Giroud’s career record shows 93 goals in 216 games – not bad for someone deemed a slow starter.

He certainly has the qualities to make an impression in the Premier League: he’s tall, powerful and good in the air. His adaptation will probably be helped by the fact that he seems an intelligent guy: at Tours he was also undertaking a university degree, and made an impressive stand against homophobia in football whilst posing for a gay magazine.

Of course, there will be further question marks over how this signing relates to the future of Robin van Persie.  The pair do share certain similarities: they both prefer to play in the central striking role, are both left-footed, and both enjoy taking the keeper by surprise by striking the ball early – often on the volley.  However, I don’t take either Giroud’s arrival – or that of Lukas Podolski – as confirmation that RVP is off.  Both signings were necessary to improve upon the efforts of Chamakh, Gervinho, Park and Arshavin last season.  Both could play with RVP, and provide backup artillery if necessary.  If, however, the worst comes to the worst and Van Persie is sold this summer, at least we’ve begun the job of replacing him a good while before 5pm on transfer deadline day.

We’re taking more control of our fate, and not letting one player determine our entire summer transfer policy.  Makes a change, that.

Giroud on his way in; The Crab scuttling behind

When even Arsene Wenger is prepared to talk publicly about a transfer, you can be pretty sure it’s a done deal.  Yesterday, in an interview with TF1, he confirmed that France striker Olivier Giroud is “90%” certain to be an Arsenal player next season.  Arsene continued to eulogise over his forthcoming signing, saying:

“I think he has exceptional potential and will integrate very well in our collective and our way of playing. He’s a real team player and knows how to combine with other players and I’m sure he will do well with us.”

He also had some positive words for Lukas Podolski, who is likely to start for Germany in their Quarter-Final with Greece tonight:

“Podolski did a great job for the German team, he has superb team work. He plays in a cautious way sometimes, but he’s still scored a very important goal against Denmark for his 100th cap.

I am very happy with what I’ve seen from him.”

He sounds like a kid on Christmas morn who can’t wait unwrap his new presents.  Arsene loves signing a striker, and next season he’ll have some proper ones to play with after a campaign making do with Chamakh and Park.  Hopefully he’s corrected his error there, and these strikers are ones actually capable of both playing matches and scoring the occasional goal.

Of course, I can’t help but notice that at a time when the future of Robin van Persie is in so much doubt, we’ve bought two left-footed strikers.  The other day Arsene bet a reporter an ice-cream that RVP wouldn’t sign for Juve – hardly ‘putting his house on it’.  It would be quick to put two and two together and infer the worst.  However, there’s no point worrying: if Robin signs a new deal, we’ve got a terrific set of strikers.  If he goes, at least we’ve begun the job of replacing him, avoiding the horror of a last-minute trolley dash.  And if he stays and sees out his deal, that will give the new boys plenty of time to settle in, and for Arsene to assess what further action might need to be taken.

By the way, that distant fanfare you can hear is not a premature welcome for Giroud, but one heralding the return of Denilson.  I can already see an orderly queue forming at the club shop as fans wait to get their new shirt printed with his name.  Not his squad number, though, as he doesn’t have one.  If Denilson does return I can only imagine it will be for a short while, with Spain a probably destination – although the Spanish club that showed most interest for him last summer have since been relegated.

We might just be stuck with him.

“What do you mean there’s no football tonight?!”

My cry last night shook Islington.  Euro 2012 has been a veritable feast of football, then last night the waiter inexplicably stopped bringing delicacies to my table.  I had to watch Channel 4’s Secret Eaters.  Pity me.

At least my abstinence has had the effect of making me disproportionately excited for the Czech Republic vs Portugal later this evening – so much so I’ve even had a flutter with FREEbets.org.uk.  Tomas Rosicky is unlikely to be fit to play, and that’s a significant blow for a Czech side I count as a little fortunate to get out of Group A.  The Quarter-Finals are shaping up nicely: England face Italy, whilst the tie of the round is surely France versus Spain, with Laurent Koscielny expected to start in place of the suspended Philippe Mexes.

Koscielny’s France team-mate, Olivier Giroud, curtly told reports yesterday that he has “not signed for Arsenal”, although I still expect him to shortly after France’s probably elimination on Saturday.  His arrival will edge Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh closer towards the exit door, although finding clubs who can afford to a) take the gamble of signing players with intermittent form and b) pay their wages won’t be easy.

Speaking of wages, I see Mathieu Flamini has been ‘released’ by AC Milan.  Some Arsenal fans have taken the opportunity to have a bit of a chuckle at Mathieu’s expense, but I think they’re missing the point: Flamini is a serial bosman mover.  He ran down his contract at Marseille, did the same at Arsenal, and has now completed a hatrick with Milan.  When he eventually retires, he’ll be a very rich man indeed.

Hmm.  That’s about it for today.  There’s not much happening, I suppose.  At least the Euros are on tonight.

Some Thoughts On Theo

I don’t know about you, but my emotional interest in international tournament is always two-fold. I cheer on my national side, England, doing my best to put aside my differences with various members of the squad. Beyond that, I look out for Arsenal players in action for their respective countries, and generally wish them well. Last night, for example, I was rather caught up in the varying fortunes of strike pair Lukas Podolski and Robin van Persie. The former scored on his 100th appearance for Germany as he sailed through to the Quarter-Finals. Robin, meanwhile, misfired again and is now heading on a plane home to ruminate further on his club future.

The night before, however, both my interests were intertwined, as Arsenal winger Theo Walcott came off the bench to drag England to victory against Sweden. After the pedestrian efforts of James Milner, his pace and direct running provided a welcome change in tempo. Just three minutes after entering the field, his deflected strike drew the score level at 2-2. And it was his searing run and pinpoint cross that allowed Danny Welbeck to pirouette and snatch England’s winner.

Unfortunately, Theo has now suffered a set-back in training, with a possible reoccurrence of the hamstring injury that troubled him at the back end of last season. If that is found to be the case, it will almost certainly end his tournament. It’s a shame for Walcott, who has waited six years to get on the field in a major international competition, but whatever happens it surely won’t be forgotten that without him England would be staring down the barrel of a group stage exit.

Of course, his game-changing contribution served to remind Arsenal fans that it is not just Robin van Persie’s future that is in doubt. Theo Walcott’s existing contract also expires in just twelve months, and there has been a far less tangible effort on Arsenal’s part to secure an extension.

There still seem to be serious doubts over Walcott’s ability. The emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a genuine contender for his first-team spot with Arsenal and England has not helped him. In my opinion, we’d be mad to let him go. In purely cynical terms, he’s a major name and a commercial asset to the club. However, on the pitch, his understanding with Robin van Persie is almost telepathic, and his stats (for goals and assists) suggest that despite his capacity to frustrate he remains productive.

The problem for Theo will always be that he was hyped as the new Thierry. He’ll never be that. However, considering that when we bought him we were essentially taking a £10m gamble, the fact he’s turned in to a Champions League and international level performer is actually a pretty decent return. If he were to ever leave, we ought to expect a significant profit – and to do so, it is essential he is under contract. Letting it run down yet further makes no sense whatsoever.

The fixtures are out first thing this morning. All the chatter says we’ve got Sunderland at home in the first game. That’d be a nice start.