Wenger on nearly signing Ribery, Wilshere and Diaby’s best position, and the transfer window

This week Arsene Wenger answered questions from the fans as part of an online webchat.  Here are some transcripts of the questions and answers I thought might interest you:

Which player do you most regret not signing?

Well there are many… many many many.  We spoke about Ronaldo who nearly signed here… Ribery, Makelele… Because the number of top players is restricted, you know them, and in the end it’s always down to ‘are you first?’, ‘are you spending a little bit less money?’, and we lost a few cases with Chelsea because at that time they were very very rich.  And as well there are some players we missed because we had some doubts about them.

Ronaldo is a massive one, but we don’t feel guilty about that, because we did our job very well: we were on the case, very close, we were the first and in the end Man United had an agreement with Sporting Lisbon because they had a partnership. 

Whilst missing out on Ronaldo is no news to us, failing to sign Franck Ribery is something we haven’t neccessarily had confirmed before.  I believe it was close to happening in the Summer of 2006, but a fee couldn’t be agreed with Marseille.  It’s a shame, because Ribery has gone on to prove his class with Bayern Munich and is probably way out of our price-range now.

How do you compare this team with the team that won the league in 2004?

That team in 2004 was of course special, but funnily I believe that this team is not very far, and can get there as much as the team in 2004.  That’s the question you want to answer in the next month – not only to show that we have potential, but show that we can respond to the expectation level for our fans – I believe we can.  But at the moment my regret is that we swim a little against the stream because we do not feel that around the team there is the same belief as we have inside.  We can understand that, we can take that on board, because we lost some games we should not have lost.  But we have a few months in front of us to show that we are right to believe in our strengths and that we can be compared to the teams of such quality in 2004 and maybe even aim to be stronger.

The belief I have in this team is not shared by the immediate people who love this club.  That’s why I work very hard to convince everybody that we have the ambition, the motivation and the quality to achieve that.

When answering this question, Arsene seemed a little bit annoyed what he perceives as a lack of support from “the immediate people who love this club” – us, the fans.  But Arsene must see why.  Booing is a step too far, but blind faith won’t win any trophies.

Which position will Jack Wilshere end up in and why?

I believe he will end up as a central midfielder behind a striker.  The ‘Bergkamp role’ – he can play maybe a little bit deeper, but you need as well to have the ball in midfield, so he might play a little bit behind the striker, just off the striker, you know?  Because I am convinced that he will have a tremendous power… penetrative power – we forget that this boy is only 16!  You give him four more years… he is a very strong boy, and I believe he can penetrate, he can give a final ball, and he can score goals aswell.  And he’s a passionate guy, he’s a committed one; not afraid of tackles; you would want these players to finish central.

I don’t think that Jack will ever be tall, but he will be very strong, very very strong.  We have a good comparison with players of his own age – he’s so strong in terms of pure power, pure force, pure strength, that you imagine that in four more years this boy will be massively strong.

He is comparable to Rooney.  I wouldn’t like to put too much pressure on him – that’s one of the basic problems you have when you’re talented and very very young – Theo Walcott  went through that at the start – there’s a lot of enthusiasm at the start and then suddenly they say ‘Oh, he’s not as good as he thought he would be’, and there’s a lot of scepticism around the player, and then he has to survive at the top level and it’s not easy.  But Theo dealt well with that and I’m confident we can surround Jack well enough to deal with it.

From the above, we can probably conclude that Jack is some kind of superhero.  I hope we see more of him in the FA Cup.

Do you intend to buy in the January transfer window?

At the moment I am more to develop the team that we have because I feel when you look at our players most of them are under-21 players and there’s a lot to come from them.  That’s why if it appears that we can make something special… at the moment I must sincerely say we have not seen anything special that can convince us we will be much stronger, so I cannot say that something will happen… but you never know.

Sometimes a signing can give an extra belief to the squad, and it can help even if on the pitch it’s not that convincing.  We don’t reject it, but we cannot say for certain it will be done. 

We have gone with a policy that we have to respect, and the solution is not to go out and buy every time you do not have what you want, because you destroy the work you have done so far.  I believe we have a young team, a club in a very good shape – we have a very good financial situation… that is suddenly quite important – and I believe that what you want with a young team is for your fans to be behind them, and give you the extra something special that you do not have when you have not won yet. 

Please let this just be pre-window rhetoric.  And again with a little elbow in the rib of the fans, eh?

Would you rather win the league of the Champions League?

It’s difficult to choose.  very difficult to choose.  We want to win one of the two, no matter which it is.

Arsene couldn’t really answer this, could be?  If he said the Champions League (which I suspect is the realistic answer, for this season at least), he’d be slated for not showing the required ambition in the league.

Can Abou Diaby claim a spot in central midfield?

Yes.  He has all the ingredients; physical, technical – but at the moment, not tactical.  I believe in his mind he is more an offensive player, not a defensive player.  And that technical defensive awareness is more in Denilson, say, or Song at the moment.   Diaby is more interested in going forward and making a difference going forward… but we try to develop that in him and he has the ingredients to become a central midfielder.

How do you develop that in him?

By working on it, he’s conscious of that… but I believe also you have to choose a position for a player where he feels completely comfortable and is suited to his psychological profile… and if you place somebody against his deep desire, he can never be completely himself.

I can’t help but come away from that wondering what exactly the point in Diaby is.  He’s not a winger, but he’s not a midfielder.  What is he?  Maybe he doesn’t see himself as a defensive player, but a look at his passport will see his profession listed as ‘footballer’ not ‘attacker’.  If he wants to make a career for himself, he has to get his priorities in order.

Who is the most improved player this season?

Maybe Song… Song and Djourou are at level that was not completely expected by everybody… Denilson as well… of course it’s always younger players, but they have made a big step forward.

Big up yourself, Song.  Wenger’s faith in you is clearly undying.  <cries>

Anyway, there is other news.  Potentially significant news.  The Board has been restructured, and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith has departed.  As the Chairman points out, this means she is not exempt from the ‘Lockdown’ agreement, and is free to sell her shares.

Now, I can’t pretend to know much about the truth behind Lady Nina’s departure (yet), but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was linked to her desire to cash in – with Alisher Usmanov a likely buyer.  If that were to happen, it would immediately trigger an automatic offer for the rest of the shares in the company, and the club would face its more serious takeover proposition to date.

Hm.  Wait and see, I guess.  More on this in the next few days.

Fans witness return of ‘The Messiah’

Fans had turned out at Underhill in droves hoping to witness the man who is charged with saving our season.  He’s fought his way back from the brink of retirement and now he is ready to take on the world.  As he took his first steps on to the pitch, the atmosphere was electric.  This is it: a new dawn, a new beginning.

Yes, that’s right.  Amaury Bischoff came on.

Joking aside, last night was all about Eduardo.  The Croatian played 45 minutes in a 2-0 win and looked as good as one could possibly hope.  A few more games under his belt and he’ll be ready for first-team action.  His return is a testament to the hard work that he and the medical staff have put in, and the first time he puts the ball in the net again would take the roof off the Emirates – if it had one.

Eduardo was part of a strong Reserve side captained by young Gavin Hoyte, who has just signed a new long-term deal with the club.  One would expect that to be followed by a loan move to a Championship club in January.

The goals last night came from two other potential loanees: Mark Randall, who tucked home after a delicious through-ball from Fran Merida, and Kieran Gibbs, who smashed in an effort from the edge of the area after a cut-back from the impressive Jack Wilshere.

Arsene Wenger seems to have given an interview to France Football, drips and drabs of which are now appearing in translation in the English press.  Speaking about summer signing Samir Nasri, he has expressed his concern at the number of injuries the midfielder has already suffered:

“Samir is a mix of [Robert] Pires and [Alexander] Hleb. I told myself that signing him could prove a positive gamble. But he picked up many injuries, too many!  You tell yourself that if the guy was always with us, he would bring us a lot, but for the moment he has only been there half of the games, and fits and starts are bad for high level football.

The partnership with Clichy has developed, but we are still far from what can be produced because he is too often absent.”

It is concerning, but it oughtn’t surprise us – Wenger confesses Nasri was a gamble (albeit a £13m one), and he had struggled with health and fitness whilst at Marseille.  If he could only get a decent run of games together, I’m sure he could be a massive player for us.

Le Boss says that “on a human level”, Gallas-gate was the biggest challenge he has faced as Arsenal manager.  Would it be churlish to say that it was a problem of his own making?  Well then call me Mr. C Hurlish of 10 Churlish Street.

Yesterday, Arsene took part in a webchat on ArsenalTVOnline.  Somehow, I conspired to miss it, but unless the questions were as heavily censored as a political debate on Russia TV, it’s logical to assume he was asked about the current state of the squad and his desire to improve it.  If/when a transcript of that ‘chat’ emerges, it could prove to be interesting.  Did anyone catch it?  Drop me a line if so.

Elsewhere, Lassana Diarra is reported to be on the verge of an £18m move to Real Madrid.  Wonder how Arsene might respond to a question about that.


He broke his leg, but now he’s back

And Darren Bent is still quite cack;

Eduardo da Silva, Arsenal’s number 9.

Almost ten months after Martin Taylor’s horrific challenge left the Croatia striker with a compound fracture to his left fibula and open dislocation of the ankle, Eduardo will take to the field today for Arsenal Reserves against Porstmouth’s second string.

It’ll be incredibly heart-warming to see him play again, and I hope the fans and the management show the neccessary patience to make sure Eduardo is in the best possible shape when the time finally arrives for what will undoubtedly be the feel-good moment of the season: his return to the first-team.

If you can’t get down to Underhill, the game is on ArsenalTV.  Let’s hope everything goes according to plan.

Welcome back, Eddy.  You’ve been missed.

As You Were

After West Ham held them to a draw at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea joined Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal in failing to pick up a victory this weekend.  Just a few weeks back it was the first time such a phenomenon had occurred in the history of the Premier League.  Now it’s happened again.  This, it seems, is the league no-one wants to win.

The results mean it’s essentially as you were at the top of the table, though Aston Villa have leap-frogged us into fourth place.  I have to say, it just makes the points we have dropped this season all the more frustrating.  It’s a gigantic ‘if’, but a couple of victories here and there would’ve seen us right in the mix.

Speaking of ominously huge ‘ifs’, if we can beat Liverpool next week we’ll be just five points off the current leaders.  Emmanuel Adebayor is under no illusions as to the importance of the game:

“If we think because we have beaten Man United at home, Chelsea away so we are going to win easily against Liverpool then we have got everything wrong.  Every weekend comes a massive game, massive game, massive game for us. [Each is] the game of the season. We all know how important this is for the Club so we will just try to keep our dreams alive.”

It certainly is a big game.  So big that I’m probably going to miss my grandparents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary to be there.

Some things are bigger than family.

Song, Denilson and Diaby aren’t good enough to start

Middlesbrough 1 – 1 Arsenal (Adebayor 17, Aliadiere 29)
here; Arsene’s reaction here

In isolation, this isn’t a ‘bad’ result.  In fact, it’s an improvement on the Halcyon days of last season, where we actually contrived to lose at The Riverside.  And when one considers that Liverpool and Manchester United also dropped points yesterday, this 1-1 draw begins to look even more positive.

And yet, the aftermath of yesterday’s match saw fans on internet forums and blogs alike almost as depressed as they were after the 3-0 loss to Man City.  And I don’t really blame them.

Why?  Because taking satisfaction from this result is an admission of mediocrity.  In his post-match interview, Arsene said:

“I believe we are on the way up, comparing how we were at the beginning of the season; then we would have lost a game like this.”

First of all, that statement seemingly confirms that Arsene went into the season with a side he expected to lose at places like Middlesbrough, which is remarkably neglectful if true.  But more than that, it seems to be imploring fans to be pleased with results like this on the back of previously poorer efforts.

So because we had to sit through the dire defeats at places like Fulham, we should be chuffed at arriving at this point of mediocrity, expressed perfectly in this drab draw?  I’m sorry, Arsene: I don’t buy it.

We were painfully average.  Not until the last five minutes of the game were Boro under any notable pressure.  We had a decent spell either side of our goal – a header from a corner by Emmanuel Adebayor – but the midfield (the same who played and lost at Stoke) simply did not have enough about them to dominate the game.

In the second half, Cesc really tried to make things tick, and I felt desperately sorry for him.  Song, Denilson, and Diaby are nowhere near ready to be starting games regularly for a top four side – perhaps they never will be.  Song’s passing was truly atrocious yesterday, and the way he let Tuncay drift goal-side of him for the Aliadiere’s equaliser, even turning his back on the play, was disgracefully lazy.  Would he get into another Premier League side?  I have my doubts.  Denilson is a trier, but no wide-man; it is often said of slow players that they are ‘one-paced’ – Denilson is ‘none-paced’.  Diaby, meanwhile, is perhaps the most infuriating of the trio.  Blessed with all the desirable physical and technical attributes to make a career as a footballer, he seems to suffer chronically from on-field apathy.  His mistakes are more careless than craftless, and that makes him so much harder to forgive.  Come January, these players need to be bumped significantly down the pecking order.

No strike partnership has scored more goals than Adebayor and Van Persie.  Only Man City and Chelsea have scored more goals overall.  But we’ve conceded 20 goals already in the league: double the tally of United and Liverpool; more than three times as many as Chelsea; as many as Spurs.  As many as Spurs.  It’s not good enough.  We can speculate about David Villa till the cows come home, but we’re wasting breath.  This team needs a centre-back and a defensive midfielder.  Those two players would transform our fragile side.

We’ve less than a month to wait.  If they don’t arrive, fingers will be pointed, rightly, at the manager.