Arshavin negotiations will test Gazidis’s mettle

Arsenal’s transfer activity is notoriously hard to predict, but I can tell you one thing with absolute certainty: we will not be paying £20m for Andrei Arshavin.  Newly-appointed CEO Ivan Gazidis will be under strict instruction to negotiate the best price possible, and it’s hard to imagine that being anything over what we paid for Samir Nasri – around £13m.  And if the price, against all time-honoured Brucie-based tradition, isn’t right, then we will walk away.  Our decision not to pay the extra £2m required to secure Xabi Alonso is evidence of the scale of Arsene’s stubbornness.

As I suggested a few days back, I find it hard to see anyone else coming in without players being sold first.  Kolo Toure was alleged to have cleared out his locker earlier this week, but if that’s the case he must be feeling like a right mug now, wondering around London having to carry all his kit without anywhere to go.

His fellow Ivorian Emmanuel Eboue, about whose departure few tears would be shed, claims Inter Milan want to sign him.  I can only imagine that Jose Mourinho thinks the presence of a jester would be good for morale.

One player who won’t be going anywhere is Carlos Vela, who has been officially informed that he is not available for loan.  It’s nice to see that despite playing not nearly so often as Nicklas Bendtner, Vela hasn’t come out with any “Play me or I’ll leave” ultimatums.  He is developing nicely and is obviously going to be a big player in the not-too-distant future.

Arsene’s press conference tomorrow will doubtless include full and frank denials of any story that threatens to be remotely interesting.  I can’t wait.

Zenit confirm talks with Arsenal over Arshavin transfer

Arshavin closing in on Arsenal moveZenit St Petersburg have told Sky Sports News that talks are taking place between the two clubs over the transfer of playmaker Andrei Arshavin.

The Russian Press (via Arsenal Analysis) are reporting that Arsenal have opened the bidding at £12m, with Zenit holding out for £20m.  I’m sure Arsene wouldn’t authorise a fee quite that high, but if a middle ground could be reached in the region of £15m then a deal will surely be done – it’s simply a case of showing Zenit the money.

Zenit are reportedly confident of agreeing a deal within the next couple of weeks.  A key factor in any transfer could be the player’s own desire to move – he has more than once declared his intention to leave the club in this window, inciting the fury of some of his countrymen.

More of this as and when we get it.

Elsewhere, the club have confirmed that Jack Wilshere has signed his first professional contract with the club.

This “transfer window” business is beginning to get interesting…

The way Arsene is talking, only one player is coming in

After Saturday’s game, Arsene said:

“What I want, if we do add somebody, is really special class.  If the right player comes in, even if he is not available for the Champions’ League, the class is more important.”

“Somebody”.  “The right player”.  Not some people, not the right players.  Just before the turn of the year, he said:

“The transfer window opens (on Thursday) and, although we are not close to signing anyone at the moment, if we do buy I think what we need is maybe someone with a bit of experience … Cesc is a long way from playing again, so are Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott, and these are three creative players that we count on at the start of the season. So what we might need is someone who can create a little spark.”

Again, the manager is talking in the singular.  Elsewhere, although typically I can’t find the exact quote right now, he suggested a creative player was the priority and that another midfielder might follow “eventually”.  “Eventually” doesn’t really suggest “in this window”.

That, to me, suggests that we’ll be lucky if we get the tackling midfielder or towering centre-back we asked for at Christmas.  It looks, instead, that we may well get an attacking midfield player, in the mould of Andrei Arshavin or, if we don’t have the funds, Alessandro Rosina:

Since that short film was made, Rosina has fallen out of favour, and could now be available on loan.

My opinion (and it truly is nothing more substantiated than that) is that there is a genuine interest in Arshavin.  The Russian is keen to play for the club, and would certainly add to our options in creative roles.  Arsene’s remark about being Champions League cup-tied is just the latest in a string of comments which have done little to quash the speculation that the Zenit playmaker could soon be joining.

I suspect, however, that we would be unwilling to pay anything more than around £12m for a player who is already 27 and would command reasonably high wages.  If a deal can’t be agreed, a loan option like Rosina seems entirely sensible.

Is it, however, ‘entirely sensible’ for Arsene to be plotting a transfer strategy which leaves us without reinforcements in the areas of the pitch where the long-term need is the greatest – central midfield and defence?

Well, that depends on your perspective.  In the short-term, yes, it’s lunacy.  We are very weak in those areas and with injuries piling up all the time we have become increasingly reliant on youngsters like Johan Djourou, Aaron Ramsey, and Denilson.

But if I’m right, and Arsene is thinking along the lines of bringing in just one creative player, he obviously sees it differently.  I can only think that he accepts that we will not win either of the major competitions this season, and wants to use it to give the younger players the experience they need to be major players next season.  I’m thinking of Djourou and Denilson in particular.  The squad will then be readdressed and majorly overhauled in the Summer – which, let’s face it, is a far more appropriate time to do such a thing.

A strategy like that would be a massive gamble – the principle gamble being that we’d be able to make fourth place with such a weak squad.

This is all guesswork on my part, so don’t take it too much to heart.  It is, I suppose, my “prediction” for this window.  It’s not what I want to happen: I want a defensive midfielder AND a creative one, dammit.  And if anything, it is the former that I consider the priority.

The fact remains that what Arsene says to the press simply cannot be trusted, and any transfer strategy would change dramatically if anyone were to leave – just as his plans must surely have been affected by Cesc’s injury. If we can predict anything about Arsene with any certainty, it’s that he’ll surprise us.

Wait and see.  As Man City inject money into the market this week, business could start to pick up.

Till tomorrow.

Thoughts on Arsenal vs. Plymouth

Arsenal 3 – 1 Plymouth (Van Persie 47, 84, Gray 49 (og) Duguid 52)
Highlights here; Arsene’s reaction here

A fairly routine win over Plymouth, and it’s a trickier looking tie away to last year’s finalists Cardiff in the next round.  I have to say, it was a rare delight to see an Arsenal side who were comfortably better than their opponents.  We used to see that on a regular basis in the league, but sadly those days are gone.

It was also pleasing to see us taking the competition seriously, with only Manuel Almunia and Emmanuel Adebayor rested.  The FA Cup probably represents our best chance of a trophy this season, and I am eager to see us play at the new Wembley.  Credit also to the Plymouth fans, who were plentiful and vociferous.

There is a fairly comprehensive write-up of the game on the official site – I made several mental notes during the game, which I’ll do my best to regurgitate below:

  • I’ve seen that Aaron Ramsey has come in for a lot of praise this morning.  For me, there are evident upsides and downsides to his game, all of which could be said to arise from his admiration of Steven Gerrard.  The Welshman has alluded to basing his game on the (disgraced) Liverpool captain, and there are undoubted positives to that: Ramsey is willing to drive at defences and take shots on from range – something we often lack in the centre of the park.  However, Ramsey also shares Gerrard’s tendency to try the heroic lunging tackle when tracking the man might be more beneficial; to shoot when a team-mate is better placed; to play the ‘Hollywood’ pass when a man is free square.  I am reminded of an incident in the first half when a corner was cleared away to Ramsey on the halfway line.  Under pressure from two men, the only sensible option was to pass back to Fabianski, but instead he tried to beat his man and lost the ball.  Of course, time is on Ramsey’s side, and many of these errors can be put down to inexperience.  His potential remains enormous.
  • If, in three years time, Ramsey is anything like as mature as Samir Nasri, then we will be extremely fortunate.  This guy is 21: the same age as Amaury Bischoff, and a full year older than Abou Diaby, and yet he is an automatic selection and one of the more mature players in the side.  His stocky frame and running style remind me of Carlos Tevez, and when he shifted into the ‘Number 10′ role behind Robin van Persie for the last half-hour of yesterday’s game he caused havoc every time he got the ball.  Nasri is proof positive that when Arsene buys, he still has an eye for a player.
  • I mentioned Abou Diaby.  This boy is a conundrum.  I can see the obvious potential the Frenchman possesses, but to my mind he lacks one of the most essential attributes for any player claiming to be a central midfielder: accurate passing.  The impression one gets with Diaby is that as a child his size and skill enabled him to dribble round entire teams and walk the ball into the net, meaning he simply never developed the ability to pick out a man.  Credit to him: yesterday was obviously an audition for the defensive midfield role, and he showed more positional discipline than usual.  However, on several occasions he carelessly gave the ball away, and there was even one incident where a pass aimed at Sagna went straight into touch – even Diaby held his hands to his face and gasped at its awfulness.  I don’t know what will become of this player, but if central midfield is his destined position, then it’s vital this element of his game improves.
  • Johan Djourou started alongside William Gallas, and put in another assured display.  However, I refuse to believe are problems at centre-half are in any way solved.  First of all, both of his potential partners, William Gallas and Kolo Toure, seem to be on their way out of the club.  Secondly, I think we all agree that what we need is a defender who is aerially agressive and dominant.  Djourou is 6’4″, and yet doesn’t get sent forward for corners.  Does he sound like that player?  I’m not convinced: the Swiss is more a Ferdinand than a Vidic.
  • Kieran Gibbs replaced the injured Mikael Silvestre, and immediately showed that he deserved to start.  Sometimes Silvestre’s experience can be an asset, but I’m not sure that this was one of those occasions, and Gibbs gave an exuberant display of which he can be very proud.  A loan move to a Premier League club is the next step for this lad.
  • Lukasz Fabianski was at fault for the goal, and generally terrifies me.  I’m sure those who champion him mistakenly identify his erratic charging out of goal as ‘commanding his area’ or some other nonsensical phrase.  I am much, much happier when Almunia is between the sticks.

Anyway, just some things that struck me.

You may have noticed I’ve been unusually quiet on the transfer front.  All of that ends next week.