It has begun. Arsenal have started the painfully inevitable desperate scrabble for signings. Dale Winton has sounded the klaxon, and the footballing version of Supermarket Sweep is well and truly underway.
It began with a brief conversation I had with an agent yesterday, in which they indicated that Dick Law had been unusually open to a suggested signing. Then the news broke that Arsenal had bid £10m for Newcastle midfielder Yohan Cabaye.
Cabaye is a decent player, but not at the elite level as some of the names we were linked to earlier this summer. Targeting him suggests Wenger recognises the need for squad numbers as well as “super quality”. Cabaye is less of a glamorous marquee player and more of a cosy tipi.
Don’t get me wrong, the Frenchman is a decent player, and will help plug the gap created by the departure of Francis Coquelin and the injury to Mikel Arteta. However, he is not the sort of world class talent who will transform us from a side battling to stay in the top four to one competing for major trophies.
It’s all somewhat reminiscent of the final days of the summer 2011 window, when Arteta was one of five hurried signings. Back then, an 8-2 defeat to Manchester United radically altered the club’s transfer policy. Arsenal had been offered Per Mertesacker several times throughout the summer, but never showed an ounce of interest. However, shortly after that game, Werder Bremen’s asking price was met and Mertesacker boarded a plane to London. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Arsenal appear to have reached that point even earlier in this window.
After months of insisting that Arsenal would look after all transfer business in house, I learnt today that the club are now actively briefing agents about the positions they are struggling to fill. They are welcoming propositions for a defensive midfielder and a striker – the latter requirement suggesting the club are close to abandoning hope of securing Luis Suarez.
With Suarez, it’s clear Arsenal were led up a particularly winding garden path by the player and his agent. The £40,000,001 bid and Arsene Wenger’s statement that “we believe we havee done enough” indicate that Arsenal understood this convoluted clause in Suarez’s contract to be a legitimate release fee. The swift scaling down of Suarez’s agitating for a move suggests he was never particularly convinced by the prospect of joining Arsenal – the whole flirtation may have been a ploy to attract a bid from Real Madrid that never arose.
Instead, Madrid have turned their focus to Gareth Bale, and Suarez seems to have accepted that he will spend this season at Anfield. In the meantime, Spurs continue to strengthen their team in preparation for Bale’s departure. Brazilian midfielder Willian is set to join the likes of Paulinho, Capoue and Soldado in a list of signings that would all have been welcome on the other side of North London.
Spurs appear to have a plan. That’s something that Arsenal fans can only dream of. The clock is ticking and the stakes are rising. Things could be about to get very messy indeed.
I had a vision of a better Arsenal. It was a vision sold to me by Ivan Gazidis, who promised me that after a decade of harsh desert we were approaching an oasis of plenty. It was a vision that sustained me through a summer starved of football.
It seemed entirely plausible: Arsenal were changing. The shifting financial landscape had left us in a position of relative security. Our prudence had paid off, and it was time for the purse-strings to be loosened. Arsenal would challenge for major honours once again.
It was a vision that I, somewhat foolishly, believed in. And it was just a mirage.
The dream evaporated and condensed in to the cold wet reality of a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa. Some dream. Some start.
Arsenal must be the only club in world football who can begin the summer with a triumphant declaration of renewed spending power, yet plunge in to crisis just one game of the new season. The journey between that zenith and the subsequent nadir has been riddled with negligence and incompetence.
Let’s put this simply: a better Arsenal side would have beaten Aston Villa, regardless of referees and injuries. Arsenal have the resources to build a better team – they spent the early part of the summer boasting publicly about the fact – they have simply neglected to do so.
The buck stops with Arsene Wenger. It is easy to make jokes the vagueness of Gazidis’ role or the clowning of chief negotiator Dick Law, but the truth is that all major decisions on transfer policy are made by one man: Arsene.
My impression is that Gazidis and the board would like to see Arsene spend. However, the manager seems unwilling to let go of the parsimonious habits of the last ten years.
Wenger is fond of challenging reporters to name potential targets:
People always say ‘buy players, buy players, buy players’. When you tell them ‘tell me who?’ it becomes much more problematic.
I’ll play your game, Arsene: Gonzalo Higuain. Luis Gustavo. Etienne Capoue. Paulinho. All of those players are well within our financial grasp and would significantly improve our squad. Two have joined our closest rivals. Arsenal are knowingly allowing the gap to close.
Our squad is in a state of drastic disrepair. A spate of injuries picked up on Saturday means we must travel to Fenerbahce for a crucial Champions League qualifier with a severely weakened team.
There is still time left in this transfer window. What’s more, I fully expect Arsene to embark on another desperate trolley dash before the window closes. However, by then, it may already be too late.
A new season ought to feel fresh. It ought to be a new start. The manager ought to enter the new campaign free of the pressures of the last. However, Arsenal’s disastrous summer has put Arsene Wenger under considerable strain before a ball has even been kicked in anger.
Incredibly, The Gunners are still yet to make a major signing. The dead wood may have gone, but it’s yet to be replaced by any live wood. Arsenal barely have enough players to fill tomorrow’s matchday squad, and the window is just a fortnight away from closing.
I can’t hide my disappointment: this summer has been embarrassing. Our bizarre decision to declare our flush hand at the start of the window seemed hubristic at the time, and has proved so since. Arsenal have lurched from one dead end deal to another. The likes of Clement Grenier, Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Gustavo have all escaped our grasp. Luis Suarez seems certain to join that ever-expanding list.
There are those who will say my judgement is premature. The window is not yet closed, and the situation may yet be put right. Possibly so, but given the resources at our disposal there is no excuse for not having the squad in place before the start of the season. Arsenal face crucial fixtures on both the domestic and European front. Our inactivity means that any early failure will be met by an unforgiving response from the supporters.
If Arsenal fail to beat Aston Villa today, the Emirates will resound with the boos from fans who will understandably feel they have been misled. They were promised statements of intent and a change in policy. Instead they’ve suffered more of the same penny-pinching and indecision.
The one relief about today’s game is that it allows us to concentrate on events on the park rather than inadequacies in the board room.
Football is back. I just wish it felt a bit different.
Arsenal’s pursuit of Luis Suarez rumbles on. A snowball of a rumour has become an avalanche of claim and counter-claim.
Arsenal have had a second bid of £40,000,001 rejected. The £1 is significant: it enabled Arsenal to activate a clause in Suarez’s contract that ensures Liverpool must inform him of the bid. Apparently, he doesn’t read newspapers.
The true value of this clause is something of a mystery. My understanding is that the Suarez camp believed it to be a genuine release clause; Liverpool think nothing of the sort. Speaking to an agent friend this week, I was told that such confusion is common-place. Often a club will find a way to word a release clause that can mislead a player, causing doubt and eventually even legal dispute.
While Arsenal pore over the intricacies of Suarez’s contract, another major target has slipped through our fingers. Gonzalo Higuain has joined Napoli for a fee of around £34m. A few weeks ago it seemed Higuain was destined to end up in North London, but Arsenal have been distracted by the allure of Suarez. Our precious eggs are now all in the Uruguayan’s hostile basket.
Of the two players, I would have preferred us to sign Higuain. He’s a fine player with barely any baggage. To extend the metaphor, Higuain probably travels with just hand luggage. Suarez would arrive at check-in replete with two pairs of skis and several disease-carrying animals.
Higuain has already experienced life at Real Madrid, and decided it’s not for him. Suarez might just be making eyes at us to help get himself to the Bernabeu, either this summer or in 12 months time.
There are those that feel that Higuain is overpriced at £34m. In a world where Roberto Soldado fetches £26m and Hulk would cost you double that, that simply isn’t true.
Our focus on Suarez has seen us let Higuain out of our grasp. We had our hands around the moon but relinquished our grasp to reach for a red dwarf of a star that could ultimately destroy us all.
It’s such an odd strategic decision that I have to give serious consideration to the theory that this is a last throw of the dice from a manager who knows he will walk away in 12 month’s time. By then, Suarez would be someone else’s problem. Perhaps Real Madrid’s.
I’m trying to work out what is going on in Arsene’s head. I have followed his reign at Arsenal for 17 years, and the manager has rarely left me feeling so confused.
For Arsene to spend £50m – and that is what it would ultimately cost – on any one player is bafflingly unfamiliar. To spend that sum on an individual that is so wildly combustible seems like madness.
Wenger must believe that Suarez could be the catalyst to ignite his team and transform them from also-rans to trophy-winners. He must believe the Uruguayan to be the magical missing ingredient.
I am reminded of Sir Alex Ferguson’s radical decision to sign Eric Cantona more than 20 years ago.
Cantona was a maverick and a hot-head. His idiosyncrasies seemed at odds with Ferguson’s disciplinarian regime. But he was also an outstanding footballer, who moved from a rival club to galvanise the team around him in to an unprecedented period of dominance.
Wenger must see something of the same quality in Suarez. To be prepared to smash all his established policies, both economic and ethical, his belief in the Liverpool star must be astronomical.
Of course, when Ferguson snared Cantona, the Frenchman’s greatest sins – the red cards, the assault on a fan – were yet to come. The same, terrifyingly, could be true of Suarez. He’s a complicated cocktail of delightful skill and dysfunctional thinking. Signings Suarez would be a Faustian pact, with potential reward and certain cost.
Speaking of cost, there’s no way he’ll move for £40m, give or take a pound. Liverpool will demand £50m, matching the British transfer record.
The next couple of weeks will be crucial. Failing to sign Suarez could leave us without the marquee striker we desperately need. Signing Suarez will bring its own problems.
The fall-out to the end of this saga, one way or the other, could define more than just our chances next season.
A month from the start of the Premier League season seems an apt time to make a return to blogging. What’s more, I’ve got something to say.
I can’t really make this plain enough: I would hate to see Luis Suarez at Arsenal.
Long-term readers of the blog won’t be surprised. For me to say anything else would be hypocrisy of the worst kind. As recently as April I posted this diatribe:
Luis Suarez is a despicable human being. We’ve known that for some time.
In the aftermath of his latest transgression – biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic – he has been widely criticised by the football media. The same football media who have spent much of the season praising him and may have already voted for him as the Football Writer’s Footballer of the Year.
Gary Lineker has begun a campaign last night to see Suarez removed from the PFA Player of the Year Shortlist. I can’t help but think: isn’t it strange that it’s his behaviour today that has precipitated this reaction, rather than Suarez’s previous conduct?
Don’t exclude him from a shortlist because he bit someone. Exclude him from all shortlists – exclude him from English football entirely – because of his racist behaviour. It’s a thousand times worse; a thousand times more significant. I’ve been sickened and disappointed by how easily English football seems to have forgiven Suarez for his proven abuse of Patrice Evra.
Pundits will queue up to ask what kind of example Suarez biting Ivanovic sets to kids. I’d ask them instead what sort of example their season-long praise of a man guilty of proven racist behaviour sets.
I recognise that Suarez is a fantastic footballer. But that, like the biting, is something of a red herring.
This season, some Premier League players chose not to wear t-shirts that bore the slogan ‘Kick it out’. It saddens me that the stark and important message of that campaign seems to have been forgotten.
I stand by those views. Suarez appalls me. His conduct simply isn’t befitting of a club of our stature.
When stories of our initial bid for Suarez broke, I was dubious. However, enough credible Liverpool-based reporters were covering the story that I soon realised it was legitimate.
Initially I, like others, thought the bid might be a smoke-screen: a way of forcing Real Madrid to relinquish their grasp over Gonzalo Higuain. However, as the Suarez story has waxed the Higuain link has waned. Incredibly, it appears that Suarez may have emerged as our primary target.
From a footballing point of view, it makes sense. There’s no doubting Suarez’s talent. He also provides a suitably different option to Olivier Giroud. Arsene Wenger has already said he’s loathe to sign another traditional target man, and when we were first linked to Fiorentina’s Stevan Jovetic, I said:
Stefan Jovetic is the name being linked most frequently in the press, and you can understand why. He is a different type of forward to Giroud – mobile, inventive and technically-gifted. He offers a similarly diverse threat to that of Luis Suarez, only without the biting.
Jovetic, however, seems destined for Manchester City. Arsenal now seem determined to snare Suarez, biting and all.
For some fans, the ‘football reasons’ outlined above are good enough to counter-balance the full horror of Suarez’s character. Fair enough. In a way, I admire your determined objectivity.
What I don’t like is revisionism. I don’t like the fact that thousands of fans who castigated Suarez as recently as a few months ago are now hailing him as “misunderstood”.
I don’t like what I’m seeing, but equally I can’t blame the fans. The situation is symptomatic of our club’s plight. The supporters are starved of excitement. There is such now such wide-spread clamour and desperation for a big signing – any big signing – that fans are prepared to shut their eyes and ears to the full reality. They want that transfer record smashed, and they don’t care what else gets broken along the way.
As I say, I am sympathetic. Empathetic, almost. What I find harder to understand is how the likes of Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis – the men charged with making decisions at the head of our football club – are even countenancing this deal.
I cannot understand why a manager as ethical and principled as Arsene would go near a player like Suarez. I cannot fathom why our great club would seek to harbour a footballing fugitive. The situation is made all the more bizarre by the apparent availability of the talented and seemingly decent Gonzalo Higuain, who is now edging towards a move to Napoli.
It’s genuinely baffling. Arsenal paying £40m for a player is something I hoped I’d see one day. However, the sight of Luis Suarez in an Arsenal shirt is something I still hope I’ll never see.
Blowing that sum on a player who will be dogged by suspension and controversy is lunacy. What’s more, Suarez has a proven track record of forcing transfers every couple of seasons. If he joins us, he’ll view us merely as an escape raft until he can leverage a move to Real Madrid.
Earlier in the summer I wondered if this day might come. Arsenal have stated their intention to establish themselves as a financial super-power. Stepping up to that elite level usually involves a degree of adjustment in policy. Principles are often the first victim of compromise.
Manchester City fans have had to accept their managers being ruthlessly dispatched. Chelsea fans have done their own deal with the devil: if they stopped to examine the source of their owner’s wealth, they might find their joy at their grubbily purchased trophies tempered. What’s more, they’ve found themselves cheering on the likes of Ashley Cole and John Terry despite their many public indiscretions.
In terms of players, Suarez’s roll call of dishonour makes him, in my opinion, the worst of the worst. When Wayne Rooney seems the more palatable option, you know you’re dealing with an unsavoury character.
Nothing could diminish my love for Arsenal. However, if they do sign Luis Suarez, the club will have sorely disappointed me.
There are other alternatives, travelling with less baggage, at a lower fare. Make the right choice, Arsene.
Arsenal’s interest is genuine. They have already held discussions with the player’s agent, and Grenier knows what he woud stand to earn at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal are not the only Premier League club looking to Grenier to provide their midfield with an injection of creativity. A delegation from Liverpool travelled to France to speak with the player’s representatives last week. However, their offer fell significantly short of Arsenal’s proposed salary.
As yet there is no deal in place between Arsenal and Lyon. Given Grenier’s delicate contractual situation – he has just one year left on his deal - I suspect Arsenal would be looking to secure a bargain. Given our reticence to push the boat out when it comes to transfer fees, it may be that the France midfielder is forced to see out his current deal before moving on a bumper Bosman salary next summer. However, given that Arsene Wenger is already in direct contact with Lyon, it’s clear Arsenal would prefer to secure his signature now.
Grenier, a central playmaker, is not a player we urgently need. However, he would add depth and quality in an area of the park where we are forced to rely on injury-prone players like Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere.
On the subject of Lyon, many of you have emailed me to ask about our interest in Grenier’s side-kick, the more defensively-minded Maxime Gonalons. The honest truth is that I haven’t heard a peep about that deal since I told you that initial discussions had taken place with his representatives in the spring. Perhaps the end of season form of Aaron Ramsey put an end to those particular negotiations.
Although we may not yet be making headlines in the media, it’s comforting to know that Dick Law & Co are beavering away behind the scenes. Hopefully their labours come to fruition soon.
Ivan Gazidis takes a lot of stick from Arsenal fans. Our perceived lack of ambition is generally pinned on the multi-accented CEO, who is free of the emotional complications most reasonable fans still feel with regards to Arsene Wenger.
The refrain was heard frequently at the Emirates last year: “Ivan Gazidis, what do you do?”
Gazidis’ primary duty has been to put the club on a secure financial footing. With the new commercial deals signed and settled, he has done that. It is not Gazidis’ responsibility to decide how that money is spent. It is Arsene’s.
Gazidis has been explicit. There are funds available. Big funds. Here are a few choice excerpts from Thursday’s mission statement:
“Could we spend £25m on a player and pay him £200k p/week? Of course we could do that. We could do more than that. We have a certain amount which we’ve held in reserve. We also have new revenue streams coming on board and all of these things mean we can do some things which would excite you.
The key to this summer is going to be making the right decisions without damaging the great team unity and spirit which we have – adding to that appropriately and I think we have the right person to do that in Arsene. I think he will make the right decisions and I think we will go into this next season with a lot of excitement around the team.
So certainly we will take a step forward this summer, how bigger step will depend on how well we are able to execute over the next month or two.”
It’s bold stuff. As a fan, it’s impossible not to be excited by Gazidis’ words. The financial landscape has shifted, and Arsenal have been raised aloft to join the likes of Bayern Munich and Manchester United.
Dreams become plausible. Before yesterday I would have dismissed the link to £20m Gonzalo Higuain as ‘pie in the sky’ stuff. Now, it’s tempting to believe we might just pull it off.
If there’s a nagging concern, it’s that Arsene may not be able to shake the shackles of a decade of prudence. Talk remains cheap. Arsenal are using the rhetoric of a super-club. Now they need to act like one, too.
A significant part of yesterday’s news was Gazidis’ allusion to a new contract for Arsene. Personally, I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to hand him a new deal. The final day euphoria has masked an otherwise disappointing season. The club’s trajectory is worrying. I’d have waited to see how Arsene fared this summer and in the first part of next season before broaching the subject a new contract.
Some will argue it’s vital to have a manager tied to a long-term deal to win over new signings. That’s nonsense. Robin van Persie joined Manchester United with no guarantees over Alex Ferguson’s future. Similarly, the players who come and go at Chelsea care little about the short-term tenancy agreements of the Stamford Bridge dugout.
In modern football, few players are a disciple to any one managerial messiah. Money and medals matter far more.
Perhaps Gazidis feels it’s important to present a united front. I can understand that, with a couple of caveats.
The first is that this contract must be breakable. Conventionally, a three year deal for Arsene means exactly that: three years. In his Arsenal career to date, it’s been explicitly clear he’d never be sacked and similarly that Wenger himself would never walk away from a contract.
With that in mind, if our downward trajectory continues, his signature could swiftly become a sentence. If Gazidis and Wenger agree a new medium-term contract, it must be on the understanding that it may have to be suddenly cut short if things don’t improve.
The second stipulation is that Gazidis and Wenger have already had a discussion about transfer targets in which the manager has show willingness to break a habit and actually spend what is available to him.
Gazidis has done his job. Player recruitment is Wenger’s bag.
Football’s annual auction is also known as the ‘silly season’. I’m not sure silly does it justice. For starters, it sounds a lot more fun than the seasonal process of being pillaged, gazumped and ultimately disappointed.
This summer, we’re told, will be different. We’ll see. It felt worryingly familiar yesterday when Laurent Koscielnystarted mouthing off about his future. The quote that made the headlines was:
I want to lift trophies and to have a winning record. I hope the club will give me the means. If this weren’t the case, I’d look elsewhere. Paris [Saint Germain]? I don’t know. I’ve not heard anything.
In seriousness, I’m not sure there’s much to worry about here. Koscielny is merely echoing the sentiment of the fans: we all want the club to push on and compete for trophies. He also told Eurosport “I do not want to go anywhere”, but that just isn’t as interesting to journalists.
The PSG link seems entirely spurious. Here’s a transfer window tip for you all: if you ever see a player quoted as mentioning a club in the form of a rhetorical question, it’s because they’ve been asked about it directly by an interviewer. They haven’t brought it up themselves. No-one talks like that.
I am not hungry right now, but eventually I may want to eat something. A sandwich? I don’t know. I’ve not heard anything. Of course sandwiches are delicious, so I am flattered to be linked with them.
There have already been offers and I hope that Madrid do the best for me and themselves.
Arsenal? They would suit me, I’m still young and I have goals.
I’m glad Higuain still has goals. Arsenal could use about thirty of them per season.
I’d love to see a player of Higuain’s undoubted calibre at Arsenal, but as yet there’s little evidence that there’s much substance to this story. There are an unusual number of high quality forwards available on the market this summer. The likes of Higuain, Villa, Rooney, Benteke, Cavani, Falcao, Gomez and more could all be on the move. Everyone knows that Arsenal need a forward, so it’s just a question of connecting the dots to create a story. It’s almost impossible for us to know how legitimate any one of these rumours is. The chances are that one is bang on. If you give enough monkeys enough typewriters, they will write a correct transfer story on Goal.com.
The story with most smoke around it is the link to Fiorentina forward Stevan Jovetic. The most recent twist is that according to The Times Chelsea have entered the race. Wouldn’t it be just like Mourinho to announce his return to English football by ruining our transfer plans?
Anyhow, after that detour through the apparent rhetorical habits of footballers, back to matters closer to home. If Laurent Koscielny’s future seems safe, the same can’t be said for Bacary Sagna. The full-back insists that talks with Arsenal are ongoing, but the lack of progress is telling. I suspect the club are unwilling to provide Sagna with the length of deal he’ll be offered elsewhere. For a player who has suffered two broken legs inside two seasons, security will be paramount.
Arsenal may be faced with a choice: sell Sagna now, or allow him to hobble away on a Bosman in a year’s time. Personally, I hope they choose the latter of those two options. Sagna still has plenty to offer, and another season would help Arsene decide whether or not Carl Jenkinson is ready to inherit his first-team spot. What’s more, Sagna’s market value is not sufficiently high to demand selling now. It’s not like we’d be throwing £20m+ away, as with Nasri and Van Persie.
Sagna is French. So is Clement Grenier. As this article has worn on, you may have noticed that my links have become progressively more lazy. I wrote a brief scouting report on Grenier which you can find here. Grenier is a central attacking playmaker with the shuffling gait and effortless technical skill of Robert Pires. He is not, at first glance, the midfielder that we need.
Heading in to the window, many expected Arsenal to recruit a holding midfielder. Indeed, I mentioned a month or so ago that talks had taken place with the representatives of Grenier’s defensive-minded Lyon team-mate, Maxime Gonalons. Subsequent links with the likes of Victor Wanyama have strengthened the idea that Arsene Wenger is looking to add steel rather than sheen to his midfield.
However, perhaps the outstanding performances of Aaron Ramsey in that role have given Arsene pause for thought. In recent weeks, with Cazorla playing predominantly on the wing, the number 10 berth has been shared between Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere. Given the increasing age of the former and the fitness problems of both, perhaps recruiting a new playmaker wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.
Cazorla makes more sense than Sahin | August 1st 2012
The need for Cazorla is clear. Despite selling both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri last summer, Arsene’s didn’t buy a direct replacement in the form of an attacking midfielder, choosing instead to rely on Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky across the course of the season, with mixed results. Cazorla would fill that gap and add an extra dimension to the side – and, at a reported £16m, be an absolute bargain.
At first glance, the signing of Sahin would be a little odd. He plays a deeper role than Cazorla, without being a destroyer. It’s an area in which Arsenal are seemingly well-stocked.
For your consideration: Thoughts on Cazorla, RVP & Song | August 11th 2012
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Dutchman intends to leave Arsenal this summer. The recent comments of Alex Ferguson convince me that he has probably arrived at some sort of provisional agreement with Manchester United too – they wouldn’t risk the embarrassment of going public with the bid if they thought there was a chance RVP would reject them.
I made my peace with Van Persie’s probable exit a while ago, but I am a little worried about the reports of Barcelona’s interest in Alex Song. Whilst I admit he has flaws, I’m a big fan of the Cameroon midfielder, and unlike with Van Persie I cannot see an obvious replacement within the squad.
RVP to United is painful but unsurprising | August 17th 2012
What makes this divorce particularly painful is the third party: Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. Over the years, Fergie has tried to snare several Arsenal players – most infamously, Patrick Vieira. In the past, such moves seemed improbable. United and Arsenal were simply too close in their rivalry and their status.
Now, for the first time, one of our assets has been prised away to Old Trafford, and it stings. Arsenal fans will claim Van Persie left for the money. They’ll chuckle at the fact he’s ended up at a team that probably wasn’t his first choice. But the uncomfortable truth remains that he’s joined a club where he stands a better chance of winning the trophies that have eluded him for so long.
Cazorla could be the signing of the season. I’m not particularly prone to hyperbole, but this guy has everything. Apart from height. And the ability to fly. I mentioned in a previous blog, but his two-footedness is quite extraordinary. Whether passing or shooting, it is genuinely difficult to tell which foot is stronger (for those who want to know, it’s his right).
We only had one Song | August 20th 2012
Song’s departure also puts a slightly different spin on our summer. A few weeks ago we had brought in Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla, and still had Van Persie. Now we’ve lost the Dutchman and, to most people’s surprise, Song. Earlier in the summer, that trio of signings looked like a considered statement of intent: we were finally loosening the purse strings to improve the squad. By selling Song and Van Persie, we’ve actually covered those costs entirely. Once again, Arsenal head towards the end of the summer in profit. It’s almost as if we planned it like this.
Transfer round-up: Three steps forward, two steps back | September 1st 2012
It’s a case of three steps forward, two steps back. This summer initially looked like one of bold investment. Now we find ourselves back in profit, and with a squad that’s arguably no better than last season’s. I still think we have more than enough quality to finish in the top four, but what’s frustrating is that with one or two additions we had the potential to do so much more than that.
Liverpool 0 – 2 Arsenal: The signs are good | September 3rd 2012
Alongside Diaby, Mikel Arteta was immaculate in the holding role. In fact, our central midfield display was so good that the discourse about our failure to replace Alex Song almost evaporated over the course of the ninety minutes. Had we lost this match, with one-time transfer target Nuri Sahin impressing for Liverpool, the fanbase would be up in arms. As it is, Arteta and Diaby bossed it, Sahin was anonymous, Arsenal victorious, and Song forgotten.
Southampton Preview: Today is about more than Olivier Giroud | September 15th 2012
Olivier Giroud has started just two games for Arsenal. He has had just two noteworthy chances. And yet already there is talk of him being ‘under pressure’. Football has truly never been quite so hysterical and reactionary.
City Preview, Wilshere’s return, & Theo thoughts | 22nd September 2012
If a new deal hasn’t been finalised by then, surely Walcott will be encouraged to leave early for a knock-down fee of £5m or so. In the meantime, his situation has seen him fall behind the developing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a rejuvenated Gervinho in the pecking order. Until some resolution is found regarding his long-term future, I do not expect that to change.
City 1 – 1 Arsenal: A moral victory, and a victory for morale | 24th September 2012 Mertesacker’s performance was inch-Perfect The big German has been unfairly judged throughout his time in England. He looks ungainly, but his intelligence, cool head, and reading of the game are invaluable. Yesterday was probably his best performance in an Arsenal shirt, but it has been coming – his recent form has been superb. Steve Bould and Arsene Wenger were both centre-backs who didn’t rely on pace in their time, and I wonder if that’s part of why they’ve embraced the BFG so wholeheartedly.
I’m surprised anyone was surprised by Gervinho’s performance Granted he had scored three goals in two games, but that didn’t suddenly make him Thierry Henry. Two of those goals were tap-ins, whilst the other was his first against Southampton – when, frankly, he just decided to put his foot through it. On that day, it flashed in to the net. Yesterday, similarly thoughtless efforts were skewed high and wide. I’m afraid he will always be erratic in front of goal.
Theo should learn from Mikel Arteta | 25th September 2012
When you add it all up, this “big factor” of wanting to play through the middle doesn’t really seem to make any sense, does it? And that’s when it becomes exposed for what it is: a cover story. Another PR spin from ‘camp Walcott’ so that when he refuses to sign a new deal they can protest that it wasn’t about the money. Perhaps I’m wrong and he will stay, but this looks to me a lot like he’s getting his excuses in early.
Arsenal 6 – 1 Coventry: Player-by-player review | 27th September 2012
I’m a fan of Andre Santos. He’s clearly a great personality to have around the club, and going forward he is capable of great things. Tonight, however, he looked plain lazy. He wandered around the pitch, sauntering back and generally looking disinterested. On this evidence Kieran Gibbs is not going to come under serious pressure for the left-back spot anytime soon.
Chelsea Thoughts: Familiar failings & Feeble Fire-power | 30th September 2012
Giroud had to score. The defence “it was a tight angle” is not valid when the angle is only tight because of the strikers touch around the goalie. He had a perfectly good opportunity to strike before that, dallied, and paid the price. I make that three clear one-on-ones and a penalty he’s missed since joining the club. I’m not writing him off, but I am a little concerned. On which note, I won’t pretend to understand why Arsene saw fit to bring off our best finisher, Lukas Podolski, with twenty minutes to play.
Norwich 1 – 0 Arsenal: No fluency, No Excuses, No Points | 21st October 2012
The performance was anomalous in its awfulness. Even in the dreary 0-0 with Sunderland, we created a couple of chances that one could describe as decent. Arsene’s relatively relaxed demeanour throughout suggested a man who had decided relatively early on that this was just ‘one of those days’. I hope, for all our sakes, that he’s right.
Arsenal 0 – 2 Schalke: More of the same | 25th October 2012
Arsenal desperately need to sign a striker. I’m not sure this requires much expansion. In a world in which Demba Ba is available for just £7m, there is no excuse for Arsene not bringing in a reliable front man in January.
AGM: Angst, Grumbles & Moaning | 25th October 2012
If the AGM had been a month or so ago, it might have been a very self-satisfied affair. The new signings looked inspired, we were defensively solid, and being talked about as genuine contenders. That AGM would have been misleading: it would have overlooked some of the crucial issues that it was essential to raise yesterday. But by the same token, a couple of bad results shouldn’t cast an ugly light across the entire club. Arsenal don’t need saving: they just need to get a bit better. Starting tomorrow.
Arsenal 1 – 0 QPR: Accentuating the positives | 29th October 2012
Jack Wilshere was every bit as good as I expected him to be. I’d love to sit here and say, “I’d forgotten how good he was”, or “I did’t expect him to be quite so good quite so quickly”. I’d be lying. I did.
Man Utd 2 – 1 Arsenal: Why Fergie is like Captain Hook | November 5th 2012
I’m not worried about shirt-swapping or referee decisions or anything else: I’m worried about this team. The decline in recent weeks has been alarming. Leaving aside that anomalous League Cup game, the first team have lost three of the last four. On Tuesday night we face an intimidating trip to Schalke, and we’re only a couple of weeks away from a massive North London Derby.
We need to stop the rot. At the moment we have slim trophy hopes and bleating fans. We’re dangerously close to turning in to Liverpool.
Arsenal 3 – 3 Fulham: Giroud’s excellence clouded by defensive incompetence | November 10th 2012
The “Steve Bould has fixed everything” narrative was a myth created by people who wanted to use it as stick to beat Arsene Wenger with. And as for the ‘zonal marking’ on the corner from which Berbatov scored, I have to confess I simply can’t see the logic in leaving opposition players to make untracked, unmarked runs and attack the ball.
Also, I am conscious this may be heresy, but I’m not sure about the validity of keeping Santi Cazorla in the central three. He drops in to wide areas to look for space, which means that the two left behind occasionally look a little isolated.
So there we have it: 5-2 again. Same result; different sensation. Because of the sending off, I feel like this game won’t have the same seismic impact on either of these teams’ seasons as the previous 5-2. Last time, Spurs’ collapse came from a greater position of dominance, and was more complete in its cataclysmic hilarity. This time, they have mitigating circumstances. They can blame Adebayor’s stupidity rather than their own inadequacy. I expect their wheels to wobble, rather than come off entirely.
Arsenal 2 – 0 Montpellier: Quiet, then Quality, then Qualified | November 22nd 2012
Whatever you think of Arsene, you can’t knock his record in the early stages of European competition. Arsenal have now qualified for the knockout phase for the 13th time in his reign – I believe it’s now twelve years on the trot. With Chelsea and City both set to go out, it shows you just what a feat that is.
Arsenal 0 – 2 Swansea: Arsene’s Swan-song | December 1st 2012
Arsenal fans are often berated by the media for their supposed impatience. The truth is that at any club other than Arsenal, the pressure on Arsene Wenger would be approaching unbearable.
From 15 league games – almost half a season – we have won only five. We’ve lost four; as many as 17th place Sunderland. We’re 15 points behind the league leaders Manchester United. Distressingly, we’re now as close to United as we are to rock-bottom QPR. We’re just one league place ahead of Liverpool; a club whose mid-table mediocrity we are in serious danger of emulating.
Q&A with Philippe Auclair: “I hope Thierry doesn’t return this year” | December 6th 2012
Philippe: “The final chapter was written, and beautifully, last year. There’s no way that a Thierry in his 36th year can do better than what he did eleven months ago, especially when the club has more attacking options than was the case in 2011-12. He would in no case represent a ‘solution’; whereas last year, given the van Persie-dependance, he could make a difference at times.”
Arsenal 2 – 0 WBA: Divers are already retrospectively punished | December 9th 2012 Arsenal are now just two points off fourth spot…
…whilst Chelsea’s mini blip means we’re only five points off third. We’re in the fortunate position of being in direct competition with teams which are as flawed as our own. If we can get it together, Champions League qualification is still very much within our grasp.
I’d love to be proved wrong about that, just as I’d love to be proved wrong about my growing suspicion that the decline of Arsene’s Arsenal is terminal. I’ve waited for so long to see him lift a trophy again, and now I don’t believe I ever will. I want so badly for this club to top up my drink, and make it seem half-full again rather than half-empty. I want something to change, and I’m scared it won’t. Stagnation, it’s worth remembering, leads to rot.
Why I’m not convinced Olivier Giroud is the right striker for Arsenal | December 18th 2012
I’m not saying he’s a bad player. I think he’s a very good one. I’m just not sure he’s the right one. For years, people talked about Arsenal needing a target man as a Plan B. Finally, they have one. Giroud looks twice the player of Chamakh at the moment, and will doubtless become an important part of the squad. There are times when we will need him. But his style is opposed to that of the team. He doesn’t fit Plan A.
Arsenal 7 – 3 Newcastle: Why I’m struggling to enjoy Theo’s excellence | December 30th
Whilst I should have been lost in ecstasy over Walcott’s outstanding display, I was instead consumed with the thought that Theo Walcott might finally be about to explode in to the player he’s long threatened to be, just six months before he walks out of the club on a Bosman free.
As for Demba Ba, if we don’t try to sign him for £7m then it is tantamount to mismanagement. I made a point of watching him carefully from behind the goal, and his power, movement and finishing is outstanding. Walcott and Giroud’s goals were heartening, but we’re still in need of more attacking options, and with Premier League experience and an affordable price tag, Ba fits the bill.
Southampton 1 – 1 Arsenal: Call for the Cavalry | January 1st 2013
The fact that we have Arteta shouldn’t prevent us chasing a defensive midfielder. The fact that we have Cazorla shouldn’t rule out the pursuit of a schemer. And the fact that Theo Walcott has had a handful of decent games through the middle certainly shouldn’t prohibit the signing of a striker. Quality and competition provides flexibility. This was an inflexible Arsenal performance. Signings are the antidote.
Transfer update: Don’t hurry back, Chamakh | January 5th 2013
Chamakh’s departure, as well as Gervinho’s time at the African Cup of Nations, leaves us very light upfront. I considered a striker a priority before the window – now it’s nothing less than a necessity. Worryingly, our options seem to be decreasing all the time: Demba Ba has joined Chelsea, Huntelaar has re-signed at Schalke, and Fernando Llorente is in talks about a Bosman move to Juve. I’ve read the stories about David Villa, but I can’t see that one happening. The obvious signings have all disappeared from the table. That said, Arsene has never really been one for the obvious. Let’s hope he’s got a trick up his sleeve.
Transfer update: Arsene’s inertia could cost Arsenal dear | January 11th 2013
I am merely struggling to understand how an unconvincing draw with Swansea has done so much to erase Arsene’s belief that this team needs reinforcement. Our rivals will doubtless continue to improve around us, so we ought to push on and do the same. If we don’t, there is a very real risk that we will fail to achieve our basic goal for the season: Champions League qualification.If our squad is “complete”, then why are Arsenal sixth?
Arsenal 0 – 2 Man City: Do your job, Arsene | January 13th 2013
All the talk before this game was of the exorbitant prices fans were asked to pay to watch the match. It felt particularly expensive for Arsenal fans when Laurent Koscielny’s red card effectively ended the contest after 10 minutes.
If Arsenal and Arsene continue to neglect their responsibility to improve the squad, Jack will go the way of Cesc. And Van Persie, Nasri, Clichy and Song. Jack’s enthusiasm and love for the club was entirely evident against City, but no player is immune from disillusionment. Years of stagnation and decline will wear that affinity thin. We’ve seen it before. Let’s not let history repeat itself.
This isn’t the Wilshere we remember. This one’s better.
This Jack Wilshere is armoured with months of gym work and a fierce desire to make up for lost time. He is physically and mentally stronger for the ordeal he has suffered, and it shows.
Chelsea Preview: Dawn of the Theo-cracy | January 19th 2013
The truth is that Walcott is the lucky beneficiary of a perfect storm of circumstance. Arsenal could not afford the PR disaster of losing another one of their perceived stars. The club is also under more pressure than ever to show ambition in their expenditure. Every time Walcott produced on the pitch, the likelihood of Arsenal caving to his demands increased significantly.
Chelsea 2 – 1 Arsenal: Another early implosion scuppers Gunners | January 20th 2013
I don’t subscribe to the belief that failing to make the top four could ever be a ‘good thing’. We need to be there, and I still believe we can. However, a couple of additions could make all the difference. The one upside to our poor run is that it comes at a time when it’s possible to do something about it.
I know it’s cold outside, Arsene, but it’s time to open the window.
Brighton 2 – 3 Arsenal: That’s more like it, Olivier | January 26th 2013
Let’s not kid ourselves: however well Giroud played, he’s no Van Persie. However, in the last few days he’s made a convincing case for a prolonged run of games at centre-forward. I still feel we would benefit from a signing in this area, but if someone does arrive they’ll have to oust a Frenchman in form.
Deadline Day Thoughts: He’s Nacho left-back anymore, Malaga | February 1st 2013
Arsene’s relationship with the market seems to have been irrevocably soured by the sages over the likes of Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie. Meantime many of his own signings have floundered. In the last few years, transfers have been more hurtful than helpful.
He’s wrong to be dismissive of transfers. People rightly laugh at cheque-book managers, but good recruitment is a skill. There are deficiencies in Arsenal’s squad and a club with our resources ought to be able to correct them. Monreal is a great start.
Sunderland 0 – 1 Arsenal: He’s Bac | February 11th 2013
The idea that Jenkinson is ready to displace Sagna is nonsense. I for one hope that we keep the Frenchman by giving him the long-term deal he craves. If he leaves this summer, as appears increasingly likely, we’ll need to bring in someone with the requisite experience to fill that spot.
On Andre Santos: I can’t help but feel that the infamous shirt swap incident with Robin van Persie was a huge catalyst towards his departure. On that day, he lost the fans, and it’s almost impossible to come back from that – just ask Emmanuel Eboue or Nicklas Bendtner. Every mistake is highlighted; every indiscretion scrutinised. I’m not sure that Santos has been more error-prone than many of our other defenders, but the tide turned against him on that November day.
Arsenal 0 – 1 Blackburn: The middle of the end | February 17th 2013
It’s moot, anyway. Arsene Wenger is no closer to leaving Arsenal today than he was on Friday. Negative results do not edge him closer to the door; only time and the running down of his contract do that. His current deal runs till 2014, and I find it impossible to foresee him leaving before that date. He may even be handed a renewal.
The extrication of Arsene Wenger from Arsenal will be a long and painful process, for both sides. I’d argue it’s a process that is already underway. It began when Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri abandoned Arsene’s project, and will end the day whatever contract he is bound to is allowed to expire.
Ivan Gazidis will not push him. Arsene will not jump. In the meantime, here we are: stuck in the middle of the end.
Arsenal 1 – 3 Bayern: Mullered | February 20th 2013
I didn’t join the chorus of boos at full-time: Arsenal lost fair and square to a better side. I hoped for more, but it would have been madness to expect it. However, the result has compounded the pain of the FA Cup defeat. Within the space of a few days, the focus of our season has narrowed dramatically: it’s suddenly looking like fourth or bust.
Tottenham 2 – 1 Arsenal: The defending is indefensible | March 3rd 2013
Arsenal’s defensive line looked like it’d been drawn on a spirograph. Playing a high line against the likes of Bale and Lennon is always a risk, but doing so when your defence is bereft of any kind of organisation borders on masochism.
It’s not quite over. Their fixture list gets a lot trickier over the next six weeks, and we also have the possible boon of a Chelsea implosion to look forward to. Arsenal can still make the top four, but if we do it’ll be in spite of our own self-destructive tendencies.
Bayern 0 – 2 Arsenal: A template for the rest of the season | March 14th 2013
Contained within this performance was the DNA of an Arsenal team capable of hauling its way back in to the Champions League. Arsene Wenger must play John Hammond, extract it and bring it back to life before our very eyes, starting this weekend at Swansea.
Arsenal 0 – 0 Everton: Giroud misfires in stalemate | April 16th 2013
Giroud is popular among the fans, but that oughtn’t disguise our need for someone superior. His defenders will point to the 17 goals he has scored, and with some justification, but I’m reminded of Emmanuel Adebayor in 2007/08. The Togolese totem-pole racked up 30 goals, but was rebuffed in most quarters with cries of, “Well how many should he have scored given the chances he’s missed?”.
Arsenal 1 – 1 Man United: Disappointed Love | April 29th 2013
After the game, Arsene Wenger described Arsenal fans’ hostility towards Robin van Persie as “disappointed love”. It strikes me that this explains much of the animosity and in-fighting among our own supporters. We all desperately want the same things, and the strength of that desire spills over in to frustration and anger.
QPR 0 – 1 Arsenal: No point playing the blame game | May 6th 2013
I enjoy the race for fourth, because it provides the illusion of genuine competition. As a supporter, you crave contesting something until the last second of the season. The thrills and spills of that kind of topsy-turvy battle are what make being a fan such an enthralling experience. However, it’s not a real trophy. It’s a surrogate.
Arsenal 4 – 1 Wigan: Our Great Escape is still on | May 15th 2013
There was no ‘Great Escape’ for Wigan, but there may yet be one for Arsenal.Arsenal now know that a win at Newcastle on Sunday will confirm our top four spot. Considering where we were languishing after losing to Spurs a couple of months back, it’s a hell of a turnaround.
I think we’re all agreed that qualifying for the Champions League will never replace the ecstasy of winning a trophy. However, it would enable us to put a conciliatory gloss on what’s otherwise been a painful season.
What’s more, it would allow us to laugh at Tottenham. Again.
Newcastle 0 – 1 Arsenal: Time to shoot for the moon | May 20th 2013
The feat of making the top four for 16 consecutive years is impressive, but hearing Arsene trot that record out with increasing frequency makes me uncomfortable. On the weekend of Alex Ferguson’s retirement, it was telling that among the 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions Leagues, his 22 consecutive top four finishes passed without mention.
If fourth place is any kind of prize, it’s a runners-up medal. For a club of our size, it’s oughtn’t be an aspiration but a conciliatory accessory to failure.
It’s simple, really. Don’t aim for fourth; aim for first, hit fourth if you fail.
Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the Champions League’s assembled stars.
So that was that. Looking back over it, the joy of the final day really pales in comparison to some of the earlier angst.
Still, it’s far better that way round – makes the summer far more bearable.