Transfer thoughts: Koscielny, Grenier, Higuain, Jovetic and more

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 Koscielny started 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.

Clearly Kos isn’t content with finishing top of the Fair Play League.

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.

This journalistic quirk also accounts for the quotes from Gonzalo Higuain suggesting a move to Arsenal may be on the cards:

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.

We can but wait and see.

Arsenal 4 – 1 Wigan: Our Great Escape is still on

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Arsenal 4 – 1 Wigan
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

One win from completing a redemptive rally…
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.

Theo Walcott was at the races…
…and when Theo is racing, no-one is going to catch him. Walcott’s critics occasionally accuse him of self-interest; they say he plays to please himself rather than the team. If that’s the case, Theo plainly really doesn’t want to play in the Europa League, as from the first minute to the last he hared up and down the pitch like a man possessed.

I prefer to think this performance was a consequence of Walcott’s continued maturation in to one of the side’s senior figures.

His stats this season are quite incredible. In just 30 starts he has now amassed 22 goals and 15 assists. You will struggle to find a wide player with more impressive numbers in world football.

Wojciech Szczesny won’t have been pleased about Wigan’s equaliser…
…especially because anyone who’d seen Maloney’s identical goal against QPR knew exactly what the Scotsman would do. It was a fantastic strike but Szczesny ought to have anticipated where Maloney would look to place it. In his defence, the goalkeeper would point to Lukas Podolski’s failure to jump in the wall. Speaking of whom…

I’m not convinced about Poldi at centre-forward…
Despite his two goals tonight I would favour an instant recall for Olivier Giroud for the game at Newcastle. There’s no doubting Podolski is an outstanding finisher, but he doesn’t yet share Giroud’s ability to link the play. He may develop those attributes in time, but time is not on our side. At several points in the game I was baffled by Podolski’s reluctance to burst in to the box to meet crosses from either flank.

He may wear the number nine on his shirt, but he’s far happier as a number ten.

Kieran Gibbs learnt from Gael Clichy’s mistakes…
The former Arsenal full-back was given a torrid time by Callum McManaman at Wembley on Saturday. In this match, Arsene opted for Gibbs over Monreal to cope with the tricky winger, and the youngster coped admirably.

He was coached through the game by Steve Bould, who regularly passed on advice to Gibbs from the touch-line. It paid dividends, as McManaman was mostly subdued. Gibbs’ positional play and anticipation were as good as I’ve seen him produce.

Aaron Ramsey’s goal was thoroughly deserved…
Ramsey’s season is in some respects a microcosm of Arsenal’s own: a dreadful first-half followed by a spirited and encouraging return to form.

This wasn’t his best game – his passing was occasionally wayward – but it’s impossible not to admire his sheer energy.

I ought to mention Santi…
…simply because it would be remiss not to. Four assists in one game is some feat. The Premier League is lucky to be graced by a player of his outrageous ability.

I stayed to applaud Wigan off…
I wasn’t alone. The Arsenal fans gave a rousing ovation to Shaun Maloney and a warm farewell to the Lactics, and I don’t think it was borne out of pity. It saddens me to lose a side as attractive as Wigan from a Premier League still containing the likes of Sunderland, Norwich and Stoke.

For half an hour of this match, before fatigue and familiar errors set in, they had us on the ropes. However, ultimately this season has proved an escape too far.

Bye-bye Bacary?
When the players departed on their awkwardly titled ‘Lap of Appreciation’, Bacary Sagna traipsed behind, accompanied by two of his children and dishing out lingering waves to the crowd. It doesn’t take a genius to decode the message: this may well have been Sagna’s final Emirates appearance.

If he does leave, he ought to remembered as a fine player and a tremendous servant. Some of his performances this season have been below par, but then how many players suffer two broken legs in their career and return to their previous level?

Further Reading: Rating the Arsenal Players Against Wigan for Bleacher Report

Sunderland 0 – 1 Arsenal: He’s Bac

Sunderland 0 – 1 Arsenal
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This win was absolutely essential…
With Chelsea and Spurs both picking up wins, it was vital that we maintained the pace in the race for Champions League qualification. The next month or so sees us face both Tottenham and Everton, sandwiched by cup ties with Blackburn and Bayern. We are entering the period that will define our season, and momentum is crucial.

In the first half, Arsene’s tactical tweak worked a treat…
I was very surprised to see Lukas Podolski on the bench again, with Aaron Ramsey handed a start. However, Arsenal’s midfield dominated the game, and there was a slightly different shape in evidence too.

Ramsey sat in a deeper role alongside Arteta. Jack was playing as the advanced midfielder, with Cazorla ostensibly starting from the left-wing. In truth, Cazorla spent almost the entire game playing inside, combing with Jack and the strikers. It was a less a midfield three and more of a four, replicating the ‘magic square’ that the Brazil national team have been known to use.

Wilshere’s injury changed the game…
Jack’s combination play with Santi had been mesmerising. When we lost Wilshere, we also lost our way a little bit. It was noticeable too that Sunderland improved significantly when they replaced the thuggish Cattermole with the more technical Larsson.

This game highlighted the gulf between Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson…
I appreciate that Carl only knew he was playing 15 minutes before kick-off. I also appreciate that we came across a referee who seemed only too happy to hand out cards to our players while letting their Sunderland equivalents get away with (attempted) murder.

Despite that, Carl Jenkinson’s sending off was very silly indeed. Having picked up a booking inside the first ten minutes, he was always walking a tight-rope. When walking a tight-rope of any kind, it is not advisable to make any sudden lunges. Unfortunately, Carl did just that at Stephane Sessegnon, and a second yellow duly followed.

By contrast, Bacary Sagna was a rock at centre-back. Like Jenkinson, he didn’t know what role he’d be playing until shortly before kick-off. Unlike Jenkinson, he excelled.

I think some of the criticism aimed at Sagna in recent weeks has been extremely harsh. Yes, his recent performances have fallen below his own impeccable standards, but he remains one of our best players.

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.

I love Carl, but a few good games earlier this season do not make him an international class defender.

The whole defence deserve credit…
Nacho Monreal coped well, Per Mertesacker organised an unfamiliar defence, and Wojciech Szczesny had his best game of the season. Aaron Ramsey also deserves enormous credit for filling in superbly at right-back when required.

Our finishing…
…ought to have been better. Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla both squandered glaring opportunities to seal the game on the counter. Fortunately, we were able to fall back on an outstanding defensive display to get the three points.

Some thoughts on Andre Santos…
As I write this it seems the “false three” is on the verge of joining Gremio on loan. It’s remarkable to think that on the final day of last season, he was preferred to Kieran Gibbs and scored a crucial goal in our ascension to the Champions League places.

His fall since then has been spectacular. 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.

I wish him all the best. He seems like a very decent guy, if not a great defender.

I also have to question our policy of continually weakening our squad. When Arsene signed Nacho Monreal, he suggested it was because he needed two left-backs at all times. Why has that changed in the space of ten days?

The fact we’re playing Sagna at centre-back suggests that loaning Djourou out probably wasn’t the smartest move. I hope we don’t pay for allowing other players to leave at a time when it’s impossible to replace them.

Gloomy interlull thoughts on Jenkinson, Sagna, Theo & more

It’s a great week to be Carl Jenkinson. Not only has he been handed his first call-up to the England squad, forsaking Finland in the process, but he’s agreed a new five-year contract with Arsenal worth more than £30,000 p/ week. It’s just reward for a player whose career has not so much taken strides forward as giant leaps and bounds. Little more than two years ago he was on loan in the non-league; now he’s on the verge of his international debut. It shows, too, just how quietly and quickly a deal can be agreed when both parties are willing to come to an agreement.

In the meantime, several other players continue to run their contracts towards conclusion with worryingly little news on potential agreements. I’ve made plain my stated belief that Theo Walcott will not sign a new deal, and I expect the club will make every effort to move him on at a reduced price in January rather than lose him for nothing. Theo, who has picked up a glute muscle strain, has been replaced in the England squad by Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha. It would not surprise me too greatly to see the same substitution occur in the Arsenal squad after Christmas.

Whilst I’ve pretty much come to terms with the likelihood of Theo’s departure, I am a little alarmed at the lack of news regarding an extension to Bacary Sagna’s contract. The Frenchman was pretty vocal about the fact he hadn’t yet been approached by Arsenal in the summer. Time has worn on and whilst his youthful deputy has been handed a new deal, Sagna waits for progress. Come next summer, he’ll have just twelve months remaining on his current deal, and we all know that story ends. For me, keeping Sagna is imperative. Jenkinson has been impressive this season, but the Frenchman is one of the best right-backs in the world. If he became available, some of the biggest clubs in football would be queuing up his signature: the likes of Real Madrid, Inter Milan or even Manchester United. I’d argue he’s one of our few remaining world class talents. Worryingly, that also makes him one of our few remaining saleable assets.

However much Jenkinson improves in the coming months, Arsenal should not contemplate losing an experienced performer like Sagna. Similarly you could argue that Zaha for Walcott would be swapping inexperience and risk for relative consistency – unfortunately in the case of Theo it seems the battle to keep him is already lost. What terrifies me about the Sagna situation is that it seems to stem from our own complacency. There is a willingness to see him enter the last 18 months of his contract, which shows a staggering failure to learn lessons from previous experience.

The talent drain will continue, and no player is immune. Jack Wilshere might profess his loyalty now, but unless Arsenal improve enough to match his ambition then that commitment will be tested by the pounds and prizes on offer elsewhere. Arsenal are unmatched in their ability to lose their best players. Look at Everton: a club with far greater financial restrictions. In recent years, they’ve held on to Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Marouane Fellaini and others, despite interest from some of the country’s biggest clubs. Arsenal themselves were rebuffed in a bid for Jagielka. We did, of course, succeed in prizing away Mikel Arteta, but Everton got a very good fee for a player entering his thirties with a dodgy knee. They’ve also balanced the books by selling Jack Rodwell, receiving £15m for a player who didn’t even regularly make their first team. In the same period of time, Arsenal have lost Fabregas, Nasri, Van Persie and Song. Once upon a time, Arsenal sold their stars when their powers were on the wane. Now they lose players as they enter their peak.

Financial Fair Play has long been touted as the antidote to Arsenal’s ailment. However, the fact that Chelsea were able to demonstrate a profit last week is yet another puncture in that once hopeful prospect. Arsenal have held on waiting to reap the rewards of parsimony. In the meantime Chelsea have speculated to accumulate, overtaken us footballistically, and are fast catching up financially. This interlull feels gloomier than most.

Bac says, Arshavin stays, & Arsene prays

Hello all.  That is, if there’s anyone out there, and you haven’t all turned away from football entirely during the dark times that constitute any international break.  Unusually, there is actually some Arsenal news to report, although not all of it is good.

Gooners will have been slightly alarmed to read the comments of Bacary Sagna yesterday.  He told L’Equipe:

“I expected Robin’s departure, but Alex, that was a surprise. He’s 24 and had three years on his contract.  When you see your two best players from last season leave, you ask yourself questions.

In the street, supporters sometimes come to see me. I can understand that they’re annoyed. I’m like them – I don’t understand everything.”

In some ways it’s reassuring to see that the players share our sentiments.  However, it’s not ideal for the club to see those thoughts emerge in print, especially when it calls the decisions of the manager and the board in to question.  It’s surprising these words have come from Sagna, though – a guy whose brilliance on the pitch is underlined by a stoic professionalism off it.  If anything, that lends the words more gravitas.  The departure of Song in particular will have hurt him as the pair were close off the pitch.   However, I’m confident that once Bac is back and playing his concerns will fade.  What I do hope, however, is that Arsenal don’t let the mistake of allowing Sagna’s contract to run too far down.  We won’t find a better full-back.

One player who isn’t leaving is Andrey Arshavin.  The Russian transfer window slammed shut last night, with the player still firmly on English soil.  Both Dinamo Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg claimed to have reached agreement with Arsenal to take Arshavin on a free transfer, but in both instances he turned them down.  His motivation, as far as I understand, is simple: he doesn’t want to leave London.  When he joined Zenit on loan last year, his family remained behind.  His kids are in school and he’s hopeful of getting them citizenship.  I have to say, I’m a little bit glad he’s stayed.  We saw glimpses in EURO 2012 of what he’s capable of, and he’s not a bad squad player to have around.  I’d still choose Arshavin over Gervinho in most circumstances.  The little Russian’s desire to stay for off-field reasons is clear; now he has to earn it on the pitch.

Tonight sees a host of international games kicking off, and Arsene will be anxiously watching on, hoping his players return intact.  No-one will cause more concern than Abou Diaby, who is set to be involved for France in their game against Finland.  Ahead of the game, Diaby has been talking to Le Parisien about his injury nightmare:

“I have revenge to take over the time I lost but I want to prove to myself that I can go higher.

All I wanted was to play again. I am born with a strong temper. I never give up. Maybe some people would have given up in my position but it was out of the question for me.  It was my destiny, it was written [to come back].”

There’s some lovely translation in there, that makes Diaby sound like the revenging swordsman from The Princess Bridge.

“My name is Vassiriki Abou Diaby.  You broke my ankle.  Prepare to die.”

In seriousness though, it’s great to see him back, but I think we should sound a note of caution.  The chances of him being able to play every game this season – even if he avoids injury – are slim.  After that long out his body will need rest and recuperation, and hopefully the return of Jack Wilshere will allow Arsene to lighten the load on both injury-prone midfielders.

It’s been interesting to note that our start to the season has seen our title odds significantly shorten. I don’t think we’re candidates – I envisage a familiar fourth-placed finish. What can’t be denied is this: the bookies and online casinos such as www.bellerockentertainment.comobviously recognise the potential of Arsene Wenger’s new-look team.

Till next time…