Cesc Fabregas & The Adventurous Escape

The Emirates Cup is here, with Arsenal facing Boca Juniors at 4.20pm today.  The game is like on ESPN and there will be highlights on Arsenal Player later today.

It’s a significant landmark in the Arsenal calendar.  For Arsene, it marks the end of the first phase of pre-season.  Rather than building stamina, training will now begin to be geared towards match situations.  A limitation of six substitutions also means that for the first time this summer players will be asked to complete 90 minutes.

For fans, it represents a return to the Emirates and the commencement of a new campaign.  With the Premier League just a fortnight away, the vernacular shifts: “next season” becomes “this season”, and thoughts turn to tackling the fixtures on the ever-encroaching horizon.

With all that in mind, it’s particularly worrying that Cesc Fabregas will continue to be absent from our preparations.  It’s no secret that he wants to move to Barcelona, and yesterday was a watershed moment, as for the first time Arsene publicly questioned his commitment to the cause:

“I always say he is torn between two loves – the club where he has been educated as a very young boy and the club where he has been educated from 16 onwards and he has been given a chance. I personally can understand it – but of course we want to be certain about his complete commitment.”

I have to say that what with these comments, added to Peter Hill-Wood’s statement the day before, it feels very much as if we’re waiting for Barcelona to come in and put us out of our misery.  They’ll sense that, and know that they can bide their time, incrementally increasing their derogatory offers until eventually we accept.  The Spanish papers today reflect that too, with all sorts of language about how Arsenal “have realised they have no choice”.

Arsene was loathe to talk about any kind of deadline yesterday – “the only deadline is August 31st” – but I hope that privately the club have taken a stronger position.  Barca need to be told that either an appropriate bid arrives for Cesc by such and such a date, or any deal is off.  The player is under contract, and a disgruntled Cesc is still a more useful asset than most other footballers.

The skipper himself must be in real limbo.  I don’t, however, subscribe to the idea that Cesc has gone on any kind of strike to force through a move.  The decision to exclude him from first-team involvement will either have been mutual, or the manager’s.

That said, but the longer this goes on the greater the chances of the player’s relationship with the fans being severely damaged – predominantly through Barcelona’s fault, not his own.  If they want Cesc, they owe it to him to come in for him soon before this gets even messier.

I think the situation is probably best summed up by this genuinely mental film from Scottish lunatics FitbaThatba. Enjoy:

Perhaps in an attempt to offset some of the gloom, Arsene was bullish about the prospect of new signings, saying:

“Our business will be done sooner rather than later but it is difficult to speak about any individual player because that makes things difficult.”

To me, that says that next week could be a big one on the negotiating front: the squad are stationed in London Monday to Friday, Arsene will have his afternoons free to oversee any negotiations, and any potential arrival would have a week to settle in before the Premier League kicks off.

Although he conceded an interest in both players, he refused to comment on negotiations for Phil Jagielka and Juan Mata.  In my opinion, they’d both be superb additions, but I don’t want to get carried away – all signs suggest Everton are very resistant to the prospect of losing Jagielka for anything less than £18m, which I can’t see us producing.

Unless, of course, we had sudden windfall from the sale of a certain Catalan midfielder.  Hmmm…

Hill-Wood reveals Cesc talks and Jagielka bid


It is one of Premier League football’s great mysteries.  Why does Peter Hill-Wood, chairman of one of the clubs who demonstrates the most caution in commenting on transfer speculation, choose to let fly with his occasional volleys in, of all papers, The Daily Star?

Is it the paper that arrives on his front porch every morning?  Does he have a close friend on the sports desk?  Do they have photographs of him doing unspeakable things with Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith and a horse?

Alas, we’ll probably never know.  But thanks to his comments in this morning’s edition, we do know an awful lot more about the transfer situation at Arsenal, particularly as regards Cesc Fabregas.  Hill-Wood said of Barca’s interest:

“They have been messing about for a year and a half now and they have got to make up their minds.

The ball is in their court. They have made one bid of around £26m and another rather tentative one.

If they want to buy the player they are going to have to pay the right price – and when you look at what is being paid elsewhere I don’t think what we are asking is at all unreasonable.”

Asked whether the time was approaching we would call off talks, he added: “We are getting close to that.”

It confirms a few things: first of all, that there has indeed been a second bid from Barcelona, which has also fallen short of our asking price.  It’s also the closest the club have come to officially confirming a willingness to sell the captain.  All summer long, Arsene has insisted he doesn’t want to lose his captain. But here, Hill-Wood is conceding that if Barcelona come up with the money he’ll be off.  The allusion to an “unreasonable” fee suggests that the £40m mark often referenced in the press is probably about right.

He’s clearly irritated by Barca’s dallying, and I would suggest that this public declaration of Arsenal’s frustration is calculated move to flush our their interest once and for all.  The player, the club and the fans are clearly all feeling the strain of this situation, and resolution – one way or the other – is essential.

He also spoke about the possibility of bringing in some new faces, saying:

“We are trying to buy a few players but it isn’t going to happen overnight.”

The suggestion we’re after “a few” players lends credibility to stories claiming that we’re attempting a double swoop for Juan Mata and Phil Jagielka, with Hill-Wood going as far as to confirm a bid for the latter has already been rejected:

“We have made a bid for him but they didn’t think it was enough.”

Whether or not that bid will be raised this week, as widely reported, remains to be seen.

The Chairman can occasionally make comments that appear a little ill-judged, but in this instance I think fans should be universally delighted to finally hear a bit of straight talking from the club.  I understand why Arsene and Gazidis are often so reticent to comment, and I respect that, but it does feel good to hear from the board just what is really going on, rather than having to rely on what is often guesswork in the national press.  Here, the chairman has both reassured supporters that efforts are being made to reinforce the squad, as well as very publicly challenging Barcelona to make the bid they’ve been threatening to make for almost two years now.  Good on him.

Finally, rumours of Nicklas Bendtner’s imminent departure to Sporting Lisbon could be a little premature – apparently their President said last night that his wage demands could be beyond their means.  It seems that although Arsenal are keen to move on a few members of the squad, finding clubs able to take on their salaries is proving more difficult.

If you enjoyed those quotes from Peter Hill-Wood, their might be more on the way today as Arsene gives a pre-Emirates Cup interview to Arsenal.com.  After a very quiet week, the club do seem to be saying and doing the right things.

No need to panic.  Yet.

It’s a Mata of whether Cesc stays or goes


After the reports in the Spanish press yesterday, the English media have inevitably picked up on the stories about Valencia’s attacking midfielder, Juan MataThe Mirror even claim that Mata’s representatives flew in to London to discuss the move yesterday.  I suspect there’s a bit of guess-work involved: The Mirror seem to be constantly reporting that people are “flying in” from Barcelona or Valencia without any actual evidence.  Nevertheless, it seems that there is some truth in reports of our interest.

It’s easy to see why.  The 23-year old Mata has been described as a “superstar in waiting”, and is clearly a very talented player available at an unusually reasonable price.  But above and beyond all that, he would be a signing of sufficient calibre to pacify the fans after the departure of an even bigger star.

I can’t foresee a scenario in which Arsenal line up with Mata, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas next season.  My excitement about potentially signing the Spaniard is tempered by the knowledge that it’s most likely to be as a replacement for his compatriot and our captain.

Last week any Arsenal commentator worth his salt was saying that this was the week in which the Cesc Fabregas situation had to be sorted.  Well, here we are, rapidly approaching the end of said week, and both Arsenal and Barcelona have been eerily quiet about the whole thing.  The player probably feels increasingly awkward about the current state of play – training apart from his team-mates, he’s in a no-man’s land until the situation is resolved.  Whilst he won’t play at this weekend’s Emirates Cup, he will for the first time be asked to be present and part of our preparations.  It’s a situation he would have rather avoided.

Unfortunately, however, he’s dependent on movement from Barcelona, who are acting remarkably sluggishly over the whole thing.  Perhaps it’s because they have young Thiago Alcantara as an alternative option.  The Spanish U-21 International wore the Barca number 4 shirt earmarked for Fabregas last night, and demonstrated his talent with a couple of great goals.

Arsenal were reported to have given Barca a notional deadline of the end of July to sign Fabregas.  I sincerely doubt we’re in a position to do that – they have us over a barrel somewhat, due to the player’s desire to leave – but that date is now just four days away.  We’re approaching crunch time.  Perhaps our interest in Mata is the surest sign yet that this saga is approaching its conclusion.

In other transfer news, from behind the paywall The Times report we’re set to increase our bid for Phil Jagielka to £13m.

That sort of bid would begin to approach a more realistic valuation, and one at which Everton might feel under pressure to cash in.

Just a couple of days until the Emirates Cup, and then just a couple of weeks until the season begins. So many balls up in the air, and as fans we can do nothing but wait for them to fall.