Transfer Update: Don’t Hurry Back, Chamakh

transferwindowwide

Arsenal have completed their first official transfer of this window, and unsurprisingly it’s a transfer out rather than in: Marouane Chamakh has joined West Ham United on a six month loan.  Upon sealing the deal, he said:

“We played only one striker at Arsenal, so I didn’t play a lot, so I hope to do so more with West Ham. I think this will be a very important move for me and I don’t want to waste any more time. I want to contribute immediately.”

It’s a difficult stance to argue with, and the polar opposite of the attitude of Andrey Arshavin, who has turned down the chance to move to Reading to sit in the doldrums at Arsenal.  Chamakh is 28 now, and not played a single minute in the Premier League this season.  He’s spent most of his time on the training ground putting out the football bibs.  If he is to have any chance of resurrecting his career, it’s clear he needed to move on.

The fact his career is in need of resurrection at all is what intrigues me.  It may be hard to recall now, but when Chamakh first joined Arsenal he looked like the real deal.  For a long time Arsenal had been told they needed a physical, aerially dominant centre-forward, and Chamakh looked to be that man.  He scored an impressive 10 goals in his first 17 starts.  At the time, Robin van Persie was yet to explode in to the player he is now, and was suffering one of his customary injuries.  I will admit that during this period I  may have stated a case for RVP to be sold off now we had a more reliable forward in Chamakh.  Shows what I know.

For everything was soon to change.  After a goal against Aston Villa in November, Chamakh had to wait until March 3rd for his next in Arsenal colours.  Robin van Persie returned from injury to have his extraordinary calendar year of 2011, and as his star shone brighter and brighter, Chamakh’s waned.  He never regained his place in the side, his manager’s faith, or his confidence in front of goal.

That’s why he’s going on loan, rather than making a permanent move.  No club would risk a fee on a player who has suffered such a dramatic decline, and I suspect we’re probably paying a proportion of his hefty wages during his time at West Ham too.  Nevertheless, if it works out, we may find a buyer – he is very much in the shop window.

There’s a decent player in there.  Not a player to match RVP, or even Olivier Giroud, but a player capable of holding up the ball and providing a threat in the air.  A player who will suit West Ham down to the ground.  If he can get a game ahead of Carlton Cole or Andy Carroll, things could work out for him.  I hope they do, for everyone’s sakes.

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.

I was irked by his comments suggesting fans demand the signing of “Messi” etc.  It’s nonsense.  Most fans simply want appropriate investment in the side.  Letting players go (Johan Djourou seems set to follow Chamakh through the exit door) only increases the need for reinforcements.

One to keep an eye on could be Thierry Henry.  When asked by Arsenal.com about the seemingly dead deal for the Frenchman, Arsene said:

“We have not gone as far with Thierry because we look more for permanent people.”

Sensible.  Positive, even.  However, Arsene went on to suggest that a couple of injuries and Thierry’s willingness could change that situation later in the month.  Given my lack of confidence about our ability to pull in alternative signings, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Henry in an Arsenal shirt in 2013.

So far in this window, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Spurs have already completed deals.  The onus is on Arsenal to show similar urgency.

Reading 5 – 7 Arsenal: The game that nearly broke me

The first half was abject, then apocalyptic, then embarrassing. The second half was acceptable, then alluring, then astounding. Extra-time was just plain bonkers.

This was a match that defies analysis.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to explain quite how bad Arsenal were in the first half, nor what inspired the change that formed the basis of that incredible turnaround.  In that first 45, every time Reading went forward they looked like scoring.  We simply could not deal with their crosses.  Ignasi Miquel and Carl Jenkinson looked exposed and awkward at full-back, whilst Koscielny and Djourou looked anything but international class defenders in the centre.

First Jason Roberts outwitted Koscielny to dart to the back post and prod home.  Then, just minutes later, Koscielny’s nightmare half continued as his outstretched leg diverted the ball past Martinez and in to his own net.  The Argentine keeper wasn’t helping affairs; his inexperience was clear to see as he flapped at cross after cross.  It was his criminal error which led to the third goal. Mikele Leigertwood fired a fairly simple shot at goal;   Martinez could probably have caught it where he stood, but instead threw himself up and back in an acrobatic arc, playing for the cameras.  How humiliating then that his palm only pushed the ball lamely up in to the air, allowing it to drop in to the net behind him.  Twenty minutes gone; three nil to Reading.

Incredibly, it got worse.  Another cross drifted in, from the right this time, and Noel Hunt climbed highest to power home.  Arsenal were dreadful all over the pitch.  In the build up to the game the manager had made it very public just where this competition lies in his list of priorities.  Unfortunately, it seems the players took that as their cue to put in an entirely listless display.  We were second to every ball, and for the most part you felt glad that the majority of these players are nowhere near the first team.

And then, just before half-time, Arsenal were handed a glimmer of hope.  Andrey Arshavin split the defence with a cute through ball which Theo Walcott raced on to before clipping delightfully over the advancing Adam Federici.  Ah, Federici: with him, you always have a chance.

From the interviews with the players after the match, we can gleam that Arsene’s half-time team talk pulled no punches: this wasn’t good enough.  This was not Arsenal.  In the first half, the fans had been chanting “we want our Arsenal back”.  In the second, they got it.

The game hinged on the double substitution in the 62nd minute.  Olivier Giroud and Thomas Eisfeld were introduced for Gnabry and Frimpong, and suddenly Arsenal came to life.  Within two minutes of coming on to the field of play, Giroud had got on to the end of a Walcott corner and thumped a brilliant header beyond Federici.  Arsenal fans dared to hope.

There then followed a succession of near-misses which I couldn’t help but feel we needed to score to have any chance.  If we could get a third before the 80th minute, I reasoned, then we could have a real go at grabbing an equaliser.  But the clock ticked on, and no goal came.

Fair play to Arsenal; they kept going.  And, in the 89th minute, another Walcott corner found Koscielny, who’s eventful night continued with his second goal of the season.

The board went up, and the situation crystallised: Arsenal had four minutes to score an equaliser.  Reading did everything right.  They kept the ball in the corners, far away up the other end of the pitch.  The four minutes expired.  And yet, the whistle didn’t come.  Arsenal suddenly found themselves with one last tantalising chance. Eisfeld thumped the ball fifty yards in to the area.  Giroud did incredibly well to nod it down towards Theo Walcott, and he stabbed an effort towards goal.  And then, panic.  Replays showed the ball had crossed the line, but the referee didn’t spot it, instead not blowing his whistle until Carl Jenkinson of all people popped up to make sure and hammer the ball back in to the net.  Whoever scored, it didn’t matter.  Arsenal had done it: 4-4, in the 96th minute.

Some players thought their work for the night was done.  Olivier Giroud and Francis Coquelin threw their shirts in to the crowd, only to hurriedly retrieve them when they discovered they had to play extra-time.  Arsenal had the momentum now, and goal their fifth successive goal to put them ahead when Chamakh played a neat one-two with Giroud and fired low in to the corner from outside the box.  I wasn’t sure he had it in him, to be honest.

That, of course, should have been that.  This, however, was no ordinary game, and with just four minutes remaining on the clock a deflect cross found it’s way to Pavel Pogrebnyak,who levelled things up at 5-5.

With Martinez in such worrying form, Arsenal didn’t fancy penalties, but time was and tiring legs were against them.  That’s why I was so shocked when it was a 120th minute forty yard sprint from Andrey Arshavin that proved the difference.  He scooted in to the box and ignored options in the middle to slip the ball under the keeper.  This time, Reading did manage to get the ball off the line, but only as far as Walcott, who smashed it in to give us the crucial lead.  Alongside Walcott was Laurent Koscielny, who had won the ball at the back and sprinted the length of the pitch in the search for the winner.

There was time for one more. A glacé cherry on this delicious cake of a game. Arsene Wenger was still admonishing Martinez for failing to run down the clock when Walcott launched a long ball forward. Chamakh chased it down and lobbed over the keeper (again from outside the box) to set the seal on the game and make it 7-5.

Yes, 7-5.  I’m going for another lie down.

Deadline Day: Don’t get your hopes up

It’s that time of year again.  Jim White is frothing at the mouth in a cage deep in the bowels of Sky Sports, soon to be released.  Agents are rubbing their hands, clubs are panicking, and Arsenal are doing, well, nothing.  Transfer deadline day is here.

I’m exaggerating for comic effect.  We’re not doing ‘nothing’.  There will be a couple of relatively high-profile departures today – although Theo Walcott won’t be one of them.  Arsene Wenger has decided to run the risk of keeping him at the club as he enters the final year of his contract.  The latest quotes from Arsene don’t sound entirely convincing:

“Theo is focused to do well, and whatever happens at the end of the season happens at the end of the season. He loves the club. Maybe we can find an agreement at some stage.”

Keeping him without an agreement doesn’t make much business sense.  Either we’re very confident he’ll choose to sign, or we simply don’t feel we can afford to lose another established star.

One man who is going is Nicklas Bendtner.  The Not-so-great Dane is undertaking a medical in Turin this morning ahead of a loan move to Juventus.  I think we’re probably all agreed he’s landed on his feet there.  It’ll be a deal with an option to buy, but he’l have to have a better season than he did at Sunderland to stay in Serie A permanently.
Reports in the Korean media say Park Chu-Young has flown to Spain to complete a transfer to Celta Vigo.  However, I have it on good authority that Celta are pursuing other options, so this deal may not be quite as advanced as those stories suggest.
There’s a bit of chat that he could be joined in La Liga by Marouane Chamakh, who is linked with a move to Malaga.  I suppose we owe them a favour after stealing Santi Cazorla for £12.6m, although I’d still be slightly surprised to see us let all three of Chamakh, Park and Bendtner go.  If we do, then surely we have to bring in another centre-forward – and at the moment I can’t see us bringing in anyone at all.
There are a few stories doing the rounds in the papers this morning, linking us with Cheick Tiote, Daniel Sturridge, and Michael Essien.  Tiote I can write off straight away – Alan Pardew spent much of last night’s post-match press conference praising his chairman Mike Ashley for resisting enquiries from other clubs for his top talent.  Sturridge too seems unlikely – he is one of only two centre-forwards in the Chelsea squad, and question marks over his attitude make him an unlikely Arsene signing.  The Essien story has a ring of truth to it – Chelsea have little use for him in an over-stocked midfield, and he’s a player Arsene has long admired.  There are question marks over his form and his fitness, but no more so than when we took Yossi Benayoun on loan from the same club a year ago.
However, if you asked me to be bold, I’d stick with yesterday’s prediction:
Predicted Outs: Bendtner, Park
Predicted Ins: None
I’d love to be wrong.
Finally, yesterday saw the most celebrated draw of the football calendar: the Capital One Cup. We’ve got Coventry at home.  In other news, we’ve got Schalke, Olympiakos (again) and Olivier Giroud’s former club Montpellier in a comfortable-looking Champions League group.

And so it’s on with the transfer frenzy.  Through the pain, the anguish, the glimmers of hope and the long periods of boredom, I’ll be tweeting events over at @Gunnerblog.  Come Follow Me.

Giroud could replace Chamakh – not RVP

In an interview with French radio station RMC, Montpellier manager Rene Girard has claimed that Arsenal are following their France international striker Olivier Giroud, and that the player is keen on a move to England.  Whilst it’s obviously in the early stages, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Arsene Wenger moving for one of Ligue 1’s breakout stars of 2011/12 – France is his favourite country to shop in, after all.

Giroud is a close pal of Laurent Koscielny after their time together at Ligue 2 Tours.  Like Koscielny, he is something of a late developer.  He was never once capped at youth level for France, and only made his debut this season, aged 25.  This past season, however, he has been in fantastic form, scoring 21 goals and firing Montpellier to a historic league title.

The suggestions in France is that he has a release clause of around €13m.  For an international striker, it’s not a huge amount.  And lest we forget, Arsenal are badly in need of goalscorers, even allowing for the forthcoming arrival of Lukas Podolski.  The Arsenal careers of Park Chu-Yung and Marouane Chamakh look doomed, and there’s even talk that the latter could join Montpellier as compensation for the loss of Giroud.

Swap deals are rare things, but this one would make sense.  Chamakh has not flourished in England as he did in France, and playing for Montpellier (possibly on loan) would give him the opportunity to put himself in the continental shop window of the Champions League.  There are also similarities in their style of play: they’re both tall, physical players with the ability to hold the ball up and bring others in to play. Giroud, fortunately, is a significantly better finisher with his feet than the Moroccan.

As with the signing of Podolski, this mooted transfer is only good news in addition to retaining Robin van Persie. Giroud would provide another option, an invaluable support, and a degree of depth.  He would not single-handedly replace the talismanic Dutchman.  Then again, I’m not sure anyone that we could afford would.

Anyway, here’s a look at Giroud in action last term:

He was an unused sub in yesterday’s France – England clash, where Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was surprise starter, and did rather well. Don’t forget you can grab your free Ox wallpaper from the Gunnerblog Store – just follow the instructions in the product description.

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2012

I thought I had better squeeze these in before May is out, otherwise they’ll begin to feel outdated and irritating, like Noel Edmonds or woolen trousers. So, amidst muffled fanfare and the half-hearted applause of a fanatical few, let us begin.

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

Remarkably, in a season which will be remembered as much for calamity as class, there are several credible contenders for this award – three of whom are arguably surprise candidates.

At the start of the campaign, both Laurent Koscielny and Mikel Arteta were expected to play supporting roles to the men playing directly next to them. However, a combination of injuries and poor form meant that Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere never hit the heights expected of them – or, in Jack’s case, never even hit the pitch. In their stead, both Koscielny and Arteta stepped up to the mark with some outstanding performances. Laurent eradicated the silly errors that marred his first season to become the model of consistency, whilst Mikel’s importance to the team was underlined most pointedly by how desperately he was missed when absent. The contribution of both players did much to make up for the aberrations and absence of more illustrious team-mates.

It may seem unfathomable now, but the winner of last year’s ‘Worst Player of the Season’ Award was one Tomas Rosicky, who “made 34 appearances without doing anything of note”. For the first half of this season, that ineffective form continued, until he suddenly sparked in to life – and what life. Against the odds, Rosicky has found the best form of his Arsenal career, supplanting Aaron Ramsey and bringing verve and vision to the Arsenal midfield. He rightly earnt himself a new deal, and will be hoping to carry his tremendous end-of-season displays in to next season.

However, despite the various claims from these three pretenders, there can surely be no arguments about the fact that the crown ultimately goes to one Robin van Persie. His quality has long been undoubted, but this year he finally managed to shed the concerns over his fragility. Taking on the armband has seen him flourish both as a player and a man, and it’s hardly worth imagining how 2011/12 might have panned out without him. Saying that, depending on how the summer plays out, we might just get a pretty good idea in 2012/13. Let’s enjoy him and raise a glass to him while we can – Robin Van Persie: the best footballer in the country.

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON

This is always a hotly-contested award in this Arsenal squad, and I certainly found it hard to call.

I haven’t been entirely convinced by Kieran Gibbs’ first full season at left-back, and to be fair to him he suffered a fairly hefty injury which ruled him out for the middle third of the season. So that was him off the list.

I toyed with the idea of giving to Francis Coquelin – a young man who returned from a loan spell at Lorient fairly unheralded, and showed his mettle as a midfielder, full-back, and invaluable squad member.

And then I plumped for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: a teenager who in twelve months has gone from League One to Champions League and on to the European Championships. The thought of what he could achieve with such an impressive first campaign behind him is mouthwatering.

And then I remembered: there was one candidate I was overlooking, simply because I had forgotten that he was even young. I simply accepted him as an essential part of the team.

Wojciech Szczesny only turned 22 last month. In goalkeeping terms, he is a baby – fully three years younger than Joe Hart. To play almost fifty games, with only the odd dip in form, is an outstanding achievement for Szczesny. Next season he will inherit the number one shirt, and I can’t see him letting go of it any time soon.

WORST PLAYER OF THE SEASON

It’s never nice handing this out, but it is tradition, so we may aswell get on with it. Perrennial contenders Almunia and Fabianski didn’t really get enough game-time to bungle themselves into consideration. I thought long and hard about awarding it to Park Chu-Young, but decided he was more guilty of invisibility than ineptitude – although perhaps that’s because his greatest crimes came on the training pitch.

In the end, however, I’ve plumped for Marouane Chamakh. The Morroccan ventured on to the field 13 times more than Park, without managing to beat the Korean’s goal tally of ‘one’. He simply has not lived up to either his generous pay-packet, or his performances in the early part of his Arsenal career- and unlike Tomas Rosicky, I don’t think he’ll get the chance to prove me wrong next season.

GAME OF THE SEASON

It’s been a thrilling season, so it’s no surprise there are plenty of contenders here. It won’t live as long in the memory as others, but I for one enjoyed our workmanlike display to beat the eventual Champions, Manchester City, thanks to Mikel Arteta’s late strike.

Our entire season felt like a comeback, and it was full of microcosmic comeback games. Highlights include the 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge, Thomas Vermaelen’s late late winner against Newcastle, and the incredible attempt to reign in AC Milan.

The undoubted winner, however, has to be Arsenal 5 – 2 Spurs. Bacary Sagna’s thumping header turned a season on its head, and set us up for a late run that would ultimately see us pip Spurs to third and the Champions League. It was a fantastic day, and a quite outstanding match.


North London Is Red on Vimeo by merskamp

WORST GAME OF THE SEASON

I won’t pore over the details. It was painful enough the first time. Suffice to say that in my time as an Arsenal fan I cannot remember a game in which we were so comprehensively humiliated by a rival.

I will now consign this game to the same part of my brain that stores the image of John Terry lifting the Champions League trophy, and attempt not to mention it unless absolutely necessary.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE SEASON

RVP’s wonder-volleys?
Hammering Chelsea?
Overhauling Spurs?

Afraid not. The highlight of my season was the magical moment when Thierry Henry not only deigned to return to the Emirates turf, but dared to grace it with a goal so transporting we all felt that Arsenal, briefly, were Invincible again.

Like Martin Tyler once said, the man is simply electrifying.

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE SEASON

I think it tells you something about the topsy-turvy nature of the season that there were as many crushing disappointments as uplifting highs. I’m going to go in, the end, for a rather abstract winner: our dreadful start. Although our poor run in January was arguably more damaging to our final standing in terms of the points we dropped, our poor start was so frustrating simply because it felt so avoidable. Our failure to sort out the future of major stars early in the summer, and enable us to focus on completing our transfer activity ahead of the deadline cost us not only points but morale, momentum, and belief. I still believe it very nearly cost Arsene Wenger his job.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that next season’s fortune’s are largely dependent on learning from our mistakes last time round. Over to you, Arsenal.