Twitter & Transfers

I really love Twitter. I use it every day. It’s an amazing way of interacting with folks the likes of which I would never encounter in day-to-day existence. That ranges all the way from the far-flung readers of this blog, to the wife of Bacary Sagna.

It’s also an incredible source of news. The sheer breadth of contributors means it is inevitably faster than any newspaper or television channel. If something happens, anywhere in the world, you can be pretty sure that someone, somewhere has tweeted about it.

I must confess, however, it is rather trying my patience at present. The winds of change have blown the transfer window wide open, and suddenly every @Tom, @Dick and @Harry is telling you who is going where, when, and for how much.

Transfer windows have always been testing times for those who value the truth. Journalists play fast and loose with facts, turning whispers and nudges in to concrete stories to sell papers and attract hits. With the rise of self-publication, millions of individuals are now doing just the same.

It’s a fairly easy game to play. I make an informed guess that Jan Vertonghen will end up at Spurs; I tweet something to that effect, and when it comes off I am proclaimed as being ‘ITK’ – an acronym which supposedly anoints those who are ‘in the know’. If it doesn’t come off, I can always claim the deal fell down at the last minute due to some minor technicality – the kind of insider knowledge that only reaffirms my ITK status.

The big boys are just as bad. Take Sky Sports News, who have developed a habit of ‘understanding’ something about twenty minutes after every newspaper journalist, blogger and fan has heard it via the online grapevine. Twitter poses a threat to their position as the sport’s most prominent newsbreaker, and they need to up their game and do some proper investigative journalism on a day other than transfer deadline day.

Sky have fallen behind because the whispers and rumours that used to be exclusively theirs are now public long before they reach them. A true ‘exclusive’ is almost impossible to maintain – the risk of someone getting to it before you is simply too great. It’s the same old pyramid of murky untruths and occasional scoops. It’s just a bigger, noisier and possibly more irritating pyramid than ever before.

It takes a little of the joy out of it aswell. The ‘surprise signing’ may become a thing of the past. Whoever your club signs, there’s a chance someone’s claimed a deal is in the offing somewhere, so you’re probably bored of the idea before it even happens.

I’m guilty too. I pass on the small bits of information I get here and there, when permitted, in order to try and keep fans in the loop. I’m feeding the machine. The distinction, I hope, is that I’m not fabricating anything. Maybe none of these people are, but I find it hard to believe that there as many ‘ITK’ people as Twitter would have you believe. There simply aren’t enough people working in football to have that many friends/associates to pass information on to. Something, frankly, doesn’t add up.

There is, of course, a very simple solution: switch Twitter off, cancel my Sky subscription, and wait till everything is announced and confirmed on Arsenal.com. But I’m hardly going to manage that now, am I?

Let The Longest Summer commence.

Thoughts on RVP’s future + This morning’s meeting: LIVE

As you probably all know by now, Robin van Persie will meet with Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis this morning to discuss his future.  The get together will take place in Arsene Wenger’s house, of all places, at 10.30am.  It’s been splashed all over the web and papers for the last two days as if its big news.  In reality, it’s not news at all.  For six months now Arsenal and Robin have made it clear talks would take place between the end of the season and Robin joining up with the Dutch squad for the Euros.  That time has now arrived.

It’s hard to see what can be accomplished in just one day.  Robin leaves for Holland tomorrow, and it’s unlikely anything concrete could be sorted and signed so swiftly.  Perhaps Van Persie already knows what we’re offering, has been mulling it over, and this is his opportunity to give us his answer.  Perhaps this is genuinely the first time they’ve talked any kind of terms.  Either way, I can’t see us having a definitive resolution until much later in the summer.

RVP was pretty cagey after the West Brom game, but that’s understandable.  It wouldn’t be much of a negotiation tactic for him to say “I’ll definitely be signing a new deal”.  Even if he does decide his future is with Arsenal, he’ll want to squeeze us for as much money as possible – this is, after all, his last major contract.  And after his performances this season, who could begrudge him a big payday?

If I had to make a prediction – and it remains a hard one to call – I’d say he’ll stay and sign a new deal making him Arsenal’s highest paid player.  The reason being is that I can only see him really being tempted by a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid, and he doesn’t seem to be on either club’s radar this summer.  If he was, they’d have made their move by now, and we’d be reading a lot more quotes about his “DNA”.  I think he’ll be impressed by the arrival of Podolski, by Arsene and Ivan’s plans, and by the money we offer him.  And you know what?  If things don’t work out, he can always hand in a transfer request at a later date and leave for a decent fee.  He’ll still have plenty of suitors in twelve months time.

The stories this morning say that even if he doesn’t want to sign a new deal we’ll hold him to his existing contract.  That’s all well and good, but it does present some conflicts: do you want a player who you know is leaving to be the captain of your club?  Seems to happen to us all the time, but it’s hardly ideal.

Anyway, for a bit of fun, I’m live-tweeting this morning’s meeting over at @Gunnerblog, covering the conversation, the croissants, and the contract.  Follow me, it might be a laugh.

In other news, Euro 2012 is just around the corner, and at 1pm today we’ll find out if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain joins Theo Walcott in the England squad.  Personally, I hope he does: if he’s not at the Euros, he’ll be at the Olympics, which is far more disruptive.  A host of other players are already ‘on the plane’ with their respective nations, and if you do me a little favour I could be too. I’ve written this piece on 5 Rising Stars at Euro 2012 (which includes a profile of reported Arsenal target Yann M’Vila).  If you could give it a read and click the ‘Like‘ or ‘Tweet‘ button I might just win a competition which takes me all the way to Poland.  Would enjoy blogging to you from there.

Whilst we’re on the subject of doing me favours: if anyone out there has a company that would like to sponsor Gunnerblog for next season, do let me know. Traffic is particularly high during the transfer window so it’s a good time to get on board. Apologies for being so public about it but I’ve got to find a way to pay for my season ticket somehow!  I can be contacted here.

Right. By tomorrow, we might know a good deal more about the future of RVP, and quite how painful this summer might be.  Don’t forget you can follow all that and more @gunnerblog.

Ramsey, Chamberlain & Fan Perception

Aaron Ramsey was criticised by fans last night

Aaron Ramsey is out-of-form and, as it happens, out of the team.  By that I mean he was only given a chance in his favoured central midfield role at Wolves in order to afford Tomas Rosicky a rest.  At Everton and QPR, he was shunted in to an unfamiliar left-wing role in order to fulfil a defensive function – an unhappy square peg in an ill-fitting round hole.  The only reason Ramsey came on last night was because of the unfortunate injury to Mikel Arteta.  And in a fully fit squad, he would not have been first off the bench: both Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere, entirely absent this season, would be ahead of him in the pecking order.

He knows he’s not playing well.  You can see it in his desperation in front of goal; his desire to make a tangible contribution to the team.  The manager knows it too –  he doesn’t make excuses for players who don’t need them.  But there are mitigating circumstances with Ramsey.  His horrific injury means that this is his first full season in the Premier League.  He made his first start for Arsenal post leg-break on the 19th March 2011 – barely a year ago.  This season he has been involved in no less than 40 games, starting 32.  The weight of responsibility has been significant: Arsene Wenger expected to retain Samir Nasri, and have Jack Wilshere available for selection.  Instead, Arsenal have leaned heavily on a 21-year old, who has only recently been able to share the burden with a rejuvenated Tomas Rosicky.

In that period he himself would admit that he’s not scored enough goals, or provided enough assists.  Throughout the season I’ve been quick to criticise him for being a little impetuous in his decision making, or for attempting a difficult pass when the simpler ball is a better option.  However, one thing I can never question is his commitment.  Despite his poor form, he’s never hid.  He’s never let his head go down, or stopped trying things.  He’s a player of enormous mental fortitude – he probably wouldn’t even have been able to make a top level comeback if that weren’t the case.

Last night, however, sections of the crowd and huge swathes of the global fanbase couldn’t wait to get on his back as soon as he got on the pitch.  His touch was admittedly uncertain, but immediately a man sat yards from me leapt to his feet and demanded he be subbed off.  In the aftermath of the game, the criticism of him ranged from the illogical (“Ramsey cost us the game”) to the obscene (death threats and encouragement to take his own life sent directly to his Twitter account).

Let’s deal with the facts first: Ramsey was not to blame for our defeat.  By that point we were already two nil down, and whilst he was poor during his time on the pitch, he was no worse than many of his team-mates.  Secondly, what do these so-called ‘supporters’ hope to gain from this behaviour?  It’s hardly going to spur Ramsey on to improve.  As I’ve stated many times, there’s no question over his commitment – he’s simply been asked to do too much this season, and has finally hit a rut of poor form.  He will come again.  There is not a team in the country who wouldn’t want the 21-year old captain of Wales in their squad.

Of course, part of the fans’ collective frustration is that by this point they were already baying for ‘The Ox’.  After a run of starts in January and February, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has recently been used almost exclusively from the bench.  The fans question the wisdom of Arsene’s selection policy, but the fine form of Theo Walcott and our impressive winning run suggests its not entirely foolish.  However, as soon as Arsenal found themselves two goals down yesterday, there was a collective sense that only Oxlade-Chamberlain could save us.

Indeed, when he eventually did come on, after chants of ‘Ox Ox Ox’ from an impatient crowd, his arrival was met with the loudest roar of the night.  I have to say, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it.  Encouragement is good – pressure to be the Messiah is not.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain shows off his talent in Europe

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is an outstanding young player, and that has been recognised by his fellow professionals nominating him for the Young Footballer of the Year award.  However, that nomination is more a recognition of his talent than his contribution this season.  Look at the names alongside him – Aguero, Bale, Sturridge.  They have been regular starters for their team, scoring in to the double-figures and featuring regularly at international level.  Chamberlain has just five Premier League starts to his name.  For all his promise, he has much to learn, and his contribution when he came on was indicative of that.  He showed plenty of passion, charging at defenders and turning this way and that, but on two occasions he lost the ball and left us facing a dangerous counter-attack when a simple pass was on.  He will learn, because he is good enough, and intelligent enough.  But the level of expectation around this boy is becoming absurd.

He is not Messi.  He is not Ronaldo.  I daren’t say he won’t ever reach that level – I would never set limitations on anybody’s talent – I’ve seen improvements in players that defy belief.  But he’s a long way from that yet, and Arsenal fans need to show patience with his development, and measure their expectations accordingly.

I would certainly have him ahead of Gervinho in the pecking order, but once Arsene had made the call to introduce the Ivorian, surely the most sensible way to use the remaining substitute was to deploy a second striker in Marouane Chamakh?  I was as baffled by Arsene’s decision as I was by the fans’ jubilant reaction.

It’s good to back youngsters.  But here’s my worry: when Aaron Ramsey was 18 years old, I’d say his potential was roughly equivalent to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s now.  People were talking about him as a future Arsenal captain, a ‘Steven Gerrard figure’ and part of an exciting new generation of British talent.  Ramsey is a lesson that the hype and expectation around a young starlet can quickly turn to frustration – just ask Theo Walcott, who was pilloried last night for a performance that was nullified more by Wigan’s outstanding tactics than any failings on Theo’s part.

It is my firm belief that Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will become massive players for Arsenal Football Club.  What they both need from the fans is time, patience, support, and a bit of perspective.  Let’s give them that.