Archive for April, 2010

Arsene practically confirms Chamakh deal and hints at two more to follow

36 comments April 30th, 2010

With Monday’s game against Blackburn being as much a dead rubber as an exploded tyre, Arsene’s press conference yesterday concentrated on his forthcoming transfer activity.  The headlines were clear:

Now Arsene has a habit of fibbing to the press, especially when it comes to his transfer plans, but I find these statements pretty credible.

The player who we’ll announce before the World Cup is certainly Bordeaux striker Marouane Chamakh.  If his contract weren’t expiring, he’d be a £10m player, so picking him up on a free represents fantastic value.  His arrival does, however, place the Arsenal career of Eduardo under considerable threat.  Arsene insists he wants to keep the Croatian, but it’s hard to see him edging ahead of Van Persie, Bendtner and Chamakh in the pecking order.  Based on this season’s evidence, and disappointing though it is to admit it, I don’t think we’d miss him.

I’m convince that were William Gallas going to stay, he’d have signed his new deal by now, so I think Arsene will be forced to make a further two signings: one a goalkeeper, and one a centre-back.  At this stage I have no idea who those two individuals might be.  To hear me discuss Arsene’s transfer policy as well as my more general thoughts on this season, listen to today’s arsecast.

Arsene came down pretty hard on Andrey Arshavin’s recent comments about his desire to play for Barcelona.  Maybe he was irked by the Russian’s declaration that messrs Capello, Mourinho and Hiddink were superior coaches to Mr. Wenger.  Whilst he did offer the caveat of saying he doesn’t trust translations, the message from the manager was firm and uncompromising:

“Yes, I am very disappointed because he shows a completely different attitude. He wants to extend his contract with us and stay with us, so the noise coming out of Russia is very difficult to explain.

He looks to be very happy here, so you should ask him where it comes from. We do not, of course, accept that. When you are at Arsenal, you are at Arsenal. When you are somewhere else, you are somewhere else. I believe that your pride makes first that you defend your club.”

Arshavin was expected to play at Blackburn, but is now considered a doubt.  However, the fact that Arsene isn’t simply giving him the rest of the season off seems to me to be a pointed message to the player: Arsenal pay his wages, and he must give his all in order to earn them.  Next season could prove make-or-break for Andrey.

Till tomorrow.

“If I have the opportunity to blog one season about Barcelona, it would be the peak of my career.”

12 comments April 28th, 2010

The blogosphere was up in arms yesterday as Andrey Arshavin declared his interest in playing for Barcelona:

“If I have the opportunity to play one season in Barcelona, it would be the peak of my career.”

Now, this is clearly a hypothetical statement. Arshavin turns 29 before the start of next season, and knows that his chance to play for Barca has all but gone.  They have younger, fitter, superior players.  I’m not going to hang Arshavin out to dry based on what was doubtless a whimsical notion.

What I will concede, however, is that I’d prefer Arshavin to have said, “I want to help make Arsenal as good as Barcelona”. I don’t have a problem with his admiration for their ability.  In fact, I empathise.  But I wouldn’t say:

“If I have the opportunity to blog one season about Barcelona, it would be the peak of my career.”

Instead, I just hope that Arsenal will one day return to that level.  Arshavin is in the position of being able to actually do something about it – by getting out there on the pitch and attempting to emulate the Catalans he’s so enamoured with.

Many fans are tiring of Arshavin’s outspoken nature, but I think that when you step back from it all he’s often just telling the truth.  Selling a player of his experience and quality is not what we need at this stage in the team’s development.

What we could do with, however, is a goalkeeper.  One of the current incumbents, Lukasz Fabianski, seems much better at taking criticism than he is at taking crosses:

“Every supporter has the right to give their opinion. I’m not stupid and I realise that incidents like the one at Wigan make other things appear less significant and that these are the things people remember.”

Funny that, isn’t it. Just like how people will remember the time Eyjafjallajoekull erupted and threatened to throw a spanner in the works of several thousand planes, rather than the few hundred years it sat dormant. If only we could get away with claiming that Fabianski’s antics were acts of God – they’re the responsibility of the man who continues to pick him, Arsene Wenger.  Jens Lehmann has never been replaced, and that situation is now costing us not only points, but trophies.

Speaking of keepers, if City are allowed to either forcibly recall Joe Hart or sign a new goalkeeper, the existing transfer system will be seriously undermined.  What is the risk in loaning out a player if you can just call him back or draft in a replacement when required?  You’ll be better off managing a tiny squad of 18 or so players and then appealing for “emergency” dispensation to sign someone every time a couple of players end up on the treatment table.  Arsene will be licking his lips – imagine the wages saved!

Belated congratulations to Cesc Fabregas and Thomas Vermaelen on making the PFA Team of the Year, at a ceremony where the PFA Player of the Year, 24 year-old Wayne Rooney, was beaten to the award for the Young Player of the Year by 24 year-old James Milner.  The team of the year is interesting: Branislav Ivanovic’s inclusion points to the fact that it’s not been a vintage year for right-backs, whilst 25-goal Frank Lampard might feel the slightest bit narked at having missed out to Darren “Hatchet Man” Fletcher.

You can tell the season is starting to wind down: we’re running out of things to talk about.  Well don’t you worry – the transfer window is on the way…

Expiring Contracts: Who’ll sign and who’ll leave?

348 comments April 27th, 2010

Contract negotiations at Arsenal are often more complicated than at other clubs.  Arsene has his policies, the players have their demands, and it’s up to Ivan Gazidis to find a mid-point between the two.  It’s often down to someone blinking first, but even as the end of the season approaches there are a few cases wherein nobody has yet blunk.  Blinked.  Whichever.

When William Gallas signed for Arsenal as part of the part-exchange deal that took Ashley Cole to Chelsea, it was seen as something of a coup.  Gallas replaced the departing Sol Campbell, whilst we already had a capable back-up to Cole in a young Gael Clichy.

Four years later, Gallas is able to look back on a mixed time at Arsenal.  His first season was impressive and saw him inherit the captaincy from Thierry Henry.  It was then that the troubles started, with outbursts in the press coinciding with mistakes and tantrums on the pitch.  Since being stripped of the armband around 18 months ago, however, Gallas’ form has been impeccable.  From being in a seemingly untenable position, he has turned his fortunes around with a series of ultra-professional performances, latterly forming an effective partnership with Thomas Vermaelen that had Arsene cooing as recently as December.

And yet still no deal has been signed.  Gallas has been the club’s highest earner across that four year period, taking home a cool £80,000 p/week.  It’s certain that figure will have been up for negotiation, but the bigger stumbling block will be Arsene’s policy of only offering one year deals to players over thirty.  Gallas, 33 at the start of next season, will be keen to seek greater security, and with rumours of a two year deal with Serie A contenders Roma on the table, I expect him to seek new pastures.  He survived a difficult period to emerge with some credibility, but his professionalism on the pitch extends to negotiations off it too.  He’ll do the deal that’s best for him, and that almost certainly means a move away.
Verdict: LEAVING

Sol Campbell has an edge over all contenders in the run-down of Arsene’s best signings: he’s been a great signing, for free, twice.  After leaving under something of a cloud in 2006, he has returned four years later older, wiser, but seemingly just as formidable a defender.  I think we all expected him to play a game or two in the cups then disappear back down the divisions.  But Sol has raged against the dying of the light, producing some outstanding displays of the dual arts of defending and, more importantly, leadership.  His return was capped by a dogged display at White Hart Lane, and while talk of him going to the World Cup is probably something of a stretch, it’s not hard to see his legs carrying him through another league campaign.

The question, surprisingly, seems to be not whether Arsene would give him another deal, but whether or not Sol would want one:

“He’s not desperate to stay. I told you Sol needs a target and a focus. At the moment I am not sure what he wants to do. He marries in July, so maybe he will go on holiday for a year. But if he sets himself a target he’s an unbelievable soldier.”

If the target of another crack at the Premier League title appeals, Arsenal could do much worse than having this “unbelievable soldier” in their ranks.
Verdict: SIGNING

Something I meant to say in my sparse report of the City game is that it was arguably Mikael Silvestre’s finest performance in an Arsenal shirt, with the possible exception of his debut at home to Everton in October 2008.  On that day, Arsenal fans were surprised to a no frills, sturdy centre-back getting rid of the ball at the first opportunity.  Many even felt he deserved an extended run in the team.

Sadly for Silvestre, it didn’t get much better than that.  Alex Ferguson would never sell a player he really rated to a rival, and the Silvestre he let go was a shadow of the man he signed from Inter Milan nearly a decade before.  The way in which Silvestre has been overtaken by an older and out-of-practise Campbell is the most damning indictment of his time at the club.
Verdict: LEAVING

It’s easy to forget that he’s still on our books, but when the season and Senderos’ loan spell at Everton ends, he’ll briefly be an Arsenal player before his contract expires and he sets about finding a new club.  A permanent deal at Goodison would be welcome, but with just two starts to his name so far it’s hard to say how likely that might be.  Once one of Europe’s most prized defenders, a guy who has played for AC Milan as well as most of the way to the Champions League Final could soon find himself hawking his services around mid-table clubs – or, God forbid, Ligue 1.
Verdict: LEAVING

For a long time, Fran Merida has lived in Cesc Fabregas’ shadow.  Like Cesc, he came through La Macia, Barcelona’s fabled youth system.  He lodged in the same North London home, and even played in the same central midfield position.  Like Cesc, his early impact in the youth and reserve teams was phenomenal: Merida’s left boot carried enormous expectations.  However, one crucial difference between the pair is that Cesc was lucky enough to emerge at a time when he had an injury crisis in our midfield.  Arsene was forced to play him, and Fabregas stepped up to the mark.  Merida has shown flashes of brilliance – a Carling Cup goal against Liverpool stands out – but for the most part has seen himself at the back of a lengthy queue of midfield talent, most of whom aren’t that much older than him.  It’s also not clear whether Merida has the physical assets to cut it in the rough and tumble of the English game.

Anyway, it seems the frustrated Spaniard is going to take fate in to his own hands.  After his breakthrough season at the club, in which he’s played eight games and scored two goals, Merida seems set to turn down the offer of a new deal and sign for Athletico Madrid.  If the likes of Ramsey and Wilshere can fulfill their potential, I’m not sure we’ll miss him.
Verdict: LEAVING

Till next time, folks.

I have just awoken from a City-induced coma

793 comments April 26th, 2010

Arsenal 0 – Man City 0
Highlights (Honestly, it’s not worth it) |
Arsene’s reaction

As if we needed any confirmation that our season was well and truly over, this match provided it.  The ingredients were there for a thrilling occasion.  City needed a win in the chase for fourth, whilst three points for us would have provided security against any challenge for third.  Robin van Persie returned and was captain, coaxing an already raucous crowd in to a frenzy before the game with a series of universally motivational arm gestures.  Patrick Vieira and Kolo Toure were present in the City line-up, both receiving rapturous applause in contrast to the pantomime villain of the piece, Emmanuel Adebayor.  The Togolese started on the bench and came on as a substitute for Patrick Vieira, the crowd delighting in the opportunity to show the stark contrast between their regard for the two players.  Cheers have rarely turned to boos quite so quickly, nor poignantly.

Someone unaware of the intricate relationships between certain players involved and the fans would have wondered what all the fuss was about.  The game itself passed almost entirely without incident: a Sol Campbell lunge to deny Patrick Vieira when through on goal and a Van Persie free-kick that drifted just past the top corner were the only moments of football-based excitement in the game.  The fact that every newspaper write-up of the game has headlined with Shay Given’s shoulder injury shows just how note-worthy a spectacle the match was.

Possibly the most interesting point in the game, from my seat at any rate, occurred when a yobbish sort behind me started singing chants that glorified in Adebayor’s traumatic experiences aboard a coach in Angola.  An elderly man in front of me turned around, and demanded the guy shut up.  His argument was plain: whatever our problems with Adebayor, people died that day.  It’s not something to be made light of.  It’s fans like that, who are not prepared to see the good name of this club tarnished by a few imbeciles, who make me proud to support Arsenal.  If we’re going to jump on to our high horse when Arsene is made the victim of sick chants, we can at the least apply the same moral code to ourselves.

Another game down – just two more to go now.  One win from the two games away to Blackburn and home to Fulham would secure third place and put the season soundly to bed.

Come back tomorrow for a look at which players will have their contracts renewed this summer – and, more interestingly, which won’t.

ps. if City can get an emergency goalie on the grounds that the ones they’re left with aren’t very good, then why the hell did we not pursue that avenue?

Song has a score to settle with Adebayor

315 comments April 23rd, 2010

After our previous league encounter with Manchester City, Alex Song was one of the more outspoken players:

“Ade was a ‘big brother’. In London, I was almost living at his place, and he at mine. Once he went to City, it’s true that our relationship was not what it had been before. I called him two or three times, and he didn’t call me back.

I’m not going to force him to do it. And I’m not going to have a laugh with him when I see him in the tunnel.

Afterwards, on the pitch, he started to kick. He kicked everyone. That’s not normal! He was aggressive. There was a free-kick in their favour and he slapped me. Coming from him – I couldn’t believe it.

He disappointed me because the person I knew was not the person I met again that day.”

Adebayor is not the person Song once knew.  On that day in Manchester, he was twisted by bitterness in to a snarling, slapping, face-raking imbecile.  Whether or not the harrowing events of the past few months – including that terrorist attack on his Togolese team bus – have given Adebayor a much needed sense of perspective remains to be seen.  Even if he has mellowed, this game will inevitably bring up the tensions that bubbled to the surface with ugly effect in September.

Adebayor disrespected Song – a player who had viewed him not only as a mentor but a friend.  So it’s not surprising that Song has recovered from injury at the last minute.  The Cameroon midfielder has proven himself to be a brave, combative, quality player in this season, with a character and temperament more befitting of an Arsenal player than his one-time friend.

Tomorrow, there will be only be one winner.  And only one Song.

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