Archive for July, 2011

Arsenal encounter a spot of Boca

117 comments July 31st, 2011

Click here for highlightsArsenal began their Emirates Cup campaign with a 2-2 draw against Boca Juniors.  It was a lively encounter, and you can get a comprehensive match report here, as well as highlights by clicking the image on the right.

Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen and Alex Song were all rested, so Lukasz Fabianski lined up behind a back four of Jenkinson, Koscielny, Djourou and Armand Traore.  In midfield Jack Wilshere was partnered by Emmanuel Frimpong, with an an impressive attacking quartet of RVP, Nasri, Arshavin and Gervinho.

The new boy impressed on his first appearance at the Emirates, switching flanks with Arshavin and showing great pace on the counter to dart down the left and cross with his weaker foot for RVP to thrash in the opener.  I was again struck by the tenacity of Emmanuel Frimpong, who looks as if he’ll provide a viable alternative to Alex Song, and a significant step forward from Denilson.  The concern remains that he has chosen to represent Ghana rather than England, meaning that we’ll lose both our primary defensive midfielders in January for the African Nations Cup.

Both full-backs also did well, and with Arsene Wenger confirming after the game that Emmanuel Eboue is still likely to leave the club, Carl Jenkinson could have a big season ahead of him as understudy to Bacary Sagna.  Although we don’t know much about him, we do know he comes from a family of die-hard Gooners, and having that represented out on the pitch can’t be a bad thing.

At half-time Arsene made five changes, introducing Mannone, Squillaci, Ramsey, Vela and Chamakh, then later Eboue.  It was Ramsey who made the biggest and most immediate impact.  With his first touch, he latched on to a loose ball after some neat footwork from Vela and powered it in to the top corner.

As the game wore on, however, our defensive frailties reared their familiar, hideous head.  First Squillaci was caught in possession and Boca slid in Viatri who slammed in to Mannone’s near post.  Then, within three minutes, Johan Djourou was turned too easily in the penalty area and Boca had an equaliser thanks to Pablo Mouche.

Disappointing though it was to see Arsenal concede a lead, the XI we had on the pitch at full-time was far from first choice.  It was also intriguing to see that from corners we lined up with a new-look zonal marking system.  It’ll be interesting to see how that one goes in competitive games.

For Boca, I was hugely impressed by Juan Riquelme.  The excellent Orbinho has some great stats comparing his performance to that of Samir Nasri, who started in the central playmaking role for Arsenal.  Nasri is a great footballer, with outstanding dribbling skill, but he doesn’t have the same eye for a pass that Cesc has.  If, as seems increasingly likely, the captain departs, the creative burden will have to be shared more equally throughout the team.

Inevitably the manager’s post-game press conference focused more on Cesc and Nasri than the match itself.  Both players were in attendance yesterday – one on the pitch and one in the stands – and I suspect that the skipper’s early exit had more to do with avoiding journalists than anything more sinister.  Arsene’s answers on Cesc were much as they have been – “Cesc loves deeply this club, he loves deepy as well Barcelona” – but his stance on Nasri seems to be shifting somewhat.  He said:

“If you ask me if I want to keep him, I say yes. But he needs to be committed to that as well.”

When asked about the possibility of signing Mata, who is also the subject of a bid from Spurs, Arsene said:

“You ask me if the two go do we need to sign one? Of course because they are two exceptional players.  That’s why I personally want to keep the two.”

After weeks of insisting he would not consider losing both, suddenly it seems it’s something he may have reckon with after all.  It is distressing that we as a club find ourselves in such a weak position over two players ostensibly under contract.

Nevertheless, let’s try and enjoy the football for now.  Today we face New York Red Bulls, who will be very fit as they’re currently mid-season.  And, of course, they have in their ranks an old friend.  Unconfirmed reports suggest he might even make a cameo for the home team this afternoon.  Whether he does or not, be sure to give him a hell of a welcome home.

Cesc Fabregas & The Adventurous Escape

33 comments July 30th, 2011

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…

Joel Campbell agrees to join Arsenal

912 comments July 29th, 2011

Joel CampbellHello all.

I actually went to bed some hours ago, but was struck by a bout of insomnia.  Giving up on the idea of sleep, I turned on my laptop.  Turns out my tossing and turning was predestined, for it can only be that I was meant to find out that Joel Campbell has finally agreed to join Arsenal.  It’s a transfer I’ve followed for some time, and now it looks as if it’s approaching its conclusion.

After quoting the President of Campbell’s club, Saprissa, as saying that negotiations were still ongoing, Costa Rican news channel Teletica have now confirmed an agreement is in place.

In an attempt to end some speculation and allow the player to focus on the forthcoming U-20 World Cup, his international coaches told the station that the player will join The Gunners once the tournament has ended.

Campbell himself declared his happiness and thanked his family for their sacrifices to help him to get where he is – although his father’s dubious negotiating tactics looked, at one point, to have scuppered any deal.

For any Spanish speakers among you, a video of interviews with the coaching staff and Campbell himself can be found here.

It remains to be seen whether or not Campbell would be awarded a work permit or whether he would move to La Liga on loan.

Right.  Let’s try sleep again…

Hill-Wood reveals Cesc talks and Jagielka bid

44 comments July 29th, 2011

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  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

111 comments July 28th, 2011

After the reports in the Spanish press yesterday, the English media have inevitably picked up on the stories about Valencia’s attacking midfielder, Juan Mata.  The 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.

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