Archive for August 15th, 2011

How Arsene has to spend his money

602 comments August 15th, 2011

After Saturday’s game at Newcastle, I said I was concerned about the depth of our squad.  Allow me to elucidate:

On Saturday our bench was:

Lukasz Fabianski – Johan Djourou – Carl Jenkinson – Emmanuel Frimpong – Alex Chamberlain – Theo Walcott – Marouane Chamakh

Three of those players hadn’t played a single minute of Premier League football before the game, their only experiences coming in League 1 or Reserve team football.  Another one of those players is Marouane Chamakh.  It isn’t the strongest hand, and it showed: Walcott was the only potential game-changer available.

Now consider this.  Given the choice would you rather have had this bench:

Manuel Almunia – Emmanuel Eboue – Henri Lansbury – Cesc Fabregas – Samir Nasri – Carlos Vela – Nicklas Bendtner

A world cup winner, the player ranked second in last year’s PFA Player of the Year awards, and a variety of other talent.  I know I’d certainly have more confidence plucking my reserves from that selection.

That bench is made up of the seven players left at home by Arsene – all fit – who are likely to depart before the end of the transfer window.  It is an exodus of talent that has left the squad looking very light indeed.

The balance has to be redressed.  The vacuum created by selling Nasri and Cesc in particular only became clear to me when I watched us in competitive action at St. James’ Part.  As things stand, Tomas Rosicky is our first-choice playmaker.  Bless Rosicky, but that simply isn’t good enough.

And now, having agreed the sale of Fabregas to Barcelona, and with others due to follow, Arsene has no excuses.  In buying Gervinho, Jenkinson and Chamberlain, he has stayed within his prescribed summer budget.  The sales that are yet to go through will raise a minimum of £50m – most likely more.

That, for the most part, is money we didn’t bank on having.  It has to be used exclusively to strengthen the squad.  There are now only a handful of players in the world that Arsene can’t afford.  Whoever he wants, we must go and get.  It’s time, as the fans at Newcastle made so clear, to “spend some fucking money”.

The received wisdom is that the position which requires attention most urgently is centre-back.  That’s changed.  Losing Cesc and possibly Nasri means the priority is a creative midfielder – ideally two.  It’s unlikely that any individual will be able to replace Cesc’s enormous contribution to the team, so sharing that burden and providing some strength in depth would be sensible.

We all know that Arsene was looking closely at Valencia’s Juan Mata, but that deal appeals to be off the table, for now at least.  The Brazilian Jadson (right) is a genuine target, but whilst he’s technically very good I do worry about how his 5’6” frame would cope with the rigours of the Premier League.

We’ve been linked with Marseille’s Ghanaian winger Andre Ayew – great player, but I can’t see it.  We’ve got enough pace on the flanks – now we need craft through the middle.  Furthermore, I’m not sure we could cope with losing yet another first-teamer to the African Cup of Nations in January.

There’s also the possibility of shifting Jack Wilshere in to a more advanced position and bringing in a competetive midfielder to play behind him alongside Alex Song.  He has a detractors, but I think the character of someone like Scott Parker would make a massive difference to this Arsenal side.

We do, of course, still require a centre-half – but they need to be top quality.  Arsene has decided he wants someone with Premier League experience, but he shouldn’t allow that to preclude him for investing too much.  There’s no point signing a player to be fourth choice – we need someone who can come in and compete for the regular starting spot alongside Vermaelen.  We now have the money to mean we can go and get a Cahill or a Jagielka, so let’s not scrape the barrel.

They’re the signings I consider imperative.  A playmaker or two, and a centre-half.  Three bodies would certainly help flesh out the squad.  Three quality players would make an enormous difference to the team.

There are other areas that I’d like to see tended to: Armand Traore and Carl Jenkinson are hardly experienced cover at full-back, whilst Emmanuel Frimpong will have to accelerate his progression rather rapidly if he’s going to provide competition for Alex Song.  Arsene admitted on Saturday that Joel Campbell is viewed for as a signing for the future than any immediate impact, so a striker who provides greater goal threat than Marouane Chamakh would also be ideal.

Whatever happens, he may find himself needing to buy in the January window, when Traore, Frimpong, Song, Gervinho and Chamakh head off to compete for their countries.  For now, it’s essential he signs a makes a minimum of three quality additions.

Make it happen, Arsene. the clock is ticking.  Our season – and quite possibly your job – depends on it.

The “Goodbye Cesc” post

914 comments August 15th, 2011

I have known for some time that I’d have to write this post.  Probably ever since Cesc Fabregas arrived as a 15 year-old back in 2003.  I ought to have prepared it and kept it on file, ready to go, like major media organisations do with obituaries. And yet, for some reason, even as the past week has made it clear his departure was imminent, I haven’t dared to start it.  Patently, it’s because I didn’t really want to.

Tonight, however, reality hit home, as Arsenal confirmed through their official website that an agreement with Barcelona had finally been struck. Arsene said:

“We have been clear that we didn’t want Cesc to leave and that remains the case. However, we understand Cesc’s desire to move to his home town club and have now accepted an offer from Barcelona. We thank Cesc for his contribution at Arsenal and wish him future success.”

The deal was done on Friday morning, though we’ve waiting till now to make any kind of official announcement – hopefully we’ve used the intervening period to make advances in spending the money we’ll receive for Cesc. On that note, there’ll be more from me on what Arsenal need to do to replace him later today, so stay tuned.

The fee has been confirmed by Sandro Rossell as being €29m upfront with a possible further €10m in add-ons. That’s an absolute maximum of £34.2m.

It is, of course, a steal. At the start of the summer we would have laughed off such a ridiculous fee. Now, it’s Barcelona who are laughing. Their disruptive tactics have won the day, and ultimately the player’s desire to move has seen us do a deal at a fee lower than that for which for Andy Carroll moved to Liverpool.

Aside from Barca’s antics, our negotiating position was weakened primarily by the fact that the race to sign Cesc contained just one Catalan horse. On the open market, he’d fetch £50m+, no doubt.

To be honest I don’t think the fee really matters. It’s almost entirely profit, meaning it even surpasses the ludicrous amount we made on Nicolas Anelka when we flogged him to Real Madrid. Whether he went for £30m, £40m, or £50m really makes no difference to me: he’s going.

Cesc is already in Barcelona and will undergo a medical tomorrow morning before being presented around 1230 UK-time. I will, at that precise point, be undergoing an operation in a dentist’s chair. Which promises to be less painful than having to watch him paraded.

There are so many reasons that losing Fabregas is a blow. He’s the club captain, and the heartbeat of the side. He is one of the world’s finest midfielders. And, for so long, he felt like one of our own.

Collectively, we watched him grow and develop from spindly prodigy to midfield maestro. I was there at Highbury when he became our youngest ever player against Rotherham in the League Cup. I was there when he became our youngest goalscorer, tapping in against Wolves. And I was there when he came of age in 2006, winning a duel with the grand master himself, Patrick Vieira, who by that time was playing for Juventus.

In his early years, Cesc lived with a club landlady, whose son is a friend of mine. To them – indeed, to all Arsenal supporters – he always felt like family. Inevitably, therefore, his departure feels like a rejection. Forgive the crowbarred analogy, but it’s a little like an adopted child deciding they’d like to go and be with their real parents. As much as we understand, it still hurts.

Whilst the pull of home is clearly a factor, one can’t help but feel a tinge of regret that Cesc is leaving earlier than any of us expected. Xavi is a long way from calling it a day, whilst the likes of Aaron Ramsey are not yet ready to fill the vacuum created by his absence.

He’s left, ultimately, because he no longer believes in the project. He wouldn’t relinquish the armband lightly. If he felt he could win trophies as captain of Arsenal, he would be staying for a year or two at least. Whatever anyone else tells you, whatever you read elsewhere, do not doubt that Cesc Fabregas loves Arsenal Football Club. Barcelona is in his blood, but Arsenal is in his heart. Sadly – and this will hurt Arsene enormously – he no longer believes that the team built around him with bear the fruit of trophies.

I can understand his frustration. His star has too often shone alone in Arsenal’s galaxy. The failure to sign the established players his talent deserved around him has cost him and Arsenal dear.

Now, at Barcelona, his potential seems destined to finally be fulfilled. When I hear pundits claim Cesc will warm the bench at Barca, I chuckle. Alongside the likes of Xavi, Villa and Messi, he will step up another gear. It pains me to say it, but I think Barca will see the best of Cesc. Whatever they ended up paying, it would have been a bargain: Fabregas is a Ballon D’Or winner waiting to happen.

He does, however, leave us with an awful lot of memories, including 303 appearances, 57 goals, and 98 assists. It’s sad that it ended the way it did, but when he was on the pitch for us I never doubted his commitment. I won’t be talking too much about Fabregas from now on – it’s important that the whole club moves on. Nor will the departing Samir Nasri be afforded a similar eulogy. But for now, for the sake of nostalgia, let’s end with some of Cesc’s finest moments.

The following video ends with an optimistic “to be continued?”. Sadly, it seems this love affair is, for now, over. It’s less “Cesc We Can”, and more “Cesc we could’ve”.

Farewell, El Capitán.

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