Archive for July, 2012

Malaysia conquered, it’s on to China – with Cazorla in tow?

42 comments July 25th, 2012

Arsenal’s pre-season campaign got underway in earnest yesterday as the squad took on a Malaysia XI in the first friendly of our Far East tour.  A relatively strong side started the game, captained by Thomas Vermaelen, and with a midfield featuring the stringy, unfamiliar figure of a fit Abou Diaby.  Andre Santos played in the front three.  I could not love that man any more.

The team, suffering from both the rustiness and the oppressive heat, actually went in at half-time 1-0 down after a cracking long-range strike from Azmi Muslim beat a stranded Vito Mannone.

The second half saw a raft of changes.  Alex Song took both the armband and control of the midfield, and it was his pass that set Nico Yennaris away to square for Thomas Eisfeld to tuck in a late equaliser.  There was even time for a winner, with Chuks Aneke’s deflected strike deceiving the keeper after a neat one-two with Ignasi Miquel.  Video highlights are available here.  The squad have now flown on to China, where they will play against Manchester City in a showpiece game on Saturday.

There’s very little to gleam from a game so early on in our preparation, but it must be a terrific experience for the likes of Eisfeld, Aneke and Miquel to be spending this time in and around the first-team.  Whilst we all clamour for signings, the emergence of young talent from within the squad is an important tradition of the club, and one we should look to preserve.  Speaking of young talent, I was particularly struck by the performance of Ryo Miyaichi yesterday.  The Japanese winger was a constant threat from the left flank, and looks to have matured significantly during his time at Bolton.

Whether Ryo stays at Arsenal this season or heads out on loan again will depend largely on who else arrives.  All the chat at the moment is about Spanish midfielder, Santi Cazorla.  It’s an interesting one.  Cazorla was one of two players (Juan Mata being the other) earmarked to replace Cesc Fabregas last summer.  In both instances, Arsenal were financially outmuscled.  Mata ended up across London at Chelsea, whilst Cazorla remained in Spain with moneybags Malaga.

However, in the intervening twelve months, the fountain of oil money that funded the Malaga revolution has seemingly dried up.  The likes of Cazorla, Ruud van Nistelrooy and, crucially, the Spanish taxman have all gone unpaid.  Understandably, the two-time European Championship winner wants out.

It’s hard to know just how real our reported interest is.  The player’s camp might be stoking the fire in order to force Malaga in to paying Cazorla the money he is owed.  Equally, Arsene might genuinely be moving to snare a quality player on the cheap.  I hope the latter is true: Cazorla would be a terrific signing, and add a much needed option in the central attacking midfield position as well as in wide areas.

Of course, half the time we have to be more worried about keeping the players we have, which is why it’s such terrific news that Laurent Koscielny has signed a new long-term contract.  His improvement last season was dramatic, and this is due reward.

Till next time.

Make no mistake: this Robin is flying away

701 comments July 23rd, 2012

In his first interview with this summer, Arsene Wenger said Arsenal were experiencing ‘a classic pre-season’. He meant that the squad are being put through a regular and rigorous routine, but intentionally he sounded as if he might be talking about events off the field. The drawn-out departure of a talisman and captain is now all too familiar.

In the intervening period since my last post, it has become abundantly clear that Arsenal are preparing to sell Robin van Persie. First the club leaked new of bids from three carrion clubs: Manchester City, United and Juventus. Then Van Persie was excluded from the travelling party to Asia. Granted, the likes of Giroud, Podolski and Koscielny have all remained at Colney, but all of those players progressed past the group stage. Van Persie’s Holland infamously didn’t, and he, like Nicklas Bendtner and Andrey Arshavin, clearly remains ‘home’ in the expectation that he’ll soon be leaving the club.

Arsene Wenger, as usual, is making all the right noises, stating openly that he wants to keep Van Persie. He’s too canny a negotiator to publicly admit the battle for his skipper’s future is already lost. The decision by the club to leak news of the bids was a clear attempt to create an auction, and the boardroom will be braced for the renewed bids in the next seven days. Talk of a £30m fee is mere brinkmanship. I suspect we’d accept anything over £20m.

There are mixed reports on Van Persie’s preferred destination. I’m sure we’d all prefer to see him move abroad in to another league, especially if he is able to maintain last season’s form. If he’s going to stay in England, I’d rather see him join City than United. If he goes to the blue half, it’s easy enough to write him off as a money-grabber and hypocrite. United are a long-standing rival, and seeing an Arsenal hero in their shirt would rankle.

Whatever happens, I know I’m not alone in praying that it’s done sooner rather than later. Even if it isn’t, I don’t expect Van Persie to be in contention to play for Arsenal any time soon. I hope we’ll avoid a repeat of the horrendous situation where Arsenal were forced to field a player in Samir Nasri who clearly did not want to be at the club.

Whilst I’m not surprised that Van Persie has remained in London, I’m intrigued by Arsene’s decision to leave Giroud and Podolski at home. I’d imagine that he’d want to give them as much playing time as possible, especially in the light of the RVP situation. They’ll now miss three of our four remaining pre-season friendlies, leaving them with little time to bed in.  On the other side of the coin, they’ll be able to settle in to their new homes without the disruption of a jaunt to the other side of the world.

Talk is understandably turning to any further additions Arsene Wenger might choose to make.  There has been exotic talk of the likes of Llorente, Ganso and Cazorla.  Certainly an attacking midfielder in the mould of the latter two would be a welcome addition – both Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere will miss the start of the season with injury, whilst Aaron Ramsey will be recovering from his Olympic escapades.  If I had to prioritise on area for recruitment, this would be it.

Time will tell.  Not yet, despite my pleading.  All we can do is wait.

A strange day: Arsenal win a trophy & Gervinho scores

455 comments July 14th, 2012

Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup

Video highlights: Henri Lansbury ’34

Video highlights: Jay Rodriguez ’31; Gervinho ’35

I suspect in your head, when you pictured the next man to raise a cup aloft and end our trophy drought, you never for a moment believed that man would be Johan Djourou.  However, Arsenal are Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup Champions.  Perhaps we should take that, and our Emirates Cup victories of 2007, 2009 and 2010 and use it to plug the gaping void after ‘FA Cup 2005’ in the roll-call of silverware that lines the interior of the Emirates Stadium.

Obviously, in real terms, our victory in a friendly competition where we didn’t even play a full ninety minutes against a single opponent doesn’t mean all that much.  But if winning is a habit, then this could one day prove to be a helpful step in the right direction for the many kids involved yesterday.

The side that took to the field in the first 45 against Anderlecht was:

Martinez – Jenkinson Boateng Miquel Gibbs (c) – Yennaris Eastmond Lansbury – Eisfeld Chamakh Watt

Arsenal won the game thanks to a solitary goal, which showed off the qualities of both Carl Jenkinson and Henri Lansbury.  Jenkinson showed good tenacity to drive to the byline, and then demonstrated why I’ve long insisted he’s the best crosser at the club with a devilish ball which Lansbury arrived to thump home.  Whenever he’s played for the first team, Henri has shown a knack for arriving in the box at the crucial point, and this was no different.  Personally, I hope he gets a long overdue chance in the first-team this season.  His loan spell at West Ham was something of a disappoint, but a player with his style was never going to be the first name on the teamsheet in a Sam Allardyce side.  We could do a lot worse than to keep him involved in 2012/13.

In the second game we had a more experienced side on the field:

Mannone – Eastmond Djourou (c) Bartley Meade – Coquelin Lansbury Ebicilio – Santos Gervinho Aneke

Arsenal fell behind as Jay Rodriguez made himself an instant hero with the Saints fans by nodding home on his first appearance at St. Mary’s.  It was a good cross but new assistant Steve Bould won’t be happy about how easily Rodriguez rose between our two centre-backs.  With the games lasting only 45 minutes, there wasn’t much time to level, but Gervinho managed it with a corker.  He sprinted to the byline and cut back inside before firing past the keeper.  The confidence with which he took his goal was almost as surreal a sight as Djourou raising a trophy.  Gervinho has duped us with these pre-season antics before, netting twice on his first appearance in a friendly last season, but hopefully this is an early sign that he may have a more successful second season than his first.  A quick glance at the video reveals that our supposed left-back, Andre Santos, was in the six yard box.  A poacher’s instinct from the tubby Brazilian.

The game went to penalties, and Southampton emerged victorious, but it didn’t matter: the trophy was already ours.

So, Arsenal are back.  Next week the remainder of the squad will return to training before we fly to Malaysia in around a week’s time.  Something tells me the coming days will tell us a lot about the make-up of our squad for next season.

Friendly Fun + Grimandi’s Confession

694 comments July 14th, 2012

Incredibly, Arsenal are already back in action.  As far as I’m aware we’re the first Premier League side to play any kind of friendly this summer.  And if that weren’t enough, we don’t just face off against one side today, but two: after 45 minutes against Anderlecht, we will play a further 45 against hosts and top flight newcomers Southampton.

It’ll be a very unfamiliar Arsenal side.  First-teamers Gervinho, Chamakh, Djourou, Santos and Gibbs are all included, as well as the likes of Coquelin, Bartley, Lansbury and Mannone.  The rest of the squad will be made up with youth-team players.

It’s possible triallist M’Baye Niang will be given a run out.  If you don’t know too much about Caen’s teenage forward, you can read French Football Weekly’s profile of him here.  Caen have confirmed that Niang is on trial at Arsenal with their permission, and as yet no bids for him have been received, despite reported interest from Francophiles Newcastle. aren’t showing the match live but will be tweeting updates @Arsenal.  If I can get a stream working I’ll try and do some stuff over on @Gunnerblog too, but it may be I have to wait to see highlights on the Sunday.  It’ll be a fairly low-key affair: Arsenal don’t play another friendly for 10 days, and presumably we will use the opportunity mainly to help these players build their stamina.

Presumably when we face Southampton we might get a glimpse of our new away kit in action.  The purple and black hoops have received a bit of stick from some fans.  I have to confess I’m not really too bothered about what our kits look like: my attitude towards them is defined more by the results we achieve in them.  If we win something in that kit, I’ll love it, pure and simple.

Of course, winning anything at all is going to be tricky, what with our star players wanting to leave all the time.  In this recent interview, scout Gilles Grimandi as good as admitted that Olivier Giroud was bought with half an eye on Robin van Persie’s potential exit:

“Was the recruitment of Olivier Giroud made ​​to compensate for his departure? Yes, we work to avoid being cornered. But we do everything to keep him [Van Persie] and we want him to stay.

If there’s a great offer and if he wants to leave and it will be difficult to keep him.”

The pressure on new boy Giroud grows daily.  If Van Persie leaves – and in my opinion that is by far the most likely outcome here – the burden the Frenchman will have to shoulder will be immense.  And as each day goes by without news on Theo Walcott’s contract, that situation gets more perplexing too.

It’s going to be another one of those summers…

A tale of three contracts: RVP, Djourou & Nike

110 comments July 11th, 2012

So training is back underway, and there are some familiar faces at Colney.  The likes of Gervinho, Arteta, Vermaelen, Santos and Gibbs are all back at the grindstone.  Even Abou Diaby is there, although he looks dangerously close to injury at all times.  There are plenty of youngsters bulking out the squad, too.  A quick glance at these pics will reveal the presence of Kyle Bartley, Damien Martinez, and a fit again Conor Henderson.

Steve Bould and Neil Banfield are running things for the first-time, and it’ll be interesting to see if the new coaching team precipitates any chance in first-team matters.  I can’t be alone in hoping that Bould is able to mould our defenders in his own image.  We shall see.

Of course a lot of the big names are absent – including the biggest: Robin van Persie.  Nevertheless, he still continues to dominate headlines.  Yesterday Sky Sports News started claiming that the Dutchman was set to do a u-turn and sign a new deal, a la Rooney.  They even went as far as to publish a news story about it on my website.  Then, after about an hour or so, they stopped talking about it, and the article was pulled down.  It was almost as if they’d realised that what they were saying had no real factual substance or basis.  Who knows, they might even have received a call from an angry member of the RVP camp.  From what I hear they are pretty resolved on pushing through a move ASAP, most likely to Manchester City.  So there’s all that fun still to come.

One man who seemingly isn’t going anywhere is Johan Djourou.  You can read the full transcript of his interview with here, in which he reveals that the man hawking him round Serie A simply isn’t his agent.  I do feel a little for Johan Djourou: the guy takes a lot of stick, largely from the same elements of the fanbase that hailed him as “the answer” just a couple of years ago.  As he was overrated then, he’s underrated now: the truth is somewhere inbetween.  There are constant calls to sell and replace him, but few of the suggested signings would be happy being a fourth choice centre-back.  You can’t question Djourou’s loyalty: he’s now pretty our longest-serving player.  The interview also puts an end to the ridiculous stories doing the rounds on certain blogs that his new contract was due to a clause exercised by the player against the clubs wishes.

Youngster Gavin Hoyte has left Arsenal to join Dagenham & Redbridge on a two-year deal.  This is the same Gavin Hoyte who was once hailed as “even better” than his brother Justin Hoyte – the very same Justin Hoyte who now plays in the Championship with Middlesbrough.  This is a stark reminder that as much as we occasionally get excited about a young talent, there’s a big difference between impressing in the odd Carling Cup cameo and securing a future as a top flight player.  Take note messrs Frimpong, Miquel and Eastmond.

Finally, there was some talk on the interwebs yesterday that Arsenal are negotiating a new kit deal with Adidas, and are set to end their long-term deal with Nike, possibly even a year earlier than planned.  It’s not impossible: as Alisher Usmanov’s open letter made plain, the club are in the process of hurriedly renegotiating their commercial deals in order to maximise our spending capacity.  I’d expect to see more stories of this ilk over the coming months and years – it’s worth remembering we’re already more than halfway through the ‘Emirates’ name deal for the stadium.

Everything changes.  Especially when money’s involved.  Just ask RVP.

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