Archive for August, 2012

Deadline Day: Don’t get your hopes up

128 comments August 31st, 2012

It’s that time of year again.  Jim White is frothing at the mouth in a cage deep in the bowels of Sky Sports, soon to be released.  Agents are rubbing their hands, clubs are panicking, and Arsenal are doing, well, nothing.  Transfer deadline day is here.

I’m exaggerating for comic effect.  We’re not doing ‘nothing’.  There will be a couple of relatively high-profile departures today – although Theo Walcott won’t be one of them.  Arsene Wenger has decided to run the risk of keeping him at the club as he enters the final year of his contract.  The latest quotes from Arsene don’t sound entirely convincing:

“Theo is focused to do well, and whatever happens at the end of the season happens at the end of the season. He loves the club. Maybe we can find an agreement at some stage.”

Keeping him without an agreement doesn’t make much business sense.  Either we’re very confident he’ll choose to sign, or we simply don’t feel we can afford to lose another established star.

One man who is going is Nicklas Bendtner.  The Not-so-great Dane is undertaking a medical in Turin this morning ahead of a loan move to Juventus.  I think we’re probably all agreed he’s landed on his feet there.  It’ll be a deal with an option to buy, but he’l have to have a better season than he did at Sunderland to stay in Serie A permanently.
Reports in the Korean media say Park Chu-Young has flown to Spain to complete a transfer to Celta Vigo.  However, I have it on good authority that Celta are pursuing other options, so this deal may not be quite as advanced as those stories suggest.
There’s a bit of chat that he could be joined in La Liga by Marouane Chamakh, who is linked with a move to Malaga.  I suppose we owe them a favour after stealing Santi Cazorla for £12.6m, although I’d still be slightly surprised to see us let all three of Chamakh, Park and Bendtner go.  If we do, then surely we have to bring in another centre-forward – and at the moment I can’t see us bringing in anyone at all.
There are a few stories doing the rounds in the papers this morning, linking us with Cheick Tiote, Daniel Sturridge, and Michael Essien.  Tiote I can write off straight away – Alan Pardew spent much of last night’s post-match press conference praising his chairman Mike Ashley for resisting enquiries from other clubs for his top talent.  Sturridge too seems unlikely – he is one of only two centre-forwards in the Chelsea squad, and question marks over his attitude make him an unlikely Arsene signing.  The Essien story has a ring of truth to it – Chelsea have little use for him in an over-stocked midfield, and he’s a player Arsene has long admired.  There are question marks over his form and his fitness, but no more so than when we took Yossi Benayoun on loan from the same club a year ago.
However, if you asked me to be bold, I’d stick with yesterday’s prediction:
Predicted Outs: Bendtner, Park
Predicted Ins: None
I’d love to be wrong.
Finally, yesterday saw the most celebrated draw of the football calendar: the Capital One Cup. We’ve got Coventry at home.  In other news, we’ve got Schalke, Olympiakos (again) and Olivier Giroud’s former club Montpellier in a comfortable-looking Champions League group.

And so it’s on with the transfer frenzy.  Through the pain, the anguish, the glimmers of hope and the long periods of boredom, I’ll be tweeting events over at @Gunnerblog.  Come Follow Me.

Thoughts On Possible Transfer Activity Between Now And 11pm Friday

56 comments August 30th, 2012

Not long now, is there? Not long for Arsenal to replace Alex Song, sell Theo Walcott, and do all those other things the newspapers have insisted they’re going to do. And yet it is very, very quiet. The day before the big day, I thought I might have a little look at what I expect to happen in the coming hours.


All the talk yesterday was of Theo Walcott being on the verge of quitting Arsenal. Since then, there’s been a fair bit of backtracking from both sides, and Arsenal are now actively briefing that regardless of his contract situation, Walcott will stay. This reportedly follows on from talks between Theo and Arsene yesterday, during which the winger expressed a desire to find an agreement on a new deal.

Perhaps Arsenal were looking to flush out Theo’s true intentions by leaking the story of a possible sale to the press. Whatever the case, it now seems unlikely he’ll go. A bid from Liverpool would certainly test our resolve, but it seems we’ve decided to gamble that we’ll be able to find an agreement with the player before January. I suspect Walcott’s advisers are smart enough to know he’s on to a good thing with Arsenal, and a compromise will be reached in the coming weeks.

However, there will be others on the move. The list of possible departures reads: Sebastien Squillaci, Andrey Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner, Ju Young-Park, and finally, at a push, Marouane Chamakh.

The one I consider most likely to move on is Bendtner. Both he and Arsenal admit that the relationship between the Dane and the club is broken beyond repair, and I suspect a solution will be found on the final day. Last year we waited all summer for someone to pay a fee, and when that failed to materialise agreed a hastily arranged loan deal with Sunderland. This summer we’ve hung on in the hope of receiving a few quid, but at this stage it wouldn’t surprise me if Bendtner makes another temporary move. All considered, I’d be hugely surprised to ever see him play for Arsenal again.

I’ve barely seen Ju Young-Park play for Arsenal at all, and having had his squad number pinched by Lukas Podolski, the chances of seeing him do so again seem slim-to-none. His biggest problem is going to be finding a club willing to take a chance on a player who has barely played in the last twelve months. It’s such an odd situation: his international record continues to suggest he’s a player with significant ability, yet he is plainly not part of Arsene’s plans. There was rumoured interest from Celta Vigo in Spain, but that’s now gone quiet. Should that fall through, I suspect he’ll get himself a move to the Middle East, or perhaps back to Ligue 1. For his sake, and for the good of his career, I hope he gets out.

If Bendtner and Park both move on, I think it’s highly unlikely we’ll allow Marouane Chamakh to go too, despite interest from Besiktas. If, as at Stoke, we field both Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, then Chamakh is (rather worryingly) our first reserve centre-forward. I consider it impossible to let him go without signing a new striker – but more on that later.

Sebastien Squillaci, too, seems likely to stay. Arsenal had hoped to move him on earlier in the summer, but Bastia were unable to get close to the salary he currently earns in London. Since then Arsenal have sold Kyle Bartley, who had been promoted to the first-team squad, and seem set to retain the Frenchman as fifth-choice centre-half. Whilst he certainly has his failings, he was only called upon to make six appearances last season, so retaining him in the squad wouldn’t be a disaster. You never know: his experience could even prove useful away from the pitch.

The case of Andrey Arshavin is a tricky one to unpick. His Arsenal career seemed to be over when he joined Zenit on loan in February, only for Arsene to mention the possibility of a reprieve after an impressive Euro 2012. After being involved in the opening game with Sunderland, he then didn’t make the bench for Stoke, amid reports of a ‘business trip’ to St. Petersburg. Personally, I think he’ll still be at Arsenal come Saturday morning – but we can’t read too much in to that. The Russian transfer window runs for another week, so Arshavin’s future will still be up in the air until after the international break.


I’m afraid this section is going to be rather shorter.

It’s not that Arsenal don’t need players. Hypothetically, we could strengthen all over the field. There are back-up goalkeepers who would fill me with more confidence than either Lukasz Fabianski or Vito Mannone. An experienced right-back would allow Bacary Sagna to recover at leisure and relieve the pressure on young Carl Jenkinson. Alex Song is yet to be replaced as the club’s primary holding midfielder, whilst the patchy form of Gervinho and Walcott means we could do with another option out wide. Finally, the worryingly high position of the goal-shy Marouane Chamakh in our attacking pecking order suggests a striker should be on any shortlist.

However, at this late stage, and judging from the whispers I’m (not) hearing, I don’t expect any major activity. Arsene will hold a press conference this morning, in which he will say something like:

“At the moment we are not close to anything. We are working until the last minute. If we find a special player at a good price, we will do it.”

It’s a different situation to last summer, when we desperately needed bodies. Arsene is searching within a very specific set of parameters, and I find it hard to see us turning up what he wants at this late stage.

It’s not that were not bothering.  We are making enquiries across Europe. Earlier this week, when Theo Walcott’s situation looked a little more precarious, Dick Law spoke to a club in Portugal about the logistics of signing a wide player. That interest, perhaps due to progress on the Theo front, has now been formally ended.

If we sign anyone at this late stage, I suspect it’ll be a forward. Arsene seems very confident in his midfield options, and despite the rumoured interest in Yann M’vila I can tell you with conviction we have made absolutely no contact with Rennes all summer. It’s interesting too that so many papers said we’d look to replace Alex Song with Victor Wanyama – a story that has died completely since Song’s departure. It’s almost as if it wasn’t true in the first place.

To put things in perspective, at this stage last summer we knew of an agreed fee for Andrey Santos, Park Chu-Young had completed a medical, and I’d let you know (albeit in code) about Per Mertesacker’s imminent arrival. We’d also been linked by a credible BBC journalist with Yossi Benayoun. This time round? Nothing. Granted, we still had the surprise signing of Mikel Arteta to follow, and Arsenal do like to do things on the quiet, but I think it’s too quiet for there to be any flurry of activity.

I could be wrong – we’ll get a clearer idea when Arsene meets the media this afternoon. I don’t think failing to add to the squad would be a disaster – we’ve bought well in Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski. But I do think there’s clear room for improvement, and I’d be delighted if we could add a defensive midfielder and a striker. I just don’t hold out much hope.

Predicted Outs: Bendtner, Park
Predicted Ins: None

Thoughts on: Stoke, Theo & the transfer deadline

36 comments August 29th, 2012

After a month of hard work and hedonism, I am back at the familiar grindstone.  Only it’s not a grindstone, it’s a laptop.  And this is less of a job and more of a hobby.  But other than that, it is literally exactly the same as returning to a grindstone.

On Sunday Arsenal drew 0-0 at Stoke in a game that won’t go down as a classic.  I understand the concerns about having now played 180 minutes of the season without scoring – especially the day after Robin van Persie lashed in his first goal at Old Trafford – but I still think a draw at The Potteries is a creditable result.  The back five coped admirably, and when you consider that we included the inexperienced Mannone and Jenkinson that’s some achievement.  It’s also worth noting that we didn’t look overrun in central midfield, where Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby occupied the deep-lying roles.

One notable absentee was Theo Walcott, left out in favour of Olivier Giroud with the Ivorian Gervinho retaining his place on the flank.  At the time I pondered whether or not Theo’s omission might have anything to do with his contract situation, and judging by today’s headlines perhaps I wasn’t too far off the mark.

There is now just one day between today and transfer deadline day.  For those of you who are terrible at maths, that means the deadline is in just two days.  And yet this remains a major issue that still requires a resolution.  Last night both Walcott’s representatives and Arsenal were privately insisting that talks were still ongoing, although the story in every newspaper absolutely reeks of an agent trying to force the club’s hand – either to up their offer, or to allow the player to go.

There is rumoured interest from both Liverpool and Man City.  I’d consider City unlikely – they will almost certainly snare Scott Sinclair from Swansea as their fleet-of-foot British replacement for Adam Johnson.  Liverpool, however, seems to make a lot of sense.  Brendan Rogers loves a winger with pace – look at his use of both Sinclair and Nathan Dyer last season.  Walcott himself is a self-confessed boyhood Liverpool fan, and wouldn’t be put off by a lack of Champions League football if he felt he’d get a guaranteed first-team place.

As Saturday shows, he’s not guaranteed that at Arsenal.  His success last season was built on a partnership with Robin van Persie – without that, he is vulnerable to competition from the likes of Gervinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski.

However, to lose another statistically productive attacking player – and big name – would still be a big blow to the club, especially with so little time to replace him.  I confess I had an inkling that this news might be in the offing – just a day before I tweeted some information that we were making enquiries around Europe for attacking players, particularly in wide areas.  If we are to lose Theo, we’re already looking at potential replacements.

What’s slightly worrying is the breadth and speculative nature of some of those enquiries.  We’ve asked about a couple of players for the first time in the window just two days before its end.  All signs point to another chaotic finish to the transfer window.  Several players are guaranteed to leave – Henri Lansbury became the first yesterday, joining Nottingham Forest for a bargain £1m – and I’m still hopeful one or two might arrive.

Hopeful without being expectant, I should say.  Doing a deal this late can be tricky, but at least I know we’re trying.  It could yet be a very busy few days.  Brace yourselves.

Nuri Sah-Out as Arsenal travel to Stoke

61 comments August 25th, 2012

In discussing Alex Song’s move to Barcelona earlier this week, I was guilty of talking about the imminent arrival of Nuri Sahin as his replacement as if it were a done deal.  In my defence, I wasn’t the only one.  Almost every major media outlet had him ‘on the verge’ of joining Arsenal, with some newspapers even reporting that a medical had been undertaken.

Now, as you’re probably all well aware, the deal is dead – or, as Arsene quipped at yesterday’s press conference, “not alive”.  The answer as to why became clear a little later in the presser.  When asked by a journo why it is Arsenal fail to push certain deals over the line, the manager responded that “99% of the time it is because we don’t want it”.  He cited that all too often the “financial conditions” of the deal do not match the club’s expectations, and so we walk away.  It seems that this is exactly what happened here.

Real Madrid knew of Arsenal’s public and pressing need for a central midfielder.  They also knew of rival interest from Liverpool and Spurs for Sahin.  To the outside eye it looks as if they were probably asking  for too much money on three counts: for the loan fee, for the percentage of Sahin’s wages we would pay, and crucially for the option to make the deal permanent.  We’ve buckled.  Liverpool, the club who paid £35m for Andy Carroll and £20m for Stewart Downing, seem happy to oblige.  Good luck to them.

So now Arsenal have just over a week to find an alternative.  To be honest, we’re still pretty well-stocked for central midfielders, although I do worry about the absence of a physical presence in the Song mould.  Arsene is talking about the possibility of adding players in “one or two” positions – I’d imagine those to be defensive midfield, and possibly right-back.  However, as he’s shown with Sahin, if the deal isn’t right he’s happy to go in to the season with the squad he has.  It is a very different situation to last August’s trolley-dash.

There are still many who could leave: Squillaci, Arshavin, Bendtner and Park are all still on the books.  The revolving door at Colney could soon be whirring in to a frenzy.

Before all that, however, there’s a very important game at Stoke to contend with.  Laurent Koscielny is still out, but with the giant Per Mertesacker available that’s not the blow it might otherwise be.  Per’s height will be important in surviving another aerial onslaught.  The back four will probably be unchanged from last weekend’s draw with Sunderland, whilst I won’t be alone in hoping that Wojciech Szczesny comes through a fitness test and prevents Lukas Fabianski from returning to the scene of several heinous crimes.

In midfield I expect Arteta and Diaby to continue in the deeper roles.  Arsene may look to bulk up the midfield a little, shifting Cazorla in to a wide role and bringing in someone like Ramsey or Coquelin.  Upfront I expect Lukas Podolski to start, although Olivier Giroud’s physical presence might give Arsene some food for thought.  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also back in the squad and pressing for inclusion, but I expect him to start on the bench.

It’s always a tough fixture, but a victory would provide a real lift.  After another topsy-turvy week in the transfer market, we could all do with something to celebrate on the field.

We only had one Song

766 comments August 20th, 2012

Alex’s Song is Sung.  The Cameroon international midfielder has worn the Arsenal jersey for the final time.  At the end of an extraordinary journey, the player once so dreadful he was booed off by his own fans will join arguably the greatest club side in the game’s history: FC Barcelona.

On the face of it, it’s a strange transfer for both clubs and the player.  Song is not a typical Barca player, so why have they bought him?  He is a vital part of Arsenal’s system, so why have we sold him?  And why has the player left a guaranteed first-team spot for a place on the Barca bench?

I suppose we could deal with those questions one at a time.  Barca want Song because he is atypical, not in spite of the fact.  Having lost Seydou Keita in the summer, they want a player with similar physical presence.  His versatility also appeals: last night they lined up with Javier Mascherano in defence; Song has both the defensive attributes and the ball skills to play as an adventurous centre-half when required.

The question of why Arsenal have chosen to sell Song is far harder to answer.  For several years now, he’s been a vital cog in our system.  After the loss of Mathieu Flamini, he stepped up to become an integral part of the midfield.  His improvement has been dramatic – and boy did it have to be.  When he first stepped in to the side as an awkward, shuffling 17-year old, he looked to lack even the most basic technique.  However, a loan spell at Charlton and the odd Carling Cup run-out dramatically improved him, and he evolved in to a competent and occasionally creative midfielder.  Last season his progress saw him frequently playing in a more advanced position, providing assist after assist for Robin van Persie.  Song is arguably Arsene’s greatest developmental success, so why sell him now?  As far as I can see, there are three main reasons: economics, tactics, and attitude.

Economics: £15m for a player who cost just a couple of million from Bastia is very good business.  Song’s agent was demanding exorbitant wages, and perhaps Arsene felt that salary budget could be better invested elsewhere.

Tactics: As the manager has been so keen to point out this week, Arsenal have an abundance of central midfielders.  If Abou Diaby stays fit and Jack Wilshere’s comeback remains vaguely on schedule, we can add them to a list that also includes Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Emmanuel Frimpong, and Francis Coquelin.  Over the past two seasons Arsene has shifted the formation slightly to go with two deeper-lying midfielders behind one more advanced creative player.  With the news that he’s set to replace Song with the significantly less physical Nuri Sahin, it’s clear he now feels he can afford to go without a physical, ‘destroyer’ type, opting instead for a more mobile, possession-led midfield trio.

Attitude: Arsene has admitted that Song made it plain he was keen to go.  If rumours are to be believed, his attitude on the Asia tour was poor, and the manager was left in little doubt about the player’s desire to move on.  It’s worth noting that after the departure of Robin van Persie, Song was the final remaining client of one Darren Dein.  Perhaps the club wanted to take this opportunity to wipe the slate clean and rid the club of any disruptive influences in one fell swoop.

As for Song himself, he’s not a guy who lacks confidence or self belief: if he’s joining Barca, it’s because he believes he can play an important role in one of the sport’s greatest teams.  Good luck to him – he’ll have to step it up another notch or three all over again.

So thats the whys and wherefores taken care off.  Now on to the thornier issue of whether or not it’s a good thing for the club.  From an economic perspective, it certainly is.  From an attitude perspective, it probably is.  But I do worry about it from a tactical point of view.  Just a few weeks ago many fans were clamouring for Arsene to bring in Yann M’vila as potential support and competition for Song.  Now we’re likely to enter the season with neither.

I believe it may have been me who originally said: “Song is not a defensive midfielder – he’s just our most defensive midfielder”.  A neat quip, but now our most defensive midfielders are either relatively untested prospects like Coquelin and Frimpong, or guys like Arteta, Diaby, and Wilshere – midfielders who aren’t very defensive at all.  Arteta is our most disciplined midfielder, but he lacks Song’s considerable physical clout.

It may not be a problem.  Arsene is doubtless inspired by the way the Spanish midgets hypnotized the competition during the European Championships.  A midfield containing the likes of Arteta, Wilshere, Sahin and Cazorla could prove impossible to dispossess.  But I can’t help worrying about the fact that one of the weediest midfields in the Premier League just got a whole lot weedier.

Song’s departure also puts a slightly different spin on our summer.  A few weeks ago we had brought in Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla, and still had Van Persie.  Now we’ve lost the Dutchman and, to most people’s surprise, Song.  Earlier in the summer, that trio of signings looked like a considered statement of intent: we were finally loosening the purse strings to improve the squad.  By selling Song and Van Persie, we’ve actually covered those costs entirely.  Once again, Arsenal head towards the end of the summer in profit.  It’s almost as if we planned it like this.

We only had one Song.  And I can’t help but feel a little alarmed that Arsene doesn’t look in much of a rush to replace him.

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