Arsène’s stability wall protecting the Premier League trophy

Life is short. I seem to recall that it wasn’t long ago that I was up north at Uni surrounded by Scousers and Mancs, whilst Arsène and Arsenal were doing me big favours by going unbeaten and giving me all manner of bragging rights amongst mates, one of whom was such a bitter United fan that he refused to acknowledge Arsenal were champions in 03/04 until the trophy had physically touched an Arsenal players hands on the final game of the season.

It was bliss. There was also just one Chelski fan in my large collective of Uni mates, as well as no City fans whatsoever. 

I took it for granted that we were the best team – arguably in the world at that stage – and when one guy said to me “your team won’t be that good forever. One day you’ll be like me and have to endure finishing a few places below first”, I mocked him with a “nah, not under Arsène mate” retort that in hindsight might have been steeped in fate and karma now that we look at the subsequent decade after The Invincibles.

But hey, when you’re young and impetuous, you think you’re team is indestructible and you say things that you look back on and think are naive. It happens.

Why do I bring all this up? Well, it’s Arsène again, really. If you read my utterances more regularly (firstly, more fool you, because most of what I say is drivel. But thanks anyway) you’ll know I’ve hardly been a complete Wenger convert since I started this blog, but the respect for the man and his achievements have always been there. However, having read his comments on the increased stability in the playing staff at the club which have appeared on the official site, I am once again reminded of the younger and more dynamic version of Le Boss who guided us to victory in those early years.

That Arsène was a ahead of his time. That Arsène was full of quips and there was something about him. He just seemed more effervescent. There was something in his eyes, a glint, something that made a younger incarnation of myself comforted that “it’s okay, he got this”. That Arsène seemed to have slowly eroded away over time, as he was weighed down by fan expectation for a reunification with the “good old days”, whilst struggling with the self-imposed Arsenal austerity.

What I’m saying is nothing new to you. You’ve read it all before on countless other blogs and from far more eloquent people than myself. But with the shackles now off and him in a position to build a squad bigger and deeper than ever before, I am starting to get the comfort back, which is pleasing me no end I can tell you. 

Perhaps it’s that pre-season excitement that is acting as an anaesthetic, but I feel like finally Arsène believes himself that we can compete. We’ve had sporadic campaigns in which we’ve competed, like in 2007/8 and 2013/14, but the depth of the squad has always lacked in that one position in which we needed it. This upcoming season, I don’t think we’re lacking in any position in order to compete, I really don’t. I’m not saying getting a Karim Benzema or super-mega-awesome-ball-busting-DM wouldn’t improve us further – you can always get better – but based on what I saw last season towards the second half of it, we should have enough to at least compete.

That’s what we’ve always wanted. To have the team compete. I mean really compete. Taking a challenge all the way to the final weeks. And we’re there now. We’re there because we have stability. We swat away rumours about players like Özil with a simple wave of our collective hands. We talk about not being 100% sure what our best team is and, even if you think you know what the best Arsenal team is, I bet you that I could find at least half a dozen other Arsenal fans instantly who would disagree with you. 

That’s what stability brings. It brings consistency. Of personnel, of confidence in the players, of team unity and of belief. By not offloading our star players for at least the previous two summers, the squad strength has been slowly built up, brick-by-brick. No more Jenga-style pulling away of a supporting block and seeing the whole thing wobble/collapse. Nope, we’ve build ourselves quite a wall and it’s strong. Let’s just hope it’s strong enough to keep the others away from that Premier League trophy. 

I think – nay, believe – it is. It could be even stronger with additions, but I believe it’ll hold, so too does Arsène I suspect. If he finds a stronger brick – probably a breeze block or something sharp to put on top like barbed wire – then he may top up the wall. But let’s just be happy that we have a decent looking one without any holes in, eh?

I am. And I hope to be telling a certain scouser (if I can find him), that it turns out he was right, I was wrong, but I’m right again now. Some people will never learn their lesson you know.

Movement on players, but is it the ‘right’ players at Arsenal?

Mattieu Flamini to Galatasaray and Wojciech Szczesny to Roma on a one year deal, it seems, if the rumours across multiple newspapers and on radio shows are to be believed.

Firstly the Flamster who, if we’re all honest, probably knew his time was up at the club. The fact we’re picking up a fee for a player who we got on a free transfer and was probably expected to play only a handful of games, is pretty astute from Le Boss. 

Yesterday I talked about the need for adaptable players and it’s clear that as a player his adaptability whilst not that bad (we all know he can play at full back, having done so during the Champions League when we reached the final), does little to make up for his clearly limited technique. He’s a bulldog with plenty of bite, but if you want him to shepherd sheep or fetch your paper, it just wouldn’t work. He’d most likely chew the paper to within an inch of its centre. Then go after your slippers for dessert.

But he’s proved to be a useful transitional player, adding a bit of depth to the midfield, as well as a bit of bite. And this time he’ll leave the club with our blessing.

As for Woj, this transfer which I found out about via the radio last night, doesn’t feel as good for me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that a loan deal to get him game time won’t be better for him than sitting on the bench all season, but you just get the feeling that the second he departs, our shiny new signing might just develop glass ankles. Or wrists. That’s what tends to happen at Arsenal, you see. 

Perhaps a change of scenery would do him good. Perhaps a year in Italy will help him improve as a ‘keeper. But talk of Roma negotiating an option to sign the player at the end, suggests that his time is up and it will be Ospina who will play understudy to Cech, which I don’t necessarily think is the best option for Arsenal Football Club. Mainly because I think Szczseny is the better ‘keeper. He’s certainly the more attractive option for other clubs to go after. The age difference between Szszcesny and Ospina is one year and the Colombian played in a World Cup last year and the Copa America just a month ago, so he has been in full view of the world’s football clubs, yet Szczesny who was Arsenal’s number two and is also Poland’s number two has got a concrete offer in. Doesn’t that strike you as odd.

It does to me. 

I think Szczesny is the better ‘keeper and by letting him go instead of Ospina I think we’re weakening our reserve options somewhat. I know there was talk of Everton being interested in Ospina, but until something more concrete comes in, all it looked like from where I’m standing is paper chatter and nothing more, so to me it just looks like we’re trying to get one of the two out the door as quickly as possible. 

I have nothing against Ospina. He did ok at times last season. But that’s just it. Okay. Not spectacular. He didn’t really save us games, if you’ll excuse the unintended pun. He just did what you’d expect from your ‘keeper. The bread and butter. Szczesny form may have tailed off last season, but the season before that he showed he was capable of keeping us in games, to which I still think he’s capable of and it’s why I was kind of hoping we could solve a problem by giving Ospina a new home. But it appears that will not be the case.

Perhaps I’m getting overly worried when the reality is that we’ve already made an upgrade in goal and are likely to see Ospina rarely in the upcoming season. Only time will tell. But I just can’t shake the feeling that ditching the Pole isn’t in the best interests of the club from an ability perspective. Unless its got nothing to do with ability and everything to do with attitude and Arsène’s finally had enough. 

One things for sure; if Wojciech never plays for the Arsenal again, that crafty ciggie in the showers will go down as one of the most career defining puffs anyone has ever had.

Laters peeps.

One heck of a tour, one Hect of a player

Today will be an interesting test for the team because, as Arsène described at his pre-game presser in Singapore, both Everton and Stoke were really up for their game and there were plenty of ‘committed’ tackles going in.

You hear things like that and the first thing you think of as a fan is “I really hope they go easy. It’s only a friendly” because as much as you want the matches to be a bit competitive so the team can get up to speed on their fitness, the last thing we need is to start the season missing players, we’ve already lost Alexis and Rosicky remember.

So whilst I’m looking forward to seeing a more senior XI playing this afternoon (UK time), I hope everyone remembers the real thing doesn’t start for at least a couple of weeks.

The tour appears – by and large – to have been a success and whilst Le Boss is surprised by the facilities, passion, volume of fans, etc, I don’t think there’s many of us online who had the same amount of surprise when seeing the turn out for the friendlies and the kit launch. Football is big business these days and Arsenal are a global brand with a massive online community – the biggest – so for those fans out there who don’t get to travel to see the real thing in the Premier League, this is a great opportunity that they were always going to take. I salute those Asian fans. We are all one big community and I’m glad you got your opportunity to get up close and personal with the players.

As for those players, Arsène has laid down a challenge for Bellerin and with him about to sign a new deal after an exceptional season, this season could be even bigger for him than last. I’d expect Debuchy to start the season as first choice, but if the young Spaniard manages to de-throne the Frenchman by having another consist set of performances, we could be looking at quite a player on our hands. At his age he has all the potential to become a bit of a Lee Dixonesque style legend at the club. As long as he doesn’t do lobbing his own ‘keeper from 30 yards against Coventry!!

He seems to have his head screwed on right though. He comes across very well in interviews and has said about how he himself still has trouble seeing himself as one of the first team squad. Let me tell you Hect, you better believe it because you have some massive potential, my friend.

So too, if you believe Arsène, does Yaya Sanogo. He joins Ajax on a season long loan which was confirmed yesterday by both clubs and the tall Frenchman was pictured in the Ajax kit signing a loan deal for 2015/16. I admire Arsène’s belief in the player and who knows, playing with a better calibre of players, in the Champions League, as well as being under the tutelage of the Master Dennis Bergkamp, he may turn in to that player Arsène believes. But with rumours of Benzema not going away (much will also be made of the comments by Arsène when he said “not at the moment” when directly asked), you can’t help but think that his opportunity may not be made available at the club. Football is often a game of fortune when it comes to players breaking through – Bellerin and Coquelin the prime examples of that – and you just wonder whether the availability of another megastar might end up signalling the end of Sanogo’s chance at the club. Let’s hope Arsène’s right and he does do the business at Ajax though, because it’s always nicer to see young players come through, in my opinion.

Chuba to ‘Kane’ it up?

Happy Thursday fellow Goonerite. And lo, we have some actual football to talk about! 

Yep, pre-season is officially underway and kicked off yesterday with a 4-0 romping of those world beaters known as the Singapore XI, with goals between Chuba Akpom and Jack Wilshere ensuring that it will be more realistic for the lazy of us to watch the final on Saturday. Why? Well because the final is on at 1.30pm, where as the third/fourth place playoff is at around 11am, I believe. It’s a relief because let’s face it, if you’re in the UK and you’re a somewhat lazy Arsenal fan like me, there’s an outside chance you might not make that.

Accuse me of disloyalty or not having enough passion, but these friendlies are so stop-start they can hardly be classed as thorough entertainment and the fact that they don’t actually mean much, pretty much compounds the whole issue of having to get up early to watch.

But anyway, we don’t have to worry about that, or our striking problems ever again, because Big Chuba is on hand to break his way into the first team, giving Arsène the delightful opportunity to close the doors at London Colney and declare: “we’re full mate, you’re not coming in” to any more players.

Of course we all know the reality is that bagging a hat trick against a Singapore XI is a little different to doing it in the Premier League against Moneychester City, or on a cold Tuesday in Stoke (had to get at least one irritating cliché in there), but what it will do is give Chuba confidence that he belongs amongst his fellow first team pros. There are high hopes for him and although I still suspect a loan deal is in the offing before the window shuts, it is nice to imagine that he could be this seasons Coquelin, isn’t it? I mean come on, you’re not one of those so hungry for a thrill that only a £40million striker will quench your football thirst, are you?

Think about how much fawning the media did over Kane last season? Then imagine that Chuba can make people think ‘Kane who?’ with a fantastic season?

I know, I know, we probably shouldn’t be gambling a season of potential Premier League glory on an unproven striker, but we won the league with relative unknown Anelka, so why not at least dream a little? It’s far more preferable than the whole “SIGN ALL THE PLAYERS!!!!!!” Mentality that some people have. You’ll probably live longer too.

Besides, Arsène hasn’t ruled out any signings like he’s been known to in the past, so if you do fall in to the latter camp you can take a chill pill. I think if a megastar becomes available, Arsène will go for it, because we’re in a position where we need cherries on top and not sponge or jam in our cake. Or some sort of other metaphor that probably works better. I’ll let you have a go at that one.

In terms of the other positive performances yesterday, I can only go on the written word that I’ve read, because I haven’t managed to watch the whole game yet. But by all accounts it appears that Jack had a good game and his apparent ‘burst’ has returned, as noted by the manager post game, so that’s a positive sign for the upcoming season. What Jack might not have wanted to hear from Le Boss is that he may have to ply his trade out wide at times this season, on account of the overwhelming number of players whose best position is central. We’ve already seen it last season with Rambo playing wide right and, given Arsène’s comments yesterday, there’s part of me that wonders whether or not the start of the season will see Wilshere crop up on the left hand side of the front three.

I hope not. Not because Jack isn’t a good player or I don’t want to see him play, but because I think we have better and more creative options to replace Alexis at the start of the season, as he recovers from the Copa America. I think Welbeck or The Ox are more naturally suited to those attacking positions and with the team we have and the depth that now exists in the squad, it would be worrying for us to see Arsène going back to old habits and putting square pegs in round holes to accommodate players.

Anyway, there is still plenty of pre season to try and dissect Arsène’s thinking from a tactical and personnel perspective and as we’ve all learnt by now, what Arsène says in the media should sometimes be taken with a pinch of salt. The game yesterday was full of subs as expected and when friendlies are as bitty as that game apparently was yesterday, you can’t really make any half-decent judgements on the team for the upcoming season.

So that’s pretty much it from me for today. My train approaches a big black hole, so I’ll sign off and say “see ya tomorrow”.

Loyalty works both ways and having none suits everyone in football

So it appears Matthieu Flamini might be the man to exit the Arsenal squad this summer then, after rumours across multiple websites appeared about the apparent interest from Bastia. Isn’t that where Squillaci was packed off to, with the club waving any fee, because Bastia played the poverty card? Perhaps they are the Broadstairs of the ageing French Arsenal footballers career, where players move to when their days representing us are numbered and they want a nice easy life with good food and happy memories.

If it does happen, it will be fine by me, because the Flamster has served his time, won a couple of trophies like he said he wanted to when he arrived for his second stint and I think he’s restored some of the irritation that remained when he jumped ship on a free transfer to AC Milan all those years ago.

I do wonder whether – assuming there’s no smoke without fire here – had Flamini signed a new deal the first time, been at the club all these years and established himself as one of our consistent performers, whether there would be more reticence from Le Boss to let him go. A player that knows the club so well and can act as a positive influence around London Colney and The Emirates would still have value in my eyes. Just look at Arteta. I have no doubt he’s being retained for another year for many more reasons than sentiment and his positive influence, but I’m sure it will play a part. 

Flamini’s case does certainly show one thing, which is that in football there is no loyalty, but more than that, it happens in both directions. As fans we’re guilty all to often of lamenting the fact that footballers show no loyalty or interest in the modern game, but much like footballers treat the game as their job and frequently move around, so the clubs treat themselves as businesses and so have no qualms about sending a player packing if their use has diminished to an extent that they will no longer contribute to the team.

Footballers are assets and in the Flamini case it appears it’s an asset that has depreciated to an extent that the club are just happy to write it off and offload to Bastia. However in Joel Campbell’s case, we have the other end of the ‘footballer as a commodity’ spectrum. Having barely played any football at all for the club, it appears Besiktas are ready to hand us £3.5million for his services.

A little while back – I think it was shortly after Campbell had signed his new deal – I wrote a blog about how Joel was essentially the clubs way of making money through the youth system without actually playing. It was a slightly cynical look at the scouting overseas for young talent approach, but I’ve always believed that Arsenal take the view that if you snaffle up enough youngsters, you’ll get one that might break in to the first team. And given their age, if you send them on loan for a few years and they succeed but still aren’t quite good enough for the first team, you can still sell them on for a tidy profit.

I still believe that and the Joel Campbell situation – if it plays out as is being reported – will be a good case study to argue that point. No doubt Arsenal will also insert a hefty sell on clause as well, so there’ll be double-bubble in terms of the investment, should Campbell be a success in Turkey.

It does make you wonder though: is it all worth it? When you look at the revenues generated by the club at the moment through sponsorship, merchandising, the Premier League TV money, etc, surely this dwarfs the odd million or two here and there for the sell on of players? Then when you factor in player wages (for these younger player deals we no doubt pay a portion of young player salaries when on loan) and all the travel expenses Dick has to put in when he’s been running around all over the world chasing after the Joel Campbell’s and agents, it does make you wonder how much of the final fee ends up being profit.

Is it worth it? Probably. Because despite all the effort, as I said above, if you uncover a gem then the club is quids in. We didn’t like the Fabregas saga at the time, but given his cost to us, then what we received in return, one Fabregas probably funded ten Joel Campbell-type signings. It makes good business sense to gamble on young players and providing your scouting system isn’t totally diabolical, then you’ll unearth one gem that will pay for the other ten duds and still have plenty of profit left over to call it a worthwhile effort.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why football clubs are more about business than ever before. It’s about economics, man.

An Arsenal career gone but not forgotten and one still on and should not be forgotten

It may have been news that we were already aware of, but yesterday came the confirmation that Abou Diaby was finally being released from his contract at Arsenal, and is now in the process of finding a new club. Rumours are abound that he’s on the verge of signing for FC Dallas in the MLS and perhaps this is exactly the type of move that could be good for him. New scenery, nicer climate that may treat his fragile body better, as well as an opportunity to become an absolute beast in a weaker league. I think most people will wish him well.

His time at Arsenal will, unfortunately, forever be defined by the closing stages of an away game to Sunderland in 2006 in which he was scythed down in a malicious challenge by a guy who shouldn’t have remained on the pitch and now doesn’t even grace Premier League pitches. Nobody would know it at the time, but the actions of Dan Smith have cost a very good player a regular career in the top flight.

Diaby was good. It’s impossible to know how good because of the circumstances that befell him, but I saw in sporadic matches, the type of player who could drift past players effortlessly with the ball, whose body belied his overall ability and somebody who, if he could only have maintained fitness for a prolonged period of time, could have potentially have been as good as Vieira. He was a different type of player and earlier in his career the comparisons led him to publicly state so, but I’m talking about the impact he could have had at Arsenal.

It’s a shame that it has to end the way it has, but it’s the best for all parties concerned, and Arsenal have certainly done more than enough to support Abou. After all, it’s not like he goes off to America short of a non or two, eh?!?

The rest of the news out there still seems to be focused around Petr Cech. On the website our new signing has spoken of the reaction of the Arsenal fans, as well as the possibilities at the club. Away from the official site and stepping in to deepest, darkest realms of evil, Jose has finally spoken about the transfer. His words probably came as no surprise, as he publicly supported the ‘keeper and wishes him well, but with Jose there always has to be something reflected back at him or his club, so in the statement it was about how amazing Chelski are to put the wishes of the player before anything else. It was an attempt to turn his back on the fact that Arsenal have improved and since the deal was announced he has probably gnashed his teeth down to stubby stumps, so I’m not surprised that he’s tried to spin a story his way. Whatever. The important thing is that we’re on cloud nine at them moment and with the Community Shield exactly one month from today, we’ve already got some football on the horizon to look forward to. Goody.

Carl Jenkinson looks to have his suitors upped by one this morning, as West Ham have expressed interest in his signature for another season and I hope the club do tie him down to another deal before he goes, because I still believe he can have a role to play. Bellerin may have stepped forward in the queue (typical Spanish!) for regular right-back football at Arsenal, but with Debuchy turning 31 by the time next season comes around, one more years experience of regular football for The Corporal will do him good. I’ve always said I thought him a good player and with more games under his belt he can get better, so in my mind it would be mad to sell him off to a club like West Ham just yet. Let him get his experience away from Arsenal and then, much as I hate to reference a Spud scenario, like Ryan Mason who didn’t break through in to the Spud first team until he had gone through a number of loan deals – or even Le Coq’s experiences on loan before breaking through – let those be an example that he can still have the belief that he can make it at Arsenal.

That’s pretty much all I gots for today for ya. Podolski may look like he’s on the brink of a move to Turkey, but there’s no point in writing his Arsenal career obituary until it’s actually happened, so I’ll say ‘toodle-ooo’ to you.

Arsenal don’t sign ‘ALL the players’ shocker

You can tell this is the calm after the transfer storm that was Monday, because there ain’t a lot going on right now, friend. I mean, when one of The Evening Standard’s main Arsenal stories that I had a look on News Now this morning is one in which Petr Cech’s day of signing is video montaged on to a webpage so we all have a click and watch, you can tell evening the professional backs are scraping the barrel for news. 

Heck, even in non Arsenal-related transfer news it all seems quiet on the Western Front, with Sky Sports this morning reporting that United are yet to go back to Southampton with a concrete second bid.

So…basically what you’re telling us, Sky, is that nothing has happened?

In which case, I too, can confirm exclusively that Arsenal have not made official bids for:

  • Leo Messi
  • A clone of Thierry Henry
  • Ralph Macchio from The Karate Kid
  • Jon Snow’s corpse
  • All seven of the dwarves – Snow White simply couldn’t release any of them I’m afraid
  • The man who hands me a copy of The London Evening Standard every day at Waterloo station.

With these revalations now out in the public domain, you have no idea how good I feel, like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I thought it might have been the early morning shock to my system, coupled with a slightly underdone bit of last nights dinner, but it turns out is that it was just those transfer speculation gems that I was holding back for you. Phew.

There’s some stuff on the official site which is a bit more info from the big man himself talking about how he could have signed for Arsenal, but had difficulties because the Czech Republic was not part of the EU at the time. Gosh-dammit, Janet, why couldn’t those bean-counters in Brussels have worked faster and harder, eh? If they’d have just pulled forward the entry into ‘the club’ earlier, we’d have avoided all of the Almunia’s and Fabianski’s and probably be in the same position we are today, albeit with that £10million+ back in our bank accounts!

But it doesn’t matter. We’re here now and everybody’s happy. Well, for now, that is. There’s always next week when a player who we weren’t in for, probably wouldn’t improve our team, nor be any kind of major impact signs for another one of the ‘big’ clubs and we end up seeing a small section of Arsenal Twitter meltdown like its just been sprayed with molten lava from Volcana (been reading Marvel Secret Wars lately). But until that happens we should just continue to bask in the awesomeness of what we have around us at the moment. It’s sunny, we’ve just signed a proven and excellent ‘keeper, plus we’re FA Cup holders. I just thought I’d throw that in there because it’s easy to forget that we win trophies now. Y’know, what with it happening every season these days.

Yep, things are all right at the moment, aren’t they? Arsenal have finally got the hang of this ‘transfers’ malarkey. Sign one just before a heatwave in England, let everybody feel good, then just as the dust begins to settle, we’ll be at the Community Shield forgetting all about signings (maybe) and just focusing on the football. Happy days.

And on that cheery note, I shall bid you adieu.