Going for it | AGM | Superhuman Alexis

The break nearly broke me

I try – lord knows I try – to get enthused by watching England, but unless it’s a whopper of a match I just can’t. This fortnight has been triply hard. Firstly because England have already qualified and could dance a naked jig on the centre circle while waving wet haddocks for all it mattered. Secondly because – big fan of the Baltic republics as I am – it was not a pulse-racing double-header. No pulses were harmed in this instance. And thirdly because we’d just turfed Man Utd right out of the Emirates without so much as a by-your-leave.

Which reminds me…

Was that performance really two weeks ago? I like to record such victories on this blog, but I got a bit waylaid on Sunday evening by, erm – there’s no other way to put this – beer. We had a loosener before the game, then we powered down a beer-flavoured plastic Emirates pint at half time to dry the agitated throats. It all went a bit wrong after that, I confess. We retired to a hostelry after the match to chew the cud of a fantastic performance and to let the crowds dissipate, but we slightly misjudged the whole crowd-dissipation thing and drank too many beers.

It’s not my fault. If we performed like this on a more regular schedule, we wouldn’t need to treat it like New Year’s Eve. But we don’t and we did and well, you know. I went to work on the Monday in the fug of victory and it was worth it. I bet I wasn’t the only one.

But what does it all mean?

Alan Davies on The Tuesday Club said it elegantly, and Wenger has since reiterated it: we have to go for the title. On the one hand it seems absurd to state it, because Arsenal should be ‘going for it’ every year – but football is a fickle mistress. On the other hand, despite the summer transfer stasis and the opening day hoop-la, here we are in mid-October in the thick of it.

Who’s going to take the league by the scruff of the neck? You might scoff at it being us, and to be frank I do too because I’m an epic cynic, but all the contenders have lost twice and the team that is the least ‘work in progress’ is probably us. Consistency of performance is the key here, and that’s where we’ve fallen down in the past. But that Utd game… can they keep it up… it’s the hope that kills you.

The AGM left me with mixed feelings

Two good write-ups from Tim Stillman and Angry of N5. I think the whole £3m fee was obfuscatory in the extreme and the silence from Kroenke was a bit embarrassing. Why bother coming if you don’t engage? You get the feeling he’d scrap it in a flash if he could.

But because he can’t take the club private he can’t do that (I hope I have understood this right). And that’s mostly because of… Alisher Usmanov who owns 30% of the club. Were it not for him Kroenke could and possibly would hoover up everything in his path and do whatever he likes.

Why am I torn? Without Usmanov, maybe even this level of transparency would not happen. But it’s Usmanov. So yeah.

There’s a game on

Of course there is. We’re at Vicarage Road tomorrow and I can’t wait. Superhuman Alexis seems to be fit, which is both baffling and brilliant. He’s scored three in two for Chile, six in three for Arsenal – so nine in five – and all with a dicky groin and a foggy jetlagged head.

Is it any wonder there’s talk of a new contract? I think footballers earn too much (what is it, 71p in every pound of revenue to the player?) but Alexis is so totemic, such a one-man whirligig, that all scruples go out the window. His skill and energy and dedication and sheer bloody-mindedness do not grow on trees. He’s the best player in the Premier League at the moment, and one of the best in the world. Even when neutrals buff off my Arsenal bias I’m not far off the truth in saying that am I? He’s incredible. Where would we be without him?

Who are the legends of today to match the Adams’, the Wrights, the Bergkamps, the Vieiras and the Henrys of this world?

We will look back at Alexis in that bracket. You know it.

Let’s corral the jet-setting rabble and get ourselves three points tomorrow.

Because we’ve got to go for it, and that starts tomorrow.

Come on you rip-roarers!

Seaside succour / Silent Stan swoops

Blackpool 1-3 Arsenal

What a day: A hard-fought and much-needed away win at Blackpool gave way to the momentous news that Stan Kroenke is on the verge of an Arsenal takeover. Oh, and somewhere in the mix was a first team return for mad Jens, aged 41 and a bit. Yep, it was quite a day alright.

On the pitch

No complaints from me. If you want to pick holes in our 3-1 win then you could with reason point at our shaky start to both halves, a defence that rode its luck a bit and our profligacy in front of goal, but overall it was a very good win and one with bags of energy and dynamism – just what many of us were looking for as a response. At times in the first half we were quite superb, slicing Blackpool apart time and again. How it was only 2-0 when the whistle below at half time is one of life’s mysteries – at least it would be if it wasn’t Arsenal we were talking about. Time and again we profited from the home side’s kamikaze defending, scoring twice and missing what seems with the blur of time to have been about five one-on-ones.

The goals were scored by two of the founding cast of The Great Maligned, namely Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Eboue. The former had the kind of game he could put on his CV. He drove forward with pace, passed neatly, won the ball well and scored, and he kept it up all game. Why doesn’t he do this more often? Why do you never see baby pigeons? Fair play to him though. I don’t know whether words had been said to some of the players this week, but he certainly was approaching the kind Diaby we read about in the manufacterer’s blurb.

Eboue got a little sloppy in the second half but his goal was a thing of beauty, a neat one-two with Jack Wilshere that led to a hydraulic left foot drive rasper.

Of course, I’m doing things out of order here. The big pre-game news was that Jens Lehmann was in thanks to an Almunia knee injury. For Manuel, it never rains these days – it comes down in buckets. Jens had one hairy moment, which led with some relief to Blackpool’s goal. Had it not done, he might have been facing the ignominy of a red card. Luckily, it never came to that, and otherwise he did remarkably well for a retired goalkeeper. The reception he got at the end from the travelling fans was raucous. “They haven’t forgotten me”, he said afterwards.

At 2-1 prospects did look a bit in the balance – we’re very used to self-narrowing our leads these days – but Walcott crossed one in for the otherwise misfiring van Persie to repair the two-goal cushion and that was that.

It was just the medicine this side needed, and in the time honoured fashion, taking one game at a time, we move on to the next must-win game. As much as it was a big relief, it was also a reminder to me of how my own mood has been affected in recent weeks by our slump in form. Three points can be wonderfully restorative for a fan as much as a team.

Off the pitch

Of course, overshadowing all this, post-match, was the momentous news that Stan Kroenke is on the verge of taking the club over. He’s agreed to buy Fiszman’s and Bracewell-Smith’s shares, taking him to 62% of the club. He is now obliged to make an offer for all the shares.

It really is the end of an era for Arsenal. The dynasties and individuals that have owned or controlled the club for so, so long are finally handing the reins over, and it’s hard to overestimate the significance of that. Not just in historical terms either. Personally, I think the board of old ran the club well, in a hands-off way – a very understated, Arsenal way.

At this stage we have no reason to believe that Kroenke will not do the same. He doesn’t open his trap every weekend and leak to the press, he has no history of whispering in his manager’s ear that he wants this player or that player to play. The board have got to know him, clearly they trust him, and if you had to have your club taken over by anyone, he seems a good fit. More on him and his intentions from the Swiss Rambler here.

I reserve my judgement though, as we all should. It’s a huge step-change for Arsenal. Personally, I would rather Arsenal was not 100% owned by one person. Plurality of ownership guarantees a certain accountability, even if one of those owners is an overseas investor we know even less about. So it will be interesting what Usmanov does, and what Kroenke’s position is with the army of small shareholders – though the Guardian says he was a prime mover in the establishment of Fanshare. Worth keeping a check on the AST for that.

And how is he paying for it? A leveraged buy-out is the last thing this club needs when already saddled with repaying the debt on the stadium. He has no history of doing things this way, but Arsenal is an expensive purchase.

It’s also another club to be controlled by overseas investors. It’s a shame we’re so eager to sell our football clubs lock, stock and barrel, but it’s no use getting misty eyed about local, Arsenal-supporting businessmen getting together to buy the club. Those days are gone. We can lament all we like the lack of full-scale fan ownership – like in Germany or Spain – but we have no history of doing that in England. As I said, I’ll be interested to know how much of the shares he intends to hoover up, what his future approach is to Fanshare, and what his overall plans are.

Questions, questions, questions. Hopefully some of them will be answered over the next few days.

Kroenke business

I’m not quite sure where this week has gone. It’s absolutely motored past. However, I suspect I drifted along, basking a bit too much in derby delight, and before I could whistle, the Champions League game had been and gone, and Stan Kroenke had hoovered up yet more shares.

We continued our fine form, albeit against what turned out to be the limited AZ. We’re really purring, with Fabregas, van Persie and Arshavin proving that when it comes to world-class players, we are hardly scraping the barrel. Funny to think that whereas Real Madrid spent something like £220m hoovering up five superstars, our three musketeers set us back around £20m combined. Sell them tomorrow and they’d be worth about £100m.

It’s been a funny Champions League group though, reinforcing for me that the group stages are there to be lost, not won, for the big sides. The only wounds we’ve received so far – the two goals in Liege, the late equaliser at AZ and last night’s late clean sheet ruiner – could all be put down to Arsenal sloppiness.

I understand the need for guaranteed income for the big clubs – that’s the reality of things – but there’s no denying the competition only really hots up once the group stage niceties are out the way.

Of course, we’re not through yet but we’re very, very close with two games remaining.

The other main story of the week is, of course, the potential takeover of the club. Is everyone happy about this?

Well firstly, I suppose, it’s worth pointing out that it could well not happen. It might seem to the layman that it’s highly likely, but there are plenty of people who consider it to be a consolidation of his position and nothing more. Of course, Kroenke himself won’t reveal his plans, partly because it’s not in his nature to blab (or say anything at all), and partly because, as the Times puts it, “any public statements against future bid intentions must be unambiguous, otherwise the individual or group would, under the Takeover Panel’s rule 2.8, be prevented from making a formal move for six months.”

My own view is that, while in an ideal world it would be nice for Arsenal to be British-owned, and by Arsenal fans to boot, the reality is that football has changed massively and that most investors in it are from overseas.

But I would have to agree with those who say that, while he seems a benign and decent investor, a takeover financed by borrowing placed on the club’s books would be a bad move indeed. There’s no indication, of course, that this would be his approach. Peter Hill-Wood, in selling some of his own shares to Kroenke, clearly sees nothing but goodness through that fulsome ‘tache.

Here’s the view of the AST. It’s a position I agree with. Having more than one owner has worked well for us all these years, and additional debt would surely be madness – especially when that debt is not being used to strengthen the team or otherwise improve the club.

Anyway, that’ll do for now. I make a last-minute appearance on today’s Arsecast, chewing the fat on the week’s proceedings.

Otherwise, bring on the weekend. At the moment, the games can’t come fast enough for me.

Hibernation over

Well here we all are again, a little dustier and a trifle older, but here we all are nevertheless.

I did try to get excited about the internationals. But I couldn’t. I missed the Ukraine game entirely, and though I did watch the Belarus game, it was so inconsequential that I lost interest faster than I do when I periodically attempt doing some DIY. From an Arsenal perspective, England taught us naught: Walcott still has a fair chance of making it, but for Gibbs and Wilshere it’s a non-starter.

We did learn that Eduardo has the summer off – maybe he can go caravanning with Aaron Ramsey. And of course, Almunia might fancy tagging along, assuming his chest infection has mended by then.

Onto the Arsenal, at last. We’ve got Brum on Saturday, and although their new owner has promised £20-40m for the transfer window, Chinese riches will do them no good until January and we’ll rightly be viewing it as three points that should be ours.

Talking of foreign ownership, I now make it just nine of the 20 English Premier League clubs under English ownership – a seismic change, the effects of which we probably cannot yet foresee. Better run in some cases, more commercial in most, but who’s to say it’s all for the best? I have my doubts that all of the owners are as benign as they’d have us think. And where are all the English investors?

Arsenal are in a strange place in that, while majority-owned by foreign investors, the old Arsenal boardroom still has a lot of power. But as we’ve seen over the last year, with Kroenke and Usmanov both increasing their shareholdings substantially (the former adding to his stock only today), it’s only a matter of time before something will give. It’s been, by comparison to some takeovers, something of a slow burner. But it’s happening.

Onto this weekend, and we’ve got the usual clutch of injuries – with perhaps the most significant absentee being Almunia, still just 50:50 for Saturday. That was some chest infection.

I know he’s made some errors this season and that, in general, he’s a bit of a wobbler, but I’d not put Mannone ahead of Almunia. Sure, Mannone’s done well, but Almunia’s experience will always win it for me. Now, whether he’s our long-term keeper is another argument entirely…

More from Wenger tomorrow – and I’m told by the folks at Arsenal.com that “Friday night is back” too. This is all good, I suspect. Having said that, I never knew it had gone, seeing that I didn’t have a Setanta subscription, but there you go. Trailer below, if you’re interested.