Stop starting, starting going

2014

Right hook:

“We are not on the market specifically at all.”

Left hook:

“I believe this year again you will have to wait until July 15 to start going.”

2010

Right hook:

“The World Cup will not affect our recruitment”

Left hook:

“It is dangerous to buy on the back of a World Cup. The prices are artificial and you have to bear in mind that anyone can have three weeks of glory.”

Compare and contrast, before breathing deeply and reminding yourself that the summer is long and packed with fun stuff. Wenger’s pronouncements on signings have the remarkable ability to get under everyone’s skin, so the best advice I can give – and I’m going to try to follow it myself – is just to not be driven to distraction by it. Not at all.

Transfer season is silly, misleading, stressful, packed with lies and counter-lies, and life is just too bloody short.

So I’m not falling for anything, not hanging on anyone’s words. I’m going to spend some more time with my family, watch the World Cup, enjoy Wimbledon, go to some cricket, have the odd glass of something cold and refreshing. I’m going to enjoy the summer.

[How long do you give me?]

Singing in the rain / signings and the gain

arsenalpano

Arsenal 4-0 Coventry City

Has there been a wetter season at the Emirates? Ordinarily it rarely simultaneously rains and blows a gale in a northerly direction during a game, thus rendering the roof entirely incidental where I am sitting (which is near the front of the lower tier, as you can see above). But yet again, for what seemed about the fifth time this season, we were treated to the very best that England could throw at us. If this is global warming then it can stuff itself. I want an umbrella included in my 3% more expensive season ticket next year. Either that or some kind of contraption that extends the roof. Or something Arsenal-branded that keeps me dry. Maybe a Poncho Monreal, a Theo Walcoat, a Lukasz Fabianskijacket or a Ju-Young Parker.

It didn’t seem to matter too much in the end. We had the amusement of the dimmed lights, which was immediately followed by thousands of mobile phone torches. They would have been lighters in the 80s. Matches in the 1950s? And before floodlights, you had to turn up to the game with your own bonfires. Whoever said modern life was rubbish? You can’t tweet with a lighter. Or Instagram with a match. Anyway, I’ve veered somewhat off course.

The Coventry fans made their protests – I thought impressively – and it’s a salutary tale against the nature of modern club ownership and the toothlessness of those who are meant to govern it. An overseas hedge fund that knows nothing about football has run the club into the ground. I wish I knew the solution. Good luck to them in their quest to make it back to Coventry (to an excellent stadium waiting for them, currently sitting idle. The whole thing is insane).

As for the game, the urgency fizzled out for Arsenal after Podolski’s double, which let City back in for a while. The result was never in doubt though. Onto the fifth round and I for one would love a run right to the mucky end of this competition. It was easy to take Wembley or Cardiff visits for granted when we were getting there so frequently – five FA Cup finals in eight years – but we’ve only made one semi-final since 2005. From one extreme to the other.

Signings

I’m too experienced at this lark to get carried away by any talk of transfers, especially in January, and I’ve long learned to take Wenger’s utterings on this matter with a pinch of salt. He gives little away, and why would he?

But we all saw what Ozil’s arrival did to Arsenal, just when it was needed. We’re in an amazing position at the moment, but we’re going to need all the help we can get, both in terms of personnel and psychologically. So if there’s a deal that can be done in the next five days or so, it would make so much sense to pull it off. Would it upset the equilibrium? Of course not. It would have the opposite effect.

So go on Le Boss, surprise us all.

Giroud, Giroud, Giroud is on fire

Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham

Doffed chapeaus all round – to Giroud, for an imposing performance in which he scored a deft little number (“good touch for a big man”), to Mertesacker for his robotic leg, to all-action Flamini for coming on, rustier than a shipwreck, and getting stuck in from the off. To Ramsey for another gut-busting performance, to Wilshere for not being injured, just a bit squiffy, and to everyone else really, because we beat our old pals deservedly and it felt as good as it always does.

Incidentally, I did like fellow seat-dweller Shedman’s take on Flamini’s return. “He’s a proper grown-up”.

Quite a strange game in some respects, with Arsenal ceding a fair bit of possession to Spurs, especially in the second half, but still having by far the better chances. Walcott had a couple of good opportunities, Ramsey skied one, Cazorla could have got in on the act and Monreal almost got to a rebound. The atmosphere was crackling and the team spirit clear for all to see, with some of the players dispensing of their shirts into the crowd. There were fist pumps.

Yes, it was amusing in a perverse way that £100m of signings lost to £0, but theirs has been an approach to the transfer market that many of us wish we had at least in part emulated (though we don’t need seven – maybe two or three), and there’s not a man jack who isn’t hoping against all hope that we splash at least a few thousand of our multimillions today. Because let’s be honest, when a few injuries hit, as they have and do, a bench containing two full-backs plus Zelalem, Sanogo and Gnabry is not really a long-term solution (much as I want them all to get their chance). Our first XI cannot do it all. We ended the game with all four full-backs playing.

It’s a big boost to head into the interlull (Yes! There’s another!) with a win, and to dispense some of the storm clouds, but as we all know what happens today – somewhat ludicrously – could also have a big effect both on the pitch this season, but also off it too.

Will we sign anyone? Anyone big? Well guess what, I don’t want to jinx it so I’m not even going to mention one of the big names we’ve been linked with. Because that jinxes it, duh.

I will however update this page when the tide of world-class footballers starts to flood into Highbury House. If I start taking on water, I’ll send out a mayday.

Come on you reds. Come on you CEO. Come on you rip-roaring legal department.

With respect to Sanogo

I’ve been away, loafing in Ionian sunshine, studying things from afar, so much as ‘things’ can reasonably be called ‘things’.

So for real action, the Fenerbahce game was my season opener, and it was as good a spectacle as any game in which you’ve got a three goal lead can be. Ramsey – excellent, Cazorla – peerless. We sprung well from the back, the crowd was munificent in its support (bar the thousands of empty seats, but it was maybe a hard sell given the outcome was as good as decided), and here we are once again dining at the top table with the champs, so it’s all good. Since the Villa mess, we’ve looked positive and dangerous.

Well, it’s not all good. I lie. Poldi thundered off up the left wing and pulled up clutching his hamstring. We were told he’d be out for a Diaby – three weeks going on ten – and so it proved. He now joins Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Vermaelen and Mr Three Weeks himself cluttering up Colin Lewin’s office.

It makes the next few days both ‘crucial’ and ‘interesting’, which may be be better than the ‘baffling’ and ‘maddening’ that have preceded them, or may not, depending on what happens. I don’t know anyone who can make any sense of this summer’s transfer vacuum, so I won’t pretend to try to make sense of what might happen between now and Monday night either. Whatever happens it will be hard to consider it as anything other than a trolley dash. But we shall see, eh.

And with respect to Sanogo, it was good to see him come off the sub’s bench. Tall lad, a bit nervous and it looked it. Having the likes of him, Ryo and Gnabry as benchers is as risky as it gets, frankly. As is having Sagna as centre-back and having Gibbs/Monreal as forward options.

Nigel Flamini on a free? I loved his application when he was with us before. Just the energy we need, if he’s still anything like as good as he was (and there are some who worry his injuries have diminished him). And huge experience. And free – which is obviously good for a club operating on a £70m shoestring.

Work it out for yourself – I’ve given up trying.
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Pop over to the Arsenal America podcast, why dontcha. I was on it, along with Gingers4Limpar and James Olley from the Standard. Did we make sense of the world? Did we chuff. Cheers for having me on, Chris.

Arsenal’s summer comes back to haunt it

Arsenal 1-3 Aston Villa

As Villa’s third goal went it yesterday, consigning us to our first opening-day defeat for 20 years, I felt a twinge of pity. A clash of calendars had rendered me elsewhere so I was watching it unfold on the Twitters (never good for one’s equilibrium), and I suddenly felt a pang of sadness for the poor sap who had hoovered up my seat on the ticket exchange.

Was it his or her first game? How were they feeling? Were they experienced enough at this lark to know that it’s not always like this? That sometimes we win, and we weren’t always this cross and mutinous? There I was, flush with my £30.84p rebate and there they were, £35 poorer (with £4.16p going to causes unknown). Me 1 them 0.

So Arsenal got out of bed on the wrong side, with a predictable and completely understandable venting of frustration following it. It needn’t have been like this though.

Shedman texted me at the game’s death with the words ‘It’s toxic here’, and it doesn’t take a genius to have foreseen that it might be.

It’s all about perception. The bottom line is that, had we even made one signing of £10m+, the well of patience would have been a lot higher than it was yesterday, even had the result been the same. The anticipation and excitement would have been higher, the players might have had a boost. But because we have done no business for the best part of three months, the perception – my perception, probably many other people’s perception – is that the club is dithering and rudderless.

And what Arsenal really didn’t need, and what Wenger really didn’t need, was a fanbase on their backs from the word go. But it’s pressure entirely of their own making. Quite frankly, football aside, it’s a PR disaster to have started the season with no new signings of any proven calibre.

Obviously, from a football perspective, it’s not too clever either. A squad already down to bare bones has now lost or could lose Arteta, Gibbs, Vermaelen, Sagna, Koscielny suspended, Chamberlain, Ramsey, Rosicky. Who will play centre-back against Fulham? There is nobody.

And of course, we go to Turkey for a crucial test – one that could make the club £10m, but more importantly could have a big say in the willingness of players to join us – on the back foot.

You can’t blame the fans for their reaction. They’re not booing the players, they’re booing the board, the manager, the owner.

Yes, we could have won the game, or drawn it, but we didn’t. We didn’t have more options because there weren’t that many. Whose fault is that?

I don’t care if any signings from this point on are viewed as reactive rather than proactive. The bottom line for me is that the club desperately needs the boost that new faces bring, not just on the pitch but off it. And I don’t believe that in the whole world of football there are not a few faces who could significantly improve this squad.

I expect something to happen, as I have all summer, but the way it’s panning out leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Nacho to see you, to see you Nacho

When Kieran Gibbs pulled up on Wednesday night, clearly crocked, little could we know that that one split second, that sprained thigh, would cost the club £8m. Because I think it’s fair to say that had Gibbs been roaming the Emirates pastures happy as punch at the end of the Liverpool game, Wenger would not have signed anyone this transfer window.

Well, circumstances often dictate all manner of things, and so it is that this morning we have Nacho Monreal. If Santos’ purchase (for a not inconsiderable fee) in 2011 was part of a mad trolley dash, this one feels more measured, and something we were looking to do anyway. I look forward to seeing him play.

I’d have preferred another striker too, and some more experience in defensive midfield, but it never materialised. It’s not really surprising, given all that we know about how Wenger does business. We were clearly in for Villa but it wasn’t to be.

So up front, we now rely on Giroud, Podolski and Walcott to play through the middle. It sounds decent, except that Walcott’s best role is further to the right, and Podolski scores and assists well on the left. Nevertheless, those are the forward options – and with 43 goals to their names, they’re very good options.

There’s Gervinho too. I’m not sure that central experiment was an unqualified success.

In defensive midfield, it’s Arteta, Coquelin or Ramsey. Jack can play there too. A little inexperienced in the absence of Arteta, but that’s it.

A new left-back makes sense, not least because our game relies on decent wing-backs. Remember January 2012, when Gibbs, Santos, Jenkinson and Sagna were all injured, in some freakish left-right voodoo? It was a total disaster. We were completely stifled. I know Vermaelen can play there, but it’s not his strongest position, and it was the death of Djourou.

We lost every single league game that January.

Given that we have only taken five points from fifteen this January, and that was with our defence at full strength, you can see why Wenger did this deal. Relying on Santos or Vermaelen at left-back would be too much to ask. It would probably have affected left wing, too, at a time when we need all our forward power to counteract some ridiculously inept defending.

So off we go! How the hell we stop the confidence and organisational rot in the defence is the million dollar question. Into this jittery back line drops Monreal.

Out of the frying pan…

Good luck Nacho.

The Podolski lift?

Just as my own blogging season was in danger of fizzling out, I’ve decided to rouse myself for one last push. Two more blog posts and I might just totter over the line. Why haven’t I sealed this sooner though? I can only think it’s a confidence thing.

Since I last dipped in here we have drawn at Stoke, a result that is far from calamitous at any stage of any season, but coming after a loss and a goalless draw it was a result that hardly kick-started the kind of swashbuckling tone for the rest of the season that I had hoped for. Why have the goals dried up a bit? “Maybe it is linked with belief” said Wenger, which is not really what you want to read, is it? Anyway, here we all are and we are pretty clear what Arsenal need to do to drag themselves over the line.

Of course, you have to assume the worst and expect our rivals to take full points. That makes our task very straightforward, on paper if not on grass – two wins. But depending on results on Wednesday, it could make Norwich on Saturday, and indeed West Brom’s Hodgson valete the following week, far more stressful than you might want.

How we could do with our new signing Lukas Podolski for the last two games. With 18 goals from 28 games this season, plus six assists, we are talking about a man at the top of his game and for Arsenal to sew this one up so soon is admirable business indeed. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect us to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s of our summer business before the Euros – there’ll a lot of shop windowing going on – but this lays down a marker and continues the recent policy of mixing raw youth (Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jenkinson) with proper experience (Mertesacker, Arteta). There’s also plenty of sense in getting as much of your incoming business done soon so that the club can work hard on trimming the squad down.

Podolski will of course be desperate for Arsenal to make the Champions League – he can join the queue, right behind the shuffling army of accountants – and will be forced to look on agonisingly from afar as we complete the season. There isn’t a lot he can do of course, but it would be nice to think that this ambitious early signal from the club might have an effect on the current players as they strive for the sunlit uplands of third – for those who will be competing for places against him, for those whose futures are undecided and for those committed for the long term but ambitious for more.

And on an unrelated note, good luck to Roy Hodgson. A decent man, he’s well travelled and well respected. And whatever happens, surely it can’t be any worse than South Africa in 2010?

All the best, Roy.

Arsenal’s strangely enjoyable close season

“For the first time in a while, I will be very active”

With these dozen words, spoken at the tail end of May, Wenger has kicked off a fascinating close season. I didn’t think I’d be enjoying it one bit, but I appear to be doing just that.

How so? Given that as much of the current transfer eddy is whirling around players who might depart as it is around players who might join, you’d have thought the whole rumour mill would be too hair-tearing for words.

I think the difference this summer is that the perception of change is in the air. Wenger’s mentioned it, Gazidis followed that up in his AST Q&A (“It is very clear we had some shortcomings and in this close season we are going to see some turnover of players”). I’ll eat my Kenny Sansom flat hat if we tread as cautiously as we have done in the last few summers. It feels like there’s stuff happening. Real, actual stuff. (No disrespect meant, Carl. You’re welcome too).

From a PR perspective as well as a team perspective, it’s like a waft of fresh air. Even if most of it is hot air, it feels pleasant enough on the face.

Does it matter if the speed of incomings is faster elsewhere? Not really; these things can take time. So long as the business is done then it would be churlish to moan. Sure, it would be better to have the squad trimmed and tidied soon rather than frantically sending faxes (they still send faxes!) at 11.55pm on 31st August, particularly if we’re talking of a squad that could see four or five go and four or five come in.

What about those linked with going? Cesc would be a mammoth loss so that needs sorting sooner rather than later, if only to size up a replacement. I’m glad he’s happy at Arsenal but there’s a clear ‘but’ in there. If there was a magic potion to make this particular story not drag on all summer, I’d have a swig.

Nasri, well we shall see. As I said before, it’d not surprise me if he got what he wants from Arsenal – or most of it. Whether he deserves it or has earned it, well that’s open to debate. But I think keeping him, right now, is the easier option than selling and replacing him. So we shall see.

Clichy looks gone. He’s a good left-back but is he the best? I guess the proof would come six months after he’d gone once we’d had the chance to measure up his replacement. He’s certainly not as good a left-back as his predecessor.

As for signings, central defence – tick. Striker/winger – tick. Both areas have players linked.

Goalie? I doubt it. I think Szczesny is number one and Fabianski his back-up.

The other area that needs some old heads is central midfield. We’ve not been linked with that many players there. Larsson? Hmm. That doesn’t feel like an upgrade, it feels like a sidegrade.

Anyway, excuse me while I get back to NewsNow and Arseblog News.

My mouth is parched in this transfer desert

What a goldfish I am. Despite an end of season that spent most of its time reeling from one calamity to another, I appear to be hankering for the new one already. When will I ever learn?

To be fair though, some bits and bobs need to happen before I can get genuinely giddy. Namely a scythe cutting through the chaff of the squad, coupled with the club storing the wheat in a silo where nobody can steal it. Continuing this dismal analogy, Wenger is the combine harvester, in case you were wondering, and Eboue – bear with me here – is a bale of some description. I think I’ll shut up now.

So with transfers in mind I was reminded when looking at Wikipedia, which means it must be true, that the window doesn’t open until July 1st. Does that mean we can’t announce signings till then or we can’t negotiate them? Looks like we might have an entire month of conjecture to chew on before things get going. That’ll be fun.

Arshavin and Vela have been in the news. The former has apparently ‘vowed to beat Wenger’s axe’, and I’m all for that. On what basis? Well I do think he’s declined since those heady days in 2009, but he’s still mercurial and at the very worst would be a potent impact sub. On top of that, the squad needs to be augmented, not overturned. There are plenty ahead of him I think need to move on, but we shall see.

Which bring me neatly onto Carlos Vela. The Baggies have said, if they signed him, they could not guarantee him a first team place, which tells me rather a lot – or at least, reinforces what I already suspected. For me, he’s one of the merry band who definitely need to search for those famous footballing ‘pastures new’. For his benefit, for ours. Sorry Carlos, but there you are.

OK, checking out. It’s a bank holiday and it’s pelting it down with rain. Drought? Haha!

PS – this Fifa stuff is fun. Remind me, how did this lot take charge of football?

Squill’s red and Nasri’s blues

Arsenal 2-1 Huddersfield Town

Quick blog ahead of a hectic transfer deadline day, which I’m sure you’ll all want to get back to as soon as you can. A £38m bid here, a £95m transfer package there, and the sound of tumbleweed coming from London Colney. We have spent money in January before (Arshavin, Reyes, Diaby etc) but as ever with Arsenal, you’re better off expecting nothing than sitting glued to Sky Sports News waiting for a 25-year-old wizened European Cup-winning centre-half to pop up up in exchange for £20m.

However, just in case my monstrous cynicism is disproved, I have reserved some space on this blog for any potential signing and will update it during the day.

[ ____ ]

As for yesterday, well I agree with Goodplaya, Arseblog et al in their assessments of our second string: As an ensemble, not good enough. Catapulted in groups or one or two into the starting XI it works, but a revolving door of a line-up like yesterday does not. I find it hard to criticise though. We all clamour to take the cups seriously – rightly so – but the reality of competing on four fronts is that you are going to get good and bad and mix and match. It’s just a shame that so many players, faced with diminishing opportunities, do not grasp them as you might hope they would.

The biggest downside of yesterday was Nasri’s hamstring, leaving him unavailable for an undetermined number of weeks. We will miss him.

We will miss Squillaci for a game too, at least numerically, after a daft block led to his dismissal. I thought he started brightly enough this season but his form has tailed off and looking at him, it’s clear he is what he was bought as: a fourth-choice centre-half.

Clearly, Fabregas is the model to aspire to and he made a big difference yesterday. I thought Diaby did fine seeing he’s been out for such a long time and I’d also agree that Arshavin, though his shooting was wayward, got stuck in. Bendtner scored one, earned one, and performed a hilarious air-shot: which just about sums him up I suppose. He gave it his all and contributed well.

Anyway, we’re through to face The Orient at Brisbane Road, another cracking FA Cup tie. It might not have gone 100% to plan this season, but you can’t argue that it hasn’t been good viewing. Huddersfield yesterday were excellent and merited a draw. Leeds were impressive too.

Red card, hamstring, dodgy defending and a late penalty.

And yes, there were balloons.

Right, back to the transfer tumbleweed.