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?

Braga against the goal machine

Grove

Arsenal 6-0 SC Braga

I am operating in the finite timeslot somewhere between getting home at midnight and going to work this morning: I have no time to lose.

Easy though it would have been to delay a reaction to last night’s pounding, I just couldn’t let it pass that long. It was a marvellous performance.

And it was a proper 90-minute pounding too. With the game to all intents and purposes over at half time, it could have turned into an exercise in saving energy and avoiding injury, but Arsenal were having none of that; they kept harrying and hounding to the final whistle.

All the goals were memorable in some way or other, but the way Chamakh took Wilshere’s cheeky back-heel was probably the pick of the bunch.

It’s worth expanding on those two players a little (see also this good piece on them in today’s Telegraph).

One is new and the other – in team terms – as good as new, but they offer increasing weight to the argument that Arsenal’s squad is better balanced and stronger this season than it was last.

Chamakh is a revelation. A willing front man who can toil away happily, holding the ball and distributing it, but who has a real eye for goal, I would wager that Bendtner is now sweating a bit. Why on earth did Wenger scrimp on the £7m by waiting this long to sign him? He could have made a real difference in the back end of last season.

As for Wilshere – well before the season started, there was some talk of another loan spell. Thank god that never came to pass, eh? Seeing him dovetail with Fabregas was watching two men on the same wavelength. For an 18-year-old with limited exposure to first team football, I thought he was incredibly assured.

And Fabregas – what can you say about him? I’ll leave it to Wenger:

“He has taken on another dimension. People forget that he is 23 years old, [an age] where other people start. He is a fantastic influence and it is important that he leads this team to winning and I believe it is a fantastic opportunity for the young players who play alongside him to improve as well. If you are 18 years old like Wilshere and you see Fabregas who is 23, it is a big opportunity to learn a lot.”

He could have had a hat-trick and certainly had a hat-trick of assists (if you can count his pass to Chamakh for the penalty – an assist to his own goal).

Kudos too to Jollygood, who by mid-September has already scored one more goal than he did throughout the whole of the 2009-10 season. What an option off the bench he could be if he keeps this up.

Overall, there are no holes to pick. We defended well and we were lethal going forward. Sure, sterner tests await – but right now we are looking balanced, hungry and it’s an absolute joy to watch.

Home comforts and other stuff

Arsenal have been around almost 125 years now. I’ve been a season ticket holder for the last sixteen of those. In terms of success, I could hardly have chosen a better sixteen years in the club’s history. What Wenger has done for Arsenal is comparable to what Chapman achieved in the 1930s – of that, there is no doubt.

It’s going to be tougher than ever for him to add to that medal haul though. Gone are the days of the late 1990s and early 2000s when Arsenal and Man Utd were the only shows in town. This coming season, there are at least six sides who will fancy their chances of squeezing into the top four.

Clearly, we have been active in the transfer market this summer with two very promising players coming in. But we’ve also let a lot of defensive experience go.

Wenger has no intention of splurging tens of millions on players, preferring to see the current crop improve sufficiently to make the next step – to win us the title.

As mentioned in my last post, Alex Song is the template here – a much derided rough diamond whose development in 2009 and 2010 has been explosive.

For this squad to be the title-winning squad Wenger wants it to be, we need to see similar comings-of-age for players like Diaby, Denilson, Walcott, Vela and Djourou.

Which of these five will we be hailing come May 2011?

Home routines

Lucky pants, new shirts, old watering holes, familiar journeys – the first home game of the new season brings back all the little tics of being a football fan. I absolutely love it.

Unfortunately, my home debut is going to have to wait though. I can’t make the game on Saturday and I’m not sure how near to my laptop I’ll get in the days proceeding it.

Here’s to a thumping home win though.

Before then – may I point towards the Arsecast. My voice is on it this week.

Back in a few days…

More goals from Arsenal’s wings required

Scattering my eyes across the Sundays and the general theme hasn’t changed much: there’s the rustle of keeper talk and a persisting link to Everton’s Phil Jagielka. The latter story has been lingering long enough that the fee is now being quoted at a very un-Arsenal-like £15m. At that price, I can’t see us getting involved.

As for the keeper talk, well it appears to be a case of ABA – Anyone But Almunia. Akinfeev? Stekelenburg? James? You can never second-guess Wenger but I think we might still shop within the Premier League, on the basis that we cannot afford a costly bedding-in process. On that basis, do all roads still lead to Schwarzer?

As for our attacking options, it was noteworthy that Wenger said we wouldn’t be replacing the departed Eduardo. If this is true, then we will essentially have three central strikers (van Persie, Bendtner, Chamakh) and a substantial array of wide or deep attack-minded players to back them up (Arshavin, Rosicky, Nasri, Walcott, Vela, Wilshere).

I can see why he thinks that might be enough, especially allied to the goalscoring prowess of Fabregas. But if that is to be our lot, it’s worth returning to a theme I picked up at the tail end of last season – the need for more goals from those wide men.

We all know that van Persie has a good 20 goals in him, and Bendtner at least 15, but Chamakh, at least until we can judge him, remains an unknown quantity. Given the injury records of the first two of those, we need more from elsewhere.

Arshavin is exempt from the criticism about to come. With 12 goals scored despite playing up front on his own at times last season, we know he can pack a goal or two.

But look at the record of the others: Rosicky, Nasri, Walcott and Vela scored just 14 goals between them, of which only nine came in the league.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect better contributions from all four of those. For the two younger players, Walcott and Vela, they at the right age and cannot now hide behind the excuse of youth. They will also have Wilshere breathing down their necks (and both Diaby and Eboue can play wide too).

Nasri – ditto Walcott – should be hungry following their World Cup snubs and Rosicky will be fighting for his future.

To them all I say: More goals, chaps.

Busy summer looms as Arsenal’s season crumbles

Blackburn 2-1 Arsenal

Another day, another lifeless defeat.

Our ‘easy run-in’ has turned into a nightmare, with one point from the last 12 and a succession of infuriatingly weak, insipid performances. The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.

A squad that was meant to end the season on a high – albeit just off the pace – has now completely given up the fight and there seems to be nothing whatsoever that Wenger can do about it.

A loss against Fulham, perish the thought, would leave us on 72 points, exactly the same amount as last season. Progress? It doesn’t feel like it.

I didn’t expect Wenger to lambast Flapianski in his post-match interview, but even he must cringe with embarrassment every time he has to defend such a liability. He was clearly at fault for the second goal. Blackburn saw him as the weak spot – they didn’t have to look too hard to find it – and successfully targeted him. Naturally, it worked.

Elsewhere on the pitch, after a fairly bright start we faded badly. Look at the starting XI and at the bench though and you can see part of the problem is simply a lack of quality available. It doesn’t excuse the lack of stomach for the fight but it does go some way to explaining the paucity of some of our play.

We have so many players out and the backups have simply not been good enough.

Let’s break yesterday’s squad of 18 into three groups.

There are at least five players there we simply wouldn’t miss, other than numerically. Not one of Fabianski, Silvestre, Traore, Vela, or Eduardo has improved this season. You can only assume that the new contracts offered to the latter two were given partly to ensure healthy sell-on fees.

Then there are others from yesterday’s 18 who are good squad players, but too inconsistent, immature, or ageing to be considered first-choice material next season. In that category I would put Eboue, Campbell, Walcott, Diaby, Mannone, Djourou, Gibbs, Eastmond and Henderson.

That leaves, as nailed-on starters from that 18, just Sagna, Nasri, Arshavin and van Persie. The form of Nasri and Arshavin has been up and down but to my mind, the quality is there.

So we are missing a lot of players, and in their absence we have seen that the balance is wrong, the collective will to win has been diluted and the quality is lacking. It’s not a good cocktail at all.

On yesterday’s evidence, it will be a busy summer for Wenger, chopping out the deadwood and bringing in players who possess the kind of drive and quality that will rub off on those of the squad who have the most to learn.

Apologies if this is a bit of a ramble but I thought I’d pour it all out and see how it dried.

Bring on the end of the season.