Contracts and Keepers

Contracts

You can’t see the wood for the trees when it comes to Arsenal players being offered new contracts, can you? First, misser of two good chances on Tuesday, Charles Vela, earned himself a new deal. And now, talk is of man-of-balsa Thomas Rosickly getting new terms.

Might seem a bit weird to some people.

However, I can see the logic. Charles Vela, as Wenger is keen to point out, has been nurtured for some time, was sent out on loan to Scaramanga – I think it’s in Spain – and is still only 20. We’ve had our fingers burned before by players not being tied down to long deals, most recently with Nigel Flamini and Alex Hleb. Why risk it again?

I doubt Vela is on megabucks, and even if it all goes to pot, so long as he’s on a longish deal then we’re in a better position to get a fair price for him.

It’s a bit different with Rosickly, but the same rules apply. He’s a very talented and hugely experienced player in the last year of deal. OK, so he’s made of polystyrene, but if he gets fit and stays fit and scores goals and generally impresses, then how galling would it be should he waltz off in the summer for the princely sum of zero pounds sterling?

There are those who argue that these kinds of players don’t merit new deals, and while I get the reservations, I still think that it’s marginally wiser to guarantee yourselves a transfer fee than to risk losing them.

Besides, Wenger is hardly likely to offer Rosicky a four-year deal is he? It will be more cautious than that.

Keepers

I’ve been longing for a keeper battle for some time.

By that I mean a proper challenge for first spot. Lehmann was deposed by Almunia in the former’s final season, and since then Almunia has been largely untouched. Fabianski last season was rather unfairly at times known as Flapianski – so it wasn’t going to happen then.

I’ve always maintained that Almunia, while an excellent shot stopper, is not a world-class keeper in terms of commanding his defence or his area, but he can improve and the best way for any player to improve is to have someone breathing down their neck. It’s healthy stuff.

Several errors and one enforced absence later, and we’ve got an interesting scenario. Mmmm Mannone came in and did well for a young keeper, but really it’s Fabianski or nobody in terms of deposing Almunia.

Yesterday the Pole urged Wenger to pick him at Anfield. I’m not sure that time has come yet, but if Fabianski continues to play well when he gets the chance (and he stays fit – but he plays for Arsenal so there’s clearly no chance of that), then we might see that time sooner rather than later.

Arsenal’s 15 minutes of lame

West Ham 2-2 Arsenal

There are draws that seem like wins, and there are draws that seem like defeats. Today’s was both – depending which team you support.

Deeply frustrating if you’re an Arsenal fan though. Coming back from two goals up might be a theme of the weekend, but it doesn’t make it any less infuriating, does it?

Not being able to knock a game on the head is one of those recurring faults that Arsenal still haven’t banished. Wenger knows it only too well: “We want to learn of course to finish these games off,” he said. “That is basically the most important lesson of the day.”

It’s not the world’s worst result and in general, most of us are pretty happy with the way things are going, but I think that there are still plenty of things we need to sort out if we want to consider ourselves realistic challengers. We’re far from being the finished article.

Clearly, not being able to finish a game off – even when in a position of strength – is one of them. Both goals today were entirely avoidable. For the first, Mannone saved well but palmed it right back across the goal. Really rookie goalkeeping, I’m afraid. And for the second, whether you think it was a harsh penalty or not, Song really didn’t need to make that challenge at all. Cole had his back to goal and was on the edge of the box.

That’s tied into experience, and collective concentration, neither of which are easy to teach. But we’ve been caught out two or three times by lapses this season – perhaps more – and if it hasn’t already been addressed (I’d be amazed if that were the case), then it needs rapid attention.

What of this lack of a killer instinct? Wenger said “when you make a problem of it, it becomes a real problem.” Cryptic as ever.

The second issue that has been bubbling along is the goalkeeping one. Almunia was dropped, for one reason or another, and while Mannone has done well for a 21-year-old, he’s simply not up to the job yet. Do you have faith in Fabianski though? And what about Almunia? Clearly Wenger doesn’t trust him either so we’re in a very precarious position there. It’s ludicrous, to be honest.

So plenty to ponder, but overall, given we have moved into third and we’d be second if we won our game in hand, the garden has hardly been stripped bare of roses.

Luckily for us, many results went our way this weekend. But Wenger will know that we can’t afford to keep on letting points slip like we did today.

It’s a game we should have won.

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.

Make Do and Mend

Manchester City 4-2 Arsenal

Bit late in the day to add my tupp’orth about yesterday’s match – couldn’t get anywhere near the pooter till now. Obviously, it’s mostly about Adebayor, which is wrong, but there you go.

I only saw the stamp on Match of the Day last night. When you see it in slow motion you can understand why van Persie released the statement he did – and why Arsenal were happy to put it up. It was an intentional jab at van Persie and it was vicious. It’s so blatant that he will almost certainly get a 3-match ban. Couple that with him running 100-yards at great speed (as many have pointed out, something he didn’t do at all last season) to goad the Arsenal fans, and I’d be pretty amazed if he got away with less than five games out.

Listening to 606 last night, it seemed to me that some people were missing the point as to why he is now the undisputed, all-time villain for Arsenal fans. His greediness for a new deal was, frankly, expected – all footballers do it. His two-faced attempts to move to a new club are hardly new either – though he was more brazen than most. No, those aren’t the things that mattered most. But going through the motions was unforgivable – and he did that for most of the season. I’d say most fans can forgive most footballers for their myriad failings so long as those players give it their all. He didn’t. Anyway – he merits no more of my time.

More pressing, frankly, is how we lost again having played pretty well, why we are making so many errors and how we have already conceded eight league goals.

Mitigating factors: 3 away games from 4, post-international hangover, key injuries in creative areas, general play and movement good, unlucky not to have scored more.

But it doesn’t matter how rosy a picture you try to paint. The fact is, we’ve already lost two games we shouldn’t have, against teams that hardly ran us off the park. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a concern. Sure, they were away, and against two sides that will be competing at the upper echelons, but we’ve thrown points away, pure and simple.

Yesterday, we lacked some artistry – in many ways, it was the classic post-international match – but we also made elementary mistakes. Almunia is away with the fairies at the moment, and Clichy had a rotten game. Song should have done better for their second goal, and where was the marking for the third?

But still, it is very early doors, and far too soon to sharpen knives. Fortunately, we’re back in the saddle on Wednesday, then back to the Grove on Saturday. So no time to dwell.

How we could do with Arshavin, Walcott and Nasri back to add to the recently returned Rosicky, though. Two players on each wing – that was how it was meant to be. It’s a classic case of Wenger having to make do and mend – or should that be ‘make Diaby and Bendtner’?

Think of the options those three would have given us had they been fit.

Finally, I had an email telling me that there’s an investigative piece on BBC Radio 5live tonight – sometime between 7.30pm and 8.30pm – on the personal, political and business life of Usmanov. I’ll be listening – no idea what kind of a picture it will paint, but it should be interesting.

Two mistakes unravel the good work

Manchester Utd 2-1 Arsenal

So, an early defeat, but I’m still scratching my head to work out how we came out of that game with nul points.

Last season, in our second game we capitulated meekly to Fulham at Craven Cottage, a defeat that set the tone for the next six months. This season, we’ve also lost one of our first three games of the season – but there the parallels end. Whereas at Fulham we deserved nothing more, yesterday at Man Utd we threw the game away.

We were utterly dominant until Almunia made the first of two bad Arsenal mistakes. We’d had a clear-cut penalty denied, we’d scored a fabulous goal and van Persie had come within a goalkeeper’s ankle of making it 2-0. Nothing less than we deserved.

Then Almunia scuttled out of his goal at Rooney, way too far out, there was contact and the inconsistent Mike Dean gave the penno. “Old Trafford-ish” was the word Wenger used to describe the penalty being given, a genius description that implies without accusing. Rooney made the most of it – he’d begun to fall before the contact – but contact there was and really, Almunia can have few complaints. Rather than chastising Dean in this instance, (reserve your opprobrium for the clearest of penalties you’ll ever see, denied to Arshavin, shortly before his 30-yard rocket), perhaps we should look closer to home. What was Almunia thinking? It was an avoidable penalty.

And it changed the course of the game. Utd, hitherto huffing and puffing, got the wind up them and though van Persie managed to hit the bar from a free kick, it wasn’t long before Diaby scored the most extraordinary own goal. A free kick, no pressure, and he nodded it right past Almunia. Words fail.

So we found ourselves down, and despite a mazy run and shot from the no doubt severely embarrassed Diaby, and a last-minute goal correctly given offside, that was that.

Well, that wasn’t quite that: the absurdly officious Dean still found time to send Wenger to the stands for kicking a water bottle in frustration, a mere few seconds before he was due to blow the final whistle. Wenger had no way of getting to the stands, so with the most incredible chutzpah, went and stood on a raised dais like a god, arms outstretched, ignoring the usual vile chants. “Where am I supposed to go, you jobsworth half-witted git”, he said. Or at least, that’s how I saw it.

It provided some interesting photos, but was a ridiculous refereeing decision.

Dean’s inconsistent, card-happy refereeing provided several other talking points. Watch Wenger’s post-match interview below:

Nevertheless, Wenger was pretty upbeat, and so he should be. Until we shot ourselves in the foot, we looked excellent. Even when the game started going away from us we created a few chances. We passed well, defended well, and looked comfortable. Utd came back strongly after the penalty, but you’d expect them to.

The way we performed makes the end result – and the two mistakes – that bit more frustrating. But in the cold light of day we can also be pleased, I think, as on the evidence so far, we’ve made a step up from last campaign.

Onwards and upwards.