Latest Arsenal news: Two dull sagas continue to be dull

Another week rolls by, free of blog entries. I’ll happily admit I really have struggled to inspire myself to write much this summer. In June & July of 2009 – the last football-free summer – I blogged 14 times. This year there have been just six posts in the same period. And all this despite having more time this summer to ferret away in Google Docs than I’ve had in a pretty long while.

Is it a lingering apathy stretching back months – a groundhog summer weariness? Perhaps it’s the lack of transfers to date, having been promised fireworks (or at least, that’s how my desperate mind interpreted it)? Or is it the sheer numbing dullness of the Cesc and Nasri flirtations? You know what: I am so bored of those two sagas I’d happily see them both offloaded. I’m a sympathetic sort of bloke as a rule, but I am bored witless of it all.

Yes, I know it would blow a craterous hole in our creativity and experience – Fabregas is a bloody genius – and that selling one or both creates as many problems as it solves, but how can there be any kind of squad cohesion with two wantaway players flicking bits of rubber with rulers at the professor from the back of the class?

I know it’s more complicated than that and that everything, across Europe, is dependent on dozens of variables. If A moves here, I can bid for B, but X won’t come unless Y has gone to Z, and so on and so forth. It’s like a giant house of cards. The question is, would Cesc and/or Nasri’s departure set the whole thing off? It surely would.

But I’m wary of declaring that – finally – something appears to be giving. There’s a feeling, based entirely on my observing the skittishness of both Twitter and NewsNow, that the Fabregas deal might be edging closer – though I’ve seen faster glaciers – and who knows whether the Mata rumours will come to owt or not, but the possibility is being strongly peddled all over the place at the moment.

Bendtner appears closer to a move. Almunia’s still in the window of the local Barnardos charity shop. I walk past him every day. £2 (on the plus side, if you are a UK taxpayer you can do Gift Aid).

Anyway, back to Cesc & Nasri. It would be nice if the smoke cleared, decisively and finally, but I’d go purple if I held my breath. So until then, I’ll just have to carry on inhaling and exhaling as normal.

But I do wish, somehow or other, that someone, somewhere would put a stop to it.

Gervinho: Uncorked at last

Arsenal signings 2 – 1 Arsenal sales

Arsenal: Specialists in snail-paced transfers. The good news is that Gervinho has definitely signed – or at least, he’ll “shortly join” us “subject to a regulatory process”. If Cesc and Nasri’s summer represents the longest goodbye – Wenger disagrees on this point, vehemently – then Gervinho’s has without doubt been the longest hello. His four-year contract has been dithered over so long it’s already only got three years left on it, which means that he’s only one year away from demanding a new one and a further one year away from agitating for a move away. Modern football – it’s great, isn’t it?

Sorry Gervinho, I am more than likely doing you a disservice. Either way, the Ivorian is a silky-footed striker, and if YouTube is any guide, he’s a very different beast to the departing Nicklas Bendtner. If £9m is the asking price for the Dane, then someone has a good deal on their hands, I think. He’s no winger, patently, and he misses more than he scores, clearly, but the main thing is, he does score and he can make an impact. He just never quite fitted into the system we play.

Cesc and Nasri: we have ominous signs on the one hand and an upbeat Wenger on the other. Wenger really has stuck his neck on the line with Nasri in particular. As usual though, we have very little from the players themselves. No ‘I’m staying’ or indeed ‘I’m off’ direct quotes, just tidbits and guesswork. Wouldn’t it be pleasant if they came out and actually told us what their plans were? Both players leaving would be a blow, of course it would, but the ceaseless rumour – the lack of conclusion – is the thing that hacks me off the most.

Here’s a thought: If you’re staying, be unequivocal and tell us. And if you’re not, well good luck and toodle-pip. We would need to replace you so give us time to do it. Sadly, the reality is that I inhabit a dream world. This kind of openness rarely happens when so much is at stake – money, mostly – and that’s why the chess game that is a high profile transfer gets played out, via agents and ‘representatives’, the way it does.

As for the issue of income from his transfer: if it’s clear he’s not going to sign a new deal then I’d be inclined to take the money and move on. But it’s a tricky one. OK, so you lose £20m but on the flip side you have a good player for one more year, you also have rivals who will not have benefited from him strengthening their team, and you have a message being sent out that we will not sell every Tom, Dick and Nasri who has had his head turned by more money.

Oh well – at least we have actual football to actually watch. With the obvious lack of star transfers to get excited about on the tour, we do at least have some interesting newish faces to pass judgement on. Miyaichi, Frimpong, Jenkinson – one a new signing, one returning from loan and one back from injury. They’ll all be Like A New Signing, so there.

The game against a Malaysia XI will be the first game streamed live on the new Arsenal Player, I think, so buffers ahoy!

Still waiting, still patient

The Cleash

It’s 18 days since I last peered over the blogging parapet. The last time I did there were very few bullets whizzing over my head. Now there’s a full-blown barrage, though I must confess, I’m not sure who is firing at who.

Until someone valued at £10m+ comes in – a big signing, if you will – then the mood will remain as glum as it has become. 18 days ago, my blog was about Nasri, Clichy and Fabregas. This one is too. Nothing’s really moved on.

You could look at the potential exit of Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy in two ways, I suppose. The first would be to regard it as an exodus; a red flag, a dark portent. There are plenty taking that route. The second would be to see it as the coming together of three unfortunate scenarios, all at the same time. Of course, it’s much more pleasant to think of it being the latter.

Looking at the second of those, we have Fabregas, who has long harboured a desire to return to Barcelona. We have Clichy, who has refused to sign a new contract, and we have Nasri, who is acting the giddy goat, partly over money, but perhaps not entirely. That’s football I suppose.

Fabregas would be the real loss. His tenacity, vision and technique are second to none. Unless he is carrying an injury, he is a remarkably consistent footballer. He’s been the lynchpin of this side for a long time. But he wants to ‘go home’.

Nasri is an excellent footballer, a tough fighter, but he is not the finished product. He’s not worth £150,000+ a week, if you ask me. I’d say that even if we could afford to pay those wages. Incidentally, we can’t, at least not without an immediate upsurge in wages across the board.

Clichy divides opinion. He gives his all, he’s quick, he’s a very decent left-back. But he’s not as good a defender as his three long-term predecessors at Arsenal (Sansom, Winterburn and Cole). He is prone to error and his crossing could be better. But at the same time, he is currently better than Kieran Gibbs, he’s better than Enrique (who we have been linked to, not that I should be making much of that), and for a club on a limited budget, which we are compared to some, do we really want to be spending £15m on a new left-back?

Still, the consensus is that that deal is done.

Back to the original scenario though: Players who do not earn as much as some of their peers are easier to keep happy if the team they are playing in has been successful. As our groundhog seasons merge into one, you can see why things have come to a head. From a wages perspective, we are struggling to offer what other teams can offer. Maybe, like the fans, some players have tired of waiting for the promised land. This scenario is not much fun to contemplate.

Until the futures of these three players are sorted though, we’re in for a bit of turbulence.

Overall though, we’re hardly staring down the barrel at the Champions League qualifiers. There’s time – plenty of time.

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.

Minimise Losses = Meet Demands?

Short of the Premier League changing its mind and awarding Arsenal the league title for plucky against-all-likelihood endeavour, the one thing that would have kicked the summer off in a marvellous and positive fashion would have been some early incomings.

Wishful thinking, it seems, seeing that a) in signing terms it’s early doors (whatever early doors are) and b) the futures of two very important players are obfuscated – if, indeed, obfuscated is the word I’m looking for. But more on Eboue and Denilson later. [Ed – remove worn old gag].

And let’s be honest: unless you are an Arsenal fan, in which case you’d rather pull teeth from your mouth with your bare hands, there’s nothing as sellpaperable than a ‘big player might leave big club’ story. So here we are with Nasri.

I had an interesting Twitter chat with @anserine yesterday in which he concluded that – and I’m sorry, Sir, for nicking your tweet and using it as my headline – the best outcome might actually be to meet his demands in order to minimise the damage, when taken as a whole.

Saying no to his wage demands now, on principle, would be laudable in some ways but would mean selling him for as little as £10m. That’s a £6m loss (depending which figures you believe – but I read yesterday we signed him for £15.8m) for a player who has improved immeasurably in three years and who had an exceptional first six months of the season.

Looking at this visualisation that @optajoe retweeted yesterday, if Nasri is looking for parity with Cesc, then taken in context it would still only put him in the second tier of European earners (where Cesc is), so it’s easy to see the strength of Nasri’s argument. That he’s gone about things hamfistedly is beyond dispute, but still.

And if you were to sell him, you’d need to replace him with an equivalent-calibre player. That’d cost at least £15m in fees and, probably, at least the same in salary that Nasri is demanding. Tricky one, isn’t it?

But pay him more and it will inevitably lead to a rise in salaries at Arsenal across the board. Players and agents talk. That’s the way it works. And who ends up paying for that?

As for his argument that he wants to wait to see what Arsenal do in the transfer market, well I have some sympathy with that viewpoint. Who doesn’t? But that feels like a bit of a smoothing-things-over PR move having fluttered his eyelids at Utd. He could wait and wait, while potential newcomers stall and stall to see whether the waiting and waiting Nasri will stay or go. Everyone’s heads will end up spinning off with all that craning of the neck.

He’s just a player, he’s expendable, but at the same time, he’d be expensive to replace and you also have to consider the morale of the team. Who else would start agitating if he left? And what about Cesc? What’s worse, from a financial point of view? Acceding to his demands or selling him, replacing him, and smoothing over the damage with the current squad?

It’s a minefield. I need a lie-down.

But I’d not be surprised if he was offered the better deal.

Holed in the O’s own lair

Confession: I used the above headline as it’s simply too cheesy to let pass, and if I don’t use it now, it will be even later than the too late it already is. [I haven’t seen it elsewhere but if I’m late to the party I’ll be happy to admit it].

In brief though: Having sung the praises of the FA Cup and insisted upon the retention of cup replays, I can have no complaints about the draw at the Orient that forces us to squeeze another match into the jammed schedule. If anything, I tend to agree with the much-aired view that the second string, far from requiring fewer games, could do with more. It certainly reinforced my view that two, three or even four changes from our first XI can be accommodated, but that most of a team revolving in cannot.

Is this a case of a collective lack of drive from the second string? No. It’s not that simplistic. It was a feisty cup tie and an almost completely changed line-up from Wednesday. But more than that, the absent midfield combination of Wilshere, Nasri and Fabregas adds so, so much to the side on so many levels. They are simply far better than the alternatives. Not just from a creative perspective, but collectively their will to win is huge. Can we keep those three fit until the end of the season? It seems unlikely given the fixure list but much could hinge on their availability.

And at the back, we played a defence unused to playing with one another, which included several relative rookies in Gibbs and Miquel and two down-the-pecking-order players in Almunia and Squillaci. We should have created more chances, but overall it wasn’t the world’s biggest surprise. At least it wasn’t to me.

As for it generating another midweek home game… I can’t say I’m too unhappy.

Match preview

Tomorrow night we’re straight back in the saddle, with Stoke City coming to town. It’s a fixture with baggage these days. As much as anything though, it’s a massive clash of styles. We all know how Stoke play; it can be effective – at home in particular, as we have found.

Arsenal have at times this season not defended set pieces well so it’s not hard to work out where City might plough their furrow.

Wenger though has hit on the solution: keeping the ball. “As long as we have the ball, they cannot be dangerous” he said. That does of course form part of a utopian wish list in any game, and is certainly one I’d like to have employed in the first half against Barcelona, but possession is not necessarily nine tenths of the win. Barcelona discovered this on Wednesday and we did too, on Sunday. As much as anything we need to be ruthless and make our possession count.

We’ll have to do it without van Persie and Koscielny too, both out with small injuries (with any luck not Vermaelen ‘small’) and therefore not risked ahead of Wembley on Sunday. Diaby is out twice – suspended and, of course, injured.

It was looking like a no-go for me, but the gods of football have been generous and I’ll be there.

Here’s to three of your finest points.

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.

Match report: Arsenal’s perfect riposte

Leeds Utd 1-3 Arsenal

A thoroughly satisfying evening in Yorkshire. With memories of the preceding Leeds and Ipswich ties still fresh, I said to @feverpitch before the game started last night that we’d know which Arsenal was present within five minutes of the whistle. Rather neatly, exactly five minutes had elapsed when Arshavin and Chamakh ping-ponged the ball through to the waltzing Nasri, who scuttled past a couple of players and sunk one into the bottom right corner. Game on: Arsenal were up for this alright.

Both Bendtner and Arshavin – more of which later – then missed gilt-edged crosses to make it 2-0, but in the end it fell to Bacary Sagna to rifle the second goal in. Not to be outdone, Leeds – who I was again impressed with all night – made it 2-1 with one of those 30-yard screamers that don’t come around too often. It had me wistfully dreaming of that Vieira rocket against Newcastle when we won 3-1 in April 1998.

It strikes me that Wenger has got the balance right between playing ‘scratch’ sides and overusing his first XI. Last night, Walcott, Fabregas, Wilshere and van Persie were given a rest, but all four were on the bench if required. Gibbs came in for Clichy (also on the bench) but Sagna replaced Eboue, so the defence was as good as we can field (not that we have a lot of leeway at centre-half).

As it happened, with the game still at 2-1, Wenger called on van Persie and Fabregas and it wasn’t long before our third goal put the game to bed.

Bendt it like Beckham

*headline groan* – and one I was beaten to by @White_Ox, damn him.

The third was a delight. Fabregas passed to our man on the right, Nicklas Bendtner, whose cross was absolutely inch-perfect. van Persie, or more precisely van Persie’s head, simply could not miss. It was the best thing Bendtner did all night. Lord knows he tried though, I can’t blame him for a lack of effort – it’s just he’s in a monumental rut. It’s more of an escarpment. There was one time when he was back defending – an admirable place to be – at right-back, he won the ball through sheer tenacity but then somehow contrived to lose it again. It’s hard to be too critical. On the contrary, I have some sympathy. Can we have a whip-round and buy him a goal?

If you peer over the edge of the confidence escarpment, you will also see a Mr A Arshavin of St Petersburg, Russia, waving at you from the bottom. If there are two options available, Arshavin is in one of those places that means he will always take the wrong one. OK, he played a key part in Nasri’s opener but he missed a couple of other presentable chances, and skied one shot (in the box) so high the RAF had to be scrambled.

Still, talk of offloading one or the other of these players is a nonsense. Quite apart from anything, we can’t afford to weaken our front line. But beyond that, both players are capable of much more, and I’d rather we found a way to nurse them back to form.

Cracking FA Cup tie, and one that vindicates my love of the old pot. I can’t wait for Huddersfield Town to come in the fourth round.

Onwards and upwards. Here we are, mixing it on four fronts, looking hungry, relatively injury free. Let’s keep going in this vein. I’m buzzing all over again.

(And Arsene – sort that new defender out please. Koscielny and Djourou are not made of titanium. Thanks.)

Match report: Arsenal first-rate in second city

Birmingham City 0-3 Arsenal

Now that’s what I call fairweather blogging! I raved about the Chelski performance, but kept mum after earthward bump at Wigan. Now I’m back to doff the cap to the team for today’s performance at lowly Birmingham, which was as excellent as Wigan was disappointing as Chelski was excellent. Maybe that should be my blogging template for 2011: Post when we win, but bury my head in the sand when we don’t. The only negativity you’d get then would be me moaning about not having won well enough. I’m sure you could all handle that.

Hard job being a manager too: Wenger was criticised (and I still think fairly) for rotating too many players at Wigan immediately after our best win of the season, but today, seeing his side buzz, hustle, harry and gurgle at St Andrews, it would be easy to conclude that Wenger did in fact get it right. Three games in six days, seven points from nine.

As ever, the truth is somewhere in between and we won’t know until the final reckoning whether Wigan was rotational genius or two crucial points discarded.

Anyway, enough of that, it’s conjecture and nowt more. The response was excellent today, and while it is true that Birmingham were largely poor, it was heartening to see us play as diligently off the ball as we did on it. I’ll never forget, slack-jawed, how Barcelona last season at the Grove fought like cats and dogs to get the ball back on the odd occasion that they lost it. If you don’t give the ball away much when you have it, and try to get it back as fast as you can when you don’t, it strikes me that you might go places.

Today we saw another eight changes, undoing all of those made at Wigan and reinstating the entire starting XI we saw against Chelski. van Persie opened the scoring, via a deflection off Lovable Lee Bowyer, but overall Robin had the kind of game a man who needs games has. Rusty van Persie. He had one or two other pretty decent opportunities but the WD-40 hadn’t made it through to his titanium ball-bearing knees and they went begging.

Nasri slotted in a very decent second, slamming my nerve cupboard door closed, and from that point on it became a procession and Arsenal were able to extend their peacock feathers and have a bit of fun. The third – though it was an own goal – was a thing of beauty in the build up.

In between all this, there was the usual needle associated with this fixture, with a Roger Johnson studs-up challenge on Cesc in particular causing consternation and Lee Bowyer being, well, generally Bowyeresque. And Birmingham, to be fair, made much more of a game of it in the first half than they did in the second and were aggrieved not to get a penalty themselves.

Overall though we more than merited the three points and the clean sheet (yes! Hark!), and have set ourselves up nicely for Wednesday’s game against Man City. Unless Mancini puts all eleven men behind the ball, it has the potential to be a bit tasty.

Finally, a Happy New Year to you all. I might not say it as often as I should, but thanks to everyone for reading, for commenting, for advising, for tweeting, and generally for being top-draw gooners in 2010. I really do appreciate it. Have a happy, prosperous, healthy and trophy-laden 2011.

Hesitations – not what you need

I’m not convinced I’ve quite mastered the direction of this season. A campaign that has had some impressive highs – six goals scored twice, five goals once and four goals four times – has also seen some of the ropiest home form for a while, and yet here we are at the top of the league. Are we enjoying it? Well yes, of course, how can we not be, but the team is running the home fans through the mixer. It’s been very Arsenal.

There’s no doubt that Nasri and Chamakh deserve plaudits aplenty for their goal hauls this season – both have been excellent and their contributions have been priceless in keeping us in the hunt. They’ve scored 21 goals between them which in bingo terms is the key to the door.

It’s interesting how things have changed in just one year. Last term, our four highest scorers – Fabregas, van Persie, Bendtner and Arshavin – scored 53 goals between them, yet just a few months later only one of those players, Arshavin, is on target to match last season’s haul. Thus far, those four have just 14 goals.

So thank heavens for Chamakh’s impressive debut season and Nasri’s astonishing vein of form. Mon chapeau est doffed, as they say in France.

But really, we’ve got to lick this home form. Key to any improvement, as Wenger is happy to admit, is a defence that can defend better.

Wenger: “We had some hesitations at the back”

We’ve conceded 10 goals at home – a record bettered by a similar number of Premier League sides, including sieve-like Villa. Away from home, we are passing muster on that front but there’s undeniably room for improvement on the hallowed turf of the home of football.

But you know what? With Nasri fizzing away, Arshavin regaining form, Chamakh doing his thang and Wilshere bursting onto the scene, I know what it’s better to concentrate on.

When we are being attacked with gusto though, I may from now on just put my fingers in my ears and sing “la la la la” until it goes away.