Roll up, roll up! Well, no need to hurry.

There are a fair few players who are surplus to requirements at the club. And there are a few positions we could murder some reinforcements in. I think that both these things are fair to say. Incoming, we already a thoroughbred German with a trillion national caps and a very decent scoring record indeed. (Incidentally, we now have 174 German caps at the club. Beat that, Middle Eastlands!)

Outgoing, Almunia has already been released, but there are strikers who don’t play, defenders past their sell-by date, goalkeepers who want to move on and loan players coming back to the club who need to go straight back round the revolving door. Seeya lads!

I also think it’s fair to say that this is a normal state of affairs at a big club – Arsenal is no different to any other.

For simpletons like me, it would be great to wake up tomorrow morning to read that Wenger had offloaded all of his (let’s for the sake of it say eight) unwanted players and was at this very moment wiping down his Departures chalkboard and renaming it Signings. And that two days later, there’d be a triple-signing fest, van Persie and Walcott would sign on the dotted line – at which point the boss would hang a Mission Accomplished banner across the top of the entrance to London Colney. We could all go on holiday, watch a bit of Euro 2012 and come back fresh with an intact squad, no injuries, raring to go. In my world, that’s how I’d like things to be done. That’s how Twitter wants it done too I suspect (though I think NewsNow would take the opposite stance – it would probably approve of letting things rumble along interminably, with no obvious conclusion in sight).

I regret to have to dampen enthusiasm on this front, but I fear it’s not going to come to pass in this fashion. Euro 2012 is coming up, and summer tournaments are notorious dampeners on transfer activity. Wenger will be commentating, and I know for a fact that Gazidis and Dick Law are going on a Yoga retreat to Croatia for a fortnight. So that’s them out the loop. Kroenke is planning to walk the Appalation trail (to find himself, I hear) and Usmanov has enrolled on a C++ introduction module. People have their lives to think about too, you know.

Anyway, just to remind you, here’s how it panned out last year:

08 June – Jenkinson signs
04 July – Clichy leaves
11 July – Gervinho signs
20 July – Denilson leaves on loan
08 August – Oxlade-Chamberlain signs
15 August – Fabregas leaves
17 August – Eboue leaves, Vela leaves on loan
24 August – Na$ri leaves
30 August – Park, Santos sign
31 August – Benayoun, Arteta, Mertesacker sign
31 August – Bendtner leaves on loan

I may have missed one or two here but the point stands: one in June, three in July and eleven in August.

Now look, I know we want stuff done sooner. It needs to be done sooner for reasons I need not go in to. But with the best will in the world, my guess is we’ve got a while to wait yet.

Make yourself a cup of tea, I would.

Concede 8, buy 5: Have you ever known a week like it?

They’re up for grabs now! Wenger, right at the end. An unbelievable climax to the transfer window

I can safely say I can’t recall the like. What began with the low of an abject eight-goal capitulation at Old Trafford has ended with the high of five new faces to bolster the ranks. We may never know whether the late spree was intended all along, or whether it was a direct consequence of the butchering in Manchester, but it’s happened and the result is that we are indubitably stronger this morning than we we were on Monday morning.

We could lament the absurd lateness of the spree (which has lent it an air of desperation), but maybe you have to factor in the departures of Cesc and Nasri into the equation. Both were very, very late exits in the scheme of things. And you also have to accept that a lot of business – rightly or wrongly – gets left this late for all manner of reasons. We could also lament the painful reality that we cannot currently compete for the ‘big names’ (who come with the big wages). In that respect, we are left in the wake of three other teams. It hurts, but it’s a fact.

But, from my perspective at least, the last two days have been refreshing both in their decisiveness and in their honesty. A club that was getting the reputation for dithering about over transfers acted incredibly quickly to bring new faces in. In Arteta’s case, the fax was involved in a photo finish.

Honest, too, because this is as near as we will get to a public admission that the squad was sub-par and that the youth project – such as it ever was – hasn’t worked. All five players are over 26. All experienced. All, given their status for their national teams, have borne responsibility on the field.

Santos, probably, will come straight in as first choice left-back. Mertesacker, too, ought to partner Vermaelen straight away. One of either Arteta or Benayoun can consider themselves worthy of a berth in the middle. Of the five, Park is probably the least likely to start but then again, he’s probably leapt ahead of Chamakh by default. These have been crucial signings.

Despite the clamour from some quarters, we were surely never going to go for a player like Parker. You lose two highly creative players, then you need to replace those players like for like. We have done that. In the hod-carrying midfield position, we now have competition for Song in Frimpong. So the additions of Benayoun and Arteta are sound. (I’ve never been a huge fan of Benayoun, but again, I reserve my judgement. And I’m told he’s been very good in pre-season).

I don’t think we could have done much more under the circumstances and in the time allotted. Criticism, yes, for dithering all summer. That has not shown either Wenger, or the board, or the teams involved in player acquisition, in a good light.

But the fans, and the players, needed this spree badly. van Persie and Walcott have both urged the club to strengthen this summer. Wilshere was positively glowing on Twitter last night. And look at the dropped heads on the pitch after the mauling on Sunday. They needed a lift as much as we did.

It’s certainly had the right effect on me. The squad looks much stronger and better balanced.

Naturally, I can’t wait for the Swansea game.

Callow Arsenal ripped to shreds

Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal

‘Will you quit?’, Wenger was asked following Arsenal’s worst league defeat since 1896. That Wenger’s future is now being routinely debated – and he is being asked to his face – tells you all you need to know about the situation at the club.

How has it come to this? Yes, we were missing six of our strongest eleven yesterday, but the threadbare nature of the rest of the squad was clear for all to see months and months ago. Why the relative inaction?

Many of us were in favour of a clear-out this close season, and Wenger to his credit has had one – Clichy, Eboue, Vela, Denilson have gone, Bendtner and Almunia are going. On top of that, in different circumstances, we’ve seen Fabregas and Nasri go. To replace those seven players, we’ve signed one player (Gervinho) with top flight experience – none with Premier League experience. We’ve signed a lot of promising players, and we’ve a few other exciting prospects returning, like Frimpong, but where are the battle-hardened replacements?

Now, to rectify it, Wenger faces three ardous days of negotiating and will have to do the one thing he hates doing above all else – pay over the odds. Do you think Bolton will sell Cahill for less than £17m in light of our defensive travails yesterday? There is only one party in a strong negotiating position and it’s not us.

But there is only so much he can do in such a short period of time. We can all see the positions we are weak in – left-back, centre-back, central midfield, up front. I think we need cover in all four areas (Park Chu-Young would fill one of them). It may be though that we have left it far, far too late.

It’s not just about the personnel though. Nobody can have honestly expected us to win with Jenkinson, Traore, Coquelin all starting. But to then play so openly was asking for a pounding. Even with such callowness in its ranks, a top team should be able to shut the shop and keep the score down. Where was the defensive discipline? Where was the energy? I know we played a crucial match in sultry Udine in midweek – and played well in the second half – but this is the beginning of the season. There should be more in the tank. We were all over the place and Utd could have scored many more. It was a humiliation. Poor Jenkinson was hung, drawn and quartered. That’s no way to break a prospect in. But he wasn’t helped by those around him, or by the way Arsenal had been set up to play.

In the interests of fairness I should also doff my cap to Utd for some of the goals they scored. Too many of them found the top corner. They spotted the holes and exploited them ruthlessly. Ruthlessness – now that’s something we lost the art of some time ago.

These are all problems of Wenger’s making. He now faces three season-defining days to add some steel and experience to the ranks. And after that, he has to find a way to get us back on track, because, remarkably, staggeringly, we still appear to be in the same rut we fell into in February.

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?

Season overboard

Fulham 2-2 Arsenal

So that’s finished then, and as books go, I didn’t much like the ending. I had high hopes there’d be a satisfying twist three quarters of the way through – we were hoping for one – but it finished rather predictably and it was heavy going to boot. I should have just read the last page back at the beginning of March and spared myself the effort.

Despite some fine team performances, overall I’ve found this particular team tough going at times this season. It’s been littered with groundhog days. Our tactical approach, too, has come under more scrutiny than it has ever done. I keep thinking back to Philippe Auclair’s comment on the Arsecast about how the tempo of the side has been wrong for so much of the season: slow build-up, lack of pace, an inability to change tack, predictability. It’s nice when it works as it’s meant to (so in that sense, a bit like my back. I don’t notice it when it’s working but I start grunting when it doesn’t).

That said, there have been positives, particularly in players bursting through, and at the end of the day and despite all the gloom we have a shot at the Champions League as some kind of reward. It’s not a trophy but consider the horror of the alternative: The Europa League. Several teams spent most of Sunday actively trying not to qualify for that.

Wenger is trotting out the usual line about the team being augmented where possible, within the constraints of our budget, and only if players are available, and is urging people not to ‘go overboard’ (twice in his recent email), but infuriating though it is to hear that, there are good reasons for him to give nothing new away and he’s right about the overboard bit.

There’ll be a fine balancing act going on behind the scenes already, you suspect, trying to keep the nucleus of the side together, so he’s hardly going to come out rattling his sabre. Persuading Cesc, Nasri, Clichy et al to stay on the one hand, while also nudging a few of the non-playing, under-performing malcontents through the door in a timely way on the other requires some diplomacy. Not to mention opening negotiations with potential newcomers.

So from a PR perspective the boss isn’t saying exactly what we want to hear, but he rarely has.

Anyway, I can see the squad changing quite substantially if the public mutterings of Bendtner, Denilson &c are anything to go by. In the cold light of the last two months it’s easy to think the whole thing’s gone to pot, but in the grand scheme of things it hasn’t. We have a nucleus of excellent players, most of whom will stay. But a blast of fresh air will open up a few eyes and clear out a few cobwebs. I’m all for it and it needs to happen.

Moans aside, I’ll be pounding the credit card to renew my season ticket. Despite impending joblessness, it’s something I would find it very hard to ditch, I sit with a good circle of mates and after 17 years as a season ticket holder the habits and routines are weaved into the fabric of my year. I do however – like many – have real concerns about the affordability of football in general. The upward pressure of player salaries carries on regardless and rather than the club finding different ways to manage that – smaller squad, renegotiating commercial deals, or just saying no to players – it’s the fans who pay the price. Any increase is particularly acute at Arsenal where prices are already among the highest – they may even be the highest – in Europe.

Missing a wedge of those games is unavoidable though – time and small children dictate it – and I will be cutting back on all other aspects of football spending, partly in protest and partly to save a bit of money. No merchandise, no programmes, no food at the ground. Enough is enough.

Take a moment, too, to look over at the ‘autocratic owner’ model pursued by some clubs to see how different things could be. Chelsea won the double, but sacked their manager a year later. They’ve had 6 managers in 8 years. Trophy signings come in over the manager’s head. No patience, no long-term building. True, they’ve been very successful in that time and we have not, but for all the downsides of the way Arsenal goes about its business, I’m glad it isn’t run that way.

Finally, Wenger. The tide has turned against him in many quarters. And it’s clear he has a big job on his hands to convince the doubters that his latest Arsenal side can be better than perennially third or fourth. Last year, I thought that he deserved patience to get it right. In hindsight, the hoped-for progress has not happened.

However, even though things are more acute this summer I’m still behind him. I sense that changes – of personnel, of approach, ideally of both – are afoot. Wenger cannot live on past glories forever but I would love to see him – rather than someone else – turn this group round and polish the disparate parts into a more consistent, hungrier and more ruthless side. What is success though? It doesn’t have to be a trophy, but it does have to be progress. Properly addressing problem areas. Getting rid of the underachievers. Bringing in a few experienced and hungry players, who are in their prime and could make a palpable difference. All this stuff has been written time and again, this season, the last one, and the one before that, but it’s truer and more urgent now than it has ever been.

The pressure is on him like never before. Over to you, Arsène.

Limping over the finish line

‘Forward’, urges the new Arsenal crest. After Sunday’s reprisal of the now well-honed Collaps-o-Arsenal, perhaps ‘Sideways’ would have been more apt. Some would argue ‘Backwards’. Harsh? Of couse it is. I’m just not in a particularly generous mood at the moment. But we do continue to live up to our billing as a yo-yo team. One step forward, one step back. Turn it on, switch it off. From afar, it probably looks as if we’re jigging up and down on the spot.

Are we looking ahead at a bigger summer than the Fox-in-the-Box summer of 2001? That close season, we signed five new players (one a huge success, one a moderate success, and three failures, for what it’s worth), and since then – before then, for that matter – I don’t recall such a summer influx. For some of those proceeding years, there’s been little need. For others, there’s not been the wherewithal and for others, the doctrine has been largely to build from within.

This summer, the need is most definitely there to properly put our weaknesses to bed. The wherewithal too, or so we’re told. And as for the doctrine – well if Wenger doesn’t realise we need a new approach, however subtle, then it’s a case of Stewart Houston: We have a problem.

I’m not suggesting for a second that the solution to our infuriating bungeeing between sublime and ridiculous is players alone. I agree that it’s in no small part a mental thing – noticed how even Wenger has stopped trotting out the ‘my players have great mental strength and I am convinced they will show it’ line.

But if the manager is struggling to get his players to treat every game as if it’s Barcelona at home – a worrying thought in its own right – then one way to deal with it is of course to spice things up on the pitch. Inject some new, proven faces, and some competition.

The trouble is, when I take this argument to its logical conclusion in my own head, I get a bit giddy and see myself waving enthusiastic goodbyes to about seven players. Seven in, seven out would be one hell of a spring clean. You’d need an enormous pair of marigolds. But how cathartic would it be?

To my mind, the 6.5% ticket hike has only served to shorten people’s fuses. Many, probably most of us will cough up again, because going to Arsenal is simply something we do.

But it’s fair to ask: What are we going to get in return?

In the meantime, we have the final home game of the season, complete with the lap of appreciation. It’s going to be a seminal dad moment for me: I’m taking my 5-year-old. It’ll be his first game.

Magnificent timing to get into Arsenal, eh?

Then again, when’s it ever bad timing?

Arsenal’s new defence begins to take shape

And finally, Laurent Koscielny has signed for the Arsenal. His free Arsenal.com video is a brilliant mix of new signing intro and new shirt promotion.

“We bought this! Now buy these!”

Luckily, both new shirts are ace.

We have laughed many a time in the past about how Wenger pulls signings from nowhere and presents them to us – but with both Chamakh and now Koscielny, there’s been very little surprise, other than how long the dotted line has taken to sign. It’s been all over the web for a while. I blame modern electronicalish communications.

It means that Wenger’s first two forays into the transfer market this summer are both from the country he knows best – France. They are the latest in a long line of predominantly excellent imports – a line that started with the best of them all, Remi Garde. (There was a bloke from Senegal too I think who was quite good).

More importantly, Koscielny forms the first piece in the new defensive jigsaw. It’s a jigsaw that will hopefully include at least a new keeper – with some people’s money currently being on Fulham’s Schwarzer.

Wenger pinpointed our porous back line as a priority for investment back in May – let’s be honest, he wasn’t alone in that conclusion – so it’s hardly a surprise to see a defensive addition coming in. Not least because sailing off over the horizon in the other direction are William Gallas, Micky Silver, and possibly also Sol Campbell.

I do expect him to be first choice though – at the price we have paid, it can be no other way, regardless of the fact he was playing in the French second division the season before last.

If Sol stays, that’s your lot in that department – but if he goes (and he must be pondering exactly how many games he will get), then there’s a vacancy for a fourth centre-half. Could it be Nordveit? Or Bartley? How much experience does a fourth-choice centre-half need? And who of experience would sign knowing they were that far down the pecking order?

Sol staying would be the best solution for me, but he is free to do what he will and is taking his time.

We all know this is a big, big season for Wenger, and for my money – the Cesc stuff aside – the close season is going well. We’ve got two hungry, young but not inexperienced players signed, both of whom have a big part to play next season.

Forget the fact that Man City have spent £75m and could spend another £75m – there’s nothing we or any other club can do about that.

The main thing is the gaps are being plugged.

I’m looking forward to seeing him play now. Bienvenue to you, Laurent, and all that and stuff.

Feed me some transfers, Arsene, I’m hungry.

So England have slunk home sheepishly, and the inquest has begun in earnest as to quite how it went so calamitously wrong.

I’m not going to get into that inquest here though, what with me being thoroughly bored of our biennial national slip-up, and this blog being of a club hue. A club, incidentally, that might not have won much in recent years, but can at least pass the ball.

If you do want to wallow a bit more in the sheer horror of it all though, then there was a very good piece in The Times by Matt Dickinson (‘Mutiny and misery: the inside story of a failed campaign’ – available free online, if you register), and amid the many excellent pieces of podcastery are this one from 5live – ‘Out of Africa: where next for English football’ – and a lighter look at things from Baddiel and Skinner. I suspect the latter two are UK only.

Right, well the good news is that inevitably, club news will begin to take over soon. I recall reading some time ago that both Gallas and Silvestre had deals taking them up to 30th June, and I read today that Laurent Koscielny could sign on July 1st. On these anecdotal snippets alone I am predicting a whirlwind of transfer activity at the tail end of this week. At least, that’s what I’d like.

Should he arrive, it’s fair to say Koscielny is the absolute nailed-on classic Wenger signing, and not just because he’s French. Wenger loves to sign a player whose skills have not been touted far and wide in England, someone with youth on their side and with the potential to get better and better.

I know nothing about him – another classic sign. Over on Twitter, @arsene_knows tells me he’s got bags of promise, and made the highest number of clearances in Ligue 1 last season. That might explain why his price is apparently £8.5m.

When we paid similar sums for Vermaelen last season, it was fully expected that before long he’d be first choice. As it turned out, he went straight into the team and was one of our players of the season. So I wonder whether Wenger will be expecting Koscielny to head straight in and partner Vermaelen, or whether he’s one for the future? It’d be a lot of money to spend on a reserve. With Djourou fit again (and presumably keen to play), and perhaps even another centre-back coming in, there should be some serious competition for places.

Looks at the same time as if Campbell – a fabulous stop-gap last year – will look for pastures new. I can see how that makes sense for him.

The Telegraph has us then turning our sights on Fulham’s Schwarzer, who is undeniably experienced, but also undeniably not a glamour signing. Does it matter? Not if he’s going to be better than Almunia it doesn’t.

So all in all, things could start nicely ticking. We’re only 18 days away from the traditional curtain raiser at Barnet.

That, as they say, is ace.

No morning words, but a quick poll

We probably all agree that we could do with three or four players this summer, in three or four different areas of the pitch. But what if we only had the luxury of signing one? Take Chamakh out of the equation (I’m assuming his arrival is a done deal) and let me know your priority.

Is it in goal, where Almunia and Fabianski have both suffered poor seasons. Both are good shot stoppers, but being a goalkeeper is not just about stopping shots, it’s about confidence, having an aura, commanding your box, marshalling your defence and giving that confidence to your back line ahead of you.

Or in central defence, where Silvestre and Gallas both look likely to sail off into the sunset, leaving just two men to hold the fort. Vermaelen has had a very promising debut season, but Djourou has only played about 20 minutes all year.

Or perhaps a new holding midfielder. We are well stocked with darting, creative, diminutive midfielders but when the much improved Alex Song is absent – as he was on several occasions last season – we lack an obvious candidate to slot in there and replace him. Neither Diaby nor Denilson seem to me to be the best fit there.

Finally, prolific striker. van Persie can score 25 goals if he stays fit, and Bendtner around 20, but we’ve not had a 30-goal man since Henry left for Barcelona. Is an out-and-out goalscorer the most crucial requirement?

I appreciate this is all rather hypothetical, but it’s indicative and, well, a bit of fun on a day when you’re *probably* going to grit your teeth and watch you-know-who in the cup final.


Update, 09:41 16.05.10

Pretty conclusive isn’t it? 68% say the the goalkeeping position is the most crucial. This, even if both Gallas and Silvestre depart, leaving us short in defence. But of course, the reality is we can sign more than one player and that both those positions might be strengthened.

Interesting nonetheless. A season of goalkeeping errors cannot easily be forgotten. Time for a change.