Wenger loves a surprise signing

Wenger has always been something of an expert at the surprise signing. You could never bet against him pulling a Frenchman with something to prove out of a hat. The ultimate ‘Abracadabra’ was Sol Campbell, who emerged like a mirage, grinning into the Colney sunshine. On that occasion Wenger allowed himself a wry smile in public, while behind the safety of his office door he was far more effusive, flicking his fingers and saying the word ‘sick’. Sol Campbell was the surprise signing benchmark.

So yes, Wenger likes a surprise signing. He really likes one.

But they’re becoming harder to do. The rapacious internet leaves no stone unturned. The web is a foreign language too far for Wenger. Imagine the chit-chat with Podolski. Wenger thinks #aha went downhill after Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale. It’s Oldie v Poldi.

But Wenger likes a challenge, and if he can defeat the internet and its binary inquisitiveness, then quite frankly it’s like a trophy to him. There’s a small glass of Dubonnet with his name on if he can sign a player for Arsenal from right under the nose of the internet.

That’s why I gave myself a small fist-bump when I switched Twitter on last night to read that we’re close to signing Calum Chambers from Southampton. “If this one comes good”, I said to myself while whistling suggestively, “Wenger’s defeated the internet again”.

Even if it doesn’t happen, Wenger’s back on form. Everyone knew (and hoped) about Sanchez before he came. Debuchy was common knowledge. The name of Ospina was a bit more Wenger, but Chambers has come from nowhere. It’s hallmark stuff from Le Boss.

People are taking it seriously because it comes from the BBC’s David Ornstein, who is pretty adept at separating wheat from chaff. If you don’t follow him already, you really should.

At 19, Chambers is very young. With only 25 appearances at the top level, he’s also very inexperienced. Being English, he’s expensive – I’ve read £7m and I’ve also seen £16m. But he’s versatile, being a right-back also able to play centre-half, much like Sagna. It makes sense in many ways. Debuchy number one, with a more inexperienced number two who can also fit in elsewhere.

That would leave Jenkinson with the fight of his life. Should this deal go through he’ll almost certainly go on loan, which is what he needs to kick on. Coming back to Arsenal would be tough, you’d think, a huge challenge. Ashley Cole was one of the few players to come back from loan a better player, but he was far younger than Jenkinson.

Anyway, we shall see. I’ve enjoyed this summer so far, what with the World Cup and some Arsenal business cooking nicely. There’s a sense of urgency and a dynamism this year that felt absent for most of the summer of 2013.

Long may it last.

Stockpiling Arsenal midfielders

The recruitment continues apace, with Debuchy coming in as our first-choice right-back. In the website photoshoot he’s got his arms on his hips (psychologists will tell you he’s ready and in control – that’s a good sign for us. He may also be showing off his armful of tats, two of which seem to be dates in Roman numerals. Not his birthday, I checked. Perhaps his children’s. Is this interesting? No? Sorry).

Last summer, at about this time, and a lot later, we tore our hair out trying to second guess what Wenger was up to (answer: not a whole lot), but there’s no angst this summer. Two signings in, both filling obvious gaps. And it feels like there’ll be more – two or three, I’d guess.

Is that the kiss of death? I don’t think so. But if it is, I’ll delete this post and pretend it never happened.

Defence is obviously an area that needs attention, as illustrated by Arseblog the other day. But it looks like we’re in for another midfielder too. Whether it’s Khedira or not – and it feels like there’s some smoke and mirrors going on there – it’d not surprise me to see us strengthen there.

This makes sense to me. But if we do, would anyone make way? To be honest, I’d not have been massively surprised to see Arteta moving on this summer, but he’s featured so heavily in all the Puma marketing, and told us he’s happy as Larry, that I can’t see that happening. Diaby? Maybe, if someone would have his large wages. Flamini? Maybe.

Does it matter though? If Wenger is keen to stockpile midfielders it’s easy to see why. We mostly always play with five in the middle, and suffered our usual Arsenal-esque midfield injury pestilence last season. Diaby didn’t play at all, The Ox was injured a lot, Ramsey got skittled over at Christmas, Walcott not long after. Ozil did his hamstring, Wilshere only started 19 league games. Rosicky might well be the Peter Pan of football but he’s clearly an impact player these days.

We relied too heavily on some players – Arteta, Ozil and Cazorla spring to mind – as a result and what’s the next best thing to solving our injury woes? Buying more midfield players, that’s what. Could this approach work with a 25-man squad limit? It might be tricky, but it’s not impossible.

Let’s have a look. In defence we ideally need two of every position – that’s ten. We still need to recruit two of those, three if Vermaelen goes.

That leaves fifteen players (sixteen if you take a gamble with three centre-backs). Rosicky, Arteta, Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Flamini, Diaby, Podolski, Giroud, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez are obvious ‘keepers’ to me, though Diaby’s position could be in peril.

If we kept Diaby that would leave two more spaces. One for a new defensive midfielder leaving one to be hoovered up by other hopefuls currently on the squad list: Zelalem, Sanogo, Gnabry and Campbell.

If we were to buy another striker, I think it’s curtains this season for Sanogo and Campbell. But I can see Wenger keeping Sanogo as the blunt sword he’s been so far (he’ll get better once he grows into his paws).

So what does this all mean, I hear you ask?

I’d say, if I was to stick my neck out, that I have no absolutely no idea at all.


And I’d clean forgotten about the U-21 players not counting on the 25-man list. So we’re fine: we can stockpile midfielders and probably buy another striker too. You know where to go for cold, hard, real sense on this matter – @Orbinho

Pass Debuchy on the left-hand side

I’m sure you’ll all agree that no time is a bad time to shoehorn in an inappropriate Musical Youth headline.

Yes yes, I know he plays on the right-hand side. And that ideally we don’t want ‘pass Debuchy on the left-hand side’ to be the opponents’ tactical Plan A. And anyway, why would Debuchy be passing on the left-hand side? OK, I concede, it’s awful. But I’ve mentioned Wenger on the beach, I’ve thrown a cursory comment or two towards the World Cup and with not much else to fall back on, I’m resorting to shambolic wordplay.

Of course, he’s not actually signed yet, there’s still plenty of time for the tits to head in a northerly direction, but there’s a lot of noise about this one and he could well be our first signing of the summer, paid for by selling a player who was no longer ours anyway. How very Arsene that would be.

You can see his stats over at Arseblog, and some almost entirely positive comment from an NUFC blogger (unless he’s doing an “I’ll drive you to the airport if necessary”.)

He’s in his peak years, he’s used to the Premier League and he’s an established international. Nor, at £8m, is he expensive. So on the basis that this was a position that needed filling, but not the most crucial area of weakness in the squad, I think he’d be an excellent signing.

The Sanchez rumours bubble along too, and I’m hoping there’s no smoke without fire. It’s an ambitious one though, and as we saw last summer with ambitious attempts to land strikers, these things are easier said than done. What’s promising is that since last summer (let’s skirt over January for the sake of this point, y’alright there Kimmy) we’ve quite evidently upped what we can spend on players. £42.5m on Ozil buried our transfer record, with bells on, and the fact that we’re in for a £32m striker fills me with some confidence that, even if this one doesn’t quite come to pass, we’re no longer scrabbling around pretending.

An Englishman abroad

On another note, I see Ashley Cole is off to Roma. Now, as you know, we’ve not got a lot of time for almost-swerving-off-the-road left-backs in this part of north London, but I’m glad he’s decided to go there. English players have many faults, and one of them is parochialism. I know they earn good money here – better money than in most places – but the more English players that go abroad to learn both football, and to experience another culture, the better it will be in the long run for England.

Right, I’m going to make a cup of tea and watch the transfers roll in*

*Slash, just make a cup of tea.

Stop starting, starting going


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.”


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


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.


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.

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.