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?

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.

Fab, Theo and Brazil nuts

Remember how Wenger stated he’d like to get his transfers sorted before the World Cup began?

He’ll be lucky.

Most high-calibre players are content to wait until the tournament ends before thinking about what happens next – even if their agents are busy doing stuff in the background.

So when the tournament kicks off a week tomorrow, transfer deals involving players taking part in it will surely be off bounds.

We’ve got a week to go yet though – so expect a few more twists and turns, especially regarding Fabregas. Yesterday’s rebuttal of Barcelona’s €40m offer was very well crafted by the club. They spoke of “immediately and resolutely” turning it down and I must say, I did enjoy the last line.

“To be clear, we will not make any kind of counterproposal or enter into any discussion. Barcelona have publicly stated that they will respect our position and we expect that they will keep their word.”

So Arsenal are reminding Barcelona that, even though the player’s desire to leave makes a deal likely (or at least possible), Arsenal have a big say in things. And they’re also asking Barcelona to do things by the book – which of course, they haven’t and won’t.

But really, the bottom line is that any deal must be on Arsenal’s terms, and €40m doesn’t touch the sides. In a world where Villa have priced Milner at £30m, how can Fabregas only be worth £3m more?

And besides, any negotiator worth his salt will turn down an opening offer, because an opening offer is never a final one.

There was some more rumours yesterday of a deal with Chelski’s out-of-contract Joe Cole. I have no idea if there’s anything in the story or not – but what’s interesting for me is the profile of the player. He’s in his late twenties and very experienced. If he is indeed the kind of player Wenger is looking for then it’s a good sign, because we’ve got promising young players coming out our ears and they cannot do it alone. What we lack are players who have been there, done that and know what it takes.

Which I suppose segues nicely onto Walcott. His omission from the World Cup squad was the cherry on top of the icing of a bad-season cake [must do better – ed] but it’s not that baffling. Thinking back over the season, I can only think of two occasions when he took a game by the scruff of the neck – in the second half against Burnley at home, and in the last third of the Barcelona game when we ended up drawing 2-2.

Nevertheless, it’s no time to panic. He’s only 21 and started a mere 15 games last season. On top of that, he has the overwhelming goodwill of the Arsenal fans in his favour.

And finally…

I spent some time in Sao Paulo last week (took a wrong turn out of Norwich) and on my first day there, walking past a newspaper stall, I was slightly perturbed to see a gaggle of shifty-looking men congregating next to it, exchanging things furtively. There must have been eight of them in all.

Being in a new city – and one with a bit of a reputation for containing ruffians at that – I immediately assumed they were dealing in illegal substances. But as I walked past I peered closer and saw that the illegal substances in question were in fact…. Panini stickers.

That night, I mentioned this to a local and was told this was normal behaviour in a World Cup year. Apparently, in the years when Brazil win the World Cup, Brazilians go absolutely bananas for memorabilia, and completed Panini World Cup albums have a particularly high value in such an eventuality. So the shifty gents by the newspaper stall were simply sniffing out a business opportunity.

Isn’t football great?

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.

A spoonful of hope on a cereal of improbability

Good morning to you all on a cloudless, plane-free and gorgeous spring London morning. Having no aircraft humming overhead or vapour trails criss-crossing the skies has been as peculiar as it has been welcome. It would have been even nicer yesterday had someone on my road not chosen the enforced tranquillity to fire up a tree-mulching machine – all day. It sounded like a giant having an electric shave.

Yesterday, I was giving some thought to which young players Wenger could feasibly slot in between now and the end of the season, out of necessity or opportunity, given that we are no longer challenging for first.

Then along came yesterday’s string of results, and however unlikely it may still feel, a win at Wigan today would put us three points behind the leaders with three games to go. Hope, however much you try and banish it to the attic, keeps peering his head round the banisters and gurning at you.

Goodplaya – who has been something of a lone voice of optimistic lunacy on Twitter – said yesterday morning, “Am I the only one thinking that if Spurs beat Chels we can draw level before they play again? Unlikely, but wd we feel safe in their shoes?” How right he suddenly is.

How might the Spuds’ result have changed Wenger’s plans? We’ll see today. On Twitter yesterday, there was a groundswell of opinion in favour of giving Eastmond (one league start, two sub appearances) a game in the middle of the park. With Denilson a major doubt – and hardly in the form of his career anyway – I’d take that gamble. I’d also play van Persie from the start, as with a back line of Campbell and Silvestre for the remainder of the season (injuries allowing – ha), attack is going to be our best form of defence.

Some other interesting stuff slewed out of the official website late last night. Wenger in recent days – since the Spuds win in particular – has been on something of a warpath and yesterday not only was he bullish about our chances of matching Chelsea from a financial point of view:

“I think we can overcome [Chelsea]. For a while we were not investing maybe because we had built the stadium but I think our financial situation is now becoming much stronger and we will be capable to buy the players we need to buy.”

But also he talked about transfers:

“We will announce the deals after the league [finishes]. He [Chamakh] is one of the players who has a good chance to join us.”

So good news there – the Chamakh deal sounds close and tantalisingly, he talked about ‘deals’ in plural and of money being available. Now excuse me for clutching at straws, but that’s just what I wanted to hear so clutch at straws I will.

Onto today, and here we go again. I’ve asked Goodplaya for some of his mind-warping optimism-inducing pills and we can take it from there.

Summer transfers: What effect will the World Cup have?

Strewth, it’s quiet.

In fact, there’s been a whiff of close season to things. Partly I suppose because we’ve got the weekend off, and partly because losing to Barcelona seems to have kicked off some early transfer speculation.

Why is this when there’s still so much to play for? Partly, it’s natural to wonder how you can improve things when you’ve been as outplayed as we were over most of the two legs against Barcelona.

And partly, perhaps, because it’s a World Cup year, when the rules for transfers seem to change slightly. On the one hand you have players that clubs are keen to sign early, before the tournament, so that their value does not rise should they show explosive form.

On the other hand, you’ve got the clubs who will keep their powder dry until the tournament is over, hoping to unearth a gem (or ensure that the player they had their eye on before the tournament does not rupture something during it).

Looking back to the last World Cup in 2006, we signed Tomas Rosicky on 23rd May – a signing that fits neatly into the former category. Unfortunately, the rest of the summer’s ins and outs were slightly less tidy.

In fact it was frenzied, late and involved Panini-like swapsies. Reyes was loaned to Real Madrid, with Baptista coming our way in return, on transfer deadline day. On the same day, we sold Cole and bought Gallas.

However, there were extenuating circumstances to events that year. We’d just lost the European Cup final, and that triggered another round of Invincible dismantling. As well as Cole and Reyes, out went Campbell, Pires and Lauren.

We also moved stadium – another sweep for the broom of change.

I don’t expect the kind of wholesale changes that we saw that summer this time round, as the squad is settled and growing. There will inevitably be some departures, but the only key player who I can see leaving is Gallas. I don’t see Fabregas going anywhere, least of all to Man City, though a summer of speculation is a dead cert.

Anyway, what I think I’m trying to get at is we might see a signing sooner rather than later – perhaps a month or six weeks from now. Wenger is the kind of manager who likes things decided sooner rather than later if he can.

He’ll definitely want to avoid a manic final day of trading on 31st August…

Seize the moment (and fix the unfixed)

Good things, as they say, come to those who wait.

I sat watching Sky Sports on 1st January expecting a flurry of new players to change hands within moments, and here we are some three weeks later with a 35-year-old prodigal-ish son having returned but not much else. This transfer window thus far has been a poker game, with few people yet prepared to declare their cards. Looks like we need to be patient and put on our flak jackets for a 31st January blowout.

We’ve also been waiting for some time for the pleasure of looking down from the summit of the league. Yes, I know we were top after a few games this season, but I’m not counting that. If we counted early season form, we’d be top every year courtesy of being alphabetically superior.

With perhaps the toughest string of games coming that I can recall, it would have all sorts of positive effects to enter that fearsome foursome/queasy quartet from the top of the league. Which is why an ordinarily mundane fixture against a side who a) are struggling and b) have never been the easiest on the eye has got a bit of a fizz about it.

We can worry about those four games later. For the time being, we just need to beat Bolton to keep the momentum up and the confidence high. We also need to work out how on earth our season has been scuppered – and yet not sunk – by our extraordinary run of injuries. I know I bang on about it, but the sheer number of crocks we’ve had this season seems more than mere coincidence. Evidently, it’s something the Arsenal hierarchy have been scratching their heads over too. As the boss said today:

“We have analysed absolutely everything. It is strange because the more injuries you get, you then seem to get even more because you always play the same players. Also, you rush some players back and then you have more chance to get them injured again.”

I can see what his argument is, but at the same time, it’s a bit mysterious how Gallas and Vermaelen, for example, have not missed any league games this season whereby others – Walcott, van Persie, Diaby, Nasri, Denilson etc – have been in and out like the tides. It’s hugely frustrating.

Onto tomorrow though, and after a few missed games over the festive period I’m gurning with excitement at the thought of getting back into the Arsenal saddle.

I’ll be there, irrespective of the state of my hamstrings, knees, shoulders, shinsplints and ankles. Arsenal players, take note.

Transfers: Going Mad

Hard to know what Wenger makes of this transfer pandemic, isn’t it?

The great man has kept radio silence over the last week, presumably either because he’s off on business or because he’s staggering around Blackpool half cut wearing a Kiss Me Quick hat.

But we can guess: For a man who has long (and correctly, in my view) espoused common sense in the running of a football club, this mayhem must be deeply discomforting.

Live by your means, that’s his maxim, and he has always done that.

Real Madrid’s claim that these transfers pay for themselves is hard to believe with the eye-watering numbers that promise to change hands – £140m thus far. I mean, if an £80m transfer made financial sense, why don’t all clubs do it?

I suppose the answer to that is, for Madrid, it just does. Their fanbase is truly global, and with all due respect to the great Italian and English clubs, nothing touches them for glamour and history. Nine European Cups says it all.

Doesn’t make it right, though. In a summer when Wenger is presumably working in the £5m-£15m range, these kinds of deals will not help one jot. The market is further skewed by petro-dollars and dinars. This is going to be a tough summer for Wenger, I suspect. Not so much because his targets will be snaffled – he always manages to pull a relative unknown out the bag (Nasri, Sagna, the list goes on). But more because the sheer greed of footballers and agents will doubtless fuel the demands when there are millions being spent across Europe. Britain’s tax changes and the weakness of Sterling add to that, when you’re buying outside the UK.

For what it’s worth, on some issues I agree with Platini. The Champions League is horrendously predictable at times, principally to satisfy the wealthy clubs. He’s done something about that – and even though it might affect Arsenal, I’m not opposed to the early stages being shaken up a bit.

But I don’t see how he can realistically do much about the money being spent.

We can of course fall back on the fact that money does not buy success. That comes from having a great manager, a sensible board, and with the allowance of time to get things right (and make mistakes).

As Romford Pele said today on the Arsecast, there’s nobody better than Wenger for Arsenal at the moment. if anyone can battle the tide of money sweeping Europe, it’s him.

One more thing:

For those of you who access this on an iPhone, Android or BlackBerry Storm, I am playing around with a specific mobile template. I remain unconvinced as to whether it’s any better or more usable than accessing the standard web page, so if you have any feedback do let me know. My email is eastlower AT or you can get me via Twitter.

Things are moving already – though TA probably isn’t

So there I was, egg on face, after totally misplacing the opening of the transfer window to the tune of one month, but in the end it didn’t stop Man City snaffling Barry Gareth and Real Madrid nipping in for a slice of Kaka. Seems people are doing their business early this summer.

I guess, with Barry, that he was free to sign a pre-contract, with just one year left on his current deal? Either that or the transaction was simply done nice and early. Dunno. Either way, he’s gone and massively improved his salary but has moved to a club that is – contrary to his reasons for wanting to move – patently not in the Champions League, and indeed finished the season below the one he left. Read from that what you will.

I recall, at the tail end of the transfer window last summer, wondering how long it would be before City were breathing down the necks of the top four, but in the end we had nothing to fear last season. We might have nothing to fear this next one too, but the way they are going about their business – and the money they are spending – suggests to me that they intend to break into that elite sooner rather than later, and it’s another thing Wenger and Gazidis will no doubt have taken into account when planning for this summer.

The simple fact is, there is a limited pool of talent, but an increasing number of teams prepared to bid for it. So how Arsenal go about recruiting will be an interesting feature of the close season. It also reaffirms that signing Arshavin – a big European name, albeit one with no previous experience outside Russia – was a coup. Had we waited until this summer, we might well have been gazumped.

And finally tonight – I can only blog at night, at the moment, for reasons of having small children – what to make of the whole Tony-Adams-to-Celtic thing?

This is what he said to the BBC – though he also spoke to talkSport.

Now, if you listen to both these interviews carefully, it’s clear that he has not been offered the job (of head coach), and has not even applied for it, but he does suggest that Wim Jansen has put his name in the ring. And Adams is clearly interested in the role – who of his experience wouldn’t be?

Celtic have since come out and denied everything.

It is odd though – if Adams honestly thought he stood a chance, would he really have talked about it on national radio? Of course not. I suspect he’s just reminding people that he’s available, and this will put his name back in the press. It already has.

He also talks about coming back to Arsenal – and how much he’d like to – and that’s nice to hear. Will it ever happen? I can’t see it right now, especially not as a manager, but he’s still young enough to make a name for himself.