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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Samir and Gael off to Manchester City

City bound?

Sky are reporting that Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy are both on the verge of joining Manchester City. Arsenal stand to make some serious money out of these two deals, especially as both players have only one year left on their contracts. It is reported that Clichy will go for around £7m (not the £15m Sky initially quoted) and Nasri for £20m. If Arsenal can make £20m out of a transfer for a player with only one year left then that is good business in my mind. It also sets the market-rate for any Barcelona deal for Cesc Fabregas - if Arsenal can get £20m for Nasri and his one year contract, then I suggest that the bidding for Fabregas should start at £50m plus (Cesc has four years to go).
Sky claim that City are going to pay Nasri £180,000 per week. There is simply no way that Arsenal could (or ever should) try to compete with that sort of money. It leaves me in no doubt that Nasri, and his advisers, have had their end of this deal tied up since Christmas. That is the reason why he has not had any meaningful contract talks with Arsenal. Given the way in which Arsenal got Nasri from Marseilles is should come as no surprise. If you live by the sword then you will probably get cut in half by one in the future. We knew before he came to Arsenal what sort of a person Nasri was so it comes an no shock to me that he will go where there is big money - in many ways you can not blame him. 
Nasri had a fantastic first half to last season, and should probably have got the PFA award for player of the year. However, those first four months of the season represent the only consistently good form of his Arsenal career. I would not exactly mourn his departure as he has not produced often enough. Lest we forget the chance he missed at Bolton when faced with the opportunity to keep us in the Title race - rather than a calm slide-rule finish we got a ball smashed straight at the goalkeeper. In such moments do we see the true character of a player, and with Nasri I can take it or leave it. That is not to say, however, that we don't need a quality replacement - we most certainly do, and that does not come cheap. There is talk of players making up part of the deal - we better pray that it's more James Milner and Shay Given than Shaun Wright-Phillips and Roque Santa-Cruz!
Gael Clichy, as I said on here a while back, has never fulfilled his potential. In recent years he has stood still (literally at times, to Arsenal's expensive cost) and has failed to become the replacement for Cashley that we had hoped for. It's a shame but, again, £7m wouldn't be bad business in the circumstances. Much like Kolo Toure, who went to City a couple of years ago, I wish Gael all the best. Whatever his shortcomings at times Clichy always gave his best in an Arsenal shirt and that should not be forgotten. He is the last of the Invincibles still at Arsenal, and his departure would represent the end of the final link with Wenger's greatest team. Again, a replacement is needed. I would like to see Leighton Baines forming part of a new look Arsenal back-four, and he is certainly not out of Arsenal's price-range.

These transfers are going to force Wenger's hand in the transfer market. I have never subscribed to the idea that Arsenal need more English players. However, I am certainly in favour of bringing in players from the Premier League. In the circumstances we find ourselves Arsenal have to hit the ground running in August. We can not afford for any player to need a "settling-in" period. If Arsene goes down his usual route that is exactly what we will get (and if we do sign Gervinho he will be off to the African Cup of Nations just as he's ready for the Premier League) so a change of tack and some recognised Premier League players would not go amiss. With pre-season training starting next week, and players on their way out (though seemingly not the likes of Denilson, Rosicky, Diaby, Bendtner, Eboue or Squillaci...yet) Arsenal must do something big, and do it quickly - the fans are restless, and we expect some return for our season ticket money.

Monday, 27 June 2011

New away kit officially revealed, What the hell is going on?

Horrible, disgusting, not Arsenal

My son and I both received glossy brochures from Arsenal this morning (he is a Junior Gunner and I'm a season ticket holder) offering us the chance to buy the "explosive" new away strip. I can honestly say that this is the most hideous, disgusting football shirt I have ever seen. Frankly, it looks like something that would be more at home if it were worn by a jockey at Ascot. Here we are about to celebrate the 125th anniversary of our Club and they saddle us (to keep on with the racing theme) with this complete monstrosity.
The shirt had been leaked (aren't they always?) a couple of months back. When I first saw it I thought how horrible it was, and how "un-Arsenal" it was. Reading around the various Arsenal forums and message boards it was clear that most of us seemed to feel the same way. I started to hope that this was some kind of market research by the Club - perhaps they might have been testing the waters before deciding it's a stupid idea and then releasing a yellow and blue commemorative shirt instead. I should have realised that Arsenal Football Club does not work in this way. They do not care what the fans think. They also know that, even if a hardcore of the "genuine" support refuse to part with their money for it, they will still sell tens of thousands of them all over the World. Despite my hatred for it, and the fact that I will refuse to own one, I know my son will end up wearing one of them - and that is the sort of reason why Arsenal will continue to disrespect us in this way. Just what is so difficult to understand in the fact that Arsenal should wear yellow and blue as their change strip? 

Elsewhere, and more importantly, Lille have confirmed that Arsenal are interested in signing Gervinho and have been in contact about the player. They have also confirmed that, despite this contact, Arsenal are yet to make an offer for him. It is more than a month since the season finished. Pre-season training starts next week. Yet we have not yet made a bid for a player who is clearly a target for the Club. I think I am not alone in beginning to run out of patience. There have been no significant arrivals since the end of the season, and no departures either. Currently the status quo remains unchanged from the disaster that was the end of the season. 
There is an argument that little business has been done as the European transfer window is closed until 1st July. This is, of course, complete nonsense - just because the window isn't open doesn't mean that business can't be done with players officially joining their new employer from 1st July (and it certainly hasn't bothered Man Utd). What you really have to wonder is whether there is actually any desire from the Manager to genuinely address the issues within the squad. The rhetoric before he disappeared in May wasn't exactly encouraging. The silence currently emanating from within Arsenal is overwhelmingly deafening.
Tonight the BBC is reporting that a "senior Arsenal source" has told them that a Barcelona bid matching Arsenal's valuation of Fabregas would probably see an agreement reached. So, instead of news coming from within about any possible signings, we have some loudmouth toad talking about how we will sell the Captain. I hope Arsenal investigate fully who this cretin is and then sack the twat. The only thing I want to hear about right now is players coming in, and the dead wood being shipped out. If, when we get to the customary first day of training photos next week, we still see the likes of Rosicky, Denilson, Eboue and co smiling back at us then I can see a lot of fans starting to get really quite uneasy about what lies ahead.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Clichy to stay with Arsenal? Alex Song in trouble with Cameroon

Gael Clichy - Arsene wants him to stay

Arsene Wenger has been speaking about the future of Gael Clichy. Arsene has stated that he wants his left-back to stay at Arsenal and that talks over a new contract are now ongoing. Clichy has just one year left on his current deal, and his absence from the closing games of the season was a clue to the fact that he had not signed a new one just yet. 
At the start of last season I think most Arsenal fans would have been happy for Kieran Gibbs to replace Clichy in the starting line-up. Subsequent events showed this to be a place where, perhaps, Arsene still knew. However, despite the lack of an adequate replacement currently within the Club, most Arsenal fans would probably still be not too upset if Clichy moved on. Five years ago none of us were too worried when Cashley went to Chelsea - most regulars had been watching Clichy for a couple of years and knew that he was a better defender for his age than Cole had been in his youth. The problem with Gael is that he has failed to develop. He still makes the same mistakes he did five years ago. He still has a major problem with concentrating for the full ninety minutes. Any description of him as an attacking full-back is shown to be stupid by his stats - only two career goals is poor to say the least - and that's before you even look at his crossing.
All in all I hope these latest comments are a ruse by Arsene to squeeze another couple of quid out of any potential suitors for our French full-back. I wouldn't be upset if he went, but I would wish him all the best - he has never given any less than his best for Arsenal.

Alex Song has been fined for refusing to shake the hand of Samuel Eto'o on his return to the Cameroon team this Summer. You might remember that Alex "retired" from international football after being largely ignored during the World Cup last year. He was ostracised by Sven Goran Eriksson following his falling out with Eto'o and is still paying the price for it now. Personally I hope they continue to annoy Alex Song and that he re-imposes his personal exile from the Cameroon squad. They are effectively out of the African Cup of Nations following the recent qualifiers (in which Song didn't play because of injury) but there are World Cup qualifiers on the horizon in darkest Africa, and we could really do without Alex Song jetting off to play in them.

More tomorrow, I hope. Any chance of a signing? Please.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Barcelona getting on my nerves

45 million of these and we might talk

Just who do Barcelona think they are? We hear day after day that they are interested in signing Cesc Fabregas. We also hear day after day that they value him at somewhat less than we are likely to accept at Arsenal. A brief look at the market tells you that the reported £26million bid yesterday is completely derisory. Barcelona continue to say that they have a limited transfer kitty so won't pay over the odds. Fine, sod-off then. If you don't have the money then you can't buy whatever it is you may want - that's a truism for life as much as football. Why should we consider selling Fabregas on the cheap, simply because the only bidder can't afford to pay more? Today we have heard Guardiola saying that Cesc is Barcelona's "priority" this Summer. If that's the case then stump up the readies.
As regular readers will know I am ambivalent about the possible sale of Fabregas. We all know he would rather be somewhere else. However, that doesn't mean we have to sell him on the cheap. Fabregas is under contract until 2015. It is a very well paid contract. Unless Barcelona even begin to talk serious money then we don't need to sell. After all, I imagine Manchester City would be willing to pay far in excess of anything Barcelona could offer - perhaps Arsenal should make it clear to City that everyone has a price as it might just smoke out Barca's "interest."
As much I as I am carefree towards Cesc moving on I believe it would have be for a minimum payment of £40m. If Ashley Young can go for £20m, and Andy Carroll for £35m then £40m is the least we can expect for a supreme World Class talent. Arseblog has coined a new phrase - "cough-up or cock-off" - very apt, don't you think?

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

How Dennis Bergkamp changed my life forever

Dennis Bergkamp signs for Arsenal

Sixteen years ago yesterday, Dennis Bergkamp signed for Arsenal Football Club. It is generally thought, by the press at least, that Arsenal changed when Arsene Wenger arrived at the Club. For most Arsenal fans that have been around since before Arsene the biggest change occurred with the arrival of Dennis.
By 1995 the Premier League was beginning to grow in to a major European League. The ban on English football teams in Europe had been ended for five years and more and more European players were coming to this country. Up until the Summer of 1995 most of the big names to have arrived were over the hill and looking for one last pay day. Then, on 20th June 1995, a Dutch superstar signed for Arsenal. Dennis was the first World-Class foreign player, still yet to reach his prime, to arrive in English football. Dennis set a trend that is still developing today, though most of the top men are going to Chelsea and Manchester City.
I still remember where I was, and what I was doing when I heard the news of Bergkamp's signing. The newspapers had been reporting that we were in for Dennis, and on that morning there was a virtual confirmation on the back page of one of them (this was in the days before the press felt the need to make up transfer rubbish). Still I think most of us didn't really think Arsenal would be buying this massive star. I had just finished my GCSE's and was playing Konami Hyper Soccer (fantastic game) on my Nintendo console, and listening to Radio One, when the sports news came on. I sat there and couldn't quite believe what I had heard. Arsenal had spent £7.5m on Dennis  Bergkamp and had confirmed his signing in a press conference. We weren't used to paying anything like that kind of money for players - George Graham would have had a fit! Watching the news that night and seeing Dennis walk down Avenell Road in an Arsenal shirt, followed by lots of joyous Arsenal fans, was a bit of a surreal experience really. What I didn't know was that life had changed forever.
Arsenal Football Club suddenly had a World Class foreign player in the squad. A couple of weeks later we splashed more money to bring the England Captain back from Italy. At the time David Platt was a major star and rated among the very best midfielders in the World by anyone who followed England. Of course, Arsenal fans would come to realise that Platt wasn't quite as good as we thought - not a bad player, but not a top player either. Nevertheless, by the end of July 1995, Arsenal had entered a brave new World, and we were now playing among the big boys.
For the next eleven years, with the arrival of Arsene Wenger completing the jigsaw, I watched the greatest player I've ever seen make magical football artworks on pitches up and down the land. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that our successes have stalled since Dennis retired. His presence, his work ethic and, above all, his sheer ability pervaded the entire squad. Dennis acted as an awe-inspiring, God-like figure for both the players and the fans. Dennis carried an aura, and this was reflected in Arsenal Football Club as a whole. We were something special, all the time we had Dennis Bergkamp. The success that followed, and the players that came to Arsenal, were all a consequence of Dennis Bergkamp being here.
As I said earlier, Dennis is the best footballer I have ever seen. I am fairly certain that I will never, ever, see anyone who has the ability as a footballer, or the influence that Dennis had, at Arsenal. In some ways that is a very sobering thought. At the same time it makes me realise how privileged I was to see Dennis Bergkamp play on so many occasions. Part of me hopes that I don't ever get to see a player as good, or as important as Dennis - as the picture on our living room wall attests Dennis is my hero. However, if I do get that lucky then I know that he will have to be some player, and some man, to usurp Bergkamp as the greatest. I wouldn't complain too much if Arsene Wenger managed to sign that man this Summer.
Over to you, Arsene.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Don't do it Arsene, Olympic ticket farce

Barton - not welcome with me

As you know I don't like to comment on tittle-tattle, but it's time to make an exception. There seems to be a growing rumour that Joey Barton is seriously on Arsenal's radar. The very thought of this makes me wince. I despise Joey Barton.
A few years ago our Chairman, Mr Peter Hill-Wood, famously said of Stan Kroenke that "we don't want his sort." This is certainly a phrase I would apply to any idea of signing scum like Barton. He's actually a decent player, but he is an animal who should be be in prison, not on a football pitch. He is the complete opposite to what Arsenal Football Club stands for. I have no desire to watch an Arsenal team in which Joey Barton is a part. 
There is little doubt that a player of Barton's type, a tough-tackling midfielder, is required in the team. We have not had someone who would truly put their foot in since Patrick Vieira was sold. However, the likes of Joey Barton are simply not "Arsenal" players. Barton is the lowest form of scum and I hope all Arsenal fans would have a similar view to myself with regards to his type of personality becoming part of the family. This is one transfer rumour I hope is totally made up.

Elsewhere in the Arsenal supporting wastelands it's all still annoyingly quiet. Aside from the usual nonsense from Barcelona etc there is still no sign of anyone coming in, or anyone going out. We hear occasionally that transfers take a long time to complete these days - this is obviously a lie as we see so many deals done in a matter of minutes on deadline day. The trouble with these long and drawn out public transfer deals is that the sense of excitement that used to be engendered by the announcement of a new recruit is taken out of the whole thing. Be honest, will you be excited if, and when, Gervinho is finally unveiled?

It being quiet I can't let the opportunity pass to say what a complete joke (and not a funny one) the Olympic ticketing debacle has been. As you might have guessed I missed out completely on the tickets I had applied for. I had hoped to take my son to see the Games and applied for numerous tickets across seven different events. To not get any tickets at all is a disgrace. That posh twat Seb Coe can come on TV and claim that things have been done in the best way possible, but that is simply a lie. There would be more sympathy if they admitted they had misjudged things and, in hindsight, had got it wrong.
As one of those who missed out (another thing - how has it gone from one million applicants to more than two million over the past few weeks since the ballot closed? - the fact is that there have been major issues with the computer system, and I suspect some serious foul-play as well) I now have the "opportunity" to apply for other tickets - no doubt more expensive ones, and not for the things I originally put in for. However, instead of a ballot it is now "first come, first served" from 6am on Friday with a limit of three events per application. Two things to say about this - firstly, why didn't they limit the number of events in the first ballot, thus ensuring more people got to see something (they could even have applied this policy retrospectively once it emerged that the events were so badly over-subscribed)? The second thing is that a lot of people work unsociable hours and so can't possibly get in on a "first come, first served" basis this Friday - guess who is among that group?
There is one final issue with this second round and the way the tickets will be sold. Every ticket agency in England will have numerous logins for their staff for the Olympic ticket site. On Friday morning they will all be wired up and hoovering up as many tickets as they can, before selling them on at a premium as the Games approach. You couldn't make it up. It's the most scandalous thing to occur in British sport in my lifetime - the public pay for the Olympics, but none of us can actually go and watch any of it. Disgrace.

Hopefully more tomorrow, and all of it about Arsenal.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Gunners get tough start, Time to offload those who won't make it

Start planning a long Winter

The fixtures are out for next season and they do not make particularly good early season reading for Arsene Wenger and his men. First up is a trip to Newcastle, so you can forget a nice warm August, t-shirt wearing, opening day. Given what happened at St James' Park last season you can look at this in two ways - depending on your view it's either an early chance to banish some nasty demons, or it's a harrowing trip for our weak-minded squad. 
Arsenal's players would do well not to look too far beyond the opening fixture or they will see the looming threats of the rejuvenated Liverpool, who will be our first visitors of the season (with a European trip in the midweek in between), and then a trip to Manchester United (following the second leg of the qualifying round). It's a busy and awkward start to the campaign. Given the form Arsenal displayed over the closing months of last season it's a scenario we could have done without (Spurs face an even tougher opening to their Premier League season).
I said the other week that a bad start would pile massive pressure upon Arsene Wenger. It would also pile massive pressure on the Board to do something. The combination of the three opening League fixtures and Champions League qualifier (a self-imposed problem caused by the players failure to play past February) could create a perfect storm capable of damaging, beyond repair, Wenger's reign at Arsenal. Conversely, if the team can come through such a tough opening in good style then it could set up a vintage season. In my view that can only happen if the right players are brought in, and the right players are kicked out. 

On the subject of getting rid of players I can't believe that only three youngsters were given free-transfers. Of the vast array of men sent on loan last season I am amazed that most of them are still on the books. Beyond Lansbury, Miyaichi, Afobe and Emmanuel-Thomas (and possibly Coquelin) the others seem to be dead-wood who will never make an Arsenal career as long as they possess a hole in their backside. The likes of Giles Sunu and Sanchez Watt, for example, are never going to be Premier League strikers. Samuel Galindo, Pedro Botelho and Wellington Silva have been on loan in Spain and none have been a real success (Botelho's team were promoted to La Liga this year, but three years in the Spanish Second Division is unlikely to produce a top Premier League player - just ask Manuel Almunia). All of the young players are on a very reasonable wage, which is probably why nobody will buy them, so Arsenal should cut their losses and release them. Let's be honest, does anyone really believe that Craig Eastmond is ever going to be an Arsenal player - especially after he failed to make any impact in the lower divisions?
The only one of the "never going to make it" brigade that should be kept on is Gavin Hoyte. He was doing really well in League Two with Lincoln before a serious knee injury ended his season, and possibly caused Lincoln to be relegated. The fact that he has this bad injury is what should see him kept on - it's a matter of doing the right thing by a lad who is an Arsenal boy through and through - a bit of Arsenal class, if you will.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Sagna talks too much while Cesc shows some class

Cesc - showed proper respect for Arsenal yesterday

I was really annoyed yesterday when I read the content of an interview Bacary Sagna had given in France. Our right-back felt it necessary to answer questions on the future of Cesc Fabregas. The easiest thing (and the most appropriate) would have been for Sagna to say he doesn't know anything about the situation and that it's down to Arsenal what happens. Instead he decided to "reveal" that Fabregas "wants" to go to Barcelona this Summer. I am fed up with Arsenal players giving interviews to the foreign press in which they seriously put their foot in it. It has happened far too often over the years. What we often hear soon after the story breaks (though not in this case it seems) is the player claiming to have been misquoted. The simple solution to not being misquoted is to not open your gob in the first place. It's not helpful to Arsenal for one of the players to be saying anything that could damage the Club in some way. When George Graham was at Arsenal such interviews would have been nipped in the bud long before this stage. There is a real need for Arsenal to ban their players from talking to the foreign media. This has always been a particular issue with the French players and it must stop. I know Ryan Giggs has become a regular name in the papers lately but for twenty years we have heard virtually nothing from him. The same goes for Paul Scholes (though his inability to speak coherently is another reason for that) and Gary Neville. Arsene must tell the players not to speak to the foreign media about anything concerning Arsenal Football Club.
While Sagna's comments were being reported, Fabregas himself was doing some publicity stuff in Madrid. The Captain gave something of a master-class in handling the questions of the press. He was able to say that he is "happy at Arsenal" and anything to do with his future is down to Arsene Wenger. You have to say that this is exactly the way that an Arsenal employee (especially the skipper) should behave. Fabregas showed immense respect for Arsenal yesterday and didn't allow himself to say the wrong thing in public. Do I think he will leave Arsenal this Summer? Yes, I do. But I have a lot of time for the eloquent way in which Cesc presents himself and represents our Club.

I've just heard on Sky Sports News that Patrick Vieira has been released by Manchester City. This may mean the end of the Great Man's playing days but I hope it opens the door for his return to Arsenal as part of the management team. It seems that Arsene Wenger is never likely to bring in Tony Adams as a tub-thumping assistant, so Vieira would surely be the next best thing - the likes of Denilson and Eboue might be less likely to get away with their lacklustre displays with a character like him hanging around in the dressing-room.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Catching Up

Gervinho - the first part of the overhaul?

Firstly I'll apologise for my absence these past few days. I started in a new job role (same employer) a couple of weeks back and this has meant a new shift system. The early shifts make for something of a long day and are not conducive to writing a post every day - the combination of trying to spend some time with the family and a new-found tiredness come together to make this less of a priority. That being the case it's just as well it's been quiet. I think that, had there been something happening, I would have found the necessary time to write a post. I'm sure I'll gradually get used to the different shift times etc. The good thing is that, by moving in to this new job, I will hopefully still be able to see the vast majority of Arsenal's home matches in the flesh, and maybe some away games when time off permits. Had I stayed where I was that would have been near to impossible.

Enough about me, and on with the important stuff. Ivan Gazidis met the Arsenal Supporters Trust last night, as I'm sure you've seen reported on just about every other Arsenal site today. The key points, as I see them, are the fact that Arsene Wenger is going nowhere, and that this will be a "busy Summer" in the transfer market for Arsenal. It still remains to be seen exactly what that means, and Gazidis contradicted himself by saying this:

"It is very clear we had some shortcomings and in this close season we are going to see some turnover of players. Some new signings will be coming in and some of our existing squad will be going out. As Arsène has said, it will be a busy close season for the club."

But shortly afterwards he made it clear that the level of "spending" would not necessarily be what the fans would want - i.e. there will be little or no speculating to accumulate:

"It is important to recognise that [last season] was not a disaster," he said. "We have a young squad and we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
"The trick will be to identify which parts to keep and which parts to turn over. And we will do that within our financial capabilities."

So which is it? We will be busy and spend the necessary money to challenge, while also selling on the dead-wood? Or will we be making some bargain-basement purchases of players nobody has heard of while moving on Denilson and Bendtner, but keeping the likes of Rosicky and Eboue?
Time of course will give us the answers and it is still early-doors. However, the fact that Manchester United and Liverpool are making early, and expensive, moves for players does rather highlight the issues for Arsenal supporters. Back in 1997 most of the transfer business, and there was lots of it that year, was done before the players came back to training in mid-July. The same thing happened in 2001. I would suggest it's no coincidence that we won the Double in both seasons that followed. We also made a truly big name signing in each of those years (Marc Overmars in 1997, Sol Campbell in 2001).
Arsene has seemingly not yet had a holiday. He's been doing his pundit bit for French television on their post-season international matches. Given that this is the very time he should have been resting, ahead of getting down to some serious transfer dealings, I find it really quite annoying. There is no doubt that Arsene needs a break - the strain was disturbingly visible on him in the last month or so of the season. That being the case he should have had it in the last three weeks - instead of that he has been working for someone else while being paid by Arsenal. I hate to compare Arsene to Harry Redknapp but the Tottenham manager has had his holiday and is now on a "working" break in Denmark scouting at the U21 Championships. Harry, no doubt, will be networking while he's at it and any transfer dealings he does in Scandinavia will not be too taxing for him (ahem). The serious point to make is that Arsene needed a break and hasn't yet had one. Now, when we should be getting down to business, he will either be finally getting a holiday, or working without the necessary break - a scenario that will be bad for him and for Arsenal.

As I said here a couple of weeks back I will not be commenting on transfer rumour unless it's something that looks like a goer. Today Lille have announced that Gervinho will be leaving for England and now they will be talking to Arsenal. It's long been reported that Arsene has been tracking the striker and it will be little surprise to see him sign for Arsenal. I know little about him, apart from the fact that he looks a lot older than his claimed age. I also know that he scored 15 goals in Lille's Title winning effort last season. I have a concern over a forward that scores only 15 goals as his side wins the French League. I hope to be proved wrong if, and when, Gervinho comes to Arsenal (he would seemingly be the replacement for Nicklas Bendtner) but 15 goals doesn't exactly put you in mind of the type of goalscorer we require.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

A signing is made

Jenkinson - hopefully he's just the start

This site enjoyed it's first anniversary yesterday. Unfortunately work prevented me from posting a birthday piece. The day wasn't wasted by Arsenal though as we made our first signing of the Summer. It was widely known, I think, that Carl Jenkinson was signing for Arsenal from Charlton and the deal was confirmed yesterday. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth since then on the grounds that he is not quite the marquee name we would have been hoping for. While most of this is a little unfair on the young man in question I find it perfectly understandable in the circumstances. Sadly there are a few things about the transfer that merely compound the issue right now.
Arsenal weren't actually the people to break the news. Their hand was forced in terms of an official announcement by Charlton Athletic confirming the transfer on their website. Arsenal then, in their usual ham-fisted way, announced to us all that Carl Jenkinson is a 6'1" right-back who can also play in the centre of defence. Why do we need to know that he is over 6' tall and can play in the middle? Did they think that this would begin to calm the clamour from the fans for centre-back cover? Whoever writes the stuff for the official website really should be given a thick-ear for the sort of crap that appears on there.
The Club were also a bit unfortunate that, around thirty minutes after the Jenkinson announcement, Sky reported that Phil Jones was having a medical with Manchester United. I must admit that, at that point, I felt it summed up the gulf between Arsenal and their rivals right now. It struck me that while we were signing kids from the third division (who have made just nine senior appearances) the other big teams were recruiting top young players with two years in the Premier League behind them. When I got home last night I heard on Sky that Jones had held talks with Arsenal and decided to join Man Utd instead. If that is true then I am reassured that Wenger is at least attempting to address the issues. If a player chooses to sign for the Champions, rather than Arsenal (and also stay closer to home) then we can't really complain about the actions of the Club.
With Carl Jenkinson now an Arsenal player I have to assume that he is Bacary Sagna's new understudy. This should mean, surely, that Emmanuel Eboue is one step nearer to the exit door. Whatever we might think of Eboue he is a player of vast Premier League and European Cup experience, making him a fairly valuable commodity, transfer wise. There is talk of a cash, plus player(s), deal involving Gary Cahill (Jones' departure from Blackburn should mean Christopher Samba stays put, thus getting him off the Arsenal radar - and thankfully so as I couldn't see him being a long-term prospect for Arsenal). If that is the case then I reckon Bolton would welcome a player with Eboue's pedigree, and ability to play in at least two positions.
Whatever the case, we have to hope that Carl Jenkinson is the first of many this Summer. Despite the apparent apathy towards his signing from many fans it is not actually directed at the player himself. I know that, once we get going, he will be welcomed by the fans and I hope he has a long and successful time with Arsenal.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Squad Review Part 4

Marouane Chamakh - kept us up there before Christmas

The final instalment in our four day odyssey is the attacking players at Arsenal. As usual there were plenty of goals scored for most of the season, but how did our strikers perform individually?

Robin Van Persie
Arsenal’s star striker missed the start of the season due to his involvement in the World Cup Final. Our Manager felt that rest for RVP and Fabregas would be good for Arsenal in the long-run (Man City and Liverpool had their Dutch and Spanish players involved from the very beginning). As it was Van Persie finally appeared up at Blackburn and lasted all of twenty minutes. We didn’t see him again until Christmas and he only got back in the side in the New Year. When he did get back it is fair to say he had something of an impact. Robin enjoyed his most prolific season in front of goal despite, once again, missing half of it to injury. His goal in the Carling Cup Final looked like it might raise us once again from our stupor, but he left that game injured as well and Arsenal fell apart thereafter. His red-card in Barcelona (a disgraceful piece of refereeing) effectively saw the end of the Champions League campaign. RVP kept us in with a (mathematical) shout in the Title race for a long time, though his goalscoring coincided with a lack of contributions from others. He is the most likely candidate to replace Fabregas as Captain, though I would not be in favour of a centre-forward as skipper.

Carlos Vela
We have the wrong Mexican it would seem. Vela made a reasonable start with a couple of goals in the early matches. Having been given RVP’s old shirt number I began to think we might finally see him do the business. Sadly it wasn’t to be. Vela has failed at Arsenal and he has also failed at West Brom where he couldn’t break in to the team while on loan. He will go down as a player who couldn’t fulfil obvious potential for some reason or another (the most likely being that he is a good time boy who enjoys the high-life a bit too much, or so I have been told).

Theo Walcott
Theo has had his most productive season and I have to say there was a marked improvement at times. I still believe he is far better suited to a central role and would benefit greatly from playing through the middle, off a big man. When Theo gets in on goal, down the centre, he usually makes it count – his goal at Tottenham being a prime example. He still frustrates more than anything else, however, due to his absolute reluctance to run past the opposition. With his pace (he has zero skill) he simply needs to knock the ball beyond a defender and get after it – they will not catch him and would have to foul him to stop him. His crossing has actually improved over the year, though not to the point where you would be confident of him getting on to the head of a colleague. A change to a two man attack next season could benefit Theo more than any other Arsenal player. Wenger has long said he thought Walcott would end up as a central striker – now is the chance to give him his opportunity.

Marouane Chamakh
The new signing was immense before Christmas. He contributed his share of goals but it was his team play that was most impressive. He is the closest I have seen to Alan Smith (Arsenal's version, that is, not the Leeds mummy's boy). Chamakh is excellent with his back to goal, holding up the ball and bringing the midfield in to the game. Arsenal did not play enough to his obvious aerial strengths – the first goal at Wolves showed how deadly he can be in that situation. He was also a very useful defensive addition – his handling of Christopher Samba at Blackburn’s set-pieces early in the season was top class. If there is a criticism to be levelled it is that he is far from clinical when faced with goal and the ball at his feet. Against Tottenham at home he twice turned back towards the halfway-line when one-on-one with Gomes. I don’t understand any centre-forward who would want to do that. Overall I was very impressed with Chamakh and I believe he was seriously under-used by Wenger in the second half of the season – more involvement for him might have given opposition defenders something more to think about.

Nicklas Bendtner
Big Nick has probably played his last game for Arsenal. Regular readers will know I’m a bit of a defender of Bendtner. I don’t believe he is anything like as bad a player as some who get their "opinions" from internet forums would have you believe. I also don’t go in for a lot of the slating he gets for announcements in the press. On the other hand I would be the first to concede that he will never be a World-Class striker. His goal at home to Ipswich shows how good he can be on the ball, but his miss in Barcelona was more indicative of his true ability I feel. This season he was forced to play out wide whenever he did get a game – a rare appearance at centre-forward came in the Carling Cup mauling of Newcastle (a coincidence? I think not). Ironically, given that he should be charged with getting on the end of crosses, Bendtner is probably the best crosser of the ball to have played for Arsenal this season – remember his inch-perfect delivery for Van Persie at Leeds? I, for one, will be sorry to see Bendtner go as I don’t think he got a chance this season – his career stats for goals, to games started, are pretty impressive.

Jay Emmanuel-Thomas
Big Jay was prolific for the Reserves in the first part of the season and put in an energetic cameo as a late sub in the defeat at Chelsea. I had believed he was a better bet than Bendtner this season but Arsene Wenger didn’t agree and loaned him to Cardiff City. Unfortunately he tore up no trees in the Championship and, playing in one of the better sides at that level, that must be a concern. I have heard on a couple of occasions that Arsenal are worried about his attitude and anyone who follows him on Twitter can perhaps understand why. Next season will be make or break for JET and he must take any opportunity that comes his way, or else he will be out of the Club for good I fear.

So there we have it, the entire first-team squad reviewed on their performances this season. All we are able to do now is sit back and see which of the players are on their way out of Arsenal, and who will be signed to join them for next season (incidentally the fixtures are out at the end of next week).

Monday, 6 June 2011

Nasri has no class, Squad Review Part 3

Nasri - no respect for Arsenal

Before I get on with reviewing the midfield players I want to talk about Samir Nasri opening his mouth in the French press. Nasri has admitted he doesn’t know if he will sign an extension to his Arsenal contract. I don’t have too much problem with that – I don’t like it, but it seems to be the way of modern football. I don’t believe four good months makes you worthy of top-dollar wages so I am happy for Arsenal to continue to play hard-ball with Nasri and his agent. What I don’t like is what Nasri has said about Manchester United. Nasri was asked about the possibility of going there and said that he “wanted to see if the offer was real first” (or words to that effect). How to make yourself popular with the Arsenal supporters, eh? This is a disgraceful comment and shows no respect for Arsenal, it’s Manager, or it’s fans. What he has done is everything as bad as anything Adebayor did a couple of years back. He should be sold straight away, for as much as we can squeeze from another Club.

Now, on with the business of the day, and the next installment of the squad review – midfield.

Abou Diaby
Diaby has never recovered from having his leg smashed at Sunderland five years ago. Quite how Arsene Wenger has justified the keeping of Diaby, when he is physically incapable of playing more than two games in a row over the past couple of years is incomprehensible. Diaby has ability, but his attitude appears lazy at times and he slows Arsenal’s game down far too often when he gets possession. How would it have been without the leg-break? We’ll never know the answer to that, but I do know that I want him out of Arsenal now.

Cesc Fabregas
In January Fabregas played his best football of the season. He twice rescued us in the FA Cup against lower division opposition, but his season (and I still believe it will be his last) will be remembered for the games against Barcelona. He did little in the home leg, and was a disgrace in the away leg. The excuse that he was carrying an injury is a poor one – if he felt unfit then he should not have been selfish enough to go out on the pitch and stay there for over an hour. All in all it was a disappointing season for Fabregas in every way. Having said that, had he been fit for the Carling Cup Final then who knows how the last three months might have gone for Arsenal? With the transfer circus about to start again, and his heart so obviously elsewhere, I would accept any bid in excess of £40m and sell the Captain (we wouldn’t miss his leadership, even if his passing ability would be a massive loss).

Tomas Rosicky
Rosicky’s near 18 months out with injury clearly finished the Czech international as a top footballer. There is no pace about Rosicky and his ability is a shadow of what it once was. His inclusion in the starting XI for the Carling Cup Final, ahead of Nicklas Bendtner, remains possibly the most mystifying of the season from Wenger. He has rarely been seen since then and I am sure he won’t be at Arsenal when we get going again next season. One goal in two years is a disgrace.

Samir Nasri
Seemed a stick-on for the various player of the year awards at Christmas. Nasri was Arsenal’s standout performer from the beginning of pre-season through to the New Year. Since then he has been as anonymous as he was at any time in the previous three years (that doesn’t explain why Gareth Bale beat him to the PFA award though). Nasri’s goals and pace drove Arsenal forward in the early part of the season and got him his own song with the Arsenal fans (now copied by many, including those mugs from Tottenham). That he now seems willing to chuck it all back in the faces of Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal fans (see above) perhaps tells us what we need to know about his character.

The Brazilian is now firmly established as a “boo-boy” for the fans. When he arrived I felt Denilson had very real potential and looked like he could become a top player. He has regressed in to something of a caricature who seems destined to always go sideways or backwards. There is nothing incisive or exciting about his game. He has also been shown up as increasingly lazy in defensive areas of the pitch, regularly failing to track back effectively. Denilson has already announced that he wants to leave and I am sure nobody will be standing in his way.

Aaron Ramsey
Two loan spells allowed Rambo to get fit for a late season return to the Arsenal team. He capped off his comeback with the winner against Manchester United in the only late season highlight for Arsenal. He seems to be able to string more than a couple of games together at this stage, which is already a better recovery than Diaby or Eduardo made. A good pre-season could see Ramsey go from strength to strength next time around.

Alex Song
I get annoyed when I see Alex Song marauding in to the opponents penalty area. In some of the early games it got us an important goal or two. However you just knew it was a matter of time before it would all fall apart at the back. Arsenal need a defensive midfield player to be exactly that. Sergio Busquets understands his role for Barcelona and does it very well. We need Song to understand his role for Arsenal (and we need the Manager to be forceful in telling him what his role is). We also need some genuine competition for Song’s place in the team – he is under no pressure whatsoever and that is not healthy.

Jack Wilshere
Arsenal’s player of the season. The youngster was thrown in at the start of the season (not before time in my view) and responded superbly. He suffered a slight dip midway through the season when the games looked like catching up with him a bit. Wenger handled that well and gave him a bit of rest whenever possible and his end to the season was as impressive as his start. I’d like to see him run at people more, and to shoot more, but we have the most exciting prospect at English football at Arsenal and must look after him properly. I also don’t go in for this “too young to be Captain” nonsense – Tony Adams was 19.

Andrey Arshavin
What a disappointment he was this season. Arshavin still managed to get goals and numerous assists despite an obvious lack of application and effort. Imagine what he might have done had he been trying. The Russian is a World-Class footballer, but that’s only any good if you want to put it in on the pitch. He lost most of his goodwill from the fans and it would not surprise me if he were to move on in the Summer.

Craig Eastmond
Eastmond would have been hoping to kick on from his numerous first-team games the previous year. It didn’t happen for him because he really isn’t good enough. He’s not strong enough to play in midfield and not quick enough to play at right-back. It was no surprise to see him loaned out but his lack of games at the lower level perhaps should tell us something.

Conor Henderson
Made his debut in the FA Cup replay against Orient and did well. Henderson will almost certainly be sent on loan for next season. It will be interesting to see what division he plays in as that will give an indication of whether he has a future with Arsenal.

Henri Lansbury
When he played in the superb win against Spurs in the Carling Cup Arsene Wenger compared Lansbury to Ray Parlour. He had capped a super performance with his first Arsenal goal and looked set to form part of the main squad. I was amazed, therefore, to see him get loaned to Norwich for the season. This seemed illogical as he had spent the previous season at the same level with Watford. A short-term loan to a Premier League side might have made some sense, but not this. Lansbury was a star performer for the Canaries as they got promotion though his work towards the end of the season was largely done from the bench. I hope to see more of him in an Arsenal shirt next season.

Emmanuel Frimpong
Injury robbed the youngster of his chance to understudy for Alex Song this season. He was superb in the pre-season campaign, including the Emirates Cup. He has made his comeback towards the end of the season and I thought he might have earned a place on the bench for some of the final few games. I expect him to be with the first-team again for pre-season.

That's it for today. I'll review the strikers at some point in the next couple of days.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Squad Review Part 2

Back to his best this season

Continuing on from yesterday I am reviewing the role of the defenders in the Arsenal squad today.

Bacary Sagna
In the pre-Christmas piece I linked to yesterday I wrote how Sagna had consistently failed to live up to his first season at Arsenal. I now take that back. Sagna had an excellent season this year and was back at his very best. He was, by far, the most consistent of Arsenal’s defenders and thoroughly merited his place in the PFA Team of the Year. He is top class when he plays like he has this season and I hope he can do it again come August. His crossing got much better as the season went on, though improvement in that area is still required. Also scored a couple of crackers.

Thomas Vermaelen
“If only he had stayed fit” is a common refrain from Gooners this season. Unfortunately he didn’t. If he had done, however, we would have seen precious little of Johan DjourouArsene Wenger had him behind Koscielny and Squillaci. That said, there can be no doubt that Vermaelen was a major loss to us this season. How will his injury have affected his long-term future is a question I keep asking myself. A serious Achilles injury may have robbed him of the natural “spring” he relies upon (Vermaelen is not a tall guy) to win those headers at either end. He is a candidate to replace Fabregas as Captain.

Laurent Koscielny
Koscielny’s transfer fee (apparently around £10m) seems to have been an exorbitant one for a player with only one year in the French First Division. Koscielny has youth on his side and has shown some promise on occasion. His performance in the first-leg against Barcelona was top class and showed us what he could be capable of in the future. The concern I have with him is that he consistently gets beaten in the air, which is not overly surprising when you consider he is no giant. He is often second to the ball, which led to his two red cards in the earlier parts of the season. Unfortunately for Koscielny there was nowhere to hide in his first season, with Vermaelen injured and Squillaci not up to it (more below), so he was thrown in at the deep end. There is more to come from Koscielny but he will benefit from a spell as third or fourth choice.

Sebastien Squillaci
Oh dear. Arsene Wenger lauded Squiallaci as “tough” and “good in the air” when he arrived. Sadly we have seen precious little evidence of this. In the early games it seemed that Koscielny was the weaker of the pair and Squillaci was carrying him. He was even made Captain for the game at Chelsea. As time wore on it became obvious that the weak link was actually Squillaci. He is slow and cumbersome, and awful with the ball at his feet. His performances became worse as the season went on and this reached its nadir against Villa in the final home game. His removal at half-time, which is something Wenger never does, was surely the final nail in the coffin of his Arsenal career. If and when a new centre-half comes in I expect Squillaci to be quickly going the other way.

Johan Djourou
The most pleasant surprise of the season. Seemingly surplus to requirements in the early matches Djourou came in and did badly on his rare appearances. However, when he got a run in the side the big Swiss went from strength to strength. In the darkest months of the Winter he was a stand-out performer and certainly the most improved player in the squad. I don’t know what happened to his form as the season finished but, given he had never got close to playing a full season before this one, I am happy to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was tired. Certainly our best centre-half this season.

Gael Clichy
Birmingham 2008 was the turning-point for a number of players at Arsenal, the most obvious being Eduardo and William Gallas. What is often overlooked is that it also marked the beginning of a downward spiral from which Gael Clichy has been unable to remove himself. Since giving away the penalty that day (it was a bad decision by the referee, but made easy for him by the sheer foolishness of the situation Clichy had engineered for himself) Clichy has been an accident waiting to happen. When Ashley Cole left there were few of us too downbeat about it as Clichy was a better player at his age than Cole had been. Unfortunately he has simply not developed since then. Clichy continues to suffer serious lapses in concentration, and makes the same errors over and over again. As an attacking force he is a complete waste of space – I have never seen anyone so incapable of putting in a good cross on a regular basis. His omission from the final few games (“injured”) tells me he is on his way.

Emmanuel Eboue
This time last year I would have had Eboue in the “midfielders” part of this review. This season he was very much the understudy to Bacary Sagna. For me he had two decent matches – the first leg of the Barcelona tie, and the away game at Blackpool. Every other appearance from Eboue showed him displaying the kind of form that saw him booed by his own supporters a couple of years back. Eboue is obviously popular with his colleagues and still enjoys some kind of cult following among those who travel to away games. Unfortunately the regression in his form has been terrible and I don’t see what he offers to the side. A new understudy to Sagna (which appears likely if Carl Jenkinson arrives from Charlton) will hopefully see Eboue on his way out of Arsenal.

Kieran Gibbs
At the start of the season Gibbs seemed destined for greatness and would have probably usurped Clichy early on had he managed to show a new propensity for staying fit for five minutes. Nine months on and Gibbs’ England debut in August seems a very long time ago. He is part of the England U21 squad for their European Championship but I can see him being left out of the starting eleven – unthinkable at the start of this season. Kieran has basic deficiencies in his defensive ability. He needs to be coached properly in how to defend and, particularly, where to position himself. His performances have been pretty awful with the exception of a decent second-half against Aston Villa. He must improve next season or he could be shown the door.

Armand Traore
Traore was loaned to Juventus at the start of the season. He immediately got injured and didn’t make his debut until well in to the season. After that he failed to make any real impression on a weak Juve team. I saw one or two of his games in the Europa League and he didn’t exactly stand out. Ultimately Traore is not really ever going to be good enough, though he remains the best crosser of a ball on the Arsenal staff. Time to cut our losses on Traore and put him on a free if nobody is willing to pay.

Ignasi Miquel
Captain of the Reserves, Miquel is a bit too slight to be considered for the first-team. A couple of decent, if unspectacular, performances against Leyton Orient perhaps betrayed his natural level. He’ll be an Arsenal player next season, though probably looking at a loan somewhere else.

Kyle Bartley
Recalled from loan at Sheffield United at the end of January the former (very successful) Youth Team Captain looked set for a couple of games in the first-team. Instead he was immediately loaned out again to Rangers where an injury robbed him of his place in their successful end to the season. I watched a good few of his games for Rangers where he played at centre-half and, unusually, in the defensive midfield role. I liked his no-nonsense tackling and he was more than happy to “mix-it” when they played Celtic. He seems keen to return to Rangers again for the next campaign and is seemingly surplus to requirements at Arsenal. I would rather see him sold than loaned if he has no future with us. Bartley would surely have been a far better bet than Squillaci, had he been allowed the chance at Arsenal.

The midfielders are up next. You'll be able to read that either tomorrow or on Monday.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Squad Review Part 1

Number One

As it’s the end of the season, and it’s quiet, I want to go through the squad, player by player and assess their season. The assessment of each player is relatively brief and reflects what I feel I’ve seen since July last year. I’m not going in to the nonsense business of rating each player with a score or some kind of grade - the words should be enough to show what I think. There are a number of players who I think should be shipped out, though I don’t expect it to happen in a number of cases.

Before I get around to judging the players I have just re-read my post from 22nd December in which I reviewed the season at it’s halfway stage. It’s bizarre to look back and find that your worst fears were all realised, and all for the reasons you predicted some six months back.

I’ll split this up in to four separate posts, starting with the goalkeepers and moving on through the defence, midfield and attack over the next few days.

Here we go then:

Manuel Almunia
It was a nasty surprise to many when Manuel lined up in goal at Anfield on the opening day of the season. Most of us thought we’d seen the last of him, especially with Wenger clearly trying to sign a replacement all Summer. It really was only a matter of time before it all started to go wrong and, sure enough, when West Brom came to town Almunia fell apart. I actually don’t think he’s that bad, but he has a serious confidence problem and that is not a good thing for a goalkeeper. He would have been, and was, a decent back-up option, but he is completely shot now. His performance in the return game with West Brom (which came hot on the heels of his best ever game for Arsenal at Barcelona) sealed his fate for good. Best of luck Manuel, but please be on your way now.

Lukasz Fabianski
A shoulder injury has perhaps ruined Fabianski’s final opportunity to stake his claim to be Arsenal’s number one. The Pole had put in some first-rate performances before Christmas – Wolves and Everton away being cases in point. He made only one really serious error that I can recall, against Newcastle at home, but the defence always seemed to be even more on edge when he was in goal – even more so than when Manuel was playing. I can’t see Fabianski getting back in the side on merit and I don’t believe he will be prepared to play second-fiddle his compatriot and see his place in the Poland team also go by the wayside. It would be fair all round if Fabianski was allowed to move on, with our best wishes.

Vito Mannone
The Italian stopper didn’t make an appearance for Arsenal this season. He had a couple of loan spells at Hull City, the first of which was marred by injury. I have to confess that I paid little attention to how he was getting on in the Championship so it’s difficult to say whether or not he did well. Whatever the case may be he is never going to make it at Arsenal so should also be gently moved along.

Jens Lehmann
The Invincibles goalkeeper returned to make one appearance, one week shy of being Arsenal’s oldest ever player, at Blackpool. That he was more busy than you would have hoped was an indictment on Arsenal’s late season failings. That he coped with it really quite well says it all about the professionalism of the Great Man. Jens is hoping to get his coaching qualifications sorted, but has not ruled out returning to Arsenal as a player next season, if so offered. Personally I would appoint him player/coach and put him in charge of the goalkeepers. He would be third-choice in the goalkeeping stakes, with some quality brought in as the first line of back-up.

Wojciech Szczesny
The season began with Szczesny bemoaning his lack of first-team opportunity and threatening to not sign a new deal with the Club. It ended with him seemingly established as the first-choice, and there for years to come. I’m still not entirely convinced, but he is certainly better than the others available in the Club right now. I think that, if Wenger intends for Szczesny to continue as number one from now on then some genuine, experienced quality must be brought in as his back-up – even Robert Green might do a job in that regard. All in all I think Wojciech will be quietly happy with his season from a personal viewpoint, even if the team fell woefully short in the end.

The defenders in the squad will be assessed in tomorrow's post. Please let me know your views on the players and their season/future in the comments section.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Where did it all start to go wrong for Arsene?

Wenger's biggest mistake

Cast your mind back to the Summer of 2005. We’d had a pretty average season (we had imploded after the Mike Riley-induced defeat at Old Trafford), rounded off by the most fortunate Cup Final victory in our history. As a result we all went off in to the Summer wilderness months with, at least, a bit of silverware to celebrate. The fact that the FA Cup had been won by the boot of our Captain, Patrick Vieira, was a delightful bonus and we were safe in the knowledge that, having committed himself to Arsenal the previous Summer, we could ignore any rumours that he would be leaving. The Summer months in the preceding four or five years had been constantly marred by the “will he, won’t he” stories concerning Vieira and Real Madrid. Since his new contract had been signed there were to be no overtures from the Spaniards this year.
In light of all that it came as something of a shock when it was reported that Arsenal were to sell their most important player, their Captain, to one of their major European rivals. Why were we doing this? What could possibly be the benefit to Arsenal of selling the Captain and inspiration of the Club? Over the past six years I feel we have got the answer to the second of those questions – nothing. Nobody has ever adequately answered the first question.
On the day that Vieira was sold by Arsenal I felt depressed. I just could not understand why, after all the years when we probably expected him to leave through his own desire, Arsenal had taken the decision to sell. I felt that a cloud seemed to envelop the whole Club and the depression hung over the entire final season at Highbury. It seemed that the players were in some kind of malaise throughout that year, even after Juventus had been beaten in the European Cup, with Fabregas dominating Vieira in midfield.
Arsene Wenger, it seems, could see how good Cesc Fabregas was going to be and decided that Vieira was surplus to requirements. My thoughts back then were that it would surely be better to have Vieira and Fabregas together at Arsenal, working in tandem – nothing in the intervening years has led me to change that view. I was also of the opinion that, if Wenger felt Vieira’s legs were going, then he could have been converted in to a very fine centre-half. Vieira was always particularly strong in the air, and we know how he could tackle, so he would have been the ideal answer to what has become something of a conundrum over the past few years. Failing that he could have switched Gilberto Silva to centre-back (where he had played with some success on the odd occasion) with Vieira taking on a more defensive role in the Arsenal midfield.
Since Patrick Vieira was sold by Arsenal we have not had a truly inspirational Captain in our side. The closest we had was when Gilberto replaced the injured Thierry Henry for large parts of the 06-07 season, though his was a Captaincy based on respect rather than following his deeds. In 2005 we lost our tough-tackling midfield general, and genuine hard-man. This element has never been replaced in the Arsenal team. The fact that Arsenal have been seen as a soft-touch over the past few years would not have happened had Patrick still been around. Opposition cloggers would not have been able to take liberties had Vieira still been here – I would even go so far as to say that the broken legs of Diaby, Eduardo and Ramsey would probably not have happened had he been on the pitch, such was the fear he struck in to the opponents. Roy Keane backed down from very few people, but he didn’t want a bar of Vieira. Just watch the film of the tunnel incident from February 2005 for evidence – Keane’s “hold me back, boys” routine was fooling nobody.
The point I’m trying to make here is that selling Patrick Vieira is the biggest mistake Arsene Wenger has made as Arsenal Manager. It all started to go wrong from that day forwards. We have never been able to get over the loss of Vieira and, until we sign someone with his qualities both on the ball and as a leader, we will struggle to challenge genuinely for the major prizes.