2nd September 2015: Window verdict? We should have widened the hunt

So, after the transfer deadline passed yesterday without so much as a Kim Kallstrom-style scrap to provide supporters craving new signings with something to chew on, Arsene Wenger has confirmed the suspicion among many, that our lack of movement was due to a perceived shortage of squad-enhancing talent available in the market.

Speaking exclusively to beIN Sports, the boss highlighted Man United’s extravagant outlay on Monaco’s 19 year old prospect Anthony Martial, as the perfect illustration of demand exceeding supply like Frank Lampard shopping for cake. He said:

What happened last night with Monaco, who sold Martial to Manchester United for €80m, I’ve heard … Martial scored 11 goals in the French championship – that sums it up well. That means it’s not the money that’s missing at the moment, it’s not the desire of investment that is missing, it’s the number of players available who can strengthen the big clubs.

Which I suppose is true to an extent. Ask any number of football fans to name the world’s top set of true number 9s for instance, and you’re likely to hear the same names over and again; Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema, Edinson Cavani and Sergio Aguero. Yet how many were ever likely to be sold this summer? Certainly not the first two or the last on the list, but maybe, at a stretch, the three names in the middle may have been attainable.

There were rumours of Real Madrid’s willingness to part with Benzema providing they could secure Marco Reus as his replacement and perhaps that’s what led us to believe we could tempt the Frenchman from the Spanish capital. But while we seemingly put our eggs in that one Bernabeu-based basket, accomplished finishers a level or two down, like, say, Carlos Bacca, Luiz Adriano and Jackson Martinez, were being enticed elsewhere. These forwards may not be seen as starry as Benzema and co, yet many would consider them an improvement on our current options up front.

So you could say the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust have a point in suggesting the club would benefit from a review into it’s strategy for identifying and securing new recruits for the first-team squad:

This isn’t an issue that affects just one transfer window and seems to indicate a wider structural issue. In recent years Arsenal have overhauled both their Academy and their medical set-up. We urge the board to now open a full review into its arrangements for scouting and purchasing players.

Yet Arsene can point to great purchases in the last few windows to counter that claim and as it happens, he did just that:

Am I happy with the investment I make? Yes, every time. I bought Sánchez, I bought Özil, I bought Cech, I bought Gabriel last year. But when you have to invest you have to find the players to invest in. The problem at the moment is finding the players that guarantee you are a better team afterwards.

Personally, I’m guessing we may have done things differently this summer given the chance again. Of course I can’t be sure, just as every other fan, reporter or pundit can’t unless any are privy to inside information, but it feels as though there was real desire on both the manager and the club’s part to improve the squad. Like we’ve gambled on first-choice targets being secured and sacrificed second and third-choice options in doing so.

If for example we’d known Benzema was a complete no-go from the get-go, a player like Adriano – the second top-scorer in last season’s Champions League with nine, and just one shy of the number managed by the freakish talents of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar – who moved from Ukraine to Italy for a paltry fee of 8 millions euros, would, on paper, have been the perfect addition. A relatively cheap roll of the dice for a player in his prime at 28, and proven at the highest level in European competition. What’s the down side?

In fact, to quote Arsene himself, he once said something along the lines of ‘the only guarantee with an expensive purchase is expensive wages’, so why the sudden complete about turn? Why cant we take calculataed risks with all sorts of players if we think they’ll improve our squad over any length of term? If a 30-something player can be brought in to improve the squad for a season or two, a Davor Suker-esque signing if you will, why not?

Then of course we have the issue with our lack of like-for-like, specialist defensive-midfield cover/competition for Francis Coquelin. Geoffrey Kondogbia – who I thought was outstanding against us twice at Emirates stadium last season (once in pre-season and again when it mattered more in the Champions League) – admittedly commanded a hefty fee when he moved to Inter Milan but had talent, time – and hence resale value – going for him.

Then there’s Grzegorz Krychowiak, rated by many regular La Liga spectators as the best out-and-out defensive midfielder in Spain – bar possibly Javier Mascherano, who plays most of his football further back these days anyway. The fast, imposing Pole had a widely reported, affordable release clause and many respected reporters were suggesting Arsenal interest was very real this summer. But a bit like Benzema, he took to social media towards the end of the window to declare he was staying with his present employers. Now perhaps they were both just responding to completely fabricated reports of Arsenal interest, or maybe, negotiations came to an irreparable impasse.

And even if none of the players I’ve mentioned above were ever true targets these last couple of months, surely there are others out there who could have added something to our squad? Bayern Munich bought Douglas Costa and he looks incredible so far this season. Arturo Vidal also moved to Bavaria – would he not have been a better option than Mikel Arteta or Mikel Flamini to challenge Coquelin? How about Steven N’Zonzi as a deputy for Coquelin? And with now relaxed work permit rules, I’ll stick my neck out and suggest there might just be a a few south American stars playing in their domestic leagues and primed to make waves across the ocean in Europe.

At the same time, I don’t for a second doubt the intentions or efforts of the boss and his staff. I think they tried but in the end got it wrong, when with a little more luck they may have been far more successful this summer. Arsene will be the first to admit everyone can always improve and the AST urging the club to evaluate their strategy this summer can only be a good thing. I would suggest scouting should be a key concern if we genuinely didn’t think there were enough players out there who could strengthen our side. Just as with Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott in front of goal recently, perhaps we need more conviction next time, along with increased awareness of opportunity.

On the bright side, with one glaring oversight in defensive midfield, I still think we have a very talented, exciting set of players at an average age where improvement is almost guaranteed. The rapid returns from injury of Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere now obviously take on added importance  – hopefully both aren’t far from full fitness. And this piece on the official site evaluates Arsene’s options brilliantly I think.

Til tomorrow.

31st August 2015: Gabriel Barbosa allegedly linked as Griezmann teases on Twitter

So, the eagerly anticipated final stages of this summer’s transfer window haven’t quite created the crescendo of noise many were waiting for, as markets ring the closing bell all around Europe.

After 11pm tonight, most clubs in the major leagues across the continent won’t be able to sign any new players, but crucially, can still sell to English teams with our deadline for registering new recruits not until 6pm tomorrow.

So far, the biggest deals of the day both involve Manchester United, with David de Gea reportedly set to swap places with Real Madrid ‘keeper Keylor Navas, and Antony Martial poised to sign for United from Monaco for a fee as scandalously high as Diego Maradona at USA 94.

Meanwhile, Arsenal stories this rain-soaked Bank Holiday have been limited to a potential outgoing, with Joel Campbell rumoured to be on the way to France with Rennes. I can’t say I’m surprised or disappointed or anything really, because the window hasn’t shut yet. But if we haven’t brought anyone in by this time tomorrow, I’m guessing my overwhelming feeling would be one of confusion.

Anyway, we’ll deal with that if and when it comes to it but for a glimpse into the Twitter-powered torpedo of Arsenal-related transfer rumours out there today, here’s some of the names to have cropped up on my timeline:

  1. Alexandre Pato – because somebody noticed the former AC Milan forward follows Arsenal on Twitter.
  2. Antoine Griezmann – he cryptically tweeted that he’ll find his ‘match’ tomorrow and advised followers to ‘stay tuned’, which did make me wonder if he was referring to a new club, or a new wag. Both are equally possible at this stage.
  3. Gabriel Barbosa – apparently reports from Turkey, a country he allegedly declined to move to recently, suggest Arsenal are in for the latest teenage Santos striker to be dubbed ‘the new Neymar’.
  4. Edinson Cavani – Arsene Wenger’s been snapped on a flight to Paris which must mean he’s negotiating for a PSG player. Plus Match of the Day and the BBC seem to think it’s a possibility. I don’t see it.
  5. Adrien Rabiot – see above.
  6. Nacho Monreal – he started following Athletic Bilbao on Twitter today and has been repeatedly linked to the Basque club in recent times. It’d be a strange one, although Napoli’s left back Faouzi Ghoulam was strongly linked with a move to Arsenal earlier this summer. Could 2 plus 2 make 4 for once? Probably not now, as Spain’s deadline passes in about half an hour as I type.

And I’ll stop there because it’s rather pointless and also a little depressing. On the one hand I’m always confident in our players, particularly our current collection and also implicitly trust Arsene’s ability to improve them on the training pitch. Yet on the other I can’t get my head around the possibility of Petr Cech being our only addition this summer, particularly when we’re so awash with disposable income for player investment.

Moving away from transfer talk and the boss has been talking to the official site about David Ospina’s reaction to being demoted to reserve keeper and how he expects the Columbian to challenge Cech for a starting place. He said:

He’s responded very well. David Ospina is a very strong man and a fantastic goalkeeper. He’s ready for the fight and will give Petr Cech a hard time. There will be enough room for him to play games as well, maybe sometimes to come in during the season. Why shouldn’t he be able to win his No 1 shirt back? That’s the target for him and I’m convinced he will fight for that.

I think it’s safe to suspect that barring any injury or suspension for Cech, Ospina’s best-case scenario would see him start all our domestic cup games this season but personally I’m glad we have genuine quality in reserve should he be needed in the two main competitions. Now if we could just add the same depth to the defensive midfield and central striker positions …

Back tomorrow when, with a little luck, I’ll have a new signing or two to talk about.

See you next month.

26th August 2015: Draws galore

Welcome back. The draw for the third round of the League Cup was made last night and we got Tottenham away. Nothing much to add really, other than Sky Sports will be showing it live and I’m looking forward to Jeff Reine-Adelaide taking the tournament by storm.

Incidentally, the draw for the group stages of the Champions League is made tomorrow afternoon and looking at this piece on the official site, I’ll take PSV Eindhoven, Olympique Lyonnais and Malmo please. More likely though, is that we’ll get PSG, Sevilla and Wolfsburg, giving our new signings Edinson Cavani, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Kevin de Bruyne the opportunity to return to their former stomping grounds.

In seriousness though, it feels a bit odd seeing the likes of Real Madrid, winners of the competition as recently as 2014, in Pot 2, whilst Pot 1 is populated by teams such as Benfica, Zenit and PSV, but then I guess it is called the Champions League for a reason, so having domestic title winners in the top pot makes sense.

The changes in regulation for how seeds are selected also provides potential for some really big games in the group stages, which perhaps the competition as a whole could do with given the mundane manner of many group stage fixtures in previous years.

And speaking of draws, following ours with Liverpool on Monday night, Mesut Ozil has been speaking to Arsenal Player about his desire to add more goals to his game. Yet the German also pointed out that his signature skillset remains picking out a pass and ensuring he does the right thing for the team is paramount. He said:

I want to score more goals than in the last two seasons and that’s my aim for this season. What’s important firstly is that we are successful as a team. That’s most crucial for us and as I said, for me it’s not just goals and assists that mean everything, what’s more important is that we’re successful as a team. My aim is to help the team and I’ll do all I can to achieve that. In truth I’m more the sort of player who doesn’t really go for goal, I tend to look for my team-mates and think, ‘Can I play this pass?’. I think now and then I need to become a bit more selfish – then I’d definitely score more goals. But I’m a player who thinks for the team first and not for my own needs and that’s why I will carry on to play the way I always do. I think that’s one of my distinguishing characteristics.

Whilst it’s great to hear Mesut making noises about upping his goals output, I hope more of his colleagues are doing the same because Francis Coquelin aside, the other five members of any front six we choose should be regularly contributing to our tally. Particularly while our 70 goal-a-season, universe-class striker remains elusive in the transfer market.

One such player is Santi Cazorla and the perma-grinning, string-puller has also been talking to Arsenal Player about how he loves his role in the middle of the park as he gets lots of touches of the ball and that makes him as happy as Wayne Rooney at Wimpy. The Spaniard said:

I’m always ready to play in any position on the field. Luckily I’ve played in many different places, such as both wings, behind the striker or as a midfielder. Therefore, I am no stranger to this new position. As soon as the manager informed me about my role change, I told him I was ready for it. To be honest I’ve found myself very comfortable in this new position since the very first day. I’m a player who needs to touch the ball as much as possible and for any possible purpose on the pitch, from giving an assist to a short pass. The more I touch the ball, the more confident I get and that’s why I need to have contact with the ball. If I don’t touch it for a period of time I feel uneasy. Thanks to playing in this new position, I’m touching the ball a lot and that makes me happy. I’m loving my new position on the pitch.

And I’m loving you in your new position too Santi, most of the time anyway. I mean, I understand there are certain games where, as Arsene Wenger himself said recently, he prefers the more athletic, physical qualities of Aaron Ramsey alongside Coquelin, but for me, those games are the bigger ones where we may not dominate the ball as much and instead adopt a more counter-attacking style.

For the rest, and certainly at home, I much prefer the ball re-cycling and game-controlling qualities Cazorla offers from the middle. But I’ve said that before. More than once. So I’ll stop now.

See you on Thursday.

23rd August 2015: Wenger should act like Frank Lucas

Sunday salutations. So today wasn’t nearly as good as yesterday, both weather-wise and as far as our rivals dropping points is concerned.

It rained all morning, then, despite John Terry compounding last week’s embarrassing half-time removal by getting himself sent-off at the Hawthorns this afternoon, West Brom being awful at football meant they couldn’t capitalize on their numerical advantage for most of the second half and lost 3-2.

To make matters worse, over at Goodison park, Man City continued their perfect start to the new season by beating Everton 2-0. Even without Kevin de Bruyne, the best performer in the Bundesliga last term according to most observers, who’s strongly rumoured to be signing for City before the close of the transfer window, they’ll be difficult to keep up with, if the first three games are anything to go by. Their starting eleven is already pretty scary and they boast depth no other squad in England can come close to matching.

Unless of course we decide to sign a defensive midfielder like the highly-rated Krychowiak from Sevilla and a long-sought, deadly, world class striker. Then, I think, with everyone fit our squad would look almost as frightening as City’s, and more games would be won in the tunnel before kick-off through postural intimidation, like in the good, old Vieira era. One steely stare from Cavani would make opponents instantly sh*t themselves and the game would be mentally won before it had begun.

In seriousness though, we do need an upgrade at centre forward if we use, say, Sergio Aguero as the benchmark. Yet finding another player of similar striking pedigree, let alone one who is available for purchase, is clearly a very difficult task – something Arsene Wenger again highlighted at his pre-match press conference on Friday:

There’s a shortage in the world (of number nines). It confirms what I just said, that there’s a difference between financial power nowadays and the availability of top-class players. It is simple. For any deal, when you want to buy something you go to see the owner and if he doesn’t want to sell, he doesn’t want to sell. You cannot buy. In our job it is exactly like that. When the players are not free you cannot buy them because it’s the club who decides, the person who owns the contract who decides. In Europe you have maybe 15 clubs with a huge financial resource.

We’ve all been over the usual candidates countless times, the likes of Cavani, Higuain, Benzema etc, but the alternative, if none of the ready-made ones are attainable, is to try to unearth the next top striker. Leading up to the winter window late last year, Paulo Dybala was linked with a move to Arsenal from Palermo and is tipped by many to be the next great Argentine striker.

Of course there’s no way of knowing for certain if we were definitely interested, but I think it was the Palermo owner who revealed our interest in the player, which is as close to confirmation as you could ask for in these matters. And although Dybala’s since opted to remain in Italy and joined Juventus, his consideration as an addition does suggest Arsene has been searching for an Ajax Suarez or a Palermo Cavani.

With changes to work permit rules taking effect this summer, which I believe basically mean any player costing ten million pounds or more is automatically eligible to play in England, perhaps Arsene should act like Denzil Washington in American Gangster and go straight to the source.

Why not cut out the traditional launch pads for south Americans in Europe, like Porto and Palermo, and buy the most promising, available, young forward playing in undeniably the most prolific footballing continent when it comes to producing great strikers?

Don’t ask me which players exactly, because that’s not my job for one, and coverage of the Latin American leagues is still pretty limited in the UK. But I’d wager there’s at least a few soon-to-be world class strikers rising up the ranks at places like River Plate, Peñarol and São Paulo and if we don’t have scouts in place who can identify them, then we should get some, because it would be a whole lot easier than scouring a European market, where demand currently far exceeds supply.

By the way, if anyone from the club is reading, I’m ready and available to be stationed in Gremio to look out for the next Ronaldinho. Just saying.

See you next week.

24th July 2015: Lord Harris blabs ‘budget’ and striker target

Welcome back. If you haven’t been in London today, then lucky you, because it’s been raining all day like John Terry’s face in Moscow in 2008. So much so in fact, that an Arsenal XI’s fixture against Boreham Wood scheduled for this evening has been called off.

On a a brighter note however, one of our club directors, Lord Harris, has hilariously decided he’s had quite enough of Arsenal’s undisclosed fees fetish. He’s tired of our insistence for sworn secrecy from other clubs and agents. And he’s had just about as much as he can take of our penchant for cloak-and-dagger transfer deals.

So he’s defiantly disclosed that not only do we have £200 million burning a big, fat striker shaped hole in our club coffers, but that we’re so minted, only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are beyond our financial reach.

He said:

We could go into the market and probably buy any player in the world, apart from half a dozen who are un-buyable. In the accounts, there’s over £200million in the bank. You could say to Arsene we’ve got no money and he wouldn’t worry, or you could give him £100m and he might not spend it. At the moment there are no plans to sign anyone, unless he finds a real superstar like Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez. He’s looking for one of those but there aren’t many available. We would back him to break the club’s transfer record. If he wanted the man, he could have him. Apart from Messi and Ronaldo, he could have any player. We will probably have to break the club record to get the man he wants.

Arsene must have needed a couple of stiff Evians, followed by a lie down when he read that. Unsurprisingly, the boss was quick to back-track on Harris’ behalf when he spoke at his pre Emirates Cup press conference this morning, saying:

He has gone a bit overboard because that’s not true. We are in a situation – I explained many times – where we are working hard if an opportunity comes up to do something, but we are not in the need.

But Harris wasn’t satisfied simply by broadcasting the club’s bank balance. He also brazenly divulged that we’re hot on the heels of a new centre forward, one who is eager to make the switch to the Gunners, saying:

We get a list of the players that Wenger wants. On the list is a centre forward, but I’m not going to tell you who he is. You’ve got to get the other team to want to sell him, but I think he wants to come. It basically comes down to whether the other team can find a superstar to replace him, because they don’t have to sell.

Potential purchases in the striker’s department have already been discussed by most of the internet so far this window, and the consensus reached is that one of Karim Benzema, Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain, Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Robert Lewandowski must be the mystery target. I don’t think Alexandre Lacazette or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang come close to that calibre if I’m honest.

Who is our mystery striker target?

Yet looking at those first five names, not one seems attainable. Karim Benzema’s agent insists his client is staying in Madrid, Napoli’s owner is said to wants silly money for Higuain, Lewandowski makes no sense, unless Pep Guardiola’s pining for a false nine, which leaves just the PSG duo.

Yet Ibrahimovic is clearly past his peak as he nears his mid-thirties, and although he’s rumoured to be for sale, a move back to Milan has been strongly mooted. So we’re left with Cavani but if the Swede leaves then surely PSG won’t also discard the Uruguayan? All that considered, I can exclusively reveal that no-one, especially me, has any f*cking idea who the man in question is most likely to be.

Elsewhere, with the Emirates Cup kicking off tomorrow, Arsene has revealed Wojciech Szczęsny won’t be involved as he’s close to a loan move to Roma, whilst Danny Welbeck and Mathieu Flamini will also miss out through injury.

A bit of a short one today but that’s your lot I’m afraid. I’ll be back tomorrow with some thoughts on our game against Lyon, plus the latest revelations from Lord Harris, in which he discusses how Arsenal are in advanced negotiations with Neymar about a sensational switch to north London.

See you then.