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.

1st September 2015: World class words

I’d like to assure you I’ve been working very hard day and night to find the world class words that could enhance this blog. Sadly, I have to confess I couldn’t secure any available ones better than I already have.

However, I’m certain I can improve my overall writing with practice, making it more cohesive and fluent, and will re-assess the situation in January. By then, new words may have been added to the dictionary and previously overlooked or disregarded ones may have been brought to my attention or become more attractive.

And I’m still confident this blog can be successful because sometimes, you can have too many words and certain words just aren’t worth the hassle. They can be too old, too incompatible with others and generally of little use in a vocabulary.

On the other hand, the right balance and depth of words is vital and so, over time, I may find I’m actually a little short of options to fulfill my blogging ambitions. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Finally, I think it’s worth remembering it could be worse. I may have found the perfect word to do a job for me, only to see it rendered incomprehensible due to an eleventh-hour typo. In that unfortunate scenario, I’d be forced into a follow-up statement detailing why, how and when the balls-up had occurred.

See you 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.

30th August 2015: Can we compete with City splashing obscene cash?

A warm Sunday welcome to you. Man United lost at Swansea this afternoon, joining Liverpool and Chelsea as title hopefuls to drop all three points over the weekend, which considering our own slow start to the season, is very handy indeed as we enter the international break.

Unfortunately, the early-season pace-setters Man City won again yesterday, to continue their perfect start to the season of four wins out of four, with 10 goals scored and none conceded. And just to take the p*ss out of both rivals and fair play regulations a little more, they’ve today confirmed the capture of Kevin de Bruyne for over £50 million to take their spend this summer higher than the GDP of Germany, and leave their first-choice line-up looking a little like this:

Potential Manchester City starting XI

Graphic courtesy of BBC, in case you were wondering

The first thing to say looking at the eleven above as an Arsenal fan is, uh oh. The second is to suggest that just as a fourth placed finish is often dubbed a trophy, ending runners up to the seemingly infinite financial resources of Arabian Oil FC, ought perhaps to be awarded with the tag of ‘default champions’. In fact, make that a merit for third place behind Spartak West London, in which case thinking about it, we’re reigning champions.

Because even the best management in the world can’t compete with such outlandish rival spend, no matter how many people say there’s more to winning than money. At this level of investment, I’d wager Barry Fry would walk the league as Manuel Pellegrini is threatening to do now.

Is it merely coincidental that Chelsea and Man City have won six of the last 11 championships with the other five heading to United, who may not have a bottomless-pocketed benefactor bankrolling their buying, but are easily the most resourceful team in the country without one? Money matters in football and should shape any conversation regarding what constitutes success, so should we readjust our expectations for the rest of this season?

I think we probably should, even at this early stage of the campaign and certainly if we fail to bring in one or two ‘top, top, top’ signings before the window shuts on Tuesday evening, because as much as I take the point that improvement can be achieved on the training pitch and through the development of our current set of players, there’s also an intangible ‘lift’ that sweeps up a squad when a quality new team-mate arrives from elsewhere.

And I think we saw that best in recent times with the arrival of Mesut Ozil in 2013 when we recovered from an opening day defeat by Aston Villa to lead the table for half the season. Arsene Wenger as always, was asked about his transfer plans following the win at Newcastle yesterday and came up with a familiar response:

We are open and we are in the transfer market. If we find an exceptional player in any sector, we will do it. At the moment I don’t know if something will happen or not.

A predictable response from the boss there and with less than 48 hours of the market to run and no noises of any incomings at all, let alone game-changing captures, it did make me wonder how costly a strategy waiting for rivals to show their hand might prove. I mean, the widely held belief all summer has been that we’re waiting for the end of the window for an Ozil-like superstar to become available at the last minute and there’s few players out there who could markedly improve our squad otherwise.

But having watched Roma host Juventus earlier today, I felt two strikers were on show who would have significantly improved our current options and who have both changed clubs this summer – Edin Dzeko and Paulo Dybala. That said, Dybala reportedly chose to remain in Italy despite our interest and City may not have done business with us for Dzeko on the basis we’d be competing in the same league.

But still, it reminded me that to think only a handful of players out there could make us a better team is silly. There are plenty, as along as we identity and pursue them. We may, I fear, have become obsessed with the top draw of the transfer chest when there are rubies and diamonds residing in ones beneath, albeit covered and surrounded by counterfeit crap like Danny Ings (this year’s pointless and baffling Liverpool purchase like Rickie Lambert was last).

You don’t have to shop at Harrods to buy a Rolex, or something, although mistaking a Casio for a Cartier, admittedly becomes an increased possibility in what are usually the frenzied last few hours of shopping. So watch out Arsene – we can all do without another Kallstrom, if a Krychowiak really is a no-go.

See you next week.

14th August 2015: Happy thoughts

Happy Friday folks. Let’s hope this weekend ends rather more positively from an Arsenal perspective than the last, because frankly, the negativity after a defeat leaves me feeling more nauseous than the result itself.

Why? Simply because too many fans and pundits are far too reactionary and it’s draining. The default remedy for many, involves buying someone, anyone, as if the transfer market offers some kind of guarantee for points and wins.

And love him or hate him, the manager Arsene Wenger, not for the first time, made this very point when he was inevitably asked about potential new additions to his squad at his pre-match press conference today. He said:

We are as open (to buying) after that bad result (West Ham) as we were before. We were working very hard and we are focused to do what can strengthen our squad. The availability is not big. If we find somebody anywhere who strengthens our squad then we will do it. It is not easy, it is not supermarket stuff where you go in and say, ‘I would like this, please can you give it to me.’ The availability is not easy. When you lose a game you always get that kind of demand, we have to be honest enough and ask, ‘Could we have won the game without any addition?’ and I would say yes. Always the solution comes from outside, lets look inside at ourselves and produce the performance that is expected of us. I think that would be much more intelligent than always expecting a miracle from outside.

Which is spot on. My criticism of last week would involve asking why the players seemed so rushed in their passing? Perhaps even why Santi Cazorla had been moved from his central midfield berth of the second half of last season? And also why a clearly unfit Alexis Sanchez was on the bench, and then quite astonishingly, thrust into action?

But too much of the post-match talk entailed lampooning players like Olivier Giroud for supposedly being the cause of the team’s malfunction. If anything, the one position you would say we needed an improvement based on the opening 90 minutes of our new Premier League campaign would have been goalkeeper!

The reality of course, is that we had a bad opening day at the office but still have almost the entire season to make amends. In fact, we’ll have more of those days like last Sunday, as every other team will, the crucial task is for us to limit them as best we can through preparation, hard work and executing our style to the best of our collective capabilities.

All that said, football is an emotional pass-time for millions of fans and disappointment is obviously understandable, something the manager was quick to appreciate today:

[Our fans have] passion, love and that’s why it hurts [to lose]. We have a big following and disappointed people are emotional and that is understandable. It hurts us to disappoint people who have a high level of expectation. On our side we have to put things in perspective, we come out from a very strong run and we have 37 games to go. It’s how we respond [that matters]. Our job is to deal with this kind of reaction and just to keep your mind on your job, that means play football well and enjoy it. I believe we have a great group, we have a fantastic mentality and we have a united group of players. We were disappointed with the result [against West Ham] and with our performance. We have analysed what happened to us but we don’t have to go overboard with what happened. It is a defeat and it hurts but that shouldn’t take our belief in our potential away.We have the history behind us in the second half of the campaign last year that we have the quality to respond always and to be consistent. Defeat is part of the season and of course that was not planned but we know it is how we respond to these kind of things that will make our season.

It’s worth considering that last point again I think – we’ll lose again this season in all probability and although we can take great pride in being able to boast an unbeaten league campaign in our history, the lower-ranked teams in the division are perhaps improving at a greater rate than the top sides, making a repeat of 2004 all the more fanciful. This of course is due to significantly increased revenue across the board, combined with a lack of available, genuinely world class talent for the top four to significantly improve their squads. Again, Arsene made the point:

It will certainly be a tighter and tougher league because the quality of teams in the lower half of the table has improved. I believe in every game… what gives you a good indication is if you look at the bench of the team you play against, and when you look at the teams in the second part of the table and you look at their benches, it indicates that you will have tough games. I never had many easy matches in my life but it is always getting more difficult, that’s true.

Which brings us almost full circle to the training field. If everyone can buy, the difference will be made in the management and preparation of players, which should in turn lead to an improvement in the quality and consistency of the football they produce.

See you on Saturday.