08 June 2013

Higuain by the numbers

As talk of a possible Higuain transfer to Arsenal heats up, I thought it would be worth making a quick comparison between him and the man whose shoes we still look to fill. All stats are courtesy of whoscored.com, who would also like to point out to us that only Ronaldo (146) and Messi (203) have outscored Higuain (107) since he joined La Liga.

What emerges is a player who is remarkably efficient and accurate. Despite having to defer to Ronaldo and share with Benzema, he's still a scorer with a nose for goal. Especially impressive is his conversion rate (goals divided by shots), far and away ahead of van Persie. I took away van Persie's three penalty-kick goals, reasoning that these count as virtual gimmes. Putting them back in raises van Persie's conversion rate to 18.3%. If Ronaldo would let others take penalties, we might see Higuain's conversation rate reach 30%.

Interestingly, whoscored suggested that Higuain's offside-awareness is "very weak", yet he's caught offsides less often per game than van Persie is, 1.1 to 1.2. Perhaps it's the timing or flagrancy of the calls that influence that judgment more than the frequency?

What's tantalizing, then, is that Higuain has done well for himself and his club by making the most of opportunities, finding or creating moments for himself instead of being the focal point of the attack. What might we see from him if he were to assume a more central role? He would be leaving one of the world's biggest clubs, so it is a sign of his desire and our status that he apparently wants to move here. Contrasted against Fiorentina or Aston Villa (to offer two completely random examples), that is a factor to notice. He wouldn't be diving in at the deep end of the pool and finding himself completely over his head. He's helped Real Madrid win La Liga and in the Champions League.

Those are factors not to be dismissed. It's one thing to help a team escape relegation or qualify for the Europa League, but our ambitions are bigger and deeper than that. Higuain may not be on a level with Rooney or Ronaldo or Falcao, but that might be down to Mourinho's preferences rather than other factors. Speaking of Mourinho, might Higuain relish an opportunity to stick it to the Specious One at Chelsea a few times a year? Food for thought. I guess there's little for us to do but chew on that for a while...

07 June 2013

Why Mourinho's return to Chelsea could doom Arsenal

At the risk of stating the obvious, Jose Mourinho's return to Chelsea does not make life any easier for Arsenal going into the 2013-14 season. The managerial turmoil at the club has not slowed the club much over the last few seasons, as Chelsea won the Europa League (yes, it does count as an accomplishment), the Champions League last year, the Prem in 2010, and finished above us every year except 2013, when their focus on the Champions League saw them finish 5th.  On one hand, the fact that Chelsea has finished ahead of us in the Prem so often softens Mourinho's impact. Chelsea, with or without Mourinho, would almost certainly finish in the top four next year, so it's not like we're worrying about some other club leap-frogging us next year like we might had he joined Spurs, Everton, or Liverpool, to name a few.

What we do have to worry about, of course, is closing the gap between us and Chelsea, not to mention the Manchester clubs, who will see Mourinho's arrival as exactly the kind of threat I just declaimed: with Mourinho in charge, Man U and Man City will surely feel the pressure to strengthen their clubs all the more. Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, might want to return to Man U all the more to try to exact some revenge on the man who said "he thinks he knows everything and the coach cannot help him". Whether that affects the discussion at all is a moot point, however. One way or another, Man U and Man City are certainly not going to sit back, relax, and see who's available. City has already made a couple of signings but are unlikely to call it a wrap.They will both go after the best players available, whether that's Ronaldo or Cavani or Casillas or whoever.

This impending activity will certainly have a knock-on effect as other players see the deals being bandied about and see a chance to pump up their own asking prices. A more direct problem is that Mourinho will apparently spend £100m this summer to bring in new players (good news: this could spell the end of John Terry's time at Chelsea, something I've suggested could happen sooner rather than later), sprucing up the squad with key signings. Mourinho and Chelsea suffer no moral compunctions against spending and will sign as many players as they can find. Already, the players we've been linked to--Jovetic, Higuain, Lewandowski, and others--are being linked with Chelsea. Given Mourinho's ambition, rapacity, and resources, he could swoop in and sign two forwards, if not more, while driving up the asking prices for others still on the market either by casually bidding just for the fun of it or as players and agents see the seller's market heating up.

That's not all, of course. There's still the actual influence on the players themselves. Mourinho is a master at motivating his players and getting the most out of them. In the graphic above, courtesy of whoscored.com, we see how much better Chelsea has performed under Mourinho. Sure, some of this is down to the players he brought on, but it also testifies to his management. From 2004, we see a sharp spike in points taken per game without much of a change in goals scored per game, suggesting a shrewder marshalling of resources. The residue of his impact appears to have waned a bit over subsequent seasons (save 2009-10), but we're sure to see a resurrection as he returns. If Chelsea improves its points-taken rate from last year's two per game to 2.2, this would be enough to claim 84 points next year--enough to have finished in second this year, eleven points ahead of Arsenal. If Mourinho can repeat his impact from 2004-05, Chelsea would repeat its record-setting total of 95. Like him or loathe him, he's easily among the most successful if not the best managers in recent history.

If anyone on Arsenal's board were anticipating a transfer-window in which we could dither or nickel-and-dime our way to a couple of bargain-signings in the last weeks of August again, Mourinho's arrival had damn-well better shake them out of their torpor. Painting Mourinho as a ominous villain to be stopped rather than joined might be a good place to start. We could point out players being courted by him that he's dealt with his own players, legends in their own time like Casillas and Ronaldo, harshly and shabbily. We could suggest that he's not known for lasting long, wearing out his welcome on a fairly predictable schedule. If these warnings don't stick, and we can't make headway with players by contrasting Mourinho's arrogance, abuse, and depravity against the support, development, and rapport they'll get from Arsène, well, money does talk, doesn't it? Players, agents, and clubs are sure to drag their heels, but the sooner we sign a top-flighter or two, the better we'll be. Again, though, I'm not calling for a Ronaldo or a Rooney. Lewandowski? Cavani? We might have to dig more deeply to sign the likes of these players, but unless we get a head-start, the narrow gap between us and Chelsea could become a gaping chasm.

06 June 2013

How to choose between Jovetic, Higuain, Benteke, and Villa...

After Andrei Arshavin's shock away-move caught everyone at Arsenal off-guard, the urgency to sharpen the attack has reached a fever-pitch that--oh, wait. Nevermind. I'm sad to see Arshavin go. Among he, Squidward, and Denilson, I thought he had the most to offer. Oh well. No sense crying over split milk. With the official transfer window still a few weeks away, we have to prioritize our targets. The four forwards we've most often been linked to--Jovetic, Villa, Higuain, and Benteke--all have their flaws and fortés, and we'd be wise the kick the tires on each (being gentler with Villa, of course).

We're going to need a forward who can deliver reliably and ruthlessly. Despite being the only team in the Prem to feature four double-digit scorers, we lack that one player who can change a game week after week with a stunning goal. The committee-approach of the 2012-13 season certainly worked in terms of the sheer number of goals we've scored, but we still limped through far too many games when we just couldn't unlock a defense to score--across all competitions, we failed to score in nine matches and scored a single goal in 18, with predictable impacts on points-dropped and progress in various cups. I won't dredge up those numbers. I don't want to live that much in the past.

When it comes to the pasts of the players we've been linked to, however, it's well-worth a closer look. Sadly, it looks like the most "available" player, and the one who carries the most impressive resumé,  might also be the least desirable at least in terms of our needs: David Villa. He's far and away the oldest of the bunch at 31, and although he's played at the highest levels of football between the Spanish national team and Barcelona, these are factors that might inflate his stats. Simply put, Barcelona's dominance of La Liga has been so complete that its forwards find far-more opportunities to score than forwards at other clubs might. His market-value has plummeted from a high of £44m in 2011, due in part to injury, his age, and concerns over his longevity. He might represent a nice addition to the squad, but he might have to accept a second-string role--I'm not sure he's willing to change clubs without upgrading his role. Then again, with the arrival of Neymar, he's almost certainly going to drop further down in the pecking order.

At the other end of the spectrum, at least as concerns age and experience, is Christian Benteke. He has only one season of top-flight action, this past year with Aston Villa, but has made the most of his time. He almost single-handedly dragged the Acorns away from relegation, scoring 19 goals despite being the focus of each opponent's defense. Aston Villa has apparently slapped a £40m asking price on him with interest from Spurs and Fiorentina making the headlines lately. That might say something about those club's concerns regarding Bale and Jovetic, respectively. If they're willing to meet that price tag, it might indicate that Bale and Jovetic each have one foot out the door, and the clubs plan on using their transfer fees to finance Benteke's move. If Aston Villa is serious about that price tag, he's become ludicrously overpriced. Too bad. Among the current four, he's been my first pick for a while. I see Aston Villa's priorities, though: use that asking price to keep Benteke or use that transfer-fee to finance some new transfers.

I guess I'm tipping my hand a bit by now addressing Jovetic. I'm still not sold on him. No offense against Serie A, but I just don't feel like Jovetic has dominated opponents there as he should in order to justify his current asking-price. Once you look past Juventus and AC Milan, there's a sharp drop-off in quality (according to the Euro Club Index). His thirteen goals this year are good for 11th-best in Serie A, which again doesn't make me drool as much as I'd hope. If I'm going to knock Villa for his injury, it's worth noting that Jovetic has one of his own, one only described as a "cruciate ligament injury". Whether it was a tear or something less serious, he does seem to have bounced back nicely, but whether he's risen to the levels we're looking for and would have to fork over to get is still an open question in my book. At a starting price of £26m, he's feeling a little over-priced.

Even with Higauin, who has all but sworn on a Bible that he's leaving Real Madrid (which should deflate his value just a bit), I'm not salivating. He's been a good player for club and country. Despite having to play in Ronaldo's shadow and having to platoon with Benzema, he's still managed to average 0.44 goals per game, not enough to set the world on fire either, but more than Jovetic's 0.3 despite Higuain being his club's 2nd or 3rd choice attacker and Jovetic being his club's 1st-choice. Even after we repeat the caveat we used with Villa above--that Real Madrid, along with Barcelona, co-dominates La Liga in a way that might inflate players' stats, Higuain now emerges at the head of my list. He's proven himself but isn't ageing, he's high-priced but not exorbitantly so, and he speaks both French and Spanish. Okay. So two of three of these carry a bit more weight than the last one, but it's still worth noting that his ability to communicate with Giroud, Cazorla, Arteta, and others is a factor to at least keep in mind if not front and center.

I've come to the end of this, then, having not quite convinced myself as to which of these four we should put at the top of our list, so I doubt I've swayed anyone who's come this far with me. I apologize, but maybe it's a sign of a bigger issue: should we not step up our ambitions to pursue another bigger name? I don't want to see us going after the likes of Ronaldo or Rooney, necessarily; I don't want to devote so much of the club's finances, personality, or locker-room oxygen to someone quite that big. It might stifle other players as much as it inflates our wage-sheet or goals-scored. Still, a step-up from the current batch could split the difference. Lewandowski? Cavani? Any other suggestions?

05 June 2013

You know something, van Persie? You can take a flyin' leap.

I can't believe the nerve of this schmuck. I'm trembling with rage, so if there are more typos than usual to be found here, you'll have to excuse me. I just simply cannot believe the unlimited depths of this craven weasel of a man, who engineered a move to one of the cushiest positions in the Prem, spit in the face of the man who made him who he is, and then, as if he hadn't fully revealed the shabbiness of his soul already, reveals that he's little more than a shell of man, a huckster, a rat, a coward, a....I don't want to go any further lest the momentum carry me to saying something I'll regret and have to apologize for later.

That pestiliential bastard. We stood by him through thick and thin, through frustratingly sparse seasons and injury after injury after injury. Such was the club's belief in him that it stood by him through that cooked-up rape allegation when another club might have cut its losses and moved on. Yes, the allegations turned up false, but it still served as a firm symbol of the club's faith in him, not just as a player but as a person. After all, he was not the player then that he is now, a scorer of 21 goals in 79 appearances; in other words, not yet a player whose statistics could shield him from opprobrium. For Arsenal to have stood by him through that ordeal should be worth something. At least something more than the following:
It was [difficult] because it wasn’t only me who decided where I went to play. I also depended on my former club as well and how they saw it. And then of course you always have these games that the directors play. It's a bit like a rollercoaster. Some days it is looking good and other days it is worse. You don’t really know what to expect because things can change so quickly.
Is he serious? Is he actually complaining that we weren't willing to roll over and let him use us like a two-dollar whore? I'm beginning to think that the only synapses that fire behind those beady little eyes control his left foot. All else is a vast wasteland. So the little boy wanted to go to Man U? Explain why we're at fault for seeing if we can get a better deal, financially or otherwise, from Juventus? Why the flying [expletive deleted] should we just drop him off at Old Trafford? Were we supposed to kiss him on the forehead and wipe his nose as our feelings of pride washed over him, our little boy, all grown up as he goes off to "big boy" school?

Putz. The directors play games? Oh, it's enough to give me the vapors! Quick, bring me the fainting couch!! How my heart just goes out to this poor, innocent boy, this naive, little boy, this babe in the woods, pure as the driven snow who always only said what was honest and true. How he must have suffered as the scales fell from his eyes and he saw the world for what it really is for the first time. O brave new world! How he must have felt to learn that Arsène Wenger, who played such a huge role in making him into the player he now is, who waited years for van Persie to fulfill his potential, was only preparing to sell him on when the time was right. Poor Robin. Oh me. Oh my. He almost had to play for Juventus, only one of Europe's most storied clubs. He must have been miserable as he worried about where his next paycheck would come from: what denomination will it be? Do they still use the lira in Italy? What's a euro? Is it colder in Manchester than in London? What would become of poor, defenseless Robin?

When van Persie left, I merely resented him. He was selling us out for the baldest of reasons. Sure, I understand that he wanted trophies and was worried that his age in history of injuries were on his mind. Fine. Whatever. Why come out and kick Arsène in the groin a year later, after getting everything he's wanted all his life (apparently)? Money. Fame. Glory. Adulation. Trophies. You know what? On that little list, he already had the first four. Had he showed a little more loyalty, a little more patience, who knows what could have happened?

I'm not bitter; I am enraged. Somewhere on the spectrum of departed players, with Fabregas on one end as "understandable" and perhaps Adebayor, Cole, or Nasri at the other as "absolute shite", I had once played van Persie somewhere in the middle, leaning just a bit towards Adebayor, Cole, and Nasri. Now, however, he's extended that end of the spectrum quite a bit further out.

I would never wish harm on a player (maybe privately, in those darker moments before we shake our heads and snap out of it), but I'm not so noble as to hope that the accumulation of age, injury, and complacency are enough to see this punk rust and fade away, gradually diminishing in form until he is cast off.

Of all of the superstars Arsène has made, he stood a chance of joining a pantheon of Arsenal legends. Sure, he'll probably still claim a spot among the club's best players, but he's forfeited his potentially legendary status. Yes, other legends have left, but it's the manner of van Persie's departure, and how he's handled it ever since, that poisons his legacy. Can you see him coming back in the twilight of his career for a curtain call akin to Henry's? Maybe it's just too soon to consider, but at this point, I don't want him back and would turn my back rather than watch. He could have answered the interviewer more artfully. He could have dodged the question or chosen an answer that acknowledged everything Arsène and the club did to support him, but no. He took a man who has fallen on his sword and gave that sword one more twist. I can come to terms with a player leaving. I understand the narrow window of opportunities that a footballer has to squeeze through and the imperative to seize opportunities when life presents them. I don't understand, however, being an absolute twat about how van Persie seized this one.

Maybe he can explain it to me in terms a little boy would understand.

04 June 2013

Oy, Denilson! Santos! Tell the police to cancel the caxirola-ban!

Now that Denilson's contract has been canceled, is it too much to achieve the same with Santos? It's a shame that the two Brazilians didn't pan out (although they really do have only themselves to blame). It's not like either distinguished himself for his tenacity of effort on the pitch). I don't mean to kick a man when he's down, and I like Denilson enough to regret that it didn't work out for him. Santos is one I can't be as generous to after his fanboy-ishness with van Persie way back in November. It's one thing to be star-struck, but at least have the common sense not to pull that crap while you're still on the pitch.

Anyhow, I'm not holding any grudges. I do, however, have a quick favor to ask of our Brazilian friends: tell the Brazilian police to un-ban the caxirolas. Now, I wasn't at any of the games in South Africa four years ago, so I didn't get the full vuvuzela experience. From the telly, it seemed harmless enough (though I may be wrong); the incessant droning did eventually fade into a background buzz, and it did, for me, add something memorable to the event, something to set it apart from other World Cups played elsewhere. I actually came to enjoy it after a few cocktails (we were in the Dominican Republic at the time at a resort that positively swarmed with Limeys. Anyone who was there in Santo Domingo might remember me from the one-legged dance I had to do on stage in whatever bizarre competition we all were in. Did I mention that it was an all-inclusive at which the liquor flowed freely? I don't remember what-all I ended up doing. I'm still married, though, so it can't be too bad). Anyway, I thought that part of the whole point of moving the World Cup around is to celebrate different cultures and nationalities and so on. If we wanted a sterile, predictable World Cup, they'd have to host it in the same damn place every four years. If I ever get a chance to see a World Cup somewhere (I did get to see matches when the U.S. hosted in 1994), I certainly don't want to eat at McDonald's and drink Budweiser the whole time. Along the way, world, sorry for relentlessly exporting our crappy restaurants and beer to you).  And you can bet your sweet bippy that if I ever get to the Emirates, I'll be insisting on that world-renowned British cuisine everyone's always raving about.

Back to Brazil and these caxirolas. There's concern that upset fans might thrown them on the pitch if they're angry at something? I'd rather they throw plastic-cup thingies instead of, say, batteries, coins, or anything liable to seriously injure somebody. I don't know how hefty a caxirola is, but at least you can see the thing coming. With a battery, you have not a chance in a hundred of dodging it. In fact, maybe they should un-ban them to provide irate fans with something "safe" (or at least safer) to throw. Left to their own devices, who knows what they'll end up throwing? I want to see matches with caxirolas buzzing in the background. Carlinhos Brown, the apparent inventor, has said that "the caxirola respects the sound limits. It reproduces the sounds of nature, of the sea, and because of that, we worked with the best acoustic engineers so that the sound was nice and pleasant". Awww.  I can just hear the Enya-esque New Age music lilting behind his voice. And if he's wrong, I'll just turn down the volume. More to the point, though, it's not like the instruments lend themselves to excessive noise the same way that vuvuzelas did--you can blow harder to create louder buzzing, but shaking the caxirolas won't amplify their sound in nearly the same way.

In all seriousness, though, the fans create the atmosphere. They are the water in which the players swim. I watch Arsenal and thrill to the sounds of the chants and the songs and the cheers. I actually don't mind having to endure the same when we travel to Old Trafford or White Hart Lane and we concede a goal. I can't imagine forbidding fans from supporting their team--or expressing their anger within the bounds of reason and safety. If you're swearing within earshot of my kid, I'll let you know. If you're playing a vuvuzela, I'll ask you to give it a break from time to time. I want the exuberance and the flavor that fans bring; they fuel the passion and excitement that the players feed off of. If Brazil's police force does go through with the ban, I worry that we'll lose a large part of the experience. Go too far, and we'll end up with the kind of cheering at a lot of American stadiums, where fans only cheer after a goal/point/run/etc. is scored, after which they more or less sit on their hands.

FIFA did, after all, coronate the instrument as the official musical instrument of the 2014 World Cup. It would be a shame not to hear a least a few of them.  If any of you out there have experienced their melodious din first-hand, or have horror-stories about it or the vuvuzelas, please share. It's one thing to extol their virtues from my living room, another altogether to sit in a stadium surrounded by the things.

03 June 2013

A tribute to my choice for goal of the year: Jack Wilshere vs. Montpelier

The dust has settled on yet another year and Arsenal has, yet again, secured a Champions League appearance and celebrated  another St. Totteringham's Day in the process. It's been brilliant all around. Voters at arsenal.com have selected Lukas Podolski's goal against Montpelier as Arsenal's goal of the season, and rightly so--it was a delicious one-two between he and Giroud, consummated with a brilliant volley that would bring any fan to his or her feet. I want to join the celebration, but....but....

Try to resist the emotion of this moment.
By contrast, Wilshere's goal in that same game might seem a bit accidental, almost an afterthought, as he somehow just managed to dink it in over the Montpelier keeper. It may have lacked for aesthetics compared to Poldi's goal, but it more than makes up for it in the histrionics.

Just look at that picture. Look at the veins bulging out in Jacko's neck. Hear the primal scream that's erupting. He's not celebrating a go-ahead goal or points to secure progress in the Champions League. Nope. Those concerns fall far behind what this goal truly signifies: a resurrection. Before this goal, it had been nearly two years since this lad had even appeared for Arsenal, much less tallied.

Even now, I get a bit choked up as I type. Watching the build-up, Vermaelen collecting it on the corner, executing a nifty turn to create space before sending the cross into Giroud, who heads it down...it's too much. I almost can't stand the emotion, whether it's what I felt in that moment or what I feel now as I struggle  to find words adequate to the moment.

Around this house, my wife and kids know to largely steer clear of the basement during a match. Depending on the circumstance, I might be a brooding madman or a raving lunatic, depending on who's scored. Should the awful happen and we concede, I'm unbearable. You can't even offer me a sandwich or a beer lest I lash out. Should we score, run for the hills because I'll bear-hug the nearest animate object. Even the cats know to stay away in either situation.

However, with Jack's goal, even as I saw it unfold and knew in my heart of hearts that he would send it home, I sat rooted to my seat. I didn't care about progress in the cup or away-goals or anything strategic. I didn't care that it wasn't an aesthetically pure goal, or that it would suffer in comparison to Podolski's follow-up goal. I wouldn't have cared if it was the 10th goal scored in a 10-0 victory or the only goal scored in a 1-10 loss.

Nope. I sat there, anchored to the couch, hands clasped over my chin, mouth, and nose, and just watched. I teared up then, and I'm tearing up now. Ordinarily, I don't care how our lads celebrate. Pre-rehearsed dance routine? Sure. Golf-swing? Fine. Henry-esque knee-slide? Great. Whatever the case, I join in. I've hit my head on the cellar-ceiling as I've jumped for joy. The cats have upended furniture in reaction to my reactions. I've broken lamps and, yes, on one occasion, a coffee-table, as I celebrated.

Not with this one. As soon as Giroud headed down, something in me just knew that it would be Wilshere there to collect it. I couldn't see the man on my screen as I streamed it through my laptop, but somehow, I just knew it would be him. His deft outside-of-the-left flick seemed to call out to me (I'm a lefty) and to say, "I'm back. I've missed you as much as you've missed me." I know that's all in my own mind, and I'm deluding myself, but I don't care. I sat, stock-still, and watched.

I didn't care then and don't care now that we'd go on to the next round in the Champions League. I didn't care then and don't care now that the goal ends up being inconsequential to our strategic needs. All I care about is that this young man, this Gunner, scored a goal to announce his return.

Oh, this boy. This player. This club. 

By Jove. A £22m signing of Jovetic? The Arsenal site does seem to--nope. Nevermind.

Nope. At least not yet, so don't get your knickers in a twist. A quick search of "Jovetic sign Arsenal" shows us that caughtoffside says we "are set to complete" a deal. However, the same site reports that, 22 days ago, it's a "DONE DEAL (their capital letters, not mine): Arsenal agree £24m fee and personal terms...". C'mon, guys, keep your own rumors straight. If it was a "done deal" on April 24th, it can't be "set to complete" today. I held my nose and clicked the earlier link, and sure enough, the traditional tripe greeted me: we had "reportedly moved a massive step closer to securing a deal". A loophole that big is enough to drive a truck through. Sideways.

This is not a real photo from the team website.
I'm a firm believer in freedom of speech and letting the marketplace of ideas sort the good from the bad, but it pains me to see the same recycled articles draw readers in like moths to flame (or is it flies to shite?). I'm not claiming that I'm any better, more-original, or more-insightful than the sites that peddle rumors all day, every day. I'm still cutting my teeth in this realm, after all, and have a lot to learn about what to say and how to say it. I see the allure from a writer's point of view. The stories practically write themselves to the point that some sites probably actually have a fill-in-the-blank template that they can trot out: just replace the names of the player and the team, add a fresh paragraph about the player's stats and the team's needs (which can be copied and pasted from previous posts, and voilá--article written. 25,000 viewers later, they're laughing all the way to the bank.

At one point, I compared transfer-talk to crack, a comparison that seemed apt: cheap, quick, and exhilarating but ultimately leading to depression, addiction, paranoia...I even feel bad addressing it, not to mention indulging in it or luring readers here. I feel chintzy and slutty. I look back my list of posts and get depressed at seeing how often I've addressed the issue and how many more hits those posts have gotten compare to my attempts at statistical analysis, for example.

It might be the cognitive dissonance talking, but I wish we could round up the rumor-mongers, put 'em in gorilla costumes, slather 'em up with pheromones, and drop them off in the Nyungwe rainforest. I can't stand the idea that leeches and tapeworms and other parasites get to suck and slurp and siphon from this club that I love so much. I hate the idea that, like vampires, they can draw their energies and play with my emotions, my hopes, and my fears, and I hate myself when I fall for their tricks. I'll check in with the BBC and transfermrkt because they'll mention rumors and I can get a summary of the latest from the tabloids without soiling my hands (or clicking the links, driving up their revenue and rewarding their chicanery). However, once in a while, I'll stumble across something that seems real or that appeals to me so much that I can't resist reading the whole article. Bastards. It is like crack. For the two minutes I spend reading the article, I'm excited and thrilled and I start imagining what this will mean for us in the Prem and Champions League. Then, by the time I'm done, I realized what I've just become.

If the crack-comparison doesn't work, the transfer-talk is like seeing a prostitute. Again, cheap, quick, and exhilirating but leading to depression and worse. Sure, you can go out and spend as much money as you want to rent the finest prostitute out there, but the thrill is fleeting and short-lived. There's no anticipation, no deeper connection, no sense of passion. One might as well rent one of those dolls. By contrast, Arsene's approach has been more like building relationships--finding and nurturing younger players who, when they do grow into their potential, is all the more inspiring. Jack Wilshere's goal against Montpelier filled me with a ecstasy that I don't think a goal from Jovetic ever could. I know it's foolish to hope for a squad full of players who have come up through the academy. At some point, at some level, we do have to spend. As sordid as it is to see others pulling away by spending, spending, spending, there are no trophies for balancing a spreadsheet or for taking the high road. I just hope we don't go too far along the low road and lose ourselves  along the way.

02 June 2013

How Arsenal prises Lewandowski from Dortmund

We've been connected to quite a few players this year, and it suggests something about our quality and reputation. In years past, we've had to wring our hands in despair at the prospect of losing players. This year, however, we look set to hold on to everyone we care to keep, and this frees us up to focus on pursuing what we need by way of upgrades instead of replacements.  Most of the chatter has focused on Stevan Jovetic, on whom I'm just not sold. I'd prefer Benteke as certainly better, not just financially but in terms of performance. However, if we're looking for a top-flight center-forward, one could be a game- and season-changing addition, and if we're looking to make spend a few pounds, dollars, or euros to signal our intent, why not make a bold move for Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski? Sure, he's been linked to Bayern Munich, and such a move has its obvious attractions, but he'd be pilloried up and down (something I've already done) for switching to Dortmund's Bundesliga rivals and Champions League bogeymen. If he's looking to move, why not offer him the somewhat safer havens of playing for Arsenal? I wouldn't mind printing out that post excoriating him and eating it (literally--I'll post a video of myself doing it). He could signal his ambition without pulling a van Persie. In doing so, he could rightly claim to be helping to elevate a proud and ambitious club instead of latching on, remora-like, to the biggest shark in the sea.

But how? Assuming Dortmund is willing to part with him, can we outbid Bayern? Maybe. I don't know their financial situation very well, but I have to imagine that, having committed to hiring Guardiola, apparently having signed Mario Götze, and also continuing to pay Robben and Ribéry, Bayern has a little less flexibility than we have in dealing with Lewandowski. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that we do have trouble offering something more attractive. How do we (a) convince Dortmund to parley with us, and (b) entice Lewandowksi to listen?

Let's deal with (a) first. Let's say Bayern can match or exceed our offer. Why not throw in Podolski? As much as I have enjoyed him as a person and player, and as well as he's partnered with Giroud, he seems least vital to our needs. This is an odd statement to make about someone who was 3rd in goals and assists despite slogging through injury for long stretches. However, with Cazorla, Wilshere, and Walcott looking to hold down the attacking midfield roles, Poldi would be the odd man out more often than not. If we are bringing in Clément Grenier, Poldi might become that much more dispensable. A return to the Bundesliga might be attractive to him, not to mention giving Dortmund a replacement for Lewandowski (even if it's not exactly a one-for-one in quality...). Still not enough? Where's Denilson? If Götze is set to depart, Dortmund will need midfield options as well. The perpetually on-loan Brazilian might offer a suitable replacement until Dortmund decides on a more-incisive player, and combining him with Poldi might make our offer to Dortmund all the more attractive, enough to turn them from Bayern, whom they have no interest in strengthening at their own expense. Deal with us, and they stifle Bayern, emerge with money to spend and as many as two other players to deploy. Still not enough? Fine. Throw Bendtner in (unless that queers the deal rather than strengthening it.

Once we've captured Dortmund's attention, we say to Lewandowski, "look. You play for Bayern, you're all but sure to win silverware. Where's the glory in that? It's a limo-ride, luxurious and relaxing and fun and all, but do you want be known as a carpet-bagger who goes where the going's good, or do you want to be known as team-leader? You do know you'll be carrying water for Robben and Ribery all season, waiting to nibble on their scraps and left-overs. They have trouble enough sharing the ball with each other. How do you think they'll treat you, Johnny-come-lately? Come to Arsenal, and you're our #1 center-forward (sorry, Ollie) and a lynch-pin in delivering this team to the top of the Prem and the Champions League. You wouldn't be a hood-ornament as you would at Bayern; you'd be a driver. Instead of being hated by your former fans, you'd be merely mocked and then forgotten. At Arsenal, you'd slot in seamlessly and quickly bed-in to quick and sincere attention from fans. Think it over. You could have it all at Arsenal, and you'd know that you've rightly earned each trophy we win together."

I'm not saying that anything I've said could come together. For all we know, Lewandowski has already signed with Bayern, and I'm just spittin' in the wind. However, necessity is the mother of invention, and we need a strong center-forward. We could do worse than signing Lewandowski, but it would be awfully hard to do better.