15 June 2013

Kos to Barcelona, Vermaelen to Bayern, Sagna to PSG...I like what I'm hearing!

It's at times like this when I really enjoy the transfer-season. I'm not talking about the various players we may or may not bring in, who's been linked to us, or anything of the sort. For the first time in many seasons, we don't have to worry about losing a key player. Everyone is safely under contract (at least for now) and can't force a move the way others have in the past. With that security, we can have a chuckle at some of the headlines suggesting that our players are wanted elsewhere.

The latest has Barcelona sniffing around at Koscielny (after apparently stalking Vermaelen earlier in the season) which makes sense given how fragile their defense is. Were it not for the dominance of their midfield in keeping possession, they'd have to hang their hopes on Messi doubling his 1.46 goals-per-game average to stay competitive. It makes sense for Barcelona to continually look to us to replenish their squad; we play a style similar to theirs, although admittedly not at nearly the same level, and why should they be bothered to scout and develop players when we're apparently content to do this for them? However, times have changed. We're no longer a team that has to mind its accounts so obsessively that we leave ourselves few options but to sell our best players. In years past, if they wanted a player, they would take the player. I doubt they'll find us quite as open to their overtures as we've been in years past. I'm all ears, though. I do love being flirted with, even if I have no intention whatsoever of giving 'em what they want.

It's a similar situation with both defenders and Bayern; each has been linked at some point with a move there, but the logic is less-clear, at least in terms of their needs: they have a solid defense, so strong, in fact, that they only conceded 18 goals on their way to winning the Bundesliga. For them to come around, then, isn't so much born of the kind of apparent desperation Barcelona seems to feel; however, it should rankle the likes of Lahm, van Buyten, Martinez, and Boateng that Guardiola seeks replacements (okay, maybe "reinforcements"). It's not the first time that he's apparently been interested in Vermaelen, for one. At the risk of accidentally insulting Vermaelen, if I was a Bayern defender, I'd be a tad insulted that my new coach was looking to bring in a player whose stock has fallen as far as Vermaelen's did this year. From our point of view, as I've suggested in the past, it's not for nothing that he's on their radar. Players struggle from time to time, and Vermaelen happened to do so just as Koscielny was re-establishing the form that won this Gooner's heart last year while forming a solid partnership with Mertesacker. I'm sure Vermaelen will reclaim his form, if not his starter's role, sooner rather than later.

It's really only Sagna about whom I do worry. He's only under contract until June 2014, and while he's getting long in the tooth and perhaps fragile in the tibula, he still bleeds Arsenal red through and through. On one hand, I would hate to see him leave for PSG. On the other, I want him to hoist a trophy or two before his time is up. I believe that will happen for us here next year in one way or another, but I understand his concerns. His swan-song looks ready to be sung far sooner than those of Vermaelen or Koscielny, and I daresay he's had to endure a bit more criticism this year than is warranted. Who breaks the same fibula twice in a year and comes back at the same level? Sagna does (if you trust whoscored.com, that is. His 2012-13 rating was a 6.99; his 2013-14 rating was a 7.01). I'd hate to see him go. He still has the fire in the belly, not to mention the skill and wisdom, that this squad needs.

Which brings me back to where I started. I'm enjoying these stories whole-heartedly. Some of Europe's biggest, most-accomplished, and freest-spending clubs want our players, and we get to say, "make like a drum and beat it." We can hold up three fingers--index, middle, and ring--and say, "read between the lines." Why not have fun with it? Enjoy it for what it is: a barometer of the quality of these individual players, and perhaps a foreshadowing of great things they and the squad as a whole may accomplish in the upcoming season.

14 June 2013

Time to bid Gervinho adieu...

First and foremost, let me preface what follows: I like Gervinho and wish him nothing but the best. He doesn't strike me as a loafer. He genuinely seems to want to do well, and he has shown in bits and flashes that he does have some quality. However, as we've learned in the past from holding onto limited players, hoping to loan them out to develop, we simply have to find a way to move a player while we still can. It's a shame that Arshavin faded so fast, Squillaci just never amounted to much, and Fabianski never truly impressed, but it's also a bit of a shame that they're out of contract. We lost out on possible transfer-fees, and they carry a dented reputation. Once they've gone out of contract, it's that much harder for them or their agents to convince other teams to give them a chance.

Gervinho's had two years now to adjust to Prem life, and, if anything, he's regressed. In the 2011-12 season, he made 28 appearances (nine as a sub) and tallied four goals and six assists. In this past season, he made only 18 appearances (six as a sub). While he managed one more goal, he added just three assists. When he's on, he can very good. However, he's so rarely on. In this past season, he went on one heck of a purple-patch, with five goals and an assist in six games, earning three MOTM awards from whoscored.com. Then, there was nothing. 14 matches with a lone assist. To be fair, he subbed on in a few of these matches for 10 minutes or less, but we're still looking at 705 minutes of action with very little, um, action. He did hit an oasis of sorts, adding two goals and three assists in three matches, but that's all it was: an oasis amid a dry, expansive desert. If that dry spell were the result of hitting the woodwork, great saves from keepers, goal-line clearances, and the like, we could be more charitable in our assessment.

However, as we know all too well, Gervinho lacks the confidence and skill that a reliable if not lethal finisher needs. He scuffs too many, mishits others, misses sitters...it's ludicrously tragic. Or tragically ludicrous. I can't decide which. However, it's a problem that compounds itself. One error seems to doom the, sending him on a downward spiral of self-doubt that prevents him from accomplishing much else. He disappears from matches all too often and struggles to find other ways to contribute. He's so right-footed it's a wonder to me that defenders don't just park on his right hip and dare him to go left.

I don't mean to bash the lad, so I'll stop there. He's playing for one of the Prem's most demanding fan-bases, and the pressure might just be too much for him here. If Ligue 1's Marseille is interested, this could be good news for all involved. Gervinho finds a home that permits him somewhat less pressure and scrutiny, Marseille gets a striker with two seasons of action in the Prem and Champions League (albeit a bit worse for wear), and we get to unload a player who just didn't make the grade. In fact, the only drawback to the move would be the prospect of a reunion with Joey Barton. Just typing that name chafes me. Then again, maybe it would give Gervinho a chance to finish what he started with that oaf back in 2011.

If Marseille is willing to take him and hold onto Barton for another season, that's their problem. We have enough headaches of our own. Look at the trouble we've had unloading the likes of Bendtner, Aboue, and Chamakh. The longer we hold onto Gervinho, the harder it may get to move him along. I'm not terribly concerned with the transfer-fee we get. I doubt we'll recoup what we spent, but I worry that holding out for a better deal will only backfire, leaving us stuck together for another six months. If Marseille is willing to pay, say, £7m for him, I say take it.

Maybe I'm wrong, though. I'd be willing to admit it. Is there something that Gervinho brings (or could bring to the squad? I'm all ears.

13 June 2013

Melee in Montpellier: Goals of the Year from Wilshere and Podolski

Voters at Arsenal.com anointed Lukas Podolski's thundering volley against Montpellier in the second leg  as Arsenal's goal of the season, and rightly so. As goals go, it was sublime, coming from a build-up between Podolski and Giroud that showed a shared ESP, as if each knew exactly what the other would do. So delicious was the goal that Poldi's celebration consisted simply of shaking his fingers as if he'd just dropped something scalding hot. In a way, he did.

However, in my heart, I vote for Wilshere's earlier goal in that same game. Sadly, it didn't even make the top ten, suffering perhaps from a lack of power or theatricality. Most of the goals in the top ten have that element in common. I've already written here to explain my position in the subject, if you're curious. Simply put, Jack Wilshere is, to me, the heart and soul of this club, and I hope he has a long and illustrious career with it. Heck, he's already been with Arsenal for 12 years in one form or another, amounting to more than half of his 21-year old life. One of my earliest posts paid homage to him and to his potential talismanic symbolism.

As some of you may know, I'm learning how to use Photoshop, which at this point consists of finding tutorials and doing my best to follow them. Many of these, however, assume that the user knows a great deal more than I know, so I freely admit that I'm still barely qualified to call myself a novice. However, it's rewarding, and it gives me a break from typing or pondering the latest transfer-nonsense. If anyone out there knows Photoshop and would be willing to share tips with me, please do.

Anyone, regardless of Photoshop or other graphic experience, feel free to weigh in. I was going for a 1960's style boxing promotion poster. Is it any good? What does it need more or less of? What should I change? Be nice, though; I'm a sensitive soul who craves acceptance and schlocky New Age affirmation of my chakras. More seriously, I suffer from red-green color-blindness, so my sense of color is off. If you know the color-codes that Photoshop uses, I'd love it if you could refer to those. I'd appreciate any helpful advice or criticism, though.

Thanks in advance!

12 June 2013

Ancelotti does Arsenal a bit of a favor in the transfer-carousel. Maybe.

I remember the breathless anticipation of waiting in line for the carousel, eagerly eyeing each horse, hoping for the coolest of them all, usually a black one frozen in mid-gallop, and the mad dash once the gates flew open. We'd run like crazy to get to the horse we wanted. Trouble was, everyone seemed to want the same horse, so whoever got it forced the rest of us to find our second-choice, or our third-choice, and so on. There were so many kids running around and only so many horses worth riding, and even though everyone ended up with horse, not everyone got the horse they wanted.

So it goes with finding a center-forward. With all of the players and managers and teams swirling around, the metaphor falters. Who are the kids and who are the horses? Who's chasing who, and who will end up where? A quick skim of the headlines offers a confounding mix of players and teams: Carlo Ancelotti is heading to Real Madrid and won't release Higuain until he can sign Luis Suarez as a replacement. Juventus is
pursuing Higuain and Jovetic, and Fiorentina wants Higuain, presumably to replace Jovetic. Cavani may leave Napoli, so Napoli wants Mario Gomez while Bayern want Lewandowski. And that's just for starters.

Where is Arsenal in all of this? Which horse will we end up riding? Will we grab the reins of  that wild stallion chomping at the bit, galloping across an imaginary pitch, ears flattened and eyes rolling, or will we end up settling for the pretty l'il filly, raising one delicate hoof ever so daintily, prancing and cantering in a cozy meadow?

This latest snag involving Luis McBite-Bite Suarez may actually help us get that stallion. Liverpool has apparently signed forward Iago Aspas from Celta de Vigo as they prepare to unload Suarez's dental prowess on yet another league. To be honest, though, it's hard to know how Ancelotti's apparent desire to sign Suarez affects Higuain's potential move. It might just be enough to irritate Juventus enough to switch their focus back to Jovetic--a move that I believe is in their best interests anyway as it hobbles a league rival. Fiorentina is said to be pursuing Higuain as well, but I just don't see this move making any sense from his point of view. It would be a dramatic down-grade for him--would he really trade this year's 2nd-place finish in La Liga, Champions League semi-final appearance, and the virtual guarantee of annual Champions League football in order to play for Fiorentina, 4th place finishers in Serie A and hoping to qualify for the Europa League next year?

I like Higuain. I'm convinced that he'd make a great addition to the squad. We might have to break our club's transfer-fee to land him, but he's proven his quality, he doesn't seem to suck up locker-room space like "bigger" names might, and he might therefore be worth it. Given Higuain's second-fiddle role with Real Madrid, we could offer him the role of #1 center-forward, from which he could very well score 20 or more goals (something he's already done three times in La Liga), not to mention contention for a Prem League championship (ahem) and Champions League competition in one of the biggest and most-urbane cities in the world. Late last week, a figure of £22m for Higuain was making the rounds. If we up the offer to, say, £25m or £28m, would this be enough to get Higuain's signature? How much farther would we have to go to make an offer too good to refuse without going overboard? 

11 June 2013

The problem with being as good as we are

We're good. Pretty darn good. Good enough to finish 4th in the Prem, arguably the toughest and best football league in the world. We haven't finished lower than 4th in the Prem since 1996. We've qualified for the Champions League 16 years in a row, beaten this year's Champions League winners on their pitch, and we progressed further than every other Prem club in the Champions League. It is the dream of countless players from all over the world to play for this club.

Yep. We're pretty good, alright.

The trouble is, as many of us sensed about seven words into this post, we're not as goo as we need to be. I'm not talking about being The Invincibles again, and I'm not appealing to a sense of entitlement, as in "we're Arsenal, we should win the Prem every year" and so on. I believe we should win the Prem every year, but I hesitate to say it's somehow our birthright.  Maybe that's not sufficiently Gooner-ish of me, but I make no apologies. We're rooting for a football club, not, say, gravity, and there's bound to be some ups and downs, a degree of uncertainty from time to time. You win too much and you get jaded. You stop feeling it as deeply as you once did.

I'm not saying we should just sit back and wait and hope and pray that silverware will someday magically fall in our laps; I'm just saying that, when it does, it'll be like...like...I'll let Eddie Murphy explain:
"If you're starving and somebody throw you a cracker, you gonna be like this: Goddamn, that's the best cracker I ever ate in my life! That ain't no regular cracker, was it? What was that, a Saltine? Goddamn, that was delicious. That wasn't no Saltine. That was... That wasn't a Ritz, as it? That was a Ritz. God, that was the best cracker I ever ate in my life."
He's talking about sex, of course, but the comparison still works. The next trophy we win, whether it's the league cup or the FA or the Prem, will be like eating that Ritz cracker. At the risk of stretching the simile to the breaking point, I worry that we have a squad with a few too many Saltines. Don't get me wrong--I love our squad and wouldn't make too many changes. We all seem to agree that we need a more-lethal finisher at center. Most of the rumors have centered on that position--Villa, Jovetic, Higuain, Benteke, even Rooney.  On one hand, it's an odd obsession for a team that scored the 3rd-highest number of goals in the Prem and conceded the 2nd-fewest.

However, people can use statistics to prove anything. Forfty percent of all people know that.

Here's the nub, then. We are pretty good. Our record, our goal-differential, and many other barometers support that. However, in order to get better, we may have to stop playing the game our way and start playing it a little more like it's being played by Chelsea, Man City, and Man U. Are we willing to sell our souls in order to outspend them to guarantee the signings of a few top-flight players like Fabregas, Lewandowski, and, say, Cahill?  After all, if we're going to keep with the Joneses and the Abramoviches, we might as well go all in.

Maybe signing Jovetic or Higuain isn't ambitious enough. Maybe we should leave behind the last decade or so of financial sanity (or tight-fistedness?) and go on an absolute bender. All that money's just sitting there, begging to be spent. But on whom? As long as we're doing a full Abramovich, whom should we rent for a few seasons before FFP kicks in? Your suggestions below the fold...

09 June 2013

Will Abou Diaby be swept up in the summer clear-out?

Full disclosure: I write as one who has himself recently torn his own ACL and even before that was a strong believer in the idea that Diaby would throw off the awful plague of injuries that have bedeviled him since Sunderland, 2006. That he came back from that injury at all, even if he's had to endure setback after setback, one tantalizing return after another dashed, each more cruelly than the last, was once cause for joy. However, when he tore his ACL in March, it  looked like a career long on promise but short on delivery had been derailed once and for all.

With an injury set to keep him out of action until January 2014 and a contract set to expire in June 2015, he and the club face some hard questions. On one hand, he's 27, an age at which many players start to peak. Will he peak a little later due to all of the time he has missed through injury? We could see him return to the pitch late in the upcoming campaign rejuvenated, completely rebuilt and recovered from this and various other injuries that have beset him. We don't have to look far for examples of such resurrections. Here in the U.S., the American footballer Adrian Peterson returned from ACL surgery to reclaim his status as one of the the sport's most electrifying athletes. He was 26 when he tore his ACL. He came back for the 2012 season and earned the league's Most Valuable Player award and finished second for Comeback Player of the Year. Had he rushed for nine more yards, he would have broken a 28 year-old record for rushing yards.

On the other hand, Diaby has never made it through a complete season in the Prem.

I offer the American football stats as a suggestion that Diaby could come back just as good if not better than he's ever been. Go back to his performance against Liverpool back in September and tell me you wouldn't want that man back. He was everywhere in an effortless yet dominating performance. At full-strength, he would solve quite a few dilemmas. Arsene has been mocked (and rightly so) for announcing each of Diaby's returns from injury as being like a "new signing", but to some extent that's true. Diaby hasn't played more than 20 games across all competitions since 2010-11. Even Tomas Rosicky, similarly beset by injury, has bested that mark five times in seven seasons. When he does come back, he shows what he's capable of. However, in the process, some injury or another inevitably arises.

Therefore, the question then becomes, at what point do we cut our losses? After all, the pressure that the club and player have felt to rush back from injury has no doubt been immense. With each setback, the cat-calls have grown in strength and number, as has the urgency to prove those critics wrong. It's a terribly vicious cycle. Arguably, the pressure to deliver for a club of our ambitions may have forced the man to short-change his rehabilitation, rushing back and overdoing it when a longer break may have cured his ills. Therefore, as much as I would love to see him come back to terrorize teams in January or February 2014, I find myself wondering if it's finally time to cut our losses. Loan the man out to a smaller club, a mid-table club, and let him take his time feeling his way through his recovery. If that doesn't work, he will have had a chance to showcase his skills enough to earn a decent transfer next summer.

He's taken some stick for his injuries, but he's not a loafer content to cash a check each week. If anything, his problem may be just the opposite. Perhaps if he had had just a touch more of the Arshavin in him, he'd have let his body heal properly before charging back into the fray.

What do you think, then? Does the man have a future with Arsenal, or has that ship sailed? Should we save a spot for him, or look to palm him off on some other club in need of a languid yet potentially dominant midfielder?