13 July 2013

Transfer Updates: Higuain's fade, Cesar's signing, Williams's surge...

There's a queasy feeling that I just can't shake, and I'm going to blame Suarez. Ever since the news that we may have put in a bid for him, our pursuit of other players has faltered. Thankfully, the oddsmakers still rate Real Madrid as his most likely destination, and the probability of us signing him(as rated by transfermarkt) has never risen above 35%, my arbitrary threshold for including a player on my little chart. In fact, that probability has sagged to 25%, which I take as a good sign. On to the current Top Three Players Most Likely to Become Immediate Arsenal Legends at the Stroke of a Pen.

What's that shiny thing Williams has?
There are rumors to the effect that Julio César may have agreed to sign with Napoli, but there's no official verification. Should that turn out to be true, this would be a setback, to be sure, although not a disaster. The website oddschecker.com shows no betting sites taking bets on him going anywhere, but that's happened with players before only to change. I've argued that we should sign him, but if he prefers to take a pay-cut to return to Italy, there's not much we can do about that. We've been linked to him a little but not seriously, so it's not as if someone has snatched him from under our noses.

News regarding Higuaín, however, is a little more troublesome. For the first time since I've started tracking him closely, the odds of him signing have fallen, from a high of 80% a week ago to 73% today. Along similar lines, the betting sites have started taking bets on him again, with us at 5/4 and Chelsea at 4/6, meaning that Chelsea has somehow emerged as favorites. By contrast, transfermarkt still rates this as a ?, so there's still hope. All the same, I worry. I tell myself that Higuaín wants no part of playing for Mourinho after shabby treatment at Real Madrid, but, for all I know, they're besties and can't wait to join up at Chelsea. Mourinho makes me nervous, I'll admit. Such is the way my paranoid mind works. We've been linked with Higuaín for so long and we've come agonizingly close. Once the club left for the Asia tour, though, I gave up on there being any news this week. With hope, the change in his status simply reflects an absence of any other real news.

Along similar lines, I'm hoping that all of the talk of Suarez is a smokescreen meant to distract us from the real behind-the-scenes dealing that will result in Higuaín's signing next week. I've dubbed it Wenger's Law: the more headlines there are around us signing a player, the less likely it is we'll sign him. Under this law, the Suarez story was meant to gobble up all of the headlines like they're so many Serbian defenders. Then, when everyone's obsessing over whether or not we should sign Suarez (something I swear I haven't done at all), Wenger calls a press conference to announce that we've signed Higuaín. Presto! Wenger's Law strikes again. I'm crossing my fingers.

In more-optimistic news, the likelihood of our signing Swansea's Ashley Williams has surged dramatically, almost doubling at transfermarkt from 24% to 42%. The betting sites agree that we're favorites for his signature with a betting line of 2/5. He'd be a nice addition, but I'm not feeling a huge tingle in any parts of my body when I hear his name. We already have three solid center-backs, and squad-depth is usually a Good Thing. This would be a good signing, but not the kind of paradigm-shifting addition that Gooners crave. He's only played two seasons of top-flight football (helping Swansea earn promotion, it must be said) but has done pretty well. However, whoscored rates him as weak in aerial duels and tackling. On the other hand, Swansea play an Arsenal-lite kind of football, so he might bed in more quickly than other center-backs we might consider.

Other players still on the peripheries are Fellaini (28%), Papadopolous (22%), Grenier (18%), and Rooney (17%). We'll continue to track these and others with the hope that something dramatic and exciting and, above all, factual, can be reported. Until then, this is the silly season in all of its, uh, glory.

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Suarez don't have what it takes to be a Gunner...

Let's make one thing clear: Suarez is a very gifted footballer, capable of scoring many, many goals. However, there's more to being a Gunner, at least in my mind. So breathless has been the talk of Arsenal signing Luis Suarez that I worry we've lost sight of what really matters. I'm talking about class and about quality. Yes, he was in remarkable form last year and has shown that this is probably more than a one-off kind of year; he'll probably go on to score 20 league goals next year wherever he is. However, I don't want him. There. I said it. Before you unleash your tirade, hear me out.

When I think of why I love this club, I think of class, quality, and aesthetics. I want caviar again. I want my mind and heart to scroll through names that will stir my blood and grow goosebumps all down my arms, making me shiver in the moment and again in the memories those moments evoke. I'll admit that Suarez is capable of creating those moments; he's done it for Liverpool and he's done it for Uruguay and he did it for Ajax. However, I'm still not convinced that he has The Right Stuff© to play for Arsenal.

After all, when I think back on more-glorious days and venerated names—and I'll admit that some of this is probably down to myopia or ahistoric amnesia—those memories are untinged by any unpleasantries. In the recesses of my mind, I'm sure there are instances that I'm not proud of, that Henry or Bergkamp or Adams got away with something, but those feel like little, lurking moments that can safely and legitimately be swept away by the passage of time, dwarfed as they are by the larger canvas of accomplishments that each player has created.

Now, I know that footballers are not called on to be saints, whether they play for Arsenal or anywhere else, but we do claim to play by certain values—speaking in Jakarta the other day, Arsène said, "I still believe that, even if we are in a stronger financial position, all of our values still have to be the same." He went on to focus on developing young players (which is still important), but he also admitted that "for years, we were out of the race for the top-level transfers, but we are coming back now". When it comes to statistics, it's hard to argue against Suarez being a top-level transfer. He scored 23 league goals and might have won the Golden Boot if he hadn't bit Ivanovic.

And that's just it. I worry that there's always going to be an if or a but to follow each Suarez goal. I don't want to climb to the top of the Prem or advance deeper into the Champions League on the back of a guy whom I have to defend with some flimsy excuse ("race is different in Uruguay", "that handball was a spontaneous reflex", "his saliva produces unique antibodies that immunize people against anthrax", and so on). I don't want saints or priests or angels, but I don't think it's wrong of me to expect a little character, a little class. Maybe something like Robbie Fowler denying that Seaman touched him. Yes, Liverpool got the goal anyway, but maybe that's how karma works.

Sometimes, very, very good players are personally unpleasant. I don't think I'm a snob for saying I don't want them on my squad. Cole. Adebayor. Nasri. Please don't ask the question, "would you rather have kind and gentle but bad players?" That's a false dichotomy, so don't pose it. Great players don't have to be jerks or cheats, and nice guys don't have to finish last—look at Messi, to cite just one example. He might be the most-fouled player on the planet, but he still plays beautifully, rarely if ever dives, and never seems to lose his temper.

When I look back on the 2013-14 season and on seasons beyond it, I want memories to cherish. I don't want to have to look past incidents that make my skin crawl or that I have to rationalize. This is the beautiful game, after all, and Arsenal is known for playing it beautifully. I see us winning silverware this year, and I don't want to have grubby feelings about who helped us get it. I'm coming to terms with us smashing our transfer-fee record more than once this summer, but there is no way on Earth I would want Suarez to be our most-expensive signing. If we're to sign Higuain in the mid-20's and Rooney for something similar, we would be in fantastic shape (my doubts about Rooney were put to rest by Jack Wilshere, for what that's worth).

I'm not of the "win at all costs" mindset, and if you see that as a flaw, I guess we'll just have to disagree. I want my Arsenal to win and to win with panache, not gall. When I say "I can't believe he did that," I want to be responding to a jaw-dropping display of skill not to a head-slapping insult against the game. Suarez, clearly capable of the former, is all too willing to commit the latter. Let's not do him any favors, then, by giving him £40m (or more) and inviting him into the Champions League. Wouldn't this prove to him that he was unfairly targeted by referees and the press and that he didn't really do anything all that bad?

No, thank you. I dream of restoring Gunner glory, swash-buckling, marauding men who inspire fear in their opponents through sheer skill and style and a growing, inevitable feeling that Arsenal is going to win and win again. It's gonna happen. I can feel it. When it happens, and we're all delirious with joy, we'll know we did it right.

I hope you're with me. If you're not, I hope we can disagree without being disagreeable. In either case, I hope I've given you something worthwhile. If I have, please consider voting for Woolwich 1886 as a "Best New Arsenal Blog" in the 2012-13 YAMAs Awards. Thanks!

11 July 2013

Villa and Bendtner: A Tale of Two Strikers

The contrast between David Villa, the striker we could have signed, and Nicklas Bendtner, the striker we just can't get rid of, couldn't be starker. On the one hand, Villa has left Barcelona for Atlético Madrid, a move that represents a significant pay-cut, not to mention prestige. Nothing against Atlético Madrid, but Villa has come down in the world just a bit. Or has he? In the eyes of this writer, his move is admirable. More on that in a moment. On the other hand, Bendtner has seen yet another potential move scuppered as Frankfurt has stated that "Bendtner has proven to be not realistic...with Arsenal, there are no problems. In other words, he seems to be resisting a move similar in many ways to Villa's, and he's doing so in a way that reveals his less-admirable qualities.

To be fair to The Greatest Striker to Ever Live, Frankfurt finished the year in sixth place in the Bundesliga, just good enough for the qualifying round of the Europa League—a destiny we've mocked more than once at this site. The man's ego seems to have blinded him to certain realities, and while I've admitted that a certain level of arrogance is sometimes a quality that drives a player to greatness, this isn't the case with Bendtner. His arrogance stands in the way of anything remotely resembling greatness. He hasn't been good enough for Arsenal, wasn't good enough for Juve, and apparently still thinks he's better than Frankfurt. His continued insistence on Champions League-level wages is just so out of touch with reality that I begin to wonder about his mental health. Whether it's his personality, his off-field antics, or his on-field performance, no one wants him. We're literally trying to pay clubs to take him, which, last I checked, is kind of the opposite of how transfers work. He's earning £50k a week, more than many of us will earn in a year, and this makes his arrogance that much harder to take. The deeper issue here is that it makes Bendtner seem like he's in it more for the money than for the love of the game. One secret to a lifetime of happiness is to find someone who will pay you to do what you love. Bendtner's been fortunate enough to have found that, but he now risks losing it. His resistance to playing for Frankfurt lays waste to the idea that he's a competitor or a footballer. He's a mercenary—and a picky one, at that.

By contrast, David Villa, even if he continues to play in the Champions League, appears as a paragon of virtue and the spirit of competition. He's taken a considerable pay-cut in order to earn more time on the pitch, and he's doing so for a much smaller team. The difference between Barcelona and Atlético may not be as vast as between Arsenal and Frankfurt, but the symbolism is entirely different. Villa, a proven performer at the highest echelons of European soccer, has swallowed his pride, taken a pay-cut, and moved down the ladder to a team perennially on the edges of European competition. Whereas Bendtner has sneered at opportunities, deeming them unworthy of his apparently immeasurable talents, Villa has sized up his options (which included, for a time, potentially signing with Arsenal for as much as £15m) and gone to a team that will give him plenty of opportunities to do what he loves, even if he's doing so for a lower salary. He's chosen the right answer to the age-old question: would you rather be a bit-player for a champion or a featured player for a scrappy one? Had he stayed with Barcelona, he'd have a virtual guarantee of silverware year in and year out, but he'd play sparingly—17 appearances of less than 45' and only eight of a full 90' this year, numbers that are sure to decline with Neymar joining the club. Yes, it's far less-likely that Villa will get silverware with Atlético, but whatever he gets, for good or bad, he'll know that he earned it through his efforts. I'll take that attitude, hands down, over a guy willing to sit on the bench and cash checks each week.

Does Bendtner not sense the hollowness of his position? He sat on the bench with Juve and watched them win the scudetto—something I don't think he can claim credit for based on how many appearances he made. He believes himself to be immensely talented, but there's no hunger, no passion, no intent in his approach. He seems to want the world handed to him on a silver platter (and he'd probably check the silver's purity before accepting). Arsenal, unfortunately, made the mistake of handing him that silver platter, and now we may be stuck with this arrangement until his contract runs out in June 2014. He's only 25 and should see a chance to play for Frankfurt, a chance to lead the team to Europa League glory, as his redemption rather than his relegation. If he can't see it that way, he probably won't see the writing on the wall, and the football world will see him for what he really is: a spoiled, self-important wastrel. It's not like he's crippling our movements in the transfer-window, but the sooner we wash our hands of him, the happier I'll be.

Neil Young once sang, "it's better to burn out than to fade away."  Nicklas, my man, you're fading, and fading fast.

Ramsey to Fellaini: get stuffed

Not really. Ramsey strikes me as a too polite to ever say such a thing. Stories suggesting that we'd bring in Marouane Fellaini have ebbed lately as media have focused more intently on the love-triangle that is us, Liverpool, and Real Madrid. Of course, anything involving Suarez is going to make for a some splashy headlines. It's well-worth revisiting the likelihood of Fellaini leaving Merseyside to come down to London, a move I've cautioned against in the past and am about to do here again—not to reject such a move outright but to put it in context of what we have and what we need.

Before going too much further, do yourself a favor and watch this short film from Culann Davies (quick warning: it might be PG-13 due to a few tweets that are shown as well as the song lyrics). What you'll is a strong display of talent, skill, composure, and, yes, grit, especially as Ramsey settled into and then claimed the defensive midfield role after injuries to Diaby and Wilshere thrust him there. We've sought a tough, marauding pivot since the days of Vieira. I'm not suggesting that Ramsey is his heir-apparent, but he's a lot closer to it than we might at first suspect. A better comparison, though, might be to Ray Parlour: tenacious, unassuming, relentless. For a man with all of the intimidating qualities of an accountant, it's surprising to see how well Ramsey will go in for a tackle and how successful he is at it. Ramsey's biggest flaws seem to be (a) letting Shawcross break his ankle and (b) not being Fabregas. It seems he's moved past (a). Check the video at 4:04 and tell me you didn't flinch. Ramsey didn't. As for (b), the comparisons were never fair, either for his playing style or for sentimental reasons. By the time he had left, Fabregas had carved out a strong relationship with Gooners. When Ramsey tried to fill that void, I wonder if some of us viewed him as an interloper. It's a feeling that might be similar to when a friend gets a divorce and introduces you to his new girlfriend a little too soon—there's an uneasiness, maybe even a jealousy, no matter how cute or nice the new girl is: she'll never be quite as good as the ex. That's not Ramsey's fault, though, but he did try too hard to be Fabregas. Now that he's being himself, we're starting to see the emergence of a very good player.

According to whoscored.com, he's good for two tackles a game, comparable to Fellaini's 2.6—and he fouls half as often as Fellaini, 1.3 to 2.6 per game. To me, Ramsey checks all of the boxes: pressing, tackling, passing. His stamina and technique (at 22) are remarkable. Were it not for a few poor touches or bad decisions by teammates, we might be talking about how all those assists he created. As it stands, he created more scoring chances (44) from his position than Fellaini created (40) from his.

There's a certain "bull in a china-shop" element to Fellaini's game, and maybe Arsenal could do with a little more of that. However, I don't see the man as a good fit—overly aggressive, a bit clumsy, lacking technical skill. He's done well for Everton, well enough to be valued at £25m or so, and he could very well be a difference-maker. However, there's a lot we don't know about his defensive abilities or how well he'd fit the defensive midfield role. Having played almost exclusively as an attacking midfielder, it's hard to extrapolate from his stats or performance to imagine how'd he do. Would he drift too far forward? His passing and work-rate, not to mention his speed (lack thereof), suggest gaps in his game that make me wary. We're the only club (other than Everton, of course) who are strongly linked to his future.  With that in mind, then, I'd suggest we hold off on him and prioritize other targets—Higuain, Rooney, Cesar, maybe a defender versatile enough to play center and right. If Fellaini's value starts to sag a little as the transfer-window passes, maybe he can be had for £15-18m.

After all, his former teammate Mikel Arteta is 31, not that he shows any signs of slowing down. Their time together at Everton could make for a smoother transition. I'm still not sold on it. I've come around on Rooney, but I need more convincing on Fellaini. Lay it on me. Why should we sign him—and how much should we be willing to pay?

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10 July 2013

Apologize to Gonzalo, please. 27m times should do it.

I'm still dumbstruck that we're weighing up a move for "Dracu-Luis" Suarez at all, not to mention that it's a bid of £30m. Maybe even £35m. I just can't fathom it, and I certainly don't want that biting racist to be a Gunner. He doesn't deserve it. Not after insulting Evra, refusing to shake his hand, and otherwise acting as if he was the victim. I think he might be sociopathic, a term that is uglier than it sounds because of its similarity to and association with "psychopathic." Sociopaths are characterized as manipulative, conniving, grandiose, dishonest, callous, among other qualities. Some sociopaths are completely and utterly pleasant people to be around because they're smooth. Most, however, lack genuine sincerity, and they believe that rules don't apply to them and are surprised when held accountable for transgressing those rules.

So it seems to be with Suarez. His defense of his racial abuse of Evra amounts to this:
In my country, 'negro' is a word we use commonly, a word which doesn't show any lack of respect and is even less so a form of racist abuse. Based on this, everything which has been said so far is totally false. I will carry out the suspension with the resignation of someone who hasn't done anything wrong and who feels extremely upset by the event.
Self-serving, self-pitying, refusing to accept any responsibility...sociopathic. This idea of "in my country..." is complete and utter hogwash. Even if it is acceptable to use the word in Uruguay, he wasn't in Uruguay at the time. As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. In my country, we drive on the right-hand side of the road. Should I ever make it to London, I should at least be open to driving on the left. That's just for starters, of course. Put it another way: if you offend someone accidentally, you apologize. That's just how it goes.

Quick edit: a commenter rightly pointed out that "negro" is after all Spanish for black, so in that sense, Suarez has a point. However, the FA inquiry found that he used in seven times inside of two minutes, and Evra alleged that it was ten times. There must have been something to the charges. Why not refer to Evra by name or with a pronoun like  you, he, or him?

I'm not here to delve into the in's and out's of Suarez's candidacy. I've done it here already. I'm more worried about how this affects our pursuit of Higuaín. Among other other possibilities, maybe we're tweaking Peréz's nose by launching a bid for a striker that they want because they're dragging their heels on a striker we want. Maybe we're thumbing our noses at Peréz by launching a £30m bid for Suarez to belittle his apparent request that we increase our £23m bid on Higuaín. Spite, however, is rarely a strong negotiating tactic. Most troubling of all, we might be serious in a potential bid for Suarez. In any case, splashing £30m would hardly convince Peréz to agree to that £23m figure even if Suarez is a brilliant scorer. He's also a ticking time-bomb. Let Peréz or Guardiola have him.

The fall-out from this bid, whether it's strategery or not, is only bound to complicate our pursuit of Higuaín. I know it's wise to have a few irons in the fire, and I'm sure Gonzalo is a big boy who understands the vicissitudes of the silly season, but I'm embarassed. He must feel a bit insulted. If we had been linked with, say, Robert Lewandowski, a player without Suarez's, er, pedigree, the message might be a little different. The current message to Higuaín is this: someone at Arsenal rates a biting, diving racist higher than you.

Here's what I recommend then, both to assuage Higuaín's ego and to seal the deal with Peréz: boost our bid to £28m. After all, we've apparently just proven that we're willing to spend. Without sounding too glib about other people's money, what at the end of the day, is the difference between £23m and £28m? Yes, yes, I know the math. I'm referring to how much Arsenal is really going to notice that 5m, especially when Higuaín starts scoring goals.

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09 July 2013

Higuaín's transfer hovers at 80%. Is this masochism or good, clean fun?

Despite reports that Real's Florentino Perez has said there's been no offer from Arsenal and that we've waggled £30m at Luis Suarez, the odds of Higuaín joining Arsenal stand firm at 80% (as rated by transfermarkt), just as they were on Sunday when we last revisited the move. A lot has happened since that post, but, as Ernest Hemingway once said, never mistake motion for action. In other words, there's been a lot of running in place. Perez can say what he wants, but it seems silly if not preposterous that there's been no offer from Arsenal. Maybe he's speaking in the technical sense that we haven't submitted something official or on paper. Maybe he's just being cute—you know that guy who, when you ask if he knows the time, checks his watch and just says "yes"? He doesn't tell you the time but he's answered the question you asked. No other club besides Juve has been seriously linked with Higuaín over the last few months. It's all well and good that Perez now says he wants Higuaín to stay, but it doesn't seem as if Higuaín wants the same. Even if Ancelotti is keen on keeping the Argentine, he'd still have to convince Perez that Benzema should cede more playing time to Higuaín   I don't see that happening.

No, I won't  'sign da ting', naughty boy. Not yet.
It's all too much to bear, all of the agony of waiting and hoping and praying for some of release. Or is it? In an analogy more-risqué than yesterday's, perhaps we haven't been tortured enough. There's a level of masochism here that's hard to ignore. I'll resist the sleazier aspects of the metaphor, but it feels at times as if the whole transfer-process is a cruel dominatrix hell-bent on punishing us and punishing us some more—and we beg for even more. Some of us even crave it, taking each and every story at face value: Gonzalo's on a plane to London! Wait—Perez says there's been no offer. Someone has a pic of Gonzalo in an Arsenal training kit!

The alternating states of agony and ecstasy are at once excruciating and irresistible. I've tried to wean myself by saying, "it's not the actual signatures that matter, but the quality of the players we're linked". The fact that we're so close to signing Higuaín and are in play for Rooney signify that our ambitions and our stature have grown even since January when the most significant names we were seriously linked with were Ba, Diamé, Huntelaar and Zaha—nice players all, but none quite stir the blood as well as Wayne, Gonzalo, or Cesc. We could probably conduct a study of Gooners as they respond to tranfer-rumor headlines: how much do the pupils dilate? How much does the the pulse quicken? Which areas of the brain are most active? How much seratonin and dopamine and oxytocin surge through the bloodstream?

There is something in it that is sexual. Is that wrong to admit? How will Gooners respond when a signature is finally announced? The pressure has built up so high that, should Higuaín or Rooney's signature actually happen, the ecstasy may dwarf that of the one over Koscielny's goal against Newcastle, after which we'll all collapse on our sofas, exhausted and spent. We've earned it, haven't we? Please? Please? What is that damned safety-word...

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08 July 2013

This kugelsortierer sorts Arsenal's ambitions

As we wring our hands and twiddle our thumbs and chew our nails, wondering who, if anyone, we'll be signing, I thought it would be worth taking stock and assessing the bigger picture. What does this all mean? Arsenal, after all, has managed to balance its books, more or less, over the last decade only to see other clubs vacuum up talent (all too frequently, talent we have nurtured). However, the dilemma exists at a deeper level. I struggled to find a suitable symbol for it and finally stumbled on it in the form of a Dutch ball-bearing sorter, Keppler's Kugelsortierer. It's similar to a child's piggy-bank that will sort coins by sending coins down a chute lined with slots so that the slimmest, smallest coins slot out first and the largest ones roll down to the end. The Kugelsortierer ("ball grader") does the same with bearings; bearings with the smallest diameter fall through a matching hole near the top, the next-largest rolls a little farther before falling through the next-largest hole, and so on.

You can see the contraption there, and you're probably starting to sense its relevance to the transfer-window. To make it clear, each ball-bearing represents a player, each slot and chamber represents one club or another, and the sorter itself is the transfer-market. With a sense of grim inevitability, especially for those smaller clubs, the transfer-window remorselessly sorts players according to the clubs to which they apparently belong. Should a player grow to be too big for his club, the sorter sends him further down the line. Should a club's ambitions shrink, its players will be re-sorted accordingly. Of course, for those to the left of the sorter, this all works out just fine as the biggest and best players find their way to their destination. The end-result is that each league will end up with a small handful of powerful clubs and a larger assortment of hopefuls.

However, the system is not without its hiccups. Occasionally, a bearing will roll past its intended hole and end up at a too-large club. Conversely, a bearing will get stuck in a too-small club. Perhaps Fernando Torres is an example of the former; he might have been better-off at Liverpool over Chelsea. Maybe Gareth Bale is an example of the latter; a player who may have ended up at a club he is too 'big' for.

It's a larger problem for the smaller clubs, whether they're facing relegation in the Prem for fighting to win the Eredivisie; they'll lose their best players to larger clubs. It's inevitable. Heck, we took Giroud from Montpellier, a huge factor in them tumbling from first place in 2012 to ninth in 2013. Much as we lament the loss of various players to other clubs, we do have to admit that we inflict similar pain on other, smaller, clubs.

As we've discussed, Arsene considered signing Bale in 2007. Maybe this would have been an example of the kugelsortierer doing its job. Bale has arguably outgrown Spurs and is ready for somewhere bigger. Perhaps he should've come to Arsenal. Over the last five years, if not longer, Arsenal has been guilty of letting itself be that club that lets the larger ball-bearings roll past to end up in bigger slots. Van Persie. Fabregas. Cole. We won't even indulge in the list of players we've "almost" signed. The question that then arises is, under the current system, how does Arsenal see itself? Where do we lie on the kugelsortierer? Sure, we were once at the very-left end and deservedly so. How far to the right, though, have we slid?

Back in January, I would have said we'd slid pretty far. Being linked with the likes of David Villa, a 31-year old coming off of a broken leg, suggested that we saw ourselves as a club with modest ambitions with talk of fourth place as a trophy. Now, however, we seem to be moving to the left. Our pursuit of Higuain, a prolific scorer for the world's largest club (financially, at least), suggests that we have our sights set on goals that are larger than a fourth-place finish or finishing above Spurs. The idea that we're seriously linked with Rooney further suggests that we're eyeing a return to our days of glory and have outgrown our current stasis.

However, the larger problem still persists. Under the current system, a "small" club's reward for success is to see its best players leave. Whether it's Aston Villa's Christian Benteke or Spurs' Gareth Bale (or Arsenal's Robin van Persie?), the current system will send the best players to the biggest clubs. The rich get richer; the poor get the picture. Whether FFP has the teeth to address this remains to be seen.

On one hand, I am excited at our activity in this summer's transfer-window. I would lovelovelovelovelove to see Higuain join us and would lose my mind if Rooney does the same. On the other, I look forward to a system, perhaps under FFP, that would bring about a bit of parity through which clubs, regardless of size, can keep their best. It might be a little self-serving, but we've already proven that we can live within our means and win, falling behind only those who live beyond theirs. In other words, once the kugelsortierer is level rather than pitched, Arsenal might just end up as the club best-positioned to win the Prem.

Say what you will about our signings and ambitions over the last few years—we're looking lively in the transfer-market for the first time in ages. Not only are we looking to maximize our position under the current system, we're positioning ourselves astutely for the restrictions to come.

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Luis Suarez, £30m, and the cost of cognitive dissonance

F. Scott Fitzgerald once claimed that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function". So it is with sports-fans. We love the lads who play for us and forgive, overlook, ignore, or justify their sins on and off the pitch. We jeer those who play for others, perceiving, imagining, and inventing transgressions ranging from cheatiness on the pitch to buggery and worse off of it. Or on it. I don't know. As news came out that we had launched a ludicrous bid for Liverpool's Luis Suarez, I (and, I imagine, many others) probably felt a moral tugging. On one hand, we have a man who has bitten not one, but two opponents; used his hands more egregiously than a frotteur on a subway; and who was convicted of racial abuse. Even if there are extenuating circumstances in one or two of these situations, it raises the question: how many dazzling feats of athleticism are enough to create a fig leaf to cover those offenses? 

Before being sent off for gnawing on Ivanovic, Suarez was, after all, on pace to win the Golden Boot. At the time, he had 23 goals to van Persie's 21, who finished with 26. Of course, he missed the last four games of the season, which ends the argument over whether he could have held on. At any rate, with Suarez all but sure to leave Liverpool, there are plenty of clubs salivating over his services (what? wrong verb? Fine: drooling). However, it seems highly unlikely, given his complaints over the British media's treatment of him, that he'd come to London, the epicenter of the media circus. He'd be better served leaving the league altogether, as he did after his first biting incident led to leaving Ajax and the Eredivisie. I'm hoping, then, that this is just a bluff in our poker-game with Real Madrid over Higuain. If they're holding out for a little more money, the message from us might be, we'll just go out and sign someone else altogether. I'm not sure I see the logic there, thoughif we're willing to throw £30m around for Suarez, surely we can find £25-27m for Higuain?

Whether we're serious about signing Suarez is a matter for those smarter than I to analyze. I do feel like I can answer the question of whether we should, and I come to a resounding "no" and do so pretty quickly. The cognitive dissonance required (he's a dirtbag/he's a goal-scoring machine) is too much for me to bear. I know that we have some in our squad who might benefit from a trip to the confessional and few, if any, are shortlisted for sainthood. However, the idea that I might have to defend each goal from Suarez by saying something like "well, race is different in Uruguay. He probably just used Uruguayan slang for 'black' and Evra got confused" or "the footage is too grainy and we all know what a whiner Ivanovic is"? No way.  It makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it.

No thank you. I know that a certain arrogance, a ruthlessness, is sometimes part of what drives an athlete to greatness. However, Suarez has too much of this, or not enough self-awareness. If the moral argument doesn't sway you, consider the strategic. Twelve yellow cards in 2012-13. Twelve games missed to suspensions in 2012-13 (eight for racial abuse, four for the bite). He'll miss the first six games of the season. When he does return, we're going to have to worry about his next card for simulation. We're going to have to worry about his next biting. He claimed that he "lost it" against Chelsea. Teams are going to bait him and bait him until he takes that bait. He might not bite, but he's going to lash out in one way or another, and his next suspension might rightly be more than the 10 he got for biting Ivanovic.

I'm a big believer in second chances and redemption. I'm just not willing to let our club offer that chance. There are others will fewer philosophic ideals and more ducats than we. I'm open to Rooney. Still wary of Fellaini. I'm dead-set against Suarez, and I'll maintain that position even if he goes on to score against us while playing for whoever he's playing for next year. There. I said it. Victoria Concordia Crescit still means something around here, and I doubt this motto would resonate much with Suarez.

Last but not least, this blog has been nominated as a "Best New Arsenal Blog" in the YAMAs 2012-13 survey. I hope you'll consider casting your ballot for Woolwich 1886.  Thanks!

07 July 2013

Transfer updates: Higuain, Fellaini, Rooney, Suarez. Oh yeah, and Cesar.

Another week has passed without any noticeable movement around key players. There's been some talk of a £30m bid for Luis Suarez, which I flat-out wish I could veto. The man's a time-bomb waiting to go off. Yes, he scored more than a few goals, but scoring hasn't necessarily been a problem for us. If we are set to sign Higuain (as I believe we are), I think any bid we did or did not make is more about the poker game between us and Real than it is about actually landing Suarez. After all, the toothy Uruguayan says he wants away from the British press. Shame on them, after all, for noticing his transgressions. Does he really want to come to London proper to escape the scrutiny? More to the point, do we want to splurge that kind of cash on a guy who will miss six games after biting Ivanovic and who is one missed snack-time away from biting someone else? Happily, his move barely registers at transfermarkt or the betting sites, so we can dismiss that for now.

Instead, we can turn our attention to other, more likely and more interesting targets. Despite reports that our pursuit of Higuain has hit a snag, with Real Madrid now insisting on something closer to £30m (a figure I've actually suggested is closer to his market-value), it looks like Higuain will finally and truly be a Gunner. If this doesn't happen by week's end, however, I cannot be held legally responsible for my actions.

So Real wants to extract maximum value for Higuain. Fine. He's under contract until 2016, so that gives them a bargaining chip. However, transfermarkt has continued to upgrade the chances of his move to Arsenal from 75% a week ago to 80% today (Sunday). Sanogo was at 93% when Arsenal announced his signing, so we draw ever nearer. I'm not sure what the point of no return is—the magic percentage that marks a confirmed signing—but I don't feel I'm going too far out on a limb to suggest that we'll see something significant before the end of the week.

Julio Cesar has become a bit of a forgotten man even as the chances of his signing grew from 50% last week to 62% today, and odds went from 1/3 to 1/4 as news of Barcelona's interest came out. In other words, we could very well see his addition sooner rather than later. It's a shame that a treble-winning goalie's signing rates so much less attention than that of bizarrely-coiffed Belgians, even if that keeper is 33 years old. There's been little news of movement around Cesar, but his experience and skill and mentorship, as I've argued, could go a very long way in realizing the talent that Szczesny displays only in fits and starts.

In dimmer news, the likelihood of Fellaini joining Arsenal seem to have faded a bit as transfermarkt now only rates his signing at 33%, down from 40% a week ago. I'm not necessarily disappointed, having previously argued that we should approach this signing with caution. With the emergence of Aaron Ramsey and his partnership with Mikel "minifig" Arteta, I feel very comfortable about our defensive midfield and certainly don't feel that Fellaini would be an upgrade on our current batch of attacking midfielders: Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski, Wilshere, Rosicky. If we can nab him, great. If not, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The buzz around Rooney continues to grow, although not enough to warrant me redoing my nifty little graphic. Transfermarkt rates the odds at only 22%, and the betting sites give us a narrow edge over Chelsea, giving us a 2/1 to Chelsea's 5/2. There's the rub. With noise over Rooney's potential departure getting louder, can we afford to let Chelsea get him? Should we pursue him more aggressively than I've suggested if only to keep him from Mourinho? Other clubs, like PSG, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid, are in play to varying degrees. but it's us and Chelsea who seem to have an inside track. I can't blame the man for potentially wanting to stay in England, but I would certainly prefer he do so with  Arsenal than with Chelsea.

To come 'round full-circle then, let's let that bid for Suarez stand as a shot across Real's bow: stand down on Higuain, or we throw down on Suarez, if only to get petty. Then, once that's done and over, we can turn around and pursue Rooney with greater force. The potential additions of Higuain, Rooney, and Cesar would certainly meet if not exceed my call for two or three signings. Assuming we do land these three, the question then becomes: is this enough? Will those signings re-establish us as legitimate contenders in the Prem (and the Champions League)? Offer your thoughts in the comments section below.

Last but not least, Monday marks the final day of voting in the YAMAs 2013 Best of... Awards. Woolwich 1886 is nominated as a "Best New Arsenal Blog", and I hope you'll cast your ballot for me in question #3. Click here to get to the survey—there are seven questions, so it should only take a minute or so. Thanks!