10 May 2014

Sagna's swan-song...or has it already been sung?

What an odd, empty Saturday. No Prem matches to pass the time. In their absence, I caught up on some thumb-twiddling and mumbelty-peg while my offspring begged me to interact with them. Without any proper football to watch, however, and with Sunday' clash with Norwich lacking any real drama beyond Szczesny's quest for a Golden Glove, it's hard to summon the requisite energy. The match feels more like a friendly, maybe even a Sunday league game. At each end, it's likely that we'll see both squads rotate pretty heavily, further fueling the idea that its outcome matters little if at all. Off-the-pitch issues rise to the surface, chief among them the increasing likelihood that Bacary Sagna will leave this summer if his own words are to be believed.

EXCLUSIVE SHOCK TRANSFER as Arsenal swoop for stars [satire]

LONDON - In a stunning series of moves designed as much to strengthen the Arsenal squad as to hit out at critics, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger announced a stunning number of transfer-signings, besting rivals Chelsea and Man City to a number of them, outspending them in ways that seemed motivated by spite more than strategy.

"Is it a little bit ambitious on our part? I don't know. Are these players signed to display top, top quality? I don't know about that either, and it is too early to talk about that," Wenger, grinning, said as he spoke to a crowd of reporters who had hastily assembled outside of the club's training ground.

As stunning as the number of moves is the calibre of players signed. Nowhere among them is a heretofore undiscovered French ingenue for the backwaters of Ligue 2. Indeed, none of them even speaks French. "Is it little bit true that some of them did not speak French? I cannot speculate, only that each offered a certain je ne sais quoi. Did the player say this? I believe no. Perhaps he exuded it instead. Overall, there is top, top quality in a footballistic sense that we shall soon see."

Indeed, among the raft of signings announced were none other than Diego Costa, Edinson Cavani, Toni Kroos, Julian Draxler, and Ángel Di María, and it appears true that none of them speaks a word of French. "Is it true that Draxler has not even tasted a little bit French toast? This is my press conference. I look at you because you give wrong informations. Can we get some questions about Sunday's game? I only ask." When pressed for details regarding Cavani, Wenger shot back, visibly agitated: "Do I know if he has made a French kiss a little bit behind the bleacher? I cannot speculate on this, only to say that he looked a little bit dazed. Was there a little bit lip niggle? You tell me. Look, this is a press conference to announce that we have signed players of top, top quality. You ask why I sign players who are French, and now you ask why they are not French enough. It is a little bit, how do you say, aggravating?"

The Mirror's John Cross pressed on, wondering if the sheer number of signings, not to mention their total cost, might get subject the club to scrutiny from UEFA for violating the spirit and letter of FFP. "I don't talk about UEFA or FFP today. I only talk of this squad and its ambitions. We have an FA Cup final to prepare for. There will be time to talk of this FFP later, I promise."

Undeterred, Neil Ashton of The Daily Mail inquired about whether Wenger was worried about UEFA sanctions in the wake of investigations of Manchester City and PSG, among others. "You will miss me when I am gone, I am sure of this. For now, is it a little bit disappointment to you learn that we have set aside for the fee? I believe it is £50m, which is the fee they charge of Man City. Plus £1. Just in case."

09 May 2014

79 points. That's enough to win the Prem...in 1998.

An improbable win. A 17-goal margin of victory. Help from an unlikely, erstwhile foe. If these factors come together, the squad will climb to a finish that will dramatically alters its fortunes, its finances, and its fixtures. I speak, of course, of Norwich. If West Brom lose to Stoke and if the Canaries can defeat Arsenal by 17 goals, they'll climb out of relegation and remain in the Prem for another season. Arsenal share a similar hope for climbing to third, needing Chelsea to lose at Cardiff while winning by a raft of goals. In other words, the ink seems to be drying on each club's penciled-in position. Mixed metaphor, I know, but I painted myself into a corner and...right. Let's move on.

Kos commits to the cause: a new contract!

Four years and 163 appearances into his time at Arsenal, Laurent Koscielny has signed a new long-term contract that could see him finish out his career at the club. Details are yet to be released, but it's official, at least official enough to be announced at the team-site. The new deal is expected to run for four years, ending in 2018, at which point Kos would be 32 and entering the sunset of his career, if not the twilight.

This comes as great news ahead of Sunday's trip to Carrow Road and solidifies for the time-being the Kos-Per partnership that has been a cornerstone for our improved defensive stolidity since early 2013. After all, we've kept 15 clean sheets from Kos's 31 Prem appearances.

He typifies in many ways what we've come to expect from an Arsène-signing: coming over from Ligue 1 Lorient in 2010, Kos was a relatively unknown quantity but after a few early struggles, established himself with some strong performances, such as his contributions to Arsenal's 2-1 win over Barcelona in the Champions League. He seems to have moved past the undisciplined, brash defender who was susceptible to getting sent off or committing blunders that led to goals (such as the blunder against Birmingham) and has become one of our most valued and dependable defenders, so much so that captain Thomas Vermaelen has to see Kos's new contract as a bit of a signal that his time with the club may very well come to an end as early as this summer. After all, both Kos and Per have inked new contracts this season, and our centre-back pairing for the foreseeable future now lies in their hands.

Among other accomplishments this season, Kos leads the squad in interceptions per game (2.8) and total interceptions (87), clearances per game (7.4), blocked shots per game (0.7) and blocked shots (23), and an impressive three Man of the Match designations (all courtesy of whoscored.com). For what it's worth, he's the fourth-highest rated centre-back in the Prem, behind Skrtel, Davies, and Lovren, each of whom might benefit for playing for sides that force their defenders to rack up more stats. However, I'm not here to make any extended comparisons. I'm just here to extol our man.

Arsène explained that "Laurent has proven himself to be an outstanding player since joining us in 2010 and has showed his quality once again this season. I am delighted he has decided to commit his future to the Club.” Indeed. Congratulations to the man whose heroics late in last season's finale against Newcastle secured fourth place for the 2013-14 campaign. We may not need such similar feats on Sunday, but I certainly would not object to seeing him celebrate his new contract with a goal anyway.

Will Wilshere return to score another wonder-goal against Norwich?

We're all thinking it. Somewhere, in the backs of our minds, maybe even deep in our loins, we sense it. Norwich. Wilshere. The goal. That goal. The one that saw three Gunners make eight touches before the ball danced its way into the back of the net as many as seven Canaries standing as if transfixed, hypnotized, mesmerized...it was a goal that epitomizes so much of what Wenger has preached in his time at Arsenal. The tight passing, the quick movement, the deft touches... the goal was so stunning from beginning to end that many among us didn't even realize what had happened until after the fact. The entire sequence, from the moment that Cazorla makes the pass to Wilshere to the moment that Wilshere receives Giroud's flick, takes no more than three seconds, four at most, but it's become one of the most memorable and stunning sequences I've ever seen. With suggestions from Arsène that Wilshere might be available for Sunday, could we see a pornogol sequel?

08 May 2014

From Sagna to Serge, a case for the French defense

With fourth place in hand and an FA Cup final still more than a week away, it's easy if not inevitable that minds start to wander towards the summer. The increasing buzz around Sagna paring was with the club he has known since 2007 forces us to focus a bit more attention on the right-back situation, an area that voters in this poll rated as a very high priority (click to vote if you're interested). Sagna's impending departure, sad though it may be, might just become a fact, whether it be through the rapacity of Man City or due to nagging concerns about Sagna's age and efforts. With that in mind, Serge Aurier has become the joueur du jour, and why not? Not only is he French-speaking, he's versatile enough to play at right-back or defensive midfield—two high-priority needs for the summer.

07 May 2014

Transfer-targets: who will it be—Aurier, Pogba, Costa, Cavani?

Keeping in mind that reality has a funny way of ignoring our best laid plans, I'd like you to take a moment to weigh in on at least some of our needs are, identify a few options for addressing them, and make predictions for what could happen between now and deadline-day. What positions do we have the strengthen? Who's out there? How many new players will we bring in? This is not meant to be comprehensive, but if you do see a glaring omission, please say so in the comments-section below. Thanks, and happy balloting! I'm not sure the results will be legally binding, but I'll do my best to get them to Arsène post-haste!

So, Sagna's set to sign for City? That's so...

I'll resist the alliteration and rhyme that the question begged me to answer with. Suffice it to say that the answer ain't "sitty" but something quite close. Depending on who you believe, Sagna has already agreed terms with with Man City or is still entertaining offers. It's hard to resist the sinking sensation that Sagna, one way or another, has played his last match at the Emirates, for one, and may have even played his last match for Arsenal, period. That last bit might be more of a bold statement, what with two matches remaining, but if neither the club nor the player are willing to compromise, there's little left in it but to let him go. If this means we see a third former Gunner at the Etihad, well, so be it.

06 May 2014

Is Gerrard the last of the one-club men?

With Liverpool's epic collapse at Selhurst Park, we may just be seeing the sun setting on a gifted but not quite gilt career. Steven Gerrard, 33 years old, has played his entire career for Liverpool, having made his first appearance in 1998. While he may very well still have fight left in him, it's hard to escape the idea that, barring an even-more calamitous collapse from Man City, he'll once again end the season empty-handed. In an era when contracts and regulations seem to mean little, if anything, Gerrard has been a paragon of loyalty and consistency, slogging through some of Liverpool's dimmest seasons. While he has enjoyed a fair few trophies, most notably the Champions League in 2005, he may very well retire without ever having won the Prem. Prior to Liverpool's draw with Crystal Park, I was ready to swallow my anti-Suarez spite in order to see Gerrard hoist that trophy. That now looks all but impossible. Whether Gerrard has it in him to fight on for another season is another question.

05 May 2014

Liverpool exposes the myth of European entanglements

Well. I don't think any of us saw that coming. A Liverputian squad goes up 0-3, only to draw 3-3? What happened to that +50 goal-differential? What happened to that challenge for Prem title? They still have that +50, of course, courtesy of an epic ten-minute comeback from Palace. The title-challenge is all but dead, left to crumble to dust at Selhurst Park. The capitulation strands Liverpool at 81 points—vulnerable now to Man City, who are at 80 points (and have a game in hand) but also to Chelsea, who are at 79. If Chelsea had found some way to defeat Norwich, well, wouldn't that be a fine mess? It all makes for some fine entertainment from our position of relative stability even if fourth place ain't quite the prize we were hoping for. There's a bit of a lesson in the Liverputians' tale, though, one that we should take a moment to heed just as others are scoffing at that fourth place finish of ours.

The Hairshirt Chronicles: It's gettin' hairy. And smelly...

Regular readers may recall a certain promise I made, vowing to wear my once-lucky jersey until Arsenal win a trophy. Originally, the vow didn't cause much trouble. Sure, I had to stop wearing certain lighter-colored dress shirts, and, yes, it's getting a little gamey, but that's part of the point of wearing a hair-shirt. That's all well and good when I'm only wearing the jersey as I walk around. After all, here in the Chicago-area, it's been unseasonably cool, and my excellent personal hygenie, not to mention my kavorka, have combined to produce a manly, alluring musk that Mrs. Blog finds well-nigh irresistible. She hides it behind a thin veneer of disgust, crinkling her nose and asking me to sleep on the couch, but we both know that I and my unwashed-for-weeks jersey are driving her crazy. She says "up the wall" and "to distraction", but these are but Victorian euphemisms for the raw, animalistic urges I'm surely inspiring. However, all of this was before my own Sunday league resumed.

Sagna: Man of the Match. Elias, that is...

Careful, Elias. Marriner is reaching into his pocket...
We may have seen the last of Bacary Sagna at the Emirates after today's 1-0 win over West Brom, which brought us to 76 points on the season, a mere 18-goal victory away from overtaking Chelsea for third place (assuming they lose to Cardiff next weekend), but who's to say that's the end of the Sagna-era itself? After all, during a post-match lap of appreciation that offered a bit more drama than the match itself, we saw some feisty play from Elias Sagna, who brushed off Gabriel Arteta before blasting the ball home to score. Not to be outdone, Arteta fils did the same, suggesting that our summer transfer-business might start and end closer to home than was originally thought. More seriously, though, although the sons did outscore the fathers, their fathers did outscore the Baggies, which was the whole point of assembling on the afternoon.

04 May 2014

Should Arsenal bid £31m for Diego Costa?

And so it begins. With three matches left on the schedule and two weeks left in the season, it is time to start kicking tires and assessing options. Champions League play is assured (we're into the playoff-round, for what that's worth). With the World Cup looming, there's likely to be a compressed, claustrophobic transfer-window, what with players vying for spots in their national teams and managers wanting to make the most of the time they have. Despite Arsène's protestations to the contrary, we'd be fools to pass up a chance to sign Costa, as in-form a striker as is likely to be available this summer. If only it were that simple...