Footballism and unvarying dancing

Tim Stillman column - Arseblog

A slumbering summer appears to be slowly stirring from its sleep; stretching, yawning and having a good old scratch of its knackers before assessing the carnage ahead. Though there have been no confirmed incomings or “don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way outgoings”, the cogs appear to be creaking into action. The transfer window opens officially on the continent on Friday, whilst Arsenal’s first team are back in pre season training on 6th July. I’m of the impression that by the time I come to pen this column again next Wednesday; there will be more than mere speculation to write about.

Perhaps inevitably, it is the transfer saga of Cesc Fabregas and Barcelona that has set tongues a flutter. Only this time, it’s not been the loose larynxes in Barcelona that have set the Catalonian amongst the pigeons, so to speak. We now know that Barca have made a rather derisory offer of £27m to the club for Cesc. An offer that has rightly been refused and, one would hope, that the fax containing the offer has been put to good use in the water closet at Casa Gazidis.

However, whereas last year’s initial Barca bid was met with spiky defiance in the shape of a statement that rather said, “Fuck you very much and have a nice day”, this year there appears to be a more conciliatory tone from the club. If last year’s rejection was administered with a sledgehammer, this year’s seems to have been delivered with an olive branch. It’s no accident that a senior Arsenal official told the BBC quite candidly that if an acceptable bid came in, “I expect we’ll have to sell.”

Arsenal have rather thrown a curve ball into this jester’s court that suggests they’re willing to do business. Of course, this could all be a deceptive ploy. I wrote in this column last week that I felt Barcelona were laying the groundwork for a future bid; gently letting Cesc know that they are on the radar; whispering honeyed words to Fabregas but failing to follow up with the proposal until they really needed to. Maybe this is a ballsy counter strategy from Arsenal. Perhaps they are asking Barca to put up because they know they won’t, which would force them to then shut up. If Barcelona blink, everybody will know they are bluffing.

I’d like to think that that was the angle; but I just don’t think it is. I must say the club’s stance has come as a surprise to me. Cesc’s contract is still reasonably strong. We know he’s a good professional and it’s unlikely he will cause us any trouble. My personal preference would be to hold onto him for one more year until an axis of Wilshere and Ramsey are ready to take the reins. But sometimes we have to accept that managers see things that we as fans don’t. It wouldn’t surprise me if the manager and the captain had a gentlemen’s agreement last summer that, in the event of another unsuccessful season, the club wouldn’t impede a move.

Maybe, to coin a popular Wengerism, the reasons are more footballistic than that. I’ve written many times before about my frustration that the team seem overly contented to stand by and let Cesc shoulder the burden for the whole team. Even in games at home to Huddersfield and Leeds, the players appeared to be looking sheepishly towards the bench, just waiting for Cesc to come on and cut their meat and veg for them. It’s possible that the manager believes we have come to the sort of checkpoint we arrived at with Henry, whereby the captain has unintentionally become a shadow that the team needs to step out of.

Ready or not?

Ramsey, Wilshere and Song is a midfield trio that could feasibly play together for ten years or more. There were green shoots of a positive symbiosis in the home victory over United. The shift in emphasis being that Wilshere and Ramsey swapped the more attacking role, whilst Song stayed deep. Whilst I’m enthusiastic about that prospect, I think it would be a big ask for those three young men to carry a season that could potentially rise to around 60 games. Who knows, it could just be that the manager wants to stop delaying the inevitable and wants to remove an insuperable barrier to building his team with a long view.

Our reported transfer targets seem to suggest there will be a change in emphasis. With Alvarez, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho all in the crosshairs, the manager has invited anxiety for some by targeting tricky wingers when our defence is the most oft maligned aspect of the team. I’m not so sure myself, even if Fabregas and Nasri stay, we desperately need reinforcement in the creative side of our game. Tactical inflexibility came to blight the second half of our campaign. A little more variety in our attacking approach would be welcome- if anything so we don’t have to, oooh, just plucking an example out of the air, put our 6 foot 3 striker out on the wing just for the sake of shoehorning him into the same stuttering system.

At the very least, a little depth in our wide options gives us a better Plan B. It’s been widely suggested that the team should revert to 4-4-2; and whilst I don’t think that should necessarily be our system for every game in our campaign, it looks like we’re targeting players that can help us move to that more fluidly in game if necessary. A lack of pace and urgency has sometimes been present in our game. Walcott starts ahead of Arshavin nowadays not because he is a superior player- he isn’t. But because the qualities he has give us a better balance and variety in our offensive threat. Whilst reading Gingers for Limpar’s quite excellent season review I came to pondering the question as to whether Arsenal were actually that exciting to watch last season.

Now, I suspect supporters have been rather spoiled by the style of our play. We do clearly play an attractive brand of football. But a marriage of anxiety over lack of success and over exposure to it makes us immune to its charms sometimes. However, I am of the opinion our passing became laboured and one paced in 2011. Prodding the ball across the centre circle at 0.003mph in front of a ten man defence isn’t spectacularly effective. Possibly the nadir of the last campaign was listening to Stoke’s odious oafs grunting “Boring! Boring!” as we passed aimlessly and finding little ground for objection. Great sides are able to slow the pace of the game down with their passing and, once they sense an opening, they act with devastating speed.

It’s what Barcelona do so well. I recall Jimmy Hill talking about the Dutch side of the 70s and he said that the pace at which they conducted a game put one in mind of a dance step. Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. Too often Arsenal have just been slow. If the introduction of more “urgent”, explosive players can remedy that, all the better.

Moving on, it was interesting to see some of Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith’s more forthright comments regarding Arsenal’s ownership situation on Twitter this week. She was rather candid that Dein and his fallout with Fiszman had become a destructive influence in the boardroom. The comment that appears to have attracted the most discussion was that the current board had nothing left to give the club and should go. Not quite sure that’s as outrageous as people think.

Edelman and Dein have already gone, Fiszman sadly departed and the other members of “the old guard” are past retirement age by now. The new broom sweeping through the Marble Halls isn’t as much of a coup as people think. The old guard saw us through an incredibly difficult transitional period in moving us to a new stadium and bore the financial restrictions that came with that. Now the belts aren’t quite as tight, they can consider their job well done and are now looking towards pensioning themselves off. I just hope history properly places their contribution.

That about wraps it up from me this week. Until next I speak to you next, Up the Arse. LD.

Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA

Barcelona’s improved offer still nowhere near enough

Last night I dreamt I was drinking all night in a strange old hotel. Pints of Armagnac and other things and when the alarm went off this morning I braced myself for inevitable and no doubt painful *boilk*.

Which never came! That’s awesome. It’s like when you wake up and go ‘Oh, it’s Thursday’ and then you realise it’s actually Saturday. Of course, when you’re already dressed and out the door for school, as happened to me one day, it takes a little bit of the goodness out of it but still. It’s better than when you think ‘Hurrah, it’s Friday!’, only to discover it’s Wednesday, which is the more usual situation. So that’s a decent start to the day.

Unlike the back of The Mirror which suggests we could lose both Cesc and Samir Nasri this week. They say that Barcelona have returned with an improved bid of £34m. El Mundo says that Barcelona’s bid is €35m + “variables”. Sport say Cesc is house hunting in Barcelona. I say, fuck £34m and fuck their €35m + variables.

The Catalan press say that Barcelona consider this a perfectly acceptable price to pay for a player when there’s no auction, i.e. there are no other clubs after him. As has been pointed out before, and has been again by Arse2Mouse, that didn’t stop Real Madrid paying £80m for Cristiano Ronaldo. That’s the precedent here, not what Barcelona consider acceptable.

I do feel for Ivan Gazidis a bit, it’s certainly more difficult in this situation when there’s only one club bidding and the player would only go to that one club, but the fact remains that Barcelona are woefully under-valuing Cesc Fabregas. They insist in today’s reports that they will never go past the €40m bid they made last year, Sandro Rosell simply won’t allow it. In which case I would hope that leaves them disappointed.

As I’ve said, I understand this is a new regime at Barcelona, one which is determined to try and put the club back on a more even footing financially, eschewing the madness of the Laporta years, but that still doesn’t alter the fact that if they want one of the best players in the world then they have to pay an appopriate price. Offering us £1m less than Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll does not come close, I’m afraid.

For me the bottom line is that £34m is not enough and Arsenal should not only reject that out of hand, they ought to send them an official rejection on headed paper saying just:

£34m? heh

They’ll understand, I’m sure, because it’s not as if they haven’t paid big, big money for players before. They know what it takes to buy a world class player who still has four years left on his contract. And that’s the Ace that Arsenal are holding. Aside from everything else we have a player under contract who we have no pressing financial need to sell. And there’s no good footballing reason to do it either.

In the ‘will he, won’t he?’ madness, and the plethora of ill-informed opinion pieces on how Arsenal should sweep the decks and start afresh, the point that you can’t simply sell a player like Cesc and go out a buy a new one is almost completely missed. He is absolutely crucial to the team, and the way we play, and at the moment we don’t have anyone in the squad who can take his place. It’s also hard to think of a realistic target to replace him, even if we did have the full fee to reinvest.

As for Nasri the talk of a £20m from Manchester United continues. I think this story began life in Sunday’s News of the World and it doesn’t seem to be going away. I’m still a bit dubious about it, to be honest. I’m suspicious that it’s a ploy to get Arsenal to up their offer to the player, threatening us with the possible departure to a bitter rival, but I have to say if United did come in with a £20m bid I’d be very, very tempted to take it.

For a player with 12 months left on his contract it’s a big offer and would still represent a £6.5m profit on what we paid Marseille for him three summers ago. And if Nasri wants to go there, then fine, that tells you as much as you need to know about him. He’ll become a vague pantomime villain, never important enough for us to be the real deal, and we’ll move on and bring someone else in to take his place.

As I said though, I’m not sure it’s realistic. Would Arsene’s pride allow him to sell a player to United, especially after he so categorically said he wouldn’t last month? It’s one thing selling an Adebayor to Man City, or Thierry Henry to a club abroad, but to sell Nasri to United would be too much, I think. Perhaps his pride would be put to one side if the offer were large enough but the whole thing smells fishy to me. And by fishy I mean agenty. And by agenty I mean as foul and fetid as the decomposing, maggot ridden anus of a 12 foot long cockroach which has been pissed on by a badger in renal failure.

What’s clear is that the deadline the club imposed on the Nasri situation is looming on the horizon. July 1st was the date set for a decision, one way or the other, and unless Nasri agrees to a new deal the club will actively try and move him on. Whether they have any success in that remains to be seen. And I’m biting my tongue a little bit over Nasri’s carry on this summer.

What’s interesting is that a key figure in the Cesc to Barcelona deal has also been co-opted by ‘team Nasri’ to ‘help’ with his contract negotiation. That key figure knows well that the idea of Arsenal losing both Cesc and Nasri in the one summer is going to be a hugely difficult one to sell, so, if Cesc to Barcelona is likely, then Arsenal will be forced to give Nasri more money.

It wouldn’t be in the least bit surprising if that person was feeding information to the press about United’s interest in Nasri. It’s not a case of the journalists making things up, they’re simply using the info that they’re being given. And you can make of that, and those tactics, what you will.

July 1st has become almost mythical as people are expecting an avalanche of business to be done that very day. The significance of it is that the transfer windows around Europe officially open, and with many clubs financial years beginning on that date, it means they are more open to doing business so fees etc are part of the new financial year. So while July 1st won’t necessarily see announcement after announcement, I expect things to get significantly busier from then on.

Finally for today, The Sun says Arsene is set to replace ‘misfit’ Manuel Almunia with Inter’s Emiliano Viviano. Check out the picture. They could be twins! Same long mournful face, same dead, slightly heroin addicted, eyes, don’t do it Arsene. Have you never learned to judge people by their appearance?! It’s how they look, not who they are inside or what they do, that counts.

And that’s that for this morning. I’m off to enjoy a wonderfully hangover free breakfast. Laters.