Some good, some bad, same as it ever was

Video and reaction

So the Emirates Cup kicked off with a 2-2 draw which, as you would expect in most pre-season games, had some good stuff and some bad stuff.

For me the good stuff included Gervinho who looked sharp, quick and showed some end product in the final third again. I thought Frimpong was good in midfield, obviously he’s still quite raw but he’s got a drive and energy about him that I like. It was another decent display from Carl Jenkinson who seems to be fitting in quite well while Traore had a decent game at left back,

In the second half Aaron Ramsey’s finish was quite something and the summer lay-off has done nothing to quell the goalscoring fire of Robin van Persie. His finish, and more importantly, the timing of his run for the finish, were both absolutely top class.

So definitely some positives but there were some negatives too. I think people could have handled a bit of negative, accepting of the fact it’s pre-season, but when it comes to our defence, and our centre-halves in particular, there’s little forgiveness out there. Both Squillaci and Djourou made mistakes which led to goals. For the first Squillaci was caught in possession in midfield and Boca capitalised on it brilliantly. For the second Djourou was a bit unlucky when trying to make a sliding clearance, the ball hitting his knee and rebounding to their striker, but it’s the kind of bad luck that’s been following him around for months now.

There was a time when everyone wanted Djourou in the team. He had this strange record of having not been on a losing side for ages, but more than that, he was playing well and he added height and strength to the defence. It seems that version of Johan Djourou has been forgotten completely, which is a bit unfair, I think. I’d happily agree with anyone who says his form is extremely poor but I’m not sure it’s time to write him off just yet.

What was interesting after the game was listening to Martin Keown on ESPN. Despite it being the clown network, one that employs that helium voiced halfwitted Afghan hound, and one that quite literally turned punditry and analysis into Championship Manager yesterday, Keown was the little golden nugget sifted from the river of effluent.

Unlike his hyperbolic pundit colleague and the bumbling, hysterical Ray Stubbs, he talked knowledgeably and sensibly about defending and Arsenal’s issues. He said simply making a signing won’t solve the problems when there’s more to it than that. Of course better defenders would help but there were basic problems yesterday in terms of organisation and reading of the game. Knowing when to drop off to prevent the simple ball over the top being so effective, ensuring the large gap between defence and midfield doesn’t exist therefore allowing space and time to the opposition in a dangerous area of the pitch, these things and more were a worry.

And it was good to hear someone talk about these problems without resorting to the tired suggestion that just have to go out and buy two world class centre backs to fix it. I mean, if it was that easy there’d be a queue of managers outside the ‘World Class Centre-Back Emporium’ each weekend, wouldn’t there?

Those who say Arsene traded on George Graham’s back four conveniently forget the Invincibles. Maybe it was the right mix at the right time but it shows he can put a decent defence together. Maybe though, what this team lacks, is a character/player like Sol Campbell. A top class defender in his peak years with the drive and will to form the bedrock of the defensive unit. For three seasons he was outstanding, until he went a bit mad, but when you consider he had around him a midfielder turned right back, a utility player turned centre-half one pre-season, a lunatic German and Ashley Cole his presence was the glue we needed.

That’s not to play down the talent/ability of the other players but you can’t help but look at our defence now and think it lacks cohesion and organisation. While any new defender ought to be well schooled in the basics, some Campbell-esque qualities are imperative too. Fitness and match sharpness are a part of pre-season, no doubt about it, but I think the manager now needs to focus on his best central pairing – at the moment that’s Koscielny and Vermaelen. I suspect they’ll play today and I’d like to see them do 90 minutes.

And while new personnel isn’t the answer on its own there really is only one way of dealing with players who make mistakes time and time again. As I said earlier, I think it’s too early to write off Djourou, but Squillaci fails to convince on any level and must surely be on shaky ground should any central-defensive signing be made. Yesterday didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know already, and while there is a danger of over-analysying pre-season, to see the same kind of defensive frailties raise their head again is frustrating. Let’s hope the business Arsene says will be done sooner rather than later is quite soon indeed.

Anyway, there’s more football to enjoy/criticise/analyse later on as we welcome Thierry Henry back to the Arsenal. This interview with Tom Watt is well worth a read. It’ll be nice to see him again.

In other news the boss confirmed both Eboue and Bendtner were ‘on the verge’ of moves away. The People report this morning that Arsenal’s demand for a £15m fee and Bendtner’s £3m wages are causing problems finding a new club. I can’t really believe we’re looking for that much, the only thing he’d be on the verge of then is staying with us. I suspect something will happen soon. It was also kinda strange to see him play Eboue yesterday considering he’s about to leave, but there you go.

Beyond that not a lot going on, and to finish on a positive, we faced quite a number of corners and didn’t concede once! SZCZ was right.

Till tomorrow.

Wenger on Cesc, Nasri and signings + news round-up

So there’s football today and with football comes press conferences and with press conferences we get stories.

We’ll start with Cesc who won’t be playing this weekend because of the speculation/situation over his future. This time last year Arsene was defiant, refusing to countenance the sale of his captain. This time around, even though Cesc has a contract until 2015, it’s all very different.

I always say he is torn between two loves – the club where he has been educated as a very young boy and the club where he has been educated from 16 onwards and he has been given a chance. I personally can understand it – but of course we want to be certain about his complete commitment.

He is not settled. I think he’s in a moment when he thinks about it and it is a big concern.

None of which is really surprising news to any of us. That the club’s stance seems to have changed so much is though. And with Barcelona yet to make a bid which comes close to matching the talent of the player the question was asked of Arsene if we’d be prepared to let him go for a lower price just go get things sorted. He said:

Frankly again I don’t know because that would mean that anybody who just wants to leave we will have to let him go – and for any price. We have a responsibility towards our club and I have that responsibility to sell the players at a decent price. Or I take money away from my club.

Now, that’s curious to me. In the past I don’t think Arsene would have considered that idea for even second, he’d have been much more emphatic, but this is a different Arsene. This is an Arsene who is eschewing £20m for a player in the final year of his contract, something he would never have done before. This is an Arsene who is not as in control of both situations as he would like and is, in my opinion, struggling to make the best of them.

I think last season he might have convinced Cesc to stay with logic, common sense and a bit of the old Arsene persuasiveness which has worked so well in the past. Tug on the heart strings, the loyalty, and whatever anyone might say there is no doubt that Cesc has a genuine and very real affection for Arsenal Football Club. I think Arsene said ‘Come on, we can win something this year, it’ll be great!’, and I think Cesc believed him. I don’t think there was ever any kind of ‘one more year’ agreement that people speculate on.

Arsene is an intelligent man, he wouldn’t give a player as important as Cesc a get-out clause, not with four years left on his contract. It just doesn’t make sense on any level. Yet after another year in which the team’s long-term weaknesses came back to haunt us I think Cesc decided it was time. And Arsene, and the board, have very obviously been open to letting him go. That the situation exists at all is down to Cesc wanting to go, why Cesc wants to go is a whole other debate, but that it’s still ongoing really isn’t the fault of the player. Primarily the issue is with Barcelona, of course, who have singularly failed to demonstrate they want Cesc enough.

They talk him down, they say he’s their ‘second choice’, they make pitiful bids, they haggle over the price of two youngsters we’ve signed quite legally, they have their players talk and talk and talk in public, they make other signings ahead of Cesc when everyone knows they have a limited budget, and all the while they know fine well what it would take to sign him. It’s unthinkable that if Arsenal have been receptive to bids for Cesc – in a way they weren’t last year – that they haven’t given Barcelona a price. The bottom line is Barcelona refuse to pay that price.

However, while most of the blame can be pointed at them, maybe our willingness to tolerate their shite has been a factor too. Could we have been more decisive? Should we have given them a deadline long before now? Why couldn’t we, knowing we have a player on a contract until 2015, been much more firm when dealing with this? I know it’s not quite as simple as that and negotiations are often long and drawn out, but we have what they want, therefore we call the shots. Arsene says it’s got to be sorted out soon, he’s right, but it should have been sorted out long before now. We’ve come across as a bit weak chinned when dealing with this, in my opinion.

As for the Nasri situation, Wenger said:

Samir loves the Club. My wish is that Nasri stays. I’m convinced he is going to stay at Arsenal.

I don’t even know where to start with that. From everything we’re hearing the best we can expect from Nasri is that he plays well in his final year and then leaves on a Bosman. We lose the £13.5m we paid for him, we lose the £20m+ on offer from Man City which could be re-invested in the squad this summer (I know, hahaha), and I just cannot get my head around it at all. This is a very different Arsene, all right. Anyway, time will tell.

As for players coming in Wenger said our business would be done ‘sooner rather than later’ which is good news considering there are just two weeks before our first league game of the season. He refused to be drawn when the names of Jagielka and Mata were put to him, saying he couldn’t talk about players under contract with other clubs, which is fair enough. Let’s hope things are being worked on and that the new arrivals aren’t long in being announced.

In other news, SZCZ says the team have been working hard on the training ground this summer and trying to sort out the weakeness we have with set-pieces. He says:

Yes, we have been working on it, and I believe it’s working. I genuinely believe it’s going to get much better this season. I see no reason why we should concede goals from set-pieces.

Gotta love how sure is he is about that! The weekend’s football should give us a better idea of what they’ve been working on, but it’s a positive thing to hear they have been focused on ridding our game of such a costly achilles heel.

AW says Henri Lansbury has the talent to play for Arsenal and has to be given a chance. Which would make you ask why Lansbury played last night for the reserves and wasn’t included in the Emirates Cup squad for the weekend. Perhaps he might feature on Sunday but it seems odd not to give him a real chance against proper opposition. It was during pre-season last summer that Arsene decided Jack Wilshere was ready – instead of sending him out on loan again he integrated him into the first team. At the very least Lansbury deserves that kind of a chance, in my opinion. I think if he fails to feature in the Emirates Cup we’ll know his future lies elsewhere.

Finally for today, Thierry Henry reckons Gervinho’s a good ‘un, and Thierry knows a thing or two about scoring goals and what it takes to make it at Arsenal. Let’s hope he’s on the money here.

Kick off later on, as Arsenal play Boca Juniors, is 4.20pm.

Till tomorrow.

Arsenal make actual bids for actual players

Good morning, welcome to Friday and what in Ireland, at least, is a bank holiday weekend.

A splendid amount of stuff going this morning. Some morning there’s lots of stuff but it’s not at all splendid. It can be turgid. Or just plain old middle of the road but this morning there’s no doubt there’s a splendifferousness about it. Mostly because it involves us spending some money.

All kinds of papers and websites of repute from fair to ill, are reporting bids, proper full-on enough to actually buy a player bids, for both Juan Mata and Phil Jagielka. With regard to Mata pretty much all of them are saying we’ve agreed a fee with Valencia for the player and his arrival is imminent. The Express gives it the old ‘he’s told his friends’ shuffle too, for good measure.

He would be a quality addition to the squad, especially when taking into account possible departures (more on that anon), and would certainly make our attacking line-up next season all the stronger. I suspect he’s earmarked for a more central role than the one he plays at Valencia but time will tell on that one. And we’d smash our club record transfer fee too.

Then there’s Phil Jagielka. We’ve gone back to Everton with another bid and by all accounts the two clubs are in negotiations. If the fee ends up at around £15m that’d probably be about right. There’s certainly an ‘English Premium’ on this fee but that is the reality of the transfer market. If you want an experienced, established England international you’ll have to pay top dollar. Let’s face it, even if you want an inexperienced, non-international you have to pay top dollar – a la Jordan Henderson.

And in a market where Stewart Downing costs £20m I don’t really have any complaints about Jagielka’s fee. We need a centre-half badly. We need one that is experienced, that doesn’t need a period of adaptation to Premier League football, we need one that can come in and start doing the job straight away, and Jagielka ticks all those boxes. He might not have the physical presence of a Samba or a Cahill, both of whom could advertise corn with their tallness, but I think he’s a good player and I’d be happy with this signing.

So, things are looking up but as this is Arsenal and these are transfers I would urge caution until things are fully wrapped up. If you’ve cracked open the Babycham already then let’s hope it’s not a case of premature fizzjaculation. We know from bitter experience how things can go wrong at any stage of the transfer process and we do have a reputation – whether it’s founded or unfounded I’ll leave you to decide – for making life as difficult as possible for ourselves when making deals.

There’ll be talk of other clubs hijacking Mata and Everton wanting a bazillion-magillion for Jagielka and how Eboue was all set to join somebody for £3.50 until we slapped a £21m price tag on him at the last minute, so while I’m encouraged I remain calm and somewhat aloof. If and when the deals are done I shall become frenzied and convivial and I think that’s probably the best way to go.

Meanwhile P-Diddy to the HW has damn near regulated Barcelona when it comes to the Cesc situation. Speaking to the Daily Star, as is his wont, he said:

They have been messing about for a year and a half now and they have got to make up their minds. The ball is in their court. They have made one bid of around £26m and another rather tentative one.

If they want to buy the player they are going to have to pay the right price – and when you look at what is being paid elsewhere I don’t think what we are asking is at all unreasonable.

And when asked if reports that Arsenal are slapping a deadline on things and are ready to call the whole thing off, like tomaytos v tomatoes, he said:

We are getting close to that.

Boom! That’s what I like. He’s told them to CUoCO. Which is only right and proper at this stage. There are further reports this morning that Arsene has emailed Sandro Rosell and told him we won’t let this drag on much longer. I can’t be the only one who hopes he stuck a link in at the bottom to Rick Roll him, can I? Or used all caps JUST TO BE REALLY ANNOYING.

While I still wouldn’t be overly optimistic that Cesc will stay I think it’s fairly obvious we want this to come to a head one way or the other now. Personally, I think this is something we should have done from the start and not let it drag on as long as it has. The situation has barely changed all summer, from our point of view, Cesc’s point of view and, least importantly of all, Barcelona’s point of view. I think we should have sent them some kind of missive saying ‘If you want him, you pay what we want by the 7th of July otherwise, due the fact he has a contract until 2015, we’re going to keep him’.

Maybe we did, maybe Barcelona are just unspeakably rude and ill-mannered and refuse to adhere to our negotiating methods, but either way it’s gone on way too long now and I suspect a resolution is not too far away.

Other players on the way out could include Nicklas Bendtner who, it was reported, would be unveiled as a Sporting Lisbon player on Saturday. There’s some suggestion since then that the whole thing is nonsense and Sporting can’t afford his wages, so we’ll have to wait and see. Still, lots of clubs want him so if this deal falls through he’ll have plenty to choose from.

The Sun picks up on the story Arseblog News brought you a couple of days ago and says Henri Lansbury will join Norwich on a permanent deal for a fee of around £1.5m

And with the Emirates Cup taking place this weekend there’ll be plenty of news and gossip flying around, I reckon, so let’s see what the weekend brings. Aside from beer and rum.

Right, have at it.

That would not be an ecumenical Mata

Morning from quite rainy indeed Dublin.

Some interesting developments regarding Juan Mata to kick us off. According to The Mirror his ‘entourage’ flew in to London yesterday to discuss a move (is his agent called Ari D’Oro?), while The Mail says we’ve agreed a fee with Valencia. If true it probably opens the door a little further to Cesc’s departure, dependent as it always has been on Barcelona paying the money required.

You’d have to think, however, that if we went out and spent a club record fee on Mata that it means things with Cesc are probably coming to a head. The outright optimist in me would love to think that the arrival of Mata would tempt Cesc to stay and we could then stick Nasri in a box and flog him to Manchester City. What? Yeah, of course we’d put air-holes in the box. *cough*

However, the realist in me is a bit louder and more sensible and Mata is much more a Cesc replacement than a Nasri one. He’s far more creative than the Frenchman, his assist stats are much better, and as good as Ramsey and Wilshere are I don’t think they’re quite ready to fill the large gap that Cesc would leave. That’s not to say they can’t contribute but with a player like Mata in the team, along with the youngsters, and even Andrei Arshavin who, for all his foibles, has a good assist record, it might well be that the manager is looking to share the creative burden.

Let’s face it, when we play without Cesc we struggle to create at times, missing the player who can not only see that pass but has the technical ability to make it. Much as I would prefer it if Cesc stayed the Mata stories make sense. You can’t just go out and replace Cesc with another Cesc. There isn’t one out there (or we haven’t nicked him from Barcelona yet!), so having four or five players in the team who can provide a final ball is a decent way of going about things. We’ll see what happens but I don’t think I’d put any money on Cesc playing in an Arsenal shirt next season. Unless I’m trying to fool the bookies into giving me long odds. Which I’m not. Or am I? No. I’m not.

Speaking of Arshavin, he’s set his target for the season ahead, looking for 15 goals but also says the team have been working on issues which plagued them last season:

I think we will get stronger and stronger. In particular I think our work on set-pieces, both attacking and defending, will be better. We’ll also play a pressing game – if we do that well, I’m sure you’ll see an improved team.

For all the talk of bringing in new defenders (something I’m all for by the way), our weakness at set-pieces is not just down to personnel. It’s how we’re set up, concentration, awareness, not switching off for that half a second which lets the man get in front of you etc. All that kind of stuff can be worked on during training and hopefully that’s been a part of things this summer. Our famous back four/five weren’t just naturally good defenders, they worked extremely hard to become that good and that organised.

As for the comment about the pressing game, now that is interesting. Arsenal’s best performances last season were the energetic ones, the ones where we worked harder without the ball than with. I know people probably bored of hearing about it but the Chelsea game was the perfect example. We’d just lost to United after what was a fairly toothless display but that night we pressed Chelsea high up the pitch and it worked. It has remained a mystery to me why we don’t maintain that kind of game throughout the season. Maybe we’re not fit enough to do it, but that’s a problem easily solved.

And maybe it falls to the manager to ensure this kind of game is consistent and not occasional. Sometimes it’s frustrating to hear Arsene talk about how the team gave everything when we know they could have done more. A high possession stat doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve worked hard. So, if we can add more energy to our game, along with a bit more directness and some better/different options in the final third (Gervinho being one so far), I think it would serve us well.

Of course everyone still wants that defender and Chris Samba has apparently re-iterated his desire to play Champions League football. Which I can understand but again it makes me wonder why he signed a new five year deal with Blackburn in January. Maybe out of loyalty to the club, which is noble, but hardly helpful if he wants a move away. All the same I think his name is now linked with Arsenal in the same way as Sebastian Frey.

Throughout history, when it has been mooted that Arsenal need a goalkeeper, the first name linked to us every single time was Frey. Now, when our centre-half requirements are discussed, it’s Samba whose name crops up first. I just don’t ever see it happening. As I mentioned above though, it is possible to improve on what we have through hard working and training drills, but I still think Arsenal require a signing at the back, someone to add some quality, experience and presence, and I hope we sort that out sooner rather than later.

On to bad news now for youngster Conor Henderson who will miss the season due to a cruciate knee ligament injury, good luck to him in his recovery. Also worrying though is the news that Theo Walcott’s ankle is giving him problems. The manager says this was an issue last season too and with the new campaign just over two weeks away it’s a bit of a worry. There’s no doubt Theo is an injury prone player and I hope we’ve at least thought about contingency plans.

Nicklas Bendtner’s dad says there have been lots of bids for Nicklas Bendtner. Which is nice.

And some bonus reading for you, Tim Stillman’s column from yesterday, Apocalyptic nutcases with megaphones.

That’ll have to do, I must away into the rain to speak into a microphone. Till tomorrow.

Apocalyptic nutcases with megaphones

Tim Stillman Column

The great Arsenal garage sale appears to be gathering apace in the last seven days. Jay Emmanuel Thomas has sashayed out of the exit door without the indignity of it subsequently hitting him on the arse. Emmanuel Eboue is attracting suitors with a thousand strong red and white clad army offering a temporary airport taxi service. Henri Lansbury looks to be next to be ushered towards the exit whilst talks continue over the release of Bendtner and Almunia. Gazidis might even want to throw some of his old INXS and Simple Minds vinyl into the bargain too in this spirit of de-clutter.

Space is being cleared in the Emirates broom cupboard and one can only presume that, with bids for Jagielka and Mata at least currently in tray, that the runway is being cleared for new arrivals. With Carl Jenkinson seemingly very much a part of first team plans in pre season (and already showing some Dixon-esque own goal scoring skills), Eboue’s departure has been inevitable. Eboue seems to be a very accessible and jovial member of the squad, whom I’m sure, is well liked. However, I think his number has been up ever since the Liverpool penalty incident.

His form when he initially replaced the sadly crocked Lauren between 2005-07 demonstrated that he certainly has the ability to play for a club like Arsenal. However, I don’t believe he ever responded to the challenge set him by Bacary Sagna’s arrival. Things eventually came to a head with the supporters and that appeared to focus him again and by the back end of last season he was effectively sharing the right back spot with Sagna, being preferred for home games due to his attacking prowess.

carl_jenkinson

Here to play ball, not pom-poms

Sagna’s response was to quietly work hard and hone his attacking skills; his delivery from wide positions in particular. Eboue’s was to soak up the ha ha, funny ironic cult hero status he’d been afforded by the Arsenal fans (manufactured out of guilt) and to drop his focus again. Eboue seems to need an identifiable challenge to perform. At a club like Arsenal, you need to be able to motivate yourself on an ongoing basis.

Eboue hasn’t been able to do that. Last season his performances were frankly, sub-par and he found himself used less and less, culminating in the costly penalty concession against Liverpool. Effectively, in 2010-11, Eboue was reduced to the status of the most highly numerated cheerleader in the Premier League. The very embryonic signs show Jenkinson to be a young, hungry player who desperately wants to play for the club. I think that’s a tune we can all groove to with regard to our squad players.

Perhaps Wenger’s thinking is a little more blue sky than we have allowed ourselves to believe. Two talented, yet overly comfortable full backs are effectively being replaced younger, hungrier players. I realise the game of football has changed markedly in the last 25 years, but it does put one in mind of Graham shipping out the likes of Samson and Viv Anderson in favour of Dixon and Winterburn. Let’s hope the quality of Jenkinson and Gibbs can be commensurate with those lofty standards.

Gervinho has made his debut since last I wrote and an impressive one too. Whilst 30 minutes of a pre season friendly hardly constitutes a sufficient barometer, I liked what I saw. Arsenal have enough chin stroking artistes. The reason Walcott gets in the team ahead of Arshavin is not because he is a more talented player. He isn’t. But he provides us with better balance due to his ability to explode in behind defenders. Arsenal don’t have another player like that at the top end of the field, but Gervinho showed those qualities on Saturday. He also went off injured after 30 minutes. If that doesn’t show he’s Arsenal material I don’t know what does. Short of enjoying one good season and agitating for a move to Man City or Barcelona of course. Plenty of time for that next summer though.

On that score, I’ve little desire to further discuss either Fabregas or Nasri. I think everyone has spoken quite enough and now we are just to wait and see what happens. I think the bifurcate scenarios have contributed to a point I appear to reach every summer nowadays. It feels extraordinary to say this in a fallow period of three months without Arsenal playing a meaningful game, but I am utterly bored of talking about football at the moment. I was brought up attending Arsenal matches from a very early age and to me, that’s where the game really exists. Inside the stadium on a match day, where the grass is always green and the ball is always clean.

I can talk about the more cerebral matters of the game; the boardroom, the finances, the transfers, the training ground. But I now feel completely saturated on all of those subjects. The navel gazing, the psychoanalysis of every utterance and every half action, the shadow boxing and second guessing. I’m utterly weary of it now. The lack of football also produces a kind of mania in people that makes conversation with them unattractive.

I am absolutely fascinated by theology and could and often do, discuss it for hours. But I don’t ever approach that blithering nutcase with the megaphone who proclaims that the apocalypse is nigh to exchange views with him on the subject – if you catch my drift. Frankly, after two months, I’ve had enough of the incessant bloody talking with no regular match action to refresh the conversation.

Frankly, the only reason I didn’t completely give up even keeping track of events at Arsenal this summer a good six weeks ago was in service of this column. Elvis Costello once said, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” I feel like I’ve been doing the watusi around Westminster Cathedral all summer. Don’t get me wrong, I still hope the club’s resolve is strong and that they make the right calls this summer. But if we can all just stop wittering on about it until something concrete happens, that’d be most grand me lovelies.

Thankfully, we have the sweet release of the Emirates Cup this weekend. I think this is the phase of pre-season when you can just start to make tentative judgements about the shape of the team for the upcoming season. That’s not necessarily to say the prophets of doom can sharpen their knives, nor that successes should be greeted with open top parades through the streets of Islington. But I think we can start to take some indication on team strategy for the upcoming season anyway.

Onto more competitive matters, the first legs of the 3rd Qualifying Rounds for the Champions League are taking place this week, after which we will be able to build a clearer picture of whom we might face in the Play-off Round. The likes of Rubin Kazan, Panathinaikos and Trabzonspor are still likely destinations. The draw will be ‘open’ so there is every chance we could be drawn to play away from home in the second leg. A trip to Kazan just a few days before we play at Old Trafford is a distinct possibility.

At the risk of adopting Thatcherite rhetoric, the money swirling around the Champions League has begun to trickle down and now teams such as Rubin Kazan represent a real obstacle. The group format guarantees a club six games to soak up the television and sponsorship revenues. As a result, perceived smaller European powers can sit tight, qualify for the group stages and happily suffer a few early knockouts whilst the coffers swell. If, horror of horrors, they reinvest that capital into the team (outrageous thinking, I know) then they suddenly become very worthy opponents indeed.

That’ll about do from me this week. I’m off to play a transcript of Arsene Wenger’s most recent press conference backwards in the hope that it might reveal the hidden secrets of Fibonnachi’s Golden ratio theorem. Up the Arse. LD.

Follow Tim on Twitter – @littledutchva