Transfer Transfer Transfer Badger Badger Badger

Transfer Transfer Transfer Badger Badger Badger

“It’s a quiet week, boss.”

“I don’t care. I have space to fill. I need some Arsenal stories.”

“But there aren’t any.”

“That’s not my problem.”

“Right then, transfers it is then!”

Can’t be coincidence that in the quietest week since the last Interlull we’re being bombarded this morning with stories about who we’re going to buy this summer. I mean, we still haven’t secured a top four place and the FA Cup final is yet to be played – two things which could have a huge impact on who is going to be doing the buying – and yet here we are.

In one sense it’s good that a football club will make plans well in advance of the transfer window opening. On the other hand, this is Arsenal where we went through all of last summer without spending any money at all until deadline day when we went crazy, like a drunk dad on Christmas Eve who forgot to get anything for his wife so spent a fortune on a Fabergé egg diamond ring with a platinum band presented in a solid gold box encrusted with the crown jewels.

So, you might forgive me if I’m a touch cynical about any stories which suggest we might act with a measure of decisiveness and timing. That’s not really what we do, is it? Yeah, I know we bought Podolski and Giroud with relative ease and alacrity in 2012, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

What’s interesting to me is that before we even think about adding to the squad, we’ve got to deal with departures. So even if we go buy a right back, a centre-half and a back-up keeper for Szczesny, we’re not increasing our options in any way. We know that Lukasz Fabianski is going to leave while Emiliano Viviano’s gap year will be up and he’ll go back to Italy somewhere, I assume. That leaves us with one senior goalkeeper. One of the younger players at the club could provide some depth there as third choice, but we’re definitely going to have to go into the market to add another keeper.

Bacary Sagna is now just weeks away from a Bosman and I would be absolutely staggered if he stayed and signed a new deal. I mean, I could be wrong, but I just don’t think it’s likely. Is Carl Jenkinson ready to step up? Is the manager going to thrust Hector Bellerin into action? I don’t know, but chances are we need a right back.

Thomas Vermaelen is at an age where he’s not going to spend another season sitting on the bench, regardless of any affection he might have for the club. Indeed, only a back injury last summer prevented him from exploring his options as he knew fine well that the Mertesacker-Koscielny axis was one he’d find very difficult to break up, except for injury and suspension, and so it proved. I think he’ll be off.

That leaves us with two centre-halves. I’ve said many times this season that even the three we have is insufficient. It’s been a massive gamble to go through an entire season with just the three of them, even if Sagna can provide some short-term cover. To my mind we need a signing to cover Vermaelen and another to give that position the right amount of depth. Players who can, for example, play in the cup competitions ahead of our first choice pairing. Mertesacker and Koscielny had to play against lesser opposition like Sp*rs and Coventry, when ideally you’d like to give them a rest.

I think we’re as well stocked as we’ve ever been in midfield but there’s certainly no doubt we could add a signing which would improve us in there. Somebody who could add a bit more physicality to the anchoring role would be top of many people’s shopping list. That player is not Tom Cleverly. The answer is never Tom Cleverly. Unless the question is: ‘Who should Arsenal definitely not buy this summer?’, and his name would come well before other answers like: Scott Parker, any of the many and varied Diarra brothers, Mork, Star Wars kid, a pigeon, Huell from Breaking Bad, a cylinder of propane, and Inanimate Carbon Rod.

Up front – now you’re talking. This is where we need the good good stuff. I’m all for keeping Giroud – we’re trying to add depth to the squad, remember? Buying one striker and selling our only other striker doesn’t do that. So buy a striker. As far as I can see, the only reason at all to bring in Mario Mandžukić is so his name could be sung to the tune of this Sinead O’Connor song. Is he a significant upgrade on Giroud? I don’t think so. He’s another Giroud type player.

If pace has been an issue in this team, he’s hardly the player who solves that. Yes, we might have Walcott back but one kick on his gammy knee and all of a sudden we’re robbed of an asset which is vital to most teams these days. Also, with Giroud in the squad, and Sanogo likely to be playing a part as a player of similar style, shouldn’t we be looking for a different kind of forward? Somebody a bit nippier, who can play instead of the bigger man, but also with/off that bigger man? I don’t know who that is, but the target must surely to be to add depth and a bit of variety.

I also suspect that the future of Lukas Podolski isn’t as assured as we might think. I’d definitely keep him, as he adds something to the squad that can be hugely important over the course of a season, but I’m not sure the manager (assuming he’s still here) is convinced and could suggest he might be better off elsewhere. That would be another purchase necessary – although I admit that’s speculation more than insight on my part.

So, we could need three signings just to keep the squad at the level it was at last season – and that’s not taking into account some of the older legs getting older still. Then to improve things we need at least a centre-half, a midfielder and another striker. That’s six players. That’s a lot, eh? Probably more than we’ve ever bought before.

On the plus side, we’ve got more money at our disposal than we’ve ever had before via the new sponsorship/kit deals, but doing that much business would represent a huge change in our transfer market behaviour – and you can insert something about leopards and spots here if you like.

In conclusion, Tom Cleverly, hahahahaha.

Till tomorrow.

Diaby returns for U21s and that’s about it

Diaby returns for U21s and that’s about it

Told you this was going to be a quiet week. I was playing football late last night and had that thing where you can’t sleep afterwards, but when I did I was dreaming about FA Cup final tickets.

All of the tickets for Arsenal fans were being sold from a kiosk in space and you had to take this weird shuttle craft to get there. However, for some reason they located the kiosk in the middle of an asteroid belt so loads of the shuttles were being smashed by space rocks and people were spinning off in the vast expanses like they were Sandra Bullock in Gravity.

The club defended this by saying that tickets would only go to the most committed fans and even in my dream I knew this was nonsense because there’s committed and then there’s suicidally mental which is what all the people who were going off into the blackness to be utterly Bullocked were.

I don’t remember what happened after that but then Mrs Blogs, awake before me, decided the funnest new alarm clock is a 40 kilo German Shepherd who leaps onto the bed and then slobbers you into consciousness. I have to say, as a method of waking somebody up it is most effective. Then the German Shepherd ensures that his butthole must sparkle so it’s win-win for everyone.

In terms of Arsenal there’s not much going on. Abou Diaby played 45 minutes for the U21s last night which is good news for him. Asked if he might play for us before the end of the season, the manager said:

He is fit and ready. Physically he’s ready to play, completely. It’s just now decision making, getting used to challenges again. He needs a game.

In the build-up to the game, Arsenal posted a picture of Diaby in the dressing room and it’s hard not to look at that knee:

scar_diaby

It looks like it’s made of 99% scar. I have to say I’m sympathetic towards Diaby in the main. You read people lambasting him for some reason or other, but it’s not as if he’s deliberately ruptured his cruciate and spent a year out of the game just so he can lie around, be fed grapes by his many concubines, and pick up his wages.

The issue for me was always that we left ourselves in a position where he was missed when he was injured, and as harsh as it may sound that’s no longer the case. The squad is choc-full of central midfielders. Sure, what he brings in terms of height is probably unique in our team of less than tall players, but his absence no longer hurts the team or leaves us short of options.

I think this season is probably too soon for him as well. He might well be fit but after a year out he’s got some way to go to regain the kind of match sharpness and composure you need in games of high intensity, and it might be best for all concerned that he eases himself back into things without the expectation of a high level of performance – which is exactly what we need in the last four games of the season.

As for his future, well he’s got a contract which runs out next summer, and I can’t see that there’s any justification for extending that. If he can play a part in the next campaign all good and well, but we’ve been as loyal as any club should be to a player. It’s the club that assumes the risk of an asset breaking down on the job. It is not incumbent on the player to make reparation because he’s banjaxed. Would you, if you were busted up doing your job?

If there’s a feckless waster or two that takes advantage of that, that’s a different story, but behind the scenes Diaby has been incredibly hard-working and conscientious. He’s tried everything he can to stay fit and available, but his body continues to let him down, and that’s what will drive any decision making about what happens to him, I think.

Anyway, assuming there are no midfield departures in the summer, and that we add to the squad in that area to give us that bit more quality, his role could be even further reduced. Certainly we’re not going to be reliant on him when we sign that world class physical ball playing super-strong goalscoring goalstopping reducer-inducing DM with all the skillz that we have to have like the fat child in Willy Wonka had to drink out of the chocolate river.

And look what happened to him. He was sucked up a pipe. That’s the danger we face. Getting sucked up the pipe and all of a sudden you’re spat out into a room with a monster with the face of Carlton Palmer and body of Mickey Quinn and talons like griffin.

It could happen. You don’t know that.

Anyway, here’s to something happening today and for there to be something else on the radio apart from people talking about Man Utd and David Moyes. Never before has ‘Man crap at job loses job’ got so much coverage.

Till tomorrow.

It’d make you think

It’d make you think

Right, well that’s all the bank holiday nonsense out of the way and now we’re going to go into a week that I predict will be interminably quiet and dull because we don’t play Newcastle until next Monday.

There’s no crisis, as such. No drama, nobody seeking explanations about what went wrong against Hull, and although there are still things in the season overall which are not great when you think about them, they’ve been done to death over the last couple of months and only the most masochistic would insist on doing it all again.

I mean, we could, but what’s the point at this stage? Have we learned anything new that would lend this debate more legs? I don’t think so. Even if Sunday’s win was a glimpse of what might have been if injuries hadn’t bollixed things the way they did. Per Mertesacker, speaking after Hull, said:

When you have your whole squad together for as long as possible, that can make a difference. We suffered a bit in the second part of the season but now everyone is coming back to full fitness. We’ve had some long-term injuries and it’s good to have them all back.

Of course we’re still without Walcott and Wilshere and Diaby (heh), but the difference Ramsey and Ozil make is obvious. What’s interesting, I guess, is that all season we’ve worried about the lack of depth up front, but in midfield we looked as well stocked as I think I’ve ever seen us. Yet the injuries that have crippled us have come in the area of the squad where we’re strongest. Or maybe it just shows you how important Aaron Ramsey has become in a short space of time.

We were discussing him on yesterday’s Arsecast Extra and I think you can almost trace his revival back to the point where he was given a new deal in December 2012. Earlier that month he’d been a point of discussion because the invective spat at him had almost reached a boiling point:

In his column, Tim Stillman said:

I genuinely struggle to see how a figure such as Ramsey could invite such hatred. I understand people not rating him as a footballer, but the froth mouthed bile I hear aimed at him so regularly is confusing. He seems a nice enough lad. He doesn’t lack application, whatever you think of his competence. Eduardo returned from a horrific injury with his quality compromised and became a sympathetic darling of our affection for it.

I wrote this:

My personal feeling is that there’s a very good player somewhere in Aaron Ramsey and that if, and when, it clicks for him he’ll be like a new man. But there’s no denying that at the moment he’s got some problems with his game which are exacerbated by the fact that every time he does something wrong there are wails of dismay and anger.

There are standards that are expected when you play top level football and sometimes he doesn’t live up to them, but he never hides, never goes missing, never shies away from the ball or a tackle, and that to me is a sign of a guy with strong character and who can come through this difficult spell.

Ramsey himself admitted that he was aware of what was being said and asked for some patience:

The fans let you know when someone is not doing the right thing but they have to be patient and get behind the team and individuals. They have to realise that. It can be such a massive help.

And on December 20th he was one of five players handed new deals. Along with Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs, he was told by the manager and the club that they had faith in and his talent. After Christmas he began to play more regularly in his favourite central position, dovetailing really well with Mikel Arteta as his energy in that area of the pitch helped drive us to a top four position.

This season he’s exceeded all expectations, way beyond anything I thought he was capable of at this point of his career, but sometimes that happens with players. Things just click and they don’t ever look back. It’s probably worth it from our point of view to do that though, because what he came through – both in terms of his injury and having to convince people he was a player – shows a character that is obvious in his performances and adds so much to this team when he’s in it.

It’s why I firmly believe, as I said yesterday, that his absence above anything else, is what caused our form to wind down like a battery operated toy. We coped at first, but just got slower and slower and slower and ultimately that’s what cost us our title challenge this season.

I know that in football there’s a tendency to deal in hyperbole (positive and negative), especially in the heat of the moment and especially when discussing players. One great goal makes a player world class, a few bad displays as he’s the worst anyone has ever seen, but what happened with Aaron Ramsey went beyond that at times. It’s not dissimilar from what’s been happening with Giroud this season.

I’ve stated my case there before, a decent but limited player who is not the be all and end all to our problems, but who became the lightning rod for them when things went pear shaped. If we’re amused and excited when we learn that the players hear the good stuff, shouldn’t that make us aware that they’re perfectly capable of hearing the bad stuff too? I don’t say it to suggest players are immune from criticism or analysis, only to suggest that there’s a means and a way of doing it.

I’ve been guilty of saying the wrong thing in the past and I’ll admit don’t feel good about it in any way. Yet quite what people want to achieve when they respond to players on Twitter or Instagram or other social media outlets, just to tell them they hate them or how they think they’re shit, is beyond me.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that it might have gone the other way with Ramsey. That his form didn’t recover in time and that the weight of opinion, as has happened before, might have made it difficult for the manager to continue with him – indeed, didn’t he suggest one stage it was easier to play him away from home because the fans were more on his side than at the Emirates?

Instead, Ramsey took the decision of the club and Arsene Wenger to give him a new deal as the opinion he should care about most and repaid that by flourishing into the player we have to today. The player that everybody loves. The player whose absence every Arsenal fan bemoans. The player whose presence might see us still involved in the race for the Premier League.

Makes you think, eh?

Finally, a word on David Moyes. I think it’s sad, he’s doing a fantastic job there, and I would love to see him continue his most excellent work. However, I think it was always going to end up like this. You just can’t put a manager who has won nothing in charge of players who have won everything. Regardless of the fact he was Ferguson’s choice, he didn’t have the stature or reputation to do the job properly.

They’ll now be better next season (with van Gaal in charge?), and it makes what we have do for the rest of this season and in the summer even more important. That might just be with regard to the transfer market, but we’re less than a month from the end of the season and we don’t know 100% what Arsene Wenger’s future holds. It’s not difficult to be worried about that on a very basic level – we don’t know who is going to be the manager next season, and for a club like Arsenal this is not something we’ve had to deal with for a long time.

I understand why there’s uncertainty and a lack of clarity, and in reality I don’t expect anything to be made clear until after the FA Cup final, but all the same it’s a situation that could become critical very quickly.

Right, that’s yer lot for this morning. Till tomorrow.

Hull 0-3 Arsenal: Ramsey shows everything that Arsenal have been missing

Hull 0-3 Arsenal: Ramsey shows everything that Arsenal have been missing

Match reportBy the numbersPlayer ratingsVideo

It’s been a long time since winning a game felt that comfortable, but for all our efficiency and re-found attacking fluidity, we did have to cope with an opening 20-25 minutes that tested us at the back.

From the very start it was obvious that Hull’s game plan was press high and to try and rattle us physically. It cost Mikel Arteta a tooth (or more likely a crown as an ‘Arsenal Dentist’ emailed me after the game), Nacho Monreal was lifted off the ground by a kick from Meyler, and Wojciech Szczesny was the busier of the two keepers.

Despite the fact referee Jon Moss failed to award us a penalty for a trip on Ozil, Szczesny made a fantastic 15th minute save from Jelavic and, as Hull lashed in a series of corners, set-pieces and crosses, the big Pole was utterly commanding right from the start. He caught, punched and dealt with everything they threw at him which allowed the team to settle, and then take control of the game.

That it was Aaron Ramsey who drove Arsenal on should be no surprise and the opening goal was the kind we’ve come to expect from this team, but haven’t seen often enough lately. Spinning inside an opponent near the halfway line he fed Mesut Ozil and kept running. Ozil effortlessly held off a couple of challenges before playing a superb pass to Santi Cazorla on the edge of the box – the precision and weight of it was just perfect. That allowed the Spaniard to poke it into the path of the still running Ramsey who took a touch and fired home from close range.

I don’t think there should be any controversy about the second goal either. Hull’s complaints for a free kick were understandable, especially as those are the kind you get throughout games, especially at home. But the fact is Jelavic was looking for it, there was no real contact from Arteta and ref didn’t buy it. Arsenal broke from deep, Ozil fed Giroud who stepped inside, took a look up and delivered a brilliantly weighted ball to Aaron Ramsey who had run half the pitch to give us an option. His chest down fell almost perfectly for Lukas Podolski who readjusted slightly before slamming the ball home on the volley. A great move and an outstanding finish from the German.

That Ramsey was involved in our third should come as no surprise. Steve Harper made a fine save from his low shot (set up by Santi Cazorla), but Podolski was poaching (Poachdolski?) and he made sure from the rebound to make it 3-0 to Arsenal, just ten minutes into the second half. At that point there was simply no way back for Hull.

After being quite deliberately elbowed in the face by Elmohamady, Giroud almost made it 4-0 after chasing down the keeper, winning the rebound and smashing a shot on the slide off the underside of the crossbar from a tight angle. And when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on he was clearly tripped in the box but the referee played an advantage because an Arsenal player was in exactly the right position to have a shot. Yes, Ramsey. How did you guess? The shot was saved, it still should have been a penalty, but it didn’t matter for once.

Mertesacker fizzed a header over the bar, and Arsenal decided that possession was key. They just passed it around, Hull knew the game was up so couldn’t be arsed trying that hard to get it back, and the contrast between what we did yesterday and games when we’ve been desperately trying to find an equaliser or a winner couldn’t have been any clearer. I know which I prefer, that’s for sure.

Afterwards, Arsene said:

It was a big win. I think the first half was very physical and played at a very high pace where our defenders needed to be very strong in the air on crosses. I believe as well that we looked dangerous when we went into their half and took advantage of that. In the second half when we scored the third goal it looked like we completely controlled the game. Overall it was a positive performance because I think if you look at our individual performances all over the pitch they were good.

What was most pleasing to me was the manner of the goals we scored. It’s been a struggle to find the net at times recently, but to see us score with such quality and incision was fantastic. Of course much of that has to do with Ramsey, the man is just amazing in terms of what he does and how he does it. Look at his heatmap:

Aaron Ramsey heatmap v Hull - 20.04.2014

He is the new breed of box to box midfielder. He can defend and he’s hugely conscientious about his duties in that regard, but his first instinct when we have the ball is to get forward and support the attack. But it’s how he gets forward that’s key. He doesn’t amble upfield in the vague hope that something might happen, he busts a gut to get there to make something happen. His progress in the last 18 months has been little short of remarkable and I genuinely believe that for all our other shortcomings this season his absence is what has cost us most in terms of the title challenge.

I’d suggest it’s the equivalent of Liverpool trying to do without Luis Suarez for three months. Would they be sitting so pretty at the top of the table now? I don’t think so. It doesn’t mean we don’t have other issues, but I really think a fit Ramsey would have ensured our league campaign didn’t fizzle out the way it did.

Mesut Ozil’s return was a little more understated, but very promising too. His part in the first goal has been somewhat overlooked, the pass to Cazorla was just brilliant, and with a good hour of football under his belt, and a full seven days from now until the Newcastle game he’s got plenty of time to work on his overall fitness.

Despite the fact that Everton didn’t drop any points as they toyed with Manchester United, it was a good day for us. A solid win, a very encouraging performance, and a team that – as Arsene Wenger said – looks like it’s got the oil back in its engine.

Although it is a bank holiday and other podcasts will make you wait for your dose of aural goodness, there’s no such shiftlessness round these parts. James and I will be here with an Arsecast Extra before lunchtime, so if you have any questions fire them to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra and we’ll get to as many as we can.

Finally for today, the winner of the Carlsberg competition is: Andy Wedge, well done to you. I’ll be in touch and we’ll get the stuff sent out to you.

Right, time for some bank holiday breakfast, more here later.

Hull preview: Gunners have options against difficult opposition

Hull preview: Gunners have options against difficult opposition

Today could be pivotal in the race to finish in the top four. We face a trip to Hull while Everton have to bounce back from their midweek disappointment against Manchester United.

We know only too well that the end of a great run can take some time to recover from, and with David Moyes returning to his old stomping ground on the back of a dismal season at Old Trafford, it’s all set up for him to be the bad guy today.

Which makes our job all the more important. Before Everton play, we take on Hull at the KC Stadium knowing a win would heap even more pressure on them. Not that we can take anything for granted, of course. Our recent form hasn’t exactly been wonderful – although two wins in a week will have restored some confidence – while the home side have enjoyed a very good season and have beaten Liverpool at their place.

Some say it’s a dress rehearsal for the FA Cup final, but I think the Hull we face today are more dangerous than the one that will turn out at Wembley. Their two January signings, Long and Jelavic, are cup tied and can’t play in the final but both will be available today. Long, in particular, is a player that has caused us problems in the past and, frankly, he’s a nightmare to play against at times. He’s quick, strong, likes a foul (and a dive), so we need to be switched on.

From our point of view the good news is that we have options again. It’s no longer a case of trying to cobble together a midfield. Arsene can choose from Arteta, Flamini, Kallstrom, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Ozil and Cazorla. Not too shabby. Quite how quickly he’ll throw Ozil back into action is anybody’s guess, but I suspect he might be cautious.

The old ‘If he’s fit enough to be on the bench then he’s fit enough start’ thing is rarely true. If one of your best players is on the bench it’s probably because he’s not 100%. Look at Kieran Gibbs, he was a substitute at Wembley for a reason and wouldn’t have been used if Monreal hadn’t got injured. He came on, made a big difference, but also aggravated the knock which kept him on the bench in the first place and now misses out.

All the same, if Ozil’s hamstring strain is fully better, then it must be hugely tempting to bring him back, simply because of what he brings to the team. With Ramsey in there too, there’s a dynamism that’s been missing for too long, and to make this a game we control, rather than one we have to try and salvage, you have to think the German would be ideal for that.

Up front it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Arsene has spoken about Olivier Giroud’s renewed confidence after his goal against West Ham, so it’d be good to see a tangible measure of that today, but what of Lukas Podolski? On the one hand, he responded to being hauled off at Wembley with two crucial goals on Tuesday night; on the other, there’s still that nagging doubt about him as a starter away from home.

Still, it’s good that these are the kind of problems we have rather than trying to figure out who’s fit enough to hobble onto the pitch. The team against West Ham was one of the oldest (in terms of average age), the manager has ever fielded and he’s looking at experience as key in the run-in:

Experience helps you to deal better with pressure because you know what is expected and you can focus in a more efficient way to express your potential. We kept our nerve when we were 1-0 down against West Ham. I believe that there was a strong, silent resilience.

In a way it’s like things have come full circle. A few years back we were so caught up with trying to build a young team that would grow together that we eschewed experience far too quickly. Those with too many miles on their legs were jettisoned, and the young players thrust into sink or swim action. For some it worked out, for others not so much.

Now, we’ve certainly got more of a blend of both and hopefully that’ll be enough to see off Hull today. Like Tuesday I think this is going to be hard work again. I’m sure we have been boosted by the FA Cup and West Ham wins, but I’m still not convinced we’re going to just switch on and be all flowing, all conquering again that quickly. Our character and nerve will be tested again today, let’s hope we’re up to the task.

We will have full live blog coverage for you today. From kick off to final whistle, every kick brought to you by up to the second live commentary. Check back later for a post with more details or simply bookmark our default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

Until later, come on you reds.