Sunday, December 10, 2023

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

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