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.