Loan stars and boardroom thoughts

Good day to you. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and all remains quiet in the world of Arsenal.

Many of our players are now away with their countries ahead of Euro 2012. There’s a list on the official site here so you can see who you’re supposed to be fretting about for the duration of the tournament. For some it will be a case of putting themselves in the shop window, for others, like Alex Olxade-Chamberlain, a chance to add something to their game at an early age. As much as I dislike international football in general, it’s something the best players will always be involved in and can learn from.

Naturally it impacts on our summer and our pre-season with some players needing an extended summer break and post-tournament fatigue is something we’ll have to contend with. That said, these are professional athletes and the only players I’d have real worries about are van Persie and Koscielny who played the majority of Arsenal’s games last campaign. The others have missed enough of the season through injury, form, development etc that it really shouldn’t be too sapping, even if they go all the way.

These are the main men, players who have – for the most part – done the business for us this season. But what of those below, bubbling under, or on the fringes? What of those players we loaned out last season? The reasons for those loans were varied. Lack of a work permit meant that Joel Campbell was farmed out to Lorient, for example, while Denilson, Bendnter and Carlos Vela were shipped out because we struggled to find permanent takers for players we wanted to sell.

The Campbell signing seemed to sum up our summer. While the Nasri and Fabregas sagas lumbered on at home, Dick Law spent an age in Costa Rica trying to secure the signature of a youngster who, while obviously talented, had little or no experience of top flight football. He didn’t play enough games to warrant a work permit, nor was his talent considered exceptional enough for the waiver. So a player that Arsene had earmarked for his first team squad that summer was unavailable (something we really should have known before spending that much time on the deal), and we had to find him a club to play at.

Yesterday, I went through all the players who went out on loan and looked at their stats. You can find the complete list over on Arseblog News. The stand-out performer, on stats alone, was Carlos Vela. The Mexican got 12 La Liga goals and 7 assists for Real Sociedad, and has probably priced himself out of a move there. He has a long contract, until 2015, so Arsenal will be looking for a reasonable fee for him. Espanyol are the biggest club sniffing around, and in terms of putting himself in the shop window, Vela did himself, and us, a favour. He really doesn’t want to come back to England, so we should focus on moving him on.

Nicklas Bendtner finished as Sunderland’s top scorer but you’d hardly call his season a success. He was in the headlines more for what he did behind the wheel of his car (or on the roof of other people’s cars) than what he did on the pitch. He scored some important goals for them but reading around some Sunderland forums there aren’t many of their fans who are too upset to see him go. “Talented but inconsistent/lazy” seemed to be the consensus. Euro 2012 a chance for him to attract potential suitors.

Vito Mannone’s spell at Hull City since January has brought him 10 clean sheets, which is decent form, but he wants to play football and unless everyone else is injured/sold he’s got no chance of that at Arsenal in my opinion. The loan spell has been good for him though and, like Vela, good for us because someone will take a punt on him this summer.

What about Campbell himself? He’ll return for pre-season with us, should get a work permit this time around, and he says his spell at Lorient was tough but good for him:

I’ve learnt a lot of things from being in a relegation battle: mental strength and the unity we need to have to avoid relegation. These are tough times and for a player like me who’s just starting out it’s a great experience.

Which should stand him in good stead as we look to avoid relegation next season. His club avoided the drop, Ryo Miyaichi’s spell at Bolton was less successful. He drew plaudits from Owen Coyle and it will have done him the world of good playing Premier League football, but ultimately he contributed about as much as you would expect a guy of his age and experience to contribute. I’d suspect another season elsewhere is the most likely, but perhaps his Bolton experience plus the Olympics with Japan might convince the boss he’s worthy of a place in the squad next season.

Meanwhile, the averageness of others serves to highlight the fact that playing at this level in the long-term for Arsenal is an ambition that won’t be realised. Craig Eastmond, Sanchez Watt (who?), Kyle Bartley and even Henri Lansbury did little to suggest they have a future, while Denilson’s time has long been up. It’s just a matter of finding someone to take him off our hands.

Overall, the loan system has worked well for us, I think. It’s given some youngsters valuable playing time they might not have got elsewhere, it allowed us to move on a player (Arshavin) who looked and played like he was fed up of Arsenal, and gave the manager a chance to reassure himself on others. We can make more considered decisions and that can only be a good thing.

Finally for today, recommended reading from Angry of N5 on the Arsenal boardroom situation. My opinion, as it has been throughout, is that the danger of one man owning the club outright, whether that’s Kroenke or Usmanov, is understated and lost in the hysterics when people talk about our trophyless seasons. Being in thrall to the whims and billions of one man is all well and good until that one man gets fed up, dies or something else.

I also firmly believe that our financial set-up is good enough for us to compete. And here’s where I think a distinction needs to made: there’s a big difference between competing financially – which we cannot do – and competing on the pitch – which we certainly can. We’ve never been the biggest spenders, either on transfer fees or wages, but that didn’t stop us winning titles, doubles and cups. Montpellier, and even Dortmund, have shown you don’t need to be the biggest or richest to win your league.

We need to forget about being able to compete with Chelsea or Man City when it comes to wages, that’s a pointless ambition, but there’s no reason at all why we can’t compete on the field. It requires some change, of course. Smarter and better use of ALL the resources we have available to us will, I believe, allow us to build a competitive team in the Premier League and in Europe. It’s up to the manager and the board to do that. I’ve always said that spending for the sake of spending is nonsense, but money in the bank won’t nick you a late winner either.

And perhaps our inherent conservatism needs to be looked at. I understand the financial position we’ve been in has forced our hand, but there’s also something to be said for showing a bit of ambition. The game has changed, I realise, but the idea of Arsenal signing a player like Dennis Bergkamp back in the day was jaw-dropping and led to a revival of our fortunes. It lifted the club as a whole, and while I’m not saying we need the archetypal ‘marquee signing’, how much would it lift the mood, and boost the club itself, if we brought in somebody that had a bit of that wow factor this summer?

Something to think about anyway. Till tomorrow.

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