The pre season checklist is gradually becoming scattered with ticks. The season review DVD, the release of the fixture list, Sky’s subsequent desecration of the fixture list, the club captain transfer saga and now, the first pre season friendly have all been dutifully marked off of the calendar. I too have been limbering up for the season, having taken in my first instantly forgettable and ultimately pointless friendly of the summer at Borehamwood last weekend.
In accordance with our summer fitness regime, we colonised a Wetherspoons in the immediate vicinity of the ground well in advance of kickoff (though mercifully, at non league grounds they allow you to consume alcohol inside the stadium – which is possibly a comment on the standard of football. We became reacquainted with the hostile cynicism that publicans specially reserve for football fans. Finally we fine tuned our sense of entirely irrational tribalism by gently baiting the opposition left back who, in our defence, looked like a girl.
It was all suitably light touch, but the regime will be stepped up next weekend. There will be cans of Special Brew on the train to Stevenage. We need to be fully prepared for full on sensual assault come mid August. Meanwhile, the first team have been out milking the Asian cash cow over the last few days. As a result, the manager’s lines of communication with the press have been reopened, bringing us a slew of juicy sound bites to chew over / consider like adults / piss our collective pants about.
At the risk of going all Alan Partridge on you, contracts appear to have been this week’s hot topic. The captain has made it quite clear he has no intention of signing a new one, resulting in the club leaving him in London and all but admitting he will be sold this summer. Theo Walcott is just about keeping his buttocks away from the naughty step as he is apparently still in negotiations, whilst Laurent Koscielny has earned all of our displaced van Persie affection for signing a new deal.
Understandably the club’s contract dealings have come under some scrutiny this summer. I alluded a few weeks ago to this being an inevitable by product of looser legislation and that Arsenal are by no means unique in their struggle to adapt to player power. The success or otherwise of Gazidis’ tenure as a CEO is still very much a matter for the jury, (the proof in that particular pudding won’t begin cooling softly on the window sill until 2014), but I do believe some of the criticism he attracts over the matter is very harsh.
The thing is, it’s not even a particularly recent live issue. We all know how the likes of Wiltord, Edu, Flamini and Kanu were all allowed to run their contracts down in the years of yore. But Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry both got to the final year of their respective deals before renewing in the summer of 2003 when all things were bright and beautiful. Having seen Roy Keane’s infamous victory of brinkmanship when he forced Manchester United to break their wage structure in 1999, Nwankwo Kanu did exactly the same to Arsenal just months after joining.
Kanu used a particularly rich vein of form to manipulate improved terms out of the club, after which he spent much of that lucrative new deal on the bench. Vieira was more than content to use the arrival of Abramovic at Chelsea in order to induce Arsenal into an improved offer (he eventually put pen to paper just five days before the season kicked off). Gazidis’ response to Arsenal’s contract issues isn’t a huge departure from what we’ve seen previously, the coverage is just that little bit more intense. Plus, now we’ve got a couple of clubs that can double our offers within our borders. In negotiation terms, that’s an agent’s wet dream.
With City in particular, they have now reached a kind of economies of scale. They’re the Premiership champions. They can offer tangible success as well as bundles of sweet, sweet cash. It’s no longer just mercenaries such as Tevez, Adebayor, Bridge and Nasri that they can attract to their project. In short, it’s a southern fried bastard of a situation and there aren’t many solutions to it. I’ve seen a lot of talk of holding van Persie to his deal in the face of City’s interest in order to transmit a strong message. It’s a nice idea in principle but one that I think would be flawed in practise.
For a start, van Persie could easily wait for a year and then go to City for free anyway. But I think most players (or at least their erstwhile advisors) would know full well that such a stance is fiscally conditional. At the age of 29 and with his injury record, economically, we could afford to play hardball with van Persie. But when 25 year old Alex Song reaches the same point next summer, he’ll not likely be deterred from holding the club over the barrel based on our actions with an older client.
It would be the most short term and pyrrhic of victories. Maybe I’m more passive about this than I ought to be, but I think we might just have to get used to this brave new world of rotating player rosters. There’s precious little we can do about it and ultimately, the most competitive clubs will be the ones that can adapt to rebuilding their team on a regular basis. In fairness, it looks like the club want to try and draw a line under van Persie as quickly as possible and give him no more consequence than is necessary.
The pursuit of Santi Cazorla is interesting. With his (unsuccessful) attempts to sign Juan Mata and Mario Goetze last summer, it says to me that the manager still wants to create a slight shift in the team’s creative impetus. Replacing Fabregas with an equally craftsmanlike central midfielder is a fool’s errand and it looks to me like the manager is still trying to move the creative pivot of his team to the wide positions. Specifically, I think he wants a “number 10” style of player that starts from the left but cuts inside to create ammunition for the strikers.
It’s a role Mata has excelled in for Chelsea and one that Nasri had begun to show real promise in too. At the beginning of his Arsenal career, Arshavin too played that function from the left but drifted in field to influence the game. He ultimately lacked the fitness to maintain it on an ongoing basis. Gervinho and Walcott represented something of a shift last year because they are much more orthodox and direct in their wide play. My reckoning is that Wenger wants to reintroduce a Pires style player that can simultaneously protect his full back, but still affect play centrally during attacks.
In theory, this would mean the central midfield three representing more of a solid block. Three players who share the responsibility of maintaining and retaining possession, covering wandering full backs / centre halves and patrolling the centre of the pitch without being expected to create all the time as well. Arsene made a clear demarcation in some of his remarks about his midfield this week, explaining that he was well stocked for “defensive and box to box” players, but neglecting to mention his more attacking options.
He experimented with playing Ramsey from the left in the spring, but ultimately settled on Benayoun to reconnect with our possession based game. But I still think Wenger sees a hole in the team for that prowling, creative winger to take up the playmaking burden, leaving the midfield three to become a more compact, focussed unit. Then they might, you know, help out their back four once in a while. Which would be nice. The signing of a Cazorla type could concurrently make us more compact defensively and more detonative in the final third too.
At least that’s what it says on the back of that fag packet I found at London Colney. You know EA Sports or someone ought to make a computer game that allows you to simulate the experience of being a football manager over a league season? Maybe I’ll make a pitch? Till next week. LD.
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