Numbers, arrivals and the Arsenal departure lounge

Sometimes getting started is the most difficult part of writing a blog so I’ll just jump straight in with Arsenal’s announcement of the squad numbers for next season.

New boy Olivier Giroud will wear 12 while other new boy Lukas Podolski has not yet been allocated one despite many numbers being free. I guess you don’t need to be a genius to work out he’s holding on for Robin van Persie’s number 10, so at this moment he’s just a man, not a number. Although it would be quite something to see him run out with TBC on his back.

Wojciech Szczesny is now literally and figuratively the Arsenal number 1, he replaces the departed Manuel Almunia, while new boy Kyle Bartley marks his ascension into the first team squad by taking the prestigious number 35. Le Coq is now number 22, but other than that nothing has changed, players retain the same numbers they were allocated last season, regardless of how much they’ve played or how much they’re likely to play in the season ahead. I’m sure some inevitable departures will free up numbers for the players that have still to arrive.

And speaking at a press conference yesterday in China, the manager said the shopping was far from done just yet. He said:

I am ready to talk a lot, but not a lot about transfers, because it is a very fragile subject and a very secret subject. But we are not at the end of it [transfers] – we will still bring players in.

Interestingly, there was a line in the original article where the manager must have been asked about Santi Cazorla and said, “I share the opinion of Mikel Arteta. Cazorla is a great player”, but it was subsequently removed. Perhaps we want to keep this Cazorla thing as by the book as possible and you can’t imagine a comment about a player we had no interest at all in would be deleted. The quote is widely reported elsewhere, however.

The player himself hasn’t gone on Malaga’s pre-season tour but this is as much down to his late arrival back having been away at the Euros with Spain. There were pictures of him arriving at training yesterday with his agent and while Malaga insist there have been no offers for him, players rarely just hang out with their agents for a laugh. The smoke continues, let’s hope it’s backed up with some good old fashioned fire. Anyway, it’s good to know that the cheque-book remains open because there’s still work to do to get this squad ready for the new season.

What’s interesting is that it’s pretty quiet in terms of players going out. The only one who regularly gets any headlines is Nicklas Bendtner who has AC Milan, Galatasaray and Celta Vigo interested in him if reports are to be believed. Yet with doubts over the futures of many others, it remains a fairly static summer market thus far. I expect something to happen with Arshavin, simply because of his profile, but the difficulty we have in moving on players whose time at Arsenal has been less than successful seems to be proving difficult.

It’s no shame not to make it at Arsenal, many have struggled to make the grade and moved on in the past, but it’s the perception that they haven’t so much not made the grade as flopped completely and utterly that complicates things. And look, it’s not just perception in some case. Ju Young Park’s failure to trouble the first team is no reflection on us. Some are critical that we’ve somehow done damage to his career but that’s misplaced, in my opinion. He signed for us, he knew what he was getting into, and while he’s hardly had much time to prove himself, the simple fact that he hasn’t been given that time tells you that the manager has little or no trust in him. That’s down to the quality of the player, really, but the question as to why we signed him at all is one of great mysteries of Arsene’s reign.

Marouane Chamakh’s ‘Hey, what do you expect? Arsenal play one striker and last season it was van Persie and he was brilliant so that’s why I didn’t play’ has some merit, but again he’s a player whose stock has fallen considerably since he came. The same applies to Sebastian Squillaci. At the time his signing seemed a good one, he was an experienced international centre-half who should have added some depth to the squad, but on the rare occasion he played last season he looked a man bereft of confidence and his performances reflected that.

It’s like we’re going to car-boot sale to sell old teapots but our teapots are a bit rustier and broken-handledly than everyone else’s. What makes it more difficult is that the calibre of team interested in taking a chance on players like these is so distant from that of Arsenal that the wages/cost becomes a real problem. Squillaci from Arsenal to a mid-table Premier League team is more than doable, but if there’s no mid-table Premier League team interested and the only one sniffing around is a newly promoted Ligue 1 team then the gap becomes too much for them to bridge.

While we’ve got to try and maximise our income we might also have to be realistic. Look at the Carlos Vela situation, a 23 year old Mexican international who scored 12 goals for Real Sociedad last season went for just €4m. It’s not much at all but the club’s insistence on a high percentage sell-on fee is one way of ensuring we get some value should he be transferred elsewhere in his career (a highly likely scenario).

The same creativity needs to be applied to those who should be moved on. While you’d hope professional pride and a desire to play football would be enough for most players, ask yourself if you would take a 50-75% cut in wages to do that? As much as we might be critical of Man City when we read about how they could sell Adebayor to Sp*rs for £5m as well as giving him a pay-off to make up the shortfall in his wages there, we may have to do the same thing with some of our players. It might not seem as contentious if we give Squillaci a chunk of his final year’s wages and let him go on a free (for example), but the other clubs in Ligue 1 might think of us the way we think of City.

Whatever way you look at it, it’s an interesting but complicated issue. Saying ‘Why don’t we just get rid?’ is pointless, there’s so much to consider and work out. We have to improve the efficiency of the playing squad, no doubt about it, but we also have a finite amount of money at our disposal and maybe pay-offs and deals like that don’t work out as cheaply as just keeping the player. Anyway, we’ll see how it all goes but the departures are just as important a part of our transfer business this summer as those still to arrive.

Till tomorrow.

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