quite the feast of stories going on this morning. Makes a change from the quietness of some of the summer days. I guess we’ll chop ’em up, add some broth, throw them in a pot with some vegetables, and baby we got ourselves a stew there.
We’ll start with the fact that many of our players have gone away on international duty. Those with the power decided that after a European Championships and an Olympic football tournament what we needed was a round of pointless friendlies so players could jet off around the world in the week preceding the start of the Premier League.
Santi Cazorla, for example, in Puerto Rico with Spain which means he won’t be back in England until late Thursday, at the earliest, casting into doubt his full participation in Saturday’s opener with Sunderland. It makes the gesture of Joachim Low, who left out Podolksi and Mertesacker for the sake of their club careers, even more worthy. And it wouldn’t be a Printerlull (pre-season Interlull, not when the paper gets jammed) without some injury worries.
Laurent Koscielny pulled out of the French squad with a calf problem, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up an ankle knock against FC Koln on Sunday while Mikel Arteta sat out that game entirely, although I believe that was precautionary more than anything else. All the same, it hardly makes it easy for the manager to prepare properly for Saturday, and when you consider there are ‘proper’ internationals in early September it’s hard to see any good reason for these friendlies. Nevertheless, we can do nothing but get on with it and, as Arsene says, hope we get no ‘bad surprises’ when the players who do away come back.
Perhaps the extra time this week will see Arsene scour the transfer market as he says he’s still on the lookout for new additions to the squad. Speaking after the Koln game, he said:
We are still looking, and we’ll see. We still have an eye on the market and the two eyes on our team. If a good opportunity turns up we will take it.
Perhaps that explains Belgian striker, Kevin Mirallas, telling Sky Sports his agent has had contact over a move from Olympiacos. It’s unlike Arsene not to make at least one signing which leaves people scratching their heads and saying ‘who?’, but time will tell who our real targets are. Much still depends on who goes, of course, with space needed in the squad for new non-homegrown players.
Reports this morning suggest that Alex Ferguson has called up Arsene Wenger to personally discuss the Robin van Persie situation. We know the two men are not at loggerheads the way they used to be, they have a much more civil relationship, but all the same I hope Arsene did that thing that old comedians used to do where they’d pretend their microphone was on the blink. The more I think about it the less I’m inclined to do anything that would improve Man United, and with that the more comfortable I would be if he stayed for the final season of his contract.
Leaving everything else aside, the reality is that we’d be a much stronger squad with Robin van Persie in it. We wouldn’t be anywhere near as dependent on him as we were last season. The new additions add something to our attacking line-up, versatility, variety and … erm … vim and vigour, and if we have a player like van Persie in there too, doing a professional job, then our chances of success in the season ahead are better.
However, bringing everything back, there are issues. The captaincy, for one, something Arsene says will be sorted this week. There’s the fact his relationship with the fans has been strained – a problem of his own making it has to be said, and one he can go some way to solving – and there’s the issue with players going into the final six months of their contract and looking to leave. In the past we’ve seen Arsene essentially shelve players like that, Edu and Wiltord for example, because a player who is looking to leave on a free might not be 100% committed in case of injury etc.
Anyway, it’s something for the manager and the board to decide. If United offer £20m+ can we afford to write it off? Or can we afford, footballistically, to make United a better team by selling them our best striker? Perhaps the one good thing about this particular saga is that it’s not all encompassing, we’re not as worried as we were about Cesc, for example, because we can see the club have done what’s necessary ahead of time to cope with van Persie’s potential departure. And naturally enough, I bet the moment I come to the conclusion he might stay is exactly the moment we decide to sell. We’ll see.
Elsewhere, Alex Song calls Barcelona ‘the best team in the world’ but says he’s happy at Arsenal. It’s not exactly a ‘I have no intention of leaving’ statement, in that sense he’s been quite clever with what he’s said, but what he says is confirmation of their interest in him. The truth is any player could stop speculation about his future by being definitive. “I’m happy at Arsenal” is nice, “I’m happy at Arsenal and I do not want to leave” kills speculation stone dead. But it’s unrealistic to expect any player, especially one being advised by DD Jr, to do that.
Yesterday El Mundo reported a €15m opening bid from Barcelona, one I would expect Arsenal to reject, but I think we’ll see this one rumble on. As Song himself said it’ll probably go right to deadline day. This morning they suggest that Rafinha, younger brother of one-time target Thiago Alcantara, could be offered as part of the deal but I think if they really want Song, they’re going to have to stump up cold, hard cash, and enough of it so that Arsene Wenger thinks it’s the right time to sell.
Another potential, in fact probable, departure is that of Nicklas Bendtner who told the press in Denmark that staying with Arsenal is not an option. It’s not something he wants, nor something we want, and he’s got ‘concrete’ offers from Spain, Italy and Germany. For a guy who genuinely doesn’t want to be here, and didn’t want to be here last season either, he’s taking his damn time finding the exit door, eh? Anyway, it seems to be a busy week and with plenty to be sorted before the new season and the close of the transfer window, I get the sense this August could be as hectic as we’ve ever seen.