Having been linked variously with Chris Samba, Scott Dann, Kevin Doyle and Kieran Richardson over the last twelve months, it is quite understandable that’s there has been a palpable sense of excitement around Arsenal this week. The acquisition of Santi Cazorla represents the third signing this summer that I have actually heard of. Dizzying times indeed.
There has been plenty of talk this week about this representing a shift in paradigm from Arsene Wenger. Three recognised internationals in their mid to late twenties. Whilst there’s clearly a signal of intent in there, I don’t believe this to be the philosophical volteface some are portraying it as. It’s more fiscal than philosophical. The stadium debt is gradually shrinking, so the wallet gets a little fatter every summer, thereby facilitating the purchases of more proven (i.e. pricier) players.
It’s been an incremental trend since 2006 that Arsenal are opting for players of a more experienced vintage. Just take a look at our signings since the 2006 summer window closed. (Even in the summer of 2006, we bought Rosicky and Gallas). Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Arteta, Diarra, Nasri, Eduardo, Park (!), Santos, Chamberlain, Ramsey, Silvestre, Squillaci, Fabianski, Arshavin, Jenkinson, Gervinho, Chamakh, Benayoun. Varying degrees of success in there, for sure, but the tadpoles are somewhat outnumbered by the fully formed bullfrogs.
“Project Youth” as it has been labelled, wasn’t a product of Wenger’s vanity as is crudely offered by many, but a necessity of economics. The belt’s loosening and, in reality, the “project” ended years ago. Take a look back to the halcyon days in the early part of the 21st century. Arsenal’s wage bill was very close to being the highest in the league. The likes of Wiltord, Pires and Campbell were parachuted in at expense and at an age of experience to boot.
Nevertheless, it has been heartening to see Arsenal behaving like a big club with money behind them in the market this summer. I’ve sometimes wondered aloud as to whether Arsenal were struggling to shake off the parsimonious attitude the stadium move necessitated- despite the fact that stinginess was becoming slightly less necessary as every window passed and every down-payment was made.
At the risk of standing astride your chip pan with a bladder full of booze, I think we should temper that excitement a tad lest it turn to giddiness. Back in May, I rather considered that the club had a three part project ahead of them this summer. 1) Buy experience and quality to supplement the squad and to hold onto key players. 2) Coach the team better. Drill a sense of defensive discipline into them so that they work much, much harder off the ball. 3) Sweat out the squad flab.
As it stands, 50% of Objective 1 looks like a resounding tick. The other 50%, maintaining key players, still very much up in the air. Van Persie and Walcott don’t seem to be shopping for ink cartridges. (Though one of them appears to be lasciviously eyeing up the Trafford centre). We all run the risk of being blinded by the bling bling of new acquisitions, but what we do on the training pitch is every bit as important. If not more so.
Stefan Schwarz was supposed to be the creative midfielder that turned George Graham’s increasingly dour side into title challengers in the summer of 1994. We subsequently finished 12th because the team were still coached to be unreasonably negative. Middlesbrough once signed Ravanelli, Juninho and Emerson in one summer. But they were relegated because they were coached by Bryan Robson. The balls, the bibs and the cones count for just as much as the chequebook. We won’t have any idea how successful Objective 2 has been for some time yet.
With regards to objective number 3 we’ve still some distance to run. It’s now even more likely that we will be enormously undercut on prices for our bargain bin players. This sort of player always tends to trade towards the autumn of August anyway. But the 25 man squad restrictions weaken our hand further. Currently we potentially have a squad of more than 30 players, so if we can’t shift them from the car boot, they will have to sit in the loft gathering dust till January. Expect some last minute bids of 10p a packet of lovehearts.
Still, it’s enthusing to see that Arsenal have prioritised reinforcement ahead of deforestation. The whole reason we undertook the stadium move was so that we could arm ourselves with the resources to speculate once in a while. Obviously we don’t want every summer to take on the appearance of a garage sale, but a rainy day has arrived and we spent close to half a billion on a big fuck off gazebo to shelter us for such occasions.
There have also been whispers that the summer splurge has, in part, been expedited to cater for the whims of Lord van Persie. I find the suggestion fanciful and not just because it makes me want to vomit blood. It’s highly unlikely that Gazidis and Wenger identified their targets after the meeting with van Persie in May. (Not least because the Podolski deal had already been agreed by then). We tried to buy Cazorla last summer too don’t forget.
The signings would have been scouted and identified well in advance of that May social call and you have to think van Persie would have been totally au fait with them. I also believe it unlikely that the meeting would have been the first the CEO and the manager knew of the captain’s refusal to sign a new contract. He may not have said it in words of one syllable before that, but they must have had more than an inkling. The idea that the summer activity was scribbled on the back of a fag packet in late May just doesn’t ring true with me.
In any case, United appear to be taking a sustained interest in van Persie and if that’s the case, you have to think it’s because his representatives are encouraging it. From our point of view, selling him to Ferguson would be the ultimate symbol of diminished status. The club would need to think very carefully about the signals that would send out. There again, they could hold van Persie to his contract, he could act up for a year and then just go to United for free next summer anyway. It’s an uncomfortable situation to say the least.
Furthermore, there’s plenty of smoke around Barcelona’s rumoured interest in Alex Song. In fact, it’s become something of an inoperable rumour tumour. It refuses to go away and it looks like it’s going to get bigger. Barcelona’s band of capricious motor mouths are teaming up with the agenda benders in the Spanish press to make sure that’s the case.
It’s like a scene out of the movie Pi. They just keep prodding and prodding at your brain with a number 2 pencil until you go a bit nuts and drill a hole in your own head just to make the ear piercing noise stop. (If you have not seen the move Pi and that reference was foreign to you, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that you have wasted your life to this point).
I’ll be honest; I’m lukewarm to Alex Song. I think he’s a good player and very much improved. I’m not always convinced he’s as good as he seems to think he is, but further improvement is likely at his age. I’m perfectly happy having him in the side. But he’s not irreplaceable. But I would be wary about letting him go. Continuity is something we have lacked for a few years now. Every summer seems to be a huge purge followed by a rebuild.
With Lord van Persie almost certainly leaving and Walcott’s contract unresolved, I would question the decision to wantonly cull another member of the starting XI when we don’t really have to. It would also be nice to feel as though the players we’re bringing in are intended to supplement the squad and add much needed depth to it. If Song and van Persie leave, it’ll feel as though the sense of competition the squad is beginning to promote will have been diluted. We shall see I suppose. Till next week. LD.
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