Walk the line

The Tim Stillman column - Arseblog

The pre season tour of Asia is over. Desk calendars have been flipped to August. Money for Stoke away has left my account. Ivan Gazidis and his gang of bull necked cronies are locked in dimly lit, smoke filled rooms trying to browbeat a couple of Spanish clubs into submission for some of their booty. And by Jove they had better bend to Ivan’s demands, because Dick Law’s stood just behind him thumping his fist into his palm. This is one Dick you don’t wanna fuck with buddy.

Of course a perception has grown up over the last few summers that Arsenal are serial ditherers in negotiation stakes. I’ve seen many an anguished cry of impatience over the Cazorla and Sahin deals that appear to be in the pipeline. I think the perception is flawed. I’m not convinced Arsenal take any longer to close a deal than people believe. It’s just that the coverage is so much more intense.

The misty hazes of that sepia tinted age of 2007, when we could sign a player like Eduardo without anybody knowing, are over. Now there are so many more avenues for information to be leaked, we’re usually au fait with every single stage of the deal. Each stage will fetch its own separate “EXCLUSIVE!” story. “DEAL IN JEOPARDY AS CAZORLA REQUESTS CUSTARD CREAMS AT HIGHBURY HOUSE!” Add in the acres and acres of fatuous bullshit and it becomes a potent and saturated mix.

Much in the same way that 24 hour news can leave one with the impression that you’ll be set upon by rabid herons and simultaneously burglarised by Somali pirates if you so much as leave the house. Blogger made a fair point on Wednesday about supporters not giving a shiny shit about comparing our situation to other clubs, but I think it does one good to twirl the periscope occasionally. Deals for Oscar, Hazard, Kagawa and Verthongen were known about weeks and weeks before they were signed, sealed and delivered for much the same reasons, but we immerse ourselves in Arsenal. Therefore our perception is that only Arsenal suffers tortuously lengthy deals.

Nevertheless, from the moves that we are making, it would appear we are trying to build a more balanced and formidable squad. Too often in the recent past, the team has come to rely too heavily on one individual, whether it be Henry, Cesc or van Persie. There’s an argument here that some players are so good that they naturally evolve into the star player out of necessity. Henry, Cantona, Ronaldo, Drogba etc, etc. You simply have to build teams around players like that.

But we surrounded Henry with the likes of Pires and Bergkamp. Cantona played in front of a midfield of Keane and Ince. That’s where Arsenal have fallen short in recent years and the moves we’re making look to be, finally, remedying the skewed balance we’ve borne in the last 5 years or so. I know there is some anxiety about signing so many attacking players when our goals conceded column grows fatter by the year, but we’re losing some flab in the front line with Bendtner, Park and Arshavin in the car boot, Benayoun gone and van Persie likely to leave.

We have good defenders. I even think we have good defensive midfielders (though whether we have “top 4” defensive midfielders or “title winning” defensive midfielders is open to debate). I’ve long held the belief that those issues are training ground and not necessarily transfer market. The collective attitude of the team without the ball has to improve. We could buy Protecty McShield tomorrow, but if all of his teammates insist on jogging back towards their own goal as the opponents bear down on it like horny silverbacks, he’s not going to make enough of a difference.

Moving on to the impressions of the Asia tour, I’m left with a slightly uncomfortable feeling about it all in truth. In terms of how our jaunt has enhanced our pre season preparations, I am left with more questions than answers. I suppose I don’t really understand why half the team was left behind “to work on fitness.” Particularly the new boys. Surely they could have flown out with the squad and worked on fitness in Asia?

They didn’t have to play all 270 minutes of our friendlies. They didn’t even really have to play at all. (Though twenty minutes in either of the games against Kitchee or City can’t have hurt?) But simply to train with new teammates would surely have had some benefit? Maybe this wouldn’t be such an issue if the Nigeria friendly were still going ahead, but I also think our defence could have done with some time together. I realise youngsters will always feature in the early stages of preseason, but was it really a priority to reinforce the fact that Eastmond and Miquel aren’t good enough?

I hope there is some rationale I’m not seeing and that these concerns prove to be groundless. I saw @gunnerblog make a very reasonable point this week that Giroud and Podolski’s bezzy mates at the club were also left behind, which suggests their exclusion was more about settling into life in London. But there is a worry that our first choice defence are only going to get one game together ahead of the new season. For all the talk of Steve Bould’s influence on the back four, he’s only been able to begin that work in earnest this week.

Arsene mooted the prospect of a training ground friendly amongst the squad this weekend, but even that becomes complicated when you consider that the Reserves are playing against Chesham on Saturday. It wouldn’t represent an opportunity to play a full strength line up. It would be two mix and mach teams which doesn’t do much to aid understanding. Especially for the back four. Wenger’s comments seem to bristle slightly about the usefulness of the Asia tour for anything other than marketing purpose, but I don’t see any reason why the two concepts couldn’t co-exist.

That said, I do sometimes feel compromised with all of this marketing speak. Commercially I’m sure the tour was an unqualified success. But don’t we all become cloyingly colonial with our patronising, “Oooh, isn’t it great that them Asian folk got to see the team and look at all the lovely shirts they’ve bought. Cha ching!” comments?  I’m well aware of “how the meat is made” as it were, but I do think it rather ugly that as supporters, we so easily turn into an army of little Gordon Gekkos nowadays.

Speaking of which, the manager has gone on the front foot again with prophecies of economic doom for the sugar daddy boom. I’m sure he is only answering pointed questions, but I think there is a danger of him becoming the press’ “Man in Black” on football finance matters. In fact, I can just hear him warbling “Well we’re doin’ mighty fine I do suppose/ In our streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes” in Jonny Cash’s irresistible Southern drawl.

There is of course plenty of truth in what he says. I guess I have a concern here over negative reinforcement. For instance, I question how necessary it is for the manager to so regularly and so publicly announce that the F.A. Cup is a 3rd priority behind the league and Champions League. I think we all know that and we know that there are reasons for that. But I often wonder if repeating it so often can be any good for the players’ psychology when we play F.A. Cup games.

I have a (hopefully hyperbolic) concern that the sideways glances at our rivals spending power runs a similar risk. Like an anti-placebo. Manchester United have more money than us, it’s true. But not much more and a relative drop in the ocean compared to the spending power of City and Chelsea. Yet my impression is that they largely shut up and set about trying to compete as best they can. I think Wenger’s stance on financial doping is well established and wonder if he should deflect such questions in the future, or replace them with more of a rallying message.

On a final note, the Olympics aren’t really my bag but it’s been really nice to see the GB Ladies football team getting some positive coverage. I really hope it can help raise the profile of the women’s game. Our own Ladies side are at the zenith of the sport and only charge £5 for entry at Borehamwood. There’s plenty of entertainment to be had at that price.

Good to see the Nextgen games will be held at Barnet’s Underhill too. Certainly there’s a concern about overexposing younger players in this tournament, but these games are also a good way of blooding young fans into the experience of live football. Understandably, there would be concern about shelling out a lot of money for little Jonny to watch a Premiership game if there’s a risk he’s just going to sit there fiddling and looking bored for 90 minutes. These games are often as useful for developing young fans as they are young players. Till next week. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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