Assembling this week’s column has been a difficult undertaking. The transfer deadline arrives imminently and, at time of writing, there are still so many issues to settle. Circumstances alter at light speed and that’s going to feel like a gentle cruise compared to what this evening will bring. Even for someone like me that has an allergy to transfer speculation (I used to refer to it as ‘speculitis’ but that sounds like an unfortunate ailment one might catch at a mate’s stag do) last season’s deadline day had the feel of watching someone nervously clipping wires on a time bomb.
This weekend we have a huge game at Liverpool, but it’s hard to pay it any mind because we don’t have much idea about who will be available for selection. Hardly ideal for the team in terms of preparation. I really did hold hope that deadline day this year would be more about possibility picking up another utility player if the fancy tickled us. As it stands, I think the squad looks unbalanced. There’s depth, but it lacks variety. The midfielders and the forwards are largely cut from similar cloth. Whether that impression is maintained come Saturday remains to be seen.
The dominant story of the last few days has been of “TJ and the multi million pound contract negotiation.” Again it’s a plot that twists by the hour, contorted by the hands of agents, spokesmen, journalists with a brief. It’s a full on spin war reminiscent of an episode of ‘The Thick of It.’ (What I wouldn’t give for Malcolm Tucker to conduct our transfer negotiations). As I write, the word from the boss is that he has yet to sign, but won’t be sold during this window. By the time this goes to press, he’ll have probably signed for Melchester Rovers.
Thing is, if Theo was the only departure this summer, I think I’d have forgotten his name before he got to the car park. But last summer, Arsene himself said losing three players from your starting XI is “a huge technical risk.” I’m not sure how one would describe doing so in consecutive summers. I’ll leave that to your imagination. But quite why Walcott’s situation has been allowed to get to the frantically snipping wires stage I genuinely have no idea.
It has to be said the idea of Arsenal being held to ransom by Theo Walcott is rather surreal. Like that time when you were a teenager and that little eleven year old pipsqueak started giving you lip and jip. But just as you were about to give him a clip round the ear and tell him to scram, you eye his much older, much bigger and much more psychopathic brother lurking in the background.
The Walcott situation represents an uncomfortable bridge between bifurcate issues. Pay another player over and above his worth or do we lose another component from our starting XI? Especially since our new look team is still heating slowly in the kiln. Theo himself embodies this quandary. He’s reportedly asking for £100k a week, yet nobody much seems interested in buying him. Perhaps an argument could be made that the lack of existing cohesion (particularly upfront) would have made it easier to lose Theo now.
We’re already ripping up the skirting board; new curtains are hardly going to disrupt the ambience of the room. He has no relationship to speak of with Giroud or Podolski and Gervinho already brings many of Walcott’s strengths (and frustrating flaws). Assuming the hypothetical sale of Walcott were offset with a replacement (I know, I know) it could be beneficial. We could supplement the front three with greater variety, that creative presence that opens defences with sleight of foot or a swivel of the hips. A paintbrush in amongst the jackhammers. Even with Theo, I think we miss an artiste in the front line.
And just as I’m about to get carried away with the hypotheses and the theorising a thought occurs. “Shit the bed. IT’S AUGUST THE FUCKING 31st!!” It would all have sounded so plausible in July. Still, on the bright side, all this confusion and uncertainty makes it a reet bitch for our next few opponents to scout us. No real combinations have been forged yet, there’s little to no choreography to analyse and therefore prevent.
Eat that Brendan Rodgers; even we don’t know how we’re going to play on Sunday! Imagine trying to deal with that in a team talk. “Right boys, as you know, Arsenal’s winner at Anfield last season came when Alex Song dinked a ball over the top for Robin van Persie so we have to … oh, wait a minute.” We’ll turn up with Chamakh in defensive midfield, after an article appears on arsenal.com on Saturday morning declaring him to be “a pass master.” (I remind you dear reader, despairingly, of this).
I understand the way market forces work. I recognise that transfers are a domino effect and the pieces don’t really start tumbling until late August. (Spurs are only just putting a strike-force together, even City are still haggling for a winger). But being in a position where we’re still looking for starting XI type players come deadline day doesn’t suggest a strategic, well thought out approach to squad construction. The sting of losing van Persie was offset by promising arrivals, but now we’ve got the handbrake on again.
As it stands, Song has been sold and remains unreplaced (the pursuit of Sahin is proof positive that the manager believes that he needs to be replaced too) and the Walcott situation looks a mess frankly. That said, I’ve been quietly impressed by the new boys. Physical examinations in the Premier League don’t come much more, ahem, “boisterous” than Stoke and none looked perturbed on that score. Buying players of around 26-27 years of age theoretically means they acclimatise environmentally more quickly. I like Giroud’s hunky fearlessness, perhaps there’s a grain of truth in the argument that he’s trying too hard.
I don’t blame him for taking on that last minute long range effort with Ramsey seemingly in a better position. I think television pictures might have made that decision look more selfish than it was. I was stationed behind the goal Giroud took aim for and I didn’t see Ramsey myself until the shot had already been taken. When you take on an effort like that, you make your mind up very early. If you look at Ramsey’s position at the instant the ball arrives with Giroud, you see it’s actually a trickier pass than it looks- even if he hasn’t already decided to shoot early.
A word on the Champions League draw, which, it has to be said, was quite good to us. All teams at this level are dangerous, but if we don’t get through this group, well, we’ll have been force fed our just desserts. Having scouted Olivier Giroud so intently, you’d imagine somebody at the club will have compiled a workable impression of the challenges Montpellier pose. From a travelling point of view, I always love to draw a German team.
It must be said, I’m a raging teutophile in broad terms, but ze Germans do football properly. Safe standing? Not a problem. “Please sir, can I sup a beer inside the stadium? I promise I won’t go all Bruce Banner on you and start cracking skulls.” Why of course you can, you’re an adult! Affordable ticket prices, superb atmosphere, what’s not to love? And more importantly, why aren’t we shamelessly aping them? Till next week. LD.
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