Sunday, December 10, 2023

The play: it is to be made by the maker of plays

Nothing quite lightens the mood around a football club like a home victory over your neighbours followed by a spot of extravagant retail therapy. I rarely judge Arsenal’s signings before I see them in action because, usually, I haven’t seen enough of the player we’ve acquired to arrive at an informed opinion. There have been a few exceptions in recent years. I remember being delighted at the signings of the likes of Rosicky, Gallas, Diarra and Arteta. It’s fair to say Mesut Özil is a signing from a different stratosphere. This is the sort of player we built the Emirates for.

As the move neared completion on Monday evening, I eschewed the sweaty charm of London Underground and took a bus home from work, just so I could maintain 3G connection and follow the events on my phone. It’s been a long time since an Arsenal signing made me smack my lips in this way. Özil might be unique in terms of Arsenal signings. Bergkamp was a coup, but he had just endured a miserable spell in Italy. Sol Campbell came from a smaller club (arf, arf). Arshavin had spent his whole career in the playground of the Russian league.

Özil was a significant player for Real Madrid. There have been few question marks over his track record to date. I have to say I had long since begun to doubt that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger were capable of signing a player of this level any longer. I hope this acquisition smashes open the piñata. Arsenal pursued a few big names this summer and got their fingers burned trying to purchase Luis Suarez.

Özil represents a lift for the fans and the players, but I hope it provides a confidence boost to the likes of Arsene Wenger, Ivan Gazidis and Dick Law. They can compete for this level of player, they can satisfy themselves and the target financially, they can convince him of their ambition. Much like a striker that has notches a belief boosting goal after a barren spell, I hope this can hardwire some steeliness into those that do Arsenal’s bidding. If experience be the forbearer of knowledge, Arsenal have built up a bank of it this summer.

Leaving aside the star gazing delirium of signing a box office player, let us make no mistake that Özil addresses urgent surgery that Arsenal required this summer. Back in early June I set out my belief that Arsenal needed a playmaker above all else. We used to regularly field Pires, Bergkamp and Henry in the same starting XI, all of whom troubled the top of the league assist charts. Even three years ago, Nasri, Arshavin and Cesc worked in tandem.

This team only really had Cazorla as a creator and, like David Silva, he is much better as a wandering left winger. It’s been nipped and tucked a little, but essentially we’ve been playing the system built for Cesc Fabregas, without ever having replaced him. The only player that can play the trequartista role with conviction in the current squad is Tomas Rosicky and he’s 32 and made of plasticine. I think Arsenal are still short a centre half and a striker, but arguably those are depth issues. We do at least have some options there, even if they are a little make do and mend.

We don’t have another player that does what Özil does. This was the type of player that was required for our starting XI. That we managed to address that deficiency with an addition of Mesut’s quality is a (huge) bonus. In June we lost out in a bid for French playmaker Clement Grenier. Whether by luck or design, the waiting game has landed us one of the world’s finest talents instead.

One of my more jarring disappointments of the last 12 months has been to watch players like Oscar, Hazard and Mata strut their stuff for that acidic pack of cunthounds at Stamford Bridge, knowing that we were light in terms of playmakers. Those slack jawed knuckle draggers got to enjoy three, whilst we only had one. No more. However, if the waiting game, perhaps unwittingly, brought us Özil, then the patience hand didn’t see the cards tumble in our favour in the striker search.

To some degree, I have sympathy with the club over the pursuit of Suarez, even if tracking such a character made me uncomfortable. By all accounts, Arsenal ditched Higuain because they believed they could get an even better (not to mention more expensive) striker. They may have been naive but at least they were being ambitious. My opinion is that Suarez’s agent probably knew he had given Arsenal bum information over the phantom release clause. I think the “Suarez camp” used Arsenal to try and ignite a flare gun for Madrid.

I happen to think Demba Ba on loan would have represented a good stopgap solution. I imagine Wenger would have seen it as similar to the Flamini deal. Arsenal tried to bid for international class holding midfielders but found it not to be a buyers’ market. Flamini provides cover for a year, before Arsenal can regroup and try again next summer. Ba would have been a similar deal, philosophically speaking. Yet I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Chelsea deliberately strung us along on that deal just to waste our time.

This is Mourinho we’re talking about. Roman Abramovic is an aggressive venture capitalist and in footballing parlance, so is Mourinho. This is a guy that buys footballers he doesn’t want for sums of around £30m, just so his rivals can’t have them. Arsenal’s search for a striker was hampered because, ultimately, they tried to deal with Luis Suarez and Jose Mourinho. The two most poisonous snakes in the jungle. Lessons will have to be learned from these chastening experiences.

So now we’re left with Nicklas Bendtner. Not as good as he thinks he is, but not as bad as many people say he is. At least Arsene, who usually has no compunction about letting players leave so that they can play, showed a more ruthless streak in pulling the plug on Bendtner’s move to Palace. Often he has put the need of the player above the needs of the squad by allowing an under active squad member to depart. Meanwhile, Bendtner’s conciliatory statement borders on satire. It’s a dab of the hanky on the mouth for the game that ate itself. Its final, satisfied belch.

A player releases a statement through his management company (!) to ostensibly promise that, yes, he will in fact do what he’s contracted to do. This is especially disagreeable when the player has turned down many chances to leave precisely because that contract is so rewarding. I’m not sure who looks worse in this situation. The player who believes this sort of “oh well, if I have to” kind of sentiment is so commendable as to necessitate a statement, or us, for generating the impression that yes, we are actually needy enough to welcome this jargonated guff. Has the digital age and our thirst for information made us this clingy?

A very rich man puts out a statement essentially telling us, “well, it’s a bit of a pisser but nobody else will pay me what you guys do, so I guess I’d better keep up appearances” and apparently nobody finds it even slightly remarkable. Maybe I’m a fusty old relic, but I don’t want Bendtner to say it. I want him to shut up and do it. Is there a more nauseating and conceited fad in modern football than the player statement? They’re so damp with saccharine self importance that you can practically wring them out. JUST SHUT UP! ALL OF YOU!

Arsenal didn’t do all of the business they needed to do this summer, but both tactically and politically, they did the most important part. I still think we’re going to have to dip into our funds in January if we’re serious about putting up an assault on multiple fronts. The market is more difficult in the winter, but we are sitting on a significant cash pile. Players like Mesut Özil aren’t going to be happy ditching the cups and scrambling for 4th. A sense of optimism has been engendered in the club and there’s a good understanding now in the first XI. It’s a good platform. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

Related articles

Share article

Featured on NewsNow

Support Arseblog

Latest posts

Latest Arsecast