Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Basque in the hot seat, and things are ticking

Hello everyone, I’m back from a thoroughly enjoyable week in the Basque country, where I ate delicious pintxos and drank some delicious wine and cocktails, and now I feel like I need another holiday to recover from all the walking and consumption (of stuff, I don’t have TB).

Nevertheless I am very grateful to have had some quality downtime with the family, and both Bilbao and San Sebastian are amazing places in their own rights. The weather was very, very warm – perhaps a bit too hot over the weekend, but then being able to jump in the sea and cool off is very welcome.

I hope you guys are doing well, and my thanks to Andrew, Tom and Tim (George and Timmy the dog🎶) for keeping things ticking over here on the blog and on Arseblog News. It’s always fun to read Arseblog when I’m away. First thing in the morning, part of the routine etc etc.

It’s also been good to switch off from Arsenal for a little bit. Not 100% obviously, because I’ve been keeping a half an eye on the news, the US tour and so on, but letting other things (food, wine, family, walking) being the priority was quite necessary. However, I’m back and we go again, as they say.

I suppose I should start with some general observations, and it’s not a unique thing to say but seeing Gabriel Jesus look so settled so quickly has been very pleasing. He looks good in red and white (and the sexy new kit launched yesterday), has been on the scoresheet, and seems to be well and truly one of the lads at this point.

I don’t quite know how to explain this, because it’s not really a fully formed thought, or not one I can quite express properly yet, but even though I still think there are things we need do in the transfer market, this squad feels exciting. The arrivals of Jesus and Vieira in particular, and the return of William Saliba who looked impressive from the highlights I saw of the Everton game, give us some extra quality and depth.

There are worries, as Tim alluded to on Sunday, when it comes to players who aren’t quite 100% fit yet – but hopefully what’s left of pre-season will help us get those players up to speed and ready to contribute in what is going to be a hectic opening to the campaign. Five games before the window closes, and that’s a lot of points which would end up being very valuable next May. Still, between what we did last summer, what we’ve done so far this summer, and what’s still to happen with regards both incoming and outgoing deals, there’s something more than a bit transformational about it. Will we emerge a beautiful butterfly ready to flutter our way higher up the table, or a scabby moth feasting on the coat-tails of others? Let’s see.

And speaking of business, it looks as if the next arrival is pretty much done and dusted. Oleksandr Zinchenko is set to join from Man City for a fee of around £30m (with some extras if certain achievements are met), and to me this is a very sensible deal. A high quality player who comes with plenty of Premier League experience – and like Gabriel Jesus from a set-up where winning is part and parcel of daily life – for what I think is a very reasonable fee when you consider how much Ajax got from Man Utd for Lisandro Martinez.

The difference between the two fees is essentially another decent player and I think Arsenal were right not to push the boat out for the Argentine, regardless of how much we wanted him. Zinchenko will provide left back cover, but we know he can play in central midfield too. Will he be the mythical ‘left 8’? I don’t know, but it’s all ahead of us, and going back to something I said above, I think part of why I feel excited about this group of players is the versatility Mikel Arteta is assembling and has clearly been targetting in his transfer business in the last year or so.

Fabio Vieira could play on the right, in place of Martin Odegaard, as a 10 and possibly more centrally if needed. Zinchenko fills a couple of roles easily. Jesus is here to be our 9, as we know, but he’s comfortable right across the forward line. We have defenders who can play in various positions too, and it adds a measure of unpredictability to our potential line-ups this season. There have been times where the lack of depth made it easy to pick our team for the next game in 10 of the 11 positions, I don’t think that’s going to be the case for the start of next season, and I have a suspicion that’s just how Arteta wants it.

So, the reporting says Zinchenko could be done imminently, and with both Arsenal and Man City in the USA right now, he could swap camps and join up with us before the end of the tour. He’d be signing number 5 of the summer too, bringing our total outlay to well over the £110m mark. That, of course, requires some offsetting via departures and as yet that’s the aspect of the summer business which seems less clear. Everyone’s got a clean slate according to the manager, but there are obviously still some players who we’d be more than happy to move on. That, however, is a blog for another day.

This morning, I have to leave it here as I have to go pick up Archer and Lana from kennels, because although it’s only been 9 days, we’ve been gone seven trillion years in dog time. There are hugs and snacks and belly rubs required.

Podcast pals, thanks for your patience during the much needed period of silence, but we will have an Arsecast Extra for you later on today. James is in the US so we’re working off his time zone, and assuming something mad didn’t happen – like finding a naked alligator on top of the naked man in his hotel room – we’ll be recording later this afternoon and the pod should be out early evening or thereabouts.

Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Right, that’s it! What have you all been up to then?

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