Arsene’s first pre-match injury update came yesterday, and it really hit home the reality that we’ll be playing again very, very soon. And with the start of the season comes another familiarity of being an Arsenal fan: trying to list down the players who can start a match. Our start to the season, specially at a place like Anfield, has by no means been ideal or in favourable circumstances, but I strongly believe that there is enough in the squad to at least get a point from the Liverpool game, if not all three.  

Samir Nasri will have to carry the team for the first month

 

Blackpool at home and Blackburn away are both easily winnable games, and we should be looking at seven points at the end of August as a good return, specially since I don’t expect either Cesc or Robin to even make the bench for Anfield.  Given what Walcott went through last year, with not having a summer break and eventually breaking down, I do believe that Wenger will slowly build up both his captain and his new No. 10, and ease them into the season. As Wenger said, they are “available” but “not ready,” and I think managing them before we get into the season proper is a good strategy for us. We might as well drop two points now and win at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford later on, than risk them at Anfield and put their season in a mess before it even starts.  

  

Despite the forced absences, however, we are still in a good position against a Liverpool team that will be shorn of Torres and Mascherano. Poulsen was also linked with Liverpool during Benitez’s reign, but was supposedly not bought because he was a little on the slow side. Accommodating up to three new players in a midfield and making them gel are two different things, and I suspect that we’ll be able to dominate them in that area.  

  

We’ll play our fluid 4-2-3-1 system, with Nasri playing off the striker, Rosicky playing as the deep-lying play maker, and Diaby carrying out the spoiler’s role. Chamakh and Arshavin as striker and left wide player pick themselves, and I suspect Eboue will get the nod over Walcott due to his defensive superiority. The back four also pick themselves — specially with Djourou out — and the only point of debate will be around the goalkeeper’s identity.  

  

At this point, we all have to assume that Fabianski will get his grand audition at Anfield, given how pre-season has gone. Yet, don’t rule out the chance of Almunia getting another game, as Wenger may choose to employ experience ahead of potential. I’d rather hand a début to Wochi than risk Fabianski in goal, you know.  

My starting XI for Anfield:  

Almunia  

Sagna Khocha Vermaelen Clichy  

Diaby Rosicky  

Eboue Nasri Arshavin  

Chamakh  

Subs: Fabianski, Gibbs, Havard, Frimpong, Wilshere, Walcott, JET   

  

I still haven’t written the season preview because I want to wait till transfer deadline is really, actually over, and when we’d know for sure who’s in. Fleet Street are insisting that Mark Schwarzer wants out of Fulham, but I think that is more of unimaginative, boring regurgitation than a real story. As I said earlier, nothing on the goalkeeper’s front till Tuesday.  

  

Till tomorrow.

Right then, I have had a 2-day lay-off with what I think is described as gastroenteritis, and I have returned to partial health today, and have been scouring for tidbits on Shay Given’s desire to play first-team football. This Given-to-Arsenal rumour isn’t dying down, and I for one, hope that come Tuesday, we’ll be talking to Manchester City about a move…  

I would definitely buy THAT Arsenal jersey

  

I hope this move is actually of a more permanent nature, rather than the 6-month loan being talked about in the English media. Before we move to discussing the transfer, here are the quotes from a Daily Mail story which have created the ripples of optimism among the Gooners:  

To discuss now would be a little disrespectful to the goalkeepers they have already. Arsenal are a fantastic club, it’s just too soon. I’m 34 and you cherish every year, every game. For me, it’s very important that I play football. I know I’m at a very exciting, very ambitious club with great owners and great ambition to win trophies. That’s why I went there.  

It may be disrespectful on Given’s part to discuss anything about Arsenal’s goalkeepers, but for us, he would be the ideal fit. From Man City’s perspective, it is certainly an either-or situation, not an and-and one: neither of Shay Given or Joe Hart are going to accept a place on the bench, and why should they? They are not simply “options” but specialists of a high quality. If I had things my way, given how Given has already made his position clear, I would buy Given before the Anfield game, and we’d be looking really good and only a central defender short for the campaign ahead. But in the world of football, all clubs only look out for themselves. That is the reality, and I’m sure this story will drag on.    

Having said that, no top club around the world has two top-quality keepers at their disposal, simply because the first choice is generally expected to be there for the entire season. All of them have sufficient back-up, for the sole purpose of filling in manfully while the first choice is nursing an injury or is absent for some other reason. Look around, and you have Petr Cech, van der Sar and even Pepe Reina firmly entrenched in their positions, with their managers only on the lookout for able back-up. In Spain, Casillas, Valdes, Diego Lopez, and Kameni all see out their sides’ campaigns without much fuss — they have to, theirs is a specialist’s position.  

It is this reality of being a “big club” that Man City have to face, and I hope they agree to sell, not just loan. I know I am getting ahead of myself, but still.  Paying 6 million won’t really be a bad deal, and Man City will recover their outlay on Given. Plus, we should be willing to do a deal of about that much, given as to how we were willing to pay upto 4 million for the Aussie from Fulham. Even at 34, Shay Given is a steal at that price.  

What will this transfer mean to Arsenal if and when it goes ahead? Wenger doesn’t necessarily need to sell any of the existing four, I would think. Keep Almunia as the back-up to Given, and Vito as the back-up to Almunia. Fabianski will only become a better goalkeeper once he starts playing regularly, and despite some ridiculous comments on having done enough to be Arsenal’s No1, a loan spell away at a top-level team will tune him up to what the job requires at the highest level. The only trouble is that there won’t be many takers of him at the moment. Wochi’s development, I believe, should be with a spell at a Championship or Premier League team. And I think a couple or more should be in the offing — till such time that he establishes himself as Given’s undisputed challenger, and the heir-apparent. Now, let us all hope that Wenger moves for Given on Tuesday. *fingers crossed*  

Three Gunners were involved in England’s friendly against Hungary last night. Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere both made their debuts, congratulations to them, and may they will many more international caps. I’m also sure Frimpong and JET will follow them soon. Theo started on the right, as he should have in the World Cup, and was generally lively. A couple of good deliveries in, one Johnson missed chance on a great assist, and tearing the poor Hungarian left back a new one. Glad to see Gibbs bombing forward, and while I am relishing the competition at left back this season, I also want Gibbs to give Cashley a run for his money.  

Gibbs to give Cashley a run for his money - Arsenal.com photo

 (Haha!) Wilshere was on for a little while, and showed an impetuosity reminiscent of Paul Scholes — now more of those lovely passes, runs and goals. On another note, perhaps the English media should now apologise to Wenger and start praising him for producing the next “golden generation.” I am convinced that by the time the next World Cup starts, the English team will have a significant number of Gunners.  I’ll tell you one thing, the English media will create a crazy hype of these players when they do well in qualifying games, and we’ll do well to stay guarded from that artificial projection, and let the players develop into world beaters.  

Kyle Bartley, another of our highly-rated English hopes, has moved to Sheffield United on loan, good luck to him. From what little I have seen of him in highlights, he looks a good talent, but one who is rough on the edges and will need time and a bit of nurturing to develop his game a little further.  

“I want to become a solid defender and from there I can work on other aspects of my game. But I am a centre half and if I can defend to the top level I’ll have a good chance. Blades Manager Kevin Blackwell is very hands on, he’ll tell you how it is and won’t hold back. As a young player when I needed an arm around me he would do that. I’ve only got praise for him.  

With his first team spot guaranteed under Blackwell — albeit as a right back — I think this loan move will only help Bartley’s development, and I suspect that if the Blades do come up, he’ll be returning for another spell. The club have given him a new “long-term” contract, and I think he’ll come into the running for a squad place in a year or two.  

And finally, something that made me crack up. From Andrey Arshavin’s personal website:  

From 19garik78
Hello Andrey. My name is Garik. I want to ask you something. I date a girl who is your big fan and admires you very much. She said she’d agree to marry me if I got her a photo, a poster or something like this with your autograph. If it’s not too difficult for you, could you please send me something? I’d be grateful for the rest of my life. Thank you in advance. My address, Stavropol region, Mineralnye Vody Lermontova str., 23.
Arshavin: Are you sure you won’t regret it? 🙂  

Till tomorrow, cheers.

Goalkeeping Dossier

Posted: August 9, 2010 in Goalkeeping, Transfers

The Legia Warsaw game confirmed, for yet another time, that Arsenal Football Club need a new No 1. Fabianski needs to get away, even if it’s for a while, and have an entire season elsewhere. Arseblog cogently describes the game and the state of Arsenal’s squad here, and there can’t be much added to that.

In their season preview for Arsenal, Football365 have also been very damning of our keeping situation:

With Mark Schwarzer still at Fulham, the likelihood is that either Manuel Almunia or Lukasz Fabianski will be between the sticks against Liverpool. It’s a calamity-certain scenario that should embarrass and shame Wenger. Following Fabianski’s latest farcical exposure, there is serious talk of Wojciech Szczesny being thrown into the deep end against Liverpool.

It is a damning indictment of Wenger’s deplorable and unfathomable non-work this summer that a 20-year-old with no experience of English football outside of Brentford may indeed be the best choice available to the Arsenal manager when the season begins.

There’s one thing I dont like: other people criticising Arsene Wenger. It’s all good and fine when I do it, because I love him and Arsenal, and say what I do because I love them. But you can’t find fault with their cold logic, and the keeping situation was one that should have been resolved a long, long time ago. Most of the important business is done before pre-season, Arsene always says, and this one is still critically unresolved.

I really feel sorry for Fabianski though, because I always thought he had better reflexes and movement than Almunia. But he does not have the personality to command his area, or worse still, inspire the belief in his central defenders to allow him to marshal them. At the Arse, dear Lukasz, if you are down, you punch yourself up, not let others punch you down. Sadly, my friend, you are not Arsenal material… not yet, anyway.

My anger at Wenger has somewhat subsided, given the pleasure I had in watching Fabianski royally mess up, and Wochi make a double save — just to tell his manager that he could be the regular back-up since he makes more saves than Almunia or Fabianski. iHappy on the lack of goalkeeping solutions within the club means that we shall start evaluating some of the more experienced and highly-rated goalkeepers, the ones that I have seen playing, and guesstimate on whether they are within a good price range, and if they would come. No disrespect to other clubs, but we really do need a goalie.

Today’s dossier is on Carlos Idriss Kameni of Espanyol:

Standing at just 6ft 1in, Kameni is not a bean pole of Crouch proportions, but has good reach and movement which are complemented by his reflexes. His club, Espanyol, are often overshadowed by the might of neighbouring Barcelona. Derbies between the two teams are spicy, but Kameni has often emerged among the best players on either side.

At the beginning of last year, Kameni was a free agent, and possibly one of the best free agents you would find — comparable even to Joe Cole, if you get what I mean. Ultimately, however, Espanyol produced a good enough contract, and Carlos stayed at the club.

Kameni has been for Espanyol what Shay Given had been for Newcastle. For years, Espanyol’s promise of better days ahead have been built around the talents of Tamudo and Kameni. Tamudo left Espanyol at the end of last year, and Kameni’s form has been indifferent of late. He also lost his place in the Cameroon team (but so did Song as Le Guen went a little mental), but as is the old adage, form is temporary but class is permanent.

What encourages me to think that Kameni may move is that he seems very short of motivation. In 2008, Manchester United, Sp*rs and Aston Villa were all battling it out to win Kameni’s signature, and really, unless you are Almunia, fall from grace cannot be as rapid. Kameni is definitely a class goalie.

While his place at Espanyol is legendary, for some reason Kameni’s career hasn’t received the same kind of recognition as some of the other, more celebrated keepers. I think some of that lack of appreciation has been because Kameni has largely performed in a team of limited capacity. Funds are tight at Espanyol, given the cost cutting due to the new stadium — the second major reason why I think a reasonable bid may be accepted by Espanyol.

 Till tomorrow.

Cesc Fabregas’ public statement of commitment came today.  It was pleasantly surprising for me, because I was not expecting something of the sort to come out so swiftly. Barcelona are sad that they couldn’t get their man — boo, hoo, hoo — and we are relieved that our man is back to lead that title-winning side wearing those orgasmic kits…  

Photo: Arsenal.com

 

…only that Wenger is not buying a goalkeeper — that foundation on which titles are won.  

“Still players fight for their place,” he said. “Tomorrow Fabianski has another opportunity to show that he can play No 1. Wojciech is a goalkeeper of huge quality. At the moment we want to play for the title so I believe he needs some more experience to compete directly for the first goalkeeper position.   

“But it depends a little bit. We have four goalkeepers, one of them will go out on loan, three have to stay so we do not know yet who will go out.”  

Read another way, it is Fabianski, Almunia and probably Vito for this year, And Wojciech to get more experience elsewhere. I’d rather send Vito out for a loan, but more critically, our options in the market till now have been our current four, and Mark Schwarzer. Wow.  

I know Cesc’s decision deserves more merit, but the manager’s statement has left me fuming. We need quality between the posts, and current foursome only have potential. And its not me alone who is probably angry at this; since the last season ended, 99.9% of us have definitely discussed goalkeeping targets with our mates. Joe Hart was my favourite, but Buffon, Diego Lopez, Carlos Kamenei, Igor Akinfeev, Maarten Stekelenburg, for some time Eduardo, even the unlikely ones of Sebastian Frey or Hugo Lloris joining us was discussed. Throw in the ones that your friends discussed, and I am certain we are all talking about goalkeepers better than our lot.  

That is also the reason that when Schwarzer’s name up, many of us were very, very underwhelmed. But as the story developed, he was definitely our first choice option. We still accepted it, because anything, anything, would have been an upgrade. Hughes saved us the mediocrity, and I was actually thankful to him for forcing Wenger into the market for a better option than Schwarzer.  

Wenger’s statement has left me in disbelief. The only comfort I have is that the manager has said that business often takes place near the end of the transfer window. And I hope that Fabianski’s expected performance in the Liverpool, Blackpool and Blackburn games will convince the manager of what we all know. A central defender and a goalkeeper are necessary additions to the squad, and we can either pray to the footballing gods to give Wenger the strength to buy one or hope that Arsenal have developed an undetectable performance-enhancing-medicine for goalkeepers.  

If the current four have to remain as our options, I hope that Wojciech — Wochi for ease — has more in him than the likely choice of Fabianski. Actually, the one to loan out should have been Fabianski — so that he can become a man at some other club, and the one to have been sold was Almunia. If status quo persists, I hope that we can outscore the other teams despite Fabianski’s presence, and when Wochi gets in, he takes his chance.  

The last word for the captain: what makes him un-Barcelona-like and all Arsenal-like is his respect for Arsenal and contracts. Yes he wanted to go, but he will remain a loyal servant of Arsenal Football Club for as long as the club want. Real class. Fabregas’ pledge has only just saved my hopes of getting something out of the game at Anfield. With Fabianski in goal, however, I am certain its not going to be three points. Unless…

Welcome home, captain!

Posted: August 6, 2010 in Cesc Fabregas, Transfers

   

Cesc Fabregas has returned to the Arsenal, and its about time too.   

We’ve all spent a summer of rumour mongering and the tapping up of our captain by Barcelona, and while I thought the tactic was primarily motivated for a successful election campaign, the increased noises from the Spanish camp at the World Cup did make the heart sink a little. Admit it, you felt that way too.   

Cesc’s return to Arsenal, and that too on a day when the members get to see their team train at the Emirates, only means one thing: Arsene Wenger is not “bluffing” and the captain will stay for as long as Wenger wants him to.  It is somewhat odd that the official website’s exclusive picture gallery did not have a single picture of the captain, or of Robin. This probably has more to do with maintaining some kind of suspense and exclusivity to features with/about the duo, and while Wenger high-fiving some children is really cute, we are were all hoping to catch pictures, and preferably, some words from Cesc.   

I love Cesc. I have since the day he made his league debut. He was the Jack Wilshere of that era, the team that had been all-conquering in England. He quickly established himself as the hope and promise of the future that was still very much Ashburton Grove-less at the time, and one without either Viera or Edu. But a new creative genius had been unearthed by Arsene, and we all had the pleasure of watching Cesc develop with us and giving us many, many magical moments.   

This entire saga may have alienated some fans from the captain, but one can understand his situation of having two homes — in North London, and in Barcelona. The pre-World Cup chat with Wenger would probably have revolved around whether Barcelona are sincere in their efforts to sign him, and if they were, they would write a cheque to reflect Cesc’s price — one that reflects his status in the global elite. If not, he’d stay at Arsenal. My bet is that Wenger knew what Barcelona were likely to offer, and something that made him comfortable with not letting Cesc go this year.   

As things stand, Barcelona’s debts for the last footballing year were 77.1 million euros, and added to the 155 million they borrowed to pay wages and salaries, that is a serious deficit of over 230 million euros. If their income is calculated as 410 million euros, they still have to save on two of their yearly transfer budgets, not buy anyone else for that time, and bid for him after they have at least 60 million euros in spare.   

All this is in the scenario that Barcelona choose to be responsible, which is what their vice-president of financial affairs wants to do. Cesc is not going to Barcelona this year, and my suspicion is that he isn’t going next year either — allowing both Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey to start making their cases for permanent inclusion in the first-choice XI.   

Cesc’s situation is such that he would never want to emerge as a villain for fans that have cheered him since he was a teenager, we all know that. What we shouldn’t be expecting from him is an immediate press conference declaring his commitment to the cause, because while it may reassuring for the team and the fans, it is too early to shake off the ideological whitewash that Puyol and Xavi attempted at the World Cup, and perhaps, ever since Cesc got injured in March and went to Catylunia for his rehabilitation.     

 Much has been written about what Cesc really wants, and its almost as if the press has us convinced that his choice is to return to Catylunia. We know he will return one day, and it’ll be thank you for the wonderful memories and farewell then, but Cesc’s presence today — without any embarrassment, I may add, his body language, and his tenor, and smiles were all there. It was the prince back in his hunting ground, among his friends. It was our captain back to lead the team and to win.   

And he was in great spirits too.   

Fabregas to Fabianski (not in picture): Are you serious? He hasn't sold either of you?

 

The fact that Joe Hart may be put up on the loan market indicates that Manchester City may be willing to do business, at the right price of course, if a big club came around. And if that’s the situation, I’d much rather that we invest 20 million euros to get Hart than buy an underwhelming option. And if Sunderland want, we can give them Almunia on the free. On a serious note, though, its quite baffling that not a single club has bid for Almunia till now, despite knowing that his place is in serious jeopardy at Arsenal. Not even Celtic, where the competition level will make Almunia seem life Buffon, or Hart.   

On the subject of transfers, Montpellier have denied suggestions that Emir Spahic will be moving to the Emirates any time soon, with their manager Rene Girard suggesting instead that Arsenal will not make a move for Spahic.   

“I can tell you one thing. Spahic is a Montpellier player,” Girard told L’Equipe. “Wenger has a clear and honest way of working. If he wanted me to take his position at Arsenal tomorrow, he will call me first to tell me.”   

And their chairman, Laurent Nicollin, on the same topic:   

“To date we have had absolutely no contact with Arsenal or anyone else. I believe Arsenal is a great club which first talks with the people involved before starting anything.”   

Statements from Montpellier negate the bullshit that came about Wenger from the Barca camp. And more importantly, complements Arsenal as being a club of greatness and class, one that does things the proper way and does not tap up players under contract. A lesson for Barcelona about what great clubs do.   

 Since Spahic’s agent also refuted any links to Arsenal, I am more relieved in the knowledge that we may actually be looking at a big-name signing in central defence– someone like Mertesacker or Zapata. Its not that I am obsessed with a big-name signing, just that I want some steel and rocksolidness from the very start of the season. Someone whose presence at the back will create confidence up ahead, and whose calibre is above that which our (other) new and budding defenders possess. I want to watch matches knowing that Messi’s pants will be taken off by our central defence, even before our new and improved goalkeeper has to make a finger-tip save to deny the bloody arrogant bastards.