Arsene Wenger gave an amazingly open press conference yesterday and among other things basically announced Thomas Vermaelen’s departure, killed off speculation that Arsenal are after Sami Khedira, and given us plenty to worry about in terms of squad depth by announcing that Özil and Mertesacker won’t be ready for the start of the season.
Wenger ended speculation about Vermaelen’s Arsenal future by simply announcing that we will know something very soon. There have been multiple bids from multiple parties and I think it is safe to say that Arsenal have accepted at least one bid. That means we now enter the sensitive part of the negotiations where Vermaelen makes his choice and we either accept that choice or try to get more money from the bidders. It is abundantly clear that one of those choices is Manchester United.
Have you ever stepped on a Lego? I mean, 5 O’clock in the morning, hungover, it’s pitch black in the house, and you need a glass of water, so you don’t put your house shoes on, get up and blindly step on a Lego? If you have then you know it’s a mixture of searing pain, surprise, and then furious anger at the person who left the Lego out. That would be what I would feel like if we sold Thomas Vermaelen to Man U.
Look, Man U are title rivals. Wenger even said so himself when he claimed that 6-7 teams could be in the title hunt. And not only are they title rivals but I expect them to be one of the favorites. They were not “the worst Man U side in memory” last season. That was essentially the same team that won them the title the year before. The reason they fell so far down the table is that they were “the most poorly managed Man U side in memory” and there is a huge difference between being a bad team and having a bad manager.
They look very strong this year under van Gaal. And, most importantly, I think he has Rooney and van Persie on his side, two players who I suspect undermined Moyes’ leadership. And while we like to crack jokes about their squad having Tom Cleverly, not so cleverly I might add, Manchester United have a talented team full of players we would take at Arsenal in a heartbeat. Oh, plus, they will get the “Liverpool Bonus” meaning that they don’t have any European football next season and as a result of the extra rest will be fresher down the stretch. Selling Vermaelen to that team, especially after selling them van Persie, would be strengthening a title rival while simultaneously weakening us in a vital area.
So, back to the Lego analogy: van Persie was the first Lego, selling Vermaelen to this Man U team would be like stepping on a Lego and while you’re hopping around cursing your child for leaving that Lego on the floor, you step on another Lego with the other foot. And can you imagine twitter after a million Arsenal fans just stepped on Legos?
Thankfully, it looks like Arsenal have agreed to terms with Barcelona instead of Man U. Even better it sounds like we were demanding a player in return from United, which they didn’t want to do, and it’s refreshing to see us drive a hard bargain with them.
No matter who Arsenal sell Vermaelen to, we have to buy. There are currently 7 first team defenders listed on the main site and at the minimum, for 4 positions, you would want 8. With Calum Chambers able to play multiple spots I can see an argument for 7 players, but when we sell Vermaelen we will be down to 6. Wenger is on it, I think. I don’t have any specific information in that regard, I just think his previous comments about late August transfers is making me think he was waiting for Thomas to decide before making his own decision on bringing someone else in.
One player we know for a fact Arsenal are not bringing in is Sami Khedira. Finally, I get to say this… THANK THE GODS. He was not in any way the type of player we needed at Arsenal. And while I recognize that he is “whirled class” (I even wrote about it) and I also recognize that bringing in whirled class players makes the team stronger, for the absurd price Real Madrid were asking (£20m for an ageing player in the last year of his contract who is returning from knee surgery) plus the ridiculous wage demands (£170k a week) it seemed to me like there were better options available to fit the needs at Arsenal. Morgan Schneiderlin, for example. For the £55m we would have paid for Khedira over his contract (do the maths) I’m certain we could have prised Schneiderlin from the grip of Southampton. Or if not him, then Vidal. Or Pogba. Or pretty much any younger, fitter, international midfielder.
Oh and Wenger’s quote on Khedira was funny:
I do not know who put him on the market. Is it his agent? Is it the press? Is it somebody else? But we were never close to signing him because Jack Wilshere has come back fit and in midfield, attacking midfield and box-to-box midfield, we have quite a few.
So, there you have it: Khedira is not a DM and Wenger has ruled out all midfielders, except defensive midfielders.
Wenger also mentioned Calum Chambers again and once again said that he sees Chambers long term as a defensive midfielder. In the short term, however, he will play center back. That’s because Arsene has ruled out Per Mertesacker and Mesut Özil for the start of the season. Wenger gave a reason which was basically, if you play them now you risk losing them in October, which has all the “gotcha” bloggers out there banging on about how other German players are already playing for Bayern Munich. And while that may be true, there is something else Wenger said which I thought telling.
Wenger in this press conference was weirdly specific about dates of players returning. In the past, he would say “three to four weeks” and that proclamation would turn into 4-6 weeks and so on. But he is now saying things like “August 11th” and he also mentioned that players all have “an individual program that they follow.” That last bit? About “individual programs”? That’s why some German players are back and others are still on break. Not sure if you know this but the Bundesliga… plays fewer games than the Premier League! 4 fewer. And they get a winter break. And it’s a less physically demanding league with people NOT running around trying to break legs.
All of this has the new fitness coach’s fingerprints all over it and I have to say that it is refreshing to see Wenger more certain about players and their recovery schedules. Fingers crossed that continues throughout the season as players pick up knocks and niggles.
That’s it for today. Don’t forget that we are accepting submissions for our new feature “Match Photo of the Month”. To enter all you need to do is take pictures of your matchday experience and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Photographer Jonathan Blaustein will pick the best and write up a piece on them. It’s a great way for Gooners from all over to share their match day experiences.