Category Archives: Transfers

Excalibur

Ozil, Casillas, Cabaye, and Alderweireld: Arsene, drink from the Grail

One of my favorite scenes from John Boorman’s Excalibur is when Percival retrieves the Holy Grail and presents it to King Arthur, cuckolded, sickly, and dying on the throne because of his own hubris. Percival entreats him drink, for he and the land are one, and Percival knows that drinking from the cup will heal Arthur and England. Arthur reluctantly drinks from the cup and his eyes light up “Percival,” he says “I didn’t know how empty was my soul, until it was filled.” Arthur then calls for his knights and as they ride through the countryside to face their final destination, the tune of “O Fortuna” plays loudly and the land springs back to life. Cups and Kings, then, are a tale well worn.

In much the same way that the land and the King are one in Excalibur, the people and Arsene seem to be one. And like Arthur, Arsene has been betrayed by his closest confidants, and so nearly had his hands on the elusive cup. A cup which would heal so much.

But Nearly, that’s the way it has been for Arsene in the last decade. Nearly.

Arsenal nearly won the League Cup, with Cesc the squire and Adebayor the jester, Arsene took his men in to battle against the juggernaut of Chelsea under Mourinho. Fortress Mourinho, an unassailable brick wall at the back, and Didier Drogba up front. Against all odds Theo Walcott snatched the opener. His first ever Arsenal goal. The killer pass provided by Diaby. More than any squad since, that team with Walcott, Cesc, and Diaby, filled me with such hope for the future of Arsenal. But Arsenal lost the match when Mourinho uglied the game up. In the end, Toure and Adebayor were sent off by Howard Webb and the inevitable Drogba brace gave Chelsea a trophy. At the time I wrote paeans to the legacy that team would leave. They may not ever win a trophy, I mused, but teams in the future will want to play “the Arsenal way”.

That Arsenal way, the beautiful football of Fabregas and others, has since fallen tarnished into a bin of “sterile domination” which was so prominently displayed in last season’s Champions League run. Teams are happy now to concede Arsenal possession at almost every level of the game. And in the Champions League last season Arsenal were 10th in terms of possession but 31st in shots taken (7.8 per game) and 9th in terms of shots conceded (15.9). And for a manager who was once known for tiki-taka and short little passes on the ground, Arsenal were tops in the Champions League last year in Aerial Duels per game with 17.8.

Cesc nearly found Arsene the chalice in 2007/2008, the closest Arsenal have been to winning the League since the Invincibles. With Fabregas running the midfield, Flamini backing him with energy and steel, and Hleb providing the creative outlet needed to break through the two banks of four every team threw at Arsenal, the Gunners nearly found Wenger his cup. Nearly. Martin Taylor’s tackle broke Eduardo’s leg and seemed to break the will of that Arsenal team. I can only guess at how our fortunes would have changed had Arsenal won the League that season: would Arsene have been able to convince Cesc and Robin to stay?

And of course, the only “nearly” cup that I had the displeasure of seeing in person, the League Cup final in 2011. Three years after the leg breaking tackle at Birmingham (nearly to the day), Arsene sent his men out to face the Birmingham horde once again. Robin van Persie struck for Arsenal to bring the teams level and Birmingham were looking beaten, their men littered the field stretching and claiming cramp at every stoppage of play. But fortune intervened once again, Zigic won a header and Obafemi Martins scored the winner off an Arsenal mistake at the back. Like a Tunguska blast, everyone in the Arsenal end of the stadium sat down in their seats. I imagine everyone watching at home had been standing in anticipation as well and when the goal went in all fell back into their bar stools and couches.

That was the moment that I first felt real anger from Arsenal fans toward Arsene. I’ve never felt afraid at a football match but when the final whistle went off that night men tried to rip the seats out at Wembley. A man smashed his hand into bits out of anger right behind me. Children sobbed into their father’s shoulders. And as we made the long, mournful, walk back to the trains, the crowd was pocked with decidedly angry fans yelling out “why can’t we buy a defender who can head the f*cking ball?” And like a funeral dirge, the fans sung songs about players past; Tony Adams, Rocky Rocastle, and Perry Groves. There were no chants of Arsene Wenger’s Red and White Army, no songs about Robin van Persie or Cesc Fabregas: just wailing into the dark night about loss.

It’s exactly 30 months since Wenger’s knights nearly found him the Holy Grail at Wembley and the anger has only grown. Two consecutive League finishes where Arsenal are no longer nearly winning but rather barely hanging on — both last season and the one before Arsenal finished just one point above the old enemy, Spurs. A ignominious exit to Bradtford in the League Cup and to Blackburn in the FA Cup fueled the anger which grew to a head with Bayern’s dismantling of Arsenal at the Emirates 3-1 and Tottenham’s 2-1 win with two soft goals allowed through the heart of the Arsenal defense.

Arsene dropped his captain and made changes to the way Arsenal approached matches, playing deeper and inviting the pressure at times. Those changes kicked Arsenal on to finish one point above Tottenham which did release some pressure on the manager and club. The was followed with scenes of the Gunners celebrating at Newcastle as if they had won a cup — a false grail.

And now Arsenal fans have been reassured that Arsenal are awash in money, new TV deals, shirt deals, naming rights, money in the bank, cash on hand, and we have been told it’s all there for the manager to spend. Moreover, the club have culled the ranks, made Arsenal leaner, and provided further breathing room in terms of salary, but also weakened the squad in terms of numbers.

And Arsene gives us hope that those numbers will be replaced and not only replaced but replaced with real quality.

I’m very, very happy with the squad we have. When I tell you that, it’s about the quality of the players I have. With the number, at the moment we are short.Therefore I would be a bit worried that number-wise, we are not strong enough to cope with all the targets a club like this has. We will not go into the new season with only the number of players we have.

And for the first time in as long as I can remember, Arsenal have been linked with real (Real) quality; Higuain was first and while that transfer failed Arsenal are now being linked to Ozil and di Maria, both players who would add super quality and versatility to the Arsenal attack.

The secret of the Grail is that it is hidden in plain sight. Within arms reach of Wenger. He doesn’t need to search the world over, all he needs is for Dick Law to hand it to him.

What remains to be seen is if Wenger will sip from Law’s cup and spring suddenly to life in the transfer market. Like Arthur in that famous scene, one sip and Arsene could wake from his stupor, spare no expense and order his men to bring him Ozil, Casillas, Cabaye, and Alderweireld. They might not play on Sunday but if Wenger did that I know it would energize the fans. I imagine it would also energize Wenger and his players. And they could ride into the stadium, armor gleaming, and the flowers of North London brought back to life.

Arsene, you and the fans are one.

Drink from the Grail.

Qq

We all just want to get lucky (with di Maria or someone)

Arsenal beat Fulham 3-1 at Crave Cottage on Saturday to cap off an opening week of football that took us on a clichecoaster ride of downs and ups. In fact, the more I think about cliches, this week has been exactly like that song by that band. You know the song, by that band, and how they are all “struggles, overcome, a little, but not permanently, and yet we endure.”

Oh wait, no I mean that song by Daft Punk, “Get Lucky.”

I don’t know why but in all my years following football I never gave luck its due. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a plebe when it comes to understanding football. But still, I’ve been following Arsenal since the before the turn of the century and you’d think that in 15 years or so I would have picked up on something so fundamental as the large role luck plays in football.

The fact I never gave luck much credence makes even less sense when you know how much work I’ve put into trying to find statistical correlations between shots and goals and games won. Or how I look so closely at errors and play in the final third. Or the fact that I have ever watched a Stoke City match, a club which relentlessly relies on the six-yard-box scramble to stay in the Premier League.

They’re up all night to get replay.

But Wenger plays the long odds: the season is a marathon, he’ll tell you, and you need to build a team that can run the marathon. So, one unlucky break shouldn’t kill the season.

Losing on opening day is really no different than losing on December 26th or May 8th. It’s all just a loss, mixed in with, hopefully, a lot of wins and a few draws. It doesn’t hurt any less for us fans and especially coming as it did on the tails of our summer of discontent but I do understand the long-haul theory.

I can also understand Arsenal fans anger at the referee in the first match. Arsenal don’t get the benefit of a clear penalty call by Anthony Taylor, who gives Villa two penalties, and makes a whole host of other poor calls. Meanwhile just down the Seven Sisters Road, them lot have scored just two goals so far this season and have had both from the penalty spot. Those who are looking for the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify Arsenal’s bodily fluids have been in full overdrive this last week.

But I’ll tell you what would fix the problem with referees instantaneously: instant replay. And don’t give me this guff about “delaying the game”. There are around 30 minutes or more of every game where the keeper is taking a kick, the players are throwing the ball in, someone is rolling around waiting to get treatment, Stoke are playing with their balls, etc. Football is a fast-paced game, but it is punctuated by plenty of down-time for kicks and arguing with the officials. Plenty of time for the rare instance of a review for an uncalled penalty or a penalty given.

Podolski just likes to have fun

Arsene Wenger admitted that he wants to hold on to Lukas Podolski after his two-goal haul against Fulham on Saturday and I see nothing wrong with that. Lukas isn’t the complete striker we all wish that he was and he’s actually not very consistent but he certainly adds value to the squad.

There was a lot of talk about his fitness last year and the fact that he played 51 times for club and country yet only completed 5 games is a clue that perhaps his fitness really was an issue. This is a player who averaged 80+ minutes per appearance over the three seasons prior, dropping to just 60 minutes average per app.

If he’s willing to take on a bench role he could be a super-sub. Though, I wonder if he’d willingly do that during a World Cup year.

Giroud’s putting away with aplomb

The one place that Arsenal have been lucky is that our big French forward has found his close-range shooting boots. I suppose I should have seen that coming but I was too busy fawning over Theo Walcott and his growth curve to see that Giroud would start finishing those big chances. He was 4 for 23 in big chances last season and that led everyone to conclude that he’s not a finisher. But he’s now 2 for 2 in that department and already off to a cracking start with three goals in three games.

Both goals had an element of luck to them but still all credit to Giroud for finishing. The goal against Fulham at the weekend was especially lucky, Ramsey takes a shot from distance, it gets tangled in legs and pops to Giroud who has the defender on his back and the keeper left to beat. Quick thinking little flick and boom he’s off watersliding into the corner flag.

We’re all uptight about Ramsey

You may have noticed this but Arsenal fans talk in metaphor based on a shared folklore. It’s like that episode of Star Trek the Next Generation where Picard is trapped on that planet with the Tamarian and he keeps saying “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”. Instead of Darmok we have “Rooney, bombing past Denilson against Man U” and “Fabregas backheel at Barcelona” or “Bin-bag in the bus to Liverpool” all metaphors for our shared experience of Arsenal.

Ramsey seems to have an unusual number of strong metaphors tied to him. “Ramsey at Stoke” is the most prominent and will probably remain his most prominent metaphor, though he does seem to have been nudging the meaning of that metaphor slowly away from a sort of lode stone around his neck and into something much more triumphant. Maybe one day “Ramsey at Stoke won’t conjure up images of Ryan Shawcross breaking his leg but rather Ramsey getting a trophy winning goal.

Like Giroud and Podolski above I don’t want to get too excited by Ramsey’s play but the kid has been outstanding so far in the Arteta role. He’s leading Arsenal in tackles and passes, both things that Arteta did in his time, and he never hides when the club need someone to drop back and pick the ball up. A lot of defensive midfielders don’t want the ball, but Ramsey loves the ball.

He’s added a bit more guile to his game and watching him dance on the edge of the box then provide the pass for Theo to get the assist was pretty special. He followed that up with a goal and I wonder if it was a “Ramsey at Fenerbahce” moment?

We’re all in for Flamini?

I’m not kidding when I say that I have a Flamini shirt. I got it in 2008 when I went over and saw Arsenal play Blackburn on a freezing cold February night. Senderos got the opener in the 4th minute and Adebayor got the clincher in the 90th but in between it was Flamini who ran the show in the Arsenal midfield.

Flamini was so fantastic that night that the guy next to me remarked that Flamini was man of the match. I was all bundled up so he couldn’t see my shirt and I was still a bit shy about talking to strangers at games but I smiled broadly thinking I had bought well in the team shop.

The thing that gave Flamini that extra oomph was that he had a flare for the dramatic. Never one to just let a guy like Nani seal dribble all over the Arsenal midfield, Flamini would come from the other side of the pitch and put an end to that showboating.

By the time I returned to the States, Wenger was so full of praise for Flamini’s ability to control the tempo of the game and to get stuck in that he dubbed him “Flattuso”.

But the thing is, that was five years ago and he’s been a little used player at AC Milan during his time away. I can’t see him controlling the tempo of a game any more but I can see Cabaye doing that Flamini role with Cazorla.

 

Cabaye has gotten a rep as a pretty player but he has that flare for the nasty that marked Flamini down in everyone’s copy book with the phrase “prick” happily double underlined. Cabaye’s put in some rather nasty challenges, the one on Jay Spearing which had Kopites all reaching for their copy of Dr. Strangelove to see if the International Communist Conspiracy was against them the same way it’s against us (it’s a busy conspiracy).

I would welcome Cabaye at Arsenal. I liked him before he came to Newcastle and I think he’s got the bite we need, mixed with the class that Wenger needs. However you slice it, he’s a better buy than Flamini on a free. I mean, unless we just want someone to come on and kick people. In which case just play Frimpong.

And frankly? I’m kind of ashamed of my Flamini shirt.

Let’s raise our cups to the stars

Cabaye is the only player so far with a strong Arsenal link. I’ve said that phrase before and gotten people shouting at me but read it again, strong link. I’m hearing loads of rumors for other players but Cabaye is actually on strike and Pardew today said that they are looking for a quick resolution so I think that will happen Monday or Tuesday.

The Benzema deal was never going to happen, and his agent/dad/best friend’s cousin’s sister’s brother confirmed as much, but it was fun to dream for a minute that somehow Arsenal would steal the guy with the number 9 shirt at Real Madrid. Di Maria looks more likely than Benzema as they need to raise the money and Bale will take his place on the right side of the Real Attack.

Di Maria is a truly dribbly, left-footed wide player who has been deployed on the right to cut back in on his left in the trademark Mourinho fashion. He can play either side of the attack but would be especially suited to the left where Podolski is playing now.

In center back I wonder if Arsenal wouldn’t do better to just keep Sagna there and buy a fullback to compete with Jenkinson for the starting spot? I really like Sagna’s solid frame in the center of defense and he’s great in the air. He also seems to have lost a step since his two leg breaks and had some trouble keeping up with the speedy, younger wingers the last few outings at fullback. There are a lot of good right backs out there right now any of which would add depth to the club.

And finally, I’ve heard a lot about keepers this week and here’s my take on Wenger and keepers: I have no idea what he’s doing. This is a manager who tried in vain to get Schwarzer but wasn’t really going all out to get a keeper in for the last 5 years. It was more of a tepid attempt to sign a keeper than anything. And now I read that he’s after Casillas and Krul. Let me put it this way, I’ll believe that Arsenal have a new keeper when I see him playing for Arsenal.

Fener 0-3 Arsenal: Wenger hoping to get a full house at transfer market poker

Relief is the operative word as Arsenal’s 3-0 thrashing of Fenerbahce, on their home ground in Hell, provided the much needed pressure release valve from the boiling emotions of the fans, manager, and players. But as much as the performance highlighted Arsene and Arsenal’s good points, pressure will begin to mount anew amid fresh injury reports, reports that Arsenal have been rejected out of hand again in their attempt to purchase much needed players, and with the North London Derby looming as a sort of Transfer Judgement Day for Arsene and Arsenal.

Arsenal outclassed Fener from the off. Walcott was uncontainable down the Fener right hand side and Arsenal’s midfield quatro of Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, and Rosicky ran and passed circles around the huffing and puffing Miereles and Emre.

That the Turks resorted to kicking the Arsenal players shouldn’t come as a surprise but what surprised more was their inability to even get close to the Arsenal midfield. In all 90 minutes, Fener only made 13 tackles. That’s about half the number Villa made in order to stop Arsenal’s defense. Instead, the Turks relied on clearing their lines and trying to get out on the counter attack.

And clearing their lines Fenerbahce did exceptionally well, managing 45 of 46 clearances while Arsenal were 21 of 23. I like to use clearance dominance as a barometer of how much pressure a team is applying to the other and yesterday Arsenal doubled the offensive output, in that category, of Fener. Which is just about the same amount of shots that each team took 9 for Fener, 16 for Arsenal.

Arsenal’s dominance came from a rampant Wilshere and Ramsey who were given the freedom to run all over the Turkish midfield (as sloppy as the field was). In some statistical twist of fate, Wilshere was fouled 8 times against Villa and completed just 2 dribbles but completed 8 dribbles against Fener and was fouled just twice.

Ramsey had the type of game that many of us have been wanting to see from Ramsey for a while. He “bossed the midfield” leading Arsenal in passes, tackles, and interceptions. Which inexplicably led Arsene Wenger to pronounce after the match the Ramsey is now a physical presence in midfield. I love Aaron Ramsey and he is a great tackler in terms of timing (he was a 90% tackler last season) but he’s not a dominating physical presence. Fener gave him space and he astutely took advantage of that – dancing around the top of the D, Ramsey cut left, dragged back right, dribbled left, dribbled right, found the hole, placed the slide-rule pass for Walcott who had cut in behind the Fener back line. Walcott made the cross look easy, Gibbs did the hard work of finishing. And Arsenal took the lead. The same for his goal, that was also all about time and space afforded by a lax Fener defense. Credit to Ramsey for having a footballing brain and the patience to wait until the right opening appeared. I’m not sure how often we will see him afforded that type of Michael Carrick* time on the ball this season.

Szczesny had a good game, made two great saves and got kicked in the face. This is the thing about Szczesny that confuses people, they see that game and think “he’s great! He save the clean sheet! We don’t need a keeper!” but for some reason they forgive the performance against Villa. Szczesny is an inconsistent performer at best. That’s why I have been beating the drum for Wenger to buy a keeper for two years. Consistency isn’t about being perfect ll the time but rater about being “more better more of the time” in my opinion Szczesny is good but he’s not at that level. Why shouldn’t Arsenal have a top goalkeeper? Because he has Arsenal bedsheets? I have Arsenal bedsheets, would I be a good keeper?

And for the second time in as many games, Arsenal suffered a major injury to an already depleted back four as Webo (who wobbles but doesn’t fall down) kicked Koscielny in the face. Watching the replays again I think Webo deserves a red card. But alas, getting that red card won’t bring Koscielny’s face back any sooner. And as mad as I am that Koz was kicked in the face I’m even madder that I have to write this:

Arsenal moved Sagna to right-footed center back and the giant, slow, right-footed, Mertesacker to left-footed center back where he looked extremely uncomfortable trying to clear with his left, pass with his left, and defend on his slower left foot.

What makes me angry is that we are in this situation because Arsene Wenger has not purchased anyone. And what makes me even angrier is that Wenger is saying things like “the window, for me, opens now.” No, actually, with £150m in the bank the window opened on the same day that it opened for everyone else.

Arsenal are like the tortoise and the hare in the transfer market, except we’re neither the tortoise nor the hare but Sluggo the snail. No one knew Sluggo was even in the race until one of those movie moments when the camera zooms from long shot (usually through a pair of binoculars) of the tortoise and the hare duking it out at the end of the race to focus in on poor old Sluggo just barely crossing the starting line. The tortoise wins the race, the Hare comes second and then Sluggo will be shown again, after credits, just finishing the race in total darkness. They will probably make a sequel to the tortoise and the hare and call it, “Sluggo, spend some f*cking money”.

I’m joking but I’m going to admit that Arsene and I are on a break. I can’t listen to the man talk right now without thinking that somehow I’m taking crazy pills. The transfer window opens now? Right, so how did we transfer Gervinho out? And, so how is it that everyone else, except Man U, got their business done early and without paying absurd transfer fees to do it? Magic? Cheating?

And then the analogy to poker, he made. It’s not poker. There is nothing poker-like about it. This doesn’t require some lucky draw, or a bunch of bluffs to get the pot. This is buying, not gambling, STOP GAMBLING.

Gah.

It’s maddening, really. I mean, we should be sitting back right now and laughing our asses off at Man U’s inability to buy even a single player but we can’t because we can’t even have a bid accepted for a player either. And don’t you, dear reader, start with the “you can’t know what you can’t know” game about transfers. Yes, I can and do know, we have been roundly rejected by at least 6 players and teams. That’s not special knowledge that’s common knowledge. If you choose to reject that, then that’s on you. Just one question, what’s the sand taste like that you have your head buried in?

Sigh…

Anyway, Arsenal play Fulham this weekend and I’m really looking forward to seeing the starting lineup. Hopefully we have a few buckets of plaster lying around, maybe we can use some of the pound notes from the bank and make a plaster of Paris, left-footed center back? Or a keeper? Or a striker?

Oh, an good job against Fener. Congrats and all that on 11-0-0 record in Champions League Qualifiers, Arsene.

Qq

*Teams routinely drove me nuts last season as they played off Michael Carrick giving him freedom to do whatever he wanted with the ball. And whatever he wanted was usually something banal.