Arsenal v. Celtic: Transfers, Rumors, and Injuries, Oh My

Good morning, as usual, late blog here owing to Le Boss’ pre-match press conference and me wanting to make sure I have the freshest and most accurate data before going to press. Today, in particular, I’m very happy I waited.

Celtic are the obstacle and the target is Champions League qualification, but until the window closes on the 31st, roughly half of all the questions are going to be about transfers while the last half are about injuries, injuries, uhhhh… injuries, and oh yes, Arsenal playing Celtic. Let’s start with the good news:

ROSICKY HEALTHY FOR SATURDAY

Now, technically, I know that this isn’t news that we can use ahead of the Champions League clash with Celtic, but it’s such a huge relief to have Rosicky back that I thought I would lead with it. Besides, with Cesc now confirmed to be out of tomorrow’s match and possibly out of Saturday’s match, having Rosicky back at all is a huge boost to the squad.

That’s right, I glossed over the Cesc thing very quickly. Wenger did confirm that Cesc Fabregas will not play tomorrow. He’s doubtful for Saturday and as Arseblog pointed out this morning that could be Arsene Wenger wanting to keep Cesc off international duty and give him time to fully recover. What we don’t want to do is have Fabregas caught in a vicious cycle of injury, internationals, injury, rest, internationals, injury… you get the point. It’s sound logic on Arseblog’s part and I think we have the depth in Cesc’s spot to carry on for two weeks while he heals up.

I don’t know if he was just being pedantic but Wenger did insist that we not call this “squad rotation.” It was a bit of a strange exchange but Arsene was adamant that he’s not “rotating” but rather that he’s playing his “most efficient” players on any given day. Of course, this decision is taken after looking at how tired a player is, and factors like that, BUT IT’S NOT ROTATION!

Speaking of not rotating, Eduardo will be available for the game tomorrow as well and Le Boss spoke of the importance of having a class player like Eduardo available on the bench or to not-rotate him into the starting lineup. Wenger shrewdly withdrew Arshavin at the 70th minute on Saturday and that could be because he wants him fresh for tomorrow, or Arshavin could be a sub tomorrow.  Bendtner is certainly ready and will by all accounts play on the right. Diaby, unless he slips and falls on his way to the match tomorrow, is ready, Song is rested, and Denilson is ready.

The only question thus is which players will Wenger play on the left and as the lone target up front. We could see Arshavin on the left and Eduardo up front or Eduardo on the left and van Persie up front, but really I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. We do know that Wenger will play the “most efficient” players and I’m speculating that it will be this:

It's just speculating and fun, relax.

You’ll notice that I have reverted to the 4-3-3, well, that’s because Wenger specified that he’ll use it!

I would be remiss if I left off the only other injury news that the boss confirmed today and that is that Carlos Vela is out for 2-3 weeks. His ankle injury is severe enough, and Arsene said that he doesn’t want to hurt him long term, so the team have put him in a boot.  He’s out of commission for both club and country for the next 3 weeks. Hmmm…. I do wonder if Wenger isn’t getting more shrewd with the National sides? I mean, the lesson was there to be learnt after being burnt by Theo Walcott’s injury.

As for transfer speculation, Arsene Wenger was very clear, “we are not close to signing ANYONE” he said and when asked about the retardulous Blaise Matuidi story he barked “I deny that.” He was a little less clear about Senderos and would only go so far as to say that IF Sendy was still with the team on the 31st, then he would be part of Arsenal’s plans this season. A bit strange all this about Senderos. Sounds to me like the player is mulling over options and you have to wonder if Arsene isn’t keeping his eye on someone to replace Sendy, but only if the player chooses to leave.

So… that’s pretty much it, oh yeaah, we’re playing some team tomorrow, uhh whats their name, Stephen Appiah Coming to Arsenal ZOMG FC?

Oh yeah, Celtic. Wenger spoke about them as well, highlighting the fact that Celtic are a dangerous team who now have nothing left to lose and will come out and basically go for broke. There is a temptation with the way that Arsenal have been playing, averaging 4 goals a game and winning with aplomb, for a squad to take their eyes off the prize and lose focus. We saw it happen with this same squad last year about 4 too many times. But Wenger is adamant that he won’t let the players cruise through this game and that they are all well aware of what Celtic did in the second leg of their tie in Moscow, the game that earned them the right to play Arsenal.

I told them already and they know that there’s so much at stake for us that I don’t think there’s any danger of them easing off AT ALL.

Overall it was a different press conference today. Wenger seemed very assured, very direct (with the exception of the Senderos question) and I could almost say confidently relaxed and focused on the task ahead. Awesome, that’s exactly how I would want him to be.

The match is live on Fox Soccer Channel here in the states (kickoff 11:45am PST) and that means no high definition broadcast for me. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to live with watching what should be a cracking end-to-end, physically demanding, Champions League encounter live in regular definition.  Such sadness, is like a plague of sighing and grief! It blows a man up like a bladder.

I’d better relieve my bladder.

Tomorrow, I will be watching the match live from home, so I will attempt to do the liveblog which means no morning blog. This time, since I disabled the chat feature on the site, I think we’ll be ok running the liveblog, I guess we’ll see tomorrow.

On injuries and rivalries

Not much going on today: we’ve had a couple of stories that Cesc is questionable for Wednesday’s match, I still can’t confirm anything about Rosicky, and all the long term injuries to Nasri, Djourou, and Walcott are the same as they ever were.

Erm… long term.

As for Cesc on Wednesday, a lot of folks are saying that we shouldn’t risk him and I agree. Diaby is fit and had a good game against Pompey and with Song and Denilson available, Wenger can slot Diaby into Cesc’s role. Or, hell, he could play Arshavin there and put Diaby in for Denilson alongside Song. Or even Ramsey could slot in somewhere. The point is that there are options, and since Celtic need a three goal margin of victory to move on I think we shouldn’t risk Cesc in this game. Celtic did win 5-2 on Saturday, which is the type of margin that they would need to move on, but I’m confident that Arsenal, even without Cesc, is better than St. Johnstone.

If Rosicky is actually practicing as reported here it’s a huge boost and of course gives Wenger even more options in Cesc’s creative midfield spot. Fingers crossed and all that.

That’s it as far as Arsenal news is concerned. Wenger hasn’t bought anyone or sold anyone and all the rumors out there about Wenger bringing in more creative midfielders are just that, rumors. One week left in the market and Wenger may still have a trick up his sleeve or maybe he’s hiding some 6 foot tall, wild-eyed, midfield killing machine in those sleeves. Big sleeves and all.

There is a bit of strange news this morning; I read that somehow the FA failed to fix the Carling Cup draw and West Ham was drawn with Millwall. I don’t know how much of the facts that you all know of this rivalry (apart from the fiction of the movie Green Street) but it’s pretty serious with real life fans actually killing other fans, in real life. Did I mention that there were killings? In real life?

There isn’t any television coverage that I can find so other than maybe some online feed, or actually going to the match (HA!)  you’re not going to get to see this thing live.

As a general rule, I stay out of these rivalries. I don’t think it’s funny or cute when people in general sing songs about the Heysel disaster or the Busby Babes and I find it extremely distasteful when American fans parrot their English counterparts. These rivalries tend to be romanticized for a lot of people who don’t actually live in the area and it’s easy for Americans, I think, to “take sides” when we’re 3,000 miles away from being actually smacked around.

Maybe a good smacking around would set some of these folks straight. I don’t know.

What I do know is that this is widely considered THE rivalry in English football and could be a great match to watch. Me, I’m just hoping that the two fans put aside their old hatreds and let the players do the talking on the pitch.

Isn’t sport supposed to be the outlet for this stuff, rather than the cause?

We’re all just looking for a few, good, hard men

A hard good man is to find!

It’s a bit odd. To hear Arsene Wenger tell it, Arsenal are looking for a hard man, and yet having been linked to nearly every hard man on the planet, he’s instead chosen not to buy. Still he tells everyone that’s who he’s looking for, either a center back, or a defensive midfielder, or if we’re to be real honest a centerbackdefensivemidfielderwhocanalsogoforwardandplayingoal.

This elusive player can’t be too tall nor too short. He can’t drink or smoke but he also needs to know when to lighten up and let his hair down. He need to be able to play the ball to feet and also play the long pass over the top. He should be in constant motion and yet always in the right spot at the right time. He must be cheap but also world class. He can’t be too young nor too old. And he should be able to take people out of a game while simultaneously being a good sport about it. On and on and on…

Arsene Wenger, as always, is looking for the Goldilocks Signing.

I’m not saying he shouldn’t look for perfection, but I am saying that he shouldn’t let perfection stop him from expanding squad depth. We’re in a pretty precarious position as far as Center Back/Defensive Midfielder is concerned. That position is currently occupied by only one man, Alex Song, and from here forward will be called “The Alex Song Position.”

I like Denilson, he’s a good player, smart with the ball, knows when to go forward and when to stay back, can play either in the center or on the right and hell, I’d even let him take Cesc’s spot as an attacking mid who can put in a tackle up front when needed. But when Gallas went out to have his contacts put back in and Arsene moved Denilson to center back on Saturday that’s when it dawned on me that Denilson, for all his good qualities, is not really a defensive midfielder. I almost hate to say it but it’s true, he’s just not got the size for it.

If Denilson isn’t a center back, then the fact that Wenger slotted Diaby in as defensive mid proves that Diaby isn’t really even a box-to-box player, but more of a deep lying striker or something.

I’m being serious.

Diaby has the physique to occupy the Alex Song position but he doesn’t have the mentality for it and I have to wonder if he ever will. He just doesn’t strike me as a cold, hard, killer like Thomas Vermaelen does.

I’m not taking anything away from Denilson or Diaby. I love them, they’re just not really holding midfield players.

So, if the current guys won’t do, then who will sit in for Song while he’s away for the Africa Cup of Nations? And who can fill in at center back for the days when William Gallas needs a break from scoring goals? It’s the question of this season and one that even Wenger has addressed publicly.

In some sense, I think that Wenger’s being disingenuous when he says:

I’ve spoken to 10 managers and all 10 are looking for centre-backs or defensive midfielders. It looks like the offensive players are the most-paid but at the end of the day, in the modern day, all the managers I speak to ask me the same thing.

‘Do you know a player somewhere?’

It’s almost as if he’s saying “look, everyone wants one of those guys, don’t be surprised if we don’t get one!” But wouldn’t that be like saying “I’ve spoken to 10 managers and they all want to win the Champions League, they all ask me ‘do you know how?’ HA HA NO ONE WINS THAT THING!!!”

Besides, it’s not true, Wenger’s had ample opportunity to sign a defensive midfielder and he’s passed on them one at a time, waiting for that damned Goldilocks Signing. Lorik Cana, for example, he’s currently plying his trade as Sunderland and by all accounts (he’s got 1 yellow in 3 games and yellow cards are his measuring stick, RIGHT?) he’s doing a hell of a job. He’s not perfect, he might ruffle a few feathers in the dressing room and on the pitch, but he’s the kind of guy that I could see in the Alex Song position.

Neven Subotic is another guy who isn’t perfect, in fact he seems to be a bit of a loose cannon: he got into an elbowing contest with Arsenal’s former headcase Jens Lehmann on Saturday. By all accounts Subotic won the battle and if that isn’t just the kind of guy that Arsenal supporters would love to have at the team I don’t know what is. Doubtless Wenger’s run the rule over Subotic and come up with “yeah, but he can’t play defensive midfield, so…” and turned back to his search for the perfect player.

It’s a hell of a risk on his part to be so picky. I’m not suggesting that he just buy anyone, someone like van der Vaart would be a bit of a useless signing in my book. Especially with reports of Rosicky practicing with the team on Monday (all the way at the bottom) and possibly taking over for Cesc on Wednesday. But cover for defense is not a useless signing and rather than wait for the perfect guy to come along, he should open the checkbook and sign a decent player. Steven Taylor is decried by many as not really good enough for Arsenal, but if there’s any coach in the world who could take a 23 year old hard man like Taylor and instill a bit of class in him, it’s Arsene Wenger.

Like I said, there’s more risk in not signing someone than there is  signing someone who isn’t perfect, like Taylor. Not just on the pitch or in the locker room either. Cesc has already called for a signing, Arshavin is calling for a signing and I don’t know a single fan who wouldn’t welcome a signing. Even someone like Blaise Matuidi would be welcomed, I think.

But for Wenger I’m sure he’s got excuses on board for why we won’t move for someone like Matuidi; he’s not tall enough, he’s not old enough, the bed was too soft, this porridge is too hot…

Meanwhile the transfer window is closing and Wenger’s possibly taking the biggest chance of this season, searching for that Goldilocks Signing. We will see, I have maintained that Lescott to City, which looks imminent, is the linchpin for a bunch of defensive moves among City, Everton, and Arsenal. This next week could be flurry of activity or it could see Wenger making excuses for why so-and-so just wasn’t quite good enough.

I’m hoping for the former.