Best/Worst of 2008 #1: Flamini out, no one in? Plus, transfer news!

On the face of it, one player leaving a team shouldn’t be a huge deal. If the player is a superstar, maybe it’s a team changing event. But in this case, Flamini was a talented role player but not a superstar by any stretch. Certainly, a club like Arsenal could overcome the loss of one role player, right? The problem is that when Flamini left, the club changed radically. His departure signaled the end of the “Henry” era and the start of what I call the “Wilshere” era.

Changes had been brewing at the club for a few years before Flamini left. We may not have known what was going on but when Wenger started fielding a squad of 17 year old’s for the Carling Cup matches we all sort of knew something was up.

Up until about 2005/2006 Wenger fielded a pretty full squad for the Carling Cup matches. Sure, he used the early cup matches to give the young players a chance to show what they could do but when the cup was in sight, Wenger would put first team players on. There was certainly no talk about a “youth movement” and no sight of fielding 16 year-old academy players in cup quarter-finals.

Two years ago, that all changed. Players like Flamini were rested and players like Denilson were given a full run at the Carling Cup and as I look back on it, I’m pretty sure it was all intentional.

All the press at the time was about how Arsenal didn’t want to break their wage structure and that’s why they let Flamini go but the reality is that Wenger had this all planned from the start. In his pre-Plymouth interview yesterday, Wenger revealed that when he signed his latest contract he knew what financial restrictions the new stadium would bring. That means that as far back as 2004 Wenger was planning this transition.

So, while Flamini’s position is the one we all most wish Arsene had filled he’s just symbolic: Flamini represented the old era. With the loss of experienced players like Flamini, Gilberto, Hleb, and Senderos Arsenal are seeing the rise of players like Song, Denilson, and Diaby.

You need look no further than who he fielded in thre FA Cup today: Wilshere, Ramsey, Vela, Fabianski and Gibbs — all players from this year’s Carling Cup run. Where at one time the Carling Cup was used to introduce young players (Fabregas) it is now the place to get them experience, and where at one time the FA Cup was one of the targets for the first team it is now the place where 17 year old’s (Wilshere) are called upon to play.

The fact is that Wenger did replace Flamini: like it or not, at the start of the new era, Wenger replaced Flamini with Aaron Ramsey.

Transfers

I watched the Arsene Wenger press conference yesterday (I broke down and subscribed to Arsenal TV Online)  and was prepared to write a piece about how my interpretation of that interview was vastly different from the mainstream press but then I read Arseblogger’s breakdown and well, I couldn’t really add much more to it than what he said, so go on over there if you want to know what Wenger talked about yesterday.

The only transfer story this morning is that City have officially offered £8m for Kolo Toure. After watching Wenger’s press conference, I’d be surprised if Kolo moved on. It’s not impossible, mind you, but it would be surprising. Hey maybe we could get Micah Richards in exchange? Everyone wanted him at Arsenal this summer, you’re all still rating him super high aren’t you?

Anyway, Arsenal held on to beat Plymouth in the FA cup today 3-1 and I had to listen to it on BBC5 because the dot com was down. I can’t give a proper match report tomorrow since I didn’t see the match. I guess I’ll just have to make something up!

Citeh Takes the Early Lead in the Transfer Race

It’s a big day already as Manchester’s United and City have both penned deals with players. United took a pair of kids from Serbia or something and City kicked off the transfer merry-go-round with a £10m cash infusion to Chelsea for Wayne Bridge. There’s something ironic about the former Premier League big spenders being given a transfer life-line from the new kids on the block.

City are also reportedly favorites to sign Shay Given who has had his fill of being hammered by Newcastle’s pathetic defense. If it’s weekly salary that he’s interested in, there’s no doubt that City will win, if it’s a solid defense in front of him that he’s interested in, well Arsenal can hardly boast of having a solid defense can they? Arsenal’s defense is better than City at the moment but they have fired the first shot in that department by hiring Wayne Bridge. Our only hope is that Given sees that City would toss him aside like a used piece of fruit if they thought they could get Buffon or one of their other top keeper targets. At Arsenal, Given could finish his career and hopefully that’s enough to sway him our way.

As you know, City are also being linked to a £10m move for Kolo Toure which would give Arsenal some needed cash, according to Peter Hill-Wood.

Now see… I’ve said this before and been roundly criticized, but I honestly believe that the youth “revolution” is based more on need than principle.  Given their moves in the last few years and the fact that Peter Hill-Wood says incredible thinks like

One has got to look ahead – in the future there is probably not going to be much more money coming in. We have got money, but I am not sure we are going to spend it. We’ve got to continue to run the business in a sensible way.

It may sound boring, but we are not going to rush out and spend fortunes on people who won’t help us achieve anything better than where we are at the moment. Arsene has a lot of young, talented players at the club and I think he will probably give a chance to one or two of them.

I have to wonder if Arsenal really have all this cash that they keep claiming. Either that or Peter Hill-Wood was drunk when he said that.

I don’t know anyone who wants Arsenal to get stupid and bid £50m on David Villa but you certainly have to see that Arsenal’s defense is nearly as bad as the clowns down the Lane and needs a real asshole of a defensive midfielder to shield the back four. Now, I like Ramsey, I really do, but Ramsey is not going to come in and shore up the Arsenal defense and for a member of the board to make statements like that last one is really, really incredible. Which of our young players does he think is ready to be a starter on a top four club? Wilshere? Ramsey? Vela? Come on, Pete, get your head out of your ass and your hands off the purse strings: this team needs players.

I’ve been a staunch advocate of Arsene’s youth policy and I’m the first to defend the proper business practices of the club but even I can see that a club can’t lose quality players like Flamini, Walcott, Gilberto, Rosicky, Fabregas, and Eduardo and replace them with a couple of 17 year old’s. That’s just plain unrealistic.

Word is Lucas Neill is available on a free, how much you want to bet Arsenal sign him? It’s all we can afford, after all.

That’s all we got as far as transfer news this morning. If something happens, I’ll break in with another post but for now this is what you get AND YOU BETTER LIKE IT, SONNY.

Arsenal play Plymouth in the FA cup tomorrow and as far as I can tell there isn’t any television coverage anywhere. If anyone knows of a place to watch the match, please let us all know in the forum. If not, I guess we’ll have to see if there’s a stream online somewhere, UGH.

Best/Worst of 2008 #2; Taylor Breaks Eduardo's Leg

Lord, I am so tired... how long must this go on?

It was the maddest moment of one of the craziest games I have ever not seen. The injury to Eduardo meant that the game ran over Doyle’s allotted recording time and so as I pulled on my coat to leave with Arsenal up 2-1, I finished my beer and Russ said, “do you know what happened?” Then he told me how Arsenal gave up a penalty in the last minute and of Gallas’ reaction and I knew then that this would be one of the biggest games of the season. I rushed home to check the post-match interviews and fall out: it was bigger than I thought, it was like an atom-bomb had gone off in the dressing room. Wenger had branded Taylor a dirty player, Gallas had lashed out at the advertising on the sidelines, and Eduardo’s leg was being sewn back together.

It’s a game that should have been remembered as the day that Theo Walcott announced himself, scoring his first league goal to equalize and then scoring the second goal to go ahead after an amazing run. But instead of the articles praising Walcott — who clearly has a penchant for scoring in controversial games as his first Arsenal goal came in the Carling Cup final against Chelsea — there was no shortage of negative press about Arsenal’s Gallic protests.

The English press are normally biased against the Gunners, which I maintain is attributed to the fact that the English are still upset that the French ruled them for hundreds of years and forced their language on them, but the post-match feeding frenzy after this match was the high water mark of anti-Arsenal press. I’m still upset that the English press refused to use the active voice when describing Taylor’s tackle on Eduardo. To this day they describe the incident as “Eduardo broke his leg.” It is an intentionally deceptive statement and is like describing a drive-by shooting by saying “the innocent bystander shot himself.”

I won’t even go down the road of the god damn sympathetic press that Martin Taylor got. Or about how English managers like Steve Bruce said things like Taylor’s tackle wasn’t even a yellow card. Suffice it to say that pretty much every article and opinion piece focused on what poor losers Arsenal are, what a horrible person William Gallas is for showing his emotion and on and on.

Lost in all that was the fact that Eduardo nearly lost his leg to a horrible tackle from Martin Taylor. Something which he has only recently (sort of) come back from. The team, though, has not recovered.

At the time of the Birmingham match, Arsenal were leading the league by 6 points. After the match they fell into a pattern we have become all too familiar with this season: play teams like Villa or ‘Boro or Wigan and get 0-0 or 1-1 draws, punctuated by incredible wins like the 2-0 over AC Milan, only to come back and slip against Premiership opponents. Draw, draw, win, draw, draw, loss, win, draw, draw, loss, loss — from toast of the world to also rans: in the span of a few weeks Arsenal are knocked out of all 4 competitions and it all goes back to this one moment in Birmingham.

Birmingham showed the character of the team in that when the chips are down Arsenal gives up, starts in-fighting, and is more likely to take their frustrations out on an advertising hoarding than on their opponent’s net. That said, there might yet be a silver lining here.  Because as I write this Eduardo is probably working out somewhere, trying to get fit to play again.

And Eduardo’s comeback from Taylor’s near career ending tackle should be a point of inspiration for this team. Eduardo’s hard work, determination, and courage to even get back on the pitch after such a horrific event should show these young men what it means to really love the game.

If it doesn’t then nothing ever will.

It was difficult to pick this as the #2 best/worst moment of 2008 because it is obviously such an influential moment but there was one thing that shaped Arsenal’s year even more than Taylor’s tackle on Eduardo.