The transfer window closed last night and as the sash slid shut, Arsenal supporters the world over took turns at their favorite pastime: telling other Arsenal supporters how to be a proper supporter. Given the lack of activity by Arsenal in the transfer market last night it makes sense that bored and angry Gooners would have a go at each other, I guess. But you’ll have none of that from me. Just like I wouldn’t tell you how to love your wife, I wouldn’t dare condescend to tell you how to love Arsenal.
I will, however, condescend to tell you two things. Keeping with my more data-driven approach I will first talk about the squad that we have for the season. No matter what happened in the transfer window, that’s the team we get to root for, at least until January. After that section I will veer off into more uncharted waters and stoop to speculation over what happened with Arsenal’s transfer window. I only do this because I have been asked so many times for my opinion on the topic that I feel like it would be valuable. If you don’t like to read speculation, skip that section. You won’t hurt my feelings.
The midfield hokey pokey
Arsenal paid a record fee for Santi Cazorla to come from Malaga and steer the Arsenal run and gun offense. His arrival moves last season’s starter in that position, Aaron Ramsey, into a backup role where he will have time to develop as either that forward midfielder or, more likely, as the heir apparent to the shuttler position which Arteta played so well last season.
Arsenal have a lot of options for Cazorla’s creative midfielder position: Ramsey has experience in the role, Rosicky played well there last year, Wenger is plumping Wilshere for the spot when he returns from his season-long injury, and Arshavin would love to have a crack.
Arsenal also have options in the shuttler role in Arsenal’s midfield: Diaby has been handed the job so far this season but you could see Wilshere, Ramsey, and Arteta play there as well.
Where Arsenal seem a bit thinner is in deep-lying midfielder. Arteta has deputized well in the first two games of the season but his only backups are Coquelin, Frimpong and maybe Diaby. Wenger has said Diaby is a defensive midfielder and we will have t take the boss at his word on that one. Coquelin is still a bit raw but certainly has the potential and Frimpong, while everyone loves his enthusiasm for the club, is fucking mental — as in “ruin your own knee trying to injury Joey Barton” mental — and I would be surprised if Arsene sees him as an Arsenal player long-term.
In defense, Arsenal’s new captain is Thomas Vermaelen. Along side him will be one of Mertesacker, Koscielny or Djourou depending on the team we face and/or the injury situation with one of the others. Squillaci is still on payroll but I think we’d all be surprised to see him play for Arsenal ever again. Even with Squillaci, this is as solid a center half group as I have seen play for Arsenal since the Sol Campbell era. Starting with back to back clean sheets for the first time ever.
Arsenal’s starting fullbacks are Sagna and Gibbs and they are two of the very best fullbacks in the League. Backing them up are Andre Santos and Carl Jenkinson who are both able deputies. Jenkinson is going to be leaned on heavily at the start of the season as Sagna is out with injury until October. Arsene has played Koscielny and Djourou in these positions, though given their importance to the Arsenal system as the widest players on the pitch K&D aren’t preferred.
Arsenal have three keepers: Szczesny, Fabianski, and Mannone. All three are learning their trade and more than any other position this is the one I wanted Arsenal to get an experienced backup to help guide the youngsters. Szczesny is number 1, Fabianski has a history of injuries, and Mannone did well in his only start so far this season against Stoke upon Trashpile.
Last but not least, Arsenal have a fresh crew of attacking players with Podolski and Giroud bought both as replacements for Robin van Persie and to give Arsenal much needed variation in attack. Van Persie scored one goal every 5.8 shots last season while Giroud got a goal every 7.6 shots. Podolski is much more efficient than either of them and scored one goal every 4.6 shots. Between Giroud and Podolski they scored 39 goals last season (for two different teams of course) off a combined 245 shots, for a rate of 6.3 shots per goal. Even if that number stayed pat, Podolski and Giroud would be ample replacement for Robin, but I expect they will be more efficient playing with Cazorla. Cazorla’s specialty is controlling play in and around the opposition’s box, he will be creating chances for others in deep positions – once Santi stops looking for his own shot first and learns to trust his teammates.
Arsenal also managed to keep Theo Walcott for another season, Gervinho has a year in the Premier League under his belt, and as I told you would happen Arshavin has stayed with the club. Chamakh remains as backup to Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will get playing time in many of the Arsenal forward roles, including some time in the creative midfield position.
Arshavin will be freed from the burden of expectation and I really hope to see him get back to his form of two years ago when he was third in the League in assists. On his day he’s a very efficient player and unlike a lot of forwards doesn’t need a lot of playing time to create goals.
I’m excited to see how well this attack gets on, ready to see how Wenger massages his midfield, and looking forward to Steve Bould’s influence in defense.
You can stop reading now if you like
So, what happened with Arsenal in the transfer window?
First, they sat down with Robin back in May, realized that his demands were ludicrous and set out a plan to buy his replacements. They nailed down Podolski first and then got Giroud. While we all hoped that Robin would stay, it was clear and should be clear to us in the future that if a player doesn’t sign a deal by January of the year before his final year, he’s gone (caveat on this in a moment). From the club’s perspective, the preferred destination for Robin was Italy. From the player’s perspective it was Man City. Weirdly, only Man U met Arsenal’s valuation and Robin agreed with the move. Thus Arsenal sold the Golden Boot winner to a bitter former rival and much bile was heaped upon management for doing so.
Cynics point out that by buying Podolski and Giroud before selling Robin, the club ensured season ticket sales would be strong. This is one of those damned if you do, fucked if you don’t sort of situations: no matter when they sold van Persie, there would be fans cooking up some conspiracy theory behind it or complaining loudly about the timing. I think it’s clear though that the club had a plan and executed it to perfection.
Song, however, is a bit different. The thing that I have heard is that Arsene operates a lot like Marseilles, in that he has a value for every player in his team. Actually, as far as I can tell, Wenger has a value for every player in the world and will not pay one ruddy cent more than he thinks they are worth. This valuation includes how much he’s willing to pay in salary in addition to transfer fees. Sometimes this valuation of players frustrates the hell out of us: Arsenal lost out on Xabi Alonso because of this rumored valuation, Sahin is supposedly another example of Wenger’s famously hard line over player value.
So, when Song and his agent approached Arsenal over a contract that had three years left on it, Arsene’s value system kicked in and he and the club simply refused. Which makes sense, actually. Give me another year of play like this one, and yes, we will give you a bumper contract, but to approach the club in the middle of the season with demands for a better deal than the one you just signed — and to do this multiple times — is a bit disturbing. I think Song’s agent (Darren Dein, it should be noted) then tried to force Arsenal’s hand by shopping Song to his buddies in Barcelona. When Barcelona made an offer, I’m sure that Song and Dein thought Arsenal would capitulate and give Song a new contract but the offer must have exceeded Arsene’s valuation of the player and lickety split, he was sold.
This is the last of the Dein family’s association with Arsenal and it must be said that the club and fans have made the Deins very, very wealthy. I am glad that their association with the club is over and I know that I will get stick for taking that position.
There was a little shopping around for a replacement midfielder, but no one was available who matched Arsene’s value. And I have to say that I think he under-values this “defensive midfield” position — playing Coquelin there is risky but looks exactly like what the club will do this season.
Cazorla is another example of Wenger’s value system. The club tried to buy him last season as the replacement for Cesc but Malaga jumped in and reportedly paid €21m for the player. The numbers vary widely but it looks like Arsenal have gotten him for an initial fee of just £12m rising to £20m after incentives. If the fee rises above £15m Cazorla will be Arsenal’s most expensive signing. He’s also reportedly Arsenal’s highest paid player and makes a salary of £120k a week. Wenger clearly does value Cazorla and with the player’s performances in the first two games you can see why.
Now Theo… I think the club are holding on to Theo until January, so they will have more time to find his replacement. After watching Wenger’s press conference on Thursday, I was confident enough to publish an article stating that Wenger wasn’t going to buy anyone in this window. I don’t know why I was the only one to pick up on it but Wenger was oddly specific about “being in the market” but not having any irons in the fires until January. He’s always been a denier that the club are buying players only to turn around and buy but this time was different: he was categorical about not buying any players. There was something about the way he said it that made me believe him for once. We know that the club won’t want to lose out on a transfer fee for Theo if they can and now have several months to both find a buyer and find a replacement.
How they got into this situation with Theo is another story. It’s got something to do with an odd clause that Theo wanted inserted into his contract and while I can’t tell you what it was, I can tell you it was NOT a guarantee to play as center forward. But what’s the club supposed to do when the sticking point isn’t about money and is something they can’t realistically give the player? I mean, what if Merson had asked for a clause in his contract that gave him the right to get drunk on match day? What do you do in that case?
So, Theo will be plying his trade at Arsenal for a few months and in January will move on to Liverpool, probably.
Right, I’ve written enough on this. We have the team we have until January at least. There’s a match with Liverpool tomorrow. Match preview first thing in the morning.
Until then, I’m sure I’ve written enough to piss everyone off. Have at it in the comments.