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Sunday 7 August 2011

Anyone for Venice?

I bashed out my previous post, "You Wait All Day For A Bus.....", on Thursday, prior to the Champions League draw and yet another frustrating pre-season outing in Portugal. This was following a request from The Irish Examiner to file a piece by Friday for their Premiership preview supplement and it was only after I'd sent it that I began to wonder if perhaps it was remiss of me to jump on the bandwagon of Gooners ramping up the pressure for our esteemed leader to pull his finger out and appease the masses with some placatory evidence of his appreciation of the Gunners continued shortcomings. Besides, confined to a mere 600 words by the paper, it's not like I didn't have more to say (nothing new there then :-)

Arsenal fans seem to be split into two camps, with those who are rabidly refusing to accept the possibility that we're going to end up starting yet another campaign with virtually the exact same rostra of players who've failed to produce the goods these past few seasons (with the obvious exception of Gervinho and Jenkinson) and with the remainder desperately trying to dampen down the fervent clamour for the Gunners to splash the cash, by contesting that the club's frugal approach might not reward us with short term success, but that the board's parsimonious tendencies will at least guarantee that the Arsenal remain in business in the long term.

This argument might sound valid and our much vaunted "sustainable business model" might look good on an Excel spreadsheet, but as much as the suits at the club might try to convince us otherwise, the beautiful game is not a "business" like any other and you only had to look at Saturday's dreadfully unconvincing second-half performance against Benfica, to fully appreciate the foolhardiness of trying to run a football club merely as an exercise in strict economic principles.

It was interesting to hear Arsène questioned on Benfica's activity in the transfer market. He said something like "they were everywhere we went" suggesting that the Gunners were looking at the same sort of bargain basement buys that the Portuguese club appear to have bought up wholesale. Forgive any inaccuracies but I got the impression that Benfica have spent something like £22million on half a dozen different players, costing in the region of £2/3million each.

Now while I'm not suggesting that we should have bought these players instead of Benfica (although I don't think I'd have turned my nose up at the durable and experienced likes of Pablo Aimar), rather than seeing us put all our eggs in one basket with one solitary major purchase, I've been arguing for some time that what we really need is some substantial turnover in a squad that has begun to look increasingly stale, by bringing in several new faces to freshen up the dressing room and to perhaps frighten a few players out of their apparent complacency and resulting lethargy.

Watching such an abysmal second-half performance on Saturday, only left me that much more convinced that there are players in the current squad of the mediocre calibre of Fabianski, Squillaci and Chamakh, who should never in a million years be allowed anywhere near an Arsenal shirt. And yet as things stand at the moment, we are left quaking right down to our Nike's, in the certain knowledge that we are going to be left relying on the inadequacies of these no-marks, the moment injuries and suspensions begin to take their toll.

More importantly, while Arsène might be reluctant to so readily accept the mistakes he's made with the hapless Squillaci and the utterly impotent (at least on a football pitch!) Chamakh, just about every potential opponent on the planet recognises our obvious weaknesses when these players take to the field. So instead of the opposition standing in the tunnel at the Emirates, intimidated by the challenge of playing the mighty Arsenal, when they're faced with such undisputed duds they will all fancy the prospect of taking us on.

This is one of the reasons we're so desperate for some turnover in our team, as even if for example Wenger replaced Squillaci with a centre-back who eventually proved no less fallible, we would at least be starting the season with some hope of a new dawn and the change in faces in the squad would at least offer the opposition the challenge of facing an Arsenal side with a veneer of a newly discovered resoluteness.

Instead of which, without the turnover of at least a couple of players in the coming weeks, we'll be commencing this campaign with every Premiership manager knowing that aside from taking steps to try and contain Gervinho's wonderfully refreshing willingness to take players on, they can adopt the exact same tactics that so many profited from last season. They know that in the absence of Van Persie, we offer very little, or no threat up front and that they need only defend in numbers, with sufficient bodies behind the ball, to ensure that it's damn near impossible to pass our way through the heart of the opposition's defence.

And they can trust that according to the law of averages, they need only hoof the ball down the other end of the pitch enough times, into the midst of a defence with a tendency to act like frightened rabbits, caught in the glare of the headlights, knowing that we'll eventually be panicked into a sufficiently rash act that will result in us conceding a goal!

Let's face it, for our opponents setting out their stall to thwart the current Arsenal side is hardly rocket science! This is one of the reasons Gervinho's arrival has offered us some hope, because the Ivorian presents the opposition with a new and different problem (although I have some concerns that his push and run preferences might soon be nullified in the uncompromising environs of the Premiership?). Yet we are undoubtedly in desperate need of more of the same!

I know that sadly Man City ultimately lost the Charity Shield this afternoon, but when I think of the massive physical specimens of the likes of Yaya Toure, Micah Richards, Kompany, Dzeko etc. etc. lining up in the tunnel, it's got to be an imposing, intimidating sight for the majority of teams. By contrast, it's hard to imagine anyone feeling similarly threatened when lining up against the Gunners line-up of diddy men, where even the majority of our bigger players seem far too timid looking, lacking that undercurrent of nastiness which might make opponents think twice about yanking their chain.

I'm not sure what happened to Jagielka in more recent times, but I do recall thinking that he looked like the sort of cultured centre-back who might suit the Arsenal when he first appeared for Everton. However on the basis that Jagielka is likely to cost umpteen more millions than Chris Samba, you could make an argument for buying the Blackburn centre-back, just because he's built like the proverbial brick sh*t house and is the sort of monster that can be the bully rather than the bullied.

However I've avoided such speculative arguments on the comparative advantages and disadvantages of all the obvious transfer targets that the tabloids have been bandying about all summer long. It's a complete waste of time and energy, getting sucked into the incessant claptrap (necessary to fill column inches) and you never really know how well an individual player will perform, as you can have all the statistics in the world, but as a team game, football is all down to chemistry. What's more I can never escape the cynical sense that if a player has worked his socks off to make a name for himself at the club where he has some emotional attachment, after having come through the ranks, it is hard to imagine them achieving their dream big money move, intent on grafting even harder for their new employer.

Yet in truth, I'm not nearly so bothered about the specifics of who Arsène chooses to take a gamble on (it's always a gamble, no matter what the price tag!), just so long as the Gunners come to the table and spin the roulette wheel a few times, to relieve the obvious stagnation in our squad!

The pay-off for keeping the same group of players together for several seasons and their growing distaste for repeating the same miserable experiences should be reflected in the togetherness and team spirit within the camp. But sadly, whether it's down to something lacking in the collection of personalities, or perhaps related to our manager's phlegmatic persona, but up until now it would appear as if there's an obvious lack of chemistry in the current squad. Therefore, to my mind, what's really needed in the players that AW should be targetting, is the sort of strength of character that simply can't be measured by le Gaffer's preference for statistical data.

I'm not saying we should have bought Kevin Nolan (although I must admit it was a shock to hear it revealed in the commentary on West Ham v Cardiff this afternoon that Nolan was amongst the Premiership's top scorers for Newcastle last season!), or to find myself flamed for suggesting we should be spending our hard earned money on jail bait like Joey Barton, but there is an intangible quality that just about every Gooner recognises as being required by the current Arsenal squad, as a catalyst to encourage the best "never say die" attributes out of the rest of them.

The problem as I see it, is that the Fabregas situation is so awkward because it's not as if Cesc is going to accept a transfer to any other club than Barca. As a result, with us having the Catalans over a barrel, refusing to contemplate a deal until they offer an acceptable amount, I rather suspect the Spaniards will continue dragging their heels, waiting to see who blinks first, determined to ensure that the transfer does not happen until the very last possible moment, leaving us in a situation where the vast majority of transfer business has already been done and we're left with little, or no choice of where to spend the money, raking over the dregs of the few players who haven't already secured their immediate future.

What's more, even if Arsène has a few moves up his sleeve, where we are assured of being able to obtain specific targets, when you consider how daunting a schedule we have over the first few weeks of the season, if we are indeed going to be pleasantly surprised (nay flabbergasted!) by a few more additions, they need to be bedded into the squad sooner, rather than later, or else our season could be over before they've had an opportunity to make an impact.

Then again, it could be argued that a defeat to Udinese and the denial of the riches on offer from the group stages of the Champions League, is just about the only thing which might shock the suits at the Arsenal out of their complacency? But this is a Catch-22 because if the Arsenal continue to refuse to spend money without being able to balance the books, what chance is there of us buying more players, without the revenue they've come to rely on after Arsène has worked the Champions League oracle for so many seasons!

Although to be honest, if Gazides and co. continue to resist the inclination to respond to the wake up call of all those Gooners who've refused to renew their season tickets, or the continued, patently obvious frailties on the pitch, quite frankly they must already be dead. Or at least dead as far as caring for what transpires on the pitch, rather than for how much they can rake in at the cash tills!

Unlike many, I wasn't that disappointed by the Champions League draw as personally I fancy the Gunners are far more likely to do themselves justice against the Italian side than they might've been if we'd have faced a bigger banana skin of the likes of FC Twente or Rubin Kazan. Besides, based on the decidedly uninspiring football we've witnessed in our friendlies to date, I'm not sure I would have bothered spending my hard earned wedge travelling anywhere else, but whatever our future in Europe this season, at least the draw with Udinese offers me an opportunity to see Venice before I die.

Based on the paucity of Serie A of late and the fact that Udinese have sold off the best of the players that enabled them to achieve fourth place last term, let's face it, if we can't beat the Italians, we don't deserve to play Champions League football.

Nevertheless, when all is said and done, it's still a long way from being all gloom & doom, after all, we could be Spurs fans! And we know that on our day, our first XI is perfectly capable of taking on (and beating) the best in the world. The most frustrating thing is that up until now, as we're constantly being reminded, Arsène continues to fail to address the frailties that have plagued us these past few seasons. Watching the Charity Shield this afternoon felt like a painful reality check, as it dawned on me watching the fairly impressive performances of both Utd and City that much to my distress, the Gunners are no better placed for dominating our immediate competition than we have been in recent seasons.

You can sense this frustration in the level of relative apathy felt towards the new campaign, when normally at this time of year, we'd be positively counting the seconds until the Gunners kick their first ball in anger. If I'm entirely honest, I've been procrastinating about arranging my trip to St James Park next week, when normally you would have to tie me down in chains, to prevent me being present at the first game of a new campaign. But with it being a 5.30 KO and with me having discovered there was no way of getting back to Highbury that same night, I have to admit that instead of spending another couple of hundred quid getting to Tyneside and back and staying overnight in Newcastle, the thought of stopping at home and watching the game live on the box did actually cross my mind.

However eventually I bit the bullet and booked my travel and my accommodation, in the certain knowledge that with all the brouhaha in the days ahead, as the media frenzy builds to a climax of traditionally titanic proportions the closer we get to KO, come Saturday, I will be absolutely devastated to miss out, sitting at home bawling at the telly, instead of pointlessly screaming my head off with all the other Gooners, right up in the gods at St James Park.

Come the revolution, it will be those utterly inconsiderate fixture schedulers who will be first up against my wall!

Win, lose or draw, all I expect is a performance full of opening-day enthusiasm and commitment and considering quite how much this first outing of the season is going to cost me, the very last thing I want is to be watching players in red & white who would rather be elsewhere!

It's interesting how Arsène seems to manage to shed the weight of the world during the summer months, to start each season looking reinvigorated. But if the worry lines aren't to return to the face of our very own ostrich before the week is out, he might do well to pull his head out of the sand post-haste

Nuff of my waffle
Keep the faith
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Glasgow_Gooner said...

Enjoyable article, stating some honest observations that all Arsenal fans must (in the end)accept, confront and proceed to wrestle with.

The actual timeframe on when any such sense of realisation sets in, differs from one Gooner to another.

At this time, I'm not totally hysterical about a percieved lack of transfer activity but do currently feel what is akin to the "cold sweats" at ever growing fears that my need for a fix of super - quality signings will not be satisfied.

I sincerely hope we pull some "meaningful" transfers out the bag before the season starts. I'm trying to remain positive ( I understand transfers take time but other teams seem to manage it ok.) However at this point, there is something niggling away at me...the image of some frantic faxing in the dying minutes to no avail.

Given the abundence of positive quotes from Ivan on the subject of making transfers. Should nothing materialise, i will feel fully entitled to the anticipated feelings of rage and utter disappointment that will gush through me like a fucking tornado.

I still believe in Arsene & the philosophy to an extent, but at times he drives me absolutely bonkers !!.

Best Wishes,

Glasgow Gooner