Mar 172007

Julio Baptista’s substitution confusion has caused quite some discussion this week, and has been followed up by talk of his future, which still appears to be unclear.

My initial reaction to his annoyance at being substituted was positive – to me it suggested he desperately wanted to be out on the pitch proving himself and helping his team. Wenger’s indication that he had a back injury could have been either an excuse to take him off, however, or a genuine concern.

Arseblogger suggests that this may be the start of the wind-down for the Brazilian before he moves on in the summer, a suggestion backed up over at Gunnerblog. All should become clear quickly – there is so little choice up front tomorrow with Adebayor still completing his suspension, that if he doesn’t play it would seem he’s definitely on his way out. That’s not to say he’s staying if he plays, because Arsene may be forced to pick him simply due to the lack of alternatives.

Which brings us to the question of whether he has a future with Arsenal. A big part of me hopes so. The signing was exciting at the time, and the flash of brilliance he showed at Old Trafford, weaving through their defence as if it wasn’t there when he came on, seemed to indicate wonderful things to come. It hasn’t happened, except in a few Carling Cup games, but he looks so down on confidence that I’m not convinced we’ve seen what he’s truly capable of. Will we ever? It’s tempting to say yes, but with reports suggesting that he might cost the ludicrous sum of 13.6 million it seems less likely.

It says something for the reporting in the Sun, however, that they run with that story, and alongside it report that Andy Johnson was too expensive, at five million less than Baptista. Nothing like a bit of consistency.

An extra twist is our old friend Jose Antonio Reyes. Unwanted by Arsenal, unwanted by Real Madrid, he is somewhat in limbo and reports suggest that his and Baptista’s futures are inexorably linked. Wenger himself says:

“I haven’t made my mind up yet. It depends on Real Madrid as well. The Spanish season doesn’t finish until June, so I don’t know what they want to do.”

“Jose wants to stay in Spain and Julio wants to stay here. He enjoys very much the game here, the passion and the fact that he plays as well, and the spirit in the team. He’s very positive about it.”

I can’t see Reyes returning – if Real don’t want him I think he’ll be offloaded wherever possible. As a result, I’m not sure how his future affects Baptista’s. But I have to admit I’d be surprised to see the Beast at the Emirates next season – with his confidence so low, I can’t help but think if Wenger had decided to keep him he would’ve said so by now, if only to relax the man. He claims to have made that decision, so I can only see this ending one way.

I hope I’m wrong, and Julio ends the season well. But I just don’t see it.

More on the state of the Arsenal strikeforce tomorrow.

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