It has been quite some time since I last wrote about Arsenal, and without wishing to sound ungrateful to the club it has been a welcome break. Summers are always trying – there is inevitably a dull transfer saga that lasts for three or four months – and after the flat end to last season I needed to recharge to get my enthusiasm back.
The first part of that particular plan was to occupy myself watching a thrilling World Cup, but unfortunately it has been a tepid affair, devoid of star talent, stunning goals (barring tonight’s semi) and miraculous against-all-odds comebacks. Defences have won out, and even the eyebrow-raising results (Germany walloping Argentina, for example) can be easily explained by analysing the men at the back of the beaten team. As for England, it was woeful on and off the field.
There is still time, of course – Germany and Spain clash tomorrow night in what promises to be a cracker, but already my mind is switching back into domestic football mode, to the tweaks that would make Arsenal challenge next season, and yes, to the Cesc story that refuses to go away. And whisper it quietly, but the season is fast approaching – the players returned to training today and the first friendly is only eleven days away.
So where are we? In central defence, we’re officially four down – Gallas, Campbell, Silvestre and Senderos – although the latter hasn’t really been an Arsenal player in years. With Koscielny training with the youth teamalready, it is clear that the French defender is the first replacement – the official announcement is likely once Wenger returns to the country. That leaves us with Vermaelen, Djourou, Koscielny and kids. With Djourou penned to be a first team contender last season, and Koscielny costing so much (a reported £9m), you would expect both to feature heavily, so another signing in this area is only likely as a backup option. I have a feeling that’ll be it for the back four.
Up front, we’re stacked with options – Van Persie, Bendtner and Chamakh can all lead the line (although the latter may be relied on initially thanks to continued Dutch involvement in the World Cup and Bendtner’s groin injury), while Arshavin, Eduardo, Vela, Walcott, Rosicky and Nasri are all options in a withdrawn or wide role. We are top heavy in attacking midfielder and strikers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two leave before September – the prime candidate is clearly, and unfortunately, Eduardo. Time will tell.
Last, but not least, we come to Cesc. The facts we know – Cesc has mooted the possibility of moving to Barcelona (how strongly, we do not know), and Barca have very publicly courted him, in an exceptionally annoying way. And had a bid strongly rejected.
We have all speculated on how Cesc feels about the very public comments made by everyone connected to Barcelona – the president, the players, the tea lady – but realistically, if he was frustrated by it being played out in public (as an Arsenal player, with Arsenal ethics, he might) he wouldn’t say so until after the World Cup. Right now his priority is Spain, and if he is irritated by his teammates talking about his future he will resist saying so until Spain are on the way home.
I will be very interested in Cesc’s first few days back in England. They will be telling.
New Barcelona president, Sandro Roselli, meanwhile, is continuing to talk nonsense:
“The signing of Cesc has become difficult, because the expectation levels have been driven up the seller. We will never pay 50 or 60 million (euros) for Cesc.”
“It’s a topic that has become so public and that’s the worst thing you can do with a transfer, because it makes the selling club raise their expectations and you end up paying over the odds.”
The laughable thing is that he talks as if it is not Barcelona’s fault the transfer has become public, despite their own players mouthing off on a daily basis. It is remarkable arrogance to suggest that just because they want Cesc, they can get him without paying the asking price.
Make no mistake, the standoff will continue – Barcelona are banking on Cesc getting frustrated and handing in a transfer request. If he is to do that, he’d do it soon after coming home. I doubt it’ll happen.
So, that’s it for the first Arsenal post I’ve done in a couple of weeks. In retrospect, not a lot has changed, has it?