Aug 172012
 

Our summers are nothing if not dramatic. I’ve been largely ignoring it for the past few weeks – ever since van Persie’s original statement I’ve felt a little jaded by the whole thing, and haven’t had the desire to track it, or write about it, on a daily basis. Kudos to those who manage to blog without a break – goodness knows I needed one.

But now, it has happened. Our captain, our best player, the talisman of our football club, has left. And not just anywhere – to one of our fiercest rivals, certainly the club with which our manager has had the strongest and most long-lasting rivalry. It is a momentous day, and not for the right reasons.

Despite all of that, I feel strangely cold about the whole situation. Since his dreadfully worded plea to get the fans on his side, I, along with many of you, had accepted that is was only a matter of time before he left. With Juventus the only destination that wouldn’t sting, it became about getting the best deal possible. When the Italian club dropped out of the running, it became clear that United were a more realistic prospect than we had guessed at the outset. I don’t know whether that preparation softened the blow, or whether the fee we’ve managed to extract has helped (it certainly seems that we have been compensated for where he is going) but somehow I’m shrugging and looking forward to Saturday.

That isn’t to say that this doesn’t hurt from a football point of view. It does – we’ve lost one of the world’s best players, who has been performing at the peak of his powers for eighteen months. Those who write him off based on his injury record are wrong on two counts – firstly he has been fit enough for long enough to suggest that he will be fine next season, and secondly, he actually isn’t injury prone. Yes, you read that correctly.

Van Persie isn’t injury prone. He has been the victim of a number of poor challenges, which have caused a variety of impact injuries. Crucially, it hasn’t been the same body part each time – he isn’t a Michael Owen, who is only a few games away from twanging what remains of his hamstring. I’d actually compare him to Gael Clichy, who suffered a myriad of bad injuries early in his career, all through sheer dumb luck. Once that luck turned, his availability became constant, and the same is true of the Dutchman. So prepare yourself to see him play plenty of matches next season.

I’m sure many of you are angry right now. But frankly, if your ire isn’t aimed squarely at the player, it is misdirected. All his claims to be ‘always Arsenal’ are laughable – he has merrily gone to a hated rival, something a true Gunner would never do. I can understand his reasons, perhaps you can too. But he isn’t a Gunner.

My advice? Move on. We’ve signed three very exciting players this summer, and I think two more will come in before the end of August, especially if Alex Song does boost the coffers further with a move to Spain. We’ve survived big name departures before. We will again. I know we seem to be saying that a lot (which is an entirely different discussion), but we always survive.

As for van Persie? Could have been a legend, but is no more. Was a good player for us, a good captain too, but ultimately chose to throw loyalty back in the faces of those who showed it to him in spades.

Season preview

Time to move on from all that. We are tantalisingly close to the start of a new season, and despite the events of this week, I am more optimistic than I have been in years. Every year, I make a few predictions at this time, and last year‘s actually turned out to be pretty decent. So here we go again:

League Position – 3rd

I think we’ll finish behind the same two sides again this season – both Manchester clubs. However, there is a big difference – I think we’ll be closer to them, and further ahead of the rest. I’d go as far as to say we’ll be in the title hunt until March at the earliest, but ultimately fall short, perhaps by 7-9 points. I’m going with City to retain, with Spurs (yes, Spurs) finishing fourth. Chelsea are my tip to struggle this time around – I don’t think Di Matteo is the man to lead them over a whole season. Liverpool will take time to adapt to Rodgers.

Arsenal Players to Watch

Vermaelen – it might seem strange to pick one of our best players as one to watch this year, but I really think Vermaelen, complete with armband, will step up in a big way. Outshone by Koscielny last season, I fully expect him to take to leadership like a duck to water, and be one of the very best around.

Ramsey – this time last season, young Ramsey was placed under ridiculous pressure. Only a matter of months after recovering from a career threatening injury, he was asked to do too much in the absence of our missing midfield, and never really recovered. By the end of the season, physical fatigue had added to emotional strain, factors that too few fans accounted for. But his character is strong, he never stops trying and he never hides. Unless less scrutiny, I expect him to resume the giant strides he was making before that Stoke oaf came along.

Cazorla – seriously, just watch the guy, enjoy, and try to work out exactly how we got him on the cheap.

Gervinho – talent isn’t a problem, confidence is. But Gervinho has been showing great signs in pre-season, and is another I expect to raise his level this year.

Concerned about

Wilshere – this time last season I predicted a tricky campaign for Wilshere. Expectations were insanely high, such is the talent of the kid, and his nationality meant the pressure would be intensified. I said at the time that his first dip in form would be greeted with derision from the areas of the press who believed he had been hyped up far enough. This all still stands, but his long term injury almost guarantees that his early form will be patchy. He also doesn’t have the benefit of pre-season, and will return in the Autumn a step or two behind the rest. Keep expectations reasonable.

Diaby – such a talent when fit. Never fit for long enough. I would love nothing more than to see Diaby string 20 games together, to remind us how good he can be as much as anything. But I just don’t think he will – he has practically had to relearn how to walk after the consistent problems caused by that Dan Smith ‘tackle’, and that doesn’t lend itself to staying healthy under pressure.

Other titbits

Can we win a trophy this season? Yes, if luck falls our way. It will be a domestic cup if we get one, and you always need a little bit of luck to capture one of those.

Our defence will be much improved. Vermaelen + Koscielny + Mertesacker + Sagna + Gibbs + Santos + Bould. I like that.

Overall, I’m really quite optimistic. I’m sure many will consider that misguided, but for some reason I just think we’ll surprise people this year. What do you think?

Jun 072012
 

Football is nearly upon us once again, and although it isn’t the warm glow of an Arsenal game to look forward to, it is a potentially entertaining European Championships. Starting, of course, will the stellar fixture of Poland v Greece. Mmm, mouthwatering.

In all seriousness, it should be good, and tomorrow I’ll be previewing it, and reintroducing a feature from World Cup 2010 – daily betting tips (which actually went quite well). But before all that, there is still Arsenal ground to cover, and a season to review. An analysis of the squad will come later, this post is all about the highs and lows of a rollercoaster season, plus a look back at how off-target some of my pre-season predictions were. Let’s get straight to it.

Best: Player

Might as well start with the easy one.

Not only our best player, but the best player in the league. Robin van Persie finally had the season that he had been threatening to have for some time – the previous two were prolific but cut short by injury, but this time that season-ender never came, and he ended up top scorer in the league, almost single handedly dragging us into third place after the most inauspicious of starts. His contract situation loomed over the season like a threatening shadow, but that cannot take away from the magnificent way he has performed, as a player and as a captain. Top class.

That isn’t to say we are a one man team – there were others who were superb this season, but it would be a fallacy to look anywhere but at the Dutchman for this award.

Best: Performance

Tricky one, this. The second leg against Milan was one of the most spirited displays of recent years, but it suffers for being ultimately fruitless. The 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge was spectacular, but Chelsea were defensively so abject that day that it is difficult to know whether it was us being excellent or them being awful. For plain old scorelines, the 7-1 hammering of Blackburn was satisfying too, especially after the awful defeat there early in the season.

But the winner has to the the 5-2 victory in the North London Derby. Two goals down approaching half time, and staring at a potential thirteen point deficit to our fierce rivals, it felt like a tipping point, like the balance of power, so often said to be shifting, was actually headed their way. But a determined fightback followed by a second half carnival put paid to all of that, sent Spurs into a tailspin and proved that North London remains proudly red. Mind the gap indeed.

Best: Moment

John Terry slipping to let van Persie in for a winner at Stamford Bridge? Vermaelen running the full length of the pitch to score late against Newcastle? Van Persie scoring a sublime injury time winner at Anfield, after we had been under the cosh?

All worthy candidates, but yet one sticks out, head and shoulders above the rest. January 9, and the return of Thierry Henry. A fairly dire FA Cup tie was heading to a replay we could very much do without, but with an intelligent run, sublime touch and inch perfect finish Henry wrote himself a new chapter in the history of Arsenal Football Club. Every Arsenal fan watching went completely bonkers, and even cynical fans of other clubs were forced into accepting that this was a magical moment.

Best: Goal

Walcott’s goal against Chelsea sticks in my mind as one of the most underrated goals of the season, his quick feet weaving his way past defenders after he had confused them by getting up off the ground. Arteta’s strike against Man City was pretty special too. But it was inevitable that van Persie would claim this award too – the only question being which goal? His volley at Anfield was sublime, his curling effort against Spurs crucial. But it was the first of his magnificent volleys – against Everton – that stood out. Song’s chipped ball was perfect, and with one lash of his left boot the ball flew into the corner. A wonderful goal.

Most Crucial: Moment

It would be easy to point to the final day of the season and say the win at West Brom was vital. And indeed it was. But I believe there was one more critical still, way back in August, amidst the worst start the club has seen in years. Holding a single goal lead over an impressive Udinese, they threatened time and time again in the second leg, but we held them at bay, leading 2-1 going into the final stages. But when the Italians were awarded a penalty, our place in the Champions League was threatened. Szczesny pulled off a brilliant save, and we qualified for the group stages.

It doesn’t bear thinking what the consequences of defeat could have been. Finances would have been stretched, signings would have been more difficult, and third place almost definitely would have been missed. There was (rightly) doom and gloom around the club in those moments, but that game remains one of the most important of recent years. We came through.

Worst: Performance

There were a few candidates for the best performance of the season, likewise there were some abject ones. The 8-2 at Old Trafford is the obvious one, while the defeats at Milan and Sunderland in the Champions League and FA Cup were immensely disappointing. The late season loss at home to Wigan was a classic in our catalogue of taking opponents lightly.

But one match still sticks in my craw – the 4-3 defeat at Blackburn at the start of the season. Make no mistake about it, Blackburn were appalling in the early days of this campaign, and we handed them victory in one of the most self-destructive displays I’ve ever seen. Awful defending, two own goals, and an embarrassing display against a team who were pretty hopeless themselves.

Worst: Disappointment

The dreadful start to the season? Jack’s injury? The August departures?

For me, it was none of those, but the FA Cup defeat to Sunderland in February. With the league form stuttering, and coming three days after a battering in Milan, the FA Cup was our last realistic shot at silverware. Furthermore, the competition was opening up – Man City had already gone out to their city rivals, who had then lost to Liverpool in the next round. But despite all of that, the performance was flat, and we crashed out. A really poor day.
——-

Overall, it was a season packed with highs and lows, but in the cold light of day, third place wasn’t that bad. The gap between us and those above us is concerning, as is the nature with which we claimed third spot, relying heavily on the inconsistency of our rivals. But in a season that started so poorly, third was a remarkable recovery.

So how did the season stack up against my predictions from August? Time for a bit of a recap. This could be embarrassing…

League Prediction – 3rd (Man United champions)

“We’re better than Liverpool and Spurs, we’re behind United and Chelsea, and City will get distracted by a Champions League run. Third it is.”

Not too bad. We were indeed better than Liverpool and Spurs, and we were behind United. We did also finish third, as I had predicted, but I got the two nouveau riche clubs the wrong way around, believing Chelsea would be challenging for the title while Man City languished behind. The lifting of the Premiership by the latter remains my biggest surprise of the season amongst the top teams.

Cup Prediction – kids in the Carling Cup, and a run in the FA Cup

The domestic cup performances were some of the most disappointing of the season. Out of the Carling Cup early to Man City, we lost weakly to Sunderland to exit the FA Cup (which I really fancied us for this year). The Champions League was better – we got through a tough qualifying round and a tricky group before losing heavily in Milan. Let’s hope for better next season.

Transfer Prediction – Cesc, Nasri, Almunia, Bendtner and Eboue to leave, one central defender and one central midfielder to arrive

Not far off. Four of the five left, albeit one on loan, while Almunia has now followed. Mertesacker and Arteta filled the spots I was expecting, but Santos and Benayoun were bonuses. The less said about Park, the better.

Player of the Season – Thomas Vermaelen

“A fit season could see him establish himself as one of the finest defenders in the league.”

Yes and no. Vermaelen is a crucial member of our team, but while his spirit and his surges forward are terrific, he did have more defensive lapses than would be expected of a defender touted as one of the best around. Ironically, I don’t actually believe his performances were the best of our centre halves this season, which leads neatly to…

Breakthrough of the Season – Laurent Koscielny

“I’m plumping for another defender, a man who impressed me greatly last season, and could really push on this year. He was inconsistent as times in his debut season, but I expect bigger and better things this time around.”

Bingo! I got one right, at least. Koscielny was fantastic this season, his quiet efficiency at centre half bringing calm and stability to our defence when all around was chaotic. Yes, we conceded a lot, but finger cannot and should not be pointed at the Frenchman, who was not only one of our best, but one of the league’s best.

Press Target – Jack Wilshere

“The media love to build someone up and then pull the rug from under their feet, and it feels like they’ve pushed him as high as they are willing to. Expect a media bashing when he has the inevitable dip that all young players have.”

I stick by this one, and will carry it over to next season. Wilshere is still a young man, and will now have the challenge of coming back from a long term injury, never an easy thing, even without being labelled the most exciting young English talent of a generation. He will be up and down when he returns – all young players are – and the press will strike.

Fan Target – Marouane Chamakh

“Chamakh can expect some unhelpful abuse from the unhelpful idiots who think lambasting a player short of confidence is someone conducive to helping your team.”

The form of van Persie prevented the Moroccan being on the field enough to really spark the ire of the fans, so instead their anger was turned on Aaron Ramsey, one of the most baffling fan decisions I’ve known. In recent years we’ve seen many turn on Denilson for his laziness, Bendtner for his arrogance, and Eboue for his theatrics. Those are all reasonable in their own way, as each of those players could be incredibly infuriating.

But we have always claimed that we would never turn on a player who is trying their best, who is putting in the hard yards to make the most of their ability – the Ray Parlour rule, if you like. Yet this season we broke that rule spectacularly by vilifying a man who never hides, never ducks out, but whose youth and recovery from a serious injury meant that his form was patchy.

With every scream of abuse the Welshman received, my heart sank a little more. He simply didn’t deserve it.

And that is it for 2011/12. A season packed with incident, it will not be looked back on with much fondness, save for some memorable moments. Ultimately, we escaped with third, and must now embark on a summer unlike the last.

Tomorrow I’ll be back with a European Championship preview, and will try to squeeze in a squad analysis at some point too. Football returns!

Apr 232012
 

Morning all.

Arsenal fans don’t take a lot of riling. Most football fans are a sensitive bunch, but it seems that our club has more than its fair share of the bipolar. One minute we are a signing or two away from seriously challenging for honours next season, the next we’re doomed to abject mediocrity. And often the difference is the width of the post. Literally (not in a Redknappian sense, but actually literally).

This post is going to require a preface, so here we go – one point from a pair of homes games isn’t a great return, and neither performance could be described as inspiring, or will live long in the memory. But I’m still left with the confused view of a man who seems to have seen a different couple of games from the most vociferous of supporters. The team were accused of things I don’t believe to be accurate, and the wrong players continue to be singled out for unnecessary and frankly pathetic abuse. Let’s start with Wigan.

Wigan

The general consensus from the Wigan game is that we were complacent. Lazy. Felt we just ‘needed to turn up to win’ (or whatever that ridiculous phrase is). It has become accepted fact that we breezed through the game without a care in the world, handing a victory to the opposition without putting up a fight.

That’s not what I saw.

I saw a poor performance. I saw players making the wrong decisions in the final third, players not quite connecting with their efforts on goal as they would like, players who occasionally mislaid crucial passes. And of course, I saw a shabby opening fifteen minutes that ultimately cost us the game.

However, I did see effort. I saw a team desperately looking to break down an impressive Wigan team who defending manfully and skilfully. I saw players making passes that were inches away from being perfect. I saw tracking back, and determination going forward. In essence, I saw what I wanted to see – a team who wanted to win and were willing to put in the hard yards to do so.

Sometimes, you don’t win football matches, and it isn’t always because you were complacent. I feel people are too quick in their efforts to find snap explanations for draws and defeats – it always has to be because we were lazy, or that at least three players were a disgrace to the shirt. You never hear anyone say ‘sometimes, shit happens‘. Look at United yesterday – 3-1 and 4-2 up against an Everton side who have struggled for goals, and they blew it, drawing 4-4 and letting City back into the title race. Were they complacent? Were they cocky? Or was it just one of those days?

Hats off to Wigan, by the way. They were brilliant on the night. We all stayed behind to applaud them off, which felt like a nice touch (well, when I say ‘all’, I mean those that remained – around me I reckon only about one in three seats were still occupied at the final whistle, which I hated). I hope they stay up, I really do.

Chelsea

And so to Saturday lunchtime, and a home game against a Chelsea side who made some changes and parked the bus ahead of their second leg with Barcelona on Tuesday night. Last time we watched Chelsea on a Saturday lunchtime, they played out a bore draw with Spurs, and this was no different. Calling it attritional would be paying it a compliment. Yet we still had the best chances – Van Persie would normally bury at least one of his, hitting the post from Walcott’s free kick and firing straight at Cech later on, while Koscielny was also unlucky to see his header crash back off the crossbar. In a week where the woodwork favoured Chelsea enormously, they could and should have lost to us and Barcelona, but escaped on both occasions. That isn’t to say that we were complacent, poor or lazy, or even that Chelsea defended that well, but sometimes you get matches were the narrow margins go against you.

Consider this. For about three years, Chelsea beat us routinely, both home and away. And what’s more – we got used to it. We went into games hoping for a result, but secretly preparing for the inevitable defeat. Now, they come away from the Emirates delighted with a fortunate point that doesn’t even help them that much, while we look on, disappointed. How times change.

Players

Not only did I feel that some of the reporting of the team performances this week was inaccurate, but I felt the assessment of some of the individual players was off kilter too. I think most of us would accept that Arsenal fans have particular targets when things aren’t going well, and while some of that is borne out of a succession of poor displays or poor attitude (read: Eboue), some of it is less warranted. The usual suspects bore the brunt again this week, none more so than Aaron Ramsey, who I will return to in a moment.

Do you know which players I thought were poor this week? Van Persie had two sub-par games, Song was below par too, Sagna was unusually shaky against Wigan, while Walcott did little in either game. Even the Ox was anonymous. Now, reading that list, I’m pretty sure I can gauge many of your reactions, and they will be angry. How dare I criticise those players, you may ask? Well, here’s the thing – you can say a player has had a poor week without abusing them, without saying they are crap or should be sold. There is a middle ground, which is this – each of the players I have listed, to different degrees, have had excellent moments this season, and I value every single one of them as a crucial part of this Arsenal team. But sometimes, players have poor games, and chances are, they are honest enough about it to admit when they do, and don’t seek to blame less culpable members of the team. So why do we?

Ramsey didn’t set the world alight in either game, but he did ok for me, particularly against Chelsea. We praise Rosicky for his endless running, yet conveniently ignore that Ramsey does the same thing. He is frequently compared to Denilson, which is among the worst links I’ve ever known. Denilson’s problems were two-fold – he didn’t try to create much, preferring the safe options, and he didn’t work hard enough to win the ball back when we lost it. Ramsey cannot be accused of either. He loses the ball precisely because he tries things, and he works his bollocks off trying to regain possession, particularly after his own mistakes. On Saturday, he copped abuse when he lost the ball to a man he never saw, and never got a shout about. Surely we should be criticising the lack of communication from his teammates?

I’m not saying Ramsey is on form. He isn’t. But when a player is off colour, all we ask is that he works hard to get himself back to previous heights, something that Arshavin, Denilson, Chamakh and others have failed to do. So why, when a player shows us the desire we’ve been crying out for, do we vilify him anyway?

When I hear the groans from the stands, when I hear the disgusting abuse some of these guys face from a minority of their own supporters, I find myself fearing what we could lose. We have some precocious talents at the club that have everything they need to have tremendous futures. I just hope they want to have that future with us. Sometimes, I wonder why they would.

Mar 172012
 

Football often gets an absolute kicking in the wider world, for the behaviour of players, officials, fans and authorities, and plenty of times the criticism is fully justified. This season has seen a slew of unsavoury incidents, from racism to homophobia, from corrupt officials to rival fans singing despicable songs about misfortunes that have befallen players or their families. Respect and class are often sorely missing.

But on occasion, football as a sport can unite the fiercest of opponents, and bring out the absolute best in everyone. Today was one such day.

Shortly before half time in the FA Cup tie between Spurs and Bolton, Fabrice Muamba collapsed with no-one else near him. Always a worrying sign in itself, the obvious distress on the faces of both sets of players quickly made the situation clear – Muamba was in serious trouble. Both sets of fans stood in respectful and worried silence, punctuated by the odd song of support for the stricken young man now fighting for his life before their eyes. After what seemed an age, he was finally stretchered off the field to heartfelt applause, and with none of the players in any state to continue, the match was rightfully abandoned.

As I write this, the news is tentatively good, and is that Muamba is stable (but still critically ill) in hospital, which is remarkable, frankly. I hope that as the hours roll by, the news continues to be positive, and he can make a full and speedy recovery.

But the point of this post wasn’t to tell you what you undoubtedly already know – even if you weren’t watching the game I have no doubt that you have since been made aware of the situation. The point of the post was to bring attention to the incredible unity that so many believe football incapable of.

On the field, players who had been tearing into each other just minutes before were embracing, supporting each other, no matter the shirt they were wearing or the issues any of them had with each other. At that moment, they were just men scared for the safety of a stricken colleague.

Off the field, the Bolton fans sung his name with gusto, and the Spurs fans ignored the fact that Muamba was not only an opponent, but an Arsenal product, and joined in with equal volume and passion. Every single person that sung his name deserves immense credit for showing the sort of humanity and care that counters the belief that the sport is bereft of it.

But finally, and most importantly, the medical staff who tended to him on the field, who did everything they could to resuscitate him in those immediate and crucial moments, who treated him on the way to, and at the hospital – they are the real heroes. They may have saved the life of a 23 year old who has already been through more strife in his tender years than most of us could even imagine, and who is now a doting father. We look up to some strange people – celebrities, musicians, even footballers – but these people are genuinely deserving.

Thanks to them, Muamba still has a fighting chance, and for that everyone should be enormously grateful and relieved.

Get well soon, Fabrice.

Feb 222012
 

Morning all. I’m going to start today with a question. How many times have you heard this debate?

“Arsenal have the fourth biggest wage bill in the Premiership, therefore should be finishing fourth.”

“But we also have a lower net spend on transfers over the past six years than the vast majority of the league. Surely in those terms, anything above 17th is overachieving?”

“No, it doesn’t work like that. It is all about the wage bill. And ours is huge.”

I’m guessing this argument isn’t new to you. The strange thing about it is that, like many other debates in the Arsenal world, it is entirely polarising – most people seem to sit firmly in the ‘our net spend is tiny, therefore Wenger is working miracles‘ or ‘our wage bill is way higher than Spurs, therefore we’re underachieving‘ camp. I know I talk a lot on this blog about middle ground, but it amazes me that it is isn’t found on this one. After all, net spend and wages are the two ways of spending your money. They both count.

Not only do they both count, but they are intrinsically and inextricably linked. Over the past decade in particular, Arsenal have had a very clear strategy when it comes to replacing players – promote from within wherever possible, and recruit from outside when there is no-one of sufficient standing to elevate. That has had two direct results:

  • a focus on investing in the reserves and youths, paying the promising youngsters a salary designed to keep them out of the clutches of our rivals. End result – a higher wage bill, because we have a larger collection of players in development, each on decent money.
  • a higher proportion of departing players replaced from within. End result – a reduced net transfer spend, because incoming fees are not always spent on replacements.

We have a higher wage spend so that we can reduce our transfer spend – they are fundamentally intertwined, and it makes no sense to consider one without the other. You cannot say we are working miracles because our transfer spend is so low without acknowledging that it is our wage bill enabling that, and likewise you cannot judge us against expectations set purely by our wage bill when a considerable chunk of that is not being paid to players who will affect the club this season (it is also true that some of our wage bill is reserved for players not necessarily worthy of their salaries, but you can find examples of that at every club).

There are advantages and disadvantages to the strategy. Promoting from within leaves you less exposed to being ripped off when your rivals know of your desperate need for a player in a certain position (otherwise known as the Andy Carroll effect), and it also means that by the time a player hits the first team, they have already been schooled in the Arsenal way and are settled within the club. You could also argue that players require less gelling with each other than new arrivals, since many of them will have played together at youth or reserve level.

On the flip side, some of the money invested in youngsters is ultimately wasted when they do not come to fruition. Arsenal have historically been very clever with sell on clauses for players they let go, but sometimes three or four years (sometimes more) are invested in a talent who ultimately leaves for nothing before reaching the first team squad. Not only that, but having a young talent pool at your disposal can tempt the manager into promoting too early – if he needs to fill a particular berth in the squad, and has a great talent coming through the ranks, he may take a gamble on a player a year or two before the ideal moment. We’ve seen it happen.

So there are pros and cons, good elements and bad elements to the approach, but it annoys me when people fail to acknowledge what we have tried to do, and point either to the wage bill or transfer spend in complete isolation, and using it as evidence of our over- or underachievement. One affects the other directly.

The other related point is the 71 man playing staff figure that came out this week. It is hardly news – if you go to the dot com and count up the first team squad and reserves, you’ll reach a total of 72 (I assume Benayoun is the additional one, since he isn’t actually ours), so it isn’t as if the club are hiding anything. But this ties in with our strategy once again – if you plan to promote from within wherever you can, you need a decent pool from which to select. Some players are patently a few years from fruition, but they increase the wage bill and player count to the point where people can criticise. For the record, most other top clubs have 55-70, so we aren’t enormously inflated.

Imagine if we changed our strategy tomorrow, let as many of the youngsters go as we could, and recruited purely (or mainly) through the transfer market. In the short term, our wage bill would drop considerably, and the club balance sheet would look healthier. But, a few years down the line, three players might leave at the end of their contracts, with another two sold, and we would have to recruit five players from the market. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the wages saved are then used to funds the transfers (and associated fees).

Essentially, the club’s plan is to invest in youth, and cash in on that investment by banking a transfer fee for an outgoing player without necessarily having to fritter it away on a replacement. It is a strategy that confuses the media, who believe that every sale should result in a like for like purchase, and it frustrates fans, who don’t see as much spending action going on during a transfer window (incidentally, I am not saying we don’t need to purchase, the strategy is to promote from within where you can, it certainly doesn’t preclude signings when you don’t have someone good enough and ready).

So next time you hear two people debating over whether our expectations should be driven by our net spend or our wage bill, bang their heads together, tell them they are both right and end this most frustrating of cyclical arguments.