World Cup Preview, Part 2 – Van Persie Injury Scare and England Analysis…

Happy Bank Holiday everyone… There’s been a lot going on in the World of Football, not really too much in the World of Arsenal… Yesterday saw England take on Japan and in all honesty, it was a dreadful game – yes England won – but the performance all round was quite bad considering we play our World Cup opener in 12 days.

From an Arsenal point of view, young Theo doesn’t look International quality and it’s a stark reality that I think we all knew – he doesn’t really look Arsenal standard either – sometimes we see players go through periods of bad form and bad play before they suddenly kick on and become massive players – we’ve seen it with the likes of Alex Song, Niklas Bendtner etc. And I just hope the same is for Theo Walcott – I hope he does go to the World Cup and I hope  he manages to get some game time under his belt. We’ve seen that Theo can offer something very interesting to our team – he was dropped to the bench earlier this season and became a very good impact player. We’ve seen some excellent play – that run against Liverpool – the goal against Barcelona, but of course, these moments of inspiration have been too far between.

I’ll deviate from Arsenal for a while and review the England squad, which will be announced tomorrow, and take a guess at the squad:

Green, Hart, James;

Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole, Baines, Carragher, King, Terry, Ferdinand;

Barry, Carrick, Lampard, Gerrard, Milner, Lennon, Walcott, Joe Cole, Adam Johnson;

Heskey, Crouch, Defoe, Rooney

So after the friendlies, and the 12 minute cameo of Adam Johnson, I think he will be in the group with the likes of Lennon and Walcott. I think Capello will go for more midfielders – i.e. 9 and 7 defenders, because Milner can play right back and Barry left back if necessary and of course Jamie Carragher can both centre and right. If Barry is ruled out, which I doubt he will be, then Huddlestone would be the next in line. I feel quite bad for Scotty Parker who I think has had a better season than Barry, Carrick and Huddlestone, but seems to have been completely overlooked.

From an England point of view, I think Theo Walcott isn’t quite hitting the heights at International level, and perhaps should be used as an impact sub, where he has excelled for Arsenal. I just hope he gets some game time for England and can bring the confidence and competition of a top tournament into his club form.

I think the squad is announced at 10am, so we have  another 12 hours before we here it.

In other international news, Van Persie had a bit of a knock in training with Holland and was pictured with an ice pack on his ankle. The news coming out of the Dutch camp is that there is nothing serious – but it has prompted many papers and blogs to write about Van Persie’s injury proneness for both club and country sparking questions about whether we should sell him or not. Now, whilst we all understand that Robin has been in the wars in the last few years, that doesn’t take away the fact that he is our best striker and along with Cesc is a truly world class player. For my 2 pence worth, I definitely don’t think we should sell Robin. When fit, he is a very very good player, skills, the ability to shoot from distance and the ability to create something from nothing. I think Arsene has identified that, yes – he is injury prone – but so damn good, that we need an extra striker to compensate for his absence…

Finally, let me get onto the final part of the World Cup Preview and the review of strikers…

Forward Line

Out of our forward 6 of Vela, Van Persie, Bendtner, Eduardo, Arshavin and Chamakh,  the first three will be travelling to South Africa playing for Mexico, Holland and Denmark respectively and in the last 18 months, you have to be reminded that their best form has all come at International level where all three are first choice. Hopefully we’ll see a bit more of all three of them and this will raise their game and bring them into the new season in good form.

Ones to watch: Nilmar, a 25 year old striker, Brazil. He’s form in the last couple of years has been patchy but I believe he has something dynamic about him. He’s been chosen ahead of Ronaldinho and Adriano, so that’s an accolade in itself…

Okay, that’s a wrap for today… More tomorrow (post the various squad announcements)….

World Cup Arsenal Preview, Part 1

Afternoon Fellow Gooners, and it’s a miserable and rainy Saturday in London today. The roads have been quite busy with Millwall and Swindon going head to head at Wembley (Millwall scraped through by one goal to nil)… but the main thing on my mind is the World Cup and the key Arsenal men who are going to the competition, what we’ll expect to see and of course, the ones to watch…

Goalkeepers

We won’t have any keepers at the World Cup and to be honest, that’s not a great thing. We’ve seen the likes of Fabianski and Almunia have poor form this season and it would have been advantageous for those two to have some International experience. For Fabianski, a few games for Poland would have seen his shake off the Arsenal nerves.

Ones to watch: Hugo Lloris – he cost Lyon £8m from Nice last summer, he’s excelled for the French team this season and may be the number one for the tournament.

Defenders

We have four of our team going to the World Cup, our two full backs and our central defender (is he still ours?) – that’s Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna and William Gallas. Sagna is now officially the number one right back, so we will see a lot of him during the World Cup, whereas Gael Clichy was third choice behind Abidal and Evra – but with Abidal being moved into a more central role, he’s now second choice. Apparently Evra is a favourite of the manager, but apparently Clichy has been very impressive. William Gallas is first choice for France and I’d expect him to recover from his injury to be paired with Abidal. Unfortunately for Thomas Vermaelen, he wont be going to the World Cup – but in one way that’s a good thing, as he will be able to rest after a busy season down at the Grove.

Senderos and Djourou will be lining up for Switzerland, and it will be good to see Djourou in action as first choice as we’ll be looking for big things from him next season.

Ones to watch: Nicolas Otamendi, a 21 year old defender who is supposed to be one of the hottest properties in world football. He plays for Argentina, and can play central or left.

Midfielders

Abou Diaby – quite an inconsistent player for us – looks likely to be a starter for France in midfield – especially with the absence of Diarra and Vieira. Toulalon as DM, Gourcuff  as RM and Ribery as LM will make up the rest of the midfield. For me, the absence of Samir Nasri is a massive shock. His goal against Porto was worth the call up alone. Just imagine if Nasri was English, he’d be one of the first players on the team sheet. Nasri is a player of immense quality and for Arsenal, his rest could help him bulk out and rest up.

Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas will be two instrumental midfielders for their respective countries, Cameroon and Spain respectively. Song will most likely play in defence, a quality of his game that is very impressive. He’s played for us in that position before and it’ll a good role for him to play more of. Cesc will be playing alone Xavi for Spain with Xabi Alonso behind them and Iniesta on the right. It’s a reason why Cesc head sometimes turns when he’s away with the national side as he is surrounded with Barcelona based players.

Theo Walcott will play for England and it looks like he will be first choice, and that will be an awesome experience for him – very much needed to help his club career. Rosicky and Denilson are not going and they both very much needed the experience. Maybe a rest will do them well.

Ones to watch: Mesut Ozil, a German left winger, a very tricky and pacey left sided player, and down in Deutschland, they have a lot of hope for this budding player…

[Update - Indeed I forgot to mention our star player, Emmanuel Eboue, who will be playing for the Ivory Coast in the group of death with Brazil, Portugal and of course Korea Republic - he is a special player and could of course set the tournament alight.]

The next piece will be all about the strikers and the World Cup… until then…

The Biggest Non-Cesc Related Blog Ever…

So, after many days of Cesc related blogging, it’s time to take a look at what’s happening in the wonderful world of Arsenal. Who’s signing… who’s not signing… who’s going… who’s coming… I’ll start with a rumour about a non-Arsenal player and then make my way through the rest!.

Joe Cole

There have been a  lot, a hell of a lot of rumours about Joe Cole. Personally, I’ve spoken to 10 – 15 different people, whom all seem to have a hunch that Joe Cole will be joining us next season. My view: not a chance in hell. Why you may ask? Well, as we all know, Arsenal as a club haven’t really been in the trophies in the last few seasons, whereas Chelsea have won quite a bit in the last 5 years. Joe Cole hasn’t seen that much game time since his injury, but surely he would featured if he remained at the club. The club want to keep him, and he wants to stay. His best friends are Ashley Cole, John Terry and Frank Lampard. He wants £120k a week to stay to match what other players are on and we aren’t even willing to offer the likes of Gallas £80k. It just doesn’t add up – regardless of the rumours, I just can’t see it happening. Even Harry “I will bankrupt this club within a year” Redknapp has pulled out of a deal because of the wages.

If Joe Cole did want to leave and come to Arsenal then I’d definitely take him. He’s got skill and has a winning mentality. Arsene could do a Sol Campbell-esque purchase and add in a hefty sign on fee to help the lower wages pro-rata to higher wages…

Andrei Arshavin

Just to clear things up, Zenit St Petersburg announced on their site at the time of the transfer that Andrei Arshavin had signed a three and a half year contract – however, many people on this side of the sea believe it was for four and a half years (until he was 31). Either way, he has either 2 or 3 years left on his existing contract. The Russian is an interesting character and many people have split views on him. Regardless of his form being patchy, he is a world class performer who has the ability to play at the highest level. He won’t be going anywhere in a hurry, that’s for sure and he will perform much better next season – especially with the new additions that we’ll be bringing in this summer.

Jack Wilshere

Our little midfield maestro looks more and more likely to stay on at Bolton for the first part of next season (August until January) as the clubs confirmed today that they are in talks about extending the loan for the first part of next season. People say it’s a silly move, especially with all the uncertainty of Cesc’s future and the injury to Ramsey. But in reality, if Jack isn’t ready for first team action, then he’s not ready for first team action, regardless of whether Cesc is here or not. The news around Gary Cahill is a non-starter, I don’t think Bolton want to sell, and we certainly don’t want to buy a player rated at £15m – £20m. And if we were going to spend £15m – £20m on a defender, we could probably find a better one than Cahill… Right?

Fran Merida

The mercurial Spanish youngster has now left us for pastures new. The reactions are mixed and quite interesting to see the diversity of thoughts. Some of the people who berated Merida for leaving, I can’t really understand. Why – you may ask? Well, in simple terms, Fran Merida has been with us for four years and never started a Premier League game. He’s had four substitute appearances in the Premier League and as nice as it is to play in the reserves and Carling cup, it’s by no means ideal. If Arsene really rated him, we would have seen a lot more of him in the last year – maybe that’s why it took him longer and he only recently signed the contract. With Denilson, Song, Ramsey and Cesc out injured for a lot of the season in different parts, you’ll have to guess that he felt not being used more frequently was a sign that Arsene didn’t have the trust in him that he had in the younger players like Ramsey and Eastmond and also knew he wouldn’t be first choice for quite a while, if at all. Athletico Madrid intend to start with him and that’s worth a punt in my eyes.

Laurent Koscielny

Who? I hear you ask… Well, according to people near the club, there have been talks about signing this guy. But then again, there are hundreds of names linked all the time. This guy is a defender – he currently plays for Lorient and he is 24 years old. Why am I writing about him with no real link know… Simple because he reminds me of Thomas Vermaelen. And that, I like.

Check out these videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3tqvxbnU6c and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=039803yJCag&feature=related.

Pape Diakhate

Why mention this guy now, I hear you ask… Well Diakhate would be a fun name to pronounce for starters, but also because a certain Bacary Sagna has lauded heaps of praise on the young defender. He is current on the books of Dynamo Kiev and is currently vice captain of the national team. He’s got 24 caps, has got a goal to his name and has just completed a very good season with Saitn Etienne.

Sagna had this to say about Diakhate:

“I don’t know what the plan is for next year. We are all waiting to see what the manager does but Malickou he would be very welcome in our team. He is Senegalese like me and plays for the national team. He played for Nancy in France so I played against him a few times and he is very dangerous at set-pieces. I have met him a few times and he is a very good guy and a very good player.”

And you have to think there is something in the story for a player to be talking about it, don’t you?

And Finally…

A quick round up of other footballing news has seen Robin Van Persie net two for Holland in their win yesterday, have a look at the game…

Nice. If only we had Robin for the whole season… hey…

Til tomorrow!

Cesc: I’m loved more at Arsenal than I am in my own home.

Coming to a football club near you this summer is “The Cesc Saga”… a full action packed thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat all summer. And yes, this summer it’s all about Cesc. So, before I go any further, let’s listen to what the main man had to say today on Sky Sports News…

“A World Cup is too important to be thinking about other things. I am concentrating 100 per cent on recovering from injury. I have great respect for Arsene Wenger. I have great respect for the club and the fans. Sometimes not even in my house have I felt more loved than I felt at Arsenal.  I have had a long conversation with Arsene. It was probably the greatest conversation I ever had with someone in my life. I respect him so much and do not want to say too much. He told me to concentrate on my football and the World Cup. He told me to leave it in his hands and he will deal with my future. It is not up to me anymore. It is now about Arsenal and whoever it has to be. I do not want to say anything else.”

Or watch it yourself here:

There we go, Cesc has spoken and let’s try our level best to analyse this…

Cesc has said some very interesting things in the interview, but still hasn’t done much to clear up what is going on, which makes me believe that there is indeed something happening behind the scenes. My belief is that the Spanish team mates have really been trying hard to sway Cesc’s head and make him believe that Barcelona are the best in the world and Arsenal are the worst and that a move would be in his interest.

Now we know the dialogue from Barcelona’s end has been how much they want the player, but at the same time, they’ve basically used every tapping up trick in the book (surely Platini has to get involved?), but of course, there are two major obstacles in their pursuit:

  1. Arsenal don’t want to sell
  2. The player “didn’t” want to go

Whether or not the player does or does not want to go is uncertain, and the statement from his father said something which makes me think it’s not entirely true…

“I understand that people are all discussing this, but one has to understand Cesc’s circumstances. When he first left he said he would not go back, but things happen. Now this interest is mutual. A valuation is the difficult part. I am in the middle.”

And why the sudden change of heart? Well, maybe it comes down the fact that he has a plethora of friends at Barcelona who are winning championships and have also won one or two Champions League medals. Maybe it comes down to the fact that his family, his siblings etc are all based in Barcelona and he goes there a lot. Maybe it comes down to the lack of quality players that he plays with at Arsenal.

What would you do if you were playing with Denilson on one side of you, Diaby on the other, a broken Rosicky on one wing, a still being educated Walcott on the other and a striker in Bendter who can easy just miss 7 open goals against Burnley… You would probably consider your future too… I know a lot of people who are considering their season tickets now (justified or not, a fan should support his team through thick and thin!), but they are, and so is Cesc…

The question behind of all of this, is what happened between Cesc and Wenger in that conversation? Will we ever know?

Two things must have happen. Firstly, Cesc must have admitted that he isn’t sure about his future at Arsenal and of course the topics surrounding that, and secondly, the player – if he were to stay at Arsenal – must have seeked reassurances about key signings in key places this summer.

There is an interesting part of the statement, reading “he told me to leave it in his hands and he will deal with my future”, which means that the relationship between Arsene and Cesc is strong and possibly stronger than we believe. This works two ways – it means players play for Arsene in a different way but it also means Arsene looks after his players futures, even if they aren’t to be at Arsenal. Cite Henry’s departure.

I think the statement is positive in the respect that Arsene is the key man to conclude the process – something I fear will be a subplot to the whole summer – but one thing I think is clear – Arsene is looking to bring in re-inforcements to protect his top talents. Cesc and Song should be playing alongside a superstar established player – and our backup players need to be able to do a job.

Whether Cesc will be with us next season is something neither him or us know. But, I do strongly believe, with Arsene at the helm, we will do what is right by the manager, the club, the player and the fans… For now, I hope we can all do what Cesc says and concentrate on the World Cup… but something tells me, I might be talking about the same subject tomorrow!

And yes, Cesc… you are more loved at Arsenal than anywhere else…

Cesc: The Quiet Before The Storm

So, yesterday was England vs Mexico and there are quite a lot of topics I want to talk about, like how bad Carrick is, and how hit and miss Theo Walcott is (sometimes electric, sometimes like a bunny in headlights). When Theo is good, he is very good, and when he is bad he is well, not that great.

Anyway, onto more pressing matters, and the future of Cesc is being more clouded and clouded with uncertainty and a bit more uncertainty. I’ve recently posted about what I thought was a Cesc Fabrication, a made up ploy by Barcelona to unsettle the player, with no real desire from the player at all. That was until the stories from Cesc’s father broke today.

Now I am worried.

Cesc’s old man had this say:

“He (Cesc) is focused now on the Spanish national team but what he wants is for the transfer to be concluded as soon as possible. The negotiations between Arsenal and Barcelona will be very long and both parties are going to have to sit down together a few times because the issue is a complicated one. I don’t know how this is going to pan out but I believe you have to respect the decision and the wishes of the player.”

Now the source is a Spanish radio and of course, Cesc’s dad’s view could differ from that of the player himself, but it is his dad and surely that means it’s got some element of truth in it? If it is true, then the silence of the club does speak volumes. Arsene would be very very upset to see Cesc want to leave, let alone actually leave. Money is secondary to the player’s worth in our team, in our youth policy and in our future. He is surely the best player we have?

Another director (how many do they have?) at Barcelona, Joan Olvier, said this on the official Barcelona site too:

“There is no offer yet. It’s true the player has expressed his wish to play for Barca, perhaps this coming season. We have had first contacts with Arsenal in which we made known our intention to talk and that’s the current situation. We are not in any hurry and you never know how long these operations can take.”

Of course, this is backed up by the comments from Peter Hill Wood, who earlier today (maybe yesterday) mentioned he was “surprised but delighted” that they hadn’t made an official offer to us yet. Naturally, if this transfer were to happen and were to happen this season, it would be a very protracted and long transfer. First we would have to determine Cesc’s worth, the impact of his loss, who could replace him and ensure we have everything in place before the start of the season.

It’s not the right timing.

It is at least a season too early. With our squad shaping nicely, and players like Chamakh being brought on board, it’s not the right timing for Cesc to abandon the ship and if indeed, these reports are true, then it’s strange to see a player who was only made our captain last season, and at the tender age of 23 – a player who has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to leave, get up and go.

Many people have said this summer will signal a departure next year and the final part of his dad’s statement echoes the longevity of his contract.

“We are also grateful to Arsenal because they have turned our son into a complete man. At the moment he has a contract with Arsenal,” he added. “My impression is that the English club don’t want to sell him but in the end they will give in and let Cesc go.”

It’s hard to know how to react to talk like this from the Spanish media, from Barcelona and now even from Cesc’s dad. Does it now seem inevitable that Cesc will be on his way in the not too distant future? I believe, this will have a very bad effect on the Arsenal as a team. If our talisman leaves – and we know he is the best player at the club, then how do we even go about replacing him? That’s a topic for another time – I’m not 100% sure he is definitely off, but I do now believe that perhaps it’s not all a fabrication after all.

Listen to Hleb

If I were Cesc, I would listen to Alex Hleb – he has urged the Spanish starlet to stay at Arsenal and become the hero we all want him to be:

“I stay in touch with Cesc a lot and it’s hard for me to judge what he should do. He and Gael Clichy are both very good players who must make their own decisions about their future. But I would advise them to stay. It didn’t work out for Arsenal this season but, if Arsene Wenger keeps the side together, they can really go far next year. They play great football. It’s partly a question of experience and next season Arsenal will have more of it if everyone stays. All things being equal, I think they have a very good chance of the title next season.”

Interestingly enough, the temptation to sell Cesc, knowing that we could get upwards of £50m for the player may follow suit to every other summer since the new stadium – we’ve been selling players every summer, from the likes of Henry to Adebayor to Toure – once Arsene even said we have to raise a minimum of £25m every summer in order to pay our debts.

Even more interesting is Hleb’s mention of Gael Clichy, whom has been linked with quite a few clubs, Inter, Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona themselves. Surely he isn’t on his way? Is he?

Whatever is going on, from an Arsenal point of view, I can’t wait for September 1st. All of this uncertainty is going to give me sleepless nights. Whatever happens, I can rest assured that we have Arsene at the helm to get us through this. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have the likes of Cesc or Clichy at the club in the first place.

For now, it’s time to start writing up my “Arsenal vs England” blog for later… I know who I’d rather watch!!!

England vs Mexico Preview

Away from Arsenal today and a look at England vs Mexico, down at good old Wembley – a match that will see us play a bit of a weakened side (to rest David James and the Chelsea players, whom took part in the FA Cup), and also to see the fringe players in action. Adam Johnson for me, has been a late call into the World Cup reckoning by Cappello, previously uncapped, and not featured in any of the matches prior to tonight. I think he’s done a good job having moved to Man City this January and is a very watchable player. My query was whether or not he could raise his game against the bigger sides and that’s a part of his game that has not been tested. The reason I mention him today, is that Cappello has pretty much said that he will be in the 23 man squad – and of course, that raises a question of who will be omitted. Cappello said this today ahead of tonights game:

“Johnson is one player who is really good. He has improved a lot, he is a really, really good player. I selected him because I think he can stay with us.”

And if that is the case, then the other wingers, Lennon, Shaun Wright Philips, Joe Cole and our very own Theo Walcott suddenly have their places in jeopardy… With players like Lampard, Barry, Gerrard and one other central midfielder (Parker or Carrick) pretty much assured the 4 central midfield roles, then surely two players out of Milner, Lennon, SWP, Cole, Walcott and Johnson will be dropped – it’s a tough one, but young Theo, despite being a Cappello favourite, looks like his seat on the plane isn’t 100% guaranteed yet… although he is speaking the speak, talking the talk…

“I have been to a World Cup already and hopefully it will be a different story this time. I was only 17 in 2006, a baby-faced kid. But I’m 21 now and I’ll try to make my mark. I have learned a lot working with Arsene Wenger. I am learning to use my pace at the right time and I know that I will judged on goals and assists.”

So back to the tonight and we’ll see at least 22 of the 30 man squad tonight over the two halves – it’s too be confirmed about how many substitutes we can make. Carlos Vela will be one of the most recognised players for the away team and he’s been an ever present in the Mexico team, having already scored 8 goals in 24 appearances for his country, and he is still only 21… and the little Mexican is looking forward to player at Wembley tonight:

“The environment is incredible, the people live every game passionately and it will be a difficult situation to have the public against us. It will serve as preparation for facing South Africa as hosts.”

The 80,000 expected tonight will act as a loud loud cauldron of sound, and it will hopefully prepare both teams for an exciting trip over to South Africa. With Carlos Vela’s playing time so restricted at Arsenal, I am definitely looking forward to seeing him in action tonight… He continued:

“It will be a very important game as England are one of the strongest teams of the moment. It is an important test for both teams, because they also have to play against a great team in Mexico.”

So, over to the team news and I think we’ll see the following team – the players in brackets are those I’d expect to see in the second half.

Green
(Hart )

Johnson – King – Ferdinand – Baines
(Carragher – Dawson – Upson – Warnock)

Lennon – Parker – Milner – Gerrard
(Walcott – Huddlestone – Carrick – Johnson)

Rooney – Heskey
(Defoe – Bent)

Which means we won’t see SwP or Crouch or injured Barry or the Chelsea boys of Cole, Terry, Cole, Lampard and we won’t see David James either. Of course, my guess is as good as any, but we’ll find out a little more a little later tonight. Personally, I am looking for some good performances, especially from Theo – and yes, that is my Arsenal bias coming out…

Don’t worry fellow Amigos, I won’t be deviating from the Arsenal for much longer, I’ll be back tomorrow with my view on how much Cesc Fabregas actually costs… time to get ready for the England game tonight, now where’s my new shirt?

When I travel, we always sign someone!

Every time I travel during a transfer window, we always sign someone. Maybe we should set up a fund right there for the “Send Dev away so Arsenal sign someone” charity… it happened for the Arshavin transfer and the Nasri transfer and the Sol Campbell transfer too!

And who you may ask (where have you been this weekend)… and of course, we have now completed the signing of Maroune Chamakh, aka Chamakh Attack. He has now got the 29 shirt number, which is interesting – as I thought he’d have the number 10 – maybe that means that Gallas will be staying or maybe that means we have a new number 10 coming in… or maybe it just means that the number that we give a player is relatively arbitrary! (more likely!)

So, we’ve signed a new striker, a striker who has Champions League experience and a huge desire. And he is an Arsenal fan! He has been talking about always wanting to have played for Arsenal – how we are his childhood team and how this is a dream come true and of course, he has already talked about “us” and “we” and he’s only been here a day or two.

“They are the team of my youth. It was a choice of the heart. I like the Premier League and Arsenal, without any hesitation, is my preferred club. Anything that goes with Arsenal is a dream come true. My goal was to join Arsenal out of all the English clubs because it is a club that makes dreams. I have been a fan since I was a child. The fact that he [Arsene Wenger] is interested in me is a great satisfaction. When a club like Arsenal and Arsene Wenger is interested it makes me very happy and gives me motivation to improve. I can’t wait to get advice from the likes of Samir Nasri, Diaby, Sagna, Song. If my English was better then I would probably ask English players as well. I can’t wait to see the stadium. In France people take a trip to London just to see it.”

Yes, he sounds like an overexcited puppy, but I do love the passion he is showing at the moment. It’s great to hear stuff from players like that. In Chamakh, we have a player who is hungry and blessed with skill, pace and the desire to win. He’s had an impressive season in a Bordeaux side which isn’t the best in the world, although Gourcuff (future Arsenal signing?) has also been impressive. He looks like the kind of player that could be a real fox in the box, someone who will latch onto the loose balls, and someone who we get a bucket loads of goals, baring in mind the chances he’ll get. We’ve now got five strikers International strikers at the club in Robin Van Persie, Maroune Chamakh, Niklas Bendter, Eduardo and Carlos Vela and finally we’re becoming heavier in a department that we were robbed of through injury last season.

In previous seasons, Arsene hasn’t bought because we have the players in the squad who can do a job and we have the numbers – normally four strikers is enough – but with Arsenal, we are an injury prone club and I think Arsene has realised this and that’s the reason he has five strikers going into next season. I’m actually very glad it’s a world cup year, because we will be able to see the best of Carlos Vela, who despite his lack of game time at Arsenal this season is a very exciting young player. If he can show the dynamism that he’s shown in the Carling Cup and for Mexico in the past throughout the World Cup, he will be knocking at the door big time at the start of the season. It’s an exciting time for some of our younger players, gaining more experience and shaping up nicely for a title push.

I’ll deviate from the Chamakh signing and post a little quote from Carlos Vela, ahead of tomorrow’s game:

“We’re on the same level as many of the best national teams. Obviously Italy, Brazil, Argentina their results have shown the quality of their players and Mexico has unfortunately not been able to take that step we all want. We have seen in World Cups that we have battled Italy and other big-national teams of great level without any problem, I think you just have to take that small step to show that we can win, we can succeed and I do not see a big difference.”

Fighting talk from the Mexican and with South Africa and France in the group stages, he’ll have to get into the groove very soon, starting with the friendly tomorrow against England at Wembley. I think he’ll do well tomorrow and do even better throughout the tournament, keep your eyes peeled for the Mexico games!

In other news, Newcastle are preparing a bid to loan Jack Wilshere for the season next season and I’ll be happy with that – I think Newcastle are a team that do like to get the ball down and do try and the 50,000 supporters at St. James Park will get him a big match mentality. Ex Sp*rs coach, Houghton, is currently manager up there, so we have to be careful that he doesn’t drum the skill out of Wilshere, and Owen Coyle down at Bolton does have a track record of playing the beautiful game.

Of course, there is another question – will he go out on loan anywhere next season? Do we need him to return to the squad – well, we do have a plethora of midfielders, with Ramsey to return, but with Ramsey out for a while still, I can see him having some game time next season. I’d be all for him signing up on loan until Christmas, and re-joining us in January – which gives him more experience in the Premiership and also gives us a new signing in January (normally when we need them!), but I’d like him to come back to Arsenal first and get some good old fashioned Arsene Wenger / Emirates Cup pre-season in first!

In World Cup related news, former Arsenal player, Lassana Diarra is out of the world cup with a mystery stomach injury. Whilst his exits and comments about Arsenal have been somewhat insulting against the club, I would have wanted him to play in the World Cup – at the end of the day, you want the best players at the World Cup, but it’s not meant to be, and I hope it’s nothing too serious. In other news, injured William Gallas was out an about on a buggy race and had a little crash but he escaped with nothing but scratches, so is still on course for the World Cup.

Finally, if you’ve seen the video of Arsene Wenger unveiling Maroune Chamakh, then there is a little worry in my mind that Arsene may be a little bit ill. He didn’t look that healthy in the video, what do you think? Take a look for yourself, the video is an Arsenal.com freebie: http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/free-video-chamakh-signs-for-arsenal and tell me what you think? Do you think that Arsene is just busy signing players that he forgot to eat and didn’t brush his hair?

And ultra-finally, apologies for the lack of a blog post yesterday – totally due to the lack of Internet access in my Berlin apartment and no wifi in a close proximity, but I’m not away until the 3rd of June, when my Vegas trip means we’ll probably sign someone that week! And if my previous experience in Vegas alongside Matthieu Flamini and Wayne Rooney shows, there may be a few superstars around, although probably not as it’s a world cup year!

And ultra-ultra-finally, two crazy fun loving football fanatics (just like me), Tottz and B have finally launched their own blog (I’ll be Vegasing it up with both early June). Tottz is a hard core Gooner and B is unfortunately a Liverpool supporter, but their views are very interesting and I’ve always enjoyed the banter – the site is called our2Penneth, obviously aimed at giving you their 2 pennies worth…! The site an be located at http://our2penneth.wordpress.com/ and the first blog is all about Cappello’s squad for the World Cup, so if you have some time and want in on the debate, check it out now…!

And ultra-ultra-final point to make is that Merida’s departure to Athletico Madrid is a very good thing in one player – well, yes we are losing a decent player, but at the same time, if there was any truth in the Cesc rumours, we would see Merida also leave, so the fact he’s off, means Cesc is staying! Wohoo!

And that’s a wrap for today, time to get home and get some rest in time for the England vs Mexico game tomorrow – til then, Guten Nacht!

Let’s Not Talk About Cesc…

Today’s blog is not going to be about Cesc. The will he, won’t he, should he, how could he saga of Cesc’s future at Arsenal has sidetracked us all from the main things to talk about this summer. And I for one am going to try my best to focus on the rest of the world of Arsenal. Despite new fresh rumours from the rumour mill saying a contract has been agreed and all that silly business, I still believe it’s a pure fabrication – if you want to discuss Cesc, click here. (I hope nothing bad happens overnight!)…

One final Cesc related note from barcelonafootballblog.com, about how Barcelona fans feel about Fabregas:

If Fabregas comes, he comes, but stop talking about him as if we have some divine right to him. We don’t. He’s a player who left the farm in search of greener pastures, and found them. He didn’t show any particular loyalty to the club back then, so I just don’t see any sorts of talismanic qualities present in him right now. All I see is a 50m benchwarmer. If he doesn’t start for Spain, what makes anyone think that he is going to be starting in our midfield, which is essentially the Spain starting midfield?

We need midfield depth that won’t grumble about sitting on the bench, and reliable excellence at right and left back. I’d rather splash for that, than for Cesc Fabregas, who certainly has an admirable skill set (no, that isn’t tapping up). But he would basically be sitting around, filling in a waiting for Xavi to retire.

So, in all this furore, it’s clear that Barcelona fans a) understand that there is no divine right to the transfer of Cesc and b) they aren’t really too bothered if he signs. One thing for sure, is that the campaign is very much media driven, and I’m not convinced that there is a genuine threat behind this. If Barcelona continue to do this every summer, then at 25 or 26, he will probably leave.

Anyway, we’re not supposed to be talking about Cesc.

Time to think about next season with Cesc… and what is going to happen in transfers in…

We already know that Maroune Chamakh is virtually an Arsenal player, which poses the question on whether or not we will revert back to a 4-4-2 and I honestly don’t believe we will. Arsene has adopted the 4-3-3 through the ranks and the youth team are currently modelling themselves on it, so having gone so far in believing in the formation, it’s unlikely that we would abandon it after one season.

David Seaman seems to think that Almunia and Fabianski will be our number one and two next season and that Arsene won’t be investing in a new keeper. I’d be surprise to a degree if that does happen but not overwhelmingly surprised. It may be a switch round that sees Fabianski take over as number one and Almunia drop down to number two. It wouldn’t surprise me in the manner that Arsene has expressed so much belief in the Pole, but it would surprise me considering the fan backlash that would happen if Arsene didn’t sign a new keeper. On current form, our top two keepers are somewhat maligned and completely devoid of all self confidence. Neither are punching at any weight and neither will turn into world class players over night. Has Almunia been at fault for the 40 odd goals conceded in the league this season or have our various back lines been at fault. In reality, it’s hard to know – but what we do know is that both have a mistake in their locker, and to win trophies, you need a consistent and effective goalkeeper at the helm. I would love to see a Frey or a Hart come in, and I really do hope that one of them will be signed. It’s time for fresh blood.

The priority in Arsene’s eyes will most definitely be a central defender with Gallas and Silvestre departing, one will be replaced by Nordtveit and the other will be a new signing. That, I am pretty sure of. Depending on who the manager brings in, will determine who else he brings in. Despite the big move supposedly available, player contracts have been extended and more long term contracts will be signed by the beginning of next season. Will Jack Wilshere return to Arsenal and is he ready for first team action? That’s a whole other question and he has shown us that he can ply his trade in the Premiership and he looked pretty good up at Bolton.

Our midfield has a problem that we play 3 in midfield, but Diaby and Denilson are very very inconsistent and don’t quite have the something that would make them automatic first choices. There is space for a new midfielder, but who? At Barcelona, they play one defensive midfielder and two attacking ones. We have Cesc and Song, but the third spot is yet to be filled. But it could easily be filled with Nasri. A middle three of Cesc, Nasri and Song is a damn good middle three.

So, let’s take a look at our possible best eleven…

New Keeper (see above)
Almunia / Fabianski

Sagna – New Defender – Vermaelen – Clichy
Eboue – Djourou – Campbell – Gibbs

Song – Nasri
Denilson – Diaby

Van Persie – Cesc – Arshavin
Walcott – Rosicky – Vela

Chamakh
Bendtner

I’ve put Chamakh straight in there as I think he’s more of a finished article than Bendtner, but our first XI looks strong, and even stronger if the two players whom we bring in (GK and CD) are quality. The second XI does have a lot of talent in it too. Add into this mix, a third team consisting of Mannone, Traore, Nordtveit, Ramsey, Eastmond, Wilshere, Eduardo, etc and we do have the strength in depth required. But as a first XI, we do need two big players to come in preferably in the positions outlined above.

If Arsene chooses to keep faith in the goalkeeping department, we may see another midfielder come in. My dear friend, JAT, said the difference between us and the other top European teams is that – yes, we have a great first XI, but Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid have a great first 18 and that is what makes the difference. Every team has injuries, but when we have injuries, we can’t replace a top player with another top player, but instead a youth product or a reserve player.

Yes, we will be a better team next season than we have been this season, but as we have seen with Liverpool, if you don’t mix it up, spruce it up and try to improve your team, it can easily go downhill. I will be happy with a new centre back and a new keeper. If we sign those two players, I’ll be happy to go into next season and we confident that we can finally win a title. We don’t need to get rid of players like Diaby, Denilson and Vela, they are good young players whom have learnt a lot and can be very good squad players. But Diaby, for example, should feel that he has to work at his game to get into the first team.

The difference next season has to be in attitude – no player should believe that he can walk into the team (except for RvP and Cesc who are the two truly world class players) and each player should be on top of their game to get into the team. Look at Sir Alex Ferguson – both Nani and Valencia aren’t automatic picks and what that does to them is make them feel like they a) have to get better and b) have to be consistent. A small change in attitude and a small change in personnel will make all the difference, turning us from 90% of a complete team to 100%.

The change is down to Arsene. He should know what we have to do to regain a lost foothold.

Cesc Fabrication…

We always knew the day would come when Cesc Fabregas would leave the Arsenal and we all knew his destination would be Barcelona. We all expected it to happen when he was 27 or 28, but not when he was 23 – and if the media stories we are all hearing are to be believed then that day has come. It is hard to avoid the speculation surrounding the club about Cesc, but I strongly believe that what we’re hearing is purely fabrication.

Cesc has four years left on an 8 year contract and it’s been extended several times in that period. He is currently captain of Arsenal and he is our talisman.

He signed for us back in 2003 and choosing Arsenal was in respect to his progression as a footballer – Arsene gave him the chance as a 16 year old whilst he still had Vieira and Gilberto the mainstays of the squad. His debut was a Carling Cup tie, in pure Arsene style and he went on to feature more and more that year. The following season he broke into the first team and from there, he never looked back. His guile and creativity added something to our team despite his slight figure. The 2005/2006 was his season, after Vieira left to Juventus, he went onto make 49 appearances.

Why am I telling you all this? It’s not like don’t already know it… but I’m telling you because it’s a reminder of the belief we had in the player, at such as young age. It’s the belief that Arsene had that Cesc was “worth it”. Selling your captain to allow a 18 year old to take over in the team is a statement of faith and belief in that player. We may have had doubts with many players in the past, but even at the tender age of 18, we knew that this kid was special.

His early introduction to the team was at some cost. We were unable to mount the challenges that we had previously and we forwent our ambition for trophies to fast track a player whom had the genuine talent to build a team around. Cesc is a winner and followed his ambition to London, to become the Arsenal captain. More recently he has been moved forward in a three man midfield to devastating effect and you can see clearly that not only does he have skill, creativity and guile, but has now added goals to his repertoire.

Cesc is Arsenal and Arsene’s vision of the future of Arsenal is built around the player.

Does Cesc want to leave Arsenal? No. Does he want to play for Barcelona. Yes. One day. But the Spanish media are vultures – they are worse than the British – and that is saying something – but they are loyal to their own. The Spanish top two, Real Madrid and Barcelona will use every trick in the book to try and lure a player. They will ask all of their team mates to talk to the player. They will speak to his agent, they will put false stories in the press, they will make journalists squeeze people and take anything they say and twist it. And that is exactly what Barcelona are doing right now.

A simple interview to Cesc and the question of whether he wants to leave Arsenal and come to Barcelona was asked. Well, no it wasn’t. The questions were strategically asked to provoke a series of responses. “Do you see yourself ever coming back to Barcelona?” is the first question to which Cesc answered “One day, yes, I see myself returning”… followed by “Would you go anywhere else?”, to which he replied “If I do leave Arsenal, I will only join Barcelona”.

Cesc is loyal and you can see that in his answers. The wry smile that people suggest meant that he wants to leave, was in fact a wry smile at the questions being asked. The same questions, but a different year. If you believe Guillam Balague then let me remind you that he said in 2008 that Ronaldo was a certainty to leave Manchester United for Real Madrid – an eventuality, but it didn’t happen that summer, neither did David Beckham to Barcelona – another certainty.

Barcelona have ways of fabricating stories, involving statements from the president and manager, involving claims from the players and staff. Their stance is always that the player wants to leave and therefore it is up to them to hand in a transfer request and then the teams can negotiate. Why? Because the players Barcelona want are always the top ones which need serious mind games, tapping up and they want them at a lower than market cost, and what better way than to mix up the player’s mind. It’s even worse for someone like Cesc because he closest friends are at Barcelona at the moment and he is with them now.

But the difference between Cesc and other players is his loyalty. His choice to come to Arsenal was to further his footballing ability – to make a name for himself – and 7 years later, through the belief that Arsene had in him, he is now one of the world’s coveted players. Barcelona are knocking and they will continue to knock ever summer, and one day they will get their man. And in order to ensure they do, they feel they must knock every summer, to get closer and closer.

Cesc is indebted to Arsenal as a club and Arsene as a manager. He is a huge factor of the current policy, the current stance of the manager and one of the main reasons that perhaps we haven’t won a trophy – but he is our captain and we will fight to keep him for as long as possible. We want to build a team around him and are only a few players short of a world class squad. So, for all those of you who are worried about the news, yes, you have a right to be worried. But don’t second guess the situation, relax, stay calm and have trust in Fabregas. He won’t jump ship. He’ll be wearing the colours next season.

All I can say to Barcelona is what we’ve always known – beautiful football, horrible mentality and even worse personality. One day (in the not too distant future) when we are the richest club in the world, it will be us buying their players – with Cesc still in the team – rather than the constant speculation, or should I say Cesc Fabrication.

The Jury’s Out: Goalkeepers…

Since the departure of David Seaman, have we really replaced him? Well, I don’t think we felt we had when we signed Lehmann, but I’m sure a lot of you have looked back at his career and can now safely say that as a goalkeeper he was decent. World class, no – decent, good, capable of making saves, yes. His temperament was the outstanding issue and in the end, it was what caused him to leave. I don’t think Almunia is a better keeper but at the time, I was campaigning – like we all were – that Almunia be given a run in the team. But a few years on, and the progress of our “number one” has been small, if at all progressive. The Jury’s Out…

Manuel Almunia

The Spaniard is our current number one. He was plucked out of the second division whilst playing on loan at Albacete from Celta Vigo. His move to Arsenal, was one of the highlights of his career and he was brought in as a cheap backup player to then number one, Jens Lehmann. We won’t really know the background, but with Almunia showing signs of rapid improvement and Jens Lehmann’s character becoming a problem, the Spaniard got the number one shirt. But last season, Almunia was “found out” – personally admitting to the bad form he was going through. Despite many objections, Arsene stuck with him, hoping the backing of the player would ignite some form. This season however, he seems to regressed even more and potentially, he could be near the end of his career. It’s a strange one, because he has the capability of pulling off great saves – but so do a lot of goalkeepers. We’ve seen the likes of Rob Green, Brad Friedel, Mark Schwarzer and even the Burnley keeper have great games. But what separates the “world class” players from the others is the consistency at the highest level.

A friend of mine (who doesn’t support Arsenal) once said of Almunia. “Could you ever see Chris Kirkland play for Real Madrid?” I laughed. He said “exactly”.

Lucas Fabianksi

Dubbed “Flapianski”, I really do wonder why Arsene rates this player so highly. Apparently he has amazing potential and is our future number one. His outings so far have been restricted to cup games and late season runs out – plus the odd Champions League game here and there. The problem with Fabianski is down to his understanding of the basics – you can’t pick up a back pass and of course, you can’t handle the ball out of the area. You can’t not be in position for a short free kick and you can’t flap at everything – you need to come for those you can get and position yourself appropriately for those you can’t.

With Almunia 33 tomorrow, Fabianski is 8 years his junior, and probably the most likely to be retained, if one of them does indeed leave the club. The funny thing is – over the last two years – he has been clearly much worse than Almunia.

Vito Mannone

Our young 22 year old has the support of the fans and has a more educated background, having graduated from the famous Atlanta academy. He had a little cameo earlier this season in which saw him make five first team appearances. He did reasonably well, very solid, and has won the hearts of Arsenal fans. He doesn’t look like the finished article, and despite his good outing, many fans would probably prefer his deputy to a number one rather than a number one himself just yet.

Vito did sign what I think was a 4 year contract earlier this year, so he isn’t going anywhere fast.

Wojciech Szczesny

Now this kid is the one that everyone’s taking about. He is two years younger than Vito but has developed very rapidly. He is now 20, and is not far from first team action. His loans spells, especially the most recent one at Brentford have been very successful, with the manager saying something you don’t hear often: “His performances suggest that he would not be out of place in the Championship or even the Premier League. It has reached the stage where when he lets in a goal we wonder why he hasn’t saved it.”

Arsene has also talked about the youngster and said publicly that Wojciech has been identified as a special talent and is a future number one. I am very excited to see him in action – maybe in the Emirates Cup? Maybe not… we’ll see what happens in the GK department this summer…

The Contenders…

Gianluigi Buffon

Well, we’d all love to have a big name join the Arsenal and Gianluigi Buffon is a big name. He’s spent most of his career at Juventus and his former years at Parma, and he’s pretty much won everything. He is pretty loyal too, having stayed with Juventus whilst they were relegated and continuing to push for honours with them this season. He has not had the best of seasons in Turin this year, but form is temporary and class is permanent. Whether or not he will actually leave Juventus is an unknown but sources in and around the player say that he is interested in trying out the Premiership. As mentioned before, we all know the effect that Van Der Sar had on United – a solid keeper with a good pedigree and he’s still there. Buffon could be our Van Der Sar in that manner – experience and determined and pretty good. The big question would be who else would be in for him and with Man City having two very good keepers in Given and Hart, United having Van Der Sar, Liverpool with Reina and Chelsea with Cech, I don’t think we will have too much competition for his signature from English clubs. Man City may try with a statement of intent and if that does happen, surely one of Given and Hart will have to leave… leading me nicely onto…

Joe Hart

English, and a very good goalkeeper make Hart the fans choice. I have to say, I have been very impressed in the young keeper and his loan at Birmingham has done nothing to shake that impression – if anything, he has raised his profile. He will most likely start for England against Mexico as he’s been drafted into the World Cup squad as third choice, but I don’t think it will be too long until he become England’s number one. With Man City currently having Given as their first choice, will Hart be happy as a number two – or will coming to Arsenal as number one and with Champions League football be something too good to resist – will Man City sell? And if they do, will we be able to afford the young keeper? We will find out soon, but I for one, would love to see him down at the Emirates.

Emiliano Viviano

Linked in a lot of media in the last couple of days – we’re unsure if this is a purely fabricated story or if there is any truth to the rumour. People in and around the scene do say he is a very good keeper, but at 25 and without European experience, how much of a leap will it be to the Emirates. Inter Milan actually co-own the player and it is rumoured that they are interested in taking him back – not this season, but the one after after he has a year at Bologna – as their number one. He’s obviously impressed in the Under 21′s and through an Olympic squad stint when Olympic number one Curci was injured, but ultimately we don’t know enough about the keeper to really comment on whether he’ll be a hit or miss…

So, who else do you think we should have on the shortlist? And who do you think should leave? Almunia or Fabianski? Is Buffon, at 32 and potentially available the option you want Arsene to use – as our signal of intent or is the younger and English Joe Hart preferred? See you in the comments…

This Summer Is Still Football Filled…

Morning fellow Gooners, and it’s the start of another Arsenal-less week. With the transfer window set to open on June the 1st (that’s about two weeks away), I’m sure we’ll see a few things happen very soon. Of course, the arrival of Maroune Chamakh is a key acquisition, which I am under the impression is all but done and due to be announced later this week.

The buzz around the transfer window of course is around various key stories that the media are publishing day after day – one being the Cesc to Barcelona story, which we get every summer and another one in Buffon to Arsenal – neither I believe will happen this season. Arsene knows the quality of Cesc and also knows the problems we have as a team without someone like Cesc in the team. He is the architect of our team and makes the team play better. We saw at the end of the season that the desire shown in adversity without leaders allows the team to drop a level. Arsene will not let Cesc go this summer, not for any money. He is on a long term contract and he has expressed his desire to stay at the club over and over again.

Buffon has stated that he may want to leave Juventus and to be honest he hasn’t had the greatest season this season. Juventus aren’t the club they used to be and they don’t have the players they once did. But his wages are very high – his desire may have waned? He’s 32 but that is the perfect age for a keeper. When Man United signed Van Der Sar, many believed he was past his best, but he went on to have quite a good few years at Old Trafford. The main problem I see will be the competition for his signature with many teams being interested. We are in a better position as Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool are happy with their goalkeepers. Personally I would be delighted if we did sign him, but having approached him and Juventus when they were relegated, I just have this feeling that he won’t come.

Last night I was glued to my set as Barcelona and Real Madrid battled it out for the La Liga title. Barcelona won 4-0 and Messi scored two to take his tally to 47 for the season. And that’s just incredible, isn’t it? One thing which was more than evident for me was the lack of playing time for Thierry Henry. We sold him for £16m and since then, he’s been a shadow of his former self. When he left Arsenal, I only wished the best for him, I wanted his to win titles and of course the Champions League. But after his stint at Barcelona, it is clear to see that Arsene sold him at the right time. And looking at Adebayor and Toure’s dismal performances this season, the £41m we received for both of them was a good return for us.

Back to the speculation around transfers and like Arsene has done before, I think he will sign two players – one goalkeeper and one defender – neither whom are high profile. In recent years, we’ve wondered why Arsene hadn’t gone in for players like Vincent Kompany, but having seen him in the Premiership, we know he’s not the greatest player in the world – and at £17m, a price too high to pay for such an average player. What we do know is that Arsene had been watching players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo since they were kids and try to sign them both, amongst other top players. There is a certain level of financial responsibility and competition which means that we won’t always sign a player of our desire, but with the extra funds now available and the experience that the kids have now gained, with the right transfers this summer and a bit of luck in the injury department, the era of winning trophies doesn’t seem to far away.

Back to the topic of today’s blog and this summer should be a bearable one… I’m football hungry like most of you guys and we’ve got a feast of football kicking off very soon. The next major game is the Champions League final, which sees Inter Milan take on Bayern Munich – that game is scheduled for next Saturday – a change to the normal Wednesday final that we’re all used to. Before that, down the Emirates this Thursday is a unique football event down at the Emirates – which is basically a 5-a-side tournament, so if you’re free, it may be worth a visit.

England is my home country and the team that I follow and of course I will be supporting them at the World Cup – we have a pre-season friendly on Monday 24th May at Wembley against Carlos Vela’s Mexico and of then a game against Japan. Of course there will be lots of countries playing lots of friendlies, so we’ll have a little bit of football before the main event kicks off (10th June) which will literally keep us busy until mid July before our first season friendly against Barnet. No worries. Loadsa football, and maybe a few transfers here or there…

Have a good one fellow Gooners, til tomorrow…