Give Us A Sign Arsène. Not That One. A Sign-ing Then?
To describe Arsène’s usual press conference as pre-match is at once factually correct and stretching the definition of the phrase. Monday night football is the merkin of the weekend’s fixtures. It will though be approached with enthusiasm on and off the pitch. Tottenham scent is in the players’ nostrils; they need to move into third to be upwind of our malodorous neighbours. They go into the Newcastle fixture in good heart with manager observing that their spirit is intact despite the disappointment of Tuesday night’s exit from the Champions League.
The team news is good with the potential to get better over coming days. Santos, Arteta and Benayoun are all likely to return this weekend with Diaby fit by next weekend. With everyone feeling positive over Jack Wilshere, there is a danger of the manager having an almost fully fit squad for the run-in; Ramsey and Mertesacker would be the major exceptions. All of which would put to the test the theories about how the season was wrecked by injuries.
Criticism of the club still abounds regarding last Summer’s transfer dealings. As I have said before, I think the club got it wrong in that they did not have the personnel in place before Nasri and Cesc left. It is still my view that not all of the activity which happened late in the day was panic buying; that is a lazy tag to hang on what was a difficult time for Arsenal. Some of it does appear to fit that criteria, particularly Benayoun who did not have a medical before signing. Whilst that seems risky, remember he is a loan signing so serious injury would have meant that he was returned to Chelsea. Not quite risk-free but certainly as close to it as a football transfer can be.
The compound effect of the barbs have taken their toll,
One day I’d like to write a book about last summer. There’s a wrong understanding about what happened. The club has been treated very badly because of that and I don’t think the club was guilty of anything during that transfer period. They can say they don’t like the players we bought, but the way it happened was not the responsibility of the club.
Last season it was not because of us, but because of players going out. We do not master when they go out, apart from some times you can say ‘no means no’. I was very adamant (on Nasri) but, at the end of the day, it was a difficult situation to manage. We do our best to keep our best players. If a player didn’t want to extend, where do we go from there? But we’ll see.
I am not holding my breath for the book, although as a chapter in a wider tome it would be most welcome. It is clear though that the feelings of those on the outside have had an impact but I do not think it is just from this season. If you look back at the longer term, there has been a gentle thawing in the manager’s relations with the press and fans for a number of years. The focal point – if you can call it that – was the AGM where Silvestre was derided; it stung Wenger and he is more prickly on some subjects than before.
He has always been hugely defensive of his players in public and that stance is often misunderstood. Not criticising underperformance through the back pages might not be what supporters want after a bad result but it is crucial in keeping his squad united and loyal to him until season’s end. No manager who berates players in the media lasts; talk of losing the dressing room in those circumstances would be correct. It does not reflect what is said in private but too often is the ill-informed view put forward that it does.
Thankfully Arsène is more astute, able to galvanise his players into a response on the pitch. This season has seen that, in spite of the setbacks of the Summer and Winter. Autumn and hopefully Spring will make the season end in full bloom.
But it was transfer talk that dominated the conference. Lukasz Podolski was rumoured to have signed already which emerged from rumours of a deal being agreed. Quotes have been taken out of context to prove the deal which is either being completed in “two or three weeks”, “the end of the season” or “we are not close to signing anyone” [delete as appropriate]. Nobody quite knows what is happening with Robin van Persie either. The manager appears tired of it all but is adamant that Arsenal will not be selling the Dutchman to Manchester City. Describing Wenger as being “cool” on his captain’s future conjures up the image of Arsène striding into Al’s Diner, bequiffed with a leather jacket, thumbs up emitting an elongated “Heyyyyyyyy!” to general whooping and hollering. Either that or he would tearing up the streets of north London in his muscle car, wearing a polar neck sweater under his jacket, all to an acid jazz soundtrack.
I am sure Arsenal do not want to sell van Persie but then he did not want Nasri or Cesc to go either. Robin van Persie is indeed not for sale but that is probably what Köln supporters were told a while back about Podolski. Is he a replacement, back-up plan, squad strengthener or dare you whisper it, season ticket renewal trailer? We shall see but as much as getting things wrong last Summer rankles, sorting signings out this early would be most welcome and deserving of praise. I won’t hold my breath for that either.