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Guess Who? The Old And The New Bring A Force That’s Good Together

Reports this morning attribute quotes to Peter Hill-Wood regarding Arsène’s future at the club. Showing a lack of ego and imagination, he said

For him to stay longer than that would be perfect. I can’t think of ­anybody better to run the team.

Surely you can, Mr Chairman? There are millions who think that they can carry out the managerial duties far better than the incumbent. And let’s be honest, what sort of football fan are you, Mr Chairman, if you don’t believe YOU should be running the team. Come to think of it, this merely highlights how out of touch with your peer group you really are since a high proportion of them are quite happy to sack managers who fail to acquiesce to their tactical solutions.
There is no surprise in the board’s support for the manager, it is typified by the thrust of his observations,

And he has shown how much rubbish people were talking earlier this season. We had a terrible run of ­injuries and that obviously had an effect. But a few mindless ­people were saying that he had to go, that Arsene was past his sell-by date. He has shown that is nonsense.

The media have been backtracking in recent weeks over this point. Two months ago, those journalists who stuck their heads over the parapet were brazenly reflecting that the criticism of the manager which manifested at the Manchester United defeat in January, reflected the views of Arsenal supporters. Taken to task over such observations, this representation is now the manifestation of “some” Arsenal fans. As Arsène himself noted, “The dynamic is completely different“.

They fail to grasp the concept that online views are more vehement that those expressed face-to-face. Had they noted that the vast majority supported the manager but viewed last summer’s transfer activity – or the timing of it at the least – was, we’ll be polite, a bit of a balls-up, then threre could be little argument that this was the truth. Even then it is to degrees. Panic buying is a common theme; that suggests the players were ill-conceived in their purchase but third place is hardly a failure given the start to the season and if that is confirmed, represents a better achievement than 2010-11. There is, of course,  Chu-young Park to contend with…

Those lessons seem to have been taken on-board with the (unconfirmed) signing of Lukasz Podolski a step in the right direction in timing at least. The playing bit? History will be the judge of that. The approaching summer activity is being guided by tournament Hell, Euro2012 at the beginning followed by the Olympics at the end. Fortunately in 2016, there is scant chance of TeamGB to (potentially) wreak havoc with pre-season preparations with this year’s debacle unlikely to be repeated.

Even the manager has his attention drawn to the matter of summer recruitment. Sol Campbell’s ill-judged comments – which in the former player’s defence – echo comments he made not so long ago; he is consistent in his output but they brought an unusually ascerbic response from the manager; a nerve has clearly been touched. Too often in summer months, a player’s potential value to the team is judged by the size of his transfer fee rather than his actual ability.

What has not changed at all is our policy that we will be as ambitious as ever and spend the money we have available, if possible in an intelligent and wise way.

A quiet and unannounced change was made with experience taken ahead of youth last time around. Rather than being a wholesale shift in policy and one presumed to be continuing, it should be viewed as being the assessment of the squad requirements. This summer I would see little surprise in the balance being redressed with experience and youth acquired in equal measure. The two are not mutually exclusive despite being disparaged either side of the argument.

The key to this is to make the ‘transition’ stage of the group a continuing and seamless cycle; one that perpetuates through the balance of signings and youth development. To me that is the balance that the current squad has – and to a very large extent, I exclude those who are out on loan since for the most part, I do not expect them to play for Arsenal again. It is the process that will underpin his desire for a trophy that recognises the ‘depth‘ of the squad as the manager liked to call it.

It is the balance the manager has been trying to work toward and is reaching. No ‘project’ of this nature is ever completed but there should not a requirement for wholesale changes again. That’s the utopian ideal at least.

Final thoughts this morning turn to the family of Livorno player, Piermario Morosini, who tragically passed away, having suffered cardiac arrest in the 31st minute of  his club’s match at Pescara, and to Trevor Francis in his recovery from a heart attack recently. Such things put life into perspective for differing reasons.

’til Tomorrow.

Meltdown & Scapegoats Ahoy On Rough Arsenal Seas

About the only thing which has not appeared in this morning’s papers is the broken cannon motif, so beloved of sub-editors when Arsenal are perceived to be in crisis. Perhaps it would be more apt if they inserted the skull and crossbones onto the club crest to signal the mutiny – even though the historical assumption that the Jolly Roger is purely a piratical ensign is utterly incorrect. At any moment I am expecting Arsène to call to Robin van Persie, “This is mutiny Mr van Persie, mutiny“. To hear him mimic Charles Lawton might well be worth the entrance fee alone.

Reading the back pages, you sense that some are revelling in the mayhem whilst others think that we are all idiots. The latter is possibly a hangover from being the chairman’s pet paper, David Woods in this morning’s Daily Star observes,

Centre-half Thomas Vermaelen is believed to have been angry to learn late on, with no briefing from Wenger, he was having to play left-back, after three weeks out with a calf strain.

Seriously, that is a direct lift from their website. I mean did Woods not realise that Vermaelen had played a dozen or so games in the position before being out. Does he really believe that it was a shock.  The village idiot is now employed gainfully.

As you know, I’ve been trawling through newspaper archives and my own scrapbooks for Arsenal On This Day but rarely have I come across such shoddy journalism.

It beggars belief but by the same token pretty much sets the tone for the morning. Robin van Persie’s declaration of loyalty and frustration is delivered in staccato form by The Sun, as if  Hill-Wood and Gazidis have donned hoods and are threatening to kill him unless he delivers a message of support for the manager.

The same thread carries across the media from tabloid to broadsheet, each emphasising the same thing; Arsène has the support of the squad, van Persie is loyal and it’s all the fault of Andrey Arshavin.

Reportedly – and given the veracity of some of the column inches this morning, a healthy dose of cynicism should be applied – the players held a clear-the-air team meeting in the aftermath of the defeat on Sunday. Many of these have been held down the years during Wenger’s reign, the players seeking to put right the wrongs on the pitch. At this, reportedly, Arshavin has been held to blame.

It strikes me as too convenient. Gary Neville accused the Russian of being disinterested, that comment interwoven with the displeasure displayed on Sunday appears to be the foundation of this all. Too many in society though seek out a cheap scapegoat, convenient because it allows a polarisation of dissent onto one subject but more often than not a deflection of individual failings onto another.

Let us not beat about the bush. If there was no injury then the manager got Oxlade-Chamberlain’s substitution wrong on Sunday. He admitted as much in the post-match press conference and we go from there. It is not a signal that he is losing the plot, God Knows there is enough evidence to suggest he has not.

That – and pinpointing Arshavin as the sole cause of the winning goal – is to ignore a simple fact: football is a collective game. One minute can lose a match with a goal. Ninety minutes in which you score less than your opponents tends to be more damaging in that respect.

Arsenal had their opportunities and failed to score. Robin van Persie arguably missed an easier chance than the one he did convert. And what of the defenders culpabilities in the first goal? Song had a distinctly average game and was as much to blame as Arshavin in the winner. Collective responsibility.

Much finger pointing is happening, as much a legacy of the season as one match.  It has been a poor campaign, the summer was not handled well and lessons must be learned from that with a recurrence this year entirely possible. The manager did not replace the players who departed quickly enough, arguably before Cesc left a replacement should have been signed or at the very least announced within a week of departure. That is an ideal world; we do not live in one and no-one on any internet board or forum knows exactly what went on, why the carnage was allowed to occur in the manner that it did.

One thing is for certain. There is no confidence in anything Arsenal any more. The reaction displayed firmly underlines that there is no sense of “We’re all in this together“. Which is hardly surprising when you view the state of world at the moment and the impact of wretched political and economic decisions on society.

The word support does not mean blind adulation; healthy and constructive criticism is actually a good thing, contrary to the opinion of some. At this moment, there is nothing healthy or constructive about much of the criticism being shown. Bowels are turning to water and a feeling of doom is being spread.

And the arguments go round and round. It’s a vicious circle, the only solution for which is apparently to spend. And sell, of course. In fact have the sort of firesale and panic buy for which derision was heaped in the summer.

’til Tomorrow.

Tommy Guns For Long Arsenal Future & Marseille Preview

English football’s navel must be very interesting since so much time is spent contemplating it. Whether it be the ill-advised appeal against Wayne Rooney’s recent red card or the folly of abandoning relegation and promotion, there is much to see in the bloated belly.

It is hard to see why the LMA were so upset with the thought of a closed shop. After all, is it not the case that a number of managers lose their employment because of the threat – real or perceived – of relegation? It would, I suggest, be the only thing other than winning silverware to give some stability in the profession.

Personally, I find the thought of being stuck with likes of Bolton and Stoke most horrifying of all.

As for Arsenal, well, tonight they meet Olympique Marseille for the first time in any match, as far as I can find, which is surprising given the history of the two sides. That they have not met during Wenger‘s reign is not surprising given his personal history with the French side and it would be of little surprise for him to desire a win even more than normal, no matter how much he may protest otherwise.

He received a boost in the form of Thomas Vermaelen extending his contract. Of the four key players whose contracts expire in the next season and a half, his renewal is least surprising. Having missed a season of football, I feel that the Belgian believes he has something to prove, perhaps sub-consciously he feels he owes the club a debt in view of the absences since his arrival.

As key as his signing is, there is more to it than just ink on paper. It changes the atmosphere, slightly but tangibly. Instead of gloom, there is a shaft of light breaking through the swirling clouds overhead, clouds that became a little less grey at the weekend with a win. Players are, as the manager put it, no longer perceived as wanting to be out of the door.

Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott would nail that lie completely if they followed the same contractual path as Vermaelen. The only one of the quartet whom I would have reservations about extending their stay is Andrey Arshavin.

He is of an age and calibre that demands first team football. Obviously that needs to be translated into consistent performances on the pitch for the outcome to be realised and yet he seems to be second choice for the wide left attacking role behind Gervinho. With time to rectify that situation, there is no immediate concern, just a nagging doubt.

Wenger is certain that the event is a clear signal of the club’s unity,

When you listen to people it looks like an exodus with everybody leaving the Club but we are a happy club. We did not have the start of the season that we wanted but the atmosphere inside the Club is very solid, very united and very positive.

We want to turn the results round and the fact that some players extend their contract at the moment is a positive sign for us.

We are unified and that is down to our mental strengths. This club has traditionally shown mental strength under pressure and I would just like to say that we have been under pressure since the start of the season but in the big games we always managed to find the resources to respond well

Tonight is just that. Marseille have a good record against English clubs at home, only Liverpool have won there whilst Chelsea and United returned with one point and no goals scored between them last season. It won’t be easy but their domestic form is of more concern than Arsenal’s, one win and six draws from their ten Ligue Un fixtures is poor. That win incidentally was a month ago.

I would not expect too many changes from Sunday’s victory over Sunderland. Andre Santos will replace Kieran Gibbs but that may be it. Perhaps Tomas Rosicky will step aside for Aaron Ramsey with the Czech being a second half substitute but even that change is not certain, nor entirely necessary.

Indeed, the only justification would be that Rosicky is not capable of three games a week at this stage of his career, something that is at once hard and easy to believe. He was pivotal in the second half dominance of the Wearsiders and I would certainly start with him for tonight’s game.

The line-up I would go with is:

Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Santos; Song, Arteta, Rosicky; Walcott, van Persie, Gervinho

Whilst Arshavin was lively as a substitute, Gervinho is more direct in style and may feel more comfortable with his Ligue Un experience. Whatever the case, a win would be a boost to the confidence.  Consecutive wins is not a familiar feeling in 2011 for Arsenal and such an occurrence would be a welcome boost in this match.

Recent seasons have seen Arsenal struggle on their travels in Europe. A good draw in Dortmund is something to build upon, especially since six points against Marseille would put Arsenal into the driving seat as far as qualifying at the top of the group is concerned.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

Arsène And The Wages Of Sin

Ahead of the trip to Marseilles, Arsène was interviewed on French radio about the season and summer past. Most of his comments appear to have been grist to the mill but some will light the blue touch paper under those who are looking for any reason to criticise the Arsenal manager.

A regular critic of financial doping, Wenger is changing his angle of attack on the subject towards players. In doing so, he lays bare the dangers of the philosophy that Arsenal favour at present over wages. Amid the rancour, one fact is often overlooked; no-one believes that the policy of controlling wages as a reasonable percentage of turnover is wrong. The problem is the distribution of that cost line amongst the players.

Under Wenger, Arsenal has pursued an egalitarian pay structure with the manager believing that a harmonious dressing room is maintained if the earnings of star players and junior squad members is not vast. In a young squad where players have yet to forge their reputations the logic of that is unquestionable. The problem comes as the squad becomes established or as Arsenal have found this summer, vastly superior wages are on offer elsewhere.

Wenger observed,

It’s not that [players have to leave to win titles. The problem isn’t that. Frankly, if you compare what Manchester City have won in the past and what Arsenal have won, then you don’t go to Manchester City to win titles. Players go to Manchester City because they pay much better than Arsenal.

They are a force clearly, because they have exceptional financial clout, so it’s not surprising what they’ve done…There’s always a financial logic behind who ends up being successful in any league…When a player has the choice between two clubs who have the same ambitions, if he can earn three times as much at one club, he’ll go there. That’s logical.

In highlighting the logic behind the financial desires of the players, he highlights the folly of Arsenal’s wage structure. Surely in those circumstances, Arsenal should be using the wages as a motivator to the younger players? Play well, establish yourself in the squad and you will reap the rewards. A meritocracy which essentially football is.

However, there is a flipside of the coin; the demotivating effect. This is where Arsenal’s philosophy finds its strength. In searching for the young talents – scouting them when they are older is not the scouting system failing as is ludicrously insisted – offering a sizeable wage will play a part in enticing the youthful to the club. That cannot be overlooked although I suspect that it is now more of a draw to be at Arsenal knowing first team football on a regular basis is more of a reality than at other top clubs.

Both philosophies are fraught with a fundamental problem. Unless you are the richest of the rich, someone can always pay more than you if you so desire. Which leads to the prospect of one club amassing a plethora of quality players, giving themselves a better chance of silverware. The money becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yet there is a ‘but’ and it is quite a big one. Spaces at the top clubs are limited. Players are notoriously fickle and as we have seen at Arsenal, confidence is transient. Joining a club where there are top quality players is fraught with dangers, form lost means a place might not be regained and that to a footballer is not the utopian ideal they were sold. Play well and you are in the side doesn’t count if those appearances are limited by someone playing better. Yes, that should be motivating but we have all seen players who give up.

Bojan Krkic gave an example of that this summer when he left Barcelona for AS Roma, despite having won all manner of medals. Krkic did not feel a fraud for accepting them yet did not make as full a contribution as he would have liked hence the move to Serie A. Competition for places is one thing but when you are trying to oust Messi, Villa or Iniesta for a place in the side, unless you are exceptionally talented, it is not going to happen unless they suffer a misfortune.

That issue is perhaps not as commonplace as is perceived and with squad rotation, more chances to perform for the first team exist than to players of another generation who were not unused to playing 65 games a season.

Fundamentally, it comes down to a baser footballing philosophy. Can you win the title through organic growth or does it have to be bought? History suggests the latter but the future? Well, that’s unwritten…

’til Tomorrow.

Captain’s Log: The Cross Of Changes

Club cap’n, Consolsbob, is here with his view on matters Arsenal…

This has been a bloody awful season so far for Arsenal fans. Defeat on the pitch, an intensifying civil war between fans, another injury crisis and the conviction amongst many that the team cannot deliver. Add in continued uncertainty about what is happening at Board level, a seemingly misfiring corporate team and dissatisfaction, in noisy quarters at least, with Arsène and we have the media’s beloved ‘perfect storm’.

Where did it all go wrong? From the ‘Invincibles’ to facing a tough scramble to claw our way up the league to maintain our place in the ‘Big Four’. A world in which Spurs and the ‘Pool are favourites to finish above us.

We have no idea how the season will turn out. The new squad will bed down, players will return from injury and others will recapture their form. Four trophies are still to be won; there is an awful long way to go. And don’t forget the ‘transfer kitty’, burning a hole in fans’ pockets, at the very least. We could yet have the last laugh come May.

The squad contains much that previous ones have been accused of lacking; Premier League experience, a socking great centre back and a dominant ‘keeper. But why we are struggling and why there is so much unhappiness around the club today? A proper answer seems worthy of a thesis rather than a post. Here’s a starter for 10 anyway.

The last few years have been very complex for Arsenal. Moving stadia brought issues with debt but also, less acknowledged let alone understood, Arsenal walked into the corporate world. Most see this as the ‘club level leaving early’ fans but, behind the scenes a new management body led by Gazidis and his team of financial and legal apparatchiks has changed the club for ever. Necessary perhaps but not the club of our youth any more.

This time has been one of takeover and boardroom ferment. A standoff remains with a major shareholder whilst there are rumours of argument between Arsène and the ‘Board’, which means Kroenke.

At the centre of any debate on Arsenal‘s woes, and haven’t there been a few, is Arsène. How could a man who won the double in his first season, built the Invincibles and the ‘Emirates’, who revolutionised training and dietary regimes in this country, established Colney and unearthed Vierra, Henry, Pires, and Ljungberg allowed the current state of affairs to come about? No club is more beholden to one man or has more power than he. Arsenal 2011 is Arsene’s club.

The first part of his tenure was glory all the way. Champagne football with an edge of steel. Only Europe remained stubbornly unconquered and we all knew that was just a matter of time. Then came the building of the ‘Emirates’ and the leaving of our much loved, but shabby, Highbury. We knew money was tight but Arsène kept pulling out plums. ‘Project Youth’ and Colney started to produce gifted players; performances promised another glittering era as key men left. We came close, oh so close, to achieving astonishing success. We didn’t quite do it; Abramovich, bad luck and a good dose of gratuitous violence foiled us.

Abramovich changed the nature of football. His bottomless pockets challenged the conventional thinking on club finances, casting into doubt the ability of the ‘Arsenal and Emirates’ model to succeed when the best players could be bought and cast aside to be replaced by even more expensive purchases. Later, an oil state with global ambition showed the chavs how it was really done. Players were, and are, collected like the cigarette cards of my youth.

It’s hard to separate out bad luck from the violence that was unleashed on our team by desperate and morally bankrupt managers. But the assaults on Reyes at Old Trafford stay in my mind amidst the cynical, rotational fouling that blighted many games.

Violence truncated the career of Eduardo and I count myself amongst those who believe that we would have won the league that year but for the assault on him. His injury and ‘that’ game perhaps mark a watershed from an Arsenal that was in its pomp to one that faltered and spluttered. Ramsey’s career and that of Diaby have suffered in similar ways. Momentum halted for them and the team.

Injury or ‘ambition’, occasionally stupidity, meant Cole, Reyes, Flamini, Diarra, Eduardo, Diaby, Rosicky, Nasri, and Fabregas were or have been transient figures in a constantly rebuilding Arsenal rather than pivotal mainstays in the making in a successful team.

Near, yet so far, but this period, when the debt was paid down and we stayed challenging for honours at home and in Europe was a triumph for Arsène. A battle clearly won. Supporters could still see the ambition, there was still a rising curve even if this reflected profit rather than team strength. Profit meant future strength in the market and an ability to compete financially.

And now? For me the team lacks the ‘X’ factor that we have had for as long as Arsène has been here. It is that lack that has perhaps derailed the Arsenal train on the pitch. Our football has been geared towards excellence with a strong presence of genius and guile on the pitch that has awed opponents and allowed us to steamroller most opposition. Well, we used to, that awe has faded as the stars in our firmament have blinked out to be replaced by dimmer, less brilliant lights.

The times feel ominously similar to past regime change, both at Arsenal and other clubs. Fan dissatisfaction is evident but really just noise. The modern equivalent of shouts from the terrace at Highbury in the 80’s of “Morrow, you’re rubbish!” Louder, cruder, more shallow and, of course everywhere, but just symptomatic of wider society. Ignore. Ditto the media. The corporate thing though just doesn’t seem right. No control or real confidence, glib statements and a lack of substance. That is worrying. It doesn’t take long for organisations to go into tailspin. Things fall apart.

However, this is Arsene’s team, his Arsenal. He has chosen the players to buy and not to buy. Now there is money, not ‘oil money’ but money all the same. I do not believe that the current team is anywhere near the level of those early Arsène sides or even that of a couple of years ago. If this has been brought about because of failure at Board level, a spluttering senior management team, or an unwinnable argument over the wage structure, then I expect him to see out his contract honourably and leave. If however, it is of his own making then no man will be more aware of that than he. In that circumstance I expect him to put it right. The Arsène who has done so much for our great club will lead us back to where we are now used to being. If he fails, if his mojo is gone as some claim, then I suspect the future will be taken out of his hands.

At the moment he controls that situation. Power remains with him. Only failure can change that. The Arsène we have known will not fail. An intelligent, decent, honourable man and a manager of genius.

’til Tomorrow

Stepping Up To The Plate For Club & Country

As the conclusion to the Euro2012 qualifying campaign draws near, once more Fabio Capello’s future is under scrutiny. Not because his a failure in his role, more that his contract is near its end and inevitably the media want a John Bull, larger than life character in situ. Whether that person is the best person for the role is largely irrelevant.

Sven Goran Eriksson broke a taboo as far as the national team was concerned, rightly pointing out that Steve McLaren blew the media’s overwhelming desire for an Englishman to run England’s senior squad. Interestingly, Eriksson believes Wenger is the best man for the job,

Arsène Wenger can adapt to everything. He lives for football. You see how much it matters to him every game, but you also see when it’s a Euro or a World Cup, he is working on it, for French television, so he doesn’t miss anything. That’s his holiday.

Leaving aside the obvious question of whether Wenger would want the job, especially as having made it clear he never wanted to coach France in the past, I think Arsène would be too frustrated by the England set-up at this moment in time.

As a perfectionist, he would be overwhelmingly disappointed by the poor technical ability of the current generation of English footballers. That said, it would certainly wake up the nation’s coaching techinques, dragging them kicking and screaming into the 21st century. In that respect, he would be the weaver of our dreams.

It would be interesting to see what criticism the media would come up with. The hackneyed headlines of this morning’s Heil would be irrepeatable, the parsimony with which he is taunted would not be an issue. No matter how hard the media tried, there would be no tears to cry for the lack of English players.

The lack of quality is a different issue. On which point, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been the subject of praise from Fabio Capello. Ox – or Alexander as his father likes to call him – is apparently being pencilled in for the full team ahead of the European Championships. Whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen but it is unlikely that Capello would make as daft a decision as Eriksson did with Walcott.

Chamberlain Senior makes an interesting point, one that highlights a problem at English clubs,

I sound like an old footballer now but no-one drops their shoulder and goes past people any more. In academies you’ll see players receiving the ball on the back foot having a touch and playing a pass.

They have ability and we suppress it because we don’t want them to lose the ball. We’re all guilty – I have been at times – of knocking that out of players because the focus is on winning.

I’ve always been keen to encourage that in Alexander and he’s always done it. It’s just that he’s doing it on a big stage now

Chamberlain Junior’s two recent performances at The Emirates were promising. It is not that I am unenthusiastic about the player, he has huge potential but it strikes me that Arsenal fans have become too quick to judge young players. In that respect, the emergence of Fabregas and Wilshere spoiled us; it ruined things for otherwise good players having time to develop as in the past. Now the critique is simple: Is he as good as Wilshere or Fabregas? No, get rid of him.

And that is utterly wrong.

One young man who is heading in the right direction is Wojciech Szczesny. A solid bond has definitely grown between the club and his heart. And confidence, the lad has it in bundles,

I feel that when I say something, everyone listens to me. More so on the field than in the dressing room, but that’s more important, I think. I want to be captain of the team. I feel I am able to take on that responsibility

Naturally the focus has been on his comments about playing for Barcelona, twisting in the breeze of a long hot summer’s transfer speculation. Arshavin still suffers from criticism about his remarks before he signed for Arsenal, this could linger for a while.

But why should the young Pole not have lofty ambitions? He wants to play for the best club side in the world, currently the Catalans. In five years, who knows? It might be Arsenal, it could be Lyon, we simply do not know.

That he wants to captain Arsenal, to me at least, is a very good sign. The desire to take responsibility seems to have drained from the players, those who are willing to stand up and be counted can inspire others. With inspiration and perspiration, this season’s travails can be put behind us and league form improved.

’til Tomorrow.

Arsene on Transfers, The Summer And Those Comments…

The significance of tomorrow’s match at Wigan will be determined by the results in two local derbies this afternoon; defeats suffered by either of the top two can breathe life into the squad, knowing that a win for Arsenal will either stop the title chase being totally extinguished or second place being within their own destiny.

According to the tenor of Arsène’s press conference yesterday, neither of those possibilities exists, the manager ridiculed in some quarters for refusing to give up the notion of winning a trophy. Quite what is expected of him is beyond comprehension. Of course he does not publicly give up when the mathematics still makes anything possible, even if he privately acknowledges the reality to be different.

That the majority of his observations, reported at least, focussed on the coming months is the best indicator of the mood. Several are clear indicators of how he is planning his activity. The additions to the forward line are already taken care of he noted earlier this week, Chamakh has presumably been signed and sealed in a contract. The rationale for not announcing the move is in part to protect the player from accusations of not trying hard enough whilst the French title is to be decided.

More tellingly were his observations surrounding the goalkeeping position. Almunia was noted as being a ‘great goalkeeper’ but not assured of being the first choice next season. It is not the ringing endorsement that the player would like yet it is not the open condemnation that many seek. He has been far better than some believe yet unconvincing and suffers from inconsistency. As the last line of defence, his mistakes are magnified; inevitably a high percentage will lead to a goal being conceded. Others are not punished so regularly. In Almunia’s case, a number of high profile misjudgements have occurred. He would however, be a solid second choice as he was for Lehmann.

Alongside a change in goal will be a new central defender. This is the key area for Wenger. Talks with William Gallas have apparently stalled and it is hard to find fault with the player for wanting a final lucrative contract as his career enters its final stretch. The first sighting of the Golden Bredeland occurred this week, a signal that the summer madness is about to begin.

For Arsenal, it is a difficult position. They have backed themselves into a corner on the issue of age, not wanting to commit to long-term deals with older players. The justification for the policy is those who have gone before. Arguably Wenger has only got it wrong once; Robert Pires. That suggests it is not wrong yet rather than being rigidly adhered to, such policies should be flexible enough to allow manoeuvre in special circumstances.

Gallas has a part to play in this as well, balancing realism with his ‘pension’ deal. However, Arsène could use his experience over the next few seasons to allow younger potential to be realised. This season has shown that having strength in depth is crucial. Were he to go into next season with Vermaelen, Gallas, and Djourou with Campbell to take on the Carling Cup and Alex Song in emergencies, more confidence might be felt than this term which sees Silvestre and Campbell in pole position for tomorrow.

Elsewhere, Barcelona shot Peter Hill-Wood’s reported comments down in flames. They read as somewhat bizarre on Thursday and it was hardly surprising that the Catalans were quick to rubbish them. Arsène sought to do so as well, questioning their validity and putting forward a more plausible explanation of the supposed private meeting which seems never to have taken place: the pre-match dinner ahead of the Champions League tie, suggesting that off-the-cuff comments were made rather than an assertion of policy.

What I find troubling about the denial is that Arsenal has not sought to clarify, condemn or disown the media outlet involved. Manchester United rule the Press by fear, banning journalists with regularity. Perhaps Arsenal should do the same, clamping down on the outright negativity which infest the back pages. Dignified silence may be in keeping with the Arsenal ethos of not responding to press manipulation but sometimes outright indignation is the best response, ensuring that a message about boundaries is understood by reporters.

Hill-Wood’s observation that Cesc might not get into their first team are not inaccurate. Xavi and Iniesta are ahead of him in the national team but formations can be changed to accommodate exceptional players. Mischievous misinterpretation is the manager’s slant rather than disrespect to Fabregàs’ ability.

Wenger questioned the media’s desire to see players leave the Premier League for Spain. It is not that they want the best to play elsewhere, simply that the past few transfer windows were so moribund for new signings coming in, global activity took over, especially with Spanish teams doing well in European competitions at all levels.

The criticisms of Spanish football by Wenger can equally be applied here. The lack of competition in Spain is a reflection of the dominance of the ‘Big Four’ for the last decade or more in the Premier League. English clubs regularly fail to pay wages on time and the financial crisis which engulfs English football is replicated abroad with Levante in a similar boat to Portsmouth not so long ago whilst Valencia and Liverpool are rather more than distant cousins in their financial problems.

Football is a cyclical business and where once the Italians dominated, the English followed, the Spaniards taking over. Of course, Wenger’s distaste is more deep-rooted. Real Madrid and Barcelona have habitually planted stories in the media in Spain, tapping up his best players, all of which has been reported with indecent glee in the English back pages.

It is very wearing for the manager to constantly have to issue rebuttals which seem as ineffective as the denials of wanting to leave issued by the players. In this instance, Fabregàs can say no more than that which he has done on numerous occasions. We, as supporters, need to show some belief even though a transfer away from the club is inevitable at some point in his career.

The subject of contracts loomed large throughout. Wenger re-iterated his belief in honouring them, whether they are for players or managers, which has a slightly hollow ring to it given his own self-confessed dalliance with Real Madrid last summer. Only he knows the real reasons for staying at Arsenal but it is not hard to imagine that Real were the right club with totally the wrong owner and philosophy as being crucial to that.

His future it seems is not as clear cut as the Board hope. Perhaps it is but my interpretation is that next season is crucial for him, not simply because it is the last of his contract. This term has seen the team move up a level from last but not to that which Wenger believed them capable of. Defeats hit him harder nowadays – or that is how it seems, perhaps he is just showing more emotion than previously – a sign that the disappointment runs deeper because he is acutely aware of the abilities of his players.

His assertion that the past counts for nothing when considering his future is entirely correct. He must believe in his players otherwise motivation becomes a difficult task. He must believe that he can take them onwards. No-one should be in any doubt though, if this team wins something, I suspect it will give him more pleasure than any trophy before.

‘til Tomorrow.

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