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Arsenal At The World Cup #10: Sol Campbell v Sweden 2002

What? Did you seriously think I would let this opportunity pass? The eve of England’s first game? And yes, I live in eternal hope…Oh, and Seaman pops up with a couple of good saves in 1998 & 2002 whilst there was some familiar faces in the 1998. Yes, OK, I know that Sol wasn’t an Arsenal player in ’98 but that doesn’t lessen the sense of injustice.

Sol Campbell was robbed in 1998…

…and made up for it in 2o02 when he had turned his back on the dark side…

Whilst Man City Provide The Comedy, Sol Gives Arsene Food For Thought

This morning brought forth the first mention in less than a week over the future of Cesc Fabregas, apparently to be the subject of a £50m bid from Manchester City. Apparently, they have not been “put off” by the initial soundings made over any offer for the player’s services. Presumably those soundings were much more polite than any private thoughts may have been on the matter. Still, nothing like a good laugh to start the day.

Wenger invited such speculation by mentioning that he will be dipping into the carrier bag of used fivers stashed behind the pot plant in Ivan Gazidis’ office. It will be a summer where he will hope to get his business completed early, before national squads meet up for the World Cup. Transfer windows around international competitions tend to be a sellers market, clubs hoping that their saleable assets perform well to inflate their values.

For Wenger this is the problem. Players such as Villa – even if he were to perform admirably – will not increase their values greatly. €40m – €50m will always be his price unless there is a bidding war. With the price bracket that Wenger tends to buy in, the increase tends to be more marked, a €5m becomes a €10m player on the back of a good tournament.

You notice that the currency is Euros; quite simply, I cannot think of many English players whom Wenger would consider technically adept enough to sign. The members of the England squad diminish that number further. Of the international players from overseas who ply their trade in the Premier League, their price will already be overinflated as it is so the manager is within his rights to look further afield for comparable or perhaps better, individuals.

Sol Campbell has spoken in the aftermath of the defeat in Barcelona, offering the view that the Champions League tie should be viewed as the benchmark for this Arsenal squad. Being one of the few squad members to have won the title, his colleagues would do well to listen to his belief, something he hopes they will do.

The hunger and desire Campbell speaks of is assumed to be shared, it is a mental requirement for champions. The likes of van Persie, Clichy, Bendtner and Cesc have always spoken of this desire, the remainder you assume have it as well. The ability to learn from the defeat will be the key. Being on the receiving end of the constant Barcelona pressure – as Real Madrid were last night – gave the midfield and attack the level to which they have to raise their game, starting at White Hart Lane.

Comparing this team to The Invincibles as the media likes to, is a pointless exercise. The Champions of 2004 were at the peak of their powers whilst the current squad are not on that level yet. Even so, they are challenging for the title, the outcome of which will be decided in a little over 500 minutes of football.

Campbell raised an interesting issue. He said:

You’ve got to respect football in every way. You’ve got to go for the League Cup; you’ve got to go for the FA Cup, you’ve got to go for all competitions because you never know which one is going to come your way.

I agree with Campbell in one respect. The first trophy the players win will break the mental barrier, prove to themselves that they are winners. Wenger strives to maintain a balance. The League and FA Cups are used to blood younger players and keep squad members fresh, preparing them for Premier League action when called upon.

That policy has not borne fruit in those competitions and with the League Cup in particular, it is hard to see that it will. The mentality of the top six teams has changed in recent seasons. Manchester City, United, Villa, Tottenham and Chelsea have all reverted to fielding strong line-ups from the quarter finals onwards. It means that Arsenal’s talented younger players learn from playing seasoned professionals. Yet the squad as a whole could learn from winning a trophy, irrespective of its value.

That said, if the youngsters start in the League Cup, over time there is a probability that they will gain reward, assuming of course that this taste of first team football does not lead to them moving to another club, Fran Merida may be a prime example of that this summer.

There is a balance to be struck and Wenger has to bear in mind the injury risks for players, particularly in the junior competition which coincides with the group phase of the Champions League. The stats I noted last week show that Arsenal suffer a significantly higher number of injuries than their close rivals, missing players who arguably could make a difference in the key competitions.

It is a matter of priorities, the decisions for which Wenger is paid his salary. His obvious targets are the Premier and Champions Leagues, two competitions which are extremely difficult to win due to the consistency required in the former, the quality of opposition in the latter. There should be no suggestion that either be sacrificed for the sake of another trophy. It hints of desperation and defeatism to suggest that they should be. The question is whether Arsene can continue to give the lesser tournaments the lesser attention.

’til Tomorrow.

Gallas And Campbell – Arsene’s Age Old Problem

This weekend will be an interesting one for Chelsea and Manchester United. Arsenal could be top by the time the pair kick-off on Sunday, United will be totally unsure as to which Liverpool side will turn up – I’m not even sure Benitez would be able to say. One that is demotivated by their exit from the Europa League or one that is totally motivated by a win over Lille and the requirement for three points to keep their faint hopes of European football for next season alive.

Quite how Chelsea react is another matter; it was a crushing defeat last night. Penalties denied but temperamentally, they were found wanting, not just in Drogba’s sending off but also their post-match comments. The Champions League is a competition which has become something of a Holy Grail for them, vindication in their minds of the ‘investment’ policy of their owner; every failure at no matter what stage, chips away at their sense of self-worth. Add into that mix the table being topped by a team whom they have comprehensively beaten twice this season and questions must arise in their mind about whether they can win the title or not. Unfortunately, if you had to choose two opponents to play in your next two games, Blackburn and Portsmouth would be fairly high up that list.

Arsene’s mind may be wandering this week in the absence of a match, concentrating on summer transfer activity if all of the reports are to be believed. He’s apparently got his Chamakh for nothing, a ‘wonderkid’ from Ajax and still to sort out William Gallas before he even starts fending off the interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid in Cesc.

The situation around Gallas – and by extension, Sol Campbell – goes to the core of Wenger’s philosophy about the squad. He has struck a balance between youth and experience, a number of the younger members of the squad are now experienced thanks to his policy of investing and believing in them.

Gallas has been outstanding this season, his partnership with Vermaelen is probably the most consistent in the Premier League. Their styles compliment each other and they are outright defenders, not converted midfielders, who have excellent positional sense. It is apparent that they trust each other on the pitch, more than Gallas did with Toure, and have confidence that each is more than capable of doing their job.

Yet Gallas is of the ‘age’. The age where Wenger is not prepared to commit more than a year at a time on a rolling basis. An age where the player realises that his career is starting to head down the hill to retirement. He may view this as his last chance to sign a contract which earns him a big pay day. Whether that is with Arsenal on an annual basis or with someone else for a longer term is another matter. Wenger obviously thinks he has much to contribute, rumours of a two-year deal would seem to indicate that.

In general terms, Wenger has pretty much been spot on with the older players. Bergkamp contributed much during his time of rolling deals; others have left and found the grass not to be greener. Two who highlight the issue most keenly are Pires and Gilberto Silva. Both have had prolonged careers after leaving, Pires injury-interrupted spell in Spain should not disguise the fact that he remained an influential player. Did Wenger let him go too soon? A subjective matter but I would suggest, yes, is the answer. Likewise Gilberto’s departure proved costly when combined with Diarra and Flamini going, allied to injuries elsewhere. Hindsight is a wonderful thing upon which to base analysis.

There is depth a centre back, with loan experience gained and injury recovery taking place. However, the knowledge that Campbell and Gallas have is not easily replaced. Should Wenger let them both go? Would either or both be happy with a bit-part role, focussing primarily on nuturing future generations. For Campbell, the answer would presumably be more readily, yes. He is at the tail end of his career, one more season in the top flight at most. He has made no secret of his desire to coach so perhaps that is part of Wenger’s thinking.

Gallas seems unlikely to be happy with that. He has several seasons left in him and has proven this year that he is more than capable of delivering high quality performances on a consistent basis. Should Arsene rethink his strategy in this area or review on a case-by-case basis. I hope that his thinking is not clouding by the current vogue term in football, resale value. It is negligible for over-30s; this should not enter the equation at Arsenal because the club is financially secure enough to place a higher value on experience than any monetary estimate.

I suspect it unlikely that both with retained. Djourou’s form upon his return to fitness is the unknown in this but his promise was such that high hopes should be realised. Others such as Nordtvedt, having been in the Bundesliga for a season, could start to feature as well next season. More will become apparent over the summer months.

’til Tomorrow.

Promised You A Miracle

Is It A Dream

Andrei Arshavin spoke earlier this week: 

My greatest dream is to win a title with my club. Naturally, it would be better if we won the Premier League or the Champions League. But to do this we need a miracle – which is to start playing finally with our optimal line up. I do not think we have had it once so far this season.”

It is clear that Arshavin’s remarks are more out of frustration at the club’s injury list rather than not being able to compete with Chelsea or reigning champions United.

I left the last sentence in, the journalists interpretation of how the Russian more accurate than numerous online proclamations that Arshavin does not believe that the Arsenal squad is good enough. Indeed, the Russian appears more to be praising the squad for remaining in contention in difficult circumstances, surely a recommendation rather than condemnation.

As opposed to boosting rampaging negativity, Arshavin further burst the balloon by playing down any signings coming in – presumably he does not count Campbell – during the current transfer window:

I have a feeling that Arsenal are not going to buy any new players in the winter transfer window. Or if we do, it will be at the very last moment

That seems to be the Arsenal MO in recent seasons; expect a media storm when the transfer window is extended with paperwork faxed through to the FA at the last possible moment. Whether Wenger needs anyone or not is another matter, one that he is best placed to decide on. Personally, I would have thought a striker is needed, even with Bendtner’s return, to have sufficient cover through to May. History will tell us if that is the right decision. Or more likely, leave arguments raging if no signing is made and Arsenal end up without a pot to…

Oh Yes, I Was A Great Defender

Apologies to Elvis for that one but if the club can use a song by The King entirely inappropriately, then I’m sure he will forgive me as well. Either that or I will buy him a cheeseburger should our paths ever cross.

Sol Campbell reportedly is once more an Arsenal player, covering for injuries should they arise in the centre of defence. What difference between this and Patrick Vieira is a good question. Quite a lot as it happens, especially since the Frenchman was widely wanted to play first team football on a regular basis to further his own international desires. Campbell is under no such illusions, fully aware that he may get games but not on a regular basis as long as Vermaelen and Gallas remain fit.

And that is how it should be; the pair have been outstanding for Arsenal this season and unless there is a severe injury or monumental loss of form, neither should be replaced. Whilst, as the new boy, Vermaelen has garnered most of the adulation, Gallas’ turnaround is no less spectacular considering his fall from grace. Those who talk consistently of a winning mentality and question whether this exists at Arsenal, need look no further at the recovery of his form for evidence.

The signature of Campbell on a short-term contract signals that Wenger will not be pursuing any other central defenders. That in itself is a boost for Johan Djourou. Currently out injured, had the manager not been confident in the Swiss international recovering fully and more importantly, believed that Djourou had a long-term future at the club, the short-term solution of Campbell would not have been considered.

’til Tomorrow.


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