The fixtures are coming thick and fast at the moment although a lull looms with the international break kicking in after the visit of West Brom to The Emirates. It is a headache for Arsène when those encounters will not include a Carling Cup tie, a match where he will automatically rest most, if not all, of the starting line-up from the previous Saturday. Arsenal have traditionally always played on a Tuesday for their midweek fixtures so the scenario is not new or unusual.
For the manager, the question is complicated by one of the more injury-prone players in the past displaying talismanic properties at the moment. van Persie’s absence in previous seasons is made more galling by the form shown now. The term ‘world class‘ is attached to any Johnny Come Lately in this media-defined era; van Persie has hardly burst onto the scene, more of a slow burner.
Like others before him, the Dutchman typifies Arsène’s reputation for buying cheaply and enhancing a player’s value. van Persie’s cost now must surely be a ten-fold increase on his £3m price tag six years ago. To think that he joined Arsenal six months later than originally intended because the club had a cashflow shortage due to the new stadium project.
That price tag was fuelled by ill-discipline, something he has worked hard on at the club latterly successful in this area. The stunning ignorance of those who inhabit the internet was highlighted with claims of a ‘Nazi salute’ at the weekend.
Any semblance of knowledge about the Dutchman’s personal life would have rendered the idea too contradictory to be believed; such is the desire of some to find scandal in any situation, this gained traction to the extent that the player had to issue a denial via his Twitter account. It is the negatives of this information age, where malicious lies and truths told with evil intent permeate via the electronic garden fence.
van Persie is still the subject of speculation over his future, you suspect that as he enters the peak years of his career such tribulations over his future will always continue. Like many, I take the view that even without the pressures that currently beset the club, van Persie should just be paid what he wants. More than his predecessors, I do believe he wants statements of intent from the club. The former captain wanted a flight home whilst his midfield compadre just wanted a bigger salary. No signings could change their minds. The Dutchman you feel – rightly or wrongly – is content at Arsenal, driven by a winning mentality.
The perception of Arsenal as football club will do nothing to relieve these pressures, especially with Arsène joining those of us who doubt that Uefa’s FFP regulations have either the substance or substantial backing, to make them succeed. There are simply too many get out clauses and as Wenger pointed out, if Sion a small albeit wealthy, Swiss club has the will to fight the governing body through the courts, their bigger cousins will have no compunction in taking the same route.
All of this on a weekend when the soaring emotions of being an Arsenal fan came through. Such is the rollercoaster that at times you can be mistaken for an entrepreneurial Charon, refusing to take an empty boat back to the shores of the Acheron, filling it instead with the souls of disbelieving Arsenal fans ferrying them back to some semblance of belief.
Elsewhere, Theo Walcott is receiving some overdue praise. I have been critical of some performances and his shortcomings, Saturday proved that he has the talent and ability to overcome them. Having made Ashley Cole look distinctly ordinary, the expectations are there that Walcott will play that way every week. Unrealistic perhaps but he can play to some semblance of that level surely? That is not too great a level of expectation.
More than his actual performance, I was impressed by his intelligence. Stained by the ill-informed contempt of Chris Waddle, Theo cannot do right for doing wrong in some eyes. That is harsh; his goal showed an awareness that many never see, playing to the whistle whilst defenders stopped.
He wants to play centrally; it won’t happen in the foreseeable future at Arsenal and to some extent, performances such as the one at Stamford Bridge hold the key. Able to cut in from the wing, he can finish and create. Like van Persie some believe that he should not play centrally as the lead striker, feeding instead off a taller target man. Arsenal are not likely to play that way consistently and with his strength being pace, a wide position seems his immediate future.
As for Gervinho, well, Big Al did as much a job of making his Superman as anyone.
You are reading the latest edition of Doom & Gloom Times. Thanks to John Murphy from yesterday’s comments for providing a laugh that has yet to fade…
Show me the money! Show me the money!
So where are we at with the Catalan posturing? Aaaah, yes. First of all, you have, with your constant and incessant, deflated the mood of a young man who is to represent Spain in South Africa. It isn’t Arsenal who have done this, it is you who seek to wreck your nations chances at the World Cup by distracting a player when he should be concentrating on matters between the painted lines.
You might recall Cesc Fabregas. You know the one who scored the winning penalty against Italy in the last European Championships? No? What of the penalty where he broke his leg and destroyed your two-goal lead at The Emirates? No? You know, the one who ‘did one’ when but a teenager because he knew that Arsenal would develop him in a way that you never could. Aaaah, yes, you remember. That one.
Not that the Spanish media would have you believe it was Barcelona’s fault that Cesc is downbeat. Oh, no, that’s the fault of Arsenal. That mean Mr Wenger, those horrible directors. They won’t let him leave for a rock bottom price, 25p and a bag of mouldy M&Ms. Oh no, they want those millions of Euros that you don’t have. At least that is what the leading candidate for Presidency, Sandro Rosell, told the world the other day.
His tune has changed slightly. The Pied Piper of Catalunya piped the rats onto the Highway To Hell when he noted that Barcelona – “More than a club” – were skint. He omitted to mention that it was not just financially but morally as well. Pursuing their quarry through the back pages rather than being up front. Talking of respect. Hand them a dictionary. Show them the meaning of the word. You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! Arsenal do not want to sell.
And still you, Laporta, talk of €35m being a fair market value. This ain’t Primark. You are shopping in Harrods.
You tell us that Wenger is doing exactly what you would do; protecting his club’s interests.
Let the player know how much you love him. Let the player know how much you want him. Let him know that he is the object of your desire. Yet still criticising them for doing so, for refusing to cower before your mighty ego.
Or continue to talk down the price. A signal of your vanity-fuelled pursuit, dangling him on a lead, disrespecting him, his family and Arsenal Football Club. Let him know that he is merely an object of your ego, that you don’t care for him, simply that you don’t want anyone else to have him.
So, here’s a thought. Make Arsenal an offer they can’t refuse. Put your money where your mouth is or quite simply, do us all a favour and shut the f*ck up.
Yeah, Capello And Pearce, I’m Talking To You
So Theo Walcott was omitted from England’s World Cup squad because he is not the player he was before he was injured. No remorse for the selfish motivation that saw him play for the senior and junior international last summer and begin twelve months of injury-riven woe. Mr Capello, you are reaping the harvest of your previous efforts.
It is not all Capello’s fault; Walcott failed to produce consistently in the short time available before the World Cup was upon us. There was flashes of the ability but not frequently enough; that weight rests on Walcott’s shoulders. That it was a close run thing between inclusion and omission is suggested by the comments of Capello that Theo would be playing in the Euro 2012 qualifiers.
Here is a small suggestion for the England manager. Leave Walcott out of the squad to play Hungary in August. Let him play for his club and get form back. Let him build his confidence away from the England set-up. And then see the good that rest can do rather than flogging him to death, fit only for the glue factory through over-exertion.
And ban Stuart Pearce from ever calling him up for the junior team again.
Other Transfer Gossip
Jean-Louis Tiraud, Bordeaux’s President, is nothing if not practical. He may have been less than amused with the departure of Marouane Chamakh to Arsenal but that is not going to stop him dealing with Arsenal again, if the money is right.
Yoann Gorcuff is expected by the media to Fabregas’ replacement at The Emirates but rather than being outraged, Tiraud is putting this down purely to the media, refusing to participate in their games of speculation.
Should Arsene decide to come knocking, the price will be high, perhaps higher than he would like to pay but nonetheless talking will be done. Tiraud may have been annoyed beforehand but seems to have realised it was his own obstinacy that caused a lot of the discontent with Chamakh last summer and beyond. Arsenal were not blameless, no club ever is but water has washed under the bridge and money talks. Whether it is the right language is another matter.
A couple of requests have been sent in. Firstly, and with many apologies for my slack-jawed deliquency in posting this yesterday, Elliott Quince is running a charity art exhibition based on football stickers / cards throughout the World Cup – see his site GotGotGotNeed for details. 1 player from each of the 32 competing nations is to be featured, Robin van Persie is the Dutch player. All proceeds go to the Luton and Dunstable Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, who cared for his daughter last year.
Secondly, Dr Jamie Clelland, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise at Staffordshire University, is carrying out an anonymous survey on fans’ views towards gay football players. The address is www.topfan.co.uk and the site is being managed by Staffordshire University.
Whilst Bugs and Daffy continue their eternal argument over whether it is Duck or Wabbit season, the media have decided that this week is open season on Theo Walcott. Well, it has been for quite a while with the abuse raining in on his head. As quickly as the media has built him up, they were waiting patiently to knock him down. That hat-trick in Zagreb must seem a lifetime ago.
That Capello did not include Walcott is not entirely surprising. Wright-Phillips and Lennon are more orthodox wingers; Walcott is a central striker in waiting, taking his footballing education on the right flank. They have better delivery from wide positions and this is apparently what Capello wants, not a player adept at passing through defences. He wants someone to hug the touchline; that is not Walcott’s game. If reports are to be believed, the recent friendlies saw Walcott play himself out of the squad.
Martin Keown was less dismissive in his criticism of Walcott than Chris Waddle – ‘no footballing brain‘ – or Paul Merson – ‘he has not improved one iota since joining Arsenal‘ – but biting nonetheless:
He runs at a frightening pace, he is rapid, but when he gets into those positions he is not able to think quickly enough, does he pull it back, does he shoot or does he go on his own? His decision making is the problem, he hasn’t been able to do that.
Under Capello it seemed as if he has been getting it right in the main, under Wenger, no, there has been a problem, whether or not that is the coaches’ fault, it has to be the players, he has just not played enough games.
It is hard to understand Keown’s logic. He is normally far better informed about players than the last sentence suggests. Quite simply, you cannot play if you are not fit. Walcott was screwed over by the selfish motives of Pearce and Capello last summer and is paying the price now.
The criticism of Wenger albeit tempered, fits with the media profile of the Arsenal coach. To blame him for injuries caused through overplaying is a bit rich, especially when he very vocally ciriticised the England set-up for the decision to call Walcott into the Under-21 and senior squad last summer. Those exertions limited the player to 15 starts (and 15 substitute appearances) in 2009/10; hardly proof of fitness.
That is not to say Keown is incorrect in his assessment of Walcott:
He has become a bit of a one-trick pony in terms of going for the line. People just double up on him. When he has got time and space then he finds it a problem and he has got to sort that out with his game.
Walcott’s judgement is at times suspect yet he is 21 years old and has made 75 starts (plus 61 substitute appearances). To expect that aspect of his game to be perfect is incredibly naive. Problematically, Walcott came with great expectations and the burden of a huge price tag.
Add into that mix the folly of inclusion in the 2006 squad and constant pronouncements by successive England managers that Theo is the most naturally gifted English player of his generation, the snowball effect had built. Underpar performances for the national team over the past two years in the eyes of the media have meant the slow burning fires of disenchantment were gradually heating. The flames roared into life in the past fortnight but opinion was divided.
He has to pick himself up for next season. From a selfish point of view, Arsene will not be disappointed, knowing that Walcott will be fit for a full pre-season, motivated by this disappointment to show the world how good he really is. If the latter is an issue, then there is a problem. Nothing so far suggests that will be the case.
Looking at the rest of the squad, some surprise that Ledley King was recalled noting his well-reported injury problems, the question must be if he can sustain his fitness but most of the defence is adaptable and can play elsewhere, Cole, Warnock and Johnson the exceptions.
In midfield and attack, few surprises. Carrick’s inclusion is as back up for Barry should his fitness fail whilst Joe Cole has apparently been a shining light since the training camp began in Austria. As ever, no solution has been found for Gerrard and Lampard other than playing the former out of position.
Four strikers, four you could have named six months ago. Darren Bent may have scored regularly for his club but the absence of any of the big four trying to sign him when he was available sums up his level; good but not international quality. Heskey does not score enough but is favoured as a partner by Rooney and every England forward before him.
England will hold no surprises this summer. For anyone. Which means a probably quarter final exit.
Elsewhere, apparently another bright young thing is being readied for a loan. Francis Coquellin will be part of a deal to bring Laurent Koscielny to The Emirates, the Arsenal youngster to be sent to France for one season as a replacement is sought for William Gallas whose contract has apparently run its course.
No doubt there will be criticism this morning that Aaron Ramsey has been offered a new contract with his injury still some way to go before recovery. Not too sure why that will be a problem but given he is seen as a long-term replacement for Cesc, and the rest of the squad had new contracts last summer, surely it is better to keep him into the pattern of reward?
They have not stopped and Cheerleader-in-Chief, Xavi, thinks that he is some sort of Seer, as if repeating what the media say gives him some divine insight although they now think it will be well beyond the World Cup before any deal is done although I do wish this one was written by R.Sole instead.
English football is littered with Great White Hopes, talented youngsters who have failed to deliver when push came to shove. Few in the modern game have had a longevity which matched their early promise, injury or poor career choices have blighted them. Following on the heels of Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott was seen as a sign that the misnomer ‘Golden Generation‘ might have been applied too early to the England team of 2002.
In a World Cup year, injuries are the key focus of media speculation when their imperialistic bombast is not slating the South African hosts for their construction skills (wrongly) and Fifa for their greed (rightly). The England team would not be ready for a tournament if a metatarsal was not snapped into pieces. It seems that the bone in the foot of the star of the team is old hat; this time focus is on burnout and wayward back or shoulders.
Walcott’s rise was meteoric and entirely in keeping with the media age we live in. Sparkling performances for Southampton brought the attention of the big clubs. To the delight of various editors, a right royal bunfight for his signature ensued, won eventually by Arsenal, the promise of being developed in a team which promoted youth that could play football being decisive.
The big money paid automatically meant that expectations were raised by journalists; Wenger developed him slowly, bringing him onto the wing where his biggest attribute – pace – was utilised to great effect. Too slight to be the central striker he desires, Walcott showed great promise to the extent that the final act of folly from Sven was to include him in the squad for Germany 2006.
For the player, such experience was invaluable. For the national team, carrying a passenger at the finals was a pointless exercise. No blame should have been attached to Walcott, it was not his choice yet he has been tarred by that brush. His goal in the Carling Cup Final seven months later emphasised the potential. His Arsenal career though stuttered through hereditary problems with his shoulders. The pattern of growth problems suffered by Steven Gerrard seems to be repeating itself with Theo; different injuries but the same stop-start seasons.
Expectations are high. Everyone can see the possibilities that Walcott has. I do not think he will be as prolific as Michael Owen or Robbie Fowler, his ‘killer instinct’ seems not to be as in-bred. When he eventually moves centrally, he is more likely to be in the mould of Henry, creating opportunities through speed; he simply needs to improve his finishing.
Coming back from a long lay-off this season, questions are being asked whether he will be fit for the World Cup. A not unreasonable angle for the media to take since they have a long time to fill in but to be subjected to scathing criticism for his performances thus far is wide of the mark.
Being absent dulls match sharpness; no matter what player, all need time to get back into the ‘groove’ of competitive games to bring themselves back to their best. Walcott is no different. Critics also forget he is young and he has yet to fully harness the mix of pace with final product. Against Sunderland, he outpaced his defender and got space to put a cross into the box; alas Nasri was more than ten yards behind him, reaching the edge of the area as the ball skewed past the far post.
Experience will bring knowledge and confidence to Walcott so that he can know what to do in those situations. It is too soon to expect him to be all-conquering right now yet this is not how he is perceived. Personally, I would like Walcott to be able to play on the left as well as the right. That stage of his development is not coming along as when playing there, he is too easily channelled into a dead end by defenders. He has the skill and the pace to do more.
Walcott is in exactly the same place in his career as Bendtner; they can go on to become Arsenal greats. They appear to have the desire and the talent, it is down to the coaches and manager to harness them. Is it too much to ask that they be given the patience, support and encouragement from supporters to help them along the way?
Being the subject of a relatively large transfer fee whilst still a teenager is a burden to bear for any player. In Arsenal’s recent history, starting with Peter Marinello through Hartson, Upson and Reyes, these players have promised much but ultimately failed to deliver.
If you add into the mix that before the end of his second decade, a bunfight had ensued over his signature and he was granted an ultimately wasted trip to the last World Cup, it is easy to see why expectations are high when Theo Walcott is mentioned. A sprinkling of magic in what was deemed to be England’s toughest World Cup qualifying fixture and that hat-trick in Croatia saw the expectations bloat. Injuries soon put paid to delivering the promise.
His manager has faith in him, despite the criticism of Walcott, who along with Denilson is being immolated at the altar of youthful promise failing at Arsenal. Wenger has defended Theo quite rightly, pointing out that his fitness is the concern:
What you cannot expect from Walcott at the moment is what he cannot give you. He needs some time to play and come back to full fitness. He has only played a few games this season. If he gets injury free now, he will have a good end of season. But at the moment he is not completely himself.
Frankly, I have found the denunciations of Walcott to be over the top, the only one-trick ponies in evidence are those who claim Walcott has little clue how to beat opponents other than in a straight race for the ball. Rather like some of the criticism of Arsene this week, the sport of sensationalism has shouted louder than the decent analysis, personal axes being ground harder than anything else.
It is a simple equation which is often overlooked. Players are not going to return following a lengthy spell on the sidelines and be wonderously in touch with the game. None of them are; they require time to attune to their colleagues and the speed of thought a match scenario needs. That cannot be replicated in training, no matter how hard anyone tries since you cannot second guess an opponents thoughts once adrenalin kicks in.
Should the manager bring players back if they are not match fit? It is a chicken and egg situation since they cannot be match fit if they do not play but if they play, they need time to adjust. Problematically, when results are adverse, scapegoats are sought because that is how society in general views all walks of life.
The match at the weekend offers the opportunity to put right the ills of the Arsenal world. If that happens, skies will certainly be a lot brighter for everyone, surely…
International fortnight is upon us and a refreshing attitude from Fabio Capello in not calling Theo Walcott up because of fitness and lack of match time this season. Indicative of his inexperience at this level, Capello’s decision should be the bar by which everyone else is judged in these situations for even now, his peers feel no compunction in calling up Arsenal players who are barely walking, let alone anywhere near fit enough to participate in international fixtures.
Walcott declared himself happy with the new formation and tactics Arsenal is employing this season:
I think this formation gives you more license to go forward so I should be among the goals a bit more this year. There is a lot of interchanging throughout the positions, which gives defenders problems because they come across a different player. It’s a good formation.
So glad it pleased you, Theo. Walcott ought to benefit substantially with his pace but like Bendtner, he needs to improve the consistency in his finishing. With both players, you know that they have the technique to score a hatful of goals but whether it is maturity or simply controlling their nerves, time will tell.
Every season young Theo has come out and set himself a very public goals tally that he wants for the campaign, thus far all have been missed. So he is taking the pressure off of himself:
I haven’t [set a target] really but I would be happy with 10 goals or more
So that’s a target then, Theo…A blonde moment.
Anyway, young Walcott believes Cesc is going to be pretty good this season:
If he plays like he did against Blackburn, nobody will be able to stop him this season. He is fantastic to play with. He is still so young and he has a lot of pressure on his shoulders but he is a fantastic person to learn from.
It’s difficult to play amazingly well throughout the whole season. He is only 22 but he has been around for a very long time. He is our captain and he is doing a great job
Walcott then went on to add that he hoped Cesc would have a word with Arsene and make sure he picked him for the next match.
Expectations surrounding Fabregas are huge simply because of the standards he has set previously. They will never lessen and indeed were the root cause of the disappointment in his recent performances. He may be back on track but with the internationals, he will no doubt be subject of another round of ‘Cesc to Barcelona‘ stories, another mound of pressure that he will have to deal with. Quite how he stops people believing them, I know not. The only thing he can do is play to the best of his abilities and let his actions on the pitch do the talking.
One criticism that has come out since the weekend is that Arsenal only won the match because Blackburn were the opposition and not really very good. Indeed, the theory goes that had it been a good side, the two goals would not have been retrieved.
What utter crap. Blackburn were the opposition and presupposing that the course of a game would have been the same simply by making Manchester United the opponent is total hogwash. United would not have begun in the same manner as Blackburn nor would Foster have launched a long free kick for the opening goal. The way his luck is at the moment, Foster would have probably kicked the ball against his own player and watched the ball rebound into the unguarded goal.
There were mistakes made but every side makes them. The key thing is recovering from any punishment received as a result of those errors. The squad believe they can retrieve any situation which is half of the battle; heads are refusing to drop this season, a key difference to the previous campaign.
The players are not allowing the flowing football to go to their heads though. Vermaelen spoke yesterday, praising the forwards but acknowledging work needs to be done to eradicate soft goals:
To win a match 6-2 is a big message. Now we just have to continue. In the end it was a great result, but if you analyse the match, in the first half we were not so good. The first half was a little bit disappointing for us as a defence because we gave away too many chances and they scored two goals. That is something which we must improve and there are things we can work on
Consistency is the key but I think we have to get used to the idea that clean sheets are going to be at a premium. For reasons that have not yet become fully apparent, English football is going a little haywire this season. The number of drawn games in the Premier League is abnormally low compared to previous seasons and the number of goals is higher. Is it the new design balls or improved attacking play? The end of the season will provide the answers.
For Arsenal, so long as the attacking vein continues, the defensive lapses are covered. With the absence of an outright goalscorer, it is hard for the opposition to target a striker in the same way that they might with Torres or Drogba. The way in which the team speak of their performances is no different from last time. The key difference is that the setbacks thus far have been reacted to positively. With that mental element and the desire to improve, the only barrier is the level of their own performances. And they seem to be on the right track.
Finally, a word about a charitable event which I would encourage you to support. Suzie Meiklejohn is undertaking a trek to The Arctic to raise £10k for the Willow Foundation. As an incentive, she is running a competition to win 2 tickets to the Everton game in January and the chance to meet Bob Wilson. You can read about it and sponsor her here.
Hangovers no doubt abound at London Colney, the sugar rush from all the tizers with jelly and ice cream at Arsene’s birthday party wreaking havoc with the squad’s fitness for the Blackburn match on Sunday.
Definitely missing is Eduardo who has apparently aggravated his thigh-knack. Probably just as well with Fatboy Sam’s approach to Arsenal being generally on the wrong side of thuggishness, a trait already well-ingrained in the Blackburn players by Mark Hughes.
Nicklas Bendtner will no doubt be making a small offering ahead of the match as well. If the Dane was not a religious man before his crash, he is now. He is apparently fit for selection which will no doubt be happening with Eduardo’s absence. Theo Walcott will probably be back on the bench, the England international believing it will take him half a dozen matches to get back to full fitness. So just in time for England’s extremely pointless and hugely lucrative trip to Qatar to play Brazil in November whereupon he will no doubt suffer some sort of relapse.
Cesc has re-affirmed that he is committed to Arsenal, with headlines no doubt about to spun the other way in the hope of driving you all insane with rage. The truth is that he has said nothing different to anything previous. Indeed, some of the phrases are so standard you wonder if he has made a voice recording with full transcription and told hacks to take the parts that they want to use.
I am not sure why this is a big story anymore? Everyone knows that he would like to go back to Spain to play in La Liga at some point in the future because he has said that. It may mean next summer, it might not be for another five years. The most telling point made recently was that he did not want to be a pawn in the elections that are unfurling at the Camp Nou next summer, a shot across the bows for all of the candidates. Not that they will take any notice.
It seems that the Catalans have a list of key phrases to be repeated until it is accepted that they are true, Xavi repeating the DNA claim made not so long ago by Laporta. Who cares if Barcelona are in his blood? Until a deal is struck between the two clubs, there is absolutely nothing that they can do about it. The acid test is whether or not Cesc is prepared to make a transfer request and forgo all of the bonuses accrued under his contract or whether the Catalans are prepared to pay the hyper-inflated fee required for his services. Thus far, neither of those desires has been apparent and therefore Cesc is an Arsenal player, seemingly no less committed to the team than he has been in the past.
It seems that the most likely departure in coming times is to be Ken Friar who has apparently indicated that he wants to stand down from active involvement at Arsenal and have a well-deserved retirement. A part of Arsenal for 60 years, there is a hell of a book to be written by him that could quite possibly match Bob Wall’s Arsenal From The Heart and Bernard Joy’s Forward, Arsenal! as a history of the club.
Which is a nice little segue, and in no way to contrived, to point you in the direction of the excellent GCR Books who are running a competition to win one of the titles from the burgeoning library which will soon include Eddie Hapgood’s Football Ambassador. If you have not already purchased a copy of any of the titles there, you know that you really ought to do so.