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Momentum, Park Life & More

Good news yesterday of Fabrice Muamba’s small steps to recovery; long may that process continue. Steve Bould, Arsène and Liam Brady all showed the depth of feeling for Muamba at the club. Kevin Davies rightly laments on the BBC website how it has taken this event to bring about some sort of unity in the game.

Against this backdrop, football returns for Arsenal with the trip to Everton firmly on the horizon. It begins a key four day spell that I touched on yesterday with all sorts of permutations that could see the final corrosion of Tottenham’s thirteen point lead or the wheels fall off Arsenal’s trolley entirely.

The concern for Arsène must be the loss of momentum that Arsenal had gained. The nine days since the victory over Newcastle is a long time in footballing terms; a mini-international break without the fretting over which players will pick up niggles and knocks, praying that the Dutch use van Persie sparingly in a meaningless match.

Training is good for working on fitness, technique and understanding but a sort of boredom must set in knowing that you have a week and a half between games. Confidence will not be an issue with the recent winning run in the Premier League as well as being able to retrieve victory from deficits. It does give time to work on ironing out the silly mistakes that have allowed opponents to take the lead in the first place but does such a gap mean that the drive, energy, excitement of playing is diminished? Do those previous results feel distant due to the time lag between fixtures? Like Soap, all will be clearer.

Elsewhere, the Park Mystery has grown over recent times. It was widely believed that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of next season to fulfil his obligation for national service in South Korea. His lawyer has since determined that in 2009, he had received an “an unprecedented 10-year residence permit in recognition of his outstanding activities there“. Which makes this whole affair a little tangled and some of the criticism of the player unwarranted; if he wanted to avoid National Service, he could have finalised that two years ago.

Arsenal now have to pay a total fee of £6m (€6.5m); echoes of Francis Jeffers to my mind. For a club whose transfer funds are so cautiously spent, his inability to force his way into the first team is baffling. Even the most homesick of signings have performed; Jose Antonio Reyes managed some decent games for the club. Before him, chronic homesickness cause Vladimir Petrovic to leave the club within a season but he still turned in performances that made his signing all too understandable. That last word is something that is, at the moment, unlikely to be used when talking of Park’s transfer.

The Arsenal scouts have been busy trying to redeem themselves, killing two birds with one stone by watching Yann M’vila and Aymen Corner Abdennour during Toulouse’s single goal victory over Rennes. All that it probably shows is that The Sun employs writers with a better imagination than those at Daily Express HQ. As for the signing of Lukas Podolski, yesterday’s rumoured announcement never came which is of no surprise. Can you shake the niggling doubt that this is the footballing equivalent of The Hitler Diaries. Conspiracy theorists, do your worst!

Finally a reminder that this quarter’s required reading is on sale, the current issue of The Blizzard includes an editorial in which Jonathan Wilson deepens the feeling of the lost soul of the Premier League.

’til Tomorrow.

Villa Preview: Injury Problems Fuel Transfer Rumours

Arsenal travel to Villa Park this evening for their final match before Christmas. The injury news was at the same depressingly familiar and optimistically unexpected.

Immediate concerns are over the left back position with Kieran Gibbs dire fitness record once more coming to the fore. The youngster has an suffered an undetermined setback which will keep him out for, well, who knows? That has led to speculation this morning that Wayne Bridge is a target – The Mirror will be disappointed to note that their ‘Exclusive!‘ is pretty much carried everywhere else.

Arsène may have his work cut out if the former Chelsea full back is a genuine target. According to Roberto Mancini, Bridge refused to take a pay cut to play for Celtic on loan this season leaving the Italian to wonder if the player was playing golf at the weekend. It is not unexpected, Bridge would have seen Winston Bogarde get paid for doing little more than nothing whilst at Chelsea and I have no sympathy with City since the situation is of their own making; if they pay huge salaries, they must know that players will not take a significant cut just to play.

For Arsenal, I am unconvinced he is a long-term solution, not even a short-term one especially as he has not played for some time at the highest level on a regular basis. He should just about hit form by the time he is dropped for either Gibbs or Santos. Even then his best form for Chelsea and City was not what I would expect from an Arsenal player. Perhaps Arsène will keep the journalists happy by signing Vertonghen?

For this evening, Wenger has more pressing issues. With Bacary Sagna returning to running, the days of playing four centre backs might be numbered well, less than 100. February seems to be the key month for Arsenal; let’s hope it’s in time for the Milan clashes. At Villa, his choice is Squillaci or Miquel. I know the Frenchman is experienced but the partnership of Vermaelen and Mertesacker appears stronger – Koscielny presumably in on the right – which gives the young Spaniard the nod.

In midfield, Alex Song has a break which ought to mean Coquelin or Frimpong come in. Whilst the young Frenchman could play right back, I would prefer him to play in the centre this evening. It seems to me to be a more seamless transition between he and Song. Frimpong brings a more combative approach with a lot of energy. He is a decent passer of the ball as well but Coquelin seems more rounded at this stage of his career. A short loan spell for the remainder of season might do the Ghanaian wonders. There is an element of Patrice Muamba about his career; a lot of potential at the moment but can he make the transition from promising youngster to first team regular at Arsenal?

Up front, Robin van Persie wants to play forever and doesn’t want a rest. I should imagine that he is as excited as the rest of us about his fitness and with three games to go, looking to breaking Alan Shearer’s Premier League record. Just staying fit is good enough for me. More goals are needed from elsewhere and we have a lot of potential to do that. Gervinho and Walcott get into good positions but need more accuracy in their finishing whilst Arteta found at Wigan what can happen if you shoot from distance.

It is interesting that no-one has looked pre-1992 for this record. Possibly they know that someone like Ted Drake, Dixie Dean, Nat Lofthouse, Jimmy Greaves – dare I even say Bob Latchford – probably took the record of 36 goals in a calendar year out in the back alley, beat the living bejesus out of it and tossed it into the rubbish bin. More insidious revisionism by the FA and their broadcast paymasters.

Tonight’s team is likely to be:

Szczesny; Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Miquel; Coquelin, Ramsey, Arteta; Walcott, van Persie, Gervinho

Elsewhere, Luis Suarez’s punishment shows intent from the Football Association to deal with racism and that is laudable. Despite this, there are aspects that leave an uncomfortable feeling about the case, not least of which is that they have previously branded Evra an unreliable witness which in the light of no-one else hearing the comments by Suarez, is contradictory at best.

Equally, defending Suarez by claiming that the words he used were not perjorative in his homeland is a bit like me getting plastered in Saudi Arabia and claiming immunity from prosecution since I am free to do this in the United Kingdom.

And this is before the FA charge Evra for using, in his own words, equally offensive terms in Spanish. The worms are crawling out of the can and swirling uncomfortably around Wembley with the suits trying desperately to avoid them.

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

Arsenal Win Is A Sign O’ The Times

Arsenal 2 – 1 Sunderland

1 – 0 van Persie (21 seconds)
1 – 1 Larsson (31 minutes)
2 – 1 van Persie (83)

Arsenal moved into tenth, their highest Premier League position since the opening day draw with Newcastle. On a day when he had used his programme notes to quash speculation – or at attempt to – about his future, Robin van Persie was lauded as the matchwinner, his talents being recognised. The Dutchman believes his fitness levels are the best they have been for years; yesterday he proved his value to the team.

From the kick-off, Arsenal sought to impose themselves on the match and erase the demons from their psyche. They did so with startling directness. Rosicky dipped the ball into Gervinho’s path, the Ivorian strode toward the area, passed inside to van Persie as the Sunderland defence parted like the Red Sea and drilled the ball unerringly past Mignolet.

One-Nil To The Arsenal inside the opening minute and a team that thrives on controlling possession, maintaining pressure on their opponents, was given the perfect platform from which to build. That they never quite took it was down to a mixture of good and bad fortune allied to outstanding football.

Within fifteen minutes, van Persie could – perhaps should – have completed a hat-trick. An audacious chip over the stranded Sunderland ‘keeper has brought comparisons with Dennis Bergkamp, no doubt pleasing to the Dutch ear. Deafness might be better with a drive that missed the far post with the accuracy we came to expect of John Jensen.

Gervinho proved to be a livewire in this hazy spell for Arsenal as their rampaging start threatened to overwhelm the visitors. Having played a part in van Persie’s opener, Arsenal’s summer signing drilled a shot wide before the frailties which have blighted the season thus far.

van Persie’s clumsy challenge gave away a freekick in the Arsenal half. From that, the defence scrambled the ball away, Arteta leading with his arm to clatter Cattermole succeeded only in handling in a dangerous position. Larsson returned to haunt Arsenal with a superb and unstoppable freekick which arced into the far corner with such pace that Szczesny’s dive was in vain.

Within minutes, the wobbles had returned to the Arsenal defence, the Pole almost gifted Sunderland an unexpected lead when he charged unnecessarily out of his area, missed his challenge and was mightily grateful to Alex Song’s dilligence in carrying out his defensive duties.

Redemption would come minutes before the break. Arsenal’s defence was stretched once more, Cattermole three yards from goal aimed his header toward an unguarded net only to see the arms of Szczesny reach and make a fabulous save to deny the Wearsiders.

On such moments are reputations built. The watching Lukasz Fabianski must be wondering where it all went wrong for him. Had those moments been his, the wanderings of a madman would have been remembered not the blinding save.

The second half began much as the first with Arsenal in the ascendancy. Kieran Gibbs withdrew with less than ten minutes played and Andre Santos replaced him. How serious the youngsters stomach injury is remains to be seen but if it is a long-term absence, he could be forgiven for feeling cursed.

But it was a familiar story. Aside from Mignolet scrambling van Persie’s effort away on the hour mark, I cannot remember a clear cut opening being forged despite the monopoly of possession Arsenal enjoyed.

Wenger though has options. This time Andrey Arshavin was introduced to the fray and he brought a shining light to the proceedings, his scurrying run and mazy dribble through the visitors defence deserved more than the effort which screwed wide.

But on cue, van Persie came up with a captain’s performance. For a team that relies upon the technical proficiency of its players, Arsenal are hopeless at set-pieces. van Persie, Arteta, even Walcott were clueless at the concept of getting the ball over the wall and then dipping under the bar. A difficult technique to master, let alone deliver on a consistent basis, granted but…

When it mattered, when the team needed it, van Persie got it right. His finish seven minutes from time was every bit as excellent as Larsson’s had been nearly an hour earlier. Mignolet was stranded as ball lifted, dipped and curled into the net, a sense of relief tangible as the net rippled.

The victory was much needed. It is not the dawning of a new era just yet, defeating a team in as poor form as Sunderland does not mean global domination is just around the corner. But as Arsène pointed out, this is the fifth consecutive home win; by the time we visit Stamford Bridge in a fortnight’s time, that could be eight in all competitions. That is the beginning of a run. Throw in an away result or two and by the end of November, a head of steam can be built.

But that is to get too far ahead. This season, if nothing else, has shown how transient form is, how unpredictable Arsenal are. It is a sign o’ the times that the talk is of how Szczesny saved the win not how van Persie could have settled the outcome before fifteen minutes was on the clock. That outlook may change over time and perhaps we’ll look back at the Pole’s moment of glory as the moment a season kickstarted into action. Until then, enjoying a win will suffice.

’til Tomorrow.

Sheriff Fatman, Dein, Wilshere & Bendtner – Silly Season Indeed

A day of denials yesterday, from within and without. Firstly, Alisher Usmanov is in denial if he thinks he is going to be the owner of Arsenal in the near future. Sheriff Fatman would need a collective insanity to break out amongst shareholders to give him anywhere near enough shares to succeed. Talk of a blocking stake is just that, as The Guardian points out.

Could it be that his nose was put out of joint by the rise of David Dein, a man whose Machivellian machinations were sorely missed by the England 2018 bid. Dein is expected to be named as the new boss of the FA today and has been observing that the organisation needs to change; if he believes he will be able to make the necessary “adjustments” quickly, he too is in denial. However, no-one can doubt his ability to glad hand with the best of them, something English football has not been able to do in the Gnome HQs since the departure of Sir Stanley Rous.

Onto the players. The rise of Jack Wilshere continues, abated only by the crowing of Mario Balotelli over the award of some ‘Golden Youngster’ by an Italian newspaper. Reading the list of previous winners and you see just how highly rated Wilshere is in world football. Except of course by Balotelli who did not know who Jack was but knew he played for Arsenal. Fair play to the Italian who is fast becoming a legend in his own mind, a record of four yellow cards and a red in eleven appearances shows he is a player on whom money was well spent.

The gulf in ego’s was highlighted by Wilshere’s response on twitter whilst he also received encouragement from Cesc, including a biting response in contrast to the Balotelli. Still, the Italian proved himself a valuable squad member by giving Arsenal supporters a different player to chastise in the forthcoming clash at The Emirates, diverting abuse no doubt from Adebayor to himself. If, of course, Adebayor has not managed to find himself a new club by then.

Talking of which, hot on the heels of Denilson to Barcelona rumours (denied, of course) comes Nicklas Bendtner to Lazio. Apparently it’s not going to happen – if it ever was – because Arsene has told the Dane to fight for his place. Alledgedly. More likely, if any such conversation took place it probably went along the lines of “No, you’re not going. I don’t have enough forwards to spare.

The world of Arsenal is quiet at the moment but will explode back into life in coming days as the clash with Chelsea gets closer.

’til Tomorrow.

Snow Joke As Youngsters Go It A-loan

Refereeing decisions stopped Arsenal going resuming their place at the top of the Premier League yesterday. Not that many are complaining as the weather was the cause. The official site was a tad slow to report the postponement but came up with comedy genius, interviewing referee Lee Mason about the reasons why the game could not go ahead. The accompanying photo of the official said it all, thoroughly p*ssed off at having to give an interview in a blizzard to explain the astonishingly obvious.

It meant that Arsenal’s decision to sign Ryo Miyachi gained more prominence than it would normally have got. As did a failed bid to sign Ricardo Carvalho from Chelsea when the Portuguese defender left Stamford Bridge in the summer. It was not a good day for the transfer newshounds with stories emmanating from somewhere that Steve McLaren had two games to save his job in the Bundesliga, effectively scotching the rumoured forthcoming bid for Denilson this January. No doubt Ivan Gazidis shed a tear or two as the £11m failed to come through Customs at Heathrow successfully. A parting shot of “Don’t worry, Ivan, I’ll be back” from the suitcase of used €5 was of little comfort.

Talking of Customs, the UK Border Agency has denied Arsenal’s appeal against the decision to refuse Wellington a Work Permit. Despite being regarded as an exceptional talent by the club, the chinless wonders did not agree. The youngster will now be booted to Spain to gain the requisite experience, following a path well-trodden by Carlos Vela amongst others.

One transfer which seems destined to happen is that of Harvard Nordtveit to Borussia Monchengladbach in the next few weeks. According to Young Guns, contract talks with Arsenal have reached an impasse and the youngster prefers the thought of playing Second Bundesliga football rather than waiting for his chance at Carling Cup action.

If the move goes ahead, it highlights the downside to the loan system. Nordtveit has gained eighteen months experience in various first teams and has no doubt enjoyed that aspect of his development. Seemingly, it put him no closer to winning a first team spot at Arsenal and he must have looked at the senior players, determining that he was unlikely to usurp them in the near future. You cannot blame the young player in those circumstances.

For all the benefits gained by Arsenal in farming younger players out, this is a danger. The decision to move on in this instance is out of Arsenal’s control. With his contract expiring this summer and the indication that he will not sign a new deal, the club has to accept an offer that is of greater value than the likely fee to be set for ‘Training Costs’.

As the club becomes more proficient at producing its own players through the Academy, this scenario is going to happen more often. No doubt some will blame his departure on his nationality, claiming that English players are more loyal because of some hackneyed belief that birthright binds them to Arsenal. It is, of course, rubbish. English players are as likely to leave as foreign. The key to any situation is the length of time passed on a contract and the career options for the player.

Perhaps Arsene has intimated to the player that others such as Bartley or Miquel were considered better longer term prospects. Given that the Norwegian had played in pre-season games for the first team, it seems more likely that frustration combined with a taste of first team action elsewhere is the prime motivator.

’til Tomorrow.

Guest Post: Defensive Holes Need Plugging

I’m off at the moment so here is an alternative viewpoint, put together by Graham Yates pre-Villa so perhaps highlighting defensive frailties will inspire a clean sheet.

Arsene was given another reminder of the recurring defensive frailties as we lost to Sporting Braga 2-0 in Tuesday night’s UEFA Champions League Group H match to leave us with a bit more work to do to secure safe passage to the round of 16. Interestngly, as I write this, in our current predicament we are only likely to draw one out of these four Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Schalke & possibly Lyon.

Granted, injuries haven’t been kind to The Prof, but irrespective of the sidelined Thomas Vermaelen , surely even he is aware that sooner rather than later he will have to find some experienced centre halves which, as well as TV5, includes 30 year old (was once good, but now not so good ) Sebastien Squillaci and 25 year French novice Laurent Koscielny , not to mention Johann Djourou who has been the most consistent and impressive of the three.

Wenger has been linked with moves for Bolton’s Gary Cahill, Brede Hangeland & Phil Jagielka all with Premisership experience, but was quoted a price he was not prepared to pay, as usual. You know how it goes, £4m for Schwarzer, but refuses to pay more than £2.5m, I mean, words fail me.

I have picked out five other centre-halves I feel AW should look at landing. They are all within budget & also age range so I think they are viable options as they are at smaller clubs than Arsenal and just on the verge of long international careers. All the ingredients are there.

Federico Fazio (Argentina)
Club: Sevilla
DOB: 17.3.87 (23)
Height: 1.95cm (6”4)
Value Euros: €7.5m to €10m

The Argentine with Italian citizenship is a complete defender with huge potential. He replaced Squillaci on his departure to the Emirates and appears to have a fantastic future in the game. Fazio can play as a central defender, on the left flank (Bye Gael!) and, like at the end of the 2007/8 season, as a defensive midfielder (Bye Denny!). He is extremely strong and has very good heading ability. He is also quite fast and mobile for such a big defender, and his tackling ability is superb. His still could do with improving his technique and aggression though. Yet to make his debut for Argentina, but has experience at Under 20 & Under 23 level and has come through Sevilla’s youth ranks though has suffered a few injuries in his early career. We all know that Wenger likes a rough diamond, he is one.

Fernando Amorebieta (Spain)
Club: Athletic Bilbao
DOB: 29.3.1985 (25)
Height 1.92 (6”3)
Value: €10m to €15m

The Spaniard (though born in Venezuela) is an immensely strong central defender with excellent positional sense. He is fast and tall, which is a tough combination for opposing strikers to come up against. He has super-strong tackles and great vision for a centre back. Amorebieta is a versatile defender, who can also play at left-back (Oh dear Gael, not looking good is it?) , and if he continues improving at his current rate, he will be a top, top player. Made debut @ 20 and has played 144 times in the Spanish Primera Liga to date which makes him a consistent Bilbao 1st teamer. Likely to replace ageing Puyol, Capdevila & Marchena and join Pique & Albiol in the Spanish squad after being 1st called up by Del Bosque in August 2008.

Adil Rami (France):
Club: Lille
DOB: 27.12.1985
Height: 1.90 (6”2)
Value: €7.5m to €10m

Only ardent Lille supporters saw the potential of the Frenchman until then-coach Claude Puel gave him his first Ligue 1 minutes on the first day of the 2007-08 season after being bought from Fourth Division Fréjus. By the autumn, Rami had already become an essential component of the Lille defence playing in no less than 104 games scoring 7 goals. He is an extremely stubborn defender, with excellent positional sense and superb distribution and like Vermaelen has free kicks in his locker. His performances caught the eye of current France coach Laurent Blanc, and Domenech before him. Now has six international caps, and Rami looks like remaining at the heart of the France defence for years to come.

David Luiz (Brazil)
Club: Benfica
DOB: 22.04.1987
Height: 1.88 (6”1)
Value: €20m to €30m (Wenger has this sort of money we know that, though value rather inflated as Chel$ki & Etihad City are very interested)

The Brazilian is one of the most promising centre-backs in the world, with Internazionale his likely destination at this stage. Luiz is strong, fast and intelligent, and has the ability to move the ball with grace. He is also blessed with a great leap and good heading abilities and even played primarily at left back in the 2008-2009 season at Benfica. Luiz has such potential that even an injury-plagued two years he suffered from 2007-2008 shouldn’t scare off Wenger. Post World Cup he is now a regular with Brazil and now has 4 caps replacing the ageing and outgoing Roma defender Juan.

Benedikt Höwedes
Club: Schalke
Dob: 29.02.1988
Height: 1.87 (6”2)
Value: €7.5m to €10m

The German is a tall and aggressive centre-back, who is also quick and very good in the air at both ends of the pitch. He started to feature in the 2007/08 season and has been at the club since 2001, but really began to show his abilities the following campaign.

Howedes is a versatile player, having plied his trade as a defensive midfielder as a youth player, while also possessing the capability to play as a full-back so much so that he has signed a new deal to June 30th 2014. With more experience, the 22-year-old should get even better and has already made 72 appearances for Schalke and has German caps at all levels from Under 18 through to Under 21’s. He is also right footed which which would compliment the left of Vermaelen, something which Wenger would find attractive. Of the five he looks the most likely to join.

I’m back tomorrow, so ’til then.

Champions League Draw – Is This The Year?

The Champions League group draw takes place this evening and given the Premier League fixture list, there are a few teams that Wenger will be hoping to avoid. A long distance flight by football standards cannot be ruled out, especially with pot 4 containing clubs in Israel, Turkey, Russia and Romania.

All of the pots from which Arsenal’s opponents will be drawn have potential pitfalls; all have relatively straightforward opponents. None are teams that should be feared, respect will be the key to maximising progress to the knockout phase, a characteristic and outcome which has been shown in abundance before. Of course, there is the ‘preferable’ draw at the same time and influenced by the domestic requirements, the ideal draw is probably Marseille, Basel and FC Twente.

The absence of the Champions League from The Emirates trophy cabinet sticks is hard to take. Wenger has seen talented squads, efficient at disposing of domestic opponents, eliminated in ties that were within their grasp throughout his reign. The defeat at Anfield typified some of the earlier stumblings against Valencia, PSV, Chelsea and Bayern Munich.

It is at times baffling to work out why the failures have occurred, defeats and performances inexplicable with a mix of tactics and players to blame. Some have been as a result of injuries, the absences which cost so dear in the Premier League last season, have haunted some European campaigns. Yet this does not necessarily explain the capitulations such as those in Munich or conceding late aggregate leads in Valencia and elsewhere.

Does the absence of this trophy indicate why the Spanish – and previously Italian – clubs think that the best Arsenal players have, over the years, been ripe for cherry-picking? Arsenal is a club with a strong reputation at the moment but little past to trade upon in European football. Multiple titles throughout the decades mean little in knockout tournaments. The Fairs Cup and Cup Winners Cup are little to show for such an illustrious domestic history. Granted, the concept of continental competitions came with the decline of the club from the Golden Age of the pre- and post- war years. Picking up the Champions League would add muscle to a burgeoning reputation.

Recent seasons has seen Arsenal fall to heavy aggregate defeats, inexperience and injuries contributing as significantly as individual errors in Champions League exits. This time, the squad has grown in terms of the former and the latter needs to be controlled – as much as possible – for progress to be made. The balancing act of Premier League fixtures is tougher with squad restrictions in force by the time the Champions League commences, a test of Wenger’s squad especially with the matches being against perceived and real title contenders.

Yet the players are there for a serious tilt to be made for both competitions. Undoubtedly, they are talented and encouragingly, the first two Premier League fixtures have shown a defensive discipline with Arsenal denying shooting opportunities to their opponents, the lowest in the division. Carry these onto the continental fields and there is no reason why, with the obligatory smattering of luck, success can be achieved. Will these fields turn out to be Elysian? Time will tell.

The competition is one that Andrey Arshavin wants to win before he quits football. According to an ATVO interview to be shown on Friday, the Russian also observed:

I want to be remembered as a small Russian guy who did some magic things where people did not understand how he did it

I think there is a phrase missing at the end, “and who was part of the most successful Arsenal squad ever“? We’ll assume that it was ‘taken as read’ that this applies…

Elsewhere, the interminably dull and drawn out transfer sagas surrounding the club continue to be exactly that with prospective new goalkeepers and /or centre backs nowhere nearer joining Arsenal, publicly at least. Stan Kroenke seemed to edge further away from a full blown takeover of the club by investing substantial funds in his NFL franchise, at the same time divesting his interests in NHL / NBA clubs in Denver. OK, so he gave them to his son which is hardly selling up but it satisfied the NFL.

The window of opportunity – if there even is one – is shrinking for a change of ownership of Arsenal with Uefa’s financial regulations due to become ‘law’ in two years, even if there is a period of assimilation for clubs. Along with economic circumstances, this partly explains the lack of major transfer activity this summer as clubs look to balance their wage bills down to the required percentages. The exception to this is obviously Manchester City who are seemingly oblivious to these stipulations, perhaps an admission that they have much ground to make up to become regular participants in Uefa club competitions.

Having spent the equivalent of a small nation’s GDP on transfer fees in recent windows, the point must be upon them when they have to release some of their high earners. I was tempted to say “better players” but footballing ability has long been at odds with the economic rewards earned by players. Premier League squad rules are impacting upon their purchasing but the harsh reality of the club is that when they pay inflated fees, the wage expectations increase sometimes disproportionately. Gary Cook’s assertion that City will make operating losses for years to come highlights the problems that they face.

’til Tomorrow.

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