He Signed Da Ting, Now What?

It’s nice to be a Cassandra, predicting catastrophe and then being proved right so you can enjoy a “I told you so” moment. But sometimes it’s great to be proven dead wrong. My past thinking on the Theo situation was that since he had run down his contract and could cash in on a free transfer this summer, greed would rule the day. Well, I’m happy to have been proven wrong as Theo signed a new contract.

He is now the highest paid player at the club making £90,000 or £100,000 a week depending on which sources you read. From a meritocratic standpoint, this is obviously unfair given that Jack (£70K/wk) and Santi all make less than him and are certainly more valuable. Yet, almost all Arsenal fans could care less. Make no mistake, this is a big lift for the club. After being branded as a selling club who can’t hold on to their top talents, resolving Theo’s contract situation after resigning Jack, Gibbs, and Jenks is a big deal. We’ve locked in a good British core who will hopefully produce the goods and show more loyalty to the club than their foreign forbearers (I’m looking at you Anelka, Adebayor, and Van Stapleton; what about Cashely you say? Fair enough, wankers go beyond national borders). Re-signing Theo is a big psychological boost for the club, proving Phil McNulty the media wrong and giving fans hope that this could be a turning point in us keeping rather than selling talent.

But now what? Unfortunately our results have been mediocre of late full of up and down performances. That’s why with less than a week left before the January window closes, I’m getting antsy. What’s unnerving is that there are no transfer rumors linking us with any player. Having loaned out Chamakh and with Gervinho gone to the African Cup, we need another striker (we would still need another striker if those two were on the premises).  A defensively minded (note I don’t say “defensive”) midfielder is another imperative. Arteta is simply not a natural holding midfielder and we could really use a physical presence in our engine room. Diaby’s talents are wasted on having him play a defensive role. Moreover, he has yet to proven to be physically sturdy enough to last a string of games.

With six days left in the transfer window, Arsene needs to roll back the years and work like a frantic undergraduate in the week before final exams. Because if he doesn’t, we won’t pass the test come May.

Misconceptions About Inflation and The Platinum Coin Option

So if you haven’t heard, journalists and pundits are proposing that using the legal loophole allowing the U.S. Treasury to mint coins in platinum (the creation of copper, silver, gold, and paper money requires Congressional approval) could be a way for Obama to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, bypassing Congress. Paul Krugman has urged the President to “be ready to mint that coin”.

The outcry that this is irresponsible and would lead the U.S. to have hyperinflation a la Greece or Zimbabwe is simply wrong. First, what’s even more irresponsible than the platinum coin solution is the idea that Congress can approve spending via the federal budget, which the President under law has to pay for, and then say that he’s not allowed to borrow money to finance the spending that Congress has authorized. It’s the equivalent of a family unanimously deciding to buy a car and then a member with veto power refuses to authorize loans to pay for the car.

Secondly, the trillion dollar coin will never be in circulation. If a government prints lots of money and injects it into the system, then the value of the current amount of money in circulation will decrease as there is more of it (hence inflation). Let’s look at what would happen with regard to the money supply in the case of debt ceiling being raised normally and the use of the platinum coin.

Debt Ceiling Raised by One Trillion

1. Congress authorizes the Treasury to borrow more money to pay the bills for government services and expenses.

2. The Treasury borrows money by creating bonds which are given to the Fed

3. The Fed sells bonds, thereby raising money for current spending.

The Platinum Coin Solution

1. The Treasury mints a coin worth one trillion dollars.

2. It goes to the Fed and deposits the coin and uses the money to pay off its bills.

3. The Fed sells bonds, thereby raising money for current spending.

Notice how the results of either raising the debt ceiling or minting a coin is the same: i.e. the Fed sells bonds to raise money to pay for government expenses.

January Transfers

As the year winds down and we look back at 2012, Arsene Wenger and Dick Law will be gearing up for the January window. This season started off with hope. Even though we lost Van Stapleton, we had strengthened with Poldoski, Giroud, and Carzola. The positive results in September made many fans think that this year would be better. Well, the poor run of form in October and November put an end to that. Arsenal couldn’t seem to win against any team with 11 men and who pressed Arteta. Recent results though have put us on a better trajectory and kept the “Wenger Out!” crowd from storming the Emirates. Yet, it’s clear that this team needs strengthening, especially in the striking department. Here are my thoughts on what Wenger must do in January:

1. Ask the King to Return

As much as I hate to say it, we haven’t replaced the Traitor’s goals. If you thought Theo lacked a brain, then I don’t know what to say about Gervinho. His decision making process in front of goal is baffling; he seems to glide by a player only to dally and run into a corner or three defenders. Chamakh is approaching Squillaci status, leaving us with Giroud and Walcott as the only strikers left. We’re in desperate need of an experienced striker who can slot in. Huntelaar would have been a good choice except he re-signed with Schalke. Meanwhile, rumors swirl around a loan move for David Villa. Add in Walcott’s current contract situation and it’s clear that at the very least we should bring Thierry back. He loves the club, there’s no transfer fee, and last season showed he still has what it takes to do a job in the EPL. More importantly though, he would be a massive boost to have in the dressing room. As much as I like Vermaelen, his silence and relatively poor form have made him a mediocre captain. Arteta is more or less is in charge. In an interview earlier in the year, Santi Carzola said that everyone looks up to Mikel. Having Thierry around would not only be a morale-booster but his experience and know-how could really be the difference between 1 vs 3 points on those metaphorical cold wintry nights in the north of the country.

2. A Physical Midfielder

Arsenal looked their best this season when Abou Diaby was in the squad (recall the Liverpool and Man City games). He offered something different to our other midfielders. His physical presence helped us on set pieces and he was able to shield the ball and drive the play forward. If teams tried to press Arteta, who is the fulcrum for starting Arsenal attacks, he could pass it to Abou who could carry the ball into the opposition half. As a result, Arsenal weren’t making many back-passes in those games. Rosicky also has similar qualities. Unfortunately, both Diaby and Rosicky cannot be depended on for a run of games. Right now, our midfield is heavily dependent on the trio of Wilshere, Arteta, and Carzola. Can you imagine if one or even two of these players were to get injured? Stuff of nightmares. Given Arsenal’s luck with injuries and overplaying players, it’s imperative the club buys a physical midfielder (it doesn’t have to be defensive) in the mold of a Diaby.

3. A winger

With Gervinho off to the African Cup of Nations (how can there be a continental competition in two consecutive years?!) and Theo perhaps being asked to play striker, we need another winger. And no I do not want current Manure outcast Nani. The guy dives and acts like a primadonna on the pitch. He also doesn’t put in a shift defensively so no thanks Fergie, you can keep your three year old to yourself.

4. Whatever Happens, Theo Plays to the End of the Season

Arsenal fans keep on hoping that Theo will re-sign. Well, after Wilshere, Gibbs, Ramsey, and Jenkinson all signed new contracts out of the blue, how can we believe Theo’s statement that “these things take time”? Theo’s finishing has vastly improved but he still lacks the physicality and quality to play up front on his own. Moreover, this whole “I want to play upfront” is a red herring or as Joe Biden famously said “a bunch of mallarky”. Messi has broken all the scoring records this year and C. Ron isn’t doing too bad either in terms of goal tally. Yet, neither are playing upfront in the traditional striker’s role. So if Theo wants to score goals, why does he demand that he play upfront? Also, with the way Arsenal play, Theo more or less is a striker because our wingers are essentially strikers (ie Poldi or Gervinho). In any case, given the greed of the modern footballer, I’d be genuinely surprised if Theo re-signs in January since he can go for free and double his wages via a Bosman in the summer. Arsenal need to make him play out the rest of his contract if he refuses to sign. This will not only send a message to other players that they can’t just wiggle out of contracts with the club on a whim but also ensure that we don’t lose the 10+ goals Theo will surely provide in the 2nd half of the season.

We’re half-way through the season at this point. I’m incredibly gutted that we crashed out of the League Cup to Bradford. We were in the quarterfinals and the only other only “big” team left were Chelsea. Winning the cup would have been a massive boost to the squad and the fans. Realistically, our targets will be a top four finish and the FA Cup. Let’s really put all our energies into both. With some quality reinforcements this January, we can achieve at least one of those and build a base for next season. Come on you Gooners!

Per Must Play

ImageThe beauty in team sports is in the chemistry among the players, especially how what on the outside can seem like an average bunch of players can become greater than the sum of their parts when put in the same team and given intelligent tactics. The great teams in sporting history are the ones where metaphorically 2+2=5 or 6 rather than 4. For the first time in a few seasons, there is a more collective ethos around Arsenal with the team not looking to formers captains to singlehandedly unlock a defense from midfield or to score a flying volley. Ask any fan and they will say that despite losing some of our most talented players, this year’s team is better than its predecessors of the past few seasons.

When it comes to our improved defense, Arsenal are blessed with three world class centerbacks in Laurent Kolscielny, Thomas Vermaelen, and Per Mertesacker. When asked about his selection headache at the center-back position, having to choose two out of the three, Arsene Wenger said that instead of “selection problems” he had “selection solutions”.  He could now select “the players who are most suited to play against our opponent.” And he did so on Saturday.

Although I and other fans were slightly aggrieved to hear the boss opting for Kolscielny and Vermaelen today, his choice was understandable. With Chelsea’s trident of small, quick, and wily forward players (Mata, Oscar, Torres, Hazard), Per’s height and lack of absolute pace seemed a poor fit to counter our opponents on Saturday. Most of us went along with the decision yet after yesterday’s performance, it’s far and clear that on current form, Per has to play.

We conceded on two set pieces with one of them being an own goal. Worringly, the set pieces came from two silly fouls conceded in open play. While Vermaelen and Kolscielny are very good individually, together they lack the stability that a Per and one of Koscielny or Vermaelen brings. Vermaelen and Kolscielny are in some sense, similar players. They are both quick, agile, and aggressive. They love to push up onto the opposition’s players. In addition, since both are quick they figure the other can cover for them whereas with Per in the team, Arsenal’s center backs sit deeper. This leads to a more calmness in our defending in comparison to yesterday’s performance against Chelsea.

The beauty of Per Mertesacker is his clever reading of the game. He always seem to be in the right place at the right time. His performance against Manchester City was a case in point with Per making seven interceptions and collecting a Man of the Match award. In addition, he often directs his teammates and partner to move and pick up dangerous runs by opposition players.

In yesterday’s game against Chelsea, Per’s presence was sorely missed. Vermaelen was caught out in the middle of the pitch as the ball swung to the left channel. Rushing to get back, Vermaelen clipped Torres and the resulting free kick led to a Kolscielny own-goal. As a defender, Vermaelen needs to curb his natural attacking and aggressive instincts at times. Both of the free kicks and Chelsea’s goals came from fouls he conceded. Coupled with the soft penalty kick he gave away at Montpeiller, it’s clear that giving away fouls is not a one-off for our skipper. Vermaelen needs to work harder at treading that line between aggressive intimidation of opponents (the “letting them know you are there” approach) with sensible defending.

This season, the chemistry in this team and their resulting performances have outstripped the expectations of both fans and pundits alike (although given what the latter generally think of Arsenal, proving them wrong perineally is never a difficult task). In particular, we are told that “Arsenal are defending as unit”. Unfortunately, that unit was broken up on Saturday. While Per may not be the most athletic or technically gifted of our center-backs, it’s becoming increasingly clear that his underrated intelligence and ability to read the game has been one of the ingredients in our improved defense this year.

Transfers and Wenger’s Midfield Predicament

For football fans, Christmas comes twice a year: once in the summer transfer window between May and September and once in January. With the sales of Van Stapleton and Alex Song, Arsene’s transfer funds has allegedly risen to a tidy £50 million. With that thought, Arsenal fans went to sleep on August 31st hoping that new signings would await them downstairs on Arsenal.com in the morning. Instead they awoke to the equivalent of coal in their stockings (Squillaci is still on the books!).

The acrimony and fury on the Arsenal twittersphere were palpable. The club were seemingly rebuilding yet again after an initially positive summer in which title hopes were raised with the capture of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Poldoski, and Santi Carzola. The sale of Alex Song instigated by his poor attitude begged for a replacement yet none came. Does Arsenal indeed lack ambition as the tabloids, Van Stapleton, and disgruntled fans claim? Are we controlled by the moneymen or is Arsene Wenger’s parsimony (read cheapness) the problem?

Arsenal had allowed 49 goals in last season and the thought of losing Alex Song scared the faithful despite the fact that Song was incredibly undisciplined and not a defensive midfielder. Arteta was our most defensive midfielder. Yet, the question remains as to why we didn’t reinforce when there was money in the bank?

Arsene has said that he only wanted to sign a “top top top player” with possibly bringing in one midfielder and defender.  So why did none materialize? No one knows whether Wenger is hindered by the club self-sustaining model and attempts to pay down the stadium debt but perhaps we can try to understand Wenger’s logic in not signing a player despite the risk that such a course of inaction entails.

First, this idea that Arsenal need a tough tackling defensive midfielder who sits in front of the back four and flies into tackles is completely antiquated. Ginger4Limpars has done a sterling job to undermine this premise. With teams now trying to maintain possession, the role of a deep lying “defensive” midfielder is to be able to distribute the ball from defense to attack, while remaining available for a pass. The other role this midfielder fulfills is to intelligently position himself to prevent or slow down counterattacks when possession is lost. A casual look around the best teams in the world will show how the “destroyer” type of defensive midfielder is no longer the norm. One cannot say that Busquets for Barcelona, Xabi Alonso or Sami Khedira for Real Madrid, or Bastian Schweinsteiger for Bayern Munich are the tough tackling types. Even Nigel de Jong, the karate kick master from Man City has been shipped out.

Looking around the transfer market, there is no one who is world class who fits this bill besides Javi Martniez  (who by the way went to Bayern Munich for princely €40 million). Capoue’s passing is woeful I am told and while Yann M’Vila seems to fit the mode, his off the field attitude seems to have dissuaded suitors and not just us either (Inter Milan).

I’m sure that when Arsene said he was looking for a midfielder or defender, he wasn’t lying. Yet, the key is finding someone who will add real quality to the side, not just another squad player counting his paycheck on the bench. After all, aren’t us Gooners tired of seeing the likes of Squillaci and Chamakh schelpping around London Colney or god forbid, the bench at the Emirates?

The problem of finding someone who will add significant quality as a “defensive” midfielder is a problem. The second is, although injury ridden, the current Arsenal midfield is overstocked if the walking wounded were to all regain health (I know many think that this day will never come). If we were to buy say a Javi Martinez, then where would we put Jack Wilshere, Thomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, Francis Coquelin, and Aaron Ramsey? The midfield three would surely be Arteta or Jack, the new defensive midfielder, and Santi Carzola. As we’ve seen last season when Arteta was hardly given a break, Wenger does not like to rotate once he has found a winning formula. Perhaps this was why Wenger was reluctant to buy. It would have made a few of our midfield players surplus value, eventually relegating them to the status of “deadwood”. So why bring someone in when what we have may be good enough?

My suspicion is that Wenger thinks Diaby and Wilshere (when the latter returns from injury) can step into Song’s role. Diaby has been playing the Song position for the first two games thus far this season. Rosicky and the Ox are the backup for Carzola’s spot. My biggest concern regarding Wenger’s gamble is that we have no suitable backup for Arteta. Diaby is still finding his feet and tends to hold onto the ball for too long, increasing his chances of getting dispossessed. Coquelin’s defensive nous is competent but the worrying aspect  is that he isn’t a good enough of the passer of the ball to recycle possession like Arteta.

The attempt to loan Nuri Sahin was to ease the pressure on Diaby and Jack as they come back from injury. It was bemusing to see some fans mistakenly view Sahin as a defensive midfielder. He isn’t and the deal ended up being costly, especially without the inclusion of a buy-out clause.

Given the number of players we have coming back from injury (Jack, Rosicky, Diaby), one can sympathize with Wenger’s predicament in not wanting to sign another midfielder. Yet, the boss is taking a risk. Jack won’t be back until late October according to current estimates and an injury to Arteta and Diaby will prove worrying. Ramsey has yet to find the consistency and quality in his passing or shooting since coming back from his horrific leg break. On top of that, no one currently besides Jack can do what Arteta does. Our current first eleven can beat anyone but an injury or two in the midfield could be devastating. At the end of the day, Wenger seems to be hoping that our midfielders stay fit while others recover. It will take some luck but if things start clicking and the Arsenal stay injury-free, we can make a cup run and maybe even challenge for the title. But this is a big IF. Meanwhile fans are left to wonder why once again our season turns on the twist of an ankle.

Is Money the only Means? Why a Sugar Daddy Owner is not the Answer

There is a sign at the Etihad that reads “Manchester thanks you Sheikh Mansour.” After £1 billion investment, Manchester City was finally able to wrest the Premier League title away from their rivals. Last Saturday, after years of investments amounting to over £1 billion, Chlesea won the Champions League. As Arsenal fans contemplate an eighth season without silverware, the prospect of City tempting our captain away with wages in excess of £250,000 per week, and our targets stolen from under our watch (Mata, Hazard, etc.), some supporters are wondering whether it’s necessary to be the devil in order to beat the devil. In other words, in this age of financial “doping” where clubs such as Chelsea and City have rich benefactors and don’t need to generate their own funds, should Arsenal seek a sugar-daddy owner rather than put up with “Silent” Stan Kroenke?

The temptation is there with Alisher Usmanov, a Russian/Ubezkistan tycoon who is the 28th richest man in the world. He also happens to own 29.11% of Arsenal (Kroenke owns 66.64%).  One cannot help but think that when David Dein sold his shares to Usmanov, he thought that it was necessary to have this type of owner/cash in order to compete against the Chelseas and Citys of this world.

I don’t know much about Mr. Usmanov (and I caution fans to take  his statements about what he would do if he were in charge with a grain of salt) so I can’t judge him as a person. However, asking for us to move away from our self-sustaining model into the arms of a wealthy benefactor is an incredibly dangerous and misguided view.

The wreckages of clubs around the Premier League should be a testament to the danger of putting a club’s future in the hands of one super rich man. When a team with a wealthy benefactor is doing well, things seem awesome. Summers are filled with potential dream signings along the lines of Hazard, Van Persie, etc., some of which have a realistic chance of coming true. However, at the end of the day, such a club is at the whim of the owner. Let’s look at Chelsea. With Roman Abramovich’s oil money, they won the Champions League. Yet, it’s clear that regardless of what the fans think, Roman can do whatever he wants with the team. If Roman wants Andriy Shevenchenko and Fernando Torres, then those are the players that will be bought regardless of what the coaching staff thinks. After all, it is Roman’s money and he’s the one signing the checks. Would Arsenal fans really want to see their manager fired and their hero moved on after the two had brought home European glory? Well, if you’re a Chelsea fan, like it or not you can’t do anything about it.  The examples get grimer if you look further down the table. Blackburn have been ruined by an inept Venky’s ownership who didn’t even know that relegation was a possibility. Moreover, Venky’s continues to keep an incompetent manager at the helm because he does their bidding. Liverpool, owned by John Henry, was given a large £120 million plus transfer pot to buy players. When these players failed to produce, Henry axed Kenny Daglish, the manager and an Anfield “legend”. The decision has divided fans and as I write this, the club is, to use a favorite phrase of the media, “in crisis”.

Critics may ask how Stan Kroenke differs from any of these other owners? It’s not as if Arsenal are a club owned by fans. I don’t particularly love Stan or know much about him but the reason he’s better than a sugar-daddy owner is that he lets Arsene Wenger and the football men run the show. If Kroenke were putting in his own money, you can bet that he would want a director of football and be involved in the day to day running of the club. Thus far, he has kept the club’s self-sustaining model and expressed his trust in letting Wenger make the decisions. After following this club for 11 years and seeing Wenger’s work, I honestly say that I trust this man over Kroenke, Usmanov, or any other rich investor. Arsene may be stubborn and cheap at times in his transfer dealings or tactics but he is a man of integrity and is a fantastic manager overall.

In addition, when you have a rich benefactor, patience for managers will be low (who wants to put millions of dollars of trust in a manager and not fire him when he wastes the money on the likes of Stewart Downing?). Chelsea change managers more often than one of my uncles changes wives. Roman continues to have to spend his money in order to finance the team every year. The day Roman or Sheikh Mansour leaves their clubs will be the day, which sends Chelsea and City back to the middle of the table where they belong.

David Dein has left and sold his shares to Usmanov while his son Darren strips the club of some of its most important assets (Cesc, Na$ri, and now possibly Van Persie). I thank David Dein for his work earlier but I won’t be calling for him and Usmanov to run the club. I join AngryofIslington and Arseblog in advocating against having a single owner who pours his own wealth into the club. Our self-sustaining model should be something fans are proud of rather than a source of frustration. What we should focus on is increasing our revenue by offloading players who are no longer in our future plans (Denilson, Vela, Bendtner, etc.) while renegotiating our commercial deals which as SwissRamble points out are much lower than our competitors.

In the meantime, let’s be proud of our self-sustaining model and do our best to strengthen the squad this summer rather than dream that a rich man will walk into our lives.

Up the Arsenal.

Addendum: The Guardian today reported that Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool had lost £197 million, £68 million, and £90 million during the 2010-2011 fiscal year. Sheikh Mansour, Roman Abramovich, and Fenway Sports are either taking out loans on the team or taking money out of their own pockets to pay for this shortfall. What happens when the money or interest runs out? It’s a situation no supporter of that kind of club wants to contemplate so why are we asking our club to be run in such a manner?

Norwich Nightmare and How to Improve the Squad Going Forward


After waking up half an hour late (4:45 AM kickoff for us West Coast Gooners), I thought I was still dreaming and having a nightmare at that. How were Norwich 2-1 up against us at the Grove? While the ineptitude of Sp*rs and the City win today is a huge reprieve, yesterday’s result still rankles undigested in my mind. I won’t recap the game here since you’ve probably seen it (and if you haven’t, I would recommend skipping the highlights). Suffice to say, it was one of most frustrating performances I’ve seen in the past six months. It seems that all our hard work in clawing back from 17th had been forgotten, particularly that part of the game where you try to get the ball back from the opposition. What’s it called again? Oh yeah, defense.

Clueless in Midfield and Verminator’s San Siro Encore

As much as I love Vermaelen as a center-back, he does go forward way too often. Given Norwich were playing were playing with a front three, Vermaelen’s forays were completely responsible. He left Kieran Gibbs and Koscielny to deputize in the huge space he left behind. When we’re playing against a big burly English forward like Grant Holt, we need our strongest center back on our 20 yard line not the opposition’s.

Vermalen’s poor decision-making was compounded by the ineptitude of Song and Ramsey. While Ramsey may be a future star, it’s clear that he can’t play as a deep lying midfielder (the “Arteta” role) or as a box-to-box midfielder. Both positions require the player to put in a shift at defense. On the second Norwich goal, you could see Ramsey and Song jogging back on defense. First of all, what were our two holding midfielders doing that far up the field and more importantly, why were they not busting a lung to get back and help on defense? I’ve seen more effort from the overweight guys on Sunday matches at the local park to get back. I don’t blame Wenger for going mental on a water bottle after watching Ramsey and Song’s “defending.”

While a casual perusal of Arsenal forums will show how Ramsey has become the new lightning rod for criticism ever since Arshavin went out on loan, I’ve been a defender of Ramsey all this season. I appreciated his efforts tracking back after having made a mistake. I’ve also overlooked some of his errant passes but there was no excuse for the shift he put in yesterday.

Lastly, there seemed to be no understanding whatsoever between Ramsey and Song. With Arteta in the squad, there seems to be a mutual understanding that when one went forward, the other would stay back. Seriously, can’t Ramsey and Song have worked out something between them? The result of Song, Ramsey, and Vermaelen all having a bad game was that we were subject to numerous counterattacks. The fact that Ox’s offensive threat offered a better form of defense than Ramsey is absolutely damning. One of my mates suggested that we should play Coquelin next Sunday instead of Ramsey. Given that Song has lost his taste for defending, Coquelin may not be a bad choice. My only qualm is that Coquelin’s passing is not quite up to snuff to play in that role.

Missing Mikel

We have played 8 games this season without Arteta and we have yet to win (W0D4L4). Usually players gets plaudits for scoring goals or doing something spectacular like a last ditch challenge or a lob assist over the top. However, every Arsenal fan is appreciating Arteta’s qualities more and more.  Areta is our metronome, slowing the game down, injecting pace into attack,  passing it around, and in general giving us our rhythm. We look erratic without him. He’s also an incredibly intelligent player, dropping back to defend when Song goes forward. It’s obviously a skill that is not easy to master  (see Wigan, QPR, and now Norwich for examples).

Depth Needed

City are most likely this year Premier League champions. I would argue that it is not simply pure talent that has helped them win the league, it’s their squad depth. Couple with domestic cups (FA and Carling) and Champions League/Europa League matches, the average season for a title contender can easily last over 50 games.  This amounts to two games a week on average. It’s inevitable that players get tired or they have off days. Moneybags Man City’s depth allows them squad competition and rotation. When Tevez acts like an idiot, Balotelli can come on and vice versa. More importantly, squad competition keeps players on their toes knowing that a few poor performances will lead to them losing a starting position.

Due to the events of last summer, Arsenal lacked any real depth this year. We really have no real competition or replacement for Van Persie, Song, and even Arteta. If we had an M’Vila at the club, Song would think twice about forsaking his defensive responsibilities. It’s clear that our players are burnt out and that with real depth in the squad, we would at least have options coming off the bench to rectify the current lull we are in. The same lack of depth is what ruined Man United with Fergie having to ask Paul Scholes to come out of retirement.

Help Wanted: Tresquatrista, Defensive Midfielder, Backup Goalie

It’s clear that we still haven’t found a long term replacement for Fabregas and Nasri. While Rosicky has been a revelation playing in the attacking midfielder role, he’s getting old and can’t be depended on to play every single game. Meanwhile, Diaby still hasn’t regained a consistent level of fitness and Ramsey is absolutely frustrating at the moment. A tresquatrista (an attacking midfielder playing behind the striker) is needed and I’m a bit surprised we haven’t been linked in the gossip rags with one yet.

We also need a backup for Alex Song and Mikel Arteta. I’m not surprised that we’ve been linked with M’Vila and Vertonghen, two players who could play that holding midfield role.

A backup goalie will also be needed as Almunia will be leaving this summer on a free transfer while Fabianski wants to get more first team action.

The signing for Lukas Poldoski has been a massive boost for the fans. He’s the perfect signing as he’s an extremely versatile player. Arsene can put him on the left, play him alongside Van Persie or put RVP in the hole behind him.

All this talk, however, can wait until after next Sunday. While we certainly don’t deserve it, Sp*rs have conspired to give us another chance to finish third against West Brom. We can’t afford to throw away this opportunity. Come on you Gooners!

Midterm Retrospective and New Year Transfers

Happy 2012! I hope everyone enjoyed the festivities of the end of the year. So much has happened in the last month. Finishing 2011 in fourth place brought great cheers to Gooners all over the world but disappointing losses against Man City and Fulham as well as a draw against Wolves have left a bitter aftertaste in our mouths. Yet, given that we were in 17th place at the end of August, 13 points out of a possible 21 in December while not great is not horrific. Still, every time I see the table, I think we really should be above Chel$ki. Given Sp*rs form, the race for fourth for the foreseeable future is going to be an absolute dogfight between us, Chel$ki, and Liverpool. With that, let’s take a look at our options in terms of reinforcing our squad for the travails ahead.

Transfers In

Many are saying that we need to bring on reinforcements for upcoming fixtures as the hex against our fullbacks show no sign of abating (Verminator, Santos, Gibbs, Jenks, and Sagna will be out for the next month). Arsene has some big decisions to make. A high quality loan who can slot right into the side at fullback is probably not possible. Do we buy a full back knowing that he will be eating up the wage bill for another 3 or 4 years? I know the manager is hesitant but given Gibbs is about as fragile as Diaby, I only count the former as 1/2 a player.

With Gervinho and Chamakh gone for the African Cup of Nations, there is need for cover. Two players who can play on the left is Podolski and Gotze. We have been heavily linked with these two over the past few months. Yet, according to the knowledgeable Raphael Honigstein (he’s one of the good and trustworthy ones), Podolski is reluctant to leave Cologne as he want to stay in Germany. Leaving would supposedly endanger Poldoski from the national manager’s view with presumably Gotze or Reus stealing his starting position. This reasoning is mendacious. After all, it’s not as if Joachim Low does not have access to English Premier League games nor are Arsenal some mid table team he’s going to be languishing in. If Arsenal throw in a £20 million bid, Cologne would have to reconsider selling a player that is out of contract soon. If Podolski can cover for Gervinho and turn a few draws into wins, he’s well worth the money. Missing out on Champions League football alone costs in excess of £20 million itself.

As for Gotze, I doubt anything can happen on that front in January. Dortmund sit 2nd in the table, 3 points behind Bayern Munich. Why would they sell their best player in the middle of the season when they are defending Bundesliga champions? In addition, they know that a good Euro 2012 would add another £5-10 million on the player so it’s their incentive to not return any phone calls regarding Gotze.

This brings up quite a conundrum for Le Boss. Do we sit and wait until the summer when our top targets are available or do we jump into the market now? Buying a player who can play across the front three would mean that the Podolski deal is out of the window.

As for a cover striker, the deal to resign club legend Thierry Henry is ready to go through at any second. Despite my initial reservations, this can only be a great move for the club. However, it’s unrealistic of us to expect the man to play 90 minutes. He will probably be used as an impact sub in the last 20 or 30 minutes of the game when we need something special to get pass the bus most clubs park in front of their goalpost at the Emirates.

Increasingly, the deal to bring Ju Young Park to the club looks to be mysterious. He obviously has not impressed Wenger enough to warrant even a spot on the bench in front of Chamakh. Still as a fellow Asian, I would love to see Park given a chance. Given all the goals he’s been scoring for the South Korean national team, he can’t be absolutely rubbish can he? Plus, he offers something different to Chamakh, who we seem to lob balls at.

Transfers Out

If the Podoski move was on its way, you can bet that Arshavin would be on the way out as well. The mercurial and brooding Russian continues to frustrate Gooners with lackluster performances despite his clear talent. Until Gervinho comes back and we have a deal lined up for a backup, we’re going to have to live with Arshavin. I hope the playing time he gets in the next month will help him regain some confidence.

Another bogeyman in the team is Squillaci. The man seems to be an undercover agent for the opposition whenever he’s in the squad. We seem to concede an immense amount of goals everytime he dons the red and white. Unfortunately, given our defensive injuries, he will have to remain for the time being.

While many Gooners were/are hoping for some new blood in the squad to get excited about, I doubt anyone will becoming in besides Henry. C’mon Arsene, prove me wrong!

The Olympiakos Match Shows the Strength of Arsenal’s First XI

After a heroic effort against Merc City in the Carling Cup last week, an air of excitement surrounded Arsenal’s youngsters as they took their show on the road to Athens. Arsenal have, of course, qualified as group leaders so the result of this game did not matter in the grand scheme of things. With Olympiakos needing all three points to even have a shot at making the knockout stages, today’s game was a great experience for youngsters like Frimpong, the Ox, and Coquelin. In addition, it offered a chance for out of form players like Arshavin and Chamakh to play themselves back into form. What unfolded, however, in Athens served to show that the youngsters are not yet ready for the rigors of high pressure Champions League football or the hostile environment of an away fixture. Disappointingly, the match also sadly served to show how some older players’ career at the Grove may never recover.

I don’t really want to go overboard and slam the team’s performance today but the match served to show how and why Arsenal’s first eleven have been on the run of form these past two months. First, from the opening whistle, the atmosphere in Athens was incredibly intimidating. Olympiakos fans were whistling at Arsenal when the latter had possession while the Olympiakos’ players carried out a high pressing game. Poor distribution and decision-making from Fabianski put our defense under immediate pressure and we failed to build up any kind of passing rhythm. Giving the ball away in dangerous areas in our own half meant that our defense had barely any time to set. It didn’t help that Squillaci was guilty of ball watching a few times. Stewart Robson is going to have a field day ripping apart our organization at the back. Despite being a “fan”, Robson seems to take a particular morbid delight in criticizing us when we concede goals but that’s another topic for another day.

What really hurt us yesterday was the lack of composure on the ball from Frimpong and Coquelin, which was exacerbated by how poor the passing out of the back was to them. What also didn’t help was the fact that Arshavin and the Ox were playing too far upfield so that when Manny and Francis had the ball it was difficult to get the ball to them. We really missed Arteta’s services today. The Spainard knows how to control the ball and has the experience to pass it back to the defense when necessary. Le Boss hit the nail on the head: “…as a team, we missed a bit of maturity to keep the ball when we were under pressure.” What the first XI also does well is work together to beat the high press. Robin at times moves from his forward position to midfield where he can hold the ball and help keep possession while the midfield can move into space. Chamakh could not and did not do that yesterday. Arshavin and the Ox should also be willing to alternatively track back or move into space to ease the high press. To be fair to the latter, whenever Ox received the ball, he caused Olympiakos no shortage of harm. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the ball often enough.

As for Arshavin, there can be no excuses. He is an experienced international who is captain for his country. Yet his performances for Arsenal continue to be abject. His attitude and effort continues to be poor. Numerous times during the match, he threw up his hand in frustration after giving up possession or when a pass didn’t arrive at his feet. His failure to track back and defend didn’t help either. He’s an immensely talented individual and Arsene has repeatedly given him opportunities to play his way back into form but the Russian’s performance today has to be another nail in the coffin of his Arsenal career. Despite us breaking our transfer record to recruit him, Arshavin has failed to live up to his own expectations by his own admission, not to mention the club and fan’s expectations of him. You figure that Gervinho coming from the French league may need time to adapt and that Arshavin may be the first choice but the Ivorian has made the position his own. I just don’t know where Arshavin’s mind is at. Instead of concentrating on his game, he answers inane questions like whether love exists on his personal website. What the fans love about this current Arsenal squad is that they work so hard for each other on the pitch. Arshavin’s poor work ethic is completely against the ethos of the current team. He still has a reputation in Russia so Arsenal should sell him to Anzhi, Zenit, or CKSA in January. Moreover, Arshavin wants to play centrally but he is such a liability in defense that the whole team has to play around that weakness. I personally was excited with Arshavin joined but except for a few spells, he has been a disappointment.

On the other hand, one cannot help but feel sorry for Chamakh. He is really trying but unfortunately he is currently so out of form that you wonder whether he can ever come back. Had he been a half a yard faster, he could have scored early on in the match. The African Cup of Nations may help but if rumors are true and there is a bid for him in the £5 million plus range, we should sell him. The price which he and Arshavin could fetch could potentially pay for someone like Podoski to come into the side. As for Ju Young Park, I wonder how he is able to get acclimated to the side if he never gets games. He increasingly looks like a blue light special that Arsene bought simply because it seemed like a great deal at the time. Then when you take the item back home you’re not quite sure how it fits in to your apartment and why you even bought it in the first place.

I’m trying hard not to sound overly negative or reactionary but Arshavin and Chamakh came off the worse in today’s match. Squillaci was well Squillaci again and it’s clear that he’s not fit to play at this level. Miquel has already surpassed him or will do so by the end of this season.

Overall, maybe we all got a bit overly excited about the quality of the youngsters after the Carling Cup match against Manchester City. You can’t really slam them too much for today’s performance. They are clever enough to figure where the mistakes were and how to improve with help from the coaching staff. For Chamakh, Arshavin, the Squid, and Mannone, it may be time for them to move on to new pastures. That will be good for them and good for Arsenal.

Postscript: Arseblog has a great and humorous recap of the match so head over there if you want further details. I would also like to congratulate him on his book.  Keep up the good work mate.

Arsenal’s Collective Efforts Overwhelm Wigan

Fearsome in defense while suave going forward. I’m not sure if this is what Per and RVP were trying to convey when they put up this picture on Twitter last Friday, but Arsenal showed both these qualities against Wigan yesterday. Except for the opening five minutes when Wigan had a great opportunity to score off a Szczesny punch, Arsenal completely dominated this match. The discrepancy in possession was telling: a 65% to 35% difference in favor of the Arsenal. At times Szczesny must have felt like parking lot attendant on a chilly day; so few were Wigan’s attempts on goal. Unfortunately for us American Gooners, the game was marred by a Fox Sports Plus commentator who kept on complaining about why Wigan were playing with only man upfront. Given Roberto Martinez’s men would have bitten off your hand if you offered them a draw at the start, then it’s not surprising is it that Wigan would pack the midfield and defend deep. Perhaps Wigan were watching videos of us from last season so they were expecting us to pass around the sixteen yard box. Their defenders kept on backing off. The experience and cleverness of Arteta meant that he got wise to this tendency early on and let rip a shot from around 25 yards which stunned Al Habsi. 1-0 to the Arsenal. Wigan also probably thought we couldn’t score on corners but Thomas Vermaelen showed them this was a different Arsenal team two minutes later. How great is it to have a center back who can score goals?

One of the most encouraging signs from this team is that we never let off the gas pedal and continued to dominate Wigan for the whole match in contrast to previous years when we switched off. This performance was pure professionalism and teamwork. The goals came from all over the pitch: defense, midfield, wings, and front.  Lastly, Arsenal kept a clean sheet with TV5 and Mertesacker looking solid at the back.

The performance was so solid that pundits could not resort to the “one-man team” criticism to degrade our victory. Instead, both Fox and Sky Sports spent their time discussing how bad Wigan were. They are not liking their humble pie are they?

The boss was pleased after the match, praising the combination play:

“Overall we had a good team performance defensively and offensively. The confidence is there and you could feel that in the way we played today. I can only congratulate the team. They are growing and they are getting better and better…Today we have seen some outstanding combinations. “

Mikel Arteta’s performance was exemplary once again. He barely put a foot wrong today and I was glad to see one of our most overlooked players score. What is admirable about Arteta’s play is that he is such an intelligent footballer. He reads the game extremely well, knowing when to ratchet up the tempo and when to slow things down. His link-up play is also excellent. Arsene has said that the best way a manager can show confidence in a player is by playing him. Arteta has been involved in every important match we have had this season and has never been benched or substituted. That alone shows how important he is to the squad. Arsenal Review USA had a poll to see who would make way when Wilshere returns from injury in 2012. While it was a tie between Rambo and Arteta last time I checked, I personally think it will be the former. Ramsey, while good, lacks the type of consistency Arteta has shown week-in, week-out. Rambo still makes errant passes at times while Arteta is so calm on the ball that you never worry he is going to make a silly pass that will put our defense into all-action alert.

Another heartening aspect of the win yesterday was the overall team spirit you could feel exuding from the club. They all seem so happy when each other score with RVP picking up Theo after the latter squared the ball for him to score. Heartwarming stuff.

Of course there are things we can improve upon. Ramsey needs to find his shooting boots as he seems to sky shots into the bleachers too often but that is being a bit overly critical.

Except for Vermaelen and Santos, the boss is leaving all the starting XI back in London for our trip to Greece this week. Hopefully, the young guns will take advantage of another opportunity to get some quality first team experience against a decent Olympiakos side. Even though there will be more competitively fixtures on Tuesday, I could care less for the fates of Merc City, Chel$ski, and United. Rather see what the Ox and Coquelin can offer.