Wednesday, 12 December 2012

History repeating

A team of cosseted, direction less players – some ‘stars’, some younger – travel north to an away League Cup game, a quarter-final. It is seven years since the club last won a trophy, the FA Cup – the year after which the team had lost a major European final to a Spanish team, and then had broken up. If the team can win this quarter-final, the way looks clear to finally capture a trophy after the lean years – many of the team’s major rivals are already out of the competition. On a cold winter night, somewhere North of Watford, the team are beaten, play badly, and suffer the insults of the fans.

In the aftermath, the board go behind the manager’s back to seek a replacement. The manager is a man who has been synonymous with Arsenal for decades, one of the greatest coaches in the club’s history, the mastermind of a momentous League and FA Cup Double. After he discovers the board’s machinations, the manager resigns. In the summer, the board appoint a disciplinary Glaswegian (albeit not their first choice) with a mandate to rejuvenate team and club. The manager sweeps out the old stars, puts faith in a generation of young players, which include an iconic English future captain. At the end of the first year, the remnants of the old guard, some new additions and the young generation win the League Cup, and follow it up 2 years later by winning the league, against the odds.

I am talking, of course, about 1986. The team was Don Howe’s, full of ageing and under-performing stars like Paul Mariner and Tony Woodcock, Steve Williams and Charlie Nicholas (who would both be there for the 1987 League Cup win, but were dumped thereafter). They played the quarter-final at Aston Villa, who would themselves fail to go on to win the trophy (it was won that year by Jim Smith’s Oxford United). In Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby relates that night as a kind of nadir, after which the years of frustration and inertia in the early and mid-1980s, after the FA Cup-winning side had been broken up (with Frank Stapleton going to Man United, Liam Brady to a European giant), came to a head. Hornby relates a kind of self-mutilating refusal on the part of the fans that season – in one match, the crowd had even ‘switched sides’ and started cheering the opposition. The team of fading stars were, according to Hornby, never good enough to win anything, but never bad enough to be relegated (or even be in relegation trouble), and the sense of frustration made him want to scream.

I would guess that most Arsenal fans in 2012 feel the same way. The parallels are unnerving, though you’d need to replace ‘relegation’ with ‘failing to qualify for the Champions League’. I started writing the Arsenal blog years ago because I wanted to lay my long involvement with the club to rest, or to turn it into something else, something less likely to ruin my weekend, to affect my moods, to waste my time. And it succeeded – I still seek out the results, but no longer watch the team on tv, avoid Match of the Day, and despise the Premier League as a whole. And eventually I stopped writing the blog, because there was nothing left to say – it went round and round. I looked at my previous entries (from 2011 back to 2008) a few weeks ago and with a bit of tweaking, the change of a few names, they could have been about this season. Or last season. Round and round, history repeating.

But I wonder whether it’s like 1986, the frustrating inertia of a team going round in circles, rather than a terminal disaffection. We will have to see, of course. If Arsene leaves, this year or next, and a new manager comes in, will it rekindle my Arsenal spark? Will I start caring again?

Maybe not. But I’ve seen it all before, and so can hope things will change, for the better, in the end. For Brady read Fabregas, for Stapeton read van Persie. For Howe read Arsene. For George Graham read... David Moyes?

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Interesting Times

I'm writing at 11pm on 31 August 2011, the transfer deadline day, and what a strange couple of days it has been. First the 8-2 shellacking at Old Trafford; then the major moves in the transfer market. In past years, TDD has been a frustrating one for Gooners - I remember one where Arsene rather pointedly spent the evening watching the reserves play at Underhill. But not tonight. So, here is a summary of our outgoings and incomings so far:

Cesc to Barca, £30 million
Nasri to Man City, £25 million
Clichy to Man City, £7 million
Eboue to Galatasaray, £3m
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas to Ipswich, £1m
Armand Traore to QPR, £2m
Nik Bendtner to Sunderland, loan
Henri Lansbury to West Han Utd, loan
Denilson to Sao Paolo, loan

Mikel Arteta from Everton, £10m
Yossi Benayoun from Chelsea, loan
Gervinho from Lille, £10m
Per Mertesacker from Werder Bremen, £10m
Andre Santos from Fenerbahce, £6m
Park Chu-Young from Monaco, £3m
Carl Jenkinson from Charlton, £2m
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton, £5m
Joel Campbell from Saprissa (Costa Rica), loaned to Lorient, £1m
Ryo Miyaichi, obtained work permit

Nik Bendtner is going to Sunderland for a year's loan, but I hope he'll be back; if Chamakh doesn't regain some kind of form, and Nik B has a good year, perhaps Arsenal will swap the Moroccan for the Dane next summer. I've posted about Cesc, Nasri et al before, so the crucial thing is the signings. Clearly, after Sunday, something had to be done. The squad was down beyond the bare bones, to Traore, whose move to QPR must have been lined up beforehand, and to Coquelin, who was handed a debut without having even trained with the first-team squad all summer after being at the u-20 World Championships.

Since then, we've signed Park Chu-Young (to be known as Ju, apparently), who will wear number 9 - a quick, technical striker and captain of his country, Ju will be a back-up to RvP, and will no doubt run his socks off for us; Andre Santos, the Brazilian international left-back, who will make a good platoon with Gibbs (too injury-prone to be relied upon as a full-time starter), an attacking full-back; Per Mertesacker, who has over 70 caps for Germany, is just 26, and is 6 foot 6 tall, solving some of our defensive and organisational problems; and tonight we're chasing two midfielders.

The first is a season-long loan for Yossi Benayoun. I liked Benayoun very much when he was at West Ham, a lively, technical player who I thought could fit in very well at Arsenal in a Bob Pires (minor key) kind of way. I kind of lost track of him at Liverpool but he played over 100 games and scored 29 goals, a pretty decent strike-rate. he signed for Chelsea last summer, but only played 9 games, suffering an Achilles injury. The twittersphere was full of bile when Benayoun seemed to be the only incoming midfielder, but I think he'll do a decent job and is in the same hard-working mould as Ju. What's more, he's 30, highly experienced, and a proven Premier League player.

The other is Mikel Arteta. I've always rated him as a midfield passer, though he has suffered injuries the last few seasons. He'd be an excellent signing if it happens, and would take some of the burden off Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere as creative midfielders. This, then, would be our squad until the January transfer window:

GK: Szczesny, Fabianski, Mannone
RB: Sagna, Jenkinson
LB: Santos, Gibbs
CB: Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Djourou, Squillaci, Miquel
DM: Song, Frimpong
CM: Wilshere, Ramsey, Arteta, Rosicky, Diaby
WF: Gervinho, Walcott, Arshavin, Miyaichi, Oxlade-Chamberlain
CF: RvP, Chamakh, Ju

This looks like a much more balanced squad, with depth, pace, quite a lot of goals and creativity, and a solid look at the back. This looks like a squad to challenge for the Champions League places, to me - as good as Liverpool, and significantly better than Spurs, who let quite a few players go this summer without many coming in (although Modric stayed). The future is looking brighter. Especially when we get Wilshere back from his Twittering (which is, undeniably, marvellous, as is Emmanuel Frimpong's. Two top Gooners as well as Gunners.) And talking of Gooners, this tweet tonight from Cesc Fabregas: "I dnt undrstand fans telling me we need a replacement after my departure when weve 1 of the best 3 young players in the world @JackWilshere". Love the "we".

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Hey Johnny Park!

So, Arsenal are close to signing Park Chu-Young, the South Korean skipper who played up front for Monaco in their relegation season in Ligue 1 last year. Cue moaning because he isn't Eden Hazard (who most of the moaners will not have seen play) or Kaka (who was great in 2006... now, not so much). From looking at the vids, this is what I think Park could give the Arsenal:

1. Decent back-up to RvP. Park is skillful, technically very good, quick, and takes a good free kick. It appears he's right-footed.

2. Workrate. His namesake is Park Ji-Sung, Man United's wide midfielder, whose inexhaustible energy and tireless running make him a real unsung hero in that side. All South Korean players seem to have excellent fitness and a willingness to put in a shift.

3. Team ethos. He's not a star player, he'll play without ego. Goodness knows the Arsenal have had enough of ego-maniac players over the last few years, though most have now left the club. He'll fit in to the new team spirit.

So, he'd be a squad player, a decent, experienced option. With Joel Campbell being refused a work permit this year (he'll go on loan and I'm sure will get one next year, as he seems to be a fixture now in the senior Costa Rica side), Bendtner about to be sold and Chamakh very low on confidence, he's the sort of good, ordinary player we need.

As I said in a previous post, this team needs more Parlours, not more Henrys. And as I wrote yesterday, Cahill looks increasingly likely to sign with us before Wednesday, and the fee mooted is around £12 million...

A summer where we sell Cesc, Nasri, Clichy, Eboue, Bendtner, JET; and sign Gervinho, Jenkinson, AOC, Miyaichi, and maybe Park, M'Vila and Cahill would be not so bad. Throw in a left back... and I'll be quite excited.

So you never know. The Arsenal may be signing our own Johnny Park.

Friday, 26 August 2011

You Need Wings

Image of The Bullshit Piled Up So Fast In Vietnam You Needed Wings

Sometimes I think that Arsenal fans are the most gullible in the world. They're certainly among the most eager to set their thoughts down online - new Arsenal blogs seem to appear every day. The latest thing to get the Arseblogosphere's knickers in a collective twist was the rumour mill surrounding the club's interest in Gary Cahill. According to a morning news report, Arsenal had bid £6million (plus add-ons) for Cahill; this was followed up By Owen Coyle's denunciation of Arsenal's 'derisory' offer and Bolton chairman Phil Gartside's re-tweet of some Bolton fan's fulmination against said £6 million offer. At Arsene's 12.30pm presser, he strongly denied the bid was as low as £6 million, and called out Gartside on the matter. Cue much gnashing of online teeth at Arsenal's parsimony.

Come on, friends. At no point did Coyle or Gartside say 'Cahill is not for sale'. What is to be established is a reasonable value for the player, an English centre-back, playing in the Premier League, aged 24, in the last year of his contract. Vermaelen and Koscielny both cost around £10 million, Cahill must be thought of by the Arsenal staff as a player of similar stature. In Cahill's case, 'English', 'Premier League' and 'age 24' push the price up; 'last year of contract' pushes his price down. I reckon Cahill's value to be around £12 million, plus some add-ons. The touted price is £18 million, but no-one (even Liverpool) have looked like paying that amount.

Here's what I think went on today:

1. Bolton leaked a story to a friendly journalist overnight that Arsenal had bid £6 million.

2. Coyle does a presser in which he fulminates against the 'derisory' offer, but without mentioning the actual bid amount. Journos and Arsenal bloggers put 2 and 2 together and make...

3. Arsenal, having banked nearly £70 million this summer, are assumed to be behaving in a 'ridiculous' manner in offering such a low-ball amount. Pressure then comes on to the club by an already disgruntled element of the fanbase to make this transfer happen, 'no matter what the cost' (i.e. driving up the price). Who benefits? Bolton Wanderers.

4. Arsene gets a bit tetchy with journos who take this fairly transparent ploy at face value (or pretend to) and use it as a stick to beat the club with. Relations between Arsenal and Bolton remain good; further negotiations will take place, as Arsenal's interest has been confirmed by both parties. Bringing this out in the open, Bolton must hope, adds to their leverage and, at best, might flush out a competitor club who will make an alternative bid, again driving up the price.

Canny stuff. Arsenal look like hypocrites in not splashing the cash on Cahill, when this week they got £25 million out of City for a player in the last year of his contract; Bolton hold up the value of a player who, come next summer, can walk away from the club for free.

I think this transfer will happen, and have thought that for a while. All the posturing means nothing; Arsenal prefer to do their negotiations behind closed doors as it avoids all this public leveraging. Arsene was right in the presser: either Bolton will sell, or they won't. The can accept a reasonable bid, or they can risk losing Cahill for free next year. It's the choice Arsenal themselves faced this summer, and the outcome of those deliberations make me think that there will be a compromise on the fee eventually. £12 million might be less than £18m, but it's a whole lot better that nothing.

And until next Wednesday, the bullsh*t will keep on piling up. Keep those wings clean.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Be Honest

'If we're really, really going to be honest/ Then we might as well be brief'

So sang David Gedge of The Wedding Present back on the 1989 album Bizarro, and thinking about the reaction of Arsenal fans to the events of the past week, these lines kept going through my mind. At last week's presser, Arsene said, tongue planted firmly in cheek, that 'he expected' no-one to be leaving Arsenal, presumably in answer to the question, 'who do you expect to leave this summer?' Arsene was, of course, playing word games - because he was hoping (against hope) that Cesc and Nasri might stay, he could not admit to 'expecting' them to leave. Cue mass Gooner frothing at the mouth, or frothing at the Twitter, perhaps.

In a sense, though, I'd like Arsene to be more honest, because even if you realise he's playing a game with the press, this is a line of communication that the fans take seriously (too seriously, maybe). He can't say who Arsenal would like to sign, and he can only go so far in revealing who may leave; but a little more plain dealing with regard to plans, and why movement has been so slow with regard to major replacements of departing players, wouldn't go amiss. It's of a piece with Arsenal's PR failin gs that I've lamented before.

That said, I expect two or three signings in the next two weeks, especially if, as is widely predicted Nasri leaves in the next day or so. If he does, the list of major departures looks like this:

Denilson (on loan)

with perhaps Bendtner and Almunia to follow. Nasri going for £25million would mean total incomings of over £70million this summer; the sale of Bendtner would take it over £80m. Earlier in the summer Arsene said that if both Cesc and Nasri left, we would no longer look like a serious club; and while I don't think that's true, it certainly will be if we don't get two or three really good players in to replace them. In fact, if we don't, I would take it as an admission of defeat by Arsene, and that this is his last year.

In my last post I noted the four (with Campbell, five) players we've already signed, all but Gervinho aged 20 or below. 6 players have left, with perhaps 2 more to follow (though I wonder now whether Bendtner might be encouraged to stay), and apart from Cesc and Nasri, all of the others have been the subject of Gooner fans' desire to see them gone. Well, you got your wish! But be honest. If you were happy to see most of them go, Cesc's time was pretty much up (and he's started only 20-odd Premier League games in each of the last 3 seasons), and Nasri's head has been turned by the prospect of enormous wages: it's time for a re-think. This is the biggest overhaul of the Arsenal squad I can remember - and it's what a lot of fans wanted after last season's collapse. And, being honest, although the two performances so far have been scratchy, the team have toughed them out and fought for each other - like a team, which is more than you can say about the last dozen games of last season.

Injuries, however, are already taking their toll: Wilshere, Djourou, Gibbs, Traore (though the middle two have form when it comes to injuries), plus suspensions to Song and Gervinho... the squad is looking a bit thin, to say the least. Arsenal have also looked to be lacking a creative spark, even though we've not conceded in our first two games. I think the players we've signed already will, once they've settled in, help give us this spark. (Critics of Gervinho, saying 'he's not good enough' after TWO competitive games, need a reality check.)

But I think our formation is wrong. It was designed with playmakers like Cesc in mind, but I don't think it gets the best out of the players we've got. I would advocate going back to 4-4-2, the Arsenal (not England) 4-4-2, with a deep-lying striker, fluid interchanging, one side tucking in if necessary (a la Parlour) and the other side joing the front two (a la Overmars or Pires/Ljungberg), 4-4-2 becoming a kind of 4-3-3. This is how the squad would look:

GK: Szczesny, Fabianski, Mannone
RB: Sagna, Jenkinson
LB: Gibbs, [signing]
CB: Vermaelen, Koscielny; Djourou, [signing]
CM: Song, Wilshere; Frimpong, [signing]
RM: Ramsay, Lansbury
LM/LW: Gervinho, Miyaichi
SS: Van Persie, Arshavin
CF: Walcott, Chamakh/Bendtner, [signing]

In addition, there would be AOC, Afobe, Squillaci, Traore, Miquel, to fit in the squad. The LM/LW, SS and CF positions could do a lot of interchanging, especially if Walcott were given an extended run there to see what he could do - and it's time he was given the opportunity.

What about signings? The injury to Djourou highlights the need for a centre back, and I would now go all-in for Cahill; if not, Scott Dann. A left back is also essential, and if Gibbs is to remain injury-prone, a first-choice signing there is a priority. Even though they don't want to sell Jagielka, I imagine a really good offer for Leighton Baines would do the trick with Everton, as they're completely skint. The most important signing of all is the midfield player; we need someone to be an alternative to Wilshere, a high-tempo, energetic, creative player to get the team moving. And finally, a veteran striker with a bit of pace - I would see whether Nico Anelka fancies coming back to the Arsenal, as he doesn't seem near the first team at Stamford Bridge these days.

If we say Cahill for £16m, Baines for £11m, Anelka for £7m, and a new midfilder for between £15-20m, that would be around £50m spent, with £80m coming in, a net profit of £30m, and and much more balanced squad (and team).

But being honest, I have no idea what, if anything, will really, really happen. And if Arsene should be honest, so will I - the next few weeks will be difficult, but I think better times are on the way, even if we're playing for 4th place, even if we're in the Europa League.

Friday, 12 August 2011

A New Season

The off-season, and pre-season, ends tonight. And tonight, of all things, Arsenal have announced that they have signed a player. But several others have yet to be sold.

So, what to make of Arsenal's summer? I choked back bitter laughter when I read (despite my own self-prohibition) a post by Myles Palmer on ANR who called Arsene Wenger a 'serial loser'; I smiled ruefully to myself when I read a comment on a blog that pronounced 'I want my Arsenal back'; and I have gone from hope, to frustration, to hope again.

So, Cesc is nearly a Barca player; Nasri is nearly a Citeh player; Eboue is nearly a Galata player. Luck to all three, I say. Clichy has already been sold, Denilson has returned to Sao Paolo on loan (but is unlikely to return), rumours today suggest that Almunia may go to newly-minted moneybags Malaga, and Nic Bendtner may go to Stoke City, which I wouldn't wish on anyone. All that should net Arsenal something in the region of £70 million. Which is a fair wedge.

I don't know why anyone took any notice of Arsene's presser this morning; he will say anything other than the truth when it comes to transfer activity. But surely he and Ivan Gazidis know that banking the majority of that money just isn't going to cut it, especially if Arsenal live down to the doomers' expectations in the early season. And this is where I would like to begin: with expectations.

It surely needs no re-stating that Arsenal fans expect too much. Why, with a wage bill that is only the 5th highest in the league, do fans expect us to compete financially with Man Utd (the most high-profile English club globally, with a long history of laying out very large fees and paying top wages); Man City (who with petro-dollar backing can afford to sign, and double the wages of, any player they can persuade to join them, such as Nasri); or Chelsea (who may be towards the end of Abramovich's ability to put them ahead of the pack in terms of spending, but who still took a gamble on Fernando Torres to the tune of £50 million last year)? While I hold out no particular hope that the UEFA financial fair play initiative will ultimately bring the super-club spending to order, I do not want to see 'my Arsenal' (a ridiculous thing to assert, by the way) either putting the club at risk through reckless spending (Leeds Utd, Portsmouth) or put into the hands of Usmanov.

If Arsenal, for the next few years, compete with Liverpool for the 4th CL place, and sometimes end up in the Europa League, what of it? The stadium and squad that is already in place puts Arsenal ahead of Spurs or any of the other upper-mid-table teams that might aspire to 4th. To think we might finish 5th this year would indeed be a disappointment, but I can't see it happening, to be honest. For all their spending, I can't really see Liverpool being qualitatively different or better this year. Henderson, Adam, Downing, Carroll? I don't think I'd be that excited if Arsenal had spent £80 million on those four players, worthy though they may be.

I'm happy to scale back my expectations. A 'selling club'? In the Europa League instead of CL? Aiming for Cup rather than Premier League title success? What of it? I also want 'my Arsenal' back, and doing away with the sour, hateful and hate-filled, bilious and self-lacerating discourses of 'disappointment' with the manager, board, players etc that have filled up the blogosphere this summer is the first step. I was a happier Arsenal supporter in the late 80s, when we were on the verge of winning something, than I am now; the bounty of the years 1998-2004 was a great anomaly that I'm glad I saw, but now could do with putting behind us, because it's distorting the way the grand old club is seen by everyone, even its 'supporters'. Even by me.

So, £70 million's worth of talent out the door, and who has come in? Carl Jenkinson, an Anglo-Finn Gooner who looks a very good prospect as a back-up to Sagna; Gervinho, a right-sided wide player, very quick and with a good eye for goal; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a 17-year-old right-sided winger/ striker who tore up League 1 last year; Ryo Miyaichi, a young, fast, very direct Japanese left winger who played exceptionally well for Feyenoord last year and was awarded a 'special talent' work permit; and tonight, Joel Campbell, a young, fast, left-sided striker from Costa Rica who did very well at both Copa America and World u-20 Championships this summer, who should get a work permit.

See a pattern there?

With the departures of Cesc, Nasri, Clichy, Eboue, Bendtner, and Denilson there is a clear shift in terms of priorities. Between 1998 and 2004, the keynote for Arsenal's style of play was pace and power, dominated by the GG back four, Sol, Vieira and Henry; between 2005 and 2011, 'Cesc's Arsenal', the keynote was technique and possession, which achieved its high-point with the 2008 side, where Flamini and Adebayor gave the (physically smaller) side physicality and tempo; now, we are seeing another change, to explosiveness and speed. I, for one, am really happy to see these kinds of player being signed. I, too, would like a good centre-back, a veteran left-back, and (most importantly) an upgrade on the holding midfielder role, where Song is good but (like Gilberto before him) not a player to dominate or set the tempo. But the side that collapsed last season badly needed an injection of pace, needed runners to break down deep-set defences, needed players with the directness and pace to get past their marker and cause problems. Where the recent side often ran into the sand because all their possession did not translate into goals (leaving them vulnerable to counter-attacks), often playing a lot in front of two lines of four (or even 9 players in a 4-5-1) and never really penetrating, this summer's crop of signings will give the Arsenal a lot more directness, energy and pace.

The player being touted as 'Cesc's replacement', the Brazilian Jadson from Shakhtar Donetsk, isn't a like-for-like replacement, if he arrives. From what I've seen on YouTube, he's not a playmaker, a pure passer; he's a small, dynamic attacking midfielder, like a cross between Arshavin and Deco (with a little bit of Rosicky), a dribbler with a terrific shot from distance. We already have passers in Wilshere, Ramsay, even Lansbury - we need a game-changer. Is Jadson it? I don't know. But I can see the thinking.

I think the doomers have it wrong, in any case. I think there will be further signings once Cesc, Nasri and Eboue are gone next week. Scott Dann looks a strong possibility; I wouldn't be at all surprised if we signed Gary Cahill in the last few days of the window either. I do believe Gazidis and Wenger and others have been working hard to sign players this summer; I believe they knew this exodus was probable, if not certain, and planned for it; I don't believe it's 'penny-pinching' or any other media narratives that have prevented Arsenal from signing more than the four players (plus Miyaichi) they've signed already. It takes time. This will be the biggest upheaval for the club for many a summer, and I would have preferred the deals to have been done earlier; but the club can only play the hand they're dealt.

So, at time of writing, the squad for the season is likely to look like this:

GK: Szczesny, Fabianski, Mannone
FB: Sagna, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Traore (+?)
CB: Vermaelen, Koscielny, Djourou, Squillaci (+ Dann, Cahill?)
MF: Song, Ramsay, Wilshere, Diaby, Frimpong, Lansbury, Rosicky (+?)
W: Gervinho, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Miyaichi
F: van Persie, Chamakh, Arshavin, Campbell

That makes 26. A couple of defenders and a midfielder, and I think we'll be fine - in hope rather than in expectation.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

All the World's a Stage, And all the Men and Women merely Players

It's nearly the beginning of pre-season: Arsenal play a Malaysian XI tomorrow afternoon. Hooray! Now there's something else to talk about...

Arsene gave an interesting couple of interviews over the last few days. In the first, he denied outright that Arsenal were about to sell Samir Nasri; pressed further in the second, he revealed that Cesc is 'torn' between his love of Arsenal and his desire to return to Barcelona. Arsene also suggested that if the club sold both Cesc and Nasri this summer, quite rightly the club's 'ambition' would come into question. If nothing else, Arsene reveals here that he knows the anxieties among fans about how our club is perceived, and how the fans perceive the club anxiously. He stated that Nasri would not be allowed to leave this summer even if it means that the club ultimately lose out on £20million+ by not selling him now. In a previous post I advocated exactly that, and I'm glad the club are taking this line. This, more than anything else, demonstrates that money isn't everything; what's £20million in the bank if you can't sign a replacement of equal quality, and the presence of Nasri in the team might help them finally win something? Arsene also said that the fact that other clubs are bidding for our players means that there aren't others elsewhere - so we have to keep hold of our own, by whatever means necessary (no matter how temporary this may be).

This brings me on to Cesc. I said in a previous post I expected him to go, and nothing that Arsene said changes my mind about that. If you were offered a dream job, in a place you'd love to live, with the prospect of fulfilling your career ambitions, surrounded by friends and family, would you say no? I wouldn't. Yes, he might sit on the bench. Yes, he's never going to be as central to the club and team as Cesc has become to Arsenal, because there are too many other stars there, Catalan stars at that. But I don't blame him for wanting to go, and to be honest, throughout he has conducted himself with dignity. This can't be said for Barca, or their players, of course, but I think Cesc is pretty blameless. For him, it's not about money, nor (really) even about 'winning things'. It's about going home, and that's ok by me. If Barca can offer something near £40million, with bonuses and add-ons, I'd say, 'Thank you, Francesc, and good luck.'

With Cesc gone, Nasri would then be given his role as the creative 'fantasista' playing behind van Persie, in the middle of the 3 in the current 4-2-3-1. I say, give him the responsibility. Say, 'show us and the world what you can do. If you want the Ballon D'Or, if you want trophies, if you want to move to a bigger club than Arsenal, SHOW ME.' Either he takes the stage, the club win something, and he either stays because he feels he can win with Arsenal or a wealthy club offers him riches; or, he can't pull it off, and there's less interest in him come next summer.

I'm quite excited about Arsenal, strangely, more than for a few years, and two players are catching my eye. One is Gervinho, who looks the direct, quick, technically good and goalscoring winger that we've been missing for years. He dribbles at speed and looks for space between defenders in and around the box - I think he's going to be really dangerous. The other is Ryo Miyaichi, who had a devastating season on loan to Feyenoord last year. He has electric pace (can keep up with Theo Walcott), is also very direct, extremely skillful, and seems to play with his head up. My hope is that Arsene can wangle a 'special talent' work permit for him so he can be around the squad this year - he'd be an astonishing impact substitute, for starters. In the 4-2-3-1, a front four of Walcott-Nasri-Gervinho-van Persie, with Miyaichi a substitute for either of the wide men, and Arshavin a second option in the Nasri role, would look very sharp indeed.

In the interview, much to the chagrin of the Arseblogosphere, Arsene also said that the club are looking to sign 'one or two more top, top players'. With Jenkinson and Gervinho, this would make four in; with Clichy gone, Bendtner and Almunia negotiating with other clubs, and Cesc very likely to leave, that makes four out. I would say that this is probably enough, though if an offer were made for Denilson (whose end-of-season comments seemed to burn some boats) I'd expect the club to accept that too. A nine-player turnaround for the squad would mean one of the biggest upheavals in the Wenger period - bloggers who call for a cull of five or six players and the same amount in are deluding themselves. Not because of parsimoniousness, but because of continuity.

And even if the Cesc money comes in at around £40million, who do Arsenal buy? I think the top priorities are a centre-back and a dynamic centre-midfielder as a different option to Song (who is a good player, but can be a bit languid. If the Professor could gene-splice Song and Diaby, we'd have a hell of a midfield general - in fact, we'd have Paddy mk2). Cahill, Jagielka, Vertongen - any of these would be fine, to my mind, and one that could cover lefvt-back (like Vertongen) might have the edge. Squillaci can be put out to grass. But who would you sign as the centre-midfielder? Is there another Michael Essien out there (who we can get to before Chelsea or Citeh or United do)? Is there even another Didier Deschamps? I wonder whether we might give Owen Hargreaves a call, if his legs are up to it - a fit Hargreaves would certainly tick the boxes. I dunno - we'll have to wait and see if Arsene will pull another rabbit out of his magic hat.

Which brings me back to the interview. In the Premier league, I feel that to be a successful manager, in terms of the media, one must be a performer. Sir Alex is like the last of the ham actor-managers (see his performance last year when Rooney wanted to leave for Citeh), a footballing Orson Welles who gets what he wants by imposing his will on others, often to brilliant effect. Harry Redknapp is, of course, the comedian, a luvverly fellah with jokes just the right side of blue not to make the missus blush, and is mates with everyone. Mourinho, while he was part of the show, operated the puppet theatre. And Arsene? He's the prestidigitator, the illusionist, playing straight but giving absolutely nothing of his act away, producing rabbits out of hats. This is what provokes the ire of journos such as Myles Palmer, who have lived with the act for too long - there's only so much mummery one can stand. I think it puts the Arsenal supporter in a tough spot, which is why the summer has been so hysterical: the back pages are full of nonsense, planted stories, half-baked rumours, fabrications and speculations; and Arsene plays three-card-monte with the 'truth', now-you-see-it-now-you-don't, as a kind of tactic. What to believe? The real answer, of course, is 'nothing'. But such scepticism is tough act to pull off for the audience when the whole summer show is arranged for us to live through the entrances and exits of the players.