Saturday, 30 August 2008


It's interesting that Arsene referred to the end of the transfer window as a 'game of poker', because that's exactly the metaphor that I've been thinking of for the last few days. Partly this derives from my interest in the Miami Dolphins, for this is a big weekend for football and American football in terms of the squad or roster: the football transfer window shuts at midnight on September 1 (Monday), while all 32 NFL teams must trim their squads (called 'rosters' in the NFL) to 53 players by 4pm today - down from an initial 75 on Thursday. If you think about it, that's a lot of players becoming available at once: 22 times 32 is 704. Some of these will be 'stashed' on 8-man 'practice squads', the rest released onto the 'waiver wire' (if they have less than 4 years NFL experience) or made free agents. Miami Dolphins, as they had the worst record last year, has first dibs on all waiver wire players - so I expect the Dolphins front office to be very busy over the next couple of days, as the 54th best player (cut) on the Patriots, Colts, Cowboys or Chargers rosters might be a lot better than the Dolphins' 40th. The bottom dozen on the Dolphins's roster will be looking over their shoulders this weekend - no surprise that some of them played 'like demons' in the final pre-season game on Thursday, to try to keep their place on the roster.
The New Orleans game was the final pre-season game, usually not much of a spectacle as head coaches don't want to play their starters and have them injured 10 days before kickoff. Surprisingly, the Dolphins won. They lost their first preseason game, a tight one to the Buccaneers (who were NFC South champions last year); but then beat playoff contenders the Jacksonville Jags, the terrible Kansas City Chiefs and then the Saints, who are also a playoff wildcard team. Last time the Dolphins were 3-1 in preseason, they went 11-5 in the regular season. This won't happen this time; although the arrival of former Jets QB Chad Pennington (who was bumped from his former team when they signed Bret Favre, who revoked his decision to retire from the Packers last year and was traded to the Jets, the Fins' bitterest rivals) has given the Fins' a much needed passing game, there is a lack of depth behind the starters which might get exposed if injuries start to bite, as occurred last season. I'm expecting 6-10. The Fins will get to pick in the top 10 again in the 2009 draft if so, meaning better opportunities for rebuidling, as the Parcells team has proved that they are excellent evaluators of talent. Of this year's draft, LT Long, DE Langford and OG Thomas are already starters; DE Merling and QB Henne excellent backups. 5 high-quality players from a draft is stellar stuff.
Pennington's arrival, and the emergence of the rookie Chad Henne, displaced the two QBs who were in Miami before the draft: last year's draft pick John Beck - who was knocked to pieces last year when asked to start behind an offensive line that let multiple express trains through per game to squash him flat - and free agent signing Josh McCown have had hardly any practice time, and precious little preseason game time, since then. Both are 'on the outs'; and yesterday, McCown was traded to the Carloina Panthers. Beck still may be traded too, and the Fins might pick up a cut QB from another team to act as the 3rd-stringer, 'holding the clipboard', if value can be got for Beck.
This is what I mean about playing poker. VP of operations Bill Parcells and his GM Jeff Ireland have proved themselves expert poker-players in the offseason and preseason: the Jason Taylor situation was finally resolved when an injury to the Washington Redskins's starting defensive end necessitated that they acquire a replacement: instead of the 3rd or 4th round draft pick being suggested for Taylor around the 2008 draft, the Fins picked up the Skins's 2009 2nd rounder, a much more valuable pick. (As it happens, the Skins have a new head coach, new offensive system, and play in the toughest division of all, the NFC East, against the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles. For all Taylor's desire to play with a contender, the Skins may well not make it into the postseason this year. And the worse record the Skins have, the better value their 2nd rounder becomes.) Parcells and Ireland played poker with Taylor, and won; they played poker with McCown, and won, again because another team had injuries. It's a waiting game, and Parcells can out-wait anyone.
That's why I thought of Arsene's playing of the transfer game as poker. He keeps an admirable straight face, so much so that the fans (and me) despair that we will sign anyone. Yesterday's press conference, where he said that the Arsenal 'might' sign 'one or two' gives reason for optimism, though, as does Danny Fiszman's insistence that if Arsene wanted to buy a £30 million stiker, he could. So perhaps we aren't skint; perhaps Arsene will do a couple of deals; perhaps it'll be all right in the end.
But the rumblings, the grumblings, and particularly the booing of Adebayor, the jeering of Bendtner and Eboue, all suggest that something has changed at Arsenal recently. Arsene's credit in the bank is perilously close to be overdrawn; if the Arsenal finances aren't as bad as we feared, Arsene has his own credit crunch to deal with.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


It's the only explanation for the tightness in my stomach, the tiredness in my bones, the ache in the leg I broke 5 years ago - the Arsenal are skint. Why else would Arsene have us believe that the squad as it stands, having let go Diarra, Flamini, Hleb, Gilberto, Lehmann, Hoyte, and sent on loan Senderos, is as strong as last year's? When only Nasri, the currently crocked Silvestre and Bischoff, and the young lad Ramsay have come in? I can only imagine that Arsene and Peter Hill-Wood are covering up the fact the there is no money to spend - otherwise, why not buy an exerienced central midfielder to play with Cesc?
It's as worrying a time for Gooners as there has been since 1995. We're not that bad - but the signs aren't good.

Monday, 25 August 2008


OK folks, this is it. The hysterical reaction to defeat at Craven Cottage on Saturday points towards something - not just the 'three years without a trophy' fever of fans who have never known anyone but Wenger in charge - a feeling, a sense of time's winged chariot drawing near. I'm no doomsayer; last year I pooh-poohed all the prognosticators of Arsenal's demise, scoffed at Spurs's chances of overhauling us. And I was right. But now; now... Senderos is apparently the latest to leave, this year following Diarra, Lehmann, Flamini, Hleb and Gilberto. Senderos's departure seems to signal the first breach in the dam of Arsene's youth policy. I liked the signing of Silverstre (even though he was injured straight away) but not if he was signed at the expense of Senderos or Djourou. What is going on?
Well, this is what I think might happen this season:
1. Arsene will sign no-one of first-team calibre before the end of the summer transfer window.
2. The team will finish third in their Champions League pool and drop into the UEFA cup.
3. The team will struggle with injuries to senior players again, and an over-reliance on young players will result in highly uneven results, especially away from the Emirates.
4. Arsenal will be well adrift of the top three by Christmas, possibly even out of the top four.
5. Arsenal lose in the semi-finals of the UEFa cup, struggle after Christmas, and finish outside the top four, qualifying for the UEFA cup in 09-10.
6. Arsene Wenger resigns as Arsenal manager.
7. Danny Fiszman sells his stake in the club. It is bought by an overseas oligarch who immediately refinances Arsenal's debt. The composition of the board changes markedly.
8. Cesc Fabregas is sold to Barcelona, Clichy to AC Milan, etc etc.
9. The board consider replacing Arsene with Tony Adams... And that, my friends, would be a total disaster.

I hope this scenario never comes to pass. But I fear something like it will. We all can feel the winds of change. The blogonauts are but leaves blowing in it. Wait for the first 'Wenger Out' chant of the winter carried on the breeze.

That's the first version, the fear version. This is the upside version:

1. Arsene signs Xabi Alonso, a central defender and another central midfielder (Inler) before Monday.
2. Cesc returns and stays fit all season; his partnership with Alonso becomes the best in the Premier League.
3. Djourou emerges as Gallas's best defensive partner, stablising the defence. Gallas learns from last year. Silvestre turns out to be an astute squad signing, giving the opportunity for Clichy to be rested. Song provides excellent cover in central midfield.
4. Vela and Bendtner emerge as the best strike partnership at the club, and play an increasingly important role as the season goes on. Adebayor finally finds some form after Christmas, propelling Arsenal back into the title mix.
5. Arsenal qualify for the knockout stages in the Champions League, but go out to Chelsea in the quarters (who win it).
6. The reserves finally win the Carling Cup, beating Aston Villa in the final.
7. Arsenal finish third again. Spurs are relegated.
8. Arsene resigns.

What?! I really do feel the endgame is near; if not this year, then next, or perhaps the year after. But soon, sooner than we think - and sooner than most of us would wish.