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.