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.

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