Saturday, 26 July 2014

Debuchy, transfers, forwards and little bit pre-season

Right, while I've been away a lot has happened. There was the completely unexpected Debuchy deal, the 2-0 win against Boreham Wood, Wenger's firm quotes on not signing any more forwards, thoughts on Sanogo, Akpom and Campbell for 3rd choice and Vermaelen and Ospina links. Let's get on with it already.

Debuchy is a gamble, not a fail-safe...
Many people have credited Debuchy's signing as a solid, smart buy. In buying a 28 year old right-back (who will turn 29 in two days), Wenger seems to have bought an immediate fix, yet not completely shut the door on Jenkinson's and Bellerin's Arsenal future. On the face of it, Debuchy would simply slot into Sagna's void with ease.

I beg to differ. I've watched Debuchy extensively during France's World Cup campaign, and he is a long way from being a like-to-like Sagna replacement. A highlight of Sagna's playing style of Arsenal was his reluctance to make forward forays. Many had complained against this, but it was actually a blessing in disguise.

The forwards Sagna played behind - usually Theo Walcott, recently Ox and Cazorla - aren't exactly the ones who'd be a big help tracking back defensively. Yet Sagna managed his defensive work ably, which in turn had an adverse impact on his offensive play. He was a rock on the right defensive channel, providing the Walcotts and the Oxlades freedom to take care of the attack.

Debuchy would not do that. He's a full-back who tends to go forward every time he can. It's harmful to the team, because players like Walcott and Ox haven't got the workrate to help out their defensive compatriot, a trait that surfaced due to a certain reliability on Sagna's unwavering defensive duties on the right side. Debuchy changes that. Last season, Arsenal's left hand side was the weak link, because Monreal was average defensively and Podolski barely tracked back. This season, I expect the trend to continue on the right side.

Look, I'm not saying that Debuchy was an awful purchase. He really isn't. Buying a Premier League experienced right-back and an established international, who represents a short-term fix and doesn't kill the chances of Jenkinson and Bellerin makes all the sense in the world to me. However, assuming that there'd be a seamless handoff from Bac to Mathieu with little hassle is completely untrue. Debuchy will require a bedding in period. We need to give him that.

On transfer targets...
Ospina, Chambers and William Carvalho are mooted to be on Wenger's radar. They're somewhat surprising targets, considering that most of them would be used to merely strengthen depth. Ospina in particular interests me - I had expected Wenger to buy a more experienced Schwarzer-esque keeper who wouldn't mind playing second fiddle, and who would teach Szczesny a thing or two along the path to retirement.

Going for a keeper like Ospina, someone who's on a high from his World Cup and would push Chezzer all the way for first-choice, is highly unorthodox thinking from Arsene. As I had said before, the guy is changing his squads philosophy, from assembling a clear-cut first XI to a more egalitarian one. It's practical, healthy thinking, perhaps another sign that he is finally adapting to modern football.

UPDATE: Just before I hit Publish, Nice confirmed Ospina's deal. Welcome to Arsenal!

I'm less hopeful on Arsenal signing a really good DM. I don't think Wenger would be open to meeting Carvalho's release clause, or dishing out £27m for Schneiderlin. However, for all the angst over Khedira links stalling, I have to say I'd still be satisfied with a decent defensive midfielder. Signing a player of Khedira's ilk would be a bonus.

Regardless of whether Vermaelen departs (for United) or not, I feel a signing or two is key in the centre back area. Mertesacker and Koscielny played quite a lot last season (and also in the World Cup), so it isn't unreasonable to suggest that one of them would strain their hamstring soon. At such times, having a quality player to depend on would be vital. Which is why I strongly recommend promoting Semi Ajayi up the ranks, and buying Nastasic if Vermaelen leaves.

It looks like Wenger is signing Southampton's right-back Calum Chambers, though. He is an exciting signing, but that would mean either one of Jenkinson or Bellerin leaving on loan or permanently, which I never thought Wenger would do. Maybe it means converting Chambers or Jenkinson into a CB, or selling Bellerin, loaning Jenko and waiting until Debuchy crosses 30 and then bringing Carl into the fold. A curious case, this.

Is Wenger right in shifting his transfer priorities to defence?
It is noticeable that the positions Wenger is reportedly in the market for - a goalkeeper, defensive midfielder and right-back - are all potential defensive additions. In fact, the manager confirmed that there would be no more forward additions after the 2-0 win vs Boreham Wood, saying:

“Up front we don’t need any more. It’s not especially for numbers.”

It's a quote that would be greeted with acceptance or anger based on how the manager chooses to use his new boy Alexis Sanchez. I think the people who speculate on Wenger replacing Alexis on Santi Cazorla are the ones angry at this quote. On the other hand, those who believe Wenger would integrate Sanchez as a "modern striker" to replace Giroud would be satisfied. Personally, I don't know who's going to be replaced, but I hope it's Giroud. We'd anyways get a clearer idea of Wenger's plans for Sanchez once Walcott is fit, so I'm reserving judgement until then. You can read more of my thoughts here.

Assuming Wenger has the wisdom to make Sanchez a striker, his quotes would be justified. As for a third choice striker, my vote would readily be for Joel Campbell over Akpom and Sanogo. I can't understand Wenger's stubbornness on Sanogo, but I don't perceive him as a promising player. He's not raw, he's just bad. Period.

Akpom looks promising, but in the end he might just turn out to be another Eisfeld; a decent player who has no space at Arsenal. It's hard to see him being picked above Sanchez, Giroud and Campbell.


Okay, that seems quite it. There's also the matter of Arsenal in New York and Thierry Henry and all that, but I'm not feeling the atmosphere of all that shiznit, because I'm not in England or America. If I have the time and the midset I might review the match, if not... you guys already have a plethora of other references, don't you?

That's it for now, catch you guys later. Continue being obsessive on Sanchez.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz]

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Is Wenger feeling the positive after-effects of winning the Cup?

Arsene Wenger is maddeningly stubborn. Aside from showing a chronic reluctance to closing on major deals, he also has a tendency to go into several matches tactically unprepared. He displays an incurable liking towards the diminutive-shaped creative midfielder, adding them to Arsenal despite having us having surplus. In addition, his constant overplaying of essential Arsenal cogs infuriate me. I used to be a huge critic of Arsene Wenger.

Notice the ‘used to be’, because my aversion to Wenger at Arsenal has decreased a lot now. A lot of positives have surrounded Ashburton Grove recently, and not all of them are linked with Alexis Sanchez.

The deadwood have been shown the door. From having Denilson at the heart of our midfield and the uninspiring sight of Bendtner up front, Arsenal now have a genuine Zidane-esque player in Aaron Ramsey and the hardworking trio of Giroud, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott to cheer on. Wenger has seemingly realized that having a clear-cut substitute starting XI is the wrong way to go, and has built a more egalitarian squad to surround record-signing Mesut Ozil. Imagine having Podolski, Wilshere, Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain for depth, when three years ago it was Andre Santos, Park Chu Young and Gervinho.

My main concerns always lied with Arsene’s backroom staff. Dick Law was making a transfer saga of the average Gervinho, while his scouters were recommending the wrong people to the boss. Indeed, the last rough gem that we unearthed and refined was Laurent Koscielny of four years ago! In addition, our medical staff were notorious in keeping players injured for prolonged periods, while our famed youth academy hasn’t delivered many exciting prospects since Jack.

That’s all changing. Andries Jonker is a man with new and exciting ideas, and a man who will doubtless reform the static nature of our negotiating staff and outdated medical techniques. His appointment has meant that Arsenal have sought outside help for the first time in a long time, something which is uncharacteristic with Wenger’s “internal solutions” agenda. Ivan Gazidis may be taking a firm grip on the club.

Arsenal are knocking down the foundations and rebuilding them, rather than plastering over the cracks.

In the Sanchez deal, more than the quality of the player, what pleased me more was the timing of the transfer. While Mesut Ozil was supposed to be the starting point of a new era, the deal always reeked of a panic purchase. It wasn’t a cleverly thought-of move; it was more of a reactive piece of business to a lackluster beginning to the season.

Alexis Sanchez speaks otherwise. In him, Arsenal have bought exactly what was needed, and unlike last summer, they’ve done it early under not too much pressure. There is no baggage one could attach to the Sanchez deal, simply because there isn't any. I personally reckon that Arsene has regrown profound appetite for the Premier League and the Champions League, which is why he has moved so decisively and early for a marquee signing like Sanchez.

I was mightily pleased when Arsenal won the FA Cup, but a niggling regret always remained because Arsenal had faltered again where it mattered. Towards the end, we were irrelevances in the trophies a club of Arsenal FC’s status should compete for – the EPL and the Champions League. Not to downgrade the importance of winning the most prestigious cup competition in the world, but I have always demanded competitiveness at the highest stage from Arsenal, rather than contending ourselves with cups.
We aren’t a cup team, we’re not Tottenham.

What we saw from Arsene was proper ambition. They were always doubts on whether he had the desire left to take the league home, doubts propagated by his refusal to buy Fabregas, Costa and Vela. However, day before yesterday’s actions showed little room for doubt. Wenger was saving up to push the boat out, because he wants the big prizes.

Winning the FA Cup has rekindled the fire within him. Le Professeur has been reborn.

I still expect some tactical naivety from him in big games, and I still expect his annoying habits of overplaying key players to continue. That’s just who he is.  However, for the first time in a long time, I expect his focus to be greater than ever in delivering the trophies fans rightly demand for.

Starting against Manchester City.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz] 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Fabregas forgotten as PUMA unveil in Sanchez-tional style!

Wow. I cannot begin to fathom the magnitude of events that have occurred in the past 24 hours. It's too much to comprehend.

We've sealed a record-breaking deal with one of the most popular and likeable brands around. We've seen as many positive reviews to the new kits as we have to the kit number shuffle. Oh, and we've broke the bank again for potentially the next Thierry. The Sanchez transfer saga has ended, and for once it has ended in our favour.

Alexis Sanchez is a Gunner.

What an out-of-the-world marquee signing. What an astonishing statement of intent. While the Ozil deal reeked of a panic purchase, Alexis was one of the best thought-of moves I've ever seen Arsenal FC execute successfully. Never would I have imagined Wenger's capability to plan and snare his blockbuster target to be true, yet here we are. Arsene has officially pushed the boat out.

The Sanchez purchase is significantly different from that of Mesut's. You'd be wrong in thinking that Ozil was part of a long-term plan when hurriedly bought, but Wenger has now rightly sought to build the team around him. Sanchez goes a long way to doing that.

Make no mistake, we've bought the real deal. For some time I've been clamouring for Balotelli to be shipped in, yet I couldn't be more pleased by Wenger's choice. Sanchez is speedy, strong and has a devastating eye for goal. He's the perfect blend of Walcott and Podolski. He's a superb choice for a lone striker. He's a mile ahead of Mario.

It remains to be seen where Arsene chooses to deploy him. The starting berths of Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud should undoubtedly come under threat, owing to Alexis' versatility. My gut feeling is that Cazorla will be sacrificed to occupy Sanchez on the left, while Giroud would be fending off competition from Sanogo and Joel Campbell with relative ease.

I don't follow the La Liga as much as I follow the Premier League, so I wouldn't be the best person to judge where Alexis would be most prolific. However, his physique, pace attributes and goals (via YouTube :P) suggest that playing him instead of Giroud could be one of those risks that pays off massively.

In one fell swoop, our attack has become one of the best in Britain. Luis Suarez's departure from Liverpool also suggests that Arsenal are in pole position to reclaim the mantle of England's entertainers. It would take something truly remarkable to oust the excitement of knowing that the title contenders-cum-football artists of Arsenal FC are showing definite signs of resurfacing.

I firmly believe that our attack is on par with the Invincibles. Ozil could be compared to Bergkamp, Walcott is just as fast as Pires, and Sanchez could certainly be the next Henry over time. With a defence maned up by Steve Bould and one of the best (if not the weediest) midfield in the country, I can say with no hesitation that we're closer than ever to breaking our Premier League drought.

I have reason to believe that Arsenal are buying more quality; Mikel Arteta and Ivan Gazidis have already said so. Plug some holes, buy a decent defensive midfielder, get a quick decent striker (a bonus, really) and suddenly, you're the boss. Imagine a team like this powered with Debuchy, Remy, Schneiderlin, a backup goalkeeper and a fringe CB. City will tremble on the eve of the Community Shield.

We're buzzing enough to have a real crack at the Charity Shield. And even though calling it a legitimate trophy is somewhat extreme, there's no doubt that winning it will provide a huge fillip going into 2014/15.

The hard part is over. Signing Alexis has not only confirmed Arsenal as a title contender, but it has also banished the ghosts of Fabregas and van Persie for good. It's heartening and exciting to see the club learning from their mistakes and not see Sanchez become the next Higuain.

And for that, I owe Arsene Wenger my congratulations and an apology. My strong suspicions that the boss was planning to procrastinate until the last week of the window were completely unfounded. The timing of the transfer pleased me just as much as the quality of the player. Arsene has shown that he is willing to be proactive and combine it with uncharacteristic ruthlessness, for which he deserves kudos.

Ozil was deemed to be the start of something new, but there were numerous mitigating circumstances surrounding the deal. In contrast, Sanchez was dealt with efficiently, professionally and quite early. Maybe PUMA can learn from them!

The PUMA kits simply added to the feelgood factor around the club. I find plenty complaining on the design of the goalkeeper kit, but I couldn't really care less. It's a bit rich of us to criticize a decent enough kit that got us 30 million quid, hours after we bought potentially the next Henry!

But yeah, Giroud looks bonkers beautiful in it.

Times look good at the club. Aside from having a marquee signing done early in the window, we've affiliated with a superb kit for much-needed money. The backroom is facing a shape up, and Wenger is changing his character for the better. In fact, it's been a long time since I've struggled to find negatives about the club. I'm not even about to give it a try!

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz] 

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Is Wenger holding out on deadline day... again?

More than a month of the transfer window has expired. Quite a lot has happened - Chelsea have prepped themselves for a convincing title bid, United are rebuilding under van Gaal, Liverpool are preparing for life after Suarez (albeit not too efficiently); heck, even Newcastle have hit the ground running. Arsenal, as expected, are falling back.

But fall back this far? It's unexpected even for me. Instead of gaining players we've actually lost some - Sagna, Fabianski, Viviano, Kallstrom and Bendtner have left. Granted; only Sagna's and Fabianski's departures particularly sting, but the point is that our strength in depth has been compromised; not that it was particularly awesome before.

We need a goalkeeper. A right back. A centre back. A holding midfielder. A striker. The only players I know Arsenal are trying hard for are Aurier and Sanchez. They'd be solid additions, but not nearly enough to sustain a title challenge. I know that, you know that, I'm assuming Wenger knows that. So, why the inaction?

UPDATE: Even though Arsenal seem set to sign Debuchy according to Sky, I'm told Aurier is still one of our options. Let's see what unfolds.

There is interest, sure. But as of today, we're not close to signing any of them.

Chelsea's squad is arguably complete, and they did it with around two months to spare. United need a lot more, but they've made a good start by nabbing Shaw and Herrera. Apparently they're going for Carvalho now. Why can't Wenger do the same?

This picture infuriates me. It's Wenger having a gala time in Brazil and commentating there, when his squad back at home is in need of investment and lagging behind before the season starts. I genuinely wouldn't mind if Wenger was taking a break from work or something.

What work, though? Good question.

It's pretty clear that Wenger is screwing around with our trust again. This summer is a repeat of the summer of 2011 and 2013. Deals for marquee signings will fall apart - not because of failed bids or non co-operative selling clubs or whatever balderdash excuse Wenger feeds us with - but because Wenger didn't have the pressure to goad his outdated negotiators into action.

I know for certain that Arsenal are sniffing around at the Sanchez situation, but I have a nasty feeling that he is going to be this season's Higuain. Arsenal top the pile in fucking up major deals, and that's largely down to outdated transfer negotiators and a miserly manager.

I catch disinterest in Wenger's actions. I hoped, perhaps out of naivety, that winning the FA Cup would rekindle the fire within him that built our long-gone glory days in the first place. It seems not, though. Even though we need around six players for the coming season, I seriously doubt we'll buy more than two before the opening match against Palace.

The only way we'll see change is when the fans start to put pressure on him. And that won't happen, because right now everyone thinks I am wrong and have faith in Wenger to be proactive. By the time they realize that Wenger took them for a ride again, he will panic buy his way out of trouble and continue the cycle of papering over the cracks.

Why is this man so predictable, and why has no one stopped him yet?

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz]