Thursday, 26 January 2012

Thursday News - Theo,Rosicky,Watt and more.

The whole of the Arsenal world seems to still be in a little of a glum, depressive state after Sunday's game. No real news has happened this week, whilst we have let the scousers clog up any talk shows after their amazing world cup final win Carling cup final appearance. Some are still tightly locked in Mugabe media lockdown, whilst others have aired their views numerous times.

I will say one thing about Sunday. It was a game most of my Arsenal supporting friends thought we would be convincingly beaten in, yet we played well and probably should have got a result. We made 2 defensive errors in the match and conceded 2 goals, whilst our finishing was not at its best. We needed a win, or at least a result, but not getting that is not the end of our season.

On the substitution: Wenger made a mistake to take off the Ox, and not Theo or Ramsey (who were both quite quiet) but as has been said he may have been tired/injured (I doubt it). Every other decision he made worked superbly, and had it not been for poor finishing we would have won anyway. He made the wrong choice, and may have to become less stubborn and more acceptive of criticism, but we cannot question The Arsenal's greatest ever manager ability to manage. At least until the end of the season.

The main news is about Theo Walcott who is said to have responded to the Arsenal discussions over a new contract. Like Van Persie, and Nasri and Clichy last summer, he is in the awkward position in that his contract expires next summer. If he does not agree a new deal, then - like Nasri and Clichy - surely he has to be sold this summer. He is said to have asked for a four year contract worth 85k/week. Whether he deserves that or not is another question entirely, and one I will address in another post in the future. His current form doesn't warrant that much, but with interest from Juventus, Chelsea and reportedly now PSG he could easily be getting that amount somewhere else. And after the 6 and half years we have invested in him, it would be very painful to see him become the player we all thought he could be at another club. Talks are set to continue.

Anyway on to more of today's news and it seems we have reverted to our usual transfer window activity consisting of....doing nothing. Well nothing is not entirely correct to be honest. Today Sanchez Watt completed his loan move to Crawley Town. Yes Crawley Town of League Two. Watt had an unsuccessful spell at Sheffield Wednesday earlier this season, but he has impressed highly for Leeds in the Championship before, as well as at reserve level where he notched an extremely impressive 7 goals in 8 games at the start of this season. A few eyebrows have been raised at how far he has dropped, but apparently he had rejected offers from teams in higher divisions. He chose Crawley for the excitement of guiding them to the title and the guarantee of first team football at a competitive level. Hopefully things work out for him.

Also on the way out of the club on loan is Pedro Botelho, who ended his Rayo Vallecano spell to sign for Levante. On his arrival he said: 
"I am very happy for the confidence Levante have shown in me. I will give everything."
He also mentioned the problems he encountered at Rayo, adding:

"I have said that I made a mistake and I asked for forgiveness from Rayo and my family. Everyone makes mistakes, now I don't want to talk about it anymore." 
Apparently he had an accident in his car after drinking, but that is only alleged. He started for Levante in the cup this evening, but was injured early on. Just form that you can he he has potential to be an Arsenal player.

More transfer news, none of it very exciting though, is that Rosicky is definitely staying. There was talk of a £3 million move to Fulham this January, but I think that is more to do with the fact that his agent wants him to get a new deal, or more appearances. Rosicky had a great game on Sunday, and his agent and Wenger are said to have met for talks this week. Today Rosicky's agent said:

To finish up there has been some mixed news on the injury front. Great news came from Sagna that he would resume full training today. We have really missed Bacary this season, any team would miss the best right back in the league but his loss has been compounded by the injuries to other back up players. He should be back in the team in the coming weeks, (a couple minutes at Bolton next week possibly?) and should definitely be starting in time for the Milan and Spurs games at the end of February.

The other news is around many rumours that have circulated via twitter - I know not the most reliable of sources for information. Apparently Jack has suffered a set-back on his return from injury. Whether it is a minor or more worrying set back remains to be seen, I mean there have been no confirmations that he has even suffered a set back. But this kind of rumour is too easy to believe as an Arsenal fan. Wilshere was expected to be back and able to feature for the Milan games too, and the last update was that he was even ahead of schedule on that front. Hopefully this isn't true, but when we hear anything new I will update.

That's all for now, except if you missed my earlier post of our Great Defence, then check it out now. Thanks.

Arsenal's great defence.

The Arsenal defence. A much talked about subject throughout the lest few decades, for positive and negative reasons. Arsenal's defence has not enjoyed a great reputation since the famous back four was dismantled and ended their long, glorious careers. Even the Invincible defence that only conceded 18 goals in the season has not enjoyed the recognition it deserves. Since those incredible 49 games we have not had the best defenders at the club though and surely the loss of great, world class defenders and 'keepers has contributed to the 6% fall in matches won since 2005 of the Wenger era. 

Silvestre, Senderos, (and probably the worst of the lot) Squillaci  have not enjoyed ceremonious times at the club. And will certainly be remembered for their bad qualities rather than good. Worst of all has been the Goalkeeping situation. The Arsenal has had a long tradition of great 'keepers. Wilson, Jennings and Lukic who was followed the greatest of them all Seaman, and Lehmann - who has to be remembered in this company. Following Lehmann seems to have just been mistake, after mistake after mistake. And a certain Spaniard has been at fault for most of them, despite the best efforts of Fabianski.

But have tides finally changed?
We now have a great goalkeeper, and when we get our full-backs back we will have a great defence.

Szczesny has everything to be a top quality goalkeeper, and has already shown he is one of the best in the league already, better than the 20 million euro De Gea anyway. The Pole exudes confidence and has improved the defence by giving them someone they can trust behind them. Arsenal have a history of great goalkeepers, and in recent years we have not even had a good one. But Szczesny seems to have the capability to become the best of them all.

It may sound strange, and is something we would never have imagined to have seen during the Wenger era, but our defence is not the main source of our problems. Sagna has suffered a freak injury - a fracture - and when fit is known throughout the country as the best right back. It is not easy to be chosen in the best Premier League XI, but Sagna has done just that. He was painfully missed in the 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford, and is one of the only right backs in the world capable of dealing with some of the best left midfielders as he does. 

Tucked in next to him is a possible partnership which could do anything. Vermaelen has struggled with injuries after that un-diagnosable strain he picked up last season which left him out for over 6 months, and has led to smaller niggly injuries this season. When fit though, he is easily in the category of the best defenders in the league. Quite simply he is our Vidic in everything but stature. Moreover, whilst still very much underrated by the majority of the footballing world, Koscielny is vastly improving his game with every minute he plays. He may have been at fault for the Carling Cup final, but he has easily been our best defender this season. His reading of the game is something you saw from the best Italian defenders in the 90's and he has worked hard on improving the physical aspect that he encounters in the Premier League.

Centre-back could even possibly be considered as our most covered position on the pitch. Who else in the league can call on an international with over 80 caps? And that country is not one that hands out caps for fun. Mertesacker has captained Germany before, and has been central to their successful World and European cup runs. He may have been criticised at time this season, but he has not had an easy job. I doubt he's ever played in the same back four two matches in a row since signing. Despite all the madness around him, he has settled well and even though he doesn't have the physique of a Samba or Vidic, his reading and positioning and tackling is up there with the best in the league. If only he had a bit more pace..

If worse came to worse, and we were missing more than one of the defenders mentioned above. We can then call upon other capable players. Djourou is certainly not the most capable right back, and will never be the most coveted defender in the world, but I would prefer him than Savic and Evans. After all, he did feature in THAT game against Barcelona, and restricted them to only one goal. Furthermore, Miquel has featured at left back in the majority of his first team forays. But he is a natural centre-back, and will be a great one too. He has something about him, despite his slender figure and can learn a lot from those in front of him. He is also only 19 and can certainly become a great, great defender for club and country.

Left back is certainly the most difficult position in the defence. At the start of this post I said "when we get our full-backs back we will have a great defence" with the emphasis definitely on "when". Sagna is now back in training, and should be back for the Milan and Tottenham ties by the end of February. Gibbs and Santos on the other hand are still unknown re their return dates. The most recent team news is that the loveable Brazilian is out for the season, whilst Gibbs is meant to return soon...ish. But can we rely on Gibbs, who has so far not been able to put a run of 15 games together to last for the rest of the season, with no cover. Maybe we should have gone for a left back.

When they are fit though, I think both Santos and Gibbs are very underrated, Santos especially. He is referred to in an almost "jokey", sarcastic way by commentators whenever he plays, which is very unfair to him. He is great going forward, offering more in terms of goals and assists in his opening 3 months than Clichy ever did in 3 years. The archetypal Brazilian wing back, he has a wicked left foot and the change in our fortunes since his injury (a stupid decision to play him against Olympiakos) is definitely partly down to him not being here. Defensively he needs work, but I don't think he is any worse than Clichy ever was, and he is bound to be caught out occasionally due to his penetrating attacking runs. Ashley Cole would have been the same, but the work Gilberto Silva and other players put in to cover the ground he left behind him meant it was almost unnoticed. Santos is a good left back, and whilst he is not the same player as the world class cunts at Chelsea and United, he was an astute signing from Arsene.

A short mention must also go to the stop gaps who have featured bit-part role in our makeshift defences. Jenkinson has endured a tough spell since signing for his boyhood club, especially after the 8-2 mauling, but before his (yet again a freak injury) injury he was turning into a competent defender with bags of energy. We have certainly missed him with Sagna's injury. Moreover, another young boyhood Arsenal fan is Nico Yennaris, who has come through the ranks as a midfielder in a team featuring Benik Afobe. He has not played a lot but in his few appearance he has been very impressive. His debut against Bolton had him keeping Tuncay completely out of the match, whilst his most recent games against both Leeds and Manchester United have seen him probably overtake Djourou as first choice at the moment. Sunday's game was particularly impressive, as he came on for his PL debut and stopped any attacks down United's left hand side which had torn apart Djourou earlier in the game. We can also not forget Coquelin who has made up for the nightmare he had at right back against Stoke in the FA cup a few years ago, with energetic, classy performances on both sides of defence recently.

The defence is not the best in the world, in fact it is nowhere near that level, but it certainly is not as bad as it is made out to be. Our main problem this season has been defending as a team. The 433 formation is meant to support us both attacking and defensively, but it doesn't give nearly enough cover to our full backs, and the makeshift defenders we have there at the moment simply have not coped. Djourou was overloaded by Nani, Evra and even Giggs during Sunday's first half, while Walcott (and at times Chamberlain) was standing on the half way line, that is simply not good enough and surely not something Wenger is coaching them to do.

The midfield 3 also need to work harder, and it is notable how much Arteta's absence has cost us in 2012. With Wilshere's emergence in the next month, we will have more depth, energy and vitality in there and that is only a good thing. Ramsey, Song and Mikel have played too much football and especially over the Christmas period looked quite fatigued. Coquelin could also be given a chance that quite frankly he deserves. He is great on the ball and has a reading of the game better than most players twice his age, which can help break up the attacking moves that tear open our team far too easily.

You only have to look to this evening's Classico to witness how defending as a team is so vital in the modern game. Both sides have taken that to the extreme, with unbelievable pressing games that win the ball back almost instantaneously. We do not have to copy this tactic, but more pressing and hard work will work wonders for our goals against collum. 

Hopefully we can see a calm, consistent back four in the near future, because our first choice defence is the best its been in years.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

News on Walcott's contract plus transfer targets Sow and Granero

More transfer news today in most of the UK's major papers as long term targets Granero and Sow have been linked with transfers.

Sow had a fine season and helped Lille to the French Ligue Un title last year. In the process he formed a great partnership with current Arsenal winger Gervinho, as well as other long standing target Eden Hazard. During that brilliant season he scored 25 goals and assisted 3, a remarkable record in any league. This season he has been in decent form with 6 goals and 3 more assists in his 18 appearances.

The Senegalese International is versatile and can play out wide as well as down the middle. His main qualities are his pace and finishing, whilst he also like to dribble and cut inside onto his preferred foot. At 180cm he is more than capable of facing up to the physical battle of the Premier League, and has featured in a similar formation to ours over the last few years.

Today, as we look to widen our forward options, apparently Arsenal have stepped up their interest in the 25 year old forward. But in the same article, so to have our North London rivals. Sow is said to welcome the opportunity of linking up with his former teammate Gervinho and last month said:

"I have a contract signed until June 2013 and Lille want me to sign another one but the negotiations have stopped. I don't accept the conditions or the silence from the club."

He also talked of a possible move the the Premier league, and mentioned Arsenal as a possible destination:

"My dream is to play in the Premier League because you progress as a player with the atmosphere, goals and game. I watch the games with envy on TV. I desire to play there one day. Arsenal are a big club but we will see."
Sow is a quality striker, although the likelihood of him joining this January is probably low, especially with his jetting off the the African Nations Cup for a few months. His price tag is meant to be close to £20 million so he is probably just out of our price range too.

Esteban Granero of Real Madrid has also been linked with Arsenal for a while. He is very much an Arsenal player and is currently out of favour at Real having only made 3 substitute appearances for Mourinho's side. This is definitely possible, whether on loan or a permanent transfer which is believed to be in the region of 5-10 million pounds. Blackburn and Qatari owned Malaga are also said to be looking at the Spaniard.

He is a versatile midfielder who can play in wide positions as well as in the defensive or attacking roles in midfield. His strengths are his cultured passing and shooting, and he would be a great addition to our depleted squad. Granero was very successful at Getafe and earned a big move to Madrid, who exercised their buy back clause of 4 million euros. In his first two seasons, he was a regular for Real with 36 appearances in 2009-10 and 32 in 2010-11. 

The main issues are whether Wenger is planning on promoting our younger players into the squad, as at 24 Granero could easily halt the development of some players. Also, if we are in the Gotze, Hazard or Marvin Martin at the end of the season he may want to wait until then. Moreover, it is very probable that the boss will see Wilshere's return at the end of January as a reason not to strengthen in midfield.

Never say never though.

In possibly the biggest news today, we have begun talks with Theo Walcott over a new contract. Theo is in the same position as Van Persie in that his contract expires at the end of next season. He has been linked on numerous occasions with moves to Chelsea (who made an enquiry this summer) and teams from Italy.

However, the preliminary talks are said to have gone very well between Walcott's representatives and Arsenal's chief contract negotiator Dick Laws. He is very happy at Arsenal and just this week has spoken about the positive mood in the Arsenal camp:

“The atmosphere in the dressing room is fantastic — the best it’s probably been for a long time, we are a bit more of a team, we work harder when we haven’t got the ball.”

A possible stumbling block has been the demands from Theo's camp, who are looking to secure in excess of 100k/week, a 40k increase on his current salary. It remains to be seen whether Arsenal will break their currently strict wage structure in order to keep their key players like Walcott (and more importantly Van Persie) at the club.

Moreover, despite starting the season in sizzling form, recently his form has dipped dramatically. As we enter the new year in a tricky position, and at a key part in the season without Gervinho for a few months, Theo needs to up his game which has seen him score 4 goals and set up 5 assists this season.

Does he deserve 100k/week? Well his consistency is still almost non-existent so no. But he needs to earn that money and an upturn in his form could see him easily offered sums around 70-80k/week. Another thing to consider is that can we afford to lose another key player this summer, especially with all the talk surrounding Van Persie's situation. The answer to that is probably no, which does put Theo in a strong position regarding negotiations.

Apparently contract negotiations are set to halt as we looks to add new talent to our depleted squad this January. but we can definitely expect to hear more on this story in the next few weeks and months.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Arsenal miss out on one German giant Reus + News on Podolski

With Arsenal's tiring depleted squad in dire need of reinforcements we need to step up our transfer negotiations to secure the talents we need. The African Nations Cup is yet to take it's toll either, although Gervinho is set to leave the squad before the Leeds game, whilst we wait for news on Chamakh.

The signing of the King, Thierry Henry, will do wonders for team spirit and hopefully our former talisman and captain can ignite a decent run of form during the 2 months he is here. Whilst his pin point accuracy will help in front of goal, we must remember he is a stop gap signing and nothing more. And more permanent attacking talent needs to be secured too.

However, it does seem that we have missed out on one of our most mooted targets, Marco Reus of Borussia Munchengladbach. The young German has been sensational this season, switching between the forward and wide positions with infinite ease and scoring many goals in the process.

The 22 year old had even been linked with Real Madrid, but it seems everyone has missed out with the 3 time German International set to join his native champions Borrusia Dortmund after his 17.5 million Euro minimum fee release clause was activated. It seems that he was unwilling to leave his German homeland, and his choice was between Dortmund and Bayern, but the former Dortmund youth team member opted to join Jurgen Klopp's side. Reus will not link up with his new team until the end of the season though, and could possibly be an attacking replacement for their "little Messi" Mario Gotze, who has also been link with us.

On to the other German giant that we have been linked with on numerous occasions. Lukas Podolski. Regarding Lukas we have heard everything before. First it was tied up, then it was never on in the first place,  and so on and so forth. But what is true is that we have scouted him and have an interest in the player whose contract is set to expire next summer.

The German international can play both out wide and up front so would help immensely with our lack of depth, and won't have to start on the bench. With 14 goals in 18 matches he has been in lightening form this year, equalling his tally of last season and his highest in Germany's top flight. Even his compatriot Mertesacker has spoken favourably about him, and the best thing is that Lukas is not cup tied in the Champions League, or has a massive price tag over his head.

The latest news a few days ago was that Podolski would wait till the summer until and deal to leave his home town of Cologne was made. His agent, Kon Schramm, is said to have told the Guardian that a move in the Bundesliga's winter break is, "all but impossible" as the Polish born German International has set his sights on Euro 2012.

Podolski himself has said:

"I have always said that I have not been dictated by the pressures of time when deciding my future. I believe that I will see everything in the summer."

"With Cologne, I hope to get as high as possible. I want to exceed the number of goals I scored last season. With the national team, I want to play in the European Championship in Poland, my homeland. We are among the favourites and our dream is to win the trophy. We cannot hide."

There have been recent developments today though. The news from Bild in Germany is that Podolski's contract negotiations have yet again stalled. This could signal a quick fire exit from Cologne, especially if Arsenal can give them a tempting offer.

Talks are said to have took place 'in a positive and constructive atmosphere' according to Cologne, although Podolski's request for more time could tempt Wenger into renewing his interest in the £15million star. Hopefully this is the case as the result against Fulham only highlighted the lack of depth in our squad.

You get the sense that this story is not finished yet. More to follow.

News on Henry,Gervinho+Sagna as Arsenal start preparations for Leeds

Still on the recovery from the 48 hour misery that the Fulham result has exerted over me. There's a lot to reflect on, with the same old stories of failing to close out the game after a good enough display, and having a lack of any depth in our squad. Yet we cannot let it ruin our year.

We have to look to the future, and that start with Leeds. The first teamers of Van Persie, Arteta, Ramsey, Song and Szczesny can expect a well earned break after almost endless 90 minute performances this season. Koscielny and Mertesacker both probably need a rest too, but with defensive injuries taking their toll we don't really have any alternatives.

The main team news will hopefully be the return of Thierry. The king will not have the ability to tear teams apart with his powerful, jaw-dropping pace. But his pin point finishing will never leave him and considering the chances that we have let go recently (especially from Walcott and Gervinho) then he can definitely make a difference in the short time that he will be available.

The only hindrance is that we have not managed to wrap up the deal yet. Despite that beautiful picture that was leaked onto, and everyone - even Wenger - saying that it will happen, we haven't wrapped up the deal yet. It will happen, but we would prefer to have the Frenchman against Leeds.

And apparently we are in a race against time to wrap up the deal in time. Henry has been training regularly at Arsenal for a while now, and is surely match fir and raring to go. But his membership must be confirmed with the F.A by Noon on Friday is he is to be available for Monday's game.

Arsene was said to have pencilled in Thierry for today's reserve game against Sunderland, a game where Park had another miserable outing in front of goal as we slumped to a 2-0 defeat, as he is unwilling to thrust Henry straight into the rigours and pace of competitive English football. Hopefully he will be ready for Leeds, afterall his record against them is second to none.

In better news for the Gooners, Sagna today spoke about closing in on a comeback. The much missed right back said:

"I was told I would spend three or four months out and I am on schedule. I have resumed jogging and I should kick the ball again in the coming days."

It is vital that we get him back fit and firing as soon as possible. The lack of a conventional right back has depleted our line up for most of the season, especially with Sagna being our most consistent player, and probably the best player in his position in the league.

His absence has meant we've had to adjust some of our attacking play, with his regular forays up and down the right flank an integral part of our game. Whilst Djourou has tried, and fared well on some occasions, we only have to look to the game against Fulham to see where Sagna was missed. Bacary would never get sent off like that.

Our attacking play will also be hampered with the exit of Gervinho for the African Nations Cup. Whilst he has been slated by many, for his first season he has done well. In fact, he is only a bit of finishing practise away form having an amazing start, with 4 goals and 7 assists so far. Sure he has missed a lot of good chances, but on form he would be putting those chances away and would probably be getting Van Persie like statistics.

It looks like Gervinho will link up with his Ivory coast team-mates before the Leeds game too, the Guardian has revealed, and with a team featuring the likes of Drogba, Tiote and the Toure brothers he is set to stay the distance. Wenger will try his hardest to keep the dreamy dribbler, but it looks like he is facing a losing battle. We could end up with a very weak team to face Leeds, and with the squad wafer thin as it is, a replay is certainly not in our best interests.