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Monday, 29 August 2011

Arsenal Debacle: Who's to Blame?

Three games in to the new season Arsenal float adrift of the title contenders, not just in points and goal difference but in class and expectation. Manchester United destroyed Arsenal with a team without many established stars and with an average age of just 23. Manchester City have evidenced their ambition and their ability. They are potential champions. Chelsea have strengthened and will challenge, as always. The top three are already defined, just the order remains to be seen. The coveted fourth spot, and entry to the lucrative Champions League, already appears to belong to Liverpool – the early indications suggest that their investment has paid off.

For Arsenal the dream has been reduced to ashes. The concept of developing a team of young stars who would mature together has been destroyed by a failure to win trophies and the lure of bigger wages for their key players offered by clubs with bigger ambitions. In 2006 Arsenal were arguably unlucky to lose the UEFA Champions League Final to Barcelona. There was little to choose between the teams. Had Arsenal won...subsequent history might have been different. Had Arsenal become Champions of Europe, had they become established as Europe’s best, would the lure of Barcelona have been quite so strong for Fabregas?

The comparative demise of Arsenal has been long in the making. Firstly the emergence of Chelsea, then the entry of Manchester City – both have redefined the landscape in terms of transfer fees and wages. Arsenal maintained their model of financial prudence, investing in young talent where the wage demands were less whereas their key competitors invested in established stars. Progressively Arsenal slipped behind, clinging to fourth place but unable to bridge the divide between contenders and champions.

The defeat to Birmingham in the Carling Cup Final is seen by many as a watershed, but perhaps that watershed came in the previous season. It was then that the team needed strengthening with genuine world-class talent that would have enabled the team not just to defeat Birmingham but push on and claim two or three titles – they were so near, and yet so far... Fabregas gave up, Nasri was unconvinced, Clichy sought greener pastures. The belief had gone. To strengthen this season was just too late.

Arsene Wenger stands accused as the architect of this demise – too stubborn, arrogant, blinkered, wedded to a flawed concept and unwilling to invest in players of the required experience and quality but is this either fair or accurate? He tried to sign Juan Matta who has made an immediate impact at Chelsea. By all accounts Matta was keen to sign, but Arsenal failed to pay the monies required under his release clause within the timeframe. The fee was apparently not the issue, the player wanted to sign, so what was the problem? Perhaps it was the personal terms?

It’s open knowledge that Arsenal operates a strict wages structure. It’s equally well known that this means Arsenal cannot compete with their primary competitors. So where does this leave Arsene Wenger? There have been rumours that Wenger has called for a revision of the wages ceiling to 150k to enable the club to sign better quality players but that this has been refused by the board. If this is the case can Arsene Wenger fairly be held accountable?

As things stand Arsenal will be among the top choices for any exceptionally talented young player wanting to gain first team experience at a high level. Arsenal will also be high on the list of clubs targeted by predatory competitors who will cherry-pick the best talent once they gain experience and develop to a higher level. Arsenal will be a staging-post not a destination, a training ground rather than a theatre of dreams.

The result at Manchester United was important because it put the situation beyond doubt. There is no question now that Arsenal needs to strengthen, that they need both quality and experience, that they need steel to add to the art. There is no question that to acquire such players Arsenal have to compete with their primary competitors, and to match or better the wages they offer. Once they do this then it will be fairer to assess the ability of a manager who has in the past proved his ability to deliver winning teams.    

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Arsenal: Time to Take Control

I’m a Middlesbrough fan although I’ve worked with Arsenal over the years and I admire the way they do business and the football that they play. The team is exciting and entertaining to watch although their inability in recent years to win trophies is frustrating. So too, at times, is their inability to hold a lead or turn vast superiority in terms of territory and possession in to goals and wins, but hey, football is football and sometimes shit happens.

This summer has heaped more levels of frustration upon frustration. Cesc Fabregas wants to play for Barcelona, Barcelona want to sign him, and even though they would prefer it if he stayed with them Arsenal are prepared to let him go. So what’s the problem? Barcelona don’t have the money to buy him. Simple. As a consequence the world has had to endure an incessant drip-drip from Barcelona (the club) and Barcelona (the city) of players, officials, coaches and politicians pleading with Arsenal to release Fabregas from his torment and allow him to return home to his ‘family’ and the love of his life, Barca...
This incessant wailing is accompanied by the undignified spectacle of the Spanish giants mortgaging players by selling them with time-defined agreed-fee buy-back options, and – just to drive the point home – Fabregas even contributing part of his new wages to meet the ransom demand. The point is that it’s not that Fabregas wants to leave Arsenal – any number of Europe’s top clubs would meet their asking price – it’s that he wants to go (only) to Barcelona. Therefore Arsenal have to accept what Barca offer or can afford to pay, after all they are the Champions of Europe, they are big boys, they deserve and get whatever they want, and to the extent that Arsenal may get mugged on the fee it is, after all, a crime of passion.

At the same time we have Samir Nasri wanting to abandon ship and join Gail Clichy at Manchester City’s band of happy campers. It has nothing to do with the ‘half-as-much-again-as-Arsenal-are-offering’ wages but is more about being part of a project that has actually delivered a trophy and promises to deliver more. Clichy has already noted the ‘tough-tackling’ in training which can only be spiced by the brooding resentment of defenders and midfielders who have been offered less than half the money given to new signing Sergio Aguero.

This time next year Nasri, will be out of contract and available without a fee. City are prepared to pay in the region of GBP20m but Arsenal want him to sign a contract extension instead offering in the region of GBP110k a week – substantially less than City are offering. So far Arsenal have insisted they would prefer to keep him, let him run his contract down and then see him go for free if in the end he decides not to stay on with the Gunners.

What we are left with is a drift in deep water. The sense of impending doom is heightened by the club’s failure to address the defensive black hole and the impending Niagra of matches against Udinese, Liverpool and Manchester United that could see Arsenal’s season submerged within weeks of it being launched. Captain Fabregas and first-mate Nasri appear desperate to abandon ship, and the rest of the crew are looking decidedly apprehensive. The time has come for someone to take control.

Nasri is an easy decision. Over the season the transfer fee that Arsenal could get for him equates to around GBP400k a week, add on his wages and you’re up to almost GBP500k a week – think about it for a moment. He has had one-half of a decent season. Sell him. For around the same money bring in Juan Mata arguably a player with greater tenacity, ability and potential. A player who would be cheaper wages wise but more committed, more consistent and a winner. This deal should have been done weeks ago.

Arsenal should state clearly and irrevocably that Barcelona can sign Fabregas if they meet the ‘open-market’ valuation and asking price of GBP40m within a specified period (one month ago should do it). If they don’t he stays. Simple. They should also state that no amount of whining or whinging by bleating mayors or pleading players will weaken that position. If Fabregas doesn’t want to lead the team, and if Barcelona can’t cobble together the cash to deliver Priority Two his place on the bench, then put him on the transfer list. This season there are six contenders for the top four places and as of now Arsenal are looking fifth at best and appear to be drifting to disaster. The time has come to take control of the situation.

From I-League to Premier League: Arsenal & Spurs Fight it Out For Starlet

Nineteen year old Rohit Chand could become the first I-League player to make the transition to the English Premier League with both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur said to be monitoring his progress. Chand, a central defender who joined I-League side HAL in 2010, is a regular in the Nepal national team and became the youngest player ever to represent Nepal when he made his debut for the senior side just twenty two days after his seventeenth birthday.

Now firmly established in the national senior team, he has been identified as a special talent by National Team Coach Graham Roberts, the former Spurs, Chelsea and England defender. With French champions Lille also showing interest the omens are good for the youngster and were he to make it to the big time he would serve as an inspiration to all of the young players both in Nepal and in the I-League who have dreams of playing for Europe’s best clubs.