The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Passing With a C-

Apologies for the absence of updates, my computer is thoroughly dead and I’m typing this up on a loner. With any luck my replacement box should be in by the early part of next week and we’ll be back to the usual. In the meanwhile, it’s been transfer sort of deadline day, which is when I said I’d take stock of where I thought Arsenal are and are going. I’m going to write this up in several sections and with the assumption that the Arshavin transfer- currently said to be waiting for Premier League approval- will go through. So:

The Player In

If you’re reading this you could probably write this section yourself, as Arshavin has been discussed to death since he starred at the Euros. He’s got pace, he can attack a defender with the ball at his feet, he can cross the ball well (who to is a different question) and he’s known to be willing and able to take a shot from time to time. In many respects he’s similar to what Nasri may be at his best, plus some speed. He’ll be an unquestioned asset to this Arsenal team, a grown man professional who can help hold the side together through the avalanche of injuries this squad is doomed to have, and perhaps help teach them as well; after all, he’s already got kids of his own and I can’t imagine they’re any less well behaved than Eboue.

No Players Out

This is the right move, I suspect. This season is in a great deal of danger and Arsenal have had for years a very injury prone squad- the money for, say, Toure right now would not equal the value of losing out on the Champions League because his replacement played like a sieve for the next few months, let alone what might happen if the club suffered another run of injuries in defense. On the other hand this does store up trouble for the summer; choices will have to be made about Gallas vs. Toure and what sort of defense the manager really wants, in light of what resources he’s willing to commit to that area. That’s a post for another day, however.

Negotiations

This whole Arshavin thing has been, in a word, embarrassing. There’s no way that a fan will ever know for sure what went on and which demands were made by who, so I won’t try to dole out specifics of blame and complaint in advance of what we can actually determine. But what we can determine is that these negotiations were embarrassingly public; involved some semi-disgraceful whining on Arshavin’s part of a kind which had an Arsenal player done it would have resulted in mass fan anger (see: Hleb); and dragged on for first weeks, and then hours and perhaps as much as a full day beyond the actual transfer deadline over a relatively tiny difference in valuations (less than half a million up front according to soccernet). This was insane. Zenit are out of season; there was no particular reason for them to delay such as needing to line up a replacement immediately, and there was no reason for Arsenal to delay other than the combination of arrogance and cheapness which sees them seemingly begin every transfer by telling the other club what their player is worth and refusing to move off that figure without an unbelievable amount of fuss and complaint. You may call that tough negotiations; I’d say that if Arsenal finish 5th this season, we may look back and wonder if Arshavin could have won the crucial points had he played in the Everton and West Ham games. What’s French for penny wise, pound foolish?

The other major issue here is what this says about the club’s basic negotiating ability and reputation. There have been stories for years, some just rumors and other confirmed by the club, of Arsenal being in for great players (Kaka, Ronaldo, etc.) in the youth of their careers and missing out after dickering and dithering over the price until a larger and simpler bid came in. Over the summer there was the Alonso saga; before that, a trip through the comments of most any blog will reveal a huge number of fans frustrated with the way Adebayor’s near-defection was handled, and prior to that the way the departures of Viera and Henry were handled. There have certainly been some successes, but the majority of those have all been in what you might call unequal transfers where Arsenal were clearly the much larger club negotiating to take a young player into the major leagues of Europe for the first time. I come away from this track record with a strong suspicion that Arsenal do best in negotiations when they can dictate terms to a large degree; dealing with their peers on a format of equality or near-equality seems far more often than not to cause problems. I strongly suspect this is one of the underpinnings of the current youth policy, and it’s a major and recurring issue.

Where We’re At Now

On the bright side, Arshavin coming in does prove that there’s a floor of uselessness beneath which Arsene is not prepared to see the team slide regardless of what he believes is morally correct; that’s some evidence of a core commitment to practicality the possession of which could justly be questioned after the course of last summer and the season to date. This is tempered however by the recognition that Arshavin is still very much an Arsene style player in many respects (age and nationality aside), which brings us into deeper issues.

Arshavin, Rosicky, Nasri, Walcott, Fabregas, Diaby, Denilson; these players form a huge part of the core around which Arsenal are built, and they are all very similar in most respects: small, slight, technical, non-English (bar Walcott), very young (bar Arshavin), excellent passers, mediocre shooters and scorers, highly injury prone (bar Fabregas except this year, and hopefully Arshavin), and largely average in speed (bar Walcott and Arshavin). Unsurprisingly the team plays to this general cast of abilities: majestic at retaining the ball, here and there in regaining it; a superior passing outfit but one without the quickness or dribbling skills to unlock a tight defense, the speed to break past defenders before they’re completely set up, or the shooting ability from midfield to draw defenders out of their positions; a team which excels at employing their initial gameplan, but which lacks the experience to adjust if that doesn’t work, and which crumbles more often than not when put into a difficult position; a team which is regularly reduced to playing with second and third choice players due to entirely predictable injuries. Obviously Arshavin will help this, partly because he brings needed speed and maturity to the table and partly because he’s likely to be better at playing this way than most of the other players in this class. But with that acknowledged, he’s still for the most part a player in this class. Wenger may have spent some money for once which is a partial contravention of his principles, but he seems to be holding firm on the basic stylistic conventions of this iteration of Wengerball. It’s questions about the viability of that which are not only unanswered, but totally unaddressed at this point, and will likely remain so for as long as Arsene is in charge of the team.

Having given it some thought, I believe I’ll break here and simply say that the results of this window are a positive for the club, but there are still a large number of questions to be answered. Over the next few days/weeks I’m going to pick out as many of those issues as I can individually, since dealing with them all now would make this far too lengthy.

A final note/plea to Arsenal fans: let’s be rational here. Arshavin will probably be very good, and almost certainly not a savior; Arsene Wenger is a football manager with clear strong positives and negatives-he is neither a stupid cunt nor an unquestionable genius; the club is currently in a long and short term tight spot, which does not make them the Worst Team in the World- but neither does the frustration of some fans mean They Should Go Support Chelsea, Innit. If fans want to be taken seriously for what they have to say about the club and want a seat at the big boys table in regards to the making of choices about the club’s future, they will have to behave in something like a rational and intelligent manner in public. There have been plenty of times this season when I’ve felt that those in charge of the club were exhibiting disrespect for fans; there have been more than a few times when I’ve read things that have made me understand why. Let’s do better, folks, so that when the time really comes to take a stand , we can be taken seriously. That time may be coming soon enough.

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February 2, 2009 - Posted by | The Arsenal | , ,

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