Welcome to New York, Thierry!

Today’s post is only slightly Arsenal-related….

At 1:15pm today, Red Bull New York will hold a press conference unveiling their new signing, Thierry Henry. The transfer has been in the works since at least January and Henry is expected to make his debut on Thursday, July 22 at Red Bull Arena in the first match of the New York Football Challenge against Spurs. As a long-time season-ticket holder of my local club, RBNY, I can tell you that the excitement not just among fans but in the city as a whole is palpable.

Of course, there have been the inevitable comparisons to David Beckham and his transfer to the LA Galaxy. But I find the people making these to not have much of a clue about Thierry and his personality as a footballer. As Arsenal fans that watched him become the club’s all-time leading goalscorer and win trophy after trophy, we know that Henry is not the type of player to play for a payday. He’s far too innately competitive for that.

At the same time, despite a disappointing season at Barca in which his role and minutes were greatly diminished, Henry is only 32 years old. MLS defenses will not be able to deal with a relatively healthy Henry, especially when the league’s most dangerous striker, Juan Pablo Angel, is beside him.

Henry has spent his summer vacations in NYC for years now and absolutely loves the city. He is not ready to retire from football, and shouldn’t be. But, at the same time, he quite understandably has no desire to remain as a bit player at Barcelona or to join a mid-table team in England like West Ham despite their ridiculously high wage offers.

Here in NYC, Henry can continue to play in a place where he will be adored by supporters and, most importantly, play a big role in the club’s bid for their first-ever silverware. Meanwhile, Henry can play a big role in helping to  continue the growth of football and MLS in the United States and around the world in a substantive, non-Beckham like manner. Surely these challenges would prove more attractive to a 32-year old footballer who has already won everything there is to win than sitting on the bench in La Liga or aiming for a top 10 finish in the Premier League.

Red Bull New York, and its previous incarnation, the NY/NJ Metrostars, are the only original MLS team that has not won a trophy since the league began almost 15 years ago. The supporters here are long-suffering. Finally, after 13 years of false promises, Red Bull came in and gave the club the best stadium in the country, brought in Juan Pablo Angel, and, today, Thierry Henry arrives at the club. The club is also seeking a third designated player (a player who can be paid more than the league’s maximum salary) rumored to be either Rafa Marquez or Freddie Ljungberg.

The fact is that a great challenge awaits Thierry Henry. It is made a bit easier by the fact that RBNY have the fourth best points total in the league. But, it will be a challenge nonetheless. As an Arsenal supporter, I am happy that Thierry has found a way to give his career at this stage even more meaning, and, as a RBNY supporter, I am excited at the prospect of being able to watch an Arsenal legend on a weekly basis from my front-row season ticket.

Why Arsene Is A Better Manager Than Ferguson

The blame game continues at Old Trafford, though, admittedly, it’s not much of a game. Here’s how you play: Show you are a true xenophobic Red by blaming the Glazers for everything wrong with your club and the world in general. And, while a far smaller percentage of Arsenal supporters play the same game with Wenger, it is quite ironic when United supporters make fun of “Arsene Knows” and “In Arsene We Trust” signs considering the way they have they turned the other cheek and given Sir Alex a free ride regarding the tenuous future of their club.

Yes, it was horrible that the Glazers loaded £509.5m debt incurred through loans taken out to buy the club back onto the club’s books. It means that the supporters will eventually have to pay for the Glazers purchase of the club. But, it seems all too easy for United supporters to ignore Ferguson’s role in the fiscal uncertainty surrounding the future of their club.

At the time their club was taken over by the Americans, Ferguson faced a similar fiscal situation to Arsene. Both clubs had just incurred significant amounts of debt-United in the takeover and Arsenal in financing the stadium. Of course, these are two completely different types of debt-Arsenal’s debt was an investment that pays for itself, while United’s debt was not. But for my argument, the type of debt does not matter.

One of the things I love most about Arsene Wenger is his concern for the future of the club, echoed by Ivan Gazidis in his interviews with the BBC and Sky Sports (see video below for full 20-minute interview). It surely seems that Sir Alex does not have quite the same concern for the future of United, beyond his own retirement.

When faced with a mountain of debt, some estimates say close to £1bn, Sir Alex continued to spend £40+m every summer, with a seeming disregard for the future of the club. It seems that Ferguson is willing to do whatever it takes to win now, while he is in charge, and will leave the mess that, though he did not create it, he has helped perpetuate to his successors and succeeding generations of United supporters.

Surely, Sir Alex could’ve gone down the road that Arsene and Arsenal chose when faced with a similar financial situation. Arsene began a youth project designed to ensure competitiveness and long-term potential to avoid worsening the club’s finances. Arsene knew the club would be unlikely to win many trophies during this period, though we did reach Champions League and Carling Cup Finals. He was willing to sacrifice his own personal reputation in order to secure the future of the club beyond his own reign as Arsenal manager.

It’s this foresight and this concern for Arsenal as a club that is one of the things that makes Wenger a great manager. In his interview with Sky Sports, Ivan Gazidis said that it was important to the club to make sure that we are able to compete for top honours at home and in Europe for 10, 15, or 20 years. He said that the club wanted fathers who take their sons to see the club to be able to feel assured that their club will still be at the top-level of the Premier League and the Champions League when their sons have grown up. As a father of two, including a three-year old that wears Arsenal kits 3-4 days a week, sleeps in Arsenal pyjamas near every night, and can name most of the starting XI, I understand exactly what Ivan is talking about.

By contrast with Wenger, Ferguson appears to be someone who could care less what happens to United after he’s gone because that won’t have any effect on his own personal reputation. He continued to spend ridiculous sums of money on transfers, for players that proved disappointments, despite knowing his club’s financial situation. When Sir Alex said on Friday, “I don’t have any concerns about the financial situation,” he meant it.

And now, with United’s inability to spend as before, they are almost certainly looking at another post-Busby period following Ferguson’s retirement and it will be partly his own fault. But, I guarantee United fans won’t see it that way. In that way, they are even blinder followers of Ferguson than many Arsenal fans are of Wenger.

Having released some financial numbers today, United posted a £48m profit this year,but only due to the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo. But, you can’t sell a Ronaldo every year. That means that United are operating on a level that would have seen them lose over £30m this year, while their annual payments to merely service the interest on their debt is £41.9m. They are now being faced with the prospect of a £500m bond-scheme of the type Arsenal refused to issue last year. Surely, this is not a recipe for fiscal stability or long-term security. But, once again, the long-term cracks have been papered over in the short-term.

Managers who are at clubs long enough to change the culture inside of the club can also be judged by the state they leave their club in and what the club does in the years immediately following their departure. Arsene understands this and has spoken about it many times, and to his own detriment. Managers come and go, but supporters remain with the club and they are the ones that will be left behind to deal with the financial mess left by the Glazers and Ferguson.

Meanwhile, whether Arsene signs a new contract or not next year, he has re-signed 15 first-team players to new, longer contracts in the past 8 months. It’s all part of Arsene’s long-term vision for the club that this team be kept together for at least another 3-4 years, and I am just as confident as he is that, in that time, Arsenal will win both the league and the Champions League.

His going with youth and avoiding unsustainable debt will also reap its full rewards as United, Chelsea, and Liverpool struggle under the burden of their increasing debt. These clubs cannot spend money anymore like they have in the past and their financial situations can only improve with further frugality-especially considering the financial regulations UEFA expect to have in place by 2013 which would restrict European participation for clubs in serious debt.

Mark my words, and I have been saying this for a few years now, the financial chickens WILL come home to roost at all the other big 4 clubs. It is inevitable. And, when that happens, Arsenal will reap the benefits that Arsene’s foresight and youth project have sown for many years to come.

Big 6? More Like “Big 3”

So we are just shy of being one-third of the way through the season and we’re already at our third (!) interlull. When we return, it will be crunch time with 11 matches in the next 42 days, including Chelsea at home, Liverpool away, the final CL group stage fixtures, and, of course, City away in the Carling Cup quarterfinals. While most Arsenal bloggers are taking this opportunity to look back at Arsenal’s season-so-far, and Arsenal Station will likely do that as well over this break, I’d like to say a few brief words about the Premier-League-so-far.

Big spending by City and Tottenham, £150m in 16 months, had the pundits predicting that the Big 4 would now begin turning into a Big 6. Not quite. Rather than having seen the competition at the very top open up, the opposite has happened. Instead of a Big 5 or 6 or 7, we appear to have a Big 3. Now, I know it’s not early in the season, but a “season-so-far-review” can only take into account what has happened “so far.”

Arsenal have confounded the critics with their performances so far this season. So have Liverpool, but in a different way. Chelsea appear to be very strong, but hardly invincible having lost the same amount of matches as us. United are somehow level on points with us, mostly thanks to their most important player this season, Lucky McLuck. But for a few slightly different bounces, they could be fighting with Liverpool for 7th place right now.

Nicklas BendtnerChelsea are easily the favorites at this point. They have squad depth, though that will be seriously tested in January when they lose Drogba, Essien, Kalou, and Obi Mikel to the African Cup of Nations. Though the temporary suspension of their transfer ban means that Chelsea can now buy in the next transfer window. A perceptive comment was made by one of the writers on Sunday Supplement last week, he said something to the effect of, “Chelsea are right now playing to their maximum potential, but Arsenal, despite their fantastic form and results, have not even come close to their potential.”

Rather than opening up the very top, a second Big 4 seems to have come together beneath Chelsea, Arsenal, and United. Tottenham, City, Liverpool, and Aston Villa sit between 8 and 11 points off the pace already and it is hard to imagine any of those four sides making up such a big deficit.

City are lucky to only be 10 points behind Chelsea with a game-in-hand considering their run of 5 consecutive draws in the league. That’s 10 points dropped in 5 matches… the points-equivalent of having won 1, drawn 2, and lost 3. And it wasn’t an especially hard part of their fixture list, including the most uninspiring draws with Birmingham, Fulham, Wigan, and Burnley. The novelty has worn off and City fans are now looking down the barrel at a diabolically shambolic defense which cost almost as much as Arsenal’s starting XI, not including Arshavin and Vermaelen.

When it comes to Liverpool, only two words suffice: Gerrard and Torres. And that’s it. Criticisms of Benitez, I feel , have been totally justified. The man has had five years to build a side, brought in over 50 players in that time, and still has a two-man team. Carragher has lost a step and a half and the entire club, especially Mascherano, has not been able to deal with the loss of Alonso. With no bench as well, and very few youth prospects, Liverpool supporters are in for huge reality check this season as the side appears to be in need of massive rebuilding, something neither Torres, nor Gerrard, nor even Benitez may stick around for, and something that the owners can’t afford.

In Arsenal news, Jamie at Young Guns is reporting that negotiations have concluded on a new contract for Carlos Vela and only the John Carlos VelaHancock-ing remains to be done. That is fantastic news considering all the ridiculous rumours of lower-level Spanish clubs deluding themselves into thinking he was even the slightest bit available.

Yaya Toure rumours have cropped up once again, but they are even more ridiculous this time around. His agent has asked why Barca gave him a new contract, “just to sit on the bench?” Well then, why would he come to Arsenal where he obviously would not walk into the first team ahead of Alex Song? Nicklas Bendtner will be out for 6 weeks or so after his groin surgery, likely much to the chagrin of his 34 year-old baroness girlfriend. Also, Gilles Sunu’s desire to go out on loan to the Championship is being stifled by Arsene until the youngster signs a new deal with the club.

Right, so that is my take on the Premier League season so far. On Arsenal Station over the break we will have a look at Arsenal’s season-so-far as well as a guest piece from Ted Harwood on Alex Song and possibly another from Comrade.