The Questions That Nag Me As An Arsenal Supporter

With the silence of Arsenal transfers growing to deafening proportions, I find myself being nagged by numerous questions as the Emirates Cup and the Premier League season proper grow nearer with each breath. I long ago ceased being one of those supporters infatuated and enthralled by every summer transfer rumor no matter how ridiculous. What does that leave for a supporter like me to do during the summer, then? Well, this summer, like many I assume, I am mostly just worrying about the following questions:

1. Where’s the defence?

This question is not number one by random. One cannot help but wonder how it is already almost the beginning of August and Vermaelen has no partner in the center. For me, the thing that separated us from United and Chelsea last season, and for the last couple of years, is both are much stronger defensively than we are and concede far less goals than we do. Even considering that we conceded a bunch of goals last season late in games when we were leading by 2, 3, or 4 goals, we continue to allow alarmingly soft goals far too regularly. Even bringing in a new signing will mean time for a true partnership to develop. Koscielny is not the answer. I can’t believe that the Boss has bought him thinking he will play regularly this season. I am willing to wait and see with Koscielny but close your eyes and picture him up against Drogba… What do you see? Scary, innit? Djourou is the in-house option, but, after almost an entire year off the pitch, who knows how he will return or how well he will partner with Vermaelen.

2. Who’s the keeper?

Almunia appears to be on the outs and Fabianski has turned into our very own version of David James. Szczesny has a lot of potential and performed well on-loan last season but is he ready to be the number one at a club challenging for the Premier League? I don’t think so. Arsene obviously realizes the problem as he had made numerous attempts to pry Schwarzer from Fulham, but, at 37, Arsene would only be using him as a stop-gap solution until either Fabianski or Szczesny are ready? We could not win the Premier League with a keeper of Almunia’s quality and neither Fabianski or Szczesny are much better, at this point. This question could almost bundle up with #1. Since Lehmann left, we have not had a real physical presence in goal and the same goes for the central defense. Weaker teams have targeted our weaknesses here and have been successful enough to keep us from winning anything.

3. Even if Cesc stays, will his heart be in it?

I read alot of people saying, “I hope we get at least one more year out of him.” And, don’t get me wrong, I want Cesc to stay as much as anyone. But, there can be no doubt that if he does stay, Barca will only ramp up their player-driven, management-sponsored media campaign next summer. If Cesc comes back knowing he will leave the following summer, how will that affect his performances? It’s especially disappointing as just one year ago, Cesc came back from the summer break rejuvenated in his desire to win something for the club and turned in an almost-heroic season as captain, i.e. winning the crucial Villa match single-handedly as an already injured substitute. Fast-forward 12 months and it appears his attitude and commitment have changed. Now, I know Cesc is never one to just play on auto-pilot, but how will it affect the team as well knowing that their captain, and what Americans call a “franchise player,” is likely to leave at the end of the season?

4. Will Ramsey suffer from “Eduardo Syndrome?”

In the long-run, this question is probably even more worrisome than the previous question. When Cesc leaves, his job would likely fall to Nasri and/or Ramsey. Or should I say “would have fallen?” Will Ramsey come back without the reticence that seemed to plague Eduardo upon his return? Even worse, will he be subject to the same little niggling injuries that are unrelated to the break but inevitable after such a long lay-off? Personally, I believe that Ramsey’s youth will be on his side. I think it is easier for a younger player to return from an injury like that without the mental and physical baggage that accumulated in Eduardo. But, we cannot know for sure yet, and it likely will remain a viable question until a few months into the season.

5. Is Arsene ready to give Wilshere and Vela the minutes they need to develop and contribute?

Arsene’s reluctance to let Wilshere go back to Bolton is a good sign that Wilshere may finally get a run of real league minutes. One can only hope the same is in store for Carlos Vela. Vela played a full season as a regular starter in La Liga and turned in some promising (and some absolutely stunning) performances in his first Carling Cup matches. But his League starts have been few and far between (3 out of 25 appearances). For me, Vela is just as promising a player as Wilhsere but he needs minutes. It is the only way for him to realize his potential. Obviously, his forays with the Mexican National Team have not helped his situation at the club, but I believe underusing him or, even worse, eventually losing him due to underuse, will prove to be highly regrettable a few years on.

6. Is this team really capable of winning the league?

No. The team we have RIGHT NOW, with only 3 CBs and no real keeper, likely cannot win the league. If Arsene adds the CB and keeper we desperately need, then a re-assessment would be in order. With even just a solid keeper and CB added, I believe we will once-again be in the mix come March. Just as big a factor in our potential title chances, will be injuries. I firmly believe that if van Persie had not been injured on international duty last season we could have carried our challenge even further and perhaps to a different conclusion. But, the injuries have plagued us for years now and I don’t see any reason to believe that things will be different this year. However, should it all come together and we actually get through a campaign without any long-term injuries to key players, this could also put us in a position to make a push for the title. In other words, at the moment, it appears that the stars will need to align just right, if we are to carry a title challenge to fruition this season.

There is also a sense that we are playing on borrowed time before another £250m buys City a League title and more profligate billionaires invade the game. I have always been a staunch supporter of Wenger and his youth and transfer policies. However, the dynamic of the league and football in general have changed significantly in the four or five years of Wenger’s youth project. I don’t see how, with other sides continuing to spend, we will be able to continue to compete as we have without making some changes to our approach. I firmly believe that if Arsene and the Board would only loosen their grip on the purse-strings a little bit, we could make the push that we need. When you take the amount Arsenal have spent on transfers in the last 5 years and subtract their sales of players, we are over £30m in the black. Surely, a real title challenge is worth spending £30-40m in a summer when your club has two glaring deficiencies. For once, I would love to see a little aggression (but not Barca-style aggression) in the transfer market. We should recognize that Chelsea and City have created a dynamic in the last five years which means spending is no longer just important but necessary to maintain and improve our chances. Why not spend he £25-30m it would take to bring in, say, Mertesacker and Akinfeev, two proven players in positions which need filling?

Overall, I am hopeful but cautious about the upcoming season.

Someone Needs to Teach Arsene about Respect

For the second time in as many weeks, Arsene Wenger is being accused in the press of being disrespectful. The first accusations were leveled by Mark Hughes after Wenger refused to shake his hand following Hughes disgraceful behavior at Eastlands during the Carling Cup Quarterfinal. Now, following Arsenal’s 1-nil defeat in Athens on Wednesday evening, Matthias Sammer is quoted by FourFourTwo as saying:

I’m disappointed about what Arsene Wenger did. It’s the Champions League, one of the most important competitions worldwide, and he plays with a bunch of Kindergarten players. The UEFA rules allow him to do so but I can’t respect it. You have to pay a bit more respect to the Champions League.

These statements by Sammer are absolutely ridiculous. No manager in European football has a greater respect for the competition. No manager in Europe desires to win the Champions League as much as Arsene Wenger. The “bunch of kindergarten players” he fielded on Wednesday embarrassed a fully mature Olympiakos side for much of the match and fell victim to one mistake by an 18-year old making his first appearance for the senior side and whom otherwise had an impressive debut.

After the previous week’s Carling Cup tie with Manchester City, Arsene left the pitch without shaking Hughes hand. Here’s what he had to say about it:

I will [shake hands]when people behave properly, but I am not a slave of the ceremonial. I have my freedom and my views. I feel the ceremonial is important but it’s not the most important. The most important is how you behave.

I do not regret one second of what I did. When I do something, I know what will hit me afterwards but it’s more important that I feel I behaved like I think is right. I don’t deny that I am a bad loser but on this occasion I would have done exactly the same if we had won. I knew at half-time what I would do.

Sometimes in England you feel the ceremonial is more important than the real thing. In this case, I am the only one who is questioned. I am here for 13 years, nobody wonders why I reacted like that. That means you can say what you want, insult everybody but if, at the end you do what is [expected], you are perfect.

Afterwards, Hughes tried to take the high road, apparently not realizing that everyone saw him yelling, and cursing according to Wenger, at the Arsenal manager and even, at one point, invading Arsene’s technical area. It’s just another manifestation of Mark Hughes’ Big 4 Inferiority complex. All season long he has felt the need to stir up trouble in the press with Alex Ferguson, making himself look like a complete fool in the process. Now, it was Arsene’s turn.

Hughes has the mistaken belief that being the manager of a possibly top six side gives you the right to act like a complete cunt. The petty nature of Hughes and his media arguments is beneath both Arsene and Ferguson and is just more proof that Hughes is out of his depth when dealing with managers of top caliber. Hughes is still the same mediocre manager he was at Blackburn. The only difference is the quality and quantity of the players he has at his disposal. At City, he has built a collection of players but not a team.

One cannot help but wonder where all the hatred for Arsene stems especially including Michel Platini, whom has long-thought Wenger to be his arch-rival. While his critics have shown themselves to be highly disrespectful time and time again, Arsene Wenger has always respected the game of football and those in it whom deserved that respect.

UEFA Steps Up and Kolo Falls Down

Eduardo penalty

So what really happened here? Along with their rescinding of Eduardo’s two-match ban, UEFA released this brief statement:

The UEFA Appeals Body today accepted the appeal lodged by Arsenal FC against the two-match suspension handed to striker Eduardo.

Following examination of all the evidence, notably the declarations of both the referee and the referees’ assessor, as well as the various video footage, it was not established to the panel’s satisfaction that the referee had been deceived in taking his decision on the penalty.

Therefore, the decision of the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body of 1 September, in which the player was suspended for two UEFA club competition matches, is annulled.

Good news for Arsenal… but better news for UEFA. They have obviously taken all the talk about precedence, not the least from Wenger himself, very seriously. What would it have meant for UEFA to institute post-facto reviews and punishments? For one, it would mean a lot of money. It would take a multi-person committee working double-time to review all possible incidents on a weekly basis. It would mean money would need to be spent to house and support this new body with the technology necessary to do the job right. Also, it would open UEFA up to criticism on individual incidents on a weekly basis from dozens of nations.

EduardoA final consideration for UEFA would have been that instituting the use of video like this, in any but the most exceptional and extraordinary incidents, would only pave the way more quickly for the use of video on the pitch, which UEFA diametrically oppose. The argument would be, if you can use video AFTER every match, why not just save the money spent on the committee and just use it during the match. Not that they might be pressured into it from outside but that it might become too easy for them to just finally give in on the video issue.

It also seems that Arsenal’s claim of having video evidence that Eduardo was indeed touched by Boruc has stood up. And none of this even addresses the absolute ridiculousness of awarding a player a two-match ban for an offense that is only worth a yellow card in the match. If UEFA really wanted to save face, they could have just issued Eduardo a yellow card.

We Expect Better From You, Kolo

Inevitably, the Adebayor issue drags on as the FA is expected to make a decision today. But even more disappointing is the fact that Kolo Toure has jumped into the fray now claiming:

Even though he was the first to go and salute them in the tunnel, even those who had an affinity with him didn’t want to shake his hand. For me that is unacceptable.

He is saying that the Arsenal players refused to shake Adebayor’s hand in the tunnel. This doesn’t seem to make sense considering everyone saw each player on the team shake his hand on the pitch after the lineups and some even hugged him. The culture and atmosphere at City is so corrupt that it has even turned Kolo Toure into a liar. Now, that is depressing.

Kolo also claims,

At the start of the game they were whistling at him as if he never brought anything to the club.

No, Kolo. They were whistling at him as if he had just insulted them all the day before in the national media. Adebayor deserves everything he koloade.jpggets and while I would hate to see Toure’s involvement in this case affect the reception he might get from Arsenal supporters at the Emirates, I can’t say he wouldn’t deserve it.

Even if it were true that the Arsenal players snubbed Adebayor, that is no excuse for his stomps on Fabregas’s ankle or van Persie’s face or even his kick out at Alex Song. And that is exactly what Kolo is saying here. He’s trying to justify Adebayor’s actions and that is even more despicable for him to do than Hughes.

The story has taken a turn where despite reprimands from Richard Scudamore and the Greater Manchester Police, some newspapers, including Martin Samuel at his rag, want to now put all the blame on the Arsenal supporters.

After Adebayor’s behavior throughout the match, I think he is lucky there wasn’t a bigger disturbance. He chose to antagonize the supporters because he knew he was in no personal harm and didn’t care if his actions put a few dozen under-paid stewards in danger.

Then Kolo goes on to comment on the circumstances regarding Adebayor’s departure from Arsenal:

Certain people want others to believe he left for the money but we know he was pushed to leave. I know it because I was present. I firmly believe he left to bring money to the club.

Well, which is it, Kolo? Do you “know” he was pushed to leave or do you “believe” it? Those are two different things. One implies fact and the other implies assumption. I highly doubt that the Board was keeping Kolo Toure abreast of either the club’s financial situation or their dealings with Man City regarding Adebayor. ‘

Kolo Toure was a faithful servant of the club for almost 10 years and won everything there was to win except the Champions League with Arsenal. However, in a few short weeks he has done damage to the great reputation and rapport he had built up in 7 years with Arsenal supporters. Kolo could have, in fact, would have been, one of those former players who were applauded upon their returns to North London. Whether that will now be the case is uncertain.