Arsene at the AGM

The most glaring difference between this and the last AGM is not the shareholders’ attitude. It is Arsene. His demeanor was completely different this time around, and with good reason. Though that reason may not be down to results entirely.

Arsene Wenger StatueOf course, we still get Arsene’s standard lines about “belief,” the “real spirit in the team,” etc…. But this time around he seems to genuinely mean it. I can’t remember an Arsenal side in all the 12 years I’ve been watching them have as much inner turmoil as last year’s side. It all began with the departures of Flamini and Hleb but subsequent rows between Gallas and Toure and between Adebayor and the supporters. Something obviously wasn’t right, no matter how many times Arsene talked about “spirit” in his post-match interviews and pre-match press conferences.

And he has said that last year was the most stressful of his tenure. It was also the season of least returns as far as his workload was concerned. He worked harder than he had in most seasons but only received more grief and stress as a result. After the way he was treated by a small faction of supporters and the media, it should not have been surprising had he made the pact with el diablo, Real Madrid.

But Arsene’s supreme confidence in this team won out. And he has been rewarded with a very good start to the season and a new outlook from many fans who were highly disgruntled last season at this time. In contrast, Rafa Benitez finds himself in the same position as Arsene last year, having lost 4 of his first 9 league matches. And the pressure is on him now.

Especially considering that Arsenal retained their Champions League place due to a big turnaround on our part and a collapse by the unprovenArsene Wenger in the crowd Villa. Benitez and his Champions League place, however, are being chased by Money City and a revitalized Spurs side and they won’t let Liverpool off as easy as Villa did Arsenal last season.

But Arsene has stuck through another rough patch and the team, despite the pundits insisting that Arsenal are not a contender, is ready to put in a serious challenge for the league and the Champions League. Last season was a bitter experience for all of us but it was like an unnecessary growing pain necessitated by half our midfield deciding to leave for “big clubs.” A setback like that in a team’s development could only take some time to overcome. It was a hiccup, a speed bump, on the road to the complete realization of Arsenal’s third side. And that is what we are watching now.

Arsenal face off against a West Ham side that is winless in their last six Premier League matches with 4 losses and 2 draws. Gianfranco Zola is under pressure considering his side have only 5 points from their first 8 matches and currently sit in the middle relegation spot between Portsmouth and Hull City. Fabianksi, Eduardo, and Senderos are available but Tomas Rosicky’s knee did not come through in time to get in the squad. Bendtner was awaiting a late fitness test yesterday and seems likely to at least be included in the squad. Come on you Gunners!

Cesc Fabregas vs. The English and Spanish Media

Cesc and RosickyBrett Chase is a guest contributor to Arsenal Station. He is the Vice-President of the New York City Arsenal Supporters’ Club and has supported the Arsenal for a decade. Here, he talks about the position which Cesc finds himself in regarding the media and the constant speculation surrounding his future. He is also a regular contributor to both¬† The Modern Republic, a blog which comments on football, music, and fashion and The Modern Gooner.

As we while away the hours of yet another seemingly interminable international break,¬†there are certain things¬†that we Arsenal supporters have come to expect from these weeks without proper football: Ridiculous transfer rumors, Arsenal players returning with injuries (Psycho Stu Pearce to blame for about 25% of these, all to Theo)… and stories about Cesc Fabregas’ imminent return to play in Spain.

Oh no, we couldn’t forget those.¬†¬†It seems that for every¬†tale¬†our El Capitan Catalan Fantastico rebuts about¬†a move to Barcelona, for every time that Cesc reaffirms his commitment to and demonstrates his love for Arsenal, there is always another story in the tabloid sports pages to contradict him.

I am bothered less that the stories are written; the papers exist to sell themselves, and there will always be transfer rumors about the best players in the Premier League, particularly those who hail from countries other than England.  What irks me the most is the constancy of such stories, and the appearance that these are encouraged or even started by other clubs, presumably to unsettle Cesc.

Cesc kisses badgeThe biggest culprits of this¬†in my mind are the Catalan newspaper SPORT, who have a rather cozy relationship with FC Barcelona, and the Madrid newspaper¬†Marca, ostensibly controlled by Real Madrid.¬† It is from these two newspapers that the majority of the “Cesc to Spain” stories seem to originate, yet no one seems to question the validity of these reports despite a seeming conflict of interest.¬† But the English papers are far from blameless in this scenario, creating a great number of these baseless stories on their own.

In fact, the stories have become so plentiful that on a number of occasions, the Spanish papers have put out a story, which has been picked up on and reported by the English tabloids, and then in turn picked up on and reported by the Spanish papers, basically using the English papers’ ineptitude at fact-checking to validate their own fabrications.

Perhaps it is my background in American sports showing.¬† After all, if the New York Yankees traded away a young player, and once that player became a star began to flood the Daily News and other papers with stories about the player’s need to return and his “Yankee DNA,” the offended team would file tampering charges faster than Pavlyuchenko downs vodka.¬† It’s just not tolerated.

Perhaps the saddest part of this situation has been played by Cesc himself, and to illustrate I will contrast his situation with another high-profile Spaniard plying his trade in England, Fernando Torres.  Both Fabregas and Torres grew up playing in the youth systems for the clubs that they and their families supported growing up, F.C. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, respectively.

Their paths diverge in that Torres played for several seasons with the Atletico senior squad, whereas Cesc was plucked from the obscurity of Barcelona’s youth team by Arsene Wenger and¬†became a star abroad¬†with¬†Arsenal. But the biggest difference is that Cesc has always been forthright and honest about his desire to someday return to play in Spain, whereas Torres never had to make such a claim.

It is this personal honesty on the part of Cesc Fabregas, repeated time and again in his denials of an imminent departure of Arsenal, which has made him an easy target for the sports press in both countries

Cesc at Barca

In the end, what I see as particularly conspiratorial and sinister in this situation are the persistent reports from Barcelona players and personnel talking up how badly Cesc wants to return and how much he is wanted there.¬† We have seen¬†Barca defender¬†Gerard Pique (who particularly needs to shut his tapas-hole) admitting that¬†he continues to¬†personally appeal to Fabregas during international duty to leave Arsenal, and then recently the comment by Xavi Hernandez that I mockingly alluded to earlier, about Cesc having “Barcelona DNA.”

This last seems to have prompted Cesc’s most recent denial of a move and his badge-kissing celebration after scoring in an otherworldly performance versus Blackburn (after which,¬†prouder of El Capitan I cannot remember being).¬† However, none of this has slowed the Barca media blitz.¬† The¬†latest comments¬†came on Sunday¬†from Barcelona sporting director Txiki Begiristain himself, claiming that Barca “will sign Fabregas.”

Comments such as these are largely the result of clubs like Barca and Real Madrid holding presidential elections, wherein the candidate who promises the most in terms of signings is generally the victor.  What I do not understand is how such comments, particularly those by a director like Begiristain, do not constitute tapping-up or tampering in the eyes of UEFA or FIFA.

Much is made by the likes of Michel Platini about Arsenal signing young players, and plans are in the works to prevent this.  But nary a whisper can be heard regarding this far more egregious and blatant actions on the part of Spanish clubs.  I have in the past made the case that Platini has an anti-English bias; this, I contend, is just another example to support that argument.

It occurs to me that we Arsenal supporters will need to put these stories out of mind, and¬†leave such newspapers as we would any other tabloid: unread, or taken with a grain of salt.¬† There may come a day, years from now, when we won’t be barraged on all sides by rumors of Cesc leaving for Barcelona.¬† Sadly, however, I expect this to be because Cesc will already have departed.¬† In the meantime, we Gooners will have to appreciate the player that we have, and not worry about the future.¬† I believe that Cesc loves Arsenal; I know that Arsenal loves Cesc.

Backroom Advance Deals for Cesc?

Cesc Fabregas

It never fails. Every interlull brings the inevitable ‘Cesc-to-Spain’ stories. Cesc to Barcelona, Cesc to Madrid, Cesc to Malaga, etc… Now, apparently, following their loss to Sevilla, Madrid once again are making noise. Arsenal have reportedly received bids of up to ¬£60m for Fabregas over the last two seasons and each time the player and the club rejected them.

The club is in a strong financial position which means that we will in no way be forced to sell Fabregas just because high sums of money are dangled in front of us. We could have already done that. This gives us far more leverage in rebuffing these ridiculous advances from Madrid and Barcelona but also should give us supporters a little peace of mind. Cesc is in a team built around him that continues to get better and is playing for the greatest manager in the world in a fantastic new stadium that was practically built for him and his team.

Following his display this past weekend, no one should doubt Cesc’s current commitment to the club. Of course, we all know he’ll leave eventually, and we will all wish him the best of luck when he does. But, in the meantime, this ridiculous tapping-up of the player is shady and disrupting. How many times does Fabregas have to put a statement on the official site about how he is not leaving? How many times do we have to read quotes from Barcelona players about Cesc’s DNA? Or how much they want Cesc to come back?

Cesc and the badgeIf FIFA or UEFA had any balls at all, they would stand up to the Spanish clubs when it comes to this constant media campaign intended to tap-up and unsettle players. Because it’s not only Fabregas. The same is happening in Munich with Ribery and has been going on for years. Yet, the ruling organizations ill-will towards English clubs sees them take no action.

Perhaps it’s because Blatter and Platini are too busy devising ways to further hamstring English clubs whether it is increased restrictions on recruiting players or financial solvency rules which will not effect the Spanish clubs in the same way as the English clubs.

But now, either Madrid or the Spanish papers, or likely both, are so desperate to fill the 50+ daily pages devoted to Madrid and Barcelona that we have gotten another ridiculous rumor of an advance deal. We all know that Wenger would never cut a deal like this, he told us so. Yet, I’m just recounting this new one because of its sheer ridiculousness.

The Daily Mail writes: “Meanwhile, AS also reports that Sandro Rosell, who hopes to become the club’s next president, personally secured a ‘first option’ agreement for Fabregas when David Dein was vice-chairman of the Gunners in 2003.”

Precious. The stuff that comes from these Spanish club elections, at times, just blows my mind. “Personally secured a first option agreement?” AreCesc kisses badge you serious? Would Arsene Wenger, or even David Dein for that matter, offer a “first option agreement” for a player? Wenger said he would never make such an agreement. And would they do it just after they have bought the player?

It makes no sense… but it doesn’t have to. It’s the Spanish media covering the greatest young Spanish player who got away, the two biggest Spanish clubs, and a Spanish club election. To be honest, I’m a little disappointed that this is the best Sandro Rosell can come up with so far in his bid for the presidency at Barcelona. Perhaps as the election draws nearer we will get this:

Sandro Rosell, in his bid for the Barca presidency, has revealed that he has secured a ‘first-option agreement’ with God to sign Jesus Christ upon his return to Earth to play center-back for Barcelona. Rosell will be hoping Jesus decides to return before the election is held next year.