Hi there! Two blogs in as many days, I know, must be some sort of record for me. Nice choice of picture? What ever do you mean? Nope, sorry. No idea what you’re talking about…
So it seems as if Robin van Persie, our talisman of last season, will be sold if Manchester United meet the asking price, which they apparently have. I wrote about the situation a while ago, before he made the statement, insisting that we couldn’t afford to sell him, even if it meant he ran down his contract and went elsewhere. It’s important to mention that I assumed ‘elsewhere’ would be another league – I was sure he wouldn’t leave us for another English team.
Well, pretty much everything has changed since then. He made the statement, looks likely to go to one of the Manchester clubs with few other teams in for him, and we have signed Santi Cazorla. The situation is completely different, and for us it’s changed for the better.
Last season, we relied on van Persie for goals, and he duly supplied them, winning the Golden Boot and, let’s be honest, firing us into the Champions League. But the team was imbalanced – we relied on him far too heavily. There was a massive disproportion in our list of goal scorers – only Theo Walcott also reached double figures in all competitions.
What was clear as we entered the Robin van Persie saga was that any replacement would be under huge pressure to deliver – van Persie’s role was unique in its style and also importance. Whoever we signed to take his place, assuming we had to replace him, would be thrust into the headlights and would be required to hit the ground running. If not, we’d have another season of transition and if we fell further from our position of last season, we’d most likely miss out on the Champions League.
The statement changed things. It changed van Persie’s status at Arsenal from the king of the current crop to, in the eyes of some, a traitor. Money-grabber was a bit far, but he had let down everyone at the Emirates Stadium, from the fans all the way up to Arsene Wenger. Suddenly he became a bit more dispensable – he hadn’t become a worse player over night but his commitment could be openly questioned after the statement.
Still, on the pitch not much was different. We still had to replace him with a great player if he left, and even then his influence wouldn’t quite be replicated.
The signing of Santi Cazorla was a game-changer. All of last season we had lacked a player to define us – a playmaker. Cesc Fabregas was a massive loss, and we didn’t make up for the sale with a similar player. By all accounts, Arsene tried hard – the size of the bids it’s suggested he made for the likes of Cazorla and Juan Mata back that up – but in the end we were left to rely on Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey. Both good players, but not capable of running the team. Rosicky came into form in the second half of the season, but still didn’t quite do the job, while Ramsey suffered under the pressure of the role.
Cazorla, though, was a fantastic signing. Finally, we had someone to replace Fabregas in that playmaker role. The problem with van Persie being our talisman – the problem with any striker being a talisman – is that, no matter how good he is, he needs service to thrive. Van Persie often did so, with our suppliers focussing their passes and crosses in his direction, but it wasn’t always enough. Sometimes he was off form, and at those times we often struggled.
But when your key player is a central playmaker, like Cazorla, it’s a bit different. A playmaker, by definition, makes those around him play. Fabregas did exactly that, and at his best, goals came from all around the pitch. Whoever made a run would be found, and it would then be up to them to supply the finish. The goals weren’t shared around last season – all of the players knew that they just had to pass to van Persie.
This may have meant that they didn’t take responsibility themselves. Why try and score yourself when it’s so much easier to pass to your captain and best player? Besides, at the beginning of the season especially, we lacked confidence after a poor spell, so a lot of players played within themselves (or should I say with the hand-brake on Arsene?) and van Persie ended up having to rescue us on several occasions.
And don’t let van Persie’s massive goal total fool you – creatively Arsenal were lacking a lot last season. The majority of his goals weren’t simply down to good midfield play, but superb movement from the Dutch striker. Without that we suffered, although luckily we didn’t go without it too often during the season.
Having Cazorla will change things. Our wingers won’t have to focus on feeding the striker, and will instead be able to make more runs. Alex Song won’t have to bomb forwards as much because his passes won’t be so important. We’ll become far less predictable – the theory was that if you stopped van Persie, you stop Arsenal, and while this was a lot easier said than done, it was still managed. The game against Wigan is the best example – at the Emirates they took van Persie out of the game perfectly, and we looked as if we had no idea how to score in the second half.
Finally the balance of the squad is a lot more even. The restructuring with the signings of Podolski and Giroud to shoulder the attacking burden and Cazorla to create have been excellent, especially for a reported total of £35 million (Andy Carroll yadah yadah yadah), but most importantly Cazorla fills the hole that’s been gaping since Cesc Fabregas went back home.
This vital puzzle piece being missing last season meant an increased reliance on our best player, but now, in theory at least, we won’t need to rely on a striker for all of our goals. They should be coming in from all angles now that we have a proper creator. Players don’t always have to be replaced like-for-like; simply their influence has to be replaced, and the signings of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and, in particular, Santi Cazorla will surely do that for the apparently imminent departure of van Persie.
Despite the fact that I’m in Turkey, the Arsenal bug has followed me and has bitten, so I’ve been unable to resist posting my thoughts on the recent goings-on at the club.
Recently the main talking point, other than you-know-who (I’ll get to him/it later), has been the friendly against FC Köln; Lukas Podolski’s former club of course. Our new German forward started the game alongside fellow new signings Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud, and all three stood out for differing reasons.
Podolski started on the left wing, and at first wasn’t involved all that much as he got to grips with our style of play, but after a brief lack of involvement began to see more of the ball, as he drifted in from his wide position; Kieran Gibbs’ overlapping allowing him to do so.
This feature of their link-up play – Podolski coming in search of the ball and Gibbs taking up the vacated space out wide – saw Lukas score our third goal, and his second; he dropped deep centrally, looking for the ball, and got it, before sending a probing, lobbed ball over the defence. Gibbs chased after it, and Podolski continued his run, converting the pull-back with the type of efficient finish we’ll surely come to expect from the £11 million man.
Earlier the 27-year-old had converted a penalty to make it 2-0, after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had been fouled. It was a confident finish, and perhaps Podolski might be our penalty taker for the new season, depending on the situation with *ahem*… All annoying speculation aside, Lukas had a good game, and looked comfortable out wide and later in a central berth in the second half, before being replaced by… erm, before being replaced.
£12 million man Santi Cazorla (I know, I can’t believe it either) lined up in between Podolski and Theo Walcott in what has been referred to in recent seasons as ‘the Cesc role’. But if his performance today was anything to go by, we might be calling it ‘the Santi role’ for years to come. He did everything required of him in the position – creating in advanced positions, pressing alongside the centre forward, and dropping deep to aid transitions from defence to midfield as well as ball retention.
He looked assured on the ball, and showed the degree of technical ability you tend to expect from a Spanish midfielder. It seems as if he’ll follow in the footsteps of Juan Mata and David Silva in becoming a Spanish playmaker integral to his side. He was at the heart of a lot of good moves yesterday – always offering an option, playing several key passes as we had hoped, and also sending in the corner for the first goal, which was flicked on by Per Mertesacker and nodded home by Thomas Vermaelen. As many said, it was the typical Steve Bould goal.
One of Cazorla’s excellent passes was a simple ball that was played easily between two defenders and into the trajectory of the run of a certain Olivier Giroud, whose shot was saved well by Timo Horn. Giroud had four efforts in target during his first-half appearance, all dealt with well by Horn, and it was the goalkeeper who came out on top of the duel. Still, Giroud can be pleased with his showing. He made good runs to help forge those chances – firstly one in behind the defence to be found by Francis Coquelin; Giroud then sprinted onto the ball and from a tight angle fired a snapshot low at the near post, only for it to be turned around by Horn. The resulting corner led to the first goal anyway, so the missed opportunity didn’t mean much.
Having had another shot saved by Horn after being found by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cut-back, Giroud was slipped in on goal by Cazorla. After sticking out a leg to control the ball well, his powerful curled effort was saved well again by Horn, and was denied for a third time. His fourth missed opportunity was a powerful header from a corner which was tipped over nicely by the goalkeeper, a chance which few could begrudge him for not scoring.
All in all it was a good performance from Giroud – while the finishes weren’t perfect, his all-round play was impressive, as he linked well with his team-mates, acting as a good foil for the likes of Walcott and Cazorla. Indeed, he linked up with both at one point to almost assist a goal, nodding down Walcott’s cross for Cazorla to fire a low driven volley against the legs of Horn from a decent position. Giroud’s hold-up play was excellent too, as he kept the ball well, putting his physique to good use, as well as acting as a reference point for the entire team and pressing well.
So we saw three very encouraging performances from the new signings, with the trio all impressing on their debuts for different reasons, but Francis Coquelin also caught my eye. He was tenacious and good going forward, but was sloppy in his own half – basically everything we see from Alex Song. He was careless on the ball quite a bit last season, against West Brom on the final day in particular, and we saw it again at the Rhein-Energie Stadion. It’s disappointing because he’s a precocious talent, yet, like Song, seems prone to complaceny. Let’s hope it only crept in because it was a friendly.
I must also touch on Gervinho, who put in a good second half performance. The decision making issues are still very much there – he failed to spot Lukas Podolski in a perfect position to complete his hat-trick early in the second half, and later delayed too long before shooting – but it was an encouraging showing from our Ivorian winger. Our fourth was an excellently taken goal by him; he received the ball on the left, deftly nipped past his man, before beating him again and slotting home at the near post with a clever finish. As I said recently, I’m expecting a big season from him, so let’s hope he doesn’t disappoint.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also put in a good shift, with some powerful runs and some clever passes. He played deep in midfield alongside Coquelin, and the two of them often combined well with Cazorla as a triangle. It had seemed a curious midfield three at first, but it seemed to work, with a lot of fluid interchanging of positions. Chamberlain has been ruled out of England’s friendly with Italy (Joleon Lescott has been called up instead – why is nobody tweeting #InRoyWeTrust?) with an ankle knock, but it doesn’t seem anything serious. Hopefully it’ll mean he’s more fresh for the Sunderland game, or at least avoids a worse injury on international duty.
Sadly I feel like I have to touch on the more negative points raised from the 4-0 victory, and for me, the main one was the handling of the captaincy. Personally, I don’t want van Persie being captain at all, but I can understand Arsene not wanting to officially strip him of the armband, as it might lower his value. Still, the situation was handled poorly – no captain was selected for the second half, meaning when van Persie came on, he was already donning the armband.
If, say, Koscielny had been given the captaincy at the start of the second half, the issue would have been avoided, because van Persie wouldn’t have been expected to take the armband when he came on. Instead, it seemed as if Wenger was sure to make a statement by giving van Persie the armband in a situation where he normally wouldn’t have had it anyway. It’s hard to tell what that move meant – or if it was actually down to poor planning, although I don’t think Arsene would have fallen foul of that with such an important issue – because it could be one of a few things. Perhaps Wenger was trying to keep van Persie’s value high, or perhaps he was trying to warn off potential bidders and make a statement.
For me, I don’t think that little stunt – if it was one – would do anything for van Persie’s value, as he surely wouldn’t be expected to take the captaincy from a player already wearing the armband if he came on. Furthermore I’m completely against van Persie being captain in any situation – it’s not just that a captain is supposed to be a leader on the pitch, but an ambassador for the club. Van Persie can no longer do the latter, and there must be question marks over the former too, given his desire to leave the club.
However, I can see Wenger’s point of view – the media would blow it out of proportion if he didn’t receive the armband from whoever might have had it at the beginning of the second half, which might have some effect on van Persie’s value. It sounds a little silly, but perhaps Wenger was right to be cautious. After all, he knows a lot better than I do.
The final talking point before I lift myself from the metaphorical pool of speculation and dive into the very-real pool of the villa in Turkey where I’m staying – yes, that’s my commitment, writing before relaxing – is about Nuri Şahin. We’ve been linked with him for a while, and now AS are saying that his loan move is expected to be confirmed this week – with the Turk most likely coming here to Arsenal. I’ve spoken on Twitter about this, but I have to re-emphasise how thrilled I would be at the signing.
Real Madrid want to loan him for a reason; he’s had fitness problems, and they want him to regain his sharpness and match fitness so he’s ready to play next year for them, so it would be unwise to expect his Dortmund form straight away. But wow, if we could harness that form during the season, he’ll be a brilliant addition. He was superb for BVB in his final season there, as they won the title with him at the forefront, and on that form he would have walked into almost any midfield in the world.
Sadly, Madrid’s is not included in that enormous list, and he suffered there. But his lack of game-time shouldn’t put us off too much – he’s a fantastic talent with the potential to really make a difference for us. He has the clichéd ‘wand of a left foot’, which he uses to spray passes across the pitch – his range of passing is almost Cesc-esque (what a word) – and he’s composed on the ball. He’s not afraid to get stuck in either, so he should be able to adapt well to English football if he does come here. Let’s just hope it’s the Emirates he’s plying his trade at if so.
That’s all from me, although I imagine Saurabh might have something soon-ish for you to feast your eyes on. Enjoy fantasising about Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski firing us to a long overdue trophy…
Hello Almunia-ites. The blog has been rather bare lately, because I’ve started my internship with Sabotage Times in London. But fear not! I’ve still been tapping away at my keyboard and articles have been flowing freely from my finger-tips. I’ve not had the time to commit stuff exclusively to CoA, but please enjoy Sabotage Times’ sloppy seconds over the last week or so…
June 27th - a piece on Francis Coquelin & Emmanuel Frimpong, comparing the two and weighing up their chances of breaking into the first team proper.
June 29th - why I think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will eventually be a central midfielder for Arsenal.
June 30th - thoughts on Steve Bould‘s appointment as assistant manager.
July 2nd - in praise of Cesare Prandelli after the EURO 2012 final.
July 4th - some words on Cesc Fabregas‘ role for Arsenal, Barcelona and finally Spain.
July 5th - and of course my reaction to the Robin van Persie statement.
Bonus piece! Have a read of my review of the new Futures album, The Karma Album.
Although Robin van Persie won Arsenal.com’s player of the season award today by more than a landslide, there are several who deserve mentions alongside the Dutchman – the three men above for instance. No, not you Mike Dean. I blurred you out for a reason. (if you genuinely are reading this Mike, more penalties please. Not for the other team as pictured above, you give too many of those)
As well as Laurent Koscielny, Alex Song and Bacary Sagna, Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Wojciech Szczesny have all made sizeable contributions this season, and those contributions should not be written off simply due to the magnitude of van Persie’s. Not only did several of them lay on a great deal of van Persie’s goals, but they were superb in their own rights. Suggestions that Arsenal are a one-man team are way off the mark, even if their captain did score a large amount of the Gunners’ goals last season.
In his first full season, Wojciech Szczesny made some excellent saves and was a commanding presence between the posts. A lack of protection from the defence and midfield at times exposed him – especially to an apparent weakness from long shots – but he still made some vital stops and his distribution seemed to improve. A large character, he’ll be sure to be Arsenal’s number one for years to come.
Despite two leg breaks, when he played, Bacary Sagna was a beacon of consistency and was always his no-nonsense self at right back, further strengthening his claim to being the best in the league in his position. As well as the never-wavering defensive contributions, he did his bit when he went forward too, setting up van Persie’s header at Anfield for example.
Many had Thomas Vermaelen & Per Mertesacker down as our first choice at the beginning of the season, and by the end, Laurent Koscielny is the only indisputable choice at centre back for many, myself included. The Frenchman (older than Vermaelen, to my surprise) had a superb second season, showing everyone that he had settled completely with many flawless displays in defence. Deserving of far more than just 4.29% in the player of the season poll.
In midfield we were ravaged with injuries, which meant we didn’t see Jack Wilshere once, and we were often without Alex Song’s back-ups in Coquelin & Frimpong. Luckily Song was pretty much always available, and while his performances weren’t as consistent as his appearances, he still came up with important assists when we needed him to; mostly to van Persie, although an exquisite ball to Theo Walcott for our second vs Aston Villa springs to mind.
Alongside Song in a midfield pivot was Mikel Arteta, summer deadline day signing from Everton. I’ve written way too much about him recently as it is, but one more paragraph can’t hurt: he added some much needed stability and balance to Arsenal, as well as chipping in with some vital contributions going forwards. Arsenal’s record without him said it all.
The third member of the regular midfield – in the second half of the season anyway – was Tomas Rosicky, and the Czech excelled in the role between Robin van Persie, linking up well with the Dutchman as well as dropping in and creating a midfield three with Arteta & Song, which helped Arsenal’s fluidity a great deal. 2 goals and 5 assists weren’t brilliant, but something to build on next season – and the goal to put the Gunners ahead against Tottenham was pretty huge.
It may seem strange to some that Theo Walcott is the final member praised in this post, as his contribution remains erratic, but there were still some important goals and assists scattered here, there and everywhere. In 46 appearances (including 5 as a substitute) he netted eleven times and set up nine goals – that’s 20 goals he was directly involved in. Not a bad return for someone still only 23 and still developing.
All in all, despite a huge contribution from van Persie, there were still vital parts played by his team-mates, and he certainly couldn’t have done it without them. I suppose this is kind of a lazy season review – and it’s not anything to do with the recent Unsung Heroes series, despite some relatable content.
This post first appeared on Life’s a Pitch.
It seemed as if we weren’t going to have another summer like this. Mindnumbing, monotonous, merciless weeks of rumours about whether our star player would leave. Perhaps it was naïve to assume that.
So now, instead of focussing on which players we’re going to strengthen our side with, we’re forced to lie awake at night wondering whether Robin van Persie will be at Arsenal come the end of August, a stream of sensationalist headlines begging for the attention of our mind’s eye. Tossing and turning on the possibility of losing our captain, again.
People will point to the occasions when we’ve lost a key player and recovered – when we sold Patrick Vieira, we got to the Champions League final; when we sold Thierry Henry we looked good for the title for a long while; when we sold Emmanuel Adebayor we suddenly looked a better side and put up another strong fight for the title. As well as all of that, other players blossomed and we stayed in the Champions League season upon season.
But what’s undeniable about all of those summers is that the sales weakened us, and in truth we merely managed to stay competitive. If we hadn’t caved in and sold some of the players we did, we probably would have been more competitive and maybe won something. Continuity is a big part of any side, and if you’re constantly in transition it’s not likely that you’ll be able to sustain a challenge for honours.
Arsenal have been in transition off of the pitch since the move to the Emirates, and it hasn’t helped that the sales of key players have led to numerous on-field transitions too. Arsene Wenger deserves great credit for continually shuffling the pack and using the resources at his disposal to create sides that have qualified for the Champions League each season.
However, you wonder that if this time, that might just be a step too far this time. Arsenal’s powers of luring players – financially and ‘footballistically’, to use a Wengerism – are dwindling as the likes of Manchester City go up in the estimations of players everywhere. Lukas Podolski was a terrific signing, but Arsenal moved early, and that doesn’t seem to apply to the rest of their targets.
Not only that, but Arsenal’s new style is based around Van Persie. He is the most important player in the team, and his goals and assists tally say it all. The Gunners have lacked a solid game plan for most of this season, but a lot of their new game is reliant on Van Persie, and, were he to leave, the script would have to be torn up once more – something Arsenal just cannot afford.
Having said all of that, Lukas Podolski is probably one of the most similar players to Van Persie out there; certainly there is nobody available who could do what Van Persie does as well as Podolski may be able to. However, it goes deeper than that – Van Persie is Arsenal’s captain, and selling him would surely be the final admission that Arsenal can no longer keep their best players.
The threat of being left behind by Manchester City and Manchester United is very real, and the teams below Arsenal are starting to catch up. It may well be that Arsenal have to think short-term for once in order to save their long-term future. As much as you would be opposed to missing out on a fee for Van Persie, the only way for Arsenal to make any progress on the field is by keeping the important players and adding to the strength in depth. Simply put, Arsenal cannot afford another transitional season. And if Van Persie goes, that’s exactly what will happen.