Little transfer news brewing but plenty of eulogies for the Gunners
Not much happening at the moment but there’s always some transfer speculation lurking in the shadows of News Now. Let’s start with the latest incarnation of the Salomon Kalou story. This is one that we’ve heard before and it seemed to begin with a flirtation between Arsene Wenger and Kalou himself. Wenger admitted that Kalou was a player that he had admired and whose career he had been following. Kalou followed suit by revealing that he was flattered by Arsene’s interest. Once you have those ingredients, the seeds are planted for perennial transfer rumors that can be enjoyed anytime there’s a dearth of worthwhile football gossip.
The Kalou story might seem credible. It even comes with a supposed transfer fee of eight million pounds included. But the fact remains that this story, like so many before it, lacks any primary sources. It doesn’t include revelatory quotes, or even circumstantial evidence. For examples, rumors of Chamahk’s arrival in London have been widely reported. That’s something to work with. As far as the Kalou story goes, other than the aforementioned statements of mutual admiration, there’s really no corroboration.
The next story everyone’s writing about, is the potential return of Patrick Viera. With every day that goes by this story seems less and less likely to become a reality. Viera has been urged by his national coach to resolve his club situation if he wants to keep a spot on the national team. But the simple fact remains, that it’s hard to see Viera garnering any playing time at Arsenal. What makes his return even more unlikely, is that he might actually struggle to make the bench. Consider that there are only six outfield spots available on the bench and depending on the starting XI, Eduardo, Bendtner, Rosicky, Denilson, Diaby, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Vela, Eboue and possibly Ramsey will all compete just to get on the team sheet. That’s if Arsene doesn’t make any other additions during this transfer window. If he brings in another player or two, then the odd’s that Viera would have a place in the squad get longer. Frankly, at this stage in his career, I just don’t see Patrick Viera looking for a team where he can’t regularly contribute and that’s what he’d be walking into at Arsenal.
Regardless of what Arsene Wenger does in the transfer market the next few weeks, the pundits seem to have made up their mind about the Gunners this season. Once again, Arsenal are the in vogue selection to be pushed out of the top four. More and more stories are popping up with speculation about Arsenal’s prospects this season and they are almost uniformly unflattering. It’s lazy journalism really. Rather than bothering to look at Arsenal and the Premier League with real perspicacity, the media are just doing some basic arithmetic. We’ve lost a few first-team regulars, another team in the division has strengthened, and someone obviously must fall out of the top four to make room for their presumed ascension. Simple enough logic, but it’s really not that straightforward.
Last season was a disappointment to be sure. But what really caused last season’s outcome? Certainly there was weakness in the side. I wouldn’t despute that conclusion. But realize that two problems plagued the Gunners’ last campaing: injuries and team strife. Some of the team strife came from players that are no longer with the club. Some of that strife has been resolved by the appointment of Cesc as captain. This season looks like it could be a more harmonious one in the dressing room.
But the biggest culprit in last season’s debocle was injuries. Consider this; Arsenal played several months last season without Theo, Cesc, Rosicky, Eduardo, Nasri, the entire defense, and Greedybayor. Add to that list Andrey Arshavin who only arrived in January and you see that, barring major injuries (if that’s possible), we have a very different look this season. Assuming decent fitness for a mere moment, all of the players I mentioned above except Greedy should be major contributors this season. (Especially that player “Entire Defense.” He’s not great, but we need him.) We played long stretches last season with starting players that we didn’t even anticipate making the squad last summer. Considering who was playing, it’s actually quite an accomplishment that we racked up a long unbeaten run, made it to two semifinals and finished comfortably in the top four. It was actually a better return than two season prior. Let’s not forget that, heading into last season, we were considered contenders for the title based on our full team.
So when the media pronounce our time in the top four dead, perhaps they’ve forgotten just why we struggled last season. And maybe they’re not looking at the big picture throughout the league. Everton and Aston Villa look like they will be somewhat weaker this season based on key players leaving. Citeh will undoubtedly be stronger this season, but it’s not like they finished just outside the top four last season. They were a distant tenth in the standings, 22 points adrift of fourth place. And the other members of the top four aren’t exactly stronger either. United have failed to replace what they’ve lost in Ronaldo and Tevez. Liverpool look set to lose Alonso and have already lost Arbeloa. And Chelsea, while very talented, are getting older and must adapt to yet another manager. Meanwhile, as a young team, we will only benefit from another year of development, we are getting key players back into the lineup and we might still see a player or two come into the squad.
But there’s another factor that could have an impact on this season’s results and it’s that miserable, bi-annual tournament known as the African Cup of Nations. For the first time in a while, we are almost completely insulated from the tournament’s talent sapping intrusion in January and February. Eboue and Song are the only Arsenal regulars that will be participating in the ACN. Meanwhile, Chelsea will lose some of their most influential players, Citeh will lose the two players we’ve just unloaded to them, and you never know how you’re players are going to come through their time in Africa. Teams throughout the league will have to cope with the absence of key players. In an interesting twist, we play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on February 6. If all goes well in Africa, Chelsea could be playing without the likes of Drogba, Essian, Kalou and Ashley Cole. (Cole would be missing because he accidently fell into a bottomless pit.) Our relative immunity to the effects of the ACN this season could be a big advantage at a critical time.
So considering the evidence in our favor, I think the obituaries for Arsenal are a bit premature. Citeh have the talent to pose a threat. There’s simply no denying that fact. And as time goes by and their spending continues, it will be hard to deny them a top four finish. But given the challenges facing all of the top four teams, I see no reason why we should consider ourselves any more vulnerable than the other three. Looking at the schedule, it gives us a real chance to win the league if we’re in touching distance come February. We play United, Liverpool and Chelsea in consecutive games at the end of January and beginning of February. If we can come through that gauntlet within sight of the top, there’s not another game against any of them for the rest of the league season. But that’s a long way off, and we can only start to think about that if we get the proper start to the season. Arsene Wenger has been quick to point out that we lost the title early last season. If we can avoid a similar start this season, we’ll have every chance to contend. And then we can read all the articles from journalists eager to say that they knew we could do it all along.
Hopefully more to report tomorrow.