Thursday, June 28, 2007

The last word on Thierry's transfer.

Sorry for the picture, but we all need to see it: he's gone and he ain't coming back.

I was tempted to post a lengthy article regarding the finer points of the Henry transfer. But, ultimately, he's gone, and there's no use wallowing in the past, so let's move on and start to think of possible replacements. The only points I want to make on the transfer are these:

1) Henry instigated the transfer, not Wenger, Arsenal or even the Deins. Whilst it now appears that Wenger did drive a hard bargain - Barcelona's initial offer was reportedly only €12 million - it also seems that Wenger did not intend to let him go this summer, and it was only after Henry made clear to Arsene that he wanted to go that Arsene sanctioned the transfer. In short, had Henry done nothing, he would still be an Arsenal player. While the Dein's - especially Darren - helped Thierry along the way, the decision to leave lay firmly with Thierry. I think all that is worth bearing in mind. Arsene, I believe, is being forced into the transfer market in areas that he was perhaps not contemplating.

2) Henry left because he didn't think the Arsenal side he led were capable of challenging for trophies. He can dress it up with the excuse of Dein's departure, but he's ultimately going to Barcelona because he thinks they are better placed to win competitions, be it la liga or the Champions League. And on that count, it's hard to disagree. How he'll get on in a side which isn't completely centred around him remains to be seen.

3) Thierry had lost his passion for Arsenal. It was best that he left and Wenger was right to make the transfer as easy as possible. Once a players eyes start to wander, their concentration and drive begins to slip. If Wenger had tried to block the transfer, we would have had an even sulkier Thierry this season.

4) I also believe that Wenger's willingness to let Henry leave was due to the state of Thierry's injuries. Thierry passed the medical, but is being shipped to a special Parisian unit, in order that they can better tend to rebuilding his repeatedly injured groin area. If Henry was suffering from sciatica, that would also be a major concern for a player going into his 30s. In short, we got the best years of Henry's career, and it'll be interesting to see how injury-free he can stay at Barca. I think this was the right time to sell, even if it was unplanned.

5) We can finally appoint a proper captain. Thierry was only ever handed the armband to try and keep him at the club. Gilberto has proved himself to be a better leader, although I wouldn't discount Kolo or even Cesc from the captaincy equation. All seem better equipped to drive the team forward at vital moments.

Overall, and in some ways ironically, Thierry's departure could force Arsene into completing his rebuilding project, and turning the current rabble into a team truly capable of challenging for honours; a team shorn of an over-dominant individual which was perhaps restricting the ability of the team to grow into a truly cohesive unit; a team of, dare I say it, equals?

We're not even in July and we've let three strikers go. Bendtner has come in, but doubts remain about his ability. Walcott is, obviously, a huge prospect, but may need another season to really bed himself in. We need two strikers to come into the side by the end of August, otherwise the mistakes of the Vieira transfer will be repeated all over again. Once quality is over the hill, it's acceptable to let it go, but only if you think you can adequately replace it. And I've got a few suggestions for Arsene over the coming days as to who those replacements might be.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Thierry Henry: a tribute to the greatest Arsenal player I've seen.

I thought it'd be a few more years before I wrote this post, but the time has come sooner than expected.

To say his transfer was a shock would be a considerable understatement; you only have to look at my previous post to see that. And to pretend that Thierry is somehow faultless and beyond criticism is similarly wrong. You only have to ask Jose Reyes that.

But now is the time to say thank you, and pay tribute to Thierry Henry.

To me, he is without a shadow of a doubt the best player I've seen in my 16 years as an Arsenal supporter. Vieira, Bergkamp, Adams, Wright: of course, they're all up there. Yet Thierry has something more than those other legends. He produced utterly sublime and incomparable moments of brilliance that changed games and won matches. He scored some of the greatest goals I've seen, and he did them playing for our club.

Ok, so he had a bit of an ego on him; one that was not always used productively. But wouldn't you if you were that good? And wasn't his swagger part of the reason we all loved him so much. I can't measure the joy I used to get from watching Thierry score, and then turn to the opposition fans with a look on his face that said, 'I am Thierry Henry; we are The Arsenal; who the hell are you?'

He may not have scored in the cup finals we had with him, but it was, more often than not, his goals that got us to those finals. His exhausted legs may not have been able to seal a Champions League Victory, but it was his goals against Madrid and Juventus, his pass against Villareal, and even his freekick in the final that took us to within a hair's breadth of that cup.

My favourite Henry goal? Well, obviously his flick over the head against United, or his 100mph, pitch-long slalom run against Spuds are right up there. Thierry himself says it was his second goal against Liverpool in 2004, the goal that put the invincibles back on track. Whilst it's hard to argue with that, my favourite is his goal in Madrid, as it exemplified almost every aspect of his brilliance: his ability to burst past players at speed, to change and win matches, to figuratively and literally shrug off opponents, and to ensure his finish slid past the keeper. And, of course, the occasion was rather good as well.

Remember: no-one has died. Thierry's departure is more like a best-friend moving away, or when one of your siblings grows up and leaves home: you'll keep in contact but, it's never quite the same. It hurts, but it's not the end of the world.

Finally, I'd like to re-iterate my thanks. Thierry has given me and so many other Arsenal fans so much happiness in the eight seasons he played for our club. I don't begrudge him the move one bit, even if his reasoning (particularly the parts about David Dein) are a little hard to swallow. There will be more posts this week on the ramifications and nature of the transfer, particularly focussing on what I feel to be the real reasons for the transfer. I really don't think that David Dein's departure has much to do with Thierry's. Also, he was hardly the greatest captain in the world.

But for today at least, let's focus on the good times. Thierry said in an interview that playing for Arsenal was an honour; well I'd like to say that watching him play for our club was an honour. For at least a couple of his seasons at our club, the greatest player in the world was an Arsenal player. I'll never forget that. So long Thierry, and good luck.

Friday, June 22, 2007

£16 million for Henry is a joke.

I'm too tired and distraught to really talk about this now, but a few points, before the inevitable lengthier discussion.

1) If the fee was £16 million, we need to hire a few new negotiators. Barca and Real offered us £50m last summer - Thierry's worth has not declined by £34 million in one season. I'm sick of us accepting sub-standard deals. If Milan extorted £30 million for Shevchenko, why are we letting our best player leave on the cheap.

2) He must be replaced by proven quality.

3) Make no mistake, Arsenal are a club either in or on the precipice of crisis. A hostile takeover bid looming, a long-term manager who remains cagey about his long-term future, the club captain and the greatest Arsenal player of recent times all leaving: this cannot be easily explained away.

4) Which world-class players would want to sign for Arsenal in our current state? A team who've scrapped into Champions League qualifying two years in a row, and who've just sold their talismanic captain.

I admit that I'm a natural pessimist. But who among us can really see the light at the end of this tunnel?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Why do we have to go through this every summer?

Sorry for the lack of posts of late, but can you really blame me?

Why is it like this every summer?

The targets we've been linked with disappear off to clubs who have the money, but also a willingness to take a risk on players who are invariably overpriced.

Our top players are linked to foreign clubs, and instead of categorically denying that they want to leave, they make ambiguous statements to keep their options open. This applies to both Henry and Cesc. We know you want to play in Spain one day Cesc, but telling us this every month or so is a bit much.

In the mean time, Arsene meanders around Europe signing up 16 year old kids who may be, but probably won't be the next big thing. And even if they do make it, when will this happen exactly? Not in time for next season's alleged title push.

And on top of this, we release not one, but two ghastly away kits in the course of a few weeks. Maybe, the second is an effort to fool certain players into thinking they've signed for Barca already. Having said that, if we win the Champions League in either, they will become the greatest kits of all time.

The worst thing is, we've still got 2 and half months of this to go. Who knows, maybe we'll end up signing several players of proven quality and ability, who don't need time to finish going through puberty or acclimatise to the Premiership. Maybe our captain will even realise that saying he's an Arsenal player 'at the moment', is a bit like telling your wife that your married 'for the time being'. It's not on.

I will say but a few things as we enter the silly season:

1) If you're an Arsenal player, you're an Arsenal player. It's unacceptable for you to flirt openly with other clubs, unless you want to leave, and if you want to leave have the decency to come out and say it: don't mess the fans around.

2) As it stands, the squad needs strengthening. We particularly need goalscoring midfielders, preferably players who can naturally play out on the left and right flanks.

3) If players do go, they need to be replaced by similar quality. Arsene must learn the Vieira lesson: selling top players is fine if you think they've already peaked; what isn't is not getting in new players to replace them.

4) We need someone to help Arsene in our transfer dealings. If Hammond doesn't want the job, find somebody else.

That's all I can think of for now. Hopefully some promising news will develop soon.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Another one bites the dust.

A picture says a thousand words, eh? A long-standing, reportedly, transfer target has bitten the dust. You can say £20 million is too much, and it is, but Ribery is proven quality. More often than not, you do have to pay over the odds for footballers who don't just have potential, but have cvs that show they have what it takes to challenge for trophies.

Did we even make an offer for him in the end? I doubt it. If we did it was undoubtedly a derisory amount - £10 million say - which whilst nearer to his 'real' value, is not an amount that's going to persuade as ruthless a chairman as Pape Diouf to part with one of his top players. It's silly money, but do the Arsenal board and management realise that's what you have to pay in cases such as this?

Fear not however as, apparently, we're on the verge of signing A certain Florent Malouda. Now, I actually thought Malouda was pretty poor in the world-cup, to the extent he was almost a weak link in the French team. Yet he's been doing the business in Lyon and has just been voted French player of the year; a title, lest we forget, that another illustrious former member of the club once held.

So maybe there's some hope in the department. As a left-winger, he's a player we need, and maybe he's better than I've given him credit.

Elsewhere, Freddie Ljunberg was apparently in Glasgow yesterday for discussions with Celtic. It'd be a good move for Freddie - he'd still be a real danger in the SPL. Whether we're actually going to see any money for him is another matter, and whilst I respect Arseblogger's opinion that we'll be losing a considerable wage bill if he goes, a fee for some of our players might be nice. Just a little one?

Also, apparently Cesc will leave if Wenger does (good to see some loyalty to the club there Cesc) and Thierry is roundly misquoted in today's media regarding a move abroad.

A thought for Thierry. It might be a bind, but why not organise a press conference and definitively state you'll not be off anywhere this summer. Failing that, saying Milan and Barca are 'wonderful clubs' - or statements to that effect - in almost every interview you do, isn't going to put the fans' minds at rest.

Here's hoping for some better news next week. Although Wenger's return from Sardinia seems to be the crucial factor in any progress in the market.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Season Review: The Attack.

There is actually some decent news today. Apparently we're on the verge of signing a certain Sagna from Auxerre, a player who has just been called up to the French squad and who plays at right-back. As I think that we still need a really top class right-back, I approve of these rumours; however, for now I will continue and conclude my now almost Tolstoyan season review.

Thierry Henry, 6. His worst season at Arsenal; he knows it, we know it. However that's not to say it was devoid of a few magical moments. His last minute winner against United will certainly stay with me for quite a long time, as will his goals against Blackburn and Liverpool. Questions remain though. Should he be captain? Gilberto certainly seemed to wear the armband more comfortably. Is he losing his pace or was he just unfit? If he doesn't have his electric breakout speed of old, where does he fit into the team? Despite being our record goalscorer, I'm sure Thierry will probably think he has a few things to prove next year.

Robin van Persie, 7.5. Even taking into account the fact he didn't play for half a season, Robin has more than proven himself as a top-level player this year. I still had nagging doubts about him at the beginning of the season but he seems to have it all; well, almost all. He certainly has no right-foot. He can score goals from all around the box and outside the area. Most importantly, he shoots. He knows where the goal is and he can make things happen. He can fire in magnificent screamers in the vein of his volley at Charlton, or massively important equalisers, such as against United. More than that, his team play has improved; he can certainly no longer be called selfish. The challenge for him now is to remain fit for a season, as his ability to do so is the only real question mark remaining against his name. If he can't, greater depth in our strike-force is needed.

Adebayor, 7. Yes, higher than Henry, because Ade stayed fit almost all season and chipped in with some vital goals in almost every month, including several against the Spuds, and a blissful slide finish at Old Trafford. Ade is not the type of player who the goal-scoring burden should fall upon though. He's shown this year that he knows where the net is, but he needs a RvP or a fully-firing Henry next to him in order to reach his full potential. He's very highly rated by opposition fans, which I feel says a lot about his quality, and he needs to maintain his development, and not let his ego expand too far next year.

Baptista, 5. Somewhere between genius and bafoonery lies Julio Baptista's contribution to our season, and we all know the one to which it lies closer. Legendary and semi-legendary performances at Anfield and WHL aside, he struggled almost all season due to a lack of fitness, sharpness and, unfortunately, general ball-control skills. I gave him the benefit of the doubt for a long time because he did seem to be getting into goal-scoring positions and I hoped that his nose for the poached goal might come good for us. In short, it didn't. Can't fault his effort, but it was not meant to be.

Aliadiere, 4. Worse than Baptista. Has had far too many chances to prove himself, almost to the point where you feel Arsene has indulged him a little too much. Not good enough and we need to maximise a fee for him this summer. Somehow.

Overall, 6.

The attack had plenty of quality, but not enough goals. Profligacy was the one of the key-words of our campaign with regard to the attack, as was injury. Our strikers need to take chances when they are presented to them next year, not go for the extra-pass. They need to find the target more often and also stay fit. I'm not convinced that, with Baptista and Aliadiere leaving, we have enough depth in the strike force and I'd be very happy to see some new blood come in. However, I don't think it will, and unless RvP stays fit, and the magical Thierry of old returns, we may struggle for goals again next year.