The next three matches are the most important matches in Arsene’s time at Arsenal. Never has an Arsenal team been so short of quality players and never has our season hung on thread so early. Three defeats and the fans will be calling for Arsene’s head, three undefeated games and Arsene will have bought time to restructure the squad.
Matters have not been helped by early season suspensions, Gervinho and Song will miss both games against Liverpool and Manchester United, as well as the Swansea City game. To compound matters for tomorrow’s game, Gibbs, Diaby and Wilshere are all out injured, whilst there is a doubt over the fitness of Rosicky. In attack we welcome back our captain van Persie, but that is it.
For tomorrow’s game Arsene must decide as to whether he plays Traore at left back or moves Vermaelen to that position, a move that could reveal our weakness at the centre of the defence once more.
Crucially, will Wenger play Arshavin in the playmaker role? Arguably the Russian’s best games for Arsenal were when he joined and played just behind the striker, this role allowed him to roam around the field and did not require him to track back, something that our little Russian does not enjoy doing. If Arshavin plays in the playmaker role, I would like to see Lansbury employed on one of the flanks, and given a similar task that Ray Parlour used to perform, that is asked to tuck in when we do not have the ball.
Arsene has few options for tomorrow a game that will see many youngsters on the bench.
Both league games will big tests for the Arsenal squad, but I would hope that by the Manchester United game we will have bought one or two more players.
On the transfer front, everything has gone quiet, which in Arsenal terms is normally a positive. Wenger pulled out of the Mata deal once other teams entered the fray, Arsenal are not prepared to enter into an auction which was one of the reasons that we did not sign Ricardo Alvarez earlier on this season. Arsenal prefer to do business behind closed doors and nearly always walk away once a transfer has been leaked. I do not believe the Mata deal is dead, Chelsea may using Mata to force Modric’s hand at Spurs. If Mata does not move to Chelsea next week, expect Arsenal to try to sign him prior to the transfer window closing.
Everyone agrees that a centre-half is a top priority for Arsenal with four centre-halves linked to us this summer, Chaill, Jagielka, Dann and Samba. Samba has probably been priced out of the market as far as Wenger is concerned and Jagielka seems set on staying at Everton, though if we have not bought a centre-back, Wenger will try a transfer deadline day swoop, Everton have financial problems and are unable to enter the transfer market without selling. It was interesting that Scott Dann did not feature for Birmingham City in the Europa League last night. If was due to sign for Liverpool, playing in Europe would not be an issue, but Arsenal would not have wanted him cup-tied. Gary Cahill will go to the wire. No club has made a bid for him, Bolton are in need of money and unless he has a change of heart and signs a new contract, he will leave on a free next summer, something that Bolton cannot afford to allow. Wenger would well tie up Scott Dann soon and then wait until transfer deadline day and offer Bolton £10M-£12M.
Last weekend we were strongly linked with Shaktar Donetsk Brazilian playmaker Jadson, with Shaktar claiming we had agreed a fee for the player. This was flatly denied by Arsene. Is this a case of a selling club trying to generate interest or did Arsenal tell Shaktar and Jadson to keep quiet or the deal is off?
Reports from Italy this week have linked us with Lazio’s Argentina attacker Zarate, with some reports claiming we were discussing terms with his representatives over a possible £10M – £18M move.
On the exit front, Nasri will be leaving to join Manchester City this week-end, Armand Traore has been linked with a loan move to QPR leaving us short of left-back cover and Niklas Bendtner has still not found a club.
All in all a very nerve racking 8 days ahead for Arsenal fans.
The focus of the football world is Samir Nasri. The little mercurial midfield maestro, who was proclaimed the little Zidane is the centre of a massive tug of war.
Nasri has not signed a new contract, he says money is not the route of the dispute, Arsenal have offered £90,000 as week and Nasri wants in the region of £110,000 a week. If this is the reason then Arsenal should pay extra £20,000 a week (we make more than that in programme sales every home game). If however it is Nasri wanting to see who Arsenal bring in, then this will be a long and protracted saga.
There are four clubs showing an interest in Nasri, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Inter Milan. Nasri is in demand and holds most of the cards. Arsenal appear to have made it clear he will not be allowed to go cheaply, despite only a year left on his contract.
Manchester United were the first to proclaim an interest with it is reported representative of both sides having already met. Wenger however has gone on record stating he will not sell Nasri to United. This will strengthen United and make it harder for Arsenal to challenge for the title next season. Wenger is also hurting over the comments coming out of Old Trafford about Arsenal and our style of football and lack of trophies.
Manchester City were next on the scene. Arsenal are prepared to sell to City, knowing City will pay around £25M for Nasri. There are several players at City who could be thrown into the deal, namely Micah Richards. Richards is an Arsenal fan, a versatile defender and a player who would be ideal for Arsenal.
Chelsea today made an enquiry about Nasri, mentioning £22M. They also have players who they want to throw into the bargain. The only player worth considering is Florent Malouda. He is a strong, experienced player who scores and creates plenty of goals and would do a good job for Arsenal.
The final club are Inter Milan. Inter’s problem is money. They bought Ricardo Alvarez, supposedly an Arsenal target and that appears to be their transfer budget. Inter have several players that could interest Arsenal including Thiaggo Motta and Emiliano Viviano. To funds the Nasri deal, Inter will have to sell Sneijder to Manchester United. Wenger would prefer to sell to Inter as this will take Nasri away from the Premier League, however Wenger should be bold and offer cash plus Nasri for Sneijder. Arsenal should break the bank and offer the Dutch player £130,000 a week to lure him to the Emirates, that would be a best sign of intent Arsenal can show and it will infuriate Ferguson and all the Manchester United fans.
The final option is that Nasri will be convinced that with the arrival of Gervinho, hopefully Cahill and even Juan Mata that Arsenal are making the right signings that means we will seriously challenge next season.
The press and radio are having another field day with Arsenal, writing about our demise before a ball has been kicked. The rationale behind this theory is we haven’t spent any money so we will struggle to qualify for the Europa League, never mind the Champions League.
Well let’s look at this matter in detail.
If Clichy and Sagna can rediscover their form of two years ago, once more we will have a solid defence. Wenger has strengthened the defence with the signing of Vermaelen and if Toure leaves, then he will add one more defender.
In midfield the key is not the “holding” player, but Fabregas. If Fabregas starts to tick from day one, so will the rest of the team. In Denilson, Song and Diaby Wenger has three players who should compliment Fabregas, but is Cesc does not find form then we will suffer.
In the attacking third of the field we have the most attacking players and option available than any other club in the Premier League. Commentators ignore the return of Rosicky and Eduardo, they do not realise what these two players will bring to the team. In addition we will Arshavin for the whole season. This player is a winner and possesses the ability to unlock some of the packed defences we will encounter at the Emirates. Wenger has a wealth of riches to choose from in terms of attackers, van Persie, Eduardo, Bendtner, Vela, Arshavin, Walcott, Nasri, Rosicky and Wilshere.
Now let’s look at our rivals.
Liverpool have added Johnson, period. They could lose one if not both of Alonso and Maschareno this week and they are so reliant on the goals of Gerrard and Torres that they are two long term injuries away from Premier League mid-table football.
Manchester United have lost Tevez and Ronaldo and Fergie has been riled by Manchester City. He is worried be cause he realises that despite the goals that Owen has scored in friendlies they count for nothing once the season begins. Ronaldo scored 25 goals last season and countless assists, where are they going to come from this season? Fergie has his wings clipped in terms of spending money this season and does not like it.
Chelsea are as always stable and will one or two players. Their biggest problems are the age of the squad and Carlo Ancelotti. Ancelotti is Roman’s pick and the previous manager chosen by the boss failed, furthermore Ancelotti has won only one league trophy in all his years in Italy.
There are as always several pretenders. Tottenham, Everton, Aston Villa and Manchester City.
Tottenham are stuck in a vicious circle of buying plenty of mediocre players, overpaying them and not able to sell them on.
Everton have no money and Moyes will cobble together a challenge for the Europa League, but Everton are traditional slow starters to their league campaign.
Aston Villa have lost a key midfielder and replaced him with an over-rated winger who has a broken leg. Their season went pear-shape the moment they bought Heskey.
Manchester City are the biggest challengers, but Hughes did not show last season that he can get a group of players to gel together. City at one stage flirted with relegation. It will take one or two bad results and the Cit bubbler will burst with the likes of Tevez and Adebayor complaining about spending too much time on the bench.
I do not believe or listen to the doom and gloom mongers. Wenger will strengthen the team but we are not far off challenging for the league, we need to find form early this season and start to score goals from all over the place then we will challenge and plent y of pundits will have to eat their own words.
Earlier this week the sage of the financial world Alex Ferguson made a pronouncement on the financial situation at Arsenal. His claim was that Arsene had very little money to spend and it will be tough for Arsenal this season.
This comes from the club who are £800million in debt and have annual interest payments of £45million. This year Ferguson sold Ronaldo for £80million and has spent £19million on players. The Glazers need to not only service the interest payments, but will also be required to repay the debt. The Glazers have already increased season ticket prices at Old Trafford, now it is the time for the playing staff to be attacked.
Despite knowing for two years what the asking price for Tevez was, United were reluctant to meet the £25million fee as that would have eaten into the money required by the Glazers. The spin coming out of Old Trafford is that there are not players out there who want to fight for United, so Fergie is not buying anyone. Tevez certainly used to fight or United, but he would have cost money and if it is a case of fighters, I have not seen any fight from Berbatov.
Clearly United are undergoing a financial squeeze and Fergie wants to deflect attention away from United and on to Arsenal.
Arsenal have debt and that is well known. Our debt is broken into two elements, the £135milion used to develop Highbury and the £232million used to build the Emirates. It is the first of these loans that is concerning the club and the directors are trying to renegotiate a loan extension as the housing market has collapsed and the club will find it difficult to pay this loan by April 2010. Our annual interest payment is £17million, whilst our profits before interest is £48million. This is adequate cover and does not in any way necessitate Wenger having to sell players to finance the interest payments.
The press have not yet looked into the United finances and the fact that Fergie has not spent the transfer fee received from Ronaldo, but if they dig a little they will find a club in deep financial quagmire.