Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Tuesday September 2 2008
Last week, Arsene Wenger proclaimed with a grin that transfer deadline day was "like a poker game." This morning, it looks to me like he`s lost his car keys and the shirt on his back. The manager has suggested for some time that he would wait for deadline day to make a purchase, a strategy that was not only very risky, but one that left us short of players for key games at the beginning of the season. The lack of squad depth contributed to an insipid performance at Craven Cottage, Wenger claimed that fatigue caused by internationals and Champions League Qualifiers was to blame. He tacitly admitted that his squad could not meet that demand. Let`s glance at the injury list for that match. Diaby and Rosicky, surely you have to expect those two to be perma residents on the treatment table by now. Eduardo, who we knew would miss the first half of this season for some time and Cesc Fabregas. Not a massive injury list by any stretch of the imagination. It still culminated in a 19 year old on the right wing who is not ready to play domestic away matches yet, a right back in central midfield and Denilson, with less than 50 Premiership appearances under his belt as the senior figure in the middle of the park. The upshot was that we were overpowered by a below average Fulham side, who aren`t exactly stacked with muscle in the centre of midfield.
I look at the squad this morning and I am alarmed beyond belief frankly. Let us establish some facts, Diarra, Flamini and Gilberto have all left since the turn of the year. Bischoff (who cannot play until November for fitness reasons) and Ramsey (behind Eboue in the pecking order) have been bought in. That is negligent management whichever way you slice it. If your company lost three senior directors and bought in two graduates as replacements you would be alarmed surely? We`ve come to a stage where we are not even asking for improvements on a squad that could not win a trophy last year, simply replacements. Let me ask you this question, do you think Gilberto would get into the first team at the moment? Because I think he would walk in without question. So why was he allowed to leave without a replacement being lined up? Reports this morning suggest that Wenger made a last ditch effort to sign Xabi Alonso last night, in keeping with Arsene`s annual last minute splurging. I garnered the impression when he made the "poker game" comment last week that Arsene was perhaps enjoying his reputation as a last minute wheeler dealer a little too much. "I can still surprise you" he exclaimed after the capture of Silvestre. We all know that Arsene works under the radar and does it very well indeed, but on this occasion, the situation was critical and by not securing another central midfielder, he is in dereliction of duty.
The problem is I bought into the dream. I accepted the transition period that has taken place since 2005 because I could see the long term benefits of it. "They`ll come good if we let them grow together" I pleaded, I accepted the party line. The sale of Vieira was absolutely correct; he needed another challenge and was well past his best. Cesc Fabregas was coming through and it was important that we made him the fulcrum of our team for the long term. Sure, it meant a little short term pain in the 2005-06 season as we readjusted the team, but I believed in it. I believed in it the season after too. Long time readers amongst you will remember that I called for the sale of Henry a good twelve months before it came to pass; I believed that the torch was ready to be passed. The Invincibles had become torn apart by Franco Spanish internal strife, as exemplified by the Reyes and Aragones saga and the fallout of a match with Rosenborg which saw Lauren and Vieira come to blows. Reyes spoke about "bad people" at the club, the change was needed. Last year, after a couple of years in the comparative wilderness of transition, it started to fit together. We had the core of a side that could challenge for honours for many years to come. Unfortunately we were unable to surmount the final hurdle; the squad was too small to facilitate the losses of van Persie, Eduardo and Rosicky. We also lacked the experience to see out late leads at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Anfield. Chelsea ruthlessly exposed our aversion to the high ball, with Toure and Gallas a not aerially dominant enough partnership to counter such tactics. Nevertheless, the problems were identifiable and rectifiable, a little more experience to supplement the squad, a little more height at the back. But we had the core of a young and exciting side that showed they were capable of challenging where all others doubted us.
So why have we sold our only two players capable of averting an aerial bombardment in Gilberto and Senderos? Why have we willingly let Gilberto and Lehmann go without replacing their experience? Why have we made the squad smaller, shorter and younger? Emmnauel Eboue is perilously close to being our first choice central midfielder. Theo Walcott IS our first choice right winger when he is not close to good enough for that yet. Denilson understandably wilted under the pressure at Craven Cottage without Fabregas to marshal him. What of Fabregas? Realistically, he is going to have to play every single game, otherwise Denilson and Eboue will again be our central midfield pairing, that in itself suggests Craven Cottage was no one off, but a performance we should expect to be repeated. Injury to Fabregas is very likely too, after a gruelling summer with Spain, the boy has not been allowed a pre season by a manager who has rushed him back into action, and is now basically telling us he must play every game. Following this international break, we have away matches at Blackburn, Bolton, Kyiv and Sunderland. We have zero opportunity for rotation; does anybody other than Wenger think this is realistic?
Don`t get me wrong, we have some fine young players in central midfield, but are any of them ready for the rigours of an entire league season? Do you honestly fancy Eboue and Denilson to get three points at Stamford Bridge or Anfield? Wenger has already admitted that he considers Alex Song a centre half and thereby not a long term option for the defensive central midfield role. That leaves us with Aaron Ramsey, who is surely not a purchase made with this campaign in mind? Especially as Eboue has been preferred to him in that position this year. That leaves Abou Diaby. Diaby is not a defensive player by trade; secondly he competes with Rosicky and van Persie for the treatment tables like little boys squabble over the top bunk, thirdly, sorry to say, he is not good enough to play for Arsenal. He hangs onto the ball for too long, his passing is atrocious and he is incapable of fitting our swift style of play. He`s also a lazy fucker to boot. His injury record before he joined us was abysmal, which again makes you wonder what the hell our doctors do during the medical when they`re supposed to be checking these things? Don`t get me wrong, I understand and appreciate the value of organic growth for a young squad, but what would have been wrong with bringing in a bit of experience alongside them? Is Denilson really going to benefit from more matches like the one at Craven Cottage? Now I`m willing to admit that I did not expect Flamini to step up to the plate in the manner he did last season, but wasn`t that due in large part to the competition from Gilberto? Wasn`t Fabregas` development aided by the presence of Edu and Gilberto? In 2006 we could have easily thrust Djourou in to replace Campbell, but we bought Gallas. I`m worried that we`re creating a crèche environment. Flamini, Adebayor and Hleb suffered some inconsistency until last season, when all three suddenly began to demonstrate the talent the manager knew they had. As soon as that potential was realised, all three agitated for moves elsewhere. What`s to say we aren`t bearing the rough plane of Denilson`s development, until he refines his game ready for a move to Barcelona in 2010?
Frankly, I believe the manager has become too enraptured with personalities. I don`t really give two shits about Denilson, Song or Diaby`s progression for their own personal satisfaction, I care about Arsenal. And if there are players out there who can do the job better, I want them. I don`t care if it stunts their development, as we have all said with the departures of Bentley, Sidwell etc. If they`re good enough, they`ll get through. If they`re not, well then it`s see you later quite frankly. Our duty is not to the players, it is to the club as I have said many times before. The fact is, the club is haemorrhaging staff, both clerically and on the field. No Director of Football has been appointed since Dein`s departure, no CFO or CEO has been appointed since Edelman left, nobody of experience has replaced Gilberto, Diarra and Flamini. Just what is going on here? It simply can`t be a cost cutting exercise, the money is there to rectify this, it`s a matter of public record, so why the dithering? On the transfer front it looks very much to me like Arsene cashed all of his chips to enter a game of wife swapping on deadline day and it looks to have blown up in his face, making his smug proclamations of his understanding of the "poker game" look really quite asinine indeed. He threw his keys in the bowl and got short changed; now we have a minute squad that is simply not capable of challenging for the title. We`re not even at a stage where the squad isn`t deep enough, we`re at a stage now where the first eleven isn`t even good enough. I sincerely hope I am wrong and that the Boss can see something I can`t, but I am looking at the asset stripping of the squad and looking at the replacements and I can`t help but think we are being consigned to a perennial period of transition while we wet nurse players through their troublesome youth and just as they come good, we sell them off to the vultures of Catalonia or Madrid, thus leaving us to begin the period of transition all over again. Hopefully, I can dig this article out again in May and we can all have a good laugh at it. I hope Arsene really does know, but course for perhaps the first time, I`m not so sure.LD.
Date:Tuesday September 2 2008
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