Watch the Dutch

– In 2008, Spain broke their duck in international competitions. Cesc Fabregas doesn’t get enough credit for their breakthrough. It was Cesc who slotted a penalty past Buffon. It was Cesc’s substitution that finally derailed the Russian attack. In 2010, I believe another Arsenal player will have a huge tournament. That player is Robin van Persie.

– Arsenal’s loss is Holland’s gain. Robin is fresh and ready to prove to the world that he’s one of the best players in the world. I believe he has the talent to match Cristiano Ronaldo and others; his problem is that he’s frequently injured. That may never change, but the World Cup is only 7 matches.

– With an attacking quartet of van Persie, Sneijder, Robben, and van der Vaart, this team has as much attacking talent as anybody. Their success will also depend on the form of their fullbacks. Gregory van der Wiel is a promising talent, while van Bronckhorst may be past his prime. If you look past the last five World Cup winners, you’ll notice they had excellent fullbacks. If the Dutch can stand strong in defense, they can finally claim a World Cup that they deserve.

– Spain and Brazil are strong favorites as well. They cannot be ruled out. I think Spain may be knocked out if they field the wrong personnel, something that may happen because they have so many gifted players. This version of Brazil is what England would like to be. They’re remarkably consistent, but I worry about Robinho and Kaka being frustrated during the World Cup.

– As a supporter of Les Bleus, I think you can safely rule out the French as any sort of threat. They could replicate their horrendous 2002 World Cup run.

– Enjoy the tournament. The World Cup is always special.

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Someone’s Had Their Eyebrows Waxed

I’m now so bored of stories related to Cesc Fabregas impending transfer to Barcelona that I don’t bother reading any. Arsenal have already been down this road with Nicolas Anelka, Patrick Vieira, and Thierry Henry. The common denominator in all three players being Real Madrid and Barcelona and their illegal tactics to try and force Arsenal to sell a player they want to keep.

If a star player wants to leave, there’s not much a club can do to keep him. You can offer him an new improved contract, promise to sign better players, or even change the formation of the team to suit him. If that fails, then you have to let him go and try to get a good transfer fee. That’s the difficult part.

Arsenal have obviously done their best to keep Cesc, but the young Spaniard wants to join his boyhood club. Now it’s over to Ivan Gazidis to show us why Arsenal signed him. Business is his forte; being a tough negotiator must be something that he’s very good at. Arsenal fans await the results.

With Cesc leaving for a large transfer fee, Arsenal will have to fill a void. The first thing that fans have to realize is that you can’t replace Cesc. There is no like for like. But if Wenger is under immense pressure to sign big name players, then when Cesc departs, that pressure will increase tenfold.

Cesc isn’t the only jewel in Arsenal’s crown. Robin van Persie is the other. His injuries, however, have prevented Arsenal fans from seeing him consistently sparkle. The World Cup will no doubt bring out the best in the Dutchman and perhaps make Arsenal fans forget about losing Cesc. I wouldn’t bet against Van Persie winning the Golden Boot – and what you don’t get with the ex-Feyenoord striker is a desire to eventually move back to his boyhood club.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are detestable when it comes to pursuing a player under a long-term contract with another club. FIFA and UEFA have shown themselves to be weak when it comes to policing the “tapping up” of players. The use of current Barcelona players to “persuade” Cesc to join is a way around this problem but it shows a lack of respect to Arsenal.

The replacement for Fabregas is now the talk of all Gooners. A friend of mine in London told me that Yoann Gourcuff would be signing for Arsenal today. Yesterday, I sent a text to a friend in New York telling him of the news. Gourcuff is in South Africa with the French squad preparing for the World Cup. All French players have been banned from taking part in any transfer negotiations. It’s now Tuesday in Europe. Gourcuff still hasn’t signed for Arsenal, and I now look like a clown.

The “Silly Season” is addictive but leaves you feeling empty. The best way to get through it, is to ignore it. The January transfer window is a lot easier to handle because the regular domestic season is still being played, but without any Arsenal matches to digest, the summer transfer season consumes most of my attention.

That’s why Friday’s opening World Cup matches can’t come soon enough. Until then, the NBA Finals will help pass the time as I try to stop myself from getting caught up in rumors on whether Joe Cole or Joe Hart have signed for Arsenal.

It’s now time for me to stop looking like a clown.

Keep It Arsenal

Reviewing the Attack

Robin van Persie – The picture above indicates exactly when our season began to go awry. That’s not to say that we were in sterling form before the injury. We dropped points in games we should have closed out (West Ham) and lost games we shouldn’t have (Sunderland). It’s all too clear now that the 4-3-3 system was installed to bring the best out of Cesc, but the player that made it all work was Robin van Persie. One of the best False Nine’s in the game, Holland, with all of their prodigious attacking talent, is now effectively built around Robin van Persie. He didn’t score for the first few games, but when he got going, he banged in goals and created them as well. Even after missing a substantial chunk of the season, van Persie finished with 9 goals and 7 assists in 16 appearances. He was becoming one of the best strikers in the world. When he got injured, we literally lost the one person that we had no cover for. Not really. Bendtner can play as a target man, but he doesn’t link play as well, doesn’t terrify defenders when dribbling forward, and lacks the Dutchman’s technique. Our scoring ratio dipped massively after his injury, where once people were writing about how we might break a century of goals in the Premier League, Chelsea actually went out and achieved that. The lack of cover is one of Wenger’s crucial mistakes. I believe that he wanted to bring in Chamakh before the season started, but refused to be held ransom by Bordeaux, a team we had difficulty with before (the signing of Sylvain Wiltord). Clearly, he has the talent to be one of the finest players in the world, but can he stay healthy enough. It’s a real question that needs to be answered. Before this season, he made 28 appearances in the Premier League. That was a career high for him. I love Robin, but going forward, we need a true contingency plan.

Nicklas Bendtner – When Robin van Persie went down, Nicklas Bendtner was given his opportunity to shine. However, he quickly got injured as well. That is what you call a terrible stroke of luck. After people clamored for Wenger to splash the cash in January, Bendtner’s recovery from his injury is what people had to settle for. Bendtner is a player people love to hate. He’s confident to the point of arrogance. He doesn’t possess a great first touch. He occasionally misses sitters. However, if Wenger had signed a forward that scored 9 goals in 12 appearances, I’m sure people would have been more than pleased with his signing. Because that’s what Bendtner did for us when he came back from his injury. That doesn’t include his hat trick of missed chances against Burnley. Say what you will about the man. Say that he only scored against teams like Wolves (I don’t recall anybody else for us scoring on that day). Say that he isn’t as good as he thinks he is. The bottom line is, he’s 22 years old and going to the World Cup as his country’s No. 1 striker. I don’t know what Chamakh’s arrival does for Bendtner, but this is not a player you give up on.

Eduardo – I don’t want to bring back bad memories, but to me, it’s clear that Martin Taylor effectively ended Eduardo’s days of elite form. When he came back, he scored an outrageous goal with his ankle. That could only have given us Gooners hope that he would come back as strong as ever. But do you know what I see? I see a player who doesn’t have the confidence he once had, and a player who is afraid when he is on the pitch. He doesn’t strike through the ball when he knows an opposition player is near. I’m not saying it’s actively on his brain, but it’s playing a part regardless. I feel for Eduardo. I want him to come back and be the marksman he was with Zagreb. But being cutthroat, I think his days may be numbered. Between the “new” Eduardo and the frustrating Carlos Vela, I’d have to choose the latter if given a choice for the future.

Carlos Vela – That’s not to suggest that I’m pleased with Vela at all. This boy has talent in abundance. That is clear to anybody who watched the U-17 Championships that he participated in and won the Golden Boot in. It’s clear to anybody who’s seen all the beautiful goals he scored in the Carling Cup. But take that out of the equation and examine his performances in the Premier League and what do you see? He’s missed a few sitters. He’s hardly made an impact. He’s not been what Wenger thought he would be. This is a player who terrorized Real Madrid when he played for Osasuna. Instead, he missed the biggest game of his life because he misplaced his passport. He’s scored more beautiful chips than sitters. I thought he could provide an impact, but maybe it’s our formation that’s not bringing out the best in him. But, I need to see something before I can judge that. When he plays for Mexico, he is an influential player. He needs to show something next year, or he’ll be sold for a nice fee to a La Liga club very soon.

Andrey Arshavin – Labelled by a disappointment this year by many, he’s had the odd distinction of being better immediately on arrival than after the crucial six month adaptation process. I think most people are disappointed because they expect world class performances from Arshavin in every game. That’s a legitimate thing to ask since he is world class when he wants to be. When going against a defender like Jonathan Spector, Arshavin should shred him at every opportunity. It just doesn’t happen as frequently as we’d like. But, he had 10 goals and 2 assists in the Premier League this year, along with 7 assists in Europe, so he wasn’t exactly worthless. His performance against Porto in the second leg was one of the best by any Arsenal player this year. I also have the suspicion that he was injured for most of the year, not in a crucial way, but enough to make a difference. Like his openness or not, he revealed things about the Arsenal medical staff that must be addressed. We’ve lost two crucial medical members to Fabio Capello and England. It’s too early to label him a permanent disappointment, and if Cesc leaves, he’ll be one of the player we need to rely on the most.

– One thing needs to be pointed out about this review. Notice how there are only five players listed. Yes, Theo, Nasri, and Rosicky have all played on the wings. I think it’s clear though that we need wingers and forwards, especially considering that two of the five are injury risks. People used to chastise Wenger for stockpiling strikers. All of a sudden, on paper, we don’t have enough. That needs to be addressed.

If Cesc Goes, It’s Robin

– If the reports circulating today are true (and that’s a big if), Cesc will leave Arsenal for Barcelona. I would like to put emphasis on the word “leave”. It needs to be used in place of “sold”.

– Cesc has stepped up to the plate this year and has actually led like a fine captain. If he leaves, I expect Robin van Persie to be the next captain of Arsenal.

Post Season View – Arsenal F.C. 2009-10 Pt. 2

Some have asked if Arsene Wenger is a miracle worker or just a stubborn fool. Considering his ability to reap financial rewards from top four finishes and to manage CL qualification year after year, he might be the former because he spends so little in the transfer market. Considering his general unwillingness to invest in proven players – in a proper goalkeeper in particular – he might be guilty of the latter. It depends on your perspective.

Regardless of your (or my) opinion of Arsene, it’s quite clear that we have players at Arsenal who have not cut it. As my colleague has pointed out, transfers will be greatly affected by the UEFA squad requirements that go into effect next term. Nonetheless, if we are to finally win something, a frank and candid statement must be made about current personnel.

Last summer, I detailed what I wanted from certain players this past season. I felt that those particular players owed us. Below are those requirements. Let’s see who has met them. Let’s see who has paid their debt.

Summer 2009: Cesc – Be the player you’ve shown you can be.
2009-10 season: Jackpot! Enter the new Mr. Arsenal.

Gael Clichy – Stop the mental lapses.
It wasn’t until the final few matches of the season that our LB began to show signs of the player we once knew.

Johan Djourou – Make Kolo, Gallas, and Vermaelen fight it out.
You weren’t even ready. The swelling in your knee was far more serious than first thought.

Vassiriki Abou Diaby – Dominate the center of the park.
Improved but still prone to frustrating performances, leaving questions about his true ability.

Theo Walcott – Justify the fee please. Decision making must improve.
I’m still waiting. I am not convinced that we’ve invested wisely in this kid. Christopher Eagles outplayed Theo at Turf Moor. WTF!

Nicklas Bendtner – Finish your chances. Make me forget about Luis Fabiano.
Not as prolific as I would like but certainly did his share when he was fit.

Bacary Sagna – Be the best RB in the EPL again.
Not back to the standards of his first season but certainly better than his second.

Denilson – Add more goals and assists to your nice stats.
The stats weren’t going to save him this season. He has regressed, despite a few shining moments and some fine long range goals.

The first choice keeper – Be unbeatable.
Begone.

Robin van Persie – World Player of the Year.
Injured again. Robin has not played an injury free season as a first choice player at Arsenal.

The expectations were high in many cases but we must strive for excellence if we are to win trophies. I have lost faith in some players. Others still have not done enough. I need to see Alex Song-type leaps and improvement next season from the team as a whole.

The Invincibles are watching. Make them proud. Make Arsene proud.

Keep the Faith

Inter the Future

– The match between Arsenal and Manchester City has been unanimously called dull. Everybody is right. The only thing to take from the match was Robin van Persie’s tackle on Adebayor. The less said about the match the better.

– I don’t know why Manchester City are being allowed to bring in Fulop on emergency loan. Their reserve keeper was fielded against us. Could they not use a reserve goalkeeper to back up Gunnar Nielsen? I don’t get it.

– Who do we want to finish 4th? Truly a nightmare scenario. Do we actually want Sp*rs to finish 4th? Possibly so, if it means keeping Manchester City down. If Manchester City gets Champions League football, they’ll find it easier to sign world class players. They’ll sign good players regardless, but it would be a big step forward for them. If Sp*rs get 4th, it’ll be terrible for us, but imagine the humiliation when they’re knocked out by the champions of Czech Republic. Maybe we want Aston Villa to sneak it, knowing how mediocre a manager O’Neill is. We definitely do not want Liverpool to somehow get 4th, because that would mean they would have beaten Chelsea, and if that’s the case, Manchester United will have won the Premier League. That’s a true nightmare.

– Everybody assumed Inter Milan would be put to the sword by Messi. I knew better. If I’m being honest, we made Barcelona look great. Mourinho would do no such thing. And in the end, his plan was simple. Field two holding midfielders, use Sneijder to provide creativity through the middle, deploy quick wingers to make runs between the full-backs and centre-backs, and rely on the solid defense (with the inspirational Lucio as a pivot point). Furthermore, they kept the pitch dry. Can they hold on against to their lead? Barcelona may score two goals, but I think Inter will also score once. That means Barcelona need to score three or four to win the tie. Messi’s “ascension” to immortality continues here.

– You may not like him, but Jose Mourinho is a winner. He’s proven that beyond a shadow of a doubt. If he successfully prevents Barcelona from defending the Champions League at the Bernabeu, he’ll be the Real Madrid manager next year. Guaranteed.

– Following Inter’s blueprint, could we have done the same against Barcelona if we were fully fit? I think we could have, but I still don’t think we would have played that way against Barcelona. Wenger wants to outplay Barcelona, and to get there, we’re going to need to improve a lot.

– It was nice to hear George Boateng condemn Phil Brown for his embarrassing halftime pitch talk way back. English people wrote it off, but that is the kind of thing a megalomanic does. Humiliating your players often leads you nowhere. That’s why Almunia has a “wrist injury,” even though it’s plainly obvious he does not.

– Tony Pulis is furious that information about a fight between the players was leaked out to the public. He’s apparently preparing to ship out ten of the players. A harmonious ship, huh? I can hear him already, “we’re not that kind of team.” Sure.

– I hope Liverpool fields a team of reserves against Chelsea. I would love to see the look on Alex Ferguson’s face when he reads that Damien Plessis is playing instead of Gerrard. That won’t happen though. Regardless, you have to give some credit to Chelsea. They’ve scored an insane amount of goals and have had three games where they’ve scored seven goals. They don’t have much of a style, but they bang them in. You can’t ignore 93 goals in 36 games.

– Check out this goal by Sergio Canales. Stunning. I wish we signed him, but he’s off to Madrid. Bastards.

– To close with a quote by Wenger. “For a while, we were not investing maybe because we had built the stadium, but I think our financial situation is now becoming much stronger and we will be capable to buy the players we need to buy.” There are a few things to point out here. One, it reveals that Wenger was handcuffed by the stadium. Did he complain? No. Did fans still asked for his head. Two, he used the word “need”, which indicates that he sees clear areas that need to be improved. Last, it shows that Wenger understands that next year will be crucial to this team’s development. Another trophyless season will be a big problem, and he knows it. I would love to fast forward a few months and have next season start now. But first, let’s enjoy the Champions League and the World Cup.

Derby Day

– Seven days off was a good thing for both Arsenal and me. I watched a few matches of football, and was generally relieved to be unconcerned with Arsenal for a few hours. The El Clasico was a damp squib with a few moments of excellence from Xavi, Pedro, and Messi. Blackburn surprisingly didn’t capitulate against Manchester United, who spent much of the second half throwing themselves onto the ground. Bolton played excellent defensively, but one cross from Drogba and having zero shots on target doomed them. For the Arsenal team, they got valuable rest after having to chase Barcelona players for 90 minutes last Wednesday.

– Arsenal made me a very happy man the last time we played Sp*rs. It was my birthday, and the 3-0 victory was a perfect way to start my day. On that day, we still had Robin van Persie in our side and we were a smooth offensive machine. The fact that we’re still in the race after losing him for so long is nothing short of a miracle. When Wenger talks about van Persie potentially being in the class of Ronaldo, Messi, and Rooney, he might be overshooting the mark slightly, but not by much. Remember that Wenger scouted all of these players when they were young, and former Gunners, like Bergkamp, Henry, and Pires, would frequently say that Robin has every trick in the book. He’s been out injured for so long that it’s almost as if he’s been wiped from our squad. And despite the fact that we’re still in touch of the leaders, our team has suffered for it. The plain truth is that we’ve scored less goals and the method of our play had to be largely altered because of his absence.

– Robin van Persie is one of the finest false nine players in the world. When he initially went down injured, I noted that he was probably the most difficult player to replace in this side. Now, that shouldn’t be the case. I believe that we should have a suitable player to back up each member of the starting XI if they go down to injury. Losing Cesc hurts, but we do have players who can play in that position. When van Persie went down, we had to use Andrey as a striker while waiting for Bendtner to recover. Robin will probably only make an appearance on the bench, but his return is very much welcome. It should be noted that he did not play against Chelsea in the league or United in the Emirates return fixture. He did play in the match against United away, and most would agree that we deserved something from that match. He would have made a difference in those matches.

– All that being said, let’s not expect any miracles. I don’t mean to undercut myself as I’m thrilled that he’s back, but he’s been out of football for quite a while now. The last time he returned from an injury that took this long, he struggled to find sharpness and generally frustrated a lot of Arsenal fans. If he can just act as a superb link up player and put away chances, we’ll have to be content with that.

– For Arsenal, tomorrow is about a couple of things. One, staying in the title race. Two, clinching St. Totteringham’s Day against Sp*rs. Lose and we achieve neither. The players must show a response after being outclassed by Barcelona.

– We will be missing Alex Song for another two matches. That is a big loss, but Denilson is capable. Equally, Palacios will be missing for Sp*rs and that’s a similar absence for them. Additionally, Lennon and Corluka will be miss out. Having Aaron Lennon attack Clichy for 90 minutes would have been a huge boost for them. Gallas and Arshavin seem likely to be done for the year.

– Sol Campbell returns to play for us against Sp*rs once again. Harry Redknapp, the blue waffle himself, noted that Sol Campbell wanted to desperately leave Arsenal when he signed him for Portsmouth a few years back. That’s the kind of stunning rehabilitation it’s been for Sol. He wanted out, we wanted him out, and now he’s back and happy as ever. If you don’t think that’s true, look at the amount of fist pumps he did after Bendtner scored a last gasp winner against Wolves. He loves it here, and he had to leave Arsenal to realize how wonderful Arsenal is. Players don’t get that second chance, but he did, and he’s grasped it.

– A brief tangent. Wolves chairman Jez Moxey was furious at the FA for the way that Arsenal had “influenced” the ref and got Karl Henry sent off. They can’t just let this die, can they? For an excellent article about the matter, read this. Spot on.

– Back to Sp*rs. We must pay attention to Peter Crouch. He’s hurt us in the past, mostly with his feet instead of with his height. Other than him, Modric is a fine player who’s proven himself in this league. And Gareth Bale is being hailed as some sort of left back wizard. He can deliver a nice ball, but we need his friend Theo Walcott to occupy him the entire match (instead of flittering in and out of games as he has been doing).

– We win this game, and we’ll put pressure on Chelsea. I think most people expect us to drop points in this fixture. That’s just the vibe I’m getting. There is no better time to play Sp*rs. Stewart Robson said on the Times Podcast that he didn’t believe any of the top four sides have improved this year. He’s wrong. We’re much better this year than we were last year. It’s time to finish strong and win this title.