As I write this article on Friday night, here’s my timeline:
Midnight – wait ‘til the transfer deadline is shut so I can begin writing an article concerning how this takeover stuff has completely overshadowed our lack of transfer activity and Champions League draw.
12.15am – start writing the introduction to this article, which has now been scrapped because…
12.20am – I get a phonecall from my mate (for his privacy we’ll call him DJ) saying that he’s just gone on the Arsenal website and read that we’ve signed Lassana Diarra from Chelsea!
12.25am – I switch to Sky Sports News but there is no breaking news, and Sportsline on Sky News has nothing either. BBC Sport too is barren.
12.30am – NewsNow finally picks up on it, as does Sky Sports News.
So this whirlwind of late activity has completely (well, partially) ripped apart my original article.
Before I get continue along my original route, let me just say a few words about Diarra’s signing. Firstly I think it is a very shrewd buy for us, and I actually think that it is unplanned in the sense that he has only recently become available after Chelsea’s signing of Belletti and Le Boss has decided that he is too good an opportunity to miss out on. He looks like and plays like Claude Makelele, and Abou Diaby looks like and – at times – plays like Patrick Vieira, so you can see what Wenger is trying to re-create there…
Secondly, I think this may spell the end of Gilberto commanding a regular starting place by the end of the season. He was already under pressure from the likes of Diaby and Denilson (who are not pure holding midfielders like Bertie himself), so the arrival of a more natural anchorman in Diarra means that his place is well under threat. Combined with the fact that he was overlooked for the captaincy and that he is not even first choice vice-captain, along with Wenger’s traditional policy for the over-30’s, it doesn’t look too good for our Brazilian, unless of course he becomes a full-time centre-half…
But this article was not meant to be about personnel or tactics, it was meant to be about how David Dein’s sale of shares to Alisher Usmanov and Farhad Moshiri completely and utterly overshadowed important times on the field, namely the Champions League qualification/draw and the shutting of the transfer window.
I’ll come to the issue of the aptly named "Red and White Holdings" in a minute, but let me talk about our Champions League group stage draw before that: Sevilla or AEK Athens, Steaua Bucharest and Slavia Prague. On paper we should qualify comfortably in the top two, as Steaua and Slavia are not the most prolific of teams, especially away from home. That said, these are potentially horrible journeys to Eastern Europe, which can become a graveyard like the North-West of England was if we are not too careful. If Athens manage to get past Sevilla then we will become even stronger favourites to win the group, but again we will have to endure another dodgy trip to Eastern Europe. I was debating with my mate DJ whether or not Sevilla or Athens would be a better draw for us, he plumped for Athens but I would be more inclined towards Sevilla. Why? Because Sevilla are a footballing side, and while they could definitely hurt us more, their natural attacking style will likely afford us chances too, unlike against Athens and Steaua and Slavia who are all more likely to ‘park the bus’, especially at the Emirates. Considering the teams individually, Steaua are apparently a very defensive team so if we don’t get an early goal against them then we can expect another tense European night, whilst Slavia are meant to be a poor version of their neighbours Sparta, who we dismissed with relative ease. Slavia did however knock out Ajax so they may have acquired a taste for the upset. In summary, regardless of whether it is Sevilla or Athens, I have a mantra for the group stages: whatever result we achieve away from home, we should be able to better that at the Emirates. So that should hopefully be three wins and three draws at the very least. If we can do that then I believe we will qualify for the round of 16.
Now onto the transfer window (and until very, very late in the night) the lack of activity on Arsenal’s behalf. Everyone had dreams of Arsene unveiling a jet-heeled winger to complement the creativity we currently have in our midfield. It’s a signing we have been waiting for all summer – early on in the transfer window the names of Ribery and Babel were being bandied about, and then more recently it has been Quaresma. While it is true that we do lack an established out-and-out winger, I never feel we have been close to signing one. If Wenger wanted Ribery or Babel or Quaresma that badly, he would’ve stumped up the cash for them as long as it was a reasonable price. And if Wenger did harbour any lingering hopes to bring one in towards the back-end of the window, I feel they have been extinguished since the start of the season by the performances of Eboue (in pre-season), Walcott (on Wednesday night) and Eduardo (very briefly on Wednesday night). I think that he believes that these three can balance out the creativity of Rosicky and Hleb on the opposite wing and I hope he is proved correct, because we can moan and groan all we want but the simple fact is that we are now stuck with what we’ve got until January (and probably ‘til next season, because it is highly doubtful that Le Boss will buy a European cup-tied player midway through the season). I particularly feel that he has high hopes for Theo as a wide player, especially because with him on the pitch switching to a more attacking 4-3-3 formation will be easier to do. Also because he is a striker by nature he should in theory have more of a nose for goal than Eboue.
A final word about the Diarra signing before I move on…don’t you just love the way Arsene tells a big whopping porky pie to the press when saying that he will not buy anyone, before pulling this out of the hat? Pure genius.
And so onto the big news and original focus of this piece…David Dein selling his 14% of shares to Usmanov and Moshiri, and in the process being installed as the Chairman of their company which will almost certainly look to increase it’s proportion of shares in the club sooner or later. First things first, the timing from Dein was awfully self-centred. To do so on such an important day, that of the Champions League group stage draw, was churlish. To do so only HALF AN HOUR before the draw itself was spiteful to Keith Edelman and disrespectful to the fans. While Edelman would normally have to field questions from the press regarding the draw, instead he would have to face searching questions about the uncertain future of the club’s ownership. And while the fans should have been discussing the draw (and the transfer window) the following day at work, instead they were debating the merits and otherwise of foreign investment in the club. While I don’t doubt that Dein dearly loves the club, I think that his ego and sheer bloody-mindedness to become the top man at Arsenal, by hook or by crook, is to the detriment of the well-being of the club itself. If you claimed to love the club so much, would you pull off this kind of behaviour just after the start of the season? I mean, what the hell has he been doing all summer??? OH YES OF COURSE, HE WAS TRYING TO FORGE A DEAL WITH STAN KROENKE.
I nearly forgot about Silent Stan. I wonder what he feels about all this? It was almost a given that Dein would sell his shares to him, thereby giving the Kroenke/Dein unholy alliance 26% of the club’s shares and pushing them ever closer to the magical 30% mark (it’s magical because when you reach that you can lodge a takeover bid). But now, The Arsenal has two major foreign shareholding parties: Kroenke with 12% and Dein/Usmanov/Moshiri with 14%. Add it up and that is over a quarter of the club. These two parties cannot co-exist as separate entities on the Arsenal board as they have the same aim, to eventually gain majority control. So the only logical conclusion is that one party buys the other out, or that they pool together and join forces. Either way, it is rocky times ahead for Arsenal off the pitch. Given what has been written about Usmanov’s history, it’s funny how Silent Stan seems the lesser of two evils now, where a few months ago he was more ‘Satan’ Kroenke…
On the pitch, we are in relatively rude health. Whatever people say about the strengths and weaknesses of the squad, there is no doubting that it already has a different feel to it than last season. It’s a kind of backs-to-the-wall, siege mentality vibe, a ‘thou shalt not bully us’ modus operandi. We’re giving as good as we get in terms of physicality, and I like it. I miss the days where the press would bitch and whine about the plethora of red cards we were receiving, the last few years it’s been all sympathetic praise along the lines of: "Arsenal are all style but, unfortunately, no substance" and "Beauty is not necessarily efficient". Well I’m sick to my back teeth of that crap. I crave the days where we’d go down to 10-men, spit in the face of adversity and walk away with three points. Now I’m not calling for a return of the sending-offs, but spitting in the face of adversity (these days the adversity comes in the form of over-physical opposition) is always welcome.
Compare the overall situation this year to the same point in time last year: back then we’d just signed Willy Gallas in exchange for Cashley Hole and swapped Jose ‘The Wallflower’ Reyes for Julio ‘The Beast’ Baptista, all this on the back of narrowly missing out on European glory the season before, retaining our talismanic skipper and beginning the Ashburton era. Exciting times surely lay ahead, especially because behind the scenes the club was a strong as ever. Right? Wrong. Things are never as they seem, and we went on to have our worst season under Wenger, highlighted by injuries to Gallas and Henry, Baptista’s poor form and of course a storm brewing in the boardroom as Dein was forced out.
Now fast forward a year: Henry gone. Baptista gone. Reyes gone. Gallas controversially made captain. No glamorous deadline day signings. And all this amid unsettling behaviour at helm of the club, where things are more uncertain than ever with two foreign parties being prominent and unwelcome shareholders. But the important facts lie on the pitch, and conversely "footballisticly" we are doing so much better than we were a year ago. We have already amassed five points more than we had this time last year. The squad is more united after the departure of a certain Mr. Henry, sharing the responsibility as opposed to subconsciously heaping it onto him. And Arsene is poised to sign a new deal next week (unless he is having us all on, in which case we really would be doomed).
I read a very interesting article yesterday, and it is as much a philosophical one as a football one. The main question was whether us Gooners would prefer a more traditional ‘English’ club (and I use the term ‘English’ loosely), or a successful yet foreign-owned club? Painting the picture black and white, do you want a club which does things the right way, the so-called ‘Arsenal way’, even if it is not necessarily trophy-laden? Or do you want a United States of Arsenal or Arseski – a foreign-owned club that throws tainted money around in order to buy silverware a la Chelsea? I know which side of the fence I sit on, and from Arsene’s comments regarding the Dein business I gather that he sits on the same side as me.
Wouldn’t it be a million times sweeter winning the title or Champions League the ‘Arsenal way’, having not fired £50 notes at other clubs but instead having nurtured this talented group of kids and harnessed them with a winning mentality along the way? In my humble opinion, supporting a club – this club – is not just about the success it achieves, but it is as much about how the club sets out to achieve that success. Sometimes in life it doesn’t matter what you do…the important thing is how you go about doing it. And right now, Arsenal are at that crossroad.
Do you agree or disagree? Should we sell-out to these foreign investors to supposedly further our prospects? Or would you rather we kept our soul English in what could be a potentially more futile, but ultimately more satisfying attempt to fulfil Arsene’s vision?