Category Archives: signing

The Ceballos Experiment

It makes economical sense.

Not that being frugal has ever really applied to football transfers, but the increasing frequency of top clubs looking at a loan move instead of a full transfer is probably buoyed by this fact as well as one other.

It enables a club to see if a target is indeed the correct fit for the team. The many variables that can mean the difference between a seamless transition for a player and a failed experiment that could lead to a broken dressing room.

It comes down to much more than if a new signing can deliver the goods on the pitch. If they are a jarring influence in the dressing room, on the training pitch, then it can be almost as disastrous as a lack of performances on the turf.

They may struggle with authority figures, they could even end up simply hating the area of the UK that they live in.

All of these factors can be given the litmus test with a loan, and Dani Ceballos was beginning to look like a real boon for Arsenal.

The Spaniard arrived with quite the fanfare. Ceballos was hot property and not many foresaw the talented playmaker coming to struggling Arsenal. The fans loved it, despite Ceballos’ insistence that he didn’t want to extend his stay at the club beyond the season’s arrangement. He wanted Real Madrid and this trial would enable Ceballos to not only remind Head Coach Zinedine Zidane of his potential – but it could also allow him to force his way into Spain’s Euro reckoning.

What did he need to do the above? He needed games, regular and with a degree of success. If Ceballos could benefit his loan club, then he could look forward to a fruitful future at the club he adores – as well as a busy summer with his national side.

It all started so well too.

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Ceballos was a rare bright spot for Arsenal as we began the season in patchy form. His touch and instant ease with which he interacted with his teammates with the ball was a ray of optimism. So much so that when he was injured against Europa League opponents Vitoria, our fans lamented his absence.

And rightfully so to a degree. After Ceballos’ bright start, we were able to see how his presence could possibly benefit us – but he faded rapidly. Before his injury he had been consigned to the bench, a series of cameo’s was how Ceballos didn’t want to be operating.

We had all expected Ceballos to continue his form, but he tailed off, his adaptation to the Premiership not quite complete.

Upon his return to fitness, he has found his way to the first team blocked once again, as new boss Mikel Arteta has preferred other options other than his compatriot in his selections. We have seen nothing from Ceballos on the pitch, and it is with no surprise that his loan deal was discussed to be terminated early.

The very reason why Ceballos wanted to join Arsenal on loan was also the catalyst why he wanted to leave early. He needed gametime, and he was not getting anything at Arsenal.

It may have left our squad a man lighter than before, but why keep a player that presents no future with us?

We should instead use those minutes that would otherwise have gone to Ceballos, to develop a youngster who can push us forward in seasons to come. It makes us stronger, and Arsenal should come first. It means that if Ceballos continues to ride the bench, it’s positive for another player who represents the future of the club.

This of course isn’t transpiring – Arsenal and arteta want Ceballos to stay and fight for his place, but does he have the hunger to do so?

A loan move that terminates early may fall short of the ultimate aim – to acquire a road-tested player who can hit the ground running.

It does though, enable us to avoid another costly error that leaves us lumbered with a wantaway player who doesn’t deliver the goods. Such are our struggles, we need every player on the books to be facing the right way and playing well.

Missing Personnel – Do We Finally Have Squad Depth?

Our summer transfer activity rightfully created a buzz for this season.

After having our optimism dampened by continuous articles surrounding our meagre budget, the players captured by the club – with some help by our impressive backroom team – were enough to lift the spirits and the hope around our fanbase.

Not easy to do after the way last season ended.

The season has now been underway for a fair amount of time, and results have been decent, but not mindblowing, but it’s easy to forget that we are still operating at less than full capacity.

None of our rivals have our problem. The majority of their key players are in the team and slowly wearing away their ring rust. Us? We’ve missed an entire defence.

The backline is conspicuously our weak link. Our midfield can adapt with the personnel to combat different threats, and our frontline is amongst the most potent in the league.

Our four (or five dependant on the approach taken by Unai Emery) has been in dire need of reinforcements and is operating without definite first choice personnel.

With Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney all absent through injury, we have no doubt been hampered – and who else could claim otherwise? Even the likes of Man City would find room for at least Hector Bellerin. Pep is well known for his love of a roving wing-back – and Bellerin certainly fits that bill.

Holding and Bellerin

The players who have come in to fill the void have done admirably. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has shown he is a worthy member of our squad who has plenty in his locker. The combination of Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac have both played at left-back but with Monreal now at Real Socidead, it leaves the attacking Kolasinac as our only recognised left-sided player – meaning Tierney’s return can’t come soon enough.

Then there is our centre-back predicament. Our club captain Koscielny has now left the club, we have future prospect William Saliba back at St Etienne and we couldn’t manage to sell Shkodran Mustafi for love nor money.

It has left us with the granite-tough Sokratis, the returning from loan Chambers and new boy David Luiz.

This isn’t the worst talent pool we have had to pick from in recent years, but when you recall how Holding was performing before his long-term injury struck him down – and how quickly he had adapted to Emery’s tactical changes – it shows that not only will he most likely find himself straight back in the team when he finds his feet – but how badly we miss him.

Could other teams cope with missing three of their first choice defenders?

Could Liverpool manage without Virgil Van Dijk, Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold?

What about City and Aymeric Laporte, Kyle Walker and Zinchenko?

One at a time, maybe two at most, but all three?

We have been unable to push forward with our plans at the speed we should be. Unai Emery must be commended with coping without this talented trio and keeping us competitive and at the fighting end. It would be easy to stumble and drop points like it was going out of fashion, but it is noticeable that we have not needed to point at our missing players. We’ve simply got on with things and earned results when we’ve needed to.

Of course, our attack has bailed us out at times, but isn’t it testament to our squad depth that we are where we are, without three of our first choice defenders?

For the first time in countless seasons, we now have the substance in our squad pool to contend with the numerous injuries that befall an Arsenal squad. We now have ample cover and players who are malleable enough to mould themselves how Emery requires them.

It will take a few months until we see the best of Holding, Bellerin and Tierney. When they are fit though, we have a first eleven to challenge for honours.

I mean, just look at how well we’ve done without them…

David Luiz – An Improvement?

A lot of conversation has taken place in the wake of our active transfer window – and most of that has surrounded our defence.

David Luiz, William Saliba and Kieran Tierney were the defensive additions this summer, but do they constitute what we needed to revitalise our last line of resistance?

Mark Lawrenson recently commented on our purchases and how our backline will cope this coming season. He proffered that while David Luiz is an excellent footballer, he is not an excellent defender.

Harsh criticism? Perhaps, but a lot of experts have spoken about Luiz’s struggles with lining up in a back four and his decent showings in a back three.

The Brazilian is known for his superior technique and ball control, so much so that he has often been utilised in midfield as a sentry figure and one who can distribute the ball.

With William Saliba on loan for the season and very much a figure for the future, we currently have Rob Holding, Sokratis, Calum Chambers, Dinos Mavropanos and Zech Medley as our central defensive units. Do any of them have the missing attributes we have been searching for since Sol Campbell departed the club?

Being Arsenal, our defenders will always be held up to a higher level of scrutiny. We have the highest set of standards because we had what was probably the best defence ever seen in the modern generation. Dixon, Adams, Bould, Keown and Winterburn are part of the fabric of our club and the benchmark.

Since they retired, only Campbell and Toure for a short time have come close to that level. What is the level though?

What is it we need – and do our current crop have it?

The two characteristics we are perceived to lack are consistency and leadership. The consistency can be bred over time and can be achieved with a settled backline. So that is very much up in the air. Plus, we have defenders who have shown they can perform over a stretch of games. Sokratis last season hardly put a foot wrong. Rob Holding before his injury was a revelation.

Then there is the leadership quandary. A leader can be someone who leads by example. Laurent Koscielny was one of these. Then you have leaders who rangle their troops together vocally and by the way they deal with adversity. A stout heart and a puffed out chest.

Do we have that?

Sokratis seems an obvious choice on that front, but Luiz has always been a candidate at every club he has been at. Perhaps giving him the armband is a bit much, but can he show the younger players the right way? Can he bring the best out of his teammates? That would be a yes.

Luiz was a regular for the majority of his times at Chelsea and at PSG. That doesn’t happen by accident. While his best years may be behind him, the short term acquisition gives us a body that can cover us more than adequately.

David Luiz signs

Harking back to the titans of the past is a fruitless exercise, aside from the sweet pangs of nostalgia. A lot of our defence can be our approach to the game, and a more adaptable midfield who can track back and press attacks – so Guendouzi, Ceballos, Xhaka and Willock have a lot of pressure on their shoulders too.

For now, we can look upon our signings positively, and our squad seems well stocked in all regions. Players like Luiz will help us far more than the experts seem to think he will, and his struggles in a back four have been exacerbated a tad.

The bottom line is that will he improve on Mustafi? That is a definite yes!

Strike Bromance Crucial To Club Future

All good teams are built on building blocks.

Reliable, rock-hard slabs that you can build on top of. Partnerships that very rarely let you down, players that you can rely on to do their job.

Every good team has had them, and they allow you to worry about other matters, concentrate on the next area of concern.

After last season, it would appear that we have a scarcity of these building blocks in our squad right now. At one time or another last season, all areas of our team had moments that led to our downfall. That isn’t to say that our entire team were atrocious, but in terms of dependability. We couldn’t take many of them to the bank.

Aside from our strike force.

The bromance between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette flourished on the pitch amidst our turbulence, and their combined tally of 35 goals was the third best in the Premiership last season – only behind Liverpool’s Mane and Salah’s haul of 44 goals and City’s Aguero and Sterling’s 38.

That means that despite our finishing position of 5th, we had the third most dangerous attack. Just imagine where we would have been without them?

It also means that in the face of the constant adulation, tottenham’s pair of Kane and Son banged in six goals less than our pair.

So in the face of transfer speculation about our pair of hotshots, this stat highlights how desperately we need to keep hold of our duo.

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We are aiming to build on last season, which saw us fall agonisingly short of a top four spot – a top four spot that was in our grasp until we fumbled the keys in our hands and dropped them through the sewer grate instead of opening the door to the Champions League.

Our midfield is missing key parts, with only Torreira and Guendouzi being players we can see as mainstays for the coming campaigns.

Our defence is falling apart, with only Sokratis and Rob Holding as long-lasting, reliable parts, with perhaps Calum Chambers rising to the fore. Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal have been fantastic servants to the club but their age is against them, with Shkodran Mustafi showing that he is far from the answer we have been looking for.

We need a new left-back. We need a winger.

So in order to make these additions, the last thing we need to do is sell the players that are the standard we need, with the consistency we crave.

Of course, the fees involved in any transfer for both Lacazette and Aubameyang would be lucrative. Even in the face of some of our most recent transfer mistakes (letting Rambo go for free when Eden Hazard goes for more than £100m with one year left to go on his contract?) we could expect £50m plus for each of them.

It would swell our so-called warchest, it would give us the opportunity to reconstruct our defence, maybe even a decent prospect in midfield to help out Torreira and Guendouzi.

We would be going into next season far weaker than we are now though.

We would also be confirmed as a selling club. It would see us selling players at their peak again, a breeding ground for talent so the big fish can sweep them up.

Aubameyang and Lacazette must stay if we are to go one step further next season. After falling so agonisingly short of making last season a success – a top four spot and a Europa League win was a mere two wins away and would have been a categorical success – our prolific strikeforce is mandatory in order to go that half-step further.

Invest our money in our defence, defenders that can act on Emery’s instructions. A midfielder that can diligently track runners and convert defence to attack efficiently. A wideman with white paint on his boots that can whizz in a decent cross – just imagine our pair of strikers feeding from a player that has a decent delivery!

Our immediate future given our target of self-sufficiency hinges on Aubameyang and Lacazette sporting our fancy new kits next season, hopefully helped by some players that aim for their level of efficiency and optimisation.

 

Skipper On Our Shopping List

The summer transfer window may cure some ills for Arsenal, but at least one of our failings may well be carried over into next season.

It will require targeting from our recruitment team to rectify the situation, otherwise our next campaign we will still be bereft of a true captain.

Unai Emery changed much in his first season, and one of the myriad of variants he brought in to dispel the old era was to appoint five nominated skippers. All five brought a little something different to the table and perhaps combined, they made one true leader.

Mesut Ozil brought a true example to look up to for the younger players, and his ice-cool temperament is a skill that many could need.

Petr Cech is a born winner and has been victorious in every club competition he has entered.

Granit Xhaka is a motivator, rallying the troops vocally and attempting to rouse the warrior within them all.

Aaron Ramsey is the consummate professional and is the prime example of where hard work can take a young prospect as the Welshman is the purest evidence of this.

Then there is Laurent Koscielny. The Frenchman has been at Arsenal for eight years and has put his injury-ravaged body on the line every time he has put on the shirt. He is still probably our best defender at a tender 33 years of age and the squad look to him for a mixture of all of the above.

Next season is a different story though. At times we have missed a captain of the ilk of our previous luminaries. Players who can grab their teammates and the match itself by the scruff of the neck and change things.

Koscielny deserves the armband, but is he vocal enough? Does he have the right mixture of fear, adulation and respect?

Only the squad can answer that, but at times last season we looked a little rudderless, games slipping from our grasp because of our sloppiness, mistakes that could have been weeded out by a captain who makes sure everyone is accountable.

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When was the last time we had a skipper who gave the team that 5% that lifted them above the ignominy of another poor show?

Previously, we awarded the armband to our stars as a makeweight of sorts, another thing to add to the plate that is offered to a star that is looking at pastures new; “Instead of leaving, please stay, you can be the captain of the team.”

Patrick Vieira then, was probably the last time we had someone who was the embodiment of a captain, someone who naturally has an air that lends itself to turning heads, opening ears, inspiring performances.

Koscielny is the nearest we have to that in our squad. He never lets the side down, he gives his all. Those are mandatory for the captain, they need to show the level that is expected.

We may need to look for a player in the window that has the DNA strand that is true leadership though. With Koscielny on his last legs and Rambo no longer a Gooner, we are in more need than ever of a player to take the armband.

Our rivals have players of that ilk, or at least captains who can scream a player into playing a little better. Cesar Azpilicueta and Vincent Kompany especially are true leaders and give their sides that little extra when they struggle.

Now Raul Sanllehi and Emery must put someone on their shopping list that isn’t weighed down by the armband. Instead, they see it as an honour and use it to eke everything than can out of themselves and their comrades.

Dipping Into Deep Pockets – Spend Some Money!

Time for a game of ‘Spot the Difference.’

Farhad Moshiri.

David Sullivan and David Gold

The Srivaddhanaprabha family.

Stan Kroenke.

 

Any ideas?

They’re all owners of Premier League clubs.

They all enjoy an incredible bank balance.

The difference you’re looking for is that the first three have all invested plenty of their readies into their respective clubs – aside from Stan Kroenke.

In fact, Kroenke has actually taken money out of the club, as payment for consultancy fees.

The result of this lack of spending in comparison to Leicester City, Everton and West Ham is that instead of progressing with our supposed gameplan to haul Arsenal back into the big time, we could instead be battling it out with the above three teams to keep our Europa League status.

Never mind the Champions League for now. With Liverpool and Manchester City going from strength to strength, Manchester United and Chelsea not afraid to spend in the transfer window and Tottenham enjoying lucrative new incomes, Arsenal, now more than ever, have to break free from the restrictive budgets that are shackling our growth, and recognise the shifting landscape.

More clubs than ever can break the bank and land a superstar, and with West Ham signing Pablo Fornals, this is another piece of evidence to support the warning.

For just £24m, the Hammers have a Spanish international that has years ahead of him. Fornals has been a target of ours for some time, and to see him ship off to East London sticks in the craw a tad.

They also reportedly have another +£20m target in their sights from Celta Vigo, and are also after one of our other targets, Alexis Claude-Maurice from Lorient. Let’s say both of our bids are accepted – can we honestly say that we will offer more money than the Hammers?

So we will rely on our allure – the third biggest club in England, a host of domestic trophies and an attractive brand of football with a global fanbase.

Is that enough for the modern day footballer? Will it be enough to continue to snare the top talent? When they are well aware they can earn far more elsewhere – where the expectation will be lower? So they can enjoy the adulation for performing well within themselves?

How long can we continue to trade off the back of our reputation? Are we in danger of becoming a former glory – one that slumbers in the comfort of midtable as our owner cashes in and our rivals enjoy the spoils?

Kroenke 2

 

That may be an overreaction after our last season saw us miss out narrowly on both a lucrative Champions League spot and a European trophy, but you can’t deny that you’re alarmed when you see teams that don’t share our illustrious history or potential, spending shameful amounts of money that we can only dream of.

The self-sustaining model that Vinai Venkatesham and Raul Sanllehi are keen for us to follow keeps us on the straight and narrow and crucially – without any dependency on our owner who could give two shiny pennies whether we win trophies or not. As long as our cash udders are ripe and producing the goods, he’ll be more than happy for the status quo to continue.

Which means we stay in limbo – not quite good enough for the Champions League, but with teams all around closing the gap.

Financial Fair Play made a mockery of our frugal approach a while back, and it will continue to ignore those teams that are spending well beyond their means – which means we will not be rewarded for our mindful approach when it comes to our balance.

We were told that whatever profit we make can be reinvested into our team. Fair enough, but with us needing a big step up from our current position in order to catch up to the rest, that requires more than what we are making right now. We need to go wild in the aisles and buy the players that makes this squad Emery’s men – rather than the majority being leftovers from the Wenger era.

We don’t want Kroenke dipping in his pockets endlessly, but we do want a fighting chance to regain our standing – and we need a bit of help for that to happen.

 

 

Emery and His Summer Plans

It is irrefutable that Unai Emery has helped us make progress this season.

It is also undeniable that he has made errors that have cost us.

The Spaniard is not infallible, and our suspect away form and some questionable decisions when it comes to rotation have been the difference when it comes to certain results this campaign.

It is very important that Emery isn’t hung, drawn and quartered by his mistakes, and while the jury may be out for some, his approach has certainly added more than it has subtracted.

How does Emery help us go one step further though? Next season should see us go into the season with a top 3 position firmly in our sights. With Manchester United still rebuilding and unsure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s long-term suitability, it should put us on a firmer footing than the Red Devils.

Then there are Chelsea and spurs.

The Blues will be suffering from a transfer ban so cannot strengthen. They have Christian Pulisic to come in and perhaps some of their loanees could come in to fill a gap, but with Eden Hazard’s head turned by Real Madrid and no avenue to replace such a talent, Chelsea could easily be weaker than this season. Then there is the small matter of Maurizio Sarri and if he will even be at Stamford Bridge next season.

Spurs will be thankful to keep hold of Mauricio Pochettino, but transfer funds will need to be freed up if they want to continue their upward curve. Despite all of the brass band sounding and the fawning from the media, they are further away from the title than ever and their trophy cabinet is still emptier than Chris Sutton’s IQ.

The stage is set for us to move up and re-establish ourselves amongst the elite, perhaps even put some pressure on the top2 – although the gap is a sizeable one.

It all hinges on what Emery does in the transfer market – well, he and his new Director of Football that will be coming in.

His first summer at Arsenal saw more success than failure when it came to additions. For every Stephane Lichtsteiner, we had a Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira and Bernd Leno. Sokratis too, has enjoyed a solid first season.

We need more though.

 

Xhaka and Iwobi

We have the large aperture created by Aaron Ramsey’s departure to fill. That requires an intelligent attacking midfielder who has a wide range of passing and is blessed with a deft touch for intricate link-up play.

That won’t be cheap.

Then there is the small matter of our defence and midfield.

Our club captain is in his latter years, as is Nacho Monreal. That is two integral parts of our first choice defence with a significantly lower chance of contributing the same amount of matches next season.

Yes, we do have Rob Holding returning, and with Calum Chambers coming back into the fray, we POTENTIALLY have the makings of a solid core. It is still untested though, and Emery will run the rule over them as a duo in pre-season.

If it doesn’t work, then that is another dip into the transfer coffers – an amount that according to hearsay, is not sufficient enough for two world-class additions.

In midfield, in Torreira and Guendouzi we have our near future looking decent, but two midfielders doesn’t make a midfield. We need alternative options to enable Emery’s famous switching of approach, we need able backups as the season wears fitness thin and inflates fatigue.

In that regard, we can see that Mohamed Elneny isn’t quite up to scratch, and Granit Xhaka has already made noises about seeking new pastures. Much will hinge on Champions League qualification on whether the Swiss star stays, but he isn’t the complete player we need.

So we could maybe need two central players to come in, one more established to push the first team and another prospect that can help our team in years to come.

Our attack is in decent health. If we had players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan hitting the heights their obvious talent allows them to, then we would be all set for next season. But the Armenian and Alex Iwobi now need to step up and make a difference far more frequently than they do currently if we are to push on next season. If they fail to do so, then Arsenal is a stage that isn’t best suited to them.

 

Furious Emery

 

The potential for quite a busy summer looms large on our horizon. One that involves deeper pockets than our short arms can reach, and some tough calls on players futures.

If we are to move up and get back into contention, Emery and his backroom team will have their phones on during their summer break. Excellence doesn’t rest.