There’s a lot of news about Arsenal’s speedy winger this morning, though, let’s just say that very little of it falls into ‘from the horse’s mouth’ category and you should take it all with a tankard of salt.
Until a few weeks ago it seemed that Theo Walcott would possibly end up at Liverpool leading the line alongside Suarez. Then Arsenal fans were given a glimmer of hope with Wenger stating that he wouldn’t let the player go and that he would be with Arsenal til the end of the season at least.
Today the baton has been passed on to Chelsea. The Sun reckons that Benitez will test Arsenal’s resolve with a £15 million bid for Walcott (who remember, can walk away for nothing at the end of the season) and that because he likes living in London he favours the westward move.
A few years ago I wondered if Arsenal had the highest number of its ex-players in the Premiership. It seemed that every club had their own product of the Arsenal youth team whether they be a Sidwell, Hoyte or a Bothroyd.
However the latest figures of who has the most of its players (ok you can call some of them rejects) playing in Elite Leagues across Europe have been compiled by the always excellent Sporting Intelligence and you can guess who is top.
Yep those crafty Catalans of Barcelona have produced 38 players at top-flight clubs in either Spain’s La Liga, England’s Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga 1 or France’s Ligue 1.
The post classifies the words ‘produced’ as
A player spent three or more years within the development programme of the club in question specifically between the ages of 15 and 21, which are considered a footballer’s most important ‘formative’ years.
The big surprise is whose academy is in second. Nope it is not Arsenal (a lowly 13th), United (5th), Bayern Munich (6th) or even Real Madrid (3rd,) but French side Olympique Lyonnais which has 31 players in the elite leagues. The list of their ex players is hugely impressive and you can see it here. I guess their high showing, along with the even more unlikely Stade Rennais who nabbed 4th, is because they not only ship out players to other French teams but also get their best players snapped up by English and Italian teams. Notable graduates from the Rennes academy include; Petr Čech, Stéphane Mbia and Jimmy Briand.
Aston Villa, Spurs, West Ham and Newcastle all make the 40, but there’s no sign of moneybags Chelsea and Man City.
According to the paper Pep Guardiola is now in the hot seat not for a job in London with Chelsea or even Arsenal, both of whom could be looking for managers come the summer, but United.
And how does the Mirror come to this conclusion?
Sir Alex Ferguson will spend next week in New York… raising the intriguing possibility of fresh talks with Pep Guardiola.
Manchester United boss Fergie will fly to the States after Saturday’s game against Sunderland, to conduct business in the Big Apple relating to his role as the club’s ambassador to the Americas.
Ferguson owns an apartment in the city – where his eldest son Mark lives with his young family – which makes him a neighbour of former Barcelona manager Guardiola, who is renting a property overlooking Central Park for a year.
So they will be in same city at the same time. Also one of Fergie’s sons is Guardiola’s neighbour. On that evidence it seems like a dead cert that the ex Barca man will be leading the Reds out next season then.
Seriously though the hot gossip in Spain is that Guardiola will end up managing a Manchester and not a London club. The thoughtful, and rather stylish Spaniard, is unlikely to want the lack of job security offered by Chelsea and although he has good relations with Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal board, it is unlikely that he would take a job of a team that wasn’t in the Champions league – a very real prospect for Arsenal next season.
Fergie can’t go on forever and as attractive as Jose Mourinho might seem, both the Scot and and his board would probably favour a less controversial figure.
Btw don’t take The Mirror too seriously – it was predicting that Pep would be an Arsenal man yesterday.
Some interesting news courtesy of Arsenal expert Tim Payton, who has been sharing on Twitter and BBC Five Live what exactly went on at the Arsenal Supporters Trust meeting tonight.
Over 100 fans turned up to quiz Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis about the club’s finances, future and more and, credit to the guy, he apparently spent over two hours answering their questions. Gazidis even kicked off with an apology saying that the Capital One Cup defeat at Bradford simply wasn’t good enough. He also thanked the travelling fans last night and said that he was working to put things right.
The most interesting snippet though is that Gazidis said in no uncertain terms that Arsene Wenger has a sizeable war chest of cash to spend on the players he wants. There are no financial restrictions and that significant funds are available.
Tim Payton was clearly impressed by the CEO’s openness and honesty. He tweeted.
Ivan brief tonight and best I’ve heard him. No spin. Just apologies & says knows has to be better. Asks fans to give views to his colleagues
If United have really missed one player this season it has been their talismanic captain Nemanja Vidic. While things look good for Fergie and the boys at the moment with that six point gap opening up against City and other would be rivals like Arsenal and Chelsea in disarray, the Reds clearly have some defensive issues to address.
Vidic suffered a knee injury during a Champions League match with Galatasaray on 19 September. And since then many pundits have said that his absence has been one of the main reasons why United have let in so many goals (21 and counting) this far in the Premiership season.
However even before his injury Vidic played in all four Premiership games which United conceded five goals – including the 1-0 opening day defeat at Everton. So in many ways United’s relatively poor defensive record has been maintained all season.
“It would have been crazy to play him against City, but against Sunderland – definitely. In the last 18 months he has only had 10 games or something,” Alex Ferguson told The Mirror.
“He is a battler, a real competitor. That uncompromising way of his – he likes defending, that’s what it is. Absolutely, he gives us the options.”
Vidic’s return certainly gives Ferguson options. But how long will he play for? Vidic is 31 now and might just be heading towards the end of a glittering career. His lack of match practice might cause even more problems for United in the short term.
However, I doubt is Fergie is losing too much sleep over any defensive frailties for now. With RVP and Rooney on this sort of form you would always expect United to score at least one more than the opposition. And United remain red hot favourites for the title.
“And herein lies a problem. No-one has ever been held accountable for their mistakes under Wenger. In his admittedly admirable approach, he’s not so much the first line of defence, but the only one, the bodyguard, the father figure for those who let him down with such worrying frequency.
With no fear of repercussions for a poor day at the office, standards inevitably slip. If your position isn’t under threat – something accentuated by the dearth of quality throughout the rest of the squad – why raise your game?
In the transfer window, the myth that Wenger doesn’t spend exists because he sells his most valuable assets at a high price. In fact he merely replaces the departed with several significantly inferior others.
What is true is that he no longer spends wisely; you can get two Javier Hernandez’s for one Gervinho, for example. Wenger used to know where to find a deal, now all he seems to find are duds. And no longer do I believe he can turn it around.”
The bloggers have got it in for Arsene too. Le Grove has been consistently critical of the Arsenal manager for a few seasons now, he thinks a lot of it is down to the manager’s approach to selling and buying players.
“Wenger’s successful years were when, and only when he spent big money, well it was big in those days. Since he stopped spending, we’ve won nothing, and qualifying for a competition that we never win, doesn’t count. Sorry.
When you’ve done all that, return your annual salary, your bonus, your car keys and don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out.”
It is a theme echoed by Arseblog who has taken a more balanced view of Arsenal’s trouble this year. However even he concludes
“There is under-performance from top to bottom. The lack of drive and ambition from those who run the club is transmitted to the manager who transmits it to the players and that’s why we lose games to Swansea, to Norwich, and to Bradford City. Something needs to change, and needs to change quickly. Not just in terms of personnel but the whole attitude of the club. Do we exist simply to milk the cash cows of the Premier League and Europe (perhaps not for long the way this season is going), to make a handsome return on an investment for a hands-off, stay-away owner, or as a football club that wants to win things and be successful?
Well, what an incredible game. First up credit where it is due, Bradford played like a side at least two divisions higher than their current league status.
However, this should have been an easy win for Arsenal, especially given the strength of the team that Wenger put out, and Arsenal really ought to have had this game wrapped up with many minutes to spare.
Incredibly it took 70 minutes before Arsenal got their first shot on target and it wasn’t until the arrival of late substitutes Oxlade Chamberlain and Rosicky that they looked like a team that really wanted to win.
Were Arsenal really that bad though? Carzola and Wilshere both had solid games but the team lack presence in the middle of the park. Also Arsenal’s front line of Podolski, Gervinho and Ramsey were woeful and for much of the game barely threatened Bradford’s defence at all.
So should sports writers now be penning Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal obituary? Not really. It is inconceivable that Arsene Wenger will leave Arsenal before the end of the season, even if Arsenal struggle to finish in the top four.
The clamour for the club to look for an alternative approach and a different manager will only grow stronger though. Already BBC Five Live has been inundated with callers suggesting that Arsene gets his P45. It won’t happen though.
Ultimately Wenger is paying the price for not properly replacing his star striker Robin Van Persie. He is also discovering that Gervinho and Podolski are not the players he hoped. A serious injection of new talent in the window could change everything though. The team are still in the Champions League and not too far off the top four in the Premiership.
Arsenal fans should be careful what you wish for. The last time Arsenal changed its manager half way through a season, back in 1995, it took two years for the club to properly recover. And the man who transformed the club then – his name was Arsene Wenger. Whether he has the energy or the vision to take the club further in the long term remains to be seen, but he is not going anywhere in the forseeable future. Wenger has shepherded the club through one of its most successful eras, he deserves at the very least to be able to leave with dignity and at his own choosing.
Update – Wenger told the BBC ‘we put a great deal of effort into the game, but it didn’t work for us. Upfront we were not really incisive and didn’t hurt Bradford enough. ‘ Asked whether he thought it was humiliating for Arsenal Wenger responded ‘It wasn’t humiliating more frustrating, I have to give credit to Bradford.’
If Arsene Wenger is a religious man he must thank The Almighty every night for the current form of Jack Wilshere. After over a year on the sidelines the Arsenal midfielder has come slotted back in to the team perfectly and is looking stronger, keener and sharper after every game.
Wenger has also seen Aaron Ramsey return from a career-threatening injury at the feet of Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross, though Ramsey has arguably never been quite the player he was before that tackle. In fact Arsenal don’t seem to have too much luck as serious injuries also interrupted the development of both Robin Van Persie and Tomas Rosicky.
The player whose condition must be breaking Arsene’s heart at the moment though is Abou Diaby. The Frenchmen had an amazing start to the season and his Vieira like ability to tackle hard and charge forward with the ball seemingly glued to his foot, was a prime reason for the Gunners’ great early season form. Sadly the injuries that have blighted his career since 2006 seem to have finally taken their toll and according to a few of today’s papers Arsene Wenger has finally accepted that Diaby’s career at Arsenal is over.
Wenger said last month ‘He balances our team as he has stature and presence physically when he is there, but clearly his injury problems are a concern.’
That concern has now apparently lead the Arsenal manager into finding a replacement for Diaby with West Ham’s Mohamed Diame a clear front runner.
If Diaby’s Arsenal career is over he joins a rather sad list of players with enormous potential who never quite recovered from a bad injury.
Paul Lake – Man City’s Lake was a superb defensive midfielder or centre back who many pundits believed was likely to play a major role in England’s international team. Sadly, a seemingly minor knee injury sustained near the start of the 1990/91 season following a challenge with Tony Cascarino, was later diagnosed as a ruptured cruciate ligament, resulting in a two year absence. Fourteen operations and only a handful of games later Lake was forced to retire.
David Busst - Coventry’s Busst suffered what is arguably the most horrific injury of the Premiership era when he got stuck in a Denis Irwin and Brian McClair sandwich, resulting in extensive compound fractures to both the tibia and fibula of his right leg. There was a fear that he might actually lose his leg at one point. Fortunately Busst recovered, but his playing career was over.
Marco Van Basten - The greatest striker of his generation? Well we will never really know for the AC Milan/Holland genius never really got over what seemed at the time a basic ankle injury in 1993. He retired in 1995 with 277 goals to his name.
Eduardo - With a few months to the end of the 2007-8 season a buoyant Arsenal seemed dead certs to win the Premiership title. Then came the away game against Birmingham City where the striker Eduardo suffered a broken left fibula and an open dislocation of his left ankle following a tackle by Martin Taylor. The injury was so nasty it traumatised the Arsenal players who let their lead slip and ended up drawing the game. Some pundits believe that the game not only finished Arsenal as serious tile challengers, but also was a defining moment in the career of Arsene Wenger. Eduardo has arguably never been the same player since.
Michael Owen, Owen Hargreaves, Robbie Fowler… Who else was never the same after injuries?
Ok, so it is just weeks before the transfer window moves from being a squillion speculative articles to a precious few days when deals can be done, contracts signed and managers re-asessed. So we are still in silly season mode.
What Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal board need at the moment is to re-earn the trust of the Arsenal fans. Signing Nani would torpedo that potentially for good.
Ok, in the interest of balance let’s look at the positives. Nani is undoubtedly a talented player who had his moments at United. I remember him tearing Arsenal apart at a game at The Emirates a few seasons ago. He has also had several years experience of playing in the Premiership – unlike a lot of Wenger’s mooted signings – so there would be no settling in time. He is also quite a marketable player. If he were a success expect to see lot of shirts with his name on around The Emirates. In these recessionary times we shouldn’t forget that Nani is lot cheaper to display on the back of your shirt than say, Oxlade Chamberlain!
Many Arsenal fans though have a real downer on the player believing that his inconsistency betrays a very real talent. From laziness through to a propensity to fall over at the slightest nudge he doesn’t seem in any way to be the answer to Arsenal’s rather pressing problems.
Even if he weren’t playing for United I guess most fans would be aghast at the signing. But taking a reject from one of the team’s biggest rivals makes you run the risk of being seen as a laughing stock.
Over the last three years Arsenal have sold their best players and replaced them with signings who are on balance 20% less talented. Carzola may be great but he is not Fabregas. Giroud is no Van Perise and Gervinho no Nasri. Nani is a downgrade on Walcott – 20% less talented, committed and useful.
To make things worse one possible option would have Walcott going the opposite way in a swap deal. Losing Walcott would be terrible. Losing him to a Premiership club would be disastrous. Losing him to the team that already has the player he teamed up so well with at the end of last season is unforgivable.
I am sure that most Arsenal fans are hoping that the Nani deal is little more than a bit of old school paper talk and that Wenger has Zaha already lined up. If Nani does end up at The Emirates though and isn’t amazing in his first four games, then Arsene Wenger might find that even fewer people, still subscribe to the Arsene Knows creed.
So Manchester United suddenly have a six point gap over their noisy neighbours. Coupled with the psychological advantages of beating their local rivals some pundits are already calling the title for the Reds. But there is still a long way to go this season and here are five reasons why the title race clearly isn’t over.
1 City don’t have to worry about the Champions League - If United progress in the competition it brings an added pressure on the team. During those weeks City will be training and resting. You would expect United to possibly drop points after CL games which should reduce the deficit.
2 City will strengthen during the window – It is pretty clear that Mario Balotelli is on his way out of The Etihad. With the controversial Italian gone City will have room to enhance their squad. A key move would be if they were to sign Wesley Sneijder. City’s financial prowess has put them in prime position to nab the Dutchman
3 The Van Persie factor – Without RVP’s late goals (including another yesterday) United would possibly not even be in the top five this season. In almost every season that he has played in England the Dutchman has been out over an extended period with an injury. He avoided a trip to the treatment table last season, whether he can play another full season remains to be seen.
4 City will improve – They have been a shadow of the team that won the Premiership. Surely they will get better as the season progresses.
5 A lot of teams are getting stronger - After their recent run of form you wouldn’t bet against Liverpool being in the mix for a Champions League place. Arsene Wenger won’t have a job unless Arsenal strengthen significantly in the window. Then there’s Chelsea who, if they put a run together are not out of the title race yet. They could all have an impact on the race.
So this weekend has put United in pole position, but you can bet there will be many twists and turns to come this season.
In case you hadn’t noticed the transfer window is now just three weeks away and one player who is set to become one of the most in demand over that period is Wilfried Zaha.
The Palace winger has long been a target for Arsenal and now it appears other premiership clubs are keen to land him too. Step forward Sir Alex Ferguson who not only has a £10 million bid in the pipeline, according to the Mail, but also is willing to let Zaha stay at Palace for the rest of the season. United have already done a similar deal 2010 when they bought £8m defender Chris Smalling from Fulham but allowed the defender to stay at the club.
The deal could prove very attractive to promotion chasing Palace whose boss, Ian Holloway is adamant that he doesn’t want to let Zaha go in the transfer window.
It could be hugely bad news for Arsenal who appear to have earmarked Zaha as a replacement for Theo Walcott, who seems destined to be leaving the club in the window. Wenger clearly would want Zaha in Arsenal colours a lot sooner than August.
1 In spite of the public perception that talks between Theo Walcott and the club are ongoing, no formal discussions between the two parties have taken place since August 28. The last offer on the table was a five-year £75,000-per-week deal.
2 That Wenger is desperate to cling on to his in-form winger for the rest of the season knowing that Walcott could leave on a free transfer in the summer. However Wenger also wanted to keep Van Persie and Nasri but he was over ruled by the board and both were sold with less than 12 months on their contracts. So if the board gets its way Walcott will be sold in January with Chelsea Liverpool and Manchester City the front runners.
All this in spite of strong rumours that Walcott wants to stay at the club.
He might have been dogged by injuries, but Walcott has been very impressive this season and is clearly forming a useful partnership with new striker Olivier Giroud. His crosses from the right have been a source of seven Arsenal goals and he also netted ten himself.
What the fans can’t understand is why the club won’t make an improved offer to arguably the club’s most in-form player. The financial gap between the two parties is apparently only a few thousand a week. The other sticking point is that Walcott is adamant that he wants to play as a striker.
Given the club’s shortage of front men many fans feel Wenger has missed a trick this season not to experiment with Walcott through the middle. What is even more galling for Arsenal faithful is that Wenger was prepared to give Gervinho a striking berth which, apart from brief flashes of genius, has been wholly unsuccessful.
It appears that Walcott has the respect and support of a large section of Arsenal fans and were he to leave, unlike Nasri, Van Persie, Toure and other Arsenal emigres, the fans would blame the club and the manager and not the player.
Of course the side could pull a huge rabbit out of the hat by signing the highly rated Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace. Whether that would be enough for the fans to forget their speedy winger remains to be seen.
Every other manager in the Premier League would envy Roberto Mancini’s selection dilemma ahead of the Manchester derby: he must select two from Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero. That’s over £00m worth of talent.
Crucially, each player offers something different, meaning Mancini can alter the balance of the side subtly. Dzeko is a penalty box presence and a reliable target for crosses, but has proved more effective in the supersub role he dislikes; not only does he regularly score after coming off the bench, he’s been very quiet when handed a rare start.
Aguero is an interesting player, able to play two separate roles; either as a ‘number ten’ floating between the lines, or as the primary forward, using his incredible acceleration to burst in behind the defence. He’s a sure-fire starter, and his role will depend upon Mancini’s other forward.
Essentially, Mancini’s decision is this: does he play Balotelli upfront to get in behind the United defence, with Aguero behind, or use Tevez as the number ten and Aguero upfront? Both combinations were used against United last season, with Balotelli playing a key role in the astonishing 6- win at Old Trafford, scoring the opener and getting Jonny Evans sent off. Tevez was quieter in the -0 victory at the Etihad.
I think Mancini will be reluctant to field Balotelli because of disciplinary concerns, and Tevez has often been influential against United since leaving the club in 2009. His relationship with his compatriot Aguero works excellently, and with United lacking a proper defensive midfielder, Tevez’s work between the lines could be crucial.
This post courtesy of Pick Our Team is by Michael Cox. PickOurTeam is a new type of football community giving fans an opportunity to have a meaningful say on the formation and selection of their team. PickOurTeam is the voice of the fans – collecting views on who should play where and ratings on how the players, manager, and referee perform each week. Every match the findings are compiled and presented back to the fans.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been turning up the heat on the eve of the Manchester derby. The former United striker has told the BBC that Manchester City are like a “little brother” who will never take their “big brother’s” place.
In a statement sure to wind up City fans even further Solskjaer said,: “It’s always this thing about being the big brother and the little brother coming to try to overtake the big brother. “That always happens in families and in clubs – the young player hoping to take the old player’s position – and City are hoping to overtake United. I don’t think they’ll ever be able to.”
Solskjaer, who scored 126 goals in 366 appearances for United is currently of Norwegian champions Molde, yet has been consistently linked with managerial positions in the Premiership.
The former player argues that United have a resilience about them which will see them continue to improve as the season develops.
Although both Manchester teams are at the top of the Premiership, neither has been especially impressive this season. United have conceded a lot of goals and have been forced to rely on Robin Van Perise’ amazing form to keep them on track in a similar way he rescued Arsenal’s season last year.
Meanwhile City remain unbeaten at home but have been inconsistent on their travels. They also now don’t have the distraction of the Champions League. Yet most bookies have United has favourites.
There’s no official word yet, but it seems certain that Arsenal legend Thierry Henry will back in north London in January with a loan move that will run until at least mid-February – long enough for him to star in the next round of Champions League games.
So what do you think? Is this another inspired move by Arsenal? A lifesaver that might kickstart their faltering season?
On the positive side Henry did make a significant difference last time round. He scored within ten minutes of coming on as sub against Leeds United and added a Premier League winner against Sunderland. He provided a welcome sideshow for the Gunners at a time when their key targets – the Premiership and Champions League - were disappearing from view.
Also Henry maybe a year older but he still seems very fit and he has also enjoyed an Indian Summer at the Bulls this year in scoring 15 times and providing 12 assists in 25 appearances.
However there is a world of difference between the MLS and the Premiership and I wonder if Henry’s return might not be so sweet this time round.
Arsenal are in dire straits. Since the departure of Robin Van Persie, they have looked very flaccid going forward Olivier Giroud’s goals have helped convince the fans that he is more than a makeweight for Nicholas Bendtner, but without him Arsenal seem to have few potent striking options. The situation will get worse in 2013 to with Gervinho off to the African Cup.
So Henry might find his services are required a great deal more than last time.
Secondly the fans humour is unlikely to be much improved if the Henry deal is done, but no new strikers – Huntelaar or Ba – appear at the Emirates. The fans were lead to believe by the club that the signings of Giroud and Podoslski were an attempt to strengthen the squad not just give it players who, while great in their own right, are clearly not in the same league as the talismanic Dutch striker.
Thirdly isn’t Henry’s arrival just going to be another distraction Sure his wealth of experience and winning attitide is sure to help inspire some of the Arsenal youngsters, but the team needs to massively focus on the premiership, and I believe the Capital One cup, and the presence of the Frenchman could prove to be a sideshow too far. Surely Wenger needs to be not signing the old Henry but finding the new one. I do worry that if things don’t go well Henry could become tainted by the general dis-satisfaction from the fans that is focusing on both Wenger and the board.
If he is coming, then I think Henry’s key role could come in the Champions League. Unlike Huntelaar he would be cleared to play and if thrown on with half an hour to go he could have a very real impact.
So what do you think. Is it great to have Henry back? Or should we relish the memory of last year and think about the future?