Category Archives: Arsene Wenger

Boffo bid for Balotelli as Arsenal raid the Rossonieri!

Once bitten, twice shy, says I. I was wrong with Luis Suarez (twice bitten, to be honest), predicting that he would again implode under the pressure of leading Liverpool towards the top of the Prem. Having learned my lesson, I’m not quite ready to apologize, but I am ready to make amends, and so we come to Mario “Why always me?” Balotelli. If the likes of Mourinho or Mancini can’t tame in, couldn’t Arsène? He’s done it with other malcontents and ne’er-do-wells like van Persie and Anelka. Amidst rumours that we’ve offered up to £30m for Super Mario, we might as well set our faces to stunned.

Let’s set aside this feudin’ and a-fussin’ and get down to some lovin’!

Arsène is, of course, a long-time admirer of the tempestous ‘talian (sorry), having said “I am keeping an eye out for Balotelli, a player I like very much. In my vie, he can be one of the best”. That was back in 2009, but even then Arsène’s media-filter was already set to the finest of colander-like settings. For him to come out that boldly, admitting flat-out that he has been “keeping an eye out”, feels like a tacit admission that we might actually be after the man-child. After all his travails and sojourns, it’s easy to forget that he is, after all, only 23. Could we chalk up many of his trangressions to the same kind of stupidity that you and I were (or may soon be) guilty of? I’m pretty sure that I have a few skeletons from my early twenties that I’d prefer to keep in the closet.

As for Balotelli, let’s keep in mind who he’s worked for. At Inter, Mourinho labeled him “unmanageable”, which in Mourinho-uese translates to “an ego even bigger than mine.” Suffice to say, Mourinho does not tolerate such sins, and his management of Mario was more iron-fist than it was velvet glove. To say that the man lacked the maturity required to handle the situation would confuse the issue, as we would then have to wonder who the man in question was—was it Mourinho who lacked maturity, or was it Mario? Enquiring minds want to know.

From there, of course, he went on to Man City under Mancini, a manager who once threatened to punch the lad in the head once a day (which is not to say that it was undeserved). Fault Mancini for his many faults; he at least had the audacity to say the following:

If Mario is not one of the best players in the world it will be his fault, because he has everything. Mario can be one of the top players in Europe.

What Mancini lacks in self-awareness he more than makes up for in accuracy. Shouldn’t he realize that his role as a manager is to help a player of Balotelli’s talent actually become one of the best players in Europe instead of blaming and accusing him of falling short of such a destiny? For as scintillating as Balotelli as often been, he’s just as often been a maddening, divisive figure. How much of that comes down to mismanagement? Neither Mourinho nor Mancini is knowned for his subtlety or bedside manner. What might Mario achieve under the tutelage of a father-figure like Arsène?

If Arsène can bring out the best in Balotelli, we could just see the emergence of one of the finest strikers in Europe. He knows what it means to play in the Prem. He may not know what it means to be managed, to be mentored. For all of his off-pitch exploits, a move to Arsenal might give him a chance to plumb the depths of his potential. He’s not the first player who’s struggled to adapt to the sudden pressures of wealth and stardom after a childhood of uncertainty and strife. It seems as if Balotelli has sought someone who could steer him in the direction that his talent beckons, nay, begs him to go. Clearly, it wasn’t Mourinho, nor was it Mancini or any of the various caretakers at AC Milan.

As we seek an upgrade at striker, we might do better than to sign Balotelli, but it would be hard to do worse. His upside is enormous; for as much dynamite as he’s delivered, it simply scratches the surface of what he can do. For as much aggravation as he’s offered, it simply begs the question of who has managed him. Under Arsène, we could very well see a resurgence, if not a resurrection, and not just of a player’s career, but of a club’s. Why not?

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#Wengerout: Some Gooners want us to lose on Saturday?

Sigh. Yes, it’s true. There are some Gooners out there hoping we’ll lose to Wigan on Saturday, all the more reason, they believe, to get rid of Arsène Wenger. As this logic apparently has it, failing to win the FA Cup will convince the board once and for all to rid us of a manager who has, in some eyes, become worse than dead weight or convince the dead-weight himself to walk away. As much as I feel the frustration many of them feel, and as much as I understand the tension between short-term and long-term dividends, I’m still not sure I’m smart enough to follow the thread to the same conclusion.

We all know that, at some point or another, Arsène will leave. If nothing else, he’s getting older, and recent campaigns seem to have accelerated the process. However, even if I know what I’m talking about (usually a dubious proposition) when I suggest that we’re well set-up to avoid the kind of calamitous transition that Man U are going through, the old adage of “be careful what you wish for” springs to mind. This is a man who has delivered the undefeated season, four FA Cups, three Prem titles, and a brush with Champions League glory, after all. Even if all of this came in the first half of his tenure, I’m not sure if we should be entertaining the idea of losing to get rid of the manager. Even as we differentiate between what’s good for the club and what’s good for Arsène and his legacy, there’s a certain mulishness to the proposition that I just don’t get.

For one, who’s to say that a loss would lead to any kind of change? For all the #wengerout crowd know, it’s an FA Cup win that would allow Arsène to step down with some modicum of pride and integrity, claiming at long last to have finished on a high note and with his work here complete. Those who want him bemoan his stubborness and his pride; would it not be those self-same traits that compel him to stay until he can prove that he’s right by winning a trophy? 
For another, we do have to consider the “bird in the hand…” adage; if not that, then the “devil you know”. For as well set-up as the squad is, future candidates will have to weight the stresses and pressures of the job against the glories (not to mention personal finances). Seeing that a legend such as Arsène has been hounded out of his job for his failure to win may just dampen the enthusiasm of the Martinezes and Klopps of the word. After all, Arsène has been able to “hide” behind eight years of of glorious football as the last eight or so have fizzled.  How long would it take for the pitchfork brigades to get restless with the new guy? 
I know that, at a certain point, a debate like this one blurs passion and logic to the point that calm debate disappears. Those who want Arsène gone and those who want him to stay have dug in their heels and it’s hard for either side to make headway with the other. There’s very little to say that hasn’t already been said ad nauseum, ad infinitum
Look. There’s a match to be played. After that, there are five Prem matches, plus the potential for an FA Cup semifinal. There will be time to figure out what to do next based on how they turn out after they turn out. Do you think that Arsène or any of the players are ignorant of the pressure? Somehow, I suspect that they’re all acutely aware of what’s at stake, not that this will stop a fair few fans from sneaking in a banner or chartering a plane to fly by. 
Set aside the acrimony and the infighting. We have a match to win, for feck’s sake. We’ve come through too much, for good and for bad, to bicker now. Get behind this club. Whatever the names are, be they the players’, the manager’s, the board’s, whoever they are matters far less than the cannon and the crest. If you just can’t bear the thought of seeing Arsène win an FA Cup, you might be following the wrong club, mate. I don’t have the luxury of shouting and myself silly along with some 60,000 other Gooners at Wembley, but I’ll be doing my damnedest to support this club from where I stand. “Support” is one of those glittering generalities that sounds all well and good until you pause to pin down its meaning. Does “support” mean that we cheer, win or lose, or that we ask tough questions, or that we demand change? At the moment, I’d insist that it means we cheer and chant our fool-heads off, pouring the passion and the pathos that pulses in our veins into the players on the pitch. Let’s set aside the fussin’ and a-feudin’ and get done to some winnin’.

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Everton port-mortem: Pascal’s Wager

I’m speechless. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as downcast and depressed as I am over a football match as I was over this one. We’ve had some epic collapses against teams before, but there’s something about this one that just feels heavier, more calamitous, than previous ones. We could write off the debacles at Stamford Bridge, Anfield, and the Etihad as one-off freaks of football in which a myriad of other circumstances came together and caved in on us. This one, though, peels back the curtain and suggests that the man behind it really would rather we pay him no attention whatsoever. It’s a grim denouement to a season. It may even suggest the end of a career.

Of course, we still have five matches to play, not to mention the FA Cup to vie for. However, the nature of this loss and its impact on our prospects for next year are hard to exaggerate, hard to blow out of proportion. Everton now have an inside track to fourth place—they’re a point behind with a game in hand. Even if they have the tougher run-in with visits from Man U and Man City over the horizon, we have issues of our own to deal with and can hardly count on Everton to drop points, not with the run they’re on and the confidence they have. Last season, it was us who stormed across the finish to claim fourth in dramatic fashion; this time around, we’re witnessing that charge, if not being run over by it.

I can’t even stomach the idea of rehashing what went wrong. It would take too long and take too much out of me. Suffice it to say, Martínez saw a left-flank that consisted of Gibbs Monreal and Vermaelen with Podolski in front of them, and promptly moved Lukaku over there. He ran rough-shod over all three—well, two, because Podolski could not be bothered to track back, leaving two players who have barely played, much less played together, to deal with Lukaku on their own. The scoreline flatters us, in fact, as Szczesny made a number of crucial saves early on to keep us close, and the chasm in quality between us and them was a jaw-dropping sight to behold. We’re staggering and on the brink of collapse, and even our relatively gentle run-in doesn’t seem to inspire much confidence. We’ve dropped our destiny, such as it was, and simply have to win everything in front of us while hoping that Everton drop points somewhere. They’ll have to drop at least two points, if not three, because they now also have a goal-differential of +12, five better than ours.

So where does us leave us? We have the Champions League hanging by a thread and the FA Cup ahead of us. It reminds me of Pascal’s Wager, which he used to determine whether or not he should believe in God. It takes only a small stretch of the imagination to see its application here. In place of Pascal’s variables (I believe, I don’t believe; God exists, God doesn’t exist), I propose Wenger’s (finish 4th, finish 5th; win FA Cup, don’t win FA Cup).  Presenting these options to us might help us to determine just where on the path to heaven, hell, or purgatory we currently stand, and which forks in the road lay ahead. There’s still time, but one would be remiss to wait until Death is knocking before taking stock.

With that in mind, here’s what we have: a grid that presents those options and their meanings for us. It’s not quite a match with Pascal, but you get the idea. We may not be weighing eternity here, but it might feel like something similar. In the “eternal happiness” area, we win the FA Cup and finish fourth. In the “Eternal Misery” area, we finish 5th and fail to win the FA Cup. Unfortunately, Sunday’s result shoves us rudely towards the right column, where we hover somewhere between depression and disaster. Finishing fifth would bring to an end a seventeen-year run of Champions League football and send us careening around the Europa League, which, I remind myself with a shudder, I have derided and mocked gleefully and remorselessly. Should we fall from grace, we can also likely look ahead to another summer filled with wild goose chases and dashed dreams as Cavanis, Costas, and Pogbas of the world either stay put or go where the gettin’s much better than we can give. While we’re at it, a fair few players might look to leave, whether it’s Sagna, Podolski, or Vermaelen.

Speaking of leaving, where does this leave Arsène? Even if we find a way to finish fourth and win the FA Cup, what does this betide? It’s hard to see him staying, harder-still to see fans wanting him to stay. I, among others, have stood by and defended him and the club through injuries, failed transfer policies, and all manner of other disappointments, but I begin to worry that this defeat, regardless of how we recover, might just mark the moment that reveals how much the game has caught up to the man who did so much to change it. Martínez, after all, is seen as an heir-apparent to Arsène, what with his emphasis on attacking, attractive football. However, a result such as this one suggests that, contrary to Arsène, Martínez brings a tactical nous, a savvy for each match, that led to the devastating result today. Even shorn of Osman a few minutes in, he was able to adapt on the fly and to put his players in a position to perform. All through the match, he cajoled, shouted, and, well, coached while Arsène sat and watched. The contrast between them matched the contrast between players on the field. Everton’s XI were full of piss and vinegar; we looked to be hollow men, heads stuffed with straw.

It’s not quite the end, yet, but the whimper we managed at Goodison Park feels that way. I want to say it was just one match, but this is the fourth such time we’ve collapsed. Grasping feebly for a silver lining, at least Ramsey came on and did well. Kos should be back, as may Gibbs and Gnabry. Whether they and the rest of the squad can dust themselves off and come back fighting is the question.

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Lukaku and Martinez discuss their futures…

     “Hm? Oh. Romelu. How are you?
     “Fine, boss. Thank you. It’s just, I—nevermind.” Lukaku shifted nervously.
     “Romelu, you can talk to me. Are you nervous about Sunday? I know it’s a big match. A lot on the line, that’s for sure.”
     “I—well, yes, sir. But there’s more.”
     “Don’t worry, Romelu. I’m sure you will do just fine.” Martínez looked stern but confident as he looked to assuage his striker’s fears.
     “I hope so, but…”
     “Romelu. You will do fine. You have scored against Arsenal before. You have made us proud. Without you, we struggle, but there is no pressure for you. The pressure is on them, for no one expects us to overtake them.”
     “Mr. Martínez, sir, this is not my concern. I feel—I feel this match is almost…an audition.

     It was at this point that Martínez stopped twirling his pencil and looked directly at Lukaku, just now seeing the predicament the man found himself in. “Romelu, do not worry. This club wants you here, even if we do not quite meet our goal of Champions League football. I am the one who promised this, not you. If we fall short, you need not worry. We will discuss your status with José, and I am sure we can extend your stay here.”

     “Thank you, sir, but—”
     “Please, Romelu. You may call me Roberto. We are together in this. Go ahead.”
     Lukaku looked nervous. He swallowed and looked at the floor. “This is not what I mean by audition.” He looked up beseechingly.
     “Ah,” Martínez nodded, “I see. You have heard the rumors, as have I. It as if you and I are in the same boat, is it not? The newspapers in this country, the websites, they both talk of us leaving this club, of moving on to something bigger and better.”
     “Yes, sir—er, Roberto. But I do not know how this will work. Arsenal are in fourth; we are in fifth. If we lose, well, Arsenal will go the Champions League. What of us?”
     Martínez pressed his fingers together and sank into deep thought. “I do not know. For you, perhaps, the path is clearer. If we do not win, we will not make it to the Champions League. Arsenal will look to buy a striker. Chelsea may have to sell you, and Arsenal is the only other club with the resources and Champions League credentials. Liverpool will not need you. Man City will not, either. Do you see?”
     Lukaku pondered this for a moment. “Yes. So what is there to do?”
     “I don’t know, Romelu. There is still so much that can happen. Even if we win, we may still fall short of our goals, and I don’t know what this will mean for you. I want us to win, of course. I want us to make it to the Champions League.”
     “As do I, sir.”
     “However.” Martínez gazed directly and meaningfully at Lukaku. “However. We must be realistic. Pragmatic. What happens to you or to I if we finish fifth?”
     “It is as you say. Arsenal may look to buy me from Chelsea. If Everton cannot offer Champions League football, I may go there.”
     “Few will blame you, Romelu. This is the way of things now. Players move. Coaches move. The fans will be upset, to be sure. It is hard to balance loyalty and personal interests. You must decide what matters more.”
     Lukaku looked down at the floor, lost in thought, the only sound a clock ticking down the hall. “We must win. Everton must win.”
     “I agree, Romelu. For you, for the club, this is best.”
     “What about you, though? What is best for you?”
     Martínez looked to the ceiling; it was his turn to lose himself in his thoughts. “I—I don’t know. If we make it to the Champions League, of course, I stay. I vowed to take this club there, and I would want to be there to share the experience. If we don’t, well…this is where it gets difficult.”
     “Will you not go to Arsenal?”
     “That is not up to me, is it? I do not know—I don’t think anyone knows—what Wenger will do. There has been much talk of him leaving. His contract will end in June, and with the talk there has been, the criticism, the abuse, the insults, it is hard to see him stay. If they do not make Champions League, if they do not win the FA Cup, he may leave.”
     “This is your chance, then, is it not?”
     “I don’t know. I honestly don’t. Would I want to replace this man who is synonymous with Arsenal? There are many who believe his name and that of the club are the same, such have been his achievements and his loyalty. To replace him, well, that is quite a task.”
     “Roberto. I have watched you now. I have played for Mourinho as well. I see that you can lead a club to victory with no resources to speak of. What could you do with that squad? Ask yourself.”
     “Romelu, of course I have asked myself this. But it is not up to me. If we finish above Arsenal, maybe that is the end for Wenger. Maybe he decides to leave. If they win the FA Cup, maybe he leaves, at last to say that he won a trophy in his final year. I don’t know, Romelu. I don’t.”
     “So those are the options. Arsenal finish fourth or fifth. Arsenal wins the FA Cup or they do not. What combination of these makes Wenger stay?”
     “Venger, Romelu. It is pronounced as a V. More important, I don’t know what it will take for him to stay or to go. I do know that we must do what it takes to win on Sunday, and let these other issues sort themselves out. Still, it is not disrespectful to hope to defeat a club that you imagine joining, is it?”
     “I don’t think so, sir.”
     “Well. Let’s set aside these ideas, this ‘audition’, as you call it. We have a match to win. It will not be easy.”

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Ask Cavani, whither the brasileiros or argentinos at Arsenal?

Could it really be possible that Arsène Wenger, renowned for revolutionizing English football by bringing in foreign players, has completely missed the boat that brings South American footballers to the Continent? I was watching some older clips when I caught a brief glimpse of Silvinho and I muttered to myself, “he might just be the only inho to have ever played for Arsenal”. He was no Ronaldinho, and that only serves to reinforce the point. The pipeline that has sent the likes of Ronaldinho, Messi, Falcao, and Agüero, among others, to Europe seems to have almost completely bypassed Arsenal. Arsenal’s South American starting XI would be short a few players, and we’d have to argue over whether Silvinho or the “legendary” André Santos starts at left-back. For a manager who has built a large part of his reputation on finding and developing diamonds in the rough, how could we be left with such slim pickings?

Silva eluding Scholes and Keane. It’s been that long…

It’s not been for lack of trying, at least recently, as we spent large chunks of last summer’s tranfer-window pursuing Gonzalo Higuaín, Luis Suárez, Luiz Gustavo, and Ángel di María only to come up short on each for various reasons. Looking back to the start of Arsène’s 17 years at Arsenal, I would think we’d have seen a few more brasileiros or argentinos come through, what with the reputation/stereotype for being technically superior to their European or African counterparts. It is the land of joga bonito, after all; even more, Arsenal under Arsène have often striven to play a similarly technical, aesthetic game (even to the point of neglecting defense and, at times, losing beautifully instead of winning ugly).

However, we can almost count the South Americans to have made an appearance at Arsenal with one hand. Wellington Silva. André Santos. Damían Martínez. Eduardo. Baptista. Pedro Botelho. Denílson. Gilberto Silva. Edú. Silvinho. Perhaps alone among them is Silva, who did distinguish himself in his time at Arsenal, Pressed to another who has left an impression, much less impressed, we might just have to shrug our shoulders and go with, I don’t know, Denilson. Some of them, to be fair, haven’t yet had much of a chance, such as Wellington Silva, Botelho, and Martínez. Others looked promising only to have injuries cut short their time and opportunities. Eduardo, for example, Edu, or Denilson. Where might their careers have gone were it not for those injuries (especially Eduardo’s, whose injury rivals that of Aaron Ramsey for gut-turning horror-shows)?  Others, like Baptista and Santos, just never impressed.

How can this be? We see South Americans making immense contributions to other clubs, whether it’s Ramires, Oscar, Willian, and Luiz at Chelsea; Agüero, Fernandinho, and Zabaleta at Man City; Suarez and Coutinho at Liverpool…heck, even Tottenham have Paulinho, for crissakes. Why not Arsenal? Has Arsène have been put off by previous experiences, such as with Santos, deciding instead to focus on Francophone countries and England? There have been countless rumors linking us to all sorts of Brazilian or Argentinian players, for what that’s worth, but nothing has come of any of it. It seems a that Arsène, once a vanguard for introducing players to the Prem from across the Channel and further afield, hasn’t been able to replicate similar successes across the Atlantic. There have been flashes of potential, moments of brilliance, but all too few success-stories. As we bemoan the lack of a clinical striker, someone who is deft but also lethal with the ball at his feet, we’re left to gaze wistfully at Suarez, Higuaín, Agüero, and others. Similarly, for as much as we may loathe Ramires or mock Luiz, it’s perhaps no accident that the grit and tenacity we lack in the defensive midfield was once provided by Silva and Vieira (admittedly a bit of stretch from his Portuguese background via Cape Verde, but bear with me on that).

As we look ahead to the summer-transfer window and assess our needs, I’m not calling for a plethora of South American signings just to keep up with those we’re chasing in the Prem, but each of them has at least one difference-maker who hails from Brazil, from Argentina, from Uruguay. There’s something in that, to be sure. Mr. Cavani, if you’re reading this, would you give Arsène a call? We’d be ever so grateful…

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