Category Archives: Gonzalo Higuain

Fàbregas, Draxler, and Pogba, oh my! It’s Wenger’s Law…

… of Inverse Relationships, formulated by yours truly here and which states that there is an inverse relationship between how early and numerous are the rumors linking us to a player and the likelihood of us actually signing him. It happened last summer when it seemed that Gonzalo Higuaín was drawing ever closer to signing only to get snatched up by Napoli and again with Luis Suarez when our £40m+1 bid didn’t quite seal the deal. The rumors around each of them seemed to swirl all summer only to come to naught. The same may have happened with Draxler in the January transfer window. By contrast, stories around us signing Özil appeared only in the last few days of the summer transfer window when—pow!—he was signed.  Now, this proposed law has yet to appear in any peer-reviewed journals; nonetheless, it still seems to bear up well under scrutiny.

Bad news: this would all but eliminate a certain Barcelona midfielder from signing with us. Who knows? Maybe he’ll turn out to the be exception that proves the rule (bit of a logical mobius-strip, that, as you can’t have an exception to a rule unless there’s a rule in the first place; hence, any exception to a rule proves that the rule exists. Cogito ergo sum). Similarly, Wenger’s Law may also eliminate Vela, Aurier, Pogba, and Remy, to name a few. Sad as that suggestion may be, consider the alternatives: in much the same way that the signing of Özil came out of left field, Wenger’s Law makes possible any number of unforeseen signings.

How does this all work? For one, the click-bait on offer from the likes of The Sun, The Mirror, Bleacher Report, and so on proliferate like spores. It’s as if they have a couple of dartboards in their offices, one for player-names and one for clubs, and after a few tosses of the dart—presto!—why, these stories practically write themselves. Therefore, the more common and pervasive a rumored combination is, the less likely it is to actually combine.

Second, Arsène is infamously parsimonious and secretive in his dealings. Once word of an Arsenal swoop becomes public, every Johnny-come-lately tries to horn in on the action, driving up prices and mucking up processes. Far better for Arsène, it seems, to fly below the radar. After all, the man simply refuses to pay more than what he adjudges to be a player’s value, so why would he engage in such sordid bidding wars? If he rates a player at, say £25m, he has to know that the interest and involvement of some other club is going to drive the selling-price upwards. Let’s say, for example, that Arsène rated Higuaín at £28m. Napoli got involved and the fee rose to £32m. That’s not a colossal difference. Then again, Higuaín bagged 24 goals in 44 appearances—not much more than Giroud’s 22 goals in 52 appearances. Giroud, by the way, signed for a fee somewhere around £10m.

However, we’re not here to compare Giroud to Higuaín or Benzema (another striker who might be eliminated by Wenger’s Law). We’re here to ponder the potential ramifications of that Law. If it is in fact true that this inverse relationship holds true, well, then, we’re out of the running for some of our most-desirable targets. For as sad as it may be to miss out on a few of those names, we’ve had to know, at some level, that there was a certain pie-in-the-sky element to the rumors. They’re rumors, after all. However, the upside to Wenger’s Law is that it makes anything possible. Let your mind wander: to whom have we not been connected in the tabloids? For as enticing as some of the names floated around our club have been, how exciting would it be to learn of a surprise-signing that almost no one anticipated? As always, for fear of triggering Wenger’s Law, I won’t mention anyone. Suffice it to say that there are a fair few players whose names have not recently been mentioned in connection with a move to the Emirates that I wouldn’t mind reading about on deadline-day, if not earlier. I like surprises.

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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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Arsenal 0-2 Napoli: killing the Group of Death

Okay, okay, okay. I was wrong, and it isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last. I predicted a 2-0 win with goals from Giroud and Walcott. Giroud very nearly scored early on, but Walcott didn’t even see the pitch except from the bench. So it goes. In the end, we backed our way into the knockout stage and by a narrower-than-necessary margin. A 3-0 scoreline would have sent Napoli through and relegated us to playing Spursdays in the Europa; as it ends up, we eked out a victory that, while less than inspiring, extends a fourteen-year streak of advancing past the group-stage.

It didn’t have to be this way, Gonzo…

Speaking of group-stages, when the draw was announced, the term “group of death” was bandied about. It’s a sign of how much progress we’ve made since then that, instead of fretting about whether we’d qualify at all, we’re now griping about finishing second in the group. Such has been our form that we’ve come to expect the caviar-esque first-place finish as if it’s a birthright, and to fall short of that is not the travesty or the tragedy that some are making it out to be. Yes, I know that I stomped my own feet and insisted that we should play to win, and it doesn’t seem like we quite did that, but we’re through. We’re hardly the first squad to squeak through to the next round.

Yes, the draw for the knockout is a bit tougher than it might have been, but the whole point of the Champions League is that there are very few cake-walks. We’ll be drawn against PSG, Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Atletico Madrid. Six months ago, a few of those names would have struck fear in my heart. Heck, I even asked why we should bother trying against Bayern only to eat my words.

At some point or another, after all, we’re going to have to beat one or more of those clubs if we’re to win the Champions League. The fact that the bell tolls for us a round earlier than we might have preferred is perhaps unfortunate, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the equation. Going into the season, I’d wager that most of us saw the knockout stage itself as a distant goal, and anything beyond that as pure gravy. Well, we’ve transcended those meager hopes, and the curse of it is that we have come to see a wish as a guarantee, and the achievement of that goal now seems a bit tarnished. Rather than rue an opportunity lost, why not, for once, celebrate an opportunity seized?

There’s a pathology at work here, a self-loathing of sorts, that prevents us from admitting progress or quality. On its face, yes, we lost and let slip an opportunity to face Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiakos, Schalke 04, Zenit St. Petersburg, or AC Milan—but these are no slouches. Yes, we’ve finished second in the group and will face stiffer competition in the knockout, but it’s still miles ahead of where we might have predicted a few months ago.

At the start of the season, even after the Özil signing, few of us would have been so bold as to predict a Champions League title. If we crash out in the knockout, so be it. My sights are set on the Prem League. This may change should we bring in a striker in January, be he cup-tied or not.  It would have been nice to send notice to our rivals, Prem or otherwise, but when you’re competing at this level, there’s not a lot of fear to be instilled in those rivals. I don’t think anyone in Barcelona, Paris, or Munich is feeling calmer thanks to this scoreline. If anything, they’re looking at the full tapestry we’ve woven so far and wondering why they may be so unfortunate as to draw us. After all, we’re almost certainly the most threatening draw for those first-place finishers. I’m not saying we’re a top-flight squad by any means, but we have beaten last year’s UCL champion and runner-up.

Go ahead, then, and celebrate the loss. Ironic though it may be, it was enough, just enough, to see us through to the next round. Yeah, it complicates the fixtures for February and March (and beyond?) but that’s an embarrassment of riches. So be it. 

Gonzalo finally arrives at the Emirates…for real, this time.

After a long, drawn-out saga that came as close as agreeing to personal terms and setting up a physical, Perez went and pulled the plug on the deal and Higuaín finds himself in Italy, and we had to settle for some German punk instead. So it goes. Given

the choice between Mesut Özil or Gonzalo Higuaín (assuming I had to pick one or other other with “both” not an option), honestly, I’d plump for Özil every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I know that we’re going to worry about Olivier Giroud’s fitness and form as the season progresses, and we may have to rely on some make-shift solutions until January should Giroud suffer an injury, but Özil is a unique talent and the kind of player who can make everyone around him better. Higuaín, for as good as he is and may become, will only be as good as the service he receives. The service that Giroud receives from Özil, the mentoring and demonstrating that Ramsey and Wilshere will get, and (dare I say it) the inspiration Özil can give to the entire squad tip the scales in his favor.

This is not to say that we would have been fools to sign Higuaín. He’s going to do well for Napoli, and we would have been much improved with him. However, we saw how the saga unfolded, and rather than rue what could have been, we have much to savor. Over at Napoli, I’m sure they’re satisifed, but I almost wonder if they saw our deal with Özil and aren’t sucking their teeth just a little. It’s not that Higuaín has failed to deliver—far from it. He’s scored four goals in six matches for Napoli and has put in a number of strong showings. The squad itself is off to a very good start, going for six wins in seven matches, dropping just two points in a draw with Sassuolo and sitting second behind Roma. This is especially impressive given the number of new players (eight) that they’ve added and had to bed-in.  Speaking of several of these new players, Arsène had this to say:

Napoli’s counter-attacking style struck me in the Emirates Cup…When they win the ball they come out very quickly with Callejón, [Marek] Hamsik, Insigne and Higuaín—they all come out like bombs every time they win the ball. This means that the transition from our team from offence to defence will have to be very quick.

It’s therefore important that we field a squad capable of blunting those counters. Frankly, with our injuries, there’s not a whole lot to debater. I’d like to see Wilshere rested, if not because he’s still working his way back after surgery, then because he tends to neglect his defensive responsibilities. We may get away with that against Stoke or Sunderland, but we can ill-afford against a squad like Napoli’s. With Hamsik and Insigne on the left, Wilshere will have to track back so that he doesn’t leave Gibbs isolated. If Wilshere can’t be trusted to do this, it may be necessary to play Monreal, who is less attack-oriented than Gibbs is. In either case, we’ll need to play tighter defense than we’ve done so far. We haven’t kept a clean sheet since the North London Derby, a stretch of five matches or almost 500 minutes of football (including the overtime against West Brom). I’m not suggesting we need a clean sheet on Tuesday, but we can’t expect to concede goals and win. That’s just common sense.

For as well as we’e played to start the season, this will be the first time we’re up against a truly in-form and potentially elite squad. Nothing against our other opponents to date, but Napoli are in fine form and, on paper, look capable of beating most teams they face. They beat Dortmund, for one, something that only a few teams can lay claim to doing in the last thirteen months. I won’t make much of our Emirates Cup clash because it was a friendly and both squads have changed considerably since then. Having said of all this, I find it hard to argue against the form we’re in and the fact that we’re playing at home.

The last time Matthieu Flamini faced Napoli was in April, and he scored in a 1-1 draw that helped AC Milan qualify for this year’s UCL playoff-round. Then again, he also got sent off for a reckless tackle. I’ll use that as a spring-board for predicting that he’ll score, as will Özil, in a 2-1 win for us. 

No. Say it ain’t so. Gonzalo signed for Napoli.

To all appearances, Gonzalo Higuain has arrived in Italy to confirm a deal with Napoli. I’m crushed. Apparently, Arsène hasn’t been waking up each morning to read my incoherent rantings. I’ve been pushing for us to sign Higuain for weeks now and even said we should go into the low 30’s to get him. Now, sources everywhere are reporting that he’s signed for Napoli at somewhere in the low- to mid-30’s [long, long series of expletives deleted].

Dammit. Dammitdammitdammitdammit. We’re all but screwed now, at least as far as strikers are concerned. With Higuain apparently off the market (I’m holding onto my last shred of hope. Until it’s official, there’s still a chance, isn’t there?), who’s left? Suarez, Rooney, Torres? Whoever’s left, the market just got tighter than my sphincter after hearing the news and seeing footage of what looks like Higuain in an Italian airport. Looks like. Hope springs eternal, doesn’t it?

I don’t think we have to worry much about Real Madrid going for Suarez. I still think they’d prefer Gareth Bale. The risk there is that, should Spurs sell Bale, they’ll get something like a bazillion pounds for him and will turn right around to invest that in a new attacker. With only a few players left on the market, we’re contending with oily Chelsea and a potentially filthy-rich Spurs, not to mention Man U, PSG, Bayern,Anzhi Makhachkalaand all the rest for two or three top-quality players.

I mentioned this earlier in the week, and it seems to have happened: we’ve spent so much time hoarding our money and buying on the cheap that we don’t know how to conduct high-stakes negotiations. Picture us sitting at a poker table along with Real Madrid, Napoli, and whoever else you care to include. As the pile of chips at the center of the table grows larger and larger, we realize that we don’t know how to bluff or bid or call someone on their bluff. The beads of sweat start trickle—at first, at the temples and down along the cheek to the point that you can feel it slither over each individual whisker. Then, it’s trickling down your back, soaking through your briefs, and tickling your ass-crack. The fidgets start, and all of your tells start to appear as we see that we’re holding a pair of sevens, a jack, a three, and appropriately, a suicide-king.

Despair sets in. We fold. Napoli lays down its hand: a pair of eights, a pair of fours, an ace. Had we known what we were doing, had we brought more confidence or a pair of brass-balls, we could have bluffed past that.

I gotta admit, I’m crushed. Assuming this is true, that is. I still cling desperately to some blind hope that all of this has been an exercise in what I dubbed Wenger’s Law, the idea that there is an inverse relationship between how many headlines link us to a player and how likely we are to sign him. At this point, I’m finding what little comfort I can in the idea that, maybe, just maybe everything we’ve read about Jovetic, Higuain, and, yes, even Suarez has been all part of Arsène’s master-plan, and the next thing we know, we’re reading of a shock-move for a striker no one anywhere has linked us with. El Shaarawy, maybe?

I don’t know what to do, say, or hope for at this point, to be honest. Even now, given a choice between signing Suarez and signing no one, I don’t know if I can bring myself to plump for Suarez. I’m at a loss. On one hand, I knew Napoli were interested and involved, but I kept telling myself we were finally ready to make a bold move and weren’t going to let them stop us.

What’s left for us? Can we bring back Arshavin? After all, part of his drop in form was attributable to playing somewhat out of position. If we put him back as a forward, rather than an attacking midfielder, he’d be sure to reclaim his form. I’m grasping at straws, I admit, but I’m struggling to find some way, any way, to reassure myself that it’s not too late for us to do something dramatic.

I’m just…I don’t know. I don’t know what to say. I gotta go outside, the better to scream at the heavens.