First, a few brass tacks are in order. At 21, Pogba’s still on the upswing, and more power to him for that. However, the downside to this is that his likely price-tag looks to upwards of £40m. That’s madness, even in an era when Gareth Bale can go for more than twice that. It wasn’t so long ago that we were beguiled by another beguiling talent, one Julian Draxler, who himself seemed to command a £40m asking price in the same season that saw us nab Mesut Özil, by all accounts one of the best in the world at what he does. To then turn around six months or 12 months later to pony up the same for an ingenue, a starlet, reeks of ridiculosity (again, as with my invention of “imperiosity”, I know that “ridiculosity” is not a real word, but I like its rhythm. It’s almost onomatopoeic). At any rate, that £40m is likely just a starting point for negotiations. Once PSG gets involved, we’ll wax nostalgic about the times when one could acquire a young defensive midfielder for a fee in the low eight figures. If we’re going to address the current squad’s deficiencies, we can ill-afford to spend half our reported kitty on a defensive midfielder.
If the financials don’t quite grab you by the short and curlies, consider the aesthetics. We already have a plethora of forward-thinking midfielders who can play box-to-box: Ramsey. Wilshere. Rosický. Ox (dare I include Diaby? I dare). Diaby. Each of these excels at getting forward and slicing open the opposition, whether it be with the ball at his feet or with the key-pass. How many of the untallied second-assists would be credited to that slate of players? How many chances? No, we don’t need another bomber who gets into the box to create or finish chances. We have that. Last I checked, Aaron Ramsey was a Player of the Year and a Golden Boot candidate before he red-lined. Alongside him, of course, are the aforementioned Wilshere, Rosický, and Ox, each of whom love nothing more than to run amok in the opposition’s defensive third, harassing and and pressing and all the rest. Each of them can be brought to heel, required if not forced to lie deeper in order to shield the back-four, but why? Why deprive them and us of the sheer joy of seeing them collect the ball and slalom up the pitch, the ball pinging to and fro from their feet or to a teammate and back, as they sluice through hapless defenders? No, thank you. I want my Ramsey, Wilshere, Ox, and, yes, Diaby unleashed. To add Pogba to that mix, as exciting as it might be, would risk opening us up to the very counters we hope to unleash. At the opening whistle, we’d start in an ersatz 4-2-3-1 only to end up, minutes later, in a 4-0-5-1. In short, we need someone who can stay home, attending to the less-scintillating aspects of shielding that back-four, digging in and defending deep. Pogba, as sexy as his name sounds, is not cut from that kind of cloth, even in a league as cynically defensive as Serie A. If Juve hold a fire-sale and make the man available at a cut-rate price, well, that’s a different story. Time will tell if that story will be told.
Currently, our holding midfielder, our regista, if the term may be used, is all too often Flamini or Arteta. Each of them is content with (or confined to, by skill-set or age) sitting deep in front of that back-four, receiving the ball and distributing forward. However, as we’ll all freely admit, Arteta has lost a step or two, and Flamini is a bit, um, aggressive. In either case, the defense suffers, whether it be through passing lanes left open or set-pieces conceded. That brings me to Pirlo. At 34, he might at first seem to be an odd replacement-cum-upgrade for Arteta (32) or Flamini (30). He might also suffer by comparison with Vieira and Pogba when it comes to stature or brawn. However, compare him to the likes of Steven Gerrard. Pirlo need not rampage wildly in front of the back-four to have an impact. He could collect the ball from Per, Kos, or Szcz, and coolly spray passes forward to Walcott, Ox, Ramsey, or Gnabry, among others. What he lacks in grit he more than makes up for in guile. Pirlo won’t boss anyone off the ball, but we’ve seen how we can more then get by without that. No one would mistake Arteta or Flamini for thugs (despite Flamini’s over-earnest attempts). Put a Pirlo-esque player in front of the back-four and let him distribute the ball forward to the more-creative, aggressive types, and we might be in business. After all, one can win the ball through astute timing just as well as through brute force.
If the aesthetics don’t sway you, perhaps the financials will. Whereas Pogba might not be available below the £40m range. Pirlo is a Bosman. His contract ends 30 June. While I’m sure that Juve would try to at least swing a re-signing and Pirlo would be willing to play along, Pirlo’s market-value seems to hover in the £10-12m range. That’s been our wheelhouse, for better or for worse: Giroud. Podolski. Cazorla. Arteta. Each of them has signed at that level, and each of them has delivered on, if not exceeded, expectations. Pirlo is a technically-astute, savvy footballer who could slot in alongside our more-aggressive young Guns. This is not a call to arms towards signing the man, only a suggestion that we do a bit of window-shopping before going all-in for the latest flavor of the month. I don’t oppose Pogba by any means; I merely offer a temporary word or two of caution.
After all, there’s still quite a lot to play for. Instead of backing into the top four, we can fight for a 3rd or even 2nd place finish, qualifying for the Champions League outright instead of the play-off round. A win on Tuesday over Swansea would restore some confidence going forward, a quality that seems in woefully short supply, at least as gauged by fellow Gooners. It’s therefore timely that we face Swansea, a match rescheduled to make room for our FA Cup quarterfinal match against Everton, the one that we won 4-1 to advance to the semifinal. Sadly, winning the FA Cup may not quite satisfy a fair number of Gooners, even if it’s the self-same trophy we last won almost ten years ago. Should we win it, some of the more-finicky fans will sniff and suggest, “well, yes, but we beat Hull (or Sheffield United)” as if this diminishes the run we’ve gone on to get there, beating Spuds, Liverpool, Coventry, and Everton (and, it’s hoped, cup-holders Wigan). There’s just no pleasing some.
However, we have a Prem fixture in front of us. Had we faced Swansea a few weeks ago, we might nothave this match as a distraction and potential salve from the undressing at Stamford Bridge. I don’t mean to suggest that the match will offer us quick and easy relief—though Swansea’s own struggles pervade far deeper, with no wins in their last eight matches dating back to 8 February, and they now sit precariously above the drop-zone, currently four points clear of Sunderland, but Sunderland hold two games in hand. With this in mind, the Swans look like one of those teams with desperation on their minds. Given our current fragile state, it would be better for us if they were a number of points higher or lower, so as to reassure them one way or another of their position for next year.
Wherever the goals come from, I believe the lads will answer the call.
- Laurent Koscielny—9.23: A well-deserved Man of the Match for Kos, who was simply a beast throughout. Three tackles (2nd in the squad), 15 clearances (2nd), and three aerial duels (2nd) only tell part of the story, which also includes a vital goal-line clearance and last-man tackle. He was instrumental in locking down Adebayor and keeping that sheet clean.
- Per Mertesacker—8.36: It’s fitting that our center-backs came out smelling like roses on this day. We didn’t generate much going forward, so Kos and Per faced down a lot of pressure. Per was, well, massive, with 20 clearances (1st), seven aerial duels (1st), three shots blocked (1st), and a few scoring opportunities that he couldn’t quite convert.
- Mikel Arteta—7.96: A bit of a quiet performance from Arteta, as he and most of the midfield seemed largely anonymous and out of sorts. However, he did keep things organized in the face of constant pressure from Tottenham, blocking three shots (1st) and adding in four interceptions (2nd) to hold them at bay.
- Tomáš Rosický—7.82: Another derby, another crucial goal for Rosický. That screamer seventy seconds into the match was the only goal we needed, which is great, because it’s the only goal we got. He added two key passes (1st) but struggled to have his customary impact throughout the match. Perhaps playing wide right limited his ability to influence things as much as when he’s played more centrally…
- Bacary Sagna—7.63: Despite drawing an early yellow card, Sagna did well to contain Rose and Eriksen on the flanks, showing little sign of some of the sluggishness that has seen him get blamed (by me) for goals we’ve conceded. At one point, as Rose tried to dribble Sagna, a Spud shouted, “run at him! He’s on a yellow!” after which Sagna coolly tackled Rose to end the threat and, presumably, the shouting of advice. Four tackles led the team. Oh, and he tweaked Sherwood enough that Sherwood heaved the ball at him. Twice.
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain—7.6: He’s credited with an assist on the goal, which might be a bit generous as he seemed to simply lose the ball in Rosický’s direction, but whatever. Ox was guilty later of fluffing a scoring opportunity of his own and looked a little off his game, spraying passes around without much intent or accuracy (78%). With Spuds playing a perilously high line, we might have hoped to see more running from Ox, but it never really came to pass.
- Santi Cazorla—7.46: Santi struggled to influence the match, to be honest, managing just one shot on goal and passing poorly (74%) accuracy). If it weren’t for his four tackles (1st), he might not have had anything to point to as a contribution. Spuds had overloaded with five midfielders, and it did show in their possession (59%), but Santi also didn’t seem like he could figure out what to do.
- Kieran Gibbs—7.28: He had a lot to keep himself busy with 44% of Spud’s attack coming down our left side, but he did well to keep things quiet against Townsend, Sandro, and Naughton, none of whom could get a shot on target or really do much of anything to contribute. Gibbs did pick up a yellow card, which is almost de rigueur when Mike Dean is involved.
- Wojciech Szczesny—7.15: He made countless saves and punched clearances, but the story was very nearly how the scrum in front of goal that Kos was alert enough to squash. He leapt for a cross, but pawed at it lamely as he fell away from goal, and thanks be to Kos that he was there to block the shot. His post-match selfie is almost enough to atone for the lapse in judgment.
- Olivier Giroud—6.53: He was poor, no doubt about that, but he also struggled to even get the ball. Five turnovers, two blatant offsides, and no shots on goal. Still, he’s not as terrible as twitter was making him out to be. It would have been nice to see Sanogo come on, though, as Giroud was clearly struggling to have any positive impact anyway.
- Lukas Podolski—6.44: I think I’m done with Poldi, at least as a starter. He might be a great guy, but he just doesn’t deliver much. In 77 minutes, he managed only 29 touches, lowest among the starters. Behind him, Gibbs had 55 touches. Sure, part of Poldi’s low number stems from our lower-than-usual possession, but he just never seemed to be involved or interested. I’d rather Cazorla play on the left and see Poldi come in in the second half, especially when he puts in such a lackluster shift as a starter.
- Mathieu Flamini (69′ for Rosický)—6.52: Even if we were looking to get a bit more defensive, even if Rosický was tiring, I didn’t like seeing Flamini come on. Sure enough, he picked up a yellow card about ten minutes after coming in. Still, he did well enough to stay on the pitch and help more than he hurt, by which I mean that I assume he didn’t hurt anyone.
- Nacho Monreal (77′ for Podolski)—6.33: Meh. It was pretty clear that Poldi was more or less taking up space, so why not take him off for Monreal? His arrival meant that we had six defenders on the pitch, but he didn’t have much to do. He did, however, chip in with a couple of interceptions and clearances.
- Thomas Vermaelen (85′ for Oxlade-Chamberlain): Finally, Tommy gets to play some defensive midfield! Kidding. More seriously, though, I worry that these late, late substitutions are more grating than gratifying for him. Would he have come on at all if Ox hadn’t needed to come off with some soreness/fatigue/cramps/whatever?
Still, the complainers can’t quite content themselves with a positive result. Pity.
Maybe it’s Liverpool’s fault. After all, they shellacked Man U at Old Trafford earlier in the day, highlighting our own inability to do the same, and this may have put a few fans in a funk as they fretted over our own poor showing at Old Trafford. Maybe it’s Tomáš’s fault for scoring so early—the fastest goal we’ve ever scored against Tottenham, if I recall correctly. He set us up to expect a romp, didn’t he? When Ox missed a few minutes later, though, the glee was already fading as too many of us began to wonder and then worry at what might happen. But for some poor finishing from Adebayor and silly diving from Rose, Spuds did have chances that they couldn’t finish off.
Some folks are just too hard to please, to be honest. A North London Derby is always going to be tense, and form matters little. The passions on both sides can overflow, leading players to mis-play the ball in their urgent desire to make something happen. Rather than criticizing the boys for struggling to create chances or score more goals, why not credit them for a hard-fought and well-earned victory, one delivered through stout and resolute defending? That might be too much to ask.
Slagging a team is easy; so’s supporting them when the scoreline’s 3-0. Unfortunately, we’re not set up, nor are we currently equipped, to deliver those kind of results. Shorn of threats like Ramsey, Walcott, and Özil, we’re going to have to manufacture wins, grinding them out from time to time. Still, players stepped up and did what it took, which is apparently not quite enough. I know that twitter is not where one goes for measured, well-thought out critiques, but it still surprised me to see how negative people were being. Giroud was apparently the worst player on the pitch. Wenger was a terrible manager. And on and on.
Frankly, I’m proud that we went into hostile territory and claimed the result we needed. No, it won’t produce as many iconic, memorable moments as other derbies, such as Theo’s salute or Henry’s slide, and this won’t go down in history as the greatest match ever played by any stretch. Slogs are inevitable, and when a match fails to live up to the hype, the hype has to shoulder some of the blame.
So we ended up defending a lead for the entire match while failing to generate much of anything going forward. Fine. Whatever. How many times have we pressed forward looking for a goal only to get caught out and concede instead? Whether we won 0-1 or 0-10 doesn’t matter, and it’s not as if we’re going to catch up to Liverpool or Man City on the goal-differential issue. This might be an issue should we finish even with Chelsea, but goal-differentials only come into play after we’re level on points. First things first, then: just win.
We did that.
More specifically, The Telegragh suggests that Sagna—or those who represent him, who like all agents are pure as the driven snow—is playing hardball, to the tune of a three-year deal worth £100,000 per week, which would mark a
143% 43% raise over his current rate of £70,000 per week (math corrected with a bit of help. Ahem). There are apparently four-year deals at the same or similar 100k level from Galatasaray, PSG, or Monaco, and even given Sagna’s evident loyalty to Arsenal, such deals, not to mention the chance at silverware that a club like PSG could offer/guarantee, must be tempting indeed. The tax-rate in Turkey is something like 13%, a nifty cut from the rates many pay in England. For a man about to turn 31, the contrast is stark: on one hand, his current club apparently won’t budge from its current offer, essentially the same contract and wages; on the other, a host of clubs willing to give him the golden parachute he wants to ease into retirement.
Given how dedicated, consistent, and (at times) superb Sagna has been, doesn’t he have a right to wonder what price loyalty? After all, he’s made 269 appearances, broken his leg twice, seen other teammates and friends leave for almost-instant glory, not to mention pay-raises, and what does he get in a season in which he’s seen us announce a new deal with Puma worth some £30m a year? A standard, one-year deal with no pay-raise despite being our only legitimate full-time right back has to feel a little, well, disappointing.
If the club are not willing to resign him at £100,000 a week, we have to be willing to ask ourselves, what will we lose and what could we gain? Are there younger, better right backs out there who would match or beat Sagna’s performance? If so, can they be had for less than what Sagna wants? With Carl Jenkinson and Hector Bellerin behind him, Sagna is almost ideal—he’s reached an age at which he may not want or be capable of two or three starts per week, but he knows Arsenal, he knows the Prem, and he can tutor Jenkinson and Bellerin. Given other needs we’d like to meet, such as striker (a position that usually commands hefty fees) and center-back, the utility—not to mention the symbolism—of retaining Sagna is not to be overlooked.
If he could be wooed with a compromise bid of, say, £85k for two years, would this convince him to stay? He’s one of Arsenal’s longest-tenured players and has put in years of dedicated, loyal service. Does that count for something, or should the club focus more exclusively on its bottom line even if it means losing Sagna and having to find a replacement in the summer? I’m torn. It’s not my money, so I can’t just go ahead and say, “sign him, whatever it takes!” On the other, I love the guy and hope to see him finish out his career here even if that does require us to pony up. What do you think? Can you put a price-tag on what he’s been worth to the club over the years, or is time to say “thanks, best of luck to you elsewhere?” Offer your views below the fold.
‘Til next time, thanks for stopping by!