While we’re still basking in the glow of a glorious, scintillating, season-defining Community Shield victory over Man City, we’re finally starting to unload some deadwood, with news that Ainsley Maitland-Niles has joined Olympique Lyonnais on a free transfer, so we haven’t exactly gotten better at selling players…yet. The Birdman rejoins Lacazette (who also left on a free transfer) and Jeff Reine-Adélaïde. Let’s hope this gives the lad a chance to spread his wings and teachers us to, you know, sell players instead of setting them free (I understand that I missed a chance at extending the bird/freedom metaphor, so don’t bother pointing it out).Continue reading
A win or a draw here sees us win the group; avoiding a loss worse than 0-5 still lets us advance. I’ll update the post title as the scoring happens.
The timing is just too perfect, isn’t it, what with Gabriel Jesus going under the knife, doubts swirling around Nketiah’s quality, and Alexandre Lacazette appearing in the Dubai Super Cup? What better occasion to remind us of what we once had—nay, of what we may yet possess again? Lacazette has been en fuego for les Gones, and with that, all I need is a book title and I’ll have the italicized trifecta. If you haven’t already, go read Black Swan Green. It’ll bring you back to 1982, Margaret Thatcher, the Falklands War, etc., etc. Good times were had by all. Back to the match, though. Lacazette, as I mentioned a moment ago, leads Lyon with nine goals in 15 appearances, including five in his last six, and, to all outward appearances, could just very well be the reinforcement we need as Jesus recuperates.
Okay, that’s where the charade ends. Yes, it’s likely that Lacazette will feature for Lyon on Thursday, and, yes, he’s done quite well upon his return to his boyhood club. However, that’s where the nostalgia should end. He does well at Lyon because that’s his level, at a mid-table Ligue 1 club. Heavens forfend he should score during this Dubai Super Cup or the rumours around his return to red London will reach a fever pitch (nifty allusion that, eh?). Despite all of this, it’s well-worth remembering that Lacazette was never good enough for our ambitions. Even before his move, there were doubts: wasn’t he scoring a lot of his goals from the spot? (yes). Isn’t he a bit undersized to lead the line? (Again, yes.). Truth be told, had Giroud’s move to Chelsea not been so instrumental in our signing of Aubameyang, we might have been better off just keeping Giroud. Like Lacazette, he’s slow and not so clinical. Unlike Lacazette, he busts his butt up and down the pitch, could play a full 90′, offer solid link-up play, grapple with the Uruk-hai that pass as CBs in this league, and pop up with a goal from time to time.
That’s all water under a proverbial bridge at this point because there’s simply no way on God’s green Earth that we should bring either one back. Too old, too slow, too wasteful in front of goal…I’m not sure yet which of the two I’m describing.
In any case, this Dubai Super Cup reunites us in a way with the ghosts of past transfer windows. Also available for selection for Lyon is one Houssem Aouar, about whom many of us salivated in the long-gone days of yore. Not to be outdone, there’s the more meme-worthy Jeff Reine-Adélaïde, who flattered to deceive in the vein of chaos-merchant Yaya Sanogo. For those with a real sense of nostalgia, we may even see Jérôme Boateng, to whom we were heavily linked in the days of olde (not to be confused with the days of yore, which is an entirely different epoch).
All in all, it’s a rogue’s gallery of players we probably never should have signed and, in many cases, are better off for having waved away. Of far greater import is the fact that we’ll go into this “super” cup with most of our most-essential players hale and hearty. Xhaka, Partey, Turner, and Tomiyasu are done with international duty; Saliba, Martinelli, Ramsdale, and Saka are still active. Beyond them and those whose national teams didn’t qualify, we’ll probably see a fair few youngsters.
Here, according to arsenal.com, are the players named to the squad:
- Goalkeepers: Karl Hein, Hubert Graczyk, James Hillson.
- Defenders: Tierney, Cedric, Zinchenko, Lino Sousa, Reuell Walters, Gabriel, Holding, Taylor Foran, Zane Monlouis.
- Midfielders: Lokonga, Elneny, Matt Smith, Myles Lewis-Skelly, Ethan Nwaneri, Odegaard, Smith-Rowe, Vieira, Catalin Cirjan.
- Attackers: Nketiah, Nelson, Marquinhos, Nathan Butler-Oyedeji, Charles Sagoe Jr, Amario Cozier-Duberry.
It’s an odd tournament, featuring not just Arsenal but also Liverpool, AC Milan, and Lyon…but we won’t play Liverpool. AC Milan won’t play Lyon. Ummm…okay. Here’s how this “tournament” works:
- A win is worth three points
- A draw will see each team earn two points
- A penalty shootout will be held after every match, with the winning team earning an extra point.
So, if I’m reading this correctly, you can win a match to earn three points but then have to win a penalty shootout, despite having already won the match, to win a fourth point. A draw is now worth two points, after which you can win the penalty shootout to win a third point…which is what a win used to be worth. Make it all make sense, please.
I’m not sure what our viewing options will be beyond purchasing a pass through arsenal.com (both games for £9.99, or individually for £5.99). Given how starved we all must be for an Arsenal match, that may just feel worth it. As for me, I’m keeping the powder dry.
From the get-go against Lyon, the match felt like one in which the outcome was predetermined. After dominating possession for much of the first half, we banged in four goals inside of ten minutes—from Giroud, Ox, Iwobi, and Ramsey—and the onslaught was, well, on. Add in second-half goals from Özil and Cazorla, and it’s starting to look and feel like we’re ready to win the Prem.
Enter Wolfsburg. Setting aside any wisecracks about Lord Bendtner, who did do his level-best to remind us of why he’s no longer a Gunner, this is a squad that finished second in the Bundesliga, just ten points behind the behemoth that is Bayern (yes, yes, I know that Lyon did something similar in finishing eight points behind PSG, but none of us has the time to get into a point-by-point dissection of the Bundesliga versus Ligue 1 or the dominations thereof by Bayern or PSG. Suffice it to say that finishing second in the Bundesliga these days is a bit more of an accomplishment than doing the same in Ligue 1).
From the outset, they not only offered much more defensive cohesion than did Lyon, they also got forward with more confidence if not competence. In fact, had it not been for Bendtner being Bendtner, Wolfsburg might have claimed an early 0-1 lead, enough to open the door to Villareal winning the competition. Then again, Bendtner is and always will be Bendtner (unless, I suppose, he pulls a Jenner…).
The larger point is that we might have convinced ourselves to expect a cakewalk, a coronation, as we waltz past Wolfsburg in a fashion similar to how we lacerated Lyon. To then slog through a somewhat more-dour 1-0 win might dispirit us just a touch until we remind ourselves that we had made ten changes from Saturday’s win (Özil being the only mainstay…) and that we were facing a more-stalwart opponent, one that had, among other feats, battered Bayern 4-1, the first time that those flat-track bullies had conceded more than three goals in league play since Werder Bremen hung five on them in 2008…when none other than Özil was there. Illoominati confirmed, apparently).
More seriously, this tune-up against the Teutons augurs well for the coming campaign. Aside from our ability to eventually break down a well-organised defensive side, our fitness and depth have to attract attention. Playing without Alexis and Ramsey, the two Energizer bunnies, we still harassed and discombobulated Wolfsburg’s defense while trying out a backline of Monreal, Chambers, Gabriel and Bellerín, with Arteta and Cazorla “shielding” them, Reine-Adelaide making his first start, and with Walcott played through the middle. That line-up might not quite cut it against Chelsea or Man City, but it speaks to a fair amount of depth, enough to stave off the injury-crises that have plagued us season after season. That depth—that competition—might matter a bit more than any single signing ever would. I’m not saying we won’t see any more signings. It’s not even August.
There’s still work to be done, but there’s still time to do it.
Fine, You want Reine-Aldelaide, here’s Reine-Aldelaide.
His pedigree differs from those of other strikers to whom we’ve been linked—Benzema and Higuaín come to mind, to name just two—but that shouldn’t necessarily count as a strike against him. To some degree, each of those has seen his résumé boosted by playing for Real Madrid. By contrast, Lacazette does seem like a player on the cusp of a dramatic leap forward, having led Ligue 1 in scoring those 27 goals in 31 appearances. This represents a surge of sorts from a player who, in his previous season, needed 36 matches to score 15 goals. In other words, he’s becoming a bit of a boss and might be ready to make the leap from Ligue 1 to the Prem.
Then again, he stands a mere 1.76m (5’9″). That’s a far cry from Henry’s 1.88m (6’2″) or Giroud’s 1.92m (6’4″). It’s hard to feel that he would offer the kind of hold-up play or brawn we’ve come to depend on in the last few years, and it begs a certain question: if he’s the same height as Theo, what are we really after? Lacazette might be two years younger, but he would almost certainly need a season or two to adjust to the rigours of the Prem. Why not put away the cheque book, saving ourselves the £21m transfer fee, and allow Theo to play through the middle more often?
Despite those gaudy overall statistics, Lacazette failed to impress when it mattered most. None of his 27 goals came against Ligue 1’s top-five finishers, and ten of of them came against its bottom five. He barely registered in Lyon’s Europa League misadventures, scoring once as Lyon steamrolled Czech side Mladá Boleslav by an aggregate 6-2 score in a third round qualifier and failing to score at all as Lyon fell to Romanian side Astra Giurgiu on away goals.
Lacazette has stated that a move would “have to be for a Champions League side.” However, it seems as if only Liverpool have expressed any serious interest. They, however, can’t even offer Europa League competition. The larger question, however, is whether Lacazette is ready to feature for a Champions League side, or even one that hopes to contend for a Prem title.
It would be wonderful to see him lay waste to the Prem and Champions League as he’s done to Ligue 1 (but not Europa…), but it’s hard to feel like he is ready to rise to that level, especially when such a signing could hinder the development of other players already in the squad. I’m not against signing him, but he doesn’t represent an upgrade on what we already have. We’ve been at our best when Giroud has been a focal point around whom our wingers and midfielders swirl, and Lacazette just doesn’t seem to offer that same service. If we’re going to throw an undersized, pacey scorer into the middle, let it be Walcott.
If we’re serious about developing a more-mobile centre-forward who can also offer a bit of size, we already have Welbeck. He’s home-grown, he knows the Prem, and he could grow by leaps and bounds given more time through the middle. Keep in mind how much he had to defer to van Persie and Rooney while at Man U, and how much that deferring stunted his growth. At age 24, he’s just as likely as Lacazette to take the Prem by storm—if not more so. Instead of throwing money at a problem, then, it might make more sense to turn inward and hone what we have.