In: Gael Clichy, Stefan Savic, Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and Owen Hargreaves.
Out: Jerome Boateng, Patrick Vieira, Felipe Caidedo, Emmanuel Adebayor (loan), Dedryck Boyata (loan), Roque Santa Cruz (loan), Shay Given, Jo, Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Analysis: a surprisingly well thought out approach from City this summer. Rather than firing money at any position it seemed was not filled by the best man money could buy, they took a calmer, more measured approach to the market. This is not to say they didn’t throw their considerable weight around, financially, but they addressed problems and shortcomings within their own team, rather than blind investing, which is what they seemed to be doing before. Gael Clichy is a good left back, but is prone to lapses in concentration; damaging lapses. He was at fault for a surprising number of goals in his time at Arsenal, but with someone making sure he remains focussed in the back line (a figure who was conspicuously absent from Arsenal last year), he can be a very successful signing. Stefan Savic is more of an unknown quantity; 20 years old and highly rated, though he was rejected by Arsenal after a trial period. From what I’ve read he’s a raw talent, who has the potential to be a very good player. Sergio Aguero has been a big move waiting to happen for years now, and in his first two games the whole Premier League has seen why. To use a line from Sky’s commentator on the City-Swansea match “a star is born” (let’s just ignore the name he’s been making for himself over the last four years, growing into one of Europe’s finest talents). Very few players justify a £38,000,000 price tag, but he is one - he will be fantastic. Plus, with all the furore around Carlos Tevez, Aguero will take on the mantle with few problems. City also added Samir Nasri, following a good 2010, and a rather drab 2011. At £24,000,000 in the final year of his contract, they overpaid, but they have brought in a brilliantly talented player - and if he shows his 2010 form through this season, he’ll go down as one of Mancini’s better, if not his best, purchase. Then came the real surprise - Owen Hargreaves, following just six minutes of football last season, was snapped up on a pay-as-you-play deal. Possibly a very shrewd deal, but at this point, you just cannot tell - it’s impossible to say how much the injury has affected his game, because no one has seen. Though having him on a pay-as-you-play means their investment is protected and if he is a success, as he may well be, it could be a masterstroke. Their departures were unwanted by the club and their leaving has little impact on the team, so no causes for concern stem from there. Roberto Mancini has built a very, very good squad, possibly the best in the league, though the best teams do not always win. I predict a second or third place finish, but I cannot see them winning the league this year, though they may come close.
In: Gael Clichy, Stefan Savic, Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and Owen Hargreaves.
In: Carl Jenkinson, Gervinho, Ryo Miyachi (granted work permit after signing last year), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Park Chu-Young, Andre Santos, Per Mertersacker, Yossi Benayoun (loan) and Mikel Arteta.
Out: Denilson (loan), Carlos Vela (loan), Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Eboue, Samir Nasri, Armand Traore and Nicklas Bendtner (loan).
Analysis: while vital flaws were addressed, Arsenal undoubtedly leave the summer significantly weaker than they entered it. Per Mertesacker will go his way to shoring up the defence and Gervinho, Benayoun, Miyachi and Oxlade-Chamberlain provide genuine width, something which was lacking from the Arsenal last year as none of Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri, Andrey Arshavin or Nicklas Bendtner are genuine wingers. Despite this, losing Cesc Fabregas would weaken any team and while Aaron Ramsey grows into the role and Arteta does what he can, his absence will be badly felt. Nasri will be less missed; Gervinho can easily pick up the pieces of his departure and the sale of Clichy will not have a negative effect on the team - his lapses in concentration were responsible for many goals. When Kieran Gibbs broke into the team he was very impressive, but a string of injuries have halted his development. Gibbs is more than capable of replacing Clichy but his being so injury prone meant delving into the market for Andre Santos was imperative. There is a ready made, and better, replacement for Denilson in the form of Emmanuel Frimpong. After the 102nd minute of Arsenal-Liverpool many fans were glad to see the back of Emmanuel Eboue, but Carl Jenkinson’s inexperience was shown clearly at Old Trafford. They had better pray for an injury free season for Bakari Sagna. Arsenal are greatly weakened, but they should maintain top 4 status after their late flurry of buys.
note: this started as an actual attempt at an article but when I saw words here and there rhyming, I adapted it into a poem (semi-inspired by Gunnerblog’s remix of Eminem’s Stan). Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.
Dear Mr. Nasri,
I remember you saying it wasn’t about the money,
well looking back that, it all seems rather funny,
while your outstanding talent is really undeniable,
it would seem the contract Arsene offered wasn’t really viable,
I admire your salary increase, I really do,
even though I detest that you’re switching from red to blue,
but it’s not all men who can triple what they earn,
you’d think that extra money would make your pockets burn,
you were offered the role as fulcrum of the team,
though this proposition did not attract you, it would seem,
as we bid Cesc goodbye with sadness in our hearts,
we’ll enjoy you at City, with your growing dearth of starts,
you’re joining the realms of the money grabbing scum,
while you’ll go down in history as lesser than a crumb,
your career will take a tumble, straight through the floor,
much like a certain Emmanuel Adebayor,
but remember all those former Gunners who’ve gone on to better?
Hleb, Flamini, Arsene’s old Irish setter?!
Admittedly, there are few, but no, don’t despair!
I’m sure you’ll find Manchester a haven for your flair,
If trophies are your desire then you should have gone to Barca,
what’s that, they didn’t want you? well that is just a farce-a,
why-ever would they not want someone such as you?
it’s like six months of good play simply does not do?!
It’s not like going to City can’t be done without some dignity,
look at Toure and Clichy, dwelling up by the North Sea,
they are not detested as you soon will be,
but then again, they aren’t wankers, you see,
you state your wish that we retain some respect,
but how can we do that when you plan to defect?
respect goes both ways, you see, young man of France,
and the situation won’t change, even if you shift your stance,
so goodbye, enjoy your new-bought treasures,
I wish you ill-fate in all future endeavours,
your presence at the Arsenal will not really be missed,
even if your leaving will leave many of us pissed,
we have Ryo, Theo and pray to God a brand new signing,
so, see, your going provides its own silver lining,
the future without you is nothing for us to fear,
and when your leaving comes, not one will shed a tear.
In almost 10 years of going to matches, I’ve seen the Arsenal lose and draw a number of times, but I’ve never seen them so thoroughly outplayed and destroyed as when they met Barcelona in March 2010; and yet they still came away from the game with a draw.
It was the two teams’ first meeting since the 2006 Champions League Final and the game marked the first reunion of Thierry Henry with his former club. There was much hype surrounding the game, as the two teams involved are generally considered to play the two most aesthetically pleasing styles of game in Europe, and that any watcher was to witness a spectacle of how football is played.
Those in search of majestic football were not to be disappointed, but (for the first half hour at least) those in search of a level contest would be. Barcelona ripped shreds from Arsenal and from a fan’s perspective, I’ve rarely seen football that good since Arsenal’s “Invincibles” of the 2003/2004 campaign - but more on them later. Barcelona began the onslaught as early as a minute in, when they earned a corner, the result of which was Sergio Busquets slamming an effort against the post. I was placed behind Victor Valdes’s first half goal, and I would not see the ball anywhere close to me for half an hour. Only the performance of a lifetime from Manuel Almunia had kept Arsenal from being annihilated.
Eventually, Arsenal strode forward, and came close themselves with a Samir Nasri effort drifting past Valdes’s left-hand post. Half time came as welcome relief, but Arsène Wenger’s gambles to rush William Gallas and Andrey Arshavin back from injury had backfired, as both were taken off before the half’s end. The teams re-entered for Act II and the Catalans continued their first half rampage. Gerard Pique, in possession on the half-way line, spotted that Thomas Vermaelen had been drawn forward by the ever-present threat of Lionel Messi, and as makeshift centre-half Alex Song had left Zlatan Ibrahimovic open, the Spanish defender sent the ball over to the free Swede, who took full advantage of Almunia’s indecision as to whether to commit to the loose ball by lobbing it over the dithering Spaniard’s head.
Barcelona’s second came in very similar fashion. Vermaelen caught away from the defensive line and Song did not get tight to Ibrahimovic, but this time, Ibrahimovic exploited an opening at Manuel Almunia’s near post. Arsenal looked finished. There looked to be no hope for them, and many thoughts were directed to how many more were to be conceded. With things the way they were, Barça looked unplayable.
6 minutes after Barcelona’s second, Theo Walcott was introduced to proceedings. Then Arsenal began to attack, and he had got the better of Maxwell twice already, and Arsenal suddenly began to look dangerous. Nasri knocked a pass to Bendtner, who held up the ball for a few seconds before sliding the ball through to Walcott. It was a golden opportunity for Arsenal, and if there was any hope of a comeback, it would have to be taken. Walcott’s effort was poor, but it escaped under the body of Valdes and into the net. There was a renewed belief about the Arsenal players, but even moreso amongst the fans. The atmosphere had started as electric, but as the goals went in, the crowd became more deflated, but when Walcott’s effort hit the net, the Arsenal faithful regained a hope that was all but lost after they fell two goals behind.
Away from the actual play, the moment for which so many of the Arsenal fans had been waiting arrived 77 minutes in. Thierry Henry replaced Ibrahimovic and was awarded a rapturous reception. For 8 incredible years, Henry lit up the red half of North London; he was voted Arsenal’s Greatest Ever by a poll on the club website; he holds Arsenal’s all-time goalscoring record; he was at the forefront of their 2002 double-winning team and the aforementioned ‘Invincibles’ - quite simply, the Frenchman is an Adonis to the Arsenal and for a moment, the intensity of the game simmered as we in the crowd welcomed home a hero of years gone by.
Back to the play, Arsenal looked as though they could achieve what at the hour mark seemed impossible and draw level. At 85 minutes, Eboué played the ball to Walcott down the right-hand side. He delivered a low cross, but it was deflected off Carles Puyol and looped into the air. It arrived on the head of Nicklas Bendtner and his positioning meant that he was unable to make an attempt at goal, but he did incredibly to nod to ball towards Cesc Fàbregas. The former La Masia man arched himself for the shot, but was caught by Puyol. The latter was red-carded and Arsenal had a penalty.
The Arsenal Captain stood against his compatriot Valdes. He was a Barcelona fan growing up, he played for their youth academy with Pique and Messi, amongst others, and now he had the chance to level the scoring for the side who gave him the opportunity to reach his potential as one of the World’s finest creative players. The entire stadium fell silent. Fàbregas stepped up and blasted the ball straight into the Barcelona net. The fans, as a collective, went insane with delight. Even fans on the Upper Tier were jumping and singing - a very rare occurrence.
At this point, everyone looked back to the pitch, and saw the goalscorer Fàbregas limping back to the centre circle. He had broken a bone in his leg in his challenge with Puyol and yet had still picked himself up to score from the spot. Any who questioned the Captain’s commitment to the club were silenced in dramatic fashion. He was to miss the rest of the season which, it can be argued, scuppered Arsenal’s then strong title challenge.
I have since re-watched the game and still found myself aghast at the sight of such an incredible footballing spectacle. The football played early on by Barcelona was extraordinary, but even moreso was the spirit shown by Arsenal, after being pummelled for the majority by Barcelona, to come back and gain a draw; topped off by Thierry Henry’s return home, it really was a brilliant night of football.
In Arsenal’s previous two visits to St. Andrew’s, they have conceded late goals that, to varying degrees, have gone on to go their way to destabilising their title challenge. Going into the game, they were 5 points from the Premier League’s summit and after a disappointing midweek draw with Wigan, they were looking to clamber back towards top spot. Birmingham started the game in 19th place, but off the back of a late salvaged draw with Manchester United, but a draw would have led them to 15th and they had only lost one home game all season.
Arsenal, as ever, set off to attack and earned two free kicks around 25 yards and to the right of Ben Foster’s goal, both of which had been poorly struck by Robin van Persie, who was making only his third start of the season. Then, in an attempt top bring the ball forward from defence, Roger Johnson took a heavy touch and Cesc Fàbregas pounced on the loose ball, only to be on the receiving end of a very strong tackle, which left Arsenal’s Captain floored. Some were calling for a red card to be shown, and it could be argued that if the tackle had taken place later than 6 minutes in, he may have received his marching orders, but Johnson went into the book and play continued. In a similar position to the two earlier wasted free kicks by Arsenal, they were given another, but only due to a rather theatrical tumble by van Persie. The Dutchman stepped forward and took the free kick, but the ball was sent in the opposite direction to the one in which van Persie had sent it by the stomach of Lee Bowyer, and with the aid of the deflection, the ball rolled in for Arsenal’s first, and van Persie’s first League goal of the season.
Around 20 minutes on from Arsenal’s opener, Birmingham had a free kick, which was sent into the away side’s area. Johnson knocked the ball down and as van Persie stretched to meet it, the ball fell onto his arm. With his arms outstretched, it was a clear penalty, but Peter Walton chose not to award it. Just minutes later, Arsenal poured forward on the counter-attack. Nasri took the ball down the left side and as he drifted inside, he slid the ball through to the man who seemed to be at the centre of all the key events thus far, van Persie, but an uncharacteristically poor touch meant that Foster was able to pick up the ball from the floor. With Arsenal’s penchant for conceding late goals, that miss could have been one that Arsenal, by the games end, regretted not converting.
As the second half commenced, Lee Bowyer was seen by the television cameras - but not by Peter Walton - to stamp on Bacary Sagna in an off the ball incident. Although this was not spotted, the FA could pull Bowyer up on the challenge and give a retrospective punishment. Arsenal continued their wasteful streak in front of goal, undoing their own excellent build-up play; Jack Wilshere, on his 19th birthday, sent a good chance over the bar and Nasri had a close range effort well saved by Foster.
It was then perhaps fitting that Arsenal’s best player of 2010, Nasri, went on to make amends for his miss. After some fine interchange play with Arsenal’s other star of the year just past, Fàbregas, he sent a curled right-footed effort inside Birmingham’s near post to double Arsenal’s lead. Victory looked to be assured and the St. Andrew’s jinx seemed well on its way to being smashed.
But there was more to come from Arsenal and it was the combined work of Nasri and Fàbregas again that led to the goal. The Spaniard played the ball into the box, wherein Nasri collected it, and Fàbregas went on an overlapping run and upon receiving the Frenchman’s return ball, fired a shot at Foster. Foster parried the shot, but only as far as the leg of Scott Dann. From there, the ball bounced towards Johnson, and the contact it made with his leg and trailed into his own net. Now victory was assured.
There was not a lot more that took place in the match. Arsenal didn’t add to their lead and Birmingham did not reduce their deficit. There was not a lot from which Birmingham could take heart in the game, but for Arsenal, there was much about which they can be positive. With events past - the injury to Eduardo, Gallas’s on-field breakdown - this was never going to be an easy fixture for Wenger’s men, but they passed the test with flying colours, and went some way to dismissing the assumption that “they don’t like it up ‘em.”
His choice of line-up also raises questions about the future of Andrey Arshavin. He was also left out for Arsenal’s game against Chelsea and his positive statistics for the season so far seem to be hiding a truth. Theo Walcott’s season has been hampered by injury, but when he has played, he has looked eager and strong, and Samir Nasri has been magnificent. Arshavin is mainly stationed down the left channel with Nasri on the right, but when played on the left, Nasri has seemed to be even better than he has been on the right, and with a strong Walcott, there seems to be little room remaining for Arshavin. Wenger clearly values him as a player and would be reluctant to let him go, but if the two aforementioned wingers keep up their strong form, the diminutive Russian may be doomed to be a bit-part player. What is also important is the improvement in Gaël Clichy’s performances when not coupled with Arshavin down the left-hand side. Arshavin is by no means known for tracking back, and when Clichy is aided by having his winger help him on the defensive side, he has resembled the Clichy of years previous, before his rather lengthy spell of lacklustre forms.
It is a problem that Arsène Wenger won’t mind having. He has been used to having to operate by the bare bones of his squad in recent years, and now having the luxury of a choice amongst his better players will be a dilemma he’ll enjoy considerably more. As for the year ahead, Arsenal are marching on, and with Manchester City in the week, they’ll be hoping to carry forward some momentum. As for Birmingham, they will be hoping to recover quickly ahead of their clash with fellow relegation strugglers West Ham, and will be hoping to earn a win in the “basement six-pointer.”