04 April 2013

Good riddance to the deadwood

And no, I'm not talking about the innumerable players out on loan. I'm referring to those players who have actually leftFabregas, Van Persie, Nasri, and Song. While we'll remember them for their contributions, the fact that they left for whatever reason gives us a chance to appraise each with a cold, hard eye. When we do, we see that all four players are not who they once were, at least for the moment. Each player seems less vital in his contributions to his current club than he ever was with us. Some might say that this proves that the other clubs are so much better than Arsenal that our best players are merely good players at Camp Nou or the Etihad. Maybe it's down to the procees of getting to know new teammates and team structure/system. Or maybe it suggests that Arsenal, and Arsène Wenger in particular, brings out the best in players. I know full-well that reality is more complex than that, and that a variety of factors help to explain each player's situation, drop in form, dry spell, benching, whatever it may be.
Starting with Fabregas, whose departure feels less cynical than the others', we see a player who has struggled even though he has returned to the club that he started with and is playing with players whom he knows very well from that time and with the Spanish national team. He hasn't had an assist in ten games despite playing with Messi, so prolific that he's the youngest player in La Liga to score 200 careerr goals. He hasn't scored since January. Aside from two fantastic performances in October, he's a shell of his former self. Over his last five matches, Fabregas's rating is a pedestrian 6.64. (whoscored.com) I assumed that being surrounded with that much talent would magically turn any player into an amazing version of himself, but I guess not.

Moving to Alex Song further disproves the idea that playing for a great team and alongside great players leads directly to improvements, as he's made only ten starts for Barcelona and has one paltry goal to his credit and no assists. Like Fabregas, he's shown some flashes of good form, but they've been few and far between. Whether he's just overwhelmed by Barcelona's style, in over his head, complacent, or something else, he just can't work his way into a regular spot. Admittedly, breaking into Barcelona's midfield is probably one of the hardest positions to get, with the likes of Iniesta, Xabi, Fabregas, and Busquets in front of him, but given Barcelona's defensive woes, I'd think that a tough, defensive midfielder like Song would find more than the occasional cameo. He's apparently so dissatisfied with his role that he wants to return. Frankly, as I've said before, I don't think we need him anymore.We have a nifty collection of midfielders already, even if we have to go without Abou Diaby for another 10 months.

On to Samir Nasri. His form has dropped so much that he's irritated Roberto Mancini, which is saying a lot when you consider how long Mancini was able to put up with Mario Balotelli.  Aside from a strong game against Newcastle (and let's fact it, these days, if you can't play well against Newcastle...), Nasri earns a Squillaci-esque 6.07. Let's face facts: when you have some charisma, you might be able to get by. However, in Nasri's case, he's drawn enough negative attention through his behavior that the scrutiny on his performance is even sharper. Making matters worse for him, Nasri has criticized Mancini and complimented Wenger as "the greatest coach he ever worked with", which seems to come a little late in the game for a man who worked so hard to leave Wenger behind. If he thinks he can talk his way back to Arsenal, he's got another think coming.

And that brings us to Van Persie. For one glowing season, he was one of the world's best. He was so good, in fact, that we almost forget how many years we had to wait for that one. He seemed to continue that run of good form into the beginning of this season, but he's tailed off considerably, at least in domestic competitions.  Ferguson has had to defend the striker, saying "he's a strong lad with a great physique". Sure. Fine. But he's also gone nine games without a goal, the longest drought in his Prem career. He's appeared in 27 Prem league matches this year, just the 4th time in his time in England that he's surpassed 25. He's 29 but looks to be graying so fast he could play Gandalf in the next installment of The Hobbit. Maybe he is overworked, not so much in the big picture of things, but over the last few weeks. Without Rooney, he's had to shoulder more of the burden, and he's had to feature for Holland in two full-length appearances. He's not a player with a reputation for endurance or durability, so maybe there is something to the idea that he's wearing down.

Part of me sees a connection to the infamous "white flag trade" in which the Chicago White Sox, just a few ticks behind the Cleveland Indians, traded away three of their best pitchers in exchange for six minor leaguers. It felt like a surrender because so many felt we could catch Cleveland and contend for a World Series that year. However, two of the pitchersWilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandezwere sending signals that they were going to leave through free agency anyway, leaving the White Sox with nothing. Jerry Reinsdorf figured that he'd better trade them and at least get something in return. In the long run, the trade worked out pretty well; Alvarez faded into a fair-to-middling pitcher, and Danny Darwin retired two years later. The Sox got a few good players in the trade, not a bad return on their apparent surrender.

I'm not saying that Wenger and Kroenke have some secret knowledge of how quickly Song, Fabregas, Nasri, and Van Persie might fade and were the smartest guys in the room for selling them. It would offer some comfort, though, to know that we offloaded at least a few players at just the right time by coincidence. Maybe Van Persie's best days are already behind him, for example. If you were to ask me, given each man's current form and ignoring the recent past, if I'd take any of them back, I'd have to think long and hard. Two months ago, I'd have leapt at the chance to have Fabregas or Van Persie back. I might feel that way again as early as Saturday. For now, it's comforting to know that we've come out as well as we have, on balance, despite losing such talented players. I know it's rather a self-fulfilling mindset, but I like our current players, a feeling that fades once a player leaves.

I'll have to check in on the Europa League before wrapping things up here looks like At halftime for each, Chelsea leads Rubin Kazan 2-1 while Spurs trail Basel 2-1. More on all that later...