06 July 2013

"Gooner Rooney"? I don't know...

Look. I know that I might sound a little off my rocker for continuing to resist a move for Wayne Rooney. Given his tense history with David Moyes—one that includes Moyes suing Rooney for libel and getting a settlement of as much as £150k—a move away from Old Trafford seems more than likely for Wazza. However, I"m still not sure we at Arsenal should work very hard (or spend very much) to get him. In an exchange I had in another forum, I learned that he's not quite the prima donna or negative influence I had assumed him to be. In an interview earlier this week, Jack Wilshere said it would be "amazing" to have Rooney at Ashburton Grove. I'm going to have to go ahead and accept that at face-value—Jack has played with Rooney for the Three Lions and knows of what he speaks. It's not like he was posed a direct question along the lines of "should Arsenal sign Rooney?" In the interview, ESPN's David Hirshey says "rumor has it you might be joined by one more [British player]" and shows Rooney's autobiography to Jack. In other words, Jack was under no pressure to say more than was necessary, but he went on to say, "he puts his arm around you and looks after you."

a scene to be seen in the red-and-white next year?
So it seems I was wrong. It certainly isn't the first time. I've gotten used to it, in fact.

At any rate, there's been a good amount of talk, whether it's Gazidis saying "of course we could [sign Rooney]" or Wenger saying "who could turn [Rooney] down?" We've apparently launched a £20m bid for him, a figure I could certainly live with and not just because I still cling to the quaint idea that one shouldn't spend more than one has. Even if his eventual fee climbs to £25m or even £30m, I can live with it. After all, we are talking about one of England's best players and the Prem's 6th all-time leading scorer. At 27, he probably still has a few quality seasons in him. Does he have enough to be a 20-to-25 goal-scorer? Again, probably.

However, I'm still on the fence. I look at our squad, and here's what I see: Walcott, on the verge of 20 to 25 league goals. Cazorla, ready to build on his 12 Prem league goals. Podolski, with 11 league goals in spot-appearances. Giroud, with 11 league goals and ready for more. By and large, scoring hasn't been a problem, although we have been guilty of goal-orgies and periods of asceticism. We'd do well to spread our goals out a bit. We've already brought in Sanogo, scorer of four goals in seven appearances for France's U20 squad. He's a project, of course. On the other end, we have the impending signature of Gonzalo Higuain. He's hardly the proverbial bird in the hand, of course, but he'd likely go for 20 league goals in his first season. What I'm getting at is that, even without Rooney, we might go for 75 goals in Prem, if not more.

There is one argument I can admit in Rooney's favor: ferocity. Few in the Prem can match him in terms of pure desire. When he's engaged, there are few players more electrifying than Rooney. For as much as van Persie brings the bile to the back of my throat, I really can't stand how far backwards Ferguson bent to kiss his arse, so far, it seems, that he could kiss his own in the process. Seeing Rooney mope around as Fergie and van Persie's bro-mance blossomed was irritating; a diminished Rooney is a pain to behold. Say what you will against him shouting into the camera after his hat-trick over West Ham a few years back. There's a passion and an intensity there that, even if occasionally regrettable in its articulation, reveals a competitor who is irresistible.

If he can be had for under £30m, have 'em. Anything much above that, however, makes me worry. We have other needs to address, after all. I know we're flush and looking to spend, but would we be better served by moving for two or even three other players instead of this one?

Last but not least, this blog is up for a "Best New Arsenal Blog" in the YAMAs 2012-13 survey of best Arsenal blogs. Please consider voting for Woolwich 1886 in question #3. Thanks!

Mikel Arteta: Minifig Maestro

In order to distract myself from the madness over Higuain—is he in London? Has he already had a physical? Why can't I seem to remember how to spell his last name?—I thought I'd look back over the season to glean some satisfaction from the successes we did enjoy and hope to build on, Higuain or not. With that in mind, I thought I'd look past the hoopla over goals and victories to find elements that underpinned it all, and the one name I kept coming back to is Mikel Arteta. Say what you will about the emergence or development of players like Koscielny, Gibbs, Walcott, or Ramsey; gush over the exploits of Cazorla or Podolski; lament if you will the inconsistencies of Szczesny or Vermaelen. Quite simply, Arteta was very literally at the center of it all, orchestrating the entire team with simplicity and verve.

Like Ramsey, he's had to adapt to the defensive midfield role, having played at Everton in a more attacking creator's role (even as a forward at times), but he's done so with aplomb. With a body-mass index of 19.1, on the low end of "normal" and verging on underweight (BMI>18.5), he's hardly going to intimidate anyone or throw his weight around, he seems to more than make up for that with intelligence, timing, and footwork. Cazorla, his fellow Spaniard might draw more oohs and aahs, but the subtler pleasures Arteta offers are no less sublime.

Using statistics from whoscored.com, you'll see on the chart that he leads the team in tackles and interceptions, as well as pass-accuracy and passes per game. Not shown but still worthy of notice is that he led the team with six yellow-cards, which might raise an eyebrow or two. However, a case could be made that many of these were tactical, bookings taken to break up an attack and to buy time to re-organize the defense. It's a shame that these bookings harm his overall rating. In addition to his skill on the ball and his ability to set up the attack, then, his ability to disrupt counter-attacks sets him apart from many of his peers. He's been compared at times to a metronome due to the steadiness with which he distributes passes, but I dislike the robotic regularity that this suggests. He's third on the team with 5.3 long balls per game (surpassed only by keepers) and his passes average 17m in length, revealing an assertiveness and creativity that the term "metronome" doesn't do justice.

When Alex Song left, we rightly worried that there would be a gap in the squad and no one to fill it. However, Arteta has emerged as a superior replacement, just as instrumental to our successes as to those who are putting the ball in the net, if not more so. He links defense to attack superbly and deserves recognition for helping to steady the defense and spearhead the offense. I might go so far as to say he's the best in the Prem at what he does.

To revisit and further dispel the "metronome" concept, one uses a metronome when it's hard to mark the rhythm. Arteta shows no signs of any such struggles. If anything, he is a maestro, setting the rhythm by which everyone else, opponents included, must play. Andante, allegretto, presto, whatever it may be, Arteta seems to sense the moment. To that, I tip my cap.

Remember: if you haven't had a chance yet, cast your ballot in the YAMAs13 awards; this blog is nominated in the "Best New Arsenal Blog" category. I hope Woolwich 1886 earns your vote. Thanks!

No Higuain announcement means it could be a long weekend...

Those of us hoping for news of a Higuain signing on Friday may have to settle in for a long, cold weekend bereft of news. If you haven't done so already, run out and stock up on some necessaries. I've maxed out the credit card on frozen burritos, coffee, scotch, and sriracha. That last item does in fact go well with each of the preceding three. Have faith.

That's all we have to go on right now is faith—unless you believe that tabloids like The Sun, The Mirror, or AS Sport are latter-day oracles. That said, with the close of the official business day on Friday bringing no news other than photos of Higuain boarding a plane (something he's clearly never done on any other day of his life) and suggestions that Real Madrid has rejected Arsenal's £23m offer, Gooners look to a rather bleak 48-to-72 hour stretch of waiting, huddled around transistor radios and smart-phones to glean what little is available.

A quick history of Arsenal's official announcements offers cold comfort. Simply put, the weekends don't offer much solace. Therefore, the 41% of us who voted for a 5 July announcement will be left to nurse our psychological wounds as we hope that the other 29% who have voted a for a 12 July announcement have deeper insights into the universe's secret machinations. Here's a run-down of the timing of our key signings over the last few years (according to arsenal.com):
  • Nacho Monreal: 1 February 13 (Friday)
  • Santi Cazorla: 7 August 2012 (Tuesday)
  • Lukas Podolski: 30 April 2012 (Monday)
  • Olivier Giroud: 26 June 2012 (Tuesday)
  • Mikel Arteta: 31 August 2011 (Wednesday)
  • Per Mertesacker: 31 August 2011 (Wednesday)
  • André Santos: 31 August 2011 (Wednesday)
  • Gervinho: 18 July 2011 (Monday)
  • Carl Jenkinson: 8 June 2011 (Wednesday)
  • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8 August 2011 (Monday)
  • Laurent Koscielny: 7 July 2011 (Wednesday)
  • Thomas Vermaelen: 19 June 2010 (Friday)
  • Andrei Arshavin: 3 February 2009 (Tuesday)
Without suggesting patterns or causality, the weekends look like they offer slim pickings. Therefore, it might be wise to ignore the transfer-sites and re-acquaint ourselves with the better parts of ourselves, whether that's loved ones, hobbies, or other, more worth-while pursuits. I know that I've been guilty of checking on the rumors more than is healthy, but, dammit, I want confirmation. I want closure. The idea that we might have to wait until Monday or Tuesday—or longer—maddens me. I fight to resist the idea that an agreement has been reached among the dignitaries while we, the proletariat, wait.

05 July 2013

Attack of the 50ft. German: Per Mertesacker (with stats)

We'll take a quick break from the hysteria surrounding Higuain's potential move to Arsenal by indulging in the latest Photoshop project, this one celebrating Per Mertesacker's towering height and contributions to the team. He replaces Allison Hayes in this 1958 poster for the science-fiction movie "Attack of the 50ft. Woman". His partnership with Laurent Koscielny was arguably one of the largest factors in driving Arsenal home over the last few months of the 2012-13 campaign.

He might be slower than molasses in January, but he seems to make up for this through astute positioning and good timing. Here's a quick run-down of some stats (I'd add them to the image but that would detract from its, um, "artistry"):
2.6 aerial duels won per game
1 tackle per game.
5.1 clearances per game.
0.4 times dribbled per game.
91.5% pass-success.
Average pass-length: 18m.
3 goals scored
1.3 interceptions per game.
l  6.94 rating from whoscored.com.
I'll admit that I've given him a hard time, such as in the Man U game when I felt he could have done more to bail out Sagna after van Persie intercepted the weak back-pass. Of course, Mertesacker's speed will continue to be a weak-point, and one that will become more of a concern as he ages and as each season wears on and we contend (hopefully) for a variety of trophies. It was highlighted albeit not too painfully against West Brom when he felt he had to go for a tackle on Shane Long and was sent off.

Having said that, he still emerges as one of the Prem's best center-backs but has done so in a quiet, understated way. He may not boast eye-popping numbers around tackles or interceptions, but his strength seems to lie more in awareness, positioning, leadership, and organization qualities for which no statistics are available.

Long story short, he's been a pillar of strength in the back, and his calm-confidence (belied beautifully for the moment after his equalizer against Spurs in November) helped to settle the team on more than one occasion. Whoever else we bring in over the next few weeks, it's well-worth celebrating a man who has meant as much to the club's fortunes this year as Mertesacker has.

Herzlichen Glückwunsch und danke, Per, für eine tolle Saison! (with help from Google Translate, I meant to say, "congratulations and thank you, Per, for a great season!").

Closing note: today is the last day to vote in the YAMAS13 survey, and this blog is nominated in the Best New Arsenal Blog category, competing against a number of multi-site writers. I hope you'll take a minute to cast your ballot--it's seven questions and won't take more than a minute. Thanks!

04 July 2013

78% chance of Higuain as a Gunner; a physical on Thursday?

No betting sites are accepting any more bets on Gonzalo Higuain moving to Arsenal, and a report at The Guardian site today suggests that Higuain could come to London as early as Thursday for a medical. The site transfermrkt.com has raised the probability of the signing to 78%, up four points from a yesterday. According to the report, the deal on offer looks to be at or around £23m, an apparent compromise between Real Madrid's desire for £25m and our reported offer of £22m. They got him seven years ago for around £12m, so this would be a nice return on their investment. Such a deal would yield a weekly salary of around £100,000, making him one of the club's top-earners without threatening to create a wage gap that could cause some discontent in players already in the squad.

When will Higuain sign?

The rumors flying around include Higuain boarding a plane for London. Those of you who have voted for a July 5th signing in the poll (37% as of this morning) could be crowing much louder should this happen. It's odd to call this a long, drawn-out transfer, but that's what it feels like, even if I only can find evidence dating back to March 2013 but no earlier. Should the signing happen before the weekend, it would be only five days into the official transfer window and one of the earliest signings we've seen in the last few years except that of Podolski, whose signing was announced at the team site   on 30 April 2012, and Giroud, whose signing was on 26 June 2012. Most of our other signings have happened (or been announced) very late in the transfer window, something detailed here if you're curious.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's remember that nothing is official yet. There. That's said. With it out of the way, let's pretend for a bit and ponder what it means once it becomes official:
  • Statement of intent: signing Higuain is an unquestionable statement of intent. We're bringing in La Liga's 3rd-most prolific scorer over the last seven years, a player for the world's largest club. He's not Messi or Ronaldo, to be sure, but signing him is a strong statement about our ambitions. Without making too much of it, it's the kind of signing that can draw the attention of other players, encouraging them to take a closer look at following his lead.
  • New approach: in the past, not only have most signings involved relatively unknown players, they've usually happened largely below the radar and late in the window. Rumors and discussions around Higuain coming to Arsenal have been front-page fodder for weeks, if not months. Whether this signals a new approach on Wenger's part or the nature of signing a big name, this signing would mark a shift in how transfers are handled, one that might further open the door to other high-profile signings.
  • Competition: both within the squad and against other teams, adding Higuain could have a dramatic impact on everyone's play. He and Giroud may vie for playing time, and even if Higuain emerges as a clear #1 over Giroud, everyone should benefit from the addition. Should he reclaim his 20 goals a year pace, we could find ourselves scoring earlier in matches, unlocking opponents who might otherwise stifle or thwart us and giving us more room to play aggressively instead of tentatively. This, of course, would lead to fewer losses and fewer draws, putting more pressure on teams that have managed to finish above us in the last few years.
As I've discussed in the past, I would love this signing for the reasons above as well as for others: We're not blowing up our wage-structure, we're not bringing in an outsized ego, and even if we're setting aside the "we don't buy superstars" motto for the moment, it doesn't feel to me as if we're abandoning it. Good God, please let this happen by Friday—I don't know if I can take much more!

Before closing, I'll put out another call for votes in this year's YAMAS awards. This blog has been nominated in the "Best New Arsenal Blog" category, and I hope you'll take a minute to complete the survey—it's seven questions, and Woolwich 1886 is in question #3. Thanks!

Higuain in an Arsenal jersey? They're calling it a done-deal...

Well, Tantalus couldn't have had it any worse than Arsenal fans. Yes, I know that an eternity spent surrounded by fruit and water that disappear whenever you reach for them might seem a tad worse than a few weeks wondering if a player might join the club, but bear with me. Gooners have been craving a high-profile signing, not just for weeks, but for years. No disrespect to Yaya Sanogo, but this itch begs for a deeper scratch.

A bit clumsy, I'll admit...
With that in mind, it comes as intriguing news that all bets are off on Gonzalo Higuain coming to Arsenal--no parlor anywhere is taking any wagers anymore after the odds dropped from 1/8 to 1/14. If you're inclined to believe the source, Fox Sports quotes Gonzalo's father as saying, "we got permission from Real Madrid to negotiate face to face to Arsenal and, luckily, soon, I see my son in the Premier League." Now, it would have been nice of him to say "with Arsenal" instead of "in the Premier League", but let's not get picky. No other Prem club other than Arsenal has been seriously linked to Higuain, and he did say that they were negotiating "face to face to Arsenal", so we have that to hang out hats on for now.  We're still reading tea leaves at the moment, but they're getting more and more legible by the day.

Transfermrkt still pegs the likelihood of him signing with Arsenal at 75%, tantalizing but, again, not a confirmation. Long story short, we still hover around Higuain, hoping that an announcement will arrive before the weekend.

Until then, we can while away the time voting for the "Best of..." awards at youaremyarsenal.com.  This blog has been nominated as a "Best New Arsenal Blog". It's worth noting that I'm out-gunned--the other contenders are multi-writer sites, while I type along on my own. You can vote by clicking here. It's a seven-question ballot, so it shouldn't take more than a minute or two. That said, I hope I'll earn your vote in question #3!

UPDATE: Sorry to those of you who had trouble with the link to the survey. I've corrected it.  Thanks!

03 July 2013

Plumpin' for Rooney, Cavani, Ronaldo, Bale: a quick check on our rivals' moves

As important as our movement in the summer transfer-window is, we'd do well to keep an eye on the goings-on among the other clubs we're competing with, both in the transfer market as well as in the Prem. As we seek to bolster our squad, we'd do well to make sure that we're keeping up with the proverbial Joneses, not to mention the Moyeses, Mourinhos, and Pellegrinis.

By outward appearances, each club seems to have been laying low, sending out feelers and being linked to this or that player, but there has been little apparent movement so far. Part of that may be due to the fact that the transfer-window is just three days old; part of that may be due to our own perceptions as Arsenal fans, more attuned to any and every murmur, whisper, or hint of a player linked to us. However, it can't hurt to eavesdrop on the other clubs.

We'll offer a quick run-down of our closest competitors in no particular order. We all know how the silly season is, so keep in mind that any player may have signed for any club by the time you finish reading this.

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CHELSEA
There has been tall talk of the war-chest Mourinho would have available, something on the order of £100m. They've been linked with Edinson Cavani, and this could cost upwards of £50m. Should he sign, this could mark the end of Fernando Torres's time at the club. Mourinho said that Torres has only been "so-so". Their addition of Demba Ba in January hardly sparked the offense but may have helped enough to keep the club in third even in the face of our strong finish. With Romelu Lukaku returning from a triumphant loan to West Brom (17 goals, 4 assists), Chelsea looks stronger with or without Cavani. Not to be overlooked is Mourinho's relationship with other players such as Wesley Sneijder or Julio Cesar, who might rate their chances at glory a bit higher than at their current clubs.

As to departures, we could very well see the departures of John Terry or David Luiz with replacements to be named later. Much as I detest Terry, I'd rather he stay, the better to see him get beaten by our fleet-of-feet attackers.

Threat Level: Latent but high. With or without signings, Mourinho has proven that he can deliver. Frankly, I worry more about his impact on the club than I do about the impact of any new signings. Having said that, bringing in Cavani could surely vault the club from third-place to contenders to win the Prem.

SPURS
All of the talk is of Gareth Bale's potential move to Real Madrid, something I've actually lamented in a previous post. He had a brilliant season by almost any standard, and he's good for the Prem and good for us. Keeps us sharp and on our toes and all of that. I don't see him surpassing his 2012-13 stats (if anything, I suspect a regression of sorts), so I'm wary of us getting what so many of us are asking for. Should he leave, Spurs may have upwards of £75m to throw around, such is his value. With that kitty, they could replace one player with three or four who, even if they're lesser individuals, could strengthen the team quite well. They've brought in Paulinho already, and they have been linked with Christian Benteke and David Villa. None of these names strike fear into my heart, but Spurs could sign these players and still have £40m or more to spend. Selling players on the idea of playing in the Europa League might be tricky, but money does talk.

Should Bale end up staying, I'd submit that he'll struggle to replicate his eye-popping performance of the previous season, laboring under the increased scrutiny and pressure it has generated for him. Should he go, Spurs could make a number of signings.

Threat level: Moderate. I don't see many signs of ambition from the club. There is active talk of Bale leaving with little in the way of rebuttal from the club, and the rumors link the club to players who seem unlikely to convince Bale to stay or spark the club to a higher finish.

MAN CITY
Most of the news out of the Etihad has been about departures rather than additions. Kolo Touré, as previously mentioned has left for Anfield, and Carlos Tévez has shipped out to Juventus. Of course, Mancini is long gone, so we'll have to see how well Pellegrini manages. Between now and August, I'm sure there will be more activity as the club seeks to overcome its apparent championship hangover from 2011-12. At this point, they have shown only moderate interest in the likes of Pepe Reina, Robert Lewandowski, and Mario Gomez. Of these, only Lewandowski strikes me as the kind of player who could redefine a club's ambitions. With Dortmund refusing to let him join Bayern, Man City might be the next-most likely landing for him. Chelsea's drooling for Cavani, Man U's eyeing Ronaldo, Real Madrid is focusing on Bale, and Barcelona has added Neymar. There are few other clubs with the resources or allure to land him.

Never underestimate a club that throws its money around like City. They might be most vulnerable to impending FFP regulations, but I wouldn't put it past them to engage in an orgy of spending before then.

Threat level: Moderate/high. They'll certainly look to replace Touré and Tévez, and that's just for starters. They may look to add some firepower to the midfield. With Gareth Barry at 32 and in the last year of his contract, for example, and with Samir Nasri's personality overwhelming his performance,  I wouldn't be surprised to see the club move for another midfielder.

MAN U
This may sound preposterous, but hear me out: Ronaldo moving to Old Trafford could work out quite well for us. There's only one ball to be played, and I just don't see Ronaldo and van Persie sharing very well. Ronaldo could to to van Persie what van Persie did to Rooneyor van Persie could to Ronaldo what he did to Rooney: make him superfluous (let the him serve as a flexible reference to van Persie and Ronaldo). Even the venerated Alex Ferguson couldn't keep the two content, and Rooney looks set to leave as a result. How will David Moyes, potentially out of his depth already, massage those two egos? Can he convince van Persie that an £80m signing of Ronaldo means that the two men are to be equal partners? Who will take PKs? I'm not sure who would be more petulant in the face of a potentially tense relationship. On one hand, they might both go on to score 25 goals. On the other, the whole situation could implode. I'll cheer for the latter.

They do look set to bring in Thiago from Barcelona, which might be more important to us because it would all but confirm that Fabregas is staying put. He's a nice player and all, but he doesn't fill a glaring need (not that Man U has many). He'd join a midfield already stocked with young players (and Giggs).

I'd worry more about Moyes bringing in Baines or Fellaini more than I worry about the other names linked to Man U, as these players could do more to strengthen an already-strong Man U.

Threat level: Moderate. As alluded to before, I wonder about Moyes's ability to manage the pressure, with or without Ronaldo. Man U finished leagues ahead of any other team in the Prem, so it's not like they need to sign anyone. Still, they're unlikely to rest on their laurels.

SUMMATION
A lot can happen between now and 31 August, but if we sign the players we've been linked to most oftenHiguain, Cesar, perhaps Wanyama or Fellainiand if our current players build on their own growth from the last months of the 2012-13 campaign, I like our chances against anyone in the Prem.

02 July 2013

Higuain to Arsenal bet: £14 wins you one stinkin' pound.

In a strong signal that Arsenal is closer than ever to landing the signature of Gonzalo Higuain, betvictor has lowered its odds on the event from 1/8 to 1/14. A quick explanation: the fractional odds show us the payout on the right and the wager on the left. In this situation, then, if I bet £14 on Higuain coming to Arsenal, I'll win a single pound (plus my original wager) for a whopping total of £15. There are slower ways to fund your retirement, to be sure, but when we last checked the situation on 27 June, the odds were 1/8in other words, in just five days, the odds have nearly halved, indicating that a signature could be imminent. Could it be as early as this week? In the still-running poll, sadly, 44% of us were too optimistic in suggesting that Higuain would sign by 28 June. With the transfer window now officially open, will the 33% who predicted a signing by 5 July win the day? I'm sure all of this are looking for any and every morsel of evidence to confirm it: Wilshere's following Higuain on twitter. Arsene's set to make a "final push." And on and on.

When will Higuain sign?

I'm not much of a betting manI'm too much of a coward to take the plunge. However, the betting parlors are taking the collective wisdom (such as it is) of anyone interested enough to put their money where their mouths are. Paddy Power and the rest won't stay in business very long if they can't accurately assess odds, which is why I'll look to them to figure out where things stand rather than reading headlines. To believe them, we're about to sign Higuain, Rooney, Fellaini, and now Bayern's Mario Gomez. It's a dreamy world, full of rainbows and unicorns and dragons that poop jelly-beans.In other words,  let's get back to reality.

With the signature of Yaya Sanogo, there's no harm in hoping that the lid is now off the transfer-kitty. Transfermrkt, who rate the probability of transfers, have left Higuain's move at 75% likely, unchanged from a week ago. For context, Sanogo is still listed at 93% likely to sign while also being listed as in the squad since 1 July, so there's a curve of seven points there.  Similarly, the likelihood of Cesar signing have grown from 50% to 57%, and skybet have lowered odds from 1/3 to 1/4. Despite rumors of Barcelona's interest, it seems that we continue to have the inside-track and hopefully enough of a head start to land the man.

It's going to be an antsy couple of days as we hope to hear some official announcements about Higuain and Cesar. In the meantime, it seems we can distract ourselves with variations on Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go":
Score a goal, Yaya Sanogo,
You're the first signing of the transfer window.
Score some goals, Yaya Sanogo,
You're sure to be a superstar bye and bye.
Score again, Yaya Sanogo,
Caz can't always do it solo.
Score more goals, Yaya Sanogo;
I don't wanna miss when you hit that high!
Good times.

Last word: don't forget to vote in the 2013 YAMAS Best Arsenal blogs balloting!

Is Woj all that stands between us and an empty net?

In a reminder that we at Arsenal have been too busy counting our chickens before they hatch, feeling excited about who we're about to sign, how we don't have to worry about losing any key players, how we've finally cut some of the deadwood, we face a great deal of uncertainty around who will mind the net. Mannone is close to signing with Sunderland. Should that happen, we'd have Szczesny and Fabianski as the only keepers on the squad with meaningful first-team experience. Academy players James Shea and Reice Charles-Cook were released yesterday (1 July), so the pipeline, such as it is, is dry. The only other keeper under contract, then, is Damian Martinez, a 20-year old who made two appearances in the 2012-13 season, both in the league cup: he faced two shots from Coventry, saving one and conceding the other; and he faced six shots from Reading, saving one and conceding five. I'm sure he calls his mother on Sundays and rescues kittens in his spare time, but he's some years away from making regular appearances in the Prem. His best contribution to the squad might be in convincing his fellow Argentinian to sign with Arsenal.

We've already seen how Woj can get lackadaisical when he senses that the position is his to lose. He's an incredibly talented keeper, but the key word theretalentedis problematic. A player who can succeed on talent sometimes learns to be lazy whereas a player with less "talent" might develop stronger skills, technique, focus, and more through hard work. I'm not suggesting that Woj is lazy, but the risk of him becoming so is too real to ignore. He's been diplomatic enough to call Fabianski "the best #2 keeper in the country", a back-handed compliment if ever there was one. Fab's made 31 Prem appearances in six years and is clearly not a viable long-term option. We're therefore one Szczesny injury away from seeing Fabianski as our #1 keeper with Martinez as the only back-up.

With the transfer window now officially open, we'd be sorely remiss to let the keeper situation slip too far down the list of priorities (I don't mean for a second to suggest that Arsène or anyone else who actually makes these decisions are ignorant of the situation). We've been linked with Julio César for a while now, a keeper I've argued several times we should sign. However, news today suggests that Barcelona, who apparently do no scouting of their own other than to scan headlines for the word "Arsenal," are now interested in signing him. Such a move doesn't yet register at transfermrkt or at any betting salons, but with Valdes having vowed to leave the Camp Nou, Barca could very well throw a  large and expensive spanner in the works.

Our interest in other keepers, such as Reina, Mignolet, or Begovic, seem so flaccid that they barely merit any attention. Mignolet's already signed with Liverpool, which might make Reina available, although he would almost certainly expect to be the number-one keeper from day one and would be unlikely to accept a lesser role even if he is outperformed by Szczesny.  However, I'm not sure Reina's actual performance warrants that attitude. With a whoscored rating of 6.63, Reina rates below Szczesny (6.79) and César (6.87). As much as I might like to kneecap Liverpool by poaching their keeper, we might actually help Liverpool without significantly strengthening ourselves  by taking Reina. Mignolet and his 7.01 rating would then be their #1 keeper.

Which GK should we sign?

Are we left with César as the best option, or should we look farther afield? Hamburger SV's René Adler? Mönchengladbach's Marc-André ter Stegen? Barcelona's Villa?  Each offers advantages and drawbacks, so I'll put it to you: of the keepers mentioned, whom would be best for Arsenal? Cast your vote, and I'll follow up in a few days with a deeper look at the results--unless, of course, a keeper is signed in the meantime.

Speaking of voting, the YAMAS13 blog-awards are out, and this blog has been nominated in the Best New Arsenal Blog category. I hope you'll take a minute to votehere's the seven-question survey.