27 July 2013

Arsène talks up new "signings" to bolster defense

This may come as little comfort to those of us starving for a high-profile signing to strengthen the offense and spearhead the attack, a sure-fire 20-goal scorer, but it's better than nothing. Despite getting beaten to Gonzalo Higuain by Napoli and making little progress with Liverpool's Luis Suarez, it looks like our defense will get a dramatic boost with the arrival of two new "signings". Their names and faces will be familiar to most Gooners—Nacho Monreal and Thomas Vermaelen. Each is set to join the squad by October at the latest.

Sorry for the pessismism, but it's beginning to look less and less likely that actual signings will occur, and we'll have to content ourselves somehow with the classic "return from injury is like a new signing" line. Speaking the other day, Arsène had this to say:
We are ready to do quick deals but all the transfers do not depend only on us, but we are prepared to wait. It looks unlikely before the Emirates Cup. We still have a strong squad but we are there on the market to try to strengthen our team. With or without additions we can be title challengers next season.
I don't necessarily disagree with that last line about contending. No one above us has made any dramatic moves to improve their squads, unless of course we account for Mourinho's arrival. Aside from that, the only significant player-movement has been at Man City, but none of those scare me (yet).

However, it's the first line from Arsène that gets my blood boiling. To say "transfers do not depend only on us" is certainly fair to say because there are, after all, a lot of moving parts, but the attitude it reflects suggests that we feel ourselves to be at the mercy of other clubs instead of trying to seize our destinies. We could have had Higuain if we had pushed a little harder. Instead, we dithered and dilly-dallied until Higuain himself apparently got frustrated; then, we bid £40m for Suarez; then, we saw Higuain go to Napoli for something close to £32m, a figure we could have easily matched if not exceeded for a player whom I believe to be well-worth it, given his accomplishments and relative lack of boorish behavior.

There's still a little more than a month to go before the transfer-window closes, but each day that passes closes the window of opportunity that much more. There's a shortage of top-notch players available for a move, unless we want to pay a premium for a player who wasn't already on the move. At this point, despite my previous skepticism, I would have been content with signing Jovetic. I'm not high on him, but at least it would have shown some aggressiveness on our part. We currently seem to lack any ambition, and that's a double-edged sword: of course, we haven't actually signed anyone noteworthy, but it also communicates to available players (not to mention current ones) that we're not all that serious about climbing to the top of the Prem.

Having said all of this, I don't necessarily disagree with Arsène. I think we could be title contenders next season. I don't think Moyes can keep Man U on top, I haven't seen much from Man City that makes me nervous, and even Mourinho may not be enough to elevate Chelsea. We may have finished 16 points behind Man U, but we did sell them our best scorer. We managed to stay close to Man City and Chelsea, finishing just 5 and 2 points back respectively. With Wilshere and Podolski fit, Walcott and Giroud ready for break-out seasons, the defense rounding into form, and a number of other factors, maybe we will do just fine without additions. Maybe. However, that's a hard sell after all of the bold talk going into the transfer season about how much we had, who we could afford, and so on. I'm not going to go so far as to say that we've painted ourselves into a corner and therefore have to sign someone just to prove we're not all talk, but it would be a depressing outcome indeed if we haven't signed someone who can turn some heads and make jaws drop.

I've been a solid supporter of our manager, but even I am starting to feel some nagging doubts. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I worry that the real damage from our parsimony in previous transfer-windows is that it's become a mentality that prevents us from knowing how to conduct bigger deals. I just hope I'm wrong. Please, let me awake on Monday to find that I'm wrong...

Last but not least, I believe this is the final weekend for voting in the 2012-13 YAMA Awards for Arsenal writers, bloggers, and tweeters. Woolwich 1886 is nominated as a Best New Arsenal blog, which is a great honor. Go on over and vote for whomever you believe to be most deserving. Thanks!

26 July 2013

Luis Suarez is like that insanely hot girl who's also insane

We all know the one. That one girl who is just drop-dead gorgeous, mythically good in bed, who will do anything on a dare—anything—can drink you under the table, has exciting tales of erotic adventures with all sorts of exotic partners. She can argue politics or sports or trivia, would rather do shots than sip wine, reads books but knows t.v., can cause a car crash in a bikini, sundress, or a pair of jeans, and, now, suddenly and inexplicably, she is eating you alive with her eyes from across a crowded bar as you struggle to swallow without looking terrified. Your imagination runs wild, remembering the stories you've heard of what she's capable of and wants in the sack.

However.

Lurking behind those curves, those voluptuous, impossible curves, is a demon—an unpredictable, psychotic demon who is just as likely to break out crying out of nowhere or accuse you of being just like her deadbeat, abusive dad, a shrieking banshee who will pull a steak-knife from under the bed and threaten to castrate you because she saw you talking to another girl. You try to tell her it was your cousin, but her paranoia only deepens and she accuses you of giving her an STD before collapsing into your arms, sobbing uncontrollably and promising to make it all better. And she does. And it's almost enough to make you forget.

For a few weeks, maybe even a month, everything is wonderful again. She wakes you up in the morning by giving you—well, let's just leave at "she wakes you up" and let your own mind take over. She surprises you at work with naughty texts. She cooks elaborate dinners. She's exhilarating and passionate and fun. Mind-blowingly fun. Until...

You come home from work to find all of your clothes pitched out the window. Entering the apartment, you find her sitting at the window smoking a cigarette, with her makeup smeared and hair a mess, and she's completely silent. Non-responsive. Just sitting there. Smoking. Suddenly, her head drops loosely towards her chest as she finally looks at you. s she takes another slow, bored-beyond-belief drag of her cigarette, you notice—is her wrist bloody? Is that your name carved into her wrist? What the hell is going on here?

"You." Her voice is dead, emotionless, icy; her eyes are blank, glassy, dull. With a chill, you realize that you're in too deep and, without a word, launch yourself back out the door and run helter-skelter down the street, panicked, not daring to look back until you've gone 13 blocks and end up puking in an alley. You realize that you'll have to change your mobile number, get a new email address, disable your facebook, maybe even get a new job, so she can't track you down. Because she will. She'll stalk you and haunt you and track you down in any way she can. "Do I need a restraining order?" you ask yourself. "Police protection?"

Gradually, you relax and realize that you're safe, for the most part. Just avoid certain bars or restaurants. You've had to drop a few friends who blame you for her downward spiral, claiming you should have been more patient and just given her one more chance, but that's how it goes sometimes. You force yourself to go to the clinic for a blood-test or two every few months, just to be on the safe side. For as unbelievable as certain, exquisite moments were, you just can't shake the queasy feelings that come up with them. More than one close friend suggested therapy, but you do your level-best to repress those feelings as you swear off crazies. No one, no matter how hot, you tell yourself, is worth it.

25 July 2013

Wenger's Law and a top-secret signing

I'm on to something so top-secret I'm afraid to share the details for fear of queering the deal. After all of the fuss over Jovetic, we never signed him and he's now at Man City. After whipping ourselves into a frenzy over Higuain, he's gone and signed with Napoli. Finally, it seems that we're going to go all-in on pursuing Luis Suarez, something I've inveighed against over and over and over and over. In fact, I'm going to continue to do so as often as  possible, if only to trigger a clause in Wenger's contract, one that very nearly operates as a universal constant: Wenger's Law of Inverse Relationships. In brief, this Law stipulates that there exists an inverse relationship between how early and numerous are the rumors linking us to a player and the likelihood of us signing him. Consider Higuain and Jovetic as the most-recent examples. Yes, more-rigorous studies are needed, as will publication in a peer-review journal, but the evidence is strong.

So it goes with Luis Suarez. The more our attention turns to Suarez, and the more headlines there are linking us to him, the less likely it is that we'll sign him. The blog Arsenal's Silly Season details just how many headlines there have been already, and with Higuain gone, that list is only going to grow.

This brings me to the top-secret signing I mentioned. In my despair yesterday at learning that Higuain was off the market, I worried that Arséne was like a rube at the poker table being hustled by card-sharks. However, after drinking and yelling and punching drywall (try it—great fun. Might want to use a studfinder first, though),  I remembered Wenger's Law. I realized then that everything's going to be alright (please tell me it's going to be alright). Here's my current delusional dream: Arséne has been playing the game on such a level that none of us even understand that a game exists. It's as if we're all Campbell Scott in The Spanish Prisoner and Arséne is, well, every other character. He's got us so befuddled that we don't even know which way is up anymore, and just when we're about to give in to despair, he's going to announce a signing so surprising that none of us even saw it coming, not even the crack investigative reporters at The Sun or The Mirror. It's so secretive that I'm afraid of even floating a name.

After all, if I casually toss off a name, no matter how far-fetched, I might trigger Wenger's Law, and that player will just become the latest fox for the hounds. We know that almost anything is possible, even a racist biter being worth £50m, and so we need not get our knickers in too much of twist. Money talks, and we have a fair amount of it. If we don't use it, especially after all of the boasting and posturing from Gazidis, I...well, I'm afraid to finish that sentence for fear of what might come out. I just hope that Arséne is half as cunning as I'm making him out to be.

In the meantime, let the "Suarez-to-Arsenal" headlines roll on. By all means.

Lastly, I believe that your chance to vote in the 2012-13 YAMA Awards for Best Arsenal bloggers, tweeters, and so on is just about up. If you haven't voted, go on over and do so—there are a lot of great Gooners out there deserving recognition. I'm honored that Woolwich 1886 is simply nominated as a "Best New Arsenal Blog". Thank you!

24 July 2013

No. Say it ain't so. Gonzalo signed for Napoli.

To all appearances, Gonzalo Higuain has arrived in Italy to confirm a deal with Napoli. I'm crushed. Apparently, Arsène hasn't been waking up each morning to read my incoherent rantings. I've been pushing for us to sign Higuain for weeks now and even said we should go into the low 30's to get him. Now, sources everywhere are reporting that he's signed for Napoli at somewhere in the low- to mid-30's [long, long series of expletives deleted].

Dammit. Dammitdammitdammitdammit. We're all but screwed now, at least as far as strikers are concerned. With Higuain apparently off the market (I'm holding onto my last shred of hope. Until it's official, there's still a chance, isn't there?), who's left? Suarez, Rooney, Torres? Whoever's left, the market just got tighter than my sphincter after hearing the news and seeing footage of what looks like Higuain in an Italian airport. Looks like. Hope springs eternal, doesn't it?

I don't think we have to worry much about Real Madrid going for Suarez. I still think they'd prefer Gareth Bale. The risk there is that, should Spurs sell Bale, they'll get something like a bazillion pounds for him and will turn right around to invest that in a new attacker. With only a few players left on the market, we're contending with oily Chelsea and a potentially filthy-rich Spurs, not to mention Man U, PSG, Bayern,Anzhi Makhachkalaand all the rest for two or three top-quality players.

I mentioned this earlier in the week, and it seems to have happened: we've spent so much time hoarding our money and buying on the cheap that we don't know how to conduct high-stakes negotiations. Picture us sitting at a poker table along with Real Madrid, Napoli, and whoever else you care to include. As the pile of chips at the center of the table grows larger and larger, we realize that we don't know how to bluff or bid or call someone on their bluff. The beads of sweat start trickle—at first, at the temples and down along the cheek to the point that you can feel it slither over each individual whisker. Then, it's trickling down your back, soaking through your briefs, and tickling your ass-crack. The fidgets start, and all of your tells start to appear as we see that we're holding a pair of sevens, a jack, a three, and appropriately, a suicide-king.

Despair sets in. We fold. Napoli lays down its hand: a pair of eights, a pair of fours, an ace. Had we known what we were doing, had we brought more confidence or a pair of brass-balls, we could have bluffed past that.

I gotta admit, I'm crushed. Assuming this is true, that is. I still cling desperately to some blind hope that all of this has been an exercise in what I dubbed Wenger's Law, the idea that there is an inverse relationship between how many headlines link us to a player and how likely we are to sign him. At this point, I'm finding what little comfort I can in the idea that, maybe, just maybe everything we've read about Jovetic, Higuain, and, yes, even Suarez has been all part of Arsène's master-plan, and the next thing we know, we're reading of a shock-move for a striker no one anywhere has linked us with. El Shaarawy, maybe?

I don't know what to do, say, or hope for at this point, to be honest. Even now, given a choice between signing Suarez and signing no one, I don't know if I can bring myself to plump for Suarez. I'm at a loss. On one hand, I knew Napoli were interested and involved, but I kept telling myself we were finally ready to make a bold move and weren't going to let them stop us.

What's left for us? Can we bring back Arshavin? After all, part of his drop in form was attributable to playing somewhat out of position. If we put him back as a forward, rather than an attacking midfielder, he'd be sure to reclaim his form. I'm grasping at straws, I admit, but I'm struggling to find some way, any way, to reassure myself that it's not too late for us to do something dramatic.

I'm just...I don't know. I don't know what to say. I gotta go outside, the better to scream at the heavens.

Luis Suarez is a dirty, dirty player

The hits keep on coming. I'm referring, literally, to the hits Luis Suarez has put on opposing players. Set aside the diving, the racism, the biting, the middle-finger, the handballs, and, if you haven't run out of breath from all of that heavy lifting, you still have to account for the fouls. Suarez doesn't just foul; he frequently looks like he's trying to injure an opponent. Of course, he wouldn't be the only player to try that (maybe the only £40m one...). However, there's a ruthlessness to it, a recklessness that verges on inflicting career-ending injuries. This youtube clip begins with a karate-style lunge from behind when Suarez was still at Ajax (after which he rolls around as if he was injured—but we've set aside the diving already. Focus.). From there, you'll see a cavalcade of fouls that are sometimes Shawcrossian in their potential to break an ankle or cause other serious injuries.

I understand full-well that one can assemble a montage on any player to make him look bad, but the problem with Suarez is that it's so easy to do. Take Mikel Arteta, for example, guilty of some 74 fouls this past season. Oh. The only video painting him as a vicious fouler is a 10-second clip of his foul on Bayern's Mario Mandzukic. He might commit fouls, but he doesn't seem as likely as Suarez is to risk injuring a player.

Watch that Suarez clip. I don't think you can defend many of these as inadvertent. Many—most, perhaps—seem deliberate. Ankle-stomp after ankle-stomp until after a while, you have to ask yourself if he is doing it on purpose. It certainly looks like it. Before you leap to his defense by pointing out how difficult it is to time a tackle properly or whatever, remember that there are two sides to this coin. We can't extol Suarez's virtuosity with the ball at his feet without also acknowledging that the same skill-set, that same foot-eye coordination and those same twinkly toes, can carry over to the ability to step on an opponent's foot. How many of those ankle-stomps even look like legitimate attempts on the ball? Yes, there is some theatricality or simulation from Suarez's opponents. I'm not even really sure if he did anything wrong at 1:09, 1:22, or 1:40, for example, but the rest of these fouls are ugly enough to look like Suarez is looking to hurt somebody.

I could be wrong, which is what stops me from going so far as to suggest that Suarez is vicious. However, the ankle injuries he could inflict could end a player's season, put that player out for several seasons, or end his entire career. One snapped ligament or tendon is all it takes, and Suarez's reckless inability to avoid, or his ruthless ability to unleash, those ankle-stomps has no place on the pitch.

And that's not all. An eye-gouge? I don't have how you feel about Scott Parker or Spurs, that's some serious shite right there. How about stomping on a player's back? A foot-to-foot foul can be dismissed or ignored, but going after a man's eyes is or stepping on his back is, ironically, some below-the-belt b.s. I'm surprised we don't have video-evidence of actual below-the-belt crimes. If the possible injuries to other players don't bother you, consider how the yellow and red cards and subsequent suspensions would affect Suarez's availability.

The more I learn of Suarez, the less I care for him, and the more I oppose our moving for him. We've apparently launched a £40,000,001 bid for him, with the £1 triggering some clause in Suarez's contract that means that Liverpool have to inform him of the bid. Whatever. I don't think a deal will be reached, and I'm praying that it won't be. We've had problematic players at Arsenal in the past, and we'll almost certainly have them again in the future. I would hate for this particular player to be among them. He doesn't play the game as if he understands what makes it beautiful. He makes it ugly enough that others have to look away in disgust, disappointment, embarrassment, and worse. The thought of him wearing an Arsenal kit, of hoisting the club's first trophy since 2005, is too much for me. Dammit, I don't need our boys to be saints, but I do reserve the right to look at them without having to grimace, wince, or swallow back the bile. When we do latch onto silverware, I want to feel the unrestrained joy and relief that I have stored away for all these years. I don't want Suarez to have any part in that because, selfish, spiteful me, I don't want certain people to feel that joy.

I guess that's maybe what it boils down to: spite. I don't want Suarez to win. I certainly don't want him to win with Arsenal. Am I being petty? Maybe. However, I think that wanting to deprive a cheating, reckless, racist, diving, biter has more to it than spite. I love Arsenal for more than "just" trophies and goals; I love Arsenal because of the beautiful style of football we've come to be known for and because of the beautiful memories I've stored away. I'm not sure Suarez is capable of enough of the former to inspire the latter.

Thanks, as always, for stopping by. I hope I've given you some food for thought. If you're still a firm Suarez-supporter, see if you can get me to budge, but be gentle. I'm fragile. Whether you agree or not, we're all Gooners. Speaking of all Gooners, go over and vote in the 2012-13 YAMA Awards for best Arsenal bloggers, writers, and tweeters. Woolwich 1886 is nominated in the "Best New Arsenal Blog" category. Just sayin'.

23 July 2013

Fernando Torres, the Sword of Damocles, and Luis Suarez

George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Therefore, I'd like to present a cautionary tale regarding the last striker to leave Liverpool on a £50m fee, one Fernando "El Niño" Torres. Whether Torres is as good as Suarez is a separate debate, but the parallels between his transfer and Suarez's potential one are worth examining as I seek ever more reasons to agitate against signing Suarez.

My reason of the day: pressure. Simply put, I don't think Suarez can handle the pressure that will fall on his shoulders if he comes to Arsenal. Like Torres, I think he will fail to withstand the pressure that comes from being a record-shattering signing, playing in the Champions League, contending for a Premier League championship, and dealing with all of the scrutiny that comes with it. Since signing for Chelsea, Torres has netted just 34 times in 131 appearances in all competitions, a goals-per-game rate of 0.26. This represents a halving of his form with Liverpool, where he netted 81 times in 142 appearances or a goals-per game rate of 0.57. He has improved each season and did finally manage to get 22 goals last year, but incoming manager has only rated him as "so-so", a damning indictment of Torres's fall from grace.

Maybe he struggled under Villas-Boas's then-preference for deliberate build-up play rather than more open counter-attacks and long balls that catch defenses off-guard or disorganized.  Maybe he couldn't compete against or combine with Drogba. However, both of those excuses are off the table, so perhaps we're looking at issues that reside within Torres rather than that surround him, issues like confidence, stress, frustration. These are issues that are difficult to pinpoint or assess, but Torres frequently cuts a forlorn figure on the pitch. Each time he has the ball at his feet, he must be thinking (and overthinking) how important it is for him to score, and each failure heaps more stress and misery on his wounded psyche. Former Mugsmasher, Gunner, and Blue-er Yossi Benayoun highlighted this when he pointed out that "with the £50m above his head, it is not easy for any player" to perform. A transfer-fee of that size—one we might have to smash to sign Suarez—hangs like a Damoclean sword over Torres's head and would be sure to do the same to Suarez.

How shall I say this next bit delicately? Nuts to that. Suarez is far too unhinged to handle this kind of pressure. We've already seen him lose his cool under far-less pressure. He'd be leaving a perenially mid-table finisher (sorry, Liverpool, but it's true) for one that regularly finishes in the top four and is growing impatient at settling for that. He'd have smashed our previous transfer record three times over and become the Prem's ten most-expensive transfers ever (presumably). This leads down one of two most-likely paths, in my mind, and neither of them ends well for us:
  1. Suarez does his level-best, cleans up his act but still succumbs to the pressure, fading à la Torres and scoring ten goals per season.
  2. Suarez sees the  £45-50m transfer-fee as vindication of his ways and goes on to bite or taunt opponents, flip off fans, or dive if anyone exhales in his vicinity.
In both cases, we'll have squandered more than half of our transfer-kitty, not to mention the good-will of many of our fans, on a player could very easily fail to play in more than half of our Prem league games. In every game, he's going to get goaded by opposition-players over the various "incidents" he's been at the center of, and because of his reputation, he can't do much about it. Each hard foul he suffers will be seen by referees as just another dive. Each missed shot will be greeted by taunts from players and groans (if not worse) from impatient Gooners. The pressure will just grow and grow, and each time Suarez glances up, he'll see that sword dangling above him. How long before he cracks and lashes out?

Does he—do any of us—really believe that he can handle the pressure? He's the one who said, "I cannot apologise to the people in England any more. I’m angry with the English media, as they have never valued me as a footballer." Welcome to London, Luis, the belly of the English-media beast. I think you'd be better off avoiding London—and we would be too if you'd oblige me.

I hope I'm making headway here and maybe wearing down a few pro-Suarez Gooners. If not, maybe I deserve a little credit just for my mule-headed stubbornness persistence. Either way, pop over to the 2012-13 YAMA Awards to vote for "Best of..." Arsenal writers. Woolwich 1886 is nominated as a Best New Arsenal blog and I hope I earn your vote. Thanks!

Transfer Odds: Higuain collapsing, Cesar fading, Williams stable...

There are others, to be sure, and we'll get to them momentarily. The news this week is not for the faint of heart, as two players to whom we've been closely linked seem to be receding ever farther from reach as Napoli, flush with cash after selling Cavani, threaten to ruin everything. Jerks. Not only do they seem on the brink of signing Higuaín, their sale of Cavani may be guilty of driving up transfer-fees that much more, not that they needed the help. If there's any consolation to be found, it's that nothing's certain, and as close as Napoli might be, they're still not as close as we've been or rumored to be.

Let's get a bit of good-ish news out of the way first: we seem close to announcing the first proper signing of a player (Sanogo came in on the cheap, he's French, and he's young, so he doesn't signify a new way of doing things around here). Brazilian midfielder Bernard Anício Caldeira Duarte's odds of signing have skyrocketed to 59% from out of nowhere and is now, according to transfermarkt, our most likely signing. I'll have to add him to the chart, come to think of it. I'm not sure how excited to get for a 20-year old who stands 5'5" (162cm), so I'll have to more research so that I know whether to be excited or enraged.

Bernard's surge occurs mid-way through my composing this post and as s Higuaín's odds dropped again from 60% to 58%. We're now in a neck-and-neck race with Napoli, whose odds grew to 57%. A hefty grain of salt is on order as I still can't explain how they conjure these numbers—I continue to use them because they make more sense to me than the drivel peddled by The Sun or The Mirror. Statistics feel more meaningful to me. Of course, you can come up with statistics to prove anything. Forty percent of all people know that.

I don't know what to say about the Higuaín saga. We had apparently agreed to personal terms and a bid in the £23m range only to turn our attention to Suarez when negotiations with Real Madrid stalled. Now, into the breach steps Napoli who have £54m from the Cavani sale and a gap at striker to fill. Partly as a result, Fiorentina Pérez wants £37m for Higuaín. Can you blame him? He sees us offer Higuaín £40m, Cavani sells at £54m, and he wonders why he should be bothered to sell Higuaín at what now seems like a discounted price in seller's market. We're looking like rubes in the transfer-market, unable to comprehend how the game is played. That, more than any actual player we've signed, sold, or missed out on in the last ten years, might be the most damning legacy of our, uh, prudence in previous transfer-window: we're thoroughly unpracticed in how to play a high-stakes game and quail at the numbers being discussed, only to see those numbers grow. Meanwhile, Chelsea and PSG and Napoli (apparently) keep on raising the stakes. Are we going to ante up or are we going to fold?

I guess Kenny Rogers put it best in his song, "The Gambler," when he said this:
You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.
We've spent too much damned time counting our money over the last decade or so; we have upwards of £70m to spend. Get Higuaín for 30m (a price I've suggested is closer to his true value anyway). Give up on that biting, diving, racist and save the 50m that Liverpool want; spend it on players who fill other needs, like a defender or two. We'll be without Monreal and Vermaelen for the first half-dozen games or so, so take the plunge to get Ashley Williams and then bring up Miquel to support Gibbs. We have a soft-enough start to the Prem season that this should be enough to shore up the defense until Vermaelen and Monreal heal up.

As to these other players, not much movement to worry about. For all the talk of Suarez, he's still a long-shot at 29% odds, as is Luis Gustavo. Further away are Papadopolous at 22% and Rooney at 18%. Fellaini seems to have all but disappeared from our radar for now. Frankly, I could care less about any of these players.

We'd better learn how to play this transfer-window better or we'll be left scrambling yet again for a fourth-place "trophy" and trying to counter the taunts of trophyless seasons with flimsier retorts of top-four streaks and Champions League appearances. The club finishes the Asia Tour with a game on Friday against Urawa Reds, and this makes me wonder if we won't hear anything until Monday at the earliest. I just hope the news is dramatic and good and Argentinian.

That's all for now. Voting in the 2012-13 YAMA awards is still open; please consider voting for Woolwich 1886 as a "Best New Arsenal Blog"—thanks!

22 July 2013

Forget about Cesc. We have Zelalem already.

I need a break from talking about who might play for us in order to enjoy talking about someone who does play for us. Sixteen-year old Gedion Zelalem's feats in the last few games has me giddy with excitement. Yes, as we all know that the squads he has faced don't offer quite as much resistance as the ones he'd face in the Prem, but the skills he's put on display don't come from strength or speed or aggression. He's shown vision, touch, and control skills that would translate well as he draws closer to making the jump to the first team.

Zelalem might weigh 60kg (130 pounds, give or take) just after eating and before copping a squat, but this might actually work to his advantage. At sixteen, he has plenty of time to bulk up. We have seen other youngsters come up and, on the basis of size or strength, boss their way around on the pitch only to virtually disappear after they make the leap to the big times and see that those advantages are no longer available. In Zelalem's case, his lack of size will force him to learn how to stay on the ball, fight through tackles, shoves, scrums, and fouls, and contend with bigger, brawnier defenders. In this sense, then, his slight frame might turn out to be an advantage in the long run.

You can't coach size, as they saying goes, but Zelalem has a few years during which he can add height and muscle to his frame. He's 175cm (5'9") and could add to that just through maturation, and adding another 10kg wouldn't be hard to do as well. If he can do that without losing the qualities that make him special—vision, touch, control, agility—we could be looking at a very special player indeed.

During the Asia Tour, he has made some audaciously beautiful passes and has similarly shown flashes of insight on the ball that are reminiscent of Fabregas and other incisive passes. Granted, some of these passes work because of the defenses he's faced, of course, such as the pass you see in the clip above. It's still a joy to behold, so let's set aside the details in order to enjoy it. As Zelalem receives the pass, he has no less than five teammates to pass to, at varying degrees of difficulty. Instead of going for a safe pass, he threads a through-ball almost perfectly, bypassing five defenders and placing the ball right at Theo Walcott's feet, and all that's left for him to do is practice his trademark finish (he's still gotta sharpen that up, as, again, he squirted under the keeper instead of curling it around the keeper as he should. Prepositions, man. They matter). What a pass, though. Right where it had to be, right when it had to be there, weighted and curled perfectly.

Just as exciting as the pass is Zelalem's awareness. He surely knows what Walcott likes to do and anticipates him doing it and can see a lane for delivering the pass where few others could see it. A clever passer sometimes runs the risk of surprising his own teammates, but, in this case, Zelalem can see Walcott setting up for a run, and his ability to know where his teammate is and is going was breath-taking. If he can combine that kind of awareness with familiarity with his teammates' abilities and preferences, the sky's the limit.

He's 16. By rights, he should be playing it safe, perhaps deferring to more-experienced teammates. Instead, he's showing vision and confidence—it doesn't strike me as arrogance; he doesn't seem to blithely assume that he can do whatever he wants, but his willingness and ability to deliver a killer through-ball like that bodes well for his future. He's an exciting young talent, and just as much as we need to bring in experienced players from time to time, I can't wait to see a player like Zelalem develop in-house and earn his way into the first team.

21 July 2013

Suarez v. Higuaín: National team stats give the nod to Higuaín

As part of my ongoing campaign to convince anyone who will listen that we should focus on signing Higuaín and not Suarez, I thought we should compare their statistics at the national level. After all, Uruguay and Argentina face many of the same opponents, and their players fight for something other than salary as they represent their countries. With a bit more at stake, we should then see the circumstances bring out the best in each player. Along the way, we get to see a bit more of a direct, apples-to-apples comparison between players who feature for clubs in two different leagues.

It should come as no surprise to regular visitors to this blog that Higuaín comes out ahead of Suarez. Despite having to fight for time on the pitch with Messi and Agüero, Higuaín has found time since his 2009 debut to notch 20 goals in 33 caps or 0.606 goals per game, an admirable rate of return of nearly a goal per game. By contrast, Luis Suarez, who exists in a sweet-spot of sorts between a 34-year old Diego Forlán and the up-and-coming Edinson Cavani, has managed 33 goals in 69 caps or 0.478 goals per game. That's a rate of return that we would be foolish to dismiss or overlook.

It's a pretty sharp contrast. Whereas Suarez has been scoring a goal approximately every other game for his country, Higuaín has gone a step further, scoring almost two goals in three games for his (any D & D fans out there can elaborate on why this is a big deal). When you add in Suarez's wasteful conversion rate at Liverpool and consider that Liverpool somehow generate 19 shots per game to Arsenal's 16 (courtesy of whoscored.com), my preference for Higuaín seems to move from casual opinion to somewhat-informed if debatable fact. Suarez's conversion rate of 12.3% pales in comparison to Higuaín's 21% (club stats at this point as I can't seem to find country stats).

Sure, it's infuriating to hear that Real Madrid's valuation of Higuaín has spiked from the mid- to high-20m range into the high 30m range, but that's the silly season. If we had nailed down the transfer before the club left for Asia, we might have been laughing all the way to the bank. Instead, we find ourselves scrabbling with Napoli and Chelsea for a signature we should have had dead to rights weeks ago. We have ourselves to blame in a sense, unless, as I've suggested, this whole Suarez bid is a smokescreen to obscure our genuine pursuit of Higuaín. Please, let me, for this one time in my life, come out as a genius.

Higuaín is the better choice on many levels, whether it's scoring, chemistry, character...I'll keep banging away at this until the dust has settled and the the contracts are signed.

Before you go, go over to the 2012-13 YAMA Awards to vote for best Arsenal bloggers, tweeters, and writers. Woolwich 1886 is nominated as a Best New Blog, and I hope to earn your consideration (and vote). Thanks!