18 June 2014

Cazorla's considering Atleti? Is he the canary in the coal mine?

A month to the day, we won the FA Cup to bring to an end the hated trophy drought, an apt and glorious bookend to having won the FA Cup nine years prior; let this launch a parallel period afterward that sees future seasons unfold towards a period similar to the beginning of Arsène's tenure. It could be like one of those mirror-images: period of glory capped with FA Cup win, drought in the middle, FA Cup win launches period of glory. That could work. However, even before the dust has settled, it seems we're seeing an exodus of players far more alarming than last summer's, when we could look on with smug satisfaction as the Chamakhs and Squillacis were sent packing. This time through, though, there are sadder partings and alarming rumors, which together threaten to jeopardize the goodwill and momentum generated by winning that FA Cup.

First was the departure of Lukasz Fabianski, which we would attribute to his wanting first-team action. No real alarm bells there. It was long rumored, even anticipated, and need not upset the apple cart. Then came the news that we had passed on Fàbregas, seeing him as superfluous after Özil's arrival. Emotionally unsettling, to be sure, but on a rational level, sensible. Midfield's packed, after all. Next was the departure of Sagna to Man City, unsettling emotionally and strategically. Then came rumored news that Thomas Vermaelen, putative captain, had agreed to terms with Man U. While shocking and, ultimately, spurious (for now), alarm bells are starting to ring. It's one thing to go through a season with three fit center-backs; it's quite another to try with only two—and without Djourou to recall from loan, all the more risky. The latest story, complete with quotes from the man himself, involve Santi Cazorla, Arsenal's Player of the Season for 2012-13, moving to Atlético. Now, we have a key starter and contributor speaking evasively of his future with Arsenal:
When the World Cup is over, I’ll start thinking about my situation. I don’t want to be thinking about it right now and I’ve told my agents not to tell me anything if an offer comes in. But I know a few of the Atlético players—Godin, Juanfran—and I know the side well from when I was playing the Spanish league. But until the tournament is over, I won't know if the rumours are true or not.
That's hardly a threat to leave, but it's well short of a vow to say. I know it's the silly season and all, but it's a bit unnerving to think that, instead of needing "just" a striker and perhaps a burlier holding midfielder, we now need a back-up keeper, a right-back, a center-back if not two, and, ironically, an attacking midfielder. How would it feel to have passed on Fàbregas because he's extraneous and then lose Cazorla? Yes, Cazorla as listed as playing wide left, but, truth be told, he's the narrowest of wide-men we've had in a while. It's not a one-for-one comparison by any means, but it might sting a little to realize that, yes, it might have worth it to bring Fàbregas back.

It's almost enough to make one pine for the stays of on-loan players Kim "I also have umlauts" Källström and Emilio "who? Oh yeah, him" Viviano. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just...

What on earth is going on? We knew at some level that Arsène will probably leave his dealings late in the window, using a variety of excuses and dissemblings about the the World Cup and Champions League qualification and so on, but most of that was premised on the idea that we only had a small handful of signings to make. Heck, if we had held on to Sagna, we might have only needed three: a striker, a holding midfielder, and a keeper. Now, we look at a summer in which we need as many as five, if not six: those three plus a center-back (or two), a right-back, and a midfielder.

In the past, I've likened transfer-rumors to a weather-vane, a fitful, unreliable, but nonetheless helpful indicator of which way the wind is blowing. In seasons past, the weather-vane often pointed entirely the wrong way, with key players leaving and few if any coming in to replace them. However, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, each new departure and each new rumor feels more and more like a canary in a coal-mine. That's not the melodramatic part. The melodrama comes from the idea that the club is the canary, and the departing players are the miners. The question then becomes, what will Arsène do about? Surely he sees the players fleeing the scene. Surely he sees that we can't afford to leave it late again. He might reassure himself that the departures of Fabianski and Vermaelen (potentially) represent little more than the loss of back-up, squad-level players, but it's harder to make the case around Sagna and Cazorla, instrumental players.

A few weeks ago, I contented myself with the idea that the signing of one or two players could paper over needs at other positions, at least for a while. That was before our needs began to add up, if not multiply. No, we haven't seen Cazorla or Vermaelen leave, but it's getting hard to sustain the optimism. If winning the FA Cup was supposed to launch a renaissance, why do the early signs feel so inauspicious? I'd love to believe that this all fits in with Arsène's grand plan, but even I am finding that hard to believe.

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