So the Champions League draw is made. We had a practice draw at home and didn’t like the outcome so we put the bits of paper back into the hat to try again. I say hat, more like carrier bag. There was some confusion when the shopping receipt came out to play Manchester United. It took about ten minutes to work out that Sangre de Toro wasn’t the latest Spanish super team although I am sure that it would have been a full-blooded affair with some United players crashing into tackles like a bull in a china shop. To be fair, the bits of paper were quite ragged before the draw worked out correctly which required Arsenal to face Malaga.
Uefa were altogether slicker in the operation of the draw and Santi Cazorla’s triumphant return to the Andaluz coastal city will have to wait as Arsenal were drawn against Bayern Munich. No doubt that this is one of the tougher ties that could have happened; that Schalke drew Galatasaray indicates the relative price for finishing second. Naysayers will no doubt cast the chances of progression to the wind but to be honest, I would not even think about any possible outcome now with the transfer window and two months before the ties take place. Some juicy ties turned up with United facing Real and Milan against Barcelona. I have a sneaking feeling that Wembley will see at least one unexpected finalist in May 2013 with three of ties containing ‘unfancied’ teams. Echoes of 2003-04.
As much as the squad needs strengthening – and I’ll repeat the mantra that every squad can be improved – there is a need to build upon a core of players who stop the permanent state of flux. The announcement of five contract renewals / extensions yesterday gave Arsenal an air of stability which has been missing in recent seasons. The ink was barely dry on the press release before ubiquitous lies emerged as the deals were described as mega or some such superfluous adjective; nobody outside of the club knows what the deals were with guesses and speculation being quickly passed off as facts.
It is a filip for the squad to see commitment from the younger players, an offering of commitment rather than a desire to leave disguised as procrastination or positional development. Arsène observed that keeping the group together is key to the club’s development in the future and you sense that this spine with Szczesny offers the chance for inflated commercial revenues to be reinvested into the squad, striking the balance between youth and experience. Of course those two are not mutually exclusive, young players in the past have played a considerable quantity of games before what might be deemed an old age. Football is rapidly becoming a young man’s game with older players cast to the lower divisions or emerging footballing nations, depending upon their ability.
That age barrier is a problem which has to be faced. A reported stumbling block with Bacary Sagna was that he wanted a longer deal than the club were prepared to agree to. If true, it is another manifestation of Arsène’s over-30s policy which appeared to have disappeared in a more pragmatic approach over recent years, particularly in the case of Tomas Rosicky. I am sure that the delays in agreeing any deal for the French full back are not as simplistic as that with other factors – perhaps more weighty – causing the apparent stalemate.
Having a player such as Sagna in the squad is important for the likes of Jenkinson. He has a great deal of potential and offered a consistent performance base earlier in the season, something upon which he can build. It would be strange though to push him into the first team every week when a more managed opportunity exists. There is enough evidence from the past five years of young players’ bodies reacting badly to the physical stress of playing every match. Sagna offers the chance to bring Jenkinson into the side over the next season or two before becoming first choice right back. You then have experienced cover for the rest of the Frenchman’s contract whilst younger players progress to join the squad. No doubt the club are aware of that option and I wonder whether, like Walcott, it is a worthwhile investment in paying perhaps more than the club want to to satisfy longer term gains.