It is a huge relief to find that the Vertebroplasty which the Football Association recently underwent, has turned out to be something of a success with the recommendation to the FA Council that Assem Allam will not be able to append ‘Tigers’ into the club’s official name. A small success for fan-led opposition to an owner prepared to diminish the heritage of a club but it has left me confused. This is the same FA which ushered in the Premier League era and has sat idly as fan-based revenues have increased by rates which compare unfavourably with the hyperinflation that beset the Argentine economy during the same period. Hardly the act of a body which genuinely cares about the game. Still as governing bodies go, at least they aren’t FIFA which is not much of a recommendation, really, is it?
Against this backdrop, Arsenal’s woes this week are trivial. They aren’t even really woes to be honest. After all, we are not going into the coming week’s with key players missing, as Chelsea are following the three-match ban imposed on Ramieres following his horrific tackle at Villa Park. The FA are so keen to give Mourinho his ready-made excuses that they are going to ban Will.I.Am as well but at least that gives him more time to spend with his team as they prepare for The Voice this weekend. I mean it isn’t as if Arsène will be able to point at the injury list to offer a rebuttal to his opposite number; the two just don’t compare so I hope Wenger isn’t going to try to counter anything the Portugeezer says. Actually, it will be interesting to see whose fault a Chelsea defeat will be – if it happens – because tactically, Mourinho can’t blame the referee again because that would invite ridicule from the media (not that he cares, he knows they won’t dare). Actually, Chris Foy’s reckless decision to properly interpret the rules at Villa Park was probably the cause so it will be his fault. What can we blame Mike Dean for?
Certainly not the reported calf problem Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has suffered from although that is expected to be cleared up by Saturday. Which leaves Arsène a week to contemplate how to inflict a first defeat on Jose Mourinho since the pair first crossed swords in English football. It is a strange hex / jinx / indian sign, however you want to describe it, that exists although you could argue that it is merely a reversal of the clubs fortunes before Chelsea spent their billions, a time when Arsenal really only had to turn up to beat them. That in itself was a reversal of the clubs fortunes when even the very good Arsenal sides lost at Stamford Bridge even if they did turn up. Who says football isn’t cyclical? And yes, I did type cynical first.
The merest mention of money brings about odious comparisons. Both have it but one club has applied themselves hopefully to the FFP regulations whilst the other paid a token lip-service. With UEFA threatening action against a large number of clubs, the issue is going to be highlighted this summer when huge investment is needed at both clubs to strengthen their squad as ageing professionals take the short hop down to the Royal Hospital. Arsenal meanwhile will have a transfer kitty estimated at £100m as well as the enhanced revenues providing funding for wages, according to the AST analysis of the interim accounts.
Which is a sum that sounds vaguely familiar and will drive some to despair at it resurfacing. The trouble is that with the squad needing strengthening now, it is always going to be a bone of contention. That is before you consider the gaps which will emerge when players leave in the summer, as they do each year. Fabianski has already refused his contract, Bendtner likewise and that was before Arsène’s contemptuous response to the Copenhagen Incident – as the Dane’s auto-eroticism will become referred to – ensure the striker will be out of the door before the summer begins.
Which brings existing contractual negotiations sharply into focus. The club is seeking to tie down existing staff to longer deals and it is good to see they are rewarding players such as Cazorla and Ramsey. The fear is that they will lose an experienced full back whose versatility across the back four is invaluable. It is a difficult position for the club. Whilst the media focus on the money, the suspicion is that it is the length of the deal which is the stumbling block. Recent deals for Rosicky and Mertesacker, as well as the aforementioned talks, show money is there and they are not afraid to use it. Well, not too afraid. Yes, Sagna can earn a lot of money with a move and it is going to be more than Arsenal can give him; that’s the case for you or I in our walks of life – you only get a big pay rise from a promotion or new job. In Sagna’s case, it is complicated by being his last chance. A three-year deal, such as the one he is reportedly seeking, will take him to 2017 which is a decade from joining the club. It used to be the time when he would have qualified for a testimonial, a money-spinner to top up the retirement funds. Is that the carrot it used to be? I am not so sure, especially with the current vogue of donating the profits to charitable causes.
The question for Arsenal is whether they can afford to lose him? Replacing a right back is not that hard but getting one who can adapt comfortably to the left and central roles is a different matter. We have other solutions for the left – Flamini, if either Gibbs or Monreal is unavailable – and Arsenal have to invest in a centre back anyway but it is Sagna’s experience which is vital. Not just on the pitch where I contend he has been back to his best but on the training pitch also where he can help Jenkinson and the youngsters reach their full potential. That is the crucial area for me.
Whether he signs or not will have to wait until the end of the season, a rerun of the negotiations which echoes the past. Perhaps he is waiting to see if there is a medal in the offing. Or maybe he just needs to feel the love which is following his manager’s lead apparently.