Having entertained in the opening stages, there was a concern that the World Cup might start to resemble whatever derivation of catenaccio is de rigueur with the current footballing establishment. Refreshingly, such fears were unfounded as the Round of Sixteen continued to hold the world in its thrall yesterday.
It was a day that promised so much and half delivered. Mexico outplayed the highly rated Dutch for much of their encounter before succumbing to late goals from Huntelaar. The striker was out to prove a point; Arsenal supporters had billed and cooed over him for years and frankly, he was hurt that this year’s model is Alexis Sanchez. A quick reminder to everyone that he was still around. We couldn’t forget, for it was Huntelaar who converted the dubious penalty awarded for a foul on Arjen Robben. With the theatrics involved, you can never be sure if there was contact or enough contact to warrant the dramatic fall to the floor. His knees must have taken so much punishment over the years from the tumbles to the turf; I just hope he isn’t storing up problems for himself in the future. The Snipers Popular Front and Peoples Front of Snipers put aside their differences to protest to FIFA that Robben had fallen as if shot by one of their members. They wished to make it clear that this was the act of a renegade, a lone gunman and not an officially sanctioned action,
As is the case with Brazil, I have not been impressed by the Dutch beyond their opening game drubbing of Spain. Heat undoubtedly played a factor yesterday and their durability will stand them in good stead. I suppose the questions will be answered in the semi-finals when they will almost certainly face Argentina, a good side compared to the average ones they have beaten thus far. I don’t mean that disparagingly either; Mexico played well and should have been further ahead. Alas they were not and missed out on a meeting with Costa Rica in the next round.
Although how the surprise package of the World Cup so far achieved that, only the Greeks know. With a man advantage for an hour, they lacked the guile or ability to deliver the final pass to score more than their very late equaliser. Navas in the Costa Rican goal had, from memory, no more than one or two saves of any difficulty to make. That might include the penalty shoot out as well, although I could be wrong on that. Joel Campbell worked tirelessly during the 120 minutes in contrast to the easygoing afternoon he enjoyed against England. Oh, and a word to the pundits: nobody cares if Ruiz was trying to shoot in the other corner.
Which brings us to the main point of today; any day in fact. Arsenal. The World Cup offering some solace from what would be the inevitable trauma of the transfer window. It’s a pleasant distraction, don’t get me wrong on that one. Frankly, the prospect of three months of interminably inaccurate headlines without any substance is frightening, not just in how the stories emerge but the manner in which they are inhaled. The footballer supporters weed, I suppose, but more insanely addictive.
Whilst other clubs spend heavily, Arsenal quietly wait to announce the deals for strengthening the squad. It is necessary to do so, even to stand still with the departures of Sagna, Bendtner, Kallström and Fabianski. Squad members they may have been and with varying reputations in the eyes of supporters, but they all played a part in the cup victory and fourth-placed finish. That is the stepping stone – or history may prefer, foundation – and the weight of expectation is such that each time a foot is placed on it, there is a sinking feeling as the sand moves under the pressure.
Arsenal have work to do and with pre-season training beginning in the coming weeks, the sound of clock with every passing second, gets louder.
The club trumpeted new commercial deals this year, the land of plenty having walked through the fallow valley for almost a decade. At this point views diverge. On the one hand, the messianic Wenger has produced miracles to maintain a squad able to compete for fourth place, sometimes more successfully than that but never for the holy grail on either domestic or European fields. He has come painfully close to both but never able to find the crucial difference between success and failure.
In the face of apparently contrary statements from the board and financial reports that show the opposite, Arsène has steadfastly maintained he has been restricted in the sums he could spend on the squad. In fact, nobody has argued with that; he has always had less than other clubs to spend. The arguments come from whether he has spent the funds available to him and if you revisit the comments from board members down the years, this gas been a central and recurring theme. The politics of those decisions is evident; a fully-supportive board was hanging the manager out to fry. If he took the plaudits for wise investments, they were not taking the brickbats when he did not. Neither party can play the reduced circumstance any more; to do so invites ridicule.
Personally I have always thought Arsenal had less money than some, more than most but the manager chose to go down the route of youth because (a) he is naturally conservative and (b) he could build a dynasty. It didn’t work because firstly, the players who he had faith in actually wanted to win trophies as they got older and could see that having blown a title, they were unlikely to do so to any great degree with his policy and secondly, he got the shock of his life with the stadium’s reaction. I don’t for one minute suggest that Mesut Özil was a reaction to the Villa defeat nor do I believe he was part of some grand plan last summer. Had we signed Suarez, I don’t think the German would have come to us as well. He was a ‘either/or’ option. He’s here and reports this morning suggest that he will be joined by Sami Khedira at around £23m. In the last year of his contract in Madrid, he is ripe for a transfer rumour or two, especially as the same reports carry the important caveat that he is trying to negotiate a new deal with Real. Arsenal are always the perfect stalking horse in a constantly changing transfer market.
That fluidity is mirrored in the electronic stands. The mantra of “spend some f’in money” is now replaced by signings being valued as a statement of intent. Arsenal, if they are to be taken seriously as genuine contenders, need to sign a superstar, they need to send shivers down the spine of their rivals. It works in some contexts, Özil’s arrival concerned Mourinho to the extent that he would not loan Demba Ba. Did it frighten him? No, it just made him even more obdurate than ever. That Arsenal were still looking for a striker that late in the window is another matter.
The German highlights the different views on Arsenals transfer policy. Despite the public arena playing out alternatively, Özil is still held up as a coherent transfer strategy or a sign that the club got lucky. As ever, the truth is somewhere in the halfway house between the two.
Is this summer’s silence the result of twelve months ago? I’d like to think so, the club announcing key signings before the additions to strengthen the squad. From a PR perspective, that order shows intent in targeting crucial players, of making the starting XI better, even if it is just a perception, a convenient means of conveying a message. The truth of it doesn’t matter, who cares which order players are signed in or how much they cost? The only truth that matters is Arsenal signing the right players to win the title.
If they could have it all wrapped up for pre-season training, that would be quite nice. I just hope we don’t get to the point where signing anyone is considered quite nice.