As the world and his wife debated the financial statements, the important events were happening at Underhill with the continuing charge to fitness for Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna. Talk in the last week or so has been of the League Cup tie at Reading being their return to first team action, the timing of which is perfect as the international duties wane and the club duties ratchet up. Wilshere provided the delivery for Akpom’s goal – Arsenal’s second – shortly before Bacary Sagna was withdrawn just past the hour.
The return of both players offers competition for places. I know we all expect them to walk back into the first team but this season has made that less certain than might ordinarily expected. For Sagna, it is a real probability but having been light in terms of cover, Carl Jenkinson’s form this season offers reassurance that Sagna’s absence is not the problem it once was. It is also a differing aspect on his thoughts for the future. His next contract is likely to be his last at the top level, as a first choice. The emergence of a future England right back – not that there is much competition – is a genuine pause for thought; does he feel confident in his own abilities to be able to see off the challenge for the next three or four years?
Wilshere will be helped by the rotational injuries suffered by other midfielders. The manager will find it easier to slot him back in with Diaby occupying the position where I think Jack will brought back into the side. It is inconceivable at the moment that he would replace either Arteta or Cazorla; the Spanish pair have forged a tremendous understanding as well as being in outstanding individual form. There will be rotation of course and Wilshere is capable of filling both roles in the side but at the moment, ousting them is a long way off.
An initial assessment of the Under-21s competition is positive, whether this is short-term or a long-term benefit to the game in general remains to be seen. Certainly the increased squad sizes in the modern game seem to preclude any return to spells in ‘The Stiffs‘ with the development aims and age restrictions limiting such opportunities for punishing delinquent players. The demise of the Football Combination was not widely lamented but the absence of competitive football caused problems for the club in that there was no natural progression between youth football and the senior game. Games in domestic cups are few and far between, the lack of volume of these matches was a hinderance.
Should this League become the success many hope, there may be issues ahead for loan deals. After all, that has long been seen as the ‘finishing school’ of a modern player, readying them for action when Arsenal call. Either that or it is the shop window. Both are beneficial to the club and player. Impressing on loan can lead to a permanent deal, the income guaranteeing the future of the Academy whilst notionally freeing the costs from the bottom line, compartmentalising the revenue / cost streams. Self-financing of course, just to fit in with The Arsenal Way.
Which segues into the latest twist in laborious country lane that is Theo Walcott’s contract negotiations. There is an increasing sense that when the Chairman speaks on a subject, the club is tired of being on the back foot in the PR sense. This morning, Team Walcott are the beneficiaries of Whimsy’s wisdom – there’s a newspaper column in there somewhere – with the notion that the deal is not about money being openly questioned,
We have got our general overall wage structure and we are not prepared to break it for anybody. We have made an offer which he didn’t think was acceptable and that is the end of it. We think it is a very reasonable offer.
For the moment his people are still talking to us and we hope it will be resolved. But don’t ask me when, because I haven’t a clue. I hope that he will eventually come round and sign. It will be a pity if he does not, but the whole issue of pay for footballers has got totally out of hand and they don’t get terribly well advised a lot of the time.
Interestingly, the headline writers have laid the blame for these quotes at the door of the manager, rather than attributing them to the source as was clearly the case in the article. The situation is swings and roundabouts; Arsenal are as culpable in negotiations as players and their agents, no-one is blind to that. The club has placed their valuation on Walcott, he disagrees. I think the notion that he wants to break the wage structure is not laughable but in all likelihood an overstatement of the case. The comments though certainly have focussed the issue onto money and whilst I am sure Theo wants to play centrally, a deal would have been struck were this the only stumbling block. As it is, ongoing talks signals that the player is diverting attention away from the real issue.
Personally, I hope Walcott stays. He is a talented player but the whole issue is tiresome, especially draining after recent summer’s. I still maintain that I don’t see him as a central striker, certainly not leading the line. His value as a striker was highlighted at West Ham. Operating from the wider area, he was able to support and assist – as well as score – to great effect, better than he was able to against Chelsea. In placing him centrally, his pace means that play becomes one dimensional, he still strikes me as not having the appreciation of movement in the area that a lead striker must have. That is of course, hard to show when you are playing on the right; a vicious circle is entered into.