The return to training approaches, bringing with it a last chance for mischief-making in the media. It’s low-key compared to Cesc’s departure but David De Gea’s decision to spend a last weekend of freedom in Madrid gives United fans a taste of the annoyance value these times bring. You can bet if it was Arsenal involved, broken cannons would be strewn across the back pages. The devil puncturing a football is so far noticeable by its absence.
It’s a new Arsenal though. A few years back, the departure of six members of the squad – one a World Cup winner to boot – began the ‘club in crisis’ software program; the red button on the Fleet Street-issue keyboards, pressed when clicks on their websites aren’t bringing in enough advertising revenues. Now, those deemed surplus to requirements are a signal of a new determination to bring the title to The Emirates for the first time and to leave the monkey homeless, shove him off our backs. You thought the FA Cup had done that, ending a trophyless decade? No, that’s the klaxon signalling the wrong answer, it’s the title monkey we’re talking about now.
There’s more than a hint of a supporter wishlist in the compilation of these six. You can list their names now but let’s compare notes: Podolski, Sanogo, Campbell, Ospina, Jenkinson and Flamini. Yes, it wasn’t hard to put forward the ‘least-rated’ members of the squad, names which can be culled from the comments sections or social media. And the back pages of course.
Podolski’s move to Turkey is edging closer if the stories are correct, all for a fee of anywhere between £1.5m and £3m. Which is probably more of a reflection of the GBP / Euro exchange rate movements than any fluctuations in actual fee.
The German is a classic lesson in how deceiving statistics can be. He shouldn’t be sold if the facts are believed; 31 goals in a total of 82 appearances is as good as you can demand from a player ostensibly used in wide attacking positions. OK, so he hasn’t scored in English football for a dozen games or so but he’s been more accustomed to a place on the bench in that time.
He was undone by his inconsistency and the dynamism of other choices. These were the warnings given at the time of his signing, how his time at Bayern hadn’t worked out for these sorts of reasons. The logic ran that he’s better being a big fish in a small pond rather than the opposite.
Podolski is similar to Charlie Nicholas in many respects. Different styles entirely, different everything except he’s one of those players whose departure leads to a certain sadness. Not the mourning of Limpar or Pires, but a cloud hanging nonetheless. It isn’t because he is a genius – ‘mercurial’ is the most damning footballing praise; you’re skilful but ultimately bone idle – but more that he appeared to enjoy playing for Arsenal. A bit like Cazorla; when the smile isn’t there, trouble is brewing. Unlike Cazorla, the propensity for hard work was missing, or consistent application anyway.
It’s why generally speaking, that type of player will bring a wistful smile in years to come as the memories of thunderbolt strikes surface. Given the frequency of the two clubs being drawn together, there seems some certainty we’ll meet again in the Champions League at some point.
The others? David Ospina’s height or lack of, is surfacing as a complaint. Perhaps it is an issue but some of the criticism being directed at him is more vituperative than anything constructive. Yes, he might have done better with a goal conceded but generally speaking, his performances were positive in the second half of the season. Can you get better? I didn’t think goalkeeper was the highest priority but unless you are talking about a player of the likes of Messi or Ronaldo, there’s always a better option. Whether that option is available is an entirely different matter.
For the others, the only sale that would surprise me is Jenkinson. Talk has shifted to West Ham offering £7m for a permanent deal as opposed to a loan fee. Debuchy has crossed the rubicon of 30 and it’s downhill from here in professional football terms – he’s a mere whippersnapper in life – so loaning Jenks seems a better long-term choice. That is unless Arsène thinks there are better alternatives out there but ability is countered by his nationality, Jenkinson is a homegrown option, an easy box to tick. It shouldn’t be the deciding factor but can be a big positive.
Campbell and Sanogo? I genuinely don’t think they will make it at Arsenal. No matter what potential is seen, they haven’t given the inkling that becoming anything more than a bit-part player is on the cards. I thought in Sanogo’s case, the first goal would free him, relieve the pressure but it didn’t turn out to be the case, for Arsenal or Palace. Perhaps, given time, he might develop into something special but Arsenal are looking to move on, to challenge for the title and they need players who more often than not, will deliver. Campbell? A player whose reputation improves the less he plays for Arsenal. Not his fault at all but he isn’t offering anything significantly better than the squad already deliver.
That is the benchmark for most arrivals. If they are on a par, it’s a squad signing. Par with potential? Pushing the starting XI. Better? They cost money and headline-grabbing signings don’t come to sit on the bench.
A couple of months remain for squads to take shape but the key signings will hopefully come quickly. A pre-season with new teammates can do the world of good, give a club a good start to the season. We’ve seen what that can do, just keeping it going beyond Christmas is the trick. We’ve seen the opposite as well but being ahead of the pack is always better than playing catch-up.