Morning all, the US of A beckons for me, Liverpool for Arsenal. Before that the small matter of the FA Cup needed resolving and Blackburn emerged out of the hat directly after Arsenal, bringing memories of a dire pair of matches last time the two sides met at this stage of the competition six years ago. Their star has plummeted since then, Rovers in the middle of a UEFA Cup run when they visited The Emirates for a bore draw. That the Europa League had yet to take football into mediocrity shows how long ago it was.
As draws go, the boxes were ticked with a home draw against lower league opposition. Pretty much that is as good as it gets, a shame then that the football gods saw fit to allow Chelsea and Manchester United to avoid each other as the draw reached its climax. This season has seen some love affair renewed with the competition. The FA Cup has suffered in recent years with the inevitability of its conclusion, one of the top four sides winning it with alarming monotony, a point not lost on its organisers who are desperate for their prestige tournament not to slip into the same disrepair as the League Cup.
With the smaller clubs taking advantage of the arrogance of their perceived betters, the light shone on Arsenal to some extent, getting the mix of the XI right even if the victory was only finally realised with a more first XI look about the final set of players on the pitch. That misses the point that the group chosen to kick-off had done a good job previously. It is a dangerous game to play in presuming that just because those players provided a platform for victory, Arsenal don’t need to strengthen. Liverpool’s squad indicated the folly of spending unwisely, having to rely on the callowness of youth when the transfer budget is ultimately wasted on the first XI. The problem with using Liverpool as a benchmark is that I don’t consider them to be rivals for the top four despite their close proximity in the league table. That is not to dismiss them as opponents or underestimate them on Wednesday night, simply that the resonance from their name has long diminished.
Arsène is still actively looking in the transfer market. Apparently. The interest in that has diminished in the back pages, perhaps a realisation that the sports desks can take it easy over the coming days. Strikers remain the eye-catching headline with the Spanish media reporting David Villa has told Barcelona he wants to move to Arsenal whilst the manager has sent his top negotiators to strike a deal with Fiorentina over Jovetic. Apparently La Viola do not want to talk about any transfer so I wonder if Dick Law has been sent there to keep him out of the way to allow proper negotiations to be conducted elsewhere?
Simon Kuper offered an interesting piece in the Financial Time about Arsène’s economic philosophy. Whilst the majority of it is compacting commonly held beliefs, Ivan Gazidis’ comments about conservatism with a small ‘c’ underline where there is an issue. If any club has captured the mood of the nation, it is Arsenal as the leadership imposes unpopular austerity measures. The difference between club and country is one is going down the pan, the other ratcheting up profits for its majority owner to twiddle his thumbs. Unfortunately for both, there isn’t a viable alternative as Labour and Usmanov are simply offering more of the same.
Kuper suggests that Dein was Arsène’s wilder side, perhaps that is true but it could be as simple as the manager needing someone to tell him it is alright to be occasionally frivolous. That is not a plea for his return but pointedly, offers the suggestion that even if a new Director of Football (for want of a better title) was appointed, I am unconvinced that they would be given enough clout to negotiate beyond the terms and valuation of the manager. In itself that is no bad thing and I certainly would not advocate players being imposed on anyone whose job depended on them; that is a recipe for disaster. Sometimes though, having a devil on the shoulder can be a good thing if it means being that little more carefree for a player than you might ordinarily be. Whether such an appointment would work – and I don’t think David Dein returning would – is another matter.
I am not sure that the club is, as Kuper suggests, waiting for rivals to go bust. Mistakenly, I think they believe FFP will level the playing field for them when it comes to wages. It won’t since there are too many loopholes for wealthier clubs to exploit in order to continue their financial dominance. Arsenal will always be one of the leading lights of the next financial group below the richest club. Even with a loosening of the purse strings, they are not going to emulate Manchester United or Real Madrid in commerical terms; we don’t have the significant brand advantages of their internationalism. FFP will help Arsenal consolidate their financial strength compared to the clubs wanting to crash the party; it is up to the club to use that muscle to sustain their place at the top.