The transfer window closed with the media’s wet dreams all answered in one go; a ‘world superstar’ move, British transfer record, most money spent on an English player and proof positive that football clubs have more money than sense although this last point will probably wait until later this week when Chelsea’s losses of £70m are taken apart.
Whilst I understand the £50m spent on Torres – it is in keeping with the fee paid for David Villa – £36m for Andy Carroll is sheer lunacy. Luis Suarez is suddenly a bargain at £23m, Ajax kicking themselves for not waiting a smidgen longer when they probably could have taken Liverpool for another £10m.
Carroll is a decent young player but for the money that has been paid for him, he has no time to learn the game, he has to be the finished product, the media will waste no time in branding him a flop. With a ponytail already in situ, it is not going to take much effort in Photoshop to impose the Geordie onto a donkey’s body. But that is Liverpool’s problem.
There was a flurry of activity at Arsenal, various loan deals confirmed with the squad trimmed for short or long term. Significant deals were noticeable by their absence, Wenger had been preparing the expectant masses for this even after Sebastian Squillaci‘s dismissal on Sunday.
No doubt some will castigate the manager for not getting rid of the current boo-boy favourite, Denilson, yet the question is whether the squad needed any attention at this moment in time? The answer to that will only come with the return to full fitness of Thomas Vermaelen.
The Belgian defender’s absence in the only real black cloud at the moment, one that shows no sign of lifting in the silence surrounding his progress. If his comeback is uninterrupted by niggling muscular injuries, Arsène can point out that he has made the right choice. Any alternative return casts doubt on Wenger’s decision not to find a short-term solution.
Nicklas Bendtner observed how important the month of February was to Arsenal’s season. Whilst the Dane is correct that there are some key matches, the volume is more important. Including next week’s ludicrously scheduled internationals – are Fifa and the TV companies one in the same? – the players have to contend with two matches each week.
This run of fixtures will test the squad. Arsène may believe that any injuries can be overcome by recalling players from loan but that rather depends on who the absentee is. Samir Nasri cannot be replaced by anyone who is currently on loan, none of those players has the same train of thought on the pitch or playing style. In those circumstances, Cesc’s fitness becomes more important than before.
The captain and Nasri have proven that they are the inspirational players, recent cup-ties have been won or saved, by this duo’s inclusion in the team. No doubt the club will be hoping that the Frenchman’s hamstring mends considerably quicker than the end of this month.
Arsène spoke of prioritising competitions, noting that history shows how hard it is to compete on four fronts. Indeed it is but with that soon to be three after the meeting with Birmingham City at Wembley, he is right that there is no need to take such decisions. My argument in light of the way this season is panning out, is that there will be no need to take such action.
The fixtures are kind in that respect. The away trip at Orient in the FA Cup will allow some of the first XI to be rotated, the Premier League fixtures immediately prior to both legs of the Champions League tie with Barcelona are kind, Wolves and Sunderland visiting The Emirates could have been more demanding.
March meanwhile is relatively relaxed. Depending on progress in knockout matches, there are probably only going to be four matches in the month, internationals once more intervening. There might only be three although I suspect that the weekend set aside for the FA Cup Quarter Finals is being eyed as a potential date for the re-arranged Tottenham game. That scheduling allows for some rest for the players before April’s hectic fixtures.
More immediately, Arsène has to find the right team for tonight’s fixture with Everton. Actually, it picks itself following the lacklustre collective display that the second string has put out in recent cup-ties. The only issue Wenger has to deal with is replacing Samir Nasri, a toss-up between Andrey Arshavin or Nicklas Bendtner.
The Russian would be an almost like for like swap in terms of the team, requiring no reshuffling. Incorporating Bendtner is not so simple. The Dane is not comfortable playing out of position on the right, asking him to be effective on the left is one step to far, despite scoring from that side of the pitch against Ipswich.
Bendtner’s inclusion would mean moving either Walcott or van Persie to the left, reducing their effectiveness. Given that the duo are key to breaking down Everton’s no doubt obdurate defence, I believe this will give Arshavin the edge in Wenger’s thinking.
The line-up I expect tonight is:
Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Wilshere; Walcott, van Persie, Arshavin
It has been fifteen years since Everton emerged victorious at Arsenal, 76 years since they won this fixture in February. Tonight is not an occasion where those runs should end. United’s match this week is a routine home win so anything less than a victory for Arsenal will let a bigger gap emerge. That cannot be allowed to happen.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.