It’s been a productive few weeks for the club since the end of the season. New head coach, new right-back, and we all assume, Sokratis and Leno. With positive noises over Torreira and Soyuncu, the Arsenal Transfer Window Action Team has been busy.
With the World Cup on, there’s bound to be a bit of a lull. It won’t stop speculation over players but the contracts team made another brief foray into the limelight. A week or so after pinning Ainsley Maitland-Niles to a long-term deal, Granit Xhaka penned a new deal as well.
It’s good news on both counts. Maitland-Niles proved a versatile member of the squad when needed and under Emery, it will be interesting to see him develop as a holding midfielder. The pairing for cup competitions seems set at Elneny and Maitland-Niles, as well as filling in for injuries and expected suspensions.
For his development, that is far better than filling in at full-back. There’s nothing wrong in playing out of position – Bergkamp played as a full-back for Ajax as part of their development policy – but with us, it always seemed to be masking the deficiencies of our transfer business.
That may still continue given the restrictions on our transfer budget, at least for a season or two.
Granit Xhaka’s deal is interesting. He’s a marmite footballer but winning people over slowly but surely. Even the disciplinary concerns are diminishing. Last season, he started 37 of the 38 Premier League games which for a player who was previously a red card magnet.
He still walks a tightrope, but each yellow card isn’t automatically considered a red-in-waiting. Even then, there are still triggers during the season for accumulated bookings and he didn’t trigger them. Xhaka has matured as an Arsenal player, and it will be interesting to see how Unai Emery uses him.
Xhaka Signs On, With Pen in Hand
It’s interesting that Emery still considers the Swiss international young enough to learn the ropes:
“I’m delighted that Granit has extended his contract with us. He’s an important member of the squad and is still young so will be able to develop even more.
“I hope he has a successful World Cup with Switzerland and comes back fit and ready for the new season.”
At 25, he’s still a couple of years off what many consider his peak. Presumably this contract takes him through that period and an increasingly important role in the Emery era.
Tying down to midfielders turns the spotlight on the British fragments. It’s no longer a British core, there are so few of them left. Indeed, we seem to be approaching a ‘Highlander’ moment where there will be only one with Jack Wilshere’s impending departure.
Aaron Ramsey, already marked down as a future Arsenal captain, is heading for sainthood after he rescued a family of ducks from an empty swimming pool and carrying them to safety. Sign da ting and his position as deity for all denominations is surely confirmed.
Elsewhere, there’s more talk of David Ospina moving to Turkey. It’s like the first cuckoo of spring, Ospina to Turkey is a perennial rumour. I’m not going to stick my neck out on this one and nor is Ospina. He can’t; he possesses the shortest neck in sport since Gladstone Small.
World Cup Round-Up
Obviously, you expect me to start with Ronaldo and I’m not. There’s a far more serious issue which came to light in Iran’s win over Morocco. A clearly concussed player found himself on the receiving end of the hardest slaps since Tommy Hearns sent Roberto Duran slumping face-first into the Las Vegas canvas.
Immediate calls for ‘concussion bins’ and protocols which replicated rugby union’s approach to the subject, were rejected. FIFA claimed managers would take advantage of them, insinuating that the coaches are corrupt and manipulative individuals. Simple solution: hire independent doctors and if they declare concussion, send the players to the bin.
Any cases that they are unsure about must lead to a mandatory substitution. Make it one of the three permitted in the game and managers will think twice about trying to manipulate the system.
If nothing else, FIFA could do with reading this piece on the ‘Justice for Jeff’ campaign a few years back. The Jeff Astle Foundation home page is here for updates.
On the pitch, Uruguay needed a late own goal to beat Egypt (deservedly) while Iran’s win put the cat among the pigeons with their last-gasp winner. Not as big as the lion the Uruguayan referee for France’s benefit moments ago.
Which leaves us with Ronaldo. Fantastic player, irrespective of what you think of his ego. To score a hat-trick in this match is phenomenal, particularly in the two situations where his nerve had to hold. Nacho got the best goal of the World Cup, close the votes now.
Whoops-a-Daisy, David de Gea-sy
And what of David de Gea. This is the goalkeeper who made a million saves against us at the Emirates and not only does he flap at the ball for Ronaldo’s second, he leaves one side of the goal utterly exposed for the free-kick. More of that de Gea in the Premier League if you don’t mind and less of the one which robbed us of at least a point.