Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Dear Ian Wright...

You may have read in yesterdays me noting that Ian Wright had written a garbage article not even worthy of linking... well thanks to fellow writer Mario I have now got a reason to... have a read of this article, and then read Mario's response. I'm sure you will find it an agreeable response.

Hi Ian,

1st of all, I would just like to say as a lifelong Gooner, you were always a great player for us and thanks for the memories. But my reason for emailing you is in response to your latest piece regarding Arsenal. You wrote us off last year without much merit in my opinion, and you are doing so again.

"Bergkamp was the catalyst for so many good things at Arsenal.
His immense presence helped to attract the likes of Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires — the list is endless."

Well, Vieira and Ljungberg were unknowns before they came to Arsenal, and Thierry was struggling at Juve. Wenger was the reason why they joined, at least with the French guys. We didn’t sign them as established world class players, so what you say is pretty irrelevant seeing as we are still snapping up some of the best young talent from Britain and beyond. Maybe one day they will be immortalised like some of those Invincibles, but when they joined, who were they really? Two flops at their Italian clubs, an unknown from Sweden and someone from the French league. Bergkamp’s presence helped us sign some potentially good young, foreign talent. I wish we still signed potentially good young, foreign talent...

"If any Arsenal fan told me they expected the club to finish in the top four this season, I reckon they would be optimistic rather than realistic."

This is such nonsense. We finished 4 points off the top last season, a season in which at the start you wrote us off. So who will overtake us? Will Spurs bridge the 30 points difference? Will Pompey or Villa sustain a challenge all the way through with their even smaller squads (and whose squads are not even in the same league)? Why will we lose out on all those points that we gained last season, this season? We got 83 points last season, the 5th placed team got 65. If we lose out on 20 points this season and finish outside the top 4, then I’m a Chinaman. Remember last season we played most of the season without Rosicky and RVP, then Eduardo, who knows what would have happened if we kept them fit. And every Arsenal fan I have spoken to, from the young to the old, season ticket holders or those from abroad, all believe we will finish at least in the top 4, and many believe we will sustain a Premiership challenge. If we held on to the lead at Old Trafford towards the end of last season, we would have been champions.

"So when you read that they have £70million or so to spend, you know it’s for real. But their transfer dealings have been overshadowed by Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool."

We have £70M in operating cash, but wouldn't it be foolish if we spent all our cash on players? Then what happens in case of an emergency? Not good business sense that. There's a reason why Leeds are where they are. And our deals overshadowed by United? They haven't bought anyone! We bought a player they wanted in Ramsey. Them trying to buy Berbatov doesn’t mean squat if they don't get the deal done. We could make a £20M bid for Messi but we would have no chance, would that be signalling intent? We don’t do our transfer dealings in public, we should all know that by now. It's good business. Other teams don't know about it, we don't get caught up in auctions, we quietly go about our business. Might not be good for the tabloids, that's why it seems so many try and stir up a load of nonsense regarding Arsenal. It's pretty tiresome really.

"Liverpool are refusing to stand still and have flexed their muscles in the transfer market with Spurs striker Robbie Keane.

Chelsea have landed Deco and Jose Bosingwa and are on a high-profile tour of the Far East and Russia. "

Well, Liverpool are refusing to stand still because they finished in 4th spot. Wouldn't be clever of them to stand still, they need to vastly improve. They were never in the title race last year and lost at home to Barnsley in the cup. And spending £20M on Robbie Keane is stupid. He's a good player, but is worth £12M tops. Credit crunch is hitting, fans are struggling to pay their bills, and football clubs are wasting money like it's going out of business. I'm so glad Arsenal don't throw money like that for 28 year olds. Besides, we have 3 better forwards at the club already. As for Chelsea, they needed a right back, and they got one. £16M, mind... As for their "high profile" tour, who gives a crap? It’s totally irrelevant. But for the sake of argument, what will they get out of making their players travel to the other side of the world for money spinning trips? Probably some tired players and preparation not as good as we get in our pre-season. If you don't believe this, ask the players themselves. Barcelona players complained about it last season. Rumours are the Chelsea boys have said the same. You should ask Shaun. We have gone to Austria under Wenger for 8 years or so now. Seems to me that it's been a success. A few titles and cups during that period, not bad really. Then we have the Emirates and Amsterdam Cups. Seems pretty good to me, and high profile enough. I hear Real Madrid, Juventus and Ajax are quite decent clubs. Not a patch on Guangzhou Pharmaceutical's though.

"Top-class players are bought not only for what they bring to the team but for the ‘wow’ factor too."

Maybe we should buy Shevchenko? That was some 'wow' factor. All I can hear now from Chelsea fans is, "Wow, what a waste of money that cripple is". Give me an Eduardo or Sagna type signing anytime. It's what can be added to the team and what improves it, not a big name. This isn't Football Manager, it's real life.

"Everyone knows the foundations at Arsenal ARE strong but everything else looks a bit shaky.

Emmanuel Adebayor answered all questions last season but even he appears to be trying to get away. "

The same way Ronaldo has been trying to get away at United all summer? The way their assistant manager has already left? The way Lampard and Drogba are trying to get away from Chelsea? Why not mention any of these? You're just trying to find an easy way out. 'Arsenal haven't spent £50M on players they won’t win nothing'. That's not any insight into football, just a cop out because if you say anything else, you may be left with egg on your face. But writing Arsenal off (which seems to be the tabloid thing to do) leaves you with a bit of wiggle room if you're wrong (which you have been many a time), because you could turn around and say "I’m so glad I was wrong, I’m so happy we won etc".

“MY old Arsenal team-mate David Rocastle would be turning in his grave right now if he looked at what is happening with the Gunners.

Rocky’s life was tragically cut short when in its prime. “

The lowest of the low. No need to mention Rocky in this article. You cannot speak for a dead man’s perspective on anything. I have no idea why you mentioned this.

"You want to give fans a sense of anticipation for the upcoming season, a feeling that they can’t wait for the first ball to be kicked.

I’ll have to be brutal here and say that I sadly don’t feel that way about Arsenal with the new campaign just about to start. "

All this is, is pessimism at its worse. It's just designed to get people worked up and worried over nothing. Which is not surprising seeing as you work for one of the worst in the business at stirring emotions like that in The Sun. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but what you have said has no basis. You sound like a Spurs fan after one too many Stellas. Hyperbolic ramblings from an ex player might sell papers, but it doesn't wash with the majority of Arsenal fans who just happen to use their brains and not listen to TalkSport or read the Sun message boards. The transfer window still has 5 weeks to go, why are you writing up the obituary now? Gallas, Baptista, Diarra, Denilson - 4 players bought on the 31st of August in the last 2 seasons. Chill out, defeatist mentalities do not help anyone. All it does is give leverage for rival fans to spout more shit our way when one of our legends talks like this.

Mario Leontiou

Tuesday, 29 July 2008


Yep last nights score line! Burgenland were seriously poor, I mean Sunday League poor! The defending was absolutely shocking, for a key example of this see Vela's first two goals...

So I mean not much to analyse, I mean will have been great for the confidence of Bendtner (4 goals), Vela (3 goals), and Wilshere (2 goals). What I found most interesting about this match was that Ramsey and Wilshere played the full 90 minutes in the last run out for the youngsters. I think Arsene feels these 2 are closest to the first team, and that is amazing for Wilshere at just 16 years of age, and he did have another very good performance. Arsene has been trying to play it down today, and rightly so, we want Wilshere to be a grounded lad after all and also he doesn't need any pressure on his shoulders at 16!

“Last year I missed too many games and I am still disappointed about it. But that is life. That is football and things can happen. I accepted it. This is a new year with new chances. Hopefully I can be injury-free this year"

You could be forgiven for thinking that is a personified Arsenal speaking there, I mean it sums up our last season pretty well, but it is in fact RvP telling us of his main aim for the season... And lets hope it comes true! We have never seen RvP complete a full season so we still don't know exactly what he is capable of, imagine if he and Ade are capable of 30+ a season... that would be formidable!

I think most Arsenal fans are in anticipation of tomorrows friendly against Stuttgart... not to see a face off between Almunia and Mad Jens, but to see the first glimpse of Nasri in an Arsenal shirt, personally I can't wait! I have great expectations for this kid, and I feel he might be more of an asset to our team than Hleb. Nasri is a quick thinker, he isn't going to slow down the famously quick Arsenal counter attack. He isn't going to be so 'shot-shy' so hopefully we can expect a greater return from Nasri, in other words the much needed midfield goals!

More good news in the shape of a funky pineapple! Kolo will be back by the start of the season, and with a new haircut. This is great news, I am so much happier with Kolo in the side than Senderos, and I really have doubts over Senderos ever making it. Would be more confident with Song, even on his brief showing in the position, but as we all know he is in Beijing for the Olympics.

Nothing to report on the transfer front, well at least nothing worthy of mentioning. I highly doubt we are going in for Inler but I guess you never know. Smells like cow dung to me though. Just can't wait to see who are next signing is but the wait continues... and hey who cares when we get to see new boy Nasri tomorrow! This kid is going to be a new heir to the number 8 shirt made famous be Wrighty, who has come out with some embarrassing analysis of Arsenal (not worth linking or reading.. believe me!).

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Stand up and be counted

Anticipation is building once again for another new season, players coming and going, pre-season friendlies starting to whet the appetite whilst newspapers and agents (and Hleb) are spewing more shit than a sewage run off. Transfer speculation usually dominates the summer months, and boy has there been some serious speculation this summer! We just have to wait another 5 weeks though until the closing of the window, Wenger said he wants 1 central midfielder, and possibly a maximum of 2 new players (personally, I would like 3 - a CB, a CM and an experienced keeper to challenge Manuel, but that's not going to happen).

But rather than speculate on the players we could be bringing in, I think we should look at some of the players we already have, and who have a big season ahead of them. Guys like Diaby, Walcott, Senderos, Denilson and Djourou have to step up this season and give us that strength in depth that the likes of Brown, Park, Anderson, O’Shea gave to United last season and remove the 'potential' tag. They will be trusted to do so, and these players (as well as others) are the reason why we don’t go out spending Chelski sort of money for squad players. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's a 'make or break' season or anything as dramatic as that, but we need more consistency and more end product. They may be young, but they are extremely talented, and they are the squad players who will hopefully make the difference when the inevitability of injuries and suspensions (and malaria) occurs.

Diaby - when he arrived, he was christened as the 'new Vieira', and not just because of the physical characteristics. Since he's come back from his assault at Sunderland, he's only shown glimpses of the talent, and at times can be so infuriating (granted he's not a left winger where Wenger has played him most). A concern for me is how often he gets injured. He plays a few games, and then is out for 2-3 weeks. This season he will be played in the middle a whole lot more, and it’s time for him to make his mark. He's been capped twice for France so we know he has the talent, he dominated Chelsea's millionaires in the Carling Cup final until he toe punted Terry and got injured, and in either a 4-5-1 away from home or a 4-4-2 in home games against so called lesser opposition, he could be very useful in breaking forward. He needs to learn though how to use the ball better. Technically he is very good, can shield the ball superbly, but he needs to pass the ball better and crucially, to give it at the right time and not to dribble too much which he has been guilty of. Last season I wanted to smash his face in after the red card up at Bolton, which showed a lack of maturity and dare I say, intelligence. Now, his time may have arrived and I am really looking forward to see what he can do this season.

Senderos - the guy is like Marmite. Love him or hate him. When given a run in the team, we have had great runs (2005 end of season culminating in the FA Cup final, 2006 CL run). But we all know about his high profile blunders. Centre backs don't peak until later in their careers as experience is vital, positioning and reading of the game is something that comes with the more matches you play. But if Senderos is not going to be our 1st choice centre back, which he will not, we need him to be reliable enough to come in for 2-3 games here and there. I do think there is a lot of talent there, and statistically, his partnerships with Toure or Gallas is better in regards to conceding less goals than the Kolo/Willy partnership. But we can’t keep saying that 'he needs a run of games' if he comes in and is looking sluggish, a Championship winning team needs the 'next in line' players to be ready to step up immediately.

Denilson - struggled last season with injuries and rumours of off-pitch problems, and seemed to regress a bit after his 1st season. But you don't become captain of the Brazil under 20's, and get called up to their squad at that age, unless you are a pretty special. With our central midfield position looking weaker than last season, he won’t have as much competition for spaces, and if he stays fit and healthy, we will look for him to make more of an impact outside the cup competitions. He can be a shield for our more attacking midfielders, and I could see him playing in a 4-5-1 away from home in particular, and with his passing ability, could help us break quickly. Although he is primarily a defensive midfielder, he has an intelligent and creative side to his passing. Beefing up a bit more would be useful.

Walcott - we all know about Theo. Electrifying pace, head down and run, looks like Lewis Hamilton. Towards the end of last season he was starting to come into his own a bit, and that run at Anfield was truly breathtaking. It can't be healthy to get that excited by teenage boys! But there were also a lot of frustration watching Theo play at times. I even remember a time where a few Arsenal fans were saying maybe we should loan him out. The right wing isn't his favoured position, but it's where he will play next season and he has the attributes to make him an important impact player for us, although now it's time to push on to be a 1st team regular. He needs to get his head up more, release the ball quicker and try not to run down blind alleys, which I feel he does because he tries a bit too hard. And he also needs to track back and help Sagna more; otherwise he will be overlooked for Eboue, especially in away games. I'm confident that this lad will go on to be a big player for us, but he does have a way to go before he becomes a regular in the 1st team.

Djourou - what do we do with him? Last summer, I felt that he will be a top player for us. Now, I struggle to think for a role for him, and think of him as nothing more than a squad player. Of course it's ridiculous to write off a 21 year old, but for Arsenal, is he good enough? He's little more at the moment than 4th choice centre back, and 5th-6th choice CM (not including the hopefully new DM we buy in). His loan at Brum wasn't that much of a success, didn't play well and was shifted between positions. If Song is our 4th choice centre back cover, then maybe we need to loan him out again for a whole season to another Premiership club. But with our squad seemingly getting smaller, he might have a part to play at the club. He is versatile, but DM may be his best position at the moment, as he’s not a natural defender.

Like I’ve already said, they may be young, but our squad as a whole is young. Age is just a number, if you are good enough, you are old enough. With another season under their belt, they should all be stronger and have that bit more experience. Along with the likes of Bendtner and Song, are these guys good enough to help us improve on last seasons’ results?

By: Mario Leontiou

Saturday, 26 July 2008

A quiet few days...

For The Gooner Guru and for Arsenal... been extremely busy this week so not had any time to post for a while but then nothing new has really happened either...

Of course there was the 1-1 friendly, a very boring encounter, although Bendtner and Walcott crafted out an impressive goal. Bendtner brought the ball down and assisted fantastically, and Walcott slotted home a neat finish off the inside of the post. Wilshere looked promising again, the Hoyte brothers, unfortunately were more of a calamity than anything else at centre back, and other than that there was nothing else to report.
Not sure Randall or Lansbury took their chance to shine although its early days...

According to The Sun Toure has made a miraculous recovery from his Malaria, and could be back in light training which if you ask me is excellent news. No offence to Senderos but I am much more comfortable with Toure.

Arshavin and his agent have managed to make themselves look even worse thanks to some hideously shameful comments. Yes his agent said he would consider a move to Spurs but I'm not even talking about that... remember after the Euros when Arshavin said he was looking for a move based on footballing grounds and not financially motivated...

"Money? I doubt that many other clubs would be able to pay me what Zenit can. It is not an economic question, it is about sporting desire. I want to play in one of the big leagues."

Well here are the latest comments from his agent...

The price is very high, as are the personal terms.

I mean there are so many merry go round comments in this summer transfer saga it makes me feel sick from dizzyness... his agent has been an embarrassment!

So thats about all to report really... I remember on Tuesday thinking to myself that we would have made a signing by now, I mean preseason really picks up from Monday with games against Stuttgart, the Emriates Cup, the Amsterdam tournament, Champions League qualifying etc. that I managed to convince myself we would sign someone by Monday in good preparation... why do I do this to myself?

Monday, 21 July 2008

Wenger, Hleb, Nasri, tomorrows match

So after the Barnet game Wenger said we could expects signings, but he was unsure as to how many and where. Later in an interview with BBC London this turned out to mean one certain signing, and a maximum of two (click here for full article and radio recording of the interview).
My initial reaction to these comments was "what the fuck? only one guaranteed signing and at maximum two???" This initially seemed ludicrous to me given our outgoings so far this summer. After a day or so I settled down somewhat and could see the light of day again, maybe Arsene was speaking sense after all.... I based on the following (plus the fact my disgust always disappears after a day or two);

1. The signing is going to be of the highest quality.
2. Given the arrivals of Nasri and Vela, the season of experience gained by Walcott and Eboue, the bionic leg gained by our Czech Sick Roy, and the possible use of Traore we are stronger outwide than we were last season. Maybe we don't know so much about the likes of Nasri, Vela, and Traore on the wing but the depth seems to be there, we seem to have more options and don't need to automatically turn to the likes of Diaby to fill in outwide. If you consider Traore might play there in the Carling Cup perhaps, plus Gibbs might get in the Carling Cup squads too we seem to be moving in the right direction.
3. Based on the above we only need to sign a partner for Cesc (yes I WOULD like a GK or CB but given Wengers comments at the start of the summer that he would not sign either I had already written this off). We can't really sign in any other positions without being over subscribed, the squad is not as small as yo might think.
4. Arsene Wenger does ultimately know better than me (well ok... let just say 'probably)... I just hate his transfer activity at times... I mean not the signings, he is a master, but he is a sneaky bastard when it comes to revealing his targets. As I'm sure you will agree this can get really annoying for the fans who want to be put out of their misery, but I guess we benefit in the end from signing the player at a non-inflated price and without the transfer being poached.
5. We do have the squad, its there, maybe Gary Lewin leaving for his England post might lift some kind of injury voodoo curse and we might not actually pick up so many on the sick room for once!

Alex Hleb has come out with some unnecessary comments about Cesc. Well done Hleb, we already know Cesc loves Barca, but why come out with these kind of comments? It shows no respect for Arsenal (yes Alex, the team who paid your wages over the past 3 years!) to come out with comments like this, and for what? A tiny bit of kudos with the Barca fans before he annoys the fuck out of them with his 'no shoot' policy... good riddens I say, I don't like to get bitter at players leaving Arsenal, its just childish, but this is disrespectful to Arsenal and I sincerely hope his career goes down the proverbial pan at Barca.

Samir Nasri commenced his Arsenal career today as all the big boys (except Cesc) started their preseason training too. Maybe we will get a glimpse of Nasri in a friendly next week, but I don't think we can expect to see him in tomorrows match (although I would love to see it). Adebayor was at training today, I wonder how the feeling was towards him in the dressing room? Will this summers saga have had an effect on him within the squad? Lets hope not, but who knows... hopefully today will have been about Nasri meeting the squad rather than Adebayor dragging his feet onto the training ground.

Tomorrows match sees Arsenal step onto the pitch to face the mighty... *drum roll*... Szombathelyi Haladas... *du dum*. Who, the, fuck?... who knows? I certainly don't, and I also don't know what kind of squad is likely to be fielded. I am assuming it will be quite similar to Saturdays team, however I doubt he will have taken so many of the second half subs to Hungary. Young guns have suggested that Wenger is likely to have taken a lot more of the youngsters than he would have in previous years. Normally he would take 2-3 with him however this time he will have taken a lot more (I guess we will find out who tomorrow), presumably to filter out those who are and aren't ready to join the first team.
Hopefully we will see some more of Ramsey, Wilshere, Barazite and I wouldn't mind seeing Simpson and Randall again too. If you plan on watching tomorrows match it kicks off at 17.30 and is on ATVO and the Setanta Arsenal channel. I mean who would pass up a chance to see Szombathelyi Haladas if nothing else.

Friday, 18 July 2008

A lot to be done in the transfer market

So at the start of the summer Arsene stated his first ambition was to hold on to our star players... well since then we have lost a Alex Hleb whether this will be a loss or a gain is up for debate. He was integral to a lot of Arsenal's forward moves, however his stats do paint a very poor picture of his effectiveness. 10 goals not many assists and we have a higher win record when Hleb did not play! This said I don't think Wenger wanted to lose him and his skills were unmatched within our squad, we have the passers but Hleb was brilliant on the ball although he was maybe guilty of slowing down our fluid football at times. Lets hope Nasri can balance the skill and speed.
We had already lost Flamini, another player Wenger wanted to hold on to and who knows about the Adebayor saga? Although this seems to have settled down somewhat.

Gilberto leaving was probably more expected so I am sure Wenger was not as concerned about this departure. That said Gilberto would have made a very good mentor to our younger players, is a fine example of a professional footballer, and was always a calm head on the pitch. His experience really would have been useful within our young squad so based on this Gilberto will be a loss to our squad, despite his faltering performances on the pitch last season.

Lehmann to Stuttgart means we have a lot less competition in the goalkeeping ranks, and in my opinion we still need to sign a goalkeeper, but unfortunately Wenger does not agree. Despite Mad Jens's outbursts in the media he was also a consummate professional in his football approach, on his departure Fabianski paid credit to his personal debt to Lehmann, so that is yet another experienced player from the squad, and one for our younger players to look up to gone.

With transfers out reading;
M. Flamini - A.C. Milan, Free Transfer
J. Lehmann - VfB Stuttgart, Free Transfer
A. Hleb - FC Barcelona, Undisclosed
Gilberto Silva - Panathinaikos FC, Undisclosed

and transfers in reading;
Aaron Ramsey - Cardiff City F.C., £5 million
Samir Nasri - Olympique de Marseille, Undisclosed Fee
Francis Coquelin - SASP Stade Lavallois Mayeene MFC

there is a serious deficit in ready first team players. All outgoings could have easily stepped into the first team, where as we are not really sure about Ramsey or Nasri just yet although I am sure Nasri will quickly make the transition into the first XI, Ramsey will probably be CC, whilst Coquelin is only one for the future.

I think when Wenger mentioned having to bring in some experience he was talking about replacing Gilberto and Lehmann, in terms of experience within the squad and calm head dressing room, however he also needs to bring in top quality players, especially in central midfield. Although talented I don't think Denilson, Song, or Diaby are ready for a starting berth week in week out just yet. But they will certainly have a huge role to play in the coming season, especially if we only bring in one central midfielder, considering we have lost Flamini, Diarra, and Gilberto since the start of last season, opportunities will be up for grabs so it will be interesting to see who stakes the best claim when given the chance.

In my opinion Wenger still needs to bring in at least 3 more signings. A couple of experienced players as well as a highly talented player ready to step into the starting line up when required, we don't need squad players (unless Wenger changes his mind on bringing in a CB or GK in which case I would welcome a squad player in either positions) but we really need a world class CM to partner Cesc, Barry seems to expensive, and I'm not sure if Alonso is the man for the job. A utility player would be excellent, someone who can fill in across the midfield or defense would be great, depending on their quality of course.

In Arsene we trust, so we must kick back and see how the transfer window pans out... would prefer sooner rather than later as most players have started the pre season training now and it's always better to have your new signings as a part of this. There is still some work left to do for Wenger, I just can't wait to see who it is... why does Wenger do this to us?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Gilberto set for Panathinaikos, Hleb to Barca

After accepting a bid for £1 Million from Panathinaikos it appears Gilberto will complete his move away from the Emirates stadium...

It is a sad day to see the man dubbed 'The Invisible Wall' walking away from his Arsenal career but it is certainly understandable. He spent the majority of last season on the bench, despite having spent the 2006/2007 season as our captain, and one of the best players of the season. You could see his disappointment in the situation whenever shown sitting on the bench, looking like the glum naughty boy who had just been sent to his room.

Whilst the move is understandable from Gilberto's point of you it is also understandable from Arsene's point of view too. I mean I would have been OK with Gilberto playing some part in the following season, he has great experience and also showed towards the end of the season that he could still perform well, however there were many Gilberto performances last season that were extremely painful to watch. At times he looked like a 45 year old who had come back for a testimonial game who hadn't exercised in 10 years. He was off the pace, lacked awareness, and managed to give away possession with almost every pass, he looked a shadow of the 2006/2007 season player whom many had expected to retain the captaincy after the departure of Henry.

However despite his disappointment of being dropped to the bench Gilberto always remained a complete professional, and for this we must salute him. He didn't come out in the press saying detrimental comments to the club, or Wenger, and also said that he accepted that Flamini and Cesc were playing so well in central midfield.
As he becomes the highest paid played in Greek football we wish Gilberto the best of luck, and thank him for the role he played as part of the record breaking invincibles and the 2 FA Cups Arsenal won during his reign in the red and white.

Hleb also looks certain to secure his long drawn out transfer to Barca...

It is not yet clear how much the transfer fee will be but Barca have confirmed on their official website that Hleb has arrived for a medical.

Hleb was an important part of the Arsenal engine during his spell at the club, he didn't always receive the credit he deserved because he didn't make the final 'assist' and was almost always involved in some way in goals scored in open play. Unfortunately though he never got the goals from midfield that we so desperately needed post Pires and Ljungberg. Hleb only scored 10 goals in 130 appearances for Arsenal which is just not good enough given the positions he got himself into, and the amount of shooting opportunities he would always turn down. It will be interesting how Nasri will work in his position if he is given it... can we expect more goals?

It is a shame to see Hleb leaving under less respectful circumstances to Gilberto. After the ice cream 'tapping up' saga with Inter officials the day before our match against AC Milan, his annoying agent, as well as his unnecessary comments in the media, I think most Gooners will be glad to see this transfer completed.

You would hope that he is being sold for atleast £13 Million, he must surely be going for more than we signed Nasri for, although it would have been nice to see Yaya Toure coming this way as part of the deal given the departure of Gilberto Silva...

Lets hope Hleb continues his frustrating football at Barca, would hate to see him suddenly scoring bucket loads of goals and 30 yard screamers!!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Anchorman

Who will be anchoring Arsenal's midfield this season?

With Mathieu Flamini swapping London for Milan, speculation has been rife as to whether Arsene Wenger will be replacing the tenacious, moderately-talented heel-snapper with an incoming transfer, or promoting from within. Flamini had been employed in a variety of positions during his four seasons at the club, and only rose to fame in the season just gone because of his consistent performances, high energy levels, tackling ability, and acute passing skills. It is an ironic twist of fate that he will be playing for AC Milan in September, as he was close to sealing a deal to Birmingham City, this time last year. Flatusso, as he was endearingly called by his team-mates, only gained a long run in the side due to Gilberto's fatigue from an enduring Copa America tournament with Brazil, in the summer of 2007. Will another unexpected force rise to prominence under Wenger's tutelage cum August? Or will he instead turn to the transfer market for his holding midfielder? When talking about summer signings, Wenger recently said he would be in the market for: ''one defense-minded player, and one creative player.'' One of the questions on Arsenal fans lips this summer will surely be who then, will be anchoring their midfield?

Gilberto Silva
Is ironically the man who Flamini ousted, only to be re-considered for the role he had made his own only a few years ago. Dubbed 'Volante' or 'The Invisible Wall', the former World Cup winner would offer cover for attacking wing-backs, Clichy and Sagna, and also for when Fabregas roams further up the pitch. Gilberto isn't the toughest tackler the Premiership has ever seen - he is more passive when he defends. At 6'3'' he would help aid the area Arsene wants to work on this summer - balls over the top. Do you think it is a coincidence that in Gilberto's absence the team suffered in this department? Flamini, at 5'10'' would not have been able to man-mark a target man as effectively as Gilberto, after all, Flamini's main strength was his energy.

Likelihood: Retrograde. Didn't take the chances offered to him last season. His stamina may now be an issue.

Miguel Veloso
This young defensive-midfielder from Portugal has recently been linked to North London, but mainly through his agent, Paulo Barbosa, who said: ''We have not had contact from the Arsenal board, but from a member of the technical staff at the club.'' If reports are to be believed then an offer of over £23.7million would be enough to activate a release clause in his contract with Sporting CP. Like Arsenal's former 'Running Man', the 22-year old is a utility man who has played all across the defensive line, as well as in the centre of midfield. After Veloso collected his winners medal in the Portuguese Cup at the end of last season, he said: ''I do not know if this is my last game for Sporting, lets see what the future holds for me.''

Likelihood: Unlikely, unless Sporting are willing to accept offers below the release clause.

Denilson Pereira Neves
The U20 Brazil captain was one of the brightest prospects at Arsenal when he first arrived at the club. He was touted, along with Lucas of Liverpool, as the future of the Brazilian midfield. Now, with the emergence of Anderson, and the regression of Denilson's form and ability last season, it is unclear where this leaves him. Arsene Wenger once described him as ''a mix of Tomas Rosicky and Gilberto Silva.''

Likelihood: Plausible. He needs to re-find his feet, first.

Mark Noble
Before the season came to a close, a sunday newspaper claimed that an insider at Arsenal had said: ''Mark's name was certainly mentioned as a potential signing in January, when the midfield situation was discussed but there was no approach. He will become a big target if Flamini decides to call it a day.'' Flamini did call it a day. The question remains: has Noble become a big target? Alan Pardew has lavished praise on the England U21 international, describing Noble as the the best prospect at the club, and went on to say: ''Mark is a capable holding midfielder, dictating games because he has the passing ability, the bite, and the will to the win.'' Whether or not Wenger respects Pardew's opinion remains to be seen, what with their decorated history.

Likelihood: Highly doubtful. Noble is a local Hammer, as are his family. What might swing the balance is Arsene's admission that he was looking at a player with 'Premiership experience', but this does not necessitate a move for Noble.

Vassiriki Abou Diaby
Diaby looked promising when Wenger snapped him up in the 2006 January transfer window, but he has never looked the same since he suffered a terrible broken and dislocated ankle. From some sections in the media Diaby has been touted as Vieira's heir: They are both powerful and leggy. Whilst Vieira revelled in the defensive role, Diaby looks preferable as an attacking midfielder. To the frustration of many Arsenal fans though, Diaby was continually deployed on the left flank last season. Presumably in a bid to build up his left foot. Since then, he has scored with his left peg, so to a certain extent, this aim has worked.

Likelihood: Unlikely.

Michael Johnson
Reports in May suggested that a trident of Liverpool; Tottenham ; and Arsenal, were keen on the 20-year old Mancunian. Comparisons have already been made between himself, and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, which may seem premature, but his energy, drive, and general midfield ability are worthy of praise alone. A move for Johnson would also slot in nicely with Arsene's philosophy of recruiting young talent, and nurturing and developing it in his own, methodical way.

Likelihood. Unlikely. The main question is: would he be able to up his game another level and perform week-in week-out under the spotlights at the Emirates? With Johnson next to Fabregas, the midfield would just get younger.

Gareth Barry
Touted on other Arsenal blogs long after his name was put forth on the forums. In many ways is a direct replacement for Flamini - his versatility could be key. He can obviously hold his own in the middle of the park, and has put in some comfortable performances on the international stage, most recently threading an assist within seconds of coming on. However, should a long-term injury keep Clichy sidelined, and with Traore still a little too raw, Barry provides a great option at left back, and on the wing. Liverpool have long been courting the player who is set to return to pre-season training with Aston Villa. How he can look O Neill in the eye, let alone play for him again considering his recent comments remains to be seen.
Likelihood: Possible. Villa have chased Hoyte for some time now, add this to the fact that they are in need of a right back and a player plus cash deal doesn't seem too far fetched. Knows the Premier League inside out and could be an interesting acquisition indeed.

Alexandre Song Billong
The once maligned Cameroonian is now receiving praise for his coming of age. Recently rewarded with a long term contract thought to be a four year extension, it seems evident that he is a part of Wenger's long term plans. The 20-year old feature 15 times for the Arsenal first team last season, and played a starring role in Cameroon's march to the final of the African Cup of Nations, himself being awarded a place on the team of the tournament. He is a strong holding midfielder, but operated as a defender for the last five matches of the 2007-08 season. He is composed on the ball, and, when playing centre back, he enjoys dribbling out of defence - much in the same vein as Rio Ferdinand, or Lucio.

Likelihood: Possible. Song will feature heavily next season, but where? Wenger's pre-season set-up will offer more clues as to where he will play.

Yaya Toure
Toure would be an ideal replacement to fill the void that Flamini left in Arsenal's midfield. The Ivorian is held in high regard and is considered among the top midfielders in European football. Yaya Toure, younger brother of current Arsenal defender, Kolo, has impressive physical attributes, can hold and protect the ball, and, like Kolo, is a capable passer. He is widely seen as a box-to-box midfielder, so in this respect would presumably be a like-for-like replacement for Flamini. Txiki Begiristain, Barcelona's Director of Football, complicated a potential transfer a few weeks ago by stating: ''Yaya is not on the market... we want him to stay with us. Josep Guardiola considers him an important player in his new project.'' However, with the Catalan club's recent purchase of Seydou Keita, a hard-tackling Malian midfielder, together with their active pursuit of Aliaksandr Hleb and Emmanuel Adebayor, a swap plus cash deal might well be in the offing.
Likelihood: Plausible, but dependent on Barcelona's willingness to depart with a player they have only had on the books for one season, and Wenger's resurgence of interest in a player he had on a pre-season trial in 2002.

Kolo Toure
When Kolo played in the middle of the park at the beginning of his Arsenal career, in early European games, and was even regarded as a utility man - much like Flamini at the genesis of his Arsenal journey. He still has many of the attributes to be a success in that role. He is strong in the tackle, and playing further upfield with increase his opportunities of unleashing that beast of a shot we have all seen him revel in so many a time. He can also play clever passes, at the back end of last season he threaded a weighted pass through to Adebayor against Reading, and also for Van Persie against Derby, both in April. Moving Kolo into central midfield could also solve the chink in the Gunner's defensive armoury of balls over the top if Gallas was partnered with someone like, say, Song, who has increased his stock of late, or even a new signing. When Kolo has played wing back, however, his stamina has looked suspect. And this would be a worry in the 80th minute of a game if he can barely track back.
Likelihood: Possible, but unlikely. If Wenger was toying with this idea then he would have experimented this tactic at the end of the season while he was giving games to Song, rather than wait for the beginning of a new campaign. Pre-season will be key.

Aaron Ramsey
The Welsh whizz kid's role at Arsenal is up for debate. Some see him playing a Cescy role but out on the wing, others see him as a defensive midfielder. Bob Wilson, Arsenal's goalkeeping coach, said: ''The possibilities of Ramsey and Fabregas in the middle are endless. Ramsey is athletic, quick, and already has brilliant quality on the ball.''

Likelihood: Unlikely. Grooming him into a holding midfielder would surely stifle his attacking prowess. On the other hand, he has played across the defensive line for Cardiff, as well as the midfield. Either way, he will be restricted to Carling Cup games, and the occasional league outing, so for next season anyway, he will not be Arsenal's anchor.

The more likely candidates appear to already be at Arsenal. This time last year it would have been widely assumed that Gilberto would carry on his duties in that position. If one put forth Flamini’s name for the role, your views would have rightly been frowned upon followed by the words: ‘Jog on son.’ It is near enough impossible trying to second-guess Wenger, but God knows we love trying, so unless Arsenal sign Yaya Toure or Gareth Barry, expect Gilberto to do the job next season, with Diaby, Song and Denilson all getting their share of chances to earn that vacant starting spot.

By Alan Dawson