Arsenal revived ?

In the transfer market: Arsenal 0 Spurs £100 million            

On the football pitch:   Arsenal 1 Spurs 0      

For the last 3 months, Arsenal fans had to endure relentless mocking by their Spurs counterparts for their lack of signings. They basically became a laughing stock after their opening day loss to Aston Villa. But then they managed to cruise past Fenerbahce (but so did Spurs against Dinamo Tbilisi), and then won comfortably against Fulham (but so did Spurs against Swansea). Then came the big encounter. On Sunday, with 60,071 people in attendance, Arsenal finally regained the bragging rights, beat them 1-0 (could’ve been more), and what is more, overtook them on the points table.

So the pressure has eased off Wenger. AND HE HAS FINALLY MADE A NEW SIGNING ! (no, not a free this time). Mesut Ozil is now a Gunner for a whopping £40 million. If only Wenger had done this earlier, we wouldn’t have had to make the “I spent more than Wenger” memes. Sigh. By the way here is a good one:

Wenger finally spotted spending some money !

So, are the problems over for Arsenal? For the time being it certainly looks like so. But two question marks still remain. One of them surrounds how the just acquired German international will fare in the Premier League, where he has never been tested before. The second circles their defense. They have till now conceded 4 goals in 3 games. That is the highest in the top 10, and only Sunderland and Swansea have conceded more. Perhaps a signing in this area was needed more than the one they made on deadline day.

But on the other hand, if Koscielny and Mertesacker can find the form that was so crucial in their Champions League qualification last year, Arsenal can definitely be among the title contenders again. Many would say they already are. They have found the depth in their midfield with the signings of Flamini and Ozil. With Giroud displaying great confidence alongwith clinical finishing, Ramsey finally taking firm control over the centre midfield, and players like Ozil and Walcott on the flanks, this is now a team that can beat anyone. It turns out Wenger was right all along. What a difference one good signing can make.

For the record, Arsenal ARE back in the race. But its a tight one. The scoreline at Anfield on Sunday showed even Liverpool are sneaking up from behind. One thing is for sure. This is gonna be a cracker of season.

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The Bale transfer: Winners and losers

A lot more trophies might be in line

A lot more trophies might be in line for the Welshman.

After the amazing £100 million-plus spending spree carried out by Tottenham Hotspurs this summer, the departure of Gareth Bale is now only a matter of official confirmation. It earmarks the transformation of the club heralded by the arrival of manager André Villas-Boas last year.

So, how will the departure of last season’s holder of the PFA’s Players’ Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and FWA’s Player of the Year Award affect the Premier League and La Liga’s dynamics ?  Who stands to gain from the most highly anticipated transfer of the summer, and who will not do so well because of it?

The first and foremost beneficiary is obviously the club that will enjoy the versatile winger’s services, Real Madrid. They might even be able to recover part of the enormous outlay by shipping off Di Maria, Kaka and Coentrao. With Neymar arriving at Camp Nou, the renewed battle between the two Spanish giants might be more breathtaking than ever.

The next biggest rivalry in football.

The next big rivalry in football.

In fact the focus might even shift from Messi vs Ronaldo to Neymar vs Bale, and that would be one hell of a competition. In that sense, La Liga followers might also be termed the winners, getting to see the 4 biggest names in football right now on the same pitch.

The next obvious winner is the player himself, who will be able to showcase his abilities in the best club football competition in the World, the UEFA Champions League. He will play alongside his idol Cristiano Ronaldo, and players like Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil and Isco. He will play against the best sides in the World, the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and AC Milan.  One has to say that is where he belongs, and he now has a chance to prove himself against the best.

The more controversial question is about the future of Tottenham. How will they cope without the player who provided them 31 goals last season ? To be fair, that question has already been answered by AVB and Daniel Levy. Arrived at White Hart Lane have Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen, who I reckon could provide them with a few goals this season themselves. In fact allow me to say Spurs have become a much better side without Gareth Bale. They have now depth and competition for virtually every place in the team and have been widely tipped major title contenders this season. They did not disappoint in their opening two fixtures, playing some eye-catching and flowing football, although winning by just one goal in each game.

So is everyone happy ? Life’s good ? Not really. There is a certain stubborn old Frenchman not far from White Hart Lane who has been eyeing these events with a typical frown on his typically worried face.

The summer overhaul of the squad by Tottenham is in major contrast to Arsenal’s meager two signings (yes, both free transfers), and the pressure is on Arsene Wenger to back his obstinate attitude with points on the table. He has put his impressive Champions League qualification record in jeopardy, and with important players getting injured, Spurs are most likely to finish above Arsenal after 18 years.

Meanwhile, Bale is in Spain with his lawyers to give the final touchings to his hefty 6-year contract. I’m sure his hands (or rather legs) would be itching to get started, as would the Spurs fans to watch their club finally trump Arsenal and just like the heads of Arsenal fans would be, trying make out which way their club is headed.

To buy or not to buy ?

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To this day, not one penny has been spent from the £70 million “war-chest” that Arsene Wenger had at his disposal for this summer’s transfer period. The whole summer Arsenal fans were frustrated, media skeptical, Wenger stubborn and rival fans maliciously happy. It is a hardly hidden fact that the central figure in the transfer business at the Emirates is always Wenger, and hence the one responsible. And his response has been the same throughout the summer, “We are in the market. We are here to buy.”

Admittedly, Arsenal have been busy in the transfer market looking for players. And they did manage to bring in Yaya Sanogo. The term ‘buy’ was deliberately not used here, because ‘buying’ involves ‘spending money’, and Sanogo was a free transfer. But yes, Arsenal have been pursuing signings. They chased Higuain, Gustavo, Fabregas, Rooney, Suarez and Benzema to name a few, but secured none. The stumbling block in all these negotiations has been the hardline on transfer fees Wenger stubbornly likes to take.

The whole summer Wenger tried to justify this by insisting his current pool of players is good enough. So the new season finally went underway with Yaya Sanogo being Arsenal’s only summer signing. They lost their opening game, but then scored 3 apiece in Turkey and then at Craven Cottage to cruise to victories, affording Wenger a smug ‘told you so’ smile. So has Wenger been right all along? Was his claim that the current squad is good enough, fair? Well that depends. What vision does Arsene Wenger see for the club? If he wants another season of fighting for the top 4, then he might just be right, although with Spurs doing some heavy spending this summer even that might be too much. If he wants to fight for the title itself, then the answer is a resounding NO. Yes the first 11 players in the squad are class, but you can’t expect 11 players to play the whole season, especially with Arsenal’s hectic schedule. And with Sagna having to play at centre-half after Koscielny and Vermaelen’s injuries, the symptoms are beginning to appear.

WENGER-OUT

It has been 8 years since Arsenal fans had a taste of glory. From then on, the ones in-charge have apparently lost interest in winning silverware. The fans for their part, have also been satisfied by consecutive top 4 finishes. A club regularly chasing titles would never sell such star players as Robin Van Persie, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri to clubs in direct competition with them. Ask City if they would like to sell Aguero, and Sheikh Mansour will have a heart attack. Ask Barca if they would like to sell Messi, and they would have you taken away by the mental asylum. Does Wenger really think he can win titles with the quality and quantity of the current squad? If yes, then he has lost touch with reality and should be replaced. If no then the fact he failed to secure signings knowing that he needed them should be the final nail and he should, again, be replaced. In any case something needs to be done. Their fans deserve more, and Arsenal Football Club deserves more.

The London Rush

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Last season, just three points separated the top 3 London football clubs; Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspurs. Now, after a couple of months of peace, the rush hour is back on in London. But this time the battle takes place in the transfer market rather than the football field or points table.

The three powerhouses of the great city are once again scrambling to shape their squads before August. For Chelsea this only involves buying ever more players, but for Tottenham and Arsenal, those unfortunate clubs not being backed by billionaires, this also involves cutting off the deadwood to make way for new additions. Arsenal have already sold Andrey Arshavin and are also willing to listen offers for Gervinho. Tottenham have a bit more excess baggage and according to reports they are ready to offer Aston Villa anyone out of Assou-Ekotto, Jake Livermore, Scott Parker and Tom Huddlestone as make-weights in a cash+player deal for last season’s sensation Christian Benteke.

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Christian Benteke is one of the many strikers these three clubs have been after this transfer window. For that is the one thing which can give one of them the edge over the others, even make them title contenders; a quality, 20+ goals striker. They all missed such a spearhead last season. Chelsea could not pose any threat to the Manchester clubs in the title race and were instead involved in a scramble for the last two Champions League places with Arsenal and Spurs. They had to make do with two terribly out of form forwards in Torres and Demba Ba. Arsenal, who had supposedly replaced Robin van Persie with Olivier Giroud last summer, were badly mistaken, as the Frenchman could only score 11 goals and seldom won games for them. Jermaine Defoe scored the same number of goals for Spurs; and the other Spurs striker, Adebayor, was inconsistent as ever, from getting sent off in the first half at the Emirates to giving a classy centre-forward’s performance at the Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea, as always, have been after the best the market has to offer. They were trying to complete a dream team of Edinson Cavani and Robert Lewandowski. But those dreams look to be dashed as Cavani looks set to join Ligue 1 giants PSG and Lewandowski will stay at Dortmund for one more year before switching to Bayern Munich. They have now turned sight on the Belgian star Benteke.

SSC Napoli v Cagliari Calcio - Serie A

Arsenal tried to lure Wayne Rooney to the Emirates after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, but new Red’s manager David Moyes was stern in saying the striker is not for sale. They are now after the controversial Suarez, although Liverpool is trying hard to out-price them. A deal for Higuain seemed close after he agreed personal terms with them, but they have not yet managed to reach an agreement with Madrid. In fact, Arsenal have yet to make a signing, despite having the largest ever transfer kitty at Arsene Wenger’s disposal this year.

Tottenham have also been in the hunt for strikers. They pursued their long-time target Leandro Damiao, but Internacional are reluctant to part ways with the forward. They have also been linked with Soldado, Benteke and David Villa (before he joined Athletico Madrid) among others.

It remains to be seen which striker finds his way to which part of London, but one can say for sure this London rush for strikers will decide who challenges for the title and who is left to languish in the Europa League next season.

Why Spain’s days are over

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One week ago, the tables turned. Spain got a taste of their own medicine. An year back in the Euros final, Spain had thrashed a good looking Italian side 4-0. An year later, they were thrashed 3-0, got their poster boy sent off, and looked a shadow of the team that claimed consecutive European and World titles. They rode on luck throughout the tournament. Got the easier of the two groups, and had it not been for Italy’s missed chances and the brilliance of Casillas, Spain might not have crawled past the semis like they did, winning on penalties.

Parallels have often been drawn between Barcelona and Spain, and not surprisingly so. The two sides share the same core players. Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Busquets, Fabregas, Villa, Jordi Alba, Pedro, are all automatic choices for both club and country. Consequently their style of play is identical. Short passes, intricate through balls, and midfield domination are typical for both sides. Since the last two seasons or so Barcelona has not been the formidable team they used to be (although that might change with the signing of Neymar). This was highlighted by the 7-0 drubbing on aggregate by Bayern Munich in this year’s Champions League semi final. When the same players went to Brazil with the same system, they were drubbed 3-0 by a home-charged Brazilian side. So, has the system been finally beaten?

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Spain’s formula is fairly simple. Tire out your opponents by making them chase the ball, then find little holes in their defense and exploit them with their precise through balls. And they are brilliant at it. What they are not brilliant at is chasing the game, working under pressure and fighting against time. In the World Cup and Euros, Spain nearly always scored the first goal. They would then tire and break the opponents morale, making him mindlessly chase the ball. That is why people started labelling their football ‘boring’. Because this way they could make it look a one-sided contest against the best of teams. But now the others have caught up. They have learned the best way to defeat this system is to score first, like Brazil did against Spain and Munich did against Barcelona. They then have to chase the game. Instead of dictating play, they have to force the issue, something they are evidently not good at. Why?

Brazil Soccer Confed Cup Brazil Spain

The problem with Spain’s strategy is that it is inflexible and rigid. They do not know alot of ways to score goals except the one they use all the time. Their aerial threat is minimal, crossing ability mediocre, and free-kick goals negligible. Hence when they need to create something out of nothing, they fail miserably.

Spain met two brilliant and rising teams at the Confederations Cup. They struggled against both. At the World Cup next year, they meet atleast a dozen more, and at the same territory. Will Spain continue to dominate World Football? I don’t think so. But then again, they still have some of the best players in the World. The system might not be as formidable now, but these players are still class. So how will Spain fare in the Mega Event next year? Your guess is as good as mine.

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Samba boys take on La Roja tonight

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Two completely different sets of players, representing two different Worlds of football, take on each other tonight. The Spanish side, representing the glamorous European football, and Brasilia, representing the intense and passionate South American brand. The former believes in ruling possession of the ball, making their opponents work and tire out, then finding chinks in the enemy lines. The latter believes in box-to-box stuff, creating chinks themselves in enemy lines with the pace and passion we have come to associate with Brazilian football. Spain are technically gifted, Brazil enormously talented.

Spain’s style of football, with their patient passing, has often been termed boring, sometimes even ugly. But it is efficient. And it works for them. It is no football fluke that they have won consecutive World and European titles, and they will be looking to add this elusive trophy to their brimming cabinet.

Brazil is a team of fresh young blood, tipped to mark a new Brazilian era in World football. And the Samba boys are eager to get started on a magnificent journey.

At the individual level too, an interesting scenario will develop. The Spanish centre backs Pique and Ramos, will be keeping a keen eye on Neymar, not only to keep his quick feet from tearing through, but also because come August, for one he would be the comrade, for the other, enemy number one.

All in all, it would be a riveting battle, one that I will not miss (even though it’ll keep me up till 5 in the morning) !

The transfer window so far…

At the end of every season in May every football fan laments the idea of no football for the next 3 months or so. But ironically, every year in June and July the football World keeps buzzing with that very spice of the game called the transfer window. Nopes, the football frenzy never ends.

This year’s summer window promises not to be any different. And so far it has lived up to the promise. So lets have a look at what has the window given us so far.

There is always that one player that stirs the market with whirlpools of anticipations and speculations. This year’s Man of the Window Award goes to… you guessed it right, Neymar da Silva Santos ! The transfer period is not over by any means (ask Daniel Levy), but such has been the hype and anticipation surrounding the Samba sensation that the choice requires no further candidates.

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Over to the Premier League now. As always, the spoiled child of Premier League wanting his hand on everything, City has been linked to each and every player that has been of significance in the market. Isco, Cavani, and Lewandowski have all been in City’s wishlist, who have already bought Jesus Navas and Fernandinho. But their most crucial signature has been of the new manager Manuel Pellegrini from Malaga. They finally had enough of Mancini, after he reportedly declared the acquisition of Roger Federer as vital to surviving the group stages of Champions League.

Tottenham Chelsea and United have been quiet except for one signing each. Yet.

Away from the Neymars, the Iscos and the Lewandowskis, one club that has shrewdly kept its head down and been about its business quietly is Liverpool. Signed 4 players already without any fuss and in the hunt for Benteke too. Back in the top 4 picture they are.

Another club that needs mention is the French version of Chelsea, AS Monaco. Another club benefited from their Russian billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev, buying names like Radamel Falcao, Joao Moutinho, James Rodriguez and Ricardo Carvalho. Soon these clubs are gonna deplete the billionaire specie, mark my words !

Well this was pretty much what happened in the transfer window so far. If I missed a signing, it wasn’t important. Well signing off for now, will post about the rest of the window as it progresses !