Saturday 20 July 2013

Suarez and Rooney – between the devil and the shallow red git

We all remember those breath-taking transfers. For me, the hallucinatory sight of Dennis Bergkamp standing in red and white at Highbury and a beaming Sol Campbell shaking hands with Arsene at London Colney stand out as the real jaw droppers. Even thinking back to those moments now brings a smile to my face.

Should the growing speculation of Arsenal’s desire to sign Luis Suarez or Wayne Rooney be proved true, it will feel similar but without any of the joy. How could you take pleasure in recruiting two players with such ugly histories?

I’ll deal with Rooney first. I know it is almost 10 years ago but I’ll never forgive him for his contribution to ending the Invincibles’ run at Old Trafford.

I’ve watched the clip of him diving over Sol’s leg again for the first time in years this morning (remind yourselves here if you dare: Rooney dive video) and it still riles me. Fine, Sol shouldn’t have flashed a leg at the ball, but that was a dive by Rooney, pure and simple.

That leap, in a game were there was nothing to choose between the two teams, triggered the end of that glorious period. It was a group so committed to the beauty of football that to see the unbeaten run end in such an unjust way was devastating for them. Of course they could have shown more resilience afterwards and not stumbled for so long but Rooney had a central role in sparking them fall from the top of the tree and I can’t forgive him for it.

Now for Suarez. This is a man who has been banned for racially abusing a black player, showed great delight at committing a handball in a World Cup quarter final, has twice been banned for biting opponents and is currently in part way through a 10 match suspension for the latest of the two chomps.

How can you want to sign a person who has done all that? Forget whether they will improve your starting XI or not, what on earth would want you to bring someone like that into your football club, nevermind potentially blowing at least half of your transfer kitty on him?

There is no shame in wanting to work to a higher standard compared to other clubs. It is a proud part of our tradition that we have at least strived to be a club that does things honourably and in recent years our self-sacrificing pursuit of living within our means and taking FFP seriously while our rivals have been ‘financial doping’ has reflected we still try to work to a better set of rules. Wenger forever lauds our topping of the fair play league whenever it happens (where’s the trophy for that!) so it must be close to his heart.

I have no doubt there would be double standards involved if these two had done what they did in an Arsenal shirt - dozens of my Arsenal heroes have bent the rules over time and I have continued to worship them regardless. But I’d like to think even as one-eyed a supporter as me would draw a line at backing an Arsenal man who committed any of Suarez’s most heinous acts.

Both players are not Wenger players, not Arsenal players. For a man who puts so much store by how players live their lives, how could Wenger want someone with Rooney’s lifestyle? And for a man who believes so strongly in multiculturalism and looking beyond a passport, how can he want someone with Suarez’s attitudes?

I don’t understand why we would want them in the first place or, if the speculation isn’t true, why the club wouldn’t quash rumours linking us to such degenerates.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Will ‘big’ signings even make a difference?

So the Arsenal purse strings are supposed to have been loosened and the money is set to flow.

Judging by the way the long-expected Higuain deal has panned out, there probably won’t be any evidence of that until the clock strikes midnight at the close of transfer window.

But let’s assume Arsene does actually splash the cash a bit more freely. My fear is that the tiki-taka-lite style we deploy and the attitude among the squad means no matter who we sign we still won’t challenge for the title.

I should rewind slightly and – on the off chance that this is the only blog that survives the end of the world – offer a bit of context since my last post following the Sunderland game in February. My hope then was that a team spirit could be forged which would propel us on to better times. It didn’t really turn out that way. As much as you could admire the way the team didn’t crumble after defeats to Blackburn, Bayern Munich and Sperz – not to mention another immensely satisfying last day win to deny our nearest and dearest neighbours a Champions League place – when you look back on the run-in there was little to draw inspiration from.

The clean sheets gained and home draws against the likes of Man U and Everton did not reflect a new-found resilience but were the result of giving up what attacking flair the team did possess for some pretty stodgy defending that got the job done.

It is too hopeful to think the end to the campaign offered a platform for greater things this coming season, just like a couple year back when Arsene lauded our unbeaten run and chose to ignore the fact that most of the results were draws not wins.

And it’s that aspect of history repeating, despite the pledges of Gazidis that money will be spent, which is most dispiriting. We have been ready to wipe the slate clean and start afresh at the end of almost every season since the move from Highbury. But while Arsene has changed the characters pretty often, the script has remained the same – a lightweight team, playing too often at a meandering (aimless?) pace, not possessing the ‘belly fire’ or nous to beat title rivals.

The one crumb of comfort I have is the 2007/08 season when we suffered no major departures in the close season and a stable, decent team was augmented by a ‘fox in the box’ striker (assuming Higuain plays the role of Eduardo) and went on to play like champions for six months. No, it wasn’t a full season but I’d settle for six months right now.

So perhaps I am being a bit too Stewart Robson and Arsene can make this style and system work and things will change now he has a bigger wallet – to answer my question in the blog title, maybe a ‘big’ signing(s) could make a difference.

But can you imagine a Wenger Arsenal side, even with Higuain and perhaps another stellar new name, once more going to Man U, Man City or Chelsea with a genuine expectation (not hope) of winning? I can’t and that’s why, sadly, the one transfer I was getting genuinely excited about was seeing Arsene replaced. I’d like to see us take a different approach to solving the same familiar problems and acknowledge that playing with more power and pace does not immediately make you a worshipper at Fat Sam’s anti-football alter.