To Russia We Go…
Friday was alive with buzz as the quarter final draw for both the Europa League and Champions League informed the travel plans of teams all over Europe for April. For Arsenal, they will be relieved to avoid drawing the favourites of the competition, Atletico Madrid, but their opponent, CSKA Moscow presents its own logistical challenges. Traveling fans will be looking for peaceful entry into Russia at a moment of extreme political tension between the increasingly brazen Russian Federation and Britain and her allies, and have already been told to practice extreme caution when in the Russian capital. CSKA Moscow themselves possesses one of the most passionate supporter groups in a country full of them, and police will be on high alert for the first leg in London on 5 April when the expected ~4000 fans arrive. The Gunners should be able to outclass their Russian opponents over 2 legs, but fans will recall their last meeting in 2006 when Arsenal squandered several chances and ended up drawing 0-0.
Don’t Drink The Tea
Adding further intrigue to Arsenal’s quarter final matchup with CSKA, especially given the recent political tensions and recent state-sanctioned poisoning of a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, is what happened the last time these two teams met at the Emirates Stadium. At the same time in 2006, former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko had met with Russian national and suspected murderer Andrei Lugovoi at the Millenium Hotel in London mere hours before the match, where he was allegedly given tea laced with the radioactive isotope polonium 210. Litvinenko would later die an excruciating death as a result of acute radiation poisoning while Lugovoi would attend the match that night. Traces of the isotope were later found at the stadium, and there was a world wide response to the hateful attack on British soil by a Russian operative. All eyes will be on both legs of the match, and all of England, to say nothing of Arsenal supporters, will breathe a sigh of relief if the tie goes off without incident.
Welbeck Walloped By Rabid Media For Perceived Dive
The hypocrisy of the national media is once again on display after Danny Welbeck’s penalty on Thursday night against Milan. The English striker, who was only just called up to the national team, has no history of diving in his career, but that hasn’t stopped many in the press and on social media to indict him in the strongest of terms. During the moment in question, Welbeck was in free on goal when Milan left back Ricardo Rodriguez streaked in from the side and put a hand around Welbeck’s shoulder and clipped his side. This action caused Welbeck to lose his balance, tumbling to the turf and losing the ball. After a brief pause in the action and a consultation with the linesman and the 4th official, the referee pointed to the spot for the penalty, which was well taken by Welbeck.
Former players and members of the media, who clearly remember the vehemence with which Arsenal fans have condemned the frequent and obvious diving of Tottenham players this season, especially Dele Alli, and have wasted no time in offering their biased opinions. Despite many jumping through hoops to try and justify the Spurs’ antics, which were all but sanctioned by an indifferent Mauricio Pochettino, they tore into Welbeck like a piece of meat, calling for retrospective action, condemning him as a cheat and mocking Arsenal fans for defending his actions. John Cross of the Mirror, who has created more buzz recently for his blatant triggering of Arsenal fans on social media than he has for any noteworthy, relevant reporting, has been particularly self-righteous in his critique of the situation. Whether you believe Danny Welbeck embellished his fall or not, the fact remains that Rodriguez made no play whatsoever for the ball and instead looked to hinder the progress of Welbeck toward goal. The contact may have been minimal and Welbeck’s reaction dramatic, but by the letter of the law, that was quite simply a penalty.
Wilshere, Ramsey Lukewarm On Contract Status
Arsenal fans have largely been satisfied with how the contract drama of last summer with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez has turned out, with the former looking motivated and as influential as ever, while the latter has seen his reputation take a hit after forcing his move to Manchester United but still playing well below the level of player the Red Devils’ supporters expected to be getting (despite being warned by Arsenal fans who had grown tired of his antics and selfish play). However, they now face 2 more negotiations with players that have been cornerstones of this Arsenal team for more than half a decade, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey.
While many were hoping the club had learned their lesson about dragging these negotiations out, it appears the news is far from encouraging on that front. Wilshere has been quoted recently as sounding less optimistic about a deal coming together, with the club still reportedly offering him fresh terms that include reduced wages but a healthy dose of incentives to raise its value should he remain healthy and productive. Ramsey meanwhile stated recently that he had the impression his contract was further down on the list of the club’s priorities. Both players are undeniably talented, with Ramsey in particular having a brilliant season, but they also have both dealt with extensive injury histories, and the club could be hesitant to commit too much of their already tight wage bill to the midfield duo.
Oh the Rumours… the Good, the Bad and the Fanstasy
Despite the transfer window being still months away, it hasn’t stopped speculation from building around some of the biggest names in Europe. One of the most logical seems to be Lyon’s Nabil Fekir, who has been tearing up Ligue 1 this year and has 16 goals and 6 assists in all competitions. He had developed a brilliant partnership with Alexandre Lacazette while he was still with the French club, and they could look to reunite once again at Arsenal, who are said to be interested in Fekir, who is reportedly valued around £45 million.
Switching to the ridiculous, the ever farcical Don Balon has come out with a story claiming that Arsenal have tabled a bid for former Tottenham and current Real Madrid Star Luka Modric. Thought to be around £53 million, the bid would be a nonsensical move for the Gunners, who though they may be in the market for midfield help, are not likely to turn towards a 32 year old player who costs that much in fee and wages. As a publication that loved to float out the Karim Benzema to Arsenal rumours whenever they needed to fill space, their reporting should be taken with a massive grain of salt, as their motive is simply to help Real Madrid get the best deal they can for a player they are ready to move on from this summer.
Finally, Arsenal fans will head into the weekend with a dream target on their minds after Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele spoke publicly about how much he enjoyed playing with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Dortmund. The comment was interpreted by many fans as a sort of “come and get me” plea to the Gunners, but despite struggling with injuries and talented competition at the Nou Camp, it seems unlikely that Arsenal would come up with the £100m+ it would take to pry the young Frenchman away. However, at just 20 years old, he remains one of the brightest talents in world football, and Arsene Wenger has maintained a longstanding interest in the player. Consider this one a dream, but one that would still somehow make perfect sense.