Could there be a more Arsenal way of lifting a trophy than that? In the oddity that is preseason, non-competitive cup competition, the Gunners got to lift a second trophy in as many weeks without winning in 90 minutes. Of course, they managed to outdo their own lukewarm achievement by receiving winners medals in the Emirates Cup after losing 2-1 to a very competent Sevilla side. Like I said, some real Banter Era level stuff here folks.
Of course, there were some real strides made in the home side’s losing (or winning? Which side of that did we land on again?) effort, as Joe Willock seems to be the youngster destined for a breakthrough into some well-earned minutes in the League Cup and perhaps against the minnows of the Europa League as well. Elsewhere in the squad, it remains clear that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is becoming a two-footed beast out there, factoring into lethal attacks down both flanks.
Despite too many shots being sent par l’avion, even drawing hearty chuckles from Arsene Wenger and Steve Bould on a particularly rubbish Hector Bellerin chance, it was new boy and record signing Alexandre Lacazette that insured the Gunners would not be blanked on the score sheet. His smooth finish came off of a beautiful dribble and cross from the Ox and a scuffed effort from Danny Welbeck, and received an expected roar from the eager Emirates crowd. Welbeck himself looked quick, and he may be one of the longest striders at full bore in Europe
With the next challenge for Arsenal coming in the Community Shield against Chelsea on August 6, both the fans’ and the team’s attentions should turn toward in-season fitness levels and getting those pending-in-private transfer negotiations over the line. It is in this regard that already the Gunners and their newly augmented staff seem to have stalled in the eyes of some fans, many of whom remember all too well suffering at the start of the last Premier League campaign. Even the blatant need for the Shkodran Mustafi move would almost fail to prevent the deal from being caught in a transfer window slamming shut, as Valencia parlayed the shambolic Arsenal early season defence into excellent financial leverage for themselves.
Indeed, if this window was supposed to bring an element of clarity and reassurance to Gooners, we have likely fallen significantly short of the mark. If any other year of the last decade had seen Wenger reel in a Bundesliga Team of the Season quality fullback and an, arguably, word class number 9, fans would be elated. But that was before Pep happened, for clarity can surely be found in this: he is trying to take over the football universe, and he is doing so on a rocket ship built of Emirati dirham, about 25 fullbacks, and an army of your best English youth players. With Antonio Conte exhibiting similar ruthlessness in his approach to bettering his side, the Gunners plainly still have much work to do.
And so Arsenal press on into August, burdened not only by the weight of their fans’ expectations, but the rapid successes of their rivals on the open market as well. Should the Alexis Sanchez rumours be true (more on that in a moment), the scales will fall even further out of balance, leaving Arsenal with a consistent Europa League reality instead of a temporary one. But of course there is still time, and as we all have come to know too well, Arsene is loathe to spend a penny more than he has to. Such deeply ingrained frugality takes time to overcome. He is working on it. I think.
Whatever happened to the supposed casting away of the dead wood this summer? It seemed that, with a full squad before any new signings, Arsenal would be looking to turn over some of the underperforming bit-part players on starting XI wages inflating their weekly bills to Chelsea-esque levels. But alas, even with the tragic case of Lucas Perez and the nearly 2 solid metres of French indifference, Mathieu Debuchy still on the books (Not to mention the totally flatlined career of Kieran Gibbs), questions must be asked.
One notable takeaway from this summer is Arsene Wenger’s apparent desire to find a place of justified value in the squad for Mohammed Elneny. A ball of bounding and loping energy, and rarely spotted in team media releases without a good natured smile on his face, Mo clearly appreciates the privilege of being a Gunner, and that is the sort of commitment to the club’s values that Arsene Wenger loves in a player. For what it is worth, I am hoping that this attempt to turn him into an ‘Egyptian Mascherano’ works out. Aside from keeping a high character player in the squad, it would allow Wenger the flexibility to tinker with his backline as the situation might dictate.
The Annual Dragging of the Feet
As in the Mustafi transfer last year, there again appears to be a player eternally on the verge of signing for the Gunners, only to see it drag on through the summer: Thomas Lemar. As Chelsea learned, played out in the most dramatic of terms in the British sporting press, taking too long in negotiations allows another team to steal the punch. It has now been rumoured that Liverpool could steal Lemar from the N5, despite not being in contact with Monaco yet about his services. It is believed that Liverpool MIGHT make a run at him if Philip Coutinho MAYBE completes an £80 million move to Barcelona to ease the POSSIBLE departure of Neymar to PSG (such definitive reporting courtesy of a colourful British daily that shall remain nameless).
If that giant bundle of hypothetical isn’t scary enough, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still being reported to want out of the club, with Chelsea looking to make him one of five (!) more signings. The Ox, as the report goes, is looking for playing time assurances from Arsenal that he just can’t seem to extract from his manager. How he plans on receiving such guarantees at a club fresh off a Premier League title and with an equally strong starting XI is not explained, but what is for certain, according to this report, is that the money generated from his sale would be used to buy both Lemar AND Riyad Mahrez. Theo Walcott would be thrilled, I’m sure, drowning as he is in more time on the pitch than he could ever want…
Ross Barkley is still finding himself linked to an Arsenal move, with Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham also reportedly interested. Even if Arsenal didn’t already have plenty of what Barkley can offer them in the side already, even the far more reasonable quoted price of £30 million is far too much for a player of such a flawed make up in this Monger’s humble view. Luckily it seems that Daniel Levy could beat the Gunner’s to the punch, as the ludicrous £50 million, homegrown inflated fee of a bang average Kyle Walker has potentiated the untangling of the stingy owner’s purse strings. In a football world where creativity costs about as much as feeding a small nation, Ross Barkley could finally make the small skip up into a top 6 side on the English stage.
Barcelona wants Mesut Ozil, or so goes another report, seemingly eager to tack on to a world of hypotheticals in which Neymar leaves, and replacement priority number one, Philippe Coutinho turns down the Blaugrana for remaining the centrepiece of Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool side. The price is reportedly £53 million, and if true (it isn’t), then so much for only one of your stars drawing interest from other teams, eh? In classic column inch filler tradition, expect this rumour to fall into the pit of unlikelihood from which it came in short order. Still would love to see him sign that contract he reportedly has in front of him right now. The smiles and the jokes of a released looking Ozil this summer seem to point in a positive direction for the team though.
Alexis Sanchez is sick. No really, Arsene said so, presumably comfortable with the Chilean’s texted sick note. The rumours around the player continue to swirl as they have for a year now, and surely the inopportune timing of his malady will not dispel any of the stories. Wenger is still claiming his talisman goes nowhere this summer, despite common perception dictating otherwise.
Finally, the rumoured sale of Jean-Michael Seri from Nice to Arsenal is remaining a possibility in the eyes of many. A powerful and well-rounded customer in the centre of the park, Seri is certainly a good depth option for the Gunners, however, should Aaron Ramsey continue to better his blossoming partnership with Granit Xhaka and stay healthy this season (admittedly a lot to ask of the Welshman traditionally) I am not sure there is a place to be had in the Gunner’s squad that would satisfy both the player and his rumoured £36 million price tag. For now he goes in the maybe column, as he is a luxury that the Gunner’s could decide they value sufficiently to pull the trigger. Watch this space.
A Programming Note
A quick note to the eagle eyed reader: should you notice a decided upswing in quality come this week’s Midweek Memo, it will be thanks to the entirely competent and safe hands that I leave you in: fellow Insider, Lee Spencer of Daily Bulletin repute. He has graciously agreed to try and elevate my column for me as I lose myself in the depths of the great northern woods of America for a week. I beg you not become too attached to my replacement, as barring a wrong turn somewhere on the trail, normal service shall resume with next week’s Transfer Monger. With any luck, there will be much positive Arsenal news for us to discuss, and as always, never be afraid to let us know what you think!