“Where next?” is the question on the lips of the entire Gooner Nation at the moment. Well, to state the blindingly obvious, Chelsea at home on Sunday followed by a trip to Old Trafford and what will now be the end of the season for us – home to Stoke City.
It might sound completely mad at the moment but I think we’ve got to go for it big-style against Chelsea. It’s extremely unlikely we can overtake them for third spot. It’s not in our hands. If we can manage to get all three points on Sunday then we’ll give ourselves a reason to go up to Old Trafford and go for it again though. The chance is super-slim but it is there.
If United win the Manchester derby on Sunday and their game in hand away to Wigan Athletic on Wednesday night, they could be looking for one point to nail on the defence of their League title against us. The travelling Gooners are already due for a boat-load from the home fans after last Tuesday. They’ve also been looking for pay-back for that Manchester May night in 2002 when, “WE WON THE LEAGUE, AT OLD TRAFFORD! WE WON THE LEAGUE AT OLD TRAFFORD!” on the way to the club’s third Double.
We could definitely do without having them being crowned as defending League champions against us as well as the Champions League fiasco. Let’s try to rain on their championship parade for at least a week. Pride and self-respect demands no less. If United don’t pick up six points against Citeh and the Pie-Eaters, then the pressure could be back on them, assuming Liverpool don’t shoot themselves in the foot and keep tucked in behind them with a win at Upton Park tomorrow.
Part of the answer to “where next?” has been provided by the welcome news that Theo Walcott has signed a new long-term contract. Good. Theo is still far from the finished article but he has come on a ton in the last year or so – basically since that fabulous run and pass at Anfield last March. Unfortunately that game turned out to be yet another night of Champions League agony for us. Oh well.
Despite my view that we simply have to keep going in the League until it’s mathematically impossible for us to finish third, the likely outcome is fourth and a potentially difficult Champions League qualifying tie against a top rated team from France, Germany, Italy or Spain early in May. Lose that and we’ll drop into the Europa League, née the UEFA Cup. This would be a BIG blow financially to the club. We’d really have to pull our horns in financially. For this season’s run to the Champions League semi-finals we will have received something like €27 million (£24.545 million or so) from UEFA, around €4 million more than last season, plus one further Category A home gate than last season, worth over £3 million. Allied to our run to the FA Cup semi-finals and getting to the Carling Cup quarter-finals, we should be comfortably ahead of budget for gate receipts, although merchandising and hospitality we can expect to be substantially down. All in all though there should be money available in the transfer budget, even with Andrey Arshavin’s signing in the winter window. It would appear that the club may well not take a chance on Tomáš Rosický returning to fitness and let his contract expire this summer. Much as I like Tomáš as a player I think this would be prudent, unless he is prepared to agree a “pay for play” deal which protects our down-side risk in keeping him on.
If there were any good prospect of him returning to full fitness I’d definitely keep him. If I were the club though, I’d want some robust assurances and guarantees from the medical experts before committing ourselves.
There aren’t too many who will put in a good word for Emmanuel Adebayor. I’m not one of them. I was a fan for a good while after he first came to us. His recent performances and very public display of not so under the table footsy with Milan means he can go for my money. Let him find out for himself if the grass is really greener, as all too many who have left Arsenal have discovered. I can forgive any player poor form if they’re giving it their all in training and on the pitch. By that I don’t mean just working hard physically, but also concentrating and applying themselves mentally. Ade clearly hasn’t had his head in the game for a while now.
I would only let him go though if we can get a suitable replacement. With Robin van Persie I’d also, as with Tomáš Rosický, want to have a long talk with the club medical team and consultants. There’s no doubt that he’s a fine player technically when he’s fit and on form. His ability to play 45-50 games in a successful season does appear to be in doubt though. I’d make any new offer to him lucrative but heavily incentivised on appearances and trophies/league position. If that didn’t suit him I’d look for offers.
I’ve already said in my last blog every player should have a one-to-one interview with Arsčne Wenger. Any player who isn’t fully committed to Arsenal should be allowed to leave if they want to, as soon as suitable replacements can be identified.
On the management and coaching side I think we do need to look at bringing in a bright, intelligent coach to act as a sounding board and complement to Arsčne Wenger. I read an interesting piece by Sam Wallace in The Independent this week. It suggested that a good part of Old Red Nose’s success as a manager has been picking a succession of good coaches to work under him and provide another perspective. Arsčne of course has Pat Rice and Boro Primorac. Pat Rice is an Arsenal legend as a player, coach and assistant manager. Primorac came to the club with Wenger from Grampus Eight in Japan where they worked together. The Bosnian previously played and managed in France and was an international-class centre-back, captaining the pre break-up Yugoslavia.
There’s absolutely no doubt who is in charge at Old Trafford. That doesn’t mean that Ferguson, like any leader, doesn’t benefit from quality advice.  We clearly need somebody who can work on defensive set pieces. Given the style we play we’re always going to be more open than other teams. That doesn’t mean we can’t address clear vulnerabilities to the ball in the air up the middle and from the wings. I hope Arsčne will consider bringing in somebody to look at this weakness.
I think our priorities on the transfer market should be a world-class centre half, goalkeeper and left-winger/midfield. We could also find use for another defensive central midfielder. We have a lot of very promising young players in the youth team and reserves. Let’s have a long look at them and how they might develop before we go too mad on the transfer market. We do need some more experienced players to get the blend we’re missing at the moment though. Andrey Arshavin was a good start. I might even take a punt on a player like Fabio Cannavaro, an oldie now I know and apparently surplus to requirements at Real Madrid, but I’ve admired him for years. He might be just what we want for a season or two.
Attracting and retaining overseas players isn’t going to be as easy as it was with the current weakness of Sterling and the new fifty percent uppe r tax rate. We might be as well having a look at what’s available closer to home.
Off the pitch, the club will want to see how the remainder of the Premier League broadcasting deals pan out before making too many long-term plans. There are constant reports that Setanta, which has one of the six packages of League games in the new domestic deal to start in 2010/11 is in trouble. The overseas rights have yet to be concluded too. We don’t want to be making commitments we’re not going to be able to afford.
Executive box and Club seat renewals must also be a worry. None of this is helped by the struggle for ownership and control of the club. I’m VERY worried about paralysis creeping in while Danny Fiszman, Stan Kroenke, Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith and Alisher Usmanov’s Red & White Holdings duck and weave around each other.  Red & White’s referral of the Kroenke/Fiszman share deal couldn’t have been worse timed, coming just before the Champions League semi-final return leg.
Both the current Culture, Media & Sport Minister Andy Burnham and his predecessor James Purnell have made it clear they want to see supporters represented on the board of every professional club. The Premier League and its clubs have ignored this thus far.
Supporter-directors aren’t without their problems. Once appointed to the board of a public limited company a director has legal duties to the shareholders. A supporter-director would be constrained by the requirements of commercial confidentiality. He or she simply wouldn’t be brought inside the decision making if the other directors think every passing thought or idea they raise is going to be out in the blogosphere within the hour.
All that understood however this is an idea worth pursuing. I for one would be a LOT happier if one of the excellent people I know from the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust were on the club board, looking at issues from a paying fans’ point of view.
That’s it for today.
Keep the faith!