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Monday, 29 July 2013

Arsenal's Pre-Season Asia Tour - Review

For the past two weeks Arsenal have been in the heart of Asia for the first leg of their pre-season friendlies. The team have spent their time training and meeting fans from across the globe (including this fella) in order to increase the club's visibility worldwide. The four games played all ended in victory for the Gunners: a 7-0 demolition of the Indonesia Dream Team and a 7-1 rout of Vietnam, followed by the more modest results of a 3-1 win over Wenger's old team Nagoya Grampus before edging past Urawa Red Diamonds 2-1 on Monday.

Arsenal 19-3 Asia. Not a bad aggregate. These were of course all teams that should have posed no real threat but on the whole Wenger will be pleased with the energy and determination the team has shown in these fixtures. The Emirates Cup begins on Saturday and this will be a more solid test of how the team will look in the new season, with tougher competition coming from Napoli and Galatasaray before a final friendly against Manchester City.

Throughout their tour the Arsenal players have largely looked fit and disciplined and some great attacking football has been exhibited by both established names such as Theo Walcott and Alex Oxelade-Chamberlain as well as youngsters hoping to get a chance in the first team this year including Chuba Akpom and Serge Gnabry. Olivier Giroud looks like he is striving to hit the ground running this August and was top scorer of the tour with a total of six goals. Akpom gave him a run for his money, notching four goals along the way.

Selection-wise it seems as though Wenger will start the season with Fabianski, who started three of the four games, as his first choice keeper. The need to add a central defender to the squad has been highlighted by the injury to Thomas Vermaelen (who Wenger has insisted will remain club captain next term despite falling behind Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in the pecking order).

Pre-season is not always an accurate indicator of how the season will pan out but Arsenal fans will be pleased to hear that Manchester United have so far lost two, drawn one and won just one of their own July fixtures. City have also lost two of their initial games. Arsenal also in theory have an easier start to the season than most, not having to face either Manchester side or Chelsea before November.

The transfer window continues to drag on and still nothing exciting looks to be heading Arsenal's way. I read an interesting blog about on this situation this morning which suggested that Arsenal need a boardroom shake-up in order to allow the club to take bolder leaps in the transfer market. Either way, though it would not be the end of the world to start the campaign with this current squad, a few injuries in the opening months could seriously damage Arsenal's season if they don't make one or two signings. On the pitch then things are looking good whilst off it speculation remains the main ingredient.

There are three weeks until the Gunners kick of their 88th consecutive season in the top flight of English football. Let's hope it's a good one.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Should Arsenal fans accept Suarez?

Following two months off after pledging not to post again until some concrete news involving Arsenal emerged, I have nonetheless decided to come out of the woodwork to comment on what seems to be the biggest Arsenal-related issue at the moment.

It has been a summer of frustration so far, with none of Wenger's supposed £70 million transfer kitty being broken into as yet. The talk has largely been positive in my eyes. A strengthening to the team's spine seems to be the most pressing issue and in a world without agents and complications, bringing in Ashley Williams at centre-back, Maroune Fellaini at centre-mid and Gonzalo Higuain at centre-forward would be both feasible and (just) within the budget. There has presumably been enough space made within the wage structure following the departures of Denilson, Arshavin, Squillaci, Santos and Mannone.

But for whatever reasons no moves have yet been made. Two weeks ago it emerged that Arsenal, seemingly out of frustration had tabled a bid for Luis Suarez. This initially seemed more of a statement than an indicator of genuine interest but today it has been reported that Wenger has upped his bid to £35 million plus add-ons.

This has led to a flurry of twitter-talk and some angry exchanges between Arsenal bloggers and commentators about whether a Suarez deal will be made and, importantly, how the fans should feel about it. After reading a lot of interesting and passionate opinions, I couldn't resist throwing my own out there.

Many of the bloggers that I respect and frequently read have been broadly arguing that were Suarez to join the club, they and that most of Arsenal's supporters would put aside whatever criticisms they may have harboured and accept him. A recent poll suggested a slim majority of fans agree. It seems that people are able to swallow their reservations if a player is talented enough. This sounds to me like desperation from fans deprived of silverware.

Personally, I reserve the right not to want a player like Luis Suarez at my football club. Of course he is a fantastic footballer, probably within the top three or five in England at the moment, but standing back from the excitement of attracting a top player like that, surely people can see that such a move would be unwise. One fan tweeted:

'I couldn't care less who plays for Arsenal as long as they win us games. That's their job and that's what they're supposed to do.'

This suggests that footballers should be immune from moral judgements because all that matters is their ability to play well and win games. This is the wrong way to think about sport. It also suggests that winning is everything and that any means necessary (for example cheating) justify the end. This is also (obviously) the wrong way to think about sport.

Why does it matter if a footballer is a racist and a cheat if they are good? Do you seriously need to ask? Modern footballers are not only role-models for a huge number of young people but they are also paid a ridiculous amount of money. Do we want to further embed the message that it's fine to misbehave if you're talented, rich and famous?

Yes, everyone makes mistakes and I'm not suggesting every player with points on their driving license be banned from the game but Suarez has repeatedly and unashamedly shown his true colours on a number of occasions. He admitted unapologetically to using his hand to prevent a goal at the World Cup finals. He dives. A lot. He has physically bitten an opposition player on the pitch. He has been found guilty of racially abusing an opposition player on the pitch. And these incidents continue to occur without fail, every season.

The argument that these matters are 'off the pitch' does not make sense as Suarez's controversial actions have always been on the field and have directly affected his team (most notably through his frequent bans). As if you needed more convincing, see how he is also now agitating for a move away from the club that have stood by him while he continuously damaged their age-old reputation.

Not to mention the fact that the fees and wages necessary to secure Suarez would be astronomical, particularly when we could strive for a player not too far behind in quality for a much more reasonable price (such as Higuain).

Signing any player who will score you a lot of goals will not always be a good move. This one in particular is extremely likely to damage the club's reputation, cause friction amongst the other players, divide the fans and cost a lot of money. The player would also spend a lot of time in the stands serving bans and at the end of it all most likely blame it on somebody else and consciously disrupt and undermine the club until he was allowed to leave.

And if he does join? I'd assume I'm in a majority in believing that my football team is worth more to me than one player, so I would still support Arsenal with Suarez in the team and I would probably celebrate his goals. But I could never see myself chanting his name as I have done for Bergkamp and Henry.

Winning is not everything and a club with Arsenal's reputation should carefully consider the consequences of such a transfer.