Can Clarence Seedorf Be The Key Signing For Arsenal?

May 3, 2011

I don’t normally spend much time talking about transfers so this is somewhat of an unusual post. There have been some thoughts in my mind for a while and they clicked in place when I saw the news that Clarence Seedorf is going to be a free agent in the summer.

In the Arsenalsphere, countless hours and column inches have been devoted to the discussion on leadership, experience, and mentality issues. Most fans, even positive supporters with complete faith in Wenger, seem to agree that the Gunners are missing something in this department.

I don’t share the sweeping criticisms that there is no winning mentality in this squad or that there are no leaders among this relatively young group but I do agree there is scope for improvement on all fronts, viz. leadership, experience of winning big trophies, and strong mentality.

It is a complex issue and I wasn’t able to see how signing one or two players could solve everything. I still don’t see a complete or guaranteed-to-work solution but someone like Seedorf might go a long way in balancing this squad.

Before I expand on this I acknowledge that the Dutchman is past his heyday and will certainly not be seen as a marquee signing. Those who believe quality players can only be signed with big money (there are plenty of such people around and sadly some of them are quite vocal gooners) will undoubtedly vilify the manager for another ‘cheap/free signing’. But if we accept that players must be signed based on the needs of the squad and not of the fans, and that quality is not always proportional to the amount of money paid, then the acquisition of Seedorf could make a lot of sense.

Serious fans of the game know the Dutchman’s resume so I won’t repeat it. I think the biggest gain for Arsenal will be that of a player who knows how to win big trophies on a consistent basis. We must not forget this squad has some extremely talented players and if someone has to come in a leadership role that person would have to have unquestionable credentials. I’m pretty certain every member of the squad including the likes of RvP, Cesc, Nasri, and others will show natural respect towards the ex-Real Madrid midfielder.

The same cannot be said for the overwhelming majority amongst the gazillion names that are bandied about when fans have a discussion on internet forums and blogs.

The second aspect about Seedorf that I like is that not only is he a winner, he is an exceptionally good footballer who will fit into the Arsenal style seamlessly. the Dutchman can also act as a catalyst to accelerate the development of guys like Wilshere and Ramsey. The youngsters are top players right now but imagine a stage where the two of them can just own the midfield against any opposition! It’s a very realistic proposition but will take a great deal of work from the duo and having a mentor who’s been there and done that will do them no harm.

An interesting point that has been mentioned during the past few months is that Arsenal need players with a defensive mindset. It took me a while to completely understand the notion but now I fully agree with it. Seedorf is an attacking midfielder with a highly technical game. But he has played in the Italian league for a long time and we can see his defensive intelligence. Of course, he won’t be a substitute for a new No. 2/defence coach but Arsenal have quite a few players of similar ilk and they can all benefit from his experience. Subtle improvements in positioning, ball retention, composure, controlling the tempo of the game, etc. can make a massive impact on the results and points tally at the end of the season.

Another advantage with Seedorf is that he will understand that he won’t be first choice or a regular starter. Cesc, Song, Wilshere, Ramsey, and Diaby will all need games. In that regard, I’m convinced someone like the four time Champions League winner will be happy to play the kind of role Scholes and Giggs play at United. He can start some games based on the squad’s fitness situation and can also come in towards the end of matches to help the team hold on to leads. For him personally it would be a slightly different challenge but one that he should relish.

This won’t adversely impact the development of the younger players as they can learn from watching him in training and during crunch moments in certain games.

I haven’t followed his career closely but the highly decorated midfielder seems like a true professional with excellent work ethic. His fitness too has been exceptional throughout the course of his career and physically he seems strong enough for the Premier League considering he won’t be playing full games every three days.

Obviously, there is no guarantee that such a move will work out to Arsenal’s advantage to the extent of landing a few trophies in the cabinet. I am not saying he is the only player Arsenal need or that anyone else won’t work. However, considering various factors mentioned above, this would seem like a valuable acquisition with very little risk and a high probability of positive contribution to the squad in more ways than one.

Can Clarence Seedorf be the key signing for Arsenal?

PFA Awards Disappointing + Mourinho Learns From Arsene + Original Cesc Interview

April 19, 2011

I want to start with a mention of the PFA awards and the Team of the Year. Congratulations to Wilshere for picking up the Young Player of the Year award, and deservedly so. Gareth Bale was chosen as the Player of the Year and Nasri came in second. And in case you haven’t seen it, the team of the year is,

Van der Saar – Sagna, Vidic, Kompany, Cole – Nani, Nasri, Wilshere, Bale – Tevez, Berbatov.

Rather uninspiring if I may say so. One thing that struck me about this seasons list, and by extension the performances of the teams, is that none of the players really stood out. Last year Rooney, Cesc, and Drogba had truly great seasons. I don’t think the same can be said for the likes of Nasri or Bale who have been good in patches but have had relatively little impact in terms of goals, assists, or match winning contributions when compared to their counterparts from last year.

Even looking at the whole team, it’s difficult to say anyone apart from Nani or Wilshere would have gotten into last year’s selection. So have all these players suddenly dropped their performance levels? Has the league got that much tougher this season? Has this season been more about grinding out results than mesmerizing displays?

I don’t know the exact reasons for this change but one thing is for sure, when any team’s best player doesn’t perform at his peak the performances of the whole team suffer. In that sense it is safe to say the top three teams have been a little below par this year, for different reasons though. Rooney has been moved to a different position where he is more useful to the balance of the side but does not have enough personal stats to show for it. Cesc has struggled with injuries while Drogba was down with Malaria and more recently Torresitis (an affliction where a good player cannot get enough games/starts because a more expensive one who plays the same position is in the squad).

One interesting question that arises is – Has Wenger been justified in promoting Wilshere rather than breaking the bank on Yaya Toure as many fans wanted?

The smaller teams have certainly improved a lot. This could have led to lesser space in attacking areas, better organization and marking, more competitive games, and consequently fewer chances for any individual to truly stand out. I don’t think this is the sole or main reason for the distinctly lower quality individual efforts but it is certainly a crucial factor.

Moving on to Spain, I was watching the El Classico last weekend and noticed something interesting. Real Madrid really had a go at Barcelona in the final 15-20 minutes and almost stole a win. This might never come out but I am fairly certain Mourinho saw the way Arsenal troubled Guardiola’s side and has adapted his tactics to follow in Wenger’s path.

Of course, we will know more in the coming days as there are three more Classicos to play. Many might not understand this or believe it but to me it is a great testament to Wenger’s tactical acumen that an evil genius like Jose is copying his approach as he can’t really deploy the Inter style at Madrid. Kudos to the Special One too for being such a quick learner.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Wenger is a tactical genius (regular readers know my reservations on this topic) but it is certain that Arsene is not a tactically clueless idiot as some would have you believe. As always the truth is somewhere in between. More on this topic at some other time.

While we are still in Spain, I wanted to share a couple of links from the Don Balon site. These look like the original interview transcripts but I am not sure. Can someone who knows Spanish please provide a better, more in keeping with the tone and context, translation than the one we have seen in the English media.

On this link you will see the interview about the need for Arsenal to choose between winning and training. On this one Cesc talks about the Champions League tie, his performance, and injury. I’d really love a good translation of the second one as it seems very relevant and is quite a short one. Unfortunately, Google translate didn’t do a very good job.

I’d also like to mention that fans should not fall for the sensationalism of the tabloids or the doom mongers. Cesc is an honest person and has given his genuine opinion. It is not an ultimatum to the club and I don’t think he is trying to talk his way out. It wasn’t the best thing to say but I have said this about Arsene and the players on more than one occasion – they don’t know how to play the media and often give intelligent answers that come to bite them in the backside because the words are twisted way out of context.

Nobody including Wenger denies that there is plenty of room for improvement at Arsenal. I don’t want to get into this discussion right now, it’s a never ending argument so will leave it for the summer. But we must respect Fabregas for saying what he believes to be true. We can criticize him for the timing and perhaps a little lack of tact but it’s harsh to say he is sulking or trying to force his way out. In fact, if anything, it seems he is mentally preparing himself for the long haul.

Finally, I wanted to mention something about the last article and the responses. One chap left ten or more anti-Wenger replies under different names. I just saw them this morning and have since removed them. I don’t know how people find the time and energy to write so many pointless comments but it’s not difficult to see why many Gooners consider such commentators to be Spuds in disguise. From now on if I believe that the same person is leaving abusive comments without any real contribution I will delete the comments without any explanation.

I have no problems with those who disagree with the manager, the board, or any other part of the club. I am also quite happy to allow comments that don’t concur with my opinion. But I will not tolerate an abusive person pretending to be ten people while not making a single meaningful effort to make a point.

Those fans who genuinely support the club should also remember that if it seems there are hundreds of people against the club and Wenger, it is quite likely to be a handful of disgruntled idiots and some Spud trolls polluting the sanctity of the Arsenalsphere.

That’s it for now, I’ll do the NLD preview a little later in the day.

Arshavin Explains His Lack Of Form

January 27, 2011

Against Ipswich, Arshavin picked up two assists. Here is what he said of his own performance,

It wasn’t a supermatch for me. But I’m satisfied with the result. I’m glad that I was useful to the squad.

I don’t think he could have said it any better even with the help of the best PR agents in the world. We all saw he didn’t have a great game. But he made a vital contribution. Both aspects are well covered with minimum words. That’s one of the things I love about Arshavin, his intelligence is not limited to on-field decision making.

More interestingly, I want to discuss this interview given by Arshavin. I couldn’t understand when, where, or to whom this interview was given but I liked the way he analysed his own game.

Speaking about his speed Arshavin said,

I do not have enough acceleration. From the very start of this season I felt that I’m fast enough only in short bursts.

I don’t know why. I still feel the same. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Furthermore he talks about his form and why it’s not working well for him,

When you are absolutely all right, you do not even think about what you are ­doing in certain situations. It all happens automatically.

But now when I get the ball, I begin to think, ‘Should I out-trick an opponent? Will I lose the ball?’ I am afraid of taking the initiative.

When such thoughts appear, your final decision as a rule turns out to be wrong and you waste a lot of opportunities.

I don’t have to explain those comments to anyone who has been following Arsenal’s games closely. And if you’ve played any sport, even at a decent amateur level, then you might have experienced this situation. I’ll be surprised if anyone can go years of playing without getting into this fix. You make one mistake, then while thinking about that you make another, soon the count rises, one loses belief, and mistrusts ones instincts. Once a doubt creeps in it can be a quick, self-propelling, negative spiral.

I guess this must have started when he missed some one-v-one opportunities in the earlier games. Over time it’s become a real form issue. Unfortunately, the fans haven’t really helped him get out of that rut.

Thankfully, Arshavin has been there and done that. He knows the way out.

I need to train and play. After a few good performances the courage and automatic decision-making are going to return.

Based on his last couple of performances we can be sure AA23 is trying hard.

I understand one complaint against Arshavin is that he is lazy or doesn’t work his socks off. That is an unfair and almost silly argument.

Different players have different physical levels and abilities. Song can run all day chasing players and making tackles. That’s his strength. He cannot score from an overhead scissors kick but the fans don’t boo him for that limitation, do they? Similarly, Theo can run at pace and terrorize defenders. That’s his skill. He cannot play keep ball when the team is under pressure. That’s not his game. We accept it.

Arshavin’s is not in the same League as Song or Sagna when it comes to fitness. That’s his weakness. Even when he was on top form he wasn’t a guy who chased back to help the full-back. But the fans accepted it because he delivered at the other end.

Now when he is having a rough time his weakness seems like a burden. In fact it is a burden. But it’s a burden that the team must, at times, carry. That’s the only way to get him back to the spectacular form that we know he is capable of.

Based on what I have seen on the pitch in the last two games the Russian has played and on those quotes above, I’m fairly certain Arshavin is trying his level best to perform. I’m also convinced that Arsene understands his situation. Le Boss must have seen all his top players go through such phases. He also knows Arshavin needs patience and support to get back to his best. We can see Wenger’s giving him that in an intelligent manner by keeping him out of the pressure games of the League and playing him against weaker teams.

I’m sure most fans who’ve been supporting the club for a long time have seen plenty of players go through such phases. Sadly, some fans tend to forget. It’s their weakness!

I think this process of getting back into form can be accelerated if the fans get behind the player. At the very least the supporters can do their part by avoiding the moans and groans. It’s up to the fans to decide whether they want a symbiotic or parasitic relationship. Arshavin is a huge talent and Arsenal will need him at his best very soon.