Will Olivier Giroud Break the #9 Curse?

It’s not exactly the Curse of the Billy Goat, or even the now-broken Curse of the Bambino, but there is a widely-held belief amongst Arsenal supporters that there is a current Curse of the #9 Shirt. For confirmation of the curse, look no farther than Arsenal’s current (for now) #9, Park Chu-Young. Frankly, there have been more Bigfoot sightings during the 2011-12 season than there were Park sightings in Arsenal’s first team. Before him was the promising, yet some say cursed, Eduardo, who suffered through an injury-plagued Arsenal career and never reached his potential with the club. If you go back in time you can read names such as Davor Suker, Francis Jeffers, Jose Antonio Reyes, and even a post-Bergkamp Paul Merson, but this is not an article about looking back, but rather one about the future.

Will Giroud wear the #9 shirt for Arsenal?

I don’t think it too much of a stretch to think that should the widely-reported but as-of-yet-unconfirmed signing of Olivier Giroud be confirmed by the club, he has a good chance of taking over the #9 shirt from Park, who seems likely to be on the way out. Even if Park stays, Giroud, the current France International #9, is much more likely to take the number 9 off Park’s back than he is to keep his current #17 at Montpellier by taking it from Alex Song (basically no way that’s happening). There is a third option, that Giroud could take a currently unassigned number, but I bet when he pulls on the Arsenal shirt it will have that possibly-cursed 9 on the back.

Giroud will be successful for Arsenal, where other strikers coming from the French Ligue 1 have not (see e.g. Chamakh, Marouane, & Park, Chu-Young) because his production in Ligue 1 far surpasses those of other recent strikers Wenger has brought from the French league to Arsenal. In this last season for Montpillier, Giroud was the joint-leading scorer in Ligue 1, putting away 21 goals in 36 appearances. That’s over one goal for every two appearances. By contrast, in his last season in Ligue 1 (2009-10), playing for Bordeaux, Chamakh scored only 10 goals in 38 appearances, and in the season before joining Arsenal (2010-11), Park scored only 12 goals in 33 appearances for Ligue 1 side Monaco. Giroud’s 21 goals in 2011-12 is only one shy of the combined totals of Chamakh and Park in their last seasons in Ligue 1. Accordingly, I expect his production for Arsenal to be similarly more impressive than have been those of Chamakh and Park. If he does dawn the #9 shirt for Arsenal, Giroud looks to have a great chance to break the curse and produce for Arsene Wenger in 2012-13.

Spend Stan Kroenke’s Money

It's time to WIN...BEN...STEIN'S...MONEY!

I don’t know how many of you watched late afternoon Comedy Central in the late 90s / early 2000s, but if, like me, you did, I imagine you also fondly remember Win Ben Stein’s Money. I’m not quite sure what it was about that show, maybe it was the mano-a-mano “Best of Ten Test of Knowledge” showdown, maybe it was a young Jimmy Kimmel as the host, or maybe it was just Mr. Stein’s dulcet tones, but that show was undeniably magic.

Among the things today that hold my attention as much as Win Ben Stein’s Money did in my younger years, is transfer talk. I know, I know: it’s all a bunch of speculative hooey, but it’s damn interesting speculative hooey, and I love it despite its lack of objective merit (much like The Real Housewives series – Lisa Vanderpump & Kandi Burruss are my homegirls!). That being the case, let’s lay down some ground rules and get to it.

Now that it looks like Stan Kroenke is out of the bidding for the Los Angeles Dodgers, what is he going to do with all that cash he was about to splash on a baseball team? I bet I can think of one of two little things coughMarioGoetzecough! Oh excuse me; I don’t know what came over me, coughEdenHazardcough! Oh dear, it’s happened again, I’m quite sorry. Now that I’m over that little coughing fit, let’s move forward.

For the purposes of this exercise we have to assume Arsenal will be in the Champions League in 2012/13, because without the Champions League to attract players to the club, and without the extra revenue, all of this is wishful thinking. So, if our baseline is somewhere around £50m that Arsenal has to spend, assuming Champions League revenues, let’s go ahead and figure out how best to spend it.

Lukas Podolski for Germany

Again, for the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to assume that the Podolski transfer is happening, and that the reported £11m transfer fee is his actual price. I honestly do believe this will get done, and while I can’t be sure on the money, it does sound about right to me, given that he is (I believe) going into the last year of his current deal. So, we’ve spent £11m of Stan Kroenke’s money, that still leaves us with about £39m. It’s a good start, but there’s much work to be done.

Jan Vertonghen plays for Belgium

There have also been quite a few stories circulating recently that Ajax’s Jan Vertonghen, who will almost assuredly leave for the Premier League this summer, would prefer Arsenal over City or Sp*rs (and who could blame him?). I’m on record as being 100% for this move, and what’s more, it would set up my dream conspiracy theory scenario, but more on that later. The real reason to spend Kroenke’s money on Vertonghen is that while our central defense may seem crowded with Vermaelen, Mertesacker, and Koscielny already established, YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH DEPTH. That’s my mantra, folks. What separates clubs who challenge for trophies from clubs who only challenge to make the Champions League? The answer is depth. Injuries in football are a given, and the clubs who have players ready to step in and keep the team rolling are the clubs who win silverware. Also, depth is necessary for realistically competing and going far in multiple competitions, and you have to be in the competitions to win them. So, if you’re bringing in Vertonghen, what is his price? I haven’t heard anything solid on that front yet, but I’m going to assume his price will be about £10m. It could be £9m or it could be £11m, but 10 is a nice round number, so let’s go with that.

Eden Hazard also plays for Belgium

With £11m for Podolski and £10m for Vertonghen, that still leaves £29m of Kroenke’s money to spend, and we wouldn’t want it to go to waste, so who else could Arsenal buy? Here’s where my conspiracy theory comes in… If Vertonghen really does sign for Arsenal, you had better believe Jan’s former Ajax and current Belgium teammate Thomas Vermaelen will have had a lot to do with bringing him to Arsenal. Do you see where I’m going yet? You will. So now Arsenal have two Belgium Internationals who are excited to be together, and want nothing more than to create a Belgian pipeline to The Arsenal. You know who else is a Belgium International? That’s right, Lille’s Eden Hazard. He’s young, he’s creative, he’s from the French League, and he’s a perfect candidate to play either on the wing or as a creative midfielder in Wenger’s system, and with two of his buddies from Belgium already at Arsenal, it would be a natural choice. Plus, Hazard’s former Lille teammate Gervinho is also at Arsenal, so between Vermaelen, Vertonghen, and Gervinho, Arsenal should feel like home for Hazard. Sure, City are going to offer him stupid money, but money isn’t everything, and since Hazard would feel more comfortable joining his fellow Belgians & former Ligue 1 teammate to play for The Professor at Arsenal, he just might pick Arsenal over ridiculous piles of cash (let’s call this move the “Anti-Nasri Maneuver”). Hazard won’t come cheap, so let’s just assume it takes most if not all of the remaining £29m to get him from Lille. It’s a lot, but hey, it’s not my money.

Matias Suarez playing for Anderlecht

Since we’re already dreaming, let’s add in one last piece to the puzzle, and in the process, make Arsenal younger and more dangerous on the wings. Tim from 7am Kickoff (@7amkickoff) wrote a fascinating article yesterday about Chu-Young Park’s value going up since his mandatory military service has been deferred until 2022, and how Arsenal could send him to Anderlecht in a swap for Mathias Suarez. If this is even a possibility, I say go for it. Park was only purchased as a backup to van Persie, and with the addition of Podolski, he becomes (if it’s possible) even more obsolete than he is currently. The young Argentinian would fit into Wenger’s system much better than Park does, because of his ability to play the wing or through the middle, so he could see time in the squad where Park has not. Again, YOU CAN’T HAVE TOO MUCH DEPTH. Who knows if it’s a realistic move, but if it is, it would be a major coup to get a young talent like Mathias Suarez out of our £4.5m investment in Park last Summer.

Lastly, I think it’s safe to assume that there will be some exits over the summer as well. I’ve got the likes of Bendtner, Arshavin, Denilson, Almunia, Carlos Vela, Squillaci, and Chamakh all tabbed as possible sales. I know Wenger won’t be able to unload all of these guys, but even if he only sells 4 or 5 of the 7 I listed, and even if he sells them at bargain basement prices (as that’s all they’re worth at this point), surely those sales will make the club another £10m or so, which Arsene can put together with whatever is left after the Hazard deal (if there is anything left) and go buy some 18 year-old kid we’ve never heard of, like he does every summer, and everyone’s happy. Arsene gets his youth investment, the fans get the Summer spending spree that they’ve always dreamed of, Stan and the Board get the fans off their backs for never spending, and Arsenal is picked pre-season as a serious contender for silverware. Win-win-win.

I know this won’t all happen, but I do think it is at least fiscally possible. I know Arsenal never spends this way, but just imagine if they did. I don’t expect the purse strings to finally loosen up this Summer, but let this article serve as an argument for what could happen if they did. Seriously, just look at the team Arsenal could put on the pitch in 2012/13 just by playing Spend Stan Kroenke’s Money:

GK: Szczesny, Fabianski

DEF: Sagna, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vertonghen, Gibbs, Santos, Djourou, Miquel

MIDS: Wilshere, Song, Hazard, Rosicky, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaby, Ramsey, Frimpong, Coquelin

WINGS: Walcott, Gervinho, Hazard, Podolski, M. Suarez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ryo

ST: van Persie, Podolski

That team is deep and scary at every position, and a legitimate title contender. In theory, it could happen. It won’t, but it could.

Continue to Pray For Muamba, that man is a fighter and an inspiration.

Reassessing the 2011/12 Gunners After Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City

Jamie McDonald / Getty Images

The Stoke City match wasn’t on live in my parts of the States, and didn’t show until 7:00 pm Monday night my time, so I feel like a traditional match reflection would be pretty worthless because of the timing. That being the case, I’m going to forego the match reflection and instead take a minute to ask (and answer) a few questions, and in so doing maybe reassess my expectations for this year’s version of The Arsenal.

Was the Stoke City match Gervinho’s breakout performance?

Arsenal supporters have been waiting all season for Gervinho to start producing goals consistently, and boy did he do that against Stoke on Sunday. Gervinho not only scored the opening goal, but he created both of van Persie’s late goals. Gervinho has consistently looked dangerous in his time with Arsenal, but that has not translated into goals as much as was expected. I look for his performance against Stoke to be a real confidence-builder for Gervinho, and will propel him into a consistently productive player for the Gunners.

Is Arshavin best suited coming off the bench?

The much-maligned Russian has struggled in his starts this season, but has been looked much better the last couple of times he came off the bench. I look for this to continue, with Walcott & Gervinho getting more of the starts, with Arshavin coming off the bench.

Can anyone stop Robin van Persie?

No.

How soon will Man City and/or Barcelona start tapping up our new captain, promising to double his wages?

If we all agree to not talk about it, and not even think about it, it won’t happen… right? (read as: soon)

Is Koscielny’s good form of late sustainable?

If I knew, I’d be more than just a want-to-be blogger in middle America. Let’s hope the answer is “yes.” It doesn’t hurt that Mertesacker appears to be settling in to the English game, but has his improved form raised Koscielny’s play, or vice-versa? Chicken and egg, my friends.

Will we ever see Park Chu-Young?

I would love to know what the deal with Park is. Chamakh hasn’t impressed in his last couple of chances, so it baffles me that Park has remained on the bench in all except Carling Cup matches. I thought this guy was supposed to be ready to step right into the squad. I would love to know what Arsene and his staff candidly thinks about Park’s skill. Is he not living up to what they expected from him?

Why can’t Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain crack the squad?

It’s not like Walcott has been setting the world on fire, surely there’s space for The OC to get into the squad. I don’t expect to see him in the Champions League, or against Chelsea this weekend, but with Premier League matches upcoming against West Brom, Norwich, Fulham, & Wigan, I’d be surprised not to see his name in the starting XI at least once during that four-match stretch.

With Liverpool stumbling, is 4th place back within reach?

I don’t see why not. Arsenal currently sit 7th in the table, and while I don’t think they’ll challenge the top 3, I do think Sp*rs, Liverpool, and certainly Newcastle will all falter enough for Arsenal to finish in the last Champions League spot as long as they don’t drop points in a bunch of matches they should win (you know, like the end of last season).

Jump To Conclusions: Arsenal’s New Signings

The Pet Rock was a great idea, the guy made a million dollars!

Arsene Wenger too had an idea once. That idea was to not overpay for players, and never buy anyone older than their mid-twenties. They called it: “The Arsenal Way.” As of late, that idea seems to have been jettisoned in favor of a “holy shit we have to buy now because I buggered the transfer period and now we might be screwed” strategy. Were Arsene’s signings really great ideas, like the Pet Rock; were they the worst ideas I’ve ever heard in my life; or were they somewhere in between? Arsenal have only played four matches since the transfer window closed, but that’s plenty of time for us to get out our Jump To Conclusions Mat and start jumping.

Mikel Arteta

Looking at Arteta as a replacement for Cesc or Nasri is unfair, because he’s not the same player as either of them was for Arsenal. To evaluate him against the recently-departed would be unfair. That being said, Arteta has assumed the playmaking midfielder role, and will be relied-upon to provide creativity in the middle and service in the attacking third. As expected, Arteta has been solid and a stabilizing force for the squad, and showed in the first half against Blackburn that he can finish as well. That being said, especially when paired with Aaron Ramsey in the middle, it is apparent that he lacks a certain, if you’ll excuse the late 90s WB reference, Joshua Jackson quality in the middle. Now I’m not saying Arteta isn’t fit enough, as I hear the ladies are hardly complaining about our new Spanish midfielder; rather, the Arteta-Ramsey pairing just isn’t pacey enough for my taste, and that limits Arsenal’s explosiveness, especially on the counter-attack. That being said, he was a solid signing, and looks to do well with the club.

Per Mertesacker

Speaking of pace, that’s certainly one of the complaints thus far about Arsenal’s new German man in the middle. Yes he’s big, but he’s also slow, meaning he won’t match up so well against the likes of Chicharito or other quick strikers in the Prem. More than that though, after the Blackburn game, I’m worried about his strength. Chris Samba gives up two inches to Mertesacker, but was dominant in the air because of his strength. If Mertesacker is to be successful in the Premier League, he’s got access his inner Olivia Newton-John, and get physical. I’ll withhold judgment until I see him paired with Vermaelen, because TV5 seems to have the ability to elevate the play of his back line partner. I understand that Mertesacker hasn’t been thrown into in an enviable position, but I would like to see him take charge of the back four and make sure they can at least hold a line. I’ll definitely be paying attention to the shape of our back line against Bolton tomorrow.

Yossi Benayoun

The knock on the slight 31 year-old coming in was that he’s always picking up knocks, and he’s already picked up a strain in the game against Shrewsbury that will keep him out of action this weekend. While on the pitch, his work rate has been excellent, he gives max effort all the time, and his goal against Shrewsbury was well-deserved, but he has got to be able to stay on the pitch this season. If he can do that, he can be a valuable role player for this Arsenal squad. As with all the new signings, the jury is still out on the Israeli national, but if he can to prove that he can stay healthy, I could see him bringing valuable energy off the bench as a substitute.

Andre Santos

I guess clichés are clichés for a reason sometimes. Our new Brazilian left back seems very fond of attacking, and serviceable in defense, as the stereotype might suggest. I like his aggressiveness in going toward goal with the ball, and his service to Mertesacker in the box late against Blackburn should have yielded him an assist, but his penchant for attacking can sometimes put him out of position, leaving a central defender covering for him down the left while he retreats back after making a run. He has to be careful when picking his spots going forward, as I don’t exactly trust our 4-man back line right now, so turning them into a 3-man back line is dangerous to say the least. If he can create a few goals, I think we’ll all forgive him if he ends up out of position from time to time. The flip side, of course, is that if he’s not successful in attacking Arsenal supporters will have little patience for his inevitable defensive missteps.

Park Chu-Young

We didn’t get theShrewsburymatch on television here in the States, so I have yet to see him play for Arsenal. The consensus I’ve read on twitter was that he looked promising but rusty. Hopefully he can shake off the rust and be a nice compliment to van Persie, the role Chamakh was supposed to fill until he fell out of form last year. The most intriguing bit from his start against Shrewsbury was Wenger using a 4-4-2 with Park & Chamakh up top. Could we see something like that with Park & RvP in the future? Time will tell.

Gervinho

I do wish he would have really hit Joey Barton firm on the chin. I mean, if you’re going to get a two match ban, at least earn it right? Plus Barton’s face is best described as punchable, don’t you agree? I’ve talked a bit about Gervinho before so I’ll keep it brief: I like his one-on-one ability with the ball, I like his aggressiveness in looking to shoot, but he needs to pick his head up and look for his teammates. Once he gets in attacking mode, he’s going to shoot, or at least try to shoot, even if a teammate (cough… ahem… look at RvP… cough) is standing wide open five yards to his right. Oh, and was his forehead really big or was I looking through a couple of bubbles?

I’ll admit, we don’t know much about Arsenal’s new players yet, but each weekend offers us an opportunity to learn more. Let’s just hope this weekend leaves us feeling uplifted and not downhearted, I think we could all use a change. We love you Arsenal, we do.