06 June 2014

Friday Throwdown: Transfers. Transfers? TRANSFERS! It Must Be Silly Season, Part 2

In the first part of our transfer Throwdown yesterday, Andy and I discussed the needs in the defensive areas of the pitch. Today, we will be looking at the more attacking positions: attacking midfield, wingers and striker. And, of course, we discuss the big story of the week - Cesc Fabregas. Note: this was written before the news that Arsenal would not, in fact, be activating their buy-back clause.

Andy: I assume no one will argue that we need to replace Aaron Ramsey in the box-to-box role or argue that we are short on creative talent through the rest of midfield either. Is the Gunners' midfield indeed set outside of the CDM role, or do you see some tweaking that could still be made?
Cesc won't be returning, but could Carlos Vela
move back to North London?
(Credit: Ronnie Macdonald)

Sam: I think that the midfield is pretty much sorted, which is why - once again, controversial opinion alert - I'm on the fence with regards to all these Cesc Fabregas rumors, leaning towards the side of not re-signing him. Look, I understand all the arguments for: he's a great player, he knows and loves the club, it will strengthen the squad and give us extra depth, etc. Also, I would hate to see him play for a different EPL squad, but I have concerns too. Ramsey has just had a break-out season so we don't want to see him in a platoon in that position, and while you could play Cesc and Ramsey together, it doesn't address the need for a more defense-minded central midfielder; if anything, it takes us further away from protecting the back line and makes us much smaller in midfield. Cesc could also play further forward, but then you're dropping one of Ozil, Cazorla or Walcott (who probably constitute the first choices in attacking midfield) and that's before listing players like Wilshere, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain... I know I'm in the minority here, but I really believe that it would impede the progress of Wilshere and especially Ramsey, who's just completed one of the best breakthrough seasons in recent memory. One of the lesser mentioned aspects of a potential Cesc signing is the impact on our transfer budget. No one outside the Club knows for sure how much money we have to spend, but if the fee of £30m being quoted for Fabregas is correct, then that would surely deplete much of our funds, putting us in a position where we may not be able to sign other high level players or focus on strengthening positions that really need it. The more I think about it, the more I'm torn; it would be great to have squad depth, and a rotation of Cesc, Rambo and Wilshere would be one of the best in the EPL and of course we'd have cover for any injuries, and I wouldn't be unhappy if he returned, I just think there are other areas of the squad that should be priorities. Also, Wenger is usually against re-signing old players, and by all accounts he seems to have told Barcelona he's not interested in Cesc. To me, that shows he has faith in the players he has, and I believe it is time for this young core to develop together. Am I being stupid here?

Looking at the attacking midfield options, I think we're in good shape, though I wouldn't oppose an extra wide man coming in. Antoine Griezmann has long been linked with a move to the Emirates, and I think he'd be a great fit; quick, technically strong, can use both feet. He seems to be a natural winger with the ability to move in- and up-field, which should suit our style of play nicely. There's also a lot of talk around his Real Sociedad teammate Carlos Vela, who has the ability to play left wing as well as attacker, and at the £3m buy-back fee could be a bargain. I was always a fan of Vela; he never seemed to get enough playing time to develop properly, but has played regularly for Sociedad, scoring 30 goals in 72 league appearances in 2 seasons in Spain. For that money, why not take a gamble. He seems to have progressed, and you could pretty much write it off as a 2 season loan that gave him first-team experience, like Chelsea have done with Thibault Courtois. Where do you stand on the Cesc issue? And what do you think of the attacking midfield roles?

Andy: Oh Cesc. Sigh. I went on a Twitter rant about this the other day where I blasted the idea that anyone is worried about fitting one of the best passers in the world into our midfield, like that's somehow a bad problem to have. I still feel that way though I am mellowing a bit in the veracity of my opinion because, like you say, we have to worry about the development of other players and midfield is not our biggest need area. That being said... c'mon. He's so good. If you didn't change the midfield at all, he and Santi could rotate between matches, Theo could come out against teams he wouldn't get space to run behind, Ozil could be rested instead of worn into the ground; it's a problem I wouldn't mind having. And that's ignoring the idea that maybe Arsene is looking to move Ramsey into that CDM role. That's not something I agree with, by the way. I like him best where he is streaming into the box on delay scoring goal after beautiful goal. But if he is moved back, Cesc as a deep lying playmaker feeding balls forward from a slightly more withdrawn position is a mouth watering possibility. The rub with Cesc is whether or not his purchase will keep Arsenal from signing other players. If Arsene has a plan to bring in a particular right back, defensive midfielder, and striker, but signing Cesc will derail these transfers, I would have to reluctantly say that bringing my beloved Spaniard back to the club is not the right move. I don't think that's a given, however, and I don't know that our reaction to the possibility should be guided by this notion. From what I remember of his contract, Arsenal have right of first refusal and will receive 50% of the profits should Barcelona sell him to another club. Essentially Barcelona has to call Arsenal up first and ask if we want to buy him at half price, so I don't see that being a problem. But transfer details are always murky so this wouldn't be the hill I'd choose to die upon. All in all I don't believe that Cesc is necessary to Arsenal's continued success but I'd love to have him back and can't imagine a world where we reject him and let him go to Chelsea or United or City.

I do agree with you that we could use a more natural winger, an aggressive player on the dribble that could take on players and create from the wide positions. That's why Julian Draxler was such an attractive target in the January window and why I was all aboard the Stevan Jovetic bandwagon last summer. Again though, I'm not sure if such a player is absolutely necessary so much as a useful addition. Similar to Cesc, I would not be unhappy at all to see Arsenal sign a quality young player like Griezmann or get back Vela on the cheap, but it's not where most of my attention is focused.

With that said, we come to the striker position. During the January window I was adamant about finding someone that was obviously better that Olivier Giroud or clearly brought in as his backup, as some half measure like Christian Benteke would be too expensive without being much of an upgrade, if any at all. The summer window changes things, however, as there are more legitimate targets and the fees aren't quite as inflated. I've been a defender of Giroud his entire time at Arsenal, but even I know that the Gunners need someone to complement him, or at least let him rest now and then, or even relegate him to back-up duty if a true superstar is available. What do you think the move up front should be?

Mario Balotelli could fire any team to glory,
but his attitude is highly questionable
(Credit: football.ua)
Sam: As much as I like Giroud - and I really do, he has a great touch, good finisher and seems to be passionate about playing for the Club - I just don't see us winning a title with him playing 90+% of our games as the number 1 striker and scoring option. However, with a player of that calibre as your back-up striker? Now we're cooking with gas. Which is why I'd be going for a Edinson Cavani (who seems to be linked with a move out of PSG) or a Karim Benzema. In fact, sod it, just give me K-Benz. I've long been a fan of the Frenchman, and while he's had his detractors, he's become a key part of Real Madrid's success; only Sergio Ramos started more games last season for the Champions League winners. He's scored just under 0.5 goals per game for Madrid and is beginning to find his scoring form in a French shirt after a bit of a drought. Another player I'd be happy with is Mario Balotelli. He is undoubtedly talented, and has a better goalscoring record than many believe (26 in 43 appearances for AC Milan, 12 in 29 for Italy), though his attitude problems are likely to be against everything Arsene Wenger stands for.

If we're looking for a backup for Giroud, then Vela could be an option. Looking within the squad, Podolski and Walcott could play some games there, but it's probably not the number 1 solution, and if I were manager I'd be sending Yaya Sanogo out on loan for more first-team football. This would lead me to look for a good enough backup, which is why I like the potential Loic Remy move. He adds some pace, decent finisher, seems to be available for a relatively low fee and has the ability to play on the wings if we need it. How would you solve the attacking dilemma, Andy?

Andy: We happen to be on the same page regarding what Giroud means to Arsenal, though maybe not when it comes to the way to supplement/replace him. I appreciate the way the handsome Frenchman plays because even when he's not scoring he does so much to contribute. His hold up play is excellent, he does a great job bringing the midfield into the play through flicks and short passes, and his combination play led to the most beautiful goal of the year (Wilshere vs Norwich) and the most important (Ramsey in the FA Cup final). The problem is that he does lack speed and his movement, while useful, is often predictable. If he was a lethal finisher with the ball at his feet then these problems could be overlooked... but that is not the case. His good qualities make him a useful player but he's not a threat to put the ball in the net from anywhere, and that's why he can't be the only option up top.

You mention bringing in another through the middle striker like Cavani, Benzema, or Balotelli, and I understand why. They are more in the mold of players who score goals in bunches and that is what Arsenal went after last summer to a degree with Gonzalo Higuain. The problem I see with this is unless we pull in a true world class player that deserves to start every match, it will be difficult for the incoming player and Giroud to get into a rhythm as they'll often be splitting game time. That's why I would prefer to bring in a player comfortable on the wing but able to move into the middle and be a true force. As much as some people want it, Theo Walcott is not that player. So again, that's why I was so high on Jovetic and Draxler coming in; both players would find time playing wide and, if reports on their talent progression are to be believed, could provide an excellent complement to Giroud as the speedy, playing-on-the-back-shoulder type of striker. Marco Reus is perhaps the best target Arsenal could hope for to fill this role, though I shudder to think of how much Dortmund would want for him.

Sam: To tie up this extra-long Throwdown, Andy and I are going to list our top 3 positions of need and the dream signing for each, with an honorable mention (HM) to our second choices in those positions. My thinking is that we need to fill the gaping holes first, so while I would like to see a 25 goal-a-season striker, I have just enough faith in Giroud and a fully fit midfield to feel comfortable making the starting right back and back-up goalkeepers the priority, and after that I'd like to see a midfielder capable of covering the back four and providing a base for our more attack-minded and creative players. If we stretched to four, then I'd go for a striker (Balo or Benz, if you're interested).
  1. Right back: Serge Aurier (HM: Seamus Coleman)
  2. Backup goalkeeper: David Ospina (HM: John Ruddy)
  3. Central defensive midfielder: Sven Bender (HM: Javi Martinez)
Andy: Sam, my list starts with the CDM position because that's where I believe Arsenal can best increase their chances to win the title. Again, all respect to Arteta but the Gunners simply need someone younger that won't need as much help from Ramsey to keep things tight. Next is our striker because my suggestions also help the winger "issue" that some feel we have, and because I don't think it's realistic to expect Giroud to play for as long as he did without getting hurt. Right back is third, not because I think it is unimportant but because I believe the other two are slightly moreso. Jenkinson was quite good at times when he saw the field consistently and I don't count him out when it comes to fighting for that spot.
  1. CDM: Javi Martinez (HM: Ilkay Gundogan)
  2. Striker: Marco Reus (HM: Julian Draxler)
  3. Right Back: Seamus Coleman (HM: Serge Aurier)

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