STRIKER SAYS NO TO JAN MOVE + NEW BALL PLAYING CENTRE BACK

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Well good evening fellow transfer fiends. How are we today? Excellent. Let’s talk strikers.

Victor Oshimen dealt his Gooner fan club a blow by declaring he’s going nowhere soon.

“I am happy with the president. I have an excellent relationship with him, I am sincere. I have a really good relationship with him, he has always been close to me since I arrived at Napoli in 2020 and I also have an excellent relationship with his family,” he said.

“For me it is important to have a good relationship with the owner of the team. There have never been any problems between us, what happened has nothing to do with my relationship with him or his family.

“The president told me he always supported, even off the pitch, and I gave my all to win the scudetto for them too. It’s always important to have this type of relationship with the owner of the club.

“Of course I would like to play there one day, for now I have other plans for my career. But when the time comes you will know everything.”

So what could those plans be? Well, he signed a new long-term deal with Napoli at the end of last year. It’s not rocket science. He’ll be with Napoli until the summer, then I’d imagine a conversation will be had dependent on Champions League qualification. The Serie A Champions are a whopping 20 points off top this season, so it’s a big ask.

My view on this deal is the same as it’s been for a while: No chance he’s coming to Arsenal. High risk at £100m+.

It would be remiss not to talk about the Premier League hearing with the government. Richard Masters (Prem big dog) and Rick Parry (EFL big dog) were questioned about some of the moves that have been happening with clubs breaching the rules.

It was kind of mad watching MPs dropping a performative dance over unfairness, despite the reality being the opposite.

Premier League clubs agreed to rules around financial prudence after Portsmouth went under. The basic premise of the rules was that clubs needed to control how they spend relative to how much they earn. The overall idea was to stop small clubs from over-extending themselves whilst stopping big clubs with nation-state wealth from blowing everyone out of the water with spending untethered from basic business principles.

Logical.

Everyone agreed to how it would work. Everyone knew the losses that could be sustained over a 3-year period. Now the auditors are sharpening their pencils and clubs that have breached the rules are getting letters in the post with expedited hearing dates (something people wanted so cases didn’t drag over multiple seasons).

Everton and Nottingham Forest have owned their errors – so the only question is punishment.

Other clubs are pleading their case – or their issues are more complicated because the infractions have been inherited.

One set of circumstances has quick resolutions. The other set, not so much.

But rest assured, if the big clubs are found guilty, the punishment will be swift and just as aggressive as the one Everton are dealing with right now. If the Premier League goes soft, they’ll incentivise bad behavior, much in the same way the American government does with its slow decisions on bad business practices, coupled with fines that make the bad behavior worth it.

Are the rules going to shift next year? Yes. But the idea that means the rules already in place shouldn’t be enforced is ludicrous. You can’t judge the latest set of accounts based on a future rule change. I’m also not a fan of fans throwing their hands up and saying ‘we should just get rid of the rules.’

Premier League clubs have to live within set of rules. No one wants the league to go to an NFL-like system, but I don’t think they want an approach where the defining feature to look for in a successful club is how rich their owner is. You also don’t want a situation where an owner comes in, blows all the cash on the books, then exits after decimating the club. We also can’t overlook how unfair it is when clubs that play by the rules miss out on trophies/survival to those who breach.

The rules are imperfect, no doubt. They’ll get better. But the key takeaway from all of this is there are now actual consequences for poor behavior and it’s had a chilling effect on massive clubs with very aggressive ownership groups.

That’s why you will most certainly see some big sales from Arsenal in the summer. We need to sell to buy because we’ve been spending money like nobody’s business, and our intake has been dreadful.

Ok, back to transfers. Cedric Soares may finally be out of the club. He’s been linked with all the farewell tour clubs in Turkey, but this time, we’re assured, he’s actually going to leave.

Purrrrrlease…

The only way he’s going is if we don’t get a fee and that’s put into ensuring he gets his full 90k a week until June. Still think it’s unlikely, the man loves being at Arsenal.

There continues to be chatter around Mo Elneny leaving the club. Again, I’d love to believe it, but there’s a guy doing his coaching badges, just loving life at Arsenal like you or I would. Our longest-serving player is more likely to leave on a free this summer. He’s the backup for a backup. Hopefully we’re safe now Thomas is likely to be back in mixer for the Forest game.

Whisper it… but there’s a hot young centre back called Jarrad Branthwaite doing the business at Everton this season and guess who is interested? Our defender fiend of a manager. He’d gobble him up like a piece of steak on a knife if he were given the chance. The player is a left-footed centre back, and he’s huge at 6ft5. Jarrad glides across the park like William Saliba, he has Everton levels of strength, but he does not have the thuggish anti-finesse of a Sean Dyche defender. He looks like a northern Bill Saliba if I’m honest. I’d pass this off as nonsense, but Arteta loves collecting defenders and we don’t have a rotation option for Bill right now. Feels more like a United player, though there are serious noises coming from Madrid.

The lad LOVES a slide tackle.

There are some rumblings in the evening newspapers that Zinchenko might not be ready for the Palace game at the weekend. One would assume this is a new injury issue or it’s just part of the mind games the manager plays with returns. The larger gripe is it could be true, because he’s just not very reliable as a player. Still, one thing that impressed me about Kiwior in the Liverpool game is I didn’t really notice him until the own goal… and I mean that as a positive. He’s adapting to the rigors of the league and I certainly think he has a chance to make it at Arsenal.

As Matt Kandela said on the last AOP. The next three games have to be 9 points. Deliver that and we’re at most 2 points off Liverpool and three from Manchester City. Lose any of them, you’d have to question if we’ve got the minerals this season to handle a sustained challenge.

This is an exciting few weeks.

Ok, that’s me done. See you in the comments. xxx


PSR COMING IN HOT FOR SMALL CLUBS + INJURY UPDATES

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The Premier League has charged Nottingham Forest and Everton for PSR breaches. The Evertonians getting done for a second time. The Premier League put out this statement.

Both clubs have admitted the breaches, all that is left to do is punish, brutal, but this sort of justice is exactly what has been lacking over the past 20 years of Premier League football. Arguably, if we’d had this during the second phase of Arsene Wenger, he might have built better squads and won more trophies.

There’s a bit of consternation in the system about the tonality of the press releases. These statements are a precursor to potentially ruinous impacts on clubs and communities. However, it is hard to push that sort of narrative when the counter is ‘what about the clubs that were relegated after following the rules?’

I’ve also seen people say the whole thing should be changed because it’s only small clubs getting punished. And what’s a bit of overspending anyway?

Here’s where I disagree BIGLY.

You need rules in place and you need to stick to them. The consequence of having no rules or ignoring enforcement is you allow nation-states and oligarchs to pump untold millions into sports clubs that have no tether to reality. If you at least want to fake the idea of fairness, there needs to be safeguards in the league.

The only reason other clubs haven’t been punished is because they are slowballing the process and not admitting liability. There will be an end date for that carry-on, and if they are found guilty, they will also face painful fines and worse… an asterisk on their achievements.

This process the Premier League is going through might not be perfect, their execution in media might feel heartless, but the game will be better for regulations.

We’re already winning as well: Newcastle can’t afford the Kalvin Phillips loan fee and might have to sell a big dog to stay in the right lane for PSR. These rules also help the national game as well. Clubs invest in local talent because selling them gives them more room to spend big. It’s a win-win.

The injury news is looking good for the ‘like a new signing’ January we’re about to have.

Gabriel Jesus will be ready for Forest, so will Zinchenko. Thomas Partey is tracking fitness-wise. I doubt we’ll see him for the first game back, but I’ve no doubt he’ll be ready for the Forest game. Having him available for the Liverpool match will be huge.

Then you have Tomiyasu, who is being rehabbed back into action by the Japanese national team. He didn’t play against Vietnam out of precaution, and the reality is they don’t need to risk him against a team level below them. You might see him feature against Iraq and Indonesia. Two games that could help him get closer to the sort of level that’ll see him slide back into contention when he returns. If they go out round of 16, he’ll be back for Liverpool. If they stay in and get to the final, we’ll have him back for Burnley. My hope is he’s in the mixer for the West Ham game.

Those 4 players change how we play. They give us rotation options. They make us better. The final piece is Timber who will likely make it back end of March or early April. Champions League quarter-finals if we make them!

That’s enough to get me excited. Ok, short post today, see you in the comments. Check out the latest podcast and sorry about the weird sound, the stream was a bit off.


BENZEMA TO ARSENAL?

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Well, it is very, very cold where I am. -20 outside. This is going to be one of those ‘should I have upgraded the furnace’ kind of weeks. I’m cold people. Hopes and prayers, please.

I tell you what is HAAAAWT. The ITK crowd is now saying that Ivan Toney is the choice of the club this summer, not a new narrative if you’ve been following Le Grove.

This makes sense for a number of reasons, the main one being that we can get him for about £60m this summer and free up cash to do some surgery elsewhere. The idea of raiding Serie A for £120m for Oshimen was always fanciful. Like it or not, Arteta sees Ivan Toney as the missing ingredient up top.

Personally, I agree. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a striker with that sort of aura. Maybe you have to go back to Adebayor for pure fear factor? Toney is great from setpieces, he’s a menace in the box, defenders hate playing against him, and if he can score 21 goals for Brentford, imagine what he’ll do in the Arsenal chances creation paradise?

We’re great at corners, we have a keeper that has a very successful past with him, the team is loaded with fast switch players that can pick out a dime from 50 yards. He’ll add something we haven’t had in our forwards since Giroud left for Chelsea.

He has an edge.

The biggest weakness of the signing is he is a NOW player. There is no sell-on clause. This is his last big deal. The positives are that he knows the league, he’s been to hell and back, and he’s absolutely desperate to prove that he is at the level.

This isn’t a sexy signing, but it could be very functional in a way that might surprise. Like a wallet you stick on the back of your phone. I’ve never done it, but I’d like to.

It could also go the other way and the level might be too high. He might not be able to live in a deepblock world. The weight of the shirt might hang too heavy on him.

I like the thinking though. You can scoff at it, but who else is out there that you could name as a better player? Not many. If an endangered species were in the footballing world, it’d be elite number 9s.

Talking about elite number 9s, Saudi Arabian football is going through its first mini-crisis. A haul of players are trying to exit at the moment because they don’t like it. Karim Benzema has no-showed to training a number of times this year, which could mean there’s a chance to loan move out to a team playing Porto in the next round of the Champions League.

Could that be Arsenal?

Could a player of his level be useful?

Is this the move that wins us the Premier League?

Probably not.

It’s one of those fanciful dreams you have when you play too much FIFA. The player is an outrageous talent, but he’s quite old now. 36 years old is a physical reality you have to face. Not many strikers in the Premier League are doing it at that age. He might do it in Italy, but in a team that needs everyone pressing at 100mph, I can’t see him working in our system. Even at 28, I’m not sure he was that player.

Always take your mind back to United finishing 2nd, then signing Cristiano, upsetting all the young players, then finishing outside the top 5. These old player loans are for the nostalgists. I don’t think we’ll be making a move like that.

Though it would be sexy… I remember being linked to Benzema before he moved to Madrid. What a player. One of the greats.

Let’s talk about Oscar Bobb scoring that incredible goal yesterday. It was a delicious ball from KDB, an outrageous touch and finish by an academy kid. Some Arsenal fans said it showed that we should be doing more to integrate kids.

My take? Look at what City do with their academy. It’s kind of genius in a very rich way.

They go out and find the best kids at every level. They pay them more than anyone else. So these kids earn elite money before they’re near the first team. They then give them the full Pep G coaching experience (via surrogates). These kids are trained to think faster and their depth of tactical knowledge combined with their talent makes the best prospects in the world to pick off.

They then mine them for the cream of the crop, like Oscar Bobb, who is already a full Norwegian international. This approach gives them a bank of luxury kids to sell on to the clubs that have the capacity to blood them young… and sell them they do. They’ve made over £263m since 2017 using this approach. James Trafford move to Burnley for £20m, wild money,  we won’t get that for Reiss Nelson.

If we’re going to be honest, this isn’t a new idea, this is exactly what Arsene Wenger did when he was at Arsneal. We paid elite kids more to come to Arsenal than any other club. I can’t remember which Liveprool manager complained, but one said they competed with Arsenal for Denislon but couldn’t match the package. This approach gave us Cesc Fabregas and helped us form Project Youth 1.0. Wenger used to brag that he’d given more professional careers to kids than any other manager.

City do this on steroids and rocket boosters and it’s working to a higher level. City sell a player for £18m, then Chelsea buy them for £58m. Jeremie Frimpong went to Celtic for £400k, to Leverkusen for £4m, and he might boomerang back to be reunited with Arteta for £40m. The production line is insane.

So when you’re kicking Arsenal for not being more like City, know what you’re kicking. One of the most ruthless operations football has every seen, doing things at the next level, with extreme financial power.

Also, going live at 1300 CT, 7pm UK time. Come join the podcast!


SALT BAE FEEDS ARSENAL MANAGER

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Arteta shocked the world by attending the Salt Bae restaurant, allowing the chef to put a lump of steak into his mouth, and awkwardly lay his hand on the Spaniards’ shoulder.

I’m shook.

Did he know where he was? Did he know they had a video crew filming him? How did someone not stop this happening?

Honestly, I do not know what it is with professionals in the game of football and their draw to the weirdest restaurant concept to take hold in a generation.

Really hoping it was an elaborate ‘organic’ promotion for the region.

Onto Arsenal, the news has really come shuddering to a halt right. There’s not much going in terms of excitement. I’ve had people sending me ITK chatter around Victor Oshimen. I just don’t think his signature fits with Arsenal’s appetite for foreign purchase risk or our budget for next summer.

We need:

  • At least two central midfielders
  • A versatile defender
  • A powerhouse winger with outrageous pace
  • A back-up keeper
  • A striker

Dropping £120m on Victor Oshimen doesn’t allow us to bring in all those players. He feels like a Manchester United signing. I’m not sold on his talent. I’d much rather Ivan Toney, or if I’m dreaming, it’d be Evan Ferguson. The Zirkzee link felt far more Arsenal than the link with the prolific Nigerian.

My big concern so far this window is all the rumours are about players coming into the club.

Where are my rumours for players exiting?

Reiss? Eddie? ESR? Partey? Ramsdale? Not a peep.

I’m not sure this speaks to talent issues… it seems to be that the big clubs with Premier League stress are also have to double check the books. The Chelsea push to spend every penny on gods earth has come to a stop. Newcastle can’t afford loan fees. The only team flush is Spurs because they sold Harry Kane in the summer. This doesn’t mean things can’t happen later in the window, but it seems increasingly likely that there won’t be much movement in or out.

I just hope Edu starts getting his ducks in order for the summer… so we can move FAST.

Ok, that’s me done. Before I go, I wanted to run something by you. I am considering the consolidation of all the Le Grove pieces into more of a paid format at some point. (newsletter / podcasts / patreon). The organic ad game that has killed newspapers doesn’t work for me and running my own website ends up being a costly endeavor because shit breaks, server costs eat me etc etc. I am lucky to have a very faithful audience and if possible, I’d prefer to have a Swiss Ramble / Arseblog approach to advertising by not having to have it. That would mean contributions. I’ve always wanted to keep this totally free, but the reality is that it’s not costing me to write on average about 3oo posts a year. I’d bundle all the podcasts as part of it and put plenty of free work out. I’d also try and do something for the heroes in the comment section that keep the site bubbling. But I wanted to get your take on it before I do anything. So drop a comment or send me an e-mail if you have any thoughts.

See you in the comments! x


TIMBER ON TURF + A NEW STRIKING TARGET EMERGES

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Well good morning to you ALL. Are you enjoying the ramp-up in Le Grove posts? I hope so. It feels good to have the pen in hand more regularly and it has been fun to joust in the comments section again with that exact pen.

New Year, new me, same Arsenal propaganda as before.

So, let’s talk Timber.

He’s out in Dubai with the team and he has been spotted on the turf training alone. This is great news for Arsenal fans, but you do need to hold your horses with regard to his return. Getting on the grass is a big step, but also small in the grand scheme of these types of injuries. Fixing the tear is phase one, now he has to rebuild all the muscles around the knee, then he has to regain his fitness… the return is never perfect. Players tend to have mini-set-backs along the way. Then they have to deal with the psychological impact of the trauma associated with that type of injury.

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TRANSFER RUMOUR SQUASHED

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Two very reliable internet sources on the TWITTER countered the stories about Onana joining Arsenal in January. The chatter is thought to be taking its fuel from agents keen to move on a top performer from an Everton in a bit of a mess.

My view on this remains the same. I don’t get it. If we’re eventually replacing Thomas Partey, a player we’ve missed, shouldn’t we be looking for someone who can at the very least match what he does on the ball? Onana might be far better than I give him credit for, but was he Thomas Partey levels in France for Lille? Have my doubts.

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ACCEPTING THE PAIN OF PROGRESS (LONG READ)

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Arsenal internet of 2017 is back and the screamers have been set loose. After 4 years of having to mostly earn scraps after the cratering of ScreamerTube traffic, we’re back with a bang, being lectured on standards by people who make their money appealing to 14-year-olds. Having to listen to people who have never performed at the elite level of anything lecture the world on the mediocrity of Arsenal is painful, painful viewing.

Screaming into a microphone if you don’t have any ideas of your own is not analysis, it’s attention-seeking.

Sack Arteta? You are a deeply unserious person if that’s your view.

The good news is a couple of days after a nightmare, the serious narratives being to shine.

The Athletic ran a piece that basically stated we are doing all the things you want from an elite side, bar putting the ball in the net. The thesis is we don’t need a dazzling number 9 to get to the promised land of free-flowing goals. We just need luck to catch up with us and show a bit more composure.

Our off-the-ball approach to pressing is amongst the best in Europe, only one team creates more shots creating actions by winning possession in the opposition’s final third and that’s Brighton.

The quality of the chances we’re creating is good enough, we just need to sharpen up. Put it this way, it’s no shame to lose to a Liverpool side we battered with 18 shots. No team has done that to Liverpool this season. We haven’t been able to do that against Liverpool in 10 years. The result didn’t go our way, but over the long term, those sorts of games where we are clearly the better team will give us strength. We’re no longer the inferior team of boys that hides. The fear of two seasons ago against big teams has gone. That is progress.

Over the longterm, those sorts of underlying numbers will bear fruit. The catastrophizing during this period is absolutely predictable because no one can handle the idea of luck playing a role in football at the elite level – and that we can measure it.

You could rerun Villa, Liverpool, Newcastle, and West Ham 100 times again and not get to 4 losses with performances like the ones we delivered.

In sport, sometimes you need to lean into the intangible, and that’s faith.

If the system delivers an abundance of chances against top-tier teams, if it constricts those same top-tier teams to very little action in your box… then you have to believe at some point the results will drop.

Arteta cannot do any more than coach a system that delivers what we delivered at Liverpool, West Ham, and Aston Villa.

What factors should we consider?

The team is very young and inexperienced. They have to build out winning IP. They need to find ways when things are clicking and they haven’t found a way to roll the ball into the net. Confidence and endeavor when the chips are down is something you learn. Our players need to learn that. The important thing is they are not letting bad results get in the way of performance; that is half the battle.

We also need to deal with the statistical oddity of every single forward player losing their mojo at the same time. It’s so weird that super-talented players are all going through this together. If they can stop scoring at the same time, there’s no reason to believe it can’t click back at the same time.

The final part of this shit-sandwich equation is the defensive part of the game. It is simply not sustainable for Arsenal to keep restricting sides to under 4 shots on target per game and keep conceding 1+ goals. It won’t last. It is a freakish anomaly that will sort itself out.

The combination of conceding from very little and not scoring from an abundance is the nature of football. Pep Guardiola said, ‘people love this game because a team that has 20 shots can lose to a team that has 2 shots. But I tell you which team I prefer.’

Big clubs around the world look at underlying data before they sack a manager because proper leaders at those clubs know that sport has ‘fuck you’ variables you can’t control. Jurgen Klopp famously ended his Dortmund career on a slump to 7th. People thought he was done. The Liverpool data nerds analyzed his performance and concluded he was the unluckiest manager in Germany that season. They hired him, the rest is history.

Unserious people will blame Arteta for this slump. They will also blame the players. My take? We are doing everything right, keep the confidence high, believe in the approach, and it will deliver big time in the backend of the season when we start bring bodies back into the mixer.

The most important two games now are Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest. Win those two, and we’ll be right back in the mixer.

Are there things that Arteta could be doing better? Absolutely. But one of those is not bringing more academy kids into the starting 11. I wrote about this reality a few years ago. As we get better, it’s going to be harder and harder to blood kids like we did when Arteta took over. If you’ve been reading this post banging the table in fury because I’m letting Arteta off the hook, imagine how you’d feel if Ethan Nwaneri cost us in a Cup game. Fans would be in his DMs abusing him, how do I know? We’ve seen it before. Martin Odegaard had to delete his IG because of the criticism he was getting. Everyone loves an academy kid until they’re not delivering fantastical numbers. Ask the players struggling at the club now that Arteta is begging fans to support.

Balogun couldn’t make it at Arsenal, Patino might do but the jury is still out, Smith Rowe, Eddie, and Reiss will all likely be chopped. The idea that players that are closer to 16 than 21 are going to waltz into a team that is fighting for CL and PL is fanciful. We’ll be lucky of one of our current crop makes it with us.

That might sting, but it’s the reality of football at this level. A lot of our great academy prospects will have to boomerang out and back if we want to see them. It happens at City (Sancho, Palmer, Lavia), it happens at Liverpool (Antony Gordon), and it happened to Chelsea during the winning years of Mourinho (Salah, KDB, and Lukaku).

The biggest focus for Arteta in the backend of this season is to take his foot off the gas with his players. He is a control freak and I don’t think that always plays well with a squad of players. Taking all the boys to PSV in a dead game is just one example of over-enthusiasm for ‘the culture’ that eventually costs you in physical and mental fatigue. You saw it in the Fulham game, the players were dead.

The manager also needs to get serious about protecting players from themselves. Thomas Partey picked up two injuries at the training ground. That is on the club. You cannot be breaking players like him in training sessions. He never reads the tea leaves when it comes to Tomiyasu, he overplayed him, we all knew he’d break, and he did. The same issue with Zinchenko, we know he’s breakable, and Arteta will always find a way to break him. God knows how Ben White hasn’t had a serious injury yet, but he’s next.

Then you have the starboy, Bukayo Saka. He looks cooked right now and with good reason… he never gets a rest. How many more games in a row before he breaks and we all act surprised?

The only way we exit the season with objectives met is if we keep our best players fit. That means more voluntary rotation in games we can control.  If we’re blaming injuries again, that is on the coach.

The final thing the club could do is add players, but I’m just not sure we’re going to get what we need. Amadou Diarra has been hard-linked again today and I’m not a fan of the link. Though it does seem to make sense in the context of Paulinha. Two defence minded midfielders that are mobile, press resistant, and aggressive. That must be a profile they like. It would come at a cost, because I think what we’ve missed is the dynamic passing of Thomas Partey. Moving to more rock and roll midfielders feels like a step back, but it is what it is.

My hope is we keep Partey at the club, but with the team going out to Dubai, you can’t help but imagine the PIF Fund will be in the lobby awaiting Partey’s people to negotiate a big-money exit. If we sell, we buy, if we buy, all the hot ITK talk is Onana.

That we’d solve our striking problems with a midfielder more limited than Thomas Partey does feel like peak-banter days when he’d hoover up #10 like players for fun.

The summer is where the best deals are done. Bringing in players now doesn’t give them time to integrate into the system. Those deals rarely offer value in the short term. But the summer is interesting. Ivan Toney taking up the striking spot is exciting, this Hato fella only has a year on his deal and I can’t imagine he’s not exciting the club, then we have a slew of pace monster wingers we’re looking to bring to the table.

This summer will see the squad finalised. We have to make the next 5 months work and not give up. But I have faith in the manager, the system, and a group of players that are progressing even if you can’t see it right now.

Football is hard. Pain is part of the process. We are on the right path.