08 August 2006

Arsenal Begins: 06-07

Good morning folks. Sorry about the gap in posts, but there's been eff-all to talk about. Lots of rumors but little action. For Arsenal, it's been a frustrating summer in many ways, and it's only tolerable because we've been through this all before, so many times.

The one definite piece of Arsenal news is that Sol Campbell goes to Portsmouth. It's a fairly big surprise in that Sol was supposed to go overseas. But he'll stick around England instead. It'll be interesting to see how he performs for his new club. I know it's fashionable to slag on Sol, and he certainly earned some of it. But it's obvious he's got problems and I wouldn't mind if he was able to turn things around and do well down south.

But otherwise things are moving slowly for the Gunners. The talk about Ashley Cole is beyond rumor stage at this point; it's obvious that Chelsea and Arsenal are negotiating. Ashley's done everything he can to burn his bridges, but it's not like Chelsea are desperate for a left back and Arsenal aren't going to let their only remaining major England player go cheaply. A swap is possible and troubled William Gallas is the obvious target, but Chelsea are doing everything they can to make him seem settled. And Gallas' major complaint is that he'd prefer to play center-half, so it's not like he's eager to take Ashley's place. Regardless, I fully expect to see this move complete. Wenger has set a deadline of the end of the week, and that's probably about right. Expect something on Thursday or so.

Added to the Cole rumors are the stories brewing about Jose Antonio Reyes is in the mix too. It's no secret that he hasn't adapted well to life in the UK and that he would prefer to play in Spain, for Real Madrid of course. And perhaps he'll get his wish. But even when he's failed to score, he works hard and has put in a lot of effort for Arsenal. He's at a great stage of experience mixed with potential, and I would hate to see him leave the Gunners right now.

Going the other way, rumors continue to circulate about Franck Ribery. It's difficult to see how Ribery would fit in... unless Reyes is really going to go. But we have a surfeit of wide midfielders, and Ribery is nothing but. Perhaps the plan is to play Aleksander Hleb or Tomas Rosicky or both in a central role. Other rumors have appeared, including Alou Diarra from Lens, Eric Abidal from Lyon, and Luca Toni from Fiorentina. (Warning: Italian exodus!) The boss himself has admitted that he's looking at a few players, including at least one with experience. But of course nothing concrete has developed yet.

So that leaves all us Gunners a bit unsettled going into the first match of the season. Arsenal are in Croatia to visit Dynamo Zagreb in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier. It's clear this is going to be a difficult match. Zagreb are already into their league season, and Arsenal are missing quite a few players. Ljungberg, Senderos, Clichy, and Diaby are all injured, while Henry and Cole are not yet match fit. The absence of Ashley of course is significant in other ways, as it keeps him available to play for a different team in the Champions League. And if Reyes doesn't play, I think you have a clear sign that he's leaving. In any event, Arsenal will have to field a young and unfamiliar team in a difficult and important match, early in August. Not a situation that relaxes the fans.

So lots of questions at the moment but few answers. That will begin to change tonight though; we'll know where we stand with Zagreb, while the transfer situation should start to settle out as well. But let's not lose sight of the most important thing: the season is starting. The Gunners are taking the field for real in a few hours. Get out your colors and warm up your voices...

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