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Talking Reds by Kevin Whitcher

Iwrite shortly after Arsenal’s promising unbeaten run in the Premier League came to an end at Eastlands. The defeat was no great surprise, and the team played creditably. With the current make-up of the side, there are grounds for optimism that the loss will prove a mere blip and that they are soon back to winning ways, which has not always proven easy in recent campaigns.

There is a different feeling about Arsenal now, after experienced signings were made and the approach to defensive coaching changed as a result of that game at Old Trafford back in August. The team now seems to have something of a spine, with big or experienced and confident players from the keeper through to the forward. And there is a sense of frustration at what could have been achieved had the manager’s youth project not been given so long to bear fruit.

As it is, the main fruit it has borne is financial, and the club have done so well on that front that they enter the January transfer window with around £50

The self-sustainability that Ivan Gazidis bangs on about is ultimately more important than taking even a slight gamble for glory million to play with. What happens over the course of the month is anyone’s guess. There is a lot of talk of Lukas Podolski coming from the Bundesliga, and there is no doubt that the club can afford him and are over-reliant on the continued fitness of Robin van Persie. It seems to me a signing that would make perfect sense, so fingers crossed it happens.

I was able to have a few words with Ivan Gazidis at the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust/AISA Christmas drinks at the stadium a few days before Arsenal drew Milan in the Champions League first knockout round. It was ironic because one of the subjects I raised with him was that I felt the club now undervalued the potential contribution of players over 30, and offered Milan as an example of how they could help a club win trophies. The CEO dismissed the Italian outfit as a model of inefficiency, propped up by Silvio Berlusconi’s money. This in spite of their winning the Italian title last May and appearing in three Champions League finals in five years not so long ago, utilising players that Arsène Wenger would regard as past their peak and no longer worth retaining for the wages they would demand. Ominously, in spite of remaining confident Robin van Persie would sign up for a further period at the club, he did state that, were he to renew, his value to Arsenal – in terms of his playing contribution – would be a lot less than it is now by the end of a new deal, when he was, say, 32 years old.

That may be the case, but the solution is to bring in younger talent to learn alongside the master and see the baton handed over, not just cash in on an asset that is at its optimum value. The other thing that makes me wonder if the captain intends to stay is that as soon as he signs a new deal, his wages rocket immediately, so why not sign up now if he intends to in the summer? Maybe part of the deal would be to make a lump sum payment to compensate for this, should he stick around. Gazidis was partly optimistic because of the way our number 10 is taking the captaincy seriously, and talked about the different feeling at the club now in terms of the squad pulling together, mentioning the contributions of Arteta, Mertesacker and Vermaelen in this regard. And I do concur, most fans can see that commitment and workrate seem to have improved generally, with a couple of obvious exceptions.

Discussing the relatively egalitarian wage structure, in comparison to that of Manchester United for example,

4 onlinegooner.com that rewards the top players more and the prospects less, he did confess that there was still some ‘fat’ in the wage bill, and that it takes time to trim this. He claimed United pay 50 per cent more in wages than Arsenal, a statistic I am far from convinced is accurate.

The overall impression I got from our exchange was that, although he wants success for the club as badly as I do, the self-sustainability that he bangs on about is ultimately more important than taking even a slight gamble for glory. He really came across as more of an accountant than a football man; ironic, given he is the replacement for the ultimate number cruncher, Keith Edelman. But it should always be remembered that the CEO is taking his cue from above. This is the way Stan Kroenke wants it, and frankly, he’s holding back the club as the game has changed. Yes, Arsenal need to box clever to compete, but there is no point having the £50 million plus in the player trading account sitting in a bank vault.

Arsenal need to strengthen the squad, so let’s hope that aside from Podolski, the club are not afraid to invest in more quality in January. Why wait until the summer? Let’s ensure the club continue to qualify for the Champions League and have a decent go at the cups they can still win.

One thing Gazidis can be praised for is the Arsenalisation that has taken place over the last couple of seasons, and the three recently unveiled statues were a fine example of this. Apparently, there are plenty more to come, and it’s fun to speculate what poses might be used for the remaining legends that will be immortalised around the stadium’s exterior. So off the top of my head, I can see Robert Pires running along waving a single finger in the air celebrating a goal, Dennis Bergkamp about to slot home that 2002 goal at Newcastle, Charlie George quite obviously lying prone on the floor after his winner in the 1971 Cup final. Ian Wright will probably be running along with his shirt off having broken the club’s goalscoring record, and although Sammy Nelson probably isn’t high up enough the food chain of legends to get a statue, his pulling down his shorts in front of the North Bank after his goal against Coventry would make for an amusing one. This is one to ponder in the car on away trips, but I can’t wait to see more of these and credit to Arsenal for commissioning them.

The Gooner calendar is enclosed in the middle of this issue and as ever, if you do require an extra copy for any reason, you can buy one from our online shop at www.onlinegooner.com. As this issue goes on sale on Boxing Day (subject to the game going ahead with the tube strike a possibility as we go to press), I hope you have enjoyed the festive break so far and that 2012 is a good year for all Gooners. A trophy would be really nice. We are heading in the right direction and the team is looking more likely to win games on a consistent basis than it has for a fair while. So here’s hoping.

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