Morning Gooners. Happy Monday and all that jazz. We’re hitting the critical countdown until the Europa League
Now just a week and two days and we’re at crunch time and I don’t know about you, but this feels like it’s the longest period of time I’ve ever had to wait for a football match, probably even longer than when the international breaks turn up and scupper the football season.
All we have to chew on are the occasional half-hearted rumours and the latest are based on an 18-year-old centre half from St Etienne called William Saliba for €15million.
Of course I know nothing of him but this feels a little reassuring I have to say. It feels reassuring because we’ve known for some time that we cannot compete for the ready made players. The idea of Arsenal spending £75million on a centre half ready for the first team this summer is, frankly, preposterous. But the story of van Dijk is a cautionary one for us because if it is led to be believed we were sniffing around him when he was at Celtic. Back then he was a fraction of the price that Liverpool paid and his journey is one in which Arsenal fans have looked at closely because if we can pick up those types of players before they get the big money move, then we’ve got a blueprint for making Arsenal more competitive domestically.
We have been poor buyers and poor sellers of late; that has to change and the introduction of Mislintat to the back room staff helped to give us an idea of the direction we were going. We were going to find the quality talent and get them in early, then move on for big bucks if we needed to.
When Sven left it had a lot of us – me included – worries about which direction we were going in. A move like this Saliba one, despite the fact he may turn out to be a gamble, does at least give us hope that we are able to still identify the young talent.
Of course it isn’t over the line, it’s just the speculation stage, which is a stage that often goes nowhere when Arsenal are concerned. But for me it at least shows that the club are looking for these young ‘NextGen’ talent and that gives me hope.
Whether or not an 18-year-old walks straight in to the Arsenal first team remains to be seen. In the 30 years that I’ve been an Arsenal fan we’ve had one of that age break through and go on to fulfil all of his potential and that man went on to be a captain and icon. There have been so many good players who have looked good as a prospect and then tailed off; think about how highly Senderos, then Djourou, were rated, before their careers tailed off. But if this kid is the real deal then Arsenal need to take the punt; we don’t have the money available to get a 22-year-old version of Saliba with a £60million buyout clause. It needs to be done and it needs to be done now.
If he does come and if he is fast tracked in to the first team, however, you’d expect a player to leave. When all fit we currently have five centre halves and Chambers who can play there. Most of us suspect it might be Mustafi but I’m not so sure. I have a feeling the club might move on Koscielny because of his age profile and replacing him with Saliba means we have one heck of a very young set of central defenders for next season. Offloading Mustafi then means that we have just Sokratis as the experienced central defender and I just can’t see that happening. So I’d be surprised to see the changes many of us think will happen.
I think – should Saliba sign – we should also look at Rob Holding as a realistic career trajectory. In his first season he had some good games, some slightly ropey games, with patches of bad form in a bad season that was salvaged by an FA Cup final win against Chelski. It was only after a couple of seasons at the flub that we got a very good season out of Holding but that was punctuated by a season-ender in December against United. So I don’t think it would be too unrealistic to expect a similar path from a young player like Saliba – or any young prospect we sign – which makes me think that we might need to wait quite some time before the club ‘clicks’ and we are competitive.
Still, I suspect most of us expected that anyway, so it’s not exactly a complete surprise.
All this speculation rubbish is painful, isn’t it? Can’t wait for the countdown come this weekend. Means we can focus on football and not the murky world of transfers.
Catch you all tomorrow.