Arsenal news – Europa League build-up
In the run-up to Baku, some intriguing news has come up on various fronts:
Sky Sports announced that Petr Cech is to become Chelsea’s new technical director.
I have some thoughts, some of which are conflicting on this.
Petr Cech is a Chelsea legend and attained great heights at the club. He has been a fair player for us, but not a legend in any stretch. Not at Seaman, Jennings, Wilson, Crayston, or Lehmann levels, for sure.
He joined us in 2015, since essentially he was unwanted at Chelsea, given his age. We needed a top-level keeper, and he didn’t have to leave London and destabilise his family.
But the news of him going to Chelsea in some capacity has been mooted for a while. So really this isn’t a surprise.
However, there are some points here which I feel need addressing:
“Throwing the game”
Due to his evident Chelsea associations, there are insinuations that he won’t apply himself as he should. And as they will be his employer next season, he would be torn as to what to do.
However, this view in my mind unfairly questions Cech’s integrity and professionalism. I’ve not seen anything in his career thus far that can show where he has deliberately been dishonest on the pitch.
Some would say he “gifted” a goal to Chelsea in 2017 in jest, where he passed to Fabregas in a 3-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge. But conversely, he was involved in the 1-0 2015 Community Shield win vs. Chelsea, and also in the 3-0 league win in 2016.
It’s even borderline offensive to say that he won’t be professional, and I feel he deserves more credit than this, considering his behaviour to date. Many pros who’ve played with him have commented on his dedication, attention to detail and his professionalism.
It’s an unfair and baseless assumption to say he may “accidentally/intentionally” make an error to cost us the game and make Chelsea win it.
There are thoughts in the online sphere that Chelsea released this story to try and undermine our efforts. It has, in the fanbase at least. And IF this is true – and that’s a huge if – Chelsea would know how our online presence can be. We’re quite easily triggered, it must be said.
That said, it won’t do anything in-house. I’d like to believe that Emery already knew of Cech’s intentions – in that this was all disclosed in house.
Cech himself – despite fears of unprofessionalism – has not corroborated the reports and said his only intention is to win the cup for us.
So, really, what has changed? It may be an open secret that he’s going. But the “secret” is still contained.
Though if it were a trick to destabilise our preparations, Chelsea has arguably worse issues. Hazard is going, as is seemingly Sarri. They have a transfer ban, and many of their top signings lately haven’t progressed. Kepa, Jorginho, and even Higuain haven’t been able to their optimum. Issues like racist fans, and the halted stadium redevelopment, also figure.
This could all be a storm in a teacup though the timing of this news is peculiar.
Not our best keeper
Leno has been better overall this season. Cech in fairness is one the way out in his career, both in retirement and quality terms.
In our first major European final since 2006, and given we’ve only won two European trophies before, it’s seen as good to have our strongest team possible.
Though I believe Cech should be good enough to play in this game. There are, as I alluded to above, deeper issues why this information got released.
It could be that Emery specifically made Cech the EL keeper. And we don’t know if his joining Chelsea was not disclosed internally and amidst this game and the opponents. There was the talk of an Arsenal/Chelsea final for months, given they’re the two best teams. So something of these lines, and that Cech had been mooted for a Chelsea position for a while, was on the cards.
Leno may be a better option – though if Cech has specifically been installed as the EL keeper, it must stand.
I don’t see it as a major issue. It may not be a common view in the online Arsenalsphere. But it’s wrong to question Cech’s commitment and integrity in this capacity.
The Henrikh Mkhitaryan matter is sad – though for me the international relations of the governments of its members are not a direct concern of UEFA.
However, whilst it cannot control political and military conflicts, it can work around them, as any organisation would in this case.
It could have arranged extra security for Mkhi, or even compensated the Azerbaijan FA and government and host it in England (or the wider UK if a Welsh or Scottish ground is available), or in France, the Netherlands, Ireland, or another nearby UEFA member. Or even get the Azerbaijani army to ensure safety, or hire even British Army personnel. The UK has no dog in this fight, and neither side would want to agitate Britain by attacking its troops there.
In a nutshell, Armenia and Azerbaijan were former parts of the USSR but now are independent countries. However, they fought a war in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is an area of disputed lands between them. The Azerbaijani government refuses to let it be independent, or join Armenia, and believes it’s inherently Azerbaijani. A ceasefire exists between the two and conflict could arise at any time. Rhetoric from the Azerbaijani President is often tense and terse towards Armenia.
Due to the Armenian conflict, and want to retake the Nagorno-Karabakh region, all Armenians or those of Armenian descent are banned from the country. So with no formal relations between the two, it’s natural that they cannot guarantee his safety. He would hold no legal recognition in the country, and without any grand hyperbole, he could feasibly be killed without any recourse. It’s like if a German citizen, who wasn’t a member of the Wehrmacht in WWII, travelled to the UK or USSR, or the USA. Since both sides were at war, and that s/he was not a military combatant, the Geneva Convention wouldn’t have applied. They would have put their life in their own hands, and be at the mercy and grace of the opposing country.
If something happened to Mkhi, God forbid if he opted to go, then he couldn’t have contacted the Armenian embassy or even got local police help. His nationality isn’t even allowed in the country, so he has neither legal standing nor recognition there.
He has no right really to play with his own life – and he fully is within his rights NOT to go. It’s his total prerogative.
Could the club have hired private security? We’re not at Man City’s financial level, or Man United’s for that matter, but we’re not paupers. However, the decision makes sense from Mkhi’s part.
The issue I feel ultimately rests on UEFA. It has thoroughly mismanaged this process – and many of these points ranging from the ticket prices, to the airport capacity, and fans’ travel arrangements, all don’t add up. Trust in the integrity of the major football administrative bodies is at an all-time low, and this is just another reason to weaken it.
Should we boycott the final? Should we and Chelsea make a stand here, since both clubs have been affected by the travel problems?
No, we shouldn’t.
What Chelsea do is their concern.
But for us – we haven’t won a European trophy since 1994. 2000 and 2006 still hurt and had we done properly in both, we should have won both the UEFA Cup and Champions League.
And if we did boycott it, then UEFA would surely ban us. They wouldn’t have any real qualms in doing this – and why shoot ourselves in the foot and deny ourselves the revenues we clearly seek. Not being in Europe could kill the club – well not kill it totally – but surely undermine us at the highest footballing levels.
So despite the moral outrage, on various fronts, the potential sanctions imposed would be too harsh to handle.
Arsenal’s Youtube account released two vids featuring the head of football, Raul Sanhelli, and the MD, Vinai Venkatesham, concerning the strategy, goals, and intentions of the club.
They both said many of the things we expect and want to hear.
- A new structure, moving away from the “one manager runs all” model of Arsene Wenger
- Being smart in our acquisitions, and our financial and squad management
- Getting into the Champions League again and competing for this and the Premier League
- Saying that the Ramsey issue was about the wage bill, and offers made by the previous regime
- That a technical director will result “very soon”
- That KSE/Stan Kroenke is committed to getting Arsenal to the top
- The club is proud of its women’s champions side
- The club wants to retain its traditions in strong youth development
These are all points that the fans know of and would expect any leadership of Arsenal to say.
As THE Arsenal, we shouldn’t expect anything else.
Sanhelli’s English, I must say, is excellent and as a seasoned football executive, we can go places with his knowledge and expertise. His points on the transfer window, in that he despises deadline day, gave insight into the process involved.
Venkatesham also came across well, and it seems his experience in the club, and with our various commercial contacts, will serve us well.
Sanhelli said that our global brand and name – essentially as THE Arsenal – is a factor in getting players. And this makes sense for all big global clubs. But getting back into the CL would be the icing on the cake, and they both know it.
So they’ve talked a good game – but talk is one thing. Action is another.
It seems they are committed and have produced some positive scenes.
Emery is expounding the skills we need in modern football – tactical flexibility and adaptability to other sides. A technical director – which could be former player Edu Gaspar – is coming. Our training ground, stadium, and youth academy, are all top-notch. And we’ve gained a structure which only City and Liverpool of the top six can better or surpass. United would kill to have somebody like a Sanhelli.
The green shoots are visible, though if it results in a full bloom remains to be seen.
Let’s hope that the talk and the action do indeed correlate.
And lastly, and on a positive note:
Apparently, our star strikers have modelled our new Adidas kits.
And for me, they look good. The home one is retro and reminds me of the late 1980s designs.
The away one is traditional Arsenal yellow, which has been sporadic in the Puma kits (and the Nike ones to be fair).
I would buy one, or both, if they were available. So we’ll see if they are the first items in our new kit deal.
Let’s play in it in the Champions League next season. It’s just one game next week near the Caspian Sea to gain this in. Let’s do this.