Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Tomorrow Belongs to Me(sut)

I've deliberately avoided commenting on Arsenal since the end of last season, and am even now wondering if it is still too early to make any sort of reasoned judgement (6 league games in was my mental target before the season began), but the closure of the transfer window seems an appropriate time to make a few observations (the fans who chanted "spend some fucking money" during the Villa debacle were a tad premature). The first observation is that the window is helping, along with UEFA qualifiers and staggered games, to blur the sense of a definite start to the season. I'm not a traditionalist, but I would prefer all the opening fixtures to kick-off at 3pm on the first Saturday, and for the transfer window to have closed, so we have a real sense of a beginning, rather than the current ragged procession.

Paul Lambert looks like he may be able to fashion a mid-table team out of last season's relegation-flirters, but Villa's victory at the Emirates owed as much to Arsenal's slow start as their own hard work. The goals arose from mistakes by two of our better players, Wilshere and Cazorla, neither of whom looked fully match-fit. Generally the team were a fraction too slow and appeared to be still in pre-season mode. Fears that this might be 2011 all over again were allayed by hard-working victories over Fulham and Spurs, interspersed with a highly professional two-legged performance against Fenerbahce in the Champions League qualifier.

The victory over the Lilywhites left everyone feeling much more bullish, in no small measure because it highlighted the value of team familiarity, in the face of the neighbours' transfer splurge, and the rewards for patience, notably in the case of Aaron Ramsey. As I suggested back in May, our prospects for this season would be as much about who didn't leave in the summer as who arrived. In the event, Wenger deserves credit for moving on a lot of stale players (8 former first-team squad members), though this is being drowned-out by chuntering over the paucity of replacements: no new experienced striker or central defender. The signing of Mesut Ozil has lifted spirits, but some fans question whether we need another attacking midfielder.

I think this indicates that too many are still stuck with the old paradigm in which the front and back lines have equal weight with the middle. What the world record fees for Ronaldo and Bale should indicate is that attacking midfielders are the key to successful teams. In fact, the world record hasn't been held by a striker since Hernan Crespo in 2000. Arsenal were unwilling to meet Real Madrid's valuation of £30m for Higuain, and I suspect that £40m for Suarez wasn't far off their maximum bid (another tenner, perhaps). However, £42.5m for Ozil looks like an intelligent investment.

Wenger is often accused of being tactically out-thought (though anyone with eyes to see on Sunday knows he got the better of Villas Boas), largely because he tends to focus on maximising individual performance within a team framework rather than mastering drills and set-pieces (Spurs looked like a better Stoke, and I'm not being uncharitable in saying that). A characteristic of this approach is that he develops players' ability to operate in multiple roles and to dynamically switch during the game, which places a premium on intelligent midfielders. The debate last season over whether Walcott should play centrally ignored the fact that Wenger has long asked his players to be flexible: on the wing and down the middle are not mutually exclusive over the course of 90 minutes. Mathieu Flamini, who famously thrived as a full-back before settling as a midfield terrier, is an emblematic re-acquisition in this regard, while Ramsey's stint on the wing during his recuperation should be seen as part of his education rather than "easing him back in".

Having said all that, we are (as ever) only a couple of injuries away from a problem, so another striker and a central defender would have been nice. I suspect Wenger does not think the latter an issue, as he obviously considers both Sagna and Arteta capable of playing there (and was happy to let Miquel and Djourou go on loan), while it's worth remembering that Arsenal classify both Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain as strikers. A David Villa or Luis Suarez would have kept the fans happy, but the bigger issue in the event of an injury to Giroud would be the loss of his aerial ability, notably as an outlet for a pressed defence (he worked his socks off in this role against Spurs). Ba for Bendtner would have been good business. With the Great Dane still exit-bound, I suspect we might pick up the thread when the transfer window reopens in January.

It's a long way to the business end of the season, so we can expect further setbacks and surprises, but the signing of Ozil, and the revelation that we really do have a war-chest after all, will probably keep the fans in a glass-half-full frame of mind for now. It's all hype of course, both the extremes of "Wenger's reached his sell-by-date" and "Ozil is the new Bergkamp" (no pressure there, then). The one thing you can predict is that Arsenal's midfield is going to be the most interesting to watch this season, which will probably leave messrs Mourinho, Pellegrini and Moyes feeling a bit sour today.

My final observation is that while Arsene is famous for buying French and Francophone African players, and much press coverage has focused on his developing a young British core in recent years, he has always had an eye for Germans, from Stefan Malz and Moritz Volz through Jens Lehmann. As well as the current crop of first-teamers, there are promising signs with youngsters Serge Gnabry and Gideon Zelalem, both of whom made the bench against Tottenham. There would be a certain symmetry if Wenger, who hails from the border lands of Alsace, should book-end his Arsenal career with great teams based on first a Franco-British mix and then a Germano-British one.


  1. Good God, if wasn't bad enough you're a Lefty now I realise your'e a Woolwich Wonderer as well ; )

  2. Anyway I didn't come here to tell you how Arsenal will not finish top four this season, I came here to let you know that your concerns over intellectual property standing in the way decentralised manufacturing are unnecessary, the powers that be haven't been able to stop people exchanging music and video files over the internet so I don't see how they will stop people sharing bacon cheese burger files. Maybe there will even be an open source cheese burger and we can avoid the issue all together.

  3. Chad,

    Cheeseburgers are unlike music in one key respect. Unless you are an obsessive, you'll want to consume music from lots of different producers (i.e. artists/bands), but you probably have a preference for a specific brand of cheeseburger. There is a reason why fast-food companies spend so much money on advertising and developing brand loyalty.

    Ultimately, you may be able to print an opensource cheesburger for free, but in the same way that you may be able to print a fizzy drink that looks and tastes like Coke. The problem is, it won't be the real thing. In other words, people will pay a royalty fee for the privilege of printing off a McDonald's cheeseburger, or a KFC bucket with its "secret recipe" of herbs and spices. You might think that this is mad, and that we'll all happily eat generic burgers, but the evidence is pretty clear that people will pay for a brand, and a brand is just IP.

    As regards digital music, the big change for the industry has not been free downloading but the shift from album to single purchases. It's no secret that music companies historically made their margin on LPs, the singles being essentially advertising or loss-leaders. The result of this has been a shift from media sales to live performances and ancillary merchandising. We spend a lot less per capita on recorded music today, but this has been offset by spending more on the wider products of the music industry (festivals, gigs, DVDs etc). The big growth area of the industry now is micropayment streaming on mobile devices, which is a "purer" form of royalty than the old method of a one-off fee for a medium that could be copied (i.e. you pay per play).

    This evolution has also seen the industry become more polarised. By this I mean that there are now lots of musicians at the bottom end who can no longer earn a living (partly due to wannabes giving it away for free via YouTube), and a small number of even richer superstar rights-holders at the top end (and in this regard Simon Cowell counts as much as Lady Gaga). The "middle class" of bands that could make a living gigging in pubs and midscale venues, and even pay off the mortgage with a top-50 album, has all but disappeared.

    With the ability to reach economic viability as an independent increasingly difficult, and success in the industry thus increasingly dependent on corporate channels, more and more of market share is being taken by existing rights-holders. The reason why old bands reform and go on tour is because their media royalties have dried up. Live performance is now the way you monetise your back catalogue. This inevitably squeezes out new talent, which is denied gig-time as much as radio and TV air-time.

    So the tale of digital music is not quite the free-for-all that you suppose. There is more music out there, and there is a lot you can get for free, but rights-holders have an increasingly large share of the revenue pie.

    And for other readers wondering what the hell this has to do with Mesut Ozil, the origins of this exchange can be found here: A Capitalists' Recovery.

  4. David,

    You are right, I do think the idea that people will prefer paying royalties for a McDonald's cheeseburger over an almost free open source cheeseburger is mad. I don't see it happening but maybe I am assuming too much that everybody thinks like me. I suppose one of the main reasons I consider myself of a right-wing persuasion is I believe people should strive to be self-sufficient, relying on something/someone external to sustain you is not freedom and it opens the door to authoritarianism (warning: this may be at odds with your belief that right-libertarianism is all about maintaining concentrations of wealth in the hands of a few - yes I've been reading your blog =) ), but of course I shouldn't expect people to consider this as they go about their daily lives, I think about things too much. Another point is I have spend a large portion of my life in developing countries so perhaps I am more accustomed to a working class that isn't quite as pampered = ).

    Anyway If what you are saying is true then clearly corporate capitalism is roaring success and will be providing working people with disposable incomes to spend on whatever overpriced branded product their little hearts desire for the foreseeable future and this talk of the crisis of capitalism etc. is premature so everybody as you were, no need for revolution, put the masks away, nothing to see here.

    I won't harp on about this because it remains to be seen that it will ever be practical or even possible to print cheeseburgers...but watch this space.

  5. I just had a thought, it must be because of their socialist wage structure that you and Dillow support Arsenal.

  6. I can't speak for Chris Dillow, but ensuring parity among millionaires isn't what I'd call socialist. My support for the club is due to heredity (my Dad was a fan) and territorial loyalty (I was born in Crouch Hill) - all good conservative principles. Mind yoiu, I do like the colour red.

  7. I know I know, it was a joke.