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Abou Diaby and the risk of a new Arsenal contract

Although Arsenal fans can sometimes be aggrieved and frustrated by Arsene Wenger’s policy in the transfer market, the way the French coach sticks by the players he believes in must be admired.

The Gunners boss frequently speaks about his belief in the players he has hand-picked to play for the north London club, despite some surely testing his faith.

One such player must be Abou Diaby; once seen as the heir to Patrick Vieira’s throne, now a man that has struggled for a considerable portion of his career to be fit enough to play.

The France international has been the victim of ankle ailments and has only managed 22 appearances for Arsenal in the space of the last four seasons.

Abou Diaby

Despite Diaby’s much-publicised problems, Wenger has been quoted as saying that he will stand by the midfielder and offer him a new contract if he can get back to fitness.

However, regardless of the fact that Diaby is said to be close to returning to action again for the umpteenth time, Arsenal may well be better cutting their losses on a player that they can no longer depend on.

When Alex Song was allowed to leave the club to join Barcelona, there was a train of thinking that Diaby’s presence in the squad would fill the void of defensive midfield enforcer.

The Frenchman has been unavailable and the Gunners have recalled Mathieu Flamini into the mix; seemingly the side have progressed without Diaby’s physical presence.

The next six months will be massively important for Diaby’s career. However, even if he does have a prolonged spell away from the treatment table the midfielder surely has a lot of work to do to earn a new Arsenal deal before his contract expires this summer.

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Arsenal given the runaround by Newcastle in summer transfer market

After a summer of expenditure in the transfer market, hopes were high that Arsenal finally had a squad to challenge on all fronts this term for the first season in recent memory.

Despite the early season form of Chilean superstar Alexis Sanchez, the North London club have experienced the same old problems of late.

A lack of strength in depth has blighted the Gunners in recent campaigns, with injuries to key men seeing players deployed out of position and occasionally out of their depth.

Defensive injuries mean that Nacho Monreal has had to play at centre-half, while youngster Calum Chambers has been thrown into the breach after switching from Southampton.

Following the departure of Bacary Sagna in the off-season, bringing in a new right-back was key for Arsene Wenger, with the arrival of Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle as a result.

However, the France international has suffered from injuries and as such has only played four games this term. Debuchy was not subtle in his desire to leave St James’ Park in the summer and pushed for a move to North London – something of a slap in the face to Newcastle.

The Tyneside club recuperated a fee in the region of £12 million for the former Lille full-back and spent around half of this on his replacement, Daryl Janmaat.

Daryl Janmaat

The Netherlands international was coming off the back of a positive World Cup campaign, having impressed over a number of seasons at Feyenoord.

Janmaat had big shoes to fill given Debuchy’s performances for Newcastle, especially on the front foot, but early signs indicate that Newcastle have carried out a very astute piece of business.

The 25-year-old provided both assists in Newcastle’s 2-0 win over West Brom at the weekend and has slotted into Alan Pardew’s defence almost seamlessly.

With Debuchy’s showings at the World Cup questionable and Janmaat available for cut-price fee in the summer, Newcastle seem to have got a much better deal than the Gunners in filling their right-back berth.

Assessing the English sides’ chances in the Champions League

After the hectic domestic festive season fixture list, the focus on Champions League football is set to return, with the knockout stages to be played next month.

England have four representatives in the final 16 teams, with Manchester United, City, Arsenal and Chelsea all eyeing up a place at this year’s Champions League final in Lisbon.

The Premier League sides have been given stern challenges in the next stage, but what are their chances of progression?

Chelsea vs Galatasaray

Jose Mourinho has experience of lifting the Champions League crown with Porto and Inter, and will be charged with bringing Europe’s top trophy to west London this season.

Didier Drogba

The Blues have been handed the task of 180 minutes against Turkish champions Galatasaray, with a number of familiar faces set to feature for the opposition.

Didier Drogba will return to face his former club, while ex-Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini is at the helm of the eastern European outfit. With a former Mourinho favourite in the form of Wesley Sneijder also in Gala’s ranks, it should be a test for the London side.

However, despite Galatasaray’s progression at the expense of Juventus in the group stages, Chelsea will fancy their chances of making the quarter-finals.

Arsenal vs Bayern Munich

Defeat to Napoli in their final group stage fixture has come back to haunt Arsenal, with the Gunners facing European champions Bayern in the next round. That said, Arsenal fans will have rushed to buy Champions League tickets when the draw was made, as the tie should be of the highest order.

Pep Guardiola’s star-studded squad will be motivated to retain their crown, and eliminated the north Londoners on the way to the title last term.

Arsene Wenger will be buoyed on by his side’s win at the Allianz Arena in the tie last season, and will look to improve on home soil this time round.

In what is set to be an explosive encounter, the Emirates Stadium side will need to be at their best to progress.

Manchester City vs Barcelona

A real glamour tie, this one pits a new force in European football against one of the perennial mainstays.

Yaya Touré

The sheer quality on both sides will make this a top-notch encounter, with Lionel Messi and co’s visit to fortress Etihad sure to be an eye-catching clash.

Yaya Toure will feature against his former club, while City’s credentials will be thoroughly put to the test at Camp Nou.

The winner of this tie will be confident of making it to the latter reaches of the tournament, and the clash could go either way.

Manchester United vs Olympiakos

The easiest of the four ties was handed to Manchester United, who face Greek side Olympiakos over two legs.

With domestic form the cause of agony for David Moyes, the Scottish manager will hope for a comprehensive progression through to the quarter-finals of the European tournament.

The opposition have one deadly striker in their midst in the form of Kostas Mitroglou, who has the ability to end United’s dream on the continent.

Despite a hostile environment in the away leg, anything other than a United progression would be something of a shock here.

United need Reus more than Arsenal do

Borussia Dortmund winger Marco Reus is in high demand after an impressive start to the new season, with the German club recently admitting that the attacker has a release clause in his contract. This has shortened the football betting odds on the talented forward making a move to the Premier League.

As such, both Arsenal and Manchester United have been linked with a move for the former Borussia Monchengladbach man, with his release clause thought to be in the £30 million region.

Arsenal’s link to the prodigious attacking midfielder is understandable, as Arsene Wenger has been steadily adding players from Germany to his squad over the last 12 months.

Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker, Serge Gnabry, Thomas Eisfeld and Mesut Ozil are all on the books of the north London club already.

Marco Reus

However, with the Gunners in real need of an out-and-out striker to take some of the load and responsibility away from Olivier Giroud, Wenger should have other priorities in the January transfer window.

Reus’ considerable abilities mean he would be an excellent addition to any squad, but given the presence of Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski and Ozil, another attacking midfielder is not necessarily what Arsenal need if they are to win silverware this term.

United on the other hand need a player of Reus’ ilk more than the Gunners do. The Premier League champions are over-reliant on Wayne Rooney to provide the craft and creativity to break teams down, while their wingers have been hit and miss over the last 12 months.

With the pursuit of a creative central midfielder falling flat, it has been up to Rooney to link United’s midfield and attack. The likes of Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have failed to impress of late, while Shinji Kagawa has been limited in his chances to play.

Reus’ addition would be a real boost for the Premier League champions, as he would bring energy, guile and technical quality to Old Trafford. His tendency to cut inside off his wing and play intricate passes with his number ten, Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Dortmund, would be a key bonus of signing him, as he could link up with Rooney in a way that United’s current wingers do not.

Kagawa still has a lot to prove at Old Trafford, and offering him in part-exchange could well be a mistake. Alternatively, should United meet Reus’ release clause and bring him to Manchester, two former Dortmund stars on the flanks for the champions looks like a mouthwatering prospect.

Will Jack Wilshere’s injuries threaten his World Cup place?

Jack Wilshere’s fledgling career has been full of ups and downs to date, with the Arsenal midfielder showing incredible ability, but not as often as Arsene Wenger would like.

The Emirates Stadium club youth graduate has been heralded as one the brightest prospects in the English game, and when fit and on form has been a great player for club and country.

However, despite the playmaker’s tender age of 21, Wilshere has had a number of serious injuries blight his career so far, which have held him back considerably.

This season Wilshere seems to have picked up innocuous ailments and has struggled to complete 90 minutes on regular occasion. Wenger has admitted that he wants to wrap the midfielder in cotton wool, and it is clear that the French coach is concerned that another serious injury could derail the player’s career.

Wilshere should consider new methods of conditioning, and the use of bcaas could boost his fitness and increase his physicality.

Jack Wilshere

With England qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil next summer, Wilshere is expected to be a key man for the Three Lions in the tournament.

With the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard ageing, the Arsenal man will be needed to provide stamina, energy and hard work to the English midfield.

However, in hot conditions, the games will come thick and fast over the space of the tournament. With Wilshere’s injury concerns at club level still apparent, whether he can play at his best every couple of days at international level remains to be seen.

There is no doubting the midfielder’s ability, and if he was fully fit and firing he could be the driving force in the England midfield for years to come. However, this looks far from assured at the moment.

Club team-mate Aaron Ramsey suffered a leg break earlier in his career, with the Welshman on the sidelines for a long period as a result. However, he has returned to action and looks as sharp, fit and able as ever. He never shirks a challenge and is one of the most-rounded midfielders in the British game.

Wilshere on the other hand has been held back by the physical nature of the English game and has struggled to show his best form consistently due to injuries.

Can Arsenal qualify from their Champions League group?

Arsenal were undoubtedly handed the toughest Champions League group of the Premier League competitors, and at the halfway stage sit on top of Group F.

However, having played two games at the Emirates Stadium and the weakest side away from home, the second half of the fixture list looks slightly more daunting.

Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli all sit on six points with two wins from three games, while Marseille have been the whipping boys with three consecutive defeats.

The game against Dortmund at the Emirates last time out had the potential to see Arsenal with one foot in the knockout stages if they won it. However, last season’s beaten finalists showing their clinical edge to win 2-1 in England, all is to play for. The Emirates Stadium faithful will hope they will be buying tickets for the Champions League in 2014, but whether there team are in the last 32 remains to be seen.

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger’s men must travel to Germany in their next game and face the intimidating atmosphere that Signal Iduna Park possesses. The French coach will urge his side to remember their 2-0 away win over Bayern Munich from last season’s tournament, but the visitors will have a tough 90 minutes without a doubt.

From there Marseille are the visitors to north London in Arsenal’s last home game; a must-win clash if the Gunners are to get through to the next stage.

Finally, a trip to San Paolo to face Napoli completes the group fixtures. It remains to be seen just how the other teams will go against each other and what the state of play will be before Arsenal travel to Italy. However, there is every chance that it could be a winner-takes-all clash against the accomplished Serie A side.

Napoli have proven to be tough opponents on the continent for a number of seasons, and beat Manchester City in Naples two seasons ago to see the Premier League side eliminated.

With Arsenal summer target Gonzalo Higuain leading the line for Rafa Benitez’s men, it could well be a nervy end to the campaign for the Gunners.

Realistically, Arsenal need to try to avoid defeat in all three games, drawing twice away from home and winning once at home. This should be enough to clinch a spot, but they may well rely on Marseille to get a point at some stage against either Dortmund or Napoli.

Come the end of the group fixtures, Wenger will hope that he is not left cursing Robert Lewandowski’s counter-attacking winner at the Emirates two weeks ago.

Arsenal fans don’t get your hopes up – Ozil and Di Maria are going nowhere

Arsene Wenger’s search for new players to bolster an Arsenal squad on its bare bones has led to rumours that the Gunners could move for Mesut Ozil and/or Angel Di Maria. Don’t bet on either of these players turning out for the north London side any time soon.

Yes, Real Madrid are on the verge of signing Gareth Bale for a world record transfer fee and yes they have already signed a couple of other players too. But it is in the Spanish capital city club’s psyche to have more players than they need.

Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria

Ozil is a massively important player for Carlo Ancelotti’s men as is the main player in the squad that offers understated creativity and guile. With Bale set to play on the left and Cristiano Ronaldo through the middle, Di Maria will fight it out with Isco for a place on the right wing.

Arsenal will no doubt sign a player or two before the transfer window closes, but it sure won’t be either of these two.

Arsenal miss out on Higuain – Liverpool’s Suarez a gamble

A few weeks ago Gonzalo Higauin’s move from Real Madrid to Arsenal seemed to be set in stone, a case of mere formalities. But yesterday he completed a move to join Rafa Benitez at Napoli. Perhaps over a disagreement on how much Higuain was worth, communications between Arsenal and Real slowed and the Gunners turned their targets to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez. Where Higuain seemed to fit Arsenal character wise, Suarez seems the opposite. Not only is he an on and off field risk, but the chances of them actually signing him are much lower than they had of getting Higuain. But Arsenal’s ponderousness in the market this summer has seen all of the top available strikers already seal moves and it leaves them with near enough just Luis Suarez left to pursue. They’ve resisted the much easier to sign Higuain to go after the more expensive and more risky Suarez and even if they do get him, the gamble doesn’t end there.

Gonzalo Higuain is a world class striker. He has scored 107 goals in 187 games for Real Madrid. He’s proven himself over a much longer period in an elite league and the Champions League than the likes of Falcao, Cavani, Lewandowski and even Suarez and it was a surprise that he was initially only catching Arsenal’s eye. The price of £22m that was originally mooted was always going to be too low and it was suitably rejected by Real Madrid. It seems that when Madrid raised their price, and not just as was reported, because of the Cavani deal, Arsenal backed away. The recipients of £55m from PSG, Napoli then had the kind of money available to go out and sign Higuain themselves. After interest from Juventus had quietened down, suddenly only Napoli were competing for Higuain with Arsenal.

Gonzalo Higuaín

Whether or not Arsenal’s bid for Suarez was initially to try and ruffle Real Madrid’s feathers or not, they have ended up possibly competing against Real for the Uruguayan. Maybe that first bid was to hurry Real in to accepting their offer for Higuain, or maybe it was just an opening salvo in what has become a long drawn out chase. But either way, they’ve gotten themselves distracted with going for Suarez and the reason could be that he is encouraging it. When the offer first came in it was met with befuddlement. Suarez had said he wanted to leave Liverpool to get out of England, but when no serious interest from overseas showed itself, the offer from Arsenal suddenly appealed to him. Perhaps at this stage, what had started as a speculative approach suddenly became very serious for Arsenal. They must have persuaded themselves that they could get him for £40m on the understanding of a release clause and that he was willing to come to the club.

Once they’d come to this conclusion, and decided that they could justify paying the £40,000,001 they thought would get him, they’d laid down arms in the pursuit of Higuain. In the mean time, Higuain, perhaps alienated by Arsenal’s stance, had agreed a move to Napoli who were willing to pay Real Madrid the £32m they asked for. So now, with Higuain in Naples, and Liverpool saying they want £55m because the £40m clause didn’t mean they had to sell, Arsenal are in no man’s land.

Luis Suarez

Higuain is a predator of a striker, a natural and easy finisher who has thrived on the Real Madrid supply line over many years. He is a wonderful professional and team mate who doesn’t get involved in controversy, he just keeps his head down and scores goals. That is exactly what Arsenal needed coming in to this summer and why his possible signing was causing so much excitement. They’d have the man to put in the chances created by Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere. They’d have gotten that for £32m if they’d just given Real Madrid the money before Napoli sold Cavani.

Instead, they are now looking to pay £40m+ to even get a chance to negotiate with Suarez. Suarez, who is banned until October in the Premier League, is anything but a saint either on or off the pitch. He plays on the edge, and although this creates moments of unstoppable skill, pace and goals, it also means he is on the verge of self destruction at all times. I don’t need to list his various travails in England, but with a 10 match ban on his slate, he is one big explosion away from an even longer one.

Suarez is a more dynamic player than Higuain but that dynamism is going to cost a lot more to buy and comes with a huge amount of risk. Arsenal have gotten themselves in a tangle in the pursuit of Suarez, one that might not even end in success if Liverpool stand firm or Real Madrid match any offers, and they might end up buying themselves a beautiful nightmare.

Ashley Williams wants a move to Arsenal or Liverpool – but do they want him?

Ashley Williams has been very good for Swansea in his two years in the Premier League and has apparently caught the attention of Arsenal and Liverpool. Swansea have been adamant that they haven’t had any bids for Williams and are laying down an asking price of £10m to try to put rumours to bed. However, with reports that he may be at the stage where he asks to be allowed to speak to any interested clubs, Williams is pressing ahead with his desire.

Apparently, Williams sees his future at Arsenal. But, there are more than a few questions to be asked as to whether Arsenal are actually realistically in the chase to sign him. Firstly, Williams is 29 years old. Arsene Wenger doesn’t sign 29 year olds. In fact, his almost phobic approach to 30 year olds already at the club getting more than one year contracts has only recently ceased. If he signed at Arsenal, he’d be there for at most three years. Wenger doesn’t tend to do things for three years. It might be a different if he was signing Xavi or Cristiano Ronaldo for three years, but with respect, this is Ashley Williams.

Williams also is not an upgrade on either of Arsenal’s starting centre backs. In fact, he’d probably be fourth in the queue behind Thomas Vermaelen too. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were excellent together last season and formed the second tightest defence in the Premier League. If Williams did go to Arsenal he’d be sat on the bench. Why does he want that? He has certainly been impressive at times in his first two years in elite competition but he won’t displace either starter any time soon. Arsene Wenger has searched for central defensive solidity for many years and now that he finally has it, surely won’t be tempted to mess around with his excellent pairing.

Ashley Williams

The only way that Williams would get in to the Arsenal lineup is if they, for some reason, decided to sell Laurent Koscielny to Bayern or Barcelona, his two main suitors. However, Koscielny has four years left on his contract, and is very happy at the club. Indeed, Arsenal seem to be in a position now where they are looking to push up the table towards trying to win the league. Selling Koscielny will not be part of that plan.

The other teams rumoured to be interested seem to be Liverpool and Everton. Liverpool is logical as Williams worked with Brendan Rodgers at Swansea. However, Liverpool’s ownership are unlikely to sanction a £10m outlay on a 29 year old. The Fenway group have made it very clear that they will only invest in players who they could re sell or have for a long time. They’ve only just sold Andy Carroll at a £20m loss and Williams would lose all £10m of face value that they pay for him. Liverpool haven’t signed anyone other than free agent Kolo Toure over 25 under Fenway ownership. Everton could make sense, but again the price tag is a concern. If it was more like £5-6m they may be able to pay it but Roberto Martinez knows how to find overseas bargains and paying inflated prices for players from English teams hasn’t been a way for Everton to do things in many years.

Ashley Williams may be making a huge mistake in asking to leave Swansea. He is the captain of the club and has grown up with them as they have moved through the divisions. The kind of clubs he wants to move to don’t look to be ideal options for him for various reasons – age, price, need, so it’s unclear how heavily pursued he will be.

Manchester City want Blaise Matuidi, but he’d be perfect for Arsenal

PSG midfield destroyer Blaise Matuidi has just a year left on his contract, which is of great interest to Manchester City who are rumoured to be interested in him as they transition away from Roberto Mancini’s 4-4-2 to Manuel Pellegrini’s 4-2-3-1. Matuidi could possibly partner Yaya Toure deep in midfield in this new formation. However, if he does become available, he looks like an interesting option for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

Aaron Ramsey played well as the pure defensive shield as Wenger tweaked his system over the second half of last season and this new role allowed him to afford the defence good protection leading to them being the second tightest unit in the league. He is a good worker and interceptor of the ball and improved steadily in the role. However, unlike Marouane Fellaini whose rampaging menace would be near enough neutered playing this role at Arsenal, it is something Matuidi is amongst the best in Europe at doing. If Arsenal bought Fellaini and restricted him to being a pure shield, a simple and limited role, they would be wasting their time spending so much. However, with Matuidi the upgrade as this pure defensive minded shield would be big, big enough to justify the outlay.

Blaise Matuidi

If you don’t know much about Matuidi, just know this. PSG bought him to replace Claude Makelele. It sums his game up and shows what he would offer Arsenal. Wenger is teaching Ramsey to play that role and what is required is superb positioning and sensing of danger, tackling skill, intercepting ability and the awareness to select the correct distribution option. Ramsey is doing decently at getting stuck in but his distribution isn’t ideal for the job. Matuidi already has it all. He’s also a huge presence on the field with his leadership and reliability. Arsenal could do with a few more players that can be relied on to perform at the same level every week. Tactically it would also allow Wenger to continue to use Jack Wilshere further forwards where he seems to see his future.

The doubt in all of this is whether or not PSG would let him leave. Although he only has a year on his contract he is a key player for them. He has played 80 games in his two seasons in Paris and despite their infatuation with star power whoever ends up managing them, maybe Andre Villas-Boas, will be well aware of his importance. You can have all the attackers you like but unless you have someone with the discipline and sense of responsibility to work for the team and position themselves effectively then the team can’t win. He’s probably worth about £10-12m given his contract situation but it’s hard to see how PSG would let him leave. If they do though, Arsenal might hold an advantage over Man City.

At Arsenal Matuidi would be a guaranteed starter. At City, he wouldn’t have the same security. City have just spent £34m on Fernandinho to be their play maker. Manuel Pellegrini is an advocate of the 4-2-3-1, which would likely see Fernandinho partner Toure in the two, particularly if rumours linking the club to Isco come true. At Arsenal, his only competition would be Aaron Ramsey and he is much better at the role they would compete for.

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