2013-14 Season Preview Part 2: The Departures

I write this having just returned from the Pig, a meaningless but thoroughly-enjoyable 3-1 friendly win over Manchester City serving as the backdrop for a lovely afternoon. It's fitting that while I'm in a decent mood, today's part of the preview covers the only good part of the transfer window for us so far - the departures.

We may as well start with my favorite one:


New Club:  A.S. Roma - £8M
2012 Appearances: 13 (7)
2012 TMG Average Rating: 6.50
2012 Man of the Match Awards: 2

This about sums up my feelings upon hearing that AS Roma paid us actual legal-tender currency for the Ivorian.

The thing is, in an alternate universe he could have been a fantastic player for us. Despite how pear-shaped it went, the man has unquestionable skill. There were moments where, having no time to think about it, he conjured a magical dribble-and-shot out of nothing. When he doesn't impersonate a newborn foal, he has remarkable close control and good instincts. Generally, he always pushed forward and attacked the opposition, which few of his now-former compatriots can say.

Two things combined to undermine his chances in red-and-white, though. First, he is clearly weak mentally. His confidence visibly departed from one nanosecond to the next, a flash of positivity quickly followed by the haunted look of a college freshman who accidentally wandered into 404 Physics.

The second was a matter of timing. Two years after the Invincibles season, most of us would have thought: "OK, this guy's struggling a bit, but Arsene knows what he's doing...he'll come good". However, with our dry spell nearing its first decade, littered with squandered opportunities where one or two top-level recruits would have made all the difference, fixer-uppers just won't cut it anymore. Take a guy whose confidence is this fragile and put him in that scenario, and he never had a snowball's chance. It's sad, in a way...and reminiscent of Fabianski's situation, where it is the worst of all worlds for each side.

Roma may be perfect for him in the end. The weight of expectation will be far lessened at a club who won't expect to seriously compete with Juventus and Napoli, and where he is at best a supporting player. Francesco Totti will shield him from the Roman spotlight, that's for sure.

Despite my joy at seeing the back of him in terms of our own squad balance, I wish him nothing but the best in Italy.

Vito Mannone

New Club:  Sunderland - £2M
2012 Appearances: 12 (0)
2012 TMG Average Rating: 6.42
2012 Man of the Match Awards: 2
It is astonishing how the same man who I gave the MOTM to in our loss away to Manchester United (no, really) is the same one whose existence in the starting XI left us in an early hole that we never recovered from.

Many of us remember his astonishing single-handed rescue of a game away to Fulham a few years back. Had Mannone replicated that level of confidence and ability throughout his Arsenal career, this section might have had a bit more Polish flavor. As it stands, he is another who could not muster the wherewithal to play to his potential when it counted.

Goalkeeping is drastically different when you are confident and locked in as opposed to when you have a case of the yips. With the former, time slows down - you see the shot leaving the striker's foot and your body moves on its own. A dive here, a jump there, everything is in your hands and either caught or strongly parried to safety. The clock runs in triple-time, and you're in the pub with a beer and an easy victory before conscious thought returns. Fulham would have been like that for young Vito.

On the other hand, most of the matches he played in under duress (remember last time, when I talked about concurrent injuries to our stained-glass first-choice goalkeepers?) would have been the darker side of the position. Every opposing attack feels like a descending squadron of Leo Messi clones. The clock oozes along, each second lasting a week and a half. Something goes mildly wrong early on and that goddamn voice in the back of your mind starts up - oh, hell...here we go again. There's the alternating internal monologue, starting with self-loathing (Come on, you idiot...get in the game here! What the fuck is WRONG with you?) to the hollow attempts to talk yourself back into things (OK, calm down...just....calm down. We're fine. We got this. Just need that one big save, right? OK, I'm ready. I'm ready. I got this.) Sometimes, the two are reversed. Neither does much to help.

Mannone, like Manuel Almunia before him, is a guy with solid fundamentals and demonstrable skill who wilted in the harsh environment of the Premier League. What people don't often get is that there is a relative many with the ability, but there is a precious few with the heart and spirit to rise to the occasion. That is what gobsmacks me about Arsene's inability to staff the position - he had the template for the ideal Premier League keeper in Jens Lehmann, and he's never gone out and gotten another one.

Early prediction - if Mannone starts more than 2/3rds of Sunderland's matches this season, they'll be spending the next on coach trips to Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday.

Johan Djourou

New Club:  Hamburger SV (Loan)

2012 Appearances: 2 (0)
2012 TMG Average Rating: 6.00
2012 Man of the Match Awards: 0
Djourou continues our theme of talented players who have lost their way, but his example is all the more glaring for his early success with the club. Mannone was third-choice and always would have been, and Gervinho never found his bearings. Djourou had several productive years, where it looked for all the world like he would break through and claim a center-half slot as his own.

I don't have the photographic memory that many fellow Gooners seem to have (I define "photographic memory" as "being able to remember anything", but I digress), so I can't pinpoint where it started to go wrong. It must have been sometime in the season before last, where our continued failures and Arsene's continued intransigence in the transfer market made things toxic around the club. As I dimly recall, Djourou had some putrid games trying to play in a backline that was in absolute disarray, and that was it. He never recovered.

That, I think, is the kind of experience that can finish a player at a club - and by that I mean guys significantly better than Djourou ever was. Remember, that was the season when Vermaelen started to deteriorate, Koscielny was struggling to adapt, Sagna was starting to decay, Gibbs hadn't made the leap, and it was clear no one was coaching these guys. Who could succeed in that environment?

This past season, we all knew it was over for the Swiss man. Other than two cameo appearances, he spent the rest of his time out on loan to Hannover '96. Now with Hamburg, there is an option for the German club to buy him at the end of the season. It's best for all involved if they exercise that clause. 

Francis Coquelin

New Club:  Freiburg (Loan)

2012 Appearances: 8 (9)
2012 TMG Average Rating: 6.75
2012 Man of the Match Awards: 0
This one...this one I just don't get. He didn't have many opportunities last season, but he performed acceptably-well when he did play. Given our lack of a holding midfielder, why would we loan out one of the few that we have...especially when he is versatile enough to play at another position we are short in at right back?

I think this one may come back to haunt us.

Joel Campbell

New Club:  Olympiacos (Loan)

2012 Appearances: N/A
2012 TMG Average Rating: N/A
2012 Man of the Match Awards: N/A
So, yeah, remember that one transfer window where we didn't buy anyone of note (you know, that one...no, not THAT one...the other one!), where instead of pursuing actual targets we had Dick Law gallavanting around Costa Rica for 2 weeks trying to find this guy's actual agent? And then we signed him, and he didn't get a work permit? Wasn't that hilarious?

We are run by clowns.

Ignasi Miquel

New Club:  Leicester City (Loan)

2012 Appearances: 2 (1)
2012 TMG Average Rating: 5.00
2012 Man of the Match Awards: 0
One possible argument is that the only thing young Miquel has shown in his limited appearances for the club is what a museum-ready specimen of Completely Overmatched Footballer looks like. On the other hand, we have exactly two fit center-halves right now, leaving us an injury or two away from fielding the winner of the stadium 50/50 raffle alongside Per or Kos.

I suspect that this plan may have several flaws.

Sebastian Squillaci

New Club:  Bastia (Free Transfer)
2012 Appearances: 1 (0)
2012 TMG Average Rating: N/A (I missed the Olympiacos dead rubber)
2012 Man of the Match Awards: 0
I've talked about this before, and I stand by it - this is a transfer that made perfect sense at the time. It was kind of crap luck that it turned out this badly. In the midst of our infamous Youth Project, we bought a highly-experienced defender who had been to the Champions League with Monaco as well as Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup with France.

The only explanation is that someone must have been sticking pins in a voodoo doll somewhere.

It is amazing though how we keep coming back to the same story - an otherwise-talented footballer comes into Arsenal and within a season or two is a haunted shell of what they were.


New Club:  Sao Paulo (Free Transfer)
2012 Appearances: N/A
2012 TMG Average Rating: N/A
2012 Man of the Match Awards: N/A
Whenever I think of this gutless little twerp, I can only think of that scene in the Lord of the Rings movies where Smeagol cries out: "GO AWAY.......AND NEVER COME BACK!".

We all know the story here, so I won't waste too many words on this sorry excuse for a professional (other to say that once again, early promise decayed into...this...amazingly quickly). Just think back to that goal we conceded against Manchester United a few seasons ago where Rooney hit us on the counter. You know, the one where the camera showed the referee running faster into our end than this bastard was in trying to catch up, despite the fact that he was supposed to be the holding midfielder.

Think back on that, get angry all over again, and then get happy because he will never be within 20 postal codes of an Arsenal shirt again. Hallelujah.

Andre Santos

New Club:  Flamengo (Free Transfer)
2012 Appearances: 5 (6)
2012 TMG Average Rating: 5.22
2012 Man of the Match Awards: 0
Speaking of useless Brazilian footballers, it's Andre Santos, everybody! The only difference is that Brazilian football is in such a downswing that this joker has been capped a mind-blowing 24 times. Mull that one over for a few minutes and marvel at the unpredictability of life.

I know he scored a few good goals for us, but I'll never forgive the shirt-swapping with Judas. Never.

Further, he was astoundingly terrible at his position. Time and again he would get caught too high up the field, or standing too far off of his marker. He knows as much about the basic tenets of defending as I do about trigonometry. I highly doubt that anyone with 10+ appearances will ever have a lower average rating from the blog, especially when you take into account that I start at a base 7. 

Hey, Arsene...how about we buy our next Brazilian never, OK?

Andrei Arshavin

New Club:  Zenit St. Petersburg (Free Transfer)
2012 Appearances: 2 (7)
2012 TMG Average Rating: 6.78
2012 Man of the Match Awards: 1

 I saved the last of these little capsules for Arshavin, because this one just breaks my goddamn heart.


He arrived in some of our darkest days under the Youth Project Reign of Terror. I don't know if there is a single inbound transfer in my 21 years following the club that excited me as much at the time as this one when it was announced (I didn't know a lot about the outside soccer world when Dennis came in, and Henry was coming off the "failed winger" stage of his career). Finally, we had bought a ready-made superstar for actual money at a position we needed, and it felt pretty damn outstanding.

Then, of course, came Anfield. Despite Almunia's best efforts to gift Liverpool the game, Arshavin scored all four goals in a 4-4 draw that should have been a 4-0 win. I bought his shirt immediately.

Sadly, he never came close to recapturing the magic. It was a solitary, ephemeral moment of brilliance, gone as fast as it had arrived. The next few seasons were OK, but somewhere along the way he lost whatever it was that motivated him. Perhaps he was content to sit around and collect his giant paycheck every week. Maybe it was the lack of any hope of us winning trophies. It could have been the manager's insistence on playing him out wide when it clearly was not his best position (and let's not even get into the thankfully short-lived stint as The Tiniest Target Man That Ever Lived). It's an outside shot, but maybe it was the heartbreak of Russia's humiliating exit to Slovenia in the 2010 World Cup qualifying playoffs.

My guess is that it was some combination of all of it.

Whatever it was, the shiftless phantom who occasionally came on as a late-game substitute was nothing close to the player we originally bought. We have had a common theme among the players we've looked at so far, but Andrei Arshavin is the very avatar of the supreme talent who came to Arsenal to die. He is our Icarus - none went higher, and none fell further.

Like I said, someday we'll find out what caused all of these players to simultaneously regress to their worst possible selves. I imagine we'll be astonished at what we hear.

But man, Andrei should have been different.


Most Young Players Don't Make It:

Chuks Aneke: Crewe Alexandra (Loan)
Martin Angha: FC Nurnberg (Free Transfer)
Craig Eastmond: Colchester United (Free Transfer)
Elton Monteiro: Club Brugge (Free Transfer)
Kyle Ebicilio: FC Twente (Free Transfer)
Sanchez Watt: Colchester United (Free Transfer)
Reice Charles-Cook: Bury (Free Transfer)
Jernade Meade: Swansea City (Free Transfer)
Philip Roberts: Falkirk FC (Free Transfer)
Sead Hajrovic: Grasshopper FC (Free Transfer)
Samir Bihmoutine: Released - Free Agent
Conor Henderson: Released - Free Agent
Nigel Neita: Released - Free Agent
Josh Rees: Released - Free Agent
James Shea: Released - Free Agent

Coming in a few days:  Part 3: Defenders / Central Midfielders