Club Focus – Arsenal – Nasri is back, Gibbs is here and Kroenke is the future

Arsenal took many positives from their comprehensive victory over AZ Alkmaar as they moved closer to the last 16 of the Champions League. The goal-scoring return of Samir Nasri, Andrey Arshavin’s defensive work and the performance of Kieran Gibbs were notable highlights.

There was a welcome return for Nasri who lined up on the right of the three-pronged attack. Wenger appears undecided about where he will play – “I can play him where he is needed basically… I would say more in the defensive role now but, because he can dribble, he can play on the flanks too.” Nasri’s work-rate and tracking provided some much needed balance to the attacking instincts of Arshavin on the opposite flank. Therefore Nasri may provide a defensive utility in the coming weeks, not through a central midfield berth, but by covering the full-backs down the flanks.

Uncharacteristically, Arshavin tracked back well, snapping at the heels of the defenders and constantly harrying when not in possession. It is likely that he was under strict instruction from the manager to give protection to Gibbs at left-back. Gael Clichy’s back injury will keep him out for between one and two months, giving Gibbs prolonged exposure in the first team after Wenger admitted that he would’ve like to have eased him in gently during the tough November schedule.

Gibbs is the latest England starlet to be touted for a late run into Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad, and Don Fabio was in the crowd on Wednesday for another solid performance. However, as with all aspiring youngsters he still has a lot to prove. Gibbs’ slip on the halfway line gifted Alkmaar a goal-scoring opportunity that they duly converted. Without wanting to chastise the youngster, it is exactly this kind of error that cannot be afforded at the top levels, namely the Champions League and the World Cup.

Early exposure at the highest stage of all appeared to leave Theo Walcott jaded, taking the best part of a year to resume his progression. Whilst Wenger would argue that his involvement in England’s World Cup 2006 squad helped to produce the attacking threat we recognise today, there is an equally strong argument that this exposure stunted his development. Gibbs would be the latest to make a late run into the England tournament squad (think Paul Gascoigne, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Walcott) and he certainly has a chance. But for now a chance is all it remains.

Off the field, sports mogul Stan Kroenke increased his shareholding in Arsenal to 29.6%, edging ever closer to the magical 29.9% mandatory takeover bid. Kroenke already owns franchises in the NBA, NHL and MLS, whilst holding a 40% stake in an NFL franchise. Whilst the move was labelled as consolidation of his position, Kroenke seems to be buying up shares on an almost monthly basis, refusing to reveal whether or not he intends a takeover. It is worth remembering that whilst a bid is mandatory, acceptance of it is not and Kroenke is likely to face strong opposition from Alisher Usmanov’s Red & White Holdings, the second largest shareholder at the club.

Is such a power struggle in the best interests of the club? The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust talked of the need for “plurality of ownership” and expressed concerns at small shareholders being frozen out. Similarly, there are concerns that the club would become laden with debt, in stark contrast with Wenger’s current economic model. In a recent example, Manchester United have significant debt from American owners, but this has not affected their on-pitch performances, with a haul of trophies heading to Old Trafford. On the other hand, Liverpool acquired a similar ownership structure and now persistent financial worries have delayed building their new stadium. With Arsenal in such robust financial shape after completion of the Emirates Stadium and the Highbury Square development, it is interesting to speculate as to how they would’ve fared without the new stadium and the associated revenue it brings.

So, full of goals and in rude health, Arsenal travel to the Molineux for Saturday’s evening fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

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