TUESDAY'S BIG STORIES
In Mikel they trust
One of the more impressive aspects of Arsenal’s last season was how a campaign that saw the Gunners finish outside of European competition could still be painted as a positive development.
‘He is a key member of our squad’ – Arteta confirms Xhaka will stay after Chelsea pre-season defeat
Under Mikel Arteta’s stewardship, Arsenal have recorded consecutive eighth-place finishes in the Premier League, the two lowest placings the club have recorded since 1994. Yet the mood around the club is one of progress, and it is to Arsenal’s enormous credit that they are not hedging their bets and have gone all-in on the Arteta project.
After all, the club’s current plight is not of Arteta’s making. It is decades of under-investment that has seen the side slip away from their previous heady heights. And a conservative strategy is not going to fix that.
Albert Sambi Lokonga has become the second signing of Arsenal’s summer, with the promising Belgian youngster joining on a £15m deal from Anderlecht. And it looks highly unlikely that he will be the last arrival, with Ben White expected to join from Brighton and a number of other young talents also linked.
New Arsenal signing Sambi Lokonga
Image credit: Getty Images
Every single player that Arsenal are reportedly targeting is young and packed with potential, and every single player linked with an Arsenal exit is part of the existing underwhelming backbone of the side.
David Luiz has already gone, Granit Xhaka doesn’t seem to have long left in north London, and neither does Alexandre Lacazette, if Arteta has his way.
The Arteta approach might not work and Arsenal may remain a mid-table club for the majority of the next decade, but there’s something refreshing about one of the Premier League’s biggest clubs going down the route of developing a long-term project in this manner.
If Andros Townsend is the answer…
Rafa Benitez was already a controversial choice as Everton manager given his past on the other side of Stanley Park, but the new Toffees boss is really testing the supporters’ ability to forget and forgive.
Everton chiefs justified appointing the former Liverpool coach by pointing to his record of achievement at the top level and how that aligns with the club’s own aspirations.
But one thing that certainly does not scream aspiration is signing Andros Townsend on a free transfer.
There’s nothing wrong with Townsend per se. The 30-year-old is a very solid Premier League operator and won’t be a negative impact on the Everton squad (especially not if he chips in goals like this banger).
But there is a reason that Everton haven’t been fending off competition from the likes of their neighbours across the park for his signature.
Benitez likes Townsend, he’s cheap, he’s available, and he’s useful. But the optics of a player like that being the first major signing of the Benitez era are not good.
Rafa best hope his side have a good start to the season, otherwise things could get very messy very quickly.
It’s bizarre to say it given that the summer feels like it has barely begun, but the new Champions League season gets properly underway this week, with some legendary clubs entering the competition at the second qualifying stage.
Celtic are among that number, with the SPL outfit taking on Denmark’s FC Midtjylland this evening.
To have such significant matches at this stage of the summer is a huge ask of the players and coaches involved, but it is the same situation for one of Scotland’s biggest clubs every year and Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou is trying to put a brave face on it.
"I am picking players who have both the physical and mental mindset to play," he said.
"There are so many moving parts at the moment that I am trying to be as disciplined as I can to focus on what's in my control, because ultimately Tuesday night is the most important thing and I am focusing on people who are contributing to that."
Midtjylland may be slightly more up to speed given that the Danish Superliga is already underway… although a 2-1 loss to Odense Boldklub in their opening match last weekend was an inauspicious start.
RETRO CORNER (I)
It’s widely considered as the greatest Olympic football game in history, and you can watch the match between Nigeria and Brazil back in 1996 in full, courtesy of the Olympic Games’ YouTube channel. Trust me, it’s worth your time.
RETRO CORNER (II)
Lionel Messi may not be at the Olympics this time around, having already ensured this is a summer to remember with his (and Argentina’s) Copa America triumph.
But the little maestro has lit up the Games in the past, most notably en-route to a gold medal in 2008.
There’s a particularly fascinating podcast out this week, with author and journalist Tariq Panja joining the Football Ramble to discuss his new bestselling book, Football’s Secret Trade.
Panja talks about the murky world behind football’s transfer business, and how behind-the-scenes individuals have been syphoning off huge amounts of cash.
The other thing I found really surprising was how little the governing bodies knew. Not that they didn’t care. I remember talking to Gianni Infantino in 2014 or ‘15 at an event at UEFA, and he was a little bit wide-eyed about it, which was kind of worrying. But to be fair to them, they really wanted to do something about it. I think they had some inkling, but in terms of scale (they didn’t know). These people didn’t want people to know what they were doing, because they were extracting huge profits out of the game, and it was all legal.
You can listen to the episode in full here.
IN OTHER NEWS
Signing Andros Townsend is not the biggest news unfolding at Everton this week. A very big and very serious story is developing involving a player from the club.
Celtic get their Champions League campaign underway at Parkhead this evening, with kick-off at 19:45, in the pick of the second-round fixtures. And we’re also inching closer to the start of the Tokyo Olympics and a string of fascinating opening round matches. Brazil vs Germany on Thursday morning is the pick of the bunch this week.
Michael Hincks will be here with tomorrow's Warm-Up, unless he’s part of the UK’s ongoing ‘pingdemic’… assuming the Eurosport chiefs don’t invent a pilot scheme for his benefit, of course.
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