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Only Wenger Spends big and well


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Andrey Arshavin is cup-tied in the Champions League so there is still a real possibility Arsenal will finish the season empty-handed, though Arsène Wenger can console himself with one of the Premier League's minor prizes.

 

He can have this season's golden chequebook, or something along those lines, for actually spending big and making a success of it. On the basis of his four goals against Liverpool, Arshavin certainly looks the real deal. As Steven Gerrard said admiringly in the Sky TV studio, they weren't just any four goals. They were four extremely well taken goals that one of the best goalkeepers in the world could do nothing to stop. "To put four past Pepe Reina takes some doing," Gerrard said.

 

Indeed. One wonders, in fact, since Arsenal have no chance of the league and Arshavin cannot play in Europe, why Wenger only allowed the Russian a mere 15 minutes in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea. Just half of what he produced at Anfield might have been enough to put Arsenal in the final, against Everton, as we now know, and Gooners would be walking round with a little extra spring in their step.

 

As it is, Arsenal are going to have to field what will feel like a sub-strength side in their Champions League semi-finals, because the player who went to Anfield and put Fernando Torres in the shade will be watching the proceedings from the sidelines. Still, it could be worse. Arshavin only cost Arsenal around £19m, even if it was one of the most protracted and boring deals of the January transfer window. At least they didn't pay Spurs £31m for Dimitar Berbatov. Neither did Manchester City, in the end, and there have been plenty of text messages buzzing around Manchester to the effect they are mightily glad they didn't, although City's own £32m capture of Robinho can hardly be regarded as an unmitigated success. Throw in the £20m Liverpool spent on Robbie Keane and the limited returns Chelsea have had from Deco and Jose Boswinga (Ricardo Quaresma has almost disappeared without trace, but is only on loan) and you can see why Wenger might end up smelling of roses.

 

Berbatov, Robinho, Deco and Keane are all good players, at their best you couldn't even argue they were not worth the price tags, though for various reasons they seem to have ended up at clubs that don't suit them. Maybe Manchester United will find a way to incorporate Berbatov's languid style into their pattern of play, though they never bothered to change for Juan Sebastian Veron and it may be in the end that the easiest thing is to admit a similar mistake and ship him out. Apart from his singular way with penalties and his high wastage rate with flicks and first time passes, when Berbatov has the ball at his feet he usually tries to slow the game down, and United have speeded their game up somewhat since Eric Cantona used to do the same thing. That's why Carlos Tevez is so popular. He is probably not as quick between the ears as Berbatov, but he looks a hell of a lot busier on the pitch.

 

It is hard to know what club would best suit Robinho, a player Real Madrid were quite happy to offload. Mark Hughes has his work cut out, to put it mildly, but Hughes has his work cut out at City anyway. Keane is back at Spurs already, while Deco has found his first Premier League season passing him by, partly a victim of Luiz Felipe Scolari's depature and partly a victim of Michael Essien's return and Michael Ballack finding form again. Guus Hiddink's Chelsea don't seem to need him and that's a pity, because he's not getting any younger.

 

Despite the fact that none of this season's signings have really boosted the Chelsea team, if that is not being a little harsh on Boswinga, the FA Cup final will inevitably now be viewed as moneybags versus shoestring operators. Everton's David Moyes has said so himself, mentioning that his team might travel by Easyjet, or even use the bus. Moyes is quite good at this kind of thing. It was the manager who originally came up with the "people's club" slogan that the Everton marketing department duly flogged to death. Never was it truer, though, than early on Sunday evening. For the few seconds when Phil Jagielka was preparing to take his penalty, and Everton's marketing department can use this if they like, they didn't just have the whole of Merseyside behind them for a change. They were the best-supported team in the land.

 

Paul Wilson

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