By Tony Attwood
Remember Gonzalo Higuaín? In 2013 Arsenal were pronounced by the press to be about to sign him. It was everywhere all the time, non stop.
So non-stop that even Untold (or to be more precise, me,) said that “it looks like we are signing Higuaín,” which was rather embarrassing because I was the one who had previously described in glorious technicolour the whole way in which the Vapour Transfer system works.
And that is exactly what the Gonzalo Higuaín situation was. We were never going to sign him, but we needed other transfers to happen before we could get our real target: Mesut Ozil. So to distract from those negotiations (and most particularly stop Tottenham from inserting a “you won’t sell Ozil to Arsenal” clause in their Bale contract which they initially demanded), the game was played.
On 27 July 2013 Napoli confirmed the signing of Higuaín, and gave him their number 9 shirt – we never even put a bid in for him.
So to Benzema. Slowly the media is changing its tune and saying “Real Madrid are unwilling to sell Karim Benzema to Arsenal and are using the Gunners interest to prove they retain the ability keep their best players” (according to James Olley in the Standard.)
But today, 20 August, The Telegraph announce ‘Real will allow Benzema to join Arsenal’ proclaiming that “Arsene Wenger is keen” on the deal with “Rafael Benitez looking to play Cristiano Ronaldo as a central striker.”
But then, under that heading of Real will allow Benzema to join Arsenal’ there is a curious thing in which they say that “Real president Florentino Perez is a huge admirer of Benzema and has made it clear that he wants the striker to stay at the club having only last summer signed a contract extension running to 2019…
“Real have allowed the Benzema to Arsenal rumours to circulate in the belief that the player has no desire to leave and so keeping him at the club would constitute a show of strength to their rivals.
“Arsenal would have to test that resolve with a bid in excess of £45 million but, as yet, they have received no indication Benzema has had a change of heart over his immediate future.”
So let me run that headline by you again. Real will allow Benzema to join Arsenal’ which is followed by the rather clumsy explanation about Real using the story to bolster their standing as a club that can’t be bought and that they won’t let him go.
Tucked away in the detail is the fact that Arsenal actually haven’t made an offer and Mr Wenger has often said, “if something exceptional turns up, we will do it.” Desperate to make something of this, the Telegraph insist that he is “alluding to Benzema’s availability” in this but there is nothing to indicate this is true.
So why are they pushing this so much?
Largely because their web site is covered in stories which say that Arsenal need Benzema despite the fact that his game by game goalscoring record in the last three years is almost identical to that of Olivier Giroud.
Indeed Alistair Tweedale in the Telegraph wrote a whole piece about how Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud “had their limitations highlighted over the years, and a blunt attacking performance against West Ham will have done little to allay fears amongst fans that Wenger is content to mount their title challenge without adding the world class striker they so crave.”
The assault on Wenger’s transfer dealings is straight out of the aaa handbook, and includes the statement that “Benzema is one of the best strikers on the planet” and that “Years on end of chasing the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Edinson Cavani continue without progress – while Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck have proven insufficient as a lone striker – but the wait could be over this summer with Karim Benzema on the club’s radar.”
The fact is that there is considerable evidence that Higuain was never intended for Arsenal, as noted above, and that Alexis has never been intended as a centre forward.
“Benzema,” says the paper, “is a cut above, and combines qualities that both of Arsenal’s current strikers boast.”
Now the most obvious way to prove or disprove this is to analyse the number of games played and the number of goals scored in recent seasons, and that’s what we did last weekend. But instead the Telegraph analyse comparative goalscorering in the Spanish league which isn’t the same thing at all.
Then suddenly they change their tune, as if realising that Benzema is pretty much the same as Giroud and say instead “Benzema can hold the ball up and bring others into play – something that Wenger values hugely given the quality of his midfielders – and is also decent in the air. He is, meanwhile, quick on the turn and looks for balls in behind, too, varying his game so greatly that defenders always have a huge deal to think about when facing him.”
So, all of a sudden we are not looking at a centre forward who scores goals any more, but a player who can bring others into play. The story changes.
Then it changes again. “While Giroud will always look for the ball to be played into him with his back to goal, Walcott prefers to play on the shoulder of the last defender. Benzema can do both.”
Interesting indeed – and from what I have seen of the player, maybe he can. But the result is still the same – he scores the same number of goals as Giroud, and do we need another assist merchant when we have Ozil.
Then the issue is compounded further. “Over the course of his six seasons in La Liga, only superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo can boast more goals and assists than the Frenchman.” OK, but that is goals and assists. So if we have Benzema we don’t have a new out and out striker who outshines Giroud, but someone who is particularly strong on assists. So all we need to know is, assists for whom, and why we need another assist player when we have Ozil.
But then in another change of direction the Telegraph says, “It is goals that he would be signed for”, and so we are back to the fact that he has scored almost exactly the same number as Giroud, from almost exactly the same number of games.
So what’s the point?
Of course it is true that Ozil played with Benzema in Spain. Ozil set up five goals in the 2011/12 season for Benzema. Time to gather the stats for Ozil setting up goals for Giroud. Was anyone actually watching Giroud score against Palace? Oh look, Giroud is rather good at that sort of thing.
Of course I am not there on the inside; I pick up snippets and bits and pieces and try to see how the whole transfer system works, and all I am saying is that nothing seems to point to the Benzema transfer tale being anything other than a phantom. If I am wrong (and it will most certainly not be the first time) I will of course come out and admit it, just as I did with Gonzalo Higuaín.
And maybe that’s the point. At least when I screw up I say so.
(Sir Hardly Anyone is down the pub).
@UntoldArsenal on Twitter
Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910