Arsenal lack character, JT & Rafa in Chelsea bust up & Real Madrid make 1st move for Bale

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “We had 11 international players on the pitch at the start of the game. But we made a massive mistake on the goal… [On the current season] It is not over yet. For you maybe, but not for me. It’s important to focus on our next game. It’s a good opportunity to show we have character.” – Arsene Wenger. 

Runner-up: “This is why I came to Manchester United. I love games like that. I really do. Huge games against the top teams when you don’t know what’s going to happen. Where it is a thin line between winning and losing. I love the buzz, the excitement, the drama. I live for that. I just can’t imagine that day when I stop playing and it’s all over because I know I’ll miss the buzz so much. I’ll miss the big nights like this. This is one of the greatest games you can play in — Manchester United against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. And in three weeks we do it again at Old Trafford, which will also be special. Yes I know the smaller games are important too because they’re the games that make you champions. And when you are at United every game is big. But matches like these are the icing on the cake. Games against Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League and against Real in the Champions League are amazing.” – Robin van Persie.

Woeful Arsenal

Bunch of softies: Arsenal may have depth of talent but there is no depth of character (Andy Dunn, Sunday Mirror) This pretty much makes it official. Puts it in capital letters and underlines it. Arsenal are a soft touch. The team and the club have become a soft touch. A soft touch in the ­transfer market, a soft touch on the field. And when Sir Alex ­Ferguson can sweet-talk into the phone and ­persuade the manager to sell Robin van Persie to him, then Arsene Wenger has become a soft touch as well. A soft touch without a trophy for eight seasons. Unless, of course, ­Bayern prove to be made of less stern stuff than Blackburn and Arsenal go on to win the Champions League. The odds on that are way longer than the 12-1 you could have taken against Blackburn. And do not let this ­pitiful Arsenal effort detract from Rovers’ ­performance. It looks like a fine club, that teetered on the brink of total disarray for so long, has finally chanced upon a manager of serious substance.

Arsène Wenger tells Arsenal to prove character against Bayern Munich (Dom Fifield, Observer) Arsène Wenger has urged his Arsenal players to show they have “character” against Bayern Munich on Tuesday as he seeks an immediate response to Saturday’s demoralising FA Cup home defeat to Blackburn Rovers. The loss to the Championship side was Wenger’s first at home to lower league opposition in his 17-year career in England and the worst possible preparation for the visit of the runaway Bundesliga leaders. The home support departed after delivering a chorus of boos from the stands. Arsenal’s hopes of winning a trophy this season – and their first silverware in eight years – now hinge on unlikely progress in Europe. “It’s important we focus on our next game,” Wenger said. “It’s a good opportunity to show we have character and that we are men who can fight for each other in our next game. That’s all we can do.

Arsène Wenger’s new low as Blackburn knock Arsenal out of FA Cup (Nick Szczepanik, Independent on Sunday) Arsène Wenger faces a season-defining game against Bayern Munich in the Champions’ League on Tuesday after seeing his Arsenal side eliminated from the FA Cup at home by Blackburn Rovers. The Frenchman gambled and lost with his selection policy yesterday, resting key first-team players Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla, who had to be introduced as substitutes in any case late in the match. Unless the club can win the Champions’ League, Arsenal’s barren spell without a major trophy will stretch into a ninth year. But many will wonder what chance they can possibly have against the Bundesliga’s runaway leaders if they can lose at home to a Blackburn team who have won only three Championship games on the road.

Arsenal will have their hands full with Bayern Munich’s elegant, powerful midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger (Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph) Arsenal beware. Schweinsteiger is the all-action midfield hero, the box-to-box dynamo who has unfinished business with London teams. He was embarrassed in his Bavarian backyard by Chelsea’s Frank Lampard last May in the Champions League final. That hurt. Schweinsteiger, quietly but determinedly, now appears on a mission to drive Bayern to this year’s climax at Wembley. Schweinsteiger is held in high regard on these shores. Lampard and other England players who were in Bloemfontein in 2010 talk appreciatively of how respectful Schweinsteiger was when Germany deservedly knocked Fabio Capello’s side out of the World Cup. There was no gloating from Schweinsteiger, just a proffered handshake to Lampard and the offer of his shirt. Lampard repaid the compliment in Munich, consoling a grieving Schweinsteiger, who gave a performance touched by celestial powers but then turned mortal, missing a penalty.

Arsenal want Victor Valdes

Gunns to pick Vic (Mitch Henry, Sunday Sun) Arsenal are considering a move for Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes.
Barca have agreed to let the Spain international end his contract a year early this summer — providing they can get £10million for him. Barcelona-born Valdes, 31, has declared his intention to experience a “different culture” — and said he is eager to play in England. But the Gunners may baulk at matching his current £120,000-a-week wages at the Nou Camp. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger tried in vain to sign Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina last year. The Frenchman is desperate for a world-class stopper at the Emirates.

John Terry & Rafa Benitez in angry bust-up

War JT & Rafa in angry bust up (Mark Irwin, Sun) John Terry has had an amazing row with Chelsea interim boss Rafa Benitez.  The blazing dressing-room bust-up leaves their relationship at breaking point. SunSport can reveal Rafa’s clash with his skipper took place after Blues’ 3-2 defeat at Newcastle this month. A Chelsea source revealed: “Benitez blamed JT for two of the goals. He blamed him for losing Jonas Gutierrez for Newcastle’s first goal and for diving in without winning the ball in the build-up to their second.” Benitez let fly at JT in front of his shocked team-mates — and the Blues legend blasted back. The source added: “The manager was furious after losing in the last minute and made it clear he wasn’t happy with John’s performance. “He also reckoned that John wasn’t fit enough after three months out of action. “JT wasn’t happy about the criticism and had a go back at the boss in front of all the other players in the dressing room. “Everyone was stunned by the way the manager singled out JT. It was not the way he is usually spoken to at Chelsea.”

The Radamel Falcao-Fernando Torres swap deal

Trading places: Atletico Madrid open door to Radamel Falcao for Fernando Torres swap with Chelsea (Matt Law, Sunday Mirror) Chelsea’s bid to sign Atletico Madrid hot-shot Radamel Falcao has been given a huge boost. The Spanish club have expressed an interest in re-signing Fernando Torres at the end of the season. And that means Chelsea can now pursue a deal that would see Torres ­return to Atletico and ­Falcao move to Stamford Bridge. But Chelsea’s valuation of Torres and his £175,000-a-week wages will provide the biggest stumbling block. But Chelsea will be ­desperate to offload Torres and sign Falcao, who has a ­£46million release clause in his Atletico contract. New Bayern ­Munich boss Pep Guardiola could provide ­competition for Falcao’s signature.

Real Madrid make move for brilliant Bale

Real Madrid make first move for Tottenham’s £50m Bale (Pete Jenson, Sunday Telegraph) Real Madrid have asked Tottenham Hotspur to inform them if Gareth Bale becomes available for transfer, as the Spanish club’s president Florentino Perez considers a £50 million summer bid for arguably the Premier League’s best player. Real Madrid expressed an interest in Bale when they signed Luka Modric from Tottenham last summer and have now requested that they be given the opportunity to match any rival bids. Tottenham manager Andre Villas Boas has said Bale may leave the club if they fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League, and Bayern Munich have also been cited as potential bidders. Perez has to stand for re-election at the end of the current season. And as well as needing to resolve the managerial uncertainty at the club, he must bring in a box-office signing to ensure he is given another four-year term.

Tottenham must enjoy brilliance of Gareth Bale while they can (Daniel Taylor, Observer) Alternatively, it is tempting to wonder what might have passed through Bale’s mind if he watched Madrid take on United on Wednesday. Carrick and Modric were involved. Ryan Giggs, whose face used to adorn the posters on Bale’s bedroom walls, was applauded on to the pitch with a reverence that told its own story about the Bernabéu’s tastes. It was a night when the Champions League reminded us of its glamour and pizzazz and it would have rendered Spurs versus Lyon as little more than an afterthought until the goals from Bale that brought the latest wave of Ronaldo comparisons and had L’Equipe eulogising about “two masterstrokes”. Spurs may indeed qualify for the Champions League but Terry Venables was right when he said that, ultimately, Bale might be entitled to want more. A player of this refinement is accomplished enough to belong to a team with realistic aspirations of winning it, rather than just the odd season here and there of sightseeing.

LA Galaxy willing to share Frank Lampard

Lend it like Beckham: LA Galaxy willing to share Frank Lampard with a European side (Dean Jones, People) LA Galaxy are so desperate to sign Frank Lampard that they are willing to SHARE him with a top club in Europe, writes the Sunday People. MLS champions Galaxy have told the Chelsea star that he can spend three months on loan with a leading European side – like David Beckham’s link-up with AC Milan – so he will be cherry-ripe for next year’s World Cup. But that’s not the only Los Angeles lure designed to ensure Frankie goes to Hollywood. Galaxy have also promised: * A Beckham-style contract for two-and-a-half years at a whopping $4.5million per year. * A rent-free home in Beverly Hills. * First-class flights between the UK to LA. But it’s the promise of a loan spell back in Europe that will appeal most to Lampard, who has been warned by England boss Roy Hodgson that a move to the States would not help his international prospects.

Gary Neville on football agents

Football needs to act now. The game is sleepwalking towards a crisis over agents (Gary Neville, Mail on Sunday) I wanted to do an article on this subject immediately after transfer deadline day two weeks ago. That left me simmering with frustration at the level of panic that ensues and the amount of money being thrown around. Instead, I decided to give myself time to reflect rather than just make a knee-jerk reaction. But at some point you have to speak out when you sense a situation is running out of control.
My views about agents are fairly well known. I’ve criticised them before. But I feel their influence in recent years has grown to a level that means football needs to act to address the situation and find ways to curb their influence.