So, after the transfer deadline passed yesterday without so much as a Kim Kallstrom-style scrap to provide supporters craving new signings with something to chew on, Arsene Wenger has confirmed the suspicion among many, that our lack of movement was due to a perceived shortage of squad-enhancing talent available in the market.
Speaking exclusively to beIN Sports, the boss highlighted Man United’s extravagant outlay on Monaco’s 19 year old prospect Anthony Martial, as the perfect illustration of demand exceeding supply like Frank Lampard shopping for cake. He said:
What happened last night with Monaco, who sold Martial to Manchester United for €80m, I’ve heard … Martial scored 11 goals in the French championship – that sums it up well. That means it’s not the money that’s missing at the moment, it’s not the desire of investment that is missing, it’s the number of players available who can strengthen the big clubs.
Which I suppose is true to an extent. Ask any number of football fans to name the world’s top set of true number 9s for instance, and you’re likely to hear the same names over and again; Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema, Edinson Cavani and Sergio Aguero. Yet how many were ever likely to be sold this summer? Certainly not the first two or the last on the list, but maybe, at a stretch, the three names in the middle may have been attainable.
There were rumours of Real Madrid’s willingness to part with Benzema providing they could secure Marco Reus as his replacement and perhaps that’s what led us to believe we could tempt the Frenchman from the Spanish capital. But while we seemingly put our eggs in that one Bernabeu-based basket, accomplished finishers a level or two down, like, say, Carlos Bacca, Luiz Adriano and Jackson Martinez, were being enticed elsewhere. These forwards may not be seen as starry as Benzema and co, yet many would consider them an improvement on our current options up front.
So you could say the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust have a point in suggesting the club would benefit from a review into it’s strategy for identifying and securing new recruits for the first-team squad:
This isn’t an issue that affects just one transfer window and seems to indicate a wider structural issue. In recent years Arsenal have overhauled both their Academy and their medical set-up. We urge the board to now open a full review into its arrangements for scouting and purchasing players.
Yet Arsene can point to great purchases in the last few windows to counter that claim and as it happens, he did just that:
Am I happy with the investment I make? Yes, every time. I bought Sánchez, I bought Özil, I bought Cech, I bought Gabriel last year. But when you have to invest you have to find the players to invest in. The problem at the moment is finding the players that guarantee you are a better team afterwards.
Personally, I’m guessing we may have done things differently this summer given the chance again. Of course I can’t be sure, just as every other fan, reporter or pundit can’t unless any are privy to inside information, but it feels as though there was real desire on both the manager and the club’s part to improve the squad. Like we’ve gambled on first-choice targets being secured and sacrificed second and third-choice options in doing so.
If for example we’d known Benzema was a complete no-go from the get-go, a player like Adriano – the second top-scorer in last season’s Champions League with nine, and just one shy of the number managed by the freakish talents of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar – who moved from Ukraine to Italy for a paltry fee of 8 millions euros, would, on paper, have been the perfect addition. A relatively cheap roll of the dice for a player in his prime at 28, and proven at the highest level in European competition. What’s the down side?
In fact, to quote Arsene himself, he once said something along the lines of ‘the only guarantee with an expensive purchase is expensive wages’, so why the sudden complete about turn? Why cant we take calculataed risks with all sorts of players if we think they’ll improve our squad over any length of term? If a 30-something player can be brought in to improve the squad for a season or two, a Davor Suker-esque signing if you will, why not?
Then of course we have the issue with our lack of like-for-like, specialist defensive-midfield cover/competition for Francis Coquelin. Geoffrey Kondogbia – who I thought was outstanding against us twice at Emirates stadium last season (once in pre-season and again when it mattered more in the Champions League) – admittedly commanded a hefty fee when he moved to Inter Milan but had talent, time – and hence resale value – going for him.
Then there’s Grzegorz Krychowiak, rated by many regular La Liga spectators as the best out-and-out defensive midfielder in Spain – bar possibly Javier Mascherano, who plays most of his football further back these days anyway. The fast, imposing Pole had a widely reported, affordable release clause and many respected reporters were suggesting Arsenal interest was very real this summer. But a bit like Benzema, he took to social media towards the end of the window to declare he was staying with his present employers. Now perhaps they were both just responding to completely fabricated reports of Arsenal interest, or maybe, negotiations came to an irreparable impasse.
And even if none of the players I’ve mentioned above were ever true targets these last couple of months, surely there are others out there who could have added something to our squad? Bayern Munich bought Douglas Costa and he looks incredible so far this season. Arturo Vidal also moved to Bavaria – would he not have been a better option than Mikel Arteta or Mikel Flamini to challenge Coquelin? How about Steven N’Zonzi as a deputy for Coquelin? And with now relaxed work permit rules, I’ll stick my neck out and suggest there might just be a a few south American stars playing in their domestic leagues and primed to make waves across the ocean in Europe.
At the same time, I don’t for a second doubt the intentions or efforts of the boss and his staff. I think they tried but in the end got it wrong, when with a little more luck they may have been far more successful this summer. Arsene will be the first to admit everyone can always improve and the AST urging the club to evaluate their strategy this summer can only be a good thing. I would suggest scouting should be a key concern if we genuinely didn’t think there were enough players out there who could strengthen our side. Just as with Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott in front of goal recently, perhaps we need more conviction next time, along with increased awareness of opportunity.
On the bright side, with one glaring oversight in defensive midfield, I still think we have a very talented, exciting set of players at an average age where improvement is almost guaranteed. The rapid returns from injury of Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere now obviously take on added importance – hopefully both aren’t far from full fitness. And this piece on the official site evaluates Arsene’s options brilliantly I think.