Another season, another familiar tale of woe and despair for Arsenal football club. The summer is always filled with much promise, perhaps as a result of seeing their name at the top of the table thanks to alphabetical order, but a somewhat inevitable fall from grace is usually just around the corner.
The bitter departure of Robin van Persie to the silverware-decorated streets of Manchester evoked rage and disappointment among supporters. The once unwavering support for manager Arsene Wenger appears to be waning, whose only source of resolve appears to involve spending ‘big’ in January. But should fans be careful what they wish for, considering the nightmare events of summer 2011?
The last time there was this unrelenting pressure and expectation to spend big, the talismanic duo of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri has just departed North London. In amongst the grief and anguish, Wenger did something unprecedented. He panicked. In came Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos, Park Chu-Young and Yossi Benayoun, in deals that completely disregarded Arsenal’s strict financial policy.
Aside from the ever-reliable Arteta and the gradual improvement of Mertesacker, these errors of misjudgement ultimately proved costly. Last summer, the Frenchman was keen to provide evidence that he had learned from his mistakes. A deal for Lukas Podolski was concluded before the end of season, which was swiftly followed by the arrivals of Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla. A standard of transfer has now been set.
The impending January transfer window has once again seen the club linked with a host of unrealistic stars that exist above and beyond their current wage structure. More rational targets include another sentimental return for Thierry Henry. The legendary striker helped paper over the cracks last season but a third-coming is unlikely to appease fans this time round.
If Wilfried Zaha could pick his most desirable Premier League destination, it would undoubtedly be Arsenal. The Crystal Palace starlet has highlighted his affinity with the Gunners numerous times on Twitter but despite possessing a wealth of promise, he cannot be expected to reverse the club’s ailing fortunes. The squad already boasts two similarly gifted players in the form of Theo Walcott and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain. They do not need a third, although they may soon need a replacement.
An infinitely more beneficial purchase at that end of the pitch would be David Villa. The Barcelona forward has found his future under intense scrutiny over the past year and is reportedly available for a cut-price fee. He is already accustomed to Arsenal’s seductive brand of football and has plenty of experience at the highest level. Wenger may be deterred by the 31 years on his life clock, but both Chelsea and Manchester United have showcased the crucial role the ‘Old Guard’ play in a successful team.
Perhaps Wenger should concentrate on offloading the deadwood, especially since it was revealed the club spend an extra £1m a week on wages than their North London rivals. Marouane Chamakh, Johan Djourou, Andrey Arshavin and Andre Santos are all seemingly surplus to requirements, with the latter two reportedly on the brink of moves away. If Arsenal can find buyers for all four then it would free up more than £200k per week in wages, which could prove decisive in ending the contract dispute surrounding Theo Walcott.
However fans expecting transfer ‘war chests’ to be cracked open need to be reminded of Wenger’s deep disdain for the January window.
“Either you leave it completely open the whole year or you close it completely for the whole year, but now it’s in-between where everybody becomes nervous in November until the end of January.”
“You have players coming to you saying, ‘If I don’t play maybe I will leave in January’. So, they are already less committed to the cause. It gives them an opening.
We have gone from a period where you knew, if you didn’t play, you had to be committed. Now we’re in a position where the players can have a quick and easy way out if it is difficult.” (Telegraph)
During his last three winter shopping ‘sprees’, Arsene Wenger’s most notable purchase has been Japanese youngster Ryo Miyaichi. His stance arguably derives from the prolonged transfer saga involving Andrey Arshavin, which despite initial promise has turned increasingly sour.
Wenger has insisted that he is “in the market” but only for an “exceptional” player. This is without question the right attitude to employ, Arsenal only need players that will improve the current standard of their squad. However, there is the sense that the Arsenal chiefs would be quite happy to continue as normal into the New Year.
Three consecutive victories – albeit against inferior opponents – leaves the Gunners just three points off fourth with a game in hand. A home fixture against Newcastle awaits them on Saturday, with the Toon Army still reeling from their seven-goal ‘slobberknocker’ against Manchester United. Should Arsenal secure a predictably comfortable victory then perhaps Wenger will be filled with a false sense of security and place any pending bids on the backburner.
However, the list of fixtures in January looks incredibly daunting. Beyond two tough away games at relegation threatened Southampton and Swansea in the FA Cup, Wenger and co face a four-game gauntlet in the guise of Manchester City, Chelsea, West Ham and finally Liverpool.
Unfortunately, few will share Wenger’s confidence in his ability to get anything substantial from those matches. As anxiety and frustrating reaches fever point at the climax of the window, there is a worrying possibility of déjà vu should Wenger be forced back into a market that is typically bereft of any festive cheer.