Arsene Wenger’s relaxed, gregarious character and the setting of Brazil’s beaches were deceptive.
Here was the Arsenal manager in out-of-office mode, seemingly happy to allow domestic rival clubs to bolster their squads unchallenged and create an impression that this was the same old song Arsenal fans had forced to listen to for the best part of the last decade.
But we’re now 18 days on from Alexis Sanchez’s signing at Arsenal. It didn’t come as a nervy deadline day deal like high-profile signings of the past, nor can it be said that the club were lucky to stumble upon the Chilean’s availability as, reportedly, they did with Mesut Ozil a year ago.
It’s long been known that Alexis would move on from Barcelona. Luis Suarez’s signing added to that. But in Alexis, Arsenal were targeting a player not too dissimilar in playing style to that of Barcelona’s newly-signed Uruguayan forward, a player Wenger openly chased during last summer’s transfer period. There’s far too much at play here for Alexis’ signing in north London to be a spur of the moment deal.
And the club haven’t sat back on that deal either. They’ve ridden the wave of optimism and renewed faith by signing Mathieu Debuchy and David Ospina, and with Calum Chambers set to be announced soon.
These aren’t just middle-of-the-road additions, as has been described of the club’s signings in the past. Debuchy, able to keep Bacary Sagna out of the France team and with the requisite Premier League experience to comfortably replace Sagna, is a good piece of business; Ospina had a fantastic World Cup with Colombia, and landing the former Nice goalkeeper for £3.2m is a bargain in the modern market; while Chambers is a highly-rated prospect for the future that comes with the bonus of having 21 Premier League appearances under his belt.
All of that and July isn’t over.
Wenger’s ‘stubbornness’ may not hold as much water now as it did in the past. There were conflicting stories coming out of the club as to the manager’s financial ability in the market: he was said to have the resources available to him to land whichever player he deemed necessary for the progress of the team, while Wenger himself maintained that a watchful eye and great restraint had to be held with regards to the club’s budget. In 2012, the manager stated the club needed to make £15-20m each summer as a means to help pay off the debts.
Evidently what we’re seeing now is that if the money is there, Wenger will spend.
In 2009, the club had come off a humbling season in which they’d fallen well short of the performances put together in the 2007-08 season. Quality signings were needed in multiple areas of the pitch, but only Thomas Vermaelen arrived from Ajax for £10.5m. The following summer, Laurent Koscielny was the club’s biggest signing, arriving from FC Lorient for £10m and joined by Sebastien Squillaci, £5m from Sevilla, and Marouane Chamakh, free from Bordeaux.
It wasn’t a perverse act on the manager’s part, although it was easy to be engulfed by the feeling at the time, such was the growing frustration among the support. It’s no coincidence that those deals happened in a period where the club were mired in financial limitations due to the new stadium, and much higher quality signings like Ozil and Alexis have taken place either on the brink of new sponsorship deals or on the dawn of those announcements.
Let’s not drift too far away and into a state of utmost romanticism. Wenger still likes to do things his way and he does have his shortcomings. Persistent injuries, generally of the same type, to almost all members of the squad, past and present, are no accident. Nor are the heavy defeats.
But on the transfer front, the proof is there for us to see: Wenger will spend if he has the means. There’s a new confidence about the way the club have gone about their business thus far, akin to that of a film director who put together his first film on a budget of £25,000, only to be given licence over a £25m budget later in his career. It’s not really profligacy, and there’s no harm in throwing cash around if it’ll make the project better.
There’s still a month a change left of this transfer window. But Wenger is quickly laying to rest the wide-held belief that Arsenal’s frustrations in the market have been all of his own making.