Arsene Wenger is either throwing us off the trail (the apologists like to call it a smokescreen), or he’s telling us exactly what’s going to happen.
The Arsenal manager last week spoke of stability and that his side were close. He added that he didn’t expect a large number of signings this summer, hinting that the theme of three maximum could be continued, while sounding out the difficulties the World Cup will create during the transfer window.
Off the bat, stability can be used with one intention but interpreted as another. For those whose glass is half empty, stability means the club aren’t planning to do too much. Just as Mesut Ozil’s blockbuster signing last summer failed to disguise what was yet another poor period of business throughout, this summer is likely to feature one or two names that won’t really rock the boat, firstly in upsetting the balance of the squad but mainly in damaging the accounts.
Arsenal may be two or three signings away from sustaining a title challenge up until May, but that doesn’t take into account those who are leaving on free transfers this summer. It doesn’t take into account the fact that the team have only three natural centre-backs, with no one in the reserve team good enough to step in during an emergency. It ignores that Theo Walcott may miss the start of next season, and that most players will have to treat a World Cup hangover.
Wenger said that the window may only start to come alive around July 15th, which sounds awfully similar to his comments in previous years about a bankrupt Europe and a cold market. It’s not really an excuse for inactivity across the market, just a passable enough excuse that explains Arsenal’s inactivity.
This is a team who suffered at the start of this season through ill preparation. At time of writing, Arsenal are five points off Liverpool in first place. Those three points which were lost against Aston Villa on the opening day could have been quite useful.
But again, things like that aren’t taken into account. Wenger’s general comment on the summer transfer period seemed to echo the stance of past years: a lack of motivation, resting on laurels, getting by with the hope things will fall into place in your favour.
For those who want to take a realistic look at this Arsenal team, at least five players need to arrive this summer in order to turn a March imposition into title success in May. Five at the very least, and that’s being conservative. Someone at the club, probably Ivan Gazidis, needs to tell Wenger to stop dictating the terms of the summer. Stop finding excuses to halt the progression of this team.
There may be a feeling among some that Arsenal have gotten away with this season, snatching fourth when not too long ago it seemed likely they’d be preparing to play their European football on a Thursday night.
The manager has spoken about injuries, which is fair. How much further up the league table would Arsenal be if Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, and Ozil hadn’t been injured for so long? It’s a problem that needs to be addressed, but another problem is the lack of quality in reserve. A lack of quality may be a stretch; a lack of variance may be more fitting.
It only takes a couple of injuries for this Arsenal team to become worryingly one dimensional, and it’s not something that can be effectively resolved by going blindly into this summer.
Wenger will hold his cards close to his chest, as he’s always done. A couple of obvious addition may be completed in the near future. Loic Remy and Carlos Vela would be big helps next season, and they could both be signed for a combined £16 million. Remy and Vela – and Lukas Podolski ahead of the European Championship in 2012 – show that deals can be wrapped up before the start of a summer tournament.
The hope is that Wenger has altered his ways this year and that his statement on the summer is indeed a smokescreen that keeps the club’s business well disguised. If not, it’s set to be another frustratingly long summer.