Arsenal had a good thing in their grip and they let it slip.
There was a feeling around the Emirates that they could do better than Gonzalo Higuain, that the player just wasn’t quite ideal. But Arsenal were in need of a top striker and Higuain was the only one on the market. Perhaps Arsene Wenger would have done well to remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good.
If there was anyone to forget this, you wouldn’t have suspected it to be Wenger. The Arsenal manager has long had to do with the good alone, and often a lot less than this. The constrained finances at the club meant that Arsene Wenger always had to settle for a slightly lower category of player than their rivals.
But last summer the chains had finally been lifted, and Arsenal were in the market for quality.
As early as May last year, there were stories suggesting that Higuain had agreed to join Arsenal. The Argentine was deemed surplus at the Bernabeu and all of Europe’s elite clubs were made aware of this. Arsenal’s priority for the summer was to bring in a striker, and in Higuain, the club had the opportunity to conclude their business uncharacteristically early in the window. But still they waited.
By July 27th, Napoli would have successfully hijacked the deal and signed Higuain on a contract for the next five years. By August 3rd, the Argentine would be playing against Arsenal at the Emirates for his new club. No one knew quite knew how it had happened. The Arsenal fans booed Higuain for choosing Naples over London. But in truth, it’s the club that they should have been aiming their frustrations at.
If Arsenal really wanted to sign the Argentine, they could have. Instead, the club dithered as they waited for something better to come along. And while they waited, their something good went elsewhere.
Higuain’s quality has been evident in Italy. The striker has managed 17 goals in his 27 Serie A starts thus far, and created another seven for his teammates. Higuain scored four goals for Napoli in his five Champions League games this season, including one against Arsenal. The Argentine’s form has been such as to all but guarantee his club Champions League football for next season, something that Arsenal are yet to achieve.
But Champions League qualification was no longer where the club were aiming their sights. Finally, they allowed themselves to look higher. For the first time since agreeing to build a new stadium in 2002, the club were in a financial position to compete with Europe’s elite clubs in the transfer market. They’d had their years of settling, and they were fine. But now they could buy who they wanted, and they only wanted the best.
And Arsenal got one of the best. The 42.4m paid for Mesut Ozil very much represented a new era for Arsenal in the transfer market. But the club would have done well to remember how they’d so consistently overachieved in the past.
Arsenal were right to try and buy the best players they could, but wrong to only attempt to recruit on the basis of quality alone. Mesut Ozil is a very good attacking midfielder, but the club already had several good attacking midfielders. Gonzalo Higuain may not be the best striker in the game, but he is a good one, and Arsenal didn’t have any of those.
But Arsenal couldn’t sign Higuain because they were unable to accept that the Argenetine was the best striker that they were going to get last summer. Excited by the newly earned wad in their wallet, the club starting looking around the room for something better to bring home. They flirted with Luis Suarez, but it turned out to be nothing more than a tease. And with their eye off the prize, their Argentinian stallion bolted.
Arsene Wenger’s desire to finally bring the best to Arsenal was admirable, but ultimately foolish. The manager would have been wise to learn from the barren years that sometimes you just have to settle.
Sadly, in Arsenal’s search for perfection, they’ve ended up falling short of the good.