You certainly wouldn’t be wrong to think Arsene Wenger was foolish to pass on a world-class midfielder in Cesc Fabregas for just £30million. That’s nearly a third of how much Real Madrid splashed out on Gareth Bale less than twelve months ago. Heck, it’s the same amount Manchester United spent on Mourane Fellaini. Thus, you certainly wouldn’t be wrong to think that Le Professeur has let just Arsenal’s best transfer opportunity of the summer slip idly by into the hands of the old enemy, Jose Mourinho.
But there are still two more fantastic deals on the table for the North Londoners this summer, coincidentally enough involving two former Gunners – Carlos Vela and Alex Song. The ex-Arsenal duo may not compare to Fabregas’ established quality, but they echo his value-for-money; as part of the deal that saw him move to Real Sociedad permanently two summers ago, Vela is available to Arsenal for just £3.5million through a buy-back clause, whilst after making just 38 league appearances in the space of two seasons at Barcelona, Song is being window-shopped this summer for around half of the £15million fee the Gunners accepted for him in 2012.
In my opinion, Wenger would be wise to act upon both cut-price transfer opportunities this summer, rather than giving them a dose of ‘the Fabregas treatment’.
If Arsenal are to improve upon their miserly five points gained from Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool next season, adding a defensive element to the midfield is a must for Arsene Wenger this summer. Away defeats to all three, producing an aggregate scoreline of 17-4, are no immaculate coincidence; the Gunners’ starting line-ups were dangerously unbalanced, lacking the physicality of their opponents, and subsequently, were unsurprisingly overpowered and outpaced. This is were Song fits in.
Admittedly, question marks were regularly raised of Song’s defensive awareness during his seven-term Arsenal stay and many Gunners fans will argue that in that regard, Mathieu Flamini has proved himself a more consistent and dependable option. But the ‘Running Man’ lacks the Cameroonian’s natural height and power – he’s unable to effectively jostle with the likes of Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and Nemanja Matic in the middle of the park but Song, boasting a formidable 6 foot 2 frame, can.
Furthermore and perhaps most importantly, the 26 year-old is well proven in the English top flight with 150 Premier League appearances already under his belt. There are certainly other defensive midfield options open to the Gunners this summer – Sami Khedira and Javi Martinez to name a few- but none that can replicate Song’s prior Premier League experience, and none available for as incredibly cheap as his unanimously-reported £8million price-tag.
Likewise, the Gunners’ possession-based style is an incredibly unique mentality that most rank-and-file, clumsy defensive midfielders would struggle to immediately adapt to. That’s often been Arsene Wenger’s tactic excuse not to invest heavily in one in the past.
Yet, despite what Song’s imposing physique might initially suggest, the Cameroon international embraced that part of Arsenal’s game during his time in north London, finishing his final Gunners campaign with 14 assists in all competitions. One can only assume that two years at Barcelona has only further improved the 26 year-old’s technique and creativity.
I hold similar positive views towards Carlos Vela. Arsenal fans will remember a young pintsized forward, once chased by Manchester United and Real Madrid to name a few, looking decisively lost in the big ‘n’ burly realms of the Premier League, resulting in just 29 league outings in the space of six years. That being said, better, more experienced strikers would have equally failed to usurp the likes of Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor from the Arsenal first team – Olivier Giroud represents far fairer competition.
But leaving the Emirates for Real Sociedad in summer 2011, initially on a season-long loan deal, has proved to be the turning point of the 25 year-old’s career. Perhaps the kick-up-the-glutes- he always needed, perhaps the rich vein of regular football he always desired, Vela has since gone on to claim 48 goals and 29 assists in 124 appearances for La Real, propelling them from La Liga’s relegation zone to its Champions League standings in the space of just two seasons.
Prolific firepower, perhaps not. And one can understand why Vela’s name might get lost in the winds of transfer chatter this summer whilst the likes of Mario Mandzukic, a Champions League winner, and Mario Balotelli are strongly linked with moves to north London.
But the Mexico international is an interesting player – he’s intelligent and creative, free-roaming and flexible. He features as commonly out wide or at No.10 as he does as an out-an-out striker for Sociedad, and in my opinion, that versatility is what would make Vela such an astute signing for the Gunners, simultaneously addressing their intrinsic needs for added depth on the flanks and up top – not to mention his remarkably cheap availability at £3.5million.
I’m not suggesting Song and Vela are the ultimate solutions to Arsenal’s many transfer needs this summer. I’ve blown their trumpets ceremoniously throughout this article, but am more than prepared to admit that neither are world-beaters that will awaken the Gunners from their seemingly perpetual dormant state in the Premier League title race. Likewise, neither signing would come anywhere near to compensating for the loss of Cesc Fabregas to Chelsea.
But reacquiring the former Arsenal duo this summer would certainly be a positive step in the right direction for the Gunners. In my opinion, Arsenal’s limited depth, or rather, the limits of versatility within the Emirates roster, proved to be their most fatal flaw last season, especially when you compare to the wealth and array of talents at Chelsea and Manchester City. Both signings would give the Gunners something they don’t currently have – Song, a powerful, defensively-geared midfielder, and Vela a diminutive, illusive, flexible forward. Most importantly, both have maintained Arsenal’s definitive technical style throughout their spells away from North London.
Furthermore, for a combined transfer spend of just £12million – that’s £3million less than Arsenal sold Song for just two summers ago – both represent incredibly smart business.