The more hear, read and subsequently think about Arsenal’s summer transfer window, the more it genuinely perplexes me – and I like to think I’m a relatively unperplexable guy.
Fuelled by the ‘accelerated financial firepower’ of a new sponsorship deal with Puma and directly following the club’s FA Cup triumph in May, breaking their nine-year silverware baron, it was meant to be the transfer window that awakened the Gunners from their dormant state in the Premier League title race, witnessing the largest collective transfer spend in Arsenal history.
Despite splashing out a club-record £82million however, it feels as if Arsenal have almost moved backwards from last season, where they spent 128 days at the top of the Premier League table. A current league standing of fifth, 13 points behind table toppers Chelsea, pretty much says it all; the only accomplishments the fans can realistically hope for this season are the retention of the FA Cup and of course, another annual notch to the bedpost of Arsenal’s 18-year involvement in the Champions League under Arsene Wenger.
Money was certainly spent, but clearly in the wrong areas. I doubt many Arsenal fans would actively suggest the £35million signing of Alexis Sanchez was a mistake, yet it strengthened an area of the squad already well-endowed, whilst other departments were allowed to further wither.
The heart of defence is the obvious example; a simple mathematical sum (2-3=-1) was all the information Wenger needed to anticipate Arsenal squandering points through their lack of defensive depth this season, with Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen and Carl Jenkinson leaving the club and only Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers coming in. Yet somehow, he allowed the Gunners to enter the season one body short, resulting in eleven of Arsenal’s 19 Premier League fixtures thus far featuring either Nacho Monreal or Mathieu Debuchy, two full-backs better famed for their contributions going forward who measure in at 5 foot 11 or under, at centre-half.
But what I find most confusing is the situation in defensive midfield, especially following claims from Alex Song this week that he wanted to return to Arsenal but the club (or more specifically, Wenger) turned him down. The Cameroon international, who made 227 appearances for the Gunners before leaving for Barcelona two summers ago, told reporters; “I would have loved to have gone back, but they didn’t want to do it. That’s life. I don’t blame them. ”
Now, re-signing a former player is hardly a traditional hallmark of progress, but it’s not as if Song has somehow declined from spending two years with arguably the most talented club side in the history of football. In terms of height, power and defensive awareness he represents precisely what Arsenal currently lack – a midfield monolith that can physically duel with the likes of Yaya Toure and Nemanja Matic – and the eternal absence of such a figure undoubtedly correlates to the Gunners’ poor record against top teams.
Instead, Mathieu Flamini continues to poorly impersonate the Mathieu Flamini of his original Arsenal tenure, aimlessly flip-flopping around, committing fouls and misplacing passes, whilst Song has been allowed to significantly strengthen one of the Gunners’ leading competitors for fourth spot in West Ham. The 27 year-old’s influence at Upton Park cannot be overstated; unsurprisingly, the Hammers look like a completely different side with a Champions League-standard footballer at the heart of their midfield.
I’m not suggesting Alex Song is the answer to all of Arsenal’s problems – if that were the case, the Gunners wouldn’t have sold him in the first place. But clearly in search of a new home after struggling to break into the first team at the Nou Camp and so desperate to return to the capital that he joined a London-based side that finished just seven points clear of relegation last season, a loan deal until Wenger’s desired choice of holding midfielder, namely, William Carvalho, became available, would have been a very astute move.
It’s a similar situation with Cesc Fabregas; yes, Arsenal are already overloaded in that department and understandably, Wenger would prefer not to look for solutions to present problems in Arsenal’s past. But the consequence of not re-signing the former Gunners captain is a Chelsea team, already blessed with enormous quality throughout, headed by the most productive playmaker in the Premier League. And let’s be honest here – are the north Londoners really in a position to turn down world-class midfielders at £30million a time?
I’ve rarely understood Wenger’s attitude in the transfer market and at this point, it’s unlikely I ever will. But in regards to the summer window alone, considering how much Arsenal spent and the many opportunities since reported as available to them, Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas particularly, I find myself disappointingly underwhelmed. If Arsenal plan to continue spending as lavishly as possible, with the Puma funds continuing for the next few years, perhaps its time control over transfer policy began moving away from Arsene Wenger.