I’ve stated before that Arsene Wenger is the king of compromise when it comes to the transfer market, and this summer is the perfect example.
At the end of last season, if you asked the average Arsenal fan what his or her side needed to acquire in the transfer window, they’d tell you a goalkeeper, a central defender, a holding midfielder and a striker. And if Arsene Wenger fulfilled all the wishes of the said supporter, bringing added quality in all departments mentioned, you’d suggest the Gunners would have a good chance of reasserting themselves in the Premier League title race.
But as the Frenchman spent the summer adamantly denying he needed any new players, never truly committing to the level required in his pursuits of David Villa, Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez, and Luiz Gustavo, the impetus changed from improving the team that Wenger himself claimed were capable of claiming the Premier League title without changing a single member of personnel, to simply spending some money, on anybody, in any position, as long as the Gunners didn’t finish up with 20 year-old bosman signing Yaya Sanogo from Auxerre to show for a whole summer’s worth of opportunities to buy.
Granted, Wenger did come through for the fans in spectacular style with his club-record-fee-breaking £42million acquisition of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid. The German international is one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe, claiming more assists than any other player throughout the continent for his previous four seasons combined. But will buying yet another light-weight attacking midfielder actually get the Gunners any closer to the title race? They’ve already got so many on the books that they’re being transformed into holding midfielders, to the detriment of Arsenal’s back four.
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And the fans’ price for getting their long-desired marquee signing is to accept Wenger’s other choice of squad additions without kicking up a fuss. Mathieu Flamini has been brought back to the Emirates after his contract expired with AC Milan, but when fans speculated as to what defensive midfielder could be signed at the start of the summer to sure up the middle of the park, I doubt the Frenchman was at the forefront of their thinking, or even considered as a viable option.
After leaving North London for bigger money in Italy, it’s safe to say Flamini’s career took a downward turn. During his five years in Milan, the 29 year old managed just 96 Serie A outings, and was hardly held in high regard. He missed almost the entire 2010/2011 campaign through injury, and last term made only 18 league appearances. It doesn’t suggest a player on top of his game, but convinced that his squad only requires bolstering, not improving, Wenger re-signed Flamini at no cost to serve as his only natural holding midfielder in the whole squad, unless you include captain sicknote Abou Diaby.
Perhaps I’ve been a bit unfair. The former France international, who hasn’t got close to the national set-up since his last outing in 2008, is a well-experienced professional, capable of playing in numerous positions, that will go some way to address the imbalance in Arsenal’s midfield if he’s used on a regular basis.
He doesn’t help the Gunners’ height issues, and he’s by no means improved the quality of the first team, but a useful player to have around none the less, even if there were far more talented and promising defensive midfielders out there this summer, such as Maroaune Fellaini, now with Manchester United, who was available for just £23million until mid August, or highly-rated Lyon captain Maxime Gonalons, or former PSV prodigy Kevin Strootman.
But if the re-hiring of European mercenary Flamini is understandable, the decision to bring Danish problem child Nicklas Bendtner back into the first team fold is certainly not. Earlier in the summer, the Gunners were apparently pursuing Luis Suarez and Gonzalo Higuain – two of the most prolific strikers in Europe – to bolster their attacking options, but now, Wenger is turning to a player that he’s been trying to get off the Emriates wage bill for the last two years.
Since declaring that he’d never play for Arsenal again in 2011, Bendtner has spent the last two campaigns of his career in exile, first joining Sunderland where he netted just eight goals in 30 appearances, and then Juventus, only to make nine Serie A outings in a whole season without claiming a single goal, despite the Italian club’s striking woes, and find himself banned from the Danish national team for six months after being arrested for drink-driving. Even before the 25 year old was farmed out, his Arsenal record of 22 goals in 99 Premier League appearances was hardly what you’d call Champions League material.
And it’s not as if the Ozil deal left the Gunners without funds for a new striker. If the much-documented £70million figure of Wenger’s summer war chest were true, capturing the German left £28million in the kitty to bring in a quality forward, or for that matter, a defender, a midfielder or a goalkeeper.
Carlos Tevez joined Juventus at the start of the transfer window for £10million, David Villa was available to Arsenal for just £2million before signing for Atletico Madrid according to Spanish journalist Guilleme Balague, and even more recently, Chelsea acquired Samuel Eto’o, one of Europe’s most talented and experienced front men, for a nominal fee as Anzhi held a firesale of their expensive foreign imports.
But missing out on these opportunities was Wenger’s own decision, stating after losing to Aston Villa, with less than two weeks until deadline day; “The transfer market starts for me now. From August 21 until September 2 you have 12 days, so a lot will happen. It starts now.”
Something did happen; he bought one of the most talented attacking midfielders under the age of 25 in Europe, and I have no doubt the Gunners will be a far better side now that they’ve made their first marquee signing in the best part of a decade. But it’s come at the expense of other parts of the first team that required improvement, and upon improvement, would have put Arsenal back in the title race rather than comfortably assuring them Champions League qualification, which is all Mesut Ozil will do.
The Gunners boss had a huge opportunity to capitalise this summer whilst the rest of the Premier League’s summit struggle with the teething pains of new management, and it’s been the greatest chance Arsenal have had to effectively awaken from their dormant state for some time. In his eternal stubbornness however, Wenger spent the transfer window insisting he didn’t even need to sign a new player to compete for the title, before bringing in a has-been midfielder who hasn’t been a first team regular for the best part of five years, and re-instating Nicklas Bendtner as his back-up centre-forward.
Arsenal fans will be revelling in the satisfaction that their club has finally broken it’s big-spending duck by acquiring a player who can rival any other leading talent currently in the Premier League.
But if we look at the bigger picture, it’s still a great opportunity missed for the Gunners to rebuild, and the Emirates faithful should not be accepting two former players, both suffering all-time career lows, as the only other additions to a squad that could have competed this year if it was significantly improved in a few key departments – none of them being attacking midfield.
I mean, what’s going to come next from Arsene Wenger? A third stay for Sol Campbell, another free signing in the form of Arsenal academy product David Bentley, the re-acquiring of Alexander Hleb, or is Kanu going to come out of retirement once Bendtner’s found wanting? It seems more likely than another world class signing being made any time soon.
Should Arsenal fans be happy about Flamini and Bendtner returning to the Arsenal first team?
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