There has been plenty of anticipation built into the return of the Premier League this weekend for Arsenal, not least because it will offer a good account as to how far the team have come from the positive steps forward from wins at Bayern and Swansea.
Arsene Wenger has seemingly gone against the grain in an attempt to salvage whatever was left from this season, adding great emphasis to defensive preparation and giving the boot to those who were more than under-performing. But that won’t be enough to silence the doubters. Whatever the outcome of this season may be, we simply must see a return to the Wenger of old during this summer’s transfer window.
Whatever may be said about the club’s apparent restrictions on how freely Wenger can move in the market, there’s no taking away from the fact that whatever money has been spent has left the club with very little return. It’s not always how much in the way of transfer fees you have available to you, but rather what you do with your resources.
In the summer of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri’s departure, there was more than enough of a case to be made that signings were poor, and for significant amounts of money. Surely the club should have known that Andre Santos would have broken down in such a way that he had. And the fact that both Park Chu Young and Gervinho arrived from the French league – apparently Wenger’s area of expertise – is even more worrying.
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Despite how well Mikel Arteta has adapted to his role at Arsenal, and for all the positives that can be said for Per Mertesacker, were either of those two players bought in with specific roles earmarked for them? Were they going to be valuable and necessary additions to the squad, rather than simply individuals in a team lacking any real purpose?
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was always intended to be one for the future, yet even he forced the club to part with big money.
But what has been disappointing is not just the deals Wenger makes, but the ones he ignores.
It’s a worry that so many good players slip the net – especially when they’re to be considered ideal targets for a club of Arsenal’s stance. Limited resources or not, the club need to be snapping up the deals which fall into their bracket and who are good enough to make a difference.
Yet it’s not just about bringing in important signings to appease the fans, it’s about the symbolism of a successful transfer window. For Wenger, he is hardly seen as a master tactician at Arsenal, yet he is more than capable of doing what’s right for the greater good.
Instead, the Frenchman’s biggest draw is what he does in the market, parting with very little and bringing in enormous rewards. It’s the shrewdness in picking up another team’s disposable names and turning them into treasures at Arsenal. We haven’t seen that in recent years, and more than anything the fans want to know that the fire hasn’t died out inside the man in the dugout.
That’s where a lot of the anger came from during that brief episode involving talks of a new contract. Fans are questioning whether Wenger is the man to take Arsenal forward, not solely due to the performances on the field but where they stem from in the market. Yes, it is important for the club as a whole to receive a lift and a spark from a new arrival – Andrey Arshavin’s impact in 2009 should never be undermined. But plenty of success can be had simply by playing the transfer game far more astutely than others.
Santi Cazorla was a massive statement last summer, and unfortunately many in England still fail to grasp how much of an important signing he is to the club. The problem is that even good signings need strong leadership and a sense of clear direction.
But it needs to be more of the same. Signings like Cazorla is exactly what the club should be completing. Well within price range, more than good enough to make a lasting impression in the team and that added dash of ingenuity that isn’t always available for something around £12million.
Going into this summer, and even if Wenger doesn’t stay on past his current contract, it would be an overwhelming positive to see the manager rise up in the market and get the job done like he used to. Modest fees were never an issue, as even in a time when Thierry Henry signed from Juventus, there was still big money being spent on Ronaldo, Gianluigi Buffon and Luis Figo.
What we’ve seen from Wenger in recent weeks is the calm exterior that we assumed was lost for good. The witty comments and wry smiles that greeted journalists, rather than the fiery backlash we’ve come to know this season. Yes, circumstances have been difficult, but there are surely many hoping that this is the beginning of a swansong that is befitting of Wenger and his accomplishments.
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