Writing about how Arsenal fans must feel like it’s Groundhog Day after every transfer window is in itself, beginning to feel a lot like Groundhog Day. The search term “Arsenal Groundhog Day transfer window” throws up 47,900 separate results on Google.
But once again, I find myself stuck in the eternal purgatory of bemoaning Arsene Wenger’s frugal spending, pondering what might have been following yet another summer of missed opportunities and inevitably doubting the north London’s Premier League title credentials for the season.
Wenger himself doesn’t seem too disappointed with how the Gunners’ summer panned out. His criticism of Manchester United’s £36million swoop for 19 year-old Anthony Martial, an unproven winger-forward with just eleven Ligue 1 goals under his belt, was an inadvertent compliment of his own ability to resist the modern game’s relentless pressure to break spending records every year.
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Likewise, he’s continued to maintain the party line that seems to manifest after every underwhelming window – a simple and frustrating ‘no world class players were available’.
I have no doubt that the Arsenal boss tried to source players of such renowned quality this summer. Their interest in Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema unfortunately wasn’t reciprocated, whilst PSG’s 28 year-old Edinson Cavani was deemed financially unjustifiable at an asking price of £50million due to lack of resale value.
The Gunners are by no means the only Premier League club who struggled in that regard; Chelsea and Manchester United both missed out on their top summer targets – the likes of Sergio Ramos, Mats Hummels, Gareth Bale, John Stones and Paul Pogba – leading the latter club to take a monolithic gamble on a teenager who has as much a chance of becoming the next Danny Welbeck as he does the next Thierry Henry. Wenger was never going to commit to such an audacious move.
Yet, if you’re the only club in Europe’s leading top flights not to sign an outfield player, following a 2014/15 campaign in which you finished twelve points short of the Premier League’s summit, the only logical rationale is that the transfer policy must be fundamentally wrong.
Chelsea strolled their way to last year’s crown but still felt compelled to add to their starting Xi; Manchester City finished second and did the same. Even Barcelona, the champions of Europe who can’t register new players until their transfer embargo is lifted in January, bent the rules to sign Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan. Clearly there is a need for every club, be they in La Liga or League Two, to continue improving their squads as much as financially possible during the off-season. We know from Lord Harris that Wenger has amassed a virtually bottomless pit of gold over the last few years, so he certainly had the money to do so.
Therefore, it must be asked how realistic Arsenal’s transfer policy of only signing those in world football’s elite bracket, mimicking their 2013 and 2014 swoops for Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez respectively, truly is.
After all, why would Karim Benzema swap a club that won the Champions League title just twelve months ago for another that haven’t claimed a domestic title in a decade? Simply because they’re situated in an affluent area of London? Because they play the fanciest football in England? Because Arsene Wenger is a globally renowned manager? Clearly that’s not enough for the beautiful game’s biggest stars, the majority of whom only truly have eyes for Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid outside of their current employers.
Furthermore, the idea that Arsenal can now only be improved by world class players is a complete fallacy. Although a Jackson Martinez or Mario Mandzukic may not necessarily surpass the service Olivier Giroud currently provides, there’s no question the Colombian and Croatian international0’s quality and proficiency would have significantly strengthened Arsenal’s strike force, giving Arsene Wenger better options within his squad.
The same can be said in regards to holding midfield, a gap in the starting Xi Wenger appears to have absolutely no interest in arresting. Whilst the best of the best require a small fortune to obtain, decent and simple if unspectacular defensive midfielders are ten-a-penny. Francis Coquelin still needs cover and it remains to be seen if last season’s superlative form can be sustained long-term. Likewise, Arsenal lack a John Obi Mikel-esque figure, capable of stepping in for important fixtures or seeing out games from the bench. One of those could add an extra four or five points per season.
Would a second-rate striker and midfielder be enough for Arsenal to clinch this season’s title? Probably not. But they would have brought the Gunners significantly closer to it and one can only assume that they would resultantly bring Arsenal closer to world-class players as well. After all, a second-place club that finishes just a few points away from the title is a considerably more enticing proposition than one that finishes ten or twelve off the top.
But once again, Wenger’s idealism in the transfer market has condemned Arsenal to another year in Champions League qualifying purgatory and me to another year of writing about it. Another Groundhog Day for all involved.