The intensity of pressure has relaxed somewhat this week on Arsene Wenger, as the prospect of the Gunners coming fourth looks a more realistic possibility following Tottenham Hotspur’s defeat against Liverpool in the Premier League, which come the end of the season may prove to be a game to look back on and regret for Andre Villas-Boas.
Furthermore, Arsenal fans are still on a high from their impressive 2-0 display against Bayern Munich in the Champions League which, although was not enough to avoid elimination for the European tournament, has revived the confidence of the first team and the faith of the supporters.
Yet, I’d hope that the Arsenal fan base isn’t going to let off their spiritual leader so easily. There are still a number of issues to address at the Emirates. Firstly, no silver wear in eight years, for a club with the resources, players and money available to do so is a serious problem; it may be all very well qualifying for the Champions League every year, but the Gunners have come no closer to winning the European trophy than they have the Premier League, FA Cup or League Cup – what’s the use in simply making up the numbers every season and failing to get past the round of 16?
Secondly, Arsenal haven’t been an active part of the title race for some time. This is partly due to the regular dip in form at the start of every season, but it has now got to the point where the first-team players are not comparable to Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea, and neither is the depth in the rest of the squad.
Thus, we come to address the underlying problem. Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to spend money has left fans rather long in the tooth, as it’s clear his limited investment in players has created a depreciation of quality and talent over the past eight years or so. The Starting XI is now a shadow of ‘the invincibles’, and furthermore, the singular stars that have propped up the team during difficult periods – Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Kolo Toure and Samir Nasri for example – have all dried up, although Jack Wilshere is proving to be the club’s next talismanic force.
In the summer, Arsenal fans are expecting and deserve some wholesale changes. Arsene Wenger has discussed openly in the media that he will amend his transfer policy and begin to make some larger investments in the hope of reigniting the club’s successes by injecting some real quality into the first team.
There’s a reported £80million transfer kitty at the French boss’s disposal, to be divvied up between bids and wages, and he even entertained thoughts of launching a bid for Radamel Falcao when quizzed on the Columbian hitman during a press conference, however Wenger’s actual intent to sign Falcao can be put somewhere between wishful thinking and a white lie for the sake of the fans.
But I sense a problem that I’m sure the Arsenal gaffer is already well aware of. Whilst the Emirates faithful have dreams of a wave of young prodigies and star talent from across Europe arriving at their doorstep in the summer, their hopes may be crushed by the pragmatism of the situation. Over the years, as the investment in the first team has been far too low, and the bizarre wage structure has left the middle order of the squad on salaries that are quite simply not value for money, the Arsenal roster is filled with has-beens, failed youngsters and transfer flops, that come the summer will need replacing.
The likes of Sebastien Squillaci, Andrei Arshavin, Vito Mannone, Bacary Sagna and Gervinho from the first team squad are expected to be moved on in the summer, whilst Andre Santos, Nicklas Bendtner, Park Chu-Young, Marouane Chamakh and Denilson, whom are all currently being farmed out across the globe to various clubs where none of them are yet to make a serious impact at their adoptive teams, will also be shown the Emirates exit door at the end of the season.
Far from adding to the transfer kitty however, many of the above mentioned footballers will be leaving under bosman rulings as their contracts are set to expire, and will almost certainly not be renewed. Of course, it will free up the hefty wage bill, which currently stands at £50million higher than Tottenham, despite the local rivals having a far superior squad in terms of depth.
The majority of these players will need replacing, although not all of them. I’m sure Arsenal fans won’t miss having so many former first team players out on loan simply because the club can’t find any buyers, and the players themselves don’t wish to lose out on their on average 60k per week contracts.
To make matters worse, Arsene Wenger’s squad has been stretched rather thin this season, and having a number of injury prone footballers on Arsenal’s books, such as Abou Diaby, Tomaz Rosicky and Kieran Gibbs, has done little to help the issue. The latter two may also be jettisoned as their influence on the first team has been limited to a handful of appearances due to their constant spells on the sidelines.
In the past, Arsene Wenger would have relied upon his youth team to fill the void left by departing personnel. But currently, his best prospects under the age of 23 all have prominent roles in the first team, and the likes of Emmanuel Frimpong, Frances Coquelin and Ryo Miyaichi quite frankly don’t seem capable of making the step up to becoming Emirates regulars. Similarly, you get the feeling that the likes of Ignasi Miguel, Sanchez Watt and Craig Eastmond, some of the more senior players in the development squad, are not the level of quality required for such a prestigious European club, and the latter two have failed to impress whilst on loan in the lower divisions of English football.
So how will Arsene Wenger find adequate replacements for at least five members of his first team? Quite simply, with the projected £80million transfer and wage fund at his disposal. But whilst the fans are expecting a select few marquee inward transfers to really raise the quality of the Starting XI, that would in theory reinstate Arsenal as a serious force, considering they already have a strong basis for a good first team, it seems more watered down, middle-of-the-road, third or fourth choice signings will have to be made, simply to provide the Arsenal boss with a large enough squad to be competitive in all of the 50 plus fixtures the club will be involved in next season.
I’m sorry Arsenal fans, but I sense another transfer window of disappointment upon the horizon, and subsequently, another campaign that moves the club in the wrong direction, or at best stagnates them to the position they’re currently in now. For once however, it will not be due to Wenger’s big-money phobia; his hands are tied by necessity.
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