This blog initially went dormant over the summer because I refused to speculate on transfer rumors until actual business was conducted. As the summer drew on and no actual business transpired, it became clear that there was not going to be much to say. I tried staying positive, consoling myself first with the fact that Ivan made a big flourish of taking the handbrake off our wallet, then with our all-but-done deal for Gonzalo Higuain (nevermind the Suarez), then with how well our current squad finished out last season, and finally by convincing myself that I cannot be negative about the upcoming season before the ball has even been kicked.
For the first time in recent memory we did not enter the summer having a key player flirting with another team's money silo. We showed great unity and understanding in preseason. Wonder of wonders, we ruthlessly cut dead wood until nearly all that remained was the polished core of a title contender.
Inexplicably, that merciless cull was where our transfer business focused and to this point in the window, with all due respect to Crowley, Selva, Sanogo, and Raage, ended. Twenty-two players left Arsenal this summer, including five semi-regular members of the first team squad, with nary a replacement. The squad's need for reinforcements from back to front seemed mandatory and blatantly obvious.
Perhaps the club leadership was focused on conducting other business? There was the Asia publicity tour (calling it "preseason" is generous), the launch of a smart new away kit, the printing of sticker books, the renewal of many club memberships and season tickets after Ivan's proclamation that this, THIS was the summer of spending...but no deals of significance were sealed. We were fully prepared to finally splash the cash too, as The Swiss Ramble details.
Yet we marched into the season with this husk of a first team squad and got stuffed 1-3. At home. By Aston Villa. Conceding two penalties on top of a red card to a key defender in an already sparse back line. Getting half the team at least minorly injured, some moreso. If you had asked me to list my nightmare scenario for beginning the season, this match would have ticked all the boxes. Far better writers than I (me? see?) have vented about the debacle of our season opener (Arseblog, Arse2Mouse, 7amkickoff), but I reserve a special word for referee Anthony Taylor. Calling a match incompetently is one thing. Calling a match both incompetently AND unevenly is something else entirely. If the same bad calls that were going against us had been going against Villa in kind, I think the complexion of the match would have been very different from early on.
New signings would not have mitigated pathetic officiating but as others have stated, they would have shored up weaknesses in our squad that could have made a big difference in proceedings. This summer we drove our sensible sedan to the Aston Martin dealership a few times, kicked the tires and made wholesale offers for various elite models, and then walked away when the sticker prices were too high for our tastes. Now our sensible sedan exploded into a searing fireball right in front of all the salespeople. That sure helps our bargaining position.
To get to the point (maybe), because the club has been seeking bargains on the transfer market our business has been left late, again, and our collapse at the starting gate has done us no favors. As much as we would have paid for some players at the beginning of the summer after making it perfectly evident we had money to spend, we can expect to pay that much more after throwing the stench of desperation into the mix.
Don't talk to me about not having top quality players available to sign or that players run screaming away from a club that has not won a trophy in a few years or squeaks into the Champions League on the regular. Take a look at this summer's transfers in from around the league and you'll find that clubs of every stripe found players willing to join them, even if they haven't won a trophy recently or have European football at their disposal. What do you suppose attracts 10 new players to toil under Di Canio at Sunderland? Why did Anelka go to West Brom? Why do any of us choose a new employer? I'll give you a hint: it rhymes with big paychecks. Likewise, clubs are willing to part with good players for the right price, which in today's market tends to be outrageously high. Luckily our club has outrageous money to spend; for some reason we are reluctant. At the very least, why weren't we taking advantage of other clubs' scouting (like a certain lilywhite neighbor does) and swooping in with improved bids ourselves? The truth of the matter is that I would have taken just about any player transferred into the Premiership this summer, and preferably four or five of them.
I appreciate that Wenger believes the current squad is capable of winning the league. It must feel good as his player to receive such high praise. Despite what Tony Adams thinks, I rate our starting XI pretty highly (and don't rate him as much of a successor to Arsene). The trouble is, obviously, our depth beyond those 11 players. Most supporters certainly don't believe that this squad is deep enough to do much of anything let alone challenge on four fronts this campaign. The kicker is that the squad themselves don't believe it either! It is not just the club's supporters calling for transfers in -
team leaders like Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere, among others, have
gone public recently with similar pleas (Arseblog). How are we not bringing players in?!
The cacophony of criticism from all corners must be deafening in Wenger's ears. It's disheartening for a manager who revolutionized the game and brought so much success to Arsenal in the process to be the target of such bile and vitriol, to see players that he nurtured into world-class talents lose patience and take their talents elsewhere, to hear petulant songs and read tense banners. At the same time, what we hear over and over is how the buck stops with Wenger when it comes to footballing matters at Arsenal. He certainly earned this responsibility. The thing that is hard to admit, though, is that he may have overstayed that responsibility. Given what we see from the outside there is little choice but to draw the conclusion that today's game has passed Wenger by, even just a little bit.
This isn't about losing a season opener or not having brought a trophy home in the last few years (and seriously? I could give a damn less about winning a trophy as long as we are contending every season on all fronts). This isn't about bringing David Dein back or having Usmanov represented on the board (Why does that sound like a good idea, again? Because he has written some letters suggesting he'd make funds available to buy players? WE ALREADY HAVE THE FUNDS SOD OFF).
This is about not having a plan B, on or off the pitch. This is an accumulation of frustration.
Wenger's revulsion against paying above the odds for players (Suarez aside; I think that situation warrants a case study in a psych textbook. We won't spend money on just any player, but we'll blow away our transfer record by some distance on him? Really?) and lack of urgency in closing deals early in the transfer window have slowly but surely crippled this club over the span of many years. At this point I am not confident that any of our players, even the stalwarts, will choose to be around and suffer this for much longer. Perhaps it is time for new ideas.
The flip side is, suppose the board has similar ideas. Should Wenger be sacked? Sacked mid-season? Just let the season play out, disastrously or otherwise, and handle things afterward? Who has the credentials to fill his shoes? Who would want to fill his shoes? All delicate questions when discussing a legend.
As with our transfer business, we have left our managerial business to be taken care of far too late. Divided fanbase? Check. Divisive owner and board? Check. Depleted squad? Check. Transfer funds that may or may not actually be available? Check. Sign me up! As with potential players, we should expect to pay well above the odds to lure a top quality replacement for Wenger, which will only heap the pressure on whoever takes up the reins.
Perhaps I (and many others) write Arsene Wenger's obituary too soon, though. The team has shown tremendous resiliency tonight by topping a lukewarm Fenerbahçe side, 3-0, in an intimidating environment. Three away goals will do wonders for our spirits and certainly affords a measure of confidence heading to Craven Cottage this Saturday. Celebrate this victory, celebrate how hard the players worked for it, celebrate their sacrifices. Lament that Koscielny's red card suspension is convenient, since he was carted off the pitch after a high boot to the face (haven't we had players sent off for similar maneuvers with far less contact?). The Pole in goal caught some studs to the neck. Our Big Friendly Vice-Vice-Captain is looking a bit lonely in central defense at the moment. Meanwhile Sagna nearly kissed his own arse a few days ago and hardly looked worse for the wear - new contract please?
But that's the rub, isn't it? The team fights for a vital win, both for our Champions League future this season and for our immediate morale, scores 3 away goals, Aaron Ramsey runs his arse off, and all most of us can really think about are the further knocks, steady depletion of our squad, who we will field for our next match, and who's left to buy. At least this trip to Turkey may very well have been the start of our season and the end of our dalliances in the transfer market, when we begin earnestly pursuing the likes of...well there's this one...ah, bollocks. What's better - dead wood, or no wood?