Despite bringing in one player last night, it’s difficult for the majority of Arsenal fans to knock the feeling that this transfer window, like so many others before it, has been a disappointment. But just how costly could the lack of investment in the squad prove to be?
Arsenal have unerringly consistently sold their best players and released many more from the wage bill over the last few years. Okay, I appreciate there’s the stadium debt to repay but nevertheless, there should be money to spend – between £50m and £70m if the AST are to be believed. Money generated from those deals as well as from the pockets of the fans that pay eye-watering prices for tickets these days. They pay it to watch their favourite team challenge to be the best and ultimately to be entertained. Those things more often than not go hand-in-hand. One could argue by failing to compete at the top level, the product Arsenal are selling is not good enough, or at least doesn’t represent value for money; one of a number of reasons why so many season tickets were given up and passed up last summer. It sounds like the mantra of a glory hunter but unfortunately it’s a way of life.
What made Arsenal wonderfully unique was that even when they ‘failed,’ and I use that term loosely – I don’t consider finishing 3rd to be a crime against humanity – they still played some of the best football around. Sure, we’ve had flashes of it this season, but it has been significantly overshadowed by some ball-achingly bad stuff. We’re no longer ‘the great entertainers’ we once were and to use that as a positive is now nothing more than a lazy, outdated cliché. I used to watch my local non-league bit-on-the-side, Woking fairly regularly and I’ve seen them play more attractive stuff than some of the garbage we’ve been treated to this season. Performances against Bradford, Norwich, Schalke and Swansea to name just four were simply unacceptable.
Out of context it sounds like I’m a spoilt brat, and maybe there’s an element of truth to that; I have been brought up in a generation where Arsenal could indeed make a case for being the greatest team the world has ever seen. I’ve seen us play filthily attractive football that it feels like it should come with some sort of age rating. But when the club are charging astronomical prices and seemingly settling for mediocrity, it does sting just a little bit. Is it not an insult that this money is pocketed by Kroenke, or whoever you want to pin the blame on, and not reinvested back into the team in order to make us stronger and therefore achieve the purpose of the product being sold to us?
There’s a very good chance that Arsenal won’t finish in the top four this season and therefore won’t qualify for the Champions League which is becoming the most underwhelming of holy grails. As well as not competing with Europe’s finest, and therefore not being able to attract the crème de la crème of playing staff, we also lose the significant amount of reddies that comes as part of the package upon entering UEFA’s hugely popular competition. The line will of course be that we need not panic from a financial position because we’ve ‘kept our powder dry’ by not making the necessary investments; essentially, we can cover the costs incurred. Where is the sense in that? Surely you want to build on what you have when you can? I’m not going to list player names because this isn’t some Football Manager PC game, but surely someone who improves the squad, will cost less than what we will lose by not being in the Champions League? Said player(s) could well be the difference between us finishing 4th and 5th, or the difference between us winning the FA Cup and having to sacrifice it because we don’t want to risk overplaying our best players.
I don’t know much about Nacho Monreal but by all accounts he looks a good signing; a cynic would not be judged too harshly for simply pointing out the fact it keeps Andre Santos out of the team. With Gibbs injured, we needed another left-back and the club have done well to secure one in 24 hours. Proof there, if it were needed, that they’re not completely incompetent as some would have you believe. Normally, we’d all be chuffed with a shrewd Deadline Day signing out of nowhere, but sadly this year, it feels underwhelming. As Catchphrase’s Roy Walker might have said, “it’s good, but it’s not right.” Or ‘not enough’ would perhaps be more appropriate.
Wojciech Szczesny still has no respectable competitor for the number one jersey and there’s the fear that he could become too comfortable and therefore complacent if he’s not constantly being pushed. Whilst Aaron Ramsey has done well in a deep role to date, I doubt anyone is satisfied with the reliance on, and lack of cover for, Mikel Arteta who is currently out injured. Mohamed Diame was strongly linked, thus highlighting the need for another midfielder; particularly when fears linger over the prospect of overplaying Jack Wilshere in addition to the fact that Abou Diaby, as talented as he is, may as well be made of glass.
Strengthening in those positions would have been dandy but it was perhaps not essential. What surely was needed, however, was another striker. For all of Marouane Chamakh’s ineptitude, he was at least an attacking option, but the manager decided to let go of a player in a position we were already short in. Another forward had to come in, surely? Apparently not. I rate Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott as much, if not more than the next man, but I can’t even begin to fathom the logic in having them as our *only* strikers. What happens when one of them inevitably picks up an injury? Walcott’s come on leaps and bounds but doesn’t appear ready to play through the middle against packed, deep defences, which we will undoubtedly encounter on several occasions. Where is the alternative? Who can we bring on from the bench when the pressure gets cranked up but we can’t put the ball in the net?
I don’t even think a marquee signing like Edinson Cavani or David Villa as was mooted is essential. Just someone to add competition and give us options. What was wrong with Demba Ba? Not world class by any means but a good, proven Premier League goalscorer who has settled in well already at Chelsea. The boss’ stance throughout was that we would only strengthen if we could improve the squad. Does he really expect us to believe there was nobody out there who could add to what we have? Nobody? Not one single player?
If we do miss out on Europe, if the board think that most people are still going to pay through the nose during a recession for what, frankly, is a decent team and nothing more, then they’re even more deluded and out of touch than we thought. There will be more empty seats in the stadium, more money will be lost and what remaining top quality players we have will jump ship just as Fabregas, Nasri, Song and van Persie have done in the recent past.
What assurances do we have that we’re not going to be another Liverpool? I could be made to look foolish here, and I’ll gladly accept the humiliation: we may indeed finish 4th and everything will be relatively rosy. It’s not inconceivable either, considering our realistic challengers for the spot are Everton, who will surely fade away, and Tottenham who not only have an equally thin squad, but also have that notorious knack of choking whenever they get close to what they want. But I don’t think we can afford to gamble on this. How long do we rely on Spurs being more of a shambles than us? The knock-on effects of us failing this season could genuinely be catastrophic. Yet again, we’re our own worst enemy. I just hope we haven’t fallen too far behind already.