A comfortable second leg victory against a limited but suitably chippy Fenerbace means we have ticked all our summer boxes bar one. The not so invisible elephant of player recruitment.
Despite the relative success of Tottenham, Liverpool and the obscene riches of Monaco in terms of incoming transfers, Arsene Wenger is entirely right to assert that most top players see Champion’s League football as a sort of minimum requirement. This is particularly the case when you are trying to entice otherwise settled squad players from the latest Real Madrid fire sale.
With this particular hurdle now safely navigated, our resident Alsatian is running out of excuses to avoid opening his tightly sealed Franco-German wallet. Even without the impending end of the transfer window, the large looming North London derby against free-spending Spurs ups the ante somewhat. With the old enemy rejuvinated and Arsenal currently struggling to fill the subs bench, the morale boost of some fresh blood is a pressing concern.
Early season injuries have only added to this urgency. With Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski now both out for the foreseeable, and with Ramsey waiting on the outcome of a groin tweak, a squad already shorn of Vermaelen, Arteta and Diaby is starting to creak badly. A couple more knocks will see a front line of Sanogo, Miyaichi and Gnabry, and we are not far away from seeing Zelalem having to start.
The result is that a squad already playing under immense pressure is having more heaped on them by the situation, fan discontent and their loyalty to the manager. And they deserve better.
This current set of players play with greater commitment, courage and pride than any we’ve seen since the near miss in 07/08, and possibly since the 2006 Champion’s League run. The work-rate and team spirit are there for all to see, and it’s not just the ‘British core’ that seem to have a commitment to the club and each other. Over the last two seasons, the players currently left at the club have showed great resolve and ambition, and it’s up to the manager to add the ingredients that will give them a chance to chase the big prizes, rather than running full pelt to stay still.
Thankfully, after the anger and introspection after the Aston Villa game, the Gooner nation has largely been brought back to balance by a good week, and we are pretty much all in the same boat.
Holding our breath, somewhere between cynicism, hope and expectation.
In a way, it’s quite an exciting time, as none of us know what is going to happen in the next few days. The rumour mill is whirlygigging out of control, and the club is being linked from everyone from Real Madrid first teamers to Bulgarian u21′s. The combination of the manager’s seemingly self-defeating stubbornness and the heavily publicised stash of cash leads to a slightly mind-breaking range of possibilities.
It might be straw-clutching, but on ITV, Lee Dixon (the player who signed for Arsenal the day I became a fan) seemed confident that the club are going to make moves to bring in at least ‘two big players’. He’s not normally one to chase the oxygen of publicity through wild pronouncements, so let hope he knows something.
We all know that a lot will happen quickly once the Bale merry-go-round enters its final spin, but I’m sure the club is looking at players beyond the rumoured Ozil, Benzema and Di Maria. I’m not sure any of them would represent good value, but the arrival of one (or someone of a similar stature) would prove a massive boost psychologically if nothing else. And the squad deserves that boost.
With this in mind, I hope the rumours about Flamini are true. Quite apart from his free agent status allowing us to focus expenditure on ‘top, top quality’, there are other clear benefits. He’d be available immediately, knows the club and a couple of the players, and despite not quite having the energy of his early twenties, did develop a slightly greater tactical awareness in Milan. He has already shown he can offer cover at full-back, and even if his powers have diminished, he’s got to be a better option in a crisis than an 18 year old kid with no professional experience.
Obviously if he was the only signing, serious questions would need to be asked, but as squad player he ticks a lot of boxes. Looking elsewhere, I think we all agree that the squad needs a centre-half, a midfielder who can offer defensive protection, a wide man and a striker. And maybe a couple of talented kids as gifts from Arsene to himself. Certainly the striker and the wide player need to be good enough to match or supplant current options.
It’s by now pretty clear that Arsene has missed out on his first choice players in a few positions, and I for one am disappointed we aren’t competing with Spurs for Eric Lamela, but there still plenty of options -and we are being linked with more almost hourly. Of course, Jaun Mata’s father (and agent) being in the Arsenal Director’s box last night has sent the twittersphere into meltdown, and I think it’s safe to assume that between the likes of us, Man U and Real Madrid, there will be some surprising transfers taking place.
So keep your fingers crossed that we make additions before Sunday, and prepare for much more madness over the coming six days.
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