Arsenal FC made a promising start to their summer transfer window with the signing of Chelsea FC legend Petr A?ech, but with no other senior signings made to bolster the squad, ArsA?ne Wenger might just have missed out on his best opportunity to win the Premier League in years
In many ways, it seemed as though 2015 would prove to be a pivotal year for ArsA?ne Wenger and Arsenal FC. The Gunners won their second F.A. Cup in a row with a thumping 4-0 victory over Aston Villa in the final, becoming the most successful club in the history of the competition in the process. Manchester United were defeated along the way at Old Trafford, while Manchester City were beaten in the league in a gritty, disciplined performance few believed the Gunners had in them.
Rather than any permanent change in philosophy, it was a refreshingly different approach from Wenger– one that suggested the Gunners could finally mix it with the top teams in the league. Arsenal FC then went on to win the Barclays Asia Trophy, the Emirates Cup and the FA Community Shield in pre-season, with the French manager claiming his first ever victory against old foe Jos Mourinho in English football’s annual curtain-raiser at Wembley.
The victory featured Chelsea FC legend Petr A?ech, whom Wenger signed for around A?10 million from Chelsea FC despite the reluctance of Mourinho to sell to a direct rival. In that sense, the Czech Republic international was a ‘statement’ signing from the Gunners, who could hardly have had a better preparatory period going into the new season.
A month and no new signings later, however, there is a familiar sense of foreboding around the club, a feeling exacerbated by the decidedly average start the Gunners have made to their season. Some sections of the Arsenal FC fanbase have directed their outrage at Wenger for refusing to sign any outfield players to strengthen the squad, and it is easy to understand why the fans are so irate.
Perhaps it may be too reductive to pin any potential failure this season on the lack of transfer activity in the summer window, but recent Premier League champions have shown that there is a correlation there.
Chelsea FC were ruthlessly clinical in the surgical restructuring of their first-team squad last summer, and the signings of Diego Costa and ex-Arsenal FC captain Cesc F bregas played a key role in the Blues’ title triumph. Manchester City won the league in 2013-2014 thanks in no small part to the contribution of Fernandinho, as well as, to a lesser extent, that of Alvaro Negredo and JesA?s Navas.
Manchester United in 2012-2013 received the boost they needed to get over the line largely due to the addition of Dutchman Robin van Persie from Arsenal FC in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge of the club. Although Arsenal’s only signing is that of a world-class player, it is difficult to see how the Czech international alone can turn the club’s fortunes around.
The Gunners’ season does not, by any stretch, end here because of a lack of signings. However, it would be fair to say that Wenger has not given himself and his side the best possible chance of winning the league this season by failing to build on the excellent signing of A?ech.
There is precious little nuance when it comes to debates involving Arsenal FC more than most other sides, with the chasm between the so called ‘Wenger Out Brigade’ and ‘ArsA?ne Knows Best’ groups growing ever wider. However, the middle ground is fast vanishing with each passing season in which the Gunners fail to mount a serious title challenge and get knocked out at the same early stage in the UEFA Champions League.
The addition of a striker was seen as crucial to the Gunners’ chances this season, and particularly in light of Danny Welbeck’s long-term injury, it seems surprising that Wenger did not add to his squad in that department. Olivier Giroud is a solid striker who is capable of scoring a decent number of goals throughout the season, but is well short of being world class. Theo Walcott, meanwhile, is not particularly equipped to playing up front on a consistent basis , and his skill-set still appears more suited to a role on the wing.
Although it is not easy to sign world class strikers– particularly given they are a rare breed– a number of very good strikers switched clubs this summer, some of whom could definitely have aided the Gunners. The likes of Jackson Mart nez, Luciano Vietto, Carlos Bacca, Edin DA?eko and Christian Benteke amongst others were all available at various stages during the summer.
The failure to add a defensive-minded player in midfield has also raised concerns, given Francis Coquelin is unlikely to be able to maintain his form throughout the season across four fronts. As good as the 24-year-old Frenchman has been since his return from loan in the second half of last season, more steel in midfield in the form of Morgan Schneiderlin or Sevilla midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak would have been of great help to Wenger, particularly for the more difficult fixtures in the Champions League.
The French manager’s reticence to spend remains a mystery, given the Gunners now have the monetary resources to be able to sign top players, as they have in Mesut zil and Alexis SA?nchez over the past couple of years. Wenger has done an excellent job to oversee the construction of a new stadium in an effort to greatly increase revenue and make the club self-sustainable, but the sobering reality is that even with that additional income, Arsenal FC are not in a league of their own, financially.
Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea FC all have greater resources, while the new Premier League TV deal is encouraging the mid-table clubs to splash out on big names from other leagues– most evident in Crystal Palace’s incredible summer signing of France international Yohan Cabaye. That is the sort of ambition Arsenal FC fans would so dearly love to see from their club and manager.
The start the Gunners have made to the season on and off the pitch makes it even harder to believe that all this is actually leading somewhere. Although Arsenal have won back-to-back F.A. Cups, they have failed to be in a position to pose a threat to the title in the final few weeks, and have arguably taken a step backwards as far as their Champions League performance is concerned.
The harsh reality is that there might be no ‘Ha! This has all been worth it!’ moment for the Gunners. Perhaps Arsenal FC are on a road that may take them tantalisingly close to being able to realistically compete for the most coveted trophies in world football, before doubling back on itself without quite getting there.
When he chooses to move on, the legacy that ArsA?ne Wenger will leave at the club and English football in general is virtually unparalleled. However, his dogmatic adherence to his own principles– while admirable on some level– is perhaps now holding the club back.
Perhaps the Frenchman is the right manager for Arsenal FC, but at the wrong time– one that will refuse to pay silly money for a player when rivals will be queuing up to do just that. In that sense, he is a principled man in a football world that is increasingly abandoning its principles; a logical man in a football world that has long since surrendered to the madness of an increasingly commercialised sport.
Wenger’s storied career has given the Gunners plenty of joyful memories that will endure. It is to be hoped Le Professeur does not have to suffer the ignominy of ending it with his own fans calling for his departure.
Another roller-coaster season lies ahead for Arsenal.