There must be a great amount of exasperation associated with being an Arsenal fan. The club’s followers have to resort to following the “next season is ours” philosophy, season after season after season.
Every new year brings its share of promises, which are duly broken come its end. The situation at the club – which not too long back enjoyed an entire unbeaten season – now stands such, that Champions League qualification is celebrated as if the competition itself had been won.
Fingers have been pointed to several parties over the years- the players, the owners, Arsene Wenger, all have been under increasing scrutiny from fans fast losing their patience.
To make matters worse, Arsenal boast some of the most expensive tickets in world football, with a season ticket for the 2013-14 season being priced at a whopping£985.
In comparison, the cheapest season ticket in the Premier League starts at £299 (Manchester City). The league champions, Manchester United’s season tickets start at £532, still more than £400 less than Arsenal’s.
The Gunners sure are charging a lot in return for Champions League qualification. In 2012, the club signed a fresh shirt sponsorship deal with Emirates Airlines till 2019, and the naming rights deal of the Emirates Stadium was extended till 2028, resulting in a deal which yielded £30m a season in revenue, beginning from 2013.
The fans then beg the question : Where does all the money go? This year, the club promised a frenzy of transfer activity in the summer, with a kitty of £80m available to Arsene Wenger, not including the money recouped in player sales. Two weeks into the transfer window, little known 18-year-old French striker Yaya Sanogo stands as the only confirmed signing, with other deals having appeared to hit roadblocks all round.
Gonzalo Higuain was quipped as being the ‘marquee transfer’ Arsenal have long needed, with negotiations going as far as having agreed personal terms with the Real Madrid striker. All that stood in the way was the arrival of a manager in Madrid to sanction the move, and that was seen as being a mere formality.
Carlo Ancelotti has now been at the club for two-and-a-half weeks, and Arsenal are still haggling with Madrid over the transfer fee. Wenger’s stubborn nature has proved to be one of his greatest strengths as a top-flight manager in the past, but in an era where big transfer deals are a necessity for most ‘big clubs’, Wenger’s practiced transfer celibacy has proved crippling.
Make no mistake, he still does possess an eye for a good deal. Santi Cazorla was one of the bargains last season, and the signings of Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker were also shrewd pieces of work.
But, what Wenger need to do most was sign a forward to replace Robin Van Persie, and Olivier Giroud – while providing a separate dimension to Arsenal play – just wasn’t what the doctor had ordered. Arsenal also needed to replace Alex Song, who’d left for Barcelona. But again, Wenger just chose to rotate Arteta, Ramsey, Diaby (on the rare occasions he was fit), and Rosicky for the holding midfield spots.
The doctor was unhappy again. Marouane Fellaini would have been the perfect fit for the Song void. But, till now at least, Wenger has been unwilling to meet Fellaini’s £24m release clause.
In the meanwhile, the club made an audacious £30m bid for Liverpool’s want-away biter…erm , striker, Luis Suarez. Liverpool on the other hand won’t even begin to consider an offer lesser than £40m, which Wenger will again be unwilling to sanction.
The competition, in the meanwhile, hasn’t been sitting on their laurels, and have gone about their business swiftly, despite all three of the clubs placed above them in the Premier League having undergone managerial changes over the summer.
Manchester City have signed Jesus Navas for £15m, and Fernandinho for £30m. Considering the latter is 28, he possesses little resale value, and the club has clearly overpaid for him. However, that is just what clubs need to do if they want their targets, given the constant snifffing of the likes of new moneybags City, Chelsea, PSG, Monaco, the perennial moneybags of Real Madrid, and the new Russian and Middle-Eastern moneybags like Anzhi, Zenit, Al-Sadd, and so on.
Chelsea have bought in Andre Schurrle from Bayer Leverkusen for £17m and Marco Van Ginkel from Vitesse Arnhem for £9m. Tottenham have secured a £17m coup in the form of the Confederations Cup Bronze Boot winner, Paulinho. Everton, now under Roberto Martinez, have brought in Arouna Kone, Joel Robles, and Antolin Alcaraz, all from former club Wigan, and Spanish teenage prodigy Gerard Deulofeu on a season-loan from FC Barcelona.
Liverpool, too, have strengthened, with the signings of Kolo Toure, Luis Alberto, Iago Aspas, and Simon Mignolet. While some of these players may have cost a fair amount, some others, like Navas and Paulinho are bargain transfers, and it would appear that Wenger has lost some ground in that respect.
Only Manchester United are yet to make a big transfer, but given they finished League winners comfortably last season, their laxity can be forgiven.
Arsenal have fast run out of excuses, and time. The blame for their transfer inactivity can’t be pinned on one person. The entire institution lies at fault. And while the transfer season is far from over, the initial few weeks have played with a painfully familiar ring to them. And Gunners fans must surely be dreading another season with broken promises at the end. And given the speed with which the competition is catching up, Champions League football will also have to be fought for.