It has been a very, very quiet summer at Arsenal. The only news that has emanated out of the club over the summer has been a large horde of players making their way through the exit door. The transfer rumours kept coming and most of them extinguished within a week or two. And, here the club stands on the threshold of another season, with a paper thin squad, walking on ice.
It all started with rumours of Arsenal looking to hunt down Wayne Rooney from Manchester United, and it seemed at one stage that the England international was keen on a move to the capital. It turned out the club he was looking to sign for was Chelsea.
Next up in the transfer mill was the signing of Swansea captain Ashley Williams, France international and Valencia’s Adil Rami, and QPR goalkeeper Julio Cesar, all three of whom would have been quality additions to a side, that requires some defensive reinforcements and goalkeeping backup. These rumours too died down too quickly, as Arsenal showed little or no interests in pursuing these players.
As the summer trudged on, more Arsenal players were leaving the club. Arsenal’s record signing Andrey Arshavin left to Zenit St. Petersburg, after a spell that had promised so much at the start, but failed to live up to it. Soon, the clean-up operation was properly into place, as Denilson sealed a permanent switch to Sao Paolo, while Sebastien Squillaci was released.
Among others, a huge number of younger players; including Martin Angha, Craig Eastmond, Conor Henderson, Jernade Meade, Sanchez Watt were released on free transfers. Other first team players on their way out were Johan Djourou, who moved to Hamburg on loan, Andre Santos to Flamengo, Vito Mannone to Sunderland, Francis Coquelin to Freiburg on loan, Marouanne Chamakh to Crystal Palace, Gervinho to Roma, Ignasi Miquel to Leicester on loan, and Chuks Aneke to Crewe on loan.
Gonzalo Higuain was heavily linked with a move, with several dailies reporting it to be a done deal. Napoli scuppered the move paying slightly more than what Arsenal were willing to pay, and agreeing to Real Madrid’s valuation of the Argentine international.
To make matters worse for Arsenal fans, Manchester United were making former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas their prime transfer target for the summer, with Arsenal making little or no intention of resigning their former skipper.
Brazilian midfielder Bernard was linked, albeit too briefly, before all the attention turned to Arsenal’s interest in signing Liverpool’s unsettled Uruguayan star Luis Suarez. After initial bids of £30 million and £35 million were rejected, Arsenal managed to trigger the striker’s release clause of £40 million, by paying a cheeky pound extra in the bid, but it was rejected outright by the Merseyside club. This led to a barrage of comments by Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers over Arsenal’s approach of his flagship player, and even Liverpool’s owner was involved.
Suarez pleaded to Liverpool to let him leave, and even went to the extent of claiming in the media that Liverpool weren’t living up to the promise that he would be allowed to leave, if they did not qualify for the Champions League. This turned out to be a three-way war, between Arsenal, Liverpool, and Suarez. As it stands, negotiations have all but broken down, with Liverpool unwilling to let go of Suarez, owing to lack of sufficient firepower/ready made replacements, but Suarez, despite recently stating he would stay at Liverpool, rumours float that Arsenal could make a final £49 million offer.
Is he really worth that much? I am still boggled. While we have clearly done great with the culling of the squad, by ridding ourselves of players unfit to play for the club, we have lacked the same ruthlessness in the transfer market. We failed to match Real Madrid’s valuation of Higuain, which forced us to go for a costlier option in Suarez. This turned out to be an even thicker soup, considering the position of the owner club, and the player himself, with his chequered disciplinary history in the Premier League.
This has led to several fans and pundits alike questioning Arsenal’s relentless pursuit of Suarez. While, on one hand it showed the club had ambition; on the other hand there were question marks over whether Suarez is the kind of player the club needed at the moment. Despite his brilliant haul of 30 goals in all competitions, and being a tricky customer; Suarez has found himself in controversy far too often. His biting past, racism row with Patrice Evra, finger incident and diving antics are among enough reasons as to why Arsenal shouldn’t sign Luis Suarez.
Luiz Gustavo, Bayern’s defensive midfield outcast checked all important brackets of an Arsenal player. Accomplished at the top level, and a Brazilian international, Arsenal again managed to throw away the deal, by not offering Bayern the asking price of £14 million. Rumours now state that he is close to moving to Wolfsburg for £17 million. What is more startling is that Arsenal’s only signing so far has been Yaya Sanogo, an unproven young injury-prone striker from France’s second division.
It seems that even after years of misery, paying up stadium debts, bad transfer moves, and illogical final day transfer dashes, the club has learnt very little. Two seasons back, when Arsenal sold off Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy and bought in only Gervinho, and the talented but inexperienced duo of Carl Jenkinson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, it took a 8-2 mauling at the hands of Manchester United, for Arsene Wenger to call for the shopping trolley and sign five players on the final day of the transfer window.
While two of them, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker have stamped their authority on Arsenal, Yossi Benayoun was a temporary fix, while Andre Santos proved to be a major flop. Park Chu Young, despite a loan move to Celta Vigo to resurrect his career, still finds himself on Arsenal’s books.
Looking at the Arsenal squad at the moment, it shows an incredible lack of depth all over. In the goalkeeping department, are the Polish duo of Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski, both of whom have displayed a consistent inconsistency. In defence, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, and Nacho Monreal are definitely injured for the first few games of the season, and we are one injury away from slotting an Aaron Ramsey at right back.
In midfield, the club is woefully short of personnel. Mikel Arteta, as per recent reports is set to miss the first month of the season. Aaron Ramsey remains a doubt for the game against Aston Villa, while Santi Cazorla would be jet-lagged after his trip to Ecuador. That leaves us with only Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky. Abou Diaby is perennially injured, while the other three names on the squad are Emmanuel Frimpong, Thomas Eisfeld and Ryo Miyaichi, all untested at the top level. Add to that names such as Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem.
The strike department too looks shallow. Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott are the three options, with only Giroud looking to cement his place as the central striker. Podolski has failed at the position last season, often being played on the left, while Walcott has shown inconsistency when being played in the centre. Yaya Sanogo is injured for the opening few games. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the last player of repute to complete the squad, as the club looks to move on Park Chu Young and Niklas Bendtner before the transfer window closes.
It is a shocking premonition of the squad, that seems to be at the edge. Another injury to a first team player, and there could be problems all over the squad. What is startling is that, Arsene Wenger, despite his 17 years at the top level in England, is yet to address the concern by strengthening the squad with new players, to infuse a fresh impetus.
Arsenal ended the last season with a 10 match unbeaten run, that saw them pip Spurs once again to a Champions League spot, and made a strong start to the season, showing plenty of solidity at the back. There was much talk of how Arsenal could elevate to genuine title challengers, with the addition of 3-4 solid performers.
Yet, we find ourselves in a mire that gets tougher to get out of. All the false promises by Ivan Gazidis that Arsenal have all the cash they need this summer, and of a warchest being handed over to Arsene Wenger, each day of the summer has been excruciating waiting for the club to announce an inbound transfer.
Considering the fact that all other major English clubs have had changes at the top, it was Arsenal’s chance to strengthen the squad, show stability and take the further step to building a team for a proper title challenge. Manchester United parted with Sir Alex Ferguson after 26 years, while Manchester City parted with Roberto Mancini and Chelsea with Jose Mourinho. And, despite finishing 2nd and 3rd last season; City have bought in players like Fernandinho, Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo, while Chelsea have snapped up German hotshot Andre Schurrle.
Tottenham, as usual have been in the market, and despite strong rumours of losing Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, they have managed to hold on to him, while making purchases such as Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadil and Etienne Capoue.
While the pre-season has been promising, with wins over smaller teams in Asia, some by margins such as 7-0 and 7-1, Arsenal failed to win the Emirates Cup, drawing Napoli and losing to Galatasaray. And while a 3-1 win in Finland over Manchester City is highly pleasing, there is still a lot of work to do.
The squad is clearly lacking depth, and we are just a day away from the start of the season, with only 15 days before the transfer window shuts down completely. It leaves, me personally speaking, not too confident ahead of the new season.
I want to remain confident, and I am looking forward to the opener against Aston Villa. Have been ever since the final whistle was blown at St. James Park in May. But, the cloud of negativity has been hovering above my head for quite some time now.
All we can do now is wait and watch how things unfold from now till the end of the transfer window. For the moment, bring on Aston Villa already!