Arsenal. Not just a football club, but a culture. Arsenal these days seems to represent an entirely different approach to the football industry than it did a mere 20 years ago.
It has been hailed as a club turning a profit in an era of debt and oligarchs. It has been the pioneer of African scouting, and latterly poaching Europe's youth market. It has been copied in the UK, even by Mourinho, in terms of promoting youth development within the squad. It is truly a club with a multicultural ethos.
And it has concentrated so much on positive attacking play, that it has even been referred to by press and industry insiders as 'tippy-tappy' - even if John Terry reckons it won't win you the league. And it is a club that continuously make the top four thanks in large part to the unlikeliest of players over-exceeding expectations.
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In summary, it is still a far cry from the mid '90s - the days of a solid Berlin wall-like defence, stoic 1-0 wins and dug-in 0-0 draws, club stalwarts and a fighter's reputation.
But while a lot of Wenger's era has helped the club evolve into the new millennium, and stay ahead of the game's evolution (for the most part), fans and pundits still bemoan the same old deficits - they haven't had a truly solid goalkeeper since Seaman, maybe Lehman at a push - the defence hasn't been convincing since Sol Campbell left - although Gilberto was excellent, Wenger hasn't truly committed to this area of the field since Viera - it has been almost ten years since they had a clinical full-time international striker.
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The 2014/15 season has actually felt a little different. We went from seeing fans making outrageous scenes in opposition to Le Prof, to shows of incredibly confident play such as a win against Man City, and there is still the possibility of ending the season in second, automatic entry into the Champions League, and renewing ownership of the FA Cup.
And the other big change has been in the transfer market.
While Ozil has only just started to repay his investment with an excellent second half of the season, he was a landmark signing in 2013. Wenger was so convinced he wagered £42.5 million on him. And the club brought in a player from Real Madrid, for a club record fee. And not just that, one of the stars of Germany's 2010 World Cup team. This was unprecedented in recent years.
To follow this up, Wenger then snapped up one of the outstanding players of World Cup 2014 - Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez didn't take as long to make his mark, very literally earning back his transfer fee in the Champions League qualifying round last August, within a month or so of signing. For £32 million, from Barcelona, Sanchez has proved an immediate success for the club, and without him they would be struggling to stay in the top 4.
Added to this, in the same year the manager brought in another World Cup star player in Ospina, who has displaced Szczesny in goal, Debuchy in defence (in fairness an attempt to replace one of the best right backs Arsenal have ever had), a future star central defender in Calum Chambers and poached Welbeck from a listing Manchester United.
Meanwhile they made a killing on the sale of Vermaelen to Barca, and even pulled in rights fees on the sale of Fabregas and long-forgotten Carlos Vela - the latter was rumoured to be in the region of £12 million.
All-in-all, very shrewd business.
However, as reported at the beginning of this month, Arsenal are now set to potentially sell or release a wave of players this summer.
Flamini's contract expires this summer and Rosicky's in 2016, and both are currently in contract negotiations, with the press reporting a likelihood of them departing on free transfers. Santi Cazorla, who has been in exceptional form this season, has a contract until 2018, but it is being suggested the manager will try to cash in on his success in the next year.
Arteta, club captain in case you forgot, has a year left on his contract but will find it near impossible to get back into the team when he's fully fit, so the door may open for him come June. Wilshere has been rumoured to be the target of a £30 million bid by Manchester City. Bellerin and Monreal have put the futures of Gibbs and Debuchy in jquestion. And players like Coquelin, Mertesacker, and even Walcott have been highlighted as positions which could be galvanised by the signing of a 'worldy'.
If a combination of some of these players do leave, Wenger will be forced to dip into the transfer market again to strengthen the squad in preparation for a more competitive season to come in 2015/16, as well as greater expectations for success from fans and stakeholders.
MINNOWS VERSUS GOLIATHS
But, amongst all the conjecture, what will Wenger actually do this summer?
At the beginning of May, Wenger stated that he wasn't really looking to buy during the close season, save for a world class player hitting his radar - "If we can get top, world-class players we will look at it, but we have a very strong squad already in number and we want to stay together and start well next season."
But amongst the rumours of signing Casillas, Cech, Paul Pogba and even this week Raheem Sterling, the only actual inroads we see are the signing of minnows, and extended contract deals for players who may never really feature at the club.
16 year old Lens striker Yassin Fortune has apparently signed this week. Bielik signed from Legia Walsaw in January, and although being hailed as a future star of the game, it is unclear whether he will make his transition to first team at Arsenal, or after they have sold him on in a couple of years. Gabriel also came in January, and likewise he is not proven at this level of the game, despite his obvious qualities. Sporting Lisbon's 23 year old William Carvalho has been linked with Arsenal for some time now, but it is unclear whether he would represent another Viera, a Coquelin, or a Denilson.
And let's not forget those of lesser renown, who have been brought in or come through the youth system, biting for a first team start, hailed by the fans and the coaches, but who don't materialise. Yaya Sonogo, on loan and unable to break into the Crystal Palace team, will be hoping he doesn't follow in the footsteps of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, or Daniel Boateng. While Miyiachi (out on loans since 2011), Joel Campbell (mainly out on loans since 2011), and Carl 'one cap' Jenkinson (loaned to West Ham, now superseded by three better right backs at the Emirates) will all be doubting they will ever feature for the Gunners. So the youth and up-and-coming potential signings do not guarantee we will see anything in the coming season, if ever.
And Wenger's previous forays into the bargain bucket have all ended in unimpressive results in recent years, for one reason or another.
BALANCE THE BOOKS
In light of this, it may be disappointing to think that big signings are actually unlikely this summer for the North London club, particularly after the spending of the last two years. And with business interests permanently at the fore, it is likely we will see Wenger capitalise on the sale of some players who he can do without, and whose financial worth will be diminishing in the next 12-24 months. This endangers the likes of Cazorla, Rosicky, Arteta, Mertesacker, Debuchy and Szczesny. Potentially even Wilshere, Welbeck or Walcott, if the financial benefit outweighs their anticipated contribution in the near future.
If one or two big players leave, then Wenger will act and go for a big name purchase. Therefore it is more than likely that he will once again be doing his business late in the market, as he did when he signed Ozil in September 2013. Although that summer, they only secured Ozil because of Gareth's Bale taking so long to complete - he signed for Real on 1st September, Ozil subsequently on 2nd. So when it does happen, it can happen fast.
And, as Thierry Henry expounded, Arsenal fans will once again be hoping for a big name central defender and defensive midfielder above all else. Unfortunately though, what Arsenal do this summer is likely to be governed by who buys from them first - meaning they are likely to miss out on all the best business during the close-season, once again.
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