The majority of Arsenal fans are rightly up in arms over the club’s failure to land a single marquee signing so far this summer – even more so following the opening day debacle at home against Aston Villa.
Big promises have been coming out of the club for months now about a record transfer kitty that will secure top-quality signings to help end the astonishing gap in silverware that now stands at over eight years.
These promises now look empty, and the Arsenal Supporters Trust (AST) has insisted that any contract talks with the manager should be put on hold.
Back in February 2013 Wenger claimed Arsenal could commit £80 million to sign Radamel Falcao as they prepared for a radical change in their spending policy.
Yet the Gunners have hesitated, dithered, and haven’t even spent £8 million so far.
In contrast, Manchester City have spent in excess of £80 million over the summer, adding depth and quality to an already strong squad with the arrivals of Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho and Jesus Navas. And it showed last night as they got their campaign up and running with a 4-0 pasting of Newcastle United.
Add to this Manchester United getting their season off to a flyer with a 4-1 victory and Chelsea coasting to an easy 2-0 win under new manager Jose Mourinho, and it already appears that the best Arsenal fans can hope for this season is securing fourth place again.
Following the defeat to Villa, and in an obvious attempt to appease angry Arsenal fans by throwing them yet another transfer-target bone, Arsenal made public a £10m bid for Newcastle midfielder Yohan Cabaye.
It was a risky announcement on two levels. Firstly, because making it public on the eve of the Magpies opening fixture risked infuriating manager Alan Pardew – especially if they lost, which they did – who will no doubt be telling the Newcastle board that losing a player of Cabaye’s quality without adequate time to find a replacement could derail a whole summer of planning.
Secondly, if Newcastle refuse to sell the French international, it risks even further humiliation in the transfer market for Wenger, who in recent months has been linked to a whole host of players that have never subsequently arrived in north London – including Gonzalo Higuain, who went to Napoli, Bernard, who went to Shakhtar Donetsk, Ilkay Gundogan, Lars Bender, Julio Cesar, Luis Gustavo, who opted to join Wolfsburg, Edin Dzeko, Luis Suarez and Michu.
And Arsene Wenger needs far more than Yohan Cabaye if Arsenal are to compete for honours again.
For many years now, the Frenchman’s work in the transfer market has been substandard, to say the least, and his signings – or, more accurately, lack of them – have contributed to Arsenal’s diminishment as a title-challenging force over recent seasons.
One of the most glaring and longstanding failures at Arsenal has been the inability to secure a genuine long-term replacement for David Seaman (who left the club ten years ago). That is to say, a reliable goalkeeper who can marshal a steady defense and provide continuity and stability at the back.
Richard Wright, a £6m signing from Ipswich Town back in 2001, was not that reliable replacement. Neither was the young Stuart Taylor or Manuel Almunia. Jens Lehmann came in and played every game of their unbeaten 2003/04 season (their last league title), yet the German international was in his mid-thirties by that time and was only ever a mid-term stopgap and not the long-term successor to Seaman that Wenger had hoped Wright and others would be.
Following another error-prone display from Wojciech Szczesny on Saturday, Wenger has clearly still yet to find that replacement.
Andrei Arshavin, a £15m acquisition from Zenit St Petersburg, is arguably Wenger’s most expensive flop since the infamous £10m signing of Francis Jeffers. Despite a bright start, the Russian won no trophies at Arsenal and ended up out of the first team before being farmed out on loan to Zenit and eventually released this summer.
The list of Wenger flops and misfits is a notoriously long one: Jose Antonio Reyes, Julio Baptista, Denilson, Sebastien Squillaci, Emmanuel Eboue, Mikael Silvestre, Johan Djourou, Andre Santos, Marouane Chamakh, Gervinho and Park Chu-Young (the South Korean signing who Wenger claimed would “add true quality to our attacking forces”) all immediately spring to mind.
On top of this, of course, it shouldn't be forgotten that it was Wenger who passed up on the chance to sign Gareth Bale from Southampton back in 2006. He instead chose to pay the cash-strapped Saints £5m for Walcott and ultimately overlooked Bale, then a left-back, who signed for archrivals Tottenham in 2007 for a final fee of £7m.
While Walcott has progressed to become a dangerous forward at Arsenal, and there is little doubt that he is getting better in key areas of his game under the careful tutelage of Wenger, he is clearly no Gareth Bale.
And despite the Arsenal manager publicly claiming that he has no regrets, there still must be private gnashing of teeth and pulling out of hair at Arsenal over how the young Welshman was allowed to slip through the net.
It is this ability to identify world-class potential in a player that Wenger and Arsenal seem to have lost somewhat since the days when young talents like Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry were brought into the club on a regular enough basis to ensure success.
At times over the years, Wenger has seemed to display open revulsion at the transfer sums splashed about in the Premier League, almost seeing such extravagant activity as vulgar and beneath him.
This revulsion has led him towards a cautious preference for taking his chances on more obscure young footballers (Eboue, Sagna, Diaby, Djourou, Senderos, Koscielny, Song, etc) playing for lesser teams around Europe, in the hope of unearthing gems for comparatively little expenditure.
This prudent policy has patently failed, and it is clear that Wenger has altered his approach and explicitly set his sights on bringing in a more experienced high-profile caliber of player.
Domestically, it appears as if Wenger has scrolled down the Premier League’s list of top scorers from last season and, splatter-gun style, targeted all of them (excluding Bale) beneath Robin van Persie. Suarez (2nd on the list with 23 goals), Christian Benteke (4th with 19 goals) and Michu (5th with 18 goals) have all been linked with Arsenal in recent weeks.
Wenger’s inability to sign top-quality players – essentially long-belated replacements for the likes of David Seaman, Patrick Vieira and Ashley Cole, as well as Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Van Persie – has now reached critical mass.
Arsenal face a tough challenge in Istanbul tomorrow in the first leg of their Champions League qualifying tie with Fenerbahce.
But even if they were to qualify, there is a real possibility this season that, with Tottenham continually strengthening and progressing nicely under Andre Villas-Boas, Liverpool hungry again, and three of the top four seemingly already nailed on, Arsenal could drop out of the top four for the first time since Wenger arrived at the club.
And the absence of Champions League football to paper over the cracks really would signal the end of the Frenchman’s time at Arsenal.
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