It’s Saturday 16th August; the opening day of the season. Arsenal are at home to Crystal Palace; the first opportunity for the Emirates faithful to witness Wenger’s 2014/15 side in competitive action.
The Gunners have been active throughout the summer months. Already the club hierarchy have splashed £32 million on highly coveted forward Alexis Sanchez, £16 million for promising Southampton youngster Calum Chambers, signed unattached goalkeeper David Ospina on a free transfer, and paid an undisclosed fee for Bacary Sagna’s replacement – Newcastle’s Mathieu Debuchy.
Nonetheless, a brief glance at the team-sheet – both starters and substitutes – is enough to see that club poses areas that still need strengthening. Three areas are highlighted; a central defender, a defensive midfielder and a centre-forward.
With sixteen days remaining on the transfer window, there’s no need to panic. Plenty of time for Wenger to further reinforce, surely?
The £16 million deadline-day acquisition of Danny Welbeck proved bittersweet. Finally the Frenchman had addressed the club’s lack of depth up front, but the former Manchester United forward isn’t the standard expected by many fans.
His goal-record certainly isn’t the most encouraging, although he is a player who thrives off confidence; a luxury he was rarely afforded during his time at Old Trafford.
Supporters waited expectantly, watching, listening and tweeting intently, in the hope that the club would announce further signings before 11pm; the close of the window. However, these deals failed to materialise. The reinforcements never came.
Fast forward just two weeks, and already the cracks are beginning to show. Last Tuesday’s selection problems revealed the jarring reality of just how poorly Wenger performed this summer.
With Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Debuchy unavailable due to injury, the club were left with just three senior defenders for, without doubt, their most important Champions League tie; a top of the table clash with modern-day German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund.
With various media outlets reporting the potential arrival of both Diego Lugano and Joseph Yobo, both of whom are free agents having been deemed unworthy by clubs who battled at the foot of the Premier League table last term, the Gunners really have hit rock bottom.
This latest speculation typifies the torment that Arsenal fans have faced throughout the Frenchman’s tenure. Missed opportunities to sign key targets has consistently resulted in poor performances when it really matters. Time-after-time we have seen the club stumble at the business end of the season.
Only now has Wenger recognised the defensive deficiencies in his side, but it’s too little, too late. The 64-year-old had the perfect opportunity to acquire a dependable centre-back throughout August. As soon as he was forced to play Calum Chambers against Palace, the need was evident. The lack of a quality back-up player that day should have set alarm bells ringing.
Now, with the window closed, he is forced to turn his attention to last campaign’s offcuts; the players who weren’t quite good enough to earn a deal for another season. Is Diego Lugano, the man who managed just seven starts for West Bromwich Albion last season, really capable of shutting-out the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Marco Reus?
Yes, he offers experience, but knowledge of the game is not everything. It’s no coincidence that the Uruguayan national team failed to win both matches in which their captain featured during the summer World Cup, yet they overcame the toughest teams in their group – England and Italy – without him.
The past nine seasons have seen a squad with such unbelievable potential claim just a single trophy, and for many Arsenal fans, Arsene Wenger is entirely to blame. Had he been shrewder during the summer months, quite simply, the Gunners wouldn’t be facing their current predicament. Yet this is a situation that repeats itself season-after-season.
Wenger opted against signing Manchester City defender Micah Richards, who has since joined Italian outfit Fiorentina on loan. The Englishman would have been the ideal addition to the current Arsenal side.
Even former Liverpool hero Daniel Agger was touted for a move to the Emirates. He again, would have been suitable to the club’s current requirements; A seasoned-pro, who could have covered for Mertesacker and Koscielny with extremely positive results. His return to hometown Brondby was undoubtedly a step down.
Kostas Manolas, too; another man linked with a near-move. He is now plying his trade with last season’s Serie A runners-up Roma. He was exceptional in the Italian outfit’s recent Champions League victory over CSKA Moscow, proving his quality at the elite stage.
The club’s defeat versus Dortmund has also been accredited to a lack of bite, and perhaps even more critical, a poor work-rate in the midfield; a problem that all arm chair analysts have highlighted for years. Since the departure of Patrick Viera and Gilberto Silva, in fact.
Again, Wenger had over three months to bring in a defensive midfield player this summer. A man of the Frenchman’s intelligence must have realised an ageing Mikel Arteta – Mathieu Flamini partnership has its sell-by-date.
The Frenchman may have secured the services of Barcelona ace Sanchez, and for a very short while, this sugar-coated the club’s failures elsewhere. The marquee signing of the Chilean international, off the back of a mightily impressive world cup, ensured the fans were content for the most-part of the window.
Nonetheless, he proved unable to address weaknesses, particularly down the spine of the team, despite plenty of opportunity to do so. Ultimately, this could cost Arsenal a shot at the title.