The Suarez saga has been dragging on for close to a month now, and I am sure none of Arsenal’s fans, players or management ever expected a swift resolution. Just take an objective look at the situation: a world class player central to his team’s plans has 3 years left on his contract, and wishes to go to a team that his club competes with (or aspires to compete with). If there weren’t a poorly worded, ambiguous clause in the player’s contract, would any Arsenal fan dare to dream?
Yes, the player wants out and is not above submitting a transfer request. But Liverpool will be encouraged to see that there are at least 2 more players in the Premier League in similar situations. Gareth Bale is stuck at Tottenham despite Real Madrid, a seductive, non-competing foreign club, having submitted a dizzying £87 million bid. Manchester United have knocked back big offers for a striker who is out of form, not their first choice, and desperate for a move (leading one journalist to write a particularly maudlin article about how he is turning his back on his ‘family’). Would Liverpool really want to seem impotent enough to let Suarez leave without drawing some blood in the fight, especially seeing the resistance that Tottenham and Manchester United are showing in their own battles?
What makes things more complicated for Arsenal is that this is the year the players make a case for their inclusion in the World Cup squads. Would it be in Suarez’s best interest to sulk for a long period? Even if Liverpool force him to stay, he will have to straighten himself out eventually. Considering what is at stake, Liverpool will be willing to risk his early tantrums.
And that brings me to my point. Arsenal still have a small chance of landing Suarez, but they cannot afford to be consumed by a situation so convoluted. There are multiple areas in the team that still need strengthening, and it would be prudent to now prioritize those with the transfer window closing in 3 weeks.
Arsenal need a defensive midfielder. Last year, Arteta was excellent with his passing as well as tackling. But it must be remembered that the defensive role is something he has adapted to, not something that is natural to him. Ramsey has improved, but is in a similar mold to Arteta. This means that there is a strong case for introducing a more defensive minded midfielder into the squad, if not straight into the team. Arsenal’s game requires a very specific profile – a player who can intercept the ball, show strength in tackle when required and also play the short passes without any fuss (a Patrick Vieira, if you like). This kind is not easy to find, so it is a little disheartening that there does not seem to be any progress on this front.
If we assume (and pray) that Vermaelen’s lack of form last year was just a blip, it seems Arsenal are fairly well stocked in the center of defense. But even if Vermaelen returns to form, the club needs a fourth center back. This is where the coaching staff must assess Ignasi Miquel. He has trained with the first team for a couple of years, and now also has a few games under his belt. Can he take the next step if required? If Vermaelen shows his old, impressive self again, then I will not blame the management for taking a punt on Miquel. With Koscielny, Mertesacker and an in-form Vermaelen, Arsenal will be well covered for most of the season. However, the rumored interest in Ashley Williams suggests otherwise, and in that case it does not bode well that the club does not have a new center back yet.
Arsene Wenger has never spent more than £2 million on a goalkeeper, and I never expected it to change in the last decade of austerity. But after Ivan Gazidis’s posturing at the start of the window, I had started to hope that Arsenal would get in a top keeper for the first team, and allow Szczesny the couple of years that he needs to be truly world class. This would be the ideal situation, definitely what the team needs. But raise of hands – how many Gooners see it happening?
If there is one thing Arsenal have done well this window, it is clearing most of the dead wood (except for His Majesty Nicklas Bendtner). But even these players need to be replaced to create a strong squad. Consider this – for all of Gervinho’s incapability, he still managed 5 goals and 3 assists in the Premier League, which the club needs to get from somewhere.
The idea behind having money is that the club need not take risky gambles on cheaper players like Chamakh or Santos. With money, Arsenal can not only fill the gaps in the squad, of which there are many, but also bid for proven, world class players, and convince them to join. The club has attempted that with Suarez, but it is high time it addresses the glaring deficiencies in other areas of the team with similar ambition. There is still a small window of opportunity to create a strong squad capable of putting up a title challenge. Arsenal must use it wisely.