Saturday afternoon at the Emirates there was a strange atmosphere as Arsenal walked out for their opening fixture of the 2013/14 Premier League season against Aston Villa. There was an air of apprehension; an uneasiness had swept the viewing 55,000 thousand home fans in North London. Yet, this was not an alien feeling. It was all too familiar for many.
When Olivier Giroud opened the scoring at five minutes past three on Saturday, there was no immediate sign of the turmoil that was to unravel come five o’ clock. Then as Wojiech Szczesny brought down Gabby Agbonlahor for the equalizing penalty for Villa – despite Szczesny saving his initial attempt – and Anthony Taylor controversially awarding Villa their second penalty,(converted by Christian Benteke) when Villa new boy Antonio Luna found the stationery Gunners defence exposed, by galloping forward from left-back to slide foot past the hapless Pole, the feeling was not of shock, but of inevitability.
Boos rang out on the final whistle, with chants of the now familiar ‘Spend Some ****** Money’. The Arsenal faithful were not amused. The result was compounded by the worrying injuries picked up by Aaron Ramsey, Bacary Sagna, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – who now appears to be out until the new year with knee ligament damage – just mere days away from the perennial make-or-break Champions League qualifier. There are serious doubts about whether the Gunners will be able to field a complete senior eleven.
How this situation has arisen is nothing short of criminal for the two-time Premier League champions. Unfortunately the buck has to stop somewhere and that is at the feet of Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal Board. Back in May, Wenger stated that they ‘needed stability and to strengthen in the Summer’ but this is not the first time the Frenchman has promised big signings before a Summer window.
Even in January he mentioned he would buy if there was the ‘right quality’. As the calendar approaches September, nothing seems have differed. Despite a more concerted effort to bring big names in of the ilk of Suarez, Higuain, Rooney, Gustavo, having not finalized a single high-calibre name, the pill is a far more bitter one to swallow for Arsenal’s extensive and desperate fanbase after Gazidis infamous statement that Arsenal were now entering a new age of financial power.
This summer’s lack of transfer activity is surely now an insight into Wenger’s mindset. Having last week spoken out of the alleged difficulties as he sees it, these statements now seem more and more foolhardy as he makes them. As with this one from Goonerhead:
“You look at us, Chelsea and Manchester United – it’s difficult to find quality players to strengthen the team and squad because there is a shortage of top players who are available.”
“It is not the question about spending the money it is a question of finding the right players, you know. As I told you, you are well informed, you for certain have heard that we are not scared to spend money but we want the right players.”
So he thinks that Chelsea have a problem with finding quality? are Andre Schurrle, Marko van Ginkel, Mark Schwarzer and Kevin De Bruyne not that? Heaven knows Chelsea already have Oscars, Matas, Ramires’ and Hazards. That is just midfielders. In United’s case they are the current champions and already have arguably the deadliest finisher in Europe and a squad depth that is capable of competing on all fronts.
Even across North London, Spurs have had a very impressive transfer campaign (forgetting Gareth Bale concerns) bringing in Paulinho, Robert Soldado and they seem far from done. If Andre Vilas-Boas’ side do hold onto Bale, they could not just be top four contenders, but league title contenders. One thing Arsenal fans have never let their rivals forget is they have never won the Premier League. AVB is doing his best to remedy that.
In the Telegraph in December 2009, Wenger predicted a ‘quiet’ transfer window and that football was in a ‘dreamland’. Earlier this summer he spoke – speaking on Arsenal transfers – of a quiet market and that ‘not much has happened’.
Across Europe, just off the top of this writer’s head, Falcao, Rodriguez, Moutinho, Abidal and Toulalan have moved to Monaco for the combined sum of 120m plus Euros. Manchester City have recruited Negredo, Jovetic Navas and most expensively Fernandinho. PSG have bought Cavani for 61m euros. The list goes on.
Fairly quiet, that.
These sort of statements are just indicative of Arsene Wenger who seems to see things differently to 95% of the footballing world; He sounds like a lost man; The former young, hungry and innovative attacking manager whose footballing philosophy was the envy of the many, now seems to have been replicated by many and sadly for Wenger, he (and Arsenal) have been left behind.
This summer was seen as the perfect opportunity for Wenger and Arsenal to re-establish themselves as main contenders for the League crown, not just also-rans. new faces in Pellegrini, Moyes taking the thankless task of succeeding Sir Alex and the return Jose Mourinho. Once again the manager has failed to stamp his authority on the league when the door was wide open, after yet another season where fourth place was attained by a mere whisker.
Most pertinently and perhaps Wenger’s biggest crime to date is the current state of the squad. Having finally shifted a lumberjack’s haul of deadwood (Chamakh, Gervinho, Arshavin, Squillaci to name four), not a single adequate replacement (bar Yaya Sanogo) has been added. When Mikel Arteta was ruled out for six weeks on Thursday, it was just the start of the injury crisis.
It leaves Arsenal struggling to field a first eleven for the game versus Fenerbahce, never mind a bench. Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski are the only players fit to start in Istanbul, with Ramsey, Rosicky and Sagna all doubts. For a manager of a team no matter whether its Arsenal or Accrington Stanley, to let the squad numbers dwindle to such a unstable amount in pure mismanagement, to a level which is tantamount to negligence.
Arsene Wenger preaches ‘quality’ over ‘quantity’, however it now seems that quantity is the prime concern for the Gunners. For a man with an Economics degree, he should know of the theory of Supply and Demand and quite simply there is not enough ‘supply’. The twenty year Arsenal boss suggests on many occasions that football is in a dreamworld. Perhaps though, it is just Wenger…