Despite all of the changes in English football this summer with Jose Mourinho returning, goal-line technology debuting and Sir Alex Ferguson retiring, some things never change. Arsenal are still finding it hard to make any significant signings. Chelsea and Manchester City have spent over £100million between them while Arsene Wenger still believes his side can challenge for the title with or without new signings.
Arsenal’s commander in chief must deliver this season or face the reality that was once the unthinkable – departure from his empire. Many will disagree and say Wenger is Arsenal. On being appointed to the club back in 1996, Wenger radicalized everything from diets, personal lives, how the club would be run and its ethics. He developed a philosophy that has been recognized and admired worldwide. Arguably one of the football managerial masterminds, Wenger still has not hit the heights he would expect of himself. He has used excuses from building the stadium and developing talent. However, this season Arsenal must mean business.
Forbes magazine recently published a list of the richest clubs in the world with Arsenal in the top five. Yes, they have financial might, but the reality is that they’re far down the pecking order when it comes to success. No silverware in eight years is too long for a club that sees itself as one of the biggest in London. Wenger has brought Arsenal from an above average club that played careful long ball football into arguably the most exciting football club in the world on their day. During his tenure, he has overseen the onslaught of Inter Milan, two emphatic victories over Real Madrid and Juventus. Even Barcelona were humbled by the mouthwatering waves of Wengeresque play. But victory is nothing with an empty trophy cabinet.
This season must be different. Arsenal must buy. With a rumored record breaking sponsorship deal signed and sealed with Puma, money is ready to burn and if rumors are true, Wenger has made some record bids. But bids are nothing if they cannot be backed up with genuine interest and a modern day deal to entice the player that Arsenal want him and will pay what he requires. The deal for Gonzalo Higuain reportedly fell apart because Arsene (and I say Arsene because it is clear he makes these calls) wouldn’t part with a few extra million pounds, and wanted to put Higuain on pause to concentrate on Suarez. People will question the phrase a few extra million but in football it should be nothing to the top clubs like Arsenal.
So what does Wenger have to do? For me it’s simple. He needs to indulge and take a gamble. For all his achievements and strengths, the Arsenal manager is not proficient at spending big money on players. Arshavin, Jeffers and Reyes were all flops. He needs to go for three key world-class players. And if the money being mentioned is available to him is correct, that is not a hard job to do.
He needs to approach the board and know he has their full backing that if a bid is accepted, they will follow it up with a competitive offer. Long gone are the days when you could compete without paying top wages. Loyalty is a long forgotten concept in football. It is not a coincidence that the top three teams last season were the three teams that had the highest net spending.
A centre back is a must considering how only two currently are considered fit in the first team. Yes, Bacary Sagna can play there but this is where Wenger falls down. He should not need to ask Sagna to play there. He has money to buy. He has the room to buy. Players will be attracted to Arsenal. To win the league a club needs four centre backs in its squad. Thomas Vermaelen has had more niggling injuries than Jamie Redknapp. Plus the Belgians form has been far too inconsistent. Wenger should look to Germany where centre backs with quality can be seen in dozens. Plus Swansea captain Ashley Williams has been considered and remains a favorite should Arsene dip into the market.
Finally we come to the defensive midfielder role — a role that no player has made their own since Patrick Vieira scored that famous penalty and won Arsenal their last piece of silverware. Since then, Vieira has gone on to win titles in Italy with different teams, return to Man City and become a coach at City so you can see how much time has changed since Arsenal have won a trophy. Many players have been linked but whoever fills this space has to be a big name and a big player that is already established and has confidence in his ability. One that is not keen on going forward and leaving gaps (ahem Alex Song), but one that knows what is expected of him and will be happy taking an unrecognized role. The unsung hero if you will.
The 2012-13 season saw a lot of positives for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. They had no overshadowing transfer saga unlike the last several. They had money to spend and they also had stability.
Wenger is now the longest serving manager of the English Premier League. His tenure is longer than the other 19 managers tenures combined. However he must tweak his philosophy and come out of his comfort zone to start discussing players he likes in public, using the media like Sir Alex Ferguson did. All is fair in love and war, and this season is Wenger’s battle to lose. And if he does, it could well be his last.