What do you do in the aftermath of an 8-2 rout? Spend!
I know I’m not the only one who has asked this question over the past 72 hours, and I know I won’t be the last. After having some time to reflect on Sunday’s 8-2 goal fest at Old Trafford, bringing the tally of the day to Manchester 13 – North London 3, I am going to attempt to fathom the problem at Arsenal Football Club, and what must be done to remedy it in the dying hours of this seasons transfer window.
As some of my fellow writers on this website have pointed out, there is one person and one person alone to blame for this demise, and that is Arsene Wenger. Yes, it could be said that players arguably having too much power when discussing contracts and wages, as seen in the Samir Nasri case, is partly to blame for the state of Arsenal at this present moment in time. But whom is mostly responsible for the trajectory of the course that Arsenal has taken over the past six years? Wenger. I remember a few years ago seeing an interview with both Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, where the former said, “The manager is the most important man at the club. If not, why do you sack the manager if it doesn’t go well?”. Those words ring all the more true after the events of the past few years. It would be fair to say that if Sir Alex Ferguson had endured the trophy-less run that Wenger has, he would no longer be in a job. Carlo Ancelotti was sacked after winning nothing last season, even though he brought Chelsea the Double in 2009-10. Wenger would have barely lasted 12 months at the helm of either Real Madrid or Barcelona, if he were empty-handed at the end of the season. There is clearly little room for sentimentality in football nowadays.
Having said this, I would NOT sack Wenger if I were a member on the Arsenal board of directors. The reasoning for this is simple: he has weathered storms in the past, albeit not as strong as this one, and come through them to still lead Arsenal with optimism. The other main factor for keeping Wenger at the helm is who, realistically, can be brought in at this moment in time who could do a better job than him? I welcome any sensible suggestions. This brings me on to who Arsenal should bring in to reinforce this depleted squad. If a football club has the audacity to charge some of their fans up to £100 for a non-executive match day ticket, then the supporters are surely entitled to see that money ploughed straight back into the squad. Sunday’s game highlighted the need for two decent centre halves. If Gary Cahill costs £10 million more than one would have liked, a lot more than a derisory £6 million, then so what? If Phil Jagielka costs more than the £12 million already offered, then just pay it. The transfer market is like that nowadays, and it will not change. Both men are English, have several seasons experience of playing in the English top flight, and would be just what Arsenal need at the back.
What’s more, the club has generated around £70 million from player sales this transfer window, with £31 million received from Manchester City for Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy, and at least £30 million from FC Barcelona so Cesc Fabregas could finally return to his boyhood club. Whilst some of this has already been spent on Gervinho, with Yann M’Vila and Park Chu-Young also having bids lodged at their respective clubs, the defeat at Old Trafford must confirm to Wenger that this money, along with any pre-sale transfer kitty, must be thrown at bringing in proven reinforcements fast. Wenger must also used his extensive knowledge of French football to his advantage too, with Mathieu Valbuena and Eden Hazard the top of that list.
Phil Merson, an impassioned Gooner through and through, said it all post-match on Sky Sports, when he said that in spite of Arsenal missing several players (Vermaelen, Gibbs, Gervinho, Sagna, Song etc), only Robin Van Persie and possibly Theo Walcott, would get into the Manchester United team. A damning and truthful assessment of Arsenal’s present squad.
Similarly, the average age of the side could not be seen as an excuse for Arsenal, as Manchester United had the exact same average age on the pitch, 23. The difference being that many of United’s youngsters have gained Premier League experience elsewhere before going into United’s first team. Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley spent last season on loan at Sunderland and Wigan Athletic respectively, whilst Ashley Young came from having several seasons at Aston Villa and Phil Jones experienced almost a full season at Blackburn Rovers before moving to M16 this summer. Chris Smalling undoubtedly benefited from playing over 30 games last season, more than he would have expected, whilst new goalkeeper David De Gea, in spite of some mistakes early on in his United career, played almost 100 times in two full seasons at Atletico Madrid and won the Europa League, at the tender age of just 20. And I haven’t even mentioned that young Mexican lad Javier Hernandez yet, or the Da Silva brothers, who did not play their part in the rout.
Moreover, some of Arsenal’s “experienced” players looked the exact opposite on Sunday. Tomas Rosicky looked disinterested, Andrey Arshavin is a shadow of the player he was when he arrived at Arsenal a few seasons ago, and the centre-half partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou was, frankly, an absolute shambles, as United’s first goal adequately demonstrated.
Arsene Wenger, persisting with the players mentioned above, who clearly aren’t good enough, along with not giving his promising youngsters enough games under their belt using the Premier League loan system (apart from Jack Wilshere and to an extent Aaron Ramsay), is a major factor in explaining the present status of Arsenal Football Club.
The next few days of the transfer window for Wenger are absolutely vital for both him and Arsenal, and may well define his managerial reign.
(Illustration by Graeme Bandeira)