The deadline has passed, the Arsenal squad is what it is for the next four months and the flash mobs outside of each Premier League club dispersed. Burgess’ dystopian Britain arrived and witnessing the increasingly depressing behaviour on this night of nights, it is hard not to make a case for a mass session of Ludovinco technique without any offer of reversal.
Typically for Arsenal, the transfer day ended beyond last night’s 11pm deadline. Almost priming us for this, the Premier League had earlier published its helpful guide on transfer deadline day and the components of a successful deal being registered with the footballing authorities.
Arsenal took full advantage and signed Danny Welbeck for £16m from Manchester United, the lure of Champions League football enough to see off interest from Sunderland and Tottenham, as well as hastening his departure from Old Trafford. Timing labels Welbeck as panic or at best, opportunistic; today, oh how we love everything to be tagged, categorised or crushed into a pigeonhole. Does it matter? Surely the only criteria by which he is judged will be his goal return and contribution to the club now and in the future?
Wenger has been famously reluctant to “kill” the careers of young players but Welbeck’s signature seems to have stalled one at best. Yaya Sanogo’s failure to score in competitive games will almost certainly see him return to the bench and be brought along more cautiously. A little over two years separates the two in age but Welbeck is ahead of the French youngster in the striker queue at Arsenal. What the situation will be when Olivier Giroud returns next year, who knows and it is a long way off even before considering the extended periods injuries seem to last at the club.
Others such as Campbell and Podolski know their place in the squad. Wide attackers with little chance of any favoured central role. It’s surprising that they are both still at the club with Benfica’s reported interest in the former not materialising into a permanent deal. Is that the best for the player? Sitting on the bench is going to be demoralising and his agent’s warning about what would happen if that is the case, remain haunting background music with less than two years left on his contract.
Welbeck’s arrival received a mixed reaction from Arsenal supporters, the sane recognising that the club had signed a promising striker, augmenting the British core of the squad to further comply with national and international regulations, whilst bringing in a player with Premier League experience and a record of a goal every other game when he has started in a central position.
The rest threw their toys out of their pram at not getting Falcao before demanding that Mummy heat up their milk a little longer so their Farley’s Rusk crumbled just that bit more smoothly.
There is little argument that Welbeck’s capture signals the end of a relatively successful summer. It started brightly with the additions of Debuchy and Ospina, apparent squad strengthening with Chambers, who instead turned out to be the early arrival of Thomas Vermaelen’s replacement. The peak, the signing of Alexis Sanchez, left everyone in raptures and built goodwill that slowly turned to rancour as it became apparent that the weaknesses in the squad from last summer and the one before, were still not addressed; two of them still remain.
For the coming months, Arsenal have seven defenders to cover four positions across the back four. Left back is fine, Gibbs and Monreal are sufficient in number and quality when the former returns. On the other flank, Bellerin’s promotion following a successful loan spell at Watford and Jenkinson’s departure to West Ham for a season, offers inexperienced but promising cover for Debuchy. The reality is that if he is not needed centrally, Calum Chambers is more likely to play for sustained periods at right back if the necessity arose. One-offs and cup ties? I expect the young Catalan to step into the breach.
But it is centre back where the problem remains. There is still a make-do-and-mend mantra, except this season’s adaptable full back is Nacho Monreal whose brief appearances in the role have been as unconvincing as Bacary Sagna’s early forays into this realm. There is talk that this might be the season when Isaac Hayden realises his potential. With little other alternative for the manager following the sale of Ignasi Miquel, the young England central defender will surely receive more than a solitary outing in the League Cup.
But it isn’t an experienced reserve line and in that sense, Vermaelen hasn’t been replaced. There is a lot of potential and a lot of learning, which as we have seen with Sanogo is sometimes best done in private or a less demanding public environment that Arsenal’s Premier League campaign. Whether there is something in place for January does not matter; it is about the next four months and there is a nervous sense that Arsène is once more placing offerings on the altars of the Injury Gods to ensure players remain fit through to Christmas.
By then we will have a good idea of the season’s fate. The Champions League group will be decided and no matter which way you cut it, runners-up is the very least Arsenal should achieve but not finishing top will be a disappointment. It is a winnable group, particularly if they take four points or more from Dortmund. That’s not going to be easy and in that sense, the defensive midfield specialist, the ‘beast’ demanded, would have helped.
In Arteta and Flamini, they have experienced hands at the tiller but the dynamism of youth is missing. The Frenchman scurries into battle, sword drawn from its scabbard, ready for hand-to-hand combat with his foe whilst Arteta out-thinks and out-manoeuvres his opponents. Yet there is something missing from that, the combination of the two styles and the pace of a younger athlete ready to devour the ground in the front of the back four and in tandem with midfield colleagues. Both current options are good players but with the style of player ahead of them, a more physical presence is needed.
At the end of the window, we are left the perennial question; is the squad good enough to challenge for the title, for silverware? For the latter, it can win either of the domestic cup competitions, they proved that last season. On paper, the Champions League remains as distant a dream as it has been for most of the last decade. The Premier League? The fates would need to be very kind and the stars move into the rarest of alignments for that to happen.
The top four? It’s a squad that can – and should – certainly maintain Arsenal’s status at the top of the table, particularly if Welbeck is able to score regularly. Is that the limit of Arsenal’s ambitions? It seems that way at the moment but winning the title from the starting position at the end of last season was always going to be a tall order, one where there was significant level of investment, greater than we have seen this summer. A work in progress, closer than it was but still with much to do.
Away from the main theatrics, as well as Ignasi Miquel, Ryo Miyachi departed on loan. The much-vaunted Golden Generation has been dismantled and systematically released from the club. The latter signed a one-year extension before returning to the Eriedivisie, a move which was attributed to commercial needs and desires rather than footballing ability. Whatever the case, it certainly seems that the slate has been wiped for a selection of promising youth and a new beginning has arrived.
Does it make Arsenal a more attractive proposition for young players or have recent summers and the culls, damaged the club’s reputation for giving youth a chance? In that sense, the progress Hayden and Bellerin make – Chambers to a lesser extent – will be crucial. Failure on their part to claim a first team place suggests that either youth is not given the chance or the Academy’s failings were deeper-seated than first thought. Whatever the reason, the answer will be Arsenal as a less attractive prospect for talented youth. Dan Crowley into the first teams squad for cup-ties this season, anyone?