And so Arsène’s Magic Hat found room for Nacho Monreal, crisply moving for the Malaga left back to solve a problem following Kieran Gibbs injury. It was a swift resolution to the problem although Monreal’s signing betrays the manager’s ruthless streak with Andre Santos falling from grace. Monreal was reportedly a target for the coming Summer window but much like Per Mertesacker, circumstances dictated that the move be completed ahead of that. Good luck to the lad, a real welcome to England might come at the weekend but the reality is that the visit of Stoke City is surely one step beyond at this moment in time.
This has been a key transfer window for the club, one where Arsène has set out his stall. The swiftness with which he has acted in order to secure the services of Monreal undermined the rumours which surfaced this past month, that the club cannot move swiftly when it wants to. It is hard to work out who created the monster; the media or the social media? Whatever the case, they fed off each other with a feverish abandon with reality perceived as collateral damage. Tales of Dicky Law’s derring do or derring didn’t filled column inches but the upshot is that no matter how many air miles were claimed, there was but one arrival. The tales of Cavani, Zaha and most recently, David Villa might become stories told when putting the grandchildren to bed. Levels of interest never manifested as new signings. Parsimony is an often quoted as the reason but just taking those three examples, we have to be honest and look at fantasy, Theo Walcott and a baby as the culprits.
Whatever the case, the squad is what it is until the end of the season. We can pontificate as to whether the right course has been followed but until the end of this campaign is reached, judgement cannot be fully formed. In my opinion, we are light in the centre of defence, midfield and attack. The latter is a matter of numbers although we can make do provided there are no injuries or at least those which cause any absences on a significant timescale.
Having let Johan Djourou leave on loan, it is surprising that Arsène did not replace him directly. There is a bitter humour in twisting the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon into the Three Injuries of Sebastian Squillaci but the truth often hurts. Is this the manager’s gallow humour showing through? You have squirmed as that thought nestles uncomfortably with your breakfast cereal of choice. I mean, you are sure that’s bacon, aren’t you? When a supermarket believes that cheap publicity can be garnered through poking fun at a club’s transfer policy, times are hard. Of course, if you like eating horsemeat that’s your choice…
Arsenal’s squad is diminished in number although there are substantial differings of opinion as to whether or not it is actually any weaker. In Djourou’s case, I would say that it is. Unlike many, I think the Swiss international a decent player. Looking at the situation dispassionately, the assessment has to be that progression will be away from Arsenal. Equally, it is a simple case of what Arsenal need now taking precedence. In the manager’s view, Djourou is not that answer.
There was a fervour with which a striker was sought immediately spawned spurious claims that many believe Olivier Giroud was not up to the task. It was lazy commentary; very few Arsenal supporters are unimpressed by how the striker is growing into the role. However, like midfield and defence, the feeling is that the club are one serious injury from a problem. That risk has been assessed by Arsène and the squad deemed capable of handling it.
It is a brave strategy from the manager. Those who might already categorise it as foolhardy are taking as much of a risk as Wenger in deciding the out-turn of this season. This course puts pressure on the players. Arsène has put a tremendous show of faith in them and their abilities. They have to repay him, surely, as a matter of personal pride? If they don’t, what is already viewed by some as a poisonous atmosphere might (will?) turn worse. The second half of last season saw a substantial run put together from a similar point. Others fell away; twelve months on and Arsenal rely on the same failings in others. The same circumstance exists with a smaller gap to close to fourth but eight points to third. It is not insurmountable with fourteen games to go but in no way can the lofty heights of last season be taken for granted.
A lot of the problems are philosophical. The defensive tightness of the opening month or so of the season gave way to a laxness that is not being shaken. Little wonder that the players are nervous going onto the pitch, knowing that they need to score plentifully to ensure victory adds unnecessary pressure. Having some recourse to defence is necessary for any tangible growth as a club and squad. It was this which most wanted, the balance of previous Wenger squads to return. It hasn’t and the question is whether the manager wants it to, whether he is prepared to sacrifice some of his attacking beliefs in pursuit of trophies? I am unconvinced that this compromise is one he wants to make, preferring to pursue his dreams nobly.