Having acknowledged that his squad was short of numbers, Arsène addressed the issue by re-signing Mathieu Flamini on a free transfer. The Frenchman’s return is welcome as it solves an immediate problem for the weekend’s North London Derby and in truth, he isn’t a bad player and can provide the buckles to be swashed in the midfield. Flamini provides options in midfield, cover for Arteta’s purely defensive role and Ramsey’s box-to-box style whilst allowing the option of pushing the Spaniard into a more creative role if injuries strike. Mind you, if injuries strike any harder Arsenal will most likely be applying to the Premier League for postponement of any upcoming fixtures.
The problem with Flamini comes not in the player himself but in drawing attention to lack of investment that has taken place this summer. Like Sanogo, it is hard not to feel some sympathy for the midfielder for the general lack of enthusiasm about his return. Both players should be welcomed with open arms as part of a wider praise for the club for taking what is a good current squad and bringing in quality players to strengthen, giving them a fighting chance to challenge for what could be an open title race. Instead, the manager and the club have failed abysmally to do so. There is still a chance that someone else could join today or on Monday before the deadline closes but to be honest, I don’t think that will happen.
For this weekend, Arsène must be praying no further injuries strike. His options at centre forward if anything happens to Olivier Giroud are Theo Walcott, Chuba Akpom and Yaya Sanogo. Whichever way you look at it, the manager ought to be ashamed at the lack of experience he has as cover for his central striker. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out injured, if Walcott is drafted into the centre, the right side of the attack will be filled by one of the central midfielders or Ryo Miyachi. It is an astonishing situation to be in, not just for the number of injuries but for a highly experienced manager to allow things to come to this.
There is no doubt Wenger was thinking about re-signing Flamini, he took a long enough look at him in training but events have forced his hand. No longer is the manager proactive, he is reacting to everything but crucially, his reactions are becoming slower. Thirty years ago today, David Dein bought into Arsenal. I do not advocate his return yet it is an inescapable truth that the club is in desperate need of a Director of Football. Whilst the paperwork cannot be completed over the weekend, there is no reason the executives at the club cannot work around the clock to complete deals to make faxing the Premier League a formality on Monday. Having frittered away three months since the end of last season, there is no reason to believe that they will do anything of the sort.
The Champions League draw yesterday should drive home to Wenger the demands he is placing on his squad by not acting decisively in the transfer market. The battered and bruised have Tottenham on Saturday, followed by two international matches. When they return, the fixture list has them playing every three days until the beginning of October. The physical demands of travelling to Sunderland then Marseilles before the visit of Stoke are tough. They are games that Arsenal are expected to win and with only Thomas Vermaelen expected to return in that seven-match spell, the players will be pushed to the limit physically with little chance of respite.
As usual the fixture list took unkindly to Arsenal’s Champions League involvement with the trips to Dortmund and Naples preceding the Premier League encounters with both Mancunian sides. But the four other matches fit snugly into the domestic fixtures without causing undue concern so in some respects, the draw has been kinder this year. It is a tough group with no easy opponents. By the same token, Arsenal have no reason to fear any of them either. Despite being top seeds, the feeling is that expectations weigh heavier in Dortmund following last season’s journey to Wembley and at Napoli where the owner will be seeking immediate returns on his investment through the summer, even if his star striker is likely to miss the opening group matches.
It makes a pleasant change for the group to be viewed as tough. Most years, Arsenal’s progression is taken for granted and even allowing for slip-ups along the way, relatively straightforward. The players are quick to point out that they want to be tested by playing against the best, now they have the opportunity to do so.