There is some historical symmetry. A century after the move to Highbury, Arsenal shattered their transfer record in signing Mesut Özil from Real Madrid. At a rumoured fee of £42.5m, the German international’s arrival has the potential to transform the club’s fortunes in the same way that Dennis Bergkamp did all those summers ago.
Özil was not a surprise, his arrival had been touted before Arsène claimed we would be surprised by yesterday’s activity. He comes highly rated, coming to attention in South Africa during the last World Cup. Mourinho’s effusive praise and at Gareth Bale’s unveiling yesterday, forlorn chants for Özil not to leave tell you all that is needed about the player’s abilities. His record at international offers hope that he has an eye for the net as well as a phenomenal creativity that stands on a par with Messi, statistically speaking.
His arrival will inevitably mean shuffling the midfield pack and put pressure on his team-mates to perform. Whereas last season Arsène had few opportunities to rest key personnel, this time around Cazorla need not feature in every match. Rotation that will allow Arsenal to avoid strains and niggles caused by overplaying. The most likely casualties if you wish to view it that way, will be Tomas Rosicky and Lukas Podolski, with Özil and Cazorla spearheading creative duties from the centre and wing respectively. It certainly offers a mouth-watering prospect for the season, flair added to durability will stand the club in good stead.
Is it enough to make them title contenders? We’ll come back to that later for other events yesterday had influence on the outcome.
Emiliano Viviano’s arrival is a curious decision in some respects. Szczesny has returned this season as first choice and unless Fabianski’s form has dipped in training, it is hard to see the rationale that saw goalkeeping as a bigger requirement that defensive strengthening. The elder of the Polish pair is the one who will be most concerned by the Italian’s arrival. It seems unlikely that a player would forsake first team football for third choice at Arsenal; possible, I suppose yet initially settling for No.2 makes more sense. It means that Szczesny must find consistency in his performances. A good comparison to the past is John Lukic in 1988/89; he made few mistakes, setting a standard of play that imbued confidence in team-mates and the stands, knowing that when the team did not perform they could count on their goalkeeper. Not the best in the world but certainly reliable.
Wenger’s recent comments about player versatility explain the signing of Mathieu Flamini but as we saw on Sunday, his strength to the side is in the centre of midfield, digging in when boots are flying. His run at left back was seven years ago, going on eight. Since then, he has not occupied the full back role for significant spells; whilst he may have the capacity to do so, his lack of pace at on the right or left may be exposed by wingers who are considerably quicker than their predecessors. Thomas Vermaelen’s return is expected after the international break, giving the club three fit centre backs. Bacary Sagna will be the fourth in an emergency but the scenario where the right side of defence is occupied by a makeshift pairing of a midfielder at full back alongside a right back in the centre, is not so fanciful. That highlights why a fourth central defender was required. And still is, if for no other reason that we have seen the injuries this season are likely to be ones where lengthy spells on the sidelines are required.
Which brings us to the forward line. Currently spearheaded by Olivier Giroud, Arsenal have sought alternatives with Rooney, Jovetic, Higuain and Suarez all heavily linked this summer. The farce surrounding the pursuit of Suarez encapsulates all that is wrong with Arsenal’s structure surrounding incoming transfers. Having proven adept at shifting players whose services were no longer required out of the club, they were depressingly naïve and badly advised when it came to signings. Relying on the advice of Suarez’s agent was irresponsible, poor judgement compounded by bad advice on the substance of that clause. This was exacerbated yesterday when the loan deal for Demba Ba fell through as the club stalled over a fee payable and were then cut down at the knees as Mourinho killed the deal to close to the deadline to get another forward signed.
It means that Arsenal were left with Nicklas Bendtner, having almost offloaded the Dane to Crystal Palace. This is a striker who swore blind he would never play for the club again. Now he is the back-up plan to Olivier Giroud, if he can achieve fitness. The lack of depth is staggering; an international who is out for three months, another who doesn’t want to play for Arsenal, a very raw free transfer 20 year-old and an untested reserve. Praying to the injury gods doesn’t do justice to the luck Arsenal need this autumn.
As the Chairman noted in his searingly honest piece recently, a root and branch review is needed of how Arsenal operate. The world of football has changed in the decade and a half since Arsène arrived, Arsenal has changed beyond recognition in terms of the facilities and success. Now regularly noted as being one of the top six richest clubs in Europe, we need to act that way. The danger with a signing such as Özil is that the flaws of the summer will be ignored, the inherent weaknesses in the club overlooked. Arsenal need personnel who know how to negotiate the shark-infested waters that the finances have led them to.
Some revisionism has already begun. The pursuit of a striker is excused by the next target being a better choice than the previous. It’s right that you should strive for the best on offer but when you end up with nothing but a troublesome Dane on your books, the only question remaining is how many eggs you want on your face. It isn’t just that, there’s the farce over Dick Law’s trip to Valencia to negotiate for a player that the manager did not really want. Arsène is right when he says he would not work with a traditional Director of Football, he should not have to; no manager should. The ultimate choice for which players must rest with the man who is held responsible for results. But having someone who negotiates, having been given a list of targets by the manager? Who deals with other clubs and agents; why is that wrong? Why is anything which frees a manager from administrative burden an incorrect solution? The only reason is a dilution of the managers power at the club and if that is the barrier, the innovator has become a dinosaur.
Arsenal have grown up in public this summer, they need to look at their operation and find solutions so that the situation does not recur. They weren’t alone, United did they same. It is easy to deflect attention by pointing fingers at others but I don’t care about Manchester United, I care about Arsenal.