Of course Arsène would have loved that outcome. More than anything else, no replacement for Thomas Vermaelen would be required and he would be free of the distraction of the search he is currently undertaking. Life would be easier. Bacary Sagna’s decision to leave for City clearly irks the Arsenal manager, another case where the nurturing or rehabilitation of a career is not repaid by the player’s loyalty. In this instance, it came down to money and despite his assurances yesterday that the club made an offer of a three-year deal, it wasn’t good enough to persuade the player to stay. Wenger clearly believes the player had made his decision to leave long before he did; that’s the price you pay for not renewing contracts sooner. Equally, if Sagna’s reported weekly wage of £120k is correct, the difference between the two sides was not that much. Perhaps there was more to it than the money?
Arsène’s warming up nicely for the new season with his press conferences, practising a few well-aimed barbs with hand grenades lobbed in a general direction to distract from the main point. One of those was over FFP, it hasn’t taken long for this to rear it’s head. I am sure that City and PSG are mindful of the restrictions placed on them in terms of transfers but equally, they need to move on some of their own staff to create space in the starting line-up before making the big summer signing. Di Maria, using Arsène’s example, seems unlikely to move to the French capital all the while Cavani and Lavezzi remain at the club; one moves – as both have been rumoured to do – and there is a vacancy to be filled. I suspect that even without FFP, that would still be the case.
In England, there is likely to be some movement in the market now that Van Gaal has finished assessing his squad, even if he pretty much knew his own mind beforehand. Rumours of Vidal and Vermaelen at a combined cost of £60m is not a sluggish start, Liverpool as well seem to have a Suarez-sized hole burning in their pockets. City’s parsimony is being noted, suggestions rife that FFP is hurting them, overlooking the fact that they are current champions and as such arguably need the least investment in any case. A study of the spending patterns of previous English champions over the years and the impact the following season would be interesting, indicating whether City’s behaviour is anything different to what might be perceived as the norm.
The talk of how much a club invests is largely irrelevant though; it’s as easy for a club to held hostage over pricing as it is to find a cheap gem. Actually it’s far easier for the former. Looking at the summer so far, many point out that Sanchez is the only addition so far with Chambers and Debuchy replacing Sagna and Jenkinson, Ospina for Fabianski whilst Campbell covers Bendtner’s departure. As best he can of course, for the Dane is largely irreplaceable. That’s a large amount of the word ‘irreplaceable’, probably all bar the first two letters.
Numbers are not as important as quality. If the replacements are better than their predecessors, the club could still take strides forward with the same numbers. Time tells whether that is the case not paper judgements. There are areas of weakness that need addressing in the Arsenal squad and I believe Arsenal need three more players. I don’t think the forward to compete with Giroud will happen but another experienced central defender and defensively minded midfielder will strengthen this squad. Having ruled the club out of any move for Sami Khedira, Arsène didn’t deny a move William Carvalho. Possibly because he wasn’t asked but that’s by the by; in football transfer news, that which isn’t said is often more interesting.
More importantly, it will give Wenger the opportunity to address the issue of the defence he raised yesterday. I understand why he believes that the City defeat was the least damaging of the three although I would contend that it has equally ominous portents attached to it. I didn’t think at the time Arsenal were hard done by with defeat, the scoreline flattered both sides, it could easily have been 9 – 8 as the 6 – 3 it ended up. The concern was that it followed a big game in the Champions League that also ended in defeat in Naples. Had Arsenal conceded one more goal, they were into the Europa League with its unknown consequences. It was another ‘big’ away game that Arsenal lost, almost to the point of being contrary compared to the win in Dortmund.
Chelsea and Liverpool are close enough together, so similar in their capitulations, that they will concern him more but if Arsenal are in a title race that is more competitive as the manager believes, they have to improve their record in the big games. You can’t take two from a possible twelve against fifth and seventh placed teams whilst harbouring serious title ambitions, unless you are winning the games against the rest of the top four. The twelve points gained against Tottenham is the form that mini-league needs to see from Arsenal. Think of how far short Arsenal fell last season in points terms; that tightness of margins is something he will need to address.
The pre-season hasn’t helped. Slack marking at set-pieces can be put down to ring rustiness but repetitively, it’s a concern. The good thing in many respects is that it highlights the problem with time to work on resolving what is perceived as a modern Arsenal vulnerability, reinforcing the prejudices so readily held.
“I was concerned [by Arsenal's record against the top four]. I was concerned and shocked by the number of goals that we conceded. Of course we were Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde defensively. We had 18 clean sheets but when we did not keep a clean sheet we let them score.
I think it was down to confidence. Overall we were quite sound defensively but we have a good opportunity to improve that.”
In those words, I think Arsène has identified his biggest task this season because it is an entrenched pattern of failure against the top four. Sometimes, you hold your hands up and say that your opponents squad is far better which has certainly been true of some of the City, Chelsea and United squads down the years. Remaining unbeaten at home against all the top seven was a step in the right direction; some of the draws converted to wins and more points accumulated but the away form in the corresponding fixtures remains horrendous. One win out of six with five defeats. That’s Arsenal’s biggest problem.
For the most part they got it right overall against the teams outside the European places, accumulated enough points to have won the title if they had managed to get enough points against their nearest rivals. Retain the first part of that, improve that latter and they give themselves a fighting chance. It puts pressure on everyone else and a confident side can achieve anything in that situation. Who knows if that will be Arsenal next season?