It was the surest sign of Arsenal’s irrelevance in the title race. Having been venomous in the battle of the minds, Sir Alex Ferguson was complimentary about the club and manager. This, the same Arsène Wenger with whom he had crossed swords down the years in biting exchanges, was a man who now received the paternalistic pat on the back and praise for the style of football. Others caught the barbs now, deserved Fergusons’ attention.
With Jose Mourinho, it has been different; more personal. The Portuguese manager never liked Wengers’ insistence on pointing to the money invested in the squad by richer clubs, the beneficiaries of sugar daddies. Accusations of financial doping irked Mourinho and brought forth attacks on a regular basis during his spells as Chelsea manager.
And when Arsenal did have the funds to invest in their own squad, to outspend his own club, Mourinho wasn’t going to waste the moment. In response to a direct question about Arsenal and the perception that they don’t get labelled a spending club, that moment came and wasn’t wasted. How quickly that irritated some; the total fees paid by both clubs swiftly entered the arena, with net spend – the measure by which Arsenal do outspend Chelsea – quickly dispensed with.
The point is not whether Arsenal have spent more than Chelsea, it is irrelevant. The actions in signing players aren’t. They signal that Arsenal’s baseline was lower; they needed to spend more, to buy better players to haul themselves back to a point from where a title challenge could be made.
And that is the only thing that matters. If Arsenal win the title with this squad, yes, they will have bought the title. Get used to it, every club since the Premier League was conceived, has bought the title; it is how it has always been and will always be.
To some, it’s an anathema that Arsenal are big spenders. Arsène’s reputation for promoting youth has masked that a lot of those younger players – the ones who made the grade – were bought from other clubs. Arsenal polished the rough diamonds and the manager deserves credit for that. Personally, I don’t care if they were scouted by other clubs initially, the only thing which matters is that (a) Arsenal scouted them at a later date, and, (b) the club honed their talent to the point where they broke into the first team.
But some have got quite comfortable sitting on the moral high ground and don’t want to lose their place.
Mourinho made a better point than about the money,
I think they bought a fantastic goalkeeper and that is a position which is very important in a team. Every club is a club and we don’t need to speak about them but if you add up the amounts clubs have spent in the last three or four years, I think maybe you will find a surprise.
If you put Özil plus Alexis Sanchez, plus Chambers, plus Debuchy you will maybe find a surprise. It’s a fantastic squad; lots and lots of good players, a fantastic goalkeeper. I think they are more than ready to be a title contenders.
There is a good squad at Arsenal but it can also be improved, as can any group of players. That’s my view; Arsène doesn’t disagree either before you ask but he has to manage his existing players so, as you would expect, is more oblique in his wording. Whether he will or is able to, we will see. It seems unlikely before the start of the season and uncertain whether it will happen before the end of the transfer window.
Mourinho is right; Arsenal should challenge for the title this year. The manager and players have at various points in the last couple of weeks stated the same. And if it means a return to Arsenal being talked about by managers at rival clubs, remember how it felt when we were ignored.
Vaguely mentioning transfers as I was, Wojciech Szczesny completed his loan move to AS Roma yesterday with Zbigniew Boniek criticising Arsène for stating that he wanted to keep the Polish goalkeeper but signing Petr Cech. He may have already done so but I’m pretty sure that as head of the Polish FA, Boniek might have been better in criticising the player for having a fag in the shower. Instead, he muttered something about worse things happening at sea. Or something like that.
Not leaving on loan is Calum Chambers. Southampton had been looking at a year-long deal but Arsène, mindful that no-one was particularly calling for a new centre back this summer, blocked that move. After all, he’s got enough on his plate trying to find another defensive midfielder and centre forward…