In completing their signing of Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City may have provided the ripple effect that Arsène loves to cite when talking about the transfer market; that one big move which provides the domino effect allowing other moves to come to fruition.
This summer seems different, one move hasn’t been that decisive. Yesterday’s flurry of activity centred around both Mancunian clubs, with sales at Old Trafford sparking interest in Monaco’s Martial to the delight of sub-editors and headline writers around the globe.
De Bruyne’s move confirms deals, even in a quiet transfer window, can be done. Wolfsburg didn’t want to sell but money talked in the end, as much to the Germans as it did to the player. The fee seems to have lost any touch with reality but City feel he will be a vital piece in their title quest and were willing to pay over the odds for a good player. The fee, if they end the season as champions, will make sense in those circumstances and will come to be seen as good business for them.
It brings Arsenal’s summer into sharp focus. With less than thirty-six hours to go, the squad awaits enhancement beyond Petr Cech. City’s spend is derided as being the death of FFP; the last rites were read as soon as UEFA failed to implement draconian punishments on transgressors whilst its remains were interred with the continued relaxation of the rules. Only Arsenal seem to miss it; no-one else really cares.
That isn’t to say the club should abandon their business model; they can’t in any case, Stan Kroenke isn’t going to bankroll Arsenal in the same way Abramovich and others do their own clubs. That’s fair enough but can Arsenal be more aggressive in the transfer market, financially, and do they need to be if the club is to lift itself into the position of title challengers instead of being merely content with qualifying for the Champions League?
The summer may genuinely have been a case of not being able to find the right player(s) for the right price(s). If that’s the reality, the club know it will be a tough sell. The perception will that Arsenal were only one of Europe’s major clubs not to significantly strengthen their squad. Whether it is the reality is a matter of perspective and subjective assessment of other squads and hiding in the background is that despite their ban, Barcelona were able to arrange deals for the minute it is lifted.
I don’t advocate signing just ‘anyone’; it has to be a genuine improvement on the current personnel otherwise there is no point. It’s a limited talent pool, that’s for certain, but by no means so shallow that it is non-existent as a blank summer beyond Cech would suggest.
It also increases pressure on the squad. As I mentioned yesterday, Arsenal probably sit three points worse off than where Arsène envisaged before the start of the season. Recovering from the opening day defeat to West Ham has been vital and not letting the five point gap to Manchester City grow has been vital. We saw last season how quickly those gaps grow and how they are irrecoverable.
Aaron Ramsey offered his view on where we are,
My view is to look at the table after 10 games and then see where everyone is then. So many things can happen.
Hopefully [West Ham] will be our only upset, the one at the beginning of the season, and if we go on a winning run to win our next five or six games, then maybe we’ll be there or thereabouts again. It’s important to just concentrate on what we can do.
You can’t take too much into how the table’s looking so far. Teams are going to have upsets and hopefully the opening-day upset will be our only one for a long time.
Premier League-era football doesn’t readily allow for the longer-term perspective, even if that is only seven or eight weeks. That six league matches is deemed to be long-term tells you all you need to know about the modern game. Six more fixtures include the trip to Stamford Bridge and hosting Manchester United; City coincidentally reach double figures with the Mancunian derby, their only difficult fixture in that spell.
The echoes of Arsène’s “judge me in May” ring through Ramsey’s statement. Will ten games become fifteen, twenty, extending to once the January window closes? He is realistic enough to know that judgement isn’t going to wait much beyond the final whistle against Stoke City. All the players can do is believe in themselves and continue to perform as best they can.
There is enough talent to finish comfortably in the top four and I think it would be a genuine disappointment for the players not to at least match last season’s third place, even without a new striker arriving. But that’s rushing to judgement, way ahead of Ramsey’s criteria so we’ll hold fire on that one. The ramifications of the current window will be felt for some time to come.
In the meantime, the full madness of the next twenty-four hours will soon be apparent. False leads and malevolent rumours will circulate whilst in the background Jim White is practising his scales as Ann Summers has a run on toys to humiliate and embarrass Sky’s marauding reporters. The summer will soon be over; Arsenal are hoping to avoid the biting chill of winter.