Spend some ***king money.
That’s the chant that rang around an increasingly irate Emirates stadium as the season’s first set of 3 o’clock fixtures drew to a close on Saturday. The day had started off well enough for Arsenal courtesy of a sixth minute goal from Olivier Giroud – a solid platform to build on both for Arsenal in this match and Giroud for the season ahead after a hit and miss first campaign in English football.
Giroud may yet go on to have a more fruitful year, but for Arsenal, it was the high point of an afternoon that grew increasingly sour as the game progressed. An opening day home fixture against a young team that struggled last term should have provided an ideal opportunity to put three points on the board, but it was not to be for Arsenal. Aston Villa’s resolve was not broken by that Giroud goal, and they eventually grabbed all three points. True enough, some of the decisions by the referee were questionable, in particular the second yellow card that saw the end of Laurent Koscielny’s day. But this result was the culmination of a desperate summer from an Arsenal perspective.
The issue for Arsenal fans is that it was surely akin to groundhog day. The lightening quick counter attacks from Aston Villa were too much for the flat footed Arsenal defence to deal with – something that has been seen time and time again over the last number of seasons. Chances were missed in attack. Players succumbed to injury. As the match progressed, the anger of the fans transitioned away from the seemingly debatable decisions of the referee and towards the Arsenal board and manager.
One can hardly blame the fans. This summer has been an all too familiar affair, at least in terms of player recruitment. In a sense, there has actually been a slight reprieve this year for those transfer weary fans. Traditionally, Arsenal have had to fight off potential suitors of their star players. Transfer sagas of summers past have seen the likes of Henry, Fabregas, and van Persie depart. This summer, arguably due to a shortage of world class calibre players in their squad, Arsenal have not had to swat away any interested parties.
Instead, they have had the time to find the talent required to push them from a trophy less fourth place finish towards loftier heights. Wenger and the board have not been shy in publicising the fact that they have money to spend this year – a tactic and admission not seen often in the past from the club as they continued to pay off the debt of a shiny new stadium. Thus far their summer has been a spectacular failure – they have failed miserably in their attempts to woo potential targets (similar, in a sense, to Manchester United’s transfer attempts).
Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez, Luiz Gustavo, and Wayne Rooney have all been mooted as possible signings. They seemed close to signing Higuain and Gustavo, but both opted for other destinations. Liverpool have stood firm over Suarez, and if Rooney is to leave Old Trafford (which looks increasingly unlikely) it will be for London, but for Stamford Bridge rather than the Emirates.
What must make it all the more frustrating for Arsenal fans is that the clubs around them have been in a state of flux this summer. Arsenal are the only team of last season’s top four not to change manager – they have been the only one’s afforded this stability. For the first summer in a lifetime uncertainty hangs around Manchester United. Manchester City have changed manager, while Chelsea have hit the reset button and gone back to what they know and trust in Jose Mourinho – but he has walked into a dressing room of players that is not completely his own. Add Tottenham’s Gareth Bale saga into the mix and one get’s the sense that Arsenal were perfectly poised to land a decisive blow and steal a march on those around them this summer. But it hasn’t happened.
Instead they have stood still, and arguably gone backwards. Sure, they have done well to trim some of the deadwood from the squad. Players like Arshavin, Chamakh, Santos and Denilson among others have left. However only one player has come in, consequently leaving a threadbare squad with a dubious injury record.
Yes, Wenger is right to preach caution that while money is available, sometimes the talent just isn’t there, and Arsenal have been burnt recently when embarking on last minute spending sprees. It’s not easy to find players of sufficient quality, but United aside, all the teams directly in competition with Arsenal have added to their squads. That’s what a scouting system is for. All too often Wenger has gone back to what he know’s best – the French League. Players like Chamakh and Gervinho have come and gone without having the required impact. Giroud looks a better player than the aforementioned two, but it’s highly doubtful that he will ever attain the level of quality that preceded him in the likes of Henry and Robin van Persie.
And that’s the most infuriating thing of all for Arsenal fans: they now have the money to buy players of genuine world class ilk. There is no need to be thrifty. One only has to look at the impact of van Persie at Manchester United to see the difference an exceptional player can make. If Arsenal can add a couple of players of similar status to a squad already containing Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla, it could catapult them from fourth place to genuine title contenders.
Arsenal have the money this summer, they have a chance to make an impact. So far they have stood still. And while Wenger is right to warn about spending for the sake of it, maybe someone should remind him that to stand still is to go backwards. Spend some money indeed. Time is running out.