I was sure that lessons would’ve been learned from the shambles of last summer and that we’d approach this transfer market with a better plan, but for me, the doubts started to nag when Wenger claimed this in early May:
“In my experience, in a World Cup year, the transfer business does not get done early. There is no time between the end of the season and the start of the World Cup. Nobody will do anything before the World Cup starts.”
Source: Daily Mail
So that’s nobody except Mourinho, Rodgers and Pellegrini then. Chelsea have already signed Fabregas and (almost certainly) Diego Costa while selling David Luiz. Liverpool signed Rickie Lambert and Emre Can and have bid £25m for Lallana. Man City have confirmed they will sign Bacary Sagna, while Man Utd have an offer of £27m on the table for Luke Shaw and have apparently already agreed personal terms with our own Thomas Vermaelen.
I realise there is still time, but what concerned me was the inaccuracy of Wenger’s defiant “Nobody will do anything before the World Cup starts.” This tells me that Wenger is once again woefully out of tune with today’s market and how to operate in it, sitting happily on his laurels for another month while our rivals go about their business early and decisively. Could we not try that approach for once?
What has since fanned the flames of doubt for me, however, was the decision not to re-sign Fabregas. The main reason seems to be that we already have plenty of options who can play in Fabregas’ best position (of whom Ozil is the most prominent) just off the main striker. I agree they can’t both play as a number 10 in the same team, but there is certainly room in the squad for both Ozil and Fabregas as the latter can also play in another couple of positions. First of all he can play Ramsey’s box to box role in central midfield, a position we currently have inadequate cover for. Nobody else in the squad (except maybe Wilshere) can provide the goals and assists threat from there and we saw that when Ramsey was injured for all those months. Oh, to have had Fabregas to slot in there while Ozil played the number 10 role.
Also, Fabregas can play as a false 9, which he has done many times for Spain in the past. We could’ve fielded Fabregas up top, Ozil just off him, with Cazorla and Walcott out wide. Or Ozil could play as the false 9 (as he did for Germany against Portugal) with Fabregas just off him. Those four guys buzzing around playing tikki-takka would’ve given us an alternative option to our current ‘Giroud up top’ formation (which is the only system Wenger ever plays, making us predictable and lacking a plan B) and therefore adding another string to our tactical bow.
So the argument that you can’t have Ozil and Fabregas in the same squad is just not valid. Since when can you only have one number 10 in the squad anyway? Yes, Cazorla and Rosicky currently provide cover for Ozil, but Fabregas is better. Cazorla is 29 and Atletico Madrid are very interested, so it would’ve been good business to sell him on and replace him with the better, younger Fabregas.
Especially when you consider that Fabregas has one massively important commodity that none of the current squad has — leadership.
His signing would’ve given us the natural leader we have been crying out for since… well, since Fabregas left. A leader who was desperate to return and would run through the proverbial brick wall for the club when he’s wearing the red and white. Or, as it turned out, taken a penalty for us against Barca despite having a broken leg. We need that sheer guts and leadership in our team of softies.His signing would’ve given the players a similar lift to when Ozil signed, a feelgood factor that lasted half the season. And just as importantly, it would’ve denied Chelsea a wonderful player who will now supply the passes to Costa and be the last piece in Mourinho’s jigsaw. We were only a few points behind Chelsea last season, but they will disappear over the horizon now.
Denying a direct rival the chance to improve their team is the same reason we should be resisting any overtures from Man Utd for Vermaelen. First of all, he’s still an excellent player. He hasn’t turned into Pascal Cygan overnight, he has fallen victim to the brilliant natural partnership that is Mertesacker and Koscielny. He’s unhappy that he isn’t in the team apparently — well tell him to grow the fuck up then! Suarez was unhappy last summer, Liverpool stood firm and he’s now signed a new contract. We’re in the same position with Vermaelen. Why allow van Gaal to get the best out of him for Man Utd, a side who I suspect will be our closest rivals for a top four place next season? I realise he only has 12 months left on his contract and could leave on a free, but that has got to be preferable to strengthening Man Utd for a season in which they could deny us European football, which would cost us £30m — far more than we’d get by selling him.
Besides which, we’ve already lost our fourth choice centre back in Sagna, so all the more reason to stand firm with Vermaelen. I still think the Belgian has a big part to play at Arsenal and I’d be sad and angry if he was allowed to leave, let alone join Man Utd.
The outgoings don’t end there though. We also need to replace Fabianski, who I’m glad decided to leave as he’s not and never will be good enough, and our number three keeper was only on loan so we only have Szczesny at the moment. And the released Bendtner is another squad position we have to fill. All of these issues need to be resolved, which is a lot of work, before we can even think about actually strengthening the team. Replacing Sagna, Vermaelen, Bendtner, Viviano and Fabianski would just be to maintain the numbers from last season, which simply weren’t enough anyway. I worry that we are suddenly looking at needing to sign four or five players just to maintain the status quo when we all know Wenger is reluctant to bring in a large number of players in a transfer window.
On top of that, we still have to address the pressing need for a world class striker and holding midfielder. For the former position, I sincerely hope Wenger didn’t see Joel Campbell’s performance against Uruguay. Not because I wasn’t impressed with the Costa Rican, but because I know how Wenger’s mind works. It’s very possible he’ll have thought: “Hmmmmm, Joel has come on leaps and bounds over the last 12 months. Maybe I don’t need to spend big on another striker after all. Giroud, Sanogo and Campbell next season — sorted.”
That would be a disaster in my opinion. Campbell could replace Bendtner and I’d like to see him given his chance, but not at the expense of signing a proven, top drawer striker like Benzema. So far we’ve been linked with Remy for £10m, who I like but is not the world class focal point we need leading our line.
In conclusion, I don’t doubt that Arsenal are working on transfer targets, but as each day goes by with other clubs doing business and us doing nothing, I fear more and more that we will repeat last summer’s ineptitude.
Whoever is actually responsible for transfer policy this summer — whether it’s Wenger and/or Gazidis and/or Dick Law — I have no faith in the competence of their decisions (like passing on Fabregas and considering selling Vermaelen) or their ability to come up with a plan and make it happen. Our rivals are once again showing us how to conduct business in the transfer market while Wenger and his team dithers, seemingly waiting until just four weeks before the season starts to make any moves.
I hope I’m wrong, but by then it could be too late and before we know it our league campaign will kick off with gaping holes in the squad — just like last season. A case of history repeating itself? Unfortunately, I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary so far.