I can’t remember being this confident or excited about the first Premier League game of the season since… well, I honestly can’t remember. The confidence comes from the new signings Wenger has made both on and off the pitch (more of that later) but the excitement is down to something much bigger and more important — that a corner has finally, belatedly been turned.
No longer are we leaving things until the last minute, trying to find a bargain on August 31st. No longer are we playing games with transfer prices, making really low offers, antagonising selling clubs and dragging things out for the whole summer to try and save a few quid. No longer are we entering the summer seemingly without a concrete plan, happy to wait and see what happens.
Instead, we have taken the sensible route of being proactive — identifying targets early, making sensible offers and getting the players in during pre-season so they can train with the rest of the squad and be ready for the big kick off. Hallelujah!
My last post was in June 18th when I lamented the fact we hadn’t signed anyone and I questioned our transfer strategy, fearing a repeat of last summer. I’m happy to admit I had nothing to worry about as the club was working behind the scenes on excellent deals such as Alexis, Debuchy and Ospina.
Many people, including Wenger himself, have said our decisive and praiseworthy transfer activity this summer has been down to having more money available. I don’t think that’s the main reason. While it’s certainly true that our finances improve year on year as we renegotiate big sponsorship deals and lower our debt levels thanks to our excellent financial strategy, the accounts show that the money has been in place for at least the past three seasons for us to have spent big and done the kind of business we’ve seen recently. Many quotes from Gazidis and Hill-Wood over that period categorically state that we have had financial firepower, and analysis of the club’s finances from reputed sources such as Swiss Ramble confirm this. Back in 2011, the acclaimed accountant/blogger wrote:
“My own estimate was that the club had £35 million available excluding any surplus cash from property development. Everything else being equal, as we have seen, the summer’s activity should have produced another £18 million, which would theoretically mean a transfer budget of £53 million.”
So there was no financial reason, for example, for not replacing van Persie with a £30m forward — that we failed to land one was down to Wenger. Maybe he was thinking with his economics head and playing it ultra safe (too safe) until the balance sheet looked really good, like it does now. Or maybe — and more likely — Gazidis has wrestled some power back from Wenger during the negotiations of his last contract and a new, improved transfer strategy is now in place.
In other words, instead of Wenger identifying targets, Wenger negotiating with other clubs and Wenger making the final decision on whether to pull the trigger, it seems as though Gazidis is much more involved, like the way David Dein was in the glory days. It would explain why things are being done differently now and is a theory backed up by this tweet from Arsenal themselves:
“Now hear from the man central to #SanchezSigns deal, @Arsenal chief exec Ivan Gazidis.”
So that’s why Wenger had time to commentate and play beach volleyball during the World Cup — Gazidis was doing all the legwork!
No longer is Wenger’s infamous dithering and brinkmanship able to derail our summer transfer policy as in the case of the Suarez/Higuain debacle of last summer. Or the ridiculous scenario of having to make five panic buys on deadline day three years ago. It would appear those days are thankfully gone.
The best signing of the summer?
Now it would be churlish of me to blame Wenger for poor summers and then only praise Gazidis when things go well. I fully appreciate Wenger played a big part in Sanchez’s signing. He obviously identified him and according to the player himself, spoke with him at length to persuade him to sign. And there is no doubt working with Wenger is a big draw for even top players such as Sanchez and Ozil. So Wenger rightly deserves credit for the successful summer — all I’m doing is pointing out there has been a shift in how things are done behind the scenes and it’s one that has benefited Arsenal big time.
Regardless of how it’s happened, we now have an excellent squad for the forthcoming season. We are still light in a couple of areas — a centre half and defensive midfielder are needed — but there is an abundance of pace in the forward line. This means teams can’t simply press us high up the pitch safe in the knowledge we can’t hit them on the break — now, we are a real threat on the counter with probably two of Walcott, Sanchez and the Ox likely to play at any one time.
In goal, Szcesny has a proper rival at last. Fabianski was never going to oust him, he simply isn’t good enough and I think we’ll see that when he lines up for Swansea this season. Having Ospina challenging him will focus the talented young Pole and hopefully encourage him to buck his ideas up and concentrate solely on his game. Not so much with Twitter and taking selfies please Szczesny. People forget he’s still only 24. He’s been the Arsenal number one since he was 22 — when Hart was 22 he was playing for Birmingham in the Championship on loan. So Szczesny is developing very well and I have no doubt that once he matures he will become an excellent, long term keeper for us.
The signing of Debuchy is solid. There was a time Wenger’s over reliance on youth would’ve seen Jenkinson handed the role, but thankfully ‘Project Youth’ is a thing of the past. It was necessary and worked well for us while we were repaying the stadium debt, but now we can sign a proven Premiership player instead. When was the last time we signed a player from a Premier League club? There was Arteta in 2011 when we were desperate and scrambling around for signings just minutes from the transfer deadline. Before that I reckon it was Francis Jeffers in 2001. Wenger has never liked signing Premier League players because they are too expensive, even though that outlay gives you peace of mind that they have played in the top flight. All of a sudden, we’ve signed Chambers and Debuchy though — again, more encouraging signs that a corner has been turned.
I want to end with a few words about arguably our best signing of the summer — fitness coach Shad Forsythe. Finally something has been done about the ridiculous amount of injuries we get year after year. When Wenger changed Arsenal’s style to try and copy the tiki-taka of Barcelona some seven/eight years ago, bringing in mostly lightweight, mobile players, he failed to alter the fitness regime to cope with the added strain on joints that quick sprints and sharp turns can bring. We have been behind the curve all this time, while the likes of Shad Forsythe was working with the German national team to ensure their players were properly prepared, rested and rehabilitated for their matches. I don’t think he brings with him a magic wand to ensure we don’t pick up any injuries, but hopefully players will now spend less time on the treatment table and more on the pitch.
Once again, more evidence that a corner has been turned. These truly are exciting times for Arsenal.
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