Back in early June, I called this “The Summer of Reckoning for Arsenal.” (Don’t believe me? Take a look right here). In there, I laid a few recommended steps towards improving from the team that needed 10 wins out of its last 15 games in order to just barely qualify for Champions League football. And while I’m happy that the first step – “Time to clear out the deadwood” – has been heeded, the others have not. Not surprisingly, it’s resulting in ire, chaos and anger across the supporters’ base against the club, the manager, the CEO and poor Dick Law. As the Emirates Cup reaches its conclusion and we begin to think of the upcoming season, old fears are raising their heads once again.
It is tough to grade the club for what it’s done given that so much of the work is, by its very nature, done behind closed doors. We hear rumors and half-baked truths through the media, but unless another club is willing to reveal a transfer was turned down, we won’t know if one even took place. That said, there’s enough to gauge that the club has tried to improve itself. Let’s look at what’s happened first.
The signing of Yaya Sanogo.
Not a surprise. Sanogo, the 20-year old French striker from Auxerre, was out of contract and had been told the club were interested. His arrival is welcomed but clearly, he is one for the future. He’ll battle with Benik Afobe and Chuba Akpom to be the next forward to break into the first team. If we are lucky, we won’t have to rely on Sanogo and he’ll get his time to grow and develop in the reserves/Carling Cup sides.
The failed bids for Lars Bender and Gonzalo Higuain.
Making a 19M pound bid for Bayer Leverkusen’s Bender twin was a strong move that aims at improving our midfield. Having just sold Andre Schurrle to Chelsea though, Leverkusen was in no financial need to sell their young midfielder. I hope we got back in with another bid as he’s the kind of player we could definitely use alongside Jack Wilshere or Mikel Arteta.
As for Higuain…..Look, lots of binary ink has been spilled over the whys and why-nots of his transfer. What happened and how are stories that may one day come out in full. If we simply limit ourselves to what we know, Higuain had apparently reached an agreement with Arsenal to move from Real Madrid. We know this because Higuain’s entire family was coming out in the press and saying it was done. Then, as everyone expected the signing to be made official, the clubs stalled and weeks passed. Napoli, flush with cash from the sale of Edison Cavani to Paris Saint-Germain, came in with a large 35M pound bid that Real Madrid accepted. Lo and behold, Higuain is now playing in Naples.
Did Arsenal dither on the transfer? Did Real Madrid get bullish and raise the agreed-upon fee from 24M pounds to the 35M pound fee they got from Napoli? Was it ever as close as all that? Ultimately, Arsenal didn’t get the guy they were after and supporters were left pining for the striker that got away.
The transfer sagas for Luis Suarez and Bernard.
Let’s go with the Brazilian first. Rumors of a transfer for the Atletico Mineiro winger had been bubbling for the last few weeks and not just in odd corners of the Internet. Publications like L’Equippe have said that Bernard is coming to the Emirates. The price for his transfer kept changing from 18M to 25M pounds depending on where you got the news. And depending on the day, sometimes the transfer was done, he was on his way for a medical, there were complications, Mineiro didn’t want to sell him or another club was coming in with a bigger bid. In short, just your average, every-summer Arsenal story which recently may have ended with reports that a) Mineiro never received a bid from Arsenal and b) they did receive a 25M euros bid from Shakhtar Donetsk for him, which they’ve accepted. Is it true? False? Negotiating ploys? At this point, I don’t know anyone that knows.
Meanwhile the bid for the Uruguayan is a cause for both celebration and consternation. On the one hand, Luis Suarez is one of the ten best players in football today; capable of winning games by his lonesome and a star for both club and country. On the other, he’s displayed consistent flaws in personal behavior on the pitch that make him into one of the biggest villains in the game. Let’s be fair where it comes to Suarez: he’s not involved himself in the off-the-pitch peccadillos that have marred the careers of players like John Terry and Wayne Rooney. In the best of lights, his actions denote an almost-desperate need to triumph in every match he is in no matter the cost. In the worst of lights, they show a man who finds no bar low enough to get under; someone who thinks the ends justify the means. If that means racially abusing an opponent to get him off his game, so be it. If that means biting an opponent, well, chomp away.
What makes it worse is that the expectation for the Suarez transfer is of a long, protracted and heavily-influenced-by-the-media war between Arsenal and Liverpool. Bids of 35M and 40M (and 1) pounds have already been turned down. The rumors point at a likely club/country-record bid of 50M pounds or more in order to pry the Uruguayan striker out of Anfield. Even then, there’s other issues at play here. Rumors of Real Madrid making Suarez their “Plan B” should their attempts to prize Gareth Bale out of Tottenham fail are rampant. Meanwhile Liverpool is desperate to reclaim its place amidst the biggest clubs in England – Champions League football, title challenges, beating Manchester United. Losing their best player to Arsenal would send the signal that they are losing a step in that race for the top of the game. They may look at that 45M-50M pound bid and say “It’s not enough.”
This has led to lots of anger, recrimination and desperation on the part of Arsenal’s supporters who fear that the miserly Arsene Wenger, the stubborn Arsene Wenger, will ultimately opt to not bring in any new faces to a side that ended last season on a high, but screamed for talented additions. It’s gotten to the point that the 25M euros bid for Lars Bender and the 30M pounds for Higuain are dismissed. Hell, many Gooners look at the 40M pounds bid for Suarez and think Arsene Wenger was having a big old joke when he added the 1 pound to it.
Here is where we’re at with less than two weeks to go before the first kick of the season takes place: the club has shifted a lot of players out on the fringe away. (All except Park and Bendtner at this moment). The core of the team is the same that ended last season on a 10-game winning streak (by the seat of their pants). We have injuries along the backline that mean if Koscielny or Mertesacker go down, we might have to start Sagna at CB. The midfield trio has some questions as to who starts or sits: Jack or Rosicky? Santi and Ox out wide? There’s youngsters pushing for their place: Gedion Zelalem, Chuba Akpom, Benik Afobe. And the front three will once again rely on Podolski, Giroud and Walcott.
In short, we are still the same side. For those who asked for improvements and expected them after Ivan Gazidis said we would and after so many of the players said we needed them, well, you’re disappointed right now. Supporters will support. But at the first sign of trouble, they will gnash teeth, hurl recriminations and burn online effigies.
Just your average, every other summer of a Gooner.