The time has surely come for Arsenal to utilise a portion of its capital. Okay, some fans prefer to use a few more Fs and less pretentious discourse (and let’s be honest, it’s got more of a ring to it) but the point remains the same. Arsène Wenger and his team of elite negotiators are yet to spend a penny in the transfer market – and the fans don’t like it.
I’ve always kind of resented the chant as childish and naïve. I’m by no means an expert but I’m 100% certain that buying players the transfer market is a little more complex than picking up groceries from the supermarket. The chant also makes the assumption that everything will be okay if you just throw money at the problem. Sure, sometimes it works, but there have been plenty of occasions when it hasn’t.
Having said that, even the most optimistic of gooners would struggle to mask their frustration at Arsenal’s lack of summer activity thus far. Plenty of fans will be, and are, pleased to see the back of the likes of Sebastien Squillaci, Marouane Chamakh, Gervinho and André Santos but whilst I sympathised with each to a far greater extent than some of my peers, it’s hard to argue against the fact that they’d somewhat overstayed their welcome. The ‘deadwood’ has been cleared with reassuring efficiency. However, for all their faults, and I’m not denying that they have plenty, these players were, if nothing else, options: bodies needed in and around the squad to fill in when necessary. With them now gone, the number of players at the manager’s disposal is frighteningly thin, having brought in nobody except the relatively unproven young French striker, Yaya Sanogo.
It would be a sad indictment of Arsenal’s plight if Sanogo was intended to be used as anything other than a bit-part player (which must not be construed as a slight on his potential – I’m sure he’ll go on to be a fine player for the club). At the moment, however, he can consider himself very much in the frame for a regular starting place with Olivier Giroud being the only other out-and-out striker in the squad. Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski have each had spells leading the line but neither pulled up any trees and it is a truth universally acknowledged that the Gunners need to add another forward to their ranks.
17-year-old Chuba Akpom has impressed in pre-season and will be in and around the first team for sure, but must be handled with care. Understandably, players at that quite ridiculous age seldom manage to maintain form for an entire season (see exhibit A: Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling). Akpom will probably be used in the Capital One Cup before perhaps being sent on loan to a Championship club or bottom-half Premier League side to ply his trade on a more regular basis. He’s certainly one to keep an eye on, but surely cannot be relied on during this campaign.
Therefore the hunt has been on for an established, dare I say world class striker. Luis Suárez has, perhaps surprisingly, emerged as the most likely candidate after falling out with just about everyone on Merseyside. For Arsenal fans, it’s refreshing to have the shoe on the other foot for once, but a very anxious wait to see what happens must be endured. Suárez clearly wants Champions League football and the Gunners need a goalscorer. What the controversial Uruguayan also provides is that touch of magic, and the ability to create something out of nothing that has been lacking since Robin van Persie’s departure. For all of Santi Cazorla’s efforts, Arsenal are lacking creativity. One way to solve this would be to buy a midfield playmaker, but it seems Wenger is looking to kill two birds with one stone (that’s not just a figure of speech, Suárez is probably mental enough to actually try it) and bring in a striker that not only scores them but makes them too. Suárez can wriggle himself out of the tightest of spaces, and the prospect of him linking up with the aforementioned Cazorla, or dropping deep to feed the ball to the on-rushing Theo Walcott is, frankly, mouth-watering.
Negotiations don’t look like ending any time soon and any potential deal is not expected to be completed any more than a few hours before the transfer deadline on September 2, particularly with Suárez being banned for the first six domestic games, anyway. Arsenal’s ambition here is admirable but it’s a huge risk, with Liverpool reportedly wanting in excess of £50million in exchange for the player’s services. That’s assuming the two clubs can even strike a deal. The Gunners could see themselves without a new striker once the window slams shut. They seem to be putting all their eggs in one significantly-sized basket, and there are very few alternative options left for the club to consider.
Before news of interest in Suárez broke, Gonzalo Higuain was a target and the deal looked to have been sewn up until Real Madrid then allegedly increased the asking price to €40million, which Arsenal were simply not willing to pay. Napoli, however, were, and the striker appeared at the recent Emirates Cup as expected but, somewhat awkwardly, for his new Italian employers rather than the Gunners. Higuain would be a good addition to any squad, but few people would say he’s worth the price tag that Napoli eventually paid. However, for all of Arsenal’s idealism, the market doesn’t work as simply as players only being bought and sold for their ‘market worth.’ Sometimes, in fact quite often, you have to pay over the odds to secure the player you really want. Eyebrows were raised when Bayern Munich shelled out €40million for Javi Martinez but you’d now do well to find anyone who’d argue against it being an excellent investment; one that helped them dominate as they did both domestically and throughout Europe last season.
It will be easy to criticise with the benefit of hindsight and if Arsenal think they have a genuine chance of securing Suárez, they are right to pursue him, but if they do miss out, passing up on Higuain may prove to be more costly than the €40million fee they would have paid for him, particularly if they exit the Champions League at the qualifying stage, which is not improbable with a tough draw against Fenerbahçe.
More worryingly for Arsenal is that they’re not just light on centre-forwards, but all over the pitch. There are only three recognised centre-halves on the books, plus Bacary Sagna who has impressed on the few occasions he’s featured in that position, meaning that surely another player has to be bought in that department. Likewise, there is no available backup for Mikel Arteta, so fans would hope that Wenger will look to move for a holding midfielder. Luiz Gustavo is the latest name to be linked, and the Brazilian seems to tick just about every box.
But regardless of who the individual targets are, Arsenal need to start being more active in the transfer market. The squad of players they have are talented but not good enough to win the title. Perhaps more worryingly, there’s barely enough of them to fill the bench. Three or four shrewd, top quality additions would go a long way to solving both problems. Nobody is saying it’s an easy task but Wenger has earned a reputation as one of the best managers in the game and is paid handsomely to make Arsenal as competitive as they possibly can be. These next few weeks could ultimately determine the state of his legacy.