Early this summer, Arsene Wenger claimed that we would only add players of a certain caliber to the team. He said, “we want to add not quality, but super quality.” That was a nice idea at the time, but it seems the time has finally come to disregard the notion that only “super quality” would improve the squad. Now it’s all about adding depth.
Arsenal have added three players to the side in a span of less than two days. All of the players are experienced, quality footballers who add important attributes to the side. But perhaps the most important quality they bring is competence. They may not be “super quality,” but they are vastly superior quality to the alternatives we’ve seen. Santos and Mertesacker could both be starters for Arsenal, while Park Chu-Young likely will not. It is also possible that all three will find themselves on the bench most days. Regardless, they add the kind of experienced depth that a top club needs.
Even if none of those players were considered first choice starters, all three might have played on Sunday. At the very least, Santos would’ve replaced the diabolical Traore, and Mertesacker could’ve played with Koscielny which might have allowed Djourou to play as our holding midfielder rather than Coquelin. It’s a perfect example of how you can dramatically strengthen a squad without signing a single player who qualifies as a star or “super quality.”
Without over-emphasizing United’s transfer business, or even Liverpool’s, you can see how they improved their squads in similar fashion. Players like Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Phil Jones were good additions to those teams. No one will confuse them with Cesc Fabregas or Wesley Sneijder or David Luiz, but each of them has already made important contributions to their respective clubs. Sometimes a star signing is required for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the squad just needs extra quality along the fringes of the first team.
While Mertesacker will likely be a first choice starter, it really doesn’t matter who starts. What’s important is that players like Miquel and Squillaci are now likely out of the picture for the immediate future. That gives the former time to learn the game, and the latter time to do whatever it is that he does. It also means that a player like Djourou, who seems shorn of his confidence, won’t be our only option should we suffer an injury in the center of defense. Djourou looks competent when paired with the excellent Vermaelen, but lost when paired with Koscielny. Perhaps Mertesacker will prove a better partner for him should those two be needed together.
Andre Santos is a Brazilian international left-back who can score goals. Whether he will replace Kieran Gibbs in the pecking order remains to be seen. But he’s a 28 year old veteran. He doesn’t need time to learn the game. With Gibbs’ injury history we need at least two players for that position and whether you deem Santos a starter or a back-up, the fact remains that he’s a good solution to a major problem. It’s an example of a prudent, if not spectacular signing, providing stability to the team. Sagna can stay at right-back. Jenkinson won’t be thrown to the wolves quite so often. And we won’t have to stomach performances like the one we saw from the aforementioned Traore on Sunday.
Wenger has shown more of an understanding of his team in the last 48 hours than he did all summer. He has seemingly accepted that there are holes in the side that can’t be patched with inexperienced reserves and he’s filled those holes with players who should be able to hit the ground running.
Chu-Young is an international captain. Is he spectacular? Maybe not. But he’s ready to help Arsenal today. Benik Afobe might be spectacular. But he’s not ready to help Arsenal today. Neither is Joel Campbell for a variety of reasons. Chu-Young isn’t being asked to take on responsibilities he’s not ready for. At the same time, the progress of players like Afobe and Campbell isn’t being stunted by burdening them with unreasonable expectations. Can you imagine how Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain must have felt making his Arsenal debut under such despairing circumstances? That’s something Wenger would obviously want to avoid.
I can understand if Wenger struggled to find the star quality he wanted all summer long. Those kind of signings can be tricky. But I reject the idea that he couldn’t find players of the caliber we just bought. I think he had to be disabused of the notion that he could use his young players to fill the holes in the squad. If Sunday did that, then so be it. But for those who want to endlessly criticize the manager, this should serve as a reminder that he’s not blind or fatally stubborn. It may be late in the game, but he’s made the moves that needed to be made. We are a much stronger team today than we were yesterday with the addition of three steady, if unspectacular players.
It’s possible that we still need a striker. Rumors at this moment still have Bendtner leaving the club and Chamakh possibly being loaned out. Even with the arrival of Chu-Young that seems to put us right back in a desperate situation at striker and undermines Wenger’s efforts to add depth. Depending on the veracity of these rumors, another striker might well be arriving shortly.
Wenger already added “super quality” early in the summer. In my opinion, Gervinho represents the perfect replacement for Samir Nasri and has all the makings of a classic Wenger gem. Now the question is whether he can repeat the feat before the window closes. In my opinion, the team needs one more player of that class. If Gervinho is the replacement for Nasri, then who replaces Cesc? That’s the question that will have huge ramifications for our season.
Obviously there may not be a player like Cesc or of Cesc’s quality available anywhere in the world. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try to find someone to fill the void. We need a dynamic midfielder. We need someone to create the goal-scoring chances. Wenger shouldn’t leave that role to Jack Wilshere. He’s too valuable as a box-to-box player to just push him forward behind the strikers. Cesc’s role has to be given to someone else. Perhaps in time those duties will fall to Aaron Ramsey, but it still seems a step to far for him at this stage in his development. I think this is the one place in the squad where a really big signing of “super-quality” is still desperately needed.
If Wenger can bring in a marquee midfielder between now and the close of the window, then there would be every reason to say we had a successful summer. There’s still plenty of debate as to why we left it so late, but the fact remains that we would enter September with a much stronger team than began the season. That’s what matters most. As I’ve said numerous times, we have a solid first choice XI that’s a least capable of being one of the top four teams in the England. With the addition of a star midfielder, perhaps we could dare to dream a little higher.
Unfortunately the close of the transfer window is just hours away now. It’s unclear whether that star player is coming. I’m sure the team is working on it, but this is the stage where any snag will prevent a deal from getting done in time. Unless our negotiations go perfectly, we won’t get the players we want. I’m thrilled that we might see a star quality midfielder arrive in the next few hours, but I’m equally annoyed at the possibility that we might not see that player arrive merely because we got too late a start on trying to acquire him. I suppose we’ll be able to discuss that further very soon.
It should be a very exciting and maddening day for Arsenal supporters and possibly Arsenal employees. This summer has seen want-away stars leave the club, youngsters get promoted, new faces arrive and plenty of frustration along the way. But when the dust settles tomorrow, at least we’ll know who will be playing for Arsenal Football Club this season. Then we can all get back to doing what we do best, supporting the team we have.