Well that was exciting.
“How was your transfer deadline day Arsene?”
“Oh, the usual. Woke up, signed five players, went to sleep. Nothing special.”
The problem with evaluating Arsenal’s summer transfer business is that the process is inevitably clouded by ancillary issues. It’s easy to get sidetracked discussing when the moves were made, debating how much money was available or rehashing old sagas over key players. There’s also the tendency to try and appraise the club’s dealings from a business perspective. But I’d prefer to leave that for the excellent Swiss Ramble. Instead, I want to analyze this crazy transfer window based entirely on one factor; how it impacts Arsenal on the pitch.
When the dust settled at 11pm British Summer Time, Wednesday evening, Arsenal had signed so many players that I couldn’t fit all of their names in a single tweet. Some of the players we signed have gone out on loan or aren’t ready for the first team. But there’s no question that Gervinho, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Park, Santos, Mertesacker, Benayoun and Arteta will all play some role for the first team this season, along with Ryo whose work permit was approved this summer. What remains now is to examine whether those players make us a stronger side than we were last season. So let’s give it a try!
Last season I couldn’t help but feel that our team lacked experience and leadership. No matter how good Cesc was, he was still a young player. With Thomas Vermaelen out the entire season there was little leadership on the pitch. Young players were learning from other young players and there was no one to lend that little calming or motivational influence when it was needed most. We saw evidence of that at Newcastle, in the Carling Cup final, and in our demoralizing late draw with Liverpool to name a few select matches.
In the matter of just a few days, that deficiency has been decisively addressed. Ryo, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jenkinson will be great players for Arsenal. But they’re not going to teach themselves the intangibles of professional football. And it’s ridiculous to expect youngsters like Ramsey, Wilshere, Gibbs or Theo to teach them either. Now they won’t have to.
By adding Park, Santos, Mertesacker, Benayoun and Arteta, we’ve brought Premier League and international experience into the squad. They are 26, 28, 27 (in Spetember), 31, and 29 respectively. Whether you think they’re the finest players around or not, they are seasoned professionals who know the little tricks of the game and understand the commitment required over a long season. They know how to get the calls from a referee or how to react when an opposing player is trying to wind them up. That kind of guile and savoir faire will be a hugely welcome addition to our squad. And it will benefit the younger players immediately.
Players out: Nasri, Bendtner (loan), Sunu
Players in: Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ryo (work permit), Park, Benayoun (loan)
I consider Gervinho a direct replacement for Samir Nasri. He may not be as refined as Nasri right this moment, but he has more pace, a better dribble, and could hardly be worse than what we got from the frenchman during the last half of last season. I have no doubts that he will be a big player for us based on what I’ve seen. As far as I’m concerned, we are no weaker at that position than last season. But Gervinho adds something that Nasri didn’t provide; cover at center-forward. I genuinely believe the Ivorian can play through the middle and will do so at times this season.
Unfortunately, Arshavin and Chamakh have taken major steps backwards. The Russian seems to be suffering from a dip in form and motivation while the Moroccan seems bereft of any footballing ability at the moment. Neither qualifies as first choice, but we’ve already seen that you need quality beyond your first XI to stay competitive in the Premier League. And attacking depth became an even bigger concern when when we sent Nik Bendtner to Sunderland on Wednesday on a season-long loan. I’m thrilled that we loaned him rather than selling him because I remain convinced he has star quality, but his absence this season left a gaping hole at center-forward.
That’s why Park’s signing is potentially so important. If he can give us quality behind Van Persie, and occasionally play on the wing, then we are much stronger. Park is probably not a starter, but he is captain of Korea, was the leading scorer for Monaco and adds depth to our attacking trident.
That also means that we can ease Ryo and Oxlade-Chamberlain into the mix, unlike what the latter had to contend with on Sunday. Both young players give us potentially explosive attacking options on the wing, but we shouldn’t expect consistency from them at this stage in their respective careers. Park’s addition should help prevent Arsene from relying on them too often in pressure situations.
Park’s arrival probably signals Wenger’s tacit acknowledgment that Chamakh’s performance at Arsenal isn’t good enough. Perhaps Marouane will rediscover the form he brought with him last summer, but he simply can’t be anywhere near the first team at the moment. Moreover, even if Chamakh was firing on all cylinders, he’s going to be at the African Cup of Nations throughout January. Park’s signing gives us another option at center-forward during that time, along with the aforementioned Gervinho and possibly Theo Walcott.
The reason I listed Yossi Benayoun as an addition to the attack rather than the midfield is because I wouldn’t be surprised to see him used primarily as a winger for us. He can score the occasional goal, has the ability to get past a defender and won’t struggle to play the final ball like Theo often does. Benayoun has also demonstrated a good work rate throughout his career. With Gervinho unavailable for Swansea in 10 days time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Yossi line up on the left side of our attack in favor of Arshavin who was desperately poor on Sunday. He can be a very useful utility player for us throughout the season, moving between midfield and attack.
I see Benayoun as another utility player. He is essentially as an upgrade from Tomas Rosicky. Last season, and so far this term, we used Rosicky when we had players missing up front or in midfield. He delivered a good half of football in Udine but has been a liability otherwise. Benayoun can do the same things Rosicky has been doing for us, only more effectively and consistently. That extra option also has a ripple effect throughout the squad. Now, when Theo or Gervinho are out, the choice isn’t between Arshavin or Rosicky. When Ramsey or Arteta are missing, Benayoun gives the manager another choice there as well. Again, that also means that Ryo and Oxlade-Chamberlain can be used as a luxury, not a necessity.
Overall I think our attack is stronger than it was last season. We brought in a direct replacement for the big name we lost. We added depth across the front three. And we acquired two massive talents for the future who should make the occasional appearance this season. Once again we will depend heavily on Van Persie’s contribution, but I think we are better positioned to cope without him if necessary.
Players out: Cesc *cries*, Denilson (loan), Lansbury (loan)
Players in: Arteta
This is the area of the pitch that became the main concern over the last few weeks. In order to have any chance of evaluating our situation in midfield, you have to accept one thing first. There is no player on the planet like Cesc Fabregas. We were never going to replace him. As we’ve already seen in his brief Barcelona career, he’s good enough to instantly improve even the best team in the world. We lost the world’s best midfielder. He’s a once-in-a-generation type of player and it’s pointless to even consider replacing him with equal quality.
Once you accept that reality, it’s much easier to take stock of our midfield. Loaning Denilson could be a case of addition by subtraction. I’d rather have no one on the pitch than watch him play little 3 yard lateral passes and fail to run back on defense for 90 minutes. Emmanuel Frimpong has already shown he has all the traits to be the perfect backup to Alex Song, and eventually succeed him. So that has made the need for a defensive midfielder somewhat less pressing. Let’s not forget that Diaby will be back in the team eventually. Or at least that’s the idea.
What we really needed this summer was a creative influence in the middle of the park. Again, you can’t think of it as a cesc replacement because that wasn’t possible. The question is whether we could bring someone in who could create scoring chances and finish a few himself. With Song protecting the back four and Jack covering the entire pitch, we needed a support-striker or “trequartista.” Mikel Arteta fits that description. Not only does he provide slick passing and an eye for the occasional goal, but he’s one of the finest free-kick takers in the Premier League. (Sorry Robin, you’re off free-kick duty). Hopefully he will also deliver the corner kicks, freeing up Van Persie to attack them.
It’s hard to know just how good Arteta can be. He was played as more of a holding midfielder before he arrived at Everton. Once David Moyes moved him further up the pitch he thrived. During the 2006-07 season he was rated as the third most productive midfielder in the Premier League behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and…you guessed it…Cesc Fabregas. But unlike Ronaldo and Cesc, Arteta played for an Everton club with significantly less attacking talent in front of him. Now he’ll be playing through-balls for two of the faster players in England and linking up with one of the best passing center-forwards in the game. We have bought ourselves a very talented and experienced player in Mikel Arteta and there’s no reason to think he won’t thrive in our passing game.
For those who can’t control their longing for Cesc, we now have a new Spaniard in our midfield who also idolizes Pep Guardiola and has Barcelona in his DNA. If you squint, perhaps you’ll barely notice the difference. We can only hope that’s the case!
I could discuss Yossi Benayoun’s impact on our midfield at this point but I’ve already addressed his role. My guess is that we’ll see him more as a winger than a midfielder. Wenger will want to give Aaron Ramsey plenty of opportunities this season and with Arteta’s arrival he is no longer a first choice selection for Arsenal (at least once Jack is fit). I can’t see Benayoun being played in favor of Ramsey, although I wouldn’t rule it out. Therefore, the best thing I can say about Benayoun’s contribution in midfield is that he adds depth to an area of the pitch where we’ve already seen players like Coquelin and Lansbury forced into action because of our paucity of options.
My verdict is that we’re probable weaker in midfield. I arrive at that conclusion through a very simple formulation. Lose Cesc, you’re weaker. Period. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t be very good in the middle of the park. And it’s easy to see how Arteta’s signing was the difference between a pretty mediocre deadline day and a spectacular one.
I actually think that Arteta could be a better signing than M’Villa, Hazard or Martin. The former is not a creative midfielder and the latter two could still be classified as untested. Arteta already understands the physical demands of the Premier League, he’s experienced, and his hunger for Champions League football could see him raise his game to a new level. Let’s face it, Everton have had little to compete for over the past few seasons. Hopefully the challenges facing Arteta at Arsenal will bring out the best in him.
If Jack Wilshere gets back on the pitch soon, and shows improvement from last season, then we have reason to be optimistic. Emmanuel Frimpong has already shown that we may actually have another excellent holding midfielder at the club besides Alex Song. And with Mikel Arteta’s arrival, Aaron Ramsey goes from being a questionable starter to an impact substitute. That takes the weight of impossible expectations off the Welshman and gives him the freedom to continue his development at a normal pace. By the end of the season, maybe he’ll even make the starting role his again.
So while losing Cesc probably means that the midfield is weaker, it doesn’t mean that it’s a weakness overall. Depending on Jack’s fitness, the emergence of Frimpong, and the integration of Arteta, we have a chance to be as good or better. At the very least, we now have some much needed depth in the middle of the park.
Players out: Gael Clichy, Armonde Traore (hooray), Eboue *single tear*
Players in: Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Santos
After last season, it was clear that Arsene Wenger had to address the defense. His response was to sell our most experienced defender and bring in a teenager who was playing non-league football this time last year. Hardly the improvement we were expecting. But in the long run, it all worked out for the best.
I’m of the opinion that Gael Clichy had to go. He was a good servant for Arsenal but he just cost us too many points over the years. Ever since that awful day at St. Andrews when Eduardo’s Arsenal career was destroyed and our title bid began to unravel, Clichy was never the same for us. He showed an unparalleled ability to make crucial mistakes at critical moments. Despite possessing all the attributes of a world-class left back, he rarely contributed anything to our attack and he frequently suffered lapses in concentration or composure that resulted in opposition scoring chances.
The problem with Clichy’s departure is that it left us with two left-backs at the club. Kieran Gibbs could be superior to Clichy when given the chance, but his injury record has prevented him from finishing a match, let alone a season. That means that Armond Traore was always going to play an important role in the side. And that spells trouble because Armonde Traore is an absolute train-wreck waiting to happen.
It’s not that Traore can’t defend, it’s that he doesn’t seem to know enough about defending to even try. Selling him might be the best example of addition through subtraction in the history of football. Andrey Arshavin might be the only player in our entire squad who would be worse than Traore at left-back. Somehow I feel like I’m not making myself clear. Traore is terrible. There. Clear enough?
Jenkinson is a hard worker, a gooner, and obviously a kid with tremendous talent. He gives us a better option than the lovable buffoon, Emmanuel Eboue, but he’s not quite ready for the deep end. He held his own against Udinese and even Liverpool to some extent, but Manchester United at Old Trafford was a bridge too far.
Unfortunately, once Gibbs suffered his inevitable injury, Wenger found himself forced to use Sagna out of position with Jenkinson at right back, rather than play Traore. And when Sagna wasn’t available on Sunday…well…we all know what happened at Old Trafford. For me, that calamity was mostly down to our situation at full-back.
That made Andre Santos’ signing one of the most important of the entire summer. He’s an experienced Brazilian international and he can even score goals. Some might consider him “Dani Alves light.” Since I hate Dani Alves, I’ll prefer not to disparage our new signing that way.
Regardless of what you think of Santos, he’s going to be our starting left-back for most of this season. He will probably move ahead of Gibbs in the pecking order, but even if he didn’t, we know that Gibbs will play only a handful of games because of his injury history. What Santos gives us is peace of mind. Sagna doesn’t have to move from right back to left back. Vermaelen, who has demonstrated his importance to the center of our defense, doesn’t have to move either. And Jenkinson can return to his intended role as Sagna’s backup and eventual successor.
In the center of defense, we are now miles better than we were. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited that we didn’t sign someone as I was when we didn’t sign Gary Cahill. It’s not that Cahill isn’t a good player, it’s just that I think Per Mertesacker is a much much better one. I realize he’s not English, but let’s try not to hold that against him. (And I love the idea that Phil Gartside’s sophomoric behavior cost his club 12 million pounds. Enjoy watching Cahill leave for free next summer you idiot.)
Mertesacker is a towering, surprisingly quick, German international. At 26, he already has over 70 caps for his country. Maybe more importantly, he gives us exactly what we’ve been missing at center-back. He’s the perfect alternative to Vermaelen. The two will make a fearsome combination, and immediately eliminate any concern about our weakness on set-pieces. But I’m more interested in what Mertesacker gives us when the Belgian is out of the lineup.
Let’s face it, Vermaelen makes any defender standing next to him look better. Djourou looked relatively solid against Udinese, but when he was paired with Koscielny on Sunday, it was a disaster. Koscielny looks like a world-beater when paired with Vermaelen, but unsure of himself when he plays with Djourou. And none of our defenders can make Squillaci look like anything but a sack of crap with two arms and two legs.
Mertesacker should be the perfect cure for what ails us when Vermaelen is out. He will be a great partner for Koscielny who’s tackling is as good as it gets, but lacks real aerial presence. And his commanding, energetic style should help the more meek Djourou when those two play together. It also means we’re less likely to see the Djourou-Koscielny partnership that has been our most disappointing. And now that we have four other choices at center-back, Squillaci’s days of playing for Arsenal should be essentially finished.
There’s simply no denying that we are vastly better defensively now than we were last season. Clichy’s mistake-ridden performances are gone. Traore’s ineptitude is gone. They’re replaced by the experienced Santos and hugely talented although injury-plagued Gibbs.
Eboue and his side-show antics have been replaced by a young Arsenal fan filled with grit and determination.
Vermaelen is back from injury (mostly) and playing like one of the world’s best center-backs. Now with the arrival of our German giant, we have a central defensive pairing that should rank as one of the best in the Premier League. Koscielny will push for a starting spot and Djourou will have the chance to rediscover his confidence and form far from the white-hot spotlight. It’s a fantastic summer of business at the back and we should be giving Arsene Wenger huge praise for the way he addressed that area of the pitch.
Almunia (Last seen wandering the streets of london with a tiny dog)
Players in: None
We don’t need a goal-keeper. When was the last time you can remember being able to say that with such confidence as an Arsenal fan? Not for a long time. But it’s true. Szczesny is one of the best young ‘keepers around and he’s all ours. Hopefully watching 8 goals fly past him on Sunday didn’t dent his confidence.
The only problem with our summer business at this position is that Almunia is still at Arsenal. It’s no surprise that we can’t find anyone to buy him, but what does it say about our goal-keeping situation over the past few years that not a single club wants our former first choice ‘keeper? Remarkable.
Anyway, there’s no reason to let a lingering Spaniard bring us down. Goal-keeper is no longer a problem at Arsenal. Szczesny should only continue to improve and that will make our defense look even better. The best bit of business Wenger did at this position was giving the gloves to Szczesny last season and ensuring that he would stay at Arsenal for years to come.
We look a totally different side today than we did yesterday. We are loaded with experience now. We have depth all over the pitch and while it’s debatable whether we added “super quality,” every one of our signings is a clear upgrade from the alternative. In that respect, we are much stronger than we were. Look at it this way; of the five players we signed in the last 48 hours, all five probably would’ve started on Sunday.
It’s easy to complain that we should’ve done these deals sooner. Some might try to argue that point but I won’t. I still think the summer was somewhat mismanaged and that these players could’ve been acquired sooner. But it’s time to lay that argument to rest. The window is closed and the football season is now properly underway. They say you don’t want to see how sausage is made. Well maybe we should take the same approach with this transfer window. It wasn’t pretty getting to this point, but the important thing is that we got here. And it’s certainly not too late for our season to take flight.
As I said at the beginning, I don’t care about the business side of things. The fact that we actually made money in this transfer window doesn’t matter to me. We needed certainly areas of the pitch addressed and they were addressed properly. That’s what matters. Whether Wenger did that with 100 million pounds or 10 pounds is irrelevant to me. He did it, and he deserves credit for it.
Some people have suggested that this late buying frenzy was instigated by our loss on Sunday. But if you look at the facts, that doesn’t really add up. Traore was rumored to be heading for QPR before the United match. That means we must have had Santos already lined up. Park was rumored to be signed on Saturday after fleeing his Lille medical. Mertesacker was linked to Arsenal for most of the summer. As far as Benayoun and Arteta are concerned, Wenger had readily acknowledged our need for midfielders long before Sunday’s rout.
So while it’s a nice idea that Arsene and the board were shocked into action by the manner of our defeat on Sunday, the facts simply don’t support that conclusion. Honestly, that makes me happier. I’d prefer to think that the manager was aware of the weaknesses in the side before that loss, rather than thinking he had no idea we needed the players.
It’s been a long, arduous, dramatic, emotional, stressful, disappointing, and ultimately satisfying summer at Arsenal. It took until the last few minutes of the window for the club to get the last of the players it needed, but in the end, the business got done, just as Gazidis and Wenger promised. I’m not trying to suggest there’s no reason for frustration over the summer we had and I’m not saying that everything is perfect, but we look a very good side today.
As far as I’m concerned, when the pressure was on, Wenger proved once again that he knows what’s best for Arsenal. He put together a very strong team that should make us all proud. After what happened on Sunday, many gooners needed to see some evidence that the great man hadn’t let the game pass him by. Over the past few days, I think he’s shown yet again, there’s not a more shrewd operator in the transfer market than Arsene Wenger.
Thank goodness this summer is over. As exhilarating as deadline day was, I’m glad that it has come and gone. The time for looking behind us has passed. To quote the motto on the new crest: Forward.
Up the Arsenal!