Thursday, 8 September 2011

Reflections on an uninspiring end to the transfer window... and that result (again)

Words: 835. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes.

A week on from the end of the transfer window and my view on it has shifted from deflation to annoyance. It has provided more questions than answers both about the team and the direction of the club and has left us weaker overall.

Let’s start with a positive. Some of the weakest links in the squad (Eboue, Denilson, Bendtner) have been removed, at least temporarily by being loaned, and a reasonable number of bodies have been brought in to replace them. Including all the loan deals, there has been a turnover of about 20 first team squad members.

At the start of the season I reckoned Arsene had missed the chance for a fresh start. With the late flurry of activity he (or perhaps I should say the club) has come close to redressing that but the problem is we haven’t done a particularly good job of it. 

We certainly look weaker in midfield with the loss of two top class players in Fabregas and Nasri. No-one brought in comes close to their standard although I confess, for no reason other than the glimpses of goals off the web (that most trusty barometer of talent), I am looking forward to seeing Park Chu Young perform.

Who’s in charge here?
But it is how we conducted our business that is most disappointing. From the outset it has been confused, with mixed messages from Gazidis and Wenger about how ‘active’ we would be in the market and changes to our stance on selling Nasri. 

Then came ludicrous claims from Wenger that Fabregas and Nasri had muscle injuries rather than being on the verge of leaving the club. Although it was a white lie told in the interests of the potential transfer deal, it was still pretty insulting to supporters. Just give it to us straight rather than trying to deliberately mislead us.

Our failure to get the majority of our business done until the dying hours of the window has already been well documented. All I will add is to say that of the deadline deals, only the full back Santos (until Fenerbahce were thrown out) and Benayoun could have played Champions League football this season so none of them would have needed to see us qualify before deeming it to be a step up. 

Why wait until the last moment to bring them into the set-up, deny them the chance to integrate during pre-season training and parade them during the Asia tour?

It reflects the general impression that we weren’t acting as a cohesive unit off the pitch. No-one really knows whether our transfer policy is driven by the board for economic reasons or by Wenger for ‘ethical football’ reasons but judging by the signings at the end of the window there has been a shift in approach. 

By my reckoning, Arteta is only the second seasoned Premiership professional the club has paid money for during Wenger’s reign (Silvestre  was the other - Gallas and Campbell fall into the category but arrived as a makeweight and on a free). 

Whatever the reality of any ‘power struggle’, the bottom line is the seemingly rushed business carried out did not deliver signings that make us stronger. I have my doubts about Mertersacker’s pace and feel like we’ve overpaid (probably as a result of the impending deadline) by £4m for Arteta, a player who may well have played his best football already. And all that only adds to the pressure on Wenger. Which brings us on to…

The Old Trafford massacre
The day after the loss to Man U, my conclusion was that I wasn’t as upset as most people would be at the scoreline. I was correct but I underestimated the scale of everyone’s fury, the reverberations from which could well be felt for the rest of our season. The very fact I’m writing about it now, almost two weeks afterwards, is in itself an indication of the impact.

Any momentum created by the win in Udinese and qualifying for the Champions League group stage has been stopped in its tracks by the Man U result. I wrote before and immediately after the Udinese match that the win there could provide a turning point in our fortunes following the collapse in form after the Carling Cup Final defeat. That has been obliterated by the size of the loss at Old Trafford and the reaction to it.

Instead, the Man U game has now become the fulcrum. It’s a shocking and historic scoreline that is clearly going to be referred to for years. My feeling at the moment, particularly after such a lacklustre end to the transfer window, is that it will be looked back on as the beginning of the end of his time at Arsenal. 

After losing two games already there will be huge amounts of pressure on the team for every remaining fixture this season, starting on Saturday against Swansea.

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