I must admit that there were times last season when I wondered about Arsene Wenger’s legitimacy as the man to lead Arsenal back to glory in the modern footballing world. With free-spending clubs like Manchester City, Chelsea, and Paris Saint-Germain driving transfer-market prices sky-high, it’s difficult to run a self-sustaining football club while competing at the highest level. But clubs like Arsenal, who insist on maintaining financial responsibility, deserve credit for choosing a sensible model and sticking to it.
That being said, it’s difficult, in light of Arsenal’s transfer business this summer, to argue that the club lacks a true desire to not only compete at the highest level but win championships. Wenger cannot be accused of only buying young, unproven talent on the cheap; consider his first two major purchases of the offseason:
Lukas Podolski. A 27 year-old striker/forward who tied for fourth in scoring in the Bundesliga with 18 goals.
Olivier Giroud. A 25 year-old striker who led the Ligue 1 in scoring with 25 goals, and also chipped in 9 assists.
The price tag on these two players comes to somewhere around £22.5 million. While a hefty sum, these are sensible deals for players in their respective primes who showed a real ability to excel in top European leagues. However, one could not help but wonder if these were intended to augment the squad’s goal-scoring firepower — or a replacement-by-committee approach intended to address the potential loss of reigning Footballer of the Year Robin van Persie.
That brings us to Wenger’s latest deal — 27 year-old midfielder Santi Cazorla from FC Malaga, who have taken a nosedive from City-esque wealth into debt problems threatening relegation. Make no mistake — this is an absolute coup for Arsenal, and a stroke of genius from Wenger. Fans bitter over the failure to land flamboyant stars like Eden Hazard should be thankful that such efforts proved fruitless, as they paved the way for a much better option in Cazorla. Arguably the best Spanish player not plying his trade in Barcelona or Madrid, this player is the versatile, dangerous attacking midfielder the club has been lacking in recent seasons with the void left by Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. He can play virtually anywhere in the midfield — on either wing (he’s ambidextrous), behind the center-forward, as a central playmaker, and even as a deep midfielder. He’s a danger from long range and in free kicks, and will look great whipping in crosses for strong aerial players like Giroud. And all this for the paltry sum of £16.5 million (or thereabouts, depending on the source).
And it may not stop there. Though I personally loathe the proliferation of transfer rumors (and have learned that no deal is complete until it’s announced on Arsenal.com — see Juan Mata), numerous reports exist regarding a potential season-long loan for little-used midfield Real Madrid playmaker Nuri Sahin. After a series of brilliant campaigns with Borussia Dortmund, the player made the switch to the Bernabeu, only to spend most of last season warming the bench behind Jose Mourinho’s glut of star midfielders. His exquisite passing ability would add a flair to the Arsenal midfield that’s been lacking, and would place the club firmly in the center of the Premier League title discussion. The story seems to be that Wenger is holding out for a purchase option in a loan deal, which I think is a smart move. If Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby are able to shake their injury problems and figure prominently in the upcoming campaign, Wenger might actually be confronted with a problem few managers enjoy — too many good players to choose from. Loaning a player with an option to buy is wonderful, because you have a pre-agreed price on a player on a season-long paid trial. Wenger can defer the decision on buying Sahin until the picture becomes clearer on the injury front.
Ironically, amidst this flurry of deals involving ready-made players, Caen has confirmed today that Arsenal has submitted a bid for their highly-rated young striker M’baye Niang. As a 17 year-old striker playing in France, this player perfectly fits the mold of the type of player Wenger is believed to love buying, despite his best efforts to debunk such myths all summer.
Wenger, and the club in general, are often accused of being averse to spending money; this is simply not true. The key to Wenger’s shrewdness in the transfer market is that, while he is prepared to spend large sums, he will not blow mega-bucks on one player — why buy one player in Eden Hazard at £32 million when you can buy three for £38 million, including one that may be just as good? As a gooner, be thankful that your manager will never risk the club’s financial soundness for one player who may turn out to be a complete bust (see Andy Carroll or Fernando Torres).
With the loss of great players in Fabregas and Nasri, coupled with the threat of a third in van Persie, Arsenal may not have been completely out of the title picture — but were certainly being handed their hat. All credit to Wenger for dealing Arsenal back in.