Transfer Window Update: Arsenal

Arsenal’s summer transfer activity is wholly contingent on the the drawn-out fates of Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri. “Very active” may mean something different for Arsène Wenger than it does for supporters. 

Even the wheeler-dealers have trouble completing transfers by FAX, an obstacle not needed at Arsenal.

The greatest surprise of Arsenal’s summer transfer season is not that the club was committed to being “very active” while doing little so far to suggest this, but that many supporters believed that Arséne Wenger would follow through this time.

This appeared to be a safe assumption and comfortable investment of faith. Both Wenger and chief executive Ivan Gadzidis were forced to be upfront immediately after the season concluded, in order to reassure the growing disquiet on all fronts.

The collapse of last season appeared to confirm for Wenger the irrefutable reality that in seasons past was malleable; inexperience, patient development, and the arguments—based on credible evidence—for being “so close” have lost their influence over plain facts and searing imagery. Wenger was losing his ability to control the debate.

These reasons, among others, justifiably accounted for the repetition of the same mistakes—the loss of focus, the horrifying collapses, the predictable concessions of goals off set pieces, and the listless slow starts to matches against inferior opponents. Repeating these errors is now compulsion,  where once they were part of the deliberate process of education, development, experience, and measurement of incremental achievements. Wenger continued to see these problems as part of the pedagogical process, where others see symptoms of a debilitating condition.

Consider the Gunninghawk’s recent comments:

I don’t have a major in business or economics, or pretend to know the ins and outs of how Arsenal FC functions, but I do think that Arsenal’s real problems only started after David Dein was ousted.

Or those of the Onlinegooner:

This business model will collapse sooner rather than later. It doesn’t take a highly paid management consultant to figure this out.*

The anguish stems from the extent of problems—from management to business model—that even an outsider and layman can see and leads to the question: how much more real does reality need to be?

A squad overhaul, a real overhaul and not just extreme tinkering, is probably not in the cards, but bolstering the existing squad, replacing second tier players like Manuel Almunia and Nicklas Bendtner, and bringing in promising youth for the future would translate to more activity relative to past seasons.

Granted, with Cesc Fábregas and Samir Nasri in stalled positions at the top of the hierarchy, movement in the transfer market is understandably restricted. With three weeks remaining before the window closes, and Fàbregas’ and Nasri all but certain to leave for Barcelona and Manchester City respectively, accelerated movement should follow, although nothing should be taken as a promise.

One or two significant signings were likely to be made without the club declaring its intention. As a result, the uncharacteristic early and strong public commitment to the transfer market is somewhat responsible for interpretations that an overhaul of the squad was around the corner, or at least that the problem spots would be solved without delay. Yet the expectations of rapid and decisive transfer movement ignore the cumbersome situations surrounding Fàbregas and Nasri, particularly with regard to Fàbregas, whose transfer has been so tiresomely drawn out.

But how complicated were these situations and to what degree did they affect transfer movement? One scenario could surmise that as early as May Arsenal accepted Fàbregas’ summer move, assuming Barcelona’s “kidnapped” son would see the padrino’s empathy concede to terms set by Arsenal. Instead, Barcelona, holding the card of Fàbregas’ desire to come home, have stuck to an offer well below Fàbregas’ market value, as if the pain and suffering of one of their own kept chained to their pale approximation can command a reparations discount. Barcelona’s position has increasingly looked like a false sentimentalism taken to great lengths to mask budgetary constraints in order to get Fàbregas’ on the cheap. Arsenal has clearly indicated that they would offer Fàbregas at a lower valuation, due to what they considered to be an issue of the heart. Barcelona has yet to show an equal gesture in return. The game being played between the clubs is unusual, but presents certain complications geared toward manipulating public opinion in Spain, and has little effect on what Arsenal need to do. If Fàbregas was all but certain to leave as early as May, then there has been plenty of time to find a replacement.

The scenario could also apply to Nasri, whose inflexible wage demands date back to February and may have forced Arsenal early on to accept a similar fate, although for some time Wenger remained somewhat convinced that he could keep Nasri. The lingering doubt over the Frenchman’s intentions was clearly an obstacle to subsequent movement, but the effort to keep him should have been matched by the effort to find a worthy replacement. One explanation yet to be mentioned is Wenger’s preference to look for replacements internally before turning to the market. By this logic, Wenger may be weighing Nasri as Fábregas’ replacement, and the promotion from within to replace the vacancy out wide.

No longer speculative are the signings of Gervinho, who has looked impressive in preseason, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, one of the highest rated young Englishman. The loss of Gael Clichy is problematic. Kieren Gibbs could be an equal replacement if he stays healthy, but it would be wise to find a backup more reliable than Armand Traore. Replacing Clichy with a left back of equal value or signing a reliable and experienced backup for Kieren Gibbs is unfortunately a lower priority than replacing two star midfielders, adding a central defender, and possibly another striker. This would be too much for cautious Wenger; it lies well beyond the scope of change he likely envisions.

There is still time to be “very active”. If on September 1st, the squad stays as it is today or takes on a new look by bolstering the defense, replacing Fàbregas and Nasri, and promoting reserves there will be that repeated investment of faith in players like Abu Diaby, Theo Walcott, Alex Song, Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, and Wojciech Szczesny to become the players they are expected to be.

*added on October 23rd, 2011


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