Arsenal fans have had much to think about during the summer months, although much of it hasn’t been overly pleasant. So far at least, there is a strong sense of déjà vu about the whole period. Barcelona’s shameless unsettling of Cesc Fabregas has brought back memories of the way they pursued Thierry Henry in the past, similar to the annual baiting of Patrick Vieira by one or two Italian clubs.
Although Arsenal, up to now, have resisted the temptation to cave in to Barcelona, it’s surely only a matter of time before their skipper hops on a plane and returns to the Camp Nou. Even if it doesn’t happen this summer, it will almost certainly occur in 2011. It seems nearly everyone who plays for the Spanish giants has issued public statements about the Boy Wonder returning to Spain in recent weeks. All a little unpleasant, perhaps, but that’s football.
And when it comes to players joining The Gunners instead of leaving, events have had a rather familiar ring to them. One large-ish purchase and one free transfer so far is all Arsene Wenger has to show for his efforts. While Manchester City have been spending money like Lady Gaga in a clothes shop, Arsenal have been keeping their credit card firmly in their pocket.
Laurent Koscielny has arrived for an undisclosed sum, that is thought to be around the £9M mark, a big fee for the north London club, but a drop in a vast ocean for the likes of Chelsea and Manchesters United and City. Little is known about the former Lorient defender, and he may turn out to be a bargain, however the fact remains that the 24-year-old hasn’t even played on the international stage so far in his career, even if this is as much down to an inability to decide between France and Poland as it is to any marked lack of talent.
Marouane Chamakh is another who may eventually become another one of Arsene Wenger’s inspired signings, like a Patrick Vieira or a Nicolas Anelka. However, the striker may turn out to be a Francis Jeffers, of course. At least the price, a cool zero pounds, will have pleased the board.
Every day this summer, as in the case of the last ten summers, Arsenal are linked by an ever more desperate Fleet Street with an impressive list of players, none of whom eventually sign. The latest, the multi-talented Joe Cole, has chosen Liverpool instead. Others who get a mention in the papers would make an impressive World Cup squad.
Mezut Ozil, Mark Schwarzer, Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, Yaya Toure, Brede Hangeland, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Per Mertesacker and Mario Gomez are just a few of the hundreds of names bandied about by the fourth estate. As yet, none of them have put pen to a sheet of Arsenal–headed notepaper, nor are they likely to.
Last season, The Gunners finished a creditable third in the Premier League, but they were never going to be good enough to improve on that with their squad. If that group of players wasn’t quite up to winning the ultimate prize, the arrival of just Koscielny and Chamakh is unlikely to worry their rivals.
As always, the press are being told that Wenger has a trillion dollars to spend if he so wishes, but he feels he doesn’t need it. This argument is wearing a little thin with most of the Arsenal support these days, and if the squad isn’t strengthened by two or three more, preferably big-name, players, the manager is treading on ice that’s looking rather thin.
Another season of under-achievement at the Emirates will not go down well with the more cynical among the faithful, a group that gets a little larger on an annual basis. With Chelsea and Manchester United’s squads already looking stronger and more capable than Arsenal’s, this could turn out to be a make-or-break season for many Emirates-based players.
And with the likelihood of free-spending Manchester City, a potentially revitalised Liverpool and an optimistic (as ever) Tottenham Hotspur breathing down their necks, will The Gunners even hang on to a Champions League place? Time will tell, of course, but it can’t be denied that the vultures are circling overhead.