Let’s not kid ourselves. The summer transfer window has been disappointing for Arsenal. Among the players who were available, very few could have improved our quality squad. But I still believe there was enough maneuvering room to sign two more players who would have turned the Gunners into legitimate contenders in the Premier League. Hopes were high when the club signed Cech at the end of June. Unfortunately, our inability to hire any outfield player showed Arsenal’s lack of ambition in the end.
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What makes this failure even more painful is that the Gunners handled the previous summer transfer window better by signing Sanchez, Debuchy, Welbeck, Ospina and Chambers. Now it feels like the club is stagnating by simply making do with Cech.
This difficulty to attract top players also reflects the club’s second-tier status. We don’t have the power to make the market move like Real Madrid or Barcelona. Remember, we got a deal with Ozil two years ago only because Real Madrid was interested in Bale and was therefore willing to dump the Germany playmaker. Likewise, Sanchez became available last year only because Suarez was interested in a move to Barcelona. Maybe Arsenal’s status will change the day we win the Premier League and reach the last four of the Champions League (it almost sounds like a catch 22).
Two key positions
I’m not upset that we missed out on De Bruyne, Pedro, Depay or Sterling simply because we already have good wingers in our squad with Sanchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Welbeck. There was no need to look into the market for fullbacks either since we have great choices with Bellerin, Monreal, Debuchy and Gibbs. On the other hand, there were at least two positions that could have been strengthened if we had seized the opportunities.
Centerback didn’t seem a priority for the manager. Mertesacker and Koscielny form the starting duo in the heart of the defense with Paulista and Chambers as alternatives. That means we just had to focus on two key positions: defensive midfielder and centerforward. We have three players who can shield the back four with Coquelin, Arteta and Flamini, but the quality is questionable. Arteta and Flamini are both past their prime. Coquelin is the top choice because he’s faster and therefore more likely to kill counterattacks. But he doesn’t have Arteta’s passing skills and is therefore a relative liability in the buildup of plays.
Here are the main defensive midfielders who were transferred this summer: Schweinsteiger, Imbula, Illarramendi, Kondogbia and Vidal. At the age of 31, Schweinsteiger would have been a short-term solution. His injury record would have been a concern, too. Vidal was linked with a move to Arsenal, but I doubt there was any truth in it. Agents and clubs sometimes use that trick to raise the stakes. Vidal also lacks discipline and is more a box-to-box midfielder than a traditional ballwinner.
Missing out on Kondogbia
Illarramendi has sound positional play, great passing skills and reads the game well. The only question mark would have been his lack of pace and his capacity to adjust to a more physical league. For the record, Real Sociedad signed Illarramendi from Real Madrid for about 17 million euros. It’s hard to believe that Illarramendi would have cost three million euros less than Imbula, a bit more physical than the Spaniard and quite technical for a holding midfielder but not the finished product yet.
In my eyes, Kondogbia was really the best choice among all these players. Kondogbia is like a more defensive version of Pogba. He has great tactical maturity for a 22-year-old player and is more versatile than Coquelin. The Gunners saw how impressive he was when Monaco knocked them out of the Champions League last season. Kondogbia has good passing and shooting skills and he can win tackles as well as make deep runs. AC Milan and Inter Milan had plenty of time to scout Kondogbia since Monaco is next to the Franco-Italian border. So it was no surprise they both tried to sign him this summer. In the end, Inter Milan won the bid for about 40 million euros if we include the bonuses.
I can’t help but think that Arsenal could have snatched Kondogbia with a bid of 45 million euros. It sounds like a lot of money but when you put things in context with the cash coming from the Premier League broadcasting rights, it’s not that crazy.
No A-lister available
The second disappointment came from our search for a centerforward. Falcao, Martial, Mandzukic, Bacca, Benteke and Draxler were among the forwards available. Falcao proved a flop at Manchester United last season and there was some suspicion he was no longer the same player after picking up a knee injury with Monaco in January 2014. Bacca had two good seasons with Sevilla, but English clubs are cautious with strikers from the Spanish league since Soldado’s flop at Tottenham.
Mandzukic is strong in the air and has good movement inside the box like Giroud. But the Frenchman’s link-up play is much better while Mandzukic may have a bit more pace. Both were born in 1986, so it doesn’t really make sense to hire a player with a similar profile to Giroud. Benteke could be a good signing for Liverpool, but he’s no upgrade over Giroud.
Manchester United hit the headlines for spending at least 50 million euros for a teenager who has scored nine goals in the French league last season. Martial has been compared to Arsenal legend Henry but he still has a long way to go before becoming a world-class player. I really think it’s a big gamble from the Red Devils. Martial is a pacy forward with good dribbling skills, but he’s shorter and less powerful than Henry. While he can lead the line in the French league, I think he’d fit better as a second striker in the more physical Premier League.
Of all the forwards available, Draxler seemed the more interesting choice. Wolfsburg signed him from Schalke for about 35 million euros. At the age of 19, Draxler scored 10 goals in the German league during the 2012-13 season. Since then, Draxler has struggled with inconsistency and injuries. I believe Wenger would have been the perfect manager to develop Draxler and turn him into a centerforward like he did with Henry and Van Persie.
We have a squad decent enough to finish in the top 4 but we are no contenders. We’ve only added Cech while our rivals have strengthened several positions. Does that make me sad? Yes. Am I bitter? No. I knew it would take several years of rebuilding before contending again. The stars simply didn’t align. But at least we know the manager and the board have no excuse for the next summer transfer window: they have tons of cash to spend on at least one world-class player.