Following yet another disappointing performance in front of goal at St. James’ Park, Arsenal fans were clamouring for a striker to be signed to placate their desires. As the transfer deadline approached, that desire for a striker turned to “just sign someone”. As well publicized, Arsenal have gone through the summer transfer window having made no outfield signings. Cue meltdown from the fans. Four games have been played, and the club has scored only 3 times, two of which were own goals. Surely Arsene Wenger must be mad to believe his squad needed no improvements, especially up front? Truthfully, it’s not that simple.
Just what are Arsenal?
Arsenal are a curious club to look at. They are surely better than the other top 4 hopefuls like Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool, however they still lack the required quality to be seen as equals to Man City, Chelsea and the other massive teams around Europe. Signing mid tier players such as Giroud, or Lamela will not bring Arsenal any closer to those elite clubs either. Ideally, Arsenal would have to sign world class talent, either established or potential to become as such, in order to rub shoulders with the top clubs. The issue is, those players either play for those top clubs, or are being monitored by the top clubs, who all boast more money and prestige than Arsenal. Attracting those truly world class players was always going to be a challenge. It is simply naive to believe that Arsenal could waltz into negotiations with a settled player playing weekly at a better team, throw money at them, immediately enticing them to sign for them.
If one were to ask Wenger directly, he would most certainly say he wanted to improve his squad and the evidence is there that he tried. Advances for the likes of Karim Benzema and Edinson Cavani are public knowledge. Signing a player of their ilk would have been seen as ambitious, and propelled the club closer to where they aim to be; among Europe’s elite clubs once more. Having failed to sign these players, many fans pined for a ‘Plan B’, a lesser player, but someone who is at least as good as the current crop of players. The problem with that ‘Plan B’ type player is he doesn’t improve Arsenal. At least, not in the way Wenger would want him to. Signing that lesser ‘Plan B’ player would possibly appease the fans who just want Wenger to spend some money and get a new player to cheer for but given the ambitions of the club, it would ultimately represent a lateral move at best. Thankfully for Arsenal fans, given how frugal Arsene has shown himself to be over the course of his career, signings of that type will always be few and far between.
Are the kids really alright?
During Arsenal’s barren period, cultivation and promotion of young players was seen as their best course of action for improving the team. The likes of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs and Hector Bellerin can serve as proof that it was not as far-fetched a strategy as some media outlets and pundits would have you believe. While not without their own personal challenges, for most of them, fitness, all those players have shown they have what it takes to succeed at the highest level. However, over the past 2 years in particular, the talent pool at Hale End seems to have dried up, with Bellerin being the only player of note to integrate with the first team. As such, there has been a massive restructure at the youth level for the club, with Dutchman Andries Jonker being appointed. Since his arrival, there have been a host of youth player departures with not enough coming in to replace them. This culminated in Arsenal being relegated from the top tier of the U-21 Premier League. The task for Jonker would be to gain promotion back to the first division to have his young charges playing against the best England and Europe has to offer in terms of youth talent.
Still, it is not all doom and gloom for Arsenal’s academy prospects. Those who survived the massive cull two years ago were seen to be the best of the bunch, with the likes of Isaac Hayden, Chuba Akpom and the talented Gedion Zelalem all offered professional contracts. Talented prospects in Daniel Crowley and Jeff-Reine Adelaide, the latter of whom really caught the eye in the Emirates Cup last July, have also been added with both players looking like future first team players in the coming years. Whether these players possess the world class talent to push Arsenal into the upper echelon of clubs remains to be seen. Should they fulfill the talent that they have shown thus far however, the mid to long term future of the club should be secure.
So where do they go from here?
Unearthing gems and promoting talented youth from their academy still remain Arsenal’s best shot at putting together a team of world class players. That said, having signed the likes of Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez and Petr Cech, all players of considerable quality and stature, Arsenal are indeed capable of attracting top players from the best teams in the world. One might argue that all of those players were deemed surplus to requirements at their previous clubs, but the fact remains that they were all seen as improvements on what Arsenal already had in some way, although the jury is still out on Cech after a shaky start to his tenure at the Emirates. Wenger and his team of negotiators will have to continue taking quality players as they come his way to slowly improve his team until they get to a point where fighting for scraps will no longer have to be their ‘modus operandi‘.