RVP: The right man at the right place trying to leave at the wrong time
Ever since the last serious claim to success Arsenal had, losing the Champions League-final to Barcelona in 2006, there has been a steady exodus of high-profile players who have gone in pursuit of trophies and medals. The first man to jump ship was Ashley Cole, infamously photographed while meeting with representatives of Chelsea, who quite recently retweeted an image on Twitter with the trophy count of the left-back versus his boyhood club (11 vs. 0, if you must know). A year later, Henry left for Barcelona, followed in 2008 by Belarus-midfielder Aleksiandr Hleb. 2009 saw Kolo Touré and Adebayor making a switch to Manchester City and while the 2010 summer transfer window was relatively quiet, it proved to be the calm before the storm, leaving the club in turmoil the next summer.
In July 2011 Arsene Wenger stated Arsenal could not consider themselves to be a big club were they to lose two of their best players in Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas. Instead of a reassurance, it became a confirmation of something most football fans were aware of for a while: Arsenal was no longer a top club. Instead, it became perhaps the biggest of all non-top clubs. Clichy and Nasri followed their former teammates Touré and Adebayor to Manchester and Fabregas was transferred to boyhood club Barcelona.
Instead of replacing the three with players of a similar calibre, the French boss opted for youth. And how he lived to regret that. A brutal punishment handed out by Manchester United (8-2) served as a wake-up call and with great haste, the club started to assemble whatever few internationally experienced players they could get their hands on. Park-Chu Young, Yossi Benayoun, André Santos, Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta, joined Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had been signed much earlier. Oxlade-Chamberlain looks the real deal and Arteta could arguably be seen as one of the signings of the season, but the other five have been mediocre at best. When you look at the amount of money spent on them, it’s no wonder. Oxlade-Chamberlain was the most expensive buy the Gunners did last summer, Arteta the third. Only Gervinho, who came in at £10.5 million, didn’t live up to his transfer fee.
The signs this summer though point to Wenger finally learning his lesson. Not only is he delving into the transfer market remarkably early, but he also seems willing to spend on quality players. FC Köln’s Lukas Podolski, who has won over a century caps for Germany despite just turning 27, was the first big-name signing to join Arsenal. Soon he was followed by Ligue 1-top scorer Olivier Giroud, who chose to leave French champions Montpellier. Both required a transfer sum of over £10 million, a fee seldom spent by the club on one player. However, the number of successful buys in this price range, which outweigh the few flops, mean that it is reasonable to expect quite a bit from both.
The biggest signal of intent is the chase for Spanish playmaker Santi Cazorla. Cazorla, who according to Sid Lowe ‘may just be the best player not playing for Madrid or Barcelona’, is reportedly available due to the financial problems at Malaga and could really add something to this Arsenal-team. By all accounts, Arsenal’s opening gambit alone already exceeds the Gunners’ transfer record set when they paid £15.6 million for Andrey Arshavin in 2009.
These three players would add power, goalscoring ability, intelligence, directness, versatility, creativity and international experience to the squad. And whereas Arsenal were very dependent on that one man up front last season, these players would relieve Van Persie of the goalscoring burden. With no players of importance looking to leave this summer, the Dutchman aside, this could well be the time for Arsenal to finally challenge for the Premier League title again. Van Persie would be well advised to realise he could be essential in this pursuit. When ultimately deciding which other club he should join, he should not lose sight of the fact that his performances for his country prove he isn’t as versatile as he appears to be when in an Arsenal-shirt. Furthermore, in Arsène Wenger he has a manager who has complete, even blind faith in his abilities. Given the earlier-mentioned additions and a year of experience added to a young squad full of talent, staying put might just be a wise option.