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How will Arsène Wenger spend his money?

In the wake of Arsenal‘s euphoric 3-1 aggregate victory over Udinese, manager Arsène Wenger now faces the equally testing challenge of signing reinforcements for a squad which has seen more outgoings than incomings this summer. With a transfer fund at his disposal which reports put at anywhere between £65m (mildly pessimistic) and £100m (wildly optimistic), the usually parsimonious Wenger has an unprecedented opportunity to add revamp his side in one fell swoop. But how many players should he buy, and where should he seek to strengthen?

It has been a summer of turmoil at the Emirates like no other in recent history. Arsenal fans are accustomed to off-season transfer sagas revolving around their top players – before Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri there was Juventus’s pursuit of Patrick Vieira, Barcelona’s wooing of Thierry Henry and the malcontent mercenary that is Emmanuel Adebayor. But never have Wenger’s decisions been scrutinised – and criticised – so vociferously, and never before has there been such a revolving door of player movements. Over the course of the summer the squad has been stripped of both quality (Fàbregas, Nasri, Gaël Clichy) and depth (Emmanuel Eboué, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and loanees Denilson, Carlos Vela and Kyle Bartley). And of Wenger’s four signings to date, two – winger Gervinho and right back Carl Jenkinson – have already been blooded, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell sure to see action (at least in the Carling Cup) sooner rather than later.

But with a sackful of money (potential sellers will be rubbing their hands together with glee) and just one week to spend it (ditto), Wenger is unlikely to flood his dressing room with a rush of new names which will take time to integrate and will hinder the progress of up-and-coming youngsters such as Emmanuel Frimpong. So what can we realistically expect from him before the transfer window closes next Wednesday?

Goalkeeper

Almunia's days at the club appear numbered (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

At the end of last season many pundits identified this as a key area of need. Manuel Almunia may well be at the front of the queue for the exit, but with Wojciech Szczęsny growing in stature and exuding confidence and Łukasz Fabiański a capable and experienced backup, Arsenal appear more settled in their last line of defence than at any time since Jens Lehmann’s peak years. Szczęsny will commit errors from time to time – we should not expect perfection from such a young keeper – but has already demonstrated the talent and the mindset necessary to shrug off any setbacks.

It is difficult to see Fabiański settling for warming the bench behind his younger compatriot beyond this season – as an international with 18 caps he will surely need first team football somewhere – but that is a problem for next year, not this one.

Verdict: No activity, other than Almunia returning to Spain.

Defence

Cahill has been a long-term target for Arsenal

Injuries and the development of young players mask the fact that the nucleus of a good group already exists. On the flanks, Carl Jenkinson already looks to be a capable deputy for Bacary Sagna, while it is unlikely that Wenger will seek further cover for the injury-prone Kieran Gibbs beyond Armand Traoré.

Any new defensive signing will be a central player of substance, although whether this will be a ready-made partner for Thomas Vermaelen or a capable backup to enhance bench strength – which is currently provided by the brittle and inconsistent Johan Djourou, the seeimgly out-of-favour Sébastien Squillaci and youngster Ignasi Miquel – is less clear. We’ve all heard the links to Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka – my preference would be for the former, who is 25 rather than 29 – but Scott Dann or Christopher Samba are also distinct possibilities who would bring both a physical presence and valuable Premier League experience.

Verdict: Expect one arrival, but it may be a squad player rather than a starter.

Central midfield

Yann M'Vila (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

There are two distinct needs here – a holding player and a creative one. In the holding role, Arsenal have been closely linked to Rennes’ 21-year old Yann M’Vila in recent days. Six foot tall and physically imposing, he could provide steel to a midfield which has too often been lightweight in recent years. Rather than being a replacement for Alex Song, I would see him forming half of a midfield anchor pairing with Song (or Emmanuel Frimpong when the Cameroon international is called away to the Africa Cup of Nations), with Jack Wilshere taking the creative role in front of them.

In Wilshere’s absence Aaron Ramsey has appeared ill at ease being used as the creative fulcrum of the side. Tomáš Rosický or Andrey Arshavin could also fill in, although neither is ideal. Some genuine quality here would be most welcome – although it appears that an enquiry to Lille about Eden Hazard has been firmly rebuffed – but my suspicion is that Wenger will hope that Wilshere can stay fit and make do with what he already has when he is not.

Verdict: Wenger will strengthen one or the other, but probably not both. With a better defensive screen vital, I would focus on M’Vila to ensure depth in the critical holding role(s).

Wide midfield/attack

Will Lille be willing to sell Hazard as well as Gervinho? (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

One of the reasons I think Wenger may pass on adding another creative central option is my perception that he is placing a greater emphasis on creating chances from wide positions this season. He already has the fitfully brilliant Theo Walcott and Gervinho has already shown signs of settling in immediately. Rosický and Arshavin can provide plenty of experience off the bench (as can the perenially injured Abou Diaby), while Ryo Miyaichi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are more youthful and pacy alternatives. Gervinho’s former teammate Eden Hazard would be an ideal fit as he can play both centrally and out wide but, having already lost the Ivorian, Lille are understandably reluctant to sell so late in the window.

With early summer target Juan Mata now at Chelsea, I suspect Wenger is happy to stay with the balance of experience and youth he already has – although, like Song, he will lose Gervinho for the duration of the Africa Cup of Nations – with depth not a major issue here.

Verdict: Possible but unlikely, unless a star name becomes available. Well-stocked with both youth and experience.

Centre forward

Zárate has been linked with Arsenal, but would he add much to the squad?

Although new captain Robin van Persie is nothing short of world-class when fit and on form, he has never made more than 28 league appearances in a single season for Arsenal, and has played fewer than half the games in two of the past four years. With Nicklas Bendtner agitating for a move and Marouane Chamakh bereft of goals and confidence, an injury to the skipper could leave Arsenal dangerously short of a central striker who can lead the line effectively. Walcott, for all his pace and goalscoring ability, is not that kind of player, and neither is the on-loan Carlos Vela.

Recent reports have linked Arsenal with a move for 24-year old Lazio and Argentina striker Mauro Zárate, who had an undistinguished load spell at Birmingham three years ago. At just 5-foot-9 and with a record of less than a goal every four games for Lazio, he is not an obvious solution for the problem. One obvious candidate who is, however, will never return to the club he left in acrimonious circumstances two years ago: Emmanuel Adebayor, who is currently surplus to requirements at Manchester City and seems most likely to move to Tottenham if he stays in the Premier League. Wenger may choose to stick with what he has, hoping that either Bendtner stays for another year or Chamakh regains his form, and relying on Walcott, Gervinho or Joel Campbell in the event of injuries.

Verdict: Essential if Bendtner departs, otherwise only a nice-to-have third priority after a defender and a midfielder, with a purchase only taking place if it is for a top-class finisher.

Of course, there is no knowing for sure what the team will look like on September 1st, but here’s my view of the likely starting XI, based on my own assumption that Arsenal will sign Cahill and M’Vila.

Szczęsny

Sagna – Cahill – Vermaelen – Gibbs

Song – M’Vila

Wilshere

Gervinho – van Persie – Walcott

With a Carling Cup/second XI of:

Fabiański

Jenkinson – Djourou/Miquel – Koscielny/Squillaci – Traoré

Frimpong/Eastmond – Ramsey

Rosický/Diaby

Oxlade-Chamberlain/Campbell – Bendtner/Chamakh – Arshavin/Miyaichi

Of course, I would love it if the club were able to add more than just those two players, but Wenger’s belief in his squad and the limited timescales make a last-minute spree unlikely – although I would not be surprised if he picked up a couple of handy squad players to improve cover in key positions. Anything less than two more signings will be a major disappointment. However, if Arsène wants to break open the piggy bank to throw Eden Hazard and one or two others into the mix as well, I won’t complain.

Hold on to your hats – it’s going to be an interesting week.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

17 Responses to How will Arsène Wenger spend his money?

  1. Kyle Ritter says:

    Do the rumors of Vertonghen no longer carry any merit? I’d realyl fancy him in Arsenal’s squad because he can play left back (we’re thin) as well.

    • Tim says:

      It’s certainly possible, but I have no idea one way or the other. My reading of the current situation is that a specialist centre back is the top priority. Even with Gibbs injury prone and Traore’s quality questionable, LB is a long way from our highest priority now.

      I don’t know much about Jan Vertonghen, so I’m not really in a position to judge how good he might be for us. Certainly there would be advantages in buying someone with PL experience, but you never know.

      In truth, there are so many rumours flying around that you never know which are based on solid discussions and which are just scurrilous whispers. Only time will tell.

  2. Vitalis says:

    Please we need Gary cahil, Eden hazard, m’villa and zarate if u want us to end this season with trophy,especially zarate who is a striker,we need a player that will be help our captain,because bentner and chamakh is not good enough especially chamakh.please we need to buy players we still have the opportunity.

    • Tim says:

      Firstly, I make a distinction between what we need and what I think Wenger will do – hence the title being “How WILL Arsene spend his money?” and not how SHOULD he.

      I would like Hazard, but Lille will take a lot of convincing to sell him, having already sold Gervinho this summer. And why do we need Zarate? He would be available at a reasonable price, but his goalscoring record is poor. Sorry, but I am utterly unconvinced he would be any more effective than Bendtner, whose scoring rate is similar and who at least knows what it is like to play in the PL.

      • Tapera says:

        Don’t easily judge this guy so negatively n quickly REMEMBER Mr Arsenal DENNIS BERGKAMP!

  3. mad_gooner says:

    not a chance in hell any big names gonna come its gonna go down like this arsene wenger releases comments evryday abt hw he is tryin to get quality in then the transfer period passes and he says der wer no players who would add to the team and the good quality players are too high priced and hes happy with his team and has faith in them… been hearin that fr god knows hw long …when it all goes south in january he will buy one player a la arshavin to appease the fans though this time there is no fabregas to save the day you dont sell the best midfielder in the world and simply bring no one in …

    • Tim says:

      Ideally Wenger and the board should have had Cesc’s replacement lined up in advance – it was a mistake that they didn’t. I’m not sure where your special insight into Wenger’s decision-making comes from. His words after the match last night certainly hinted at signings, but obviously he couldn’t say that outright. And I don’t think you can say that he has never spent before so he won’t spend now. The last time we were having such a wobble he was decisive and bought Arshavin, which had a hugely positive effect. Maybe he won’t spend at all, or maybe he won’t spend as much as some fans want him to spend, but you can’t really judge him until the window has closed. His buys so far this summer have been fine, as long as it is not the end of it.

      And, frankly, much though I loved him, Cesc is not the best midfielder in the world. One day he might be. But he is not even the best midfielder at his new club.

  4. tomstoned says:

    if wenger ddoesnt spend…he should just get out,one good result does NOT make a season…and for the american robbers Kroenke and gazidis the deceptor..they should be kicked out simple…gazidis have done nothing but lying since he arrived and Kroenke the pretty one well he’s only in it to mae a buck..hilly woody we’ll keep you as our little feck up man..

    • Tim says:

      O-kaaay. And your solution would be what exactly? Pointing out the problems is one thing, solving them is the hard part.

    • mrshev says:

      One good result DOES make a season as this result gave Arsenal entry into the Champions League which is a guaranteed £20m cash injection, an attractive club to join (for aforementioned reason) for prospective players and opportunity to progress in the best, most lucrative and prestigious club competitions in the world.

      Also, the American ‘robbers’ picked up a club with a £200 million debt on their books (from building Ashburton Grove).

  5. Jay says:

    I give up with you USELESS Fans who call yourselves FANS!!!!…Whether Wenger Buys or not, We have to provide our team with Morale Support A$$holes!!!!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for that extremely constructive comment.

      • Jay says:

        You are most welcome Tim…I hope we beat Manure tomorrow just to shut the mouth of those supporters who we have who called themselves fans of AFC and also for those who wants Arsene to leave… I cant see anyone taking over Arsene’s Place for now…. In the mean time, Our defence will be strong as long as we have Vermaelan… He shud be able to control the defence… In the meantime, if we are able to get a midfielder who takes over Cesc’s place, we will be able to fight in any league….inclusive of the Champ’s league… Well i doubt wenger is going to buy any players or maybe i shud say too many players…But i have hope he will sign at least one Defender and one mid…And that sums up the transfer market. Well abt the budget, Wenger is not going to pay 40 Mil for any Midfielder…(we can dream of that happening). The most he will spend is abt 20-22 Mil and probably another 10Mil for a defender…Thus, we expect AFC to spend a total of 30-32 Mil in the next 4 days….Nothing more…But we have to give hope to our kids who are playing and the support the fans give will lift the team up….I liked Nasri but he really proved me wrong by moving to the eastlands…And worse, his comment on the fans…Totally disagree with him, but we have to say good luck to him and thanks for his contribution to AFC and also for the 24 Mil which we got from him!!!!

  6. mrshev says:

    Arsenal have been plugging away with a young side for a couple of seasons now and I (and a lot of other Arsenal fans) have been holding our breath waiting for the moment when the fruits of Wenger’s investment pay off. But they seem to have been picked once they have gotten ripe and we seem to be turning into a feeder club for the big boys of Europe.

    I think the squad (if fit) is not too bad at the moment but the first XI is one thing, the bench is another and we are worryingly thin in nearly every position. We have also, in the past, always had a couple of inspirational players that can turn a game for us. Do we have those now? I’m not sure.

    Sometimes adversity makes players rise above what they’re capable of and maybe this is the time for Arshavin and Rosický to step into the limelight and become the players they had the potential to become. Maybe without the presence of Fabregas Wilshere will rise to become one of our finest ever players? Who knows? I have faith. Just.

    • Tim says:

      Agreed.

      It’s also easy to forget that we have been a feeder club for wealthier teams for several years: Anelka to Madrid gave Wenger the cash to buy Henry, Overmars & Petit were sold to Barca for a huge sum past their peak and never really produced, Vieira to Juve, Henry himself to Barca (and Hleb), pretty much half our squad to City …

      The issue for Wenger and the board is twofold. We can never compete head-to-head with the likes of City and Chelsea in terms of transfer fees. And the board invested in premium salaries to lock in Denilson, Diaby, Bendtner etc, but none have really delivered on that promise. Their high wages are a big reason why we cannot shift them now, and also a reason why we cannot afford to pay more to our top players. We have the 4th highest wage bill in the PL because we have a load of players on £40k-£60k pw who have never quite delivered on their potential. In many cases it is not that they lacked talent, and they certainly did not lack coaching, but they lacked that certain attitude that turns merely good players into great ones.

      We need to move the wage ceiling up a bit imminently, with negotiations with RvP, Theo, Vermaelen and others upcoming. And then over the next 18 months we need to let some of the dead wood go (even if it means accepting a lower fee for them) so that we can create some headroom on the wage bill to pay our top players £120k pw rather than £90k.

      The best thing about Wednesday’s performance is that our team did have the right mentality when the pressure was at its greatest. Rosicky could have sulked having started on the bench, but his contribution in the second half was significant. Van Persie, Gervinho and Walcott ran all night. Sagna struggled out of position but kept plugging away. And Jenkinson was clearly targeted by Udinese, and although he got a couple of things wrong his work-rate and his cool head were obvious. Everyone played their role, and for once we could genuinely say that the attitude of the team made up for any shortcomings in the performance.

      The starting XI is there or thereabouts. The bench is not, which is why I believe Arsene needs to sign one or two quality squad players as well as the big names we keep being linked with. Every team needs their equivalent of a John O’Shea or a Gilles Grimandi.

      • mrshev says:

        You’re totally right re: the wage bill and the wages structure. Arsenal, in a sense, is a case study in how to run a football club – don’t spend what you don’t have and don’t pay wages that will eventually bankrupt you. Wish Arsenal could run the US and UK economies…

        We do need a few ‘squad’ players; stalwarts who will play week in, week out for the club and be the heel of the foot (as it were). We also need a captain, a leader who will drive us through matches when all else is lost. Viera had that ability to lift the team and make them step up, so did Adams. Fabregas tried, but he wasn’t that kind of player.

      • Tim says:

        Arsenal is run like a sensible business – which is a good thing in my book, particularly with the new FFP rules (although I have always believed clubs will find a way to work round them, as City have done with their stadium naming deal).

        The sad thing is that too many clubs are run as rich men’s playthings, or incompetently, or both. Which is fine in the good times, but not when things go wrong. Look at Chelsea (on the point of bankruptcy before Abramovich came along, and will be again when he gets bored and leaves), Leeds, Portsmouth and many other smaller clubs who spent way beyond their means. Maybe we’ve been a bit conservative, but no matter what we will always be around and in the event that we did not qualify for the CL we would not find ourselves in horrible trouble (just minor trouble).

        The value of having a deep squad is obvious when you look at our likely line-up on Sunday, isn’t it? It’s all very well having a brilliant first XI, but they will never all be fit – especially not ours! United didn’t win the title because they had the best first XI, or even because they had the best attitude – the fact was they had a second XI who could step in and do the business when required. As we saw in the cups last season, our second XI could not do that.

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