I won’t be lying. It’s been hard, the last 3 months. While personally, I was switching jobs; the lack of club football made me jittery. Yes, there were the Euro’s to keep us going, and then there was the Indian indoor league, Premier Futsal, and the Olympics. But, nothing matches the Premier League. Period.
To add to it, being an Arsenal fan during the off season is an even more torturous position to endure. This time, it was no different. While you have to deal with the incessant bullshit of the English press and their linking us to every professional footballer walking on the planet, there was also the frustration of the club missing out on signing real prospects, due to underbidding.
While the news of Arsenal looking to sign Jamie Vardy sounded ridiculous, when it emerged it was actually true, you would expect a club of Arsenal’s stature to go ahead and complete the signing. No, there was a saga of dilly-dallying between the two clubs; Leicester looking to hold on to their top scorer and Arsenal not budging above their bid of £20 million (which was the initial release clause of the player anyway). The player in question was in France, with the national team, and decided to take a decision only once the tournament was done. England being England, were knocked out after the group stages itself; and as expected, Vardy turned down Arsenal’s offer, opting to stay with Leicester.
Arsenal have been perennially linked to Gonzalo Higuain, and when the transfer window opened, the Argentine was inevitably drawn into the tornado of Arsenal rumors. We know, how it all went, Italian champions snapping up the striker for £75 million. And more recently, the Gunners have been linked to France and Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette. To be honest, I haven’t seen much of this guy, but hey, we need a striker better than some of the ones we have. And surely, anyone would be an upgrade to Sanogo and Walcott. Arsenal’s bid of £29.3 million was rejected by Lyon, and now Lyon have quoted £60 million. Definitely, out of the question.
It wasn’t all gloomy of course. We completed the signing of Swiss defensive midfielder Granit Xhaka, from Borussia Moenchengladbach (I hope I’ve spelt that one right!) for £35 million. He put on some tidy performances at the Euro’s, and seems like a guy who will add some much needed bite to our midfield. Relying on Francis Coquelin being fit throughout a gruelling English season is too much to ask for. The departures of Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini meant we needed some freshness in midfield as well.
Apart from that, we only managed to sign an unheralded centre-back from Bolton Wanderers, a club that got relegated to League One. Rob Holding comes in at a reported fee of £2 million, and the young English defender made 26 appearances last season. He is still raw, and along with Callum Chambers could be the future of Arsenal’s defence. With Per Mertesacker suffering an injury in pre-season, it looked like a good signing. But then, Gabriel too suffered an injury in the pre-season win over Manchester City. This means that the possibility of Holding and Chambers starting against Liverpool tomorrow looks real. As we speak, Arsenal are apparently scampering for the signature of Valencia’s German defender Shkodran Mustafi, once an Everton reject.
There was also the Riyad Mahrez saga, with Arsenal apparently hot on the heels of the Algerian winger, also the current PFA Player of the Year. With Leicester keen to hold on to their star man, and Claudio Ranieri adamant about not letting him go, it all seems to have quietened down a bit. According to me, he would have been a terrific addition to the squad, on the right; where players such as Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have miserably failed. Last season, the manager played Aaron Ramsey, Alex Iwobi and Joel Campbell all on the right, and none of them seemed to have sufficiently impressed the manager. A attacking midfield of Ozil, Sanchez and Mahrez would have been mouth watering. But, Alas.
I don’t mean to sound all negative, but it seems like we have again been left behind in the transfer market. With Arsene Wenger saying the same things about signing only ‘top, top’ players and then underbidding for those very players, it all seems like a vicious circle. Ivan Gazidis’ recent statement about not really having to spend to stay competitive, and that the club not being able to afford costly mistakes just adds fuel to the fire.
Looking over our shoulder, most other clubs have done the business they wanted to do. Sp*rs started with the low key signing of Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama for £11 million from Southampton. Leicester’s trio of Vardy, Mahrez and Kante were always going to be in the spotlight; and Chelsea, under new Italian manager Antonio Conte did well to prise away N’Golo Kante, the unsung hero of Leicester’s season for £32 million. They also landed young Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi from Marseille for £33 million. Liverpool quietly got about their business, just the way Jurgen Kloop operates. Saido Mane arrived from Southampton for £34 million, and Giorgio Wijnaldum from Newcastle for £25 million. They also signed two goalkeepers, Loris Karius from Mainz and Alex Manninger (remember him?).
The biggest stories of the transfer revolved around the Manchester clubs. Pep Guardiola was announced as Manchester City’s manager, as early as January. Manchester United had to do something about it, and retaining Louis van Gaal was definitely not an option. Hours after winning the FA Cup, the Dutch manager was shown the pink slip, with the arrogant twat Jose Mourinho, linked to the job at Manchester United for so many seasons, being appointed as the new gaffer. Guardiola signed Ilkay Gundogan from Borussia Dortmund for £20 million, Spain winger Nolito from Celta Vigo for £13.4 million, German winger Leroy Sane from Schalke for £37 million, Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus from Palmeiras for £27 million and Everton defender John Stones for a whopping £47.5 million.
Staying with inflated markets, Manchester United paid a whopping £89 million for a player whom they had sold just 3 years earlier for a paltry £1.5 million. The much heralded transfer of French midfielder Paul Pogba, also coincided with the signing of super Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Armenian winger Henrikh Mkhitariyan from Dortmund for what can be defined as a meagre £26 million and Ivorian defender Eric Bailly for £30 million from Villarreal. Manchester United moved from being a 5th placed team to genuine title contenders within the space of 3 months.
It seems like other clubs have managed to get the business they wanted done, while we have clearly struggled with that. Identifying players is one thing, but actually going all out to sign those players, who can fill holes in your squad, is another. With the season a day way, you can’t help but think we are going to start with two makeshift central defenders, a rag-tag midfield and Theo Walcott up front. Yeah, not a pretty picture.
But, this post is not about negativity. However bad our prospects look, it is the start of the season. And starts should always be positive. To be honest, our squad looks really good on paper, and it is all about translating that into results on the pitch. Last season was a real downer, considering we were top till one point, had a bad patch, seemed like we would come back, but then our title challenge completely fizzled out. Sp*rs did provide some comedy relief on the final day, but honestly, it was a chance thrown away. With the traditional top guns failing to show up, and Leicester leading the way, we really should have mounted a proper title challenge.
Nonetheless, a midfield of Xhaka, Coquelin, Elneny, Cazorla, Ramsey, Campbell, Ozil, Sanchez, Wilshere, Iwobi, Chamberlain looks formidable. Defensively, we will miss Mertesacker for the rest of the year and Gabriel for about 2 months. If Spaniards Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin can keep up their high standards from last season, we can expect a solid season defensively. Laurent Koscielny is about a week away from returning to first team action, due to his exertions in Europe. On the flanks, we have Debuchy and Gibbs as cover, while Jenkinson nurses his injury. Chambers and Holding look like they’ll pair up for a few League Cup games.
Our problems, however lie up front. Olivier Giroud is a 20 goals a season striker, but across all competitions. His 24 goal tally last season was good, but he fizzled out in an extremely important period of the season, which also coincided with our slump. Theo Walcott has never convinced me, or Arsenal fans, or anyone for that matter that he can lead the line for a top club. His consistent inconsistency has often drawn calls from Gooners to sell him while we can actually get some money for him. It looks like he will lead the line till Giroud is declared match fit. Danny Welbeck showed glimpses of what he can do last season, before joining the long list of injuries. Apart from that, we have Chuba Akpom and Yaya Sanogo as our only fit strikers.
I have stood by Arsene Wenger through the barren years between 2005 and 2014 and will continue to do so. I have admired his views on football, pragmatism, his transfer dealings and in general the way he goes about his work; and will probably sing his praises decades from now. With him entering his final year on his current contract, it seems highly unlikely that he will be renewing it, whether or not we add something to the honours board. If that is the case, we’re probably looking at the 21st and final season of the long-serving Frenchman. 21 years of hard work, dedication towards a club, day in and day out.
In his own words, he says he is addicted to the club, and admits he is scared of ‘leaving’ something that has been part of his fabric for over two decades. For him, I hope the players deliver on the pitch and repay the manager’s faith.
The season promises to be yet another roller coaster ride, with teams signing exciting new managers and players. It looks it could be one of the closely contested seasons in recent times. Arsenal under Wenger, Chelsea under Conte, defending champions Leicester under Ranieri, Liverpool under Klopp, Manchester City under Guardiola, Manchester United under Mourinho, Sp*rs under Pochettino and West Ham under Bilic. Have you seen a better managerial line up than this? Let the ride begin!
Things have been pretty quiet on the blog lately. In fact, very quiet. Last season, I barely struggled to put any timely articles up, and I will sincerely attempt to update more often.
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