There is certainly a much more serene atmosphere amongst Arsenal fans this summer compared to the ghosts of summers past. The miniature shit-storm that arose when Arsene Wenger passed up on Cesc Fabregas now seems a lifetime ago. A dash of FA Cup, 1 shot of World Cup distraction and four measures of brand new signing have enabled Arsenal fans to grab a straw and slurp on the kool aid. One by one, problem positions are being calmly and decisively addressed, almost in order of priority too.
There is still work to be done of course, but the words ‘dithering’ and ‘trolley dash’ have been happily absent from our summer lexicon. The reasons for this new found decisiveness are manifold I think. For a start, the club made very little secret of the fact that summer 2014 would see the financial scales tip back towards Arsenal. Not only due to renewed sponsorship deals, but as regulation begins to grip our competitors. As Chelsea confirmed the sale of Romelu Lukaku on Wednesday, Jose Mourinho cited FFP regulations as a factor in their decision to sell.
It could also be that the signing of Mesut Özil last summer gave the club a little more confidence in their ability to conclude complex transfers. In turn, it becomes slightly easier to seduce players like Alexis Sanchez when you thrust back the curtain and show them what awaits them in N5. All of those things play a part, but our hitherto assertive summer is probably owed to less sexy, market based reasons. The transfer market got going earlier this summer because big deals happened quickly.
Last summer, the Gareth Bale transfer was the catalyst for a lot of business and Daniel Levy intentionally made sure that deal wasn’t concluded until deadline day. Barcelona and Real Madrid are nearly always the stimulant for the top end of the European market. Both clubs chase Galactico style signings for political reasons, which consequently means they discard very good players to accommodate. Barca and Madrid landed their principal targets in Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez relatively early in the window, which has smoothed the way for Fabregas and Sanchez to move to England.
I think the market will stall slightly until mid to late August now. With Kroos and Rodriguez on board, realistically, Real are going to have to shed a midfielder or two, with talk of Angel di Maria and Sami Khedira becoming expendable. There’s also a question mark over the future of Edison Cavani at Paris Saint Germain and maybe even Marco Reus at Borussia Dortmund- though I wouldn’t expect him to leave until next summer. Once the futures of these players are clarified, I think the plug will be released and the market will spring back into life again.
What does this mean for Arsenal? My entirely uninformed hunch is that Wenger will recruit another centre half and a defensive midfielder, but I don’t think either will happen until after the season has begun. I think the club might relax and be prepared to haggle over those positions. We needed Alexis Sanchez desperately, we required another forward urgently and preferably one blessed with pace and guile. We had to replace Bacary Sagna and we had to replace Lukasz Fabianski. Calum Chambers’ versatility will probably result in him becoming our de facto 4th choice centre half.
I think Arsene wants to, and will, upgrade in the defensive midfield position. But while he has Arteta and Flamini, he knows he has two capable, experienced performers tucked away in his back pocket. He can stick for a little while and assess the scene. Likewise, we can afford to hold onto Thomas Vermaelen until another centre half is acquired. If and when that new defender arrives, I think Arsenal will quickly grant Vermaelen’s wish to leave. The Champions League qualifier might be the only trigger that makes a new centre half slightly more urgent.
If we’re to sell Vermaelen, we won’t want to preclude him from this season’s competition by cup-tying him and Per Mertesacker may be a tad rusty from his World Cup exploits. It would represent a risk to go into such an important match with Koscielny, a raw Calum Chambers and an under prepared Per Mertesacker as viable centre back options. Though Wenger has hinted that Podolski and Mertesacker will be back into action quicker than Mesut Özil, who played notably more minutes for Germany than his Teutonic teammates in Brazil.
Arsenal’s business thus far has revealed quite the ruthless streak from the manager. The capture of Calum Chambers proves that he still loves a developmental signing (even in 2011’s summer of clusterfuckery, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson were procured before the end of June). The signing of Chambers tosses the gauntlet at the feet of Carl Jenkinson. At time of writing, a season long loan at West Ham United looks to be on the cards. However, the signing of Chambers needn’t represent the end of Carl’s Arsenal dream.
Jenkinson has shown in individual games that he has ability. Notable performances at Arenas Etihad and Allianz suggest a big game aptitude too. His challenge is to demonstrate consistency now. It’s more difficult for young defenders to develop without playing time than it is for forwards and offensive midfielders. A defender’s game is much more reactive and based on positioning, concentration and decision making. These are qualities that one accrues over time.
In the past, promising defenders such as Senderos and Djourou have struggled to develop with their involvement in the team fitful or fractured. Eventually, they got to an age where they probably lost confidence that they ever could develop to the required standard. At 22, Jenkinson is approaching that age and you have to think that 2014-15 will see his Arsenal prospects judged definitely by the manager.
Likewise, the signing of David Ospina reveals a much more Darwinist approach to squad building from the manager. Ospina and Szczesny are 25 and 24 respectively, both first choice for their countries and both will want to play. Ospina must have discussed his prospects with the manager before signing and Szczesny was recently handed an expensive, long term contract. I can’t think of a single example from any club where two goalkeepers flourished in the same squad.
Ultimately, one will not play as many games as they like and will leave. They may even end up stagnating as a result. That’s fine for Arsenal; we will reap the rewards of the victor. Whoever wins this duel will be a stronger goalkeeper and personality for it. It’s just a little un-Wenger like, historically speaking. The manager that has famously shunned established signings so as not to “kill” young prospects has thrown his two goalkeepers one pistol and ordered them to fight to the death. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But it is new. And it is exciting. LD.
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