Looking Through the Window

Tim Stillman column Arseblog

I have aired my impression that the transfer window is treated as a competition in its own right on many occasions now, so I shall not flog that particular hobby horse further. Definitively judging transfer business at the beginning of September is a by-product of this; we are persistently encouraged to worship at the altar of spending. Summer purchases need to survive the cold, harsh winter before they can be declared the brightest flower in the garden. This ought to be self-explanatory really, but it’s surprising how often people fall into the trap of considering spend as both means and end.

Nevertheless, whilst the ‘success’ of a window can only be judged in practice many months, even years down the line, it’s possible to try and assimilate the theory that shaped it. Largely, Arsenal have tried to address their most pressing needs. They desperately needed a screening midfielder capable of switching play and circulating the ball with purpose. Granit Xhaka appears to tick those boxes, drawing early comparisons with Manu Petit from his manager.

Injuries to Mertesacker and Gabriel accelerated the need for a top class centre half and Arsenal have procured an established, 24 year old German international, even though I maintain reservations over Arsenal’s overall defensive setup. They desperately needed a more mobile option at centre forward, a need that already existed when Danny Welbeck was fit. From the little I know of Lucas Perez, he does appear to fit that mould.

I still think Arsenal could have done with a wide playmaker to diversify their creative threat, but it probably wasn’t the biggest priority. Chamberlain is proving to be very inconsistent and Iwobi is fabulously talented, but still raw. Both are very close to Arsenal’s starting XI and I think we could be a little stronger there, especially with Campbell and Gnabry gone. The manager is averse to the idea of adding more than three starting players to the squad per window for the sake of the team’s technical stability and you have to think that Xhaka, Mustafi and Perez come close to meeting that quota.

That said, Xhaka certainly has a creative edge to his game with his long diagonal passing. The 1997-98 ‘Double’ side used Bergkamp as the principal creator for Overmars and Anelka, but Manu Petit was capable of splitting defences from deep, where Arsenal tend to have a little more space. If Özil is very much the modern imagining of Bergkamp, then perhaps Xhaka can channel the ghost of Emmanuel Petit as a creator from deep. On occasions when Cazorla completes the midfield triangle between Xhaka and Özil, they ought to provide sufficient inspiration between them.

Arsene has made some comments about his transfer business this summer that have really caught my eye and go some way to explaining his thought processes. He spoke a little about being more open to taking on players from less glamorous destinations when he signed Rob Holding. In his reasoning, he illustrated the hunger and fight that players with less salubrious backgrounds can give you.

That is a tacit admission that Wenger feels like the current squad is missing some of that appetite. Granit Xhaka’s disciplinary record suggests that he can bare teeth when required. The Swiss international also captained Borussia Moenchengladbach from a young age. Rob Holding has been raised by wolves in footballing terms, blossoming during a difficult time for Bolton Wanderers. The failed pursuit of Jamie Vardy implies that Arsene was out to up the bastard quota in the squad.

Lucas Perez shares a similar profile to Vardy in footballing terms. Aged 27, he has dabbled in the footballing outposts of Ukraine and Greece. In fact, he is not dissimilar to Giroud, Gabriel and Koscielny in the respect that he has had to fight pretty hard to earn an opportunity at a club like Arsenal. Hopefully, Lucas will not be guilty of the niceties that have become too pervasive in the Arsenal squad.

Lucas is an interesting capture and there have certainly been questions asked about the punctuality of Arsenal’s business. Reading between the lines, Vardy appeared to be Plan A, Lacazette Plan B and Lucas slightly further down on the list of priorities. Once it became clear that Everton were on the verge of completing a deal for the Spaniard, Arsenal probably decided to act for fear of coming up empty handed in an important position.

The apparent resistance to up the ante for Alexandre Lacazatte is explained, I think, by comments Wenger made in his pre-Leicester press conference. “If you pay a high transfer fee you also pay high wages. If you are wrong, you will have these players with high wages and they cannot go anywhere.” It sounds as though he does not object to high transfer fees as much as people perceive (and portray). The salaries associated with those fees can cause issues down the line, which appears to be Wenger’s sticking point.

Arsenal will understand this risk all too well, having rewarded potential far too generously during the “Project Youth” era. As it stands, Arsenal have been unable to sell unloved squad members such as Wojciech Szczesny, Mathieu Debuchy and Joel Campbell on permanent deals. It will be fascinating to see whether inflated salaries do cause some headaches for English clubs in 2-3 years’ time, as they have enjoyed lavishing their television booty this summer.

I think the acquisition of Lucas fills a short term need to cover for Danny Welbeck, whilst leaving money in the kitty in future windows in case that ‘Goldilocks’ striker does become available. The failure to secure all of our top choice targets has undoubtedly impacted on the business the club wanted to do. The Mustafi deal took longer than anticipated and it looks as though they struggled for striking targets after deals for Vardy and Lacazette failed to materialise. I think Arsenal could have done with refreshing a few of their squad players.

Not to pick on him, but I would like to have seen Kieran Gibbs moved on and replaced with a younger, possibly hungrier back up left-back. Gibbs turns 27 this month, it feels incredibly unlikely that he will ever be the Gunners’ first choice in the long term. But there have been developments among the squad players. David Ospina is Colombia’s vice-captain now and he does not have to worry about an international tournament for another two years, which probably informed his decision to stick around and challenge the ageing Petr Cech. Calum Chambers is effectively replaced by Rob Holding while Sanogo, Akpom and Debuchy have all stuck around.

Given the fact that Mathieu Flamini made 24 appearances for Arsenal last season, I wouldn’t have sanctioned Jack Wilshere’s loan move. It seems the player himself pushed for this after his England squad omission and, at this stage, it looks an impetuous decision to me. ‘Hurried deadline day loan move to Bournemouth to impress Sam Allardyce’ just doesn’t sound like a shrewd career move, especially since we are not in an international tournament season.

Players that take a step down in their mid-20s often plateau and the challenge of fighting for a starting spot at Arsenal did not look like a totally unrealistic fantasy. He is always, always in the squad when fit and always used in some capacity or other. He was hardly starting at the foot of the mountain. However, the club need to make a decision on his next contract and he will get the chance to prove that his body can handle regular games at Bournemouth, if nothing else. I think he would have played plenty at Arsenal this year, fitness permitting.

Personnel wise, Arsenal’s squad looks quite deep, time will tell if it has the variety and chemistry it needs to handle the travails of a busy season. There is an awful lot of noise that follows Arsenal’s transfer dealings. There are questions to be asked about how some business was conducted, but equally, it’s difficult to perform a detailed critique given that we are not privy to the precise goings on.

It’s important to remember that we have very little concrete information about transfers; our dataset is limited because events take place away from our eyes and ears. But when you take a step back and analyse it, Arsenal have done a surprising amount of business given the complaints of inertia and frugality. There is circumstantial evidence that we lost points in the first two games of the season due to the pregnant pauses between incomings. (There again, Petr Cech lost us points on his debut last season!) But Arsene ought to have enough pieces now, how he fits the puzzle together remains to be seen.

Follow me on Twitter @Stillberto 


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