If one word could sum up the feelings of the Arsenal fan base at the moment, it’s that. After the arrival of Petr Cech at the club in late June, it was all too easy to get excited over the prospect of more players of his stature and quality following him through the gates at London Colney.
So we sat back and waited for them to arrive as well. We waited, and we waited, and we waited some more, but it wasn’t to be. The transfer window closed and Cech was still our only addition to the senior squad. It’s impossible to blame fans for feeling let down due to the lack of signings, after all, we all enjoy the sight of seeing a new player wearing our colours. There’s no better catalyst for hope than the prospect of someone else adding their qualities into what we already have at the club.
The best example of this was during the Emirates Cup game against Lyon, when Jeff Reine-Adelaide spent the best part of half an hour tearing the French runners-up to shreds. It was easy at the time to imagine him being a valuable asset, but a lot of that was down to him just being a fresh face. We hadn’t seen him play before, so we had no idea of what to expect, and when he exceeded our initial hopes, then it was inevitable that great things would be predicted of him, all because of that initial showing.
It’s a trap that fans fall into all the time, believing that a team’s ability level can be accelerated quicker by buying in players rather than by letting the club’s existing players develop, primarily because the former is far easier to see than the latter. Adding a player is always seen as a positive move, and settling for what we have is always seen as a negative move, even though football is littered with examples of the opposite being the case.
When Barcelona swapped Samuel Eto’o for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it didn’t work. When Real Madrid bought David Beckham and sold Claude Makelele, it didn’t work. When Chelsea bought Andrei Shevchenko, when Manchester City bought Robinho, when Manchester United bought Juan Veron, it didn’t work. The idea that buying Karim Benzema would be a guaranteed remedy to Arsenal’s problems is at best hopeful thinking and at worst, naive.
But that’s what fans want when they buy a player, a guarantee that he’s better than what they already have. And because fans want to see constant progression of their team’s ability, the pressure they put on clubs to buy grows just as much. The longer a club goes without satiating this desire, the less fussy fans get about who gets bought. Eventually, anyone will do, just so fans can hope again.
That is why Arsenal fans are so disappointed this week, not because Arsenal didn’t buy anyone, but because they weren’t given anything new to dream about. It is far, far harder to get excited about the same team who you just saw finish 14 points behind the league winners, than it is about that same team with two different players, because it’s far easier to convince ourselves that this year will be our year if the personnel involved have changed.
It’s for this reason that a lot of frustration is being displayed towards the club this week, not because Arsenal didn’t buy a big name, but that the club didn’t agree with their perspective on the amount of players that were available to be bought that would have improved the side. And whilst on previous occasions, fans have been right to be concerned about Arsenal’s reasoning behind the lack of signings, it’s very hard to criticise Arsenal’s transfer policy during the summer when, in the positions that need additions like defensive midfielder and striker, nobody good enough was available.
The only player who moved clubs in Europe this summer that I was disappointed Arsenal didn’t go for, was Asier Illarramendi. I was apoplectic with rage when I found out that Real Madrid had sold him for only £12.5m. For a player who is in essence Mikel Arteta yet 10 years younger, I couldn’t for the life of me work out why Arsenal didn’t put in a bid.
Then, the reason emerged. It turned out that Real had told Illarramendi to give them a list of clubs he would be happy to sign for because they had no place for him at the club. The list he gave them had one name on it: Real Sociedad. He’d only leave Madrid if he could go back home to play for his boyhood club. So that’s where he went.
As frustrating as that was, it is impossible not to remember that a very similar scenario is what helped us sign Petr Cech, as he was just as unwilling to move away from home as Illarramendi was. So even as I swore due to not buying a defensive midfielder, I could see why we hadn’t.
Over the course of the next few months, injuries will occur, suspensions will be accrued and form will be lost, all of which will be met by the inevitable outcry of ‘If only we had have bought someone, we wouldn’t be in trouble then!‘, all whilst forgetting that the same player fans would have wanted to have bring in could have easily got injured or suspended themselves as well, leaving us in exactly the same position.
During the season, Arsenal are going to lose games, and every time they do, the lack of transfer activity will be pointed out as the reason why. I won’t be one of those who do that. I’ll be more concerned over why the players we have didn’t perform, as we have seen over the last couple of seasons that on their day, they can match any team in the country.
As I see it, I have two options right now: Sulk over not seeing any new players in the team, or hope that the team we have is good enough. I’m picking the latter. I might not be right, but it’s a lot more fun than focusing on every possible reason why we would fail.