It’s my birthday. As I type this, it’s half seven in the morning and I can’t sleep.
I’m on holiday, lest you think I’m being lazy.
From where I am sitting, I can see a pile of pretty packages and they’re all bearing my name. As Jo is still slumbering away and I only have the cat for company, I thought I’d begin my thirty ninth year on the planet with you lot.
I haven’t even had a coffee yet.
Those of you who have been paying attention will be aware that I wrote a few weeks ago, saying that there was no point in stressing about the Arsenal’s lack of progress in the transfer market. I believe I was right to say what I said, even as the dawn of the new season looms into view. Is it really only two and a half weeks away? Rhetorical, relax…
The fact is, if you have been stressing about it for the last three weeks, nothing very much has changed. Okay, we have signed someone we hope will be the future of our defensive bulwark for years to come, but we also hoped that about Calum Chambers and – with respect to Bolton Wanderers – the jump Rob Holding has to make is a much greater one than Calum did. Despite some very impressive performances from Chambers, the unreliability of Gabriel and the treacle enveloping Mertesacker from the knees down, it seems as though he has yet to to fully earn the manager’s trust.
It may well be that Holding arrives from the Championship fully formed and ready to compete for the Premier League title now, but we can’t just assume it. Which leaves us where… exactly?
Particularly with Koscielny scheduled to return to Arsenal later than everyone else due to the Euros, Mertesacker injured and Chambers not trusted. Holding and Gabriel v Liverpool, first game of the season?
That’s a big, Shaggy style,“Yikes!” from me.
Well, to go back to the shiny pile of packages sitting on top of our kitchen table, I would genuinely give anything for one of those packages to contain both a world class striker and centre back in Arsenal shirts. The further we get into this transfer window, though, the more it begins to seem like every window we’ve ever experienced. Whilst not quite wishing to press the panic button just yet, my thoughts turn to the last time we signed such animals. The old axiom ‘we don’t sign stars, we make them’ now haunts my waking thoughts.
Really, when was the last time we signed either a forward or defender of genuine world class ability?
Dennis Bergkamp, 21 years ago? Sol Campbell, 15 years ago?
Experience tells us, in the shape of Henry, van Persie and Koscielny that given the right materials, Arsène can develop a player into a world class one, but who in the squad has the right stuff? Who is out there, at a price the manager will pay, just waiting to be polished by the Frenchman?
It seems to me that in continuing down the path with the same man, the same values for the last twenty years, Arsenal have been left behind. Gone is the will for Arsenal to have the right team, no matter what it costs. Now, it is about doing things the right way. I am by no means a David Dein apologist, I think he only has his himself to blame for the fact that he is no longer on the board. However, I can’t imagine that Arsenal would be about to go into a fifth season of Olivier Giroud leading our line if he was still at the club.
And yes, the transfer fees for modern strikers have now become ludicrous. We saw this last year, with the transfer of Anthony Martial. We see it again now, with the transfer of Higuaín from Napoli to Juventus. But prices aren’t going to come down according to what Arsenal are prepared to pay, they’re only going to go up. So to borrow a phrase from my favourite film, Grosse Pointe Blank, we’ve got to stop pouting on the sidelines and get into the game.
I know that sounds like rhetoric too, empty rhetoric at that. However, this is the world we live in now, life in the so called space age and all that. If Leicester City can afford to offer Watford £30m for Troy Deeney and, more pertinently, Watford can afford to turn it down, then I think Arsenal can definitely afford to go a little higher for those forwards who would improve our line. The fact of the matter is that Olivier Giroud is a very good player, but he’s not so good that it would take a 2001-06 era Thierry Henry to improve upon him. We saw that when Danny Welbeck returned to the team this February.
It is also a fact that you might have to spend over the odds to sign a player who is not quite at that exalted level. I’ll be honest, I’ve spent weeks, months even, saying things like, ‘I don’t want Arsenal to spend £60m on a striker. It’s obscene, it’s insane, it’s whatever’.
Ultimately, I feel I’ve been a little brainwashed by a manager who has always placed great importance on fiscal responsibility. As Matthew Wade has repeatedly pointed out, effectively Arsène has been doing at least part of David Dein’s job since Dein left the club and perhaps to the detriment of the playing side of things. Of course the pot is not bottomless; unlike Chelsea and Manchester City, Arsenal can’t throw £50 notes around like Tony Soprano at a race track.
But perhaps we’ve become so focused on doing things the right way, we forget to actually do the right thing. The right thing is to make the signings that can take this team up a level, whatever the cost, but within reason. Obviously, I am not suggesting doing a Leeds United here. With City, United Chelsea and, yes, Liverpool girding their loins for battle, it is imperative that we do it and do it now, otherwise we risk being left behind – for what?
We all know that, whilst the pot is not limitless, the pot of gold sitting at the bottom of the Emirates Stadium rainbow is considerably larger than at most Premier League clubs. So to sit here and claim poverty, even relative poverty, is clearly ridiculous.
David Dein used to say that Arsène was taking on the likes of Manchester United like a boxer with one hand (presumably the hand that signs the cheques) tied behind his back. For too long now, I have felt that Arsène has been the one doing the tying.
Let’s see him with both hands unleashed, come on Arsène,
‘One more round!’
It is my birthday, after all.