Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. To most people, these are the five stages of grief. To Arsenal fans of late, these are simply known as ‘Monday’.
We try not to concede to others that we won’t finish in the top-four this season, but are then made watch Arsenal lose at Bournemouth, explode with rage, then decide £20million for Theo Walcott isn’t a bad deal on the face of it.
This is before suddenly realising he’s been at the club for 12 years, your life is wasting away, before finally coming to the conclusion that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be a great buy and all will be well again.
It’s been a bizarre couple of weeks for Arsenal. Francis Coquelin and Theo Walcott have been sold without any fuss made and without a replacement sourced, yet all the attention has gone towards Alexis Sanchez, who is still an Arsenal player, even if his departure is imminent.
Arsenal’s best defensive midfielder and winger have left the club and everyone’s reaction has been to merely shrug and send mild platitudes their way, as if they were an family member who had slightly overstated their welcome after Christmas dinner. We liked them, but we weren’t that fussed by seeing them leave.
My only question about their departures is the following; what changed between August and December? Why, if they are so expendable now, were they still at the club at the start of the season?
We’ve seen players struggle to adapt to the 3-4-2-1 system, but this was introduced in April. A full summer of training would have shown that Coquelin can’t be relied on to recycle possession with one less person in front of him.
It also would have shown Walcott was only suited to playing as the central of the three attackers – a position that had Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck queuing in line behind Alexandre Lacazette, but ahead of Walcott.
The £32million received in transfer fees for both players may well end up in a Dortmund bank by the end of the month, and if Aubameyang does indeed end up at the Emirates then that’s fine.
But if Arsenal sold both those players in the summer, then there’s two central positions on the field that have opened up. Does Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stay at Arsenal if he gets to play through the middle at CAM instead of at RWB? He’d have been a far better option than Welbeck has been over the last couple of games, that’s for sure. I suppose we’ll never know.
This is why whoever the replacement for Alexis is will be fascinating, because it is very rare that Wenger doesn’t buy for the future. Even the likes of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez were bought at age 24 and 25 respectively, they were top class footballers but there was room for improvement too.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the idea that things going to be better next year when your best players are merely approaching their prime instead of being in the middle of it. So when Malcom, Bordeaux’s mercurial young winger, was touted as a replacement for Alexis, it seemed as if Arsenal were going to put themselves back into a rebuilding phase.
However, at a time where Manchester City are putting the ‘defeated’ in ‘undefeated’, Manchester United are preparing to play with a football that is comprised only of used £20 notes. Liverpool are also strengthening and Tottenham are still chugging along as Harry Kane carries them in a similar fashion as Gareth Bale did – hopefully he’ll join Real Madrid too. Chelsea are doing everything in their power to sabotage themselves, but are still third in the table because Eden Hazard is a wizard, so Arsenal can’t afford to spend time rebuilding again.
There are numerous quotes and examples of Wenger preferring to build a team over time that can win trophies instead of buying players that are good now and putting them in a system that suits their skill set. It’s an admirable desire, but as football moves more towards the ‘haves’ than the ‘have-nots’, Arsenal have to finally accept that they are not a plucky underdog that fights above their weight any more, but are more than capable of bringing a bazooka to a gun fight.
Selling Alexis to Manchester City may have suited Wenger’s agenda of investing in the future, but as soon as Manchester United gazumped them with an offer that included Henrikh Mhkitaryan, any plan that involved waiting more than 12 months for the team to be challenging for league titles again went out the window.
Having £32million for Coquelin and Walcott sit in the bank alongside the £40million received for Oxlade-Chamberlain makes no sense if you want to build a team ‘now’. So, is this Wenger’s idea to sell squad players who can’t break into the first-team, or our new ‘Head of Recruitment’ Sven Mislintat’s?
It would be easy to say the latter, but do we really think Wenger would stand for players being bought and sold without his explicit consent? Buying a young Greek centre-half is one thing, buying a £60million striker is quite another.
I very much doubt Wenger would allow his authority to be infringed is such a manner, which then begs the question ‘Why the sudden change in plan now? Has he finally accepted that it’s time to spend in order to keep up with everyone else? Or is he merely falling in line because he doesn’t want to lose his job?
Only Arsenal could possibly end up with a front four of Özil, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang, and the focus be on ‘why’ the manager put them together, instead of ‘how’.