It’s hard to know whether there were instructions from those above Arsene Wenger to go for it in the last few days and just sign anyone, or if the manager consciously and deliberately changed his stance in the transfer market. If it’s the latter, then questions will inevitably be asked why it took Wenger so long to make significant moves. Also, it could be argued that we missed out on other targets such as Juan Mata and Gary Cahill because we waited so long. As we proved yesterday, a transfer doesn’t have to take long to complete.
However in fairness to Wenger, he predicted that there would be a lot of movement in the final days of the window and that Arsenal as a club would be active with players going in and out. Over the whole summer, we have seen significant numbers leave and arrive at the club. It’s just a shame the arrivals have come late, but finally the squad looks big enough again in size.
Despite being so keen to develop youth, all of Arsene Wenger’s five signings this week are at least 26 and two have a wealth of Premier League experience. The other three are all full internationals and two are international captains. The last couple of days have given me an image in my head of Arsene Wenger dashing round a supermarket before closing time and filling his trolley with anyone he could. However, given the apparent haphazard and panic-buying nature of his late window shopping, I think Arsene and the club have done very well with who ended up in the trolley, and the money subsequently paid at the till, albeit the rush was partly of the club’s own making.
I’m going to briefly assess those who finished at Arsenal after Arsene’s trolley dash.
Chu-Young Park arrived on Tuesday, and will probably become Robin van Persie’s understudy as the main striker. Signed to replace Nicklas Bendtner in the squad, until van Persie suffers his big injury this season, I think Park will mostly be used off the bench. Having not watched much of Monaco last season, it’s hard to comment on his quality, but from the clips I’ve seen, he always looks hungry to score. I’ll think he’ll always work hard for the team as he tries to make the most of his two and a half years at the club. At the moment, he’ll have to go off to military service in Korea in 2013, so could be seen as a more short term option for the club whilst youngsters like Benik Afobe and Joel Campbell continue to develop. Although Monaco were relegated from Ligue 1 last season, the fact the winners of that division, Lille, were interested, shows that Park was well thought of in France. At around £3million, he is definitely cheap enough for an international captain, and hopefully someone that scores important goals.
After selling Armand Traore, we were left with just one left back in Kieran Gibbs, who is already injured this season. Wenger went out and spent just over £6million on Andre Santos from Fenerbahce. He excites me as a signing. Having been mentored by Roberto Carlos while playing in Turkey, I think we could have got ourselves a great bargain in Santos. He’s got 22 international caps with Brazil and has Champions League experience. He’s also 28, old for a Wenger signing. I think the big question mark over Santos will be his defensive ability, as he is clearly good going forward, and has an excellent goal scoring record for a defender. Initially, he could be targeted by opposition teams to see what he’s made of, but I think he’ll cope well. Also, there is something special about having an attacking full back. That was an element missing from Gael Clichy’s game, but is clearly a strong part of Santos’. The days of long range screamers from Nigel Winterburn and Silvinho were fun, so hopefully Santos can contribute some entertaining strikes.
On the last day of the window, after fans had been desperate for one for almost a year, we signed a centre back. Per Mertesacker was brought in for less than £10million from Werder Bremen. While we might look weaker in midfield than we did at the end of the last season, the defence is undoubtedly stronger. At 26, he has plenty of time left to develop further and potentially have his best years at Arsenal, but he’s coming to the club with a lot of experience. He’s played in the Champions League and has 75 international caps for Germany. He should improve our defending of set pieces due to his height, although critics are sceptical about his pace. Hopefully he’ll form a good partnership with Thomas Vermaelen, leaving Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou as back up. Unless there are a lot of injuries at the back, which is always possible at Arsenal, I can’t see how Sebastien Squillaci will get a match. Mertesacker is tall, experienced, could get better and was cheaper than Gary Cahill. All in all I think he is a quality signing.
At one point during the evening on deadline day, it looked like Yossi Benayoun would be our only midfield signing. Having lost Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, we were looking thin and lacking in creativity in the middle. Benayoun has been signed on a year’s loan from Chelsea, and arguably his signing shows a change in policy and some slight desperation. Some will say that signing a Chelsea reject shows the club is going in the wrong direction, that we’re relying on a player not wanted by the Blues to overtake them and those above them. If he’d been our only midfield signing and responsible for the majority of the creativity in midfield, then I’d have been worried. But as he wasn’t, he’ll be a good squad player that can do a job for the team on the wing or in the middle. At 31, he’s experienced and has played in the Premier League since 2005. He isn’t as dynamic as Nasri, but can definitely open up a defence. Of the five new players, he is the signing I’m most dubious about, but I’m ready to be proved wrong. He reminds me slightly of Alexander Hleb, so hopefully he’ll have a better end product than the Belarusian.
Our final, and probably most dramatic, signing of the transfer window was completed just moments before the deadline. Mikel Arteta joined the club from Everton for £10million, despite a similar sized bid being initially rejected by the Toffees. He’s 29, and won’t need very long to settle in as he is tuned into the Premier League. Unlike most Wenger signings, given he’s already 29, there will be little sell on value, so he’s been signed purely for footballing reasons. There will be a lot of pressure on him to play in the ‘Cesc role’, and obviously there’ll be comparisons with our former captain. I don’t think he’s as good as Fabregas, there aren’t many that are, but given the transfer situation we were in, I think he’s about as good as we could have got. He brings creativity to the team and can advise and guide younger players such as Ramsey and Wilshere. Like Benayoun, he probably won’t be the long term holder of the attacking midfield position, but he’ll do a fantastic job there before Ramsey is ready. He’s openly admitted he was attracted to the club by Champions League football, making the win in Udinese last week look even bigger. It’ll be interesting to see how he copes in that competition, but in the Premier League I think he’ll prove to be a good buy at £10million.
Without injuries, our first choice XI now looks quite strong: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos, Arteta, Song, Wilshere, Walcott, van Persie and Gervinho.
As much as we shouldn’t have left the signings so late, and that deadline day as a concept is quite artificial, Tuesday and Wednesday did at least get some sort of smile back on the faces of Arsenal fans. It has built up some excitement again about the team with the anticipation of seeing new players (players that want to be at the club) wear the red and white. Whether it was panic buying prompted by the 8-2 or not, Arsene Wenger has brought in experience. Even though that was a surprise, it was still done in a Wenger way as he went for some unexpected players, and got them at good prices. There wasn’t one blockbuster signing amongst them with exceptional quality, but all look like solid players that’ll work hard and do a job for the team.
It remains to be seen on the pitch if the new additions are a success or not, but I think they look good at the moment as Arsene pushes his full trolley out of August.
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