Probably the hardest thing to take about Arsenal’s latest meek capitulation in a big match is that it really wasn’t all that shocking; Arsenal fans have become numb to these types of performances as there have been so many over recent years. It is plain to see that the team has a soft underbelly, when the going gets tough instead of stepping up to the plate and being ready for the fight, what we get time after time is a surrender borne out of an acceptance of mediocrity.
After the match the Sky Sports analysis saw Arsenal man Thierry Henry call the club ‘stagnant’ while Jamie Carragher suggested that from top to bottom it ‘lacked ruthlessness’ and ‘bottled’ the decision to sack the manager in the summer. In all truth it is virtually impossible to argue against either of those perspectives.
While yet another abysmal performance on the field is depressing, what is even worse is the feeling that the club is going backwards. Last season’s appalling run of form from the end of January to the middle of April, which saw them lose 5 out of 8 Premier League matches and embarrassed yet again in the Champions League, screamed out that change was needed, not just on the pitch but in the dugout and boardroom.
The belated switch to three at the back and the FA Cup win just about salvaged something out of the season, while the early acquisitions of Kolasinac and Lacazette suggested that chief executive Ivan Gazidis’ comments in the spring: that Arsène Wenger would become a ‘catalyst for change’ for the club if he were to stay, might for once just be more than yet another unfulfilled promise.
Since Lacazette’s arrival however it has been nigh on impossible to fathom exactly what Arsenal’s strategy has been through this summer transfer window. We were told going into the summer that the club had allocated a £150-£200 million war chest to fixing the problems that have been all too apparent for some time now; yet we find ourselves here with the transfer window now closed having made a £30 million profit on our summer business with a new striker to add to the ever-growing number within the squad and a left-back to replace the one who eventually departed to West Brom. Hardly investment in developing and enhancing the squad!
Once again the club has displayed a complete lack of strategy in approaching its summer transfer business, where other clubs identify weaknesses and deficiencies and set about addressing them, Arsenal drift through the summer seemingly oblivious to what needs to be done to make the team stronger. Manchester United identified the need for a striker to replace Zlatan and a defensive-minded midfielder, so went out and recruited Lukaku and Matic early and bedded them into the team ready for the start of the season, it isn’t exactly breakthrough strategic thinking! United are merely one example, you could carry out a similar analysis for most other Premier League clubs.
The events of yesterday were simply baffling; having been told all season that Alexis Sanchez would not be sold, it then transpired that he was available at the right price and if a replacement, Thomas Lemar as it emerged, could be brought in. This madcap three party deal, which in all reality could have been done back in the earlier part of the summer, rather unsurprisingly fell apart.
Earlier in the day Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain departed for Liverpool and Lucas Perez and Joel Campbell were sent on loan as presumably they were about numbers 6 and 7 in the queue for the striker role; which along with the sale of Szczesny and Gabriel has at least trimmed some of the fat from the squad and wage bill. The only semblance of hope I hold, deluded as it may be, is that the freeing up of wage money is designed to offer Sanchez and Özil the new deals that they have reportedly been demanding; although even if that is the plan, it is hard to envisage how a squad that wasn’t good enough last year, finishing 18 points behind the champions and out of the top four for the first time in twenty years, is going to miraculously improve on that, especially given the investment of the rest of the top seven clubs.
Away from Arsenal, and believe me it helps to be able to focus on other matters, the Transfer Deadline Day circus was actually fairly tame, so much so that the overhyped Sky Sports News team were left debating the whys and wherefores of Ross Barkley’s seeming mid-medical assessment decision to not to sign for Chelsea and return to Everton.
Meanwhile on the continent came a baffling decision by the champions of France, Monaco, to initially loan their prized asset Kylian Mbappé to their biggest rivals with an arrangement for him to be bought in twelve months’ time; a move that was clearly designed to get round the Financial Fairplay rules, modern football eh?
After a summer that has seen ludicrous spending, and not solely from the super-rich Premier League clubs, and where it has increasingly felt that players have been traded as commodities rather than in terms of the potential contribution they can make to the team, I for one am relieved it is all over and we can at least now concentrate on the actual football until the transfer window swings open(!) again in January.