The Frenchman’s indecision over a number of top summer targets has left both fans and club officials frustrated, with the Gunners yet to complete a major deal this window
By Wayne Veysey
This was the summer it would all be different.
With an estimated €116 million transfer kitty securing a diamond-crusted path to the top table hosting Europe’s most cash-rich clubs, Arsenal were no longer gazing enviously at the elite.
Finally, London’s most successful club could negotiate on equal terms with the continent’s financial superpowers when it came to signing the world’s top players.
Bona fide stars Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney, Gonzalo Higuain, Marouane Fellaini and Cesc Fabregas, whose fees would all comfortably smash the €23m barrier and Arsenal’s transfer record, have all been the subject of serious and sustained interest. Indeed, all of them remain targets.
While chief executive Ivan Gazidis was so comfortable with the club’s enhanced fiscal muscle this summer that he was content to flex it during a Q&A session with supporters in early June.
Asked if Arsenal were now potentially in a position to pay a €29m transfer fee and wages of €230,000 a week for one player, Gazidis said: “Of course we could do that. We could do more than that”.
Yet in the eight weeks since the end of the last domestic season and the opening of the Premier League transfer window, the sole new arrival is Yaya Sanogo, a France Under-21 striker who was signed on a free after running down his contract at Auxerre.
So, why are Arsenal two days into their pre-season tour of Asia and still without a senior signing?
Speak to senior sources about Arsenal recruitment and they reveal that the power rests principally with one man – Wenger. As one figure told Goal, “The problem is that Arsene dithers and changes his mind all the time”.
Arsenal fans who have suffered an eight-year trophy drought and saw their team claim a Champions League place only by the skin of their teeth for the second consecutive year are bewildered and frustrated at this lack of action.
They have watched Liverpool recruit four new players in a week, Manchester City spend upwards of €58m on two marquee signings and Tottenham outlay up to €20m on a hugely promising Brazilian.
Even Southampton and Swansea City have broken their respective transfer records in capturing Victor Wanyama and Wilfried Bony respectively.
With the biggest transfer kitty in Arsenal’s history burning a hole in the well tailored pocket of Wenger, the call for a tangible return is deafening.
With established management, scouting and executive departments in place at the Emirates Stadium, there appeared no obvious obstacles to a series of early, statement signings. What better demonstration of a club’s ambition than a press conference in late May unveiling a marquee player?
Yet there has been no repeat of last year’s activity, when Arsenal announced as early as April 30 they had reached an agreement with Cologne to buy Lukas Podolski.
Nevertheless, Arsenal have actually been an active player in this summer’s market. Behind the scenes there have been a whirlwind of enquiries, bids and negotiations with selling clubs.
As well as pursuing the current list of top summer targets, the Gunners had laid the groundwork for major signings, most principally Fiorentina’s Stevan Jovetic and Swansea’s Ashley Williams.
In romance terms, Arsenal have teased, flirted and shown a bit of skirt. But they have not been able to formalise any relationships.
In the era of Twitter and social media frenzy, the blame game has been in overdrive. Fingers have variously been pointed at Wenger, Gazidis, contract negotiator Dicky Law, owner Stan Kroenke, the board of directors, the scouting network and even the journalists reporting and uncovering the the negotiations. Moreover, few top clubs are more secretive than Arsenal.
Wenger’s habit of U-turning is known to infuriate many of those who work closely with him on signing players, but despite Arsenal’s lengthy trophyless run, the manager retains almost unparalleled power.
Higuain would now be an Arsenal player had Wenger not baulked at paying Real Madrid an extra €2.3m and decided that, if he was going to spend a €29m fee, he may as well do so on Suarez, who he regards as a player of even greater quality.
Fellaini would also be an Arsenal player if Wenger sanctioned the €116,000-a-week contract that the player’s camp feel he is entitled to. The Gunners have so far offered merely to match his €87,000-a-week Everton deal.
The list goes on. Supporters must dig deep into their reservoirs of patience and hope the club will deliver.