It’s strange to arrive at the morning of our season opener and not feel the usual mix of excitement and optimism, or at least intrigue.
That’s because the summer usually involves new signings or squad promotions which bring fresh blood into the team, making me either convinced we’ll overcome our faults and challenge for honours or scared witless that everything will come crashing down.
This time round it just feels like we’re in for more of the same. Arteta’s injury apart, the team we field against Villa today will in all likelihood be exactly the same as the one that won at Newcastle on the final day of last season.
Really, our season will start against Sunderland on September 14, the first match after the transfer window shuts. It’s a stupid system that everyone is left dangling until the first three league fixtures – not to mention both legs of the Champions League qualifiers – are completed before we know who our squad members will be for the campaign.
But that is nothing compared to the stupidity of the way Arsenal have done their transfer business this summer.
The good ship Prudence was launched with high expectations after Ivan Gazidis’s ‘new era of financial firepower’ rhetoric, it coasted through the Higuain speculation before hitting weather off Irony Bay with the signing of an injury-prone French teenager in the form of Yaya Sanogo. Then it crashed into the Suarez £40,000,001m storm and has now properly run aground in Plain Embarrassing Straits with Wenger blaming the market and other clubs for doing business early as the reasons we haven’t signed anyone of note.
I could moan away for another 1,000 words about how badly the Club has handled things but, in the interests of readers’ sanity, let me try to be brief: we have no transfer strategy; our scouting system is failing; we don’t have the manpower to complete deals; the messages from Gazidis and Wenger are not the same and yet there never appears to be any pressure placed on the boss; Wenger’s perception of ‘value’ is the same as ‘discounted’; signing Suarez would have/still could undermine a huge amount of what Arsenal Football Club stands for.
These aren’t completely new problems but I’ve always managed to be persuaded that they were excused by the financial constraints of financing the construction of Ashburton Grove. Now, with new commercial deals secured and having oodles of cash in the pot, I just see them as inherent flaws in Wenger’s attitude and the way that part of the Club is run.
The one plus has been the amount of deadwood we have managed to chop out. Bendtner and Park Ju-Young remain but getting rid of Squillaci, Arshavin, Denilson, Santos, Chamakh and, best of all, persuading Roma to pay actual money for Gervinho, in the course of three months is pretty sharp.
But of course virtually all of these players represent failures of our transfer policies in the first place. With the exception of Gervinho they have had to be written off by the Club because they were literally worthless.
Questions need to be asked both about how and why we targeted these players in the first place and also about how they were treated (by that I mean coached as well as the atmosphere within the ‘Colney creche’) once they arrived. Basically, were they crap when we bought them or did we make them crap? But there is no feeling that those questions ARE being asked, either by Wenger or anyone supposedly above him.
So we arrive at the start of the season not having suffered the traditional trauma of selling our best player but equally not having taken the opportunity to use some of our mammoth cash pile. The teams that will be competing for the title have all undergone upheaval to a greater or lesser degree by appointing Moyes, Mourinho and Pellegrini. This was a chance to add even more pressure on them by – crazy thought this – buying players that are better than theirs.
It all still may happen in the final days of the window. But it hasn’t so far this summer and it hasn’t in any of the last eight or nine so don’t build your hopes up.