14 August 2013

Playing for Second ... or Fifth

I read a tweet today asking "what we were imploding about tonight?". It made me laugh, then I actually thought about the question at hand.
Still no spending by Arsene Wenger.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie MacDonald)

Was it that Sunderland has signed 10-plus players? That Spurs are a markedly better team than they were last year, especially if they retain the services of Gareth Bale?

Or was it that Arsenal is the sole team in the Premier League that hasn't improved our squad at all? Even Southampton and Cardiff City made notable additions.

No, it was the fact that the question had to be asked in the first place. What are we imploding about? Everything.

Let me start off by saying that I haven't been an Arsenal fan long -- three years -- but I'd be willing to bet a couple PBRs and an Emmanuel Eboue that I can more than hold my own. During my short stint as a supporter, I've witnessed what could sorely be titled the "downtrodden years" for the red-and-white, North London club, especially under the reign of arguably its most successful manager, Arsene Wenger.

I've seen the squad's best players leave, turn their backs and downright embarrass not only the club, but their manager. Wenger's philosophy, which he's apparently willing to take to his grave -- not overpaying for a player or putting his club in debt while doing so -- is beginning to take its toll. For the first time in those three years, Arsenal has managed to not only hold on and grasp those that it holds dear, but cut ties of those meaningless pieces of deadwood taking up wage space.

Arsenal have been linked with players from all around the world, whether it be Liverpool's bad boy, Luis Suarez, Bayern Munich's left out midfielder Luiz Gustavo, Swansea's revelatory scoring machine, Michu, and, more recently, serially sidelined Yoann Gourcuff, these are just some on a long list names. That's what they are. They're players that any decent squad would like to have.

Is this what our team has come to? I'm not saying I wouldn't like to have them either. The fact that the club bid £40,000,000 and £1 for Luis Suarez is fantastic, but he obviously wasn't our first choice. That first choice, Gonzalo Higuain, played for his new team, Napoli, at the Emirates just a couple weeks ago. He was booed rather foolishly, where instead others within our own club should have been receiving those jeers.

Luiz Gustavo isn't Arsenal's first choice either. Bayer Leverkusen's Lars Bender and Borussia Dortmund's İlkay Gündoğan topped the list. The team didn't "want to sell" or the player "didn't want to leave" were the excuses provided. You'd be foolish not to think that handed the "right" amount of money, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott -- those we claim as the faces of Arsenal -- would be pushed out.

It's come to the point where our first options aren't options, they're fantasies. Somehow they are almost signed, then out of nowhere, it's like pen and paper were never involved. Arsenal's only signee, Yaya Sanogo, is unproven in France's second division and as injury prone as Abou Diaby.

The squad is better than they were last year. Yes, without making an addition that's possible. They're healthy, our main striker whose donning a new hairdo, Olivier Giroud, seems to have improved his finishing, netting eight goals in seven preseason matches. Our best player last season, Santi Carzorla, has a year of invaluable league experience under him, which can only mean he'll be better. Sporting a healthy Jack Wilshere, who shouldn't start, but we'll see improvements every game from our feisty, passionate midfielder. The back line duo of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker were arguably the most underrated centre backs in the league with the best chants.

Arsenal is better, that cannot be argued, but it's not keeping up with those around them. The cash won't be splashed, that's for certain, but some effort and intent would be nice. Enough of "showing interest". Enough of finishing second for players that are the priority.

With only a bit more than two weeks in the transfer window left, it's obvious Wenger's top choices have fallen by the wayside, landing, if not yet at our rivals, at other clubs. Remnants of Celtic and how Arsenal, like them, are always trying to find those hidden gems.

It's pointless to argue the Wenger's purpose and value at the club, and he should receive plaudits for how he has constructed his business, but today's game and market might be catching up to him. His practice for his entire 17-year reign has led him to this point. The Premier League's so-called title contenders, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have new managers. Arsenal's time is now. Compete or supporters will be outside Emirates grasping pitchforks and dikes instead of money for tickets and merchandise.

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