Arsenal start the long summer search for that missing ingredient
Arsene Wenger knows he needs reinforcements, but who will he go after?
Arsene Wenger was expecting the questions and was ready with his answers.
The Arsenal manager had just walked off the Craven Cottage pitch on Sunday with the sound of the Gunners’ sizeable travelling support ringing in his ears. ‘Spend some ****ing money’.
It is not the first time the Frenchman has heard those sentiments from the club’s supporters, but it was probably the most vociferous delivery of them he has encountered, even after six years without a trophy.
“The fans have the right to chant,” admitted Wenger afterwards. “They are not happy. I’m not happy but we have to accept that. But we also don’t have to go overboard.”
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That is the kind of measured response one used to expect from Wenger, a vision somewhat blighted by the frustrated, frantic figure seen prowling the touchline in the last two months.
“We will try to do the right thing,” he continued. “We will try to buy the right players. The amount of money is not always linked with the quality of the player.
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“We will spend the needed money but you first have to find the right players and then turn up with the money. If we find the right players we will spend the money.”
Not exactly the words Arsenal fans were hoping to hear. The most disgruntled want Wenger out, but they are still in a minority. But the majority do want him to spend, and this time spend big.
The problem, as Wenger tried to point out, is that spending money is not an achievement in itself, and it guarantees nothing.
If it did, then Chelsea would have something to show for their �70m outlay in January, that has merely brought them second place and an overpriced Spanish striker whose purchase looks to have disrupted an entire squad and was probably the final nail in Carlo Ancelotti’s Stamford Bridge coffin. Unlike under Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, it has always been Wenger who calls the shots at Arsenal when it comes to transfers.
Two questions now arise: Will that still be the case with Stan Kroenke as the majority shareholder? And who would supporters like to spend money on?
On the first point, it seems highly unlikely that Kroenke, even if his proposed takeover comes to fruition, will go over Wenger’s head with transfers.
He may enlarge the available budget, and he may question more strongly why his manager has not spent it if no new faces have arrived by the end of August. But he will not start ordering the signings of this player or that, as Abramovich has done with Fernando Torres and others such as Andrey Shevchenko over the last seven years at Chelsea.
The identity of any new recruits is never easy to predict. Last summer Arsenal were linked with just about every central defender on the planet, and yet nobody mentioned either of the two players Wenger eventually bought, Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci.
This transfer window looks likely to be the same. Despite the return to fitness of Thomas Vermaelen, the emergence of Johan Djourou and a mixed but not entirely negative debut season from Koscielny, central defence is still the key area most supporters want to see strengthened.
Gary Cahill is usually one of the first names to crop up, and the Bolton defender has just enjoyed a fine season for his club which included being capped at senior England level by Fabio Capello.
Owen Coyle’s side faded badly to finish 14th in the Premier League, and their 5-0 hammering by Stoke City in the FA Cup semi-final was a chastening day for all involved with the club, Cahill included.
Many see the 25-year-old as just the kind of centre-half Arsenal need: tough, English, and a leader of men in the mould of Tony Adams and the fabled back four of the 1990s.
While Cahill has performed well in the last two seasons, he has done little to justify such comparisons, and an added problem is that he will not come cheap.
Somewhere in the region of �12-15m would be needed to prise him away from the Reebok, and Wenger has rarely spent as much on any player, let alone a defender.
Another option could be found down the road in Blackburn, where Chris Samba’s no-nonsense brand of defending has again earned him the respect and praise of many. However, the 27-year-old extended his contract to 2015 earlier this year, and would also command a sizeable fee.
Realistically it would be a surprise if Wenger signed either, given his penchant for shopping abroad and largely in the bargain section. The capture of Thomas Vermaelen from Ajax in 2009 and Koscielny last summer is much more Wenger’s style.
If he were to repeat that trend then another Belgian from Ajax, Jan Vertonghen would be the prime candidate. However, the 24-year-old is also wanted by Manchester City, and Arsenal know there is only one winner in any transfer-bidding war with the Abu Dhabi-owned FA Cup winners.
But there is a long summer ahead now, and names will come and go. Or, in Arsenal’s case, probably won’t come.