Sunday, 4 September 2011

Who's in, who's out...

Here's a summary of all signings, including the 'August Five' as well as previous arrivals in this transfer window, along with a list of those who have left the club, both permanently and on loan.

Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen)
Mikel Arteta (Everton)
Andre Santos (Fenerbahçe)
Park Chu-Young (AS Monaco)
Yossi Benayoun (Chelsea)

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Southampton)
Gervinho (OSC Lille)
Carl Jenkinson (Charlton Athletic)
Joel Campbell (Deportivo Saprissa > loan, Lorient)
Ryo Miyaichi [signed January 2011]

Gaël Clichy (Manchester City)
Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona)
Samir Nasri (Manchester City)
Emmanuel Eboué (Galatasaray)
Armand Traore (QPR)
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (Ipswich Town)
Mark Randall (released, Chesterfield)
Jamie Edge (released, West Bromwich Albion)
Gilles Sunu (released, Lorient)
Tom Cruise (released, free agent)
Roarie Deacon (released, Sunderland)
Jens Lehmann (retired)

Nicklas Bendtner (Sunderland)
Kyle Bartley (Rangers)
Henri Lansbury (West Ham)
Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad)
Denilson (São Paolo)
Wellington (Levante)
Pedro Botelho (Rayo Vallecano)
Samuel Galindo (Gimnàstic de Tarragona)
James Shea (Dagenham & Redbridge)

So what does it all mean?
It turned out to be an interesting and busy window for the Gunners, and the flurry of late transfer activity garnered many column inches in the sporting press. Recent reports in fact suggest that contact had already been made with Mertesacker and Arteta before the 8-2 mauling, so it is not perhaps the case that the new players were simply last-minute panic buys. Equally, though, this was not part of some Wenger masterplan, and the boss can be accused of short-sightedness. It was patently obvious that the squad did not have sufficient strength in depth to compete in 2011/12 back in pre-season. At the same time, however, it is important to recognise that Arsenal are not at the top table when it comes to record-breaking transfer fees and player salaries. Whether it is prudent club management and fiscal responsibility, as is claimed, or something more worrying - like Emirates debt repayments - it is clear that Arsenal will not or cannot compete with the super-rich.

I don't think this is the reason for most fans' frustration up to now, however. The root cause has been the fact that certain players appear to have been ignored or, worse, to have slipped through our fingers simply because Arsenal weren't quick enough off the mark, or were unwilling to offer realistic market prices. Cases in point, of course, are Scott Parker and Gary Cahill. Failure to sign these players may prove costly. The most disturbing aspect of this is that the Gunners, once so adept in the transfer market, do seem to have faltered in recent years. Some have pointed to the departure of the undeniably canny and well-connected David Dein as the underlying cause of this. Experienced negotiators and an excellent scouting network are pre-requisites for any big club and this window has perhaps drawn many to question previously held assumptions about the state of Arsenal's activities in this regard.

This is not to dismiss the signings we have made, though. It is difficult to predict which of the new players will have the biggest impact, but all have considerable potential to inject mettle, discipline, inspiration and creativity into the side. Although experience teaches us that not all our August acquisitions will be a success - for every Henry a Reyes, perhaps - key problem areas do seem to have been addressed. Commanding centre-back? Mertesacker seems to fit the bill. A replacement for Clichy and cover for the worryingly injury-prone Kieran Gibbs? Check. Creative midfielders to fill the void left by Fabregas and Nasri? Well, admittedly Benayoun and Arteta are not of the quality that has departed, but they are good players, proven in the PL, and arguably neither have been able to play at quite the level they deserve. Arsenal will give them that opportunity, and with Wilshere’s return plus the options that Oxslade-Chamberlain and Ramsey can offer, the midfield is no longer looking like such a weak link. Arshavin and Rosicky will be looking over their shoulders, and rightly so – both have been accused of lacking the passion and drive that we so desperately need. Similarly, despite not buying a DM in the window, Arsenal do have Frimpong and Song. Both can be effective defensive or holding midfielders - they just need to start destroying opposition play rather than opposition players.

Gervinho’s performances on the pitch, red card nothwithstanding, have already given reasons for optimism. Direct running, plenty of spirit and an eye for goal are all valuable qualities. Those are things that Chu-Young Park also offers, by all accounts. And lastly, there’s Ryo Miyaichi, the somewhat forgotten January new boy. Like others, I am sceptical of his ‘wonderkid’ label – but then, who’s to say he won’t turn out to be just that? Armed with work permit and squad number he might just get the chance to shine.

What of the players that have departed? There is no need to say anything further about Cesc. No-one can really begrudge him a move back to his native city and his boyhood club. The protracted transfer and the bickering between the two clubs does not reflect well on either Barcelona or Arsenal, but, finally, it has at least been resolved. Nasri’s swapping of Emirates for Etihad is more difficult to take. The team will clearly need to adapt quickly; a big ask in a single season, but not an impossible one. Eboué will be missed by some – he was occasionally brilliant and usually entertaining, as well as a useful utility player. But I don’t believe he had the footballing intelligence, the vision or awareness, to ever be a regular on the team-sheet. Similar charges can perhaps be levelled at Nicklas Bendtner. He nevertheless scored some important goals and undoubtedly has talent. It is buried somewhere beneath his ego, and that, ultimately, was the problem. An outgoing loan deal, he is still technically an Arsenal player, but given his recent comments it seems unlikely that he’ll ever return to Emirates in a red and white shirt, except perhaps of the striped 'Mackems' variety. The departures of Traore, Emmanuel-Thomas and other young guns are evidence of a requirement to trim the squad. Randall and Cruise both looked as though they would break into the team; to release them is harsh, perhaps, but on the other hand the image of Wenger as ruthless disciplinarian is not something we are used to. Taking a harder line is perhaps what is needed at the start of a season that many are saying will be the toughest of Wenger's career to date.

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