Wenger & the games he plays
Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)
After being humbled at home by Aston Villa on the opening day of the season, Arsenal bounced back. They have now won three in three and cruised past Fenerbahce to secure their spot in the Champions League group stages. It all looked fairly simple and even involved some competent football from the Gunners.
Actually, it was far better than competent. Against Fulham, Arsenal’s pass accuracy was 87% and while they maintained their walk-it-into-the-box style, they managed to get it right. A shaky start against Fenerbahce was easily overcome and all was well and good again in North London.
All but one thing: the lack of signings.
Journalists have been pounding Arsene Wenger with the simple question of whether he will be singing anyone. His response has always been the same. Visibly irked, he would say that he has nothing to say aside from the fact that Arsenal are looking at the market.
Just a few months ago, Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal’s CEO, was singing a very different tune, insisting the Gunners have the financial firepower to compete with the big boys, or at least the big spenders.
Would Arsenal happily fork out an inflated price of £25 million and wages of around of £200 000 for one player? According to Gazidis, they could do that and more. Money is not the issue for Arsenal, it never really has been.
The last time club's published their accounts (2011/12), Arsenal had around £154 million in cash. To put that into perspective, Manchester United had £71 million and the entire Premier League combined had £181 million.
Arsenals’ reserve cash figure was £74 in 2007 and the growth of the reserve balance shows that as a business, Arsenal are a very good venture. As a football club, not so much.
Arsenal do still have a significant amount of debt - around £253 million which means their net debt is sitting at around £99 million. Even that figure has significantly dropped in the last few years. It was over £200 million from 2006 – 2010, and while that is something which has influenced their transfer strategy, it shouldn’t dictate it.
The fact is and always has been, that Arsenal do not need to spend a massive amount of money on a “big star”. Wenger, although he doesn’t always get it right, is a wily old fox and he has managed to coach a competent group of players into a very good group of players time and time again.
Fans, though, do not want pretty football. They don’t want positive balance sheets and they do not want a fourth-place finish with needing to qualify for the Champions League. Arsenal have earned their spot in Europe’s elite competition for the last 16 seasons. Manchester United are in their 18th season while Real Madrid are in their 17th – with the difference being both sides have won the competition in the time that they’ve competed.
Arsenal’s current first team (including a few of the reserves) is an impressive one and, on their day, they can beat anyone. The chemistry between Aaron Ramsey and Thomas Rosicky has proven to be one of the better combinations in the midfield. Ramsey, in particular, seemed to have finally gotten over the broken leg injury he picked up at Stoke. He looks at ease going forward and could very well oust Jack Wilshere as first choice.
The problem isn’t the current squad. The problem is what happens when anyone of those current squad members are injured. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is already out for three months. Lukas Podolski has picked up an injury which will rule him out for “at least three weeks”, Wilshere is carrying a niggle and there are concerns over Ramsey.
The concerns over the backline are even worse. A largely inexperienced group of players make up the defence and an injury to either Bacary Sagna or Per Mertesacker could disrupt the harmony. Yet, the talk all through the transfer window has been about bringing in an extra striker.
One with a big name on ridiculous wages at a very inflated transfer fee. That kind of talk is unnecessary and it’s the club bowing to the mob-mentality demands of indoctrinated Premier League fans. Sure, a bag-name striker would be a nice boost in the club’s profile, but it’s kind of like buying a Mercedes when you’re already driving a BMW.
Arsenal have enough money at their disposal to bolster the backline with apt extras all while adding an extra striker with a reasonable known name to appease those with shallow demands. Yet, Arsenal simply cannot seem to do good business during the transfer window. Unless Wenger replicates the crazy deadline day spending spree he did a few seasons ago, it will be a long wait until January. However, it should never have come to this for a club that’s such a good business.
Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have her...
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