Originally published in Give Me Sport – 29 January, 2016
Arsene Wenger is famed for his methodical football and equally thought-out transfer process. He does not like to spend huge sums unless he knows the player is a perfect fit for the club. The signings of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez (approximately £42 and £35 million, respectively) are proof that Wenger is prepared to splash the cash, when he sees fit to do so.
High-money flops, on the other hand, are not something he does. There have, undeniably, been many a flop for the Gunners – Andre Santos, Sebastien Squillaci, and Denilson, to name a few.
They have, however, managed to avoid the big name flops – like £50 million Fernando Torres to Chelsea, or £35 million Andriy Shevchenko to, funnily enough, Chelsea.
Could Wenger’s caution, though, be damaging Arsenal? And, with the January transfer window coming to a close yesterday, could throwing caution to the wind bring home their first title in over a decade?
Wenger has spent in this window. The recent addition of Mohamed Elneny, reportedly for £5 million, will bolster the squad and add further depth to a midfield that has been pockmarked with injuries. At only 23, he is a young player and has won three back-to-back titles with his former club, Basel.
It’s no secret that Arsenal need another striker and another central defender. Wenger likes to take his time over transfers and ensure the player is right for the club. This is understandable and admirable, but one has to only look around the Premier League to see the money being spent and, arguably, risked.
Alexandre Pato has made a loan move to London rivals, Chelsea. Given Pato’s inconsistent record in Europe, many may see this move as a huge risk – another Torres, potentially. Guus Hiddink’s gutsy signing is commendable, though – he could well salvage a dismal season and fire Chelsea into a European spot. Maybe Wenger should have attempted a signing such as this?
Charlie Austin’s £4 million move to Southampton went entirely under the radar and, having scored already, looks set to be one of the best signings of the season. Given his well-known scoring ability, is this a player Wenger could have gone in for?
Other players that Wenger has missed out on, in the past, include Loic Remy and Demba Ba – both having their buy-out clauses activated and both ending up, across London, in the hands of the Blues. Again, given their scoring exploits, it was strange that Wenger didn’t even attempt to activate their release clauses and secure their talents.
In hindsight, both Remy and Ba’s careers haven’t/didn’t enjoy the greatest success at Chelsea – although Remy did win a Premier League and League Cup title with them. Who knows? Perhaps they would have done far better at Arsenal.
The point is that Wenger could and should risk the club’s money now and then. A strange statement, but a true one. A club of Arsenal’s calibre can afford to lose money on a signing, especially as it isn’t a habit they have already. Also, Wenger’s position at the club is clearly solid – one big money failure isn’t likely to cost him his job.
Why not, for example, splash £35 million on Bruno Martins Indi? Or even £25 million, say, on Aritz Aduriz? The latter may be 34, but he’s having a good season, had a great 2014-15, and could help Arsenal to a league title. Of course, there would be issues and it isn’t always straight forward but a prolonged attempt to pry him away from Athletic Bilbao may garner results.
Risks are in the nature of football. Dropping a big name from a big game could mean a win, or it could result in defeat and the pointing of fingers at the manager’s decision making. With Arsenal chasing the title, maybe it is time for Wenger to take a risk.
Conservative, tactical, and extensively researched transfers are all well and good and, the majority of the time, mean shrewd signings. This is, however, arguably Arsenal’s best shot at a title in years.
Ignoring his gut feeling and risking the club’s finances may seem ludicrous but what’s the worst that can happen? The worst-case scenario – a large sum of money is wasted, the player is a flop, and Giroud, for example, remains in the team. The best-case scenario – the signing is worth his weight in gold and helps Arsenal lift the Premier League title.
The nature of the January transfer window means Wenger simply does not have the time to draw out the transfer process and calculate every move and potential outcome.
Ultimately, a high-profile flop will not ruin the club; a high-profile success could have galvanised it.