03 April 2014

Ask Cavani, whither the brasileiros or argentinos at Arsenal?

Could it really be possible that Arsène Wenger, renowned for revolutionizing English football by bringing in foreign players, has completely missed the boat that brings South American footballers to the Continent? I was watching some older clips when I caught a brief glimpse of Silvinho and I muttered to myself, "he might just be the only inho to have ever played for Arsenal". He was no Ronaldinho, and that only serves to reinforce the point. The pipeline that has sent the likes of Ronaldinho, Messi, Falcao, and Agüero, among others, to Europe seems to have almost completely bypassed Arsenal. Arsenal's South American starting XI would be short a few players, and we'd have to argue over whether Silvinho or the "legendary" André Santos starts at left-back. For a manager who has built a large part of his reputation on finding and developing diamonds in the rough, how could we be left with such slim pickings?

Silva eluding Scholes and Keane. It's been that long...
It's not been for lack of trying, at least recently, as we spent large chunks of last summer's tranfer-window pursuing Gonzalo Higuaín, Luis Suárez, Luiz Gustavo, and Ángel di María only to come up short on each for various reasons. Looking back to the start of Arsène's 17 years at Arsenal, I would think we'd have seen a few more brasileiros or argentinos come through, what with the reputation/stereotype for being technically superior to their European or African counterparts. It is the land of joga bonito, after all; even more, Arsenal under Arsène have often striven to play a similarly technical, aesthetic game (even to the point of neglecting defense and, at times, losing beautifully instead of winning ugly).

However, we can almost count the South Americans to have made an appearance at Arsenal with one hand. Wellington Silva. André Santos. Damían Martínez. Eduardo. Baptista. Pedro Botelho. Denílson. Gilberto Silva. Edú. Silvinho. Perhaps alone among them is Silva, who did distinguish himself in his time at Arsenal, Pressed to another who has left an impression, much less impressed, we might just have to shrug our shoulders and go with, I don't know, Denilson. Some of them, to be fair, haven't yet had much of a chance, such as Wellington Silva, Botelho, and Martínez. Others looked promising only to have injuries cut short their time and opportunities. Eduardo, for example, Edu, or Denilson. Where might their careers have gone were it not for those injuries (especially Eduardo's, whose injury rivals that of Aaron Ramsey for gut-turning horror-shows)?  Others, like Baptista and Santos, just never impressed.

How can this be? We see South Americans making immense contributions to other clubs, whether it's Ramires, Oscar, Willian, and Luiz at Chelsea; Agüero, Fernandinho, and Zabaleta at Man City; Suarez and Coutinho at Liverpool...heck, even Tottenham have Paulinho, for crissakes. Why not Arsenal? Has Arsène have been put off by previous experiences, such as with Santos, deciding instead to focus on Francophone countries and England? There have been countless rumors linking us to all sorts of Brazilian or Argentinian players, for what that's worth, but nothing has come of any of it. It seems a that Arsène, once a vanguard for introducing players to the Prem from across the Channel and further afield, hasn't been able to replicate similar successes across the Atlantic. There have been flashes of potential, moments of brilliance, but all too few success-stories. As we bemoan the lack of a clinical striker, someone who is deft but also lethal with the ball at his feet, we're left to gaze wistfully at Suarez, Higuaín, Agüero, and others. Similarly, for as much as we may loathe Ramires or mock Luiz, it's perhaps no accident that the grit and tenacity we lack in the defensive midfield was once provided by Silva and Vieira (admittedly a bit of stretch from his Portuguese background via Cape Verde, but bear with me on that).

As we look ahead to the summer-transfer window and assess our needs, I'm not calling for a plethora of South American signings just to keep up with those we're chasing in the Prem, but each of them has at least one difference-maker who hails from Brazil, from Argentina, from Uruguay. There's something in that, to be sure. Mr. Cavani, if you're reading this, would you give Arsène a call? We'd be ever so grateful...