25 August 2014

Will this week be Wenger's Waterloo?

A dour, indifferent draw with Beşiktaş last Wednesday. A scrappy but undeserved draw at Goodison Park Saturday. News that Giroud will be out for three months (or more). A cup-final second-leg with Beşiktaş. The transfer-window closes on 1 September, the day after a visit to newly promoted and feisty Leicester. Our needs seem to have multiplied, not diminished, since the season began, what with Giroud joining Arteta, Gibbs, and Walcott on the injury-list and our pre-existing conditions at striker, CB, and DM still unaddressed. With failing to qualify for the Champions League group-stage now a very real concern, this is a week that could go from bad to worse in a hurry.

As I've argued before, Arsène seems only to sign players in response to crisis—a shocking result, the looming loss of a player to transfer, or the sudden loss of a player to injury. Heck, for as exciting as some of our summer business has felt, all but one has come in as a replacement for a departed player. Indeed, until something happens to force Arsène to act, he just doesn't do anything. Even when he does, it feels ad hoc rather than strategic. I can't chalk it up to fiscal prudence anymore. The pattern is too stark to ignore.

We can't know what happened behind closed doors, but there's a saying about things that walk like a duck and talk lik a duck. Of our major signings over the last several seasons, can we honestly point to more than one or two as signings that upgraded a position rather than simply replacing someone we'd lost or were about to lose? It's hard. Debuchy, Ospina, and Chambers replaced departed players. Would we have signed Alexis if Walcott was fit? Looking further into the past, I'll give Källström an honorable mention. Özil might stand as one of the upgrade-exceptions. Flamini arguably came in to replace Song, who had left the summer before. In the summer of 2012, we signed Podolsk, Giroud, and Cazorla, but were they meant as upgrades to convince van Persie to stay or as replacements after he left? Monreal, of course, came in after Gibbs got injured. Summer 2011 saw us lose Clichy, Nasri, and Fabregas, "replaced" in some form or another by Santos, Arteta, Gervinho, and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Mertesacker joins Özil, by my reckoning, as the only players brought in who stand out as upgrades rather than replacements.

We could quibble over this or that player, but the larger picture remains: it feels like we lurch and stagger from crisis to crisis, responding retroactively rather than planning purposefully. This has been enough to keep us in the top four, but that might reveal more about the sixteen who finish below us than it does about us, especially last year as we watched gleefully while Spurs sputtered and Man U misfired. We can't count on that again. There are now six, perhaps seven clubs with legitimate designs on a top-four finish, and two of them will duke it out for top honors. We're not one of those two. At this stage, we'll be lucky to count ourselves among the other four or five clubs squabbling for the scraps those two deign to drop from the top of the table: FA Cup. League cup. Champions League qualification. Europa League Qualification.

I hope and pray that we don't experience a Waterloo-like week. I hope and pray that Giroud's injury is a watershed. Even Arsène must recognize that we can't go into the thick of the season with only Sanogo as our only "true" striker. Yes, Alexis can slot in, as can Podolski (whose travel plans may have been negated by Giroud's injury), but neither is the answer to our original question.

If I'm onto something with this "crisis management" approach to transfer-policy, well, that's no way to run a club—at least, not a club with the ambitions of Arsenal. We have the money. We've guarded it preciously, saving it up for a rainy day. While we're dusting off old clichés, let's hope that, when it rains, it pours.