Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

The Explanation, not excuse, for Arsenal’s Failure to buy a Striker

The transfer window has slammed shut and Arsenal have ended it with one first-team signing — that of Petr Cech. Apart from a slightly dodgy debut against West Ham, the Czech has been a revelation between the sticks and has taken the team one step closer to winning their first league title in thirteen years. However, it would seem that, with Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck the only two specialist centre-forwards in the squad, the Gunners lack the firepower up front to sustain a challenge over 38 games.

Throughout the summer Arsenal were linked with an endless array of strikers ranging from world-class to distinctly overrated. Karim Benzema seemed to be the most serious target — it is certain that Arsène Wenger at least made some attempt to bring him to North London — but the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Charlie Austin and even Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson were rumoured to be on Arsenal’s shortlist.

No striker was bought. This sparked outrage amongst social media users and journalists (in some cases I use the term loosely) alike. Once the window closed at 6.00pm GMT yesterday, Arsenal’s failure to buy a striker meant that their title chances were written off. Wenger was blamed for all sorts of vices ranging from “stubborn” to “lacking ambition” and fans and pundits produced long lists of strikers whom Wenger should have signed and would have signed, apparently, had he spent some (expletive) money.

If one is searching for rationality, social media and British football journalism are not the best places to look. People are reactionary, emotive, angry and, when it comes to signings, are more interested in money of some description being spent than said money being spent properly. When people gave their reasons for wanting potential signings, they usually wanted players who were “upgrades” on what Arsenal had rather than players whom they thought were guaranteed to lead the team to glory.

Some of the suggestions made aren’t worth taking seriously. Benteke and Austin would not have been able to win Arsenal the Premier League. Both are good strikers—both are certainly close to the level of Olivier Giroud and possibly better—but though they may have been “upgrades” on what the team currently has, they are not worth extortionate spending. They would struggle to bring Arsenal the silverware that would justify the cost.

Who knows, had a player on that level signed perhaps he would have caused competition between the strikers and made Welbeck and Giroud kick up a level. Perhaps he would have hit the ground running and produced a long-term run of form which would have won Arsenal the league. What is for certain is that neither of those players would have guaranteed silverware to add to the two FA Cups won in the last two years.

As for the truly world-class players, those who would have nigh on guaranteed domestic and European success, it seems that very few, if any, were available. Edinson Cavani, Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandwoski would have certainly led Arsenal to serious silverware. Edin Džeko, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mario Mandžukić would have made it unlikely for the Gunners to fail. Alexandre Lacazette has the potential to become world-class. These seven are of the calibre and potential to merit a huge transfer fee.

None of those first three were available. Paris Saint-Germain were not keen to sell Cavani because first-choice Zlatan Ibrahimovic is past his first youth. Moreover, the Uruguayan is one of the most athletic and clinical strikers in the world. Real Madrid did not want to sell Benzema and the player himself took to Twitter to suggest that he himself wasn’t too keen on a move. Lewandowski had a few problems last season but has only been at Bayern for a year and has plenty of unfinished business in Germany.

As for Aubameyang and Džeko, Dortmund were keen to keep hold of the former and it is unlikely that Manchester City would have wanted to sell to a rival. None of us know for sure what happens in transfer dealings, but it does not seem feasible that City would want to give Arsenal one of the final pieces in their jigsaw. Mandžukić made his move to Juventus very early on in the transfer window and Wenger would have been going after Benzema at that time. Lyon did not want to sell Lacazette.

Perhaps Arsenal should have settled for Mandžukić early on, but Wenger deserves praise for going after the true cream of the crop. People have accused him of lacking ambition because he didn’t bring in any new outfield players. Conversely, it is a sign of his intention that he wanted world-class or nothing.

This article is not designed to excuse Arsenal and Wenger of any shortcomings in the transfer market. It is to point out that transfer deals are difficult to negotiate and impossible to broker when the selling club do not want to sell and the player does not want to leave. What’s more, there is a big difference between spending money and spending money shrewdly. Wenger is a very sensible man with money — he doesn’t like to waste it. Therefore, he does not want to spend £30 million or more on a player who is not guaranteed to live up to that price tag.

It will be very difficult for Arsenal to win the league this season without a genuinely world-class striker. But it is worth remembering that competing with Chelsea and Manchester City, who have the wealth of a Russian oligarch and an entire country behind them respectively, is difficult for a club which generates its own money. It is a shame that a new striker and holding midfielder weren’t brought in, but this is not Armageddon. What is needed now is for Arsenal to ignore what might have been in the transfer window and look to make the tactical changes required to increase their chances of challenging for the league title and going far in Europe.

Arsène Wenger is a risk taker. He trusts his players. As Patrick Vieira says, his ability to trust people is his greatest strength but also his greatest weakness. Whilst his belief in the likes of Thierry Henry paid off, his confidence in Marouane Chamakh and many more did not. Only time will tell as to whether his faith in the current team will be rewarded.



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