I had intended a cheerful blog about our wonderful squad this week, but having been confronted with the utter lunacy that seemed to grab Arsenal fans in the final days of this window I thought I’d get a few things off my chest about that instead.
So the big news is Arsenal’s failure to buy a striker this window. Apparently we’ve had ‘3 windows to put this right’; we have failed, and are, in general, a complete laughing stock of a club. There seems to be two different angles being taken by different people. The first group wanted us to buy a world class player - a replacement for Giroud who will ‘win us the league’. The second want a backup, someone to come in if the worst happens and Giroud gets injured.
Better than Giroud?
Let’s get something out of the way right at the start. There was not a better striker than Giroud available this window. Not even close. If there was, Chelsea would have bought him. Here is a super-rich club, who have just freed up funds by selling Mata for £40m, whose 3 strikers COMBINED have only one more league goal than Giroud this season! There is not a single top class (let alone world class) striker who moved this window and it was naïve to think there would be. Sure, every so often the stars align and a Mata type signing happens, but more often than not top players don’t move in January. It’s that simple. Name a striker you think is better than Giroud and it is a player who didn’t move and was not for sale!
Better than Bendtner?
In fairness, I think those who thought we’d get an improvement on Giroud this window are pretty few and far between. Far more common are those in the second group who, understandably, wanted a body in to give cover. I’m sure the club would have liked to do this, but that back up does need to be better than Bendtner. Ok, stop sniggering, because here’s the thing - Bendtner has played over 25 minutes in only two league games this season…and he’s scored in both of them. Of course there are huge questions on the mental side with him, but the fact is that he is an experienced and not untalented striker, he needs no time to acclimatise to a new club, he costs no transfer fee, he leaves at the end of the season so can’t become ‘deadwood’, and he’s playing to put himself in the shop window in summer. Even a completely average back-up striker might cost the club £10m once you factor in transfer fee, agent fee, wages and all that, and they’d need to be a fair bit better than Bendtner to justify that outlay. Most of the options being bandied about offered little guarantee they would be. Even the better options were hardly certainties - perhaps we’d get the energised, clinical version of Berbatov, but there’s every chance we’d get the lazy, pissed-off-at-being-on-the-bench Berbatov instead.
Whether you rate Bendtner or not though, it is ridiculous to simply talk as if he doesn’t exist. If we’d brought in a striker of similar ability (and even a similar history of attitude problems), that we didn’t already have history with, I can promise you most people would have been satisfied. Instead I’m reading these silly ‘we’ve only got one striker’ tweets. There is also the irony that the people complaining the loudest that we should have signed SOMEONE are also the ones who moaned the loudest about ‘deadwood’ clogging up our wage bill! You should be applauding the club for learning their lesson and sticking with Bendtner! (And I haven’t even mentioned Podolski. No matter what you think of him at No 9, there is no guarantee some of these ‘covering’ options would fit us any better).
It Was the Summer, Stupid!
Of course, the moan then goes that it’s not about January, it is about the ‘debacle’ in the summer. Here is where everyone’s hindsight kicks in beautifully and we’re regaled with how terrible the decision was to let Higuain slip through our fingers. A few thoughts on that:
Firstly, Higuain’s numbers are almost identical to Giroud’s this season. Sure it’s hard to compare different leagues and different team set ups, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest that as an overall package he is a wildly better option. Higuain may be the more clinical striker, but Giroud brings a lot more to the table. In fact, some of his most valuable qualities don’t register in his own stats at all. He is, in my opinion, every bit as responsible for the drop in ‘goals conceded from set pieces’ as Mertesecker and Koscielny. (And given our record in that particular department in past seasons you could argue that it is THE key change that has put us top of the league for the past few months). Also, his link up play is also still hugely underrated. I’d love to see his stats for pre-assists, because I have a feeling they’d be telling. Look at the goal that finally opened up Fulham the other day. There was lots of pretty play, and the stats say ‘Cazorla goal, Wilshere assist’, but without his one touch dink round the corner to Wilshere, it would have stayed 0-0. One of the things I’ve liked least about this window has been the unthinking adherence to the idea that Giroud is never good enough to spearhead a title-winning team. If you even remotely think Chelsea, with their strikers, have a shot at the league this season, then Giroud is good enough too!
Now, granted, had we been able to get Suarez that would of course have been an exciting upgrade, so I certainly don’t blame them for switching their attention to him. In retrospect it was the wrong decision because of the buyout debacle, but it certainly wasn’t the wrong one in footballing terms. And truthfully I still fail to see what the club could have done all that differently. It would have been illegal for them to have actually gained access to Suarez’s contract, and if an agent comes and tells them there is a buyout, I’m not sure what we expect them to do other than put in the offer and find out. (As far as the £1 thing goes, how else are buyouts activated? I have no idea, but surely that kind of shorthand must be used at times to satisfy the legal clause?) The club certainly didn’t cover itself in glory in retrospect, but I’ve yet to see a convincing argument laying out what they should have done instead that doesn’t rely on huge doses of hindsight.
Anyway, that saga could fill a blog in itself, but given that Suarez turned out to be unavailable, I will go on record as saying I think Wenger was perfectly justified heading into the season with the strikeforce he had. Giroud, Walcott and Podolski all offer different, excellent options, whilst Bendtner (and, of course, Sanogo, had injury not intervened) offered specific ‘target man’ cover for Giroud. In case you didn’t notice, the season has been going pretty well with those options at hand. The idea that it is gross negligence to have failed to sign a striker for 3 windows is mostly based around underrating those players. Sure it would be nice to have Higuain too, but I wonder if we’d have closed quite so many games off at 1-0 and 2-0 if he had been our starting striker. And if I had the choice between us signing Draxler or Walcott not being injured I would take the latter every single day of the week!
But Draxler Would Have Won Us The Title!!!
Which brings us nicely to the other big talking point of the window… Ok, here’s the thing. I’d have LOVED us to get Draxler. He looks like a wonderful talent and has ‘can be converted into a world class striker in a few years’ written all over him. BUT… he’s 20, he has scored 1 goal this season, and he’s injured! The idea that he would have come in and won us the title is ludicrous. We don’t even know that the unconfirmed reports that he will be fit in a couple of weeks are true. For all we know he is injured until March as originally reported.
It’s a classic example of the IDEA of a particular transfer capturing the imagination without considering the actual reality. There is every chance that we could have bought him and not even had him match fit until mid-March, and then he has to try to adapt to a new team, a new league, and even (if we want him to play striker) a new position. And let’s not forget that if he *shock horror* turns out to need more than a few weeks before metamorphosing into a world class striker, then he is just another player in a position where we already have a LOT of options.
He might turn out to be a huge miss in the future, but Wenger doesn’t have the luxury of hindsight, and £37m on a 20 year old is a HUGE gamble. Personally I absolutely trust Arsene’s judgment if he’s decided it’s not a gamble he’s willing to take. Last year Draxler was out-performed in the Bundesliga by Kevin De Bruyne (10 goals, 9 assists vs 10 goals and 3 assists). De Bruyne also won Bundesliga Young Player of the Year. He ended up failing to make the grade at Chelsea and has been shipped off to Wolfsburg. Now imagine that happened with Draxler when we had paid £37 million for him!
YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING! STOP PRETENDING YOU DO!
Of course, we don’t even know for sure that it was Wenger who pulled out of the deal. And here is something that has royally pissed me off for years – this brainless, arrogant assumption of so many that they KNOW what has happened with a transfer. “Ooooh”, Ornstein says this, it must be true! “Aaaah”, ‘reliable’ Jeremy Wilson has just confirmed what we all suspected. “OMG!!!” Wayne Veysey spills the beans on our clubs innermost workings!!!
Here’s the thing, even a ‘reliable’ journalist probably only has one main source per club. All you are ever hearing is someone’s spin on a story. We currently have 2 COMPLETLEY contradictory stories about the Draxler deal from two or three equally ‘reliable’ sources:
Oh, how the usual suspects crowed when ‘reliable’ Ornstein told us the board had been ready to meet Shalke’s asking price, but Wenger had got cold feet. Stupid, cowardly, conservative Wenger! What an absolute joke he is!
But wait, what’s this? ‘Reliable’ Jan Aage Fjortoft tells us that a fee was agreed but that Schalke pulled out for footballing reasons. And now what? Draxler has gone on tv and said that the valuation was met but Schalke blocked the deal anyway?!
It’s almost as if NO ONE HAS A FRICKIN’ CLUE WHAT IS GOING ON!!!! And it happens time and time again, so next time you see some know it all spouting off about how we messed up a deal that they actually have no concrete information about, please copy and paste this helpful template into your twitter account: ‘YOU HAVE LITERALLY NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT. YOU ARE SPOUTING HEARSAY AND PASSING IT OFF AS FACT BECAUSE IT FITS YOUR NARRATIVE!’ (Character count: 139!)
Just One More Thing…
Ok, one final tangent to go off on: how has it happened that transfers are somehow almost the aim in and of themselves? It’s not about improving the squad anymore, it’s about winning the ‘most spent and highest number of new players acquired’ game. Take our squad – we have a glorious squad, bristling with world class players, future superstars, and no small number of seemingly great guys! We seem to value almost all of them at nothing compared to the thought of someone NEW. The real tragedy of this window is not that we’ve failed to sign Draxler, but that Walcott got injured. The real pain is that one of the players of the season so far, Aaron Ramsey, is out for a few more weeks. But instead of appreciating the players we have, all anyone is doing is moaning that we didn’t buy an injured 20 year old, or that we did buy an injured 31 year old!
Draxler isn’t even what we really need right now, but because he’s new and expensive we have all gone crazy at the thought that we’ve missed out on him. I bet you that, in terms of fitting straight in and affecting this season for the better, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain will have a bigger impact replacing Walcott than Draxler would have, but because he’s not a SIGNING, no one seems to care. It’s as if people really need transfers not to improve their squad, but to cheer themselves up. ‘We need a boost Arsenal!’ ‘That shiny new Ozil has got a bit old hat now.’ [Editors note: This article was written and sent to me before The Ox won us three points yesterday - ML]
How about we all grow up and take some time to appreciate the best squad we’ve had in about 10 years instead?