Saturday, September 01, 2012

Summer transfer review: Proactive vs Reactive and why Arsenal weren't either

Written by Elliot Gibbons

Looking back on it, this summer was another frustrating one if you’re a Gunners fan. There were brief moments of reprieve but these were eclipsed by yet another drawn out transfer saga involving a key name, and a surprise and unhelpful departure reminding the fans that not much has changed in the past five years. Wenger will have his reasons, or his excuses depending on how you view him, but at the end of the day the football on the pitch has to do the talking now and Anfield tomorrow will tell us a lot about which way our season goes from here. I’ll start by saying that I am one of the fans who was extremely disappointed at the close of play last night, but am not entirely pessimistic, after all, ‘getting players back will be like having new signings’.

The main question that I’ve posed in the title of this article is whether our transfer policy this summer was proactive or reactive and perhaps this would have been an easier question had it been asked a month previously. The announcement that Lukas Podolski would be joining the club at the end of the season as early as April had fans eagerly anticipating what other business the club would complete, and rightly so. As a fully-fledged German international who won his 100th cap at Euro 2012, Podolski was the perfect early arrival at the Emirates, bringing experience, creativity and most importantly quality into the side and, at the time, it seemed as if his presence could begin to influence a certain Robin van Persie into believing that we could give him the support this season that he was so lacking last time out. The signing of Olivier Giroud followed after Euro 2012 and while it didn’t warrant the same enthusiastic response, the signs were mostly still positive. Giroud was another international calibre player who would provide great back up for RVP should he stay, he was not, however, a natural leader of the Arsenal front line. It was around this time that the warning lights came on. While on the surface, the arrivals up until that point had been proactive, strengthening the squad and seemingly aiming to fulfil van Persie’s wishes, it is the latter of these two points that I would argue make them, in retrospect, pre-emptive rather than proactive. Wenger has said since our former captain’s departure that we knew that it was a situation that we had to prepare for and therefore, perhaps, we were simply signing Podolski and Giroud to be reactive, early. It is true that we faced very little competition for either player’s signature and this played into our hands, as we were able to tie up both signings with minimal fuss and relatively low expenditure, however the early expectation slowly turned to frustration in the latter stages of the window, and the only real answer to this is because Wenger had no contingency plan, simply a single ‘one size to suit all’ outlook which he would have put into place in any circumstances, something that I will expand upon later. Therefore it can be questioned as to whether there is even any difference between ‘proactive’ and ‘pre-emptive’.

In fact, to answer my own question, I would argue that there is, and his name is Santi Cazorla. At the time of Santi’s transfer there was no obvious impending departure forcing our hand, although this changed of course a couple of weeks later, and therefore the arrival of such a talented and influential player began to excite and even re-energise an exhausted fan base, already facing the prospect of losing their captain and best player for the second consecutive season. This signing was an example of Wenger at his absolute best in the transfer market, on the ball, ruthless and assured and on the evidence of the first few matches of the season, he got this one absolutely right. The reason why the Cazorla signing stands out for Arsenal this summer, aside from his nature as our new creative influence, is because it was so unconnected to anything else going on at the club and therefore free from rumours of who he was replacing or why he had been brought in. He was a quality talent, and that’s all anyone needed to know. Cazorla signing for Arsenal is the perfect example of a proactive transfer, and draws parallels with the signings of Vertonghen and Sigurdsson across in the white half of North London, where the only motivation behind the move is to refresh and generally improve the squad and not to plug gaping holes in it. Therefore, as I said earlier, had I posed the titular question a month ago, it would arguably have been significantly simpler to answer, but events in that time have led me to question Arsenal’s ability to do either entirely effectively.
When the protracted RVP saga was finally over on August 17th many Arsenal fans breathed a collective sigh of relief. Finally the rumours and stories were at an end and, while the fact that he had left for Manchester in particular left many fans fuming, the general consensus was that Wenger’s hardball tactics had paid off and made the most out of a bad situation. What many fans didn’t see coming however was the departure of a second hugely influential first teamer, Alex Song, just around the corner. If van Persie’s transfer was about as drawn out as it is possible for one to be, Song’s was done remarkably quickly. Those demoralising and worrying three days however seemed to take an age for Arsenal fans, with the club genuinely looking in fairly dire straits, after all, although Barcelona are arguably the biggest club on the planet, the fact that Song chose sitting on the bench at the Nou Camp as opposed to leading the Arsenal midfield sent out pretty clear signs to the fans. It stunk of summers past when players such as Flamini and Hleb who could have stayed at Arsenal and become heroes chose instead to pursue a European dream and, in both of those cases, saw their career damaged because of it. However, some still called the transfer a triumph for Wenger’s new ruthless regime and there was some hope when the man himself appeared to confirm that he had the situation under control. For a short time, this even suggested a new, exciting horizon dawning at the Emirates, with a squad full of players who would give their full commitment to the side and fight to prove their credentials. But it was in this desperate part of the window that Arsenal’s transfer policy failed them. Both Sahin and M’Vila were mooted in the press as potential additions to an evolving side but after Wenger, rightly in the end, pulled out of a loan deal with Madrid, things became eerily quiet at the club. The situation that Arsenal got themselves into this summer, although not entirely their own fault, left them unable to buy proactively and had a knock-on effect, as they failed themselves to buy reactively in the second part of the window.

The simple fact is that Wenger had no back-up plan, no contingency should things go wrong, and so when they did, Arsenal fans were left perplexed at the apparent lack of support from both the board and manager to improve what seems now like a fairly average squad considering the lofty targets that we must set ourselves every season. Self-sufficiency is lovely financially, and keeps us in favour with FIFA and their fair play rules, but it seems as if it is now a policy that is threatening to tear a once great football club apart.  

1 comment:

  1. great article mate, lots of very interesting points in there, well written