By Chris Jenkins (@ByChrisJenkins)
Year after year, Arsene Wenger built budget-conscious contenders through a robust scouting network that scoured the globe to dig up promising young talent.
But to fix the malaise that has infected this year’s team, he’d be wise to look a little closer to home once the January transfer window opens up.
The main reason for Arsenal’s troubles is no secret: A team can’t continue to sell its best players and not expect some kind of drop-off, unless that team is almost perfect in the decisions it makes on acquiring new players.
Today, Wenger is taking more blame than ever for the big-name players he has let go over the past few years. That’s just not his fault; if Arsenal can’t or won’t offer the same wages that City, Chelsea, Barcelona or United are willing to pay their stars, and players aren’t willing to stay at Arsenal for less money, Wenger really has only one responsible option.
Get as much as he can for those players and try to rebuild by reinvesting in new players. And, frankly, some of the bargain-priced players Wenger has brought in over the past few years have been complete busts.
Bringing in a low-risk gamble such as Andre Santos while Chelsea’s bringing in the likes of Juan Mata was bound to take its toll on Arsenal at some point, and it’s actually a testament to Wenger’s ability to compete on a budget that it hasn’t happened sooner.
So while I think it’s foolish to consider firing a manager who has consistently outperformed reasonable expectations for a budget-conscious team, Wenger’s philosophy on player acquisition requires some rethinking as the January transfer window approaches.
When Arsenal has sold proven players in recent summers, Wenger has turned to other countries to hunt for transfer bargains. Perhaps that’s where he has seen the best value. But there’s a problem.
When a player moves to a new country, city, league and team, he invariably needs time to get settled. And there’s an additional problem when it comes to making a move to the Premier League: A high-energy, fast-paced level of play that requires a level of conditioning unseen in other leagues.
So is it any wonder that Santi Cazorla’s performance has dropped off significantly since his brilliant start to the season? Or that Lukas Podolski, who already was being shielded from trying to play a full 90 minutes, is now getting criticized for being lazy? They’re worn out; that’s why Wenger decided to rest players in this week’s Champions League match, with his team already assured of advancing.
It’s going to take Cazorla or Podolski a while to understand the kind of effort it takes to be an elite-level player in the Premier League. And in time, maybe they’ll both be able to adjust.
The problem, though, is that Arsenal needs help now.
So when it comes time to buy players in January, maybe it’s time to start looking for players who already have settled in the EPL and understand the kind of conditioning, effort and focus it takes to succeed there. Even if it costs a little more.
More Artetas. Fewer Chamakhs.
So as much fun as it might be to dream about Arsenal suddenly shedding its miserly ways and paying whatever it takes to beat the big-budget teams to sign a potential superstar in Atletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao, that isn’t realistic – though Falcao’s teammate, Adrian Lopez, might be an option.
A more budget-conscious alternative, Athletic Bilbao contract rebel Fernando Llorente, certainly warrants consideration if Juventus hasn’t snapped him up already; could you imagine the havoc Llorente and Giroud would cause in a strike pairing?
The same goes with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a potential bargain whose contract at Schalke is winding down.
But perhaps the best solutions to the Gunners’ painfully obvious offensive issues are playing for Premier League rivals – players who might not be flashy big names with unlimited potential, but instead proven veterans who don’t need time to get settled.
The most obvious target who fits that profile: Demba Ba. Newcastle is having an even worse season than Arsenal, and various media reports say there’s a release clause in Ba’s contract that would cost a very reasonable 7.5 million pounds.
Another potential move that would likely cost more but seriously improve the team and show some ambition: Marouane Fellaini.
One potential target who hasn’t come up as much in Arsenal-related transfer speculation — but one who might be worth a look — is Darren Bent, whose relationship with the front office at Aston Villa seems to be falling apart. A proven scorer who has absolutely tormented Arsenal’s defense in the past, Bent could be a cost-conscious offensive fix who doesn’t need time to find his feet in the EPL.
Arsenal also has been linked with Stewart Downing, who is in the middle of an unproductive stint at Liverpool. This one is more of a head-scratcher; maybe Wenger and his scouts are seeing something the rest of us aren’t? (How about swapping Theo and some cash for Pepe Reina and Raheem Sterling instead?)
Whatever happens, this much is clear: It’s time for an Arsenal spending spree that would make Black Friday shoppers blush.