Granit Xhaka became the second most expensive signing in Arsenal’s history when he joined the club just before the European Championship this summer from Borussia Monchengladbach. The reported £35 million fee is just ahead of that paid to Barcelona for Alexis Sanchez in 2014 when all the add-ons and clauses are totted up, but behind the £42.4m spent on Mesut Ozil.
For a manager often seen as overly parsimonious, it was seen as evidence that Arsene Wenger was embracing the new norm in the transfer market. There appears to be no such thing as value these days, at least not as we knew it. When you see clubs like Crystal Palace and West Ham bidding close to £40m for players, and Leicester trying to spend £31m on Watford’s decent, but hardly world-class, striker Troy Deeney, you know things have changed.
The Premier League is awash with cash and the knock-on effects are obvious. The big clubs may have more money, but the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” is barely noticeable anymore. You might even have to re-categorise them as the “haves” and the “have-a-bit-mores.”
Everybody knows everybody else has money, and the price of players has jumped accordingly. Clubs abroad also know that the Premier League streets are paved with gold, so they’re holding out for as much as they can get. It looks like this will be a summer to break all spending records.
And yet what Arsenal have splashed on the Swiss international remains the only money spent on the first-team so far. They have signed Japanese international Takuma Asano, but he will likely be farmed out on loan until such time as he’s played enough internationals to qualify for a visa to play in England.
The club’s pursuit of Leicester’s Jamie Vardy ultimately proved fruitless, despite paying the England striker’s release clause, as the striker signed a new deal instead. Arsenal were also very interested in Dortmund’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan but the close relationship between Jose Mourinho and the player’s agent, Mino Raiola (also the agent of Zlatan Ibrahimovic), made his move to Manchester United a certainty.
Losing out on both players can certainly be construed as a blow for the Gunners, but on the plus side it indicated that there is some kind of coherent plan to Arsenal’s transfer business this summer. It shows they’re aware that they need a striker, as well as somebody to add something fresh and exciting in the wide positions.
What will be interesting to see is how well developed that plan is. It’s all well and good identifying and bidding for a couple of players, but you need to be ready in case things don’t work out. Arsenal can’t have just one striker and one wide player on their list; they need alternatives, and alternatives to the alternatives. It’s something Wenger himself touched on, saying: “A club also often has four or five priorities and it’s the most doable that decides things at the last moment.”
Time is ticking away as the new season approaches, and the key issue for the Gunners this summer is reinforcement in the forward positions. With Olivier Giroud the only established (uninjured) striker on the club’s books as it stands, the need for urgency is apparent. Especially as he’ll be returning late to preseason after going all the way to the final of Euro 2016 with France.
Danny Welbeck remains sidelined until next year, and could miss the entire season; Theo Walcott has, bar one or two good performances, been an underwhelming striking option; while the idea that Arsenal could go into a new season with youngsters like Chuba Akpom or Yaya Sanogo would belie a dreadful lack of squad building and preparation.
In the wide areas there’s concern that Alexis Sanchez could miss the start of the season due to the horrible ankle injury he sustained in the Copa America final. Walcott spent most of last season on the bench; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is making his way back from a summer knee injury; while Joel Campbell and Alex Iwobi are good reserve options but don’t always provide that cutting edge.
Of course it is still just mid-July and there are over three weeks to go until the first game of the new campaign, but Wenger is cutting it fine to ensure that his squad is in good shape for kickoff. The transfer window is open until the end of August, but with Liverpool and Leicester as their opening two fixtures, Arsenal need to be better prepared than they are right now.
Wenger has made it clear he knows his team needs new blood to compete properly, but he now has to implement that plan with greater decisiveness than he’s shown up until now.
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