Thursday, September 8, 2011

Good Haul?

By Arsene Wenger's standards, it was a spree. But if that's panic buying, it's a pity he doesn't panic more often. Hindsight can be a bit of a pain, but it's hard not to look at the past few seasons and wonder what might have been achieved if similar deals were done then.

Instead, it took a long run of relegation form, culminating in a historic massacre at Old Trafford, to finally force the stingy Frenchman's hands into his bulging pockets.

And still, Arsenal haven't spent much. This constitutes no great betrayal of Wenger's ideals. It's a natural compromise that should have been struck a long time ago- bringing in some older, more experienced heads to help the youngsters along. Before, a hugely talented 24 year old midfielder was being asked to carry some dead wood and some promising but callow youngsters on his shoulders. Now that he is gone, the squad has been given more balance. Arteta and Benayoun are useful players, and although not really in Fabregas's league, they will bring character and they will fit with Arsenal's style of play. Maybe most importantly, they have Premiership experience. They should take a lot of the pressure off players like Ramsey, Wilshere and Walcott. Arsenal were in danger of becoming very reliant on some very raw young talent.

The Korean striker Park Chu Young is a player I know little about. He, like Benayoun and Mertesacker, is captain of his national team. With Bendtner's departure on loan, Arsenal needed a new frontman, and Wenger decided that Park fitted the profile. He was just relegated from Ligue 1 with Monaco, and does not have a history of prolific scoring, but a browse of YouTube (hardly the most accurate barometer of ability, I know) suggests that he has a great work rate and decent vision and touch in and around the box. It's hard for me to shake the perception that Bendtner has been hard done by, but hopefully the Korean can replace him as a useful understudy to Van Persie, or indeed to the first choice wide men, if that is where Wenger plans to use him.

It would have been ridiculous to leave Gael Clichy unreplaced, with Gibbs so clearly unable to stay fit for a sustained period, and to that end Wenger brought in Andre Santos, a Brazilian international who ought to be approaching his peak years. The word is that Santos likes to bomb forward, and may be suspect defensively. A consultation with YouTube suggests that he can only be loosely described as a left back, and comes from the Dani Alves school of adventure. He also has a very powerful left foot which will hopefully help banish the memory of Gael Clichy's years of wastefulness in the final third.

Lastly, Mertesacker. It was a bit of a surprise after the months of speculation regarding Cahill and Samba and Jagielka. It seems a bit of an obvious solution: team with hopeless inability to defend set pieces and aerial attacks signs 6 foot 6 German giant. Maybe this time, the obvious solution will work. Many have written him off because of his lack of pace, and that is sure to be exposed at times- even Vidic at United has had numerous roastings from nippy forward players. But if Mertesacker can provide the kind of consistency and solidity that the Serb typically gives to the Champions, his slowness won't matter much. There is the potential for a nice partnership with Vermaelen, when the Belgian's injury problems are finally left behind, as he is more aggressive and pacey.

What will be more important than anything is that Mertesacker- who is, like Arteta, Benayoun, and Park, a captain- can show his leadership abilities and help whip that defence into shape. They have looked chaotic on a fairly regular basis over the last few years and it needs to cease.

In the summer of 2001, Arsene Wenger made a lot of signings. Richard Wright, Junichi Inamota, Gio Van Bronckhorst, Franny Jeffers... none of those players had a big part to play in Arsenal winning the double that season, but one new signing did. Sol Campbell came from Spurs and helped to form a newly solid defensive unit. If Mertesacker can have a similar impact, Arsenal might yet scramble back into contention.

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