Wednesday, August 15, 2012

You Can't Win With a Team that Changes Every Summer

I had become optimistic.

Arsenal have spent a substantial amount this summer on players, in Podolski, Giroud, and especially Cazorla, who can improve the squad.

The departure of Robin Van Persie, who we now know is on his way to Manchester United, was always expected. And the fee of a reported 23million pounds in itself recoups much of the cost of the three new Arsenal players.

But it looks like it won't stop there.

If you look back on the goals Arsenal scored last season, three players are involved on a very regular basis.

Van Persie, of course, but also Alex Song, who blossomed into the team's most incisive passer, and Theo Walcott, often breaking beyond the opposition defence to tee up the Dutchman.

Will any of these players remain at Arsenal in three weeks' time?

Song's progress was slow at first, and he is still prone to lapses in consistency, but his mooted move to Barcelona represents another symbol of Arsenal's status as a less than great club where young players come to play under a developmental manager who, once they have developed, is happy to move them on at a massive profit.

Then there is Walcott. I am far from his biggest fan. He is clearly not a natural footballer. But then again, I can't argue that he's never effective. Statistically, he had a good 2011/12. He's another player who has improved. But his contract situation means he is also quite likely to be making his way towards the ever-revolving doors of the Emirates Stadium.

The positive thing about this summer is that Arsenal got good business done early, thus avoiding the kind of last minute scramble that marred preparations for, and the first few games of, last season.

But I had hoped the new players were being signed to augment the talent we already had, as well as soften the expected blow of losing Van Persie. I thought the emphasis was finally on spending money to improve our chances on the field, not on taking in more money than goes out.

It seems quite likely now that these are not signings to augment the squad but to replace some of its most effective players. Preemptive rebuilding.

Sahin, or M'villa, or indeed some player nobody has mentioned who Wenger will pluck from obscurity, any of them may come in and end up doing a good job. Maybe, eventually, an even better job than Alex Song was doing.

And few would doubt that Cazorla, and possibly Podolski too, are better footballers than Theo Walcott.

But the issue for me is that a constantly unsettled, dismantled and rebuilt team will never achieve the stability to win big. You can admire Wenger's ceaseless ability to absorb the blow of these losses and keep the team in the top four. But at the same time, it illustrates the very reason why Van Persie would be stupid to hang around. Why spend your final few years at the top with a club that perennially defers the opportunity to compete for the big prizes?

Taking Van Persie out of the equation, Arsenal may yet gain more than they lose this summer in terms of pure quality. But pure quality alone is not all that matters. Partnerships and stability matter too. Song and Van Persie. Song and Walcott. Walcott and Van Persie. Song and Arteta. These had become productive partnerships and yet now it seems very possible that Arsenal will have to wait for another set of players to gel again.

It used to be that Arsenal's best player would be heavily linked with a move away every summer. Now, it seems, we've reached a stage where Arsenal will sell their best two players every summer.

If it keeps happening, the only outcome I can see is endless transition.

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