Deja vu could well be the most commonly used phrase by Arsenal fans during the summer break (among other slightly more inappropriate ones). It was supposed to be the summer that Arsene Wenger finally opened his famously closed eyes, the summer that he addressed the weaknesses within the Arsenal squad, that appear to be obvious to all but the Frenchman.
It was supposed to be a summer of change, not just of personnel, but of approach. Instead, Arsenal fans have been left feeling despondent after a summer dominated by the probable departures of two key players and the manager’s reluctance to spend big in key areas, again. Yet more salt sprinkled over the still sore wounds created by last season’s capitulation and the inexplicable hike in ticket prices. Not to suggest for one second that supporters should be boarding the ‘crisis at Arsenal’ bandwagon, after all the club has been incorrectly tipped to drop out of the top four for the past five years, but the summer’s activity has been far from the ideal preparation for the new season – a season that could be a defining one for Mr Wenger.
Arsenal’s title challenge has become synonymous with an end-of-season collapse during recent history, but the latest self-destruction exceeded even their own unwanted expectations. Seemingly, it was one season too far for a large section of the Arsenal faithful, and frustrations were conveyed following a number of disappointing home results. Having been content with the fluid pass-and-move style, supporters were willing to sacrifice instant success and offer Wenger their patience as he attempted to build a winning team. That patience has worn thin, and the Arsenal boss, having been untouchable, is now a man under pressure. Supporters demonstrated their dissatisfaction as boos reverberated after failing to retain the Emirates Cup. Such disgust for a meaningless pre-season tournament – sure, it is the only competition the club have excelled in recently, but boos? The antipathy, however, is less about the failure to win their own trophy, but rather a reflection of the fans’ current feeling towards the club. Wenger is now charged with the arduous and unenviable task of transforming those frustrations back into belief and trust. Wenger can ill afford a slow start to the new campaign. He must regain the aberrant support from the stands. Only winning will do. Fail, and Wenger could have a supporters’ mutiny to negotiate, in addition to a player exodus.
A less disruptive summer would have at least instilled a shade of hope that the club can challenge for honors this season. The grey clouds currently looming over the Emirates could have dispersed by now. If only Wenger would have spent some cash. The club coffers must be the only place harbouring more moths than the trophy cabinet. The shopping list was straight forward enough to write – no need to divulge positions, we all know. The new season is now upon us, however, and the only signings worth a mention are both wingers-cum-forwards. One, a teenager who has never played higher than the third tier of English football, the other, a modest signing from Ligue Un. Neither of whom have been purchased to eradicate Arsenal’s consistent defensive fragility. Endlessly linked with established Premier League centre backs, Wenger seems continuously unwilling to pay a penny more than what he considers a reasonable price. Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill and Chris Samba could all be tempted away from their respective clubs for the right fee.
It has, however, worryingly for supporters, been departures rather than arrivals grabbing the headlines at the Emirates. Cesc Fabregas’ protracted transfer to boyhood club Barcelona has finally been completed, but not before becoming insufferably tedious, to the point that Arsenal fans would have happily packed their former captain’s suitcase and waved him off as his plane departed for Catalonia, hoping that the flight was less turbulent than Arsenal’s summer. It is now widely expected that Samir Nasri, who has just one year remaining on his contract, will follow Fabregas out of the Arsenal exit door before the end of August – Manchester City his likely destination. Any departures now leave Wenger and the board little time to find suitable replacements with the transfer deadline fast approaching. Wenger is keen to keep Nasri, at the risk of him leaving for free at the end of the season, and would be loathed to losing the Frenchman to rivals Manchester City having already sold Gael Clichy to the Eastlands outfit. Clichy’s loss shouldn’t prove to be a damning one provided Keiran Gibbs manages to play more than three consecutive games without injuring his brittle frame – I wouldn’t count on it though.
After a disappointing start to the Premier League season and a less than impressive performance against Udinese in the first leg of the Champions League qualifier, much sterner tests await Wenger and his team between now and the end of the month, on and off the pitch. Wenger must abandon his tentative approach to the transfer market and demonstrate the club’s ambition to its disillusioned fans. There is also the small matter of a more than tricky trip to Udine to secure Champions League football, followed by a Premier League game at Old Trafford to face the champions, Manchester United. Would it be a little dramatic to suggest that Arsenal’s season could be over by September? Probably, but the next fortnight might be crucial to Arsenal’s success this season, and possibly Arsene Wenger’s future.