The (transfer) window hasn’t opened yet but noisy rumours from the streets are already giving us insomnia. For the first time in three years, Arsenal wait for the transfer window in attacking formation, without indispensible players in their final year of a contract and/or without the little kid inside them craving for the greener pastures elsewhere.
Our incredible run-in in the last ten matches of the season (11 in all competitions) has injected a lot of self-confidence in our team, our fans and our club. Sponsorship deals that are announced suggest that we are finally going to compete with the big boys in the market.
Our manager’s contract is about to expire next year so he has to add some silverware to his CV in order to gain a better position before negotiations start. So, right now, all that we are waiting for is the announcement of a massive signing, a player that will issue a statement to all others that Arsenal mean business in 2013-14 and that an average Gunner fan won’t have to wait until the very last day of the season for securing a position in the 2014-15 Champions’ League.
There have been a lot of names mentioned around Arsenal lately – Higuain, Rooney, Fabregas, Fellaini, Williams, Mignolet, Cesar, Grenier – but no signings have been made so far apart from French youngster Yaya Sanogo who was brought from Auxerre on a free transfer.
In the Wenger-era, Arsenal have won three titles in the Premiership. People usually point out the Invincibles and it was without doubt the best squad that has played in the Premiership. However, for our current situation, perhaps a side that won the double in 2001-02 is a better example. After the double in 1997-98, we went through three seasons of being behind United and without winning any domestic trophies apart from two Charity Shields in 1998 and 1999 with painful defeats in UEFA Cup Final 2000 and FA Cup Final 2001 the biggest wounds.
However, Arsenal made some inspiring signings in the summer of 2001 and added their quality to an already respectable core – Sol Campbell was signed from arch-rivals Spuds on a free transfer while experienced versatile Dutchman Giovanni van Bronckhorst was signed from Glasgow Rangers. The biggest reinforcement, however, was return of Dennis Bergkamp from the margins he was left on before glorious 2001-02. After a relatively slow start, Arsenal gained momentum and went on to win an impressive double – the Premiership title was secured at Old Trafford thanks to Wiltord’s goal while Parlour and Ljungberg secured an FA Cup victory over Chelsea.
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What is important to know about the victorious 2001-02 side is that the team wasn’t built over night. Although the time gap between 1997-98 and 2001-02 double-winning-sides wasn’t too big, the difference between the two teams was a huge. Ljungberg joined Arsenal in 1998-99, Henry was signed in 1999-2000, Pires came after winning EURO 2000 as well as his compatriot Wiltord while Cameroonian Lauren was signed from Mallorca in the same summer while the aforementioned Campbell left the dark side to join us in 2001.
Youngster Ashley Cole had already established himself as first-choice left full-back after the departure of veteran Winterburn which meant Wenger changed more than half of his first double-winning squad and that change took a while. It’s worth noticing that Wenger changed three out of four defenders – Martin Keown and Tony Adams shared one spot left in the heart of defense after Campbell’s arrival while Lauren and Cole were marauding on the flanks as full-backs replacing the eternal Dixon and Winterburn. If we take a further look, we’ll notice that there were more changes on the flanks as Ljungberg and Pires were a new strength on the flanks.
Now, we all know what Arsenal have had to go through ever since we switched from Highbury to Emirates. The deadly combination of a tight wage structure and lack of trophies was the main reason why we have lost a number of top-class players since 2006 – Cole, Henry, Flamini, Hleb, Adebayor, Nasri, Fabregas, Song, Van Persie…all left us. Nasri and Van Persie used their expiring contracts as bargaining chips to leave for Manchester City and Manchester United respectively (the worst part of it was that both players won Premierships after their transfer) while Fabregas, Song and Hleb couldn’t resist Barcelona. Flamini’s contract expired while Cole wanted to leave for a bigger pay-check as well as Adebayor. Henry was a special case.
This season, however, it should be a lot more different. Ivan Gazidis’ statements should be taken with a pinch of salt but his recent statements suggest that Arsenal are finally capable of wrestling with the most powerful clubs in the world when it comes to transfer fees and wages.
Recent reports suggest that Arsenal are trailing – among others – Wayne Rooney, Gonzalo Higuain, Cesc Fabregas and Marouane Fellaini. Whether it’s true or not is one thing but the sole fact Arsenal are among candidates for the aforementioned players’ signatures implies this might be a different summer than any others.
Marouane Fellaini might be a Campbell-esque signing in terms that he has proven his value in the Premiership and his physical abilities would add another dimension to the current Arsenal midfield, especially given the fact Abou Diaby’s career has been devastated by injuries. If we snatch Fellaini in front of his other suitors, it will be a huge statement. Who knows, perhaps the signing of the Belgian might help us getting another member of the golden Belgian generation Christian Benteke in 2014-15.
Reports surrounding Wayne Rooney have already caused a lot of different opinions among Gooners. Despite all the controversies about Rooney, Arsenal would probably see more benefits than negatives from his signing. We need a world-class striker and Rooney is still just that. Pretty much like Fellaini, the Englishman would add physical power and technical abilities to the team with another important thing – despite being only 27, he has already won the Premiership five times and has played an important role on all five occasions. After everything that happened with Van Persie last summer, to sign Rooney from United might be a way to take our revenge on the Red Devils. Also, the fact Rooney would join his international team-mates Wilshere, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain might speed up his adjustment to Arsenal and help the development of the youngsters.
Cesc Fabregas is a special story. Given that both Manchester clubs have been sniffing around him, to get him back from Barcelona – a club that signed Overmars, Petit, Van Bronckhorst, Henry, Hleb, Fabregas and Song during the Wenger-era – would be even more than killing two birds with one stone.
Another star from Primera that is connected with us is Gonzalo Higuain. There are reports that the Argentinian is about to sign for Arsenal very soon but until it’s officially confirmed, we still wait anxiously. Real Madrid rejects have usually been successful with most notable examples of Samuel Eto’o (Barcelona 2009), Wesley Sneijder (Inter 2010) and Arjen Robben (Bayern 2013) becoming important players of their next teams. Higuain is a prolific striker that would score winning goals in big matches for us, something that neither Giroud nor Podolski did enough of last season.
As we could learn from the 2001-02 example, the core of a winning team should be established already and only enriched with one or two proper signings. In 2011, we signed Mertesacker and Arteta. In 2012, we got ourselves Santi Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud while Nacho Monreal joined in January 2013. If we sign a new goalkeeper (Cesar or Mignolet?), and at least two out of the big names that have been connected with us (Fellaini, Fabregas, Rooney, Higuain), that’s practically a new team if you compare it with the team from 2010-11, the last one that actually competed for silverware.
In 2000-01, Arsenal won two last matches of the season in an impressive way by scoring 10 goals in two matches. In 2012-13, Arsenal won 8 out of 10 last matches. Of course, it’s too early to compare the 2013-14 side with the champions from 2001-02, especially given that nobody can say how our squad will look like in the first place, but there have been some signs of firm structure at the end of the season. With the proper build-up, Arsenal can fight for the title, especially because all main rivals will start next season with new managers. It is expected that Moyes, Mourinho and Pellegrini will make plenty of changes to United, City and Chelsea respectively which might be a good thing for us as all changes require time to implement properly.
So, let’s take the place which the biggest club in the biggest European city deserves!