Arsene Wenger has given a few press conferences in his day. Though he is often today ridiculed by fans and pundits for his evasive and occasionally rambling responses, he has typically provided journalists with thoughtful and considered answers with which to work. Experience has taught the erudite Frenchman to maintain a relatively even keel, no matter how good or bad the team might currently look. As a result, rarely does Wenger let slip a juicy bit of spite and malice, and he certainly won’t tell you that he is looking to sell his best player! Perhaps then it is understandable why fans and pundits seem to have missed perhaps the most telling (if indirect) indictment on his own team.
When Wenger was asked recently about whether or not he would like to make more signings this summer, he replied that he would, but that at 33 players (currently 30), the squad was too big to be manageable. With the club only allowed to register 25 senior squad members, players still must either by loaned or sold to get down below the threshold.
But wait a minute… so wouldn’t this mean that despite having another 20% more players than is legally allowed, both the fans and the manager want more in before the window shuts? That doesn’t exactly say much about the squad he has assembled does it? It seems that up and down the squad, there are inflated wages and underperforming players, and despite Wenger giving so many players nearly unlimited opportunities to carve a role out for themselves, those players never seem to represent good value to the club. Wenger’s exasperated efforts to extract some sort of fee for players of Carl Jenkinson’s ilk have borne this out, in his specific case even leading to a loan move in the final year of his contract.
The problem is with the player’s wage demands, as smaller clubs are much less inclined to offer wages as high as they had been for the player at their former club, particularly if there is a hefty transfer fee involved. It must be frustrating for Arsenal to have the value of their players severely diminished by their inflated wages and lackluster recent performances, but in truth, it has been a problem for Arsenal. Too many unmotivated and content players in the squad, not nearly enough fight and desire.
After an embarrassing loss to Stoke City on Saturday that saw Arsenal offer little in the way of an attacking threat, save for the disallowed goal, the fans have already begun to worry. With direct rivals spending huge sums on world class players, Arsene Wenger is being called on to keep pace with his chequebook. Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac represent 2 very good pieces of business for the club, but now it has become perfectly clear that the manager shares the supporters’ disappointment in the squad that he has built.
I know, I know, I have been promising this exodus of squad players for weeks, and finally, it has started. Gabriel Paulista’s move to Valencia was perhaps the most surprising departure so far, but his continued presence put the development of Arsenal’s two young English centre halves, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding, at risk. Jenkinson and Cohen Bramall have also been sent off to Birmingham on loan this week, leaving a much smaller group of defenders than were here to open the preseason, though Wenger would still like to unload Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs as well before the window closes.
In midfield, the team is already stretched fairly thin with Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla still recovering from their long term injuries, so it is unlikely that there will be any departures through the middle. Up front, however, is a different story, as Lucas Perez and Chuba Akpom are ready to depart. After failing to carve out a place in Arsenal’s first team, Akpom has decided it may be best for him to move elsewhere to continue his career, with Celtic and Leeds United bother interested in his services on a permanent basis. Arsene Wenger should have little issue letting the home grown talent go, as he has not particularly impressed for the club or made the grade in the eye of the fans.
Lucas Perez, on the other hand, is still expected to return to Deportivo La Coruna, although he has also had interest from clubs in Turkey and Newcastle United. Given that Perez first left his homeland the first time for Ukraine and struggled to cope with the shock, followed by his less than successful move to North London, he could be forgiven for wanting to just go home to where he is wanted and where he can play.
I promised myself I wouldn’t mention his name again until something concrete surfaces, but recent reports claim that Monaco are leaving the door open to selling Lemar, much to the excitement of supporters. Earlier it seemed that Monaco would fight to hold on to their remaining stars after an early summer exodus saw their Ligue 1 Champion side decimated by departures. Now, however, with PSG sniffing around both Fabinho and Kylian Mbappe, the team have begun listening to offers once again. This transfer has looked like a forgone conclusion at certain points already this summer, only for it to seemingly fall apart, so caution must be stressed when getting excited about the possibility.
There is not much new as it pertains to Asensio, or his Real Madrid teammate, Mateo Kovacic for that matter, but his release clause figure has been published and it is *only* €76 million (or there about, depending on how Brexity the pound is feeling today). This is not particularly newsworthy until you see the €700+ million release clause in Isco Alcaron’s new contract. Now it seems just like a bargain, does it not? Asensio is a real talent, and he only keeps improving. Despite his reasonable fee, he has received too much praise from famous Madridistas to not be aggressively protected from a move away by his parent club. Still, couldn’t you just see that man on the right for Arsenal?
It is not speculation anymore. PSG’s former flavor of the month has already become to surplus to requirements in the French capital. Arsene Wenger has had a long standing interest in the player, and given that he is now available (and PSG could use every penny they can get to make the books look more balanced for FFP) Arsenal should take a very real run at landing him. As a German international, and one who respects and studies the game of Mesut Ozil, he would fit right into this current side, offering both another goal threat from the wing, as well as a potential replacement for Alexis Sanchez should he decide to leave. Wenger’s focus still must be on clearing out the dead wood, but a player like Draxler seldom finds themselves in search of a new club that wants him. It would be foolish to not consider.
A Word On the Fans’ Wishes
It may seem odd to see Arsenal chasing forwards when their issues the last decade have largely been in defence and defensive midfield, but that is certainly what seems to happen. Fans will shout and blogs will speak of “huge transfer blows” to Arsenal any time a defender signs for any other club in the world, and it will surely have been Wenger’s fault, they say.
The Gunners’ biggest problems with defence are not necessarily personnel: they are of mentality and effort. Too often Arsenal carry play only to find themselves a goal down at the first half chance their opponents create. Despite attacking talent all over the pitch, too often the team find themselves funneling all attacks through 2 players: Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. Adding diversity to their attack will see them better able to breakthrough tight tackling sides, in turn causing defenses to stretch in search of an equaliser. Combined with the relative youth that Arsenal have in their defensive depth, it does start to make a little more sense.
At least for today.