Arsenal are already facing a defensive injury crisis and Derek Bilton cannot fathom why Arsene Wenger remains reluctant to bolster his ranks.
On a weekend when Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the winner on his competitive debut for Manchester United at Wembley and new £30million Liverpool signing Sadio Mane gave a tantalising glimpse of what he has in his locker by putting Barcelona to the sword, Arsenal endured yet more injury woe.
Brazilian defender Gabriel was carried off on a stretcher towards the end of Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Manchester City in Gothenburg – their last pre-season friendly – meaning they go into their first game of the new season against Liverpool next weekend in crisis at the back.
Per Mertesacker is expected to be out until the New Year with a knee problem while Laurent Koscielny has still to resume full training following his summer exertions at Euro 2016.
And yet at time of writing boss Arsene Wenger still refuses to make use of the self-confessed war chest available to him. The situation is almost laughable in N7, where even my old mum, who doesn’t follow football, knows that the Gunners need a quality centre-half and a world-class striker.
The cash is there. Indeed no club in the world turns over more matchday revenue than Arsenal do for home games at the Emirates. Yet while big rivals Manchester United have saw fit to break the world transfer record to land Paul Pogba, the king sits in his North London counting house, counting out his money. Wenger claims he is happy to spend big, and was quoted in Sweden over the weekend saying “It’s not the prices, it’s the players. The price of a player is down to four ingredients; one is the talent, two is his age, three is how much you expect him to improve your team, and four is his resale value. If he ticks all four boxes then the price is not that important.”
That quote gives a fascinating insight into the Wenger mindset. And offers an explanation as to why he has procrastinated in the transfer market so often in recent seasons. On October 1 it will be 20 years since he took over at Arsenal. Two score years. And while it is not open for debate that he has revolutionised the club and indeed English football with his views on preparation and nutrition, he is in danger of tainting his legacy with his stubbornness over new signings.
It’s not all doom and gloom of course. Granit Xhaka has been brought in and could turn out to be an inspired purchase while the likes of youngsters Alex Iwobi and Chuba Akpom should feature more this term after impressing last season. But with the cash from the new TV deal and their own remarkable revenue streams is it acceptable for a club like Arsenal to line up with Calum Chambers and 20-year-old Rob Holding (a £2.5million acquisition from Bolton) at centre-half against Liverpool this weekend?
Mertesacker picked up a rather serious injury against Lens on July 22 so why has Wenger not moved to replace him? And why are the club going into battle in 2016/17 so heavily reliant on Olivier Giroud in light of what happened last season
Yes Arsenal ended up finishing second last season but the season was still bang average both domestically and in Europe. The fact they failed to mount a serious title challenge during a season when rivals Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City more or less took the season off due to respective club managerial unrest is also a worry. The spotlight is on Premier League managers like never before this season and it will be interesting to see how the league’s elder statesman does against the new wave of dynamic euro bosses like Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. Then there is the thought of him renewing hostilities with one Jose Mourinho, a man who has branded Wenger everything from a “voyeur” to a “specialist in failure” down the years.
The general consensus is that this could be Wenger’s last season in charge. Arsenal fans will no doubt be hoping he has one more trick up his sleeve. That the French genius can confound the critics again, win the league and walk off into the sunset with respect restored as one of the game’s greats. Alas fairytale finishes such as that only ever seem to happen in Hollywood and Leicester these days.