Usually in the summer transfer window, Arsenal fans are left anxiously biting at their fingernails for their manager, Arsene Wenger, to make his first move. It usually ends up with last minute transfer panic buys, which, in past years, has led to the introduction of players such as Andre Santos and Park Chu-Young. However, in the summer of 2014, Wenger moved relatively early in a World Cup year to bring in players to improve the squad, in an attempt to compete for the league title and add quality, as he did in the previous summer with top quality players like Mesut Ozil. The world class Chilean forward, Alexis Sanchez, was brought in from Barcelona, as Wenger’s linguistic skills, once again, fought off competition and convinced a player to join the North London club. Other transfers included World Cup stars David Ospina and Mathieu Debuchy and the young English duo Danny Welbeck, the Manchester United academy product, and Calum Chambers. On reading the list, the players that Wenger brought in seems like good additions to strengthen the Arsenal squad that lacked the depth to win it in 2013/14 season, due to their constant injuries. However, when comparing that list to the list of players that left Arsenal this summer, it just shows that Ospina replaced Lukasz Fabianski, Debuchy replaced Bacary Sagna, Welbeck replaced Nicklas Bendtner and Chambers replaced Carl Jenkinson in squad numbers, revealing Alexis Sanchez as the only real addition. With Chambers and Debuchy arguably not of a higher quality than Jenkinson and Sagna, it leaves Wenger only improving in quality through a substitute goalkeeper and a striker who he is currently playing out of position on the left wing.
Obviously Alexis Sanchez has been the best player at Arsenal this season, but this cannot excuse Wenger’s lack of addressing the real problems in the transfer window that cause Arsenal to suffer as a side who scrape fourth place every season, instead of building on last season’s prematurely ending title challenge. In the summer of 2014, after signing Chambers, Wenger promised the fans that he would sign another centre back if he sold Thomas Vermaelen. Despite this, after selling Vermaelen for around £15 million, he left it too late, with apparent last minute enquiry for centre backs such as Matija Nastasic and Virgil van Dijk not materialising into bids. The lack of centre backs at Arsenal is clear with Nacho Monreal and Debuchy who are natural full backs, having to play centre back, due to injuries. With Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny the only senior centre backs in the squad, Arsenal have had a major problem at the back, as Koscielny’s lack of fitness in the first half of this season has left Wenger relying on full backs and the teenage, and recently converted centre back, Chambers to lead the back line. In the summer, Arsenal fans and pundits cried out for Wenger to sign experienced centre backs and a solid central defensive midfielder, yet Wenger rejected these notions, as he chose not to bring either in. In the past, Wenger’s title winning sides have been built upon solid back lines, including the one he inherited when he joined Arsenal, and the one he created when he managed ‘The Invincibles’ in 2004. Without stability in a defence, it is hard to see Arsenal win a league title, as shown by Liverpool last season, as even Luis Suarez’s fantastic individual performances could not even bring them success.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea have both stability in their back line, but also in their starting line-up, due to the lack of injuries in the club, which contrasts with the long list of injuries at Arsenal. Chelsea have had a fantastic first half to the 2014/15 Premier League campaign due to the consistent starting team and the depth in their squad, if needed. In the summer transfer window, Mourinho assessed the roles in the team that Chelsea lacked last season and addressed them efficiently, leading to the club’s success so far this season in playing aesthetically pleasing football, while also leading the league table. Arsene Wenger needed to follow his rival manager’s transfer policy in the summer but failed to address the lingering problems at Arsenal, by neglecting the gaps in defence and the defensive midfield role. Now Wenger faces a struggle to find players in January without having to overpay. Arsenal seem to be linked with numerous quality centre backs and defensive midfield players, but Wenger always looks for the ‘perfect’ buy. With world class centre backs, such as Mats Hummels, and solid young defensive midfielders, like William Carvalho and Morgan Schneiderlin all rumoured to be interesting Wenger, he needs to begin January with enquiries into players of high calibre to fill the missing gaps in the Arsenal team.
Last January when Arsenal were in pole position, Wenger rejected the media’s accusations of Arsenal lacking depth in attack, despite Olivier Giroud playing nearly every game last season for the club. Wenger made a last minute loan move for the injured and ageing central midfielder Kim Kallstrom, who only ended up making three appearances in the loan period. Despite being injured for the majority of the loan, he did not bring a level of quality to win a Premier League title, especially in comparison to players Arsenal were linked to at the time, such as Blaise Matuidi. Furthermore, Wenger was rumoured to refuse to meet Julian Draxler’s release clause, although the Arsenal board were willing to match it. Wenger does not usually act in the January transfer window, despite other rival Premier League managers taking full advantage of it, as shown last season when Mourinho brought in defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic from Benfica. Although he commanded a fee over £20 million, he has since made that fee look minimal, as he controls the midfield for Chelsea, becoming the player that Arsenal fans envy. Despite January not being the easiest transfer window, other notable successful January signings include Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge to Liverpool and Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra to Manchester United. This season, Wenger needs to react to the criticisms of his squad, retract his stubborn nature and go out into the transfer market to buy some top quality players who will help Arsenal become the force that they have previously been under his management.
Arsene Wenger made some great signings in the summer of 2014, but he should have addressed the existing problems at Arsenal that stop him from having a squad with title credentials, instead of a first team that has the top level ability. With the number of injuries that the Arsenal squad suffer from every year, Wenger needs the strength in depth, while building the starting eleven on a strong and stable defensive core. At least one top level centre back is needed in January, as well as a top level defensive midfielder, and they are both needed as early as possible if Arsenal want to guarantee a top four finish. In addition to this, Wenger needs to target players that will not be cup-tied in Europe, as the club need to make an impact in the knockout rounds of the Champions Leagues. With Arsenal drawing a weak Monaco side in the first knockout round stage, it could create the momentum for Arsenal to force a challenge in Europe. However, Wenger needs to move quickly in January and add the talent to the squad in a transfer window that has never really appealed to him in the past.