Friday, January 4, 2013

The Unpredictability of Arsene Wenger

It is his 17th season as Arsenal manager and people are still trying to prognosticate about what Arsense Wenger will do during the transfer windows. Why people put themselves through this kind of personal hell is something I'll never quite understand but it is an undertaking that resembles hitting in baseball, where batting .300 is considered elite. It has become fashionable lately to assume doom and gloom (not arguing against or for the veracity of this attitude) about the Gunners which has in turn showed people's true side to be one that believes in Wenger to "do the right thing." The vast majority of pundits, professional or otherwise, believe that the boss simply has to buy during the January transfer window. The reasoning is varied but mainly revolves around two points: the squad depth is sorely lacking and the team isn't good enough to guarantee a Champions League place as is.

The first point has been hovering at the margins of commentary as more pressing issues have stolen space in articles, but the players departing during the window have brought the discussion to the forefront. Johan Djourou is off to Hannover, Sebastien Squillaci is out as soon as he finds a team to take him, and Marouane Chamakh has convinced West Ham that he's more than just a pile of hair gel with a terrible first touch. Though these are bench players, they are still warm bodies who provide cover in case of injuries. Wenger only uses three competent center backs and one of them (Thomas Vermaelen) is also cover at left back because Andre Santos is, well, Andre Santos. Chamakh has been out of favor also but he is still the only dedicated striker on the current squad besides Olivier Giroud. Of course Gervinho and Theo Walcott have played up front, but Gervinho is in terrible form right now and he's off to the African Cup of Nations anyway. Walcott is a whole other story, one that many people have spent thousands of words discussing, but for now let's just say that he might not be around at the end of the month. Thus, the argument for Wenger to buy goes that he is forced into doing so due to the players he's allowing to leave, meaning that he has a plan for all of this, meaning that he's going to buy.

The second point's strength all comes down to how you want to define the word "guarantee." This team is certainly not a mathematical certainty to finish in fourth place or higher, but it would not be far-fetched to see them in fourth by the end of the season. However, even an eternal optimist like myself must see that not improving the team in any way is a risky proposition at the very least. Everton is going to be there until the end of the season (so long as they don't lose their players during this window), Liverpool is annoyingly starting to gel and only sits three points back of Arsenal at the moment, and Tottenham is somehow surviving their defensive deficiencies to excel. All of that doesn't even take into consideration Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea, who are still the favorites to finish in the top three and would only do the Gunners more harm by sinking to a competition for fourth. So perhaps buying in order to improve has some merit to it.

As logical as those arguments are, they are simple to refute by someone who wanted to argue that Wenger will not make any significant signings during the January window based on past attitudes and actions. Here, I'll show you what I mean:
  • Who is an impact player that is legitimately available during January? Demba Ba was obviously a favorite about rumormongers but he's off to Chelsea and he carries certain risks (extensive injury history, rumors of multiple agents wanting seven figures in fees, etc.). Who else? Wilfried Zaha is certainly a possibility, but he's more of an impact sub for this Arsenal team and should therefore be labeled a project. Besides, Manchester United are leading the race for him at the moment anyhow (The Short Fuse wasn't the first to report this, but I wanted to link them anyway due to how consistently great the blog is). Names could always pop up but we don't know the extent to which they are available or how much they're being valued at. It would not be shocking to see Wenger avoid desperation purchases that would hurt the team long term due to fees and wages paid.
  • Djourou, Squillaci, and Chamakh were never going to play anyway. They don't make the bench half the time anyway and would have only seen time in Capital One Cup matches, which is over for the Gunners anyway. Wenger would be more likely to give time to promising youngsters, such as Ignasi Miquel and Serge Gnabry, and use the versatility of players like Podolski to cover at forward if it is absolutely necessary. The depth isn't gone as no one of true use has been sacrificed.
  • Look at the bench during the last Arsenal match! Mertesacker! Ramsey! Rosicky! Giroud! Coquelin! Gervinho! There's a lot of talent on that bench, certainly enough to provide different looks as substitutes as well as spell players during the three competitions that the team is still in. Rosicky is still recovering from injury after all so he'll only get better. Plus Abou Diaby is coming back and will be, say it with me, like a new signing. This doesn't even begin to consider callups for players like Thomas Eisfeld and Chuba Akpom, so the depth in the club is not as bad as the naysayers are making it out to be.
Do I believe in all of those points? No, at least not in their entirety. But I could see those arguments being enough to convince Arsene to perhaps spend on a couple of projects that can also act as cover if necessary and avoid making the big purchases like David Villa that everyone is sure he's going to make.

This is not to say that I believe sincerely that Wenger will spend during the window. I am not afraid to admit that I have absolutely no idea what he is going to do. I have players that I'd like Arsenal to bid on but I also have no idea what the personal terms are for those players, or if there are better ones out there that scouts have their eyes on. I do hope that Arsene takes this window seriously as it is going to be a dogfight for the fourth spot even if someone like Villa was signed. However, I have come to recognize that I am powerless over this so I will continue to wait with bated breath, refreshing Twitter ever five minutes and praying that the boss is still The Boss.

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