Whoops, Wenger did it again … and again … and again once more. It seems to be a perennial occurrence at this point. An early signing to give fans hope Wenger is finally changing his ways and then dawdling for the rest of the summer. One or two stinging losses, like 2-0 to West Ham, 8-2 to United or 4-3 at home to Liverpool and the checkbook will finally emerge from its dusty vault. Last year, it didn’t and one wonders if Wenger will still eschew the two signings he clearly needs to compete with enemies old and new that seem to be strengthening from week to week. This is particularly true of his archrival Mourinho, who, with the exception of last summer after a title tilt, seems to get his business done early and effectively each summer. Sure there was the protracted negotiations to bring in the most expensive signing ever, but unless you bite a player for the third time at a World Cup, those moves always take time. And the new United boss might still be in the market, with rumors he might steal teen sensation Barbosa from under the noses of some of the biggest clubs in the world.
Back to Arsenal, though. Having controlled the vast majority of the first half and led even after Walcott inexplicably took the penalty he garnered and missed it, they again conceded right on the cusp of halftime. Heading into the locker 1-1, they must have sensed they could still squeak out three points at home. However, an offensive explosion and some questionable defending across the backline and Arsenal were suddenly in a 4-1 hole. They made the game interesting with two goals to draw to 4-3 but seemed to run out of fizz for the last 23 minutes and ultimately lost for the third time in four years in their home opener. Even with that shambolic defending, Wenger is haggling over the price of the best central defender available – Shoran Mustafi of Valencia. Arsenal have bid 20 million pounds but El Che want closer to 30. Given the long term absence of the aging Mertesacker, the suspect defending of injured Gabriel and the Championship level quality of Holding, just splash the cash! But Wenger is stubborn and might again believe he can prove the pundits wrong.
That might also be the case at striker, continuing to rely on a guy that will never deliver the title to North London. Giroud has moments of brilliance and adds an aerial threat to a side that hasn’t had one since at least Van Persie left, but he is not the right striker for this team any longer. He doesn’t have the pace to beat EPL defenders and has long patches where he goes wanting in front of goal. He, Walcott and the oft-injured Welbeck are wasting the talent of the most creative player in England, Ozil, and one wonders how much longer he will sit back and watch those around him fumble away chance after chance. Sanchez too has shown consistently that he is a much better player on the left wing than through the middle, hamstrung by having to play with his back to the goal. And so the need that has gone unfilled for over four years now continues to be an issue for a team that might be the most creative in the entire league. There was the failed attempt to bring in James Vardy, but one always wondered if he was the right player for the system. Lacazette seems among the best options available, but as has become his habit, Wenger appears unwilling to spend the money to complete the deal. He’s already missed out on Higuain and a host of others and time is running short. There is still the possibility of bringing in Morata, but is Wenger really willing to spend the necessary funds, and are Real really tempted to sell (particularly after letting Jesse go)?
In the end, we Gooners find ourselves where we do every season, wondering if Wenger will ever learn from past mistakes. The signings of Ozil, Sanchez and Cech showed a new resolve to change his ways, but they were never followed up with the necessary reinforcements to make the team complete. Last season might have been the biggest slap in the face yet, as the Gunners missed out on their best chance to win the league in 11 years by failing to complete the two signings – a defensive midfielder and striker – needed to keep up their title charge throughout the season. Looking back, after beating Leicester with a last second Welbeck goal, the future looked bright. But Giroud continued his scoring slump and the opportunity was lost. Wenger has admitted to feeling guilty about letting Leicester pip us to the crown, but admission of guilt only goes so far after over a decade in decline. The early signing of Xhaka this summer seemed to indicate Wenger learned from his mistake last summer, as the only team in the top five European leagues not to sign an outfield player, but the summer has worn on, the injury crisis at the back has deepened and nothing has been done to resolve it. How much more can we take?
Wenger will make excuses, as he is so apt to do, but maybe, just maybe, he will finally come good with the two signings that can allow us to compete with the improved City, Chelsea, United and Liverpool sides. I wouldn’t be willing to bet on it, but a Gooner can dream …