Can new signings help Gunners?

2011-09-03 00:00

WHILE there is no club football taking place this weekend, locally or abroad, this was a week that will stand out for many followers of the beautiful game.

Just a week ago we witnessed the lowest point in Arsene Wenger’s 15-year reign at Arsenal when his side was trounced 8-2 at Old Trafford by what is looking like a very capable Manchester United side.

It could have been more, too, as wave after wave of United attack left Arsenal’s inexperienced back four looking at each other dimly for most of the match.

Gunners fans will have been pleased to see Wenger finally splashing out some cash on Wednesday’s transfer “deadline day”.

There is no doubt that he has signed quality players, but how the likes of South Korean striker Chu Young Park will fair in the Premier League remains to be seen. Brazilian defender Andre Santos has a proven track record and appears to be a shrewd piece of business on Wenger’s part. Arguably the club’s most important signing, though, is German defender Per Mertesacker who will be immediately expected to marshal what is a clearly puzzling defensive line.

The midfield acquisitions of Mikel Arteta (Everton) and Yossi Benayoun (loaned from Chelsea) were necessary, but can one even begin to compare their abilities to those of the departed Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas? Certainly not.

Still, the work done by Wenger on deadline day was impressive. It was a courageous effort to save what appears to be a sinking ship.

Arsenal host Swansea in their next league game and a victory for the Londoners will be absolutely imperative. Failure to beat a newly promoted side at home, regardless of how many players Arsenal has out injured, would be catastrophic for the former “invincibles”.

The United–Arsenal rivalry has been one of the fiercest in England’s recent history. Before the Abramovich-inspired Chelsea era, United and Arsenal were the two sides competing for league honours year in and year out.

I, for one, hope that this isn’t remembered as the moment when the rivalry began to fizzle out. It is funny, though. For years we have heard Wenger go on about “building for the future” and seen him favour younger players and spend very little money on proven quality.

Well, the future is now, Arsene, and you don’t seem to be any nearer to that first piece of silverware since 2005. It seems as though Ferguson has beaten Wenger at his own game.

Young players like Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck, who have been part of the United setup for a while now, are starting to prove themselves as essenatial cogs in the side.

There is a case for arguing that, had Wenger spent more money on players over the last five or six years, he might not find himself in a situation of such dire proportions. But for Wenger, Arsenal is more than a football club — it is a business.

And when one looks at the amount of money he has accumulated for his former players, coupled with how long he has kept his side at the peak of English football, it is impossible to contest his pedigree as a manager.

It is a small miracle that he has balanced the two for so long — keeping his side highly competitive without splashing out ridiculous amounts on new players, that is.

Only time will tell, but I am almost certain that any Gunners fan would take a fourth place finish in the league right now if you offered it to them, which is unheard of among a group of supporters who have become accustomed to challenging for the title every year. And we’re only three games in.

The unfortunate truth is that, these days, owners of football clubs are concerned about more than winning trophies. The club needs to, first and foremost, make money.

And if that was the only criteria used to assess the capabilities of a manger, then Arsene Wenger would be amongst the best in the game’s history.

The story for the weekend from a local perspective is that Bafana Bafana will qualify for the African Cup of Nations if they beat Niger tomorrow. It is a tough ask considering the injuries that have rocked the squad over the last week, but there is an aura of optimism about the current set-up and tomorrow night could be one worth celebrating. Siphiwe Tshabalala is set to captain the side and Mosimane will be hoping that Katlego Mphela is fit enough to start the match.

Let’s just hope we get to see the thing — the match is due to be screened at 4.30 pm on SABC 1, but you never quite know with those guys.

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