All pundits always say exactly the same thing about Arsenal: Right now, Arsenal is “one or two players away” from the team it needs.
They’ve been saying this as long as I can remember, and they’ll be saying it as long as I understand words. If anyone ever asks your opinion about Arsenal, the correct answer is: “They look good, but I just think they’re one or two players away.”
But which players?
That varies, wildly. The weird, infantilizing turbines of the transfer rumor mill throw up all sorts of names until opinion solidifies around one or two players who become the designated selections Arsene Wenger must sign — the players it makes no sense for him not to sign, the players any fool can see would make Arsenal unbeatable.
Right now, that player is Karim Benzema. On Sunday, after much-celebrated new signing Petr Cech clutched at thin air and West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyaté headed into the vacant net at the weekend, @GScully nailed it:
What does the transfer rumor mill know?
It knows about YouTube compilations in which trunk-thighed defensive midfielders patrol sternly, making a series of square passes to a Europop soundtrack. It knows about Vines of well-taken corner kicks. If there’s an international tournament on, it knows about that. It knows about impressive-sounding statistics like chances-created in the Bundesliga in 2013, or interceptions made during a six-month loan spell at Boavista. It knows about your club’s most recent result.
Everyone now seems to take this part of the game ferociously seriously. For some, the transfer market has overtaken everything else there is to enjoy about soccer: the games themselves, enthralling tactical subplots, the wit of fellow fans, the slower-burn satisfaction of watching talented young players blossom over months and years. New signings are celebrated as if they were trophies; actual trophies (except the handful of elite ones) have become rapidly devalued.
But what does the transfer rumor mill remember? Nothing.
The whole creaky edifice of certainty and hyperbole only stands up when everyone agrees not to mention all the bullshit speculation that came before, the frenzied mobs (online and IRL) who demanded the immediate signing of a player who went on to be completely unremarkable.
Yards and yards of newsprint and blogroll have been devoted to explaining why Arsenal needs Karim Benzema, needed Geoffrey Kondogbia (before he signed for Internazionale), needed Morgan Schneiderlin (before he went to Manchester United), needed William Carvalho (pre-injury) and so on.
These stories are meant to attract eyeballs, and they do — millions of bulging, swiveling, bloodshot eyeballs, whose owners are never anything other than manic with rage.
“Mr Wenger, get this striker over the line!” yelled one outside the Emirates this past weekend. “Pay the money. If you don’t want to pay the money, resign and let someone else do the job. I’m sick and tired of penny pinching.”
Others have made banners and taken them to the stadium (“Kroenke Wenger Fuck Off Now”) or yelled abuse at the club’s most successful manager at Stoke train station.
But what if there were accountability on both sides?
What if everyone who wanted her club’s boss to — as the English proverb goes — spend some fackin’ money, first had to publish a list of all the other players from other clubs who she’s been personally obsessed with signing in the past? Or better yet, had to sit through a lowlights reel of her old favorite transfer targets stinking out the place at some other club.
Even within the last couple of years, those same furious Arsenal fans were furious Wenger wouldn’t sign players like Marouane Fellaini, Julio Cesar, Luiz Gustavo, Brede Hangeland, Scott Dann, Lewis Holtby, Bernard, Christopher Samba, Joe Cole, Stevan Jovetic, and Yann M’Vila.
These are just some of the “must buys” once used as sticks to beat Wenger for his always inexplicable reticence in the transfer market — never mind that they turned out to be manifestly inferior to the players Wenger went with instead.
Many Arsenal fans, myself included, were mystified when Wenger didn’t bid for the Brazilian midfielder Paulinho in the summer of 2013. Powerful, pacey and Brazilian, I was certain he was just what we needed.
Tottenham was the undisputed “transfer window champion” that summer, splurging the ‘Bale money’ on Erik Lamela, Roberto Soldado, and Paulinho, as well as Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli. The English press brimmed with articles about how great a job Spurs were doing in the transfer market, reserving special praise for their chairman, Daniel Levy, seen as the mastermind behind the shopping spree. As a result, the consensus was that Tottenham would finish ahead of Arsenal.
I’d argue that, as a club, it is still recovering from its transfer business in 2013.
Spurs finally managed to offload Paulinho to Guangzhou Evergrande this summer. Paulinho, the solution to all Arsenal’s woes:
There are other names that Arsenal fans will know well: Felipe Melo, Ryan Babel, or Nuri Sahin. (Wasn’t it just such a disaster that the latter two went to Liverpool instead?)
Felipe Melo, the solution to all Arsenal’s troubles:
Those with even longer memories will recall Robinho, Sebastien Frey, and Djibril Cisse.
Taking a long view, one thing becomes clear: We fans, pundits, and journalists have only a pretty tiny idea what we’re talking about.
Transfer hype is a very strange thing.
Back, in 2004 Arsenal’s starting attacking players were Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Thierry Henry, and Dennis Bergkamp. All four have become club legends, and two have been honored with statues at the stadium.
Yet I distinctly remember obsessing over the potential signing of Shaun Wright-Phillips, then a young winger on great form with recently-promoted Manchester City. It took me years to understand why Wenger never bought him.
Like so many of our transfer targets before and since, I just knew at the time that Wright-Phillips was exactly what we needed, the solution to all of Arsenal’s problems.
Wenger made one signing that summer, the goalkeeper Jens Lehman.
The club finished the season unbeaten.