Damned If He Does, Damned If He Doesn’t

I think it was Monday evening when I finally resigned myself to the inevitable. As the tweets and Facebook updates whizzed by announcing last-minute transfers for some of European soccer’s biggest clubs, Arsenal’s name was conspicuously absent. Sure, there were rumours and cellphone photos of Arsene Wenger on an airplane to France — flying economy, no less, by the looks of it — but when I closed my laptop Monday night and headed toward bed, I knew that nothing would materialize overnight or by the 11 a.m. deadline the next day.

And, if Wenger was OK with that, I was OK with that.

Sure, as an Arsenal fan, it would have been great to see a new face added to the squad. After all, pundits have been saying all summer that, while the team looks great, they’re just one or two signings away from being able to win the Premier League this year. A world-class striker here, a defensive midfielder for depth there, and the title was ours for the taking.

Plus, there was a little bit of a panic factor. With only three goals scored through Arsenal’s first four Premier League games — two of which were credited as own goals scored by the opposition into their own nets — it felt like something needed to be done to give the offense a jump start. And with rivals like Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea managing to sign seemingly every player they had been linked with in the press over the past few weeks, it seemed like Arsenal was slipping back fast.

So when the transfer window slammed shut and Arsenal’s only piece of first-team business was bringing in goalkeeper Petr Cech, a lot of Gooners were up in arms. Many truly overreacted, to be frank, with their posts on Reddit, Facebook and Twitter. Some called for an inquiry into the club’s transfer policies; others called for Wenger’s head on a platter.

The problem is, Wenger is in a tough spot. He’s damned if he does any business in the waning moments of the transfer window, and — as we found out on Tuesday — he’s damned if he doesn’t.

Looking at some of the dead that did go down on deadline day, though, I personally can’t blame Wenger for standing pat. Imagine the uproar if he had made like Manchester United and bought an unproven teenaged striker for 80 million euros. He’d be raked over the coals for panic buying, for being frivolous with Arsenal’s hard-earned money and for putting the club’s favourable financial position in serious jeopardy over a player who can’t even legally rent a car yet.

Imagine the uproar, too, if the rumours of signing Edinson Cavani from Paris Saint-Germain had also come to fruition. The 50-million-euro price tag PSG put on Cavani was opportunistic at best and predatory at worst. They knew Arsenal were in the market for a striker and tried to bilk Wenger for millions more than Cavani is worth. Gooners would have been better appeased given Cavani’s track record, but more than a fair few would have questioned his sanity, especially if Cavani didn’t get inserted into the starting lineup and start scoring hat tricks on a weekly basis. The question would also be raised as to whether or not Cavani qualifies as the “world-class” striker that the club needs.

In the end, we all want Arsenal to succeed, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. The bottom line is, as much as we fans feel a strong connection to the club, Arsenal is still a business. As such, it must conduct itself in a business-like fashion, making smart financial decisions that affect both the present and the future. Would any of us claim such fervent loyalty to, say, a brand of automobiles or a grocery store? Would we demand an inquiry if a new kind of gearshift were installed or if a new bag boy wasn’t hired?

Ultimately, we may never know where to lay the blame for Arsenal’s lack of activity during this most recent transfer window. It may never be clear if it was Wenger or the board of directors who clutched so tightly at the purse strings. All we can do is wait it out, hope no one gets injured and, if need be, look for reasonable options in the transfer market when the window re-opens in January.

After all, I’ve always been of the mind that “Arsene Knows Best.” And the next few months will definitely prove whether he does or not.

— Glenn Cook


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