Have Arsenal's lack of signings cost them the Premier League?
Many fans prior to the start of this current Premier League campaign sensed a change in the air emanating from North London.
After Chelsea took the crown at a canter last season, people questioned who would be in the best shape to put them under pressure, something which they were sorely lacking. And the name that came to the forefront above all others is Arsenal, a giant that has been sleeping for far too long. Following years of settling for a Champions League berth and a safe slot in the top four, the Gunners finally looked to be in a position to capture the title for the first time since the famed Invincibles of 2004.
For the past few seasons, there had been a clear growth in confidence among Arsenal fans, brought about by improving results and the acquisition of some star players. In a dramatic change to Arsene Wenger's usual spending strategy, he brought in Mesut Ozil for £42 million in 2013, followed by Alexis Sanchez for £35 million last summer. Both have had a noticeable impact on their new home in the Emirates Stadium, especially the Chilean winger, who in spite of his diminutive size stood head and shoulders above many in the league with his consistently fabulous performances.
With this new star power at their disposal and existing names like Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott hitting their strides at the back-end of the 2014/15 season, the signs were there that Wenger was ready to shake off Jose Mourinho's labelling of him as "an expert in failure" and lead his squad once again to the summit of English football. Back-to-back FA Cup victories was evidence of this ambition, a strong base for the club to push themselves beyond also-rans or plucky challengers to bona fide contenders.
Preseason did nothing to quell these calls for hope, as Arsenal had numerous strong performances in friendly competitions, including a 6-0 win over Lyon in the Emirates Cup and a 1-0 victory over champions Chelsea in the FA Community Shield. This was coupled with the potential solving of their consistent goalkeeping problems. Whilst David Ospina was a reliable pair of hands in the second-half of the prior campaign, the signing of Petr Cech from their London rivals was a statement of immense proportions. One of the world's greatest keepers secured to a contract, Arsenal's balance looked in phenomenal shape into the 2015/16 season.
However, since that moment, those lofty ambitions have been flattened under feet of derision and the Gunners' lack of strength in depth. Yet to secure a triumph at home since the outset of the season, a loss to West Ham United on the opening day and the recent stalemate with Liverpool, those that backed Arsenal for success have quickly receded into the shadows, throwing their lot behind the previously unfancied Manchester City. And whilst the results have been poor, the main reason behind this exuberance of doubt is the lack of transfer activity since Cech arrived at the club.
Since the start of the summer transfer window, the Czech shotstopper is the only new face to grace the Emirates Stadium, and not to begrudge his undoubted quality, that simply is not good enough. Compare this to Manchester United, who have splashed the cash for the second consecutive summer, with a grand total of £76 million and counting used to acquire the likes of Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin. And there is no sign that they are ready to stop improving their ranks should the opportunity present itself. Whilst Cech is considered on of the overall best signings of the season, it is not as though goalkeeper was as significant problem for Arsenal as many made it out to be.
Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool have also spared no expense in boosting their ranks, whilst Arsenal have simply been stuck in neutral, resting on their laurels. This has been a constant criticism of Wenger's strategy, as in spite of a supposedly enviable war chest of funds at his disposal, he has remained tight-fisted. Names such as Karim Benzema, Arturo Vidal and Edinson Cavani have been batted around throughout this transfer window, yet no serious moves have been pushed to completion.
Wenger has often waited until the last minute in previous windows to confirm new arrivals, a strategy that has bore mixed results. Therefore, this situation can easily be rectified with a couple of marquee additions. In particular, Arsenal require a striker that can guarantee them 20-30 goals a season, and a anchor in defensive midfield to provide competition and support to the youthful Francis Coquelin. With those acquisitions, they could certainly mount an effective challenge on the Premier League title, especially considering their form at the back end of the 2014/15 campaign.
However, as a fan of the Gunners I, along with I'm sure many others, are tired of this rigmarole of sitting on tenterhooks awaiting new arrivals that prove nothing more than pure speculation. Of course, part of that is down to the sensationalizing of the media over any sniff of a transfer story. But, it should not have to take this long to arrange more than the sole deal that Wenger has secured. It smacks of arrogance that his unit is strong enough to challenge, and although it is undoubtedly full of quality players that any squad would benefit from having, there is always room for improvement and evolution.
Frankly, if Arsenal do not unfasten their purses and pockets and shell out on at least one more quality outfield player, their fans can wave goodbye to forlorn hopes of the Premier League title or European conquest, and instead go through the motions of concern as to whether they will have a seat among Europe's elite next season.