Arsenal’s dealings in the summer transfer window of 2015 ended in the first week of July, a whole two months before the transfer window was about to shut. In fact, their transfer window shut as soon as it opened, as the Gunners had only one solitary signing: goalkeeper Petr Čech bought from league rivals Chelsea for £10 million.
The signing of no outfield players made Arsenal the only club in Europe’s top five leagues to do so and manager Arsene Wenger was rightly and widely criticised for his inability or rather his unwillingness to open his chequebook to infuse fresh blood into the team.
His failure to sufficiently upgrade his squad played a big role in Arsenal losing the title to surprise champions Leicester City by a margin of ten points. That said, it was Arsenal’s best chance to win the title since their last triumph in 2003-'04. All their major rivals – Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool – were in doldrums or transitional phases and finished below them.
Second place does not – and should not – soften the blow of finishing with seven defeats in a season which was wide open and there for the taking. Wenger, nearing the end of his career, and Arsenal, desperate to end their title drought, had been just as miserably inconsistent as those below, albeit with far greater stability at the helm.
A satisfactory summer
This season, the boos by the frustrated supporters at the Emirates Stadium rang out earlier than usual. The first game saw the Gunners (as Arsenal are called) lose 3-4 at home to Liverpool and the fans had seen a microcosm of the typical Arsenal season: start strong, capitulate in the middle and finish well, but not well enough to get over the line.
The home supporters had seen a centre-back pairing of Calum Chambers and Rob Holding start, and had then seen their team promptly concede four goals. They had seen enough after years of having to hear their manager fail to sufficiently upgrade his squad, on account of having to pay for the new stadium, which incidentally opened ten years ago.
Wenger’s biggest signing of the summer till then, Granit Xhaka had failed to impress in his cameo and many felt that 20-year-old Holding had been thrust into the limelight far too soon.
The management had no choice but to swing into action. Soon, Shkodran Mustafi, whose name had been linked with the club for the majority of the window, joined for a fee of £35 million, followed by Lucas Perez for £17 million to plug two of the biggest holes in the squad.
Overall, it represented a satisfactory summer’s work for Le Prof Wenger and his transfer advisors with the club spending a record £95.9 million in one window. Arsenal now have one of the most balanced squads in the league with no discernible weakness. The only hitch is that they are already playing catch-up after the first three games of the season, having dropped five points behind the trio of the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea.
The spine of the matter
Mustafi and Perez are not necessarily panic buys, but well-thought additions to a squad which feels like one of the most complete ones Wenger has built in his two decades as manager. The fees of £35 million paid for each of Mustafi and Xhaka do not seem out of place in this hyper-inflated transfer market.
The spine or the backbone of the team is an interesting prospect. Goalleeper Petr Cech has the rock solid pairing of World Cup winner Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny in front of him. Shielding the defence is Xhaka, one of the breakout stars of Euro 2016 with the pass-master Mesut Ozil and the mercurial Alexis Sanchez playing behind the striker.
Perez’s signing will keep Olivier Giroud on his toes and the duo are most likely to be involved in a job-share for the lone striker’s spot.
A year too late
Xhaka’s signing marks a change of guard in the middle of the pitch. Wenger, adamant on pinning his hopes on the perennially injured Jack Wilshere season after season, seems to have called time on the project after allowing Wilshere to go out on loan to AFC Bournemouth.
A year ago, Wenger’s frugality had meant that there would be no cover for the midfield as Francis Coquelin, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla all suffered injuries in quick succession, forcing the manager to start the 31-year old Mathieu Flamini in the centre of the park.
There is little doubt that a whole host of changes at the other top clubs in the league spurred Arsenal’s manager into taking decisive action this time around.
It is also worth pondering that these changes were as required this year as they were last season and the club’s non-activity in the transfer market had dented their chances of a title in 12 years.
Finally, Arsene Wenger has shown a sign of intent this time around but with every other club significantly upgrading their squads this summer, have the changes come one year too late?