Arsenal: The Season It All Unravels For Wenger?

A summer of transfer uncertainty and the possibility of a stronger Spurs has left Arsenal in a precarious position. Philip Cornwall wonders if it's time for Wenger...

Last Updated: 13/08/13 at 13:35 Post Comment

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LAST SEASON

Premier League 4th FA Cup fifth round League Cup quarter-finals Champions League last 16

Manager Arsene Wenger (since September 1996) Odds on being first out of his job 33-1 (13th=)

Players in Yaya Sanogo (Auxerre, free)

Players out Vito Mannone (Sunderland, £1.5m), Denilson (Sao Paulo, free), Andrey Arshavin (Zenit, free), Marouane Chamakh (Crystal Palace, free), Andre Santos (Flamengo, undisc), Sebastien Squillaci (Bastia, free), Johan Djourou (Hamburg, loan), Francis Coquelin (Freiburg, loan)

Club turnover in 2011-12 £245m (4th)

Handicap betting to win Premier League +9 points (4th)

It is a tedious saga generally but there is something satisfyingly contrary about Arsene Wenger's pursuit of Luis Suarez. Truly, the Liverpool striker is not the big-money signing most Arsenal fans have dreamed of down the years, either in his personality or in the fact that he may well not arrive. The manager wants to spend £40m on a player whose ability is too often eclipsed by his other actions and whose club seem unwilling to play by the perceived rules.

John W Henry's comments about Fernando Torres in October 2010 before a January 2011 sale have been highlighted, but three weeks are not three months and the chances of a ready-made replacement being found for Suarez are slim. In addition, when it came to the selling of Torres the price Chelsea paid was Andy Carroll plus £15m; Carroll's unfulfilling Anfield stay has just come to a permanent end and Henry may well consider it best to avoid a repetition of such a last-minute purchase. A deal for Suarez remains possible but whatever Arsenal paid there would be a price for Henry's credibility and it is narrowly odds-on that the Uruguayan will still be a Liverpool player on 3 September. If this proves the case then that £40m (plus a quid) may have been burning a hole in Wenger's pocket.

There is the move for Bayern Munich's Luiz Gustavo, but a £14m defensive midfielder does not whet the appetite like a big-money striker. This is especially so at a club that lost a superb goalscorer last summer, in Robin van Persie, then watched him win the championship. Theo Walcott enjoyed his most prolific season, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski also reached double figures, but now that Arsenal are reaping the rewards of their new stadium and fresh commercial deals they have to be replacing Van Persie more directly.

It could easily be worse for Arsenal. At least they are in the Champions League qualifiers, they do have that assumed allure (it could all look very different if Fenerbahce win on and off the pitch), after Tottenham fell just short of fourth. But that makes it all the more puzzling they have gone after a troublesome and potentially unattainable striker rather than one more available and reliable. Big spending is not always a success - Andrey Arshavin left by the back door in the summer after never quite living up to the £15m price tag - but Wenger succeeded last summer with Santi Cazorla and Arsenal should be bringing in a player of that calibre every single summer.

On the plus side, Jack Wilshere is fit at time of going to press, but every rival has had a more active window and so have many of the sides that Arsenal must beat lower down the table. This could all change in the next couple of weeks - or Wenger could be made to change.

In 2011 Wenger had a deadline day splurge on Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos in the wake of the 8-2 at Old Trafford. This year, Arsenal play Tottenham on the eve of the window closing. Any defeat, not just a heavy one, will be alarming, especially if Spurs have kept hold of Gareth Bale.

Arsenal kick off against Aston Villa at 3pm on a Saturday, before travelling to Fulham for a televised game. In each midweek they face Fenerbahce, in a tricky looking Champions League qualifier with an off-field complication, as the Turkish side have been thrown out of the competition by UEFA over match-fixing but reinstated temporarily. Their final appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which gave them a temporary injunction, is due a couple of days after the second leg and on the eve of the group draw. If Arsenal lose then they may get a reprieve but it is a murky situation.

Gooners want some clarity. In the immediate future they want a striker signed, they want qualification for the group stages and they want a plain indication of continued superiority over Tottenham, all by September 3. That is all possible and individually maybe even probable, but as a treble it looks unlikely. In the longer run they want to end the incomprehensible trophy drought. But there are times when Wenger seems determined not to give them what they want and if Daniel Levy successfully stands firm up the other end of north London then there is every possibility that this could be the season it really unravels for the Frenchman.

Philip Cornwall

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