Sunday, September 8, 2013

The 2013 Summer Transfer Window

The summer transfer window finally closed at 11pm BST on 2 September. It was a long, agonizing summer for all the Gooners, but those who kept faith in Arsene Wenger were rewarded with the signing of Mesut Özil for a club-record fee of £42.5 million.

After the previous day's win over their archrivals, Tottenham, Wenger reiterated his confidence to add a "super player" or two. He also said that maybe hr could surprise us. And we were blown away with the amount Arsenal spent on one player and the calibre of the player they brought in. This was anything but a typical Arsenal signing in so many ways.

The deadline-day signing smashed not only Arsenal's transfer record, but also their wage structure, with Özil reportedly on a £140,000-a-week wage. Their flat wage structure, in which mediocre players were getting paid more than they deserve, has been under review by the management. The traditional system has made it difficult for the north London club to offload such players like Squillaci, Bendtner Chamakh, and Denilson.

There is an argument that Wenger only made this marquee signing in order to appease the fans. However, if you look at Özil's attributes, this has all the hallmarks of the Wenger signings that fit with the Arsenal brand of football. Also, some say that his price tag was inflated. Arsenal may have had to pay a premium for a deadline-day signing, but players like Özil wouldn't have become available under other circumstances. We were lucky to capture him. Many believe the money was well spent.

With a reported £70 million transfer budget, Arsenal have been linked to a host of players, especially strikers, all the summer. We, the supporters, expected this summer to be different for us because for the first time in the past few years we would not have to sell our star players. Did that prospect make our summer less stressful? Not a bit. We still had to go through an emotional roller-coaster normally associated with transfer windows, i.e., hopes, expectations, disappointment and resignation.

Arsenal's early transfer activity was focused on moves away from the Emirates. Arsenal released 10 youth players, while Squillaci and Arshavin left the Club as their contracts expired. Also, Denilson's contract was cancelled before the Brazilian midfielder joined the club he spent the previous two seasons on loan with, São Paulo, while Andre Santos moved back to his native Brazil to join Flamengo for an undisclosed fee. Djourou and Coquelin joined Hamburg and Freiburg, respectively, on a season-long loan. Vito Mannone was sold to Sunderland for a reported transfer fee of £1.5-2 million. Gervinho's move to Roma was secured in August for a reported fee of around £8 million. Chamakh moved across the capital to Crystal Place before the start of the season for an undisclosed fee (or on a free transfer according to some reports). With all the deadwood cleared, Arsenal were ready to spend big on wages as well.

After the signings of Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez, and Luiz Gustavo, all failed to materialise (I'm quite sure that there is a story behind each potential signing as Wenger stated that he could write a book about a transfer window every summer), the fans were extremely frustrated. Furthermore, after the summer clear-out, our squad was stripped to the bare bones. Arsenal were desperately short on numbers.

The signing of Mesut  Özil, which was confirmed just before the window closed, lifted the fans, as well as sent Arsenal players a buzz. Santi Cazorla, the Ox, Jack Wilshere, and Aaron Ramsey, who could be all competing for a place in midfield with him, immediately tweeted their excitement over the signing, with Wilishere declaring that this was easily the signing of the summer. Theo Walcott also expressed his excitement, saying "the likes Özil joining the club is only going to boost everyone's confidence and everyone's going to be on a massive high". Gibbs revealed that he jumped in the air when he learnt Arsenal's signing of the ex-Real Madrid player. Olivier Giroud welcomed the arrival on Twitter from French national team's camp Tuesday morning, while Laurent Koscielny described the German international as a world-class player and assured he would adapt to English football quickly. Poldi posted on Facebook a photo of himself and the new signing together holding an Arsenal shirt in Germany. Later, Mertesacker also posted his welcome message and a photo with Özil and himself on Facebook.

The fans' reaction was equally enthusiastic. Apparently Arsenal had sold 6,800 Özil shirts by the end of the following day and more than 1 million shirts, including casual T-shirts, had been ordered/sold in the next two days. It just goes to show that big signings pay for themselves.

While there is no question about the class and qualities of Özil who is dubbed as the King of Assists, the signing left some fans sceptical about the need of another attacking midfielder. Arsenal's strength lies in their dominant midfield and it was widely believed that reinforcement was needed in other areas, especially up front. Arsenal reportedly attempted to sign Demba Ba on loan from Chelsea, but the deal fell through in the last minute. The rumour has it that the Chelsea manager realised that Arsenal were genuine title contenders after they had completed the signing of Özil and made a U-turn on the proposed loan deal, refusing to help out their rivals. (If this is true, Special One clearly didn't consider Everton (Lukaku) or Liverpool (Victor Moses) as title contenders, then.)

On the SkySports site, Adam Bates answered these fans' questions as to whether Arsenal really needed Özil. The Germany international was Real Madrid's third top scorer with 9 goals, but he really shines in terms of assists. Özil was the 4th most successful through ball provider (17) in La Liga last season, only after Iniesta, Fabreagas, and Di Maria, but with the league's best accuracy rate of 70%. It's not hard to imagine one of those through balls will release Walcott behind the oppositions' defence on numerous occasions this season.

Upon the arrival of Özil, Cazorla is likely to spend more time on the left wing, combined with Poldi's prolonged absence. Apparently, left-footed Özil tends to move into wide positions. Given Santi's inclination to cut inside (which was a kind of problem for us because we miss a real wide player when he plays on the left wing), the interchange of these two talented midfielders will present an interesting prospect. It will be very difficult for the opponents to contain these two.

Giroud is in a fantastic form at the moment and is unlikely to complain a lack of service once Özil has hit the ground running. Özil could even make Bendtner look like one of the greatest strikers in the world, which the Dane claims he is. Who knows. If Giroud can stay fit, the goal tally will improve on the last season between Giroud and Walcott thanks to Özil's vision and passing accuracy. When Podolski returns from the hamstring injury, he is expected to play a centre forward role as an alternative option to Giroud.

Another position we needed to strengthen was central defence. With Vermaelen's imminent return (possibly after the international break), Wenger seemed to have decided against the idea of adding in this area. Sagna could serve as a fourth-choice centre-back, which leaves the right-back position without a back-up. However, newly re-joined Mathieu Flamini can provide a cover in case Sagna's deputy, Carl Jenkinson, gets injured. As we have already given a verdict in the previous post, the re-signing of Flamini was probably one of Wenger's most shrewd signings. Wenger earlier revealed that he did not want to re-sign the French midfielder initially. However, Flamini's physical sharpness and determination convinced Wenger to re-sign the 29-year-old midfielder.

A goal-keeping position was another area we were keen to see strengthened, although Szczesny appeared to be heading for Arsenal's long-term No.1. Following the sale of Vito Mannone, Wenger looked for a third-choice keeper and brought in Emiliano Viviano on a season-long loan from Palermo on the deadline day. He is not a Casillas or a Julio Cesar the fans were hoping for, but the 27-year-old Italian should give the young Pole competition. We don't know much about him, but earning 6 caps for Italy during Gianluigi Buffon's long-term reign is not to be sniffed at. If he proves himself worthy of a place in the Arsenal squad, he will be signed on a longer term next summer as his loan deal includes a buy-out clause. It's a win win situation. We don't know why some fans are reportedly so negative about the signing.

The jury is out for Yaya Sanogo, a 20-year-old French striker signed from Auxerre on a free transfer. Although our squad still looks somewhat deflated, we are happy with the Club's activity in the 2013 transfer window. After all, Arsenal have made a statement of intent through the signing of Mesut Özil.

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