While Arsene Wenger was lecturing journalists in Istanbul about his record in the transfer market (“We have been very successful with transfers,” he told the Mirror), the Arsenal Supporters Trust was chiding Ivan Gazidis over the chairman’s suggestion that Wenger (whose “success with transfers” they were having some trouble seeing) should be offered a new contract.
“A decision on whether to offer an extension to the manager’s contract which ends in May 2014 should only be taken following the closing of the transfer window and assessment of the team’s performances in the weeks ahead,” the AST statement read.
It went on: “The fact that there is money available for squad-strengthening is not disputed. The AST’s independent analysis suggests that the amount is somewhere between £70 million and £100 million.”
It seems everyone wants a turn at running Arsenal Football Club at the moment—a reaction even the club’s staunchest supporters would have to admit is due to the disturbing inertia of the Wenger regime, particularly during the current transfer window.
Having already been beaten to a handful of targets including Gonzalo Higuain and Luiz Gustavo, and with his approaches for Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez rebuffed, it seems Wenger is at a loss for what to do next—where to turn his attention, and the transfer kitty he is presumed to be sitting on.
But he still has options; there are still players who could be coaxed into an Arsenal move if the wages are right and clubs that could be forced into selling if the bids are high enough.
Following is a shopping list crafted with those criteria in mind, and even though it chimes in at a tidy £114 million it suggests five players that could be of significant use to Wenger—four of whom could still be brought into the club with the money AST insist he has.
Asmir Begovic: Goalkeeper, could be acquired for £15 million
Nothing much matters in a football team if the goalkeeping isn’t good.
Without a durable, reliable shot-stopper a manager can sign this attacking player and that defensive midfielder but his whole game plan will go out the window with a single howler.
Nothing sucks the wind out of a team quite like a goalkeeping error, especially if the outfield players have been going about their business effectively.
Nothing Wojciech Szczesny—the current Arsenal No. 1—has done over his three seasons at Emirates Stadium has suggested an ability to take a team to the top of the table, and if his performance against Aston Villa last Saturday was any indication Wenger could well begin his shopping at this position.
Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic is one of the better options out there, and last season he performed considerably better than Szczesny.
His 12 clean sheets beat his Arsenal counterpart by two, and he was also better on set pieces and averaged more saves per goal allowed than the Poland international. (All statistics courtesy Squawka.com.)
Kyriakos Papadopoulos: Defender, could be acquired for £18 million
The 21-year-old centre-back is not for sale, but a high-enough bid could force Schalke’s hand, and unless Wenger plans on playing Bacary Sagna in the centre of defense whenever a full-back goes down injured he absolutely must bolster his defensive corps in the next few days.
Papadopoulos is one of the top, young defenders on the continent last season and is both a smart interceptor of the ball and a fearless tackler in front of goal.
If he has one detriment it’s his temper, but these days Arsenal could do with a defender with fire in his belly.
Lars Bender: Midfielder, could be acquired for £25 million
Arsenal’s interest in Lars Bender is well-documented—the club having made a £19 million bid for the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder back in early July.
An increase of £6 million would likely be enough to twist Leverkusen’s arm, and with Bender in the side Wenger would have a tall, athletic midfielder with excellent concentration and that rare ability to throw himself into a tackle without much of a risk of a booking.
He is also as adept on the ball as off and would seem a natural fit alongside Jack Wilshere in the centre of the park.
Fernando: Midfielder, could be acquired for £26 million
One of the better Brazilian midfielders playing in Europe despite being rather under-the-radar at Porto, Fernando has yet to earn a senior international cap and could be keen on a move out of Portugal with the World Cup less than a year away.
The 26-year-old currently has a release clause of £26 million, but with his contract set to expire next summer he could likely be acquired for considerably less.
A tough-tackling midfielder, Fernando would give Wenger the sort of physical presence in the centre of the park his side so obviously lacks.
The Arsenal manager already missed out Luiz Gustavo, and he should not make the same mistake with the now-Wolfsburg midfielder’s countryman.
Robert Lewandowski: Striker, could be acquired for £30 million
Wenger missed out on Gonzalo Higuain and is unlikely to land either Wayne Rooney or Luis Suarez. He needs an elite centre-forward to trouble opposition defenses and score enough goals to cover his side’s defensive mistakes, and as Robert Lewandowski is so keen to leave Borussia Dortmund there would seem to be a match with the Poland international.
But both Dortmund and the 25-year-old have maintained there won’t be a transaction until next summer (Telegraph), although their positions could suddenly change if Arsenal came in with a meaningful bid.
Even if Dortmund remained hostile to a move, Lewandowski could always force a deal by tabling a formal transfer request.
But Arsenal have to turn his head first, and given that he scored 36 goals last season and 30 the year before that they have little reason not to.