Imagining Arsenal's Season If Wenger Had Signed a Big-Name Striker in the Summer

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Imagining Arsenal's Season If Wenger Had Signed a Big-Name Striker in the Summer
Sang Tan/Associated Press

Before Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil last summer, before Arsenal collapsed on the opening day against Aston Villa, before Arsenal topped the Premier League table for months and picked themselves up during what looked like a collapse, they were supposed to sign a striker.

As we all know, that much-predicted and analyzed eventuality did not come to pass. Despite innumerable amounts of ink being spilled and pixels being filled about the matter, Arsene Wenger never splashed the cash on a striker of any repute. I clarify at the end because he did sign Yaya Sanogo.

Everyone knew last summer that Arsenal needed to sign someone to at least back up Olivier Giroud. Ideally the new player would be an improvement and would thus be able to consistently challenge Giroud for his starting spot.

For the first time in years, Wenger seemed to concur with his entire fan base that the team was severely short in this one area and that a really big name was needed to fill the gap.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The rumors flowed thick and fast, as the expression goes. Many names were bandied about and soon Gonzalo Higuain emerged as the most likely candidate for a plane ticket to London.

Soon reports shifted from mere speculation to news about the most incremental developments in the story. By July, the frenzy reached a crescendo: major news outlets like Marca reported that the deal was just about done, and the mere formalities were all that stood in the way of Higuain suiting up in red and white.

Except it never happened. The Argentine was indeed on his way out of Real Madrid, but Napoli trumped Arsenal's offer and just like that, Higuain was jetting off to Naples to continue his career in Serie A.

Act Two: £40,000,001.

That is, of course, the amount of money Arsenal bid for Liverpool's Luis Suarez after the Higuain transfer fell through, per Andy Hunter of The Guardian. That fee was and is, especially after the season Suarez has had, a paltry sum for the striker.

But the Gunners' bid was borne out of desperation and the belief that the Uruguayan had a £40 million release clause in his contract.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Fans were hopeful and the world was bewildered until Liverpool's owner, John W. Henry, asked, "What are they smoking over there at the Emirates?" and it was clear that the deal was dead.

So Arsenal had spent an entire summer chasing high-profile names with a massive transfer budget and not one move had worked out.

Well, what if one did? How might Arsenal's season have gone and what position would the club currently be in?

It's a valid question to ask, considering that the Gunners will almost certainly not fail again this summer and sign someone else to shore up a very shaky forward line.

And the answer must start with the most obvious consequence, namely that Mesut Ozil would not have been signed.

If Arsenal had broken their transfer record (previously a paltry £15 million) to sign Higuain, Suarez or some other big name, they would not have had enough left in the transfer kitty to come anywhere near inking Ozil for £42.5 million.

They certainly have enough money in the bank to do so if Wenger and Ivan Gazidis were so inclined. But the Gunners always have an eye to the future and sustainability, so it is quite difficult to imagine them spending £70 million in one transfer window without receiving Gareth Bale-level money for one of their players.

Imagine an Arsenal side with no Ozil. In addition to simply being a fantastic player, he has been one of the only midfielders at the club to remain relatively injury-free throughout the season.

That means Arsenal would have been hit much harder by all the injuries they've endured in the center of the park, especially when Santi Cazorla went down earlier in the season. They would also not have one of the best attacking midfielders in the world during the prime years of his career (Ozil turned 25 last autumn).

Another big-name signing would have given Arsenal the same morale boost Ozil did when he arrived after the club's calamitous loss to Aston Villa on the opening day.

But, save perhaps for Suarez, no striker with whom Arsenal were linked had the same prestige as Real Madrid's superstar attacking midfielder.

Salvatore Laporta/Associated Press

Consider, also, the striker's potential impact on Olivier Giroud. Arsenal only play one striker per match, so there would at least have been considerably more rotation and one would have probably frozen out the other unless injuries or terrible form intervened.

It is easy to forget that Giroud found his best run of form as an Arsenal player during the beginning of the season, when his finishing touch was clinical and his positioning impeccable.

Arsenal fans hotly debate whether his subsequent dip in form was due to simple regression to the mean (which is a relatively poor benchmark) or simple fatigue from playing too many minutes. Surely, though, Giroud played more than he should have and an additional striker not named Nicklas Bendtner would have considerably eased his burden.

That could have meant a more efficient and productive attack for a side that often grinds out low-scoring wins against obviously inferior opponents.

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But it could also have produced discontent in either Giroud or the new signing at their lack of playing time. That is a real problem when a club has two very qualified players in one position and one that Wenger will have to consider this summer when he enters the market (as he hopefully will).

The most important question in the short-term, though, is whether Arsenal's position in the table would be any higher or lower than it is now.

To answer that, one must weigh the costs and benefits of signing an elite striker versus bringing in Mesut Ozil.

And unless Arsenal acquired Luis Suarez, a player so utterly unstoppable and at such an absolute physical peak that he could instantly improve any team in the world, it is difficult to see how anyone could exceed Ozil's impact.

In short, not signing a striker allowed Arsenal to seize their opportunity to snag Ozil at one of the only times Real Madrid would be willing to sell for a relatively low price.

That should allow Wenger to return to the market this summer and do the deal he could not quite complete several months ago.

 

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