Big Guns or else

ANXIOUS summers have become the excruciating norm for Arsenal fans. In recent transfer windows, they’ve been told they’re shopping at Harrod’s only to end up rummaging through the charity shop. Worse still, they’ve watched helplessly as their own stars are cherry-picked by rivals.

Last week felt all too familiar as the Gonzalo Higuain deal stalled and an unrealistic bid for Luis Suarez was brusquely rebuffed by Liverpool. Signing an unknown kid from the French second division only seemed to rub salt into old wounds. Oh, and attempts to sign Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar and offload Nicklas Bendtner fell through. And we thought such suffering was banned under the Geneva Convention.

If frustration levels have reached new heights, there is a ‘but’ - and it’s a big ‘but’ as even the most half-glass empty Gooner would acknowledge: this summer feels different. There is no one sniffing after the likes of Jack Wilshere or Theo Walcott, and nobody muttering about leaving ‘to win trophies’. As far as the contracted players is concerned, an eerily expectant calm envelopes the Emirates.

As for signing marquee players, the loudest noises have come from CEO Ivan Gazidis and Arsene Wenger himself. The £23m they offered for Higuain was comfortably smashing their transfer record and the deal is not dead. And putting more money where their suddenly enlarged mouths are, they went back in for Suarez. Finally, it seems, the war chest isn’t just Arsene’s piggy bank.

“We have better financial resources than the years before and resources that we have created ourselves, which is massively important to us,” said the manager on arrival in Jakarta. “For years, we were out of the race for the top-level transfers but we are coming back now.”

That’s a sea change in tone for the famously prudent economics graduate and there will be those who may wonder if the tropical heat and the warmth of the welcome the Gunners received in Indonesia might have induced it. But it does finally seem as if the old Scrooge-like days are over and recent sponsorship deals that have followed the paying off of the Emirates stadium are responsible.

Indeed, Wenger has not been content to look only at the above two strikers but has even spoken of his admiration for Wayne Rooney. This new confidence – he jauntily announced “there are always secrets in the transfer window” – suggests he is reasonably hopeful of landing at least one of the trio. And the willingness to mention Rooney is enough to have some Gooners salivating over the prospect of a ‘revenge’ deal for losing Van Persie to United.

All this has been enough to have ex-Gunner Paul Merson declaring: “I think if they got two of these three players I can’t see them not winning anything this season. I think they would. I think they’d be a massive force.” We’ll forgive you the double negative, Paul, but it does betray Arsenal fans’ desperation to win something after a drought that has them commiserating with farmers in the Atacama Desert.

The danger in this bullish talk is if they get none of the three. Recent experience has taught us that Arsenal are never going to deprive the Canadian Mounties of their reputation for always getting their man. And with few ‘A’ list strikers available, you wonder what they would do. And who they would sign because they simply HAVE TO sign somebody big.

Many Gooners would almost forgive a flop if it signalled a long-overdue statement of new-found intent. Arsenal have done incredibly well to keep getting into the Champions League while building and paying for a super new stadium, a project that has been a near fatal blow for many clubs. Clearly, a policy decision was taken to put the stadium first, even if it meant sacrificing the team.

Such was the confidence the board had in Wenger after his stellar early years, they felt he could keep wheeling and dealing sufficiently well to keep them as contenders if not winners. And they could hardly come out and tell the fans: “We’re not going to win a trophy for eight years – apologies for the inconvenience.”

Certainly not when the inconvenience included the highest priced season tickets in the country of £985 for the cheapest to almost £2,000 for the most expensive. This pricing has led to protests and the Arsenal Supporters Trust accusing the club of “pricing loyal supporters out of the Emirates”.

The bids for Higuain and Suarez hint strongly that the financial Rubicon has been crossed. But fans will believe it only when the players are pulling on their club shirts. Until then optimistic talk like that of Per Mertesecker saying “we’re going to have a big year” should be kept on hold.

What’s more, the emphasis on strikers may be correctly tackling the biggest weakness in the squad but what of the defence? Only midfield would appear to be a strong enough department to challenge at the very highest level. No names have been mentioned there but they will be just as important if the supporters’ patience is finally going to be rewarded.

Most of all, Arsenal have talked the talk, now they must walk the walk and clinch the deals. Otherwise an anxious summer could turn into an angry autumn.

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