The Final Five: How did Arsenal’s deadline day transfers perform this season?
"all of these purchases have a rather utilitarian air to them"
May 22nd, 2012
The summer of 2011 saw more significant departures than arrivals at Arsenal, namely in the transfers of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona, and Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy to Manchester City. By the final day of the transfer window the club had only strengthened modestly, bringing in Gervinho early on followed by the inexperienced Carl Jenkinson on a free transfer, and the young talent Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton at the beginning of August.
Cue the 8-2 collapse at Old Trafford on 28th August, when a stretched squad and inexperienced team crumbled on the pitch after a difficult midweek Champions League qualifier at Udinese. Arsenal had managed to regain entry to the Champions League, but their league form was disastrous, finishing in the top four an unlikely hope.
Wenger and the club had to take action as the team entered some of the darkest days of his 16 year reign. Fans were calling for change, and Arsenal, not known for excessive transfer activity, went into overdrive.
Five new signings arrived in less than 24 hours, and the mission to save the season commenced. Mikel Arteta, Yossi Benayoun, Per Mertesacker, Ju Young Park and Andre Santos were all brought in rapid succession, to the shock of Arsenal fans. However, successful were each of these last-minute signings? What was the impact of this last, frantic set of negotiations, and how has this shaped the club? I now aim to investigate their contribution to the club’s eventual recovery and third place finish and the meaning for Arsenal overall of this marked change in policy.
Mikael Arteta has arguably been the most successful of the group, he started 37 matches over the course of the season, and was a virtual ever-present in the team when fit, filling part of that Fabregas-shaped hole in midfield. Mikael started 29 league games out of a possible 35, which is 83%. His role in midfield was rather different to that of his predecessor, but he provided a stability which made him a first choice for Wenger.
His passing, though not always as incisive as that of Fabregas, was a useful asset and notably the team struggled after his season-ending injury at Wigan, winning only one in five during his absence. His six league goals are a decent return, with a particularly important one coming against Man City. Surprisingly he only made two assists this season, which is something to be improved on.
Overall, Arteta now forms an integral part of the Arsenal midfield, and whilst not adding absolute superstar quality to the team, his excellent skills and Premier League experience have meant that he has effectively filled the quality gap as a capable first team player, therefore making this a successful signing.
Meanwhile, the arrival of Yossi Benayoun on a season-long loan from Chelsea was seen by many as an odd piece of business. Yossi is a talented, but journeyman player who has played for several clubs and his arrival was initially unheralded. However, he proved his worth in the run-in, and arguably played a key role in finishing above Tottenham and retaining Champions League football for next season.
In total he made 15 appearances, with 10 more off the bench. Crucially, of his 10 starts in the League, 8 were made beginning with the 5-2 victory over Tottenham, including victories against Man City and Liverpool. His six goals also made a contribution, including two of the most vital, in the final two league games.
Yossi played the bit-part role to perfection, and was lauded by the team as a consummate professional. Whilst not a first choice, he certainly made an impact and performed with energy when it was required in the run-in. As such, this means he effectively bolstered the squad, and ensured the third place finish. A great deal if you consider his goal against West Brom was one of the final steps to safety.
Per Mertesacker’s arrival at the club seemed something less of a rushed process than the other deadline day buys. Confirmation came through earlier, and it has been long acknowledged that Arsenal need to strengthen in central defence. Though slow and rather clumsy at times, Per had international pedigree, and had played at the top of the German game.
Per walked into the side on his first game against Swansea and as the defence struggled with injuries, he became a virtual ever-present until he was injured in February during the league win at Sunderland. He started 27 games, with 21 in the league, over the more turbulent period of the season, as subsequently missed the excellent run from the end of February which took the club up the table.
Koscielny and Vermaelen would be the first choices, but although less agile, Per does add height, and provides a good choice at centre back. He dropped some clangers the season, but this isn’t unlike either of the former two. This was a decent purchase, but not the best of the five.
Andre Santos was another arrival in defence on deadline day. Undoubtedly a talented player going forward, his capabilities divide opinion, in particular with regard to his defensive performances. Santos provided a new attacking option on the left, but his poor defending left the team exposed in several games, and his struggles with injury meant that he only started 15 games, and 6 off the bench.
Most of his starts came during mid-season, whilst he either appeared off the bench or started in the final 9 league games. Ultimately his goal against West Brom was the vital winner, and his direct approach here, taking on three players and scoring, shows what he adds to the team. Andre has many attacking qualities, and he made the difference at the end, but he wouldn’t be chosen over Gibbs at left back.
Our final transfer was something of an enigma. Ju-Young Park arrived at Arsenal having scored 25 times over 91 appearances in three seasons at Wenger’s old club Monaco, but proceeded to make just four starts, with three coming in the League Cup and the other in Europe. His single appearance from the bench against Man Utd is insignificant.
Wenger’s concerns about his adaption to the pace of the English game can account for some of this, whilst the form of Van Persie meant that there wasn’t much room for either Park or Chamakh this season in Arsenal’s single striking position. The number 9 has had minimal impact, and this may be set to continue. Arsene’s plans for him are unclear at present.
In summary, all of these purchases have a rather utilitarian air to them, mainly adding strength and depth to the squad, as well as experience. It was well noted at the time that these players were all older than usual Wenger signings. Essentially all of these were successful in some aspects, excepting Park, but in general these were signings made to bolster the club after it was drained of experienced cover.
Only Arteta is really a first team choice, whilst Mertesacker could be used in rotation, Benayoun served his purpose well, whilst Santos also provides cover.
The other summer transfers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho and Jenkinson, were rather more traditional Arsenal transfers, targeting quality and youth. Though Gervinho had an ineffectual season he is definitely talented and has more to give. Jenkinson is still in development, whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain has surpassed all expectations, and may well be a future star. The difference in transfer style can also be delimited by time, as these were made earlier.
Overall, these last minute purchases were vital in maintaining a sufficient squad depth and strength to drag Arsenal up the league and maintain their status. However, the late timing was not conducive to an integrated squad, this season it is hoped the transfer business will be finished ahead of the start of play.
Furthermore, the club should now refocus on attracting the best talent which will improve each position, for example last season the club should have closed the deal to acquire Mata, but let him slip to Chelsea. Lukas Podolski is a great addition to the squad, and fits these criteria. A clear-out of some of the deadwood in the squad, including the likes of Arshavin, Bendtner, Vela and Denilson should free-up wage budget to bring in top players, if this does not happen, it will only cost the club more in the long run.