After unveiling his £89 million marquee signing Paul Pogba, Jose Mourinho was typically mischievous. “When I heard some of the comments and heard some of the managers criticising that, I don’t think they ever have this problem because, to have this problem, you need to be at one of the top clubs in the world” said the Portuguese and there were no prizes for identifying one of the managers he was referring to.
Arsene Wenger had earlier described Manchester United’s world-record capture as “it is completely crazy if you cannot afford to pay it” and Mourinho couldn’t resist yet another cheap dig at the Arsenal manager who has spent another summer promoting the importance of thrift.
The signing of Pogba is likely to wrap up United’s first summer of transfer activity under Mourinho’s guidance, a deal for Southampton’s Jose Fonte may still come to fruition, which has been costly, yet decisive and ominous.
It allowed Mourinho to revel in the exciting potential of his squad after swatting away Bournemouth on Sunday before he could settle down to watch, one imagines with a wry grin on his face, Arsenal’s summer of tranquillity being gleefully torn apart by Liverpool. Wenger has spent big this summer, forking out £34 million on Granit Xhaka only to sit the Swiss midfielder alongside him on the bench, citing a fear of injury due to some of his players returning late from Euro 2016.
“[Granit Xhaka?] Look, him and Ramsey [and others] – they all came back later” said Wenger, “I pushed Ramsey in and he got injured. Players come back late because of the Euros….you play them and they get injured”.
It was a chaotic message that fell apart in the face of performances from Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Nathaniel Clyne who all managed to feature in Liverpool’s high-energy display despite exiting the summer’s European Championships two days after Xhaka.
Ramsey’s inclusion, after reaching the semi-finals with Wales out in France, even further mystified as Santi Cazorla, who has enjoyed a summer of rest, sat on the bench. Wenger was undermining his own bemusing justification with his own team selection and Ramsey’s seventh muscular injury in just over three seasons was an expensive price.
Alexis Sanchez was competing in the Copa America final for Chile on the same day as England’s defeat to Iceland but Wenger had no qualms including him against Liverpool. Perhaps he had no alternative, with Danny Welbeck long-term injured, new-singing Takuma Asano at the Olympics with Japan, Olivier Giroud still out after reaching the European Championship semi-finals with France and Theo Walcott returned to a wide forward.
Chuba Akpom, with just 4 substitute Premier League appearances to his name, was the only central-attacking option the bench and as Sanchez cut an isolated figure up-front, Wenger’s decision not to spend big on attacking reinforcements over the summer appeared regrettable. The Frenchman tried, meeting Jamie Vardy’s £22 million release clause only to see the 29 year old opt to stay at Leicester and submitting a peripheral offer for Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette.
Lyon rejected the £29 million bid, bizarrely £2 million less than a failed bid from West Ham a few weeks earlier and how much would he liked to see Lacazette, scorer of 74 goals across his last 3 seasons in Ligue 1 and who opened his account for the new campaign with a deadly hat-trick against Nancy, testing the shaky, previously-untried partnership of Ragnar Klavan and Dejan Lovren on Sunday.
Lyon are reportedly open to “offers they can’t refuse” for their 25 year old forward but would Wenger, ever the pious economist who continually espouses the value of money in the world of over-inflated transfer fees, truly pursue him vigorously enough to make a statement?
One suspects everybody already knows the answer and it keeps Arsenal tethered against the balance sheet while Manchester City, spenders of £165 million this summer, Manchester United (£157 million), Chelsea (£63 million) and Liverpool (£67 million), so devastating as they ripped into Arsenal in a ruthless second-half spell, flex their financial muscles and become much stronger than their Islington rivals.
Even West Ham, riding the wave of excitement generated by their move to the Olympic Stadium, were more active over the summer, spending £43 million to bolster a squad that prepares to compete in the Europa League.
Last season’s champions Leicester City, over whom Wenger was expressing “guilt” and “regret” for finishing 10 points behind last term, have spent £40 million and Arsenal travel to the King Power Stadium on Saturday with a patched-up squad ready for a fixture that, even with the campaign at such an embryonic stage, can be described as definitive.
With Wenger voicing caution in order to avoid the injuries that have become a perennial factor in their repeated failures in recent seasons, Giroud, Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny are likely to still be missing after their Euro 2016 exploits while Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista remain on the treatment table.
The inexperienced Rob Holding, a £2 million summer acquisition from Bolton, and Callum Chambers filled in at centre-half against Liverpool and anybody who witnessed the pair disintegrate when challenged with the sheer pace of Sadio Mane and the movement of Lallana, Roberto Firminho and Phillipe Coutinho at the Emirates on Sunday will be mightily concerned with Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Ahmed Musa lying in wait on Saturday evening.
The shambolic defeat to Liverpool and the latest plague of injuries has triggered a flurry of reports linking central defenders to the Emirates, with Omer Toprak, Simon Kjaer, Jose Giminez and Shkodran Mustafi all being named, though it appears none are being pursued with the urgency and purpose that the current crisis warrants.
It is now over a month since Wenger saw his German club-captain suffer the injury that will rule him out for 5 months in a pre-season friendly against Lens, but he is still no closer to signing a worthwhile replacement option. It is another example of costly oversight that, with the season just 2 weeks old, has put Arsenal at an immediate disadvantage.
The relentless injuries due to Wenger’s outdated methods, the lack of a commanding centre-half or brutish centre-midfielder, the lack of a headline-grabbing striker and the jarring ultra-caution over finances; they do Groundhog Day well in north London.