By Greg Stobart
Arsene Wenger will be thanking Arsenal officials today for giving him a get out of jail free card with the late deadline day move to sign Danny Welbeck from Manchester United.
But while Welbeck could prove a decent signing for the Gunners, their mad dash on the final day of the transfer window has once again exposed a distinct lack of strategy at the Emirates Stadium.
|10/1||Arsenal are 10/1 with bet365 to lose by three goals to Man City|
Now it is business as usual. Does the club’s ambition stretch further than ensuring they finish in the top four and clinch a lucrative place in next season’s Champions League for the 18th campaign in a row? Their dithering and unwillingness to spend heavily makes it hard to argue otherwise.
The word from within the club was that executives were getting frustrated with Wenger's indecision, but the Frenchman is an accountant's dream, treating Arsenal's money - and they have a lot of it - as if it's his own.
Wenger signed a new contract at the end of the season believing a first title since 2004 was within reach after the FA Cup triumph in May - but three games and a bungled transfer window into the campaign it already looks like same old Arsenal.
They don’t have the squad quality or depth to compete with Chelsea or Manchester City for the title over 38 games and it feels a terrible missed opportunity because they are so close.
The statement signing of Alexis Sanchez needed to be backed up and the Gunners couldn’t do it.
Wenger is left with six defenders in his squad to cover four positions and is an injury or two away from disaster. Calum Chambers, a 19-year-old, finds himself covering as both Arsenal’s third centre-back and backup right-back. That the Gunners allowed their former captain, Thomas Vermaelen, to leave in the second week of August and fail to sign a replacement represents a staggering oversight on the manager's part at best, a dereliction of his duties at worst.
Just as worrying is Wenger’s failure to sign a defensive midfielder yet again. The likes of William Carvalho, Morgan Schneiderlin, Sami Khedira were all linked and would have infinitely improved the team, especially against top four rivals.
Mikel Arteta isn’t strong enough to protect the defence in the big games and Arsenal needed someone with more physical presence and athleticism in that position. It's almost as is Wenger believes that position in the modern game is redundant but a quick glance at the impact Nemanja Matic and Fernandinho have had at Chelsea and Manchester City respectively would provide the Frenchman with some sobering evidence to the contrary.
And until the chance to sign Welbeck crept up at the last minute, Arsenal were staring at the prospect of playing with Yaya Sanogo as their only fit recognised centre-forward until January.
Wenger, though, seemed happy enough to swan off to Rome on deadline day to take part in a charity event rather than stay in London and rectify problems of his own making. Maybe he has already given up on competing with Chelsea and City this season.
It is an issue that should have been addressed long before the ankle injury suffered by Olivier Giroud that spun the club into a panic.
Loic Remy was desperate to sign for Arsenal and available all summer for just £8.5 million, but the club ended up splashing out £16m on Welbeck on the final day of the window. That is the same price for which Liverpool signed Mario Balotelli, a far more proven and clinical forward.
Welbeck is a solid if unspectacular player, but at least Arsenal signed someone to lead the line. The 23-year-old is fast, hard-working and tidy on the ball, and United fans will miss him.
His goal record is also very similar to Giroud’s. While the Frenchman has scored 28 goals in 60 Premier League appearances compared to 26 goals in 74 matches for Welbeck.
But if Arsenal fancy themselves as title contenders, shouldn’t they have been in for Balotelli? Or shouldn’t it have been they, not United, clinching a sensational deal for Radamel Falcao?
Their weakness in the final third was highlighted in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Leicester and Arsenal have failed to convince in any of their first three Premier League games of the campaign.
It feels like such a missed opportunity. Despite Welbeck’s arrival, Arsenal unarguably have weaker centre-forward options than their main rivals and it is the position where the contrast between good and great will be most exposed.
How the likes of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere would like to be feeding a world class talent in the mould of Falcao, Sergio Aguero or Diego Costa.
That has to be the next step for Arsenal - but it will come too late to make them title challengers this season.
MANCHESTER UNITED'S GALACTICO PROJECT NO GUARANTEE OF SUCCESS
It has been been like a real-life football management game for Manchester United this summer.
The club have proved they still have the pull and financial muscle to attract the best players on the planet, but their summer spending has borne echoes of the nouveau-riche extravagance of Manchester City and Chelsea when they were first bought by billionaire owners.
The desperation to land superstar signings this summer has culminated in Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao joining a star-studded attack, and United will be thrilling to watch this season, assuming Louis Van Gaal can find a way to accommodate all of his attacking talents.
United have followed the ‘galactico’ route this summer and it will delight sponsors and supporters, but other areas of the side have been sorely neglected. After spending the best part of £200 million, they still need a top class central midfielder and central defender in the January transfer window.
I have to wonder what Sir Alex Ferguson might be thinking as he watches the likes of Danny Welbeck leave Old Trafford while a gaggle of foreign superstars arrive.
Part of what made United so special in the Ferguson era was the focus on academy players and a British core. They were never the type of club to throw silly money at solving problems.
Needs must, but now United are just like any other club.