Chris McGrath: Wenger must look to Spurs for a solution
The Last Word
Saturday 01 August 2009
They are only four miles apart, but the distance between them is barely within the span of the Hubble telescope.
At Arsenal, fans wait with bated breath to discover whether Arsène Wenger will actually spend any of the £39m trousered from the sale of Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Touré. Their neighbours at Tottenham, meanwhile, watch bewildered as Harry Redknapp tries to round up more strikers than Real Madrid and Manchester City put together.
Though Redknapp finally seems to have ended his relationship with Darren Bent, he has brought in Peter Crouch to join Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane and Roman Pavlyuchenko, and is still muttering about Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. You would be mad, he says, not to be interested in players like that, when they become available.
Wenger, meanwhile, sits as impassively as Canute with the tide lapping his ankles. You would be mad, he says, to pay the grotesque transfer fees and wages hazarding the very survival of less prudent clubs.
So that's it, then. The whole world's gone mad. Wenger, of course, has long been a beacon of sanity in the game's headlong derangement. And all neutrals will surely be united in the hope that the abyss of 18 points dividing his team from the title last season will be narrowed this time round, as their youngsters continue to mature, and Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky return from injury. But continued intransigence in the transfer window could well retard that fulfilment, perhaps indefinitely. For the future, which perennially sustains the Wenger vision, must surely start here.
There has been encouraging talk that Wenger might swallow his pride and make a record signing of Daniele De Rossi, a man so notoriously equipped to redress a perceived lack of malevolence in midfield that he announced himself on the world stage by opening Brian McBride's face with his elbow. Compared with the faintly ludicrous idea that Patrick Vieira – another Redknapp target – should stagger back to Arsenal, De Rossi would potentially be the most significant piece of business all summer. He is precisely the sort of character needed to rally and protect the aesthetes.
The consensus among Arsenal cognoscenti seems to be that the sale of Touré and Adebayor represents good business. (Just like the sale of Vieira, in fact.) In Thomas Vermaelen, Wenger's one signing to date, and the blossoming Johan Djourou, William Gallas has two young lieutenants ready to succeed Touré. A replacement for Adebayor is another matter. Nicklas Bendtner may yet reward perseverance, but is not yet a credible focus for an attack capable of winning the Premier League. One possible solution is staring Wenger in the face. Perhaps all he has to do is take another, wondering look at what Redknapp is doing down the road.
It seems obvious his manager does not especially rate Pavlyuchenko. There have even been suggestions he could be exiled on loan; certainly, it otherwise seems conceivable he will find himself decaying on the bench. But Pavlyuchenko, given the chance, has the potential to win a Golden Boot.
Admittedly, he made only a fitful contribution during his first season in London. But he can be exonerated, and not just because so many imports take time to adjust to the frenetic environment of the Premier League. Pavlyuchenko had gone from the frying pan of the Russian domestic season into the fire of the European Championship. And several of the best players at that tournament lost their effervescence last winter.
As it was, Pavlyuchenko showed sufficient glimpses to suggest he would prove no less effective on English soil than he had been at the Luzhniki Stadium, the night he ensured no Englishmen would be at Euro 2008. The way he then dovetailed with Andrei Arshavin in the Alps ensured that both men were named in the official team of the tournament.
Can you imagine such an honour for Defoe, Keane or Crouch? Come to that, how much would you give to harness Pavlyuchenko with Arshavin on a weekly basis? It is a question Wenger might very well ask himself.
The chances are that Marouane Chamakh, of Bordeaux, may prove more to his liking. Either way, however, it is surely imperative for Arshavin to become the pivot of Arsenal's attacking machine. When he arrived, palpably short of fitness, Wenger tended to deploy him wide; by the time he scored his fourth goal that night at Anfield, still sprinting in injury time, he had already vindicated Wenger in spending big, for once, on a player already at his peak.
But it will unnerve a lot of Arsenal fans should Wenger not do so again, this month. They increasingly find themselves polarised between two schools of thought, both perfectly plausible: one, that Arsenal are just one or two signings away from becoming a Barcelona of the north; the other, that they are clinging precariously to a place in the British elite.
Of course, Wenger's stature is such that their debate becomes distorted by such words as "heresy" and "faith". Replacing Adebayor or Touré is one thing, but how would you go about replacing Wenger himself?
He has seen the future, and still thinks it works. But a fortnight today, Arsenal begin a brutal sequence of three away games in their first four league fixtures: Everton, Manchester United, Manchester City. There are times when a fortnight seems future enough, and light years best left to the Hubble.
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