The Independent's £99m plan to restore the lost faith of Arsenal's support
Tim Rich sets out five steps the Gunners could take to restore lost status
Monday 19 August 2013
In the wake of the opening day debacle against Aston Villa, The Independent is pleased to present to the board at the Emirates a bespoke, five-point rescue package to remove the word "crisis" from headlines involving Arsenal Football Club.
1. Find a less dodgy keeper
Like a high-wire artist who considers a safety net unmanly, Arsène Wenger has always had a taste for dangerous goalkeepers. It says something that Jens Lehmann, the man who played in every match of the club's "Invincible" season, was considered risky. Compared to the men who have succeeded him, Lehmann's genes contained the distilled essence of Peter Shilton and Lev Yashin.
Wojciech Szczesny is not a bad keeper but judged on percentage of shots saved last season (75) he is only the sixth-best in the Premier League. Chelsea have two keepers – Thibault Courtois, on loan at Atletico Madrid, is the other – who are superior.
Oliver Baumann, who kept 13 clean sheets for Freiburg last season, or Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, the best young keeper in the Bundesliga, who has long interested Barcelona, would cost between £7m and £10m.
2. Time to tackle Laurent
Wenger inherited the greatest back four English club football has produced in modern times. Sometimes, as with the signings of William Gallas and Sol Campbell, he has he brought in players to match the quality of the men George Graham left behind. However, the tackle by Laurent Koscielny that conceded the second penalty against Aston Villa was a case in point. It looked good from a distance but on closer analysis proved not quite good enough.
Per Mertesacker is a fine header and tackler but is exposed by a lack of pace, especially without the protection of a high-quality holding midfielder. For £9m Wenger could have had Adil Rami, a tough no-nonsense centre-half who plays alongside Koscielny for France.
3. Strike the right price
After their debut season as a first-class county saw them battered into last place in the Championship, Durham's cricketers were asked what they needed for next season. One voice at the back piped up: "We should sign the biggest fast bowler we can find."
There are the same sentiments at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal require the most lethal centre-forward they can afford and they can afford quite a lot. They have a greater disposable transfer fund than Real Madrid (a notional cash balance of £154m, although the actual war chest may be around £70m). But given their timorous opening bids for Luis Suarez and Gonzalo Higuain you wouldn't know it.
Another club would have recognised Manchester United's inability to use Shinji Kagawa correctly and Suarez's realisation that if he stays at Liverpool he is unlikely ever to play at the Bernabeu. And then offer £65m, which is what they earned from player sales last year, for the pair.
4. Get the starters right
As someone who lost eight of his first 10 matches with Nagoya Grampus Eight, Wenger has long been adept at recovering from poor starts. Yet the desperate scramble to make fourth place that has characterised too many springs at Arsenal could be avoided. In each of their last three seasons Arsenal have failed to average two points per game over the first 10 fixtures. The clubs who have won the championship in those seasons have averaged 2.4.
Two factors may have contributed to this. The first is that Arsenal have now invariably become entangled in Champions League qualification fixtures at the end of August. The other is that Wenger always used to insist on preparing for a season with summer training camps in the Alps; instead, Arsenal have joined everyone else in tearing round Asia convincing themselves that playing in 85 degree humidity in Vietnam is ideal preparation for a November night in Hull. It would cost the club around £15m to forgo the money they make on tour.
5. Rebuild that lost belief
The storm of fury that greeted the final whistle against Aston Villa was the sound of the terminally disillusioned.
Those who pay the highest ticket prices in world football resemble a family whose dad comes in from work laden with brochures for a long-haul Kuoni holiday and find themselves at Scarborough with the sand stinging their legs.
They no longer believe that Arsène knows, although too few realise that the extraordinary cash balances are the result of one-off factors such as player and property sales. The cost to win the supporters back is one trophy – of any description.
Total cost of package £99m and one trophy.
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