Arsène Wenger expressed hope yesterday that Uefa’s Financial Fair Play regulations had finally slowed the onslaught of Europe’s new-money teams, and that his club could now take on champions Manchester City, who they face in the Community Shield on Sunday.
Another summer, and another Arsenal player departing for the Etihad – this time the free agent Bacary Sagna. But Wenger said his club were now more competitive than ever with more than £60m committed on Alexis Sanchez, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy and David Ospina over the summer. It is significantly more than City have spent. The champions, hit by FFP restrictions, have thus far committed around £20m in fees.
The Frenchman starts the new season with greater optimism than last year as Arsenal have been able to more than hold their own in the transfer market.
“We are less vulnerable, for sure,” he said. “In the last two years we have bought [Mesut] Özil and [Alexis] Sanchez. Five years ago we would have lost Özil and Sanchez.”
Possible Arsenal starting XI for the Community Shield v Manchester City
Possible Arsenal starting XI for the Community Shield v Manchester City
1/9 Mathieu Debuchy
Debuchy arrived as the replacement for the departed-Bacary Sagna, who joined Manchester City on a free transfer at the end of the season. Despite being favoured by France coach Didier Deschamps at the World Cup, many Arsenal fans felt Sagna enjoyed one of his best season’s before his exit, and Debuchy will have a lot to live up to if he is to justify his £12m move to the Gunners.
2/9 Calum Chambers
Despite signing for the club this summer, Chambers looks set to start the Community Shield given that Per Mertesacker is yet to return to the club. The 19-year-old impressed during the Emirates Cup, but the Premier League champions will pose a major threat to the young English talent.
3/9 Laurent Koscielny
The Frenchman formed a consistent partnership with Mertesacker last season, but his ability to play alongside Vermaelen still remains in the balance are a string of less than convincing showings over the past two years. Nevertheless, he has developed in to one of the key players among the current Arsenal squad, and has shown an eye for a goal when he is allowed to get in the box at set-pieces.
4/9 Kieran Gibbs
Gibbs overcame a number of long-term injuries to solidify his place as Arsenal’s first-choice left-back, seeing off the challenge of first Andre Santos and now Nacho Monreal. Hopwever, he is yet to reach the performances of his predecessors Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy, although at 24 years old he still has time to nurture his talent and rival Luke Shaw for the England left-back berth in the years to come. He brings a calmness to the Arsenal left flank, which tends to look rather exposed when he is absent.
5/9 Jack Wilshere
Arsenal’s golden boy has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons this summer, and he faces a potentially career defining season ahead of him that could determine his Arsenal future. With Aaron Ramsey enjoying his best season to date last year that saw him win the club’s player of the season award, Wilshere needs to push on or face being replaced in the first team. A number of injuries have not helped his cause, but a good start to the season could really help him cement his place for both club and country.
6/9 Alexis Sanchez
Much like Özil, a lot will be expected to come from Sanchez on the basis that the Gunners shelled out – by their standards – a significant fee to sign him from Barcelona. Sanchez is blessed with speed and his natural instincts in front of goal should help him settle quicker than Özil, but he will be judged on his number of goals. Wenger could look to start him through the middle, although the absence of the injured Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s recovery from injury is likely to see Sanchez start his Arsenal career on the right wing.
7/9 Aaron Ramsey
The Gunners will be hopeful that Ramsey can maintain his level of performance from last season after appearing to overcome the thigh injury that kept him out for nearly four months last term. The Welshman was a prominent figure in the Gunners title challenge, and there is no reason why they can’t win further silverware next season with a fit Ramsey in the side. The confidence he should gain from scoring the winning goal in an FA Cup final should see him push on even further.
8/9 Santi Cazorla
The Spanish magician is a wanted man with interest coming from La Liga champions Atletico Madrid, but Arsenal fans will not want him to leave after showing moments of genius since arriving at the Emirates. He has the tendency to blow hot or cold, as he tends to go missing when he’s not at his best, but his best is a joy to watch. Faces a much bigger fight to keep his place this season following the arrival of Sanchez which could see the attacking midfield trio rejigged to accommodate the Chile star.
9/9 Olivier Giroud
Despite calls for him to be replaced – or at least given support – Giroud is likely to continue as Arsenal’s lead striker, at least until the return to fitness of Walcott. Sanchez could take his place through the middle should he start the season slowly, but after showing more last season than he did in his first year with the club, there is an expectation that Giroud can push on further. If he can cut out his habit to miss clear-cut opportunities time and again, he could well contest the league’s top scorer award.
The great financial project to build the Emirates Stadium has been navigated without failing to qualify for the Champions League, and Arsenal will learn today who they will play in their qualifier this month. The new contracts from shirt sponsors and new kit suppliers Puma have changed the economic picture, as well as the restrictions imposed by European governing body Uefa on City and Paris Saint-Germain last season. City have been restricted to naming a 21-man Champions League squad.
Asked whether he believed the picture was changing, Wenger said: “It looks like we are closer [to City] but they have some restrictions. There are clever people who help clubs get around that. Time will tell.
“It looks like these clubs are concerned by FFP. They [PSG] have not yet announced [the signing of Angel] Di Maria. It is still not done. That means they have a concern, these clubs, [in terms of] how to respect FFP.”
Wenger accepts the need to be realistic in regards to the progress Uefa can be expected to make with FFP. “We will see,” he said. “Uefa has lost power because of Europe, because you can have alternatives to go to court outside of Uefa and not everybody accepts the decisions from Uefa. Uefa has to be a bit cautious as well because of television’s financial power. If you kick a club like PSG out [of the Champions League] because they don’t respect FFP, the French TV companies will go to Uefa and say ‘Look, we want our money back’.”
Facing Sagna tomorrow will continue the tradition for Arsenal of coming up against their former players in City colours – including Kolo Touré, Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri and Gaël Clichy.
Wenger was typically philosophical about the player’s move to City. Why had Sagna left? “You should ask him that question. I made him a proposal to stay for three years and he chose City,” Wenger said. “It looks to me like he agreed it a long time before.”
Sagna signed a three-year deal at City on the £100,000-plus weekly wage that he had sought in vain from Arsenal. Was it a disappointment to see him, like many others, leave?
“Always,” Wenger said, “because he came here unknown and he made his career and became a French international. I respect Sagna because until the last day of his contract he was super-professional. After he decided to go somewhere else but he was ready to die on the football pitch to fulfil his contract. I’d have loved him to stay.”
The Arsenal manager confirmed Thomas Vermaelen was close to leaving the club, stating that Manchester United were among the interested parties. Fellow Arsenal centre-back Johan Djourou, who was on loan at Hamburg, has joined the German club on a permanent basis.
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