Ramsey 25', 72'
Man of the match
Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
This is a strange kind of crisis. Tuesday night's 2-0 victory over Fenerbahce, to make it 5-0 on aggregate, meant Arsenal have won their last three games, have lost just one of their last 13 matches and have reached the group stage of the Uefa Champions League for 16 successive season.
They could even argue that they were unfortunate in the one game they did lose, Anthony Taylor's refereeing at the very least contributing to if not being the sole cause of their defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season.
Tuesday's win was comfortable enough, Aaron Ramsey – probably Arsenal's player of the season so far, rolling in the first after Egemen Korkmaz's challenge on Theo Walcott had fallen kindly for him, then converting a Kieran Gibbs cross with a neat sidefoot volley.
It came, though, at a cost, Lukas Podolski adding to an already lengthy injury list, pulling a hamstring and being stretchered off four minutes into the second half. Ramsey was forced off shortly before the end with a groin injury, leaving Arsenal, having used all three substitutes, down to 10 men, while Jack Wilshere was hobbling by the final whistle – bafflingly left on despite seemingly being targeted by Fenerbahce.
"That's the negative of tonight," said Arsene Wenger. "We paid a heavy price. We've lost Podolski – he's out for three weeks. I don't know how bad Ramsey is. Wilshere had a response to an ankle problem. The two tackles on Wilshere were disappointing."
Context, though, is everything. Other results may have been good but what that defeat to Villa did was to crystallise the frustrations of the summer. It would have been bad enough to have strengthened the squad only with a France youth international under any circumstances, but what made it worse was the club's insistence that, after all the years of prudence, this was where they spent big.
Sure enough, Arsenal were linked with big names, with Gonzalo Higuain, with Luis Suarez and with Luiz Gustavo, only to cavil over the prices. Had the squad been bigger, Wilshere and Ramsey would not even have had to play and risk injury in a tie that was effectively already over.
Arsene Wenger, apparently, has a team of researchers from Harvard who determine what the maximum fee is that Arsenal should pay for any player and refuses to go over that. Which is all very well, sensible even assuming the valuations are accurate, but does little to ease the frustrations of fans who pay the highest season-ticket process in Britain and would like to see at least some of that money spent of glamorous stars rather than building up cash reserves, which at the moment stand at £151 million (Dh861m).
In some ways the accumulation of that sum, while maintaining Arsenal in the top four, is admirable.
As Zach Slaton proved in Issue Seven of The Blizzard, given their expenditure, Arsenal continue to overperform. It should also be acknowledged that it has taken a lot of effort and a lot of prudence to build up that £151m. Spend it and it is gone; Arsenal are not Manchester City or Chelsea with what is essentially a bottomless well to draw from. It is understandable that Wenger and the board, after years of caution, should be reluctant to indulge in an enormous splurge.
Seven or eight years ago, Wenger lay down a policy of low expenditure and development of youth.
In part that was an economic necessity as the club dealt with the debt taken on to finance the move to a new stadium, and in part that was probably a romantic gesture, for he is an idealist at heart: he looked at the Ajax side of the early seventies that had always been his touchstone and saw how its greatness was rooted in young players growing up together, understanding each other's games and so producing a whole that was greater than the sum of their parts and tried to replicate it.
The economist in him probably expected the football economy would crash like the rest of the economy. If it had, Arsenal would have been in prime position.
The problem is that the football economy, at the top end at least, remained as buoyant as ever. Rather than a crash there came the world of the superclub, with unfathomably rich entrepreneurs buying clubs to promote their reputations. The rules of usual finance became meaningless.
Wenger's youth policy ended up simply developing players for others. This summer, for all the boasts of having money to spend – and it always seemed a curious strategy to advertise to selling clubs just how rich they were – Arsenal have acted with the old caution, perhaps even with indecision.
The result is that with less than a fortnight of the window remaining and the season already having begun, they are in danger of embarking on the sort of spree that two years bought them Mikel Arteta, Andre Santos, Per Mertesacker and Park Chu-Young in the final hours before the window shut.
The only thing worse than not spending is spending badly, of throwing away the position of financial strength – at least by the old rules – that have worked so hard to achieve.
Buying well, though, is not easy, and the world has changed since Wenger, using a network of European contacts the like of which English football had never seen, brought in the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry, Fredrik Ljungberg and Patrick Vieira at bargain prices. Now every club has armies of scouts working overseas.
And, just as pertinently, David Dein, the vice-chairman ousted in 2007, is no longer there to temper Wenger's instinctive cautiousness and get deals done.
By reaching the group stage of the Champions League, Wenger has seen off the immediate threat of mutiny, but he still resembles Simon Bolivar as he drifts down the Magdalena in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The General in his Labyrinth, weary and paranoid, his enthusiasm spent, a man whose revolutionary nature created a world in which he can no longer operate.
"Everybody knows we are in the market," he said. "The whole world knows that but nothing is concluded."
It has become an all too familiar refrain.
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