I'll admit that with 180 minutes left before the close of the transfer window yesterday afternoon, I was pretty concerned about the state of Arsenal Football Club. I am generally a middle-of-the-road supporter, not in terms of intensity (hopefully you all know that by now), but in terms of ideology. I believe in Arsene Wenger, but I don't inhabit the same rose-colored realm that a segment of my Twitter timeline seems to. But with the length of two football matches left to wheel and deal, and our most pressing squad need seemingly answered only by a 31-year-old loan signing, my faith was beginning to waver. I left my house with the sinking suspicion that Arsenal were done for the day, and maybe the season.
And then, my phone exploded. Mikel Arteta was back on the menu, and boy did that sound a lot better than the alternative, or even than the player himself would have a mere 24 hours earlier.
I'm not certain that this team as constructed today - even with the avalanche of new signings over the past few days - will definitely be able to secure Champions League football for next season, and it's maybe unlikely that we'll be in for the title. But we will certainly be in the hunt for the top four, and considering where we were and could have been, that's a damn sight better than I thought we'd be on Sunday afternoon.
My stance on how the rest of the season may pan out might seem a bit pessimistic or even disappointingly unambitious. I really don't mean it that way - of course my ambition for Arsenal is that we challenge for the quadruple every year, and that we become the premier footballing power in the world. That's what I want. I just think it's entirely unrealistic for this year, and I think that's been clear for quite some time.
That level of historic, transcendent greatness - or even the regular kind, just being the champions of something - was out of the cards because of circumstances outside our control, which is a stance that I will maintain even against protest. Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were never staying for this season. I hoped that they would, but pretty early on in the pair's simultaneous and protracted transfer dramas, the ending was becoming pretty clear to me. It was common knowledge that while both cared about Arsenal (one more than the other, to be sure), they both had other loves as well, which looked to outweigh any connection with club, manager or supporters; Cesc loved Barcelona, and Samir evidently is a big fan of money.
To be realistic, keeping either would probably have been foolish. Nasri was unlikely to sign a new deal for anything less than an absurd level of wages, particularly for a player who's been very inconsistent (to put it kindly), so the ₤25 million we got from Manchester City for him was good business (as we've been through a million times, it seems). Fabregas is different, and at the risk of opening this can of worms yet again, I'm going to explain how I see his situation once and for all.
He clearly wanted to leave, and only to Barcelona. The manager has said all of this, and we all knew it, whether by rumor, osmosis, or pop psychology - something just wasn't all the way there with him. He was a great player still, but he wasn't fully behind Arsenal, and while I believe he made every attempt to fulfill his duties to the best of his ability, it really isn't in a team's best interest to have their captain and best player perpetually looking over his shoulder to Catalonia. I know he was under contract, and I know that in theory Arsenal could have taken a hard line and forced him to stay. I also know that he could, and perhaps should, have been moved earlier in the summer if he was going to move at all. But I firmly believe that the best thing for the club in this awful situation was to let him go, for as much cash as could be bled out of the dessicated coffers of Barcelona. It took longer than was ideal, but the alternative was taking an even bigger hit on his worth, and that would have hurt more. (By the way, now that I've had my full say, I'm done talking about Cesc Fabregas. He and I are taking a break.)
I, like many others on this site and others, had high hopes that our departed superstars (well, superstar and "guy who scored a few goals in November," I guess) would be replaced by top-drawer talent. We got an influx of cash, and the names started popping up, as they always do in situations like this. Eden Hazard! Juan Mata! Mario Götze! (Damn it, I might have started that last one. Sorry.) People like that, the young up-and-coming stars of today and tomorrow. The next Messi, or Ronaldo, or Fabregas. (There I go again. Now I'm done.) These were the players we clamored for, and when they weren't delivered, for some it was a bitter disappointment.
I was, and to be honest still am, upset by the Juan Mata deal. Chelsea didn't offer that much more money than we did, and the wages he's allegedly on aren't that high. We could have afforded him, and I really don't know the whole story there. What I do know is that according to Mata, he turned down an Arsenal offer for Chelsea (also a Spurs offer, but who'd want to go there?) not because of money, but because he thought that was where he could win. Fernando Torres and Andre Villas-Boas talked him into it. And evidently he likes wearing blue, which is sort of like choosing a college because it has a good football team, but that's neither here nor there. Could we have offered more? Probably. Would that have swayed him? I don't know.
The Hazard/Götze situations are completely different. There were rumors of high bids tabled for both by Arsenal - I believe the highest I heard were ₤35 million for Götze and ₤40 million for Hazard. I don't know what the level of veracity of those claims is; I know Lille said they hadn't had any inquiries on Hazard and that he wasn't for sale, but I don't think Dortmund ever issued a statement. Those alleged bids were refused, and I really don't know what people wanted beyond that.
Valencia needed to sell Mata, partially because he was evidently quite open to a move, but also because of their tremendous financial problems. They had to sell last summer to offset massive debts, and even after that they still have quite substantial issues. But as far as I can tell, neither Dortmund nor Lille are in a precarious financial position at all. They're reigning champions of their leagues, and both had already sold other players (Nuri Sahin from Dortmund, and obviously Gervinho from Lille) so you'd think they'd be less likely to give up even more, particularly without good reason. And both are playing in the Champions League, which gives even more incentive to keep their best players. Honestly I'm surprised they sold the ones they did.
Neither Hazard nor Götze agitated for a move. Neither team had the financial need to sell, being in a sound state and having already sold a player each. Both have eyes for silverware. So what motivation would either club have to sell their best player? My point is, we shouldn't assume that we didn't bring in a Name Player because we didn't try hard enough - for a player to move, there has to be a buying club and a selling club. And neither Lille nor Dortmund were selling those players in this window. So while I am disappointed that neither of my favorite young stars are coming to Arsenal, I have to admit that it wasn't entirely realistic in the first place.
And I actually like the signings we made. Player after player has said and done all the right things, and I feel they're in positions we want players to be in when coming to Arsenal - excited to be at a big club, blooded at the game's highest levels, and eager to prove themselves on a new stage. Per Mertesacker, the lifelong Gooner and former captain who's played in a World Cup semi-final. Mikel Arteta, in his prime years and taking his swing at Champions League football while he can. Park Chu-Young, who has two-and-a-half years to live the dream before he must go home. Yossi Benayoun, coming back from injury to show he's still at the top level as a player. Andre Santos, who's dreamed of playing for a major European team. These players are going to be all-in for Arsenal, and they're quality players. We've asked for mettle and toughness, and we've asked for skill and ability. We may not have gotten "super-quality" (damn you, Arsene), but we've certainly gotten that.
That's about a 1500-word expansion on this theme: I'm happy with the Arsenal transfer window, and not just the last two days of it (though I admit that without the last two days, this would have been an entirely different column). There were things that needed to be done, and I think we did them. It could, perhaps, have been done better - I doubt the team as it stands today loses 8-2 at Old Trafford, for instance - but I'm not certain that was all the fault of the club. But to look at the whole situation realistically, it's doubtful that we could have kept the players we lost, or gotten better players in return, and we certainly didn't get over-charged for finishing business on the last day. Reasonable people could disagree on this, but all things considered, this is probably just about the best we could have hoped for. And I think it's pretty good.