Press conference analysis: Arsene Wenger talks transfers, new defenders and the title
Though he tends to make an exception when it comes to his transfer plans, Arsene Wenger is always willing to speak with great erudition on any number of subjects. Over the years, he has been asked about international terrorism, the Eurozone debt crisis, David Bowie’s legacy, the EU referendum and a host of other topics outside of his typical remit. His candid and thoughtful answers mean his Friday press conference is always worth a watch; the arena for some of his best utterances such as ‘everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home’ and ‘reciprocity in love is the most difficult thing to find’. On the eve of the new season, transfers dominated the agenda as well as the level of competition at the top of the Premier League.
Wenger cut through transfer window fever in typical fashion, with this gem of quote: “Football is not a financial competition. It is a performance competition.” Now, this does not mean that Wenger’s spending for the summer is over by any means, but his comments are a reminder that certain people need to get their priorities in order. Transfers create a tremendous amount of content and discussion, but in truth they are a sideshow, or at most an hors d’oeuvre before the season begins.
That’s fine; if supporters can compartmentalise the window as a piece of light entertainment then it really is harmless fun. However, there is a sense that transfers are being seen not as a means to an end, but an end in themselves. Supporters judge the health of their club by their transfer business rather than the league table. Arsenal are told they have to ‘catch up’ with Manchester United, when a glance at the league table from the past few seasons shows it’s United who have the catching up to do. Wenger’s views are a refreshing reminder that plaudits should be reserved for events on the pitch.
Nevertheless, Wenger is still keen to do more business. At present, recruiting an established centre back is the priority. Wenger was asked about Shkodran Mustafi, the Valencia defender purportedly on the verge of a move to Arsenal. His said: “No, I cannot tell you anything.” In Wenger transfer window bingo, the non-denial denial is usually a sure sign that something is happening (remember ‘I don’t know Cazorla’). It is clear that his priority is in defence. Wenger said: “There’s no other specific area that we need. It will depend on the quality we find. If we find somebody who strengthens our team in any position, who gives us a superior quality, we’ll do it.”
Some Arsenal fans will yawn at that last quote, as it does give Wenger the cover to say ‘we didn’t find superior quality’ should the window close without another singing. Wenger has spoken about the need to add goals since the end of last season, and has repeatedly said that he is looking to add up front. Unlike previous seasons however, due to Danny Welbeck’s injury Arsenal are in need of quantity as well as quality. They don’t just need a striker who is better than Olivier Giroud, they need a striker full stop.
If Wenger wanted to bring in a fair-to-middling standard striker, such as Wilfried Bony or Alexandre Lacazette, he could have done by now. Not for the first time, it seems he his holding out for an ‘elite level’ option. In past summers, if he hasn’t got this player he has been happy to do nothing. Arsenal’s need for an extra body up top means Wenger can’t afford to sit on his hands this time.
Despite the two Manchester clubs spending almost £300 million between them, Wenger was in bullish mood when asked if he thought Arsenal could compete. He said: “You focus on your squad and your quality and you try to strengthen where you can. We were not specifically [competing] with Man United on a player, so we have done what we wanted and we want to do more. We try to compete at our level with all the assets we have and we try to compete with them.”
The recent history of the Premier League shows Wenger is right in his assertions that teams who spend more than Arsenal do not necessarily finish above Arsenal. The difference this time is the volume of spending combined with the quality of coaches at other clubs. Wenger sounds as if he is banking on Arsenal accumulating enough ‘marginal gains’ to make the difference, with limited elbow-room at England’s top table.
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