Dear Arsenal fans,
At a moment when many in the press have made Arsenal and Arsene Wenger the focus of unkind jokes, and even some fans are giving in to pessimism, I think there's still strong reason for hope. Arsenal's financial position is strong and the team has a stable core of experienced players. There is time in this window and a powerful rationale for more players to join; Arsenal will compete in four competitions and may well win a trophy, or even a title, this year.
That doesn't negate the stark realities facing the team.
First, having cleared out a large number of players, some of whom played a good bit last year (Gervinho, Arshavin) and also struggling with short (Arteta, Vemaelen) and long term (Diaby, Ox, Podolski) injuries, Arsenal need to add depth to the squad. Depth is needed not just to avoid fatigue in a season with four competitions, but also to fuel the attacking style of play that Arsenal is famous for.
Second, the team needs, and has needed, to add two (or even three) outstanding players to its core in order to compete and win at the highest level.
Of the players who are, or seem to be, "in" with five days left in the transfer window, unproven Sonogo does not add depth, nor is he an outstanding player (yet), but Flamini would undoubtedly add depth (passing, positioning, top level experience) and should be welcomed as an addition to the squad without greater expectations than were placed on Yossi Benayoun, who did a good job at a similar moment.
There is also no doubt that if Gonzalo Higuain and Luiz Gustavo had come to Arsenal, two of the "outstanding players" boxes would now be ticked off. Both would have been perfectly appropriate additions, and worth OVER spending for if they could have been added to the squad in time for the opening game. Those two missed opportunities, seem to be the single greatest criticism you could level at Wenger at this point. Even if it cost 60 million pounds, having those two players...and perhaps winning the game against Aston Villa...would likely have meant that critics would now be talking about Arsenal as a title contender and strong competition in the CL. The club would also be a stronger magnet for other new signings.
That did not happen.
So, on August 28, with Flamini...maybe...already in the squad, my advice is to think about the challenge Arsenal faces this way.
Wenger needs to add three or four signings, with two of them "outstanding." That would mean securing two additions on the quality level of Higuain/Gustavo, and one or two "solid" signings in addition to Flamini.
While time is running short, it is likely this will happen, and fans can hope that the additions, in particular, will bolster the attack and solidify the back. But time is running out on marquee signings. It may well be that these three or four slots will be filled by somewhat surprising additions who can only be judged after they've played with the team for awhile
. It may be that one of the two "outstanding" players may only come clear in retrospect.
In sum, there is little doubt that Arsenal will add players, only that it has been left late. Come January, fans should look at where Arsenal stands in all competitions (and in terms of squad strength) and ask, "Is this better/worse than we could have been if we had secured Higuain/Gustavo earlier in the summer?"
That's the relevant question.
There should also be no doubt that Arsenal will continue to play its aggressive, attacking, technical style of play; and of that fans should rightly be proud. That is the hallmark of AFC. Add quality and depth to this squad, and there is reason yet to think that 2013/14 may be a season in which Arsenal shock the world, and surprise the critics.