Arsenal sweated until beyond the final minutes of the transfer window to complete a deal to sign Danny Welbeck for £16m from Manchester United. The paperwork for the England forward was being processed with the Premier League after the 11pm deadline, which concluded a strained and curious day in the life of Arsenal Football Club.
Arsène Wenger was not in the country as the deal began to take shape, which put bizarre extra pressure on a day designed to be intense. He was in Rome, coaching a team in the Interreligious Match for Peace at the Stadio Olimpico organised by the Pope (his team lost 6-3), as back at the Arsenal training ground in Hertfordshire the club’s negotiators were pulling out the stops to bolster one of the areas of the team in dire need of reinforcements.
The arrival of Welbeck offers a pacy alternative to boost a forward line that has looked underpowered while Alexis Sánchez adapts to a new role in English football and Yaya Sanogo ineffectively fills in for the injured Olivier Giroud. Arsenal’s supporters had made their feelings clear after watching attacks fizzle out at Leicester on Sunday, with entreaties to sign a striker. That player turned out to be the 23-year-old Welbeck, who it is hoped will emulate the renaissance experienced by Daniel Sturridge when he left the Chelsea periphery for a central role and the responsibility he relishes at Liverpool.
Although Arsenal initially contemplated a loan deal, Welbeck was interested only in a permanent move. Once the wheels began to whirr on Manchester United’s move for Radamel Falcao, with Welbeck told he could leave Old Trafford, the route south became a serious option. Manchester United were disinclined to sell to a direct rival, and Tottenham were also in the mix, but Welbeck’s preference was to go to the Emirates because of the Champions League football on offer.
Wenger has been trying to build a young British core at the club and now adds Welbeck to the group that includes Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers. The prospect of the speed of Walcott and Welbeck, alongside the darts of Sánchez, could have a liberating effect on last summer’s deadline day signingMesut Özil, who requires runners to aim his steady supply of assists at.
It also, crucially, takes the pressure off Sánchez, who Wenger wants to play as a central focal point to the attack. The Chilean should be allowed the time to adjust to a new style, new league, new way of life, but without Welbeck’s arrival that luxury would have been denied. It will be interesting to see if they take turns to lead the line, play together, or rotate in a more fluid system.
Although the deal brought some relief to Arsenal, two large elephants remained in the room as the paperwork was being finalised. Earlier this summer Wenger himself spoke of the need to bring in another centre-back when he sold Thomas Vermaelen (he has not) and a tall, physically imposing midfield anchor has been on his agenda for several windows now (without a purchase).
It leaves Arsenal with mixed feelings as the summer bartering comes to an end. They have spent more money than ever in one window but doubts persist over their ability to challenge for honours with a squad that retains obvious weak spots.
In terms of simple squad balance, another centre-back was logical to provide the customary quartet for that key area. Arsenal have only six recognised defenders including full-backs. They have only two experienced and established central defenders in Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, so untimely injuries or suspensions would see Nacho Monreal move across to play with Chambers, with an improvised left-back (Mathieu Flamini played this role in 2006).
That seems unnecessarily risky but not untypical for Wenger. Chelsea and Real Madrid routinely buy players for a rainy day who exist on the edges on their squad. Arsenal may not be able to be quite so lavish, and nobody advocates overspending dangerously, but they could at least plug glaring gaps. Obstinately to abstain from addressing two of their understaffed areas which have been obvious for most of the summer will be incomprehensible to the club’s supporters.
The failure to solve those issues, even though Arsenal still had the finance for additional recruits, results in self-inflicted pressure. Why, fans will ask, ignore the positions in the group that need strengthening when you can do something about it? Again, why gamble on the best-case scenario instead of preparing a contingency plan for the worst that might hit in terms of injuries or suspensions or dips in form?
Arsenal can be satisfied to have started the deadline day job with Welbeck but frustrated not to have finished it with the extra signings they need.