New faces, old problems for Wenger's Arsenal

New faces, old problems for Wenger's Arsenal

Published Aug. 16, 2012 3:03 a.m. ET

Arsenal's recent spending spree in the transfer market suggests the club is serious about ending its wait for a trophy - even without the help of star striker Robin van Persie.

Arsenal's last triumph came on penalties against Van Persie's new club, Manchester United, in the 2005 FA Cup final. Since then, the growing frustration among fans has reached a point where some have called on Arsenal's board to sack the most successful manager in its 126-year history, Arsene Wenger.

As the likes of Chelsea, United and more recently Manchester City have poured hundreds of millions of pounds (dollars) into their squads, Wenger's approach has been to do the opposite.

Typically, the club's preseason signings have been virtual unknowns or teenagers. Or both. At the same time, it has struggled to hold on to its top players, many of which have left the Emirates for bigger paydays elsewhere. The deal reached Wednesday night to sell Van Persie to United is only the latest in a string of exits.


With his degree in economics, Wenger knows full well the benefits of his transfer dealings for the club's balance sheet, which is still digesting the 390 million pounds ($610 million) lavished on its 60,000-seater Emirates Stadium.

However, with supporters' patience already at an end and plenty of warning that Van Persie would be heading out of the club, he also realized that it's time to change tactics. And that's not the intricate passing game which has helped win three league titles and four FA Cups since the Frenchman took charge in 1996.

''We are now 15 years on the trot in the Champions League and I believe that shows that our business model works,'' he said. ''On the other hand we are very ambitious, we want as well to win trophies.

''It's not enough just to be in the Champions League and we are focused on that of course.''

With Van Persie clearly signaling his desire to move on, Wenger had already signed three new attacking players - all of them at an ideal stage of their careers, aged 25 to 27, and all having just played at the European Championship.

Spain winger Santi Cazorla, France striker Olivier Giroud and Germany forward Lukas Podolski have joined the club for a combined outlay estimated at nearly 40 million pounds. Peanuts by some standards, but a fortune for Arsenal.

Cazorla helped Malaga finish fourth last season in La Liga, earning the unfashionable club its first ever place in the Champions League, before joining up with Spain's victorious Euro 2012 squad. Giroud was the French league's joint top scorer last season with Montpellier, scoring 21 goals in 36 games, while Podolski has joined from Cologne after winning more than 100 caps with Germany since his debut as a teenager.

The arrival of Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski mean the chances of Andrei Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner leaving have turned from probable to virtual certainties - particularly given the promising first year from youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. They could also be an impact on Van Persie's future.

If a familiar criticism of Arsenal from departing players is a lack of ambition, the recent signings are a clear statement of intent.

Arsenal has meanwhile been linked with yet further signings, including Real Madrid midfielder Nuri Sahin of Turkey, as Wenger and the club's American owners chase that elusive trophy.

Despite all the money being spent, the most important development on the player front next season could be free of charge - the return from long-term injury of Jack Wilshere, now scheduled for October.

The combative 20-year-old is touted as a future world class midfielder, having already demonstrated his ability to combine vision, ball control and crunching tackles. He missed all of last season through injury and his much-awaited return will do much to lift spirits at the Emirates.

Wenger, for one, is already upbeat about the prospect for a new seasons that starts again on Aug. 18 at home to Sunderland.

''I am excited because we have learned from last year, we have a new start and a new opportunity,'' the Frenchman said: ''Hopefully we can be the surprise of the season because we have stability and stability is important.''