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Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Mesut Özil joins the German Revolution / If the Premier League was won by spending money...

First things first: it would be impossible to write anything about Arsenal FC today without making reference to one particular event which occurred yesterday evening. I am of course talking about the last minute deadline day arrival of £42 million Real Madrid playmaker Mesut Özil. After months of rising anger amongst fans over the club's lack of transfer activity, the majority have now been sent into near delirium by Wenger's audacious move, which obliterates Arsenal's former transfer record by £25 million.

In fact this is the most un-Arsène thing Wenger has ever done.

Le Professeur made his name in this country by signing relatively unknown players for modest fees and turning them into world-beaters á la Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie. Splashing out over £40 million on one player was seen as an insane risk, best left to the Manchester Citys and Chelseas of this world.

But things have changed at Arsenal. After losing many of the team's best players to big spenders City, United and Barca in recent years, the message seems to finally have sunk in that to compete at the top of the modern game, you need players with star quality. And the last Arsenal player that had that headed north to Manchester twelve months ago.

Though many see the Özil transfer as a game-changer at the Emirates, fans shouldn't get too carried away just yet. At the start of summer it was clear that Arsenal ideally needed strengthening all the way through with attacking midfield ironically already our strongest position. Goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano has been brought in on loan presumably to keep Szczesny on his toes, Mathieu Flamini will temporarily provide defensive midfield back-up and Yaya Sanogo will fill in for Giroud if he gets injured. Whilst those options sound slightly more promising than what we had in place a month or two ago, Arsenal still look weak on the bench. Simultaneous injuries to Giroud and the centre-backs would pose a serious problem.

The other slight concern is the pressure that comes with such a price tag. Taking a look at some previous Premier League signings in the same price region as Özil's (Torres, Robinho, Veron), we are reminded that not all of them are successful. A cynic would also say that after failing in their attempted pursuits of stars like Rooney, Higuain and Suarez, when Bale's transfer freed up Madrid's other attackers Arsenal resorted to taking whichever big-name player they could get. However, the last time Arsenal smashed their transfer record by paying for an established European superstar (Dennis Bergkamp in 1995),  he went on to become one of the club's greatest ever players. Besides, it feels great to finally have a buzz of excitement back at the Emirates.

Özil is the third German international in as many years to join the Gunners, linking up with Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski as well as youth players Thomas Eisfeld, Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem. The German football team are currently ranked second only to Spain in the world, having reached the semi-finals of both the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2012. 

It is easy to draw comparisons to Arsène's recruitment of French internationals during the late nineties, when Arsenal players featured heavily in the teams that won both the World Cup in 1998 and the Euros in 2000. Wenger grew up in the Alsace region in France and was interested in football clubs on the German side of the border just as much as on the French. Perhaps he is remembering his Germanic roots at just the right time.

With all this money flying around, I took the time to compile an alternative Premier League table, showing where each club would finish this season if money spent was all that counted.

As you can see, Spurs would have been runaway winners, though if you subtracted money received to find their net spend, they would be rock bottom. The table does show that even after the Özil transfer, aside from United, Arsenal are still the most frugal of the six big clubs. The squad's lack of depth is worryingly highlighted by the fact that only United, Southampton and Newcastle have signed fewer players than us.

I think realistically what the table suggests is that unless United sign big in January, City and Chelsea will almost certainly get the better of them this time around. After that, it looks as though Arsenal will have an equally large challenge fending off Spurs and Liverpool in the fight for the Champions League spots.

The table conceals the fact that Everton will also be stronger after their deadline day loan acquisitions of Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku. What is clear however is that Newcastle are extremely unlikely to replicate the scare they gave the top four two seasons ago.

It remains to be seen how much of a bearing money will really have on the season's outcome. The Gunners should take confidence from the fact that although Liverpool and Spurs have made good signings this summer, they will need time to gel, whilst the Arsenal squad should be one of the most stable in the league. In fact if we hit the ground running after the international break and make one or two signings in January, I can see Arsenal pushing their way back into the top three this year.

Welcome to Arsenal, Mesut. You're gonna love it here.

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