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Amy Eustace: Glove actually – one glaring problem that’s keeping Arsenal back

by Amy Eustace | October 1, 2013

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This week @AmyEustace on why signing Ozil was a good move for Arsenal, but overlooks a bigger problem…

Prophecies long foretold of the day that Arsene Wenger would eventually spend some money, but no one really believed them. When it actually, finally happened, and he smashed Arsenal’s transfer record by £30m to sign Mesut Özil, Arsenal fans were as insufferable as a gaggle of teenage girls en route to a One Direction concert. Who could blame them? They were now in possession of the world’s most fawned-over playmaker. I bet they never thought they’d see the day.

For the past few years, Arsenal lived in their own post-apocalyptic bubble where resources were scarce, foraging was central to survival and success was a distant memory. Meanwhile their contemporaries streamed on into the post-modern instead, throwing around more money than 50 Cent in a strip club. Gunners stood helplessly by as transfer fees soared, while their own spending in the past five years has been closer to Aston Villa’s than anyone else and their net outlay was the lowest of the 20 teams on last year’s Premier League table.

The problem is behind Ozil

So good for them, I suppose, to have finally broken the bank for a player worth shelling out for: a bug-eyed, golden-toed deity of a football player who will undoubtedly save their dwindling relevance. I mean, why else would Wenger – Scrooge personified – break his own, organic fiscal policy? Is Özil the £43m solution to Arsenal’s eight-years-and-counting trophy drought?

The answer is: probably not. If Özil is the answer, then Arsenal were simply looking for cheap laughs when they put in that cheeky buy-out clause plus a pound bid for Luis Suarez, and they sniffed around Gonzalo Higuain just because they liked the aftershave he was wearing. If Özil is the answer, then questions haven’t been posed about Arsenal’s goalkeeping quandary. If Özil is the answer, then Wenger seems to be asking the wrong questions.

Lost in the morphine fog of the German midfielder’s arrival was the loan signing of Emiliano Viviano – one small step towards easing Arsenal’s endless tussle with the goalkeeper position. Keepers, along with injury epidemics and Sunday league defending, have been one of the prickliest thorns in Arsenal’s side since Jens Lehmann left the first time, and he was a few sandwiches short of a picnic, so that’s saying something.

POLE POSITION - Szczesny snuffs out an Ireland attack while on international duty

POLE POSITION: Szczesny snuffs out an Ireland attack while on international duty

Wojciech Szczesny was heralded as Arsenal’s saviour when he burst onto the scene past pretenders Lukasz Fabianski and the butterfingered Manuel Almunia. He was promising. Self-assured. Blasé, even. He swigged haughtily from the poisoned chalice, but then got drunk on power and those early shouts of “Messiah!” died down.

He was in goal on that fateful day when everyone would 8-2 have been Arsenal and his poor communication with Laurent Koscielny saw them concede to Birmingham City in the Carling Cup Final in 2011. He has been inconsistent and shaky ever since, especially last season, although to his credit, he’ll be the first to admit it.

Szczesny is just 23 years old and has the raw potential. In a few years, when he learns the line between confidence and conceit, he could be a world-beater. In the interim, Arsenal remain one of the few clubs with realistic Champions League ambitions not to have a reliable custodian.

Emiliano Viviano, who spent a successful loan spell at Fiorentina last season, was brought in from Palermo, looks to be more of a back-up than anything else. While certainly better than Szczesny’s other rivals at Arsenal, he isn’t exactly the world-class keeper they’ve been crying out for.

It Saint out of the question

During the summer, Arsene Wenger was tipped for a swoop on out-of-favour Madrid legend Iker Casillas, who was unceremoniously dropped from Los Merengues’ squad under José Mourinho and replaced by Diego López. The Spanish national team’s first goalkeeper remains sidelined under new Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, and is said to be considering a move away.

Saint Iker was the pride of Madrid; the only local star in a sky speckled with Galácticos. His bench-warming, aged just 31, is tragic. He cuts a lonesome, dignified figure in a dugout filled with also-rans in the race for a starting place in a talent-packed squad, and it’s surely not how he imagined his Madrid career ending. He was once the kind of player you couldn’t imagine at any other club but now his days at the Bernabéu seem to be numbered. It’s only a matter of time before he and Juan Mata end up imprisoned for a botched assassination attempt on Mourinho.

Arsenal-gk

So why wouldn’t Arsenal take the chance? Before their deadline day Özil-snaring, I wouldn’t have expected them to bear the brunt of world-class wages, nor fork out the estimated asking price of around £15m. Now, I’m not so sure. Özil set Arsene Wenger back £43m (this from the man who wouldn’t pay a penny over £40,000,001 for Luis Suarez), but the last thing Arsenal needed was a world-class playmaker.

Sometimes you just want to pick the Frenchman up and shake him around a bit. Maybe some loose change would fall out. If the minute he decides to treat himself is also the minute he deems his midfield to be the source of all Arsenal’s many problems, well, merde. Even Mesut Özil can’t turn Oliver Giroud into Thierry Henry, and he won’t do one bit of good in sorting out their leaky defence. The goalkeeper issue is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Arsenal’s frailties and Wenger has been waiting for it to sort itself out for five years.

It’s not that Gunners should be turning their nose up at Özil. On the contrary – lap it all up. He could be the answer. He could turn water into wine. In all likelihood, though, he’ll find a squad not quite as deep as one would hope, a contagiously insecure defence and a lot of weight on his scrawny shoulders. Özil’s sky high price tag is a good sign that Wenger’s Scrooge phase is finally coming to an end – but what’s the point if he isn’t going to spend in the right places?

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