Friday, June 21, 2013

The Best Transfer in Arsenal History, 18 Years Ago Yesterday

On June 20, 1995, Arsenal bought Dennis Bergkamp from Inter-Milan for the then-lofty fee of £7.5 million. What a steal for the Gunners. ESPN FC has the full story, here. The author of the piece, Sam Limbert, insists that he's not trying to get our hopes up for this year's transfer market. After all, the very best players on the market in any given year have a vanishingly low probability of being as good as Bergkamp, one of the best number 10s in the history of world football. But Limbert has a point about using the transfer market to make a statement of club ambition.

When Arsenal signed Bergkamp, they were a defensively-minded club, and why not with one of the best back-fours to ever step on a pitch.The famous chant from Gunners fans was "1-nil to the Arsenal," which perfectly capture both their regular scoreline and their lack of offensive ambition. The signing of Bergkamp changed all that, and Limbert's piece in ESPN FC suggests Arsenal can do likewise with the signing of Higuain or a similar big-name player today.

I'm not so sure. In the first place, Arsenal remain the same kind of offensively-minded, club they were with Bergkamp (along with the likes of Marc Overmars, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Freddy Ljungberg,  et al. They just lack the kind of quality in depth that is required to compete for titles. What was the signing of Santi Cazorla last year, if not a signal of intent to continue playing attractive, offensively-minded football?

By all means Arsenal should sign Higuain, a defensive midfielder, another pacy winger, another defender, and anyone else Wenger thinks can bring more quality and depth to his side, while ridding the side of washed up and surplus players such as Arshavin and Squillace, who were merely taking up space on the bench along with millions of pounds of pay for non-service. But let's not expect a sea-change at Arsenal by the signing of a single player. There are no Bergkamps available, and there is no need to change the strategic orientation of the squad.

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