A serene Sun smiled lightly over an endless expanse of yellow grass and honeysuckle. The air hummed with the lazy drone reserved for those most silent of afternoons, like any more noise would risk irreparable damage to this living, breathing oil painting. A red barn stood among the fields like an incongruous man-made pimple on Nature’s otherwise unblemished visage. A thin stream furrowed meekly in front of the barn, and presently an intermittent plopping sound emitted forth from it. Tranquillity was absolute.
Oh look, a shirtless Ivan Gazidis running across the fields, his blood-curdling screams rending a rift through the lazy, drony air.
Gazidis’s eyes were shot and manic, his pants soiled with dirt and worse, his arms pockmarked and bloodied with bites and scratches. Upon seeing the barn, he vibrated his open palm against his mouth in some sort of neo-tribal war cry, throwing caution to the wind and propriety out the window. He ran through the shallow stream like some sort of hurried Moses (sea-parting be damned), went round to the back side of the barn and screeched to a halt.
“A-A-Arsene!” he said, hands on knees, bent over, panting like nobody’s business.
A figure in loose-hanging clothes lay sprawled on a stream-side hammock, wide sombrero on head and big pile of pebbles in hand. He lifted the sombrero and turned to face Gazidis.
“F-f-finally found you. All other search members in my party perished. Dick Law couldn’t answer the swamp crocodile king’s riddle…it was horrible. But it’s all worth it; I found you!”
“Hmmm,” Arsene said absent-mindedly, idly tossing one pebble into the stream with a plop.
“Soooooo,” Gazidis said, relieved grin melding into confused half-smile. “Shall we get going?”
“Not at the moment, no.”
“Bu-but Arsene, it’s the summer transfer window!” Gazidis squealed.
Arsene smiled. “Ah, but I know,” and he put the sombrero back down.
If you’d like to venture writing a precis for the pot-addled ramblings above, ‘Arsenal’s summer screams sombrero time’ would be a decent attempt. An opportunistic vulture-swoop for Petr Cech aside, Arsenal have been deafeningly silent amidst the usual tabloid-infused transfer brouhaha. While poo-stains pass off as press exclusives and cum-shots decorate column inches, Arsenal’s inactivity feels like drinking a strange cocktail of calmness, frustration, and anticipation.
The sensible core that props up my otherwise knee-jerk footballing brain never fails to remind me that a huge reason for Arsenal’s summer reticence is our very stable, settled, and multi-talented squad. Ever since van Persie’s departure three years ago, unwanted goodbyes have been pleasingly limited in the red-and-white fold (an aging Sagna the only case of note), and all parts of the field have been fearlessly buttressed with equal parts brimming potential (Chambers, Gabriel, Welbeck), seasoned experience (Cazorla, Giroud, Cech) and world class polish (Sanchez, Ozil). The internal emergence of players like Coquelin and Bellerin have served to quite pleasantly ice this resurgent North London cake. This squad stability has visible manifests in more cohesion, chemistry, and automatisms, evident both last season and the current pre-season.
Ever since the commercial deals have been renegotiated to terms that more accurately reflect the current Premier League landscape, Arsene has been more than willing to loosen his purse-strings and rattle the roubles. In such a situation, my calmness is backed up by the fact that the manager has both the resources and the willingness to go after a target that will strengthen the squad, should such an opportunity present itself.
My massive knee-jerk cerebrum is quick to refute any suggestions of contentment, pointing both towards the sizable point-gap between Arsenal and league winners Chelsea last season and to the jaw-dropping splurge being made by the red half of Manchester as I type. The consistency shown by Arsenal during the second half of last season compares in sharp relief to the stop-start sluggishness we displayed till Christmas. This form owed itself to a spate of injuries across defence, Giroud getting banjaxed for 4 months, and Wenger tinkering with Arsenal’s playing style in order to accommodate as many of his diminutive midfield schemers as possible in one team.
While we are now well-stocked in defence, the striker situation is held in uneasy balance as we bank on Walcott to remain fit, Welbeck to increase his goal tally, and Giroud and Sanchez to maintain their respective contributions. While the manager’s call to the midfielder to chip in with goals is a valid one, Arsenal still lack that game-changing ballista of a striker spearheading the attack. Giroud’s qualities of enablement, Sanchez’s bulldog ferocity, Walcott’s warp speed, and Welbeck’s tireless legs are all welcome and needed, but one feels that their Venn diagrams intersect at a void that an all-rounder can potentially fill.
Moreover, the defensive midfielder position remains a well-placed banana peel waiting to be slipped on. Arteta, Wilshere, and Ramsey’s persistent injuries last term were overcome by a stellar but unlikely pairing of Santi ‘Regista’ Cazorla and Francis ‘Rottweiler’ Coquelin. Coquelin’s callow youth may yet catch up with him, and Arteta’s magnificent coiffure is greying at unabated speed. In a squad that is otherwise well-stocked, this position looks like it could do with some reinforcement.
As calmness and frustration commence this catfight, I can only hope that anticipation gets to be the monkey that ultimately eats the cake (it’s a kid’s bedtime story, Google it up). An anticipation that, with newfound candour and cash, Wenger and team will be able to masterfully engineer yet another capture from the top shelf after Ozil and Sanzhez. Podolski and Szczesny’s wages do not need to be worried about this year, leaving considerable wiggle room even if Walcott signs a new contract.
I would much rather Arsenal finish the transfer window without buying anyone rather than punting on a second/third choice DM or striker of questionable quality. I fully agree with Wenger when he says that only players who considerably improve upon existing options should be looked at (Cech being a case in point). With the manager flashing his trademark ‘I’m-smart-and-you’re-an-idiot’ grin whenever he’s quizzed about transfers, there is anticipation that Cechian lightning might strike twice.
As Gazidis trudged back, face catatonic and mouth blubbering like a grave-bound goldfish, Wenger’s sombrero remained grounded, and the metronomic flinging of pebbles into the stream continued. While Ivan’s defeated footsteps grew fainter (possibly being on their way to a kamikaze meeting with the swamp crocodile king), another sound accompanied the plopping of pebbles.
“Thirty-five…thirty-six…thirty-seven…” Wenger counted under his breath, as each successive pebble met the stream at the same unerring point.
A cataclysmic siren rang through the air, almost uprooting the grass fields. The roof of the red barn was opening with much creaking and croaking, and a massive red-and-white nuclear warhead slowly rose in its place to set for launch.
“Thirty-nine…forty” whispered Wenger, throwing the last of his pebbles towards the magical water-switch. “And that’s my final bid.”
A confluence of smoke and fire burst forth from the barn windows as the missile took off, its every crevice etched with the surety of meeting its target.
Wenger finally removed the sombrero from his head and watched his nuclear-tipped offering arch through the firmament and disappear beyond the horizon.
“Come to me, Karim.”