A narrow victory over Besiktas has ensured the Gunners will be in the Champions League group stage for the 17th successive year but signings are still required
By Wayne Veysey | UK Correspondent
From the anxiety of a Champions League nail-biter to the rollercoaster of the final days of the transfer window.
The unthinkable of expulsion from club football’s grandest competition narrowly averted, Arsenal will navigate the final stretch of the window as one of the most cash-rich teams in Europe.
With an estimated €80 million available to spend and clear gaps to fill in the squad, the possibilities could and perhaps should be lip-smacking.
But old habits die hard for Arsene Wenger, who, deep in the 18th year of his Arsenal reign, remains intent on getting value from the market and will walk away from a deal rather than pay above the odds for a player.
The latest example of this was the club’s chase for Greece international Kostas Manolas, who had been identified as a centre-back replacement for Thomas Vermaelen.
Arsenal had been working on a €10m deal for a fortnight and negotiations were advanced but when Roma moved the goalposts by offering €13m to Olympiakos as well as the chance for the player to slot straight into the team, it was back to the drawing board for Wenger and his recruitment team.
Arsenal fans are getting used to their club scrambling around in the final hours of the window trying to source a bargain or pull a rabbit out of the hat. Given the resources at Wenger’s disposal, this policy seems unnecessarily counter-productive and even unambitious.
Understandably, the issue of Champions League qualification had muddied the waters. With their place at the top table of European football now secured for a 17th consecutive year, Goal understands there will be a big push for new blood.
As well as a proven centre-back, Wenger is targeting an A-list midfield anchorman who can bring drive and authority to a midfield that was found wanting so often against marquee opposition last season.
The top target is Carvalho, the Sporting Lisbon youngster who began his career at centre-back and is equally comfortable in both positions.
Arsenal have been working on what is said to be a very complicated deal due to the Portuguese’s third-party ownership – for some time. A €25m bid has been rejected and an improved offer is expected now the Londoners have climbed aboard the Champions League gravy train.
With Mikel Arteta’s mobility an increasing concern and Mathieu Flamini’s limitations all too obvious, the need for a defensive shield who can mix it in elite company is regarded as a priority by Wenger.
The manager is also considering striking reinforcements, and had been even before Olivier Giroud’s broken tibia ruled him out for what Wenger expects to be between three and four months.
Yet the manager made it clear in the aftermath of Wednesday’s second-leg triumph that he will only sanction a deal for another forward if he believes it significantly strengthens his squad.
“I don’t know yet but we try to look around and we want quality,” Wenger said. “We have that with [Theo] Walcott coming back soon – we have [Lukas] Podolski, [Yaya] Sanogo and [Joel] Campbell too.
“You can’t always buy if you have a problem. If you have an injury after September 1, you have to live with it.
“I bought Sanchez to be a striker. Walcott can be very good. Sanogo and Podolski can play there. Ask Campbell what he is, he will say a striker. They are players of quality and we will see.”
Sanchez demonstrated with a vibrant second-half display against Besiktas why Wenger believes he can cause such damage in the centre-forward role, and few can doubt the Frenchman’s track record in developing pacy wide players into orthodox strikers.
Nevertheless, Wenger is being disingenuous when he reels off the names of Walcott and Podolski. Both have been tried up front and neither have convinced the manager.
Moreover, Sanago is painfully raw and Campbell is yet to start a match for the first team. Neither have scored a goal for the club.
Giroud’s injury robs Arsenal of their only senior spearhead capable of out-muscling centre-backs, playing with his back to goal and chipping in with a few goals.
The problem for Wenger is that the type of strikers who are available and could slot straight into his team are at clubs who do not want to strengthen a direct rival; Danny Welbeck and Fernando Torres to name two. Loic Remy has been on the market all summer but he is regarded by Wenger as a resort of the desperate variety.
Arsenal insiders expect there will be a blizzard of transfer activity at London Colney in the next few days.
The expectation is that a centre-back and a central midfielder will sign. Supporters will hope they are joined by a third man in the shape of a proven striker.
Wenger has been given the green light by Wednesday’s result. Now, he must maneouvre his squad into the best possible shape.