With most of the important transfer business (Aguero in at City, Coates in at Liverpool, Ashley Young in at Man Utd) already completed, transfer deadline day had both an air of anti-climax and Woolworths bargain bin raid about it. Of the nominal Premier League Top Six, only Spurs and Arsenal (both of whom have started poorly this season) had any really pressing business to take care of on the final day of this summer’s transfer window. Yes, Chelski could have done with a Modric figure to liven things up a little, but they are hardly a squad in dire straits, unlike Everton, and in the end they landed Villas-Boas’s compatriot Raul Merieles from Liverpool anyway (perhaps King Kenny’s only duff move in the transfer market this summer).
It was probably Arsenal and Arsene Wenger who most urgently needed to lay down some kind of marker of ambition in the market. A summer of departures, some good (Eboue, Traore), some bad (Fabregas, Nasri), had stripped this promising Arsenal squad of a significant portion of its quality, as well as its depth. As it turns out the hiding handed to Arsene’s side at Old Trafford last weekend, may well have provided the necessary impetus to push through the most exciting acquisition of the transfer window, as well some other serious quality personnel.
The deals for Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos, that had been touted around the day before the window was due to shut, were duly completed. Mertesacker, despite a Bundesliga sluggishness, will presumably offer a bit of German steel and efficiency to the backline, his positional sense and organisational skills seeming a perfect fit for Vermaelen’s graceful ball-winning abilities. Santos is apparently Brazil’s first-choice leftback, but with his European experience consisting of only a couple of years in the Turkish top-flight with Fenerbahce, it will have to be seen how well he will adapt to the Premier League. The fact Santos is a strong and pacy attacking full-back, very much in the modern Brazilian mode, bodes well for a side that have long missed the consistent attacking threat of Ashley Cole (Clichy was solid enough, but had seemed a little in decline over recent seasons).
Aside from these, in effect, done deals, Wenger managed to carry out three other pieces of crucial transfer business. First of all he was able to send the walking ego, and considerable talent vacuum, that is Nicklas Bendtner, off to bother the even bigger-head (both literally and metaphorically) of ‘Stevie’ Bruce at Sunderland. Having shifted that albatross from around his neck Wenger then secured the loan services of everyone’s favourite Israeli creative mercenary, Yossi Benayoun – a deal that could prove to eclipse even his most important piece of business. However, managing to prise the hard-working Toffeeman Mikel Arteta away from Goodison, was surely the biggest coup of the day. Arteta has been a consistent Premier League performer at Everton over the past four seasons and seems a near like-for-like replacement for the returning Catalan, Fabregas.
At 29, Arteta is entering the period of his career where he should really be enjoying a clutch of trophies and some good Champions’ League experience, which is surely why Everton fans cannot begrudge him the move. Under Moyes Arteta has developed into the kind of crafty, midfield linchpin that he had always threatened to be, but, after his Rangers schooling, looked as if he may never fully develop into. A few Arsenal fans have voiced their concerns about the fact that in signing Benayoun and Arteta, Wenger hasn’t really dealt with the requirement for a strong holding-midfield player. I believe that this is doing Arteta a little of a disservice, as although he’s no Claude Makelele, he certainly has more of a robust physical presence – that Rangers schooling – than Fabregas had. In tandem with a Song or, more longterm, Frimpong figure, I could see Wenger creating a nicely balanced midfield yet.
What is indisputable however, is that Arteta brings some much-needed substance to a midfield that looked, at times, swamped by Manchester Utd last weekend. Arteta is one of the finest, and most cultured, passers of the ball currently operating in the Premier League. I’d go as far as to say that in his time at Everton, perhaps only Paul Scholes, Charlie Adam, David Silva and Fabregas have had more of an impact on the way their teams distribute the ball. Arteta has also shown a willingness to lead by example at Goodison, where alongside Tim Cahill and Phil Jagielka, he organised and directed the Everton side. A midfield general is just the kind of figure Wenger needs now Fabregas is gone, thus Arteta will find himself playing a crucial role in Arsenal’s likely resurgence, after an undeniably wobbly start. Considering the work that Wenger has put in over the last week in the transfer window, does anyone doubt the potential Top Four quality of this Arsenal starting eleven:- Szczesny, Sagna, Andre Santos, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Song, Arteta, Benayoun/Ramsey, Gervinho, Van Persie, Walcott? Frankly, I think barring a serious injury crisis (always a Gooner worry) Arsenal have every chance of proving numerous doubters wrong and maintaining their position at the top table, if not building on it, by adding some silverware. How ironic would it be, if after all the criticism and this awful start, Wenger and Arteta were celebrating come May?
Amongst the other business on transfer deadline day there were a few lovely moves that have really whetted my appetite for the coming season. Personally I think the purchases of Bellamy (back at Liverpool), Bryan Ruiz (in at Fulham) and Maloney (taking a second crack at the English league with Wigan) are quality offensive signings. Bellamy has a ridiculous reputation as a troublemaker which I frequently think is as a result of his obvious passion for the game being somehow frustrated by insensitive managers. Dalglish loves a pacey, dribbling centre forward and Bellamy fits that bill perfectly. With Suarez clearly first choice at Liverpool I think Bellamy will be vying with Carroll for the other striker slot (not forgetting Dirk Kuyt), which is to my mind what makes this a great piece of business. Bellamy is the perfect insurance if Carroll continues to suffer from a little confidence issue. Whilst the presence of a freescoring Bellamy could act as a real catalyst to both Carroll and Kuyt to up their own game.
Jol’s purchase of Ruiz from FC Twente is another exceptional piece of business at Craven Cottage and I’m certain that he will form a lovely partnership with Bobby Zamora. Although the club have endured a ropy start to their Premier League campaign I will be truly amazed if they do not enjoy at least one good cup run, whilst there Premier League status should really not be up for debate come February. Ruiz has pace and strength, with a frightening goal record which should really free up Zamora to utilise some of his superb off-the-ball movement to full effect. I’ve high hopes for this particular partnership and feel this could be the beginning of the end for the declining abilities of the once so promising Andrew Johnson.
Wigan have been exceptionally canny once again this transfer window and I think that Martinez and his latest capture Shaun Maloney, could be a marriage made in heaven. Maloney endured a fairly feeble first outing down south under the smothering tactical restrictions of his former Celtic-mentor Martin O’Neill. However, on his return to Celtic Park Maloney was used intermittently, but highly effectively, through the centre of the park, as an advanced attacking-midfielder. In this role he showed all the guile, wit and creative ingenuity that once had the Celtic and Scotland faithful salivating over his potential. Barring injury, Martinez will surely give Maloney a similar license to roam and dictate Wigan’s dynamic attacking play, which makes me cautiously optimistic for Wigan’s hopes of survival, as well as eager to watch Maloney, like Charlie Adam before him, develop into the great Scots playmaker he really should be.
Flash ‘arry had us fooled for a while down at White City dogtracks. Sounding only a bit like the demented Venky PR machine, ‘arry ‘ad us all finking we was gonna see some Kaka at White ‘art Lane, know whatta mean? Unfortunately it appears that what he really meant is that he had got rid of some central midfield cack, going by the name of Jermaine Jenas. But seriously (to aptly quote Phil Collins, ‘arry’s favourite), Harry Redknapp did have the football hacks of Britain picking their collective glass jaws up off the scullery floor (along with the pickled eggs and Smith’s Salt’n’Shake), when rumours began pouring out around Van der Vaart-time that the gifted Brazilian may be ghosting in for a season-long loan in North London. Alas the Yid Army will have to make do with the solid, battling presence of the wonderfully economical Scott Parker, who dropped in for little over five million having got fed up with blowing (Hubba Bubba sponsored) bubbles in E13.
Among the other dribs and drabs of transfer action, Owen Coyle wove a magic wand and Kakuta appeared (in on-loan from Chelsea, clearly impressed with the job the Scotsman done on Sturridge). They also managed to shore up a cheap deal for David Ngog, who I’m certain, given a sponge bath and some cotton wool bedclothes by the hyperactive Glaswegian, will begin to show Liverpool what they really had on their books. After all, this time last season Ngog was beginning to show some rich form at Anfield, which was surely nothing to do with an extended run in the team under Hodgson, was it? A lot of hype surrounded Crock(ery) Hargreaves cheeky move to Man City and I’m sure that Mancini will have bartered a good deal for the club on the off-chance that the gifted holding player, can’t shift his fragile labeling. Man City have a tremendous abundance of riches at their disposal now and anyone foolish enough to believe they will still be also-rans in the Premier League should perhaps check out the mental health facilities in their area, as I’ve a feeling this season may drive them crazy. Tony Pulis’s continued evolution of Stoke City into, well, Stoke City, must surely strike the fear of god into most other Premier League sides. Stoke are oft-derided as a ‘direct’ side, very much in the Allardyce and Bassett mode of rugged, one lump then two, football. However, Pulis seems to be well aware of where his squads strengths lie, whilst at the same time doing a lot to ensure that they have sufficient craft to belie the ‘scrubbers’ tag. Palacios is a great piece of business, whilst Crouch and Jerome will certainly cause a lot of problems for opposition defences and could also do the truly remarkable and put something like a rocket up that most languid of professional footballers, Kenwyne Jones.
Before I finish up this little summary, I must make a mention of two buys that have renewed my faith in football, just a little bit more than the others here. I’m absolutely ecstatic that the Killie board are continuing to show the Old Firm the way in the Premier League, by acquiring the quality defensive signature of Mahmadou Sissoko, on loan, for another season, from Udinese. Sissoko was superb for Killie last term and, as much as I was sceptical of Kenny Shiels appointment (convinced, as I was, that he would revert Killie to the hoof’n’hope of the pre-Paatelainen dark interregnum), his team appear to be embracing the superbly versatile style that the Finn brought with him to the club. More power to their collective elbow this term. Whilst the sincere desire of Joe Cole to actually rediscover his love for the game was actually quite touching and I genuinely wish the wee ‘erk well on his sojourn in the north of France. As long as his talents haven’t completely deserted him, then a year out of the English media spotlight with a team as good as the French champions can only be a positive move for the Londoner. I’ve a feeling that much like Trevor Steven and Chris Waddle before him, this move to France could see him enter a truly remarkable period of his career, perhaps never deigning to set foot on these shores again. We can but dream…