DECAYING of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal from a team capable of going a whole league season unbeaten to one with just 24 points from 16 games and slain by League Two Bradford in the Capital One Cup has spawned countless theories as to where it has all gone wrong.
Among those voiced by fans and bloggers (such as Arseblog) – and made more pertinent by the prospect of more than £50m waiting to be spent in January – is the concern that the Frenchman may have lost his fabled golden touch in the transfer market.
Certainly recent acquisitions Gervinho, Marouane Chamakh, Park Chu-Young and Sebastien Squillaci have been nothing short of disastrous, while Andrey Arshavin and Andre Santos have hardly impressed, making the question a legitimate one for discussion.
It seems a far cry from Wenger’s plucking of Patrick Vieira from relative obscurity in 1996, the year when he recruited Thierry Henry, Nwankwo Kanu and Davor Suker (1999), or even the triple signing of Robert Pires, Lauren and Sylvain Wiltord (2000).
But those notable successes overshadowed less fruitful deals. When Henry arrived, so did Kaba Diawara, Stefan Malz and Oleg Luzhny. The signing of Pires coincided with that of Igor Stepanovs and Tomas Danilevicius – two of Wenger’s worst, although there is fierce competition.
Luring Sol Campbell from Tottenham in 2001 may have been as big a masterstroke as it was an audacious coup, but that summer Arsenal also spent big on Francis Jeffers and Richard Wright, both expensive flops, while Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Edu were only qualified triumphs.
Poring over Wenger’s 80-odd significant buys suggests his record has always been patchy, like that of nearly all managers, and the notion of him as transfer mystic something of a myth.
What has changed over his 16-year tenure is that a dwindling supply of funds has restricted him to fewer and fewer purchases, making the mistakes more obvious and far more costly. Stars such as Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Henry being lured away, rather than jealously retained like Vieira, has compounded the problem.
Jeffers, who cost £8m but scored just eight goals in 39 games over two seasons, did not wreak undue damage because Henry, Vieira and Co were good enough to win the Double without him playing a prominent role.
By contrast, the signings of Chamakh (free but £50,000-a-week wages; 14 goals in 67 games) and Gervinho (£10m; nine in 55), for example, look far worse because major departures have required them to perform more significant roles and they have failed miserably.
Frank Dalleres is sports editor of City A.M. Twitter: @frankdalleres