Arsenal stole transfer headlines in but were unconvincing

To the bitter end, Arsene Wenger seemed to be raging against another winter transfer window in which events had drifted out of his control.

The Arsenal manager’s personal reluctance to allow Olivier Giroud to leave for Chelsea was transparent in his decision to field the striker at Swansea on Tuesday night, to the astonishment of a buying club who understandably raised an eyebrow.

There had also seemed to be some choreography in Wenger being engrossed in deep conversation with Giroud in images published on Arsenal’s website in the past week. But beggars can’t be choosers. Arsenal had asked for £30million as compensation for losing a second striker to a Premier League rival in this window but were over a barrel as usual.

Arsenal spent big to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Arsenal spent big to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

But the Gunners let Olivier Giroud join rivals Chelsea

But the Gunners let Olivier Giroud join rivals Chelsea

Arsenal spent big to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but let Olivier Giroud join rivals Chelsea

Arsene Wenger clearly did not want to sell Giroud, who played against Swansea on Tuesday

Arsene Wenger clearly did not want to sell Giroud, who played against Swansea on Tuesday

Arsene Wenger clearly did not want to sell Giroud, who played against Swansea on Tuesday

The arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 28, at the Emirates from Borussia Dortmund was contingent on Dortmund taking Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi, which was contingent on Giroud going to Chelsea. So Giroud went for £21m instead, including all the extras.

There was some bizarre razzle-dazzle in the Arsenal club video which announced his arrival, in which Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Arsenal’s compensation for losing Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United, asked his former Dortmund team-mate: ‘Yo, Pierre, you wanna come out here?’

But a late bid on Wednesday to find the central defender they so badly need somehow summed them up. A derisory £12m bid for West Brom’s Jonny Evans was quickly rejected.

Arsenal’s sales income from this window was eclipsed only by Liverpool’s, for which the extraordinary £145m Philippe Coutinho deal must be factored in. If further evidence of their desperation and lack of direction were needed, then it is the £300,000-a-week deal Wenger’s club are paying to keep Mesut Ozil, who is about to fall out of contract.

Chelsea display little more vision. A desperate pursuit of any striker of reasonable height, and investment in a 31-year-old on the fringes of Wenger’s side, said everything about the way they have scaled down their own ambitions. Peter Crouch, 36 and Edin Dzeko, 31, are, with the greatest respect, both beyond their prime.

Chelsea added Roma full back Emerson Palmieri and Giroud to the early capture of Ross Barkley but it wasn’t exactly dynamite. They used to be in the top tier of spenders. Now that terrain is the preserve of Paris Saint-Germain, the Manchester clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

In Manchester, United’s Sanchez coup has restored a little of the pride which has been lost by this title race, though it was an opportunist one. City — whose fight to sign Riyah Mahrez was waged in the knowledge that there was at least David Silva, Bernardo, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus in the ranks — finished the window as the biggest spenders once again.

This was the window which confirmed beyond all doubt that the purpose of contracts is to keep the asking price high, rather than to keep a player. Coutinho, Virgil van Dijk and Sanchez all wanted out and had their way. Manchester City had to admit defeat in their bid to sign Leicester’s Mahrez for £65m.

Philippe Coutinho forced a January move to Barcelona despite having a long Liverpool contract

Philippe Coutinho forced a January move to Barcelona despite having a long Liverpool contract

Virgil van Dijk did likewise to leave Southampton for Anfield

Virgil van Dijk did likewise to leave Southampton for Anfield

Philippe Coutinho and Virgil van Dijk both forced January moves despite having long contracts

Claude Puel’s squad were staying at the Titanic Hotel in Liverpool, ahead of their match against Everton last night. That seemed an appropriate commentary on their long-term hopes of keeping Mahrez. Tottenham’s attempts to keep up with the best were limited to Lucas Moura, who arrived for £25m — an exciting acquisition.

Liverpool will feel that £75m Van Dijk can strengthen their back line. Yet Jurgen Klopp’s attack-at-all-costs mentality also has much to do with the side’s defensive issues. The loss of Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge exposes their lack of depth at the other end.

Of the many haunted by relegation already, Swansea were boldest as the window closed, beating their transfer record to re-sign Andre Ayew in a deal worth up to £18m, 18 months after selling him to West Ham for £20m.

At Newcastle, Rafael Benitez was restricted by the same old owner who shows no sign of selling up, though Leicester striker Islam Slimani was secured on loan, as was Martin Dubravka, the Slovakia goalkeeper.

At West Ham, David Moyes was demonstrating the same old reluctance to take risks. The loan deal for Inter Milan’s impressive midfielder Joao Mario seemed the limit of their new additions.

Arsenal were the ones commanding the headlines. Aubameyang called up the legend of Thierry Henry. ‘He’s an example for us strikers,’ he said. ‘I’m a fast player and I score goals too, like Henry a little bit. 

‘I think I have to work a lot to be like him, but I will do.’

Time will tell. For all of the spending and the talk this past month, Arsenal, like so many others, move ahead with uncertainty. 

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