Arsenal's summer of 'inactivity'

Last updated : 14 August 2003 By Lar Kirwan
Thierry - Totally committed
Nothing much else happened at Highbury this summer apart from continued dismay at the surrender of the Premiership Crown to Old Trafford. With Chelsea becoming Chelski and the six billion rouble man buying up as many players as were prepared to talk to him, we have been left with the impression that not only will Arsenal struggle to rest the title back from Manchester they may not even be the Capital's top club any more.

But a closer inspection of the facts will reveal that Arsenal have made at least three world class signings this summer. The pen that Thierry Henry put to his Arsenal contract was well publicised last May. There is little doubt in most independent observers minds that last season Thierry Henry was perhaps the most complete striker in European if not World Football. Ruud Van Nistelrooy may have scored a few more but in terms of overall contribution to his team Thierry was world class.

Then earlier this week we also learnt that Robert Pires had signed another contract to stay on at Highbury for at least another three years. A former Player of the Year, scorer of 15 goals in a season shortened by the recovery from ligament surgery until three months into it; Pires was coveted by many top European sides. Remember he chose Arsenal over Real Madrid when he signed for the club three seasons ago.

Opinions are subjective but it seems that if Patrick Vieira is not the world's best defensive midfielder, then he is certainly in everyone's top three. He has also put pen to paper this week, and will consequently spend what are probably the peak years of his career at Arsenal. How can the signature of three of the best players in the world not be a summer of fantastic news for Arsenal?

Add to that the further confirmation that the Dutch Master will finish his career at Highbury and I can't see that Arsenal have much to worry about. Bergkamp may not have scaled the heights of 97/98 in recent seasons but people should remember his sublime link-ups with Freddie Ljungberg which effectively clinched the Premiership in 2002; his through ball to Thierry Henry in the Liverpool game at Anfield last season was sublime (amongst many others); and in the FA Cup Final he put in an excellent performance to show that he still has a lot to offer. Both David Ginola and the bloke who played for Man Utd and then went back to Spurs (whose name I can't quite recall!) won the Player of the Year award well into their 30s and Chelsea's one significant departure this summer, Gianfranco Zola was a contender in the last campaign, notwithstanding his 36 years.

Each one of the players we have signed is comparable to, no - better than, any of Chelsea's signings, yet the press are raving about Chelsea. Man Utd seem to have stood still compared to last season, with two high profile departures being replaced by what seems to be future potential. Liverpool have (again!) signed what they claim are the last pieces in the jigsaw for them to win the league but I doubt I am the only one who thinks that their style of play is the limiting factor for them as much as whatever personnel they have. Newcastle have seemingly bolstered midfield with a gritty fighter to add to their undoubted flair players in the middle, but have done little else. Don't look beyond these four and Arsenal for the title.

Lastly, lets not forget the other recent signing, Nike. Like them or loathe them, the £55 million minimum figure that this deal will net the club is also an extremely significant contract executed this summer. It seems that the letter of credit provided by the sportswear giant has put the Ashburton Grove project back on track. I may not be one of its proponents but I can't deny that the new stadium has to be a factor in satisfying our manager and top players that this club has the ambition to remain competitive at Europe's highest level.

What appears on its face to have been a quiet summer for Arsenal Football Club may well turn out to have been one the most important in recent history.