Going into their crucial opening leg of their Champions League qualifier at Fenerbahce, the pressure on both Arsenal’s players and manager Arsene Wenger was enormous. Castigated for a summer of transfer inactivity that had become embarrassing, ridiculed for a start to the season that saw them comfortably defeated at home by Aston Villa, shamed by ending the 90 minutes with Aaron Ramsey at centre-back and Lukas Podolski at left-back after early-season injuries damaged an already small squad.
However, for just 90 minutes in Istanbul all that seemed to dissipate as a near full-strength Gunners first XI (bar the unfortunate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) dismantled an admittedly poor Fenerbahce side. Goals from Kieran Gibbs, the outstanding Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud have all but secured the Gunners’ place in the Champions League group stages for the coming season and as Arsene Wenger said after the game, the transfer window starts now.
So it has proved as in the hours and days since the final whistle at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, Arsenal have been linked with moves for high-profile Real Madrid pair Karim Benzema and Angel Di Maria, another bid for Newcastle midfielder Yohan Cabaye as well as further attempts for Spanish goalkeeper Vicente Guaita and Sevilla midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia.
Undoubtedly, the question is why it has taken Arsenal so long to seemingly make strengthening a squad depleted both in numbers and quality a priority. Those suggesting both the club and Wenger were waiting for their Champions League place to be secured, as it now surely is after their impressive victory in Turkey, are wide of the mark. Tottenham for instance, despite not being in the Champions League, have managed to carry out some excellent transfer business so far this summer even if they do look set to finally lose Gareth Bale to Real Madrid.
Arsenal’s track record this summer indicates that the chances of them securing all those targets are unlikely but it does at least seem as if the wheels are finally in motion, building on the feel-good factor of the European success rather than the panic of the home reverse to Villa.
Indeed, at least one new arrival already appears to be all but secured, with Mathieu Flamini set to return to the club he departed for Milan in 2008. Not quite the stellar name Arsenal fans were expecting but at 29 with good experience not just of the club but on the European stage and the versatility to play in a number of positions both in midfield and defence, the signing of the Frenchman makes a solid start.
Above all however, one hopes the Fenerbahce victory serves as a reminder to the players already there of their talents ahead of their Saturday lunchtime trip to London rivals Fulham. At times against Aston Villa, the team looked bereft of all confidence, hardly a recipe for winning matches in the Premier League.
Indeed, if the likes of Ramsey, Giroud, Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky can remember their performances against Fenerbahce, then perhaps this week may well be remembered as the true beginning of Arsenal’s 2013-14 campaign.
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