The frantic activity as the deadline to this record-breaking transfer window passed left me with one clear impression, namely that Arsene Wenger and Arsenal are well and truly back in business. Wenger’s £42million capture of Mesut Ozil, from Real Madrid, was the stand-out signing in the Premier League on deadline day, one which, I believe, puts the Gunners firmly in a position to challenge for their first title success since 2004. Ozil is a world class midfield player, a 24-year-old who has his best years ahead of him and who looks tailor-made for Arsenal’s expansive, free-flowing style. The German international is that rarity, an all-round midfielder who keeps the ball, passes the ball, creates scoring opportunities and weighs in with his fair share of goals…he scored at the rate of one in five appearances for Madrid. It will be fascinating to see who Wenger leaves out from his talented group of midfielders, with Cazorla, Wilshere, Flamini and Ramsey to consider. I imagine one thing you can say for sure is that it will be Ozil – who looks like a hand-in-glove player for Arsenal – and ten others. This lad could be the missing piece of Wenger’s jigsaw, the player who elevates an already impressive team back into the title-challenging elite.
I can envisage a five-team title tussle, with Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham scrapping it out with the two Manchester clubs, United and City. I don’t want to write off early league leaders Liverpool too hastily, but I do feel it will be the other five clubs I mentioned who will be the serious contenders come the late stages of the race. Arsenal’s North London derby win against big-spending Tottenham produced evidence that they will be a force this season. Goalkeeper Wojcieh Szczesny has come on well and the centre-back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and the much-criticised Per Mertesacker suddenly looks formidable. I am a little surprised Wenger did not sign a striker, but, at the same time, Olivier Giroud, the goal hero against Tottenham, now looks the part after a shaky start to his career at The Emirates. Wenger, at 65 the oldest – and certainly the wiliest – manager in the Premier League produces teams the like of which I would have loved to play in as a centre-forward. I have the feeling he is on the verge of something special with this group of players. At their best, Arsenal remain as good as any team to watch and their clashes with similarly-talented Manchester City are a mouth-watering prospect.
David Moyes, at Manchester United, finally got his man when Everton were paid £27million for Marouane Fellaini, the Belgian midfielder who is clearly rated very highly by Moyes, who took him to Everton in the first place. I am on record as having doubts about Fellaini’s suitability for United. He was originally signed for Everton as a holding midfielder, but he did not have the discipline to nail down that role. He is competent with the ball but not what you would call a constructive player and his goals ratio of one in six for Everton is respectable, but hardly compares with Frank Lampard’s scoring exploits at Chelsea. Certainly, Fellaini, a big, strong lad, can be a handful for defenders and he might respond to being amongst better players (no disrespect to Everton intended) and the quicker, passing style at Old Trafford. I just don’t feel Fellaini is in the same category as those recent great United box-to-box midfielders Bryan Robson and Roy Keane or the men who I played with, Colin Bell at Manchester City and Alan Ball, at Everton.
Good to see that Everton did a bit of business on deadline day, splashing £13million on James McCarthy, from Wigan, and securing the season-long loan of Gareth Barry from Manchester City, players who should be very effective in centre midfield. My only cautionary note for Goodison manager Roberto Martinez is that McCarthy’s arrival means he has brought in FOUR players from Wigan, a club which was relegated. I know managers tend to steer towards their favourites from a previous club, but Roberto’s quadruple capture could come back to haunt him if things don’t go well. Ireland international McCarthy will give Everton a lot of energy and industry in midfield and he just might turn out to be a terrific buy. I hope so.