Arsenal caught betwixt and between in Premier League game of ambition

After months of transfer window skulduggery, the second stage of the season has begun, with actual football being played

All summer people have been moaning about the transfer window. It's too long, it's too boring, nothing is actually happening with Rooney/Bale/Suárez, it shouldn't overlap the start of the new football season, and so on.

All valid points, though it should be remembered that the transfer window is a relatively new phenomenon, just as the offside rule and the outlawing of backpasses to the goalkeeper were in their time, and the game takes a while to get used to such innovations before working out how to best exploit them.

This summer has been characterised by a new departure in transfer business, with potential buyers of players being told in no uncertain manner by the owners of their transfer targets that their bids or their behaviour lacked class, that the manner of their approach was disrespectful, the amount of money offered derisory, a pattern defined by John W Henry's memorable tweet: "What do you think they are smoking over there at [the] Emirates?"

Entertaining as this undoubtedly has been, it is no way to conduct the generally straightforward process of transferring players between clubs – don't let agents or managers tell you otherwise, most clubs are keen to do business at the right price – and on various occasions in the past few months the game has been close to bringing itself into disrepute.

No one owns the moral high ground here, not Arsenal, Liverpool, David Moyes or anyone else. All clubs behave as badly as each other and the result is that what used to be known as the close season is now the unedifying, downright childish season.

This particular summer window has had a life of its own, and it isn't over yet. Some of the posturing and finger-pointing has been unpleasant, and if Alan Pardew was right in suggesting a late bid for Yohan Cabaye had unsettled the entire Newcastle team at the Etihad on Monday – not that one should automatically swallow that flimsy excuse for a lame non-performance – then the Premier League should be concerned that unfinished transfer window business is having a direct impact on its beloved entertainment value.

After all, if there are supposed to be no easy games in this most competitive of leagues, how come Manchester City were in danger of winning the first game of the season seven or eight nil? There are clearly problems at Newcastle that extend beyond Arsenal's interest in Cabaye (which apparently was first registered a few days before the match), but as a general principle the last thing weaker teams need is to be weakened further once the season has started.

When it was suggested here a few weeks ago that the transfer window need not last much more than a month and should be concluded well before the start of the season to prevent smaller clubs from having to rebuild on the hoof once fixtures had commenced, it was pointed out that because big clubs tend to leave their buying until the last minute smaller clubs would still be in danger of losing players with no time to buy replacements whenever the deadline was set.

That may be so, though a shorter window would still concentrate minds, and if clubs had a few weeks to prepare for the season with a squad they knew would be staying together until Christmas, managers and supporters would at least have a better idea of what to expect. The real problem with the present system is that it encourages three months of brinkmanship and skulduggery before the actual business gets done in three days.

That might be good for newspapers and Sky television but it won't leave Everton fans any happier if Leighton Baines and/or Marouane Fellaini are whisked away sometime next week.

It is almost as though there are two halves to a football season now. There's the bit when the window is shut, when the actual football gets played and people are entertained by the games, and the bit when the window is open and football is temporarily replaced by the game called Ambition.

Or, in Arsenal's case, lack of ambition. In the window-open months, everyone forgets that transfers always used to be once- or twice-a-season events to top up squads or provide cover for injuries and retirements. The game could still be like that but only Arsène Wenger appears to want to play it that way. Everybody else seems to think the nerve/recklessness of your chairman is what counts. To stand still, or show faith in the players you already have is to attract jeers of derision, even though (unpopular view warning) Wenger probably does know what he is doing after 15 consecutive years of reaching the Champions League.

Yes, Arsenal started the season badly at home to Aston Villa, and yes, if they don't show an improvement against Fenerbahce this season's Champions League could soon be just a memory, but that doesn't mean Wenger's entire philosophy is wrong.

Aston Villa endured all sorts of stick last season, and were pilloried for losing to Bradford City over two legs – at least Arsenal only lost a single tie on penalties at Valley Parade in the League Cup – but Paul Lambert stuck with more or less the same players to earn universal praise on opening day at the Emirates. Only Antonio Luna and Leandro Bacuna were new from last season, and the latter featured for only the last two minutes.

What Wenger is conspicuously not doing is putting a side together that can realistically challenge Chelsea and the Manchester clubs for the title. No one is even pretending he is doing that and most of the anger surrounding Arsenal at the moment can be traced to the fact that Tottenham Hotspur keep leaping ahead on the Ambition board, boldly breaking their transfer record not once but twice and now threatening to do it again. Yet still people are not talking of Spurs as prospective champions, just potential Champions League qualifiers, which just shows the amount of money that it takes to show ambition these days.

Wenger's demeanour suggests he is waiting for the silly-money phase of the game to blow itself out so that real football values can make a return, though all the available evidence suggests this is not going to happen in the near or even mid-distant future. Money makes a big difference, and colossal amounts of money make a colossal difference.

Wenger and Arsenal are feeling the strain because they are caught uncomfortably between success and failure. They could theoretically win things, they could also miss out. The situation at most other clubs is not quite as depressing, because most now accept that winning things is extremely unlikely. For a club such as Swansea City to win the Capital One Cup last season was a bonus, because they were already performing above expectation and pleasing their supporters.

Not everyone is playing Ambition, or at least not everyone is playing it by the same rules. There is another form of the game, called Cleverness. It was clever of Norwich City to sign Ricky van Wolfswinkel for £8.5m. At least that is how it seems at the moment, and it will look even more clever if they sell him on for a decent profit. Tony Moon, as Villa have inevitably started to call their new left-back, looks a snip at £1.5m. And it was extremely clever of Swansea to find and sign Michu for £2m, especially if Arsenal are really preparing a bid in the region of 10 times as much.

The Premier League is far from a level playing field, and that is regrettable. But there still appears to be plenty of space for everyone to play.

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