Arsène Wenger has struggled to heave his team to football's highest peaks in recent years but he is certainly able to occupy the moral high ground. Asked again – and again – about his pursuit of Luis Suárez, he would do no more than confirm that one or more bids, of unspecified amounts, have, at some point, been made.
"Look, we will treat every transfer within the rules, we have always done until now. In a fair, respectful way. That's our club," he said. "Other clubs do differently, that's their problem. But we will be completely faithful to the values we think are important here."
Six uniformed air hostesses stood in formation behind the manager's desk throughout his press conference after the 2-2 draw with Napoli, just to make sure that no journalist present forgot who was sponsoring this tournament, and though Wenger could not match their statuesque rictuses his expression was no less fixed. "I wouldn't like to talk openly about the negotiations because that's not my target in a press conference," he straight-batted. "We have one month in front of us, and we will work very hard to strengthen our squad, without naming any specific name, because I don't think that will make negotiations easier." Besides, he insisted, his squad was strong enough to win the league already, irrespective of the potential arrival of Liverpool's maverick Uruguayan. "Why should I sit here and say to you we can absolutely not win the title with the players we have?" he demanded.
Napoli, meanwhile, boasted five high-profile signings, including the long-time Arsenal target Gonzalo Higuaín. Their new manager, Rafa Benítez, was asked how he had managed to beat Wenger to the Argentinian. "We knew we could do it, the chairman was very quick and we did it," he said. "It was just two, three days and it was done." Just like that. Arsenal are learning that there is little point in entering transfer negotiations clutching a blank cheque if it is still blank when you leave again.
Instead of greeting new players Wenger is dispatching familiar ones – both Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh, he confirmed, could complete moves in the next few days. The only new face supporters were introduced to here was Vu Xuan Tien, the fan whose dedication to the team saw him sprint for several miles alongside their moving coach when they visited Vietnam recently, earning him the nickname Running Man, a degree of fame on YouTube, an invitation from the club and a standing ovation when he was introduced before kick-off.
And if Arsenal's team were familiar, so were their failings. They worked the ball nicely through midfield but ran out of ideas at the edge of the penalty area; when Olivier Giroud was found in good positions he was usually offside; their defence, fine in the main, was guilty of occasional lapses. In recent years Arsenal have come to embody an unusual blend of excellence and inertia: good enough to attract 59,554 people to a glorified pre-season friendly, and bad enough to then be booed off at half-time.
They were behind after seven minutes, when a long pass hit Carl Jenkinson on the top of his head and Lorenzo Insigne stroked the ball home before the full-back worked out where it was. Then in the 28th minute Marek Hamsik carried the ball forward, Goran Pandev ran too easily between the centre-backs, Lukasz Fabianski made a misguided attempt to cut out the pass and the Macedonian took advantage. In between, the former West Ham midfielder Valon Behrami fouled Kieran Gibbs in the penalty area, and Lukas Podolski thumped the penalty too close to Pepe Reina.
Arsenal, as the scoreline suggests, improved after the interval but aside from the penalty their best opportunities came direct from dead-balls hoisted into the area. From Serge Gnabry's corner Reina did well to push away Per Mertesacker's header, then 20 minutes into the second half another corner led Giroud to attempt an overhead that deflected into the net off Bacary Sagna's shoulder. And finally, three minutes from the end, Mikel Arteta took a free-kick from the right, Mertesacker's header was saved and Laurent Koscielny steamrollered past three people to knock in the rebound.
Initially disappointed, Arsenal's fans were appeased in the end. They can only hope that this transfer window goes the same way.