This summer is the first for many years that Arsenal are being talked about for signing other teams’ star players rather than losing their own, and two of the most commonly discussed names are Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini. Even as recently as last summer the idea of Arsenal getting either of these, never mind both, would be laughed at, but this summer is different. Next season is when UEFA’s Financial Fair Play restrictions really kick in and this is what Arsenal have been preparing for over the last five years or so. Their payment schedule on the new stadium eases considerably and as they are so reliant on generating their own money they are in a strong position to take advantage of the FFP rules. So Rooney and Fellaini are affordable, they’ve got the cash sat ready and waiting. But how realistic is it for Arsenal to get them, and what would they bring to the team?
Wayne Rooney has asked to leave Manchester United. Rooney doesn’t want to play for David Moyes, his wife wants to live in London and Rooney wants to be the star striker. Arsenal could certainly satisfy the last two. In fact, not only would he be the star striker, he’d be their star player full stop. The arrival of Robin van Persie from Arsenal last summer saw Rooney drift further and further back towards, and even into, midfield. But he is openly unhappy about this. He still sees himself as a pure striker, and his goal scoring numbers back this belief in himself up. In the 2009/10 and 2011/12 seasons Rooney was deployed often as a lone striker, but always as a striker. He scored 34 and 35 goals respectively, by far the best output of his career.
The strange thing with Rooney is that his best qualities are often overlooked in favour of his additional qualities. He works hard for a striker and has a good passing range for a striker, and this means managers are tempted to use him further back. But he’s best at scoring goals. At Arsenal, that would be exactly what he is brought in to do. With Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott, possibly even Steven Jovetic, in place, they have no need for him to play deep. Olivier Giroud is a decent striker but no more. If Arsenal sign Rooney and play him up front they will have themselves the 30-goal striker they had when they sold van Persie. Even with all of the other talent, he would be the star of the show, and he would revel in that.
Would Manchester United be willing to sell though? Surprisingly the fee discussed so far has only been around £30m because he has just two years left on his contract. Arsenal sound like they can easily afford that. If they can also pay him the circa £200k a week he get’s at United, which again chief executive Ivan Gazidis has said they can, then this could happen. He’d be an excellent signing and a real statement of intent.
Where Rooney is a clear fit for Arsenal, the same isn’t necessarily true of Fellaini. For many years Arsenal’s supposed weakness was in defensive midfield, they had no shield and thus a flimsy defence. But last season they had the second best defence in the league. This was not least down to a transformed Aaron Ramsey who, over the last three months of the season, was as good a protector as any midfielder in the league. His tenacity in the tackle and particularly his interceptions marked him out. Arsenal fans bemoan his passing and lack of inventiveness, but in his new position he can keep it simple and focus on defending. What does Fellaini offer that is different? Like Ramsey, he is not a particularly good or subtle passer of the ball. He’s an athletic and tough presence when deep in midfield and although there is no doubting he is a little better at that than Ramsey, can you justify spending £24m on a minor upgrade?
Fellaini caused devastation as an attacking midfielder at Everton when supplied aerially. Does Arsene Wenger really want to use Fellaini as a number ten? He’d certainly offer them a Plan B but again, is that enough to justify spending so much on? Unless Wenger is convinced that Fellaini is a significantly better defensive midfielder than Ramsey then he should not make the move. Fellaini after all, gets most of his praise for the carnage he can cause if supplied correctly in the other team’s half. He’s a very good player, but not worth Arsenal spending £24m on when they still need a goalkeeper.