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Sep 1, 2012

Arsenal hopes in the balance

When Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger vowed to do all he could to "find a special player" in the final days of the summer transfer window, the capture of a 17-year-old Macedonian goalkeeper was not quite what the club's supporters had in mind.

While their neighbours Tottenham spent big to sign Fulham's Clint Dempsey and France 'keeper Hugo Lloris from Lyon and Premier League champions Manchester City broke the bank to cement their position as trophy contenders in Friday's deadline-day rush, Arsenal were toasting the arrival of teenage shot-stopper Dejan Iliev as rumours of a big-name capture came to nothing once again.

Chelsea's Michael Essien, Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko and even Tottenham hit-man Jermain Defoe were linked with Arsenal ahead of the August 31 cut-off date, as hopes were raised of a signing to set the pulses racing after their first two games of the season finished in less than inspiring goalless fashion.

Was Wenger about to break with tradition and dip into negative equity on his summer transfer dealings? The answer, somewhat inevitably, was no, as the final calculations confirm a balanced set of accounts will again be presented by a manager who has replaced big names stars with financial prudence on his wish-list in recent years.

After collecting £39 million from the sale of Robin van Persie to Manchester United and Alex Song to Barcelona, Arsenal have reinvested that cash to sign Lukas Podolski (£10.9 million), Oliver Giroud (£13 million) and Santi Carzola (£16 million), with Wenger refusing to use up a penny of the additional funds club chiefs have confirmed are at his disposal.

To save you some time with a calculator, Arsenal's three signings have cost precisely the same amount of cash they collected from their summer sales, with their success in getting the highly paid Nicklas Bendtner off the books after his deadline-day loan move to Juventus ensuring barely a penny has been spent once more by the Premier League's most cash conscious coach.

Wenger insists those who claim he should be more bold in the transfer market are "not dealing with reality", but a statement from the influential Arsenal Supporters Trust (AST) on Saturday confirms the Emirates Stadium faithful are becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of transfer activity from their beloved manager.

"Our own analysis of Arsenal's accounts shows the club have not used nearly all of the resources available to them to strengthen the squad this transfer window," an ATS spokesman said in the Daily Mirror. "Many of our members are extremely frustrated as they believe no stone should be left unturned in trying to make Arsenal a better team.

"Arsene Wenger has chosen this course and most fans back him, with 77% of AST members voting him the right man to take Arsenal forward in our end-of-season survey just ten weeks ago. As ever in football, the final judgement will be made according to results on the pitch."

The unflinching devotion a majority of Arsenal fans continue to offer Wenger is admirable given his failure to win a trophy in seven years and continued inability to hang onto his best players, the legendary status earned by this manager making it all but impossible for the club's loyal supporters to turn against him, even if such unshakable power may not be entirely positive.

With Wenger immune to criticism, the recent survey referred to by the AST spokesman confirmed that chief executive Ivan Gazidis and major shareholder Stan Kroenke are not afforded the sort of backing the club's manager seems destined to retain.

The rarely heard or seen Kroenke's proved to be especially unpopular as he claimed a meagre 13% backing from Arsenal supporters, while only 1.5% declared themselves content with the team's efforts in recent times. Such figures would suggest the team's manager would be the focal point of dissent, but not at Arsenal.

Even more staggering was the statistic suggesting 76% of those questioned by AST supported Wenger's sentiments that Champions League qualification is more important than winning a trophy, providing compelling proof that the Arsenal boss has successfully reset the boundaries of success among his disciples.

"Spending money to solve problems is not the answer," Wenger says. "I can understand why supporters are frustrated and they look at other clubs and believe spending £35 million on one player is the way to go, but I disagree with this viewpoint. If you look at my record as Arsenal manager, I'm always in the market if top talent become available, but we will not buy players for the sake of it.

"It seems strange to me that people are amazed that we are not spending £100 million on transfers when the reality is this is not realistic. I find it surprising that people do not realise the kind of budgets we work within, but I'm proud of the way we run this club. We have achieved 15 straight years in the Champions League and that is a fine achievement.

"Finishing third is not enough for me, or anyone at Arsenal. We want to challenge for the title and we want to win it. Of course, this is what we have to aim for and finishing in the top four has to be viewed as a basic target."

So long as Arsenal score their first goals of the season to beat Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday and go on to end their wait for a trophy in the coming months, the frustration currently being felt by Wenger's loyal supporters will be quickly forgotten.

However, next summer's survey by supporter groups may not paint the club's iconic manager in such a favourable light if this turns into another season of near misses.

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