This article titled “Arsène Wenger insists he is ready to spend after Arsenal draw at Leicester” was written by Amy Lawrence at the King Power Stadium, for The Observer on Saturday 20th August 2016 18.34 UTC
This was just enough. Just enough to avoid a two-game unwanted crisis. Just enough to save face. Just enough to suggest that, even if they are still rusty and looking a distance off the early-season intent shown by the big hitters from Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea (not forgetting Hull), they can still breathe.
With the consequences of defeat crystal clear, it was vital for both Leicester City and Arsenal to avoid the stress that would have provoked. As it was, even with a draw away from home to the defending champions, the visiting contingent provided a discordant accompaniment to a frenetic finale. “Spend some money,” yelled the fans in the away corner, with an expletive thrown in. It was almost rubbing it in to see Jamie Vardy, whom Wenger tried to buy, leave the field wearing a swapped Arsenal shirt.
After the match, the Frenchman made a passionate defence of the accusation he is reluctant to spend and promised he would spend astonishing amounts on the right player.
“Why do you say I am reluctant? I don’t understand that,” said Wenger. “ If we find players who can strengthen our team we are not reluctant. I would spend £300m if I find the right player and I have £300m.”
He could not hide his disappointment to be thrown questions about finance and transfers in the immediate aftermath of an intense match with quite a lot on the line, even at this early stage of the campaign.
“Unfortunately, nobody speaks about the performance of Rob Holding,” Wenger went on. “You should be happy – he is English, he is 20. But I am sorry he didn’t cost £55m so he cannot be good. He had an outstanding performance for a young boy who has never played in the Premier League up against a great player. We don’t talk about the players any more. We speak about anything else than football.”
Unfortunately for Wenger, football, and perceptions about the extent that he strengthened his squad to prepare for this season, are linked. This was a point that was helpful for both teams under the circumstances, but both could also look ruefully at the fact they were unable to turn one point into three.
Deep into stoppage time of a slow-burning game that ended with frantic chances at either end, Claudio Ranieri and Wenger urged their teams on intently. Oh for a win to reboot this season more convincingly. But it was not to be.
There were chances squandered and deflected, and for Leicester there was also the considerable question of whether they might have had a penalty or two.
In the first half, Danny Drinkwater felt Laurent Koscielny stretched and caught him as he raced on to a loose ball after the Arsenal keeper, Petr Cech, rushed out to smother at Vardy’s feet. Late in the second half, Ahmed Musa fell as Héctor Bellerín endeavoured to stop the speedy substitute on the run. On both occasions Mark Clattenburg waved away any appeals.
Not many managers would have responded to a pair of close calls with the same generosity of spirit as Ranieri. But then not many managers are Ranieri-esque, full stop.
“I am not a manager who cries: ‘Oh it was a penalty!’ For me it was OK. The referee made a good performance. For me a penalty is when the referee whistles. He didn’t.”
Ranieri was pleased overall to see a performance that reflected more of the style and emotion of the team that etched a footballing miracle last season. “I watched our spirit. I am very happy with the union of the team.”
Wenger was impressed that they were able to show that in what can often prove a difficult “second album” of a season after a big hit. “You could see that Leicester has some mental qualities, which explains why they were champions last year.”
With both teams wary of conceding on the counterattack, it took a while for the game to open up. When the chances came, Arsenal struggled for accuracy.
A couple of the best fell to Theo Walcott, on one of those days when he looked indecisive, and Alexis Sánchez – in the centre-forward role again – didn’t look too happy.
But Leicester also had their moments, with the game at their mercy, where ruthlessness evaded them. One particular opportunity clanged. Vardy was released in the second half, but his first touch made it difficult to finish clinically. He winced as the ball ballooned over. It was that kind of game for strikers, although it must be said that some of the defending was excellent, with Koscielny and Wes Morgan both influential in protecting their teams.
Wenger made a point of saying his team will be more ready in another week. Ranieri agrees that there is more to come. Neither the champions nor the runners-up of 2015-16 look close to top gear, but at least they are no longer in reverse.
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