MILAN – Mikel Arteta (R) became the unlikely focus of Deadline Day after Arsene Wenger identified the former Everton man as the solution in Arsenal's midfield. (ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images)
The transfer window slammed shut across Europe Wednesday night amid a flurry of late activity that saw some of the biggest teams jockeying for reinforcements, some star players switching teams, and some outright panic buying.
The major players were somewhat predictable: Arsenal picked up five players in a knee-jerk reaction to their 8-2 thumping at the hands of Manchester United while Tottenham presided over a curious housecleaning that also saw them miss out on their major target. Stoke, Sunderland and Aston Villa made moves to reinforce their squads while Queen's Park Rangers were forced by a later shift in ownership to pick up dross in an attempt to stay in the top flight.
No team accomplished what the Manchester clubs and Liverpool had in the window to date, and, as it follows, none of them are expected to challenge those three teams for dominance as a result.
Arsenal and Tottenham provided object lessons in how not to transfer players. Both teams showed poor planning in the near term, with their plights possibly indicative of a longer-term shift in the Premiership dynamics.
The Gunners dithered all summer with the moves of Samri Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, despite the fact that both were foregone conclusions, then got smacked about in the opening weeks of play and discovered they might actually need some replacements. Wednesday, they added a middling striker in Park Chu-young, two decent defenders in Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos, and then picked up a couple of wild cards: Everton midfielder Mikel Arteta and Chelsea wantaway Yossi Benayoun. The first three players are credible attempts to bulk up a thin squad. The latter two are gambles of a type Arsene Wenger rarely makes, and it is telling about the club's current state that the reaction of the fans to the signing was so hopeful as to border on delusional.
Arteta, a player who pales in comparison to Cesc Fabregas, is decent but fragile; Benayoun is better than people think he is, but is coming off some serious injuries and has a lot to prove. None of the signings give immediate confidence to a squad that has looked slow on defense -- Mertesacker is glacial; Santos is untested at Premier League speed -- and none of them seem to give the team any guile or bite in the near term. Fans will argue that Arsenal did the best they could, but this masks some poor scouting, bad planning and a willingness to ignore glaring problems.
Tottenham saw a thin squad get even thinner, and while they added striker Emmanuel Adebayor, they also missed out on Bolton defender Gary Cahill. Yes, Scott Parker was a quality player with West Ham and got a lot of feel-good votes from the press last year. But is he really a European-quality player? No, he's not. Neither signing seems to improve the team's chances of regaining a European berth, nor do the departures of Jermaine Jenas, Alan Hutton, Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios and David Bentley. And if, as Harry Redknapp claims, Chelsea offered £40m for Luka Modric (an offer later translated by the BBC to £30m plus Alex), then Spurs were foolish not to cash in. What they have now is a thinner squad, an unsettled midfielder who wants to leave and a lot of money left on the table.
Some teams however, did make shrewd moves.
Fulham nicked Bryan Ruiz from Twente while unfounded and foolish rumors flew that Clint Dempsey was heading to the exit. The Costa Rican was brilliant for the Dutch club, netting nearly a goal every other game, and will pair well alongside the American.
Chelsea also made a solid move, picking up Raul Meireles from Liverpool for what is said to be a bargain £12m price. Meireles was instrumental for the Reds last season, and it is hard to see why the team would let him leave to a-rival.
Liverpool did make an add of their own, picking up one of the many Manchester City castoffs in Craig Bellamy. Bellamy, who can politely be described as dressing-room poison, can indeed score goals, but why a club would take him when they already have goalscorers requires a leap of faith.
PR had a very busy day, attempting to shore up a very weak side in a limited window. They added tepid striker Shaun Wright-Phillips, Newcastle bad boy Joey Barton, Sunderland's Anton Ferdinand and now look to have a very average English squad that has removed any possibility of excuses for failure. This is not what manager Neil Warnock wanted, but in fairness, was the best he could do under the circumstances.
Some £450m changed hands over the window, and as such, I would be remiss not to mention Samuel Eto'o, who became the highest-paid player in the sport with a move to Anzhi Makhachkala, completed prior to the window closing. Who? Where? The tiny Russian club in the Caucasus has gained a big-spending oligarch in Suleiman Kerimov, meaning that the one-time Barcelona and Inter striker will be netting close to $60m to play in the Russian league.
If this seems bizarre -- and it should -- consider that much of the heat and noise in the game is now coming from the newly minted mega-rich. Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, both backed by Arab wealth, have been extraordinarily aggressive in stockpiling talent, and Russian owners have figured out they don't necessarily need to buy English teams in order to create world franchises.
While no-one expects Anzhi to become a world power any time soon -- much less sell pallet stacks of replica shirts - folks should keep an eye on the Russian league in general. Those owners have shown a willingness to spend and understand that the traditional borders that defined world soccer are dissolving.
What has accompanied this realization is the fact that the scouting systems that once sustained an Arsenal, a Tottenham or even a West Ham have also been lost. There are no hidden gems, and it is not possible to develop all the talent in house -- the numbers just don't work.
As a result, these windows are now big money and increasingly games of brinkmanship. Frantic dashes at the end equal heartache, and yet, even the biggest clubs feel compelled to make them. It's a fool's errand, and while the day itself is thrilling and exhausting in equal measure, the results are likely to disappoint.