Ozil arrival marks end to Arsenal's austerity era

By Patrick Johnston

(Reuters) - Arsene Wenger's decision to smash Arsenal's transfer record with a marquee signing brought praise from his threadbare squad and finally signals an end to the austerity years that have resulted in eight trophyless seasons.

The capture of German playmaker Mesut Ozil, signed for 42.5 million pounds from Real Madrid on the final day of the transfer window on Monday, was the biggest fee paid by an English Premier League side in the close season.

"Signing of the summer! Easily! Fantastic player, plays the 'Arsenal way'. Welcome @MesutOzil1088 absolutely buzzing!," Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere posted on his Twitter account.

Wenger's purchase of the 24-year-old finally backs up what his chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, has long been saying; that the 13-times English champions can compete with the billionaire owners of Chelsea and Manchester City in player purchasing.

Ozil's price is more than double the 15 million pounds paid to Zenit St Petersburg for Russia playmaker Andrey Arshavin in 2009 but whether he alone can bridge the gap on those domestic rivals and succeed Manchester United as Premier League champions this year remains doubtful.

Having built the 'invincibles' side that won the Premier League in 2004 and then a 10th FA Cup in 2005, Wenger's team has slid far from domestic prominence to one that merely battles for fourth.

The cost of building their Emirates Stadium, opened in 2006 and still a significant debt, routinely to blame for a lack of squad investment.

Record goal-scorer Thierry Henry departed in 2007, with Mathieu Flamini, Alexander Hleb, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie leaving in following seasons, with the later famously questioning Arsenal's lack of ambition.

Despite those exits, Wenger has been able to find adequate replacements at a cheaper cost in order to steer the club through to the lucrative Champions League group stages for 16 straight seasons, which he said was akin to winning a trophy.

Unfortunately for the Frenchman, the fans do not.

Arsenal's cash-rich board, though, have been full of praise for the 'professor' and discussed renewing Wenger's contract, which expires in 2014, prior to the start of the current campaign.

STOCK RISING

However, an opening 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa coupled with the solitary transfer of one French youth striker on a free transfer brought a level of criticism against the Frenchman not seen in his 17 years at the club, with one fan group writing to the board aghast at the 'inappropriate' contract talks.

Four victories since, including Sunday's 1-0 win over arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and the arrival of Ozil, has increased Wenger's stock at the end of the Frenchman's least favourite part of the season.

"I cannot deny the transfer window is a problem for me because it conflicts with a �period where the competition has started already and I need big focus on the competition," he told reporters on Friday.

"It's not as easy any more because the market has become more open and international. There are more contenders, but not more players."

A failure to land a defender and striker after missing out on Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez are likely to hinder hopes of challenging for the league but the signing of Ozil should end the notion that Arsenal are a selling club in decline.

"Mr Kroenke, our controlling owner, has always fully supported Arsene and the club in making significant investments to strengthen our squad and to bring in talented players who fit our style and ambitions," Gazidis told the club's website in announcing the Ozil deal.

"Like all of us, Mr Kroenke wants to see Arsenal winning titles and trophies and he has absolute faith and belief in our manager to achieve that. We will continue to work towards that goal and look forward to an exciting season."

(Reporting by Patrick Johnston)

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