Good afternoon you Gooners, I am going to cover an Arsenal subject today that has had me scratching my head since 2011.
No-one seems to be able to explain the background story of this transfer nor what followed and I hope this post results in a ‘Deep Throat’ type character (steady…) stepping out from the gloom and illuminating hitherto unseen knowledge with the aid of a glowing Marlboro.
Here’s my question, ‘why was Park Chu Young signed by Arsenal, given the coveted #9 shirt and then not played?’
I don’t have the inside line so I can only go by what is available for public knowledge…and add rampant speculation and supposition…
Here is what we know:
In his three year tenure at AS Monaco, Park scored 27 goals for the French club and was a regular starter for South Korea. Park currently has 24 goals for his country in 62 appearances.
After Arsenal’s 8-2 humbling at Old Trafford on August 28th, 2011; a period that marked arguably the lowest point of Arsene Wenger’s reign, Arsenal started to make serious moves in the transfer market. In a summer that saw Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Eboue, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas depart for massive profits, it was an opportunity seen by many Gooners as an ideal year to finally make a mark in the window and replace such crucial players with seasoned internationals.
Instead, Arsenal did sign some players, but not of the standard or for the positions most were hoping for. Before the mauling, Gervinho had arrived from Lille, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton and Carl Jenkinson from Charlton. No desperately needed world-class right-back, no midfield schemers nor a world-class striker.
Hard times indeed. And having watched an aged Juan Roman Riquelme stroll through Arsenal in the 2011 Emirates Cup, no desperately needed defensive midfielder added to the squad either… After the embarrassing Old Trafford beating was dissected and the ice-packs applied onto the numerous spanked backsides, Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos and Park Chu Young arrived in the first wave of re-enforcement deals.
By most accounts, Park was in Lille between August 28th and August 29th, finalising a medical and subsequent deal with the Northern (où nous faisons ce que nous voulons) French club to join them from his current AS Monaco employers. Arsenal contacted Park and/or his advisors which resulted in him quickly leaving his Lille hotel room, taking a Eurostar train to London and signing for Arsenal in a matter of hours. The fee was somewhere between €5m and £2.65m. Park was handed the #9 shirt (worn with such ‘distinction’ by Nicolas Anelka, Davor Suker, Francis Jeffers, Jose Antonio Reyes and Julio Baptista before him – the writing really was on the wall, wasn’t it?!) and joined a new trio of internationally-capped signings. On the transfer deadline day, Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun also arrived, finalising Arsenal’s transfer dealings for the year, and underwhelming many.
However, after such a blatantly deceptive cloak and dagger move, to whisk away a South Korean striker; who was their captain by now, from the clutches of Lille from his very hotel room, surely Wenger had snatched another unpolished gem from the South of France?! After all, Gervinho had been signed from Lille, instead of his much vaunted team-mate Eden Hazard and now a striker who had improved his goal haul in each of his years in France had joined him…surely now Robin van Persie had some worthy co-attackers to share the goal-scoring burden?!
In a word – no. It wasn’t until October 25th, 2011, that Park opened up his Arsenal account, scoring a gem in a League Cup tie at home to Bolton. He didn’t start a Champions League match until November 1st and it took until the 22nd of January 2012 for Park to make his Premier League debut. At the time, only Robin van Persie and Marouane Chamakh were Arsenal’s only recognised strikers alongside Park, and yes, van Persie was currently in the form of his Arsenal career, but still, he was a notoriously injury-prone player. Why wasn’t Park playing more? Why was he even signed if he wasn’t going to be used, to even make an impact from the bench – a role he was used to when he first joined AS Monaco? The seven minutes of game time he had against Manchester United on the 22nd of January represented his sole appearance in the league for The Gunners…working out at about £379,000 per league minute…
The confusion regarding his obligatory National Service for South Korea didn’t help matters. At the time of his signing, the press reported that he was due to fulfill his duties with two years, and again, this raised questions regarding the whole point of his signing, if he would leave the club, for nothing, after two seasons. Park had, apparently, agreed to postpone his national service until he was 35 and had applied for this exemption before his transfer to Arsenal, finding out it had been agreed on the day he signed for the London side, but he subsequently failed to disclose this to anyone and even said on record (in an interview shown on Arsenal Player) that he expected to return to South Korea in 2013. In the summer of 2012, a full year after his AS Monaco to Arsenal transfer, Park announced in a press conference in South Korea that his national service was indeed delayed until he had retired from playing professional football.
The furore over his lack of playing time and what was perceived to be his ‘squirming out’ of his national service obligations (their Conscription Law states that military service must be undertaken by all males between the ages of 18-35) eroded Park’s legendary status in his homeland and he lost his place in the national team for two crucial World Cup qualifiers. However, to cloud the matter, Park was part of the Bronze-medal winning South Korean football team in the 2012 London Olympic Games, and this honour offered all Olympic medal winners automatic exemption from their compulsory military conscription. So if Arsenal were afraid that Park’s value had evaporated if they wanted to sell him on, this problem was now irrelevant.
But Park was not sold. Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud were signed early in the summer of 2012 and Podolski was handed Park’s #9 shirt. Park was still a registered Arsenal player, with the less memorable #30 shirt now, up until August 31st, when it was announced that Celta Vigo had signed him on a year-long loan deal, handing him their #18 shirt.
If Park had been bought, as many cynically think, to enhance the sale of Arsenal shirts to an Asian market, then why didn’t Park go on the Asian tour that year? Why didn’t he go on the Asian tour this year, when he returned to the Arsenal team after a moderately successful year in La Liga? Why wasn’t Park released or allowed to leave on loan this summer? He hasn’t appeared in any senior games this season, and even at the height of a striker crisis, Park’s name has barely been mentioned. Park’s goals to games ration for his national team is outstanding. In all, Park has appeared six times for Arsenal, scoring one solitary goal.
So just why was he signed? Admittedly, Arsenal had failed to secure a work permit for Joel Campbell and had missed out on the signings of both Juan Mata and Ricky Alvarez, were they getting desperate? But why did Arsenal go to such lengths to snatch him from Lille?
In the summer of 2011, strikers or attackers such as Pablo Osvaldo, Radamel Falcao, Alexis Sanchez, Isco, Bojan Krkic, Luc Castaignos, Dries Mertens, Jeremy Menez, Andre Schurrle, Elijero Elia, Diego, Romelu Lukaku, Bryan Ruiz, Demba Ba and Kolbeinn Sigþórsson were all available on the transfer market and made (relatively) low money moves. Were Arsenal’s negotiating team ‘at the races’ that summer? There clearly were better options than Park available – was the club too focused on Mata and Alvarez? It was, arguably, the worst summer Wenger had faced in terms of outgoings and incomings.
This season, Park has been loaned out to Watford, and has made a grand total of two appearances, including one 90th minute substitute showing at Brighton. Utterly bizarre, even as you consider that Arsenal have had somewhat of a striker crisis this season…
It is, I think we can agree, a bit of a mystery. I hope the truth comes to light!
Thanks for reading, have a great weekend gang, and let’s hope Arsenal can escape Goodison Park with at least a point…I for one do not look forward to another last day fight for fourth place this year…especially when the cup tie against Wigan has ‘banana-skin’ written all over it…