[HEART OF FOOTBALL]

Reds, Gunners are polar opposites when spending to challenge for title

Can the slight, but clearly gifted, Philippe Coutinho and newly-signed Roberto Firmino (above) make a hub in the hustle and bustle of the English Premier League?
Can the slight, but clearly gifted, Philippe Coutinho and newly-signed Roberto Firmino (above) make a hub in the hustle and bustle of the English Premier League?PHOTO: AFP

Arsenal and Liverpool are two of a kind in that they lie in the shadows of Chelsea and Manchester City in terms of spending power, they wear red, and they are owned by Americans.

Beyond that, the way they spend what they have differs.

Liverpool, with the imminent signings of Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne, are well on their way to buying two-thirds of a team for the second summer in a row.

Arsenal are about to land the goalkeeper that Arsene Wenger has coveted for two years, Petr Cech.

This will not be the sum of it in either case, but it demonstrates the way that Liverpool have entrusted Brendan Rodgers with wholesale rebuilding, largely through the big-money sales of Luis Suarez last season, and the inevitable departure of Raheem Sterling in this window.

It is by no means certain that Rodgers wanted all of the signings the Anfield "committee" landed him with last season. Yet, he has never replaced Suarez adequately, and does not hide that if he gets it wrong this time, his own time might soon be up.

Of all the ins and outs at Anfield this summer - six signed and six departed as of yesterday - the most intriguing purchase is Firmino.

The Brazilian is good, maybe very, very good. He creates and sometimes he scores rather like...well, like Philippe Coutinho, the Brazilian already ensconced at Liverpool.

We hear a lot of knowledgable people, such as former great Ronaldinho, say that with the two Brazilians in their attacking midfield, Liverpool can hardly go wrong.

Coutinho, I'm convinced about. He was the Reds' outstanding creative player last season. Firmino, 23, has similar mobility, technique and an eye to score or set up goals.

The question here is can two slight, but clearly gifted, Brazilians make a hub in the hustle and bustle of the English Premier League? Can the pair, in essence, fill the hole left by Steven Gerrard?

Surrounding the two Brazilian play-makers with what looks like the bulk of Southampton's former team, and getting them to perform in Rodgers' ideal as a Premier League version of Barcelona, will now make or break his own tenure on Merseyside.

It will help if Daniel Sturridge, after a lost year and surgery in the United States, can return to lead the attack. But Suarez is still hugely missed, and Sterling, for all his quickness and his promise, might also be a loss once Man City meet Liverpool's price.

However, there are shopping days left in this window, and the word is that Liverpool are still chasing a striker. Gonzalo Higuain appears too pricey, but there is talk of Carlos Bacca, Christian Benteke and Salomon Rondon.

By comparison, Arsenal's early summer has been relatively sedate.

The spending on Mesut Oezil and Alexis Sanchez broke the mould of Wenger's renowned parsimony in the last two years - though to be fair, the manager was being mean on the club's behalf while Arsenal built the cash cow of their magnificent Emirates Stadium.

That task done, he has been given licence to spend within reason what it might take to restore the Gunners to what he once had - a title-winning side.

Thierry Henry, sounding far more of a television couch expert than a potential Arsenal manager, kindly broadcast last week what his old mentor should do.

Henry's advice is to spend, spend, spend on "top, top" replacements in goal, at centre back, in the holding midfield role and a striker.

It sounds easy: shell out £200 million (S$425 million), and problem fixed. Funnily enough, I have zero expectations of Wenger ever spending that kind of money, even if Arsenal could generate, or borrow, the sum.

Henry is talking fantasy football. Wenger, a student of economics, believes in fantasy football only to the degree of wanting his team to play the joined-up, move-and-pass style in a league not suited to it.

Actually, that is changing, and Wenger himself is a worthy architect of such change because of the way he has always stubbornly rejected the so-called direct football of the league he joined 19 years ago.

I lay my prejudices on the table. I am a Wenger fan in that he has got closer to providing the sweet science of football than any other manager of the last two decades in England.

If only he would tighten up on defence, goes the reasoning, he just might challenge the mega spenders of Chelski and Abu Dhabi City.

Well, here's the irony. Laying out £11 million (and about £5 million a year in salary) to get Cech might finally give Arsenal the last line of defence that it probably hasn't had since David Seaman completed 13 years as the No. 1 at the old Highbury stadium in 2003.

The story is that Jose Mourinho didn't want to let Cech go to his rival across London, but that Roman Abramovich, the owner at the Bridge, decided to repay Cech's loyalty by letting him go to the team of his choice.

If that is truly the inner working of Chelsea, then bully for Abramovich. The oligarch is a hard-nosed businessman, but Cech gave his team too much - so many trophies - to be told to uproot his family and go abroad, to Paris St Germain for example.

So Cech is swopping Chelsea blue for Arsenal red. This, according to Henry, needs to be the first building block of transforming parsimony into profligacy.

One reason it won't, and shouldn't be, is that Wenger prefers to buy them young, and develop players. The way he did with Henry.

Start of Gunners' spending spree?

So Cech is swopping Chelsea blue for Arsenal red. This, according to (Thierry) Henry, needs to be the first building block of transforming parsimony into profligacy. One reason it won't, and shouldn't be, is that Wenger prefers to buy them young, and develop players. The way he did with Henry.