Of the Premier League clubs that finished in the Top 7 last season, the Gunners are the only team that became weaker at the end of the transfer window than when it opened. You don’t expect Arsenal to match Manchester United and City in the transfer market. But when Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham spend more money than the Gunners, the situation really gets embarrassing. It’s even more ridiculous when you realize that out of those 7 clubs, only Arsenal and Tottenham made a profit from the summer transfers. At least Spurs have the excuse of a new stadium to finance but what is the Gunners’ excuse for such a frugal transfer policy?
Photo credit: Ramsey’s instagram account
Let’s go through those transfers. Arsenal released Sanogo, sold Oxlade-Chamberlain, Szczesny, Paulista, Gibbs, Toral, Malen and Hinds, and loaned out Perez, Campbell, Jenkinson, Martinez and Bramall. Only Lacazette and Kolasinac joined the club.
At the back, Kolasinac is an upgrade over Monreal and Gibbs for the leftback position. But the club lost Oxlade-Chamberlain, who could play in several positions. That means Debuchy or Maitland-Niles will have to deputize on the right flank if Bellerin gets injured. Paulista’s departure was a bit surprising. The Brazilian centerback was a second choice behind Koscielny and Mustafi, but had more pace than Mertesacker and was more experienced than Holding and Chambers. I still don’t understand why the Gunners turned down a £20 million offer from Leicester for Chambers, who is weaker in the air than Holding and struggles to turn quickly.
In midfield, the Gunners never seemed interested in signing a ballwinner, even though the first three games of the season showed the need for a top player in that key position. Instead, Arsenal made a £92 million bid for Lemar, an attacking midfielder at Monaco. The deal collapsed on Thursday because it had to be financed by Sanchez’s transfer to Manchester City for £60 million. For some reason, Arsenal rejected the deal with City at the last minute. That means the Gunners are taking the risk of keeping an unhappy player and will lose him on a free transfer next summer. Ozil and Wilshere will also leave for free next year.
Up front, Lacazette has a profile similar to Perez, who didn’t get a fair chance to compete with Walcott and Iwobi for a starting spot last season. Lacazette has a better scoring record than Perez but there are question marks about the France international’s ability to lead the line in a physical league.
It was a messy transfer window for Arsenal and that situation will likely repeat itself next summer because there are also many players whose contracts will expire in 2019: Cech, Monreal, Giroud, Debuchy, Ramsey, Ospina, Walcott, Welbeck, Campbell and Akpom. Players with big wages could be tempted to run down their contracts instead of taking a pay cut at another club.
Blame it on Kroenke
It has been a disappointing transfer window for Arsenal. According to stats from the Guardian, the Gunners made a profit of £21 million from the summer transfers. Spurs were also in the black with a profit of £5.7 million. Manchester United and City made net losses of £136.2 million and £128.2 million respectively, while Chelsea, Everton and Liverpool limited their net losses to £80.3 million, £46 million and £41.5 million respectively.
Those figures tell us that Everton and Liverpool could take a net loss of £40-50 million in the transfer market because of the lucrative TV rights for the Premier League. And keep in mind that the Toffees did not even qualify for the Champions League. Any analyst can come to the conclusion that the Gunners had plenty of financial maneuvering room. Therefore, the club did not need to be greedy with City over the transfer fee for Sanchez and could have accepted Monaco’s valuation of Lemar before deadline day.
Arsenal is no longer run like a football club but like a business. Kroenke must take the blame for such a poor approach and especially for the club’s lack of ambition. Although they missed out on a Top 4 finish for the first time under Wenger’s tenure, the Gunners paradoxically spent less than Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs this summer. It clearly shows that financial results have trumped sporting results under Kroenke’s ownership.
If you look at the profit made in the transfer market, you would think that Wenger creates financial value for the club. But once you factor in the fact that Wilshere, Ozil and Sanchez will leave for free next summer and that Arsenal will therefore make a virtual loss of £50-90 million in transfer fees, Wenger can no longer be considered the poster boy for Moneyball.
Wenger has lost his magic touch in the transfer market but also in the development of youngsters. When the club was cash-strapped during the 2007-12 period, the French manager was doing a great job in increasing the market value of players like Hleb, Song, Adebayor, Toure, Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie, who were signed for peanuts and then sold for a good price.
If Kroenke really wanted a manager who could maximize the profitability of the club while making Arsenal more competitive, he should have hired Jardim instead of giving Wenger a new contract. The Monaco manager has become the new poster boy for Moneyball, selling rising stars at a premium price after winning the French league and reaching the semifinals of the Champions League.
This transfer window shows that Kroenke’s interests no longer match Arsenal’s interests. Optimists will point at Manchester United and the Glazer family, but the context is completely different. United’s huge commercial revenue means that the Red Devils still have a big transfer kitty despite paying dividends to the Glazers every season. Arsenal would need to win several Premier League titles before having a shot at enjoying a similar commercial revenue. It won’t happen unless the Gunners sign top players in the transfer market.
An erratic transfer policy
In the summer, Wenger complained about the size of his squad with as many as 33 players at some stage. Well, the only reason why Arsenal had such a large squad is because the club has kept signing mostly average players over the past few years.
When Mertesacker’s lack of pace became an obvious issue at centerback, Wenger tried to find a better partner for Koscielny. So the Gunners signed Chambers, then Paulista, Mustafi and Holding. In the end, none of those signings has been really convincing.
In midfield, Arteta’s decline led to a lack of balance in the team. Wenger found a quick fix with the Coquelin-Cazorla tandem but those midfield issues resurfaced with Cazorla’s nagging injuries. So Arsenal signed Elneny and Xhaka but none proved good enough in the holding midfielder role.
Up front, Giroud’s lack of pace meant the Arsenal offense often looked one-dimensional. Walcott was given a chance to shine as a lone striker while the club signed Sanogo, Welbeck and Perez. Yet, none of them has really convinced the manager as a centerforward.
The perception we get from this transfer window is that Klopp, Pochettino, Mourinho, Guardiola and Conte have a coherent plan to build their squads, identifying the weaknesses before finding the missing parts within a couple of years. By contrast, Wenger’s moves in the transfer market follow an erratic rationale with glaring weaknesses in the squad not even addressed. Any pundit would say that there’s no logic in the club’s transfer policy.
The need for a sporting director
This transfer window also shows the need for a sporting director. It’s not acceptable for a big club like Arsenal to end up with so many key players having only a year left on their contracts. The Gunners should have either sold Sanchez, Ozil and Wilshere or extended their contracts. I believe the situation would have been better handled with a sporting director. The botched Sanchez and Lemar deals really made Arsenal look like a bunch of amateurs while other clubs like Chelsea and Tottenham had no trouble to conclude several deals on deadline day.
The board is the main culprit for kowtowing to Wenger by refusing to name a sporting director. Big clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, PSG and Manchester City have a sporting director helping the manager. So why can’t Arsenal accept that idea? Let’s take the case of Emenalo, who doesn’t have a great reputation as the Chelsea sporting director. Despite Conte’s frustration throughout the summer, the Italian manager still got several targets by the end of the transfer window.
There’s simply too much improvisation at Arsenal. The club needs to set up a process for players with only two years left on their contracts. A rational step would be to start searching for a replacement two years before the end of the contract. When there’s only one year left, the club should be in a strong bargaining position: either the player signs a new deal or the player refuses a new deal and the club signs his replacement.
Arsenal’s image has been badly damaged by the transfer window. For years, the Gunners couldn’t keep their best players because they had to pay for the new stadium. From 2007 to 2012, they ended up selling Henry, Hleb, Adebayor, Toure, Fabregas, Nasri, Van Persie and Song. It’s only when the club’s financial situation improved by 2013 that Arsenal could stop the talent drain and even show some ambition by signing Ozil.
Losing the Ox could be the sign that the Gunners have become a feeder club again. What is more upsetting is that the Gunners didn’t sell the Ox to a contender like Manchester City or United but to a club with fewer Top 4 finishes than Arsenal in the past decade.
Now the danger for Arsenal is that the Ox’s departure could be the start of an exodus similar to what happened during the 2007-12 period. If players like the Ox, Sanchez, Ozil and Wilshere refuse to sign new contracts, it’s because they realize that Wenger won’t turn the club into a contender and therefore they don’t want to stay. Some players also think their careers will better develop under another manager.
Becoming a third-tier club
This transfer window could have a devastating impact on the Gunners. Manchester United, City and Chelsea are top-tier clubs which have won the league in the past few years and are legitimate contenders this season. Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool are second-tier clubs which have finished in the Top 4 in the past few years but haven’t won the league in a long time.
If the Gunners finish again outside the Top 4 this season, there’s a strong possibility that they could be demoted to the status of a third-tier club. Everton, West Ham and Southampton haven’t finished in the Top 4 for years and don’t play in the Champions League. Such a status would not only hurt Arsenal’s finances but also diminish its pull for recruiting targets.