There is a lot of hope, or should I say expectation, in Goonerworld that Arsene/al will go all out and buy five or more top players this summer. I have heard this so many times in previous seasons, and yet, it has never happened. It will also not happen this summer; of that I am absolutely sure.
I am also hoping it won’t happen, and the reason for this is that I am sick to the teeth with ‘being in transition’ constantly. Transition sucks: teams in transition are constantly looking for cohesion, form, consistency, and they don’t win anything. And after two seasons of full-on, consecutive transitions, with a large number of players going out and coming in; what I want most is for all our key players to stay put this summer.
I don’t believe it is possible to buy success, other than winning the odd PL title or a cup. Real, sustained success, is developed and based around solid foundations. Being financially strong and powerful is definitely a prerequisite, but vision and values, long-term planning and consistency in key personnel – managers and players – are just as important. And success is built iteratively; layer by layer, and through trial and error. The best metaphor I can think of are the ‘Russian Dolls’.
The five Russian Dolls, or expanding building layers, of developing and maintaining a successful football club:
The smallest doll – the very core of the club – is all about having a great history, a fantastic stadium and training facilities, and a loyal fan-base. Arsenal have a state-of-the-art, 60,000 seater stadium and a truly fantastic and loyal fan-base, both in the UK and the rest of the world. Without these there simply would be no football club.
The second smallest doll is about having the right people leading and governing the club, with a long-term vision and who want the very best for the club; about running the club in a financially sustainable way AND about setting ourselves high, yet realistic, targets; taking into account the strength of our opposition and the financial and economic realities of a particular period. Arsenal have been, and currently still are, good at this and we should be grateful for it.
There is of course a risk of becoming a bit too risk averse, but I will come back to this later. There is also a risk of our club being sold, at any time, to a new major shareholder who could put the long term future of our club at risk, but let’s park this for another time.
The third smallest, or middle, doll – probably the most important ‘layer’ for short to mid-term success – is about having the right team management in place; not just the manager, but also the coaches and assistants. The manager is key though, and he should be the sporting embodiment of the vision, values and style/character of the club on the pitch. Sustained success at a football club usually goes hand in hand with consistency in team management, which does not necessarily mean the same manager is in place for a long time, as good internal and/or external succession planning can safeguard style and quality of management.
Unless a football club lives outside normal economic realities – soon to become a lot more difficult, thankfully – recruiting and retaining a top manager who remains loyal to the club is key for sustained success. MU, Everton and Arsenal are built around consistency in team management, Man City and Liverpool are now trying to do the same, and I also expect the Spuds to hold on to AVB for a long period.
The only exception currently are the Chavs, but even their owner might now opt for consistency by re-recruiting the self-loving Maureen.
Wenger has stayed loyal to us when he could have gone anywhere else, and by doing so he has helped us tremendously. Arsene has not been without fault in recent years, and it is fair to say that the club needs to be competing stronger now for silverware; and as our financial position is currently a lot more sound than it has been in recent years, Arsene is to be expected to get us now to the very top again.
The fourth smallest, or second biggest, doll is all about the quality of our squad of players. There are three sub-layers to be considered here: the (best) first-eleven team, the wider squad, and the main factor in winning silverware; a super-core of four to six players who are either world-class and/or are total on-field representatives of the values of the club.
I have argued recently that our squad is very good and I also believe that our strongest first-eleven team is close to something special; especially if they stay together for at least three more years or so. I also believe that we are starting to get a core of four to six core players together again around which we can build a super-team once more – and we could have been there now if we still had Cesc, Song and van Judas, but let’s park this as well.
It is of paramount importance to hold on to all our key players now, including Sagna, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Szczesny: all should not be sold in order to ‘balance the books’ for new arrivals. It would set us back again as we would start another round of transition, which should be avoided at all costs.
I believe the core team of four to six players; who will make the biggest difference in our team going forward is still developing, and hopefully, between now and the start of the new season, we will have we have a strong one in place.
I reckon the core of top quality/Arsenal through-and-through players will consist of: Wilshere, Cazorla, Arteta (at least for one more season), and Sagna; and one or two of Mertesacker (if he improves his role/importance to the team further), Jenkinson, Gibbs, Koscielny (ditto to Mertesacker), Podolski, Theo and Giroud, and possibly even Ramsey or Szczesny or Ox, could further be added to the core.
And that’s why I don’t believe we need to, or even should, get 5 new top quality players this summer.
Instead, I feel that recruiting one or two ‘core-quality’ players is all it takes now: it will improve the first team as well as the core team, and yet leaves a bit of space for the above mentioned players to work themselves right into the core of the team.
Recruiting a carefully selected, quality DM and an additional attacker of real class (ideally one who can play on the wing as well as centrally); at least one of whom could join the very core of our Arsenal team, should make all the difference now.
If we get any more than that it would be, in my view, simply counterproductive.
The biggest doll, or outer ‘layer’ is all about bringing the first four dolls – layers – together and maximizing on what the club has built up; and add a bit of courage, bravado, financial entrepreneurship: taking the bulls by the horn and move forward in a decisive way.
The coming summer, Arsene and the BoD have an opportunity to make that final step forward: not, though, by blowing things up now through buying a large number of new players and balancing the books to some extent by selling some of our current first team players.
Instead, we should keep all our key players, and add two max three (top) quality players, who fit in straightaway. Spend the available money without wanting to balance the books straightaway: simply speculate to cumulate a bit and trust that the good guys always win in the end.
Arsenal have a fantastic fanbase, stadium and facilities; a great history, vision, style and values; a loyal, experienced and visionary manager, and excellent coaching staff and youth development system; and an almost great squad. Two new quality players and a bit of guts by the BoD, and Arsenal will go all the way.
Written by: TotalArsenal.