Sustainability. This has been identified as a main theme in all aspects of Arsene Wenger’s dealings with the club. Whether it is financial sustainability, our style of play being constant or the caliber of player we are now buying, sustainability is continually highlighted.
In my opinion, Arsene is a wise manager who understands the necessity of keeping the majority of a team together over the years, while only adding a couple pieces each year, so as to not disturb chemistry and morale. He is often accused of being a romantic, whose ideal of developing a squad that can grow together and form a dynasty will never be realized. Unfortunately, I believe this philosophy has not been able to come to fruition the past eight years due to the immense pressure to cut costs and operate at a profit, in order to help finance the stadium debt.
Arsenal FC appear as though they are finally ready to enter a period of stability, in which key players are retained, unwanted players are released/sold, and new top quality signings are added in each transfer window if need be.
However, this new cycle would not be possible if our club was not run on the tenets of sustainability. Being financially prudent means that we often cannot compete with other clubs for the best talent available, but that we are also not committing massive sums of money for underachieving players. This philosophy has kept the club in line and poised to take advantage of the upcoming Financial Fair Play rules. We’ve been operating with footballing profits for years without investment from our owner, and while the desired results have not been achieved, we’ve been consistent and produced respectably, when you consider our net spend relative to clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City.
One must also consider Arsene’s sustainability in fixating on one particular style of play. His infatuation with free flowing, expressive football has also helped to form an identity that speaks to generations of footballers – and supporters across the globe – and makes our club an attractive destination.
Arsene is not without his faults though. In a way, he has handicapped our club with poor signings over the years, not replacing departing players with ones of equal or greater quality. This has led to a few players whom cannot be offloaded due to inflated salaries who rarely, if ever, play.
On the flip side, his patience and unwavering faith in his players has also led to some pleasant surprises: Alex Song going from CB to DM to a wonderful creative B2B mid; RVP from injury-prone, bad boy to a top EPL striker; Theo from only pace and no finish to our leading goal scorer, etc.
Another aspect of sustainability where Arsene has come up short, has been our squad’s ability to stay healthy throughout a season. Every team experiences their fair share of injuries, but this process seems to be more potent and frequent with some of Arsenal’s key players. Squad players integral to the success of our club seem to suffer through recurring injuries or fall victim to new ones, namely Arteta, Wilshere, Diaby, Gibbs, Sagna and potentially even Podolski now.
The failure of key players to stay healthy inevitably leads to greater inconsistency and difficulty establishing chemistry with one another. Whether it is injuries or transitioning new teammates into a squad, players take time adjusting to the varying skill sets and not all have an immediate, innate understanding of where one another will be on a given play. The effects of unfamiliarity and inconsistent performances are then amplified through the combination of injuries and bedding new players into a side, thus negatively influencing squad sustainability.
The focus of my article is not to highlight Arsene’s shortcomings in sustainability, but to acknowledge that I am cognizant of them, and to point out his successes in the theme and what it means for our future (i.e. our transfer dealings).
If we follow the trend of AW’s most recent purchases in the past winter and summer transfer windows, there is gravitation towards established players nearing the prime of their careers. Further, each player has been identified as skilled, team-oriented individuals who do not beleaguer the organisation in any way and strongly believe in our manager’s long-term vision/goal.
This is a stark contrast to some of his purchases in prior years, where several bought players were talented, but lacked the focus, discipline and affection or loyalty for our club (i.e. Adebayor, Nasri, Clichy, Cole, RVP etc.).
In a way, Arsene’s new purchases have reflected his ingenuity: purchase a collective group of individuals who still have room for further development and with a good head on their shoulders, in order to form a base from which higher quality talents can eventually be brought in as to complement the established group.
My perspective is that it’s more difficult to buy top quality players and immediately integrate them into the foundation of a team, without an existing culture of stability and promise. I believe the egos and selfishness several top players exhibit are more controllable in the aforementioned environment, as they look to impress not only the fans, but the already established group of players too.
Liverpool is a distinct example of this, where players have stayed committed to the club, despite their inability to qualify for Champions League in past years and Europa league next year. Integral components to the team such as Gerrard, Reina, Carragher, G.Johnson, Skrtel, Leiva etc. have likely all played a role in convincing a top quality player like Suarez to stay.
So then, what can we expect (hope) to see in this coming summer transfer window?
In my opinion, the time is ripe to add a world-class talent or burgeoning world-class talent if the funds are available. I’m not advocating that we frivolously spend our transfer funds to purchase a ton of world-class players, as this would create imbalance within our organization. But, based on our established pillars of sustainability, it makes perfect sense to complement our foundation of skilled and team first players with a top quality talent.
As our great manager recently stated, “Everything is here to have a great future. We have a good fan base, we have now a strong financial situation, we have good young players and a squad with a bright future with the quality of players we have. It is just to manage it well now.”
In order for sustainability to be successful, it must resonate from the top of the organisation down to the individual daily tasks. The owner and Board of Directors have initiated the process, by keeping their faith in Arsene and not replacing him with a different manager when Arsenal was not winning silverware. Arsene repaid the club’s loyalty by honouring his contract, despite limited transfer funds and many top players he developed being sold, year after year. What the club must now do to maintain the theme of sustainability is refuse to sell our top players, unless they are not 100% committed.
All the pieces are finally in place to enter a cycle of sustainability and success, and Arsenal must capitalize on their competitive advantage in FFP and stability.
Do you, fellow Gooners, believe that our model of sustainability is the right one going forward?
Or do you believe it is simply an excuse to compensate for the fact that we lack ambition and are unwilling to use the resources at our disposal to compete with the top clubs?
Written By: Highbury Harmony