Arsenal: Transfer woes to transfer wow
Recently, I wrote a comment on how this transfer window was being celebrated in contrast to TWs past, by writing an alternate world where Wenger was manager and we made the same transfers in the same time frame, saying it would be viewed very differently.
Many seemed to like the post even as they disagreed that Wenger being in charge would have changed their perception of it. That might be true, but I am certain the overall narrative would not be as positive.
As far as I’m concerned, our transfer woes were always overplayed, and our achievements underplayed. This was true of the football and results as well.
Some people went back to as far as 10 years ago for how they were frustrated by obvious needs not being filled. The overall context of where we were as a club seems forgotten, or at least not as important.
Just to reiterate what it was, we had to make money from the transfer market. Everyone knows this, even if they choose to ignore it. But I think one aspect that is forgotten is how difficult it was to replace players.
We tried to buy players who were clearly better and would have taken us up a notch. We matched Hazard’s transfer price. Likewise with Gotze and Phil Jones. We saw something in these players that would have taken us up a level and were willing to pay a huge (at the time) fee for them. But we couldn’t match the offer on wages, and we were less attractive as a club than the likes of Chelsea, ManU and Bayern.
This willingness to spend was drowned out by the shouts of spend some money mob (egged on by the media) calling Wenger and the club misers.
But another aspect which is, to my mind, less acknowledged, is that we also went for players a rung below. Players like Kevin Mirallas, Phil Jagielka and Jan Vertonghen. These guys filled a need for us and we represented a step up for them in terms of money and prestige. But they chose to not join us because they felt we were too good for them to be able to play regularly, and not enough of a step up to justify being backup. Or they just didn’t want to move.
In this situation we would often decide not to buy anyone. (Wenger’s top top top quality comments which seemed to infuriate people) unless it was absolutely essential (Like when we bought Gervinho) Why?
The answer comes 2013 onwards. The summer of Ozil. We could buy the best playmaker in the world because:
- We signed a new major sponsorship deal as the old one expired
- We hadn’t wasted our money on very tiny marginal gains by players who would not have elevated us from top 4 to top 2 or champions
(and if anyone says Ozil wasn’t needed they weren’t paying attention)
Hence those needs not being fulfilled was not a disaster, but a combination of necessity and wise planning.
Since then, we’ve had some great signings like Alexis and Xhaka. And some shrewd pickups like Chambers, Welbeck, Cech, Elneny , Holding and I would argue, Debuchy. Moving on from the likes of Djourou, Vermaelen, Fabianski, Chamakh, Gervinho, Podolski and an aging Sagna.
By most measures, we were being constantly upgraded. With one exception. The summer window of 2015/16. The summer of Cech. It was very obviously a gamble to not add a midfielder and a striker. I think there were rumours of our interest in Lacazette even then. Maybe he wasn’t ready to move at this stage, but I was surprised and disappointed that we didn’t buy anyone else. I think Wenger looked at his squad vs the rest and believed we were good enough to win. And you know what, he wasn’t wrong. We were good enough. We finished above the major powerhouses, and despite Leicester’s unexpected performance, we really should have won the league. Except our finishing was just terrible. Ozil was well on his way to easily surpassing the assist record but, somewhere along the way, we just couldn’t find the goals. Also, despite beating Leicester with a last minute Welbz header to get within 2 points of them, we then couldn’t keep pace.
I think that was the beginning of the end for Wenger. The team fell apart. Alexis started to play Alexis-ball instead of Wengerball or Arsenalball. Elneny, Xhaka, Mustafi represented a new direction which would take time to develop and this was incompatible with an Alexis dominated team, who was seemingly incompatible with Giroud and had issues with Ramsey too. Our play suffered, and we no longer looked slick. We also ended up missing out on the top 4 two years in a row. Maybe if we had managed to sell Alexis and buy Lemar last season, we would have done better.
I don’t mean to blame Alexis. (Maybe a little). He was clearly a hugely talented player. But for whatever reason, we were no longer a good fit and we suffered for it. And so, a new transfer team were brought in and halfway through the season we decided on a new rebuild, starting from the attack. This summer we’ve completed the job. And fans are happy. Which is good.
I like that we operate with a GM/DoF type model now. I am happy that we are buying the sort of players we have bought. I hope we will still see young players coming through and given chances, and it seems we will. The reason I brought up the parallel universe was to protest against this ‘everything was bad’ implication, because I believe that nothing has fundamentally changed at Arsenal in terms of our transfer philosophy. These are exactly the sort of signings we would have expected under Wenger too. So, if and when it doesn’t all go swimmingly, I would hope fans don’t turn on Emery or the club in a way that they did on Wenger. We need to keep the positivity going.