With only days to go before the transfer window closes, the above phrases are filling our lives with increasing regularity, as Arsenal fans start to worry that they’re being left behind in spending terms by their main rivals.
It’s hard to criticise this feeling of pessimism, as our first two home games have brought a grand total of zero goals scored and one point. You’d need to be wearing the rosiest of tinted glasses to believe that this squad was complete, and that the addition of at least one top-class player would help enormously. The most common response to this, and it has indeed been my response, has been to point out that as much as we’d like to spend, there simply isn’t a player available at the moment that would fulfil the criteria that would improve our squad.
This, of course, is an exceptionally hard answer to sell to someone who watches football with keen interest and will be able to list at least ten exceptional players who would make Arsenal better, never mind adding in the fact that Arsenal’s financial position has never been stronger than it is now. Everyone else is buying, why aren’t Arsenal?
The best way I can explain why this is so, is with the following analogy;
Imagine you have a 15 year old son whose birthday is coming up in five days, and he wants the new Arsenal home shirt as his present. You agree that this would be a fine addition to his wardrobe, so you go into town to buy one. You walk into the sports shop and ask for an Arsenal home shirt, size medium.
‘Sorry sir, we don’t have any left in that size.’
Undeterred, you go to the other sports shop down the street.
‘Sorry mate, none left.’
You look online.
‘Due to a manufacturing error, supplies of Arsenal home shirts in medium sizes will be severely depleted for the foreseeable future. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.’
You curse. After turning the air a rich shade of blue, you go to your son and explain the situation.
‘What do you mean there’s none left?! All my friends have one! How come they can get one and you can’t?! You promised once you got your promotion at work that we wouldn’t have to scrimp and save at home so much, yet you won’t even buy a jersey?!’
Not wanting to let your son down, you search long and hard for any chance of finding a jersey, when finally, one appears on eBay.
‘One Arsenal home shirt. Size medium. Mint condition as was bought in error and never worn. Buy it Now Price: £120.’
You reach for your credit card before suddenly doing some math in your head; £120 for a jersey that sells in shops for £55. That’s one hell of a mark-up in price, in fact, it’s borderline robbery. £120 for a shirt that will have to be replaced in a year or two is an obscene waste of money. But you have to have that shirt, so you again reach for your wallet, only for the website to refresh itself and read;
It’s gone. Someone else beat you to it. Now what do you do?
This is the predicament that Arsene Wenger finds himself in right now. He needs a world-class forward or defensive midfielder, and the market has been set by Raheem Sterling being bought by Manchester City for £49m and Morgan Schneiderlin being bought by Manchester United for £24 million. Both were deemed to be too expensive, but should we have been so cautious of ‘overspending’?
Not wanting to spend more for something than it’s usually worth is a perfectly understandable approach, but with TV money boosting our rivals’ spending power as well as our own, that in turn means that more clubs know that they can hold out from selling their best players unless a ridiculous offer materialises, primarily because they know that clubs have more money available to spend than ever before, and thus will be far more open to parting with large amounts just to secure the player.
Take John Stones for example. Everton bought him from Barnsley two and a half years ago for £3m. Now they value him at £40m, and because Chelsea are desperate in their search for an English centre-half to be John Terry’s successor, Chelsea will pay the £40m now and worry about recouping the money elsewhere later. Is Stones worth £40m? No chance, but that’s irrelevant, because it’s what Chelsea are willing to spend.
Try to recall the last time Arsenal overspent for a player and you’ll spend a long time thinking of only Francis Jeffers, even though that would be harsh on Jeffers because it was injury that derailed his career. Nobody else has been an obvious case of massively overspending in order to a get a player that we desperately wanted.
There is a difference between spending big money and overspending. Arsenal spent big on Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez, but for £75m for the pair, it’s hard to say that Arsenal overspent. Seeing a player becoming available on the market because the selling club needs money to buy players itself is far different to going to that same club and expecting them to sell you their best player at a price you deem appropriate.
As the transfer window draws to its conclusion, it’s impossible not to get the sense that Arsenal are again waiting for another club to deem one of their top players to be expendable, just like they have in previous years. But those were times when Arsenal’s money had to be spent frugally, and those times have ended. Arsenal have the resources at their disposal to get whoever Arsene Wenger deems is needed.
Wanting value for money is fine, but sometimes, the value comes in spending what you need to, not what you want to.