Undoubtedly this is a dangerous article to be writing the afternoon before transfer deadline day given Arsene’s form for trolley dashing, but it’s as much a reflection on the transfer market as a whole.
Certainly at this point, not a lot appears to be happening bar the usual combination of Man City spunking the GDP of a small country on a minor upgrade, and Spurs inviting another mercurial frontman to have his career ruined at the wrong end of Seven Sisters.
Half of the top clubs in Europe are scrabbling around for a striker, but so far, it’s largely no dice. This is particularly the case in the EPL where Chelsea are holding séances over Costa’s hamstrings, City are likewise crossing fingers over Aguero’s, United are rapidly being reminded that Rooney is a number ten rather than a number nine, and Arsenal are flitting between a range of very different but not quite good enough options.
And this is despite the Premier League having ALL. THE. MONEY. Things have got so desperate that Man Utd appear to be ready to pay £35m+ for a 19 year old from Monaco with 8 goals last year, who might be the next Thierry Henry…or the next Kaba Diawara.
Across the football market as a whole, clubs have either got to wait for someone to fall out of favour at the likes of Madrid, snap them up before they are proven, exploit ill-judged release clauses or turn up with a fleet of trucks stuffed with unmarked notes.
The bigger clubs in Europe just don’t need to sell for financial reasons at the moment. The players that Arsenal want are playing for clubs who just don’t need the money. So after Arsenal’s fifteen year stadium master plan having hamstrung us for over a decade, the club have become quids in just at the point in time when at the top table it makes no difference – because everyone else has at least as much.
In England, the TV Deal means that even perennially skint Everton can laugh off a £35m bid for a promising but largely unproven centre half. Spurs have tried to throw money at Wanyama and Beherino and been knocked back. Utd only got Schneiderlin because he had been promised he could move this summer a year ago. Except in the case of contract clauses at Villa, buying players domestically is harder than ever.
Europe wide, this is, of course, not helped by the slow, silent lingering death of FFP. On the face of it, nothing massively tangible has changed in that regard, but it’s pretty clear that the petro-dollars crew all think it’s dead on the water and have stopped even paying lip service.
The consequences of this extend beyond the obvious strengthening of teams’ reluctance to sell their best players. There is also the worrying trend of clubs like Chelsea, Man City and even to a degree Liverpool, stockpiling players as both investments and in the off chance they might use them (and of course in Brendan Rodgers’ case to cover up expensive transfer cock-ups). Chelsea are the worst exponents of this, with more potential first team squad members on loan year after year than most clubs have in their first team squads. This started as a simple way of stockpiling resources before FFP kicked in, allowing them to ‘balance the books‘ while still making big signings, despite not being able to sell out their ground.
The vast sums of money on offer results in more and more players willing to join the ‘squads‘ of the super rich, before disappearing into relative obscurity or having to depart to show their true quality a la Kevin De Bruyne, having wasted 18 months of their careers. Chelsea have also hoovered up much of the best young talent in England and the wider world, and many disappear from view, re-surfacing five years later in the lower leagues or in Portugal after a handful of first team substitute appearances. It’s Football Manager-esque buying players to stop your rivals buying them.
So the market at the top end is shrinking, despite the continued acceleration in the rise of transfer fees.
Obviously, as with all supply and demand situations, this is not even across the board. Global trends have seen a disparity between quality options in different positions. There is a global shortage of top quality strikers and central defenders, but seemingly endless diminutive creative attacking or deep-lying midfielders.
Which is of course of no use to Arsene, who already has sated his addiction in that area for the time being.
We’re all used to Mr. Wenger’s range of dodgy transfer market fail excuses, but this year he has had a point. The players we want just aren’t moving on the whole, and when they are, it’s to the teams that we still can’t compete with financially.
Think of the players that have moved this summer that might be good enough to have made an impact on the Arsenal squad. Schneiderlin. Kondigbia. Kovacic. Vidal. Sterling. De Bruyne. Pedro. Otamendi. Benteke. Depay. Turan. Jackson Martinez. Dybala.
All comfortably over £20m and in most cases over £30m. Most going to teams that will blow us out of the water for wages. All but Benteke to teams with more recent trophy winning pedigree. Maybe half would be good enough to start for Arsenal, and most of those that would are in the creative or box to box midfield positions the we already have enough trouble fitting into the team.
Of course, this is not to totally exonerate the manager from his blind spots. Surely another ball winning midfielder could have been brought in to supplant Flamini in the squad. Marseille seemed to lose half their squad for nothing after a decent season. Why has our global scouting system seemingly stopped finding us talent in Africa and South America?
Ultimately, we are all armchair managers to some degree, and can play pin the tail on the exciting overseas striker/defensive midfielder/winger. But if Arsene does follow our lead and make a signing, it will be a gamble. Ozil, Sanchez and Cech were all obvious upgrades and the latter apart, were always going to retain their value if things didn’t pan out. But unlike many of our rivals, Arsenal still don’t have the financial strength to ‘take a punt‘ on top dollar players. The manager has got to feel sure, or be driven by desperation, as per Andre Santos and Park Choo-Young.
Obviously I am crossing fingers as much as the next fan, but given that the media seems to have been primarily running stories about £50-60m strikers, it doesn’t seem that there is a lot in the pipeline.
Here’s hoping I’m wrong, and Le Boss re-locates his magic hat for an unexpected rabbit trick…