Being an Arsenal fan is a charmed existence, isn’t it?
One minute your club’s in the midst of an injury crisis, a managerial crisis, a transfer market crisis, a crisis of confidence, a crisis of high ticket prices and a million other crises, and the next? The team formerly-known as Woolwich are on the brink of winning everything, conquering demons and vindicating years of careful planning.
Of course, most of the storylines revolving around Arsenal are just that – storylines. The constant need for content, news, narrativel, panic, doom, gloom, unbridled hope, etc means that there is always something afoot, something brewing, something bubbling under the surface. Arsenal can never just be fine. No, Arsenal are either about to win the title or drop out of the top-4. There’s rarely an in between.
The most contentious issue that divides the so-called ‘Arsene Knows Best‘ and ‘Wenger Out Brigade‘ camps comes down to how the club operates in the transfer market. With less than 72 hours remaining before the window slams shut for good, it seems both camps are in agreement; Wenger needs to open the chequebook and make some signings.
But it’s never that simple, is it? (Even if Wenger’s greatest detractors make it seem like it is)
Let’s lay some ground rules:
- Arsenal are constantly on the lookout for new talent. A club as large as Arsenal are never complacent about scouting and identifying players abroad.
- Arsene Wenger is not against spending large sums of money if it makes sense. Spending a combined £74 million on Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez makes it clear that Wenger knows how to throw money around to great effect. Manchester United wasted £20m alone on one season of Radamel Falcao’s bad hair.
- Arsenal still operate in a lower different financial sphere from Chelsea, Manchester City and United.
- Arsenal have money, but cannot hope to catch up to trend-setters City (who’ve spent £150m this window alone) by trying to spend as much as them, it simply isn’t feasible.
- Spending a lot of money today on, say, Edinson Cavani, an imperfect transfer (he turns 29 in January, has largely failed to impress for PSG in the weaker Ligue 1 and is a goalscorer and nothing more) means that Arsenal will have more difficulty in making the right transfer when the opportunity arises (let’s say, Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, Isco, Nabil Fekir, etc next Summer).
- Never do a transfer just for the sake of doing a transfer.
I think these are very uncontroversial, uncontentious ground rules when evaluating how Arsenal operate in the transfer market. We are a big club in a league where there are three other clubs that can still blow us out of the water financially. Wenger’s ambition has always been to play the right way, develop players from a young age and spend money smartly. He hoped for years that paying off the stadium debt, capitalizing on other investments Arsenal has made over the years, expanding the club’s revenue (like signing a large deal with Puma after being in an underwhelming agreement with Nike for years) and that Financial Fair Play’s success would even the playing field.
It hasn’t quite worked, but we’re still a top four team, still in the Champions League each year and now winning FA Cups. It’s not great, but it could be worse (look at United and Liverpool).
So what does that mean now? Well, Arsenal’s had a poor window in the market. We can all agree that Petr Cech was a signing that demonstrated the team’s renewed power in the transfer market and ability to poach players from rival clubs (finally, our turn), but it was never the signing that could put Arsenal over the top. Having good, consistent goalkeepers is good and all, but there’s no way Cech’s arrival would mean an extra 15 points. He might make that difference for a terrible promoted club, but not for Arsenal.
And now we are left hoping for Wenger to resolve other ‘issues‘ in the squad. A new striker, a new defensive midfielder, a new medical staff will do, right? Okay, that last one is a joke (for now), but seriously the window is inches away from closing and we still don’t see Karim Benzema in the famed red and white jersey. But why?
It shouldn’t be difficult to understand this, but when you are as good as Arsenal are (and we are very good), it becomes difficult to find the top, top exceptional quality in the market that would genuinely boost the squad. Olivier Giroud is not the most popular player on Earth, but he is a damn good player who was genuinely clinical last season, whilst still being a strong creative outlet and a dependable presence on set-pieces.
If Arsenal are to buy a striker, it should be an improvement over what we already have. Arsenal had Santi Cazorla (coming off a season in which he scored 12 and assisted 11 goals), but when it became apparent that Ozil was available for a price below his market-value, Wenger jumped at the chance. If Arsenal are to spend £50m on a ST, it better be worth it. Is Benzema the answer? Perhaps, but if the reality is that Real Madrid aren’t willing sellers, then nothing short of offering a truly unreasonable sum will make them reconsider. But we set the ground rule that spending unreasonable amounts of money will just end up making things more difficult in the long-run.
Are there other forwards available? Sure, but the likes of Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski, Diego Costa are unavailable too. This is just the reality of looking for a striker this Summer. Christian Benteke, who’s not as good as Giroud, went for £32m. He has one goal scored in four games for Liverpool, so far this season. And even that goal should not have stood.
So have Arsenal been poor in the market this Summer, or has it just been a bad Summer for improving in attack? I this the latter is true.
Now, that doesn’t mean Arsenal haven’t had other chances to improve the squad. It should go without saying that Mathieu Flamini is not good enough, Mikel Arteta is still classy, but on his last legs and Francis Coquelin is good at one thing (tackling, recovering the ball, intercepting passes), but below-par at a number of other things you expect from a midfielder (passing, joining the attack, being a conservative defender rather than a balls-to-the-wall one and knowing how to position himself when Arsenal are in-possession).
And sure, Arsenal fans are divided on Coquelin’s effectiveness too. Some think he’s world-class because he racks up a ridiculous number of tackles and interceptions, but there’s simply far more to defending, and far more to being a starting defensive midfielder for a title-winning squad. Is Wenger to blame for Arsenal not singing a new DM, or is the market equally unkind on that front? The former, really. United signed Morgan Schneiderlin for a pretty penny, but he would’ve done swimmingly well for Arsenal.
And that’s the real shame of the transfer market this year for Arsenal. The money was there, genuine upgrades were available and the need is readily-apparent (at least to me). Many will point to Arsenal’s poor goalscoring form as the most pressing issue, but the team leads the league in shots (20.8 per-game) and concedes the 4th-fewest (8.8 per-game). The team’s finishing will improve on its own. Just remember, Arsenal took 51 shots against Sunderland and Swansea City last year (whilst only conceding 15 shots), but took a grand total of 1 point from those games. Arsenal would subsequently beat West Bromwich Albion 4-1 and Aston Villa 4-0, attempting 40 shots and conceding a mere 16. This happens, and it will improve.
xG map for Arsenal-Swansea. Swans scored on their only shot from the danger zone. Arsenal failed to score any of 11. pic.twitter.com/Oycr9DsIzU
— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) May 11, 2015
But what does upgrading on Coquelin do? Like it or not, he is a passenger on offense and is the reason why Wenger plays Ramsey on the right. Replace him with a Nemanja Matic, Morgan Schneiderlin or Xabi Alonso and Wenger will feel safer about starting the clinical speed demon known as Theo Walcott.
So no, Arsenal cannot do better than Giroud, at the moment, but upgrading elsewhere can still be a boon to the team’s offense. Ball’s in your court, Arsene, please don’t disappoint me.