Tight. Stingy. Stubborn. Just three of the insults thrown at Arsene Wenger during his time at Arsenal, but his behaviour in the last few transfer windows before he left was more than a little odd, so what was going on?
After Arsenal moved to the Emirates, we knew that the club would have to tighten their belts. The degree to which you believed the club when they said that ‘money was available’ for the manager was very much a personal thing, but as the years rolled on, we all knew the constraints were significant.
Towards the end of the austerity years, major cracks had appeared all over the squad.
There was a desperate need for a competent keeper, a dedicated defensive midfielder, a proper goalscorer and at least one pacey wideman. A few defenders who knew what there were doing wouldn’t have hurt, either.
Some of these issues can certainly be blamed on a lack of funds. A proven goalscorer is a costly line item in the football market. An unproven one is a risk or a Sanogo. Time was, Wenger would have unearthed the unproven talent and shaped him into a world class specimen. Him continuing to do that was what the club were banking on.
This talent of Wenger’s certainly seemed to wane as the years wore on. He was still able to spot a young, talented player, but whatever was going on at Colney demonstrated clearly that the coaching set up could no longer turn water into wine. At times, they seemed to struggle to make cordial.
The cracks grew into chasms that were clear for miles but Arsene Wenger’s idea to repair them was first to bid €100m for Kylian Mbappe and then, when that failed, to try a similar sort of bid for Thomas Lemar.
Fast forward a little to this summer.
Sven and the gang are firmly in charge of who we are buying. Are they trying to buy a €100m marquee signing? Has that even been hinted at? No, they are doing what we have been crying for, for years – identifying the holes in the squad and then finding (and signing) competent and affordable players to fill them.
It is also notable that a common trait in the players we are now signing (or most consistently linked with) are scrappers, players who are up for the fight. Little engines that not only can but bloody well will, too.
In short, if you averaged out what Arsenal fans have demanded for the past five years or so, you’d end up with exactly what we look to be getting this summer.
So, how did the man who once said ‘we don’t buy superstars, we make them’ end up trying to save his Arsenal life by splashing €100m on a luxury player, not once, but twice, rather than fixing the problems that were obvious to everyone else on the planet?
It is possible that Wenger completely misunderstood what it was fans really wanted and what might make them happy.
It is reasonable to think that a superstar signing, one costing an obscene €100m, would please fans.
It certainly would have. At least until the season was a few weeks old and all the structural problems with the squad reasserted themselves.
If this is in anyway true, it highlights a sense of panic in Wenger’s world. He knows simply spending money is no guarantee of anything unless you have enough of it to spend which Arsenal didn’t.
€100m for Mbappe or Lemar could have been used to buy Aubameyang, a goalkeeper, a defender and a midfielder. The sum of those parts would have undoubtedly been worth more to the team than just one Mbapmar.
Sven Mislintat sees that. Raul Sanllehi sees that. Ivan Gazidis is letting them do it so we can assume he sees it too. If Unai Emery has any problem with it, we will never know, but after having superstar forwards foisted on him at PSG when he needed to fix other positions, it’s highly unlikely.
Perhaps we will never know why a man who clearly resented the influx of money into the game and the ever-increasing transfer fees tried so hard to spend €100m.
But, for once, we can be glad that Arsenal failed in their attempt to play with the big boys.