So I’ve been asked to write a regular column to go along with my occasional ad-hoc posting. So I’ve gone for ‘Wade on Wednesday’ as an interim title. Given that my surname is Wade. And today is…well you get the idea. Anyway, given that it’s half-way through August, it seems a good time to take stock…strap yourselves in - its going to be a long one.
As another English Premier League season approaches in the full frenzy of a SkySports-gasm, once again the Arsenal fan base find themselves trying to locate common ground, following another divisive summer. And the club’s way of doing things seems as contradictory as ever.
On the plus side, Arsenal seem to have carried both the tactical adjustments and excellent form of the end of last season into the pre-season so far, with only the right foot and dubious sense of balance of old nemesis Didier Drogba upsetting the apple cart thus far.
Accordingly, the players that stepped up in last year’s run in, Ramsey and Koscielny, have been the two best performers in the warm-up games, with Giroud’s finishing looking more confident, and some exciting cameos from the likes of Akpom and Zelalem. Only Podolski has disappointed so far, and seems to be continuing to play himself onto the bench. Despite his lack of impact, Arsenal were far too good for Pellegrini’s Man City in Helsinki.
Former Arsenal youth player and current scout Danny Karbassiyoon (remember his great finish in the League cup at Man City?), who ‘discovered’ Gideon Zelalem playing for his local kids team, outlines our excellent second goal here .
This sense of possible optimism is buoyed by the fact that for the first time in 6 years we haven’t lost any first choice players over the summer. Whilst many suggest this is a damning indictment of the lack of star quality that would attract the world’s biggest clubs, there is no doubt that stability and continuity can only help the team to grow in both cohesion and confidence.
Even better, at the start of the summer, CEO Ivan Gazidis told global goonerdom the news we had been waiting for – that the club had money to compete with the big boys in the transfer market after nearly a decade of enforced parsimony.
“This year we are beginning to see something we have been planning for some time, which is the escalation in our financial firepower”.
The summer’s jaunt across Asia can only strengthen this, and we saw in Indonesia, Vietnam and Japan just how fervent the club’s support is around the world. As Swiss Ramble has pointed out, Arsenal have only just started to put things in place to maximise its potential commercial income, having lagged behind the likes of Man U & Chelsea, and there is a market waiting there to lap it up.
It seems this upturn in financial fortunes has been complimented by the freeing up of further resources by cutting their losses on the large swathe of the playing staff who in recent years been collectively defined as ‘deadwood’. Certainly in terms of their contribution to the team’s efforts, only Gervinho and perhaps Djourou can claim to have made any significant contribution in the last 18 months. In total 27 professionals of various age groups have left the club this summer (4 on loan – 2 of whom are very unlikely to return), with only approximately 10m recouped in transfer fees.
The wage bill is another story entirely. At the very least 300,000 per week has been slashed from the clubs outgoings, and with Park and Bendtner likely to find themselves employed elsewhere before too long, it certainly gives the club the scope to make significant movements in the transfer market. See here for full details.
So far so good, right?
Sadly, the pleasure of finally seeing a defensively sound Arsenal team that is able to grind out results doesn’t mask the lack of squad depth that plagued us last year, particularly in our two embarrassing cup exits.
We all know about the lack of signings to date, and I think even the most staunch supporter of the manager and the current squad would feel that perhaps the introduction of more personnel by this stage in proceedings was an obvious need.
As things stand, we have even less bodies this year to protect us from over-reliance on talented, but inexperienced, youngsters. We also have the same fundamental issues of a desperate shortness of quality up-front and competition for Arteta. This leaves us 2 injuries away from players out of position or totally untested youth-teamers.
The outgoing players may have been largely unwelcome, but it is still in excess of 290 caps and 2500 first team games worth of experience that have left the club, even with Park and Bendtner nominally still here, with only the 24 professional club matches of Yaya Sanogo coming in.
Even the manager seems to recognise it himself. On the back of previous pronouncements as to the quality of the squad, Wenger’s post-match press conference following the impressive victory over Man City highlighted the need to invest in the playing staff.
“I think what is important is the strength of the squad,” said Wenger. “Today is one game.”
He added: “We want to play 55 games and we are maybe a bit thin squad-wise to go through a whole season.”
Most of our rivals, notably Man City, Spurs and Liverpool, have all strengthened prior to or early in pre-season, and look better placed going forwards, so competition is going to be even tougher.
In short: The fans want signings, the players want signings, the manager wants signings, and so do the board.
And yet, so far, nothing but a talented but injury prone kid on a free.
So what the hell is going on?
The ever dependable Swiss Ramble has pretty much categorically proved that the club has significant funds to spend , despite the need for contingencies etc. As he points out, despite the lack of oligarch’s adding to the pot every year, Arsenal probably have the largest cash reserves in British football, and as of this year, have the commercial deals in place to spend that money with confidence of future financial stability.
There have been some suggestions that the ongoing cat and mouse game between the manager and the board has been counter-productive, with Ivan Gazidis attempts to put pressure onto the manager with his ‘loadsamoney’ pronouncements not having the desired effect. The theory goes that someone as proud, stubborn and famously obsessed with ‘good value’ as Arsene Wenger will not be pressured, and is even more likely to dig his heels in. Cutting off his nose to spite his face.
This seems simplistic, naive and, frankly, paranoid. Wenger may be stubborn and want to do things his way, but he is not an idiot. With his 7m a year contract expiring in 9 months, and a well recorded appreciation of the autonomy he is afforded, alienating the board whilst risking a downturn in fortunes that would make it easy for them to justify replacing him, seems an implausible choice of policy, even if we ignore the likelihood that as a football manager he want to win.
It’s also fair to say that attempting to almost triple the clubs transfer record to sign Suarez somewhat undermines that lingering argument. It also gives the lie to the idea that Arsenal are refusing to meet the premiums of selling teams who know the club has money in the bank.
That said, there is some credence to the idea that perhaps the continued inflation of transfer fees, despite the European economic turndown and massive debts in Spain and Italy, has taken the manager by surprise.
‘Some clubs acted very early so the choices were reduced and there is more competition coming from France with Paris St Germain, who buy big players for huge amounts of money, so it’s tough, difficult and slow.”
While transfer fees is a factor, I am of the view that the internal preoccupation with making a marquee or statement signing means we have dropped the ball in terms of wider squad strengthening.
We seem to have spent the whole summer almost exclusively trying to recruit a star striker, at the expense of other positions. After the disappointment of the Higuain deal collapsing, either due to Arsenal’s hesitancy or Madrid moving the goalposts, depending on who you believe, it appears most of the club’s eggs have fallen into the Luis Suarez basket. One that is looking increasingly unlikely to yield results.
At the end of last month, Amy Lawrence gave an interview where she mentioned that there is tension between the Arsenal Board/Ivan Gazidis and Arsene Wenger on the way forward with the transfer policy. The suggestion is that the board want to make a big splash, as a statement of intent, but Wenger wants to ensure he can get numbers in as well as quality. There are also rumours that Wenger has been backtracking on targets, deciding to focus entirely on his A-list targets rather than agreed policy of then pursuing B and C lists, at least until the last minute.
Of course this is largely speculation, and seems to contradict the manager’s earlier statement that;
“We will strive to get our business done early,” he said. “Last year we looked at what was done two seasons ago, which is certainly not something we would ever choose to go through again.”.
Though we are all used to him changing his mind!
The sign of something bigger?
There has long been the suggestion that it is Wenger’s vice-like grip on internal proceedings that have limited the club’s ambitions in the transfer market, and it is certainly true that there is no-one like a Uli Hoeneß, Txiki Begiristain or even a Dein figure in the board room to challenge the manager on issues of the playing staff.
I’m not sure that it is Wenger’s perceived megalomania that has held the club back in the transfer market, but rather the fact that in terms of the club’s sporting direction, the board, in all of its recent incarnations, has somewhat abdicated responsibility. It is well known that Wenger cherishes the freedom and control he has, but maintaining such a hands-off approach at board level suggests a lack of forethought as to what will happen when the manager finally leaves. Arsenal are currently a global 21st century club whose organisational structure is more akin to one perennially associated with mid-table mediocrity.
Amy Lawrence’s comments are probably an indication of Gazidis attempting to coax Wenger into a modus operandi more akin to the likes of Bayern and Barcelona, who are known to be the blueprints that our CEO is aiming to follow. The problem he has is that in addition to being coach and first team manager, Wenger has effectively been Sporting Director of the club for a decade and a half. It is hardly going to be attractive to a man used to having control, to have someone newly placed above him in the management structure who decides which signings are made.
I’m not sure how this can change before Wenger leaves without it being seen as a public diminishing of his authority.
“Gotta accentuate the postive…”
As ever, its not all doom and gloom.
As the Manchester City game illustrated, we have the core of a very decent squad, who seem to have a better work-ethic and team spirit than we have seen since the injury blighted team of 2008. Although it is getting very late in the piece, there is still time within the remainder of the transfer window to bring in the 3 or 4 players we need to make a realistic challenge. The need has been the same all summer: A striker, a holding midfielder, a centre-back and possiblly another wide man. The Trolly dash of two years ago may have been very hit and miss, but brought us Mertesacker and Arteta, as well as the useful loan signing of Benayoun, all on the last day, so there is still very much hope.
As Le boss says himself: “We are in the transfer market and we try still to strengthen our squad,”
The Suarez situation will doubtless rumble on, but it seems inconceivable that we won’t see a significant striker signing arrive before the end of the month, seeing as we’ve been bidding larger and larger sums for them all summer. And considering the alternative for the manager is to kiss and make up with Bendtner and Park, I suspect he won’t mind paying a little over the odds.
Also, while there is little coming from the club, it seems a deal for Luiz Gustavo, Bayern’s Brazillian holding midfielder, is on the cards. On paper it seems he is exactly what this squad needs. An experienced regular international, with a point to prove, who can fill in multiple positions, all of which we are a little short in. Bayern want to sell, we want to buy and the player has been open about his admiration for Arsenal.
“I have heard about the Arsenal interest. It’s a big club we’re talking about here so of course I’d like to play for them.”
“Arsenal play a very attractive brand of football and are in the Champions League. They also have a very clever manager in Arsene Wenger.”
Of course, if this deal goes tits up, the wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst the gooner nation is only likely to increase in pitch. And if we don’t see significant additions by the end of the transfer window it will be entirely justified, particularly if things don’t go to plan against Fenerbace, in what will be a tricky fixture. After all, as Arseblogger regularly points out, it was the club, not the fans, that set the level of expectation for this summer and to date they have totally failed to deliver.
So keep your fingers crossed. Otherwise a few poor results could see things get ugly.
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