Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was audibly heckled during the club’s recent 2-1 league defeat to Chelsea for not spending enough money on new players, which when you tackle the net spend debate is certainly true, but isn’t the main problem over the past three or so years been his lack of success in the transfer market on those he has spent money on?
Supporters won’t want me reminding them in too much depth of the club’s failings in recent times, but having made approximately £83m on the sales of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri alone in the past two years, it’s fair to say that there should be enough money in the bank to go on the odd splurge.
In a situation straight out of supermarket sweep, Wenger did go on a mad trolley-dash on deadline day last summer bringing in Per Mertesacker for £10m, Andre Santos for £6.2m, Mikel Arteta for £10m and Park Chu-Young for £3m. This was preceded by the £10.6m move for Gervinho and the £12.6m swoop for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in January. That all comes to the rather hefty total of £53.1m over the course of two transfer windows and the space of seven/eight months.
This highlights the main problem with shouting at Wenger, as the fans did at Stamford Bridge, to ‘spend some f*****g money’, he has done, but it’s the quality of those players that he’s brought in where the real problem lies, for not only are they a significant drop down on the major departures of van Persie, Fabregas and Nasri, they have come at a significant cost so as to prevent moves for players that are up to the required standard. The club clearly has deep pockets and resources to tap into, but when Wenger does, the success rate of his signings has been very poor.
This summer the club sold van Persie to Manchester United for £24m and brought in Santi Cazorla for around £13m, Olivier Giroud for £13m and Lukas Podolski for £11m – two of them were proven and experienced internationals while the other had just helped steer his former club side to a the domestic league title in France somewhat unexpectedly. All three have shown glimpses of their ability, but they’ve had to adapt to a new environment, culture and style of football, and when they have struggled, it’s been noticeable than it perhaps should have been because they’ve already become such central figures, thus exposing the team’s support cast and ropey past dealings in the process.
The departure of the Dutchman wasn’t the only major one out of the Emirates, though, with Barcelona signing Alex Song for £15m, a player that simply hasn’t been replaced. This just smacks of being cheap for the sake of it, but it also points to the complete lack of a coherent long-term plan on Wenger’s part, because had Barcelona not moved for Song, then the club would have started the season with a recognised holding midfielder of sorts, but when he left, there was no move for anyone else, rather statements about how the injured duo of Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby would fill the gap.
This gamble on Diaby’s fitness, one which just hasn’t paid off by any estimation, has seen Arteta play a deeper role than we’ve previously become accustomed to seeing him in, while Santi Cazorla has then dropped deeper, having less impact in the final third, to cover his fellow Spaniard. The result is that the side lacks any sort of presence in midfield, which has come to cost them in games of importance, picking up just one point out of a possible 15 on offer this term against the league’s top three. It’s all about just ‘making do’ rather than making a statement of intent, and when you have the finances available that Arsenal have, that’s simply not enough.
Even going back to the £10m spent on Laurent Koscielny or the £15m on Andrey Arshavin, these are players that have displayed their ability on a number of occasions and have promised much, but in practice have delivered very little. Of Wenger’s dealings over the past few years, only Arteta and Cazorla have firmly established themselves in the side, become key players and represented value for money and that’s a worrying downwards trend which has more than contributed to the club’s gradual decline.
When you factor in the net spend debate, which of course deserves recognition, for Wenger has aligned himself far too closely with the bean counters on the board in the pursuit of some ‘Socialist’ model within the Financial Fair Play framework, Arsenal haven’t spent enough. However, that shouldn’t detract from closer inspection on the significant amount of money he has had to reinvest, even if he’s just been balancing the books at the same time.
Arsenal, to use the words of those eloquent fans, have been ‘spending some f*****g money’, but it’s just that when they have dipped their toes into the transfer market, they’ve come up short more often than not, wasting it on players that simply aren’t good enough to match the club’s ambitions. Suddenly, the Frenchman’s reluctance to move for anyone this month doesn’t seem so strange.