Last night’s 3-0 victory over Fenerbahce in the Champions League reinstalled Arsenal supporters’ faith in the Gunners first team, but a strong contingent of the Emirates faithful are still baying for blood as they seek accountability for a summer of immense disappointment on the transfer front.
After last weekend’s shock home defeat to Aston Villa, kicking off the North London outfit’s Premier League campaign in a rather unspectacular fashion, the Arsenal Supporters Trust wrote a letter to the board, stating that extending Arsene Wenger’s contract at this time would be ‘inappropriate’ due to the Gunners gaffer’s inability to improve the squad in the transfer market.
But if the Frenchman’s future is to be determined by this summer’s actions alone, I suggest the AST turn their attentions to Chief Executive and transfer head honcho Ivan Gazidis, rather than Wenger himself. The South African has continually failed to replace the market expertise of David Dein since taking the reins in 2009, and in the current transfer window alone, Gazidis’ practices have been riddled with grave errors.
The power structure at the Emirates has always been open to debate, with the common consensus in the media being that Wenger maintains a tight grip and final say in all departments. But it’s no secret that the Arsenal manager’s biggest weakness is in the transfer market, and thus, the responsibility to provide inside knowledge, expertise, instigate and entertain negotiations, and generally advice Wenger on the do’s and dont’s of the modern market rests firmly on the Chief exec’s shoulders.
Although the French coach’s misguided valuations have obviously played a role in Arsenal’s inability to sign a single player this summer – excluding 20 –year-old Yaya Sanogo, who joins the Gunners on a bosman move from Ligue 2 outfit Auxerre – it’s Gazidis’ mistakes that has led the North Londoners to the situation they currently find themselves in, where damage limitation is now the main priority as we close in on deadline day.
The first blunder from Gazidis came before the transfer window even officially opened. In a Q&A session with Arsenal supporters that conveniently coincided with the Gunners’ season tickets going on sale, the 48-year-old took the opportunity to not only inform but boast about the club’s summer war chest. No figure was officially given, but the South African implied an unprecedented kitty to spend on new recruits, telling supports of an ‘escalation of financial firepower’ at the Emirates, whilst the tabloids had been reporting estimations in excess of £70million for some time.
In effect, Gazidis announced to the world, the media and every European club that Arsenal planned on spending big this summer. So is it any surprise that almost every club they’ve tried to negotiate with in the current transfer window has tried to squeeze every penny out of them? Real Madrid requested £35million for Gonzalo Higuain, safe in the knowledge the Gunners could afford the Argentine’s fee and then some, whilst Liverpool chief John W Henry laughed off a £40million plus £1 bid for Luis Suarez on twitter, well aware that the North London outfit could be held to ransom for potentially £30million more if they were that intent on signing the Reds talisman.
Telling every competitor you’ve got more money than sense isn’t the best of ideas in any industry, but in the world of football, you’d assume it would be lesson no.1 of the ‘Transfer negotiations for Dummies’ handbook. And even without the fictitious guide, recent examples of Chelsea and Manchester City having to overspend on signings due to their healthy financial situation being well known should have struck a chord with Gazidis.
To look at Arsenal’s summer disappointments chronologically, the subject of Gazidis’ first failure was Atletico Madrid’s David Villa. The Spain national team all-time leading goalscorer was available to the Gunners for just €2.3million as his contract began winding down at Barcelona, according to journalist and regular La Liga pundit Guillem Balague, but Gazidis’ slow progress in chasing down the long-term Arsenal target, who had been on Wenger’s radar for the best part of a year, allowed the Madrid outfit to swoop in, with Villa explaining to reporters upon signing for Atletico; “We had a move to the Premier in mind but then Atletico appeared and within three days all my personal terms had been agreed.” The striker proved he’s not yet past his sell-by date last night by scoring a volley against his former employers in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.
Then came the ill-fated pursuit of former Real Madrid man Gonzalo Higuain, where once again, failing to act quickly enough was Gazidis’ gravest error. The Argentine was ripe for the picking; a forward with a proven track record in La Liga, the Champions League and internationally, available at a £23million fee that would break Arsenal’s current record transfer fee of £16million for Santi Cazorla but still leave plenty left in the summer kitty, and the perfect candidate to remedy the Gunners’ shallow strike force concerns.
There were even reports that Higuain had ventured down to London to negotiate a contract, but whilst Arsenal’s transfer department, headed by Gazidis, debated with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez over the issue of a few million pounds, Napoli arrived late on the scene with a £35million bid. According to BBC sport reporter David Ornstein, Arsenal’s hesitation, despite having agreed personal terms with the Argentina international, was due to their prioritisation of Luis Suarez over Higuain.
But the Liverpool forward’s self-declared availability had been known for some time, with his initial statement of discontent at Anfield coming before the opening fixtures of the Confederations Cup, and it doesn’t take a transfer expert to realise the basic logic in going after your transfer targets in priority order.
And Arsenal fans will be all the more disappointed knowing in hindsight that the Gunners’ £40million plus a quid bid proved to be a complete waste of time, which Gazidis should have seen coming, especially if Wenger didn’t. Perhaps he would have if he was actually anywhere near Anfield, London or England at the time, rather than doing his business from the back of Arsenal’s tour bus on their pre-season escapades in Asia.
Whether the South-African was misinformed over the clause in the Uruguayan’s contract remains unclear, but that symbolic extra £1, triggering a contract stipulation that the Reds must inform the player and consider any bid over £40million, left the Gunners looking cheap and naive rather than ambitious; unwilling to pay Suarez’s full value, but willing enough to make a bid that would never be accepted, and therefore might as well have been offered in monopoly money.
And with Radamel Falcao joining Monaco for £51million this summer, Edinson Cavani moving to PSG for a similar fee and Tottenham’s Gareth Bale discussed with valuations of £80million to £100million, the now infamous £40million and a quid bid, Arsenal’s record transfer offer to date, already looks horrendously outdated.
After the Suarez fiasco came the hunt for Luiz Gustavo – a player that represented the idealic balance between Arsenal’s passing philosophy and their desperate need for a more physical and defensively assured element in midfield. Yet somehow, the Brazilian, despite being labelled as a transfer target by Arsene Wenger himself, was allowed to slip out of the Gunners grasp to sign for Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg, who didn’t even qualify for a Europa league spot last term.
Once again, where was Gazidis amid this furore? Was he unable to convince Gustavo that it would be of great benefit to his club and international career to join a Champions League outfit rather than a middle-order German side? Did he not offer the defensive midfielder a competitive enough salary? Or even if negotiations never got that far, is it not his job to keep Arsenal targets from the hands of other clubs by whatever means possible?
But as Gary Neville pointed out on this week’s episode of Monday Night football, the Gunners don’t tap-up players and they don’t bend the rules – another one of Gazidis’ fatal flaws in comparison to his Premier League counterparts.
And the transfer gaffs didn’t stop there. Nothing suggests panic-buying more than making an undervalued and out-of-the-blue £10million bid for Yohan Cabaye just days after losing 3-1 to Aston Villa, and nothing suggests intelligence less than bidding for Newcastle’s single top-quality talent the eve of their match against Manchester City, who at least in theory are one of Arsenal’s closest divisional rivals.
The Frenchman didn’t play due to his ‘head being turned’ as Alan Pardew put it, and the Magpies lost 4-0. Maybe Cabaye couldn’t have provided a win single handed, but the Magpies had a far better chance of taking points from the Citizens with the midfielder on the pitch, or at least stop them from opening their Premier League account with a +4 goal difference from their first game.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that any of these instances are Gazidis’ doing alone, and it’s quite clear that he and Wenger work together on transfers. But for a Chief Executive, the Arsenal honcho has made a series of grave errors, that you wouldn’t catch Tottenham’s Daniel Levy or Manchester United’s Ed Woodward making.
Admitting Arsenal’s unprecedented finance in June made the Gunners’ summer a poisoned escapade from the start, but to add insult to injury, Gazidis has continually failed in providing Wenger the right expertise or any transfer nous whatsoever, amid a transfer window that was always going to be a serious turning point one way or the other in the North London outfit’s immediate future.
There was no strategy from the offset, persistent naivety and hesitation throughout, and a complete failure on Gazidis’ part to provide Arsenal with any sort of cutting edge over their divisional rivals in the transfer market. At no point has Gazidis acted like a competent Chief Executive, a transfer honcho, or even a credible businessman, and at no point has he atoned for Wenger’s weaknesses in the transfer market. To put it simply, the South African hasn’t done what he’s paid to do this summer.
If the Emirates faithful need a head on a platter to provide closure on what has been a summer of immense disappointment for the Gunners, it should be Ivan Gazidis’, not Arsene Wenger’s.
Is Ivan Gazidis to blame for Arsenal’s poor summer?
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