Is this really Wenger’s preference or has his hand been forced?

Arsenal’s move from Highbury to The Emirates was supposed to precipitate a change in the stature of the club. Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal shareholders had a vision of Arsenal being able to compete financially with their rivals whilst spending within their means. Their vision for the club will undoubtedly safeguard its future, yet the pressure heaped upon the transfer skills of Arsene Wenger has been huge.

Arsene Wenger’s penchant for developing young, talented footballers has, despite popular belief, not always been his primary transfer philosophy. Whilst he has always attempted such projects the onus on succeeding in these ventures has increased dramatically since the club’s move in 2006. Below is a list of the transfers made during Wenger’s time at Arsenal. If certain players are missed out it is because they were low profile players signed for free or insignificant amounts (i.e. Amaury Bischoff).

1996-97 Overmars (7M), Boa Morte (1.75M), Grimandi (2.5M), Petit (2.5M), Manninger (500K), Upson (2M), Anelka (500K), Vieira (3.5M)

1997-98 Grondin (500K), Wreh (500K)

1998-99 Luzhny (1.8M), Ljungberg (3M), Diawara (2.5M), Kanu (4.5M), Pennant (2M)

1999-00 Lauren (7.2M), Henry (10.5M), Suker (500K), Sylvinho (4M)

2000-01 Jeffers (8M), Edu (6M), Stepanovs (1M), Wiltord (13M), Pires (6M)

2001-02 Toure (150K), van Bronckhorst (8.5M), Campbell (free), Wright (6M)

2002-03 Gilberto Silva (4.5M), Cygan (2.1M)

2003-04 van Persie (2.7M), Reyes (13M), Clichy (250K), Lehmann (2M), Senderos (2.5M), Fabregas (free), Djourou (free)

2004-05 Eboue (1M), Flamini (1M), Almunia (2.5M)

2005-06 Rosicky (6.8M), Walcott (9.1M), Adebayor (7M), Diaby (2M), Hleb (11.2M), Bendtner (200K)

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Arsenal move to The Emirates stadium

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2006-07 Eduardo (7.5M), Fabianski (2M), Denilson (3.4M), Song (1M)

2007-08 Nasri (12.8M), Ramsey (5M), Diarra (4M), Sagna (6M)

2008-09 Arshavin (15M)

2009-10 Vermaelen (10M)

2010-11 Koscielny (10M), Squillaci (4M)

2011-12 Gervinho (10.6M), Oxlade-Chamberlain (12M), Park (3M), Santos (6.2M), Arteta (10M), Mertesacker (10M)

These statistics tell us a number of things about Arsenal’s transfer policy before and after moving stadiums. Whilst the club remained at Highbury, Wenger spent £172.25m, which works out at £17.22m per season. During the same period the player sales amounted to £123.324m, or £12.33m per season. This means that, every season, Wenger was able to spend 139% of the money he received from transfer sales.

After the club moved to The Emirates it is an entirely different story. In the six years following their move Wenger has spent £132.4m. This works out at £22.08m per season. Whilst this figure is larger than it was in the Highbury years, there are a number of other factors that need to be taken in to consideration. Firstly, during this period player sales equated to £187.2m, which is £31.2m per season.

Therefore you can see that Wenger, during this time, has only spent 70% of the money he received from selling players.

Arsenal fans may dispute the fact that Arsenal are now a club that relies on developing young players and selling them on for a profit but these statistics say otherwise. What is the definition of a ‘selling’ club if it is not that they spend less than they receive every single year?

In fact, if you consider how inflated transfer fees have become since 2003, when Abramovich bought Chelsea, then the money Arsenal have spent seems, proportionately, even smaller.

Finally, the fact that since 2006 Arsenal have spent on average £22.08m per season is slightly misleading considering they spent over £50m last summer. Without that summer, which by all accounts was declared to be an anomaly, the average spend per summer would be £15.85m. That’s less than they spent during the era when transfer fees were far more reasonable.

Obviously there is light at the end of the tunnel. Arsenal have been hampered by long term sponsorship deals signed in order to help fund the stadium. Loan repayments have also been an issue yet the debt, once above £300m, is now less than £100m. There will come a point in Arsenal’s near future where they are able to spend more.

What these figures do perhaps show is that Wenger may have only been quite so concerned with developing young, academy based, talent because it is near enough the only choice he has had. Sure, he has bought players older than 21 since moving to The Emirates, but the number of players he has been able to buy has been so greatly reduced it appears a miracle that he has maintained such an impressive level of consistency for quite so long.

He may be often criticised for failing to sign enough players in the prime of their lives yet the reality of the situation may be that it is simply not a possibility, despite claims from the board that there are vast sums of money available. Should Arsene Wenger remain at the club for another decade or so, don’t be surprised to see him turn his focus from young talent to genuine talent when their financial restraints are no more. Just because he can spot a bargain, it doesn’t mean he always wants to act upon it.

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