Lots has been made of Arsenal’s incoming business this summer. The club have operated efficiently in the transfer market in this sense. New arrivals were identified and acquired early to give them a full pre-season with the new head coach, Unai Emery.
The departures lounge at the Emirates Stadium however has been managed in a far more ramshackle manner. This is nothing new for the Gunners, but in a summer of all change, it is disappointing to see this problem remain.
The issue is that Arsenal are very, very poor at offloading their assets, especially in the context of being a ‘big six’ club.
Arsenal’s is a squad burdened with deadwood, which actually isn’t that unusual for a top side. All of Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs have at least a couple amongst their ranks who really ought to be moved on. The difference is, those clubs all seem able to move their surplus to requirements players out of the door without any fuss.
In recent transfer windows, Manchester City have been able to recoup £25million for Kelechi Iheanacho. Liverpool received an initial £18m for Danny Ings. Spurs even convinced Stoke City to hand over £18m for Kevin Wimmer.
Meanwhile, the Gunners pocketed £4m in return for Lucas Perez; £6.75m for Kieran Gibbs; and around £11m for Wojciech Szczesny – the heir to Gianluigi Buffon, sold for near enough the same amount that Man City got for Angus Gunn, who has never played a minute of Premier League football, only one year later.
Considering Iheanacho scored only three times in the Premier League last season, is he really worth more than five times what Lucas Perez cost West Ham? Kieran Gibbs never was able to make himself England’s first choice left-back, but he still played regularly for a Champions League club for nearly a decade. Was Gibbs’ true value actually only roughly a third of one Kevin Wimmer?
All of this is without even taking into account the fact that Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Mathieu Debuchy have all been allowed to leave the club as free agents within the last year. Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck, both now in the final year of their contract with the club, could soon follow suit.
It was easy to expect Arsenal’s problems with selling players to change this summer – after all, everything was meant to. That was never going to happen though. This is a systemic and long-standing issue at the club, and to find a solution, first the cause must be uncovered.
The time for criticising Arsene Wenger has passed and the club must now move on. It was under his reign though that Arsenal began to get left behind by their rivals. This was clearer in the transfer market, long before it became evident in the league table when the North Londoners fell away from the Champions League spots.
Wenger’s desire to do right by his players and afford them every opportunity to have a good career, even away from Arsenal, was admirable. However, that lack of ruthlessness was eventually exploited, which set a dangerous precedent for the club.
It could be said that this all began with the departure of Thierry Henry in the summer of 2007. At the time, the Frenchman was 29-years-old, probably the best out and out striker in the world, and cost Barcelona about £20m. Eleven years ago, the figure the Gunners received for their all-time leading goalscorer was still a reasonably hefty fee. The summer before, Spurs had moved on Michael Carrick to Old Trafford for a similar price.
Carrick was undoubtedly a fine player, but he should have been cheaper to buy than one of the greatest forwards ever to grace the game and still in his prime.
Football was changing at this time. Roman Abramovich and his millions had arrived and settled in across the capital, and Manchester City were mere months away from becoming the richest club in the world. The Arsenal model of business was about to become fundamentally outdated.
It’s no secret that Arsenal haven’t moved with the times. The club have only really begun to modernise in the last year or so. The replacement of a single figure leader, with the management group made up of Emery, CEO Ivan Gazidis, head of recruitment Sven Mislintat and head of football relations (essentially a director of football) Raul Sanllehi, is evidence of this progression into 21st Century club football.
Arsenal have only just arrived into this new world order though, whilst the clubs around them already have their feet well and truly under the table. It is now that the Gunners’ managerial and corporate hierarchy must recognise their need to learn some lessons.
Unsavoury as the thought may be to many Gooners, the club ought to look to their neighbours as a guide of how to survive and thrive in this brave new world. Spurs have superseded Arsenal as a Champions League club, but like the Gunners, they are not able to operate on a seemingly limitless transfer budget. However, the powers that be at White Hart Lane – chiefly, chairman Daniel Levy – are so ruthless in the transfer market that they are able to succeed in this cutthroat environment despite the disadvantages they face.
Levy does not allow his players to leave the club for anything less than the fee he commands for them. To put it another way, had Kyle Walker been an Arsenal player, Manchester City wouldn’t have had to break any spending records to get him.
The decision makers at the Emirates must now seek to model themselves in Levy’s image. If Arsenal are to get back to the top, it’ll require money to be spent, which in return – certainly under the ownership of Stan Kroenke – necessitates money being made. Selling Lucas Perez (who was second to only Lionel Messi in the chances created stats column in La Liga last season) for a measly £4m was not a good start.
This is just the start though; it’s a brand new day for Arsenal. If the club learn these lessons quickly then the future could be very bright indeed.