Arsene Wenger has done little to silence his transfer policy critics so far this summer, with his failed pursuit of Gonzalo Higuain and the Gunners’ only successful off-season acquisition of former Ligue 2 starlet Yaya Sanogo collectively epitomising the Frenchman’s stale and unrealistic approach in the transfer market over the last decade.
If it wasn’t for Chelsea and Manchester United being similarly dormant by their usual standards so far this summer, Arsenal’s very public but fatally flawed attempts to sign Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, and the fact deadline day is still just under a month away, there’s every chance the Gunners gaffer would be hung, drawn and quartered by now for failing to deliver on integral promises made to the Emirates faithful earlier in the season regarding a certain £70million summer kitty and the need for an established goal-scorer.
But we are all well aware of Wenger’s spendophobia by now, and to be honest, few Premier League fans would find it particularly surprising if the North London outfit started the season without breaking their rather miserly £16million record transfer fee on a new centre-forward, or even begun their campaign, with the Arsenal boss apparently eyeing the domestic title, without a single change in personnel.
Equally as concerning as Wenger’s rather limp, ineffective and outdated philosophy when it comes to signing new recruits however, is the Frenchman’s approach to letting players go. This summer alone, the Gunners have released Sebastien Squillaci, Andrei Arshavin and Denilson for free – three players who originally cost the club a collective £22million in transfer fees alone, and even more in wages.
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Over the past two years, instead of Arsene Wenger relinquishing any of the trio for nominal fees in a bid to recoup at least some of Arsenal’s original investments, Arshavin has performed a rather costly cameo role, with 26 Premier League appearances since summer 2011 costing the Gunners around £85k-per week, Squillaci has been the most lavishly paid reserve in England, mucking around at the Arsenal training ground for a £60k per week salary, and Denilson has plied his trade for two seasons consecutively in a completely different continent, on loan to Sao Paulo, with the Gunners still supplementing his £45k-per-week contract.
Overall, Arshavin, Squillaci and Denilson have cost the Gunners somewhere near the £50million mark, considering their three exits alone will save Arsenal £10million on next year’s wage bill, according to The Telegraph. And what does Wenger have to show for it? No silverware, no titles, not even a nominal outward fee to spend on yet another African or French-born teenager.
Park Chu-Young and Andre Santos can also be added to the list of Arsenal flops who the club failed to move on effectively, with both also leaving for free this summer. Santos, who joined the Gunners for around £5million, has been allowed to return to Brazil after attempts to flog him back to Fenerbahce in January fell on death ears, and Young, bought for £5.5million in 2011 and making just a single Premier League appearance since, was officially written off as a loss in the Arsenal account books last year.
Rather than learning from his mistakes, history is set to repeat itself, with Wenger lining up yet another loan move for Yohan Djourou next season despite the defender’s Arsenal career at this point being well and truly over. The same can be said for Francis Coquelin, who is now being farmed out to SC Freiburg after spending two years failing to break into the first team at the Emirates.
In fact, Arsenal’s only good pieces of business this summer come from two unlikely sources. Winger Gervinho and Goalkeeper Vito Mannone both received their fair share of criticism over a lack of quality during their stays in North London, the former earning specific boo-boy status last season, but they’ve collectively added £9million to Arsenal’s summer jackpot via their transfers to Roma and Sunderland respectively. The Ivorian in particular left for £7million – just £3million less than the Gunners bought him for in 2011.
Selling players for the wrong price – or for that matter, no price at all- is not a recent trend for the Gunners, or exclusive to Arsenal players belonging to the lower price ranges. Patrick Viera was sold for just £14million in 2005 and went on to play for Juventus, Inter Milan and Manchester City over the next six years of his career, claiming five Serie A titles and an FA Cup along the way, Thierry Henry left for Barcelona for £20million in 2007, despite his subsequent contract at the Nou Camp containing an £84million release clause, and Ashley Cole, upon refusing to sign a new contract, was handed over to divisional rivals Chelsea for £6million plus William Gallas in 2006.
The Telegraph revealed earlier this year that since Arsenal’s last trophy win in 2005, those departing from the Emirates, including the likes of Henry, Viera and Cole, as well as Kolo Toure, Jose Reyes and Cesc Fabgregas, have claimed 67 pieces of silverware between them at their respective new clubs, whilst Arsenal’s biggest fee received for a single player remains at just £30million.
But nothing highlights Arsenal’s inability to sell players better than the current situation at local rivals Tottenham. Daniel Levy is known for his negotiating skills, and whilst the Gunners have been selling established Champions League stars for around £20million a piece and often less, Spurs have flogged the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric for in excess of £30million, despite their lack of proven track record on the European stage.
And now, Real Madrid are now offering £86million for Gareth Bale. The Welsh wonder is by all means an exceptional and rare talent that deserves such a groundbreaking price-tag, but his single sale to Real Madrid would trump Arsenal’s collective revenues for the departures of Fabregas, Robin Van Persie and Samir Nasri – the club’s three biggest stars in the last five years – by nearly £10million. That’s the first team’s nucleus from 2008 to 2011, who all briskly jumped ship to divisional and continental rivals, sold for less than a single player at a club Arsenal have continually finished above in the Premier League since it’s incarnation.
Something quite simply doesn’t add up. At the bottom end, Arsenal are unable to turn around their stop-gap talents, largely due to the fact no potential suitors are willing to offer Gunners flops the same range of salary they received at the Emirates. It’s put the club in an impossible position in the transfer market, where they’re forced to let contracts run down instead of cashing in, which in turn restricts their capacity to sign new players because of their lofty wage bill.
But most concerning is the top end of Arsenal’s roster, and the club’s inability to get full value for their want-away stars. They’re fast becoming a selling club, with a reputation for being soft around the negotiating table, for the rest of the European elite to exploit as they please. In fact, so many top class talents have left the Gunners in recent years, that Wenger is in a rare position this summer where he’s not obliged to sell anyone.
The Frenchman sees it as good news, and a justification for going back on his word regarding investments in new recruits this summer. I however disagree, as it suggests that Arsenal’s selling policy has been so fatally flawed, that the club now has no one to sell, even if they wanted to, and not enough talent on the roster to attract better players.
Until Wenger and Ivan Gadizis wise up in the transfer market, on the inward and outward front, it will be impossible for Arsenal to move forward.
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