“I am always confident that a last-minute situation or solution is available, because the transfer market is especially moving in the last four or five days. But at the moment I cannot promise you that.
We have specific targets but sometimes you get an idea from somebody because you didn’t know that the player you like was available and if you get an opportunity you do it.
We work very hard, you know I have a team around me who work day and night to find good solutions. I am 24 hours available per day, so I am involved in the decision of course, but at the moment we are not close to signing anyone.”
These comments made by Arsene Wenger yesterday seemed to re-opened Arsenal fans’ wounds. Or, to put it more accurately and less mildly, kicked up a shitstorm. Personally, I find these comments perfectly acceptable and even soothing. Yes, soothing, because I was more worried we were doing nothing in the transfer window, content for Cech to become our only acquisition. Contrary to what I thought, we are actively involved, have targets and are open to taking gambles.
Yet most found these remarks infuriating. The subsequent accusations of Arsene Wenger, Ivan Gazidis, the board members and the Club in general fall into 3 major categories: lack of ambition, inability to compete with other top clubs and “traditionally failing to buy these extra 1-2 players”. So let’s look into all three in greater detail.
“Arsenal are unambitious. Rivals are strengthening, while we sit on our asses. We accept mediocrity. We are content with 4th place and aren’t interested in making that extra step to challenge for the title”.
It’s not the exact quote from some individual, rather, it sums up a view a lot of Arsenal fans hold in general. All of this is bullshit. Let’s dissect this bullshit one piece at a time.
1). Arsenal are unambitious
For me, the definition of ambition is simple – striving to achieve more. Arsenal is accused of not wanting to achieve more. This assumption is based on the fact we have only bought one player. A simple connection is made: players improve a team – the more players you buy the better the team is – we have bought one player – we don’t want a better team – we are unambitious.
This logic fails to take into account the quality of players a team already has and the quality of players brought in. This logic makes Tottenham the most ambitious club in 2013 and Liverpool in 2014, only because they have bought 7-9 new players in one window.
By this logic, Chelsea are almost as unambitious as we are, as they have only brought in Pedro, Begovic (to replace Cech) and Rahman. Begovic came in to plug a hole, not to improve the squad, Rahman is an unproven quantity. That leaves Pedro as their only lucrative signing. The Blues still have glaring holes in their squad (e.g. only six defenders, two of whom are Rahman (unproven) and Terry (seemingly on decline)), unlike us. Yet the same logic that makes us unambitious, makes them ambitious, because “they have won the title”.
People fail to grasp that ambition is future-oriented. Just as they can say “Arsenal won’t win the title because they haven’t bought new players”, I can say “Chelsea will fail to retain the title because they haven’t bought new players”. Do you see why this logic is wrong? Chelsea have already won the league with exactly the same squad and second-placed City finished 8 points behind.
2). Rivals are strengthening, while we sit on our asses
Have any of our rivals bought a player who’s better than our players? United have probably bought one such player – Schneiderlin. A player who they paid a lot for (and are paying a lot to) and who we didn’t really need. Coquelin is a much better sweeper and he is doing grand. Maybe Wenger would have altered the system to accommodate Schneiderlin, but that’s another story. He didn’t view Morgan as vital as to pay so much for – and I agree with him here. Schneiderlin is simply not worth such money.
City have bought Otamendi, Sterling, Delph and Roberts. The latter two only to make up that HG quota and both these players aren’t better than what we have. Whether we could have used Sterling and/or Otamendi is debatable, but the money paid for them (coupled with the fact we don’t need these players – again) ensured we weren’t in the mix.
Chelsea I mentioned above. In my humble opinion we could have used Pedro – you know I think we need another left winger – but one player for a position which will be third in the pecking order of most fans isn’t worth talking about.
I’ll allow myself to omit Liverpool and Tottenham from this list, simply because they won’t realistically fight for the title, while we will. Not that I think any of their acquisitions are upgrades on our players.
3). We accept mediocrity
I’ve partially dealt with the subject above – none of the players our rivals bought (barring probably Schneiderlin and Pedro) are better than what we have. Accepting mediocrity is buying players of the same level you already have. Accepting mediocrity is wanting us to sign Austin or Nolan. Bringing in world-class players 4 summers in a row (Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez, Cech) is very, very far from accepting mediocrity.
4). We are not interested in challenging for the title and are content with 4th
Even having to explain why this is bullshit is laughable. Every single club without exceptions want to do better the next season, regardless of how well they’ve done in the previous. That’s why they seek sponsors, expand their fanbase and bring in new players – they want to do better.
This is the part where I think I have to apologise to any Spurs and Liverpool fans still reading this. I’ve said earlier (though indirectly) they can be dubbed as unambitious because they have brought in a lot of players who haven’t delivered. But ambition has little to do with end result. Like everyone else, these clubs wanted to be better next season, that’s why they bought players.
If we were content with 4th, we wouldn’t be buying players each summer. Wouldn’t hire new coaches or try out new formations. Your team doesn’t have to be world-class to finish 4th. something Arsene proved time and again in the period from 2006 to 2013. The fact we do all these things means we are interested in improving, in moving forward. That’s the reason we built a new stadium. To become better in the future.
What’s improvement in our case? We finished 3rd and won the FA Cup, so challenging for the title seems the only logical improvement. The reason we bought Cech is because we want to improve. We were perfectly fine with Ospina and Szczesny, yet we went out and bought someone else. Someone’ who would enhance our squad. That’s what I call striving to win the title.
Here Arsenal fans are divided in two camps: those saying we can’t compete with the likes of City and Chelsea and those who expect us to do just that. Both camps are wrong…though not completely wrong. It all depends on what you mean when you say “we can/can’t compete”. For me, competition in football can be of two types.
By which I mean club’s ability to sign players. Here I agree with those who say “we can’t compete with Real/City/PSG”. Simply put, Arsenal doesn’t have pockets so deep and when it comes to a direct battle for a player against one of the big boys, we can’t offer the same transfer sum or huge wage. Nor should we, in my opinion, but that’s not the point here. So we are left looking to buy great players when they become surplus to requirements at other big clubs (Ozil, Sanchez), purchasing good players in the hopes of making them better (Giroud) or unearthing/developing young talent before others do.
Of course there are other factors to be taken into account when some player willing to move: whether he wants to live in London, or to work with Wenger, or he likes our style of play, etc. However, ceteris paribus, we don’t have the financial muscle to compete with the likes of Real or City financially.
Here I’ll side with those who say “we can and should compete”. Unlike competing in the transfer window, here we can compete with the big boys. The league title is not decided by how good a big team plays against other big teams, or, to be more precise, it’s decided SOLELY by that. I don’t have the numbers, but I think I won’t make a grave mistake by saying Chelsea’s top 6 record was second to City’s, yet they finished 8 points above. That’s because Chelsea dropped very few points against the lesser lights. So, while head-to-head clashes with direct title rivals are important, it’s how you fare against mid- to low-table teams that decides whether you’ll win the crown.
Not convinced? Here’s some simple maths for you: Arsenal finished 12 points off the eventual winners Chelsea last season. Let’s omit our results against top 6 and see where else we could have picked up points: Southampton (3), 2 x Swansea (6), Hull (2), Leicester (2), Sunderland (2), Everton (2). 17 points at least we dropped against teams outside the top 6. We easily could have finished above Chelsea despite picking up only 11 points against top 6 to Chelsea’s 17.
Arsenal have one of the best squads in the league and a very astute manager who knows how to get the best out of his players. I think I can realistically expect us to beat any opponent with an inferior squad and resources for its strengthening. Which includes all but three teams in the league.
Furthermore, as we have shown last year, we can also take points off those three teams, so while I won’t expect us to win both games against City, Chelsea and United, I know we definitely can rob them of some.
“Once again we are 1-2 players short of having a complete squad. Same old, same old”.
Where does this even stem from? If we are talking number-wise, Arsenal have 22 players, two for each position – ideal balance (even though I counted Joel Campbell). Moreover, we are much better off numerically than the overwhelming majority in the league, including Chelsea, who only have 6 senior defenders (and I’m being generous here by counting in Rahman). Yet I see no one screaming Chelsea are “1-2 players away from having a complete squad”.
Maybe this thought originates from not having enough QUALITY players? Then another problem arises: we already have a quality squad, one which is hard to enhance, because the next step is buying from the top shelf.
Do you see any players from the top shelf being readily available? And since the number “1-2” wasn’t picked at random (I hope), then we are looking for 2 specific players from the top shelf: a DM and a striker. So the question really is: do you see a world-class striker or sweeper available?
I don’t. All top strikers are at top clubs and have no incentive to leave whatsoever, unless something changes drastically in the few days of the window remaining. Like the said top clubs finding a replacement, a player becoming surplus to requirements or becoming unsettled etc. etc. Otherwise, you can’t expect us to force PSG or Real to sell if they (and the player) don’t want to.
All top teams scrape for a striker and don’t find one. That’s why City are incredibly lucky to have Aguero, but that’s also why they forked out 30 mil on Bony. That’s why Chelsea don’t have anyone (beyond Costa). That’s why United will most likely only have Rooney come September 1st. That’s why Real or PSG haven’t bought one a striker for ages. That’s why clubs are overpaying for Benteke or are willing to overpay for Berahino: not only world-class strikers aren’t available, strikers as a breed are becoming extinct.
While regarding a sweeper, well… I think we can all agree Coquelin is invaluable to us, so we need back-up at most. But back-up should come at reasonable prices, since back-up won’t play the majority of games. Hence paying over the odds for Kondogbia or Schneiderlin would have been stupid for more reasons than one. And, by the way, Schneiderlin is not a destroyer. Neither is Arturo Vidal.
Phew, I’ve made this post long enough already. Hats off if you stuck with me. Hope I gave you food for thought.
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Russian Gooner. No, it’s not always cold in my home country 🙂
A staunch Arsenal supporter since 2004. Started writing about the Gunners in 2013.
Currently in London to get a degree in journalism.