History books will show that the period between February 2018 and August 2020 at Arsenal was undoubtedly a chaotic one. The club churned through four times as many managers in those two and a half years as they had done in the previous 22. On the pitch we dropped from a team battling just on the fringes of the Champions League spaces to our worst Premier League finish in 25 years.
Upstairs things were equally frantic. Stalwarts of the Arsenal board, such as Sir Chips Keswick, were moved on, while Sven Mislentat and Raul Sanllehi were brought in as new members of an executive committee including Ivan Gazidis. The trio were in charge of appointing Arsene Wenger’s eventual successor Unai Emery.
In shocking news Sanllehi became the final member of that executive committee to leave the club today. After two and a half years the gravelly-voiced Spaniard is the latest high-profile name to lose their job as KSE seek to increase the financial viability of their asset by streamlining its resources. I hate talking about Arsenal in those terms, but if the past few weeks (or even years) are anything to go by, that is how the Kroenkes view Arsenal – a business interest and nothing more.
But how will history come to remember the man affectionately named ‘Don Raul’? The simplest way seems to be to look at his track record with transfers. He was after all brought in as a smooth-talking wheeler dealer who could grease the palms of the shady super agents Arsene Wenger had simply refused to deal with in his time at the club.
Football transfers are a notoriously secretive business, and the truth about deals that move a player from one club to another rarely come out until years later – if they ever do at all. It’s therefore wrong to assume that Raul was solely responsible for every transfer in his tenure. But as mere mortals not privy to intricate goings on of Arsenal’s recruitment let’s try and judge all the transfers of the Raul Sanllehi era.
Stefan Lichsteiner –
The first signing of the Raul Sanllehi era was a true stinker. Stefan Lichsteiner was brought to the Emirates on a free transfer after a trophy-laden seven year stint with Juventus.
The idea was that he would provide competition to a stalling Hector Bellerin as well as some of the much need shithousery that Arsenal had lacked for many years.
On paper it seemed like a great deal. The only problem was it was about three years too late. The 34-year-old was woefully off the pace, and by the end of his one season with us Carl Jenkinson was in the team ahead of him…
Bernd Leno –
While Lichsteiner was an undeniable failure, the signing of Bernd Leno has been an inarguable success. The German took over the mantle from the ageing Petr Cech and helped usher in Arsenal’s new ethos of playing out from the back.
As Unai Emery decided that blocking shots simply wasn’t important, Leno stood out this season to show why he was a snip at just £19m. Especially when compared to a ‘keeper signed in the same window in West of London…
Unluckily for him though, he picked up a serious knee injury that might be set to keep him out for a long time. In his absence Bernd has been replaced by back-up ‘keeper Emi Martinez to great effect. He now faces a serious fight to get back in the team.
Sokratis gets a lot of hate – especially recently – for not being the commanding ball-playing centre half Arsenal clearly needed when we signed him in 2018.
But I am something of an apologist for the Greek international. He is a decent enough defender who would excel in the right system with the right protection in front of him. He just isn’t right for Arsenal.
That said the decision to sign a 30-year-old for £20m on big wages was quite frankly ridiculous. If it was Raul who sanctioned this deal then he deserves a lot of criticism for it.
Lucas Torreira –
There was so much hype when we brought in the little Uruguayan back in the summer of 2018. He was finally the defensive minded presence we needed in the middle of the park. His tough-tackling all-action style quickly won over fans and had I been writing this last year, his signing would have been viewed as an absolute success.
But then came a bizzare period at the start of this season when Unai Emery decided that Torreira was best suited as a number 10. Unsurprisingly his performances suffered and he has never truly recovered since.
He has been linked with a move back to Italy this summer after failing to establish himself in Mikel Arteta’s side. If I’m being honest would I be too sad if that were to happen? Probably not.
Matteo Guendouzi –
Although the Arsene Wenger era had come to an end in the summer of 2018, it looked as though we had continued the proud tradition of unearthing gems from the lower reaches of French football when Matteo Guendouzi rocked up at the Emirates.
He will be remembered at Arsenal though for his attitude problems. He has twice fallen out with Mikel Arteta over disciplinary issues and it seems his time in North London is over.
Had he been willing to curb the wilder side of his personality to fit in with Arteta’s famed non-negotiables then who knows how good he could have been.
Denis Suarez –
Having lost Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck and Hector Bellerin to season-ending injuries, Arsenal were in need of serious reinforcements in defence and attack in the January transfer window of 2019.
So what did we do? Sign an unfit lightweight Spanish winger of course…
Denis Suarez made six substitute appearances for Arsenal and never started a game. I honestly couldn’t remember what he looked like. He will go down alongside Kim Kallstrom and Julio Baptista in the pantheon of our abysmal loan signings.
Gabriel Martinelli –
I’d be lying if I’d said I’d heard of Gabriel Martinelli when we signed him in July 2019. My knowledge of the Brazilian fourth division isn’t quite what it used to be.
In a season of negative upon negative though, the boy from Brazil has been a shining light. He is the first player since Ian Wright to score four in his first four starts, and Jurgen Klopp has already labelled him “the talent of the century”.
The hope is that the long-term injury he picked up in June won’t rob Arsenal of the chance to see another young talent ever truly reach his peak with the club.
William Saliba –
Despite never having played for Arsenal William Saliba has a good case for being the best centre back at the club.
It’s obviously too early to judge him, but signs coming out of his loan spell back at St. Etienne look very good.
Here’s hoping we’ve got another young gem on our hands.
Nicolas Pepe –
If rumours are to be believed then the amount Arsenal paid for this transfer is what ultimately cost Raul Sanllehi his job.
Our record signing was brought in for £72m this summer and has had a mixed first season. Ending it with eight goals and ten assists is decent enough for a first year in English football, and the hope is that he can really kick on next campaign under the tutelage of Mikel Arteta.
He could well have been labelled man of the match for his performance in the FA Cup final, and if that’s anything to go by we’re in for a treat next season.
Kieran Tierney –
The Scot had an injury hit campaign, before the coronavirus pandemic gave him the chance to really show just how good he could be after the break. With a tucked in shirt and Tesco plastic bag for his belongings, Tierney has made an instant connection with the fans too.
He was the only player to appear in every single one of Arsenal’s games in project restart. If he can stay injury free he’s future captain material.
David Luiz –
The signing of David Luiz speaks to the contact-driven approach that Raul Sanllehi tried to install at Arsenal. When Laurent Koscielny needed replacing, we turned to the veteran Brazilian who conveniently shared an agent with our new technical director Edu.
The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Luiz’s performances are what make him so hard to judge. On the one hand he has given away more penalties individually than some Premier League teams this season, but on the other he has shown he’s capable of putting in titanic defensive performances in the FA Cup semi and final victories.
Whether we like it or not we’ve got one more year of the Sideshow Bob lookalike in our team. Don’t expect it to be a quiet one…
Pablo Mari –
A left footed centre back who his good with his feet and dominant in the air is what Mikel Arteta wanted though.
Who are we not trust our former captain after the way he’s managed to turn the team around since he took over?
Cedric Soares –
My overwhelming thought when we brought in Cedric Soares was ‘why?’
The Portguese hasn’t really had a chance to show his potential worth to the team in limited game time since his January move from Southampton, but I can’t see myself ever really being convinced.
His signing will be even more upsetting if it eventually comes at the cost of offering Ainsley Maitland-Niles a pathway into the first team. Hopefully that doesn’t turn out to be the case.
Willian literally came in this week so obviously I won’t be passing judgement on him.
It’s worth noting though that he shares the same agent as David Luiz, Cedric Soares and Edu – Kia Joorabchian (the Disney villian next to Willian in the picture above). The Brazillian is symptomatic of Raul’s ‘contact lead’ approach to transfer dealings that is now Arsenal club policy.
The true effect of the shift the Spaniard instigated in his brief time at the Emirates remains to be seen.