For years, we’ve stood by and watched our best players leave the club. Transfer markets were like grey clouds in the distance; they couldn’t be avoided, what was about to happen seemed inevitable; rumours circled, players agitated for their ‘big’ moves, they left and misery rained down on the fan base.
From our perspective, the actions those players took were, disloyal, greedy and single-minded. Put simply, those players were ruthless. Ultimately, when they felt that Arsenal had taken them as far as they could go, they didn’t stick around much longer. Of course, I’m not justifying the actions those players took, or the way they went about getting themselves out of the club and seeing pictures of Van Persie in a Man United shirt still hasn’t got any easier, but this ‘ruthless’ approach is something that we need to learn from if we’re to realign what we achieve, with the size of the club.
This summer’s window is different to those we’ve experienced in the past; we’re not cowering in fear over who might leave the club. After the season we’ve had it’s hard to say that any player is pivotal to a return to glory. Of course, there’s a Brazilian youngster, a Scottish left back and a number of talented Hale End graduates that cannot be allowed to leave, but excluding those examples, you’d be forgiven for feeling a measure of indifference toward what happens to the rest of the squad.
We’ve got a few players that have been with the club for many years, they’re experienced, well liked and respected, but the club can’t let these things sway their decision making over the summer. We’re in a perilous position, we haven’t got the luxury of being sentimental, if players no longer match the ability or the new ambition of the club, they need to be ruthlessly cut from the squad. We can’t fall into the trap of thinking that experience or consistency equals the quality we need to take us up a level.
To cite a few examples, Xhaka has been at the club for five years. He’s looked his best under Arteta and he’s been one of our most consistent players since the Spaniard took charge, but we’ve finished 8th the last two seasons and we haven’t finished in the top four since the Swiss arrived. He’s been consistent, he may even be playing the best he can, but is that enough to get us where we need to be? Lacazette poses a similar predicament, he’s been at the club for four years, he’s scored goals consistently and he’s been our top scorer for two out of those four seasons, but we’ve never finished in the top four with him as our striker, he’s found his level, is it enough? Elneny arrived at the club six months before Xhaka, he’s been okay; some good moments, some bad ones, is he a player that will bring us back to the European elite? Out of our outfield players, only Saka & Pepe made more appearances than the three players mentioned above. The volume of their appearances shows their consistent players, but our league position may be indicative of their quality.
Arteta has hinted that some players have reached their level, after our defeat to Villarreal he said, ‘Some of them can get to a certain level and you cannot push them any further. You want to evolve them but it’s not possible.’ The players who Arteta deems to be in that category must be sold and replaced with players that the coaching staff can grow with the club.
To that end, we need to be callous in recruiting and cutting players, something we haven’t been for many years. We’ve shown glimpses of being ruthless in squad management and recruiting under the new regime, but nowhere near enough. For example, in years gone by, the club may not have triggered Partey’s release clause and may have lost out due to being unwilling to budge on a few million, however, they still let that saga drag over the whole window, only pulling the trigger on deadline day. They also terminated contracts of three experienced pros, but they did this in January instead of doing it over the summer. This type of procrastination cannot continue, the club need to make decisions and then carry them out quickly.
There have been some glaring clangers on Edu and Arteta’s watch though and the club showed a distinct lack of urgency and ruthlessness in our last two windows. A more aggressive club would have brought in a number ten last summer, Aouar was there for the taking, Buendia too, the club dithered and we suffered. In January, it was obvious we were lacking at left back; Kolasianc was loaned out at the start of the window, we had a month to get a replacement, we didn’t and we suffered. Two signings, in two different windows and who knows where we might have finished.
The club have to learn from these things or they run the risk of repeating them again and again. We need significant investment, that’s a given. The areas we need to add are clear for everyone to see, we need to add in all those areas and we can’t let those deals drag out over the entire window. Without those things happening, we can’t expect to make any ground on our rivals next season.
A ruthless club takes risks; they realise that some players have a ceiling lower than their ambition and they push for something better, they recognise their mistakes and they seek to rectify them immediately. These are the things we need to be this summer, there’s no room for sentiment, for undue loyalty and playing it safe, we need to be single minded, determined and aggressive, we need to be a ruthless club.
I’m a lifelong gooner in my early twenties, hailing from coastal North Wales. The passion for all things red and white is passed down from generation to generation in the Collins family, a gift and obsession that was first passed down by my Grandad, who was a regular at Highbury in the 60’s, it’s been a lifetime of sharing the pain and joy together ever since.
It was at a cold and wet trip to Manchester City that I caught the bug, a day that ended in a defeat to a Joey Barton penalty, it’s pretty much been down hill from there but I’m sure the glory days I’ve heard so much about will return and I’m here to document that journey.