A few weeks ago, before the Euros had started and before the dust had settled on Arteta’s first full season in charge, I called for ruthlessness in this summer’s transfer window. A shout that while having the best intentions, was likely a naïve take on a transfer window that is truly unlike any other in recent history. Although life is steadily returning back to some sort of normality and we’ve seen crowds fill stadiums over the summer, clubs are feeling the effects of spending almost 18 months behind closed doors. Even the most ruthless of clubs may not cut it in this market.
With all the money in football, one would have thought the biggest clubs in the world were almost like untouchable juggernauts that could brush off financial challenges. But without the presence of fans, even the sturdiest clubs have started to wobble. (apart from Man City & Chelsea of course –*sigh*) From the Italian champions having to sell off their most prized assets to Barcelona releasing statements about their credit rating, the financial strain on football clubs worldwide is apparent.
Although the extremely lucrative television deal that Premier League clubs enjoy has protected English sides from similar plights, the effects on their dealings this summer can’t be downplayed. Yes, Manchester United have shelled out for Sancho and we’ve gone big on Ben White, but selling players is a struggle for a every club this summer. The knock on effect of that is massive. In our case, this is best illustrated by Granit Xhaka– he looked set to join Roma just a couple of weeks ago. But the lack of financial muscle from Roma looks to have scuppered a potential deal to Rome. With our squad already too big for a wholly domestic campaign, any move for Bruno Guimaraes or Neves now seems dead in the water. With news of a new contract looming for Xhaka it’s clear that the club have weighed up selling the former captain for a lesser fee and replacing him with a player that would cost considerably more and they’ve come to the conclusion it would be financially irresponsible.
I don’t think anybody could deny the fact that things may have not gone to plan for us during this window. Xhaka illustrates that, but it also shows us that ‘Plan B’ isn’t always a disaster; Xhaka is a good player and with better players around him, he can improve too or at least be more consistent. He certainly has a better chance of helping us the hit the ground running.
There are positives to take as we enter the final third of the window, our new signings look good; they’re young, hungry and talented and the contracts we’ve extended in our first team and academy are massive too. But our squad is still too big and players that many hoped would be long gone are reporting for pre-season training, unlike Harry Kane. Years of mismanagement at board level have hurt us and although some mistakes have been cut out, we’re still living with the aftermath of many of those blunders; the scene of this pandemic market has slowed us down in trying to correct those errors.
But, of course, an unprecedented market doesn’t absolve our management team of all blame if the window shuts without us hitting our targets. It’s the job of Edu and Arteta to manage the club through difficult moments and it’s their job to come up with the solutions to problems both on and off the pitch. A situation that illustrates the balancing of on and off field problem solving is the case of Joe Willock. A noticeable struggle in our recent decline has been finding goals from midfield, in Wenger’s last season and Emery’s first, our midfielders got Premier League goals in the double figures, but in our last two seasons, goals from midfield have been very few and very far between, as seen in the charts below.
The on field problem is … finding midfielders whether that be a 8 or a 10, who have the knack of sniffing out goals. But from his debut onwards Joe Willock has always shown those qualities. It’s a skill that almost can’t be taught, a natural instinct players have or don’t have. We enjoyed similar qualities with Ramsey and it’s no surprise our goals from midfield nosedived when he left the club. What we need now is someone to get those numbers back up and ease the pressure on our front line. Joe Willock may be an internal solution to that glaring hole in the squad. Or an external solution to that void may be Leicester’s Maddison.
The off field problem is … comparing the reality of pulling a deal for Maddison off, and the reality of Willock being able to reach the levels required. With resources tight in a difficult market and Willock being our most sellable asset, it’s likely a case of one or the other. So the club need to lobby whether an external solution is required or an internal compromise can be made with Willock to solve this problem. What we can’t have is another Maitland-Niles situation on our hands, the club needs to sell Willock while his stock is high or play him regularly if they think he’s the internal solution.
Cases such as Willock & Xhaka really test the working relationship of Edu and Arteta, they need to balance the reality of the market with their on pitch targets and expectations, then decide what they need to fight for and where they need to compromise. With Xhaka it looks like there’s been a compromise, with Joe Willock they need to decide where his value is best spent, is it in red & white or is it in the club’s transfer kitty to spend somewhere else? With just a month to go they need to decide and then move fast!
Ultimately, the club have faced challenges that optimistic fans may not have anticipated this summer, but these can’t be used as excuses – it’s down to the powers that be to react logically to such obstacles and come up with the solutions to our problems. We may not be able to get a new right back, midfielder or striker this summer because we can’t shift our current ones and we may need to keep readjusting our plans, but our summer can still be a success if our management team act decisively and pick their battles by balancing internal solutions with external additions.
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.