Time for a bit of fight back I think. As no news of concrete signings have arrived, the mood has grown progressively worse. We knew that the atmosphere would be poisonous at the Emirates if we lost the Villa game, and our worst fears were confirmed with the chants of “spend the f*cking money”. Twitter erupted with rage after the game. Bloggers and tweeters who had been sitting on the fence were now coming out, openly vocal with dissatisfaction. Even some self-proclaimed Wenger supporters were shifting their position. The tensions beneath the surface had unleashed a volcano and we were now witnessing the pryoclastic flow. Absolute mayhem.
Many tweeters came forward, ridiculing the AKBs. Every accusation levelled at the club, the board, and particularly Gazidis and Wenger, was vindicated by this result, in their eyes. Depending on who you read, you get a particular crime read out on a charge sheet. The major crime, according to some well known bloggers, is “mismanagement”, for failing to secure transfers so far this summer. A whole list of people will tell you why. Wenger seeks value instead of just doing the business. We have the wrong targets. There are players, but Wenger is stubborn. The board screwed up over Suarez. Or ultimately, it’s the fault of Wenger because he is in “slow decline”. I smile ruefully at a lot of these because I have heard them all before, and they are sometimes part of a narrative. However, it is actually difficult to deny that we are not in the best position, as there are genuine squad places that do need to be filled. We are a centre back light. When we miss Arteta, like against Villa, we tend to struggle. The jury is still out on Giroud.
My view with a lot of these things, is are you interested in the micro or macro picture? Yes, you may argue that it all relates to the big picture, for if we fail now, in the 1st couple of weeks, to qualify for the CL, we lose at least £20 million in revenue and it will lessen the attractiveness of the club as a future destination for new players. So this amplifies the need for a stronger squad. It would be churlish of me to deny this. The theory goes that if we had got our ducks in a row in June/July, they would have bedded in, and we would be unleashing them in August/September. It is a compelling theory but it has a giant hole. It can only be translated into practice if you have very very deep pockets. The only club that can get business done this fast is City. Granted, occasional transfers are accomplished in June, a la Gervinho or Podolski, but we are looking at 4 to 5 squad places.
The word “failure” crops up repeatedly when talking about a summer transfer business. In a 60 mile tailback on my way to Cornwall, last week, in a nightmare 8 hour journey, I wondered who was to blame. Was it the transport department? Was it the motorists? Was it the Conservative governments from 1979-1991, who I still see as massive infrastructure vandals? Or is nobody really to blame? So in the case of transfers, who is to blame? And why? I argue that it is very difficult to know who is to blame without being in full possession of the facts. Let us assume that we have compiled a shortlist of around 4 to 5 targets for each squad place. Let us assume there are 4 squad places being filled, so that gives us around 20 targets maximum. Let us also assume that there is a budget, not necessarily rigid, but it does exist. Let us try now to compute the things that could go wrong.
Player doesn’t want to come to Arsenal – This is I believe is a widely under-estimated factor, and can happen, not just because they don’t see Arsenal as being an attractive option, but because they are not guaranteed a 1st team place. I have heard of 2 cases in the last 2 years where players opted for other clubs for this reason, in Vertonghen and recently with Gustavo.
Selling club doesn’t want to sell – We don’t know if the selling club will sell.
We get into a bidding war – We may get into a bidding war with a club with bigger resources, a la Mata, which we immediately pull out of.
The price is simply not acceptable – The selling club or the player blows the budget.
I can hear the Piers Morgans of the world saying all this is nonsense and unacceptable, and that Dein would have done the deal. There are various counter arguments for all of the above, and the most common one is that the club has an ideological problem with value, or more accurately, Wenger has the problem. In order to rectify this, we should pay the premium, as that’s what clubs have to do to secure players. This is one of the most interesting arguments that I see made, genuinely. The proponents of this argument will tell you that the negotiating position of the club is such that we will haggle over a million, which will kill the deal. It is an emotional argument, as it fits the narrative that Wenger is the scrooge banker, omnipotent and infuriating. His intransigence is killing the club and these are actually simple deals that should have been done and dusted. I would have no problem in joining in the chorus of dissatisfaction if this was actually true. The problem is I don’t actually believe it is true. It is not because I am a dyed in the wall Wenger aficionado. It is not because my first instinct is to defend the club and/or Wenger. I don’t believe these arguments are true because such a philosophy would mean we wouldn’t be able to function in the market. It is a market, after all. The selling club has to be satisfied by the price. If nobody was ever satisfied, no players would have ever come to Arsenal. Selling clubs are not backward in coming forward and demanding more money, certainly not this year. The other point is that I actually believe in Wenger’s valuations, particularly of english players. An eye watering £35m for Carroll? I am not dissing Carroll, but he is a case in point.
But there is a wider point here. What exactly is the expectation level? Most people say they want to “challenge”. Others say we must win the title. I think it’s important to examine the expectation level, because it’s here that I find the biggest delusion. Which is perverse, given that delusion is the accusation levelled at the AKBs. If the expectation level is to win the title, then those who believe we can do it by 4 good sigings are hopelessly deluded. If we believe the figures from Swiss Ramble, it looks like we have at least £100 million for transfers, and can afford the commensurate wages. Yes, the frustration of the summer is that we haven’t spent any of that money, but the wider point for me, is that even if we do spend it, what are people expecting? £100 million is chicken feed for City and Chelsea. They can spend that and more, and blow us out of the water on every deal where a mercenary comes sniffing. Jovetic, Hazard, Mata, YaYa Toure. Our financial position has not changed insofar as we can expect to challenge the top 6 (mainly) oil sheik and oligarch led clubs in europe. And if people believe we should be challenging them, it’s hard to see why, given our historical profile. We have never won the champions league, never dominated the domestic scene, never won back to back titles. Yes, it is fair to say we should challenge for the title, but the difficulty now is the context of the premier league. There are two clubs who are still making a mockery of FFP and the other who have built up an ethos and momentum that is very hard to stop.
Well, I can hear you rumble, if £100 million isn’t enough, we should have done the deal with Abu Dhabi and replaced the board, when they came in for us before City. Sure, that is an argument. I can imagine some people would be very happy indeed with that, as they would find that incoming players would neatly correlate with their game of championship manager, and they would spend countless hours working out the permutations of mercenaries who would grace the bench. The problem though with the Abu Dhabi project though is two-fold. Firstly they have had to spend a colossal sum for 2 meagre trophies so far, a return on investment at a cost of £1 billion per trophy, and they still haven’t reached the 2nd stage of the champions league. Secondly, that financial fair play may catch up with them. But if £100 million isn’t enough, then what do we do? Wait, I can hear the splutter.. it is enough.. we just need 3 or 4 players, and we will challenge. Surez, Cesar, Fellaini. Job done. Well – ok, if you believe that, then are you are going to give Wenger the credit for bringing together the existing 19/20 players (on a shoestring), that will form that challenge ? No. Thought not.
The problem is, and it’s existed all summer, and there are people saying Gazidis is to blame, is that the expectation is that we can spend big now, get the 3 or 4 players we need, and things will change. But my argument is that we should only think in terms of incremental change. We have seen the crazy valuations out there on the market. We know that selling clubs have a beaming smile on their face when they see us coming, or not, in the case of Suarez and Liverpool. We see how difficult it is to acquire players. We have succeeded in holding on to our best players for the first time in 5 years, so we move forward slowly. If you say that we should win the title, then that’s fine. Put the resources in place. Don’t say we can win the title with just £100 million, because that’s not enough. To put my head on the block, 3rd would be acceptable, 2nd good, and to get to the quarters of the CL. You may scream “no ambition”, but it’s difficult to see how else anything higher can be achieved.
My final point is that I find it incredible that people are willing to hang the club out to dry on so little evidence, and that Twitter and other like forums are to blame. We have situations like the Sahin transfer, which farcically show that this era can be like no other in history. As you may know, we were looking at Sahin, and we pulled out at the last minute. On Twitter, when Sahin’s name was mentioned, a load of gooner’s jumped on the bandwagon that this was a player that we desperately needed and “would improve” the squad. In hindsight, to use the vernacular, this was a “bullet dodged”. Which confirms that the whole Twitter led witch-hunt against the club, where someone decides that a player would “improve the” squad, followed by an inquisition against Wenger for not pursuing this player who would “improve” the squad, as actually being highly damaging, ultimately, to the club. Because a poisonous atmosphere builds up and then secretes onto the pitch, as it did on Saturday.
The only way to counter this is to put some faith into the club, and the coaching staff. I am not going to listen to the opinion of some spotty red bull infused teenager who watches clips of players on YouTube