Should Wenger unlock Arsenal's war chest for 2013/14?


f you're Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen or the perma-tanned, newly buffed up, terrified of old age, Gary Lineker then the answer to the question is yes siree. After all 'Arsenal have 'NOT WON ANY TROPHIES FOR EIGHT YEARS'. Yes that's eight years: an age; a lifetime; an eternity. For many – not just the Match of the Day Holy Trinity – this state of affairs simply cannot continue and Arsenal must spend big to win competitions again.

Now, I'm not overly keen on the use of the phrase 'Arsenal have not won any trophies for eight years', which you might guessed, as it implies that Arsenal have underachieved in this period. I find this odd when you consider that Arsenal's net spend on transfers (not player wages admittedly) over the past eight years has been just £9 million; far less than the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea and less than the likes of Aston Villa and Sunderland. In fact on a transfer spend to league position ratio Arsenal have overachieved not underachieved. Mr Moneyball Billy Beane is impressed!

The propounders of Arsenal's barren spell also give zero acknowledgement to the progress that Arsenal have made in becoming arguably the pre-eminent football club in developing young players and in substantially increasing club revenue. Arsenal's revenue has now reached a level that allows them to compete in the long-term, using a non-Oligarch sustainable model, with the biggest clubs in the world; Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Not exactly a period of total failure one would think.

Anyway, I digress. Arsenal's prudence, coupled with the ending of previously unfavourable long-running commercial contracts linked with the funding of the Emirates Stadium, has put the club in a position where they have the financial firepower to make headline grabbing signings. Even the usually guarded Wenger and Gazidis have given the impression that Arsenal's war chest might be unlocked with utterances like 'we will be pro-active in the transfer market' (a pretty meaningless phrase as Arsenal have always been 'pro-active' in looking to sign players who will improve Arsenal's playing roster). More overtly, Gazidis has said that Arsenal can offer sizeable wages if required. Ooooo!

So, as Arsenal have a swollen war chest, should they increase their wage ceiling substantially and pay more in transfer fees to compete with Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City?

On the wage ceiling front Arsenal will have to incrementally increase it to compete as long as the tide of money keeps flowing into football, but to try and match Chelsea and Manchester City, with the latter now having an average wage per player of £100,000 per week, would be about as reckless as appointing Terry Venables and Harry Redknapp as the club's financial controllers.

On the transfer fee front Arsenal do not need to substantially increase the fees that they have been previously paying. In part this is because the Arsenal squad has many outstanding players already including Koscielny, Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere and Cazorla supplemented by some gems in the 16-20 age bracket like Bellerin, Toral, Olsson, Zelalem, Gnabry, Eisfeld, Akpom and Sanago. Bringing in fully-matured players to improve the squad would be an expensive exercise as there are not that many available players who could significantly improve Arsenal's squad without Arsenal making massive transfer outlays. For instance, materially improving upon the unfairly maligned Per Mertesacker with a fully matured centre back in the Hummels, Pique, Thiago Silva, Chiellini, Dante class would demand a huge outlay. Even a player like Adil Rami, who would probably be only a minor improvement on Mertesacker, would have an inflated value because of Russian, Chelsea and Manchester City interest. It has cost Manchester City £45 million to marginally improve their squad in signing Navas and Fernandinho. For a £45 million outlay you would expect a significant improvement rather than a marginal improvement.

Adopting the Manchester City negotiating stance by meeting a club's value and sticking an extra £5-10 million on the end for good measure would be detrimental to Arsenal. Manchester City are now in the position where they have had to pay £30 million for a deep lying 28 year old central midfielder, who, while possessing plenty of ability, more so than Javi Garcia, could have been purchased for £12-15 million. If Arsenal were to pay £30 million for Gonzalo Higuain this would weaken their negotiating position in other transfer dealings by inflating the values of other transfer targets.

As long as the Oligarch and Sheikh excesses remain Arsenal should not attempt to compete like for like with Manchester City and Chelsea in the transfer market. The only way that Arsenal can attract the top players in the world is to continue their policy over the last eight years of attracting the best undeveloped young talent in the world. In this era of excess, which won't last for ever, and should at least be curtailed to some extent by Financial Fair Play, Arsenal would find it difficult to attract and afford a fully developed Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey or Laurent Koscielny. In any case, frequent transfer signings negatively affects team cohesion as reaching a Barcelona passing level requires an almost 'Zen-like' understanding between players, which is considerably easier to attain if the players have developed in the same environment over several years as per La Masia.

The biggest problem that Arsenal have faced over the last few seasons has not been their inability to make big name signings, but the failure to retain players of the calibre of Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie (although, the two problems are related). Such departures should be less of a problem for Arsenal henceforth, assuming they maintain their current standing, as they now have a core of outstanding young British players: Jenkinson, Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain. These players are all tied to long-term contracts and have grown up with the club fostering a greater sense of belonging and loyalty. Binding these players to long-term deals was the key moment for Arsenal last season, not qualifying for the Champions League.

Arsenal are in a very strong position both financially and in the players that they already possess. Most clubs envy their position. Players like Higuain and Fellaini, who would improve the squad, would be welcome, but they should not be bought in for vastly inflated sums potentially jeopardizing the club's stability. Arsenal are still not in a position to compete with Chelsea and Manchester City like-for-like in wages and transfer fees. To compete with these clubs Arsenal will have to continue to think and act differently while the excesses remain. If they adopt the same strategy as Chelsea and Manchester City they will not increase the likelihood of obtaining 'silverware' (another word that is used increasingly by the football fraternity; a touch grating).

No comments:

Post a Comment