Ever since Ivan Gazidis declared Arsenal’s new-found financial firepower, stating that the club could afford players like Wayne Rooney and be able to pay their wages, I have said that we need to judge the Arsenal management team based on this summer’s transfer dealings. And at the end of the summer it looks like it’s Öne-nil to the Arsenal.
For years now we’ve been told that there was no money to spend on players but finally the evidence was overwhelming: the cash on hand in the range of £150m, plus the new (front-loaded) stadium deals which were rolling in, plus the bumper new television contracts, all added up to a warchest that would rival any club in world football. Arsenal had to get this right, they had to signal a new direction for the club, they had to cast off the yoke of the old wage structure, and more importantly, Arsenal needed to show the world that they no longer sell off their star players but rather would start accumulating star players.
Lost in the hubbub of Arsenal’s star signing, which we will get to momentarily, is the fact that this summer’s transfer activity at Arsenal is transformational because we cleared out (almost all of) the dead wood. It was hard work getting rid of players like Djourou, Denilson, Chamakh, Gervinho, and Santos but Arsenal did it and largely finished the job, though it seems that there’s always something (Bendtner, Park) there to remind us of past mistakes.
And with the dead wood cleared out Arsenal set about looking for a £40m player with which to signal their intent. The intent to transform Arsenal from a club that sells star players to a club which buys star players.
It’s clear that Arsenal set their sights on a star forward. Higuain was first up but amid reports that Real Madrid moved the goalposts on his transfer fee, Arsenal switched to what would have proved the bargain of the summer: a £40,000,001 bid to activate a supposed release clause for Luis Suarez. But there was no release clause and Liverpool’s, rather shameful, public posturing made it clear that Suarez would never be sold to Arsenal. In fact, since the fallout of Arsenal selling Robin van Persie to Man U, it seems that none of the top six teams will sell any of their players to each other – all of them refusing to do deals which would have sent players to their rivals.
And so we waited, and waited, and waited, until the very last minute when word got out that Arsenal were going to do a deal for Mesut Özil. The idea that Arsenal would sign Mesut Özil was frankly, unbelievable. I could see a player like Higuain because while he’s a different class to the forwards we are used to shopping for, he’s not in the very elite class of players. Özil is certainly in that very elite class: he has been the best playmaking midfielder in Europe, consistently, for the last four to five years. Signing Özil, flat out, signals a new direction for Arsenal Football Club — we buy star players.
It’s also transformational because it heralds a return to the old Wenger, the Wenger who spent money. The myth is that Wenger has never spent any money in the transfer market. The fact is that in the Highbury-Wenger era Arsenal had just three seasons of positive cash flow in their transfer dealings and the remaining six seasons all saw Arsene spend money on transfers. He also had four seasons in which he spent more than €20m on transfers which brought his net spend in the Highbury era to somewhere around €90m. It’s true that Wenger never really bought established stars (though Henry was very well known everywhere except England) and instead bought rather judiciously.
Since moving to the Emirates, however, the story has flipped entirely. Taking out this summer, Arsenal were a net gain in the transfer market of €50m or so. Moreover, there were only two seasons of negative cash flow in the transfer market; 2009 when Arsene desperately bought Arshavin in January and in 2011 with the infamous “trolley dash”.
Boom, in one fell swoop Arsenal turned around and spent €50m on just one player, erasing the gains of the past, while still leaving a sizeable chunk of money left in the bank. Money, which, Arsenal fans will now rightly ask that the club spend.
This is perhaps the most important change from my perspective. Now that the club have opened the checkbook and started spending on star players, they can’t just stop. Not only does Arsenal have £100m cash on hand still but there is more money coming in and we all know it: the money from the Puma deal is not even on the books yet and other deals from this summer are starting to roll in.
And before the umlauts were dry on the Ö, the calls for Arsenal to spend that money were loud and clear. Tim Payton was and is, and will continue, to talk about the need to spend the money and buy more stars. Before the window even closed, Tim was saying that we needed to spend the £50m remaining in the bank and spend it on a forward.
Come on Arsenal. More than £50m (post Ozil) is sitting in the bank. It can’t score goals from there. Make someone an offer they can’t refuse
— tim payton (@timpayton) September 2, 2013
And he’s right, and Arsenal’s high profile attempts to land a forward (Higuain, Suarez, then Ba) prove that Arsene acknowledges Arsenal’s need for a forward. That we couldn’t land a forward is a bit of a blot on the copy book (that and trying to land Suarez). In fact, some reporters are adamant that Arsenal were so desperate for a forward that they refused the sale of Bendtner because Mourinho denied us Demba Ba. Frankly, I don’t know how much I believe that because I can’t see Bendtner playing for Arsenal again unless three things happen: both Giroud and Walcott are injured and Bendtner somehow convinces Arsene Wenger to play him over Yaya Sanogo. Yes, I am saying that Theo Walcott will play centrally for Arsenal and why not? Arsenal proved that we can sit back, soak up the pressure, and hit them with a quick counter. Walcott is perfect for those kinds of games. Walcott will rotate in for Giroud at least until January.
But the biggest thing that buying Özil does is it energizes the fans and players at Arsenal and sends a signal to the players not at Arsenal that the Gunners are open for business. The Arsenal fans have greeting Özil’s signing as a bigger transfer than even Bale to Real Madrid. The Arsenal players will also be energized because they are mow teammates with Real Madrid’s former #10. And the players who don’t play for Arsenal, yet, have to see this as a signal of intent. Any forwards out there looking for an increase in their goal-scoring numbers will be dying to play in front of Cazorla, Özil, and Walcott.
I know that the transfer market wasn’t perfect. I think Arsene bought well to cover his defense and midfield in buying Flamini (Sagna will play CB when needed), he bought well to cover keeper in Viviano (Szczesny has been playing very well), and he added more creativity to an already creative midfield which should translate to more shots and hopefully more goals. We could have done better and there are still some outstanding questions about why some deals didn’t get done. But for the moment we should all be excited by the fact that Arsenal finally did it: they finally landed a truly big-name player. Right now it’s öne-nil to the Arsenal.