Ahead of this weekend’s football match versus Crystal Palace, Arsene Wenger was asked the only question that really matters: “how many players are you going to buy this summer?”
Wenger gave an answer which is more milquetoast than portrayed in some quarters but also understandably upsetting,
If you look at the top three teams, you will see they have not changed their team a lot. We have to strengthen our squad but it’s not obvious to find the players despite the money the English clubs will have. We are already working but we have to find the players and that is not easy.
You cannot dismiss that the players are young: Alex Iwobi is 19, Mohamed Elneny is 23, Francis Coquelin 24, and they will be stronger next year but you need to keep a core of players and strengthen where we can. The team is going the right way.
The first part of Wenger’s answer is very cheeky and one of my favorite things about Wenger is his wit and charm. Yes, the “top three” teams — Leicester, Tottenham, and Arsenal — are not historically known as big spending teams.
But Wenger seems to overlook the fact that Leicester and Tottenham refreshed in key positions and that both teams bought more players than Arsenal did.
Leicester were actually the big spenders of the three, splurging £35m on Kante, Huth, Okazaki and Fuchs (free) among others. But contrary to Wenger, Leicester’s Summer transfers were crucial to this season’s success. They had some flops (Inler and Amartey) but there is no question that Huth, Fuchs, and Kante have been instrumental signings with Kante tipped as player of the year.
Meanwhile, Tottenham made a net gain from transfers of about £10m. But again, they sold players who were flops last season (Soldado, Capoue, Townsend, Paulinho, etc) and brought in key new players like Son and Alderweireld.
Far from “not changing their teams a lot” Tottenham purchased five players this Summer and sold a whopping nine; Leicester bought five and sold two; but Arsenal bought three (I’m really stretching here, adding The Jeff and Bennacer) and sold just one (Podolski, meanwhile several others who have played one or two games for Arsenal were let go on a free, like Abou Diaby).
Given the league position and the glaring holes in several positions on the pitch Arsenal supporters are rightfully upset at this season’s lack of transfer activity. Wenger went into the Summer saying that he had a strong enough and deep enough squad and that despite fans, including Thierry Henry, begging the manager to buy a striker, he wouldn’t be doing any business. This is what he said in May 2015;
“We are not in need of absolute change,” Wenger said. “We have a strong squad. We have some strong young players behind.
“I believe that some players who were questioned, like Mesut Ozil, have made big improvements in the second part of the season and becomes slowly the leader you want him to be in guiding our game.
“We have a big squad now. Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell, Yaya Sanogo will come back from their loans. If you add that to the number of players we have, you can see we have a big squad now.
“We feel we have made up some ground, that will be the challenge of next season from the start, let’s show we are there and capable to fight for it.”
At the time, people said that Wenger wasn’t being serious and that we can’t take what he says seriously when it comes to transfer windows but he was being serious. He bought just one senior player in the Summer, which proves that he felt the team were strong enough.
What bothers me about Wenger’s quotes is the sense of defeatism that permeates. Transfers are “not obvious” and “not easy” despite the money available to the club. This is certainly true and is reflected by other manager’s statements about bringing players in. Slaven Bilic pointed this fact out when he said,
Sometimes it’s much easier for West Ham or Leicester to get Kanté, he was playing in Caen and not a big star there,” said Bilic. “It’s much easier to join Leicester or West Ham than to go straight to Manchester City or to Chelsea.
And last Summer, when Arsenal were saying that they didn’t think forward Anthony Martial was available, Louis van Gaal was reluctantly forking out extra money to get the player,
He called the $55 million fee paid for Anthony Martial, rising to a potential $89.5 million with bonuses, a “ridiculous amount of money” and said that United are routinely quoted “$15 million more” than other clubs.
But despite the fact that transfers are not obvious and not easy they can be done and are done. Teams manage transfers in important positions all the time. Wenger, in fact, addressed a long-standing need for a midfielder who can play the ball this January when he bought Elneny.
We have heard that transfers are hard now for the last 11 years of Wenger’s tenure as manager. I don’t think that there is a single, sane, person who thinks that transfers are easy. All managers and fans are aware that because of the money in the Premier League transfers are going to cost more and that there is going to be increased competition.
But Arsenal are one of the richest clubs in the world, they have plenty of money in the bank, the future money for the Premier League is looking rosy by an additional £40m a season, they are playing in one of the most globally visible leagues in the world, and plying their trade in the Champions League. They can offer more money, more visibility (and thus endorsements), and club football at a level that is rivaled by only a few teams in the world (Chelsea can’t even offer Champions League).
It’s not going to be easy, Arsenal will probably have to pay over the odds for the players, but if Arsenal want to win the League and want to build a team that can challenge for the Champions League, they need to get players in that will make this team stronger and deeper. And the good news is that Wenger admits that new bodies are needed.
The job is hard, the job is not obvious, the job requires that the manager balances new acquisitions with academy players, but that’s what Wenger is paid the largest managerial salary in the history of English football to do.