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Arsenal’s Summer Window Assessed


Arsenal’s summer transfer window of 2021 came to a close the other night, with 6 new arrivals and 10 departures from the club.


Ben White, Brighton -£52.65m

Martin Ødegaard, Real Madrid – £31.50m

Aaron Ramsdale, Sheff Utd – £25.20m

Takehiro Tomiyasu, Bologna – £16.74m

Albert Sambi Lokonga, RSC Anderlecht – £15.75m

Nuno Tavares, Benfica – £7.20m


Joe Willock, Newcastle – £26.46m

Lucas Torreira, Fiorentina – Loan transfer, fee: £1.35m (with reported option to buy)

Willian, Corinthians – free transfer

Mattéo Guendouzi, Marseille – loan transfer (with obligation to buy)

William Saliba, Marseille – loan transfer

Dejan Iliev, SKF Sered – loan transfer

Reiss Nelson, Feyenoord – loan transfer

Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson, OH Leuvren – loan transfer (with option to buy)

Héctor Bellerín, Real Betis – loan transfer

According to TransferMarkt.

There was a huge amount of change this summer, as anticipated. Arsenal’s summer window saw them spending a club record, league leading £156.8m. There were new long term contracts completed for Kieran Tierney, Emile Smith Rowe and Folarin Balogun too – but some fans and pundits are still not happy. Many believe Arsenal’s transfer policy is doomed to fail, branding it non-sensical. Others have said it’s unclear.

“They’re spending a load of money – I’m not quite sure what the strategy is. It seems a little all over the place” – Gary Neville, Sky Sports

Neville’s comments are symptomatic of a general malaise around Arsenal, catalysed by current results. Shots are coming in from all sides, every Arsenal news story seemingly especially tailored for the best angle of attack. It’s open season for media attention, with fan enragement driving engagement and clicks. But it’s understandable. Arsenal are bottom of the Premier League table and people want answers, results and change. The club has to provide that. 

But in the face of current media criticism, those that are in charge at Arsenal are still tasked with implementing a transfer policy for the long term health of the club, even if it provides some short term pain. Win-now thinking has got Arsenal into the nadir they are in, and while much of the criticism is valid and justified, the suggestions from high profile pundits that the strategy is ‘all over the place’ is frankly at complete odds with reality. To most Arsenal fans, the strategy of the club has never been clearer or more explicit. The real question is – will it work?

In a leaked letter to Arsenal employees that has been published by Simon Collings in the Evening Standard, Arsenal chief executive Vinai Venkatesham said:

“Our approach for this window was framed by fully recognising that we are not where we want to be on the pitch — finishing eighth last season, with no European football for the first time in many years. Whilst we would love to jump from where we are to where we want to be in an instant, we need to be realistic that the gap is too large to do that. As such, our activity this window has been focused on youth. Our strategy is to fill our squad with some of Europe’s most exciting young talent, with players from both our academy and further afield, that can grow and develop together under Mikel to take us where we want to get to. Whilst this will not be overnight, we can make positive progress, and it gives us the best route to future success in a sustainable way.”

And Vinai’s words are not just talk. Looking at the age profiles of the signings; White (23), Ødegaard (22), Ramsdale (23), Tomiyasu (22), Lokonga (21) and Tavares (20), Arsenal’s strategy is crystal clear. Buy young, high-potential players looking to improve at a fair price, implement a strong wage structure and foster a youthful, competitive environment. Then, with sensible contract management you can either sell high a few years down the line or build a mature, flourishing group of players and team who are able to compete for significant titles in 3-5 years time, who will have values far beyond what Arsenal could probably pay for players of the required quality who are in their prime now.

It sounds great – in theory. Arsenal have a rich history of nurturing young talent, and the current crop from Hale End and beyond of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Emile Smith Rowe, Folarin Balogun et al, alongside the new signings, represent a bright future for the club. But no-one can know what the team might look like in 3-5 years time. It’s high risk, high reward; and we’ve seen this movie before…

Another criticism of the Arsenal’s work this summer has been the high volume of acquisitions who don’t directly impact and improve the first team. It could be argued that only Martin Ødegaard, Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu go straight into the First XI, and Ødegaard was in Arsenal’s team from January 2021. So what’s really changed?

This is a policy corner that Arsenal may have been forced into. To achieve the squad turnover required on the budget Arsenal have, they have had to stretch their resources over a number of acquisitions to cultivate a competitive and balanced squad. Players of the required quality in the peak of their careers know they won’t have their salary, sporting or personal ambitions fulfilled right now at Arsenal and despite the club’s rich history and London home, it’s unlikely Arsenal provide an attractive enough proposal, especially with no European football. Arsenal have to grow their own stars – and indeed, leaders. 

Ex-Arsenal player Paul Merson complained on Sky Sports’ coverage of Deadline Day that he no longer sees Arsenal beating anyone to sought after players in transfer battles any more. Maybe that’s true, but it’s only true as a symptom of where Arsenal are on the sporting ladder. Football is a results based business, and Arsenal only have themselves to blame for the place they find themselves. The trick now is sticking to the strategy and holding their nerve, growing their young talent well and nurturing the right environment for them. It will take time. Perhaps time Arsenal don’t have. There are concerns over the senior players not providing the right examples. But short term thinking has not served Arsenal before.

While the incoming strategy was being implemented, there has been criticism and disappointment around Arsenal’s outgoings. Many fans feel Edu and his team have fallen short of the requirements expected at the beginning of the summer, as it was widely reported that Arsenal would undergo the biggest rebuild in their history after two 8th placed finishes. A lot of the reporting focused on the need for outgoings for cash, squad places and a tight, balanced squad, but with just 1 permanent deal concluded with Joe Willock’s departure to Tyneside, it’s fair to say fan expectations for the level of outgoings have not been met. The likes of Sead Kolašinac, Alexandre Lacazette and Mohamed Elneny remain at the club, players who the club are keen to move on. Historically, Arsenal have not sold their assets well, and this summer further compounds that.

However, Arsenal do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of an international football community hit by the impact of Coronavirus, lack of funding through botched TV deals, rapid exodus of big name stars to the Premier League, and players increasingly tending to run down their contracts to expiration. The Premier League, however, has been the least impacted by some way, as seen starkly below.

With the lack of movement inbound abroad, Arsenal are not the only club to have struggled to sign players. Everton (7.2m), Leicester (3.6m), West Ham (2.7m) and Liverpool (24.75m) all received less incoming fees than Arsenal, as many Premier League clubs set about making do with loans, free transfers and swap deals. The only clubs receiving any significant fees were the likes of Chelsea, United and City – clubs already in a strong position with higher quality players.

It sounds simple, but it’s important to remember some basic sales truths. Better quality stock sells better, so will go for more money. Selling requires a buyer, and if there are no buyers, you can’t sell. That’s often forgotten in football. Add to that the fact that clubs know Arsenal are in a weak position and need to sell players, so there’s no need to pay over the odds or even necessarily at value, and you find yourself in a difficult spot. It’s like trying to sell wool to a sheep.

There is a flip side to that however – with clubs in financial peril, there was definitely an opportunity to look to the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and beyond for clubs in need of a sale. Arsenal have a reputation as a club that doesn’t do ‘smart’ deals and there were surely a few out there. Player power is higher than ever before, and looking forward with more and more players looking to run their deals down, there may some good business Arsenal can look to do on free transfers come January.

Arsenal have got a lot done this window, and KSE should be credited for heavy investment, even if it’s not yet at the level to compete with the clubs above Arsenal. Overall, Arsenal can be pleased with their work in the context, while aware there was room to improve. The question remains, however, if this change in transfer policy will work – or if Arsenal even had a choice.

Football and football fans are notoriously fickle, and with a fan base already at the end of their tether after years of mismanagement, time will tell if this project will be given… well, just that.

Alexander Moneypenny (@AMonFootball)

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