When Arsene Wenger Hunts for Bargains, Everybody Loses
When Arsene Wenger Hunts for Bargains, Everybody Loses
On September 1st, 2013, the first domino fell in a chain that any self-respecting Arsenal fan knows intimately, despite no player moving to or from the Emirates. Of course, media and supporters alike have long-hailed Gareth Bale’s transfer from Tottenham Hotspur as the move that made Mesut Ozil surplus at Real Madrid before manger Arsene Wenger pounced on him for 42 million euros, which, at the time, was a club record.
Since then, Mesut Ozil has directly contributed 15 goals, 33 assists — including his staggering tally of 19 in 2015-2016 — 2 FA Cups, and some of the best social media game that side of the Atlantic. Even for the most adamant of dismissers, Ozil’s helping hand has steadied a shaky Arsenal side ever since he arrived just days after that disappointing 2-0 loss to Aston Villa in the opening fixture.
However, and it brings no certain joy admitting this, Mesut Ozil has ruined the transfer market for Arsenal.
Nowadays, you can find Wenger digging through the bottom of the barrell for the most recently shoved-aside superstar during any given transfer window. Alexis behind Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Luis Suarez? Sign him. Chelsea are selling Petr Cech as a favor to the London legend as they move into the Thibaut Courtois era? 10 million for Cech was a cool purchase at a fraction of the summer’s usual lofty demands. Elsewhere, the cheap additions of Danny Welbeck, Calum Chambers, Gabriel, and Mathieu Debuchy have proved, up until this point, hollow.
This summer, the stingy narrative bustling along as the early purchase of Xhaka seems optimistically positive and well-revered but, now, dear lord, a full week into the 2016-2017 Premier League campaign, Arsenal are already in trouble. Despite plenty of preparation time, Arsenal were forced to play a pair of twentysomething center backs against a lethal Liverpool attack and had no answer offensively without Olivier Giroud as he still recovered from the European Championships.
No matter how you feel about Giroud and his fit with Arsenal’s ideal Starting XI, most supporters are upset that they’re on the fourth consecutive year of the Frenchman being the unanimous choice at striker. This month, Wenger said that four main factors go into a transfer: price, age, fit, and resale value. After a completely avoidable 4-3 defeat to Liverpool on Sunday, supporters are to believe that not a single player in the entire world — other than Jamie Vardy and, potentially, Alexandre Lacazette — check off Wenger’s boxes?
Which brings us to the Shkodran Mustafi imminent-but-not-really-mega-saga the club is currently faced with. Even as the transfer looked hopeful following Per Mertesacker’s injury and then a near locked-in certainty after their 20-minute implosion against Liverpool, a deal has still not been agreed upon. With the club in certain crisis, one might assume that it would behoove Arsenal to get on with negotiations and offer well-above whatever Valencia want for their star.
And yet, here we all are, wheeling after the BBC’s David Ornstein, a frequent mouthpiece for the club, said that Mustafi is keen to a North London move, but the club is currently haggling over a few million pounds.
Price the issue. Arsenal want to hold back funds for possible striker signing. #AFC transfer budget factors in fee, salary, agent commission
— David Ornstein (@bbcsport_david) August 15, 2016
You can’t be serious, right?
With the club in the midst of potential capitulation before the transfer window even closes, the fact that Wenger cannot pull the trigger on Mustafi shows that his bargain-hunting policy is actively hurting the team. However, for once, it’s in the immediate short-term instead of the typical whole-season slog when we discover that Giroud burns out in March. And, even worse, it’s directly lead to some of the club’s most egregious fodder to stick around far longer than they should.
It’s no secret that Debuchy has wanted a move away from the Emirates after a freak injury revealed the raw potential of Hector Bellerin last season and the Frenchman had his position at right back taken away permanently. So why, after an ill-fated loan spell at Bordeaux last spring, is he still in London? Is that the same reason that Yaya Sanogo, who was conspicuously absent from the most recent training photos and the USA tour, is still taking up a senior team roster spot?
For should Giroud get injured, that leaves Wenger, despite months — although there’s certainly an argument for years here — of time to prepare, just Alexis “Not A Striker” Sanchez and Theo “Just Kidding, I’m Actually A Winger Again” Walcott as established options up top, with younger players like Chuba Akpom and Sanogo bringing up the rear in desperation.
Imagine the riots in North London should Sanogo ever be forced into a game in 2017 — no, really, imagine it, because that scenario, as of now, is most certainly in play. The need for a new goalscorer has been magnified as the club continues to balk and allude to an illustrious, unicorn striker — the same one that those bloody ITKs have referred to as #madness for the last few weeks — that may or may not show up like a wet dog just begging to be bought and saved by the magical Arsenal football club.
@zwz121 stay calm. Madness incoming.
— Pablo (@AFCAMDEN) August 1, 2016
For every elite player like Ozil or blue-chip prospect like Holding, there should be transfers much like Mohamed Elneny — a mid-tier purchase that won’t revolutionize the team front-to-back, but will win the team a few points when they need it the most. As of now, it looks like Wenger has sworn off that middle ground, opting only for established stars or those that may be one in a half-decade — and for that, the club has suffered as whole.
As many have pointed out, Arsenal have spent less than Bournemouth have in their first two seasons ever in the Premier League. Wenger has frequently said that Arsenal won’t buy players just to buy, but there is a stark difference between that and not spending any money at all. While you can’t fault Wenger for Vardy running away from the bright London spotlights, you can be frustrated at what seems like a lack of ambition on the board’s part.
With ticket prices higher than anybody else’s in England, supporters deserve better than to have their unbridled optimism undone in a single four-goal flurry led by Philippe Coutinho. Of course the club can’t compete with Manchester United’s unreal bid for Paul Pogba’s services, but all involved shouldn’t have to suffer through half-hearted Jonny Evans rumors in mid-August.
Which, finally, brings us to the events of August 17th: amidst Ornstein’s report that Wenger is holding out on whatever Mustafi’s demanded fee is, there are rumors that Arsenal have considered other options at center back — Fabian Schar, Marcel Tisserand, and (ha!) Jose Gimenez, to name a few. As if now, a full week into the 2016-2017 season and with reigning champions Leicester City on the docket, is the time to play coy and disinterested with a team that seems keen to sell a World Cup winner.
Please, Arsene, the time to play hardball is over when even the dealer knows you’re bluffing. Yes, sometimes you play your cards close to the chest and get Mesut Ozil — but it is naive to assume that a royal flush will come on the river in every hand you play.
If Wenger is not careful in navigating these tricky upcoming weeks, his pipe dream of leaving the club in a great position for the next manager will wilt and Arsenal football club will never be the same again.