Like most fans, and quite probably Arsene Wenger himself, I wanted to see decisive action from the Gunners in the transfer market. Sort out the situation with those who want to leave, sign replacements in time, have a good pre-season, and start the season with confidence and stability. I will be surprised if anyone, irrespective of their feelings towards the manager or the board, disagrees with that. But the simple fact is that it didn’t happen.
At this point one can either go on and on about how it should have been and why it’s all a mess or actually put in some effort to comprehend the behind the scenes activities.
I want to share my view of how things might have gone. This includes a fair bit of speculation but I’m trying to see if it all makes sense instead of some individuals looking like complete fools, which we know they aren’t.
Clearly, the most important transfers were those of players who went out rather than those who came in. I have no doubt in my mind, at the start of the summer, Wenger wanted to keep Fabregas and Nasri.
Given the way these transfers were protracted, it is understandable that some fans don’t really care for one, if not both, of these players. But that does not change the fact that their quality is very, very hard to replace. Almost everyone agrees about the talent that Cesc has but Nasri is a bit open for debate due to a lack of tangible contribution in the latter part of the previous season.
What I do know is that Mancini spent a crazy amount of money for someone in the final year of his contract (That might actually be the world record, need to check). And Mancini is neither a fool nor is he short of options/resources. Blanc and Ferguson also rate Nasri very highly and United too made a sizeable bid if reports are to be believed.
So it is clear that players like Nasri are not easy to find even when you have the money. His performance in the first game for his new team kind of reinforces this point. Anyway, my intention is not to eulogize a player who has left but to establish the point that Wenger wanted to keep Nasri and Cesc and for good reason.
We don’t know when it was clear that these players must be sold or whose decision it was. That makes any analysis extremely complicated.
Some very astute writers have mentioned that Wenger should have set a deadline for Barcelona. Pay X amount by so and so date or the transfer is off. It is a logical approach and indeed many teams do place such conditions. Why then did Arsene not do it?
Is it a simple matter of indecision? Do you really think someone who is working hard every day to improve this team, could clearly see the impact of dragging this on, and has more experience in such matters than almost all of us put together would not make the transfer simply because he cannot make his mind up?
Or do you believe Wenger (and anyone in the staff) does not know the concept of setting a deadline for transfers? Is it such a difficult thought or do we give the guy who has demonstrated more intelligence than most some benefit of the doubt here?
I don’t think setting a deadline could have worked till the first competitive game came up, which is when the Cesc transfer gathered momentum anyway. Any deadline before that, and Arsenal might actually have set one, would be meaningless.
Suppose Arsenal set a deadline before the Asia tour. Barcelona refuse to meet the asking price but tell Fabregas to hang in there as they are working on generating some money through fringe player sales. It’s not the right thing but we know they had been in touch with Cesc for over two years but that is a separate issue so I don’t want to digress.
At that stage if Fabregas refuses to travel, what choice do Arsenal have? Let’s not forget he is a human and not a machine who can switch his mental focus and energies at the press of a button. Should Wenger force him into the starting line-up? What impact would it have if he didn’t concentrate and the fans turned on him? What chance would Arsenal have of actually keeping him and getting some value out of him after that? It would have played straight into the hands of Barcelona if it became clear that Cesc had no future whatsoever at Arsenal.
My best guess is that Arsene left Fabregas out because he was in no frame of mind to play, especially in pre-season friendlies, and was trying to create a scenario where the Spaniard would choose to stay. Whether Cesc put his foot down and demanded a move or the board refused to back Wenger is hard to speculate. I feel if Cesc wanted to push a move through he could have done it earlier – he too must have suffered a lot – but he has shown a lot of class and values in his eight years at Arsenal so I find that hard to accept.
Ultimately, the only realistic deadline of a competitive game came and Fabregas knew that by refusing to play at that level he will be hurting the club that he loves. Excuses like injury cannot go on forever and being cup-tied would make things very difficult. Something had to give and the move happened in a manner that suited Barcelona and Fabregas but not Arsenal. With hindsight and all the facts, it might emerge that Arsenal/Arsene made some mistakes in handling this situation. Given the complexity involved, I will be amazed if some mistakes were not made. But please, let’s not turn this into a video game where one click can sell a player and another can buy one.
The Nasri saga was perhaps intertwined with the Fabregas move. This is pure conjecture but I believe Arsene would have let Nasri go earlier if Cesc was staying. Replacing two players of this level is just not possible in the current market on Arsenal’s budget.
If we believe the strong rumours in the press, sizeable bids for M’Villa and Goetze were turned down. According to reports Arsene was also interested in Jadson, Lucho Gonzalez, Gourcuff, Cahill, Jagielka, and others. Some of those might have little substance but there can be little doubt Arsenal have been actively looking for players.
When sellings clubs are not under pressure it’s hard to force the transfers through even if a club is willing to pay. If Cesc and Barcelona didn’t have the relationship they had, Arsene probably would have shown a lot more determination in keeping Fabregas than Bolton or Dortmund did, for instance.
There is an argument that Wenger could have sanctioned the moves for the likes of Gary Cahill at their asking price. It would have given the team a much needed boost and the new signing some time to settle in. After all he did that with Gervinho and, for whatever it’s currently worth, with Jenkinson and AOC.
The point that many people miss is that signing a player is not just about his fee or wages, both of which are major factors undeniably, but it is also about having a more comprehensive longer term plan. If Arsenal pay over the odds for two or three players, it would put a significant dent into the budget and would leave little room for a plan B in case someone flops or picks up a serious injury.
It’s not a simple matter of being stingy or stubborn. Why do you think Ferguson and Wenger (even Dalglish if I am not mistaken) were willing to pay big money for Jones but neither of them has splashed out on Cahill who is reportedly priced in the same range?
Surely, Alex Ferguson would prefer a player with three years of Premiership experience over a relative rookie, don’t you think? This is where, as fans, we need to respect the extraordinary knowledge and understanding of the game that these men possess. And we must acknowledge the fact that they are thinking things through, which is not the same as checking whether you have sufficient money in the bank to pay the fee demanded.
Managers need to put a value on a targets head because they know how much money they have, how many players they need, and also the contingency plan in case things go awry. If the price demanded is far in excess of that value, the deal would make no sense except to those who can’t go beyond basic arithmetic.
My theory, and again this is just guesswork, is that Arsene knew he will need big money to replace Cesc and Nasri (consider the bids for M’Villa and Goetze) so he could not break the bank for the likes of Cahill and/or Jagielka.
I think all through the summer Arsenal have tried hard to keep their best players, made a number of enquiries and some serious bids when that didn’t work, and finally signed the best possible players given the circumstances. They also made a couple of early signings to fill some gaps in the squad.
There is no doubt in my mind that some of these players were not first choice, which is also a factor in the time it took for Arsenal to arrive at these names. A couple are also short term signings who will quite possibly be replaced in a year or two. There is every reason to believe the club will again make big bids for really talented players, probably in January or the summer. Whether that will work out in Arsenal’s favour or not is an entirely different issue.
This also explains the need for the price hike. The primary intent is not to make money – although there could be better ways of handling things – but to strengthen the squad. It does not translate into spending for the sake of spending but demands a more meticulous and sensible buying strategy, the effects of which we should see within a year or so.
Some people think that the 8-2 result forced Wenger to spend. With due respect, that is just ridiculous. All through the summer it has been clear that Wenger wanted to strengthen the squad –by filling the gaps, by trying to keep the best players, and by buying replacements.
Spending crazy money on the likes of Cahill would, in my book, be classified as panic buying because that would completely disrupt the accounts and the amounts remaining for future signings. Buying five players in the last two days for slightly more than the cost of one is not a sign of desperation. It is a culmination of a lot of hard work that went in the prior months.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of opinion available on the internet and in the media but not enough thought. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this is the only way to think about the whole situation but it does show the need to carefully consider and integrate various issues. Far too often, problems and transfers are analyzed and discussed in isolation. Nothing of any significance can be that trivial.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate what I said in the previous post. The transfers that Arsenal have done in the closing stages of the window are not ideal or without their own issues. For instance, one can argue that Clichy had been sold early enough in the window and a replacement should have been brought in sooner. I find it hard to argue against that.
Moreover, some players are injury prone, some don’t have premiership experience, one or two might be showing a decline in form, and so on. There are valid arguments against some of the signings. At the same time, one could highlight their experience, past performances, and individual qualities like set-piece delivery or height to support the signings. All these points are valid too and the ones you choose to focus on will only be a reflection on your mentality and nothing else.
In addition, I’d say that the venom in one’s voice or the degree of frustration towards the club or its employees, when not supported by necessary and sufficient fact based analysis, is nothing more than the failure of an individual to come to grips with the complexity of the situation.
I am reminded of a one-liner I read a long time ago – Always remember, two plus two equals five for extremely large values of two! It sounds absurd and I am using it completely out of context, but I feel in life often there are hidden complications – just like there can be hidden values after a decimal point on a calculator or spreadsheet – which completely change the outcome. Even when we don’t know these snags we must find a way to factor them into our analysis before we arrive at an opinion.
The simple and obvious answer to the question in the headline is quite possibly – “Yes”, but the real answer? I will leave that up to you.