Where we are and where we could be
I was out last night for a few beers with Mrs Blogs and some of her colleagues and I have to tell you it was nice to be able to switch off and not think about Arsenal for a few hours. Then I came home, decided to have just one more drink, and I started thinking about Arsenal again, in the light of all the stories flying around the ether about Cesc, and I have to say I wasn’t particularly encouraged by any of it.
Two days away from the start of the season it looks like we’re selling our captain and our best player, for a price which in no way is commensurate with his talent or, just as importantly, the length of time he’s got left on his contract. As I feared over the last week or so, we’ve been worn down by the relentless cuntery of the whole situation and despite holding a strong hand throughout we’ve buckled.
I just listened to the BBC’s Dan Roan on 5Live and he said he spoke to an Arsenal board member last night (IG, I imagine) who said it would all be done by the weekend. That could be tomorrow, it could happen today, and while Cesc was never going to play this weekend against Newcastle what does it say about us at the moment that on the eve of the new season we lose him? What does it say about the way we’ve managed the situation that it’s happening now when we should be focusing on getting off to a good start ahead of a very difficult month?
It’s not just us, of course, there’s Barcelona, there’s Cesc’s desire to go there, but I look at this sorry mess and it’s hard to think we’ve dealt with it as well as we should have. On every level. From this summer, to the way we’ve failed to invest properly in our team which has resulted in two of best players wanting out, and doubts over others not too far in the distance. Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott will reach next summer and only have one year left on their contracts. I would suggest that right now there’s little chance of them signing new deals.
The players we have – with the exception of one or two – clearly aren’t stupid and they’ll be looking closely at what’s going on. It was Arsene Wenger himself who said that you cannot be considered a big club if you sell your best players. Well, we’re about to sell one of them – and maybe Nasri too (although I think the Frenchman could stay simply because AW won’t let both him and Cesc go) – and from a purely footballing point of view it’s not good for Arsenal.
You can be glad this saga is finally over, I think most people will be happy to move on one way or the other, and you can be fed up to the back teeth with Barcelona, or the modern footballer or agents, but it is very, very tough to look at us this morning and be encouraged about the season ahead. We’ve bought three players. Two of them came from League 1 with less than 40 first team games of football between them. One of them is just 17. Only Gervinho is older than 20. Yes, there’s still some time to before the transfer window closes but the closer we get to August 31st the more it looks like we’re going to repeat the mistakes of summers past and the more it looks like we’re just flying by the seat of our pants with no real plan.
If there’s a morsel of encouragement it’s from the BBC article above where the Arsenal board member says that all the funds from the transfer of Cesc will be reinvested in new players. Part of me wonders if we’d invested properly over the last couple of seasons if we’d be in this kind of mess now but that is a whole other debate. It is absolutely critical that the club act with far more decisiveness and ambition than they have thus far. When Cesc goes that gives the manager an estimated transfer fund of around £65m.
We know there’s around £30m available as it stands, the Cesc money and maybe the £20m for Nasri, added to that gives him the kind of available cash that only the Sugar Daddy clubs have. People might say it’ll make life difficult for us because clubs know we have money but if that becomes an impediment to us buying players then you’d have to seriously question how we operate. The situation across Europe is that many clubs are struggling financially and we are in a position to make them offers they can’t refuse for players we want to buy. If we have to pay a little over the odds for one or two then that, I’m afraid, is a consequence of the way we’ve dealt with things this summer.
What is obvious though, is that to ensure this team is capable of mounting a title challenge this season, to ensure that players like van Persie and Walcott (to a lesser extent) see Arsenal as a club where they can win things in the future, the money has to be invested in experience and quality. I’m glad we signed AOC and that Miyaichi got his work permit but with hand on heart does anyone expect either of them to be that influential this season? They’re still learning the game. That we have such high hopes for them is almost damaging in a way because those expectation levels result in loss of patience in players who need and deserve it as they develop.
The board need to make it abundantly clear to Arsene Wenger that the money be spent, not on potential and youth, but on good players who can come in and do a job now. If he doesn’t, and results suffer because of that, his position surely becomes untenable.
And while all this might sound miserable and doomy, there is an upside. Arsene’s got the chance to make a real statement of intent. To take £60m (maybe £80m) if Nasri goes, and rebuild this Arsenal team. Because it needs it. Badly. It’s not like we’re losing Cesc and wondering how we’re going cope or having to use the money to service debts and loans. It’s not as if we’re on the precipice of financial ruin with no prospects of bringing in new players. Losing Cesc is a huge blow on many levels but Arsene has the means at his disposal to make silk purse out this sow’s ear. He can go into a depressed market with plenty of money to get the players he wants.
There are now 20 days until the close of the transfer window. Arguably they’re the most important 20 days of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal career. He has no choice but to spend the money. Not for his own sake or the sake of keeping his job but for the sake of his team and for the club. Add three or four players of experience and quality – nobody’s expecting superstars, just good players – and we’re in much better shape. Without those purchases I genuinely fear for us, not least because of the message it sends.
So, over to you Arsene, over to you Ivan, it’s time to get this show on the road.