Saturday, March 2, 2024

Can we start to get worried yet?

Apologies if this post comes across as grumpy or morose but it comes on the back of very little sleep. It’s 5.30am and something I ate has had me up most of the night.

As the new season looms ever more closely, I’m having one of those moments. All summer I’ve fluctuated between fearing the worst and hoping for the best, erring on the side of the best because it made no sense to me whatsoever that we wouldn’t do whatever it takes to make ourselves competitive again. The players going out, making room in the squad, money ready to be spent – it’d be bonkers to think we wouldn’t be active in the transfer market.

And yet, it is August 8th. The worst has just spun its head 360 degrees and spewed projectile vomit in my face. One week from today, I will be sitting down to the record the first Arsecast of the new season. The day after that airs we play Aston Villa. And nothing has happened bar the arrival of Yaya Sanogo, a man whose name is only mentioned in caveats and clarifications. I genuinely feel sorry for him at this stage.

Of course, a lot can happen in one week, but what is it about the approach of a new campaign that might spark us into action? It’s not like it’s come as some big shock. It’s not as if Ivan and Arsene have suddenly awoken from some glorious stupor.

‘Arsene, wake up!’


‘The new season starts in a week! What are we going to do?’

‘Erm … we should make a little bit the signings. Or, meh, let’s just see what happens.’

It has been close to three months since last season ended. Three months in which we could have brought in the players we needed. We’re just over a week away from kick-off and nothing has happened (bar Yaya). Three months. 12 weeks. 90 days (more or less). Lots of time to do lots of stuff. And a week is supposed to focus us on what we really need to do? To do what pretty much every Arsenal fan thinks we need to do to win things again?

And sure, we could do a lot in a week. We could do plenty that will make this particular post look churlish in hindsight, but as we stand now, how can anyone be other than concerned? Like, really concerned. I know I am, and if you want to accuse me of being overly negative, then fire away. I can live with that. I don’t think what we’ve done has been hugely positive.

Getting rid of the deadwood has been successful, but that’s like living with fiery, weeping hemorrhoids for years then expecting a medal when you finally go to the doctor to get them seen to. It needed to be done, no doubt about it, but it was a problem of our own making, and there are still one or two little ones hanging around that haven’t responded to treatment (including The Greatest Hemorrhoid That Ever Lived).

People say, ‘The window is open until September 2nd, we should wait until then to judge’, but why should we wait until then? Isn’t the point of the summer to prepare yourselves for the start of the season, not the end of the transfer window? Arsene Wenger has gone on record more than once saying he believes the window should close as soon as the season starts. As it happens, I agree with him completely, but it doesn’t work that way.

Clubs, and not just Arsenal, put a huge amount of stock in the end of the window, in deadline day, often at the expense of their team. We know too well how that goes. Remember that summer when we couldn’t sell Cesc and Nasri and still be called a big team and then we sold them and then we still weren’t going to buy anyone but we got smashed to pieces at Old Trafford and we had an ‘Ooops, I suppose we better do something’ moment? Yeah, masterful use of the transfer window there.

Last season we learned from it with Podolski and Giroud both arriving in good time and ready to begin life at their new club, while Cazorla’s quality along with Arteta’s help and guidance meant he settled in quickly despite the fact his arrival came a week or so into August. This time around though, I’m at a loss to understand what’s happening.

The worst, in the shape of Mr Barlow, reminds me we’re embroiled in a grotty, unseemly drama involving Luis Suarez. The latest is that the PFA, who he turned to for help, have (I assume having had full sight of the contract), confirmed there’s no clause which says he has to be allowed to leave if a club offers more than £40m. Well, ooops. It’s clear Suarez and his camp have misunderstood, in turn we’ve been led to believe this clause was enough to do the deal, and Liverpool’s insistence that it’s watertight appears to be spot on.

So, now what? The Mugsmashers are going into full ‘Never ever ever’ mode, and who can blame them? It might unrealistic but haven’t we, as Arsenal fans, often bemoaned the fact that we didn’t make players with contracts stay and see out the deals they so happily signed? I’ve always feared the Suarez suspension playing a big part in all this. It means they’re in no hurry whatsoever to do any business, he’s suspended until October anyway, and if they don’t sell him somewhere it strikes me they’ll just keep him, serve him some humble pie and he’ll play for them for another year.

But, even more worryingly, I wrote this last month in another piece about Suarez:

I don’t think, on July 24th, that it’s unreasonable to concerned that this appears to be everything right now, and there’s not much else going on to strengthen a squad that really, really needs it to compete this summer.

That was over two weeks ago now. And what has changed? We’re still caught up with Suarez, we’re hearing the same old stuff about ‘working hard’, and as much as I want to believe it, we’ve heard that line before and ended up with nothing much happening. I know Arsene spoke about confidentiality, and I really hope that we’re being so sneaky that nothing is emerging, but in this 24 hour, instant-news world we live in now, it’s nigh on impossible to stop somebody saying something.

The worst has just stuck its hand out of a freshly dug grave. The worst tells me that the lack of discussion around any other players is because there aren’t any other players on our radar. There are some vague names thrown about in the newspapers, but beyond that not much is happening. Maybe we’re working hard, maybe we’re just saying we’re working hard, I can’t say. I don’t claim to know anything other than we’re just over a week away from a new season and we’re going into it with a squad that, while streamlined and less wasteful in terms of resources, is ostensibly weaker than the one which just scraped into 4th last season.

At what point it ok to express those concerns? Now? The day before the season starts? After a disappointing performance/result against Villa? When we see Per or Kos pick up an injury this weekend and don’t have a fit centre-half to replace them? This is August, not June. Can we worry when we see the Champions League qualifying draw (tomorrow, by the way)?

‘Maybe we’re waiting to see if we qualify before we buy’. Leaving aside how downright foolish that is, because having a stronger squad and team for your qualifier increases your chances of winning it, Ivan Gazidis is on record saying that is not a factor when it comes to our plan on how to spend. ‘What plan?’, you might ask. Well, I don’t know. ‘What plan?’ seems to me to be a very good question indeed.

If the plan is to wait until a week before the season, get completely wrapped up in the most contentious transfer deal of the summer, ignoring the chance to sign good players (for less money and far less drama) along the way, and add nothing to squad (bar poor old Yaya), then might I suggest that the plan is, you know, a bit shit?

But if this feels to you like I’m being impatient or greedy, fine, all I want is for Arsenal to use the resources we’ve worked so hard to accumulate. I’m not talking about hawking the family silverware for a fix. Nor am I the one who set the level of expectation. That falls on the club.

IG, May 20th“Our majority owner Mr Kroenke has made it clear that while it’s an achievement to make the Champions League our ultimate objective is to win the major trophies. We all share that clear ambition and will be driving the Club forward to achieve it. Arsène and I have already been planning what we need to do to strengthen so we are better placed next season.”

We’re not better placed. Yet.

IG, June 6th – “We get beaten up along the way but I think we are an extraordinarily ambitious club.”

You could label the Suarez bid extraordinarily ambitious, all right, in more ways than one, but if people think his arrival would be enough to make us champions, I’d suggest you look more closely at our squad.

IG, June 6th“We want to be a club that is competing at the very top end of the game and that means competing to win the Premier League and competing to win the Champions League. The critical thing now as we look ahead over the next season and the season after is our developing financial capability which will give us a lot more options than in recent years.”

We are running a transfer profit so far this summer. The question was posed to Gazidis, ‘Can Arsenal buy a £20m+ player and pay him £200,000 a week.’

IG, June 6th“Of course we could do that. We could do more than that.”

So, if there’s a high level of expectation this time around, it’s not because we’ve talked ourselves into a frenzy. It’s because the club made it quite clear they had a plan. They want to compete for the Premier League and Champions League, and to help us do that they could target elite players and pay them top wages. And a week before the season, nothing (bar sweet, sweet Yaya).

Given the platform we gave ourselves from a football point of view when we finished 4th, and the financial platform the impressive new commercial deals provide, good planning would have seen signings happen early in the summer, allowing new players to move here, settle in, get to know their teammates and so on. Everybody knows that the more players know each other, and build relationships on the pitch, the better they’ll be.

We might still bring in players before Villa, but they’ll be parachuted in with little or no time to get used to new surroundings, perhaps a new language, new style of play, new tactics, new teammates. And look, I realise that football transfers are complicated, but other clubs around us have had little trouble in bringing in the players they wanted. They’ve strengthened, spent money, and for those bemoaning the lack of targets, practically every player brought in by Man City or Sp*rs would improve our squad. Maybe they’re not the ideal players, but the bottom line is they’d still make us better overall.

Anyway, write this off if you want. Tell me I’m overreacting. That I’m not giving us time to do what needs to be done. Ignore the three months we’ve already had to do it. Move those goalposts from the start of August, to the first game of the season, to the end of the window. If you want to wait until then to judge, then be my guest.

Of course we could be here a week from now talking about new players, a squad – more importantly a team – that is harder, better, faster, stronger, and I can’t stress enough how much I hope that’s the case. But now, today, August 8th, I’m worried. Worried that we’ve let the best off-season position we’ve been in for years pass us by. And worried that this inaction will impact on our start to the season.

Anyway, maybe tomorrow will be brighter. Sleep might help. A non-churning stomach might too. And this has been something of an epic. If you’ve stuck with it all the way through, fair play.

Till tomorrow.

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