Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Wenger on his future and the market, Mustafi coming and Mahrez guff

Thursday. Tick tock. Tick tock. It is almost upon us.

We got our first team news update of the new season yesterday. OUT Gabriel, 6-8 weeks. OUT Jack Wilshere, but he’s in training and should be grand pretty soon. OUT Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck. OUT Carl Jenkinson till November. However, we’ve welcomed back Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil who all looked happy to be back in training yesterday, although none of them are expected to be available for Sunday.

The manager gave them some extra rest for a good reason, so if we saw them before next weekend I’d be quite surprised. Of course the central defensive situation is one that will be giving Arsene Wenger plenty of thought, especially regarding Koscielny, but we can revisit that over the next couple of days. Who knows, we might even get an update on that from him in his first press conference of the new season tomorrow.

As it is now Thursday, it’s hugely unlikely that anybody will be arriving in time to fill that gap. However, it seems that a decision has been made on who we’ll sign at the back and Valencia’s Shkodran Mustafi is that man. The Spanish club have to sell to balance their books, and with the English premium – the money every club can now gouge from a Premier League buyer – this will work out quite nicely for them from a financial point of view at least. A fee of around €35m is expected to make it all happen.

Speaking yesterday at the launch of the Premier League, there was an acceptance from Arsene Wenger that the market has changed almost beyond recognition, and that in order to get things done you have to get on board. He made the point it’s more expensive when people know you have money:

If you go to Spain and you’re an English club – straight away the inflation comes in. So I would say, in France the clubs, amongst themselves, are very reasonable. If an English club comes in, the price goes straight away up because they know there is money in England.

All very true, but clubs can’t ignore the part they’ve played in making the Premier League the cash cow it is. You can’t take in all that TV cash without it affecting things, and the manager seems on board with what it means for the business we have to do:

We are in a system that we don’t master. We have to follow the prices paid by other people. That has gone up because the availability of money is much higher.

So you either get on board, or you get left behind. It’s as simple as that. Welcome to a world where Yannick Bolasie now costs £30m. It’s a very weird and strange world, but it’s the one we live in. It does make it more difficult to properly a2ssess the value of a player. If you’d asked me to put a price tag on Bolasie 12 months ago it wouldn’t have been anywhere near that, but such is the cash at hand – meaning clubs aren’t as hard pressed to sell – prices just go up and up and up.

Luckily for us, we’ve got a lot of money. Already cash rich, we too have benefited from the TV monies, and although we have spent around £40m on Xhaka, Holding and Asano, there’s still plenty more at our disposal. Regardless of what Ivan Gazidis might say about how we can’t compete, we can do more than most clubs, so that kind of spin is pretty disingenuous.

Elsewhere, the manager talked about his desire to keep working, whether at Arsenal or anywhere else, and was pretty clear that his future depends entirely on how things go in the final year of his current deal:

In your job, It’s a love story. You want it to you last your whole life but you know that it can stop at any moment. What I will do is continue to work as long as I have the physical potential to work. No matter what kind of position. I will always work

My contact runs through to the end of the season, what happens depends on how the season goes.

Pretty frank, but certainly seems to suggest he’d be open to staying if things went well. Which does make you wonder why he hasn’t really gone for it in the transfer market to give himself the best chance of that happening. However, trying to work out how Arsene Wenger’s mind works and why he seems to eschew the obvious is also what makes him interesting. Hugely frustrating too, but he is what he is, and that should be no surprise to anyone at this stage.

There was some stuff about Riyad Mahrez yesterday too. Let me see if I can break down into a sensible timeline.

  • A bloke from L’Equipe TV said a couple of weeks ago he knew ‘for sure’ that Mahrez wanted to go to Arsenal
  • Said bloke L’Equipe TV Tweeted yesterday that Arsenal had a £30m bid rejected by Leicester
  • A few minutes later he said Arsenal had come back with £35m
  • Then he said ‘Mahrez soon at Arsenal’
  • A chap from the Guardian said Mahrez’s agent was meeting Leicester
  • Claudio Ranieri said Mahrez had no release clause and was staying
  • Sky Sports said Arsenal had not bid for Mahrez at all
  • L’Equipe TV bloke said things were moving slowly diplomatically
  • The Guardian ran a story saying Mahrez has agreed not to leave in this transfer window

So, there you go, in a nutshell. It’s so difficult to know exactly what’s going on. Especially as this morning L’Equipe are running a story saying Arsenal did make a €41m bid, while RMC says negotiations are ongoing between the two clubs (via GFFN). While it seems unlikely, the bit that makes sense to me is that the striker market is so short of quality that it would be just like Arsene Wenger to bring in a winger to help boost the forward line rather than an established centre-forward of perceived lesser quality.

He might see Iwobi – Alexis – Mahrez, or Alexis – Giroud – Mahrez, as the kind of options to give him what he wants. Repurposing the Chilean as a striker is also a pretty Arsene Wenger thing to do, so I don’t rule this one out just yet. I’m dubious, I think Leicester will – and are right to – make it as difficult as possible, but ultimately if you pay what it takes you can get it done. Let’s see.

Right, that’s your lot for this morning. I’ll be back tomorrow with the first Arsecast of the season looking ahead widely to a new Premier League campaign, and given the opposition I’ll see if I can rustle up a few minutes with the Mugsmasher too.

Until then.

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