I saw a headline last night which began like this:
Arsenal poised to miss out on Alexandre Lacazette
And I thought ‘Hurrah’, because I don’t think he’s all that, but then it continued:
… And other top targets.
And I thought ‘Hmmmm’, that’s not good, even if we could debate whether or not Lacazette is ‘top’ by the standards I understand ‘top’ to be, and what ‘top’ is in general. But I guess what was most worrying is that a club for whom recruitment has not always been the most efficient is now going to be faced with even greater challenges.
Now, let me get one thing straight: I don’t think signings and players coming and going is going to fundamentally fix what’s really wrong, but imagine if Arsene Wenger does stay and there’s an acceptance that new players are needed and some of the under-performers need to go.
Doing that business well, quickly and efficiently is going to be important. But even when everything’s as stable as stable can be at Arsenal, we find that a difficult thing to accomplish. Last summer we got our centre-half and we got our striker, but both of them came right at the last minute, just as the transfer window was closing.
We were a club with Champions League football, there was still some measure of optimism that we could build a squad that might compete, and it had ‘world class’ talents like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez about whom there were relatively few worries at the time.
Fast forward to now and we’re a club which looks highly unlikely to make the top four; the futures of Ozil and Sanchez are uncertain – to say the least – for various reasons; we’ve endured a traumatic season; there’s fan unrest on a scale not seen for decades; nobody knows who is going to be manager, or if they do they’re not telling us; and the longer it goes on without anybody at board level showing any leadership or decisiveness, the more rudderless we appear.
In short, if you’re on the outside looking in, Arsenal does not look like the most attractive proposition at this moment in time. Deals which might be done early (haha, I know, but still) must be almost impossible to complete.
“Hello player X, would you like to join Arsenal?”
“Possibly. Who is going to be in charge next season? That’s an important consideration for me as a player.”
“Well … er …”
“Hello player Y, this is Arsene Wenger, would you like to join Arsenal?”
“Possibly. Are you going to be in charge next season? That’s an important consideration for me as a player.”
“Well … er …”
It’s even affecting existing players. The agent of Olivier Giroud, who signed a contract extension back in January remember, says there’s no truth to stories linking him to Marseille, but also that:
When we know exactly what Arsene Wenger is doing, we will ask ourselves questions. We will think about what is possible and what is not possible.
So, a player who put pen to paper on a contract extension just three months ago is being affected by the uncertainty over the manager. If Wenger goes a new coach might prefer to have somebody else, and that’s understandable, it’s what happens when new managers take over. Equally though, even if Wenger stays, Giroud clearly feels like that he might be cast aside if the manager decides to go in a different direction.
So, if a player who signed a new deal in January is feeling the uncertainty, aren’t there others who will also be affected. For example, is it possible that someone like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is confused by what’s happening and this could go some way towards his inconsistency?
He hears the manager talk about how he wants to keep him at the club, how it would do ‘big damage‘ to us if he left, yet there’s been no offer of a new deal. He hears his manager talk about how he has to believe in his own talent more, yet the manager won’t play him in the same position for more than a couple of games at a time. He hears his manager say that in the long-term he’s going to be a central midfielder (something he’s been saying for years now), but after a few performances in that position in which he did well he’s shunted out to wing-back, a position which does allow his attacking talents to be showcased, but which also highlight his defensive flaws.
It’s not absolve him of personal responsibility, but at the same time it’s hardly the most cohesive environment, and you can’t help but wonder if the lack of decisiveness about his future, what his role is in this team, where his career is going to go and where’s he’s going to play his football (on the pitch) has, in some ways, hindered him.
He’s a midfield player, that much we know, but where exactly? Wide, central, attacking, defensive? He’s done all those jobs, and more, and he’s now 23. He’ll be 24 at the start of next season, and after six full seasons at the club neither he, the manager, or anybody else, has real clarity about where he’s going to play. It’s a bit mad when you think about it.
And that’s just one example. I think this squad is littered with players who don’t really know what they’re supposed to be doing, how they’re viewed, what their importance is to the manager or the team, and where they fit. So when individuals are affected, so too is the collective, and that has been evident on the pitch this season.
As I said though, I don’t believe handing Arsene Wenger more money to spend is the answer. He’s had plenty of it in recent years, and last year spending £90m or thereabouts did nothing but make us worse. This team has not improved despite adding a £35m defender and £35m centre-half, as well as a close to £2om striker – one who seems to have been treated like an afterthought for much of the campaign.
It would leave you very worried, because even when we have all our ducks in a row, so to speak, we make hard work of squad building and management. What on earth is this summer going to be like, regardless of who’s in charge next season?
You shudder to think.