Sunday, June 16, 2024

Arsenal need to find calm waters after two years of chaos

On yesterday’s Arsecast Extra, James and I obviously discussed the Leeds game, and how things are going under Mikel Arteta right now. I’ll admit that my optimism has taken a bit of a hit considering our current struggles. Although we’ve played 15 games this season, won 10, drawn 1 and lost 4, there are obvious issues with our football that have to be addressed.

Arteta has made some big decisions, and when you back those up with results and performances, you can justify them. When you lose at home to Villa and Leicester the way we did, and get outplayed by Leeds – even without 10 men – it’s much harder to do so. So, he – like any manager – has a lot to do in the short-term, even if we can all generally acknowledge there are plenty of medium/long-term issues for him to contend with too.

While I think it’s perfectly fair to look at his decisions, I also think it’s necessary to take stock of what we’ve done in the last couple of years, and how that might be impacting us right now. As a club, the departure of Arsene Wenger made for one seismic change, and since then there has obviously been further upheaval. At football executive level, everyone put in place to be part of the new post-Wenger Arsenal is gone.

Ivan Gazidis left for AC Milan after just a couple of months. Sven Mislintat, promised the job of Technical Director by Gazidis, was forced out by Raul Sanllehi. Raul Sanllehi, now gone – fired just weeks after KSE appointed a lawyer to provide corporate oversight. Huss Fahmy, the contracts guru, gone, reportedly of his own volition, but did he jump before he was pushed? Unai Emery, head coach, gone. All of this in just over two years.

The departure of Sanllehi was absolutely necessary, no question about it and I wouldn’t shed a single, solitary tear, but even so the timing of it left the club with a problem. There was a big gap as we went into the most difficult transfer window anyone in football has ever experienced. Things were described as ‘chaotic’ as Edu and Mike Arteta looked to fill that gap, but there was a lot to do, and the inability to complete a loan deal for William Saliba was entirely on us and how thinly spread we were. As yet, there has been no addition to the football executive team despite some restructuring, and it’s hard not to think there needs to be. January is just around the corner, next summer is hugely important.

Then we come to the question of resources, and how we use them. This is a major, major problem – and one that Tim Lewis, or somebody at the top of the club, needs to sort out. Let’s just go back to the summer of 2018 and go through what we’ve done.

Summer 2018 – ‘Summer of Sven’

Bernd Leno: The German has been an excellent signing, worth what we paid for him, even if there are suggestions that we paid more than we needed to following the involvement of one of a particular agent in the deal.

Sokratis: We paid £16m. He’s now not included in our Premier League and Europa League squads. Can leave on a free at the end of the season. On a substantial wage.

Lucas Torreira: A £28m purchase from Sampdoria, now on loan at Atletico Madrid. No transfer fee received.

Matteo Guendouzi: A £7m arrival from Lorient who, although he fell out of favour here, increased his value in even an abnormal transfer market. We couldn’t find anyone to buy him, now on loan at Hertha Berlin. No transfer fee received.

Stephan Lichtsteiner: A one year deal that wasn’t renewed.

Summer 2019 – ‘Summer of Raul’

William Saliba: In what looks an increasingly extraordinary deal, we paid £28m for an 18 year old who had barely made it into double figures in professional appearances. We agreed to loan him back to Saint-Etienne. He has yet to play a single minute for us, and this season we tried to loan him back to his former club but failed to complete the paperwork. £28m spent on a player who looks like he won’t play for us until January at the earliest, but if we do send him out on loan, it’ll be over two years. That’s a lot of money to spend on a player who doesn’t play.

Nicolas Pepe: From the start there have been whispers about the £72m we paid and the structure of the deal. The price-tag is not his fault, but it’s hard to say we’ve had value for money. This season we brought in a 32 year old for a comfy retirement to play in his position, Pepe is frustrated, it boiled over on Sunday and he now misses three games – damaging the scant faith Arteta had in him anyway.

Kieran Tierney: A good player, a good deal.

Gabriel Martinelli: £6m from the Brazilian fourth division is still a substantial sum, but so far it’s been worth it. Fingers crossed he can come back from his injury better and stronger. A real hope for the future.

David Luiz: A lovely man by all accounts, and a positive influence around the place, but the size of his wage-packet and signing-on fee were eye-watering. His agent denied reports that questioned the deal, but then he would, wouldn’t he? Had an error prone first season, conceding a record five penalties, and so far this season after renewing his contract on similarly expensive terms, has started just 6 games.

£0.00: Both Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey leave for free, players who could and should have generated tens of millions of pounds in the transfer market. This in spite of Sanellhi insisting that contract management would be improved.

Summer 2020 ‘Don Gone Raul – then Arteta and Edu’

Cedric Soares: Having arrived as a surprise loan signing in January, not least because he turned up in a knee brace, the former Southampton man is given a permanent four year deal on big Bosman wages. Has yet to even make the squad for a Premier League game this season.

Pablo Mari: Recently, Flamengo’s accounts showed they’d banked £4m from the sale of Pablo Mari to Arsenal. There’s often a discrepancy between how much the selling club gets and how much the buying club spends, but how big was this one? Our outlay was reportedly well north of £4m. The Spaniard is currently making slow progress from an injury picked up in the first post-lockdown game. We also went out and bought another left-footed central defender this summer, from which people can draw their own conclusions.

Willian: Chelsea, who know the player inside out, refused to give him the three year deal he wanted, only two. Arsenal’s Director of Football, who has been filmed watching games in the Director’s Box with the player’s agent, was more than happy to oblige. A big signing-on fee paid over the course of the contract on top of decent wages makes this a substantial investment of money for a 32 year old with basically no resale value. So far, he’s been massively disappointing given his experience and previous performance levels, and the reality is when you come from a club like Chelsea, the spotlight shines more brightly on you from a fan’s perspective.


Gabriel: So far, so good. We’ve all been impressed with the start he’s made to his Arsenal career. Let’s hope it continues.

Alex Runarsson: A cheap back-up goalkeeper.

Thomas Partey: A big player, a big signing, and one people were rightly excited by. Hasn’t had an ideal start to his Arsenal career, but we’ve seen him do it at the top level for Atletico. The quality is there, he’s the kind of player we need to start dragging this club back to the kind of level he’s used to.

Meanwhile, signings aside, we accept £1m from Roma for Henrikh Mkhitaryan just to get his £200,000 a week salary off the wage bill; we hand a £300,000 a week deal to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who has temporarily stopped scoring; and the highest paid player in our history is sitting at home having Twitter spats with Piers Morgan while our games are going on.

To be clear about Auba, I believed – and still do – that it was important we kept him, but it remains a big commitment to a player whose value to us can no longer be fiscal, but solely based on what he produces in terms of goals. It’s a risk to give any 31 year old a big contract; but when you also hand a big Bosman to a 32 year old Willian and a healthy renewal to a 33 year old Luiz, you leave your squad building decisions open to questioning because deals like that have an impact on what else you can afford to do.

When you look at all that, you could kindly say it’s been hit and miss, but there’s a lot more miss in there. If I were KSE, I might not take kindly to fan criticism of a lack of spending because it’s clear that money has been provided. Where I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on is how I’ve allowed that money to be spent. Without sufficient oversight, without the right people in place, trusting people based on recommendations rather than their competence. We have not been run well, and our use of resources, both financial and personnel, doesn’t stand up to sufficient scrutiny for a club with our stated ambitions.

What I would say is this: the appointment of Tim Lewis means KSE are taking it more seriously, and whatever you think of them, that can only be a positive. The interests of the football club should be the primary concern of those running it, and I don’t know if you could say that’s always been the case of late. The other issue is the need to find a measure of stability after two years of post-Wenger chaos. Can any club lurch from one coach to another to another and find that? Players to the taste of one manager might not be to the taste of another, as we’ve seen and continue to see.

Ultimately, they’ve kinda gone all in on Mikel Arteta. There have been periods of genuine promise, there has been tangible success, and for the first time since he arrived, we’re going through a period where there are obvious issues and from those doubts can stem. Some are of his own making, some are problems and issues that he has inherited, yet surely he needs time. It’s not to say it will all work out, but he’s barely been in the job a year. There are countless examples of how managers need time. I realise there are others where time is pointless, but I don’t believe that’s where we are right now.

This club has been a bit of a basket case in recent years, we badly needed a culture change, and it was never going to be smooth sailing all the way. It remains to be seen if Arteta can navigate these choppy waters, but at some point we need to find some stability because we can’t keep building foundations then knocking them down and starting again.

Right, that’s your lot for this morning. Thanks for reading if you got this far. I’ll leave you with yesterday’s podcast, all the links you need to listen/subscribe are below.


This Arsecast Extra was recorded with ipDTL

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