Monday, January 24, 2022

Arteta on Edu, Balogun, and the Academy + why we have to learn lessons

A quick Saturday round-up for you, and there’s a very interesting interview with Mikel Arteta on Sky Sports which provides the meat for most of it. Worth a read.

He’s talking a lot about the young players at the club, in particular Bukayo Saka (‘B’), Gabriel Martinelli, and Folarin Balogun. On the latter, whose new deal hasn’t been announced yet (although the fact he’s talking so openly about his future suggests strongly it’s all done), he credits Edu for turning around a situation which was definitely heading in the wrong direction from an Arsenal point of view.

Arteta says:

“In all aspects, he [Balogun] knows that we trust him and that we want to have a future together.

“Then, we needed to link that with the people at the club, with the right support from Per and the academy, and with the work that Edu has done over the months to undo what was happening and the direction the situation was taking.

“He has completely turned that over into a position where now the player is going to stay with us.”

I think it’s perfectly reasonable for people to have doubts about how Arteta and Edu are going to work together, especially in the transfer market/squad building aspects. A first time manager with a first-time Technical Director (I know he had experience with Corinthians), and there have been some decisions which haven’t been that smart, such as three years for Willian. To be absolutely fair, that came when Raul Sanllehi was Head of Football. He got fired the day after Willian put pen to paper, but both Arteta and Edu should have had enough intelligence/authority to know that was a great deal for the player but a bad one for the club.

Since then, there have been some interesting things going on. The loan signing of Martin Odegaard in January was an outstanding piece of business in a difficult window, and the Balogun thing – while he’s still some way from being a first team regular – is positive too. Especially as it looks as if what the Academy produces will be increasingly important for us in the years ahead, when finances will be tight post-pandemic and, potentially, without European football for at least a season.

On that Arteta spoke about his relationship with Per Mertesacker, who joined at the same time in that fateful summer of 2011:

“We have the same aim and the same vision for the club. We are really close and hopefully we can do a lot of good things together.”

And then using what we have available to us from within:

“For me, if we want to strengthen our position and we need to recruit somebody, first of all we have to look in our academy. It’s part of the DNA of the club and we have to do that.

“If we have that product in our club, let’s bring him in. But he has to have the right qualities, the right mentality and character to do so. If not, we have to go and try to find him.

“We are lucky. We have some really good players coming up but we need more and in order to do that we need to keep investing in our academy, to have the right coaches. I think Per is doing a fantastic job. Let’s keep feeding the first team as much as we can.”

As for what else we need to see from Arteta and Edu, not doing the same things wrong that this club has got wrong for years would be another good development. That means making decisions on players at the right time. When Arteta talks up the recent performances of Alexandre Lacazette, and how he’s the glue for the team, it makes you think a new deal might be in the offing. But if we’re actually learning any of the lessons we’ve been taught in the very recent past, it’s that new contracts for players 30+ are inherently risky, we’ve been bitten more than once of late, and ultimately we need to extract some value from our players.

I think it’s great that Lacazette is scoring goals, because it’s good for the team. It’s also good for his transfer value. We paid €50m for him. We won’t get close to that this summer, but we should make sure we get something. Sinking the resources of a new deal, and big wages (because players of that age are looking at their last big pay day), and ultimately a free transfer departure for a player nearly 30 makes no long-term sense, even if you could make a case for his usefulness as a squad option.

Tim wrote a good column about how much Arteta and Edu have to do this summer, and I think there’s even more than the stuff he touches on, but ensuring we generate income from players rather than letting them leave for free – or putting ourselves in a position where some time down the line we’re literally paying them to go away – is a really big part of it. The level of talent that we’ve let go for nothing in the last few years has been astonishing and also terrible, and at a time when every penny counts, it’s not something we can countenance doing again.

(Alexis, £0. Ramsey, £0. Wilshere, £0. Welbeck, £0. Ozil, £0. Mustafi, £0. Sokratis, £0. Mkhitaryan, £1m. etc etc 😑).

Anyway, with the likes of Saka, Smith Rowe, and Martinelli already making an impact, and with a really interesting crop of young players coming through just underneath them, it’s going to be very interesting to see who makes the grade in the near future. Saka and Smith Rowe in particular have probably saved us plenty in the transfer market – and what Arteta and Edu do this summer, because they will be in charge, will tell us plenty about what comes next.

Fulham preview tomorrow, in the meantime, have a good Saturday.

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