Thursday, December 1, 2022

Deadline day a dud + thoughts on the summer window

So there was transfer deadline day activity elsewhere, but none at Arsenal, which will obviously leave people a bit disappointed this morning.

Clearly they tried to bring in Douglas Luiz from Aston Villa, but despite a number of reported bids, Villa were adamant they wouldn’t sell. Personally, I think it’s a bit mad to turn down a reported £25m for a player with 9 months left on his contract who has only started once in the league this season, but then football clubs are often a bit mad. Maybe they think he’ll be an important player to help them stave off relegation when they bring a new manager in, and from our perspective, given we’re already skirting close to FFP limits – as much as they mean anything – we couldn’t just keep going. Do you massively overpay for a squad player you could pick up for a knock-down price in January or for free in the summer (if you still want him)?

The focus on central midfield was obviously a consequence of injuries to Mohamed Elneny and continued unreliability of Thomas Partey. The former is out for some time, the latter might well be back relatively soon, but for how long? We are a bit light in that area of the pitch, but perhaps this becomes an opportunity for Albert Sambi Lokonga who did well on Wednesday night, but faces much tougher tests in the week ahead.

Previously, we’d been seeking more firepower, and we’d been linked to a number of wingers. That didn’t happen either, so it means more minutes for Emile Smith Rowe (hardly a bad thing as long as he can stay fit), while once more it could be an opportunity for the likes of Fabio Vieira and Marquinhos. My major concern about the squad in the second half of the window was ensuring we had adequate back-up/depth in the right wing position and to take some of the burden off Bukayo Saka, and with the departure of Nicolas Pepe that was even more important.

It seemed clear that it was something Mikel Arteta really wanted too, but in the end that was derailed by the need for a midfielder, and the midfielder didn’t happen either. You look at the squad, and it’s hard not to worry that we’re skating on thin ice a little bit in terms of depth – especially with the Europa League coming up.

However, timing also plays a part. Someone replied to me on Twitter complaining that Arsenal haven’t done anything in this window, and while not doing anything at the end is obviously disappointing, we did bring in five players. Getting your business done early is seen as smart, the new guys get to bed in, and we can see the positive impact of that very clearly by, you know, looking at the Premier League table on which we sit top after five wins in five.

I also think the Vieira signing has been somewhat overlooked. He’s a £30m+ signing, and while we haven’t yet seen him play, he is someone who can bring plenty to this team. He is like a new signing and also a new signing, so hopefully he can start to make an impact quite soon.

With 10 Premier League games to go before the World Cup break, I wonder if the January window might well more influential than ever this season. I don’t think it’s a case we kept our powder dry on purpose, we did try for Luiz, but there should be money to spend then – and I bet there’ll be an interesting market for the non World Cup players who can come in off the back of 6 weeks ‘rest’, and add real freshness to a squad.

So, while I do wish we’d added at least one more player this window, I think our incoming business this summer has been pretty good, a couple of those signings have made a significant improvement to the team and the football we play, and let’s hope we can continue the on-pitch momentum on Sunday when we play Man Utd.

Where I’d be more critical is the outgoing business. Let’s not pretend that what you spend and what you bring in aren’t linked. Maybe we could have gone a bit further for that midfielder if we’d generated some income from the departures – and Arsenal have moved a lot of players this summer without bring in very much money.

It’s actually 33 following the departure of Hector Bellerin to Barcelona. Many of those deals are Academy players, loans etc, but when you look at what we did with the senior squad, it’s really not very good. Southampton did a deal worth up to £10m for Sam Edozie, a young winger with 1 senior appearance (25 minutes in last season’s Community Shield). Southampton paid us £0 for one-time England international Ainsley Maitland-Niles (I know there might be a loan fee, but I wouldn’t bet on that).

I know there’s a connection as Southampton’s new Head of Recruitment came to them from City, and I also realise that the market is difficult if you’re moving players outside of the Premier League, but it’s not as if there’s no money out there. It’s more that we are very bad sellers, especially if move players inside the Premier League and still get nothing.

We got a combined £8m for Bernd Leno and Lucas Torreira, and after that – bar the pre-arranged deals for Guendouzi and Mavropanos done last summer – zilch. Nada.

  • Hector Bellerin: £0
  • Nicolas Pepe: £0
  • Pablo Mari: £0
  • Ainsley Maitland-Niles: £0

We didn’t/couldn’t move Reiss Nelson with less than a year left on his contract, although he might well now see minutes in the Europa League if he can get fit. I fully accept that there are challenges when it comes to moving players who are surplus to requirements, but if you’re a Technical Director faced with those challenges, I don’t think it’s very clever to tell the entire world it’s impossible to sell players of a certain profile when you need to sell a handful of players with that particular profile.

I’ve been encouraged by how well we’ve recruited in the last 12-18 months, but that’s only one part of the job. To continue to recruit well, you need to generate the funds to do that because you can’t keep turning to the owners to provide financing, however friendly the terms of the loans might be. It’s a definite ‘must do better’ on that part of the report card.

On the departures, I just wanted to say a few words about Hector – he was always a favourite of mine and it’s sad the way it’s ended here, without even a chance to say goodbye properly from the pitch. It’s easy to forget what an exciting prospect he was, and it seems clear to me that one of his key strengths – that blinding pace – was impacted heavily by the injuries he sustained. We all know the ACL can be debilitating for players, but I think he had ongoing ankle issues too.

Still, he played close to 250 times for Arsenal, winning three FA Cups in the process, and I think as a player and a person he represented the club brilliantly. To me anyway, he was on the right side of important issues off the pitch, and he wasn’t afraid to make his opinions public despite the fact there would be obvious backlash from some.

Let’s also remember that during the pandemic, when Premier League clubs and captains came together in extraordinary and uncertain times, he was the man who represented Arsenal to help raise awareness and funds for the NHS and beyond. More than the official captain, he was the one speaking up, speaking out, and taking responsibility.

He’s gone back home now, to the club he grew up at, and while I think that club is an absolute basket-case, I can’t do anything but wish him all the best, and thank him for his service to us.

Right, that’s it. We’ll have a podcast for you later on this morning, so stay tuned for that.

Catch you later.

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