Thursday, February 29, 2024

Transfer realities

Talk yesterday of a Man City bid for Declan Rice certainly provoked plenty of reaction online.

I understand. It’s impossible not to look at them as anything other than an existential threat to everything we’re trying to do. They beat us on the pitch, so why wouldn’t they just go and beat us off the pitch too? Treble winners (meh), Pep, the almost surefire guarantee of success, and financially significantly more powerful? How we can compete with that?

There’s so much talk about their wealth, and while we wait for something or anything to happen with regard to the 115 charges, this is how that manifests itself to the greatest extent. It’s not about hugely ostentatious displays, it’s not flamboyant, it’s just sheer cash-fueled muscle. They have done it time and again, but then I don’t know why anyone is surprised.

Not only is Declan Rice a player who would make them better – because he’s a player that would improve every team in the Premier League – his signing would be a double whammy. A very good player in; a very good player denied to their closest rivals from last season. If you don’t think that’s at least part of their strategy, you haven’t been watching closely enough. They want him first and foremost to bolster their own team, but if a consequence of that is putting a spoke in Arsenal’s wheel, then that’s very nice for them too.

Man City didn’t just become interested in Declan Rice, by the way. Whatever else you can say about them, they are run by smart people, and even a very rich club doesn’t wake up on a whim and decide to spend £100m on a football player. Their interest will have been well known to the player, to Arsenal, and to West Ham. So, as a club trying to cash in on their best asset, rejecting opening bids from elsewhere is common sense. Leaking that information and making it public straight away is all part of this dance.

All of which is to say, this won’t be much of a shock to Arsenal, but it is most definitely a challenge. This is what happens when you’re trying to buy players at the very top of the market. It is not easy. There are twists and turns. There are complications. West Ham have chummed the waters and now the sharks are circling.

I’ve seen people say we should ‘just pay the money’, and I understand that. That might make it easier, but then Man City could do exactly the same. Easily. West Ham seem to want this gigantic transfer fee of £100m paid in bigger installments than we would like. That’s essentially the sticking point, it seems. City are more liquid. Arsenal, despite suggestions the owners have been miserly, have spent a lot in the last few windows, and those fees have to be paid too.

Spending money on Kai Havertz, or any other player, doesn’t preclude us paying the full fee for Declan Rice. We didn’t just give Chelsea £60m in one lump. That will be paid over time, like every other deal. It’s too simplistic to say doing one thing means we can’t or won’t do another. It doesn’t work like that.

Like all of you, I wish we had been able to get this deal done sooner, but you cannot escape the reality. When you’re trying to bring in top players, there are rivals. Deals take time. Decisions have to be made. In The Guardian, Jacob Steinberg (as good as it gets for West Ham stuff), says Rice is still keen to join Arsenal, despite City’s plan to bid. So, if that’s the ace up our sleeve, we have to play it asap.

I’m sure Man City have presented a compelling package to him. As have Arsenal. We know there’s been a lot of back-channel stuff, and if our advantage right now is the plan Mikel Arteta has for him, one he’s been convinced by, then we have to lean into it. The third bid has to be the right bid. If it means we have to push a bit harder, then that’s also part of the reality of fighting to sign the best players.

There is huge importance in getting it done. It feels like a lot of what this summer is about is dependent on this deal. We’ve shown a good ability to pivot away from our first choice target when necessary, but make no mistake, this is one we have to complete. Not just for the perception of the club as a ‘player’ in the market, but for the plans put in place that we are now trying to execute. So much hinges on this. Is the Kai Havertz signing made because the piece in the midfield that makes him work is Declan Rice? It certainly feels like it.

As Granit Xhaka waits to confirm his departure and move to Bayer Leverkusen, and as we consider potentially lucrative bids for Thomas Partey, it feels very much like both those things are linked to the arrival of the West Ham captain. Arsenal have a lot of eggs in the Rice basket. It’s not to say we don’t have alternatives – I’m sure we do – but while this whole thing playing out as publicly as it has is pretty much out of the club’s hands, everyone knows it’s the truth of our summer plan.

So, what happens next will be key. I don’t think it’s a slam dunk for City, but nor is it for us. We’re in a good position, but we have to make it count now, and the arrival of another serious bidder demands a serious response from us. Let’s see.

Right, that’s it for this morning. Because of how fast things were moving yesterday, I put out the Arsecast for today yesterday afternoon. It’s below if you haven’t yet had a chance to listen to myself and Charles Watts discussing Rice, the City interest, and lots more. Enjoy.


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