There are a few ways Arsenal could take their transfer strategy this summer. They could go for a soft landing summer, where they pick-up players from the Premier League, or they could go for a harder landing, where they raid Europe for bargains.
Both of these offerings comes with pro and cons.
The Premier League approach is basically a twist on what we’ve been doing for the last 5 years. The thinking would be centred on the exciting reality that we’re finally going to bin off some big senior names that don’t cut it over here. However you cut it, those players do an ok job and they’ll be difficult to replace for a number of reasons. The biggest thing they understand is how to operate in the league. They speak English, they have the stomach for the food, and they know how to manage their bodies.
Thomas Partey, one of the best in the business at his role, and one of the fittest came to the Premier League and spent more weeks out than at any time in his career. Why? Likely some bad luck, but also, we have the fastest and busiest elite league in the world. It took time for him to adapt. That cost Arsenal.
The thinking with a soft landing summer will be geared around having a fast start next season. This is a sort of short-termism that makes sense if you look at it from our football leadership’s perspective. Arteta gets pelters whatever he does, if he loses the opening three games because players haven’t adapted, he’s going to have Youtube channels calling for his head. Signing talent like Yves Bissouma or Reuben Neves reduces the chance of a hard landing. They know the league, they’re young, they’ll be additive from day one.
There are negatives with this approach. We’re not going to be picking off the best Premier League players. We’re not in the running for Jack Grealish. The players we’ll fancy will come with a fat price-tag and no guarantee of elite-level success. We’ll also not be top of the queue for talent outside the top 6 clubs.
It’s also clear we’ve been doing this sort of thing but in Europe for the last 4 years. Mustafi, Auba, Xhaka, Kola… it hasn’t worked. If you can’t take the cream from the Premier League, is it worth it?
This approach is one that is dominating the links in the press at the moment. European football is in deep, deep shit at the minute. The pandemic wrecked the fragile finances of clubs that were badly run. These troubled clubs are successful on the pitch, look at Lille, they won the league and they’ve already lost their manager and they have clubs lining up to pick at the carcass.
This approach to transfers would be more focused on taking the very best young talents from around Europe at cut-prices while we can. If the transfer market was the housing market, this approach is going to distress buyer auctions with a bag of money and seeing if there’s a bargain to be had.
This is kind of what Arsene Wenger built his legacy on. Identifying value in markets that are weak, taking punts on low-risk, high-reward talent, whilst reducing the risk with elite coaching.
Onana, the 25-year-old keeper from Cameroon fits the bill here. He has 1 year left to go on his deal, he’s played in the Champions League, he’s an international, he’s cut-price because of the doping issue. There’s baggage there… a little bit like there was Nwankwo Kanu, but if it pays off, it’s a genius piece of business.
Same with the right-back situation. Do you spend £30m on Max Arons, who is a very good player, or do you take a chance on 24-year-old Zeki Çelik who just won Ligue 1 with Lille? One will likely be a lot cheaper. Both have about the same chance of succeeding.
We all know the objectives this summer.
- Reduce errors in the system
- Improve our work in the final third
There’s a financial issue at stake as well.
- Create a functioning transfer ecosystem
Why are we failing financially when it feels like we don’t spend money? Because we are absolutely terrible at selling players.
If KSE are putting that Barclays loan towards players this summer, it cannot be used simply to ‘get us higher in the table’… that money has to come with strings. My strings I’d be asking Edu for?
GIVE ME PLAYERS I CAN SELL
If you sign Jack Grealish, you land yourself a player who really does move you up a level, but you don’t solve a business problem. That’s why he’ll end up at a club like City or United who don’t worry about business problems.
Arsenal needs to be sharper than that. If we’re signing creators, we really need to think about the potential value as well as what they can offer the team in the ‘now.’ It’s a fine balance to strike, but where are you getting more value from? Ruben Neves for £35m or Albert Sambi Lokonga for £12m? I can’t answer the scouting question, but the potential of Lokonga is that he could be a £40m player, and that for me is where the smart money is. Arsenal have not operated with much intelligence over the past 10 year, but maybe, just maybe, the clubs sees the way Liverpool operates and takes a touch of inspiration.
Clubs like Arsenal move back to the big time by taking lots of low-risk / high-reward signings. The benefits are obvious. But when you sign sharply like this, at worse, you break even when you come to sell. At best, you create a star that funds the next batch of uncut gems.
So how will the summer shape up? I have no idea. I suspect there might be a blend of both approaches, but the good news is the players we’re being linked with so far seem very, very smart.
Let’s see if Arsenal can finally deliver. It’s about time.