I guess there is a football game tomorrow but I can’t be too sure because I’m blinded by the fact that Arsenal may have, just maybe, spent in the neighborhood of £100m and purchased three major signings this summer.
At his press conference ahead of the match against… uhh… Hull, no Watford? Wenger said he is 99% positive that there will be new players arriving. Meanwhile, last night, Arsenal’s official reporter, David Ornstein of the BBC, tweeted that Arsenal are set to sign both Mustafi and Perez. I’m not going to speak about anyone else or set up any straw men to knock down, I’m just going to simply say that for me this summer has been a crazy roller-coaster ride of emotions.
If you’ve been following my blog this summer you know that I was pretty down on Arsenal’s chances of signing Mustafi. In fact, after Wenger started in with the whole stuff about “we have to pay 600 employees” and “show me the names of strikers” and how if Holding had cost “£55m”, I figured our transfer business was done with just Xhaka and Holding. Wenger’s pronouncements combined with the Chief Executive’s statements that Arsenal “can’t outgun competitors with far more money” in the transfer market and with Wenger’s talk about how there were two transfer markets, one for England and one for Europe, made it look like Arsenal had gone into their fallback position: the keep of Arsenal tower, where they store all their dry powder.
Like I said, I’m not going to get into other people’s opinions here about Kroenke holding the team back. I’m saying that for me the whole system seemed broken. The messaging from the club was way off. The CEO and Manager were talking across each other (when Wenger contradicted Gazidis the next day after Gazidis said we can’t compete) and the worst of all when they did both get on message it was to say that Arsenal were just too poor to buy players, an opinion which is easily refuted with facts.
And worst of all, I understand why they are saying these contradictory things. I get it. They can’t just come out and say “we are trying to get Mustafi but Valencia are being dicks because they know we have money and we are being dicks because we know they need money, so we are going to wait until the last minute on this signing, even if it means that we drop points in the Premier League because the harsh reality is that despite the money we have we still need to be fiscally prudent and can’t just ‘get it done’ like so many fans want, I mean we literally can’t just spend £50m on a center back, it’s just not something that this club can afford, so we have to play hardball with these guys and that means in the short term we lose a few points but hopefully in the long term (Mustafi is going to be with us for five years) this signing saves us many points — oh, and we are trying to buy a forward because just like you, we recognize the need but we need to be very careful here because we are trying to do something sneaky and a bit underhanded so we are going to be quiet about all of that which we know is nerve wracking but this is Arsenal in 2016 and despite our history and the new stadium and promises of competing with the Oligarchy we aren’t really a top tier club, we are a second tier club. Oops, did we say that last bit out loud?”
As harsh as that last sentence sounds it is the reality. Think about it for a minute. There are the clubs who have a sugar daddy or who are super rich by dint of the fact that they won everything in sight for the last 20 years. Those are the elites. Arsenal can’t compete with those clubs on any level and neither can clubs like Tottenham or Liverpool. Even a great club like Borussia Dortmund doesn’t really compete with the likes of Bayern Munich. But neither are Arsenal like Everton. Everton were left behind in the 90s and never managed to escape. Arsenal modernized after George Graham, thanks to David Dein and Arsene Wenger, and moved the club into a new era. And so now, Arsenal have a massive fan base, a huge new stadium, and revenues to sort of compete but not really.
But what truly frustrates people is that Arsenal don’t do things the way that a normal second-tier club operates. Think about Tottenham and Liverpool: they buy and sell dozens of players, fire managers, and are constantly fighting for top four until they get lucky with that one magical player (Suarez or Kane) who can get them into a title race or the promised land of Champions League football. The reason the press give Liverpool and Tottenham a free pass is that they do things in a predictable way – which is basically huge player and managerial turnover. Meanwhile, here is Arsene Wenger, manager for 20 years, lecturing people about how buying players isn’t the panacea that they think it is, talking about stability, not buying players one year, spending £100m the next, doing crazy things like trying to put together a youth team to challenge for the Premier League title, and talking about how they don’t have money when they do (but they really don’t).
As far as I can tell Arsenal have always been like this. For me, this sort of Punk attitude toward the rest of the League and toward football, in general, is what drew me to the club. We are The Arsenal and we do things our own way.
I also understand that this is hugely frustrating. It frustrated me this summer. When it looked like Arsenal were done in the transfer market, when Arsenal were talking about how “if Holding cost £55m” and all of that, I was right there with everyone else thinking that Arsenal dropped the ball again. That we were finally going to drop out of the top four.
I also understand the frustration with the club not getting things done earlier in the transfer window. I don’t think Wenger wanted to start the season with one hand tied behind his back in terms of center backs, but I also don’t think it’s fair to say that Arsenal should have just paid “whatever” or that we should have come in with a bigger offer to “get the deal done”: if Arsenal came in with a £40m offer for Mustafi, what’s to say that Valencia wouldn’t just counter with £50m?? Like they did when we came with the £25m!
But look, Xhaka is a fantastic signing. If we get Mustafi, that’s another fantastic signing. If we get Perez, we have reinforcements for the forward position and huge potential to be a hidden gem. And along with Holding, this all means that Arsenal have spent about £100m this summer rebuilding the squad and addressing every single key position that Arsenal needed to address. We didn’t sign Griezmann, we were never signing Griezmann. I dream of Griezmann too, maybe he will pop out of an old bottle that washed up on shore after we crashed our space capsule. I’m pretty sure that’s how we landed Özil. Arsenal are not a top tier club.
Arsenal are not a top tier club and I say all this not to lecture you, but to lecture myself. We are not going to buy a championship. We need to find value. We need to scrap for players. We need to bargain with teams. We need to play hardball to get the guys we want at the price we can afford — don’t misconstrue this as me saying we are poor, we aren’t poor but we are not rich — so that we can afford to buy all of the parts that we want and get in the quality that we are looking for.
That’s what Arsenal did this summer. They spent (or will, please, spend) £100m to get Xhaka, Mustafi, Perez, and Holding into the team. The ride sucked but I guess we got there (maybe).
Oh hey, Arsenal play Hull, no.. Watford tomorrow at 7am. After that, I’m taking my daughter to Mt. Rainier for a hike. It’s free National Parks Day in the United States as a celebration of 100 years of National Parks and I plan to avail myself of that freedom.