Let’s talk about risk, baby

Less than a week after his last firestorm died down, Ivan Gazidis gave yet another interview which seemed to contradict the Arsenal manager and vex the Arsenal supporters. This time speaking to the New York Times, Gazidis doubled down on the idea that Arsenal lack the firepower to compete with the big guns in the transfer market. He argued that Arsenal can’t afford to take risks and that, even more extraordinarily, that while Arsenal are aiming to win the League title, they “have to win the right way.”

That last bit about “winning the right way” has been left out of the discussions I’ve read but for me is actually the most dangerous component of his argument.

Our objective is to win the major trophies, and to put the club in a position where it can consistently compete for the major trophies. And I would add, very importantly for us, to do it in a way that’s consistent with our club values.

We believe, fundamentally, in giving a chance to young players. We believe, fundamentally, in playing aggressive, attractive football. We believe, fundamentally, that we should conduct ourselves as a football club in the right way, in a way that makes our fans proud. So I would say, winning is imperative, but for us it’s not enough to win. We have to win in the right way. And that’s an even higher, more ambitious goal, but that’s something we’re convinced that we can do.

Then he talks about not having enough money to compete…

Let me give you an example: this year we’re investing over 20 million pounds in developing our facilities: our training ground for young players and our academy and the main training ground. Those are investments that are being made for the long-term future of the football club, for the next 10, 15, 20 years. And we’re making those decisions in exactly the same way, and Arsène is actively involved in them, even though he probably won’t see the fruits of all of those investments.

We would not be successful if we simply went out into the transfer market and tried to outgun our competitors. We’re run in a self-sustaining way, and a way that we believe in, because we believe it gives us certainty for the future, and enables us to plan our future with confidence. That means we can’t afford to make huge mistakes in the transfer market. We can’t afford to outgun competitors that have far more money to splurge on transfer fees than we do. So we have to be very careful, very selective about how we do things.

I’ve been writing about Arsenal now for 8.5 years. Most nights I go to bed, I read about Arsenal. Last night I started reading Addicted by Tony Adams. Most mornings I read a few thousand words about Arsenal, to stay current on the news. Most afternoons I spend my tea break reading about Arsenal. I research Arsenal and Arsene Wenger in my spare time. I know Wenger’s history, I know Arsenal’s history. I know that Arsenal have always done things their own way and I appreciate that Arsenal have always done things their own way. But what Gazidis is saying here is a bunch of, to quote America’s greatest ever vice-President Joe Biden, malarkey.

First, investing in youth is not mutually exclusive to investing in mature talent. In fact, if you read any book by any player they will tell you how important it was to have older, experienced, talent around them when they were learning their trade.

More that that, you don’t give a young player a chance, they take their chance. If they can win the position from the older, more mature, more physically developed player, then they deserve the position. That is exactly what happened with Hector Bellerin. No one gave him anything. He took the right back position away from Mathieu Debuchy.  That is exactly how football works: you buy an experienced player like Debuchy and if a better young player comes out of the academy, and he earns the right to play, then fair play to him.

Second, it is enough to win the Premier League. This notion that we not only have to win but we have to do it while burdened with some moral rucksack is absurd. No one is talking about Arsenal doping. Ok? No one is even talking about Arsenal financial doping, spending more than we earn. Ok? So, what is this “right way” that Gazidis wants from Arsenal? To win the Premier League without a full squad? To win the Premier League while holding up the “net transfer spend trophy?” Or while holding up the “we-develop-youth-the-best cup”?

And what about Arsenal’s youth development program? Has it been a success? Can Arsenal even hold that trophy?Southampton has a highly successful youth program, we should know, we buy a lot of our young players from them. I think they might have a claim to the best academy in England.

And finally, let’s talk about this notion of “risk.” Gazidis is claiming that he’s risk averse and that’s why Arsenal aren’t going to be spending money willy-nilly in the transfer market. But there are actually three risks here that need to be assessed: the risk of wasting money, the risk of not spending money, and the risk of not investing.

The risk of wasting money at Arsenal is pretty minimal. More than any other club, Arsenal have money to burn. £200m. No one is suggesting that Arsenal should spend half of that on Paul Pogba, who is a pretty big risk and doesn’t fill a needed place in the team. But sensible risks that fill needed roster slots — a center back, a wide forward, and a mobile center forward — are absolutely needed. Arsenal just bought Granit Xhaka for £35m, that was a huge risk, but he filled a needed spot because Arteta retired.

The risk of not spending money is, I think, greater than the risk of losing money on a player. I would understand Gazidis being risk averse if Arsenal didn’t have £200m in the bank, but Arsenal are so flushed with cash that they can plonk down £20m on nicer academy facilities. I’m pretty sure they have the money to lose a few million here and there on some bad purchases.

Even more importantly, if Arsenal don’t invest in crucial areas this summer, Arsenal will be left behind. And by that I mean that Arsenal will not be in the Champions League next season. Gazidis identified that consistency as crucial to the success of the club, because it gives Arsenal a chance to win the League. But if Arsenal do not invest in a goal scorer, at the very least, I think they run a huge risk of being out of the League title race before December and risk once again another season of barely limping into the Champions League places.

They also run the risk of losing money on players like Özil and Alexis. I don’t mean that those two players would leave, though I would imagine if Arsenal don’t invest this summer and if Arsenal fall out of the top four they will be looking for new clubs. I mean that Arsenal invested heavily in those two players. By failing to invest further and build a team around them that can win trophies they are wasting that investment. This is my third risk, the risk of not investing.

Fans don’t want to hear the story about how Arsenal don’t have the money: we know Arsenal have the money. Fans don’t want to hear about how we are going to win the League but we are going to do it with some self-imposed moral backpack weighing us down: we want to win the League the same old way everyone else wins the League. Fans and players don’t want to hear about Arsenal being afraid of spending money!

I think Gazidis has this exactly wrong. Arsenal have £200m in the bank. The risk of them losing a few million on a player who isn’t perfect pales in comparison to the risks Arsenal face if they go another season without investing in the key areas that Arsenal desperately need.


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