How the Cards are Played
By Theo Jensen
There are valid questions to be asked about how Arsenal utilise their money
In an attempt to defend the club's current policy and position, by far the most frequently posited and well-founded argument is to cite the financial constraints placed upon the manager. This is a very powerful line of reasoning and gives me great sympathy for Wenger in terms of his footballing options. What interests me currently, however, is the degree to which he really is 'stuck' when it comes to transfers.
For this piece then, I want to try to assess our position accurately, and follow this up by seeing if the transfer policy followed in the summer was, as one would expect, mainly a course of necessity with almost completely limited options.
The weaknesses of the squad seems to be agreed upon almost unanimously. I won't spend too much time on this, but it is important to point out that the situation may actually be worse than some have suggested: the goalkeeping situation has been the cause of much concern. Not unfairly, many have called for an experienced keeper for Szczesny to 'understudy', while in defence each position has reasonable depth apart from at left-back.
Surprisingly for a Wenger team, it's when you move forward that you start to see more cracks. We have many central midfielders, but on closer inspection the quality is spread quite thinly. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coquelin, Wilshere and Frimpong have the potential to be stars in a few years’ time, but they are some way off the 'peaking' ages of 25-28; it's obviously difficult for them to produce football of that quality so early on in their careers. Additionally, the last two mentioned are recovering from serious injury problems. Ramsey too falls into this latter category. Then we have two massively injury-prone (and current absentees) in Rosicky and Diaby, leaving just (the very talented) Cazorla and Arteta as viable long-term central midfielders. But, once again, there's a problem: Cazorla is, surely, accustomed to a winter break which he won't receive this season, and when you look at how the classy David Silva and Juan Mata's form dropped after January for the last campaign, the same thing couldn't be completely ruled out for our new playmaker.
Podolski has already shown glimpses of being a proficient left-winger and I believe he will grow into the role more as he settles. When you get to Gervinho, however, you start to see part of a larger pattern in recent years. He was signed shortly after Wenger had stated that we would retain both Nasri and Fabregas, and appeared to be signed to give us another dimension tactically - as he could take on players. Now, he is being used on either the left or right wing as a starter, if not in the role of a striker.
And why is that? Well, we don't have a single recognised right-winger in the team. Walcott has stated publicly his desire to play as a striker while Oxlade-Chamberlain considers himself a central midfielder. After Chamakh's collapse in confidence, we have the still-adapting Giroud as the focal point of our attack.
I presume most would not think that too unreasonable an assessment. Given these team and squad-deficiencies, would it not have been better to see as many as possible addressed during the summer transfer window?
If one ever criticises any policy of any kind, it is far more legitimate if an alternative can be proposed. The problem in this context is that such attempts usually lead to things being slung at you like 'leave it to the professionals!' or 'stop playing Football Manager!'. The problem with the people who do this is that, firstly, they often bring their own arguments in defence of the club or the manager. This is dishonest and unfounded, since they themselves are amateurs and, although showcasing themselves as 'representatives', could not themselves, from the logic by which they criticise, accurately convey the thoughts of 'the professionals'. Alternatively, if they merely assert it, they are simply making a statement of blind faith. That would be akin to claiming that those who trust in their governments blindly are 'better citizens' than the ones who question them.
Obviously 'credentialism' is often important. We'd all prefer trained psychologists and surgeons over untrained ones of course. However, I'm currently studying history at King's College London, and never in my study of the subject have I encountered criticism based solely or even mainly on an ad hominem attack. Why? Because the real issue is the data, and that's what we should concern ourselves with.
Anyone who follows the excellent work of The Swiss Ramble or who has taken an interest in the financial running of the club will know that in a couple of years’ time we will become exponentially stronger with the additional revenue generated by the new TV and sponsorships deals. Player sales are currently papering over the cracks of the 'self-sustaining' model, and so I will presuppose that all purchases would have to be covered by the selling of current Arsenal players.
Tomas Rosicky produced some excellent performances from the second half of last season. This helped him to procure a new two-year contract with the club. It has been alleged that this pays him an astounding £70,000 per week. Looking at some of his quotes regarding the wages he was offered elsewhere, this might not be too far off the mark. It seems extreme for a highly injury-prone squad player. I wonder if anyone would have objected to that contract being given to, say, Jussi Jääskeläinen instead? He seems to fit the bill for the kind of goalkeeper we need right now, with Mannone clearly out of his depth filling in for Szczesny.
I find the decision not to have sold Walcott bizarre. To have offered £75,000 per week to such an inconsistent performer in the first place is baffling. Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool were all said to be interested. Were they? City bought Scott Sinclair while Chelsea bought Victor Moses at the very end of the window, two players with very similar attributes to Walcott. Liverpool (of whom Walcott openly acknowledges his admiration as a fan) were in search of a striker given their lack of depth in this area. Surely, had he been sold, we would have picked up a fee at least matching the £12.5 million initially paid for him. That could have been used to buy a proper winger - Adam Johnson perhaps? It's all the more startling when you consider that part of his contract negotiations will revolve around his desire to play as a striker, after we spent £13m on Olivier Giroud.
I generally think it's fairer to judge players from foreign leagues after a year at the club. However, this may not be so appropriate in the case of Olivier Giroud. Our dependence on RvP last season, and his subsequent sale, left a massive void in the lone-striker position. It might have been better to purchase replacements who, in theory at least, stood a better chance of hitting the ground running. For £1m more than was paid for Giroud, we could have bought Demba Ba and Clint Dempsey (who can also play on the right wing). Given that they have already proven themselves in the Premier League, and that acquiring two players instead of one would be some kind of damage-limitation, that might have been a more prudent option.
Finally, would it not have been better to try and sell Aaron Ramsey (if he'd accept leaving) who, although another young potential success, is in the same category as, and overshadowed by, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere, Frimpong and Coquelin. It would almost certainly have been better not giving Johann Djourou a three-year contract at £50,000 per week (an outlay of £7.8m!). I also fail to see why Arshavin, Bendtner and Denilson were not sold when all had clubs interested in them, and surely it would be better to see them off the wage bill, whatever the fee? All of that might have generated enough to buy, say, Moussa Dembele.
You need not get 'weighed down' by the replacements I have suggested. I'm sure you'd all have your own lists and all the ones I mentioned certainly have their shortcomings. I do not think there is any 'simple solution' as it were, or guarantee of success. The real issue is that even when we presuppose that Wenger must sell to buy, there appears to be scope to try and address the deficiencies in the team, without even speculating to accumulate.
There are other issues too which have been addressed more adequately than I shall attempt: where's the strategic plan B? Where is the defensive organisation? Where is the passion and motivation from the players? Clearly these cannot be bought with money (although City give it a good go!) and financial constraints do not affect these areas.
I still have a great deal of sympathy for the manager's position, and certainly don't consider myself anywhere near the 'AMG' bracket. I do, however, think that questions need to be asked even after the argument of financial constraints is put forward. That certainly is the main hurdle in all this, but to what extent are there elements in our shortcomings of self-fulfilling prophecy?
30th October 2012
User Comment and Reaction
User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.
John 8:54am 30th Oct 2012
A thoughtful and balanced article, somewhat let down by the rose-tinted assessment of the quality of the suggested "replacements"...Jaskelainnen, Moses, Sinclair, Johnson, Dempsey..? All decent enough players, but not better than the ones we've got. - Post No. 29894
chris dee 9:19am 30th Oct 2012
A good article,mind you I didn't understand it, but excellent turn of phrase and use of Latin me old mucker. But the bottom line is that with a top class goalkeeper I think we would have won a couple of trophies.Maybe not the 'biggies' of League or Champions League,but that would have raised the whole attitude and confidence of the club,the players and supporters to persue those titles. And that has nothing to do with the board,financial reatraints or not buying Demba Ba Dempsey or Moses. Chesney,despite being a promising goalkeeper,is just that promising.I have yet to see him make game changing saves like De Gea or Joe Hart did at his age. Freidal,Swarzter,Vorm,Krul,Givens,Lloris,Julio Cesar,Lindegaard all available during the last 6 years but Arsene elected to continue with Almunia and Chesney while another 'young' 'promising' goalkeeper, Fabianski has just turned 27 years of age and is still at the club despite a catalogue of mistakes that would have seen him chucked out at clubs that are serious about success on the field. So Arsene,despite all your intelligence and foresight,your blind spot on our goalkeepers has cost us big time. By the way Adam Johnson a 'real winger'? Walcott's twice the player. - Post No. 29896
Bard 12:15pm 30th Oct 2012
A sensible and thought provoking post. It lays out quite clearly how much money we have p***** away on sub standard players while leaving gaping holes in the team ( keeper/ full back/ attack ). His stubborness about Keepers seems almost pathological as if he doesn't really believe you need a decent one. There is no doubt Wenger has had a reasonable track record in the transfer market but his touch looks to have deserted him. Yes we haven't had shedloads to spend but he has certainly wasted a huge amount on rubbish. The financially astute club myth is one more of those bull**** stories trotted out by board and manager to pacify us fans. - Post No. 29903
Tony Evans 12:34pm 30th Oct 2012
I am still astounded when I mull over some of the crazy decisions Wenger has made during the last 7 seasons. Transfer dealings, tactics, substitutions have all been so bizarre as to be almost unbelievable. Of course the counter argument that Mandy and co trot out is that in spite of it all Wenger has kept us top four. I accept that this is of course an achievement but it is no defence for the crazy decisions Wenger has made which have cost us the real trophies that all fans yearn for. - Post No. 29905
What was the point in leaving Highbury? 12:38pm 30th Oct 2012
It makes me laugh when it's made out that Wenger has to work on a mere pittance and struggles to make ends meet. Our wage bill is around £140M, the 4th biggest in England which probaly equates to a top ten finish across Europe. He ceratinly has no problems awarding himself a healthy salary. Its how he chooses to use the funds thats the problem. Huge wages to crap players being the main one. - Post No. 29906
maguiresbridge gooner 14:10pm 30th Oct 2012
Decent piece Theo are there financial constraints placed on the manager or does he place them on himself ? it's a question i think we'd all love the answer to.I've no doubt if he really wanted a 25-30 mil player of real super super quality he'd get the money and also that extra 2 3 or 4 mil to secure a deal would he actually be refused what arsene wants arsene gets.The weaknesses of the squad is a concern with to many average players being paid way more than their worth some for not even playing and been perma crocked who is responsible for that was financial constraints taken into consideration.Spot on regarding the keeper situation why it hasn't been sorted is negligence we have three keepers two injured and none of them good enough no doubt all of them on very good contracts.I have no sympathy for the manager he's been handsomely paid (no financial constraints in that department) to sort these things out and put them right. - Post No. 29910
Ron 14:30pm 30th Oct 2012
Its the nub of everything that we debate and comment upon i.e to what extent is the Clubs managmement/financial decisions down to Wenger or to the Board? The answers maybe lie only in Wengers book (when he writes it). Until then we can only speculate. Guessing, id say Wenger is as parsimonious as the Board. If not, even he would have been irritated enough to have spoken out about constraints surely after 6-7 years? Instead he's always stayed tight lipped and astonishingly loyal for so long. It doesnt add up unless hes 100% behind the direction the Board is taking the Club.If he harbours any resentment towards the Boards ways and doesnt say so, it can only mean hes happy to take his wage, go through the motions and play out his time while looking like the Boards patsy. Perhaps hes agreed to look like and be the patsy thus insulating the Board from the heckles through years that were always going to lack trophies, hence the alleged large salary? Who knows! - Post No. 29911
ALEXTHEGOONER 17:11pm 30th Oct 2012
The question of who holds the purse strings is largely a diversion from the real problem because it assumes the crux of the malaise lies in money not spent. In reality the failing lies in the huge amounts of money we HAVE spent. The fact is we have invested a great deal of money on assets that have had and continue to have no influence on our performance on the pitch. On a purely business level this is rank bad management. Any company that continues to waste its resources on inferior sub standard factors of production will lose its ability to compete in the marketplace. This is of course pure business talk the like of which the board and manager like to bludgeon us with. Us fans recognise it as a club buying average players with inflated contracts in order to compete with clubs with better players who justify their contracts. I'm not talking about the top 3 either. Spuds, Everton and even Newcastle have far inferior wage and transfer budgets yet seem to have built tighter more productive squads. Our resources are being wasted at an alarming rate. Just add up the weekly wages of players who contribute little or nothing- chamakh, arshavin,bendtner, denilson, fabianski, park, squillachi, diaby, rosicky. How the club can claim to be well run is a joke only they understand. As for sympathy for wenger! Another joke. He's the manager for heavens sake. Who do you think bought these players into the club? - Post No. 29915
billthered 17:19pm 30th Oct 2012
We are the most astute club around,who else lets the manager get away with answering all the questions regarding club finance.Well I think that this season is the last one that he will get away with talk about being on the right track teamwise unless we win something big,like third place trophy or bigger.As it stands we can only claim an assist with both the chavs and citeh and hope man ure do not get added to the list.FFP does not hold water with the cost of our tickets the price of food and most of all the price of a pint but I suppose that does not come under that particular banner does it. - Post No. 29916
ppp 1:07am 31st Oct 2012
Wenger's faith in his players is one of his best attributes. Many of the players that the fans lose patience with eventually come good and deliver superb seasons. I remember fans demanding Van Persie be sold because he was an injury case (as you suggest with Rosicky) and a game at Charlton where the fans all but demanded the public execution of Alex Song. If Wenger had done what the fans calling for their sales wanted - Arsenal would have sunk without a trace last season. You dismiss the notion of faith far too easily in your well informed but unromantic article. - Post No. 29924
Gare Kekeke 3:17am 31st Oct 2012
Good article. The whole financial constraints regarding The Arsenal are a myth these days. Our club generates well over £200m a year, the stadium debt according to Wenger is £15m a year but we have an astronomical wage bill that is over £140m due to the average dross still at the club (yes you Djourou & Fabianski et al) earning between £40-60k a week and people still say we have no money. You couldn’t make it up. Interesting that The Swiss Ramble isn’t convinced the club are doing the right thing by waiting for FFP to be our saviour. Wenger & the board have got everything they deserve on the poor handling of the Walcott contract situation. Wenger’s notion that every player at The Arsenal loves the club so much that they will sign whatever contract is offered to them is laughable. Where was the ‘love’ in recent years from the likes of Fabregas, Nasri & Van Persie? As Tina Turner said back in 1984 “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” Alex The Gooner has summed it up best, especially on money being wasted on players sparingly used by Wenger. Up The Arsenal! - Post No. 29926
20th May 2013
Online Ed: 4th place trophy and CL qualifier secured