The Transfer Window Story 2013-18
By The Way - Weekly Columns
There was a time when Arsenal weren’t very good in the transfer market. I know that might be hard to believe now the club has the might of Sven Mislintat, Huss Fahmy and Raul Sanllehi moving us into the 21st Century, but it’s true. We’ve already been spoiled this window – Konstantinos Mavropanos will be first-choice for fifteen years, Mkhitaryan ten times the player Sanchez is, and Aubameyang, if he comes, undoubtedly ready to be a hybrid of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Previously, and this is still the case to a lesser extent, transfer windows existed simply for Arsenal fans to show off their creative skills when it came to David Ornstein. If you haven’t heard of ‘The Ornacle”, find any tweet he has made that refers to Arsenal, and camp yourself firmly in the replies. En. Joy. For years, Arsenal refused to sell players that have lovingly been referred to as deadwood, bought players who simply weren’t good enough, and have proved incapable of addressing key issues in the squad. It would have been nice to have a replacement sorted for Patrick Vieira nearly thirteen years later, but c’est la vie. Here’s a quick history of Arsenal’s failings in recent years, starting in the summer of the 2013/14 season. Why have I chosen this as a starting point for such a momentous study? Well the year before the club sold Robin van Persie, and I have zero interest in talking about that. So, the summer of 2013. In came Mesut Ozil. Love that. £42,500,000, money well spent indeed and a player who has been one of two world-class players the club has had over the last five years. Now, could Arsenal give him what he needed? The club also signed a striker that summer, though it wasn’t quite the player he would have hoped for. Yaya Sanogo. Quite why Arsenal thought it was worth their time taking Sanogo, who has no discernible skills, is still beyond me. Mathieu Flamini also arrived on a free, a shamelessly cheap attempt to solve our midfield problem. Didn’t work. But, he became best friends with Ozil so that’s something. The transfers out that summer also provide a hat tip to previous transfer horrors: exit stage left Denilson, Arshavin, Mannone, Squillaci, Santos, Gervinho, and Chamakh. What a band of useless men that is. Just £10m came in for getting rid of all of those; Arsenal fans spent more than that on psychotherapy. I wouldn’t normally dwell on a January transfer window, but January 2013 is worthy of an exception. Arsenal’s midfield was in pieces after injury had hit, and an emergency loan move was needed. Now, who did Arsenal turn to? Kim Kallstrom. Not necessarily a disaster in itself, but hardly inspiring. Where the disaster occurred was during the medical. I emphasise again, this was a man approached as cover for our injured players. During his medical, three damaged vertebrae in his back were found, which would keep him out for two months. Ah well, Arsenal would have to wish him luck and move on. Wait, hang on… no, that’s not what happened. The club signed him, didn’t see him until the end of March, and he made four appearances. I love Arsenal. On we go, to 2014/15. Alexis Sanchez came in that summer for about £30,000,000, and Arsenal looked like they were slowly but surely building a team that could really challenge. Debuchy came in for £12m from Newcastle, a move that hasn’t worked out at all, especially when you remember that Bacary Sagna left the club for free to go to Manchester City for free that summer. In came Danny Welbeck for £16m, and Man Utd’s willingness to sell one of their players perhaps should have been a sign. The club also needed some new options in defence, with Thomas Vermaelen sold to Barcelona and Johan Djourou mercifully offloaded to Hamburg. Calum Chambers was signed for a fee rising to £16m; he was predominantly a right back, until one nightmare game against Swansea after which it was decided he was no longer a right back. The club didn’t even attempt to sign a defensive midfielder. Gabriel Paulista was signed in January, with Arsenal keen to rack up their options of calamitous players at the back. Now, the 2015/16 summer transfer window. Possibly the most disgraceful transfer window in the club’s recent history, and one that is the source of the club’s inability to challenge currently. Ozil had signed two years earlier, Sanchez the year before, and the precedent was set for a world-class player to be signed each year to assemble a competitive team. Could this be the year a defensive midfielder with actual ability was signed? No. Wenger decided Petr Cech was the only necessary signing, as Arsenal were the only club in Europe’s Top 5 leagues that didn’t sign a single outfield player. This was a devastating summer for the club, in a climate where spending £10,000,000 on a goalkeeper as your only signing was unacceptable. Had the club strengthened sufficiently, it may well have been Arsenal and not Leicester lifting the league trophy at the end of the season. In terms of transfers out, the club finally accepted Abou Diaby was broken and released him, while Podolski was moved on for a measly £1.8m. In January, Arsenal at least signed someone who resembled a defensive midfielder in Mohamed Elneny, but he wasn’t, and still isn’t the answer. So another year went by without sorting the club’s defensive and midfield issues. 2016/17. Summer. Granit Xhaka: the answer to our defensive midfield issues. Or at least so we all thought, convinced by the YouTube compilations, which showed him making at least nine good tackles over the previous five seasons. Xhaka himself saw his best position as a “fake no.10”, though unfortunately for dear Granit that’s not actually a thing. Xhaka’s inability to solve our problems is not really his fault, but rather those at the club who signed him having misunderstood his abilities. Lucas Perez was also signed, for more than £17m, though he was hardly used despite impressing when given the chance. Maybe he told Wenger to sign a defensive midfielder because, you guessed it, that particular issue was not solved. Talking of defensive issues, Shkodran Mustafi arrived at London Colney for a hefty £35m, and is certainly entertaining. Capable of just the two settings, a 10/10 and a slightly more used 2/10 button, he has been unable to provide some calm assurance to a often chaotic backline. Out went Arteta, Flamini and Rosicky, three more players who had been kept for too long based on sentimentality and not much else. So, to last summer, and a time when Arsenal finally looked like they were identifying players to play a specific role. Sead Kolasinac joined the club on a free transfer, a strong left wing-back who would fit perfectly in our new system. Except he didn’t play at left wing-back, but instead in central defence so that we could accommodate Hector Bellerin out of position on the left, all so Oxlade-Chamberlain could play in an unnatural right wing-back role just days before he left the club. More muddled thinking in our transfer business, both in terms of selling and in terms of buying. Alexandre Lacazette became the club’s record signing, a fee just short of £46,500,000 a significant investment but an exciting one for a genuinely elite striker. Let’s ignore the fact it’s six months later and we’re already trying to buy another striker, and just enjoy the happier times. Wojciech ‘Sir Chesney’ Szczesny joined Juventus for £10m, coincidentally the same amount I’d be willing to pay Ospina to make sure I never had to see him in an Arsenal shirt again. So, what does this rambling look at Arsenal’s transfer window efforts tell us? There have been failings at pretty much every level of the transfer dealings; the club can’t identify the right kind of players, they then can’t utilise certain players successfully, and loyalty has too often restricted the sale of average players. In fact, Arsenal only seem capable of selling when it’s their best players, and when it’s to direct rivals. Attacking players come in, score goals, are brilliant to watch, but the refusal to sign an adequate defensive midfield player has now moved far beyond negligence. There is some hope at last, with Sven Mislintat looking like he could make a real difference, and these new faces in the Arsenal background already appear to be working their magic, as exciting attacking players continue to be linked with the club. Not even a single rumour is to be heard about potential midfield recruits though, so who knows, maybe I’ll be able to write an identical article in five years time.
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