You knew it was coming, the infamous Arsenal stalking horse appears in the media and suddenly a new contract arrives. This time it is Mario Mandzukic who has elicited the response he wanted, with Bayern Munich rushing to get the paperwork to his Mr20%. Meanwhile, former Arsenal target Luke Shaw is now a Chelsea target as they seek to exploit Southampton’s disarray. If the Saints could stay that way for another week or so and let it impact on the pitch, it would truly appreciated. All the while, Daniel Levy is plotting to destroy Arsenal’s desire to sign Julian Draxler from the back pages.
The scenario of Draxler’s future hanging on a thread, dangling at Levy’s wind is amusing with the media eager to compare the situation to Mesut Özil’s transfer from Real Madrid. I suppose the way to ram home to the Tottenham chairman just how insignificant his club has become, would be to offer the value of Draxler’s release clause which is reportedly set at £37m. It would be an astonishing level of spending by the club and the prospect of doing whets the appetite. Not for the player himself, personally I have not seen enough of him beyond YouTube compilations to form a detailed opinion on him; the rule of thumb has to be if the manager believes him good enough, that is all you need to know. Arsène is no different from any other manager, as capable of signing a genius as a pup. They all take steps to mitigate the latter, the difference now is that the cost is higher than before.
There is an expectation that the club will sanction spending at such levels every year. Maybe they will, probably they won’t but the control they have been given by the increasing wealth means that decisions are primarily football-based. The worms have died in the tin and turned rancid in the argument of whether Arsenal have been as cash-starved as popular mythology would have us believe. Some believe there wasn’t even a pot to, well you guess the rest of that whilst others believe there was, it was a case of reluctance on the part of the manager to use his financial resources to their fullest extent as it contradicted his philosophy of believing in the players he already had, delivering the success he desired. That ethos changed, not in an instant but over time, beginning in the Summer of Love when the squad was shorn of its leading lights and were replaced by experienced heads.
Fox’s argument is sound in that Arsenal won’t compete with the likes of Chelsea on price. They might be able to take a £16m cash bath on a player they sold for £5m, you can expect the cheque book to be burned if that happens. There was enough criticism when George Graham spent £2m signing a player he didn’t rate seven years earlier. It doesn’t mean that the club cannot compete with their wealthier rivals on the pitch though, just that the methodology of achieving that end is different. It is as naive to believe Arsenal will spend their transfer budget each summer in one deal as to believe that they won’t sign big players every year; the change will be the profits on the sale of players may not be as great as they have been with the balance in the squad changing from youth to experience to allow the former to flourish out of the spotlight. As much as that represents the antithesis of Arsène’s managerial philosophy, the truth is Arsenal are building their own Galactico transfer policy except this one is underpinned by commonsense and not commercial demands.
Equally, the development of a squad means that once the base is right, there are fewer holes to fill. As the season progresses, we know that this month or in the summer, another striker is going to arrive. The necessity of last summer has not diminished as this season progresses. Another centre back is likely for the same reason but there the immediate needs end; after that, it is a case of refreshing the squad with better players or replacing departures. The needs change.
Mesut Özil has identified that practice. According to the German international, Arsenal ought to be one of Europe’s top five sides with their technical gifts of the players. To me that elevated status seems a few seasons away, it is not target achieved in one season, to attain those heights the club needs to be pushing semi-finals and finals on a regular basis. That is a tall order and some clubs such as Real Madrid trade on their commercial status and history and not current footballing success. Arsenal, like Madrid, can reasonably claim in footballing terms to be in the top sixteen and arguably in the top ten such is the consistency in negotiating the group stages. However, coming unstuck at the first hurdle no matter what the opposition does undermine any argument which suggests a top five ranking.
Key to achieving that would be retaining the older players, the more experienced internationals who can assist the growth of younger players. Özil spoke of Rosicky being one the best midfielders in the Premier League at the moment; you will find no qualms from me on that statement. Personally, I think when his career at Arsenal is remembered, Rosicky will be regarded fondly but also there will be a sense of being cheated, that injury robbed us of a fair portion of his prime playing years. I know the player wants to continue representing his country but the point has been reached where retirement from international football is going to further his playing career. He recently observed that the number of injuries he had suffered left his body protected to some degree from the normal wear and tear players endure; that won’t continue and with his influence when he is on the pitch, from a purely selfish perspective Arsenal need to persuade him of the merits of reducing the number of games he plays. Of course, first of all they need to agree a new deal for the player and it is reassuring that Wenger has recognised the value of his senior professionals, steering away from the ludicrous policy of abandoning over-30s to one-year deals. Gilberto Silva, at 37, is a free agent; perhaps Arsène could entice him to train with the squad, to pass on his experience. I am not suggesting that we re-sign him, simply that as with Henry, it is a valuable resource to use and a player who is respected.
Interesting times ahead and many hurdles to overcome but there is a sense that things have changed, even the nuances.