Whether the bonhomie is genuine or false, I know not. In some cases, it will be driven by professional respect rather than friendship whilst for others the latter is the driving force. But when Arsène Wenger walked into the Elite Coaching Forum in Nyon, I am sure they all wondered the same as us; how the hell did you not sign any outfield players?
Of course, they have dealt with him in the past and know the rigidity of his market valuations. Like all of us, he is wondering why Manchester United threw so much money at Anthony Martial. Using it as a justification for Arsenal’s lack of investment this summer is wide of the mark, just a case of the smoke and mirrors at which Arsenal excel.
In many respects, Wenger’s economics worked in the club’s favour during the construction and early years of The Emirates. More money was available to spend in that time as has been freely acknowledged by the directors in the quickness with which they sought to blame the manager for not spending. In doing so, they never admitted that it made their lives easier; the bank balances didn’t have to be monitored as closely as they might have been required.
For this summer at least, the economics have been out of kilter with football. OK, always were but the gap between Arsène and the market has never been wider. Wenger is fully entitled to his valuations; the board are fully entitled to adhere to them but if the market, the selling clubs, are exploiting the Premier League for being a cash cow, that’s economics. Arsène knows that and if other clubs are paying high fees, then it is Arsenal who have the wrong policy.
Whether it lasts is another matter and will be dictated by how the squad performs this season. I’m not holding my breath for January deals; notoriously hard to negotiate, the prices are unlikely to have fallen. Pretty much, this is your squad and yes, we back them to do the best they can; expectations have also noticeably dropped in recent weeks. A title challenge is downgraded to ‘a nice to have’ rather than seen as organic growth, a natural progression resulting from back-to-back FA Cup wins.
You can’t argue with his assessment that there is a dearth of talent who ‘guarantee’ improvement. It is there though and the window being closed, the revisionism begins. Talent is slowly being redefined as ‘world class’; signings are now required to ‘guarantee’ improvement.
In both cases, it’s wrong. All signings carry risk; the more money paid, the fewer you expect those to be. Arsène knows that at some point, he will land another Arshavin or Reyes; a bright star who fades but it doesn’t stop trying to find players who may not be as well-known but are as effective as the likes of Sanchez or Özil. That’s what scouts are for.
Both sides of the argument will point to the absence of signings when injuries or failure strikes. Critics will bowl out the line that the negative was caused by the lack of investment, Arsène will defend with a straight bat using the same argument, pointing to the lack of talent. Where Arsenal stand at that time will depend on which side of the ball shines; whose argument is left in ashes spread over the turf.
A hint at what is to come came with the announcement of the Champions League squad. Jeff Reine-Adelaide is the new poster boy, included in the list of players submitted by the club to UEFA; the chosen few to try to tread further than we have for a number of years.
It’s unfair on Jeff as he is known to the chagrin of a retail department conscious of the tenner per shirt they will lose. He hasn’t featured in any of the Premier League matchday squads so far and is becoming a poster boy for the argument that we did invest in an outfield player. Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors.
I am sure it won’t last but it’s unfair on the player. There’s nothing unusual in Arsenal including youth in their squad – every club in the competition does it – and unless we travel to Greece already certain of qualification, Jeff’s chances of playing in the group stage are very limited. The same goes for Macey, Iliev, O’Connor, Willock, Kamara, Iwobi and Moore.
Whilst his performances were good in the Emirates Cup, there’s a world of difference between that and being ready for competitive first-team action. Time to leave the lad to develop in the background, away from the limelight. When he’s ready, he’ll be brought through by which time, the talent may well live up to the hype.