One of the fuels that has fed the fire of discontent among Arsenal supporters this summer is the sense that we are being misled by the club.
When the club speaks, through the mouth of the Manager or the Chief Executive, some fans refer to “spin and PR bullsh*t” designed to placate the faithful or, more cynically (in some people’s opinion), to con them into renewing season tickets with the hint of big name transfers that will never materialise.
I have been convinced all along that we will still make at least one big name signing this summer (although whether it comes before the season starts is another matter).
But if I question the basis for this conviction, I have to ask myself whether it really stacks up – because I realise it comes from me pinning a huge amount of faith in what Arsene Wenger said in May about being very active in the transfer market.
Why would he lie? What would be the point? (I don’t buy the “get them to renew their season tickets” line). He clearly felt he needed to strengthen his squad, he said he would do so, so why would he not?
The problem is, those who doubt that we will make few if any more signings are also able to point to AW’s words to back up their case.
It seems that we each hear what we want to hear and ignore what contradicts our pre-formed opinion.
So are Arsene’s words really so contradictory? Is he really sending out such mixed messages that some fans can practically smell the dubbin on Juan Mata’s boots, while others hear only tumbleweed blowing through the arrivals room at the Emirates?
There was only one way to find out. Starting from late April I have gathered as many AW quotes about transfers as I could find (apologies if I have missed some). The dates are approximate because some may reflect the dates on which the comments were reported rather than the dates they were made. I have also added a relevant quote about transfers from Ivan Gazidis.
Here they are, with time line…
On being asked at a press conference whether he had as much as £40 million at his disposal:
“Is [that] available? Frankly I don’t know. We have not completely checked out our financial position. The only thing I can say is that the Club is in a healthy financial situation and, if needed, we can make a big transfer.
“I don’t [expect a busy summer] at all. The team is 23 years-old [on average] so why should we expect to have a huge turnover at the end of the season?”
”Why should we sell Cesc [even if we received a ‘silly’ offer]? In our job it is difficult to know what is silly money. We have built our team around Cesc and we have Wilshere now as well and we want to keep doing that.
”We are talking to Nasri and his agent already and we have the same situation with Clichy. We have agreed to speak about it during the summer. I am very optimistic [that they will stay].”
In response to a question about whether the team needed more experience:
“The team has accumulated a lot of experience despite their age. They are 23 on average but football-wise they are 26 or 27. I gave them a chance to play at a young age and I don’t regret that. Maybe I could have got some more experienced players but it is too easy to say that. They [the current squad] are very close to their peak.
“We need to strengthen some areas but we have the quality. At the moment we have to face some scepticism, but we have to keep believing in our strengths. These players all started at a very young age and they should be ready.
“We want, of course, to add what we need to add. I am very cautious with what I say because it can be turned both ways. I feel it is important for the Club that we keep faith in what we do.
“You can see that the players grow when they get the chance to play. Like Szczesny, for example, you can see already that compared to two months ago, he has already grown. It is a law in our game that you can only grow, at some stage, if you play. So people want both, they want to win every game and they want us to produce quality young players. But if Wilshere has grown this season it is because he played. But on the other hand, if you do not win, people say, ‘why do you play young players?’”
May 8th (After 3-1 Stoke defeat)
“Something has gone [and] you could see that today. We have to take a distance and make the right analysis of the season.”
May 15th (After 1-2 defeat to Villa)
“It is down to availability and quality. We don’t rule out any position and we don’t target any special position before the transfer market. We look to strengthen every year of course. But first we look not to weaken because we want to keep all our players, and then we try to strengthen.
“It’s not about the number [of players], it’s the quality. I don’t want to give out a number [we’ll go for]”.
On conceding from set pieces:
“It has been [a problem]. We cannot deny that because we conceded more goals from set pieces than other teams. But you have to consider as well that we conceded 17 penalties.
”It is more about the size of our whole team in some games like Stoke. When you go out of the back three, after that we are quite short, especially when Abou Diaby wasn’t there for big games. When you have the defence plus Diaby and Alex Song, and you go to places like that, you can of course fight. Sometimes we’re one or two men short.
“The fans want to win football games. They will not check how much money we spend, they want to win football games. When we don’t, they are not happy and that is completely normal. We will try to strengthen our team, of course, but the best way to keep our fans happy is to win the games.”
“We need to add, of course, and we will do. But we have a strong base. We have enough quality to beat anyone in the world, even with the current squad. You have a Champions League Final and only one team has beaten both of them and that is Arsenal. We have a good team and the best away team [in the Premier League]. The loss of the Carling Cup Final had a huge impact on the team and we did not handle it well. It is not catastrophic and do not think we can go to Coventry and find the player who saves Arsenal Football Club.
“I always try to get value for money. That is the job of a football manager. In England, it is a bit more difficult because player inflation is higher than everywhere else. When you only have a few players at many clubs, the price is too high.”
May 22nd (After draw with Fulham 2-2)
“If you speak about the quality of the Club and the style of football we play we have many offers on the table for players who are desperate to join us. [But] if you speak only about money, we are certainly less attractive than some other teams.
“We will try to buy the right players. Spending is not a purpose, it’s not our goal. We want the right players. We cannot buy players for £50 million and, even if we try to strengthen our team and spend money if needed, that is fact.”
“The market will be hyperactive because everyone believes financial fair play will happen soon. So we are quickly doing the last buying before the stores will be closed. And for the first time for a while, I will be very active, too.”
May 31st (French radio interview)
“We’ll invest in players who can bring something more to the team, and that won’t be easy.
“I am very active on the phone. Everyone is in a standby position, where everyone is waiting for the first step, expecting a super-transfer. It will move in late July and early August. Then we will analyse the gaps in each team.”
June 8th (Carl Jenkinson signed from Charlton)
“Everyone wants to make that great signing and I’m focused on those objectives and am very busy on the telephone.”
“For me, the best thing is not to talk too much about it. The more you speak about things, the less chance you have to achieve them. The only thing that I can promise you is that we will work very hard and we have had some long nights to achieve what we want to achieve. I can understand [the impatience among the fans].
“Believe me, I know all the clubs in the world and everybody needs the same players for the same positions. If there were an obvious choice, people would have already made their decisions. We are at the top level and therefore need exceptional quality to strengthen our side. I can understand that people say ‘you have money, just go out and buy’. But it’s not only that, we want to find the quality we need.
“I have said many times that we were very close to winning things last season, despite the disappointment we had at the end. I hope that provokes a response from my players. We were so close this time we want to come back and achieve it. My responsibility is first of all not to lose players and then to add and make us stronger. Let’s hope we can bring in one or two more additions of top quality.”
“Yes [I expect Cesc to stay]. As simple as that. I have never spoken about what has happened behind closed doors but Cesc loves the Club. We know the Barcelona story goes on for years now and we have to close that. Now we focus on the new season, hopefully with Cesc Fabregas.
”Yes [I expect Nasri to stay as well]. There is always speculation when a player has one year to go on his contract that he might leave the club but Samir Nasri is very happy at the Club and committed to stay at the Club. I hope he will sign a new contract but I am not the only one to decide that.
”Both of them (Bendtner and Almunia) are possible departures. They are talking to other clubs at the moment. I cannot tell you which ones.
“For us it is important that the team settles, psychologically, as quickly as possible because we have a tough start. We play all the big clubs away in the first half of the season. It is important that the players focus on the season and not the transfer market. The players who are here as well will ask ‘will he go? will he go?’ – that is not the way to prepare for the season.
“The plan for left back is that we have Kieran Gibbs, Armand Traore and Thomas Vermaelen can play there too. So we have what we need.”
July 18th (Gervinho signed from Lille)
July 18th (Ivan Gazidis):
“If we found an established world-class player and we thought the economics made sense and he would add to what we could do on the pitch then there’s no philosophical objection to that.
Arsène has no point of principle to show the world that he can build his own team of young players. That’s just not the way it is. It’s easy to lose perspective on what Arsène is trying to do, which, I think, is an extraordinary vision but if you look around here, the fans we have around the world, that vision is very attractive and very, very powerful. We should be proud of that.
“We still will be active in this window. We haven’t finished our business at all. We’re just not conducting it publicly; we’re working hard privately. We understand where the weaknesses have been. Financially we’re in a strong position, we have resources to spend. We’re certainly not sitting there saying ‘let’s hold back on our resources’ for some reason, why would we? The resources are there. We’ve got a substantial amount of money that we can invest. The important thing for us, which can be frustrating, is not doing it only in response to a public clamour but in a way that can positively impact our performance next year. That’s the focus now.”
“Certainly, we will have to find one more defender. We [are] working on it. I can promise we work very hard on it. In fairness, everybody looks for players. Everybody looks for the same area and you see that nobody turns up with magic. It’s all about being steady, working very hard on it and being calm as well. I don’t want to comment individually because I do not want to destabilise clubs. I do not want to do to other clubs what some clubs do to us so I wouldn’t like to comment individually on any player.”
“Our business will be done sooner rather than later but it is difficult to speak about any individual player because that makes things difficult. I cannot complain about other clubs talking about our players and then do the same.
“I like the player [Mata], but that does not mean we will buy him. The other player [Jagielka] is under contract at Everton. If we want to buy a player, we need first the agreement of their club. At the moment the rules are constructed in a way where it is basically forbidden to speak about one individual player. I know that not everybody respects it, but I try to do as well as I can.
”At the moment you have two categories of movement, one from zero to 10 million, and one from 30 to 50 million. We are in between. In between nothing happens at the moment, there has been very little movement. All over Europe our industry is basically in a very bad financial situation. All the clubs who live from the money which football generates do not buy. The only clubs who buy at the moment in Europe are ones who buy with money which is not generated by our industry. There are two categories of club – those who travel with sweat and those who travel with petrol. We are those who travel with sweat.”
“Ideally I would have finished all [our business] but it doesn’t work like that. We
work very hard, we are non-stop working throughout the summer. I am positive because we have good quality and a style of play that is known by the players. So we want to add not quality but super quality.
“You have to identify the players, agree with clubs to get them out, agree the fee. That means they have to agree with you and they have to find another player before they release their players. In England, it is a lot more difficult to move during the summer because some people are not there. It’s all kinds of things you meet during the transfer market. But I can understand the impatience of people.
And are Arsenal close to a new signing? “No, not at the moment. We hope to give you some good news soon. Next week, something might happen.”
So, what conclusions can we draw.
For me it’s the realisation that substantial new signings are perhaps less likely than I imagined. For every positive noise from Arsene, there are two warnings about the difficulty of finding the right players, of getting value for money, of not blocking the opportunities for our youth players to come through, of how we can’t compete financially with some top teams and so on.
I have been listening to the positive noises and screening out the cautious ones.
But I also think the quotes indicate that Arsene intended to buy players and buy them early, but found his hands tied. Tied, presumably, partly by the Fabregas/Nasri sagas and partly by the fact that it has perhaps been more difficult to get his men than he has expected.
Certainly there are inconsistencies in the messages that have been coming from both him and Ivan Gazidis. “We can buy if we want, we have the money… ah, but it’s harder than you think and we have to make sure we don’t stop our young talents from coming through.”
With the quotes all together I can see where the frustration among a proportion of the fan base comes from.
But with Arsene saying as recently as July 23rd that he will “certainly” add one more defender, I expect that to happen soon. Whether it will be a name to quieten the skeptics, or another “experienced” but jobbing CB like Squillaci or Silvestre, only time will tell.
More worryingly, as Arsene himself stated clearly on July 13th, the uncertainty over key players’ futures undoubtedly unsettles the whole squad – and the fact that such uncertainty is still rumbling on as the start of the season heaves into view is surely not a good thing.