If ever an article didn’t need a title, this is one such occasion. Arsenal’s problems are at once simple and complex, their descent from the top table has been a slow, painfully gradual affair which has kept alight the flame of hope in their supporters’ hearts. It feels like the walls have finally started to crumble.
Arsenal’s transfer business has been a source of curiosity to all football fans for a number of years now. The spending was restricted with the move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium, we were told, because of the huge cost of building a new stadium. Fair enough, a reasonable argument, even if it didn’t always stack up on the evidence of increasingly swollen financial statements.
That argument has since been put to bed. Arsenal rake in vast sums of TV money, commercial sponsorship and match day income of over £3m per game. Tickets are expensive and people, seemingly, are tripping over themselves to soak up the on field mediocrity. Where is the money going now?
2017 has, so far, been a disaster for Arsenal, an FA Cup win barely papering over the cracks. The best players in the world don’t want to move to win that, they want to play in the Champions League and challenge for titles, the club game’s greatest currencies.
Failing to finish in the top four and secure the lifeline of Champions League football has hit the Gunners hard. New contracts were offered to start players Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. Both are gathering dust, unsigned, in an office at the Emirates.
It was preceded by uncertainty about manager, Arsene Wenger’s position. Would he stay or would he go? The uncertainty crept onto the pitch and Arsenal were overtaken by Liverpool. Wenger has stayed, unlike the desire of his star players.
We were told of great fortunes that Arsenal would spend in an attempt to get back to where they once stood. Ozil and Sanchez would stay. A plethora of stars would arrive. The good times would be back.
Alexandre Lacazette, having had his preferred move to Atletico Madrid scuppered by Atleti’s transfer ban, washed up at Arsenal for £46m, to join free transfer Saed Kolasinac. That was to be the sum total of Arsenal’s transfer business and neither was selected for their biggest game of the season to date, the trip face Liverpool at Anfield. They of course lost 4-0.
They stand still whilst everyone else around them strives forward. This inertia has been in the club for over a decade now. It is driven from the top and facilitated by Wenger. The club needed positive action and it has opted to sit on its hands, aiming PR shots out the window in a desperate attempt to make the club look credible and appease a restless supporter base.
The truth is, the club is devoid of credibility. Having insisted Sanchez was going nowhere, a deadline day bid from Manchester City was accepted. In response, a desperate bid for Thomas Lemar, so impressive for Monaco last season, was launched. Earlier in the summer, Arsenal had offered £30m for him; now they were proposing £92m.
It was not the first time Arsenal had made embarrassingly derisory offers for players this summer. Kylian Mbappe, now of the PSG parish for some £170m, was a target for Arsenal, who were reported to have offered £70m for his services. Setting aside the fact they thought they could compete with Europe’s elite for one of its stars, the offer was out of touch with the reality of the situation.
So there they were, Thursday 31 August, offering £92m for Lemar, a player they previously valued at £30m. The £92m offer was accepted by Monaco and it’s up to you what you believe from here, incompetence or incompatibility. Arsenal pulled out of the deal because there wasn’t time to complete it, or Lemar laughed at them and told them where to get off. Maybe both scenarios are true. Either way it was another botch job from a club that has turned itself into a laughing stock.
Arsenal simultaneously managed to weaken their squad and make their star players unhappy this summer, with the reality of losing them for nothing next year. I wrote here last season that Arsenal’s empire needed a new emperor. They had a chance to make positive changes within the club, but instead opted for confusion and eventual stagnation.
It is no great surprise, therefore, that everyone else is pointing and laughing.