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Arsenal lose the Transfer Market title, #EDUOUT
A subset of fans seem to believe that Arsenal have royally screwed up their transfer business, lets explore this
If you have been on twitter at all in the last couple of weeks (or even over the last year) you will likely have come across something like this:
There is a subset of fans that really, really dislike the way that Arsenal’s director of football Edu Gaspar has gone about conducting Arsenal’s transfer business. There is also the annoying habit of blaming bad things on Edu, while giving credit to Mikel Arteta for any good thing that the club does.
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You will hear arguments around, Arsenal missing out on top targets (like above), that Arsenal are too cheap and reluctant to pony up, that it is only results that matter and so on. Basically, there is a good size of the fan base that is fed up, and I have tried to engage and understand where these people are coming from but doing things one on one doesn’t scale so let’s go through some of these main arguments and see if they make sense at all.
First, let’s just get this out of the way, Edu is responsible for the bad things, Arteta is responsible for the good things.
Finding out the true split of decision-making is not clear but I would doubt the guy who has the job of managing and overseeing scouting and recruitment isn’t a big part of all of the decisions being made. I imagine that Arteta and Edu spend a lot of time talking about the roles that players inside the club and thinking through how to improve and manage the depth chart. This is a collaborative process with many people involved, it has to be, there are too many players and leagues for any one person to have sufficient knowledge about them.
Now on to the bigger things that people complain about.
Arsenal are not good at landing their primary targets
The names that are often pointed to here are Dusan Vlahovic, Lisandro Martinez, Raphinha, Mykhailo Mudryk, and Moisés Caicedo.
First I would challenge the premise for some that these were the primary targets. From what it looks like from the outside, is that Arsenal draw up a list of players that might fit the role that they are looking to fill and explore the interest from the player and the fee that the selling team would demand. Sometimes it is this exploratory process that is reported (perhaps from an agent, Arsenal, or the selling club as the source) and that is what get’s stuck in fans’ minds as that was a primary target, when it never really advanced past that step for various reasons.
For the more concrete targets, it does also seem that Arsenal will whittle down a list to a couple of players that they would be very happy with essentially co-targets to be able to credibly have another target during negotiations. It does seem like for Martinez this was a good example of that; Arsenal were also exploring Oleksandr Zinchenko at the same time and I think it could have come down to transfer price and wages with both looking like very good fits for the inverted left-back role.
For Vlahovic, I do think that Arsenal were interested but this seemed like a move where he was potentially available in January vs this being an ideal fit for Arsenal with him being a primary target. I could be wrong but after seeing the type of striker that Arteta has preferred and how it works on the field, Vlahovic seemed at best a decent fit that would be a bit shoehorned in.
For Raphinha, seems like a type of situation where everyone knew the player was available (but also preferred Barcelona where if they could pull the financial lever to make it happen was the question) and Arsenal decided to take a shot at landing a very good player to strengthen the attacking depth. I am sure they would have loved to have it happen but I would love to get an idea of how likely they thought it was that they could get him when that started.
For Caicedo, I think this was a bit of that “maybe he is available” type move that Arsenal tried to take advantage of after it became clear a DM would be needed urgently. I do believe that he is someone that Arsenal were very interested in with the potential to be both a short-term cover and a guy that fit into the long-term plans but was he a “primary target”? That I am less convinced about seeing as there was still talk about Declan Rice still being someone the club wanted in the summer. If Arsenal had gone in for him at the start of the window rather than after Elneny was injured I could see that more but ultimately I think that was a player the club really like and thought there was a chance Brighton might sell (almost Vlahovic style but with a more obvious trigger).
So those are the ones that got away, what about the ones that Arsenal did get? I do think that Gabriel Jesus was the primary target in the summer for a striker and they got him in. Fábio Vieria, I think we know less about with how quiet they kept that but it would suggest that he was a prime target for a young creative player. Zinchenko I think was right there with Martinez for the target to upgrade left back, so they really did land one of their primary targets there (especially if you consider it was a specific role rather than a player).
It is a similar story last summer. Ben White and Aaron Ramsdale were obviously the primary targets and both were landed. I do think that Martin Ødegaard was as well, there was a reason they waited and didn’t act on Emi Buendia and balked at James Maddison, because Ødegaard was the guy but they had to wait on Real Madrid.
The 2020/21 season is the same. Arsenal chased Thomas Partey all window seeing if Atlético would budge from the demand for the release clause but they ultimately got him in. Gabriel Magalhães was really the only center back that the team chased in that window and they got him in. That seems like another window of landing their primary targets.
Going back to 2019/20 is a little harder given that Raul was still perhaps leading things but the team did still land their primary targets of Nicolas Pépé, William Saliba, and Kieran Tierney.
So on balance, there are some guys that Arsenal were interested in that got away. Most seemed to come in the January market where getting big transfers done can be tough and where a club might perhaps make a trade off to try for a guy who is available vs one who is truly the ideal target.
Even granting all of the guys listed as primary targets missed Arsenal have gotten 11 of 16 in. That is a solid percentage in even granting the worst case (which is certainly in dispute).
Arsenal are too cheap and reluctant to pony up
I was told recently while I was trying to understand the arguments that Arsenal are being left behind in the modern transfer market because they were too quick to pull out of deals.
This is another confusing argument because I have also been told that Arsenal have bought their way to the top of the table. I think the answer is somewhere in the middle of that.
Arsenal have spent a lot of money, having spent €606.6m on transfers (aka one Chelsea) over the transfer windows going back to 2019/20 (that’s 8 total windows) and that ranks as the 4th highest total spend, with €478.6m net spend 3rd most. This is also Arsenal basically completing a full turnover of the team with just a few players left that were with the team before 2019/20.
So Arsenal are certainly not cheap, they have 8 players that they have signed at or over €30.0m in that period. Sure they only have one really BIG spend for Pépé but I am not sure that is a bad thing, with the track record of the really big signings not having a great history of success. Those signings win you a transfer market but they often fail to live up to expectations.
So I believe that is demonstrably false that Arsenal have not been able to complete deals, or that they will fail to be able to sign good talent with their current operating procedure. Arsenal can still spend more than just about any team in the World. There are probably 4 Premier League teams, plus 2 (I don’t think Barcelona will be able to anymore) teams in Europe that can for sure beat them on a deal and that is probably it.
Is it going to be tough to be among the chasing rich clubs in the Premier League, certainly and I think that is why Arsenal can not afford to make mistakes when they do go big. That means really trusting your internal scouting and valuations and being able to walk away and not getting caught up in a bidding war where a very expensive mistake could really set back the team for a couple of windows.
When I have talked to people about this, they (the rational people) do understand that there shouldn’t be a limit to what the club is willing to walk away. Where I think they get mad is that their walkway point just ends up being different than the club and they make that as the team is cheap when someone else goes to the next level. That’s fair and frustrating but from the outside, it is really easy to say just add another 10m here or there, at this point, it doesn’t feel like real money but it actually is and I can only imagine it is different when you have responsibility for that budget and getting these eye-popping sums approved.
It’s a results business blud
The last point I want to bring up is, and I swear I have been told this, is that it is a results business and that Edu has not gotten results.
I swear I have been told this more than once and while this feels like a straw man argument it is a real thing people try and say.
The most obvious counter is just pointing out the table. Arsenal are having the best season ever and deserves that spot with their performance. Edu and team have rebuilt a team, basically turning over the entire roster bringing them from 8th, to 5th, to potentially very good this season.
To try and steelman this a bit more, perhaps it refers more to getting in players and filling holes in the team, rather than simply points and places in the table. I still think that this is a pretty ludicrous statement, like I pointed out above Arsenal have signed a lot of players and turned over the squad (that’s results), Arsenal have a starting XI that I feel can go up against any team in the world right now and not be overmatched. The biggest issues with depth have been addressed (even people don’t love the new DM he is an improvement on the alternative) where the team feels like it is 17-18 players deep if everyone was healthy (that’s results).
I wrote this out because I was just getting pretty fed up with trying to correct people making bad arguments. Now I have a post that is too long that I am sure those people won’t read but maybe it will save me from a few hours of pain and wasted typing.
I understand that often these arguments are more about emotion than reason, and I will gladly admit that I have not always been sold on Edu. I thought that he was perhaps too wedded to some players and didn’t move off of players quick enough, now he and his team seem to do that much better, looking at roles and multiple players that can help in that regard. The recruitment team also seems to have gotten better at showing a credible threat to walk away if a price gets too high so that it is a real threat now if Arsenal say this is our best and final offer.
Overall the recruitment has been good but that doesn’t mean perfect in my book as my tough grading of not too long ago shows.
I do however think that the recruitment has gotten better and it is hard to deny where it has gotten the club currently. Call me a PR shill if you must but I will gladly fight you in the comments if you have some good (or at least better) arguments as to what I might have missed.