£50m made available in the summer, rising at the last moment to £70m, but then nothing in January 2019, except for the funding of a loan. Arsenal’s transfer policy seems to have hit a brick wall as their dire need in light of injuries to Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding (season long) as well as numerous injuries to Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Nacho Monreal was CLEARLY in defence but they signed an attacking player.
Meanwhile the players on the highest salaries are being let go or encouraged to go. And the one thing that some fans and virtually every journalist agrees on (that Arsenal need new defenders and fast) has not happened. So is this a cunning plan (as they used to say) or is it what we can expect from Kroenke, the man who likes to make money out of his clubs rather than invest in them?
Kroenke, whose NFL team the LA Rams just lost the SuperBowl to the New England Patriots, commented as the big game approached that Arsenal’s goal is to win the Champions League.
The first thing to notice is that Arsenal are pretty much where they were a year ago. Last season Arsenal had a terrific home record and a terrible away record. It could have been, and indeed was, argued in some quarters that if Arsenal could just take their away form back to the normal Arsenal standard of the Wenger years, a step forwards would be made. Arsenal would make fourth, or maybe third, and then with the extra money from the Champions League the club would be able to spend more to make the next push.
But this has not happened. The away form this season is pretty much as bad as last season, and short of a sudden surge in results, will be a major contributory factor to Arsenal finishing sixth again. Maybe fifth, if Chelsea continue to take two steps backwards for each step forwards, and indeed if they get the much heralded two year ban from making transfers, but as things stand, most likely sixth with Manchester United looking now like they will overtake the Gunners.
Of course, Kroenke is not the only owner to use his clubs as a source of income – Manchester United’s owners have done the same ever since they bought the club, and they too have suffered – at least until a temporary manager has come along who seems to be able to turn things around.
But playing against the three clubs that demand financing from the club’s profitability (Manchester Utd., Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur), are the three clubs that will spend whatever it takes to get to the top: Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool.
Now contrary to this, some apologists of these clubs like to stress that they have not always spent, spent and spent. That of course is true. But look back at the last three or four transfer windows; they are clearly spending in a different league from the north London clubs. (Man U will, I am sure, start spending again in the summer – after all they have all the money they need, and each trophy enhances the share price, and thus the value of the club, which is pretty much all the owners think about.)
So let’s go over this again.
Arsenal and Tottenham do not have owners who want to spend, spend and spend again. They have owners who want to see the value of the club enhanced. But the clubs are not in a similar position – Arsenal have paid for their stadium. Tottenham have seen the cost of their stadium rocket, as delays have meant that the debt mountain has just grown that bit bigger. In financial terms Arsenal should be doing better than Tottenham.
Chelsea, meanwhile, are threatened with the biggest ever transfer ban imposed by Fifa, for their notorious youth transfer policy, while Liverpool’s owners want a league title more than anything else, to enhance the value of the club, and Manchester City can and will spend anything it takes for the greater glory of themselves. What’s more, the failure of Uefa to take any action thus far over the allegations concerning the Champions League spending by the club does not suggest that anything can stop their owners’ money conquering football worldwide.
Thus Arsenal are squeezed. They have the stadium and income from that but without Champions League funding this season, and most likely next season, the squeeze will continue. And that means perhaps no more than one new purchase in the much criticised defence.
But is this a total disaster?
I would argue possibly not. Leno is proving himself a good first choice keeper, and with Cech going I see no reason why Martinez, currently getting game time at Reading on loan will not become the backup.
We then have Bellerin, Sokratis, Koscielny, Lichsteiner, Holding, Monreal, Mustafi, Jenkinson, Mavropanas and Kolasinac. Plus Elneny and Maitland-Niles both of whom can play at the back.
Now some of these may go in the summer, but coming up through the academy we have Pleguezuelo, Osei Tutu, Bola and Medley, and quite possibly someone I haven’t yet noted but who in true Arsenal fashion will burst unheralded upon the scene.
Arsenal are short this season – that is true – but that is because of run of injuries. And yes, I know, there are always injuries, but it would be rare to have the same part of the team hit two seasons running.
Yes, if we did have another long run of injuries in defence, we could suffer next year, but assuming not, I am not sure that we will not be able to mount a solid attack on third or fourth next season.
The only problem is that for years we heard the shout of “Fourth is not a trophy”, and that probably is going to be Arsenal’s biggest issue. If the media encourage the fans to talk in those terms again, and the anti-Wenger groups find their voice again, rather than allow slow rebuilding there really could be pressure on the club.
Kroenke will not bow to pressure, of that I am sure, so the war against Wenger will be rejoined, only this time against Kroenke, and it could be bloody.