“A little bit all over the place” or smart shopping? Ranking Arsenal’s summer transfer window
“A little bit all over the place”
It took less than 12 hours after the summer window to close for former Manchester United defender Gary Neville to deliver his verdict on Arsenal’s transfer window. Taking to Sky Sports, he claimed:
“I’m not quite sure what the strategy is of Arsenal in the transfer market, it seems a little bit all over the place.”
🗣 “I’m not quite sure what the strategy is of Arsenal in the transfer market, it seems a little bit all over the place.”@GNev2 says Arsenal’s plan on and off the pitch has been very unclear since Arsene Wenger’s departure pic.twitter.com/CilwQqwgCe
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) September 1, 2021
So, what was the strategy?
In an open letter to the staff at Arsenal penned by CEO Vinai Venkatesham, and reported by the Standard, the transfer strategy for this summer was laid bare:
“Our approach for this window was framed by fully recognising that we are not where we want to be on the pitch — finishing eighth last season, with no European football for the first time in many years,”
“Whilst we would love to jump from where we are to where we want to be in an instant, we need to be realistic that the gap is too large to do that. As such, our activity this window has been focused on youth.
“Our strategy is to fill our squad with some of Europe’s most exciting young talent, with players from both our academy and further afield, that can grow and develop together under Mikel to take us where we want to get to.
“Whilst this will not be overnight, we can make positive progress, and it gives us the best route to future success in a sustainable way.”
Clearly then, the Gunners were looking to move away from the signings that had plagued previous summers, such as Willian, Sokratis and David Luiz, and opting for a more long term refresh of the squad.
Arsenal forked out 149.5 million pounds on six incomings this summer (as per transfermarkt). The most expensive of these, at 52 million pounds, was Brighton centre-back Ben White, who replaced the void left by the departure of David Luiz at the end of the season.
No Premier League team spent more money on transfer fees this summer than Arsenal.💰 pic.twitter.com/DTXxTd2SPd
— Connor Humm (@TikiTakaConnor) September 1, 2021
They also added Martin Odegaard, who had allegedly been the top target for the club throughout the summer after impressing staff when on loan for the latter half of last season. The squad was further strengthened with the additions of Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares from Anderlecht and Benfica respectively, who will initially provide backup in the squad.
Finally, they added two players earmarked to break into the first team this season, right back Takehiro Tomiyasu from Bologna, and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale from Sheffield United.
It was in the outgoings department that Arsenal really struggled. It had been reported ahead of the summer window that “there are very few who would be deemed ‘not for sale’ this summer by Arsenal, should a suitable offer arrive”, with Mikel Arteta himself speaking about the need to be “ruthless” in the transfer market.
However, due to both a lack of suitors and some poor squad planning, it proved tricky to part ways with a whole host of fringe players, with the majority being sent out on loan towards the end of the window, failing to provide a much-needed injection of cash.
The likes of Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Hector Bellerin failed to garner the interest that was expected of them, while the departure of Granit Xhaka dragged on and ultimately collapsed due to Roma’s refusal to meet the Gunners’ demands.
Worse yet, a lack of movement out created a log-jam for incomings. A new right-back was on the agenda for the Gunners this summer, but come the start of the season, it was the same four options (Hector Bellerin, Cedric Soares, Calum Chambers and Ainsley Maitland-Niles) that presented themselves for the opener vs Brentford.
– Luiz & Mustafi (Released)
– Mavropanos (Loan)
– Willock (£25m)
– Torreira (Loan)
– Guendouzi (Loan)
– Saliba (Loan)
– Willian (Released)
– Nelson (Loan)
– Runarsson (Loan)
– Bellerin (Loan) pic.twitter.com/OVCYkxu585
— Charles Watts (@charles_watts) August 31, 2021
It was not until a deadline day loan move for Hector Bellerin came about that the logjam was cleared, and Arsenal could look to bring in Tomiyasu, a deal that was announced with an hour to go in the window, but that had been explored 2 months earlier.
In the striking department, too, the case was the same. Both Eddie Nketiah and Alex Lacazette were on the market for much of the summer, but a lack of suitors mean that both remain at the club and will, in all likelihood, depart for free next summer.
This, in turn, meant that Arsenal could not freshen up the no.9 position, another that had been on the agenda. The likes of Tammy Abraham and Lautaro Martinez were linked but, ultimately, no one new walked through the door.
Of course, Joe Willock departed the club for Newcastle United, adding some needed funds to the transfer kitty, but it was hardly the mass exodus that the Arsenal hierarchy had hoped for, which in turn affected incomings.
Arsenal have so far allowed £144million worth of players to leave the club for just £27million. Joe Willock’s move to Newcastle is the only permanent transfer fee.
— 101 Great Goals (@101greatgoals) August 31, 2021
*Note: The above figure includes 65 million in value of returning loanees, leaving the amount closer to 80 million pounds*
More broadly though, the summer marked the end of spells at the club for high earners Mesut Ozil, Shkodran Mustafi and Willian, the former pair having spent the final six months of their contracts on loan in Turkey and Germany respectively.
Re-addressing the balance
This summer marked one of regeneration, rather than revolution, in north London. The club still have question marks over the quality in the squad in certain areas, and retain some of the “unmanageable” traits that Mikel Arteta described in January.
They seem light in central midfield for example, especially when Mohammed Elneny and Thomas Partey depart for the African Cup of Nations in January 2022. On the other hand, they have four strikers (Nketiah, Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Folarin Balogun) and, with the addition of Tomiyasu, four players capable of playing at right-back.
Despite Neville’s claims however, the strategy is clear by just a glance at the ages of those coming in. Two 21-year-olds, two 22-year-olds and two 23-year-olds walked through the doors this summer, adding to the young players such as Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe already at the club.
Clearly, the club targetted young, malleable players that could well have an upshot when it comes to resale value, no longer looking for the quick fix to get back into Europe. Indeed, as per the Athletic, Keiran Trippier was discarded as a potential option at right-back because he “did not fit the club’s strategy of recruiting from a younger age profile.”
Whether Mikel Arteta is the man to get the best out of this youthful crop is another question, but the Gunners have made their priorities clear.
It has been a nightmare start for the Gunners in the Premier League, and it seems clear that they didn’t get everything done in the transfer window that they wanted to do this summer.
This season, however, is about managing expectations. The club do not plan, as Vinai outlined above, to challenge for the top spots, where clubs have spent astronomical amounts on single pieces of their sides (read: Jack Grealish, Romelu Lukaku and Jadon Sancho).
Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Man United.
Romelu Lukaku returns to Chelsea.
Harry Kane stays at Tottenham.
Jack Grealish joins Man City.
Jadon Sancho joins Man United.
Raphael Varane joins Man United.
A #PremierLeague transfer window for the ages. pic.twitter.com/VeEGYwgdVp
— bet365 US (@bet365_us) August 27, 2021
Instead, the window has been aimed at being competitive for these positions in the coming years, and in that respect it will be difficult to judge its success until then. Will Ramsdale become the goalkeeper that the club believe he will, justifying his 24 million pound price tag, for example?
The longer-term view will frustrate many Arsenal fans, who want to see results now, but it appears to be the one the club are taking with their recruitment policy.
In that regard, the business done has been reasonable, verging on good, even though a couple of areas were not addressed that perhaps could have been. Are Arsenal going to qualify for Champions League football this season? Most likely not, but this summer suggests that work is being done to undo the farcical transfer policies of the best part of a decade.