Everybody wants Arsenal to pay top dollar for every player they so much as throw a glance at in the transfer market. When it comes to selling, however, agents, pundits, rumour mills and everyone who can air an opinion insists that the gunners must lower their asking price. The same scenario has resurfaced in the potential sale of Folarin Balogun. After scoring 21 goals in 37 games in Ligue 1 (more than Messi and Neymar), many still insist that £50 million is an unreasonable asking price.
Some say it’s the league that matters. But in the five seasons that just ended, Ligue 1 has ranked above the Eredivisie. The league that produced the likes of Antony and Jurrien Timber. Ligue 1 still ranks above the Portuguese league that gave Bruno Fernandes and Fabio Vieira. It should be purely about the player’s abilities, really!
I have tried to explore why Arsenal always takes this beating every transfer market. If you are of the TLDR gang, the bad news is that we turned into a joke of a club. The good news is that we are now leaving Joke Club Town. The ‘meh’ news is that that doesn’t mean we will suddenly begin harvesting big in the coming transfers.
How did Arsenal Take the Exit to Joke Club Town in the Transfer Market?
Trophies, simple. In the many years that Arsene Wenger’s Gunners flirted with but never landed big trophies, they became the butt of jokes for people whose opinions matter. The man whose image was recently cast in bronze had a great philosophy. His refusal to let go of it as football underwent an ugly evolution helped Arsenal maintain a beautiful identity. However, it also cost Arsenal the pull in the transfer market.
Arsenal never showed extreme decline under Wenger. They topped the table numerously and for long stretches, only to bottle it towards the end. The belief that players could win something kept dwindling. As a result, players who were coming of age probably didn’t see Arsenal as a viable option to achieve their ambitions. Even if they did, convincing them otherwise would not be a difficult task.
Without this appeal, Arsenal remained with transfer fees as the only muscle in the market. This has been used against the team for years. If Arsenal approaches a club that did not want to sell, they simply a high price knowing that the player won’t push. Any other big club that comes along and matches or slightly exceeds Arsenal’s price often convinces such a player.
On the inside, it became easy to sow doubt in Arsenal’s players. That is why Barcelona and Man United found it easy to prise away Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie in consecutive years of 2011 and 2012. Two very painful departures of much-loved club captains who all along had been loyal to Wenger can only have been informed by a seeming lack of seriousness at the club. They were easily distracted. Therefore, they both left for cheap.
Arsene’s Departure Dampens Arsenal’s Transfer Market Further
By the time Arsene left the club that many grew up thinking belonged to and was named after him, he was probably the only pull left in the club. And even he was not that attractive anymore. Not with things like 8-2 league losses, 10-2 Champions League losses, and giving away 4-0 leads to Newcastle (RIP Chiek Tiote) hanging over his name.
Post Wenger’s 2018 departure, Arsenal were left in a wilderness with no compass to guide them out. Wenger refused to be involved in finding his replacement. He was probably sick of the abuse in his last days. Or probably wary because of how Alex Ferguson’s similar gamble with David Moyes at Man United turned out. Money became the incentive once again. Aubameyang joined for 63 million euros and on a hefty wage. Ozil extended for three years. For this to happen, a 350k-a-week wage incentive was required. Aubameyang required a similar wage offer to stay at the club in 2020. With such wages, these ageing players – who both coincidentally dipped in form after extending- were always going to be hard to offload.
Pay Structure and Out of the Woods
So it happens that Arsenal’s pay structure also limits their selling. Having high wages for their stars or letting contracts run too close to their expiry (like Van Persie) makes it hard to reap much from their sale. This is one area they have improved greatly in recently. The business completed with the likes of Ramsdale, Saka, Martinelli and Saliba this year is good evidence.
Thankfully, that is not the only area where they are getting it right. ‘Project Arteta’ seems to have finally guided the team out of Joke Club Town. Winning the league last season would have marked the full departure. But the intent was clear and the pull from inside (extensions and a purse to spend) and outside (Declan Rice, et al, 2023) is evidence of that. Such a beautiful thing to see.
The stage is now set for a new, exciting 2023/24 season. Will you be there? No matter what?