Posted by Gingers For Limpar on at 17:07
Warchest, Schmorrchest – we’ve heard this one before

Arsenal are preparing to attack the summer’s transfer market with a £70m-£150m warchest, if various reports from this morning are to be believed. While this kind of promise would have fans of most clubs licking their lips in anticipation of some big juicy signings, its effect on Arsenal supporters has been similar to that of poking a dying lion with a pointy stick.

Already driven to near-madness by the home defeat to Blackburn on the weekend – the second humiliating cup exit in one season at the hands of lower league opposition – the suggestion that an uncharacteristic shopping spree is on its way has only managed to aggravate Gooners even more. Why? Because we’ve heard it all before.

“There are sufficient funds available to the manager for transfers,” said Arsenal’s then-CEO Keith Edelman back in September 2005. Four months earlier the Invincibles had seen their Premier League title snatched by Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea, who subsequently beat Arsenal twice that August.

Patrick Vieira left the club in the summer, having won the FA Cup with his final kick in red and white. Edu also departed, while Alex Hleb arrived. Transfer deadline day involved reserve goalkeeper Mart Poom joining from Sunderland.

Arsenal thus made a net transfer profit from player trading, that summer – a trend that has, overall, continued for the eight years since. The eight year period during which, infamously, the club has failed to pick up any silverware has coincided with it raking in an estimated £33.5m in profits from selling players and investing less back into the squad.

Arsene Wenger recently put this down to financial restrictions imposed by the move to an expensive new stadium – albeit one that allows the club to earn around £120m a season from its match-going fans.

“We have been restricted financially because of stadium; [now] that is coming to a close,” Arsene said last month. “I am always painted like a guy who refuses to spend money, [but] we had restricted funds and I acted in a responsible way.”

Fair enough, no? But the problem is that this does not tally with the messages that the board has been feeding the fans since 2005.

“Arsene is not one to go and spend huge amounts of money on players,” Edelman said in February 2007. “But if he wanted to do something of that magnitude there’s no reason we couldn’t get that to happen. We can do it. It’s just a matter of what Arsene’s strategy is. There is money available for Arsene in the summer.”

That summer Edelman held a conference with Arsenal fans, that I attended, in which he stressed that the decision not to spend more money on players was the manager’s, not the board’s.

Needless to say there was no big splash that summer; in fact the club made another profit in the transfer market. Then after the close of the window, in September 2007, Edelman came out and said: “We have substantial resources of cash if Arsene wants to spend it. If Arsene came to the board in January and wanted £40m for a player, we would have the money. We said to Arsene in the summer that we have money to spend. He said, ‘Thanks very much, I have done my business in the summer. I will spend it later on’.”

Hammering home the point, Edelman added: “We have got plenty of financial firepower to makes the transfers Arsene wants to make. We had over £70m of cash at the end of the year and if Arsene wants to spend that money we will make it available. I think we are in a very good position. We gave Arsene a budget in the summer and he didn’t even spend all of it on transfers and hopefully we’ll be able to carry that forward into future years.”

Edelman left his position the following year and was replaced by Ivan Gazidis. The new CEO is more cautious with his words, but has nonetheless continued to issue the same sentiments. Within a year of his arrival headlines of “Gazidis gives Gunners boss Wenger the green light for summer spending spree” were hitting the press.

In May 2009 Gazidis admitted that Arsenal “quite possibly” needed new players – but the club yet again made a (huge) profit on transfers during that summer, pulling in a hilarious amount of cash for Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure (thanks, Sheikh), while spending far less.

And two years ago Gazidis told fans to prepare for a summer of feverish transfer activity and insisted that funds were available. “It is very clear we had some shortcomings and in this close season we are going to see some turnover of players,” he said.

“If we found an established world-class player and we thought the economics made sense and he would add to what we could do on the pitch then there’s no philosophical objection to that… Financially we’re in a strong position, we have resources to spend. We’re certainly not sitting there saying ‘let’s hold back on our resources’ for some reason, why would we?”

He added: “The resources are there. We’ve got a substantial amount of money that we can invest.”

Yet we know how this ends. Arsenal made over £60m from the sales of players such as Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Gael Clichy, and spent less on a hurried set of, largely substandard, replacements. In the midst of this chaos came the 8-2 defeat to Manchester United. “Certainly in January and next summer there are significant funds available to bolster the team,” Gazidis said, attempting to reassure the fans by saying that the club had “kept our powder dry” for a near-future explosion of transfer activity.

Since then the same old cycle of spin has continued to emanate from the club. Prior to or immediately after a transfer window, we are told that investment is imminent – but the words are rarely backed up by actions.

“There is money available,” Gazidis said a year ago. Then back in November, prior to the just-passed midseason transfer window, he revealed: “The decision to invest is up to Arsene Wenger, but now more resources are available to him. We’ve got funds to make the right decisions for the club.”

In December the AST’s Tim Payton reported that Gazidis had told him personally, at a meeting with fans, that “there is plenty of money there”.

“That was the message that Ivan and his finance director were giving this evening,” Payton said. Needless to say, Gazidis’s assurances were given the day after the defeat to fourth division Bradford.

It’s all getting a bit tiresome, isn’t it? And the worst element is that the manager is correct about one thing: you cannot solve a team’s problems by simply splashing cash in one transfer window. Even if our cynicism is misplaced, and the club spend big in the coming summer, it cannot magically cure years of decline in the standard of the squad and performance of the team.

Successful teams tend to keep their best players, rather than losing them with the alarming regularity that has plagued our squad. Arsenal’s failure to invest, on a net basis, in the transfer market reflects the constant sales of big players just as much as the reluctance to bring in expensive new talent. And this season’s performances against Norwich, Bradford, Southampton (away), Birmingham, and in many other games, reveal even deeper problems than a gradual slide in player quality.

This summer is not Wenger’s “last chance”, as some have suggested. The same was said before the transfer window just passed. And the one before that, and the one before that. The questions about Arsenal’s condition are more long term and serious.

Why has the board constantly, and seemingly systematically, told us that there is cash available, only for the manager to rake in far more than he spends? Why has it been so tough to keep hold of players? Why does the transfer strategy seem to be reactive – as shown by last minute mad-dash signings such as Nacho Monreal, made only when forced by exceptional circumstances? Why is the squad quality not proactively improved, incrementally, through the transfer market – in the way that happened so successfully, twice, during Arsene’s first eight or nine years at the club?

The frenetic echo-room nature of modern internet-based football chat means that the overall picture can be drowned out by noisy minutiae and tangents. There are lots of ifs and buts involved in analysing the last eight seasons – relatively abysmal commercial revenue, nearly winning the title in 2008, boardroom battles, et cetera – yet the bottom line is that most transfer windows are resulting in a decline in the overall quality of the squad, and most seasons are revealing a decline in the achievements of the team. Repetitive cheap talk of an impending “transfer warchest” does nothing to change that.

11 Responses to Warchest, Schmorrchest – we’ve heard this one before

  1. vino says:

    18/02/2013 at 17:59

    This article really chronicles how damaging Arsenals lack of positive transfer movement has been for me. Jack Wilshere has one of the most unique burdens of any player at any top club. It’s the same one Cesc had. Some of our players are not very good at all, some or really great. But only Wilshere and Cazorla are ‘top top super quality.’

    It boils down to averages I think. Arsene’s A+ purchases of yore are steadily being regressed to the mean by players like Gervinho and Giroud. You need to factor in the fact that Arsene tends to get the very best out of players too, it’s obvious by how shitly the majority who move on perform at their next clubs.

  2. Mubarak says:

    18/02/2013 at 23:03

    I really wish the board or Wenger to just come clean & tell us if we have the resources to purchase the talent needed to move this great club forward & be competitive again. We just don’t know who is telling the truth.

  3. Jon Guzicki says:

    18/02/2013 at 23:46

    Interestingly, it hasn’t been only just prior to or after a transfer window that we get that “transfer kitty” rumor. A week into a window, and again a week before it slams shut, we’ve been getting the rumor popping up again. Our apparent summer offers for Gotze, or this January’s David Villa and the later mystery thirty million pound man. Obviously the board see the fans craving for new signings — but does it really matter if we get them or not? As long as we’ve got CL football and people filling the Emirates on match days, I can only think that its hubris, or simply negligence, that prevents us replacing players instead of papering over the cracks.

    What would you say would fix it? is it a board issue, or is it simply Wenger standing fast in his defiance of money football?

  4. Tony says:

    18/02/2013 at 23:54

    And what about Kroenke? The phantom majority shareholder. He’s been largely quiet. The only board member with any vocal record is Usmanov who is the only one to speak sense on these matters, even if it may be peppered with suspicion.

    Nothing is going right on and off the pitch and we can agree on something: If nothing changes nothing good will happen.

    Back when we had a half-decent squad the most sensible thing to was to replace the losses. Replace Nasri with a player of similar standard, as well as RVP. Instead Wenger was content to deal with it by doing nothing. That is a sign of a bad tactician and someone who has lost the plot of professional football. If you don’t replace players you get holes of players and talent in your squad. To act on it now is too late! We have more holes than Swiss cheese. To plug the gaps we will need more than 70m.

    • Guv says:

      19/02/2013 at 02:40

      It’s because Wenger (and I believe that Kroenke is the real problem as opposed to Wenger) is like Brian Clough at the end of his tenure; He’s living off spectacular past achievements but trying to do things in the same way that brought him success before but without realising that the game has completely changed all around him. The competitive advantages he once had have been eroded – every club has a great global scouting system now. It’s no good him whining about “financially irresponsible” clubs; the price of anything is what somebody is prepared to pay and footballers are no different.

  5. Ian says:

    19/02/2013 at 00:11

    I was really hoping there was some sort of answer at the end of this. While I agree with everything you say here what do you think the trend is due to? A lack of ambition from the board? Arsene’s stubbornness with players he’s bought such as Diaby and Ramsey? Or is there really not any money there?

  6. Guv says:

    19/02/2013 at 02:35

    The board just says that the cash is there because i) It gives a modicum of hope that Arsenal may challenge for trophies in the future which in turn translates to people not dumping their season tickets (as has happened with club level seats – I’m continually emailed with yet another “last chance” to get a club level ticket again) and ii) It deflects pressure from the board. Arsene is only too happy to take this pressure because, in return, he gets to be one of the highest, if not the highest paid, manager in the EPL (and across Europe) on GBP7.5mm per year without the pressure to win trophies. His only remit is to generate profit for Kroenke from player sales which, combined with match day revenue (and all of those empty corporate seats are still paid for) are building up a nice little cash pile for everybody’s favourite parasitic American to extract with a special dividend at some point. At least the Glazer’s realise that if Man U keep winning things then they increase global revenues through sales of their crappy merchandise. The whole financial fair play speech we get given is a smokescreen, nothing more. As is Arsene’s talk about how he could have gone to Real, etc. There’s no chance he’d go to a club like Real, even if he got paid slightly more per year, because he knows he’d be tinned after one trophyless season when he’s on such exorbitant wages.

    Get Kroenke out together with his lackey Gazidis. Bring in Usminov who, like Abromovich and the Mansours, have other motives, not profit, as a reason to own a winning club (staying out of a Siberian jail, promoting a brand etc) which in turn will lead to the return of David Dein. Who knows how to handle Wenger and would put some pressure on him. Finally we’d have sensible transfer policies again where Dein decides the fee paid and player wages. We’ve missed out on numerous players such as Mata because Wenger decides that they’re worth X when the market rate as paid by other clubs is sometimes only slightly higher. He never sees the bigger picture of paying 2mm extra to get a player that will generate much more through winning things and indirectly through merchandise sales associated with winning. And then you have the wage policy… it’s beyond me as to why people like Squillaci and Chamakh are deemed by Wenger to be worth 60k a week.. surely in every field the best performers get paid more than the ones who make up the numbers? And Wenger calls Citeh financially irresponsible?!

  7. Piotr says:

    19/02/2013 at 02:53

    When speaking/writing about the power vacuum that’s consumed Arsenal over the trophy-less years, I am always struck why more importance isn’t attached to the man who helped Arsene bring in all those players during the great successes of his early reign: David Dein. As you write about a player acquisition strategy that is entirely reactive (fully agreed), why isn’t there more clamor for the man who was (is?) obviously trusted by Wenger, could speak football with the board, and who seemed better at getting business done in a timely fashion, than the teams that brought us the slap-dash hysteria of deadline day 2011 or the such endless negotiations as Fabregas/RVP (or, my favorite, the heretofore-unseen Joel Campbell). I fully understand that the episode around Dein’s departure did him zero favors in the eyes of many fans and the board (PHW seems particularly contemptuous when his name comes up). But fact is, he was never replaced as a deal-maker and talent-spotter (found Arsene, didn’t he?), and since his departure, it’s all been kind of a shit-show. What am I missing?

    • Zubiee says:

      22/02/2013 at 18:45

      You are missing that Dein never had to fight with oligarchs like Roman. His praising is getting tiresome.

  8. Reg Vernon says:

    19/02/2013 at 11:34

    Arsene Wenger is not master of his own fate. The board may say that money is available for transfers if he needs it but in private it may be a different matter. People need to ask if the money isn’t going into strengthening the squad where is it going.