Despite all the criticism of Arsène over recent seasons, which I often add to, I still in many ways have a grudging admiration for how he operates. He could do better, don’t get me wrong, and if he’d spent more time listening to advice on certain coaching aspects in recent seasons, while he stuck to what he was good at, then we could easily have had a more successful club. And watching him make substitutions usually just makes me want to kick things.
But consider the way he signs players – or, more to the point, doesn’t. I’m always amazed at the amount of hype around transfers. Even the most successful managers sign a good proportion of duds, so I don’t see why everyone is always so keen to sign anything that moves. Just shut up and see what happens! (Unless of course you’re going to be ITK for a day, which can be a laugh.) How often do we see a huge clamour for a particular player build up, with Arsène slagged off no end for not buying the latest flavour of the month? Then the player goes somewhere else and turns out to be a pile of crap. Six months on he’s not even a regular starter. Remember summer 2012? It was Sahin. “We MUST have him!” shouted half the Gooners on Twitter. He goes to Liverpool. No one sees him for ages. A few months on, he leaves again. No one mentions it.
Now I know Sahin was on loan, and I know that Arsenal have missed out on good players because Arsène won’t go a penny over his own valuation, but you can waste an awful lot of money buying the flavour of the month and finding it’s gone off soon afterwards. When you’re Man City that’s okay (until FFP kicks in), but Arsenal have to be more careful.
So well done Arsène for taking your time and wanting to be sure that any new player will fit the way Arsenal play. Of course it still doesn’t always work, but it’s better than chucking all the money away without really thinking about it, or taking the scattergun approach of some managers and going for quantity in the hope that some combination will work.
This brings me to Ozil. Whatever you think about how Arsenal conducted their transfer business over the summer, they have ended up with a world class player who looked at home as soon as he stepped onto the pitch with his new teammates. You could argue that anyone costing £42m should be able to improve any team and look good doing it, but life isn’t always that simple. Torres, for example. If you don’t fit the team and the system you won’t perform to your best and you become an out of place cog in the engine. The team won’t be greater than the sum of its parts, whether it was put together for £5m or £500m.
Arsenal got lucky in signing Ozil. Let me rephrase that: Arsenal got lucky in being able to sign Ozil. The simple fact is that he only left Madrid because Bale arrived. If Levy had decided not to sell, or possibly even if he’d held out right to the last day, then no Ozil for Arsenal. The club that boasted at the start of the transfer window that it could sign world class players and pay them £200k a week, the club with the massive war chest, would have been left with nothing other than a couple of free transfers (okay, Flamini is proving an excellent choice, but even Arsène admits he wasn’t even being considered prior to him turning up at Colney to try and stay fit). Plan A was Higuain and that didn’t come off. Plan B was Suarez; ditto. Rooney was at least in mind, as were others. How far down that list was Ozil? Plan G? H? Z? When did Ozil become a serious option? Who knows. It seems unlikely, though not impossible, that Arsène would have signed two players for more than £40m, so if Suarez had been signed it’s unlikely Ozil would too. But Higuain for the original £23m would have meant easily enough money for Ozil too. Were Arsenal considering him then? Perhaps, but were Madrid thinking of selling?
Trying to sort out threads of logic like that is a mug’s game really. Too many variables and too little proof. It’s easy after the event to make a narrative that fits your view: either Arsenal and Arsène were incredibly incompetent for three months and then incredibly lucky, or they had incredible foresight and vision and played a perfect long game. Take your pick, because the outcome fits both, or anything in between.
Either way, Ozil is here and Arsène has proven that he can still judge a player, even if he doesn’t always like the valuation. Having a world class player galvanises the rest of the squad: they want to play with him and they play better because of him. Arsenal are benefiting from that so far, and let’s hope it’s only the start. The role of the football manager is to make the team more than the sum of its parts; Arsène can still do that.