Well Arsène has done it again. And I don’t mean pulling off a stunning success by signing Welbeck on deadline day while not even in the country, I mean by doing just enough with new players to keep the Arsenal fan base firmly divided down the middle.
I’m stuck in limbo again now, probably for the whole season: I don’t want Arsène sacked, but I’m not totally happy with what he’s done either – or rather what he hasn’t done.
I’m quite happy with all the players he’s brought in as individuals. The only thing I have against Welbeck is his diving – well, that and his haircut – but I think he can score goals for Arsenal. Debuchy and Sanchez have already shown what they can do and Ospina’s World Cup performances demonstrate enough talent, so I don’t see a problem with any of them so far.
But we have the rest of a long and challenging season with just six senior defenders to cover four positions. Two of them are currently injured and Mertesacker looks like a liability with anyone but Kos next to him. He can’t always anticipate and be in the right place at the right time without having to run fast, it’s not possible. He’s going to get caught out.
And it’s naive to think we won’t get more injuries – look at our overall injury record. So defence is a problem.
In front of the defence we still have Arteta as first choice. Arteta is slow and getting slower. He’s not nearly incisive enough to be the fulcrum of play in a Premier League winning team. The current alternative is Flamini, who can’t be relied on to maintain the necessary discipline for eight months. He’s always a tackle or two away from a red mist, a red card or both.
So Arsenal now have potentially a very good team but still a thin squad in some areas. If you want small attacking midfielders the Arsenal squad is like a showroom. Everywhere else it looks great if everyone is fit and available, otherwise it’s immediately turning into square pegs and round holes. Or at least pegs that are rough around the edges and need sanding for the perfect fit.
To sum up the transfer activity my mate Gary Prince tweeted “We needed a new roof but we built an extension”. He’s right. It looks nice. All the parts are great quality. But what happens when it starts raining?
So what did I want Arsène to do? Simple: I wanted him to maximise the chance of success by maximising the spending. There’s no point in a football club having a spare £50m in the bank. It doesn’t improve your chances of winning to hoard money. And it’s an incontrovertible fact that spending more increases the chance of success.
“But spending doesn’t guarantee success – look at Tottenham.”
Of course spending doesn’t guarantee success. We all know that. Only one team at a time can win the Premier League anyway, no matter how much any of them spend. But spending definite does increase the chances. You only need to look at Chelsea and Man City to see that. You only need to look at the correlation between spending and league position. And in the case of Spurs, look at it this way: did they have more chance of success without the spending? No, of course not.
Clearly you have to spend on the right people and then you have to manage them the right way. I don’t presume to tell Arsène Wenger who to buy. He gets paid £8m a year and has a huge scouting network to help, he doesn’t need me interfering. But he should spend more because spending more increases the chances of success. Fact.
“But it’s not a good idea to spend all the available money. What if Arsenal don’t finish in the top four?”
Wrong: it is a good idea to spend all the available money because that increases the chances of staying in the top four, and you never know, perhaps even winning the damn thing. Which is actually the purpose of competing. (Winning cups is nice, but anyone can win cups – Wigan, Swansea, Portsmouth . . . Spurs (League cup 2008). None of them are ever going to win the league.)
Arsenal are one of only five clubs who even have a realistic chance of competing properly for the Premier League title for the foreseeable future, but they shoot themselves in the foot by leaving £50m in the bank instead of on the pitch. (And to be clear, that’s £50m of available cash, not £50m total.)
“But you can’t get much for £50m anyway.”
Debatable, but you can certainly get something. So get it. At what stage do you accept that it’s pointless to always leave money for the next transfer window, and then the next one, and then the next one?
“But the players Arsène wanted weren’t available.”
What, every transfer window the players he wants aren’t available? Every single time? I know Arsène likes to be as sure as he can that a player will fit the system and be suitably talented, but let’s face it we’ve had a few duds in recent years. You’d have thought he could identify plenty that are worth a shot.
I despair at the attitude of fans who are happy with this lack of ambition. The idea of football clubs is not to make profit and hoard it, it’s to win. So spend what’s available – not more, not less – and maximise the chances. Spend it as sensibly as you can, but spend it. Not every player will be a success and you still won’t win something every season, but why not use everything available to try?