Why are Arsenal not signing anyone lately? Another topic where Arsenal fans as a whole are never going to agree, but with £200m+ in the bank I think we can agree there are two basic possibilities:
- Stan Kroenke won’t let Arsène spend
- Arsène doesn’t want to spend
Clearly the second option could be for a number of reasons, so let’s just deal with the first one first.
It’s widely accepted that Arsenal could spend £100m of their cash reserves this summer without causing even an intake of breath from their bank manager. Bear in mind that big player purchases are paid over three or four years, so a £50m player only needs to be funded to the tune of £20m maximum right now, plus wages and agents fees, so let’s say £35m this year as top whack for a player advertised as a £50m purchase price. I’m talking in round figures for simplicity, but it’s not out of the question to say that even allowing for the purchase of Xhaka, two £60m players could be bought this month without causing a problem, especially as several high earners have left the payroll since the end of last season.
So does Stan Kroenke mind spending £50m or even £100m?
There’s nothing to indicate that he does mind. He understands that a certain level of success is needed to keep the crowds coming in and continue to increase the value of the club, which he clearly cares about. He won’t put money in and as we know he’s started taking a few million out each year in ‘fees’, but as long as Arsenal is self-sufficient and profitable there is absolutely nothing to suggest he’s ever blocked or intends to block any spending by the manager – within the bounds of available cash of course, which we’re taking to be £100m or thereabouts. To be clear, the manager has a certain amount to spend each year, and if he spends it all on wages then there’s none for transfers and vice versa, but the position at present is that the wage commitments mean there’s plenty left over.
In any case, if Kroenke was blocking further spending wouldn’t Arsène at least be hinting at that? It wouldn’t do anyone any good to block purchases that the manager wanted if the club could afford them, but if it was happening wouldn’t Arsène say so rather than take the flak? If he wants what’s best for Arsenal and he believed that a purchase was needed then surely he’d say if it was blocked; it would be illogical not to. Kroenke is happy to keep spending to a minimum – one reason he gets on so well with Arsène – but that’s different to blocking it.
So I am ruling out ‘Kroenke won’t let Arsène spend’ as a reason for lack of player purchases.
In that case, why would Arsène not want to spend? A few possibilities:
- He knows he’s in his last season and wants to leave the money for the next man to spend. This seems to be a popular choice among Arsène supporters. He is so selfless that he is willing to sacrifice personal glory for the greater good. Except it’s not for the greater good of Arsenal, is it. No incoming manager is going to mind having some top quality players to work with, and what sense does it make not trying as hard as possible to win the title this season? If you lessen your chances now, you don’t necessarily improve them next season as a result, because anything could happen. (Note that Ivan Gazidis is starting to look more and more daft as his predictions of glory ‘next year’ or ‘by 2014’ keep failing to materialise.) Things change, and if you don’t take advantage when you can then you probably miss the boat. And the squad or club is not weaker by spending the money now instead of next season; next year there will be just as much money coming in as this year, the war chest won’t remain empty. Even if fans can’t all see this Arsène surely can – after all, his greatest supporters are always telling me what a brilliant economist he is.
- He thinks he needs to save enough cash to offset the stadium debt. I saw this put forward as a serious theory on twitter. But why? What sense does it possibly make? I can only imagine the person who thought it up thinks that Arsène feels responsible for the stadium debt so feels he must make enough to offset it. But what’s the point? The debt agreement means it’s not going to be paid off early, however much cash is in the bank, and as the years go by the repayments (which are a similar amount year after year) become a smaller part of turnover, so it’s less of a problem. Ridiculous theory.
- He is a bumbling fool who is getting everything about transfers wrong while everyone else is getting it right. Some people clearly think this, but it’s as daft as number 2. He beat all the other big and big-spending clubs over 38 games last season, so assembling a squad is not his problem. The problems are more things like raising the level for big games and being tactically astute enough to win one-off matches and compete in Europe. I’d say it’s the coaching that’s failing, not the assembly of the squad.
- He wants to win the title with as little spend as possible just to prove it can be done – well, too late, Leicester already did that one. There is an element of this, though, in my opinion, but it’s not a big part of the equation. Arsène has always wanted a level-ish playing field. Not too level, but he has shown consistently over the years that he wants to prove it’s possible to compete without throwing money at every problem. However, not to the extent that he would deliberately handicap himself by leaving an eight-figure sum in the bank.
- He’s just very picky about who he signs. For me this is by far the biggest factor. He believes very strongly in squad harmony and having players with the right temperament as well as skills. He wants the squad to gel. He wants players who won’t cause trouble. So if he doesn’t think a player ticks all the boxes then he’s not interested.
Allied to this is his idea of value: he won’t pay more than he thinks a player is worth. We’ve seen this time after time over the years. You can argue the rights and wrongs of Arsenal’s negotiating, but ultimately if Arsène doesn’t find the right player (in his eyes) at the right price (ditto) then he’d rather work with what he’s got. And that in a nutshell is why there is still a lot of spare cash unspent.
Of course the next question is whether Arsène is right: Is his judgement sound? Does he know what’s best anymore? Do his principles fit the modern game? Either way it plays right into Kroenke’s hands: money rolls in and Kroenke has publicly said he’s not bothered about titles.
This should be stating the obvious, but spending money is not a guarantee of success anyway. It usually improves your chances, but however much is spent by Arsenal it will still be hard to go from second to first. (Far easier to spend your way from, say, fourteenth to sixth.)
But many fans will actually be appeased if Arsène goes out and buys two expensive players in whatever positions they think are most needed, regardless of whether they’re any good or make the team work better as a team. It’s easy to spend £100m and end up no better off than we are now on the pitch.
So love Arsène or hate him, if you think lack of signings is the biggest problem you’re sadly mistaken. Last word to Ricky G (@geezypeas), whose comment this morning inspired this post: “You need the right players and the right combination, spirit and some luck. We could easily buy a great centre forward and a centre back and finish lower than last season”