Brace yourselves. The drought is about to break… finally.
Not since the 1960s have Arsenal fans endured a streak of unsuccessful seasons to rival their current silverware drought. The upcoming English Premier League season will mark the 9th season since their 2005 FA Cup victory over rivals Manchester United and possibly more disappointingly, they’ve made just 2 finals since.
As the fifth most popular club in world football, expectations don’t rise an fall with the squad’s talent. Seemingly unable to accept that the ‘Invincibles’ era was over, Gunners fans have endured almost a decade of heartbreak and embarrassment, all in the hope of one day returning to the winners circle.
Whilst we’re not expecting Arsene Wenger to boast a squad capable of victory in the Champions League next season, the Gunners’ intent to abandon the fiscal responsibility that has defined them for the last decade should render 2013/2014 the season that scenes of jubilation grace the stands of the Emirates once more.
So why this sudden change of fortune?
It has been touched on throughout the media since the transfer window opened on July 1, but Arsenal are seemingly determined to shake the mantra of financial viability that has condemned them to mediocrity in recent times. What hasn’t been touched on however, is whether this willingness to ‘splash the cash’, a change from the typical Arsenal philosophy of investing in youth, is actually a change of tune? After all, if Arsenal won 7 major trophies between 2002 and 2005 on the back of a particular theory, maybe their philosophy isn’t the problem.
In many ways, Arsenal haven’t strayed from what made them a European powerhouse at the turn of the century, it is just that the rest of the footballing world has caught up and surpassed them.
Their success in the early part of last decade was due to an incredibly rare combination of luck, comprehensive scouting networks and adept administration. When the luck ran out and the counterpart scouting networks began to replicate their own, Wenger’s ability to identify and recruit the world’s most promising talent was no longer unique.
Instead of approaching players like Kolo Toure in isolation, many of Europe’s major clubs were now on the scene, chasing a player who has now emerged as one of the sport’s elite. With their mindset of value still deeply engrained however, Arsenal would never participate in a bidding war, instead allowing other sides to stockpile talent as they settled for second-class talent fringe international players and under-21 prospects.
In many ways, Arsenal are the last team to participate in the inflated transfer market which has destroyed competitive football. Advantageously, Arsenal’s management is still comprehensively superior to many of their rivals, and as such, the perfect balance of financial viability and success on the field will be more readily accessible now that the inevitable requirement to spend has been acknowledged.
For so long, Arsenal have exploited their rivals willingness to inflate the market-value of players and deemed it a ‘success’. Two things have precluded the pursuit of this line of thinking from going any further however. Firstly, Arsenal have realised that financial success and poor performance are mutually exclusive. The less you win, the fewer players you can attract, the fewer supporters you have. It is a viscious cycle which must be broken as soon as possible.
Secondly, as we addressed above, value players who can be sold at inflated prices are harder to come by in the modern market and Arsenal have exhausted their stock players purchased under the old system in which scouting played a significant role.
|Purchase Price||Sale Price|
The absence of these value-transfers in recent seasons hasn’t just seen Arsenal’s transfer expenditure rise and the quality of their recruits has diminished as well, but has rendered their ability to make large profits and manage a world-class football team as untenable.
If we compare Arsenal’s profit each season by way of transfers to that of Tottenham’s, this pattern visibly emerges. The Gunners have gradually been drawn into the modern market of high prices without committing themselves entirely. However in 2013/2014, they look set to immerse themselves in the tragedy that is uncompetitive football and become contenders once more.
These statistics can never paint the full picture because of the many intangibles that make football such an incredible sport. They do however show us that the very different fortunes of Tottenham and Arsenal in recent years are heavily impacted by a willingness to spend.
|Average League Points Follow Season (since 2000)|
None of this is to say that there is no such thing as good value in the modern market. Van der Vaart (£8,000,000), Michael Carrick (£2,750,000) and Luka Modric (£16,600,000) sold for a combined £58,900,000, a 54% return on investment in addition to the contribution these players made to Spurs’ rise up the ranks of European football.
These value buys are harder to come by however, and whilst Arsenal still is capable of finding squad players at below-market rates, the best players in the world are now more readily scoutable and therefore exorbitantly priced.
But Arsenal finally appear ready to pay market price for world-class players.
With Daily Mail reports linking Arsenal to Luis Suarez (£30,000,000), Wayne Rooney (£20,000,000) and Higuain (£27,000,000), this transfer window is poised to be their most expensive ever, surpassing the £53,150,000 spent across both windows in 2011/2012.
Arsenal know who to spend their money on, they just haven’t been prepared to do it in recent times. Don’t expect their perceived confusion to continue into this transfer window though.
At their best, the Gunners are already elite. Taking 26 of the last 30 available points in 2012/2013, we know what they’re capable of. Wenger doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel to give the Arsenal faithful the success they’ve craved for so long, he just needs the final piece of the puzzle, a piece he’s ready, willing and able to get this summer.
Brace yourselves Europe. The Gunners are back.