Friday, 26 January 2018

Arsenal need to show transfer ambition, not worry about making more money

On transfer deadline day last August, Arsenal sold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool for £40 million, taking their profit for that window to around £30m.

Since then, they've sold Francis Coquelin to Valencia for £12m and Theo Walcott to Everton for £20m. Those two deals alone have taken around £200,000-a-week off the wage bill -- and that's on top of what they saved by shifting as many as 24 players, senior and fringe, last summer.

This is not a criticism, by the way. There's nothing wrong with streamlining the squad, trimming some of the fat, and making more efficient use of the budget because it allows better distribution of those funds. However, while football clubs are big businesses these days, their main purpose is not to make profit, it's to win matches and win trophies.

Arsenal are in profit to the tune of £60m since last August. Again, in itself not a bad thing, but it's a hard sell to fans when they see their team sitting sixth in the Premier League table, struggling for form and consistency, and with a return to the top four looking like a real challenge.

Even more so when the club have just let their leading goal scorer and assist maker from last season, Alexis Sanchez, join Manchester United. Although the arrival of Henrikh Mkhitaryan as part of that deal could well prove to be a good piece of business if the Armenian rediscovers some of the form he showed at Borussia Dortmund, it's still unpleasant for supporters to see a top class talent go to a hated rival.

The self-defence mechanisms used to help cope with such transfers kick in, and some may be able to convince themselves the Chilean's decision was all about money. There's no doubt it played a part, but the reality is that Sanchez wanted to go to a bigger club; one that he felt would be more competitive when it comes to the Premier League and Champions League.

United were prepared to pay him an obscene amount of money, but to wilfully ignore the sporting aspect of his decision is foolish. Even Arsene Wenger admitted there was more to it than an increased pay-packet, and once again the Gunners have lost a key player to a bigger club when that era was supposed to be at an end.

It also calls into question Arsenal's ambition. Losing a player in itself is a fact of football life that all clubs have to go through. Even the biggest clubs find themselves in those situations -- look at Barcelona's inability to hold onto Neymar when PSG handed over €222m last summer. What counts is how you deal with it, and although Mkhitaryan's swap for Sanchez may work out well for both parties, this transfer window has seen Arsenal sell two members of its first-team squad besides the Chilean and bring in just a 20-year-old defender in Konstantinos Mavropanos.

Mkhitaryan and Mavropanos IN vs. Sanchez, Coquelin and Walcott OUT does not strengthen Arsenal anywhere but the balance sheet. It's why there's so much focus on the very public pursuit of Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang -- that transfer that would make a real statement about what the club wants to be and what it wants to do.

Do they want to get back into the Champions League places? Do they want to address the fact that we're at the end of January and their leading goal scorer (Alexandre Lacazette, 9) still isn't into double figures? Do they want to say to people "We lost a star player, but our reaction to that is to replace him with another star?"

The Aubameyang deal is, like many others, complicated, but when Arsenal sent a delegation to Germany there was a clear message. Ivan Gazidis, the chief executive; Sven Mislintat, the newly appointed Head of Recruitment; and Huss Fahmy, the club's contract specialist; were dispatched get a big deal done.

Tellingly, they were doing it distinct from Arsene Wenger who, for so many years, has called all the shots at the club. But almost a week later, the club appear to be no closer to making it happen as the transfer window edges ever closer to its end on Wednesday.

If they fail, it will be embarrassing for Gazidis as his public power play will have failed and that will damage an already shaky reputation even further. There was optimism and hope that the new backroom appointments would make Arsenal more efficient in the transfer market, and it would be in inauspicious start to what's supposed to be a new era in that regard.

More pertinently though, it would leave Arsenal weaker on the pitch than they were before the January window opened. Although Walcott and Coquelin were fringe players, they were experienced enough to have made some impact if called upon. As it stands, the squad is smaller, there are fewer players for Arsene Wenger to choose from, and another window will end with Arsenal making a substantial profit on their transfer dealings.

If nothing changes it will be impossible to convince the fans that Arsenal are serious about winning anything this season, because all the evidence will show that the club's priority is money, with sporting success secondary. The club have until 11 p.m. GMT on Wednesday night to show that's not the case.  (ESPN)

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