Pull up a chair, you young whipper-snappers, and listen as I tell you a tale. Time was that the Arsenal never, ever spent more than, say, £60m for a player. Özil? £41m. Alexis? £36m. Aubameyang? £55m. Lacazette? £45m. It wasn’t until we broke the bank for Nicolas Pépé at about £69m that we started to shed the reputation that Arsène so carefully created, that of a self-sustaining club (aka a selling club with no ambition).
l’ll defend that man to my dying day, by the way, but I still find myself wondering at the new-found financial muscle we’re flexing—and we’re doing it without any of the shady human rights abuses or sportswashing of other clubs not to be named here…
At the moment, we’re about to sign Kai Havertz from Chelsea for a fee of around £60m plus add-ons. On top of that, we’re inching ever closer to signing Declan Rice for a fee that might exceed £100m. The transfer window’s only been open for a week or so, and we’re flirting with the idea of signing two players, just two, for a combined fee that could eclipse our total outlay of the last two years. For the 22-23 season, we spent £165 to get Jesus, Zinchenko, Vieira, Kiwior, Trossard, and Jorginho. For the 21-22 season, we spent £144m to get White, Ødegaard, Ramsdale, and Tomiyasu. That’s close to a starting XI that could make some noise.
After years under Arsène during which it seemed that we were absolutely allergic to spending more than £30m on a player, even as transfer fees skyrocketed; even as we committed to the principle of being a self-sustaining club, it’s more than a little bit disorienting to see us spending so freely. It’s not just the fees, either. Havertz will apparently earn more than £200k per week. He’d join Saka, Jesus, and Partey (should he stay) at that level—and there are others, like Ødegaard, who would join that club.
It’s a far cry from the days when we’d see transcendental talents like van Persie, Fabregas, or Nasri accept below-market wages to buy into Arsène’s vision of a self-sustaining club that didn’t buy superstars but created them. In his latter stages, Arsène seemed to show his own naïveté in the transfer market, splurging on marquee signings like Özil or Alexis or Aubameyang, one-offs who each did their level-best to drag an otherwise-mediocre squad towards something resembling relevance.
At the moment, then, it seems that we stand on a precipice of something different, something grander, something…significant. We’re not simply signing players on bigger fees. The players we’ve signed are proving their worth. Remember when we were mocked for signing Ben White or Aaron Ramsdale? Those were the days. As opposed to the slap-dash, splashy, one-off signings here and there of Arsène’s last few years, there at last feels like there’s a plan in place regarding whom we sign, and that includes their personality, their value, and their role.
We’re witnessing the building of a proper squad here. It starts with Havertz and then Rice, and then… well, who knows? The Kroenkes are finally investing in this club rather than siphoning off of it. It’s too early to embrace them, of course. It’s one thing to spend. It’s quite another to spend wisely. We have Boehly to thank for that. For now, we can content ourselves with the feeling that our owners want to see a squad that can not just contend but actually win silverware. This might just be the window in which we see the proof in the pudding. Hm. That’s a bit of a mixed metaphor, innit?