Arsenal have found a way to imitate Guardiola’s approach at a fraction of the price—a squad two-deep at every position, including a complete overhaul of the squad as well? Knock me over with a feather. As it turns out, being Pep’s cone-man comes with certain advantages, namely, that you can “copy” his tactics without spending £250m per window on a squad that was already among the best and most-expensive in the land. The project’s not quite complete, but let’s have a look all the same…
As you gaze upon that graphic, consider the possibilities. Yes, it does depend on us signing Raya to create depth at the GK position. However, perhaps for lack of space, here’s what it doesn’t include:
- Smith Rowe could also play at LW along with Martinelli and Trossard (it was Martinelli’s injury, after all, that gave the Smith his chance in the first place).
- Trossard could also play at CF, a role he’s played to some aplomb in various quarters (even if he’s re-defined the role, drifting out wide to create space for other to bomb forward).
- Havertz could pop up almost anywhere from the #8 he might presumably play to a second striker, false nine, or out-and-out striker.
- Tomiyasu has played at LB, pocketing no less an opponent than Mohamed Salah.
- New signing Timber can offer cover at RB, CB, and, perhaps, in a pinch, DM.
- Rice could be trained up to play a role more-assertive than the DM he played at West Ham. #6? Sure. #8? Hmm…
If you’re finding any of this hard to picture on paper, imagine how hard it may be for an opposing manager to picture it on the pitch. Will it be Zinchenko inverting from the left, or will it be Timber inverting from the right? For the former, how do you counter the interplay between White and Saka and Ødegaard (yes, I do love a bit of polysyndeton)? For the latter, how do you counter the swirling vortex that will consist in varying degrees of Martinelli, Trossard, Smith Rowe, and Havertz? It’s madness, I tell you. Benny Hill could not have imagined high jinks of a higher order. If you’re not hearing Yakety Saks by now, I’ve not done my job.
What’s more, we’ve seen this club do its business on a relative shoe-string. That might seem like a madness, given that we’ve spent almost £200m this window on top of having spent some £300m in the previous two seasons. That’s quite a shoe-string…until you consider that we’ve seen Arteta ship out almost every single player he inherited when he took over in December 2019 and replaced them with a dizzying quickness. It could not have been easy to shed this club of overpaid deadwood like Mkhitaryan, Mustafi, Guendouzi, Kolasinac, Ozil, Sokratis, Torreira, Luiz, Aubemayang, and Lacazette, among others, but what is one to do when one inherits players on bloated wages? Yes, it might have been nice to sell for a higher fee here and there, but look back on that list of names and tell me who we could have sold for more.
While there is much to be made of our spending over the last three seasons, that is but a drop in the bucket compared to what Man City, Chelsea, and Man U have spent over a similar period to improve squads that were already among the best and/or most-expensive in the Prem, if not further afield. Since Arteta’s arrival, Arsenal have spent roughly £26m per player on 21 transfers for a total of some £546m. In the same period, Man U have spent roughly £38m per player on just 13 players to improve a squad that already included players such as Rashford, de Gea, Fernandes, Fred, Dalot, Lukaku, Matic, Magurie, and Pogba, who were each expensive if not productive. Man City spent a similar £38m per player on just 11 players to add to a squad that already included Mahrez, Rodri, Cancelo, Laporte, Mendy, Walker, Aguero, De Bruyne—ok, I have to stop there. If I haven’t made my point by now, I’ll need a sharper sword.
For as much as has been about how much Arsenal have spent, just as little has been made about how little Arsenal have spent in the preceding years. Yes, there have been the one-off splurges on Ozil or Sanchez or Aubemayang, but it’s only been in the last few seasons that Arsenal have spent on a level commensurate with those with whom we hope to compete if not defeat.
Our rivals will fume and fuss about our spending as if they haven’t watched on with vindictive glee as Wenger refused to spend above his own valuation of this or that player, opting instead for a Sanogo, a Gervinho, an Arteta (yeah, I went there…), a Squillaci. We’ve spent the better part of the last fifteen years being pennywise and then a few years pound-foolish before finally finding something in between.
Now that this club is finally finding its financial footing, various other clubs too numerous to be named are getting their knickers in a twist. ‘Twixt the two, I’d cast my lot with the former. It’s feeling less and less like a careless roll of the dice.