In seasons past, we’ve suffered through the sales of players under the ostensible excuse of having to finance the stadium-debt. The sales of Clichy, Nasri, Fàbregas, and van Persie, among others, were defended as necessary in order to pay for the Emirates. In more-recent years, we were led to believe that our days as a selling club were over, that the debt was paid down, and that we would start to see aggressive moves in the transfer-market. To a degree, we did. Özil came in at £42m, followed the next summer by Alexis at £38. The summer after that, Xhaka came in at £40.5m, and Mustafi followed at £36.9m. Each of these transfer-fees more than doubled the club’s previous record—£17m for Santi Cazorla.
One might think that splurging to that degree might have bolstered Arsenal’s competitiveness. After all, under Arsène, the club has become the butt of various jokes on stinginess. For as noble and as principled as Arsène is to insist that a club be self-sustaining, that stance more than ever before comes across as foolish, short-sighted, and stubborn. Yes, it is ridiculous to pay a £45m transfer-fee for Kyle Walker, to cite just one example, but that is the water in which we swim.
Arsène, more than ever, is refusing to swim and risks drowning in that water, which has deepened with each passing week. It’s more than a bit shocking that a club like Arsenal can’t find the money to sign Lemar, Draxler, or any other player, despite having started the season in a disastrous fashion. In previous seasons, we might have tolerated Arsène’s stinginess because it allowed him to make a signing or two as the result of some othe club making a massive signing—Real Madrid signs Bale and sells Özil; Barcelona signs Suarez and sells Alexis; Chelsea recall Courtois and sell Čech. Sloppy seconds, at best.
By all accounts, we’ve clawed and scraped our way out from under the stadium-debt. However, in this transfer-window more than in any other prior, we’ve seen an arms-race to eclipse any other. For as much as I’ve respected Arsène’s belief that a club should be self-sustaining—that it should finance player-acquisitions through its own revenues rather than the free-wheeling spending of an investor or owner—it’s abundantly and painfully clear that we’ve missed the boat that might have saved us. Tottenham sold Walker, Everton sold Lukaku, and Swansea sold Sigurdsson for exorbitant if not extortionate fees.
Meanwhile, we’re on the verge of selling off three or four players, each of them in his prime, at the very same discounted fees Arsène was once renowned for paying for stars in the making. I’d love to say that he’s jumped the shark, but this would imply that he’s got his head above the surface. That, sadly, is not the case. Instead of selling players to finance the stadium, it appears that we may now be selling players because the manager prefers to balance the books, not defeat opponents.
Unless something dramatic changes in the next few days, we face the prospect of (a) selling off unhappy, want-away players, or (b) holding them to their contracts and suffering as they sulk. In either case, it’s unclear whether we’re close to signing anyone to strengthen the squad. Given that we’ve played roughly 20 minutes of actual football across three matches, losing two of them, it’s hard to believe that we have any leverage over any clubs from whom we might hope to prise away players. “Er, um, yes, you see that we have struggled to, erm, succeed, but footballistically speaking, we are quite successful if you do not look at results or style of play. Please may we purchase ________ for a fraction of what you value him? No? Ahem.”
In any other circumstance, I might say, “well, at least we can look forward to beating Bournemouth”. At the rate things are going, both over there as well as here, I’m not so sure. We’re in a right mess. I’ve gone from regretfully wishing Arsène would retire to aggressively insisting that he be pushed out. There. I’ve said it.