Frustrated? Confused? Bewildered? All words which could adequately describe the feeling of Arsenal fans during the busy transfer windows. While the likes of Aguero, Torres and van Persie are signed by their rivals Arsene Wenger more often than not keeps the faith with his existing crop of players and youth prospects. His rare forays into the market are often for unknown foreigners which often leave the fans feeling short changed as they unveil a Gervinho rather than a Coutinho.
So what is the real reason behind the long running transfer policy adopted at the Emirates? Lack of cash from the board? One thing Arsenal does lack is a single voice in the boardroom like Chelsea have with Abramovich and Manchester City have with Khaldoon Al Mubarak. Instead public disagreements between largest shareholders Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov can’t be good when trying to make cash available for players. Is it the strict wage structure making it difficult to attract Europe’s top stars? Or is Wenger simply unwilling to spend the cash at his disposal?
You do have to display a certain amount of sympathy for Arsenal and their supporters. A club which has been run extremely well as a business has suffered on the pitch. The ambitious step of leaving Highbury for the Emirates Stadium was supposed to propel the club to the next level. Instead it signalled the start of an eight year trophy drought. True Wenger and the board will point to his unblemished Champions League qualification record but it is trophies and days out at Wembley the fans miss and are so desperate for. Finishing above Tottenham in 4th is wonderful for local bragging rights but does not measure up when comparing to the top three clubs where Arsenal feel they should be competing. Champions League football will give you the advantage over the likes of Liverpool and Everton when chasing players but not when battling with the Premier Leagues elite.
Financing the stadium project themselves has to be seen as admirable, especially with the strict conditions imposed upon them by local council. Bringing in players for low transfer fees and developing to sell at a profit along with the reduced wage structure all helped to soften the blow of the costs. No government grants or publicly funded Olympic Stadiums were handed to them on the cheap. It seems that doing things the right way is not always the most beneficial financially and must be frustrating when others are literally handed things on a plate to avoid them becoming ‘white elephants’.
Expensive misfits such as Andrey Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh have also held Arsenal back in being able to add to their squad in recent seasons. Players who are on big wages yet only make sporadic first team appearances have been shipped out on loan where possible to reduce the outgoings. With the especially costly Arshavin finally off the wage bill back at Zenit St Petersburg and the usual interest in a loan move for the seemingly unsellable Bendtner they may now be able to add a few more noughts onto the personal terms to tempt some of their transfer targets. Whether this will be enough to fight off the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United with their significantly heavier financial clout remains to be seen.
So many times in recent seasons have Arsenal been linked with big European names initially, only to see them eventually sign for one of their big rivals. There are many examples including the self-confessed Arsenal ‘fan’ Ryan Babbel who ended up signing for Liverpool, Juan Matta and Eden Hazard who found their way to Chelsea and not forgetting Jan Vertonghen who opted for bitter rivals Tottenham. When Xabi Alonso was on his way from Liverpool a rumoured £2m was the stumbling block to him becoming an Arsenal player. To miss out on a player of his quality over that is unbelievable if true. Sure all clubs miss out on transfer targets but to do so on such quality players with such regularity must be a concern for a club of Arsenal’s stature.
It’s not only attracting players that Arsenal has struggled with in recent years but also keeping hold of their stars. The dreaded ‘captains curse’ struck many times with Henry, Vieira and Fabregas all leaving the season after they had worn the prestigious armband. Wenger was known for having the knack of selling players at the right time with Vieira, Henry, Overmars and Hleb all cases in point. After all no-one who ever left Arsenal went on to be successful! Ashley Cole was the first big name to move to a rival club and break the trend. Accused of moving solely for financial reasons, Cole went on to win the Premier League, FA Cup’s, League Cup and the trophy which to this day eludes the Gunners the Champions League. Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure and Gael Clichy all left to join the Manchester City revolution.
Despite Wenger’s insistence they would remain with the Gunners Samir Nasri also joined them at City and Cesc Fabregas finally completed his dream move back to his boyhood club Barcelona. The real killer blow though came in the shape of Robin van Persie’s move to Manchester United. Following his most fruitful season with the Gunners where he finished top scorer and won player of the year awards their prize asset followed the rest out of the exit door. Angering fans who felt they had stuck by him during barren injury blighted years he left stating after meeting with the board and Wenger they ‘disagreed on the way the club should move forward’. It seems with each trophy less season it becomes that bit more difficult for Wenger to convince players that is about to end.
With the Emirates Stadium costs now cleared and the wage bill reduced Arsenal it seems are set for an assault on the transfer market. Yet following multiple bids for Luis Suarez being rejected and despite the quoted ‘done deal’ for Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain the striker has eneded up at Napoli, it looks like another uncertain window for Gunners fans. They have been linked with Wayne Rooney yet only Chelsea so far have publicly expressed an interest and as Manchester United launch a third bid for Arsenal’s former prodigal son Cesc Fabregas the silence from the Emirates is deafening. Bringing in the young French prospect Yaya Sanogo is one of the few done deals among the Premier League big guns but the fans will be crying out for a Rooney or Suarez to show they really mean business this year and prove the financial shackles are really off once and for all. Whether this is the case only time will tell.