Three games into the 2011-2012 Premier League season, Arsenal have drawn one match and lost two, including a thorough 8-2 thrashing away at Manchester United on Sunday, August 28th. It’s the worst start to a new campaign for the North London club since 1991.
The miserable start coupled with the departure of captain Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and Samir Nasri to Manchester City has armed some Arsenal supporters and the media with what they believe to be enough evidence to realistically suggest that Arsene Wenger should step down or be sacked.
Arsenal’s primary English competition has changed the way business is done on the transfer market. Since Roman Abramovich became the principal owner at Chelsea, the club quickly became a major presence, buying Andriy Shevshenko for 35m and Michael Essien for 24m in 2005 and Juan Mata for 23.5m, Romelu Lukaku for 20m, and Fernando Torres for 50m in 2011; Perennial European power Manchester United have bought Rio Ferdinand for 27.5m in 2002, Wayne Rooney for 25.6m in 2004, and 30m for Dimitar Berbatov in 2008; Liverpool splashed 16m, 20m, 23m, and, 35m for Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Luis Suarez, and Andy Carroll respectively over the past two transfer windows, and Manchester City have brought in 15 players, including David Silva, Yaya Toure, Robinho, Carlos Tevez, and former Arsenal players Emmanuel Adebayor and Samir Nasri, for transfer fees between 16m (Kolo Toure) and 37.5m (Sergio Aguero) since the Abu Dhabi United Group took over the club in August of 2008.
By contrast, Arsenal have sold numerous players for upwards of 16m, including Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Adebayor, Marc Overmars, Nicolas Anelka, Nasri, and Fabregas, but the club have yet to pay a transfer fee of more than 15m, which came in January 2009 for the signature of Russian forward Andrei Arshavin.
One more than one occasion, players heavily linked with Arsenal transfer elsewhere because of Arsenal’s apparent unwillingness to spend to the extent that the current market dictates and because of Arsene Wenger’s philosophy of nurturing young talent through the Arsenal academy.
It’s not like Wenger or Arsenal has always been frugal in regard to the transfer market. Key members of the Invincibles side of 2003-2004 where bought; including Thierry Henry for 10.5m in 1999, Dennis Bergkamp for 7.5m in 1995, Patrick Vieira for 3.5m in 1996, and Robert Pires for 6m in 2000. Now it’s obvious that in today’s market, signing world class players at such value is impossible and Arsenal’s inadequate adjustments have exposed the lack of depth in the current side.
The easy answer is to blame Wenger for the club’s failures but it’s unclear to what extent boardroom politics have affected Arsenal’s transfer policy and policy on player wages. Since David Dein’s departure in 2007, it’s fair to say that Wenger has been restricted by the Arsenal board of directors. Arsenal is quick to point to the revenue generated from the Emirates Stadium, which is why it’s frustrating for supporters to see their club routinely outbid for transfer targets by their biggest rivals. Whether the blame is placed with Wenger, or with the board of directors, the final result is the same: the lack of squad investment has negatively impacted the club.
Wenger has lead Arsenal through the club’s most successful era, winning trophies and attracting an international audience due to his side’s entertaining style of play, but in his line of work, the 61 year old manager’s past triumphs won’t be of any help if the Gunners don’t get positive results quickly.
To their credit, Arsenal were active at the transfer deadline, bolstering the strength of the squad by signing center back Per Mertesacker, left back Andre Santos, midfielders Yossi Benayoun and Mikel Arteta, and striker Chu-Young Park; the largest transfer fee of the five new additions was a 10m bid used to acquire Arteta from Everton.
Arsene Wenger is a brilliant footballing mind, but it appears that his inability to adjust (or to coexist with his board) has left Arsenal in an undesirable position – a position where missing out on the coveted Champions League spots can be considered a real possibility.
All stats and information taken from personal notes and verified at transferleague.co.uk, bbc.co.uk, and Yahoo! Sports.
All financial figures are British pounds.