Fans have followed their club’s respective transfer sagas with extreme attention and articulation all summer. Reporters turned into the cool, older kids you felt honoured to hang out with for 20 minutes after school. And clubs have just finished — some impressively, some not — a bloody tough exam that could determine which European competition they get into next season.
One can argue that Arsenal fans occupy the more extreme part of the spectrum. Evident on social media, which is used as an echo chamber telling the world of their every thought about the latest rumours. Euphoria and depression are hours apart. And on deadline day, it all accumulates into one sweeping emotion.
A marquee signing and no graffiti
This summer journalists reported Arsenal’s intention to sign Houssem Aouar and/or Thomas Partey and, despite expensive contract renewals, the pandemic and its consequences and little money generated from sales, overly optimistic fans believed both the Frenchman and the Ghanaian would sign. It’s fair to say hadn’t the Gunners landed Partey there would be some non-complimentary graffiti on the school walls.
Luckily, Partey did sign. He’s Arsenal’s marquee signing and a great addition to a thin looking midfield. But overall, how did Arsenal do this summer? And what were the highlights of the summer?
Not a seller’s market
Arsenal certainly had their hands full.
The Gunners had 32 senior players in their squad, 19 of which were non-homegrown players. This is a problem because each team can only register 17 foreign players above the age of 21, which made signing new foreign players a tad complicated. The squad was too bloated and players had to go.
Sokratis, Calum Chambers, Sead Kolasinac, Shkodran Mustafi, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Mo Elneny, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi, Mesut Özil, Reiss Nelson, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were all rumoured to leave at one point.
But it really wasn’t a seller’s market this summer. Arsenal had a tough time finding valuable deals for the players they needed to ship out, as most football clubs did. Every club wanted cash to secure jobs and their own financial stability.
A seemingly underestimated expense this summer was Pierre-Emmerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka’s contract extensions. Having assembled nothing but Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s wages from a mutual termination at the start of the transfer window, the wage bill had grown fatter before any new deals were made.
Along with the consequences of the pandemic, especially no matchday revenue, Arsenal’s starting point this summer wasn’t from the top of the food chain. 25% of Arsenal’s overall revenue comes from matchday income, making the Gunners the most reliant club in this regard. That money doesn’t exist at the moment. KSE’s restructuring of the club’s debt in July was a good thing, but won’t have a big effect on the short term as the debt will still have to be paid. Though the bank’s premiums won’t (Twitter economist Swiss Ramble’s assumption is that Arsenal might save £10m each year from the remortgaging).
Another blow came when Arsenal ended 55+ staff’s employment at the club, from head of football Raul Sanllehi to the man in the Gunnersaurus suit. Economic pressure from the pandemic and a deliberate shift to make the club more streamlined and efficient were the causes.
Arsenal’s first swing of the butterfly net caught Cedric and Willian on a free. Like most free transfers, that entails massive wages. But decent players nonetheless. While the rumours of numerous potential signings and departures roared across social media and the papers every day, the next piece of business came two weeks after Willian signed.
Arsenal recruited Gabriel from Lille for £27m in early September. A centreback much needed at the club — nice! — but the Gunners already had seven centrebacks, which is… awkward. Dani Ceballos rejoined the club on another loan, too. The bloated squad grew along with the wage bill, and only Mkhitaryan and Konstantinos Mavropanos had left the club with four weeks left before the window slammed shut.
The two dilemmas
Then came one of two big dilemmas at the club: Arsenal’s two goalkeepers. Emi Martinez played stunningly for two months straight which helped the team to a 14th FA Cup trophy and the Community Shield. Having stayed patient at the club for ten years before he got his big break, he made the most out of it and it created a beautiful third act to his story.
Martinez demanded to stay number one once Bernd Leno regained fitness. He deserved to be number one, too, according to Mikel Arteta’s own criterion: you perform and train well, you play. But Leno had performed consistently for six months before that, had a longer contract and seemed more in favour with the manager. One had to leave and Aston Villa happily welcomed Martinez for £18m. It was a decision that worked perfectly for both clubs and the player, who had his eyes firmly set on the line between the posts for the Argentinian national team.
Arsenal replaced Martinez with 25-year-old Alex Runarsson for £2m. A strange decision considering the club still needed to offload two non-homegrown players before the creeping deadline, three if they sign another foreign player above the age of 21. Torreira had one foot in the Atletico Madrid dressing room on loan. That’s one. Fortunately there’s still a few weeks left to sort this out…
The second big dilemma of the summer was the very publicised rumours about signing midfielders Houssem Aouar and/or Thomas Partey. A creative, versatile dynamo or one of the best, solid all-round midfielders about. Arsenal’s net spend at this point was £8m. Fans were praying for both but considering the tough economic predicament of the club, player registration issues and mearger amounts of cash generated from sales, only one could realistically join.
Suddenly it’s deadline day! Nothing has happened but countless rumours and theories flying through the twitterverse. Shit. Haggling with Lyon over Aouar was long and tedious and no resolution materialised. Perhaps Arsenal had money for both if they could get a really good deal for Aouar? Partey’s release clause wasn’t going anywhere and they could trigger it at any time. Or perhaps Aouar was the first choice and Partey number two on the list? Regardless, Partey’s £45m release clause was triggered on deadline day and Torreira flew the other way to Madrid on loan.
Arsenal fans rejoiced for 15 minutes of celebration for another marquee deadline day signing, which is really not a great way to do business but hey, it was exciting!
A very impressive summer all in all
Arsenal’s net spend this summer is a moderate £56m. The wage bill has grown fatter but several expensive, fringe players such as Özil, Sokratis, Mustafi and David Luiz will likely relieve the club of their wages when their contracts expire next summer.
Arsenal did fail to depart enough fringe players and the squad, for now, remains bloated. But it wasn’t just the Gunners who struggled to sell their superfluous players this summer, most other clubs did too. Loan deals became the more likely option for players which they would love to sell this summer, like Guendouzi, Özil, a centreback or two and Kolasinac. In the end, only Guendouzi and Torreira packed their bags. If Arsenal could have sold a couple of these players maybe Aouar would be an Arsenal player today.
But the additions of Gabriel, Partey and Willian; a starting centreback, a new number 1 midfielder and an experienced forward to even out the numbers, is a job extremely well done considering the circumstances.
Premier League clubs can still deal with the EFL (Championship and below). Maybe a loan for Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe is still on the cards? What will be interesting, though, is seeing which senior players are excluded from the first team when registration comes around. Two will be left out in the cold. Sokratis? Özil?
Further reading: “Arsenal youth’s impact this season“
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