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None In, One Out

With Van Persie’s transfer to Manchester United, Arsenal has sold four solid first team players to the Manchester clubs in as many years. In an age of lucrative transfer fees and exorbitant salaries, Arsenal somehow does not fit in. They have been underperforming in the Premiership for a club of their rich history, and their transfers haven’t been much better. Impact’s Xavier Ribeiro analyzes a problem which needs solving fast…

Considering that it has been almost a decade since Arsenal last won the Premiership back in the 03/04 season, it is slightly ironic that that was also the season they bought a certain Dutch player for £2.75 mil and a young Spaniard from Barcelona on a free transfer. Despite both players blossoming into lethal attackers, the team’s success has taken a nosedive.

The shift, at least in my mind, occurred during the 05/06 season; along with releasing Pires, Arsenal sold a player that had been vital to the team not only by playing but by leading – Patrick Vieira. Vieira gave Arsenal an identity and a vitality that would never allow opponents to use physical football as a method of undermining the Gunners’ fluid style. When that transfer was made, the team lost a lot more than just a holding midfielder. Attempting to replace Vieira with the likes of Rosicky, Walcott, Adebayor and Hleb failed miserably; none were leaders or holding midfielders.

Then Barcelona and Chelsea chipped away at that 03/04 core some more by buying Henry and Cole for a combined £21.1 mil. Upon moving to the Emirates, Arsenal had lost 3 key members of the Arsenal identity, and not only were they club favourites but true world-class players too.

Ljungberg was sold for £3 mil. Gilberto Silva departed, another stalwart for that League winning side. Flamini released on a free. Adebayor and Toure found better paychecks elsewhere. In a three-year stretch from 2008 to 2011, Arsenal brought in £68 million and could not replace the departing talent with it.

And then it was over.

Arsenal’s actions in the years since winning the League led to the events that occurred during that torrid 2011 August transfer window. Allowing veterans and contributors to leave without properly replacing them with high quality signings made Arsenal a very unappealing place to be. When massive transfers are spread around players notice – and they notice the lack of them too. Fabregas turned into what his potential promised at Arsenal. However, all he saw were players leaving. Players that taught him and toiled alongside him. Fabregas never won the League with Arsenal – and he never saw Arsenal try to win it either.

An Arsenal without Fabregas was ten times less likely to bring in top talent than with him. There is a need to “sell” players on the idea of playing for your club. The idea is: you will be playing along with the best players in the world that not only will make your life easier but will also make it fun. For example, Barcelona having Fabregas come off the bench and him being the happiest person in the world for it.

The same applies to Van Persie. If Fabregas had somehow been convinced to stay then Van Persie would not have left, knowing that the league’s best creative midfielder would regularly supply him and give Arsenal a realistic chance of challenging for titles. However, that sentence cannot be at all convincing without the “league’s best creative midfielder”. Wilshere is not Fabregas and the Ox is far from polished. Van Persie wanted to win and he looked around and saw every top club spending towards a title sometime in the next few years and then he looked at Arsenal’s transfers, dwarfed in comparison.

What Arsenal failed to grasp was that you had to bring in proven talent to supplant the ageing veterans you were losing. Arsenal banked on the development of the young players like Wilshire to keep their own top players. They never rekindled the experience of what it was to be a Gunner when they sold the long-time Arsenal greats. Thierry Henry was brought in when he was 22 and there was a massive amount of quality experience awaiting him: Bergkamp (30), Keown (33), Tony Adams (33). Without proven talent to challenge and teach the youngsters, they end up under developing their potential and are forced to shuffle forward into roles they have not had time to grow into. Players like Fabregas get to “hide” on the team because there is a veteran presence to handle the pressures of handling the game. Think of Scholes, Giggs, Neville and Ferdinand’s role in the development of the young United talent; having that presence there keeps the young players in a safe place where they can be integrated into the squad without compromising the competitiveness of the club.

With the sale of Vieira, Henry and Ashley Cole along with the rest of the 03/04 League winning side Arsenal found themselves lacking in mental and physical fortitude to go along with a lesser quality of players. Arsenal became an unattractive place to play and the Emirates is now filled with the following plot-line: pre-season hope, followed by sobering league play where Arsenal are not ever considered in title contention, culminating in settling for a shot at a Champions League spot.

It is now up to the young Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to veer away from the path which led to Walcott’s sporadic form and towards Fabregas’ excellent development to make Arsenal attractive again. Arsenal must go back to marketing themselves as a team that plays attractive football with stars and not what they currently are, a young, goal-lacking, defensively weak team that will make a run for 4th.

Xavier Ribeiro

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One Comment
  • Lucas Di Gioia
    8 September 2012 at 17:44
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    great article! Totally agree!

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