With the loss of Robin van Persie now seeming inevitable, there has been much speculation as to whether Arsenal are becoming a selling club or not. In recent seasons the club have lost Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Gaël Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Mathieu Flamini, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, and now soon to be RVP, seemingly against Wenger’s will. The club appears to be losing its best players on a regular basis which has led to a scathing attack from shareholder Alisher Usmanov directed at the board. Some are beginning to speculate whether Arsenal can compete at the top level or not and whether they will be able to not only attract top players in the future but also keep hold of their brightest stars.
The crux of Usmanov’s criticism was that the club are more interested in selling players for profit rather than enjoying success on the pitch. Usmanov believes that the club are directly to blame for the departure of RVP as well as Fabregas last season. In truth, all clubs should strive for a balance between financial stability and success. It appears that Arsenal however, at least in the short term, are prioritising financial stability over success.
Arsenal fans will claim that the club needs to be financially prudent in order to repay their stadium debt, as well as the fact that if the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules are enforced the club will be at an advantage due to their financial model. It does however remain to be seen how strictly this regulation will be enforced.
The fact of the matter is that Arsenal will have lost two key players, both captains, in two consecutive seasons, which is hardly reassuring to fans that the club is moving in the right direction. The club have yet to win a trophy since 2005 in which time Chelsea have risen to prominence thanks to large spending, as have Manchester City, meaning that the competition has intensified more than ever.
As a result of the new pressures from big spending clubs, Arsenal and clubs generally do need to spend in order to attract the best players as well as keep hold of their stars. Arsenal were previously interested in Eden Hazard but when Manchester City, Manchester United United and Chelsea expressed serious interest it seemed incredibly unlikely that he would move to North London. This is the problem Arsenal now face, had they signed Hazard they may actually have kept hold of RVP as it would have signified real intent. The club instead opted for Lukas Podolski who was cheaper, but less high profile and whilst an experienced German international is unfortunately not considered to be a world class player.
What impact will RVP leaving have?
On the face of it, it appears that Arsenal will suffer greatly if and when RVP leaves. He was overwhelmingly dominant for the club in goal scoring stakes last season scoring 30 league goals compared to the next top scorer, Theo Walcott, scoring only 8 goals. Without RVP last season, Arsenal would have undoubtedly finished below Tottenham thereby not making it into next season’s Champions League, however the squad is stronger now.
Even with RVP, Arsenal would not have realistically been strong enough to challenge for the league or the Champions League. The difference may be whether Arsenal can finish 4th or not. The squad has definitely improved with the arrivals of striker Olivier Giroud from Montpellier and Lukas Podolski from FC Köln, so Arsenal are equipped to deal with him leaving in terms of their squad depth. Whilst the club have lost 30 goals, the burden will now be spread more throughout the squad and hopefully Podolski and Giroud can pick up some of the slack. Many pundits felt that United would struggle without Ronaldo’s goals but the club have enjoyed success without him as a result of other players stepping up and taking more responsibility.
The only issue here is how quickly Giroud can settle in England and whether Podolski can hit the ground running. The last time Podolski played for a big club he did not perform particularly well, managing only 15 goals in 71 league appearances for Bayern Munich. Podolski has also never hit 20 goals in a league season, his best tally being the 18 league goals he hit last season. Of course he will not be the main striker with Giroud probably filling that role and Podolski likely to be playing a support role out wide.
Another adverse impact of RVP leaving is that it may dissuade players from joining Arsenal as so many of their best players have now left. Arsenal have no genuine world class players any more. This may seem a harsh assessment but their other top performers from last season Mikel Arteta and Laurent Koscielny for example don’t make their national team starting 11s, or even the squad in Arteta’s case. This is not to say they are bad players; they are both very good, but not top level performers.
Arsenal simply cannot attract top players anymore due to a lack of finances and a perceived lack of ambition that has been fuelled by failing to keep hold of RVP. Now they will need to gamble on players such as Giroud who could be somewhat hit or miss. Another factor may be that their better performers may also seek moves away, although as long as Wenger is at the club one would imagine he will be able to both attract good young players as well as continue to nurture them.
How far can Arsenal go next season?
The squad as stated is relatively strong in terms of depth, although it is arguably somewhat light in terms of serious quality. The main areas that need strengthening are that the club are desperately short of a natural defensive midfielder.Alex Song is more inclined to play the role of a box-to-box midfielder and would work better with a natural defensive screen such as Rennes’ Yann M’Vila working in behind him. In fact we may see the best of Song when he has a player behind him as insurance.
The club also need to bring in a centre-back to act as cover for Thomas Vermaelan, who seems to be rather injury prone at the moment. Getting a full season out of him and Koscielny is necessary for the club’s success next term. The midfield is still very good especially if Jack Wilshere is able to build upon the quality he has shown in the past. It will remain to be seen who might be dropped with Song, Arteta and Rosický all playing well last season, but this does demonstrate the options Arsenal have here, especially if they bring in a holding player. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also expected to play a much more influential role next season.
The striking options are also interesting with plenty of options. Gervinho, Podolski and Giroud could be the starting front three which would offer different options and dynamism. The issue is that Podolski and Giroud need time to settle. Gervinho is definitely a useful player and whilst his form tailed off post AFCON last season he might have a better season now he has settled in more.
Expectations exceeding reality?
In reality Arsenal are not in a position to challenge for the title with their best chances of silverware coming in cup competitions. Arsenal will likely be competing with Spurs for fourth place and if they finish there it will be a good season for the club. With a lack of spending as well as the loss of key players finishing fourth in every season of Wenger’s reign must be considered a great achievement. It is only when Arsenal fans have ambitions of winning league titles that they seem to be unappreciative of the significance of this. If Arsenal do not make the top four next season (I suspect they will edge it) then questioning of the clubs policy will only intensify.
For now though Arsenal are in serious danger of becoming the sort of club that ends up selling their best players every season because of the fact that the club are unwilling to invest. Having not won a trophy since 2005 one could argue that Wenger’s project has failed. Whether Wenger is to blame or the board is a different matter altogether. Arguably two cycles of teams have gone without success as well as having been dismantled due to sales. Usmanov is probably not the answer but the club will need to reconsider, or at least tweak their strategy if they want to experience more success on the pitch.
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Stats are as always from whoscored.com