29th May, 2019, Arsenal clashed swords with their West London rivals, Chelsea for the Europa League crown in front of a half-empty (or half-full) stadium in Baku. Apart from the final representing a chance of silverware for the Gunners, the game also acted as a potential back-door route into the Champions League for the North Londoners.
It also meant that Arsenal would then have a slightly heavier purse in the off-season, with the lucrativeness of Europe’s premier club competition contributing majorly. Unfortunately, the Gunners lost track of the hurdle at hand and floundered feebly against Chelsea in Azerbaijan.
Inevitably, a feeling of gloom engulfed the Emirates with the annual ritual of pointing fingers at its zenith. To add to that misery, the Gunners seemingly had a meagre transfer budget for the summer, a number that had dwindled due to the loss in the title clash.
Unsurprisingly, scores of Gooners looked towards the impending transfer window with trepidation. The dread seemed warranted too with a dull month and a half of business, which culminated with Arsenal adding Gabriel Martinelli, an unknown Brazilian from the obscurity of South America, to their ranks.
The above smacked of a pattern that the Emirates faithful had uncomfortably become too accustomed to, over the years. Arrivals of tomorrow were treated as harbingers of the good times of today and it’s fair to say those expectations didn’t quite age well.
A frenetic week has seen Arsenal get their hands on William Saliba, Dani Ceballos and then finally, Nicolas Pepe. The catch to it though is not that the Gunners have made three signings in a week. Rather, the fact that they’ve done so, despite apparently boasting of only a £45m budget.
While the obvious conclusion would be to blame the North London side for distorting the cash they had at their disposal, the other option would be to look at how they’ve managed to manoeuvre their money, in order to land the players of their choice.
To start off, they struck an impressive deal with Saint-Etienne for Saliba, mandating that the Frenchman stayed in Ligue 1 for the entirety of the 2019-20 season. Though that decision was made with a view to help the youngster develop further, it also allowed Arsenal to buy the centre-back while having the option of paying the French club the transfer fee by the time the 2020-21 term starts. If reports are to be believed, the Gunners would only be paying an amount equalling €4m upfront.
As for Ceballos, Unai Emery ensured he brought his compatriot on board on a loan deal, with the club paying an initial fee of around €4m.
Thus, Arsenal had effectively bought two players for €8-9m, despite the pair’s valuation being much higher. And then, came along the deal for Pepe.
Often criticised and jibed at for their frugal approach in the transfer market, the Gunners absolutely shattered their club transfer record to acquire the Ivorian. The North Londoners triggered the winger’s release clause and agreed a £72m deal. Subsequently, several started asking where the money had actually come from. The Gunners only had £45m to spend, right?
Yet, Arsenal, in the most Arsenal-esque way, battled for every penny and somehow convinced Lille of a pact which saw the former stumping up yearly instalments to complete the payment.
In a matter of days, the Gunners had picked up the ‘big money’ smokescreen of the transfer window, ripped it open and torn it to shreds. And that just adds to the legend of Arsenal and the transfer market, though the Emirates-based side has not always covered itself in glory.
One’s mind immediately casts back to that famous deadline day of 2011 where the great Arsene Wenger made four signings in probably as many hours, with Andre Santos, Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Yossi Benayoun coming in through the Emirates door.
Though Arteta and Mertesacker went on to establish themselves as club captains, it wouldn’t be a stretch to term Benayoun and Santos’ time in North London as a failure. To put things into perspective, both might even compete in a rather long list to be crowned the most wretched signing of all time.
Furthermore, Arsenal finalised deals to sign Asian sharpshooters, Park Ju-Yeong and Takuma Asano in 2011 and 2016 respectively. The pair made a handful of appearances between them and were mostly confined to loan spells across the globe.
The signings of Lucas Perez and Yaya Sanogo too weren’t particularly impressive with the latter becoming the butt of an enormous number of jokes. And to top all of the above, they signed a player with a broken back in January 2014 (read Kim Kallstrom).
However, there has been a silver lining in between for the Gunners. In the market, they’ve also bought the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, Alexis Sanchez (though that spell ended rather acrimoniously), Granit Xhaka, Laurent Koscielny, Lucas Torreira, Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Hence, one can’t take anything away from the fact that Arsenal have indulged in their fair share of questionable acquisitions but have added players that have gone on to carve a niche for themselves, too.
Apart from the above, they’ve been linked with every top footballer in the market, only to pull the plug for the most ludicrous of reasons. Also, they’ve had numerous players seemingly on the verge of a medical yet who haven’t gone on to put pen to paper. Legend says that Gonzalo Higuain is still on his way to North London, waiting for his medical to take place.
Thus, the tale of the transfer market and Arsenal is as exhilarating, frustrating, strange, titanic and unpredictable as any the footballing world has ever seen.
And it is ironic that this summer, Arsenal, the club that has usually been mocked in the transfer market, has gone out and made a complete mockery of the entire system, whether it be the way they’ve portrayed their funds, the manner in which they’ve handled their negotiations or the general style of keeping their cards extremely close to their chest.
After all, the fable of the Gunners firing and misfiring in the market has never ceased to amaze. One reckons that that would continue as long as football exists.
And while Gooners might want their transfer activity to be a little less erratic than what has transpired over the years, the footballing fraternity wouldn’t have it any other way, would they?Published 02 Aug 2019, 21:11 IST