Arsenal have shipped over 50 goals in the Premier League in each of the past two seasons. With such a poor defensive record, one would think that at least one new defender would be a top priority for the club this summer. However, with preseason almost over, the Gunners have yet to make a defensive signing. What is the method behind Arsenal’s transfer madness?
Arsenal’s Transfer Madness: What Is the Plan?
Signings so Far
Arsenal’s first signing of the summer came from Brazil in the form of Gabriel Martinelli. The 18-year-old winger has promise but is very much one for the future.
The club has thus far made one further permanent signing in the form of William Saliba. However, the French defender will spend next season on loan at Saint-Etienne.
Speaking of loans, Arsenal have also signed Dani Ceballos on a one-year deal from Real Madrid. The midfielder does not have a club option to buy in his loan, meaning it is very unclear whether or not he will remain at the club beyond the summer of 2020.
Finally, the Gunners have agreed a deal with Lille for Nicolas Pepe. The 24-year-old would be able to help the first team next season, but he is a winger, not a defender.
So, out of these four signings, only one is a defender and just two look primed to break into the starting XI regularly. With the club’s most obvious weakness being defence and their most important objective being a Champions League return, this makes little sense at first glance.
However, Arsenal’s transfer madness makes much more sense when looking at the big picture.
Buying the Right Players
Arsenal are not in such a different position as Liverpool were after appointing Jurgen Klopp in 2015. The Reds did, of course, have a rich history and a large fanbase, however, just could not compete with the other big clubs in England. Same with the Gunners today.
The two squads share another similarity; a poor defensive record. In Klopp’s first season, Liverpool shipped 50 league goals. The German’s solution was not to immediately begin buying defenders for his squad. Instead, Klopp waited patiently and bought the players he knew would help for the long term.
For example, in the summer of 2016, Liverpool signed just two defenders; Joel Matip on a free from Schalke and Ragnar Klavan from Augsburg. Neither made a huge impact during their tenure on Merseyside.
Liverpool’s budget for that summer mainly went to the signings of Sadio Mane and Georgino Wijnaldum, whose transfer fees combined for over £50 million. This seems like strange logic, however, the long-term impact has been far greater than if the Reds had simply thrown money at their defence.
Mane has just been crowned joint-Premier League golden boot winner with 22 goals this past season. Meanwhile, Wijnaldum is a very valuable although less impactful player who has made over 30 league appearances each season he has been at the club.
Results on the pitch improved in the short term as well as Liverpool allowed eight fewer goals that next season. While Matip and Klavan are partly responsible, this was also caused by the fact that the Reds were a better side overall and other clubs had to play differently, in this case more defensively, to try and cope.
Arsenal are trying something very similar this summer.
All three permanent deals Arsenal have completed, or are on the verge of completing, this summer have been for young players. Martinelli and Saliba are both still teenagers and will hopefully get better with age. Meanwhile, Pepe is only 24 and has plenty of football left in him.
Regardless of the role any do (or don’t) play at the club this season, they should be much better in two years than they are now. While fans are desperate for an improvement in form, this strategy is sound.
Few players can sign for a club and make an immediate impact, so it is foolish to assume that new signings will galvanise a team. Instead, this strategy will allow players time to develop and hopefully, much like Mane at Liverpool, become among the best at their position.
This strategy should pay even greater dividends at Arsenal as they currently have a crop of very exciting young players already at the club. Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith Rowe, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah are the most well-known youngsters knocking on the door of the first team currently.
All have talent to be sure and all are under the age of 21. It is becoming very evident that Arsenal are stock-piling young talent at the moment with a view to developing them into quality footballers.
The prospect of having so many talented players at the club in two year’s time is mouth-watering for an Arsenal supporter. However, that will lead to at least a little hurt in the short term.
Klopp finished eighth in his first season, albeit a short first season. That was followed by consecutive fourth-place finishes before Liverpool earned 97 league points and a Champions League trophy.
Arsenal will likely have to endure some similar short-term downturn while their prospects develop and their defensive shortcomings remain exposed. However, they would be in a much better position in two year’s time this way than if they blindly bought players in the positions they need now.
The £35 million signing of Shkodran Mustafi is a great example; Arsenal clearly did not know enough about the player they were spending so much money on and, three years on, they just can’t get rid of him.
Same with the £18 million signing of Lucas Perez; the Spaniard did not perform as expected and the club eventually had to sell him for just £3.5 million.
In both of these examples, Arsenal needed players at those positions. However, because they did not understand the players they bought, the money was not spent wisely.
Arsenal’s Transfer Madness Not so Mad After All
Raul Sanllehi, Vinai Venkatesham and Edu Gaspar have apparently taken a lesson from their club’s previous transfer failings and are building much more intelligently for the future.
It is frustrating for fans that they will likely not see a greatly improved defence next season. However, this summer’s transfer dealings will improve the squad. Hopefully, this will alleviate some stress on the defence by putting opponents on the back foot.
Nothing is guaranteed in football, however, the Gunners are hedging their bets with these young signings. Some likely will not evolve into the footballers that the club hopes they will. Only time will tell if they can replicate Liverpool’s success from a similar situation.
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