With this post I want to look at Arsenal’s transfer strategy and give my thoughts about the direction the club should take moving forward.
Unprecedented is a word we’ve all heard so frequently over these past weeks, but it really does best describe the pandemics impact on so many aspects of life. And with Raul Sanllehi suggesting that the economic fall-out will bring about a “new normality” for football’s transfer market, it seems like unprecedented is once again the word of choice.
While Arsenal’s recruitment team will undoubtedly be continuing to work behind the scenes, I think it’s safe to assume that this summer will be relatively subdued. Arsenal will have to sell if they want to buy. And given that fees will be deflated across the board, I struggle to see Arsenal being able to stump up a significant fee for any player. If there is a long-standing target who is keen to join there are a few players who could be offered in swap-style deals, or maybe we could take the loan-now-pay-later approach. Otherwise, I realistically won’t be expecting many high-profile additions. Besides, I’m personally rather uncomfortable with the thought of a football player being bought for £60 million given the current climate. It just does not sit well when the Bank of England are predicting the worst recession in 300 years.
While it is impossible to make predictions with any accuracy, if football really is facing a new normality, what should Arsenal’s recruitment strategy look like over the coming years?
Arsenal’s transfer strategy has been varied to say the least in recent seasons. We’ve seen “diamond eye” himself Sven Mislintat, with his data-driven scouting, come and go and we’ve explored the dark depths of Raul Sanllehi’s contacts book. All this has meant that hugely promising and smart acquisitions such as Martinelli, Saliba, Guendouzi, Tierney and Leno have been offset by the more bizarre purchases of Lichsteiner, Sokratis, Mkhitaryan, and of course Unai Emery’s main man, Denis Suarez. While there is always room for cheap experienced acquisitions, as David Luiz has shown under Arteta, Arsenal must adopt a more cohesive strategy focusing on the brightest young talent, if we are going to make progress during this harsh economic climate.
Liverpool are the obvious example of a transfer policy executed in perfect harmony with a coach’s ideas. But it is easy to forget that Klopp had been there for two and a half years before the Coutinho sale allowed them to make the final push to become an elite side with the signings of Van Dijk and Alisson. Perhaps Arsenal should look at some other transfer models if they are to build a competitive side on a modest budget.
The Borussia Dortmund Model:
In recent times, Arsenal have been at pains to reiterate the club’s commitment to a self-sustaining business model. However, if we are to get back into the top four on a consistent basis we must operate more effectively within the confines of our budget. Borussia Dortmund are a perfect example of a club who consistently produce competitive and entertaining teams while operating on a sustainable budget. They are an excellent recruiting club under the guidance of their Sporting Director Michael Zorc.
Under Zorc’s tutelage, Dortmund have become a conveyor belt of the game’s elite talent. The success stories in recent years are countless, Ousmane Dembele bought for £14 million from Rennes and sold, just one scintillating season later, to Barcelona for £112 million. Christian Pulisic acquired on a youth contract and Jadon Sancho being picked up from Manchester City for just £7 million. They have, in fact, developed such a reputation for giving their young players a starring role that they beat every major team in Europe to the signature of Erling Haaland in January. “We try to find these extraordinary players when they are not at their peak” , says Zorc, and by creating a culture of developing the best young talents, Dortmund have become a destination of choice for the brightest prospects in the game.
It is Dortmund’s ability to keep finding gems in the market that should provide great inspiration for our new Technical Director Edu as he leads Arsenal through this difficult period. Thanks to Arsene Wenger, Arsenal already have a reputation as a club that gives chances to its young players, both internally and from abroad. We see glimpses of this approach with the signings of Guendouzi, Martinelli and Saliba. This is the blueprint. And don’t worry Raul, even Dortmund had to get into bed with Mino Raiola to get the Haaland transfer sealed, so your contacts book will still come in handy. The key is to use Raul’s agent friends to seal the deals but not to acquire the targets.
Edu’s South American Connections:
An interesting aspect of Edu’s appointment as Technical Director is his connections and deep understanding of South American football. Both David Ornstein and James McNicholas from The Athletic have suggested that Arsenal now believe they have an advantage in the South American market and intend to return for future business. Martinelli’s impact in his first season at the club after signing from Brazil’s fourth tier shows the depth of untapped talent from the region.
For years Real Madrid and Barcelona have ruled the roost, snapping up the some of the best talent South America has produced due to their long-standing connections. We’ve seen players such as Casemiro and Arthur make big impacts in recent seasons. Madrid, in particular, have made it their mission to acquire Brazil’s best young newcomers, because their President Florentino Perez was left heartbroken after missing out on Neymar in 2013. In the last couple of seasons, Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo and Reiner Jesus have made their way from Brazil’s Serie A to the Santiago Bernabeu.
Arsenal should aim to use their scouting network and Edu’s contacts to muscle in on the action before the big Spanish clubs come calling. In recent days Gerson, a midfielder from Flamengo, is the latest to have been linked to Arsenal. January’s signing of Pablo Mari also shows that there are potential bargains to be found plying their trade in South America. While it is hard to judge a player from two appearances, he kept two clean sheets and to my eye looks to be a solid passer of the ball from deep. David Ornstein has said recently, in fact, that Arsenal are going to trigger the option to buy him. Mikel Arteta must be sufficiently impressed with a centre back who was brought in on loan with an option to buy for less than £10 million. If this trend continues Edu’s South American connections could prove crucial in the post-Covid footballing landscape.
Before last summer’s transfer window, Raul Sanllehi proclaimed that Arsenal must “outsmart the market”. With Covid-19 wreaking havoc on the finances of football clubs across the board, it is now imperative that Arsenal outsmart the market if we are going to build a successful team. A variation of the Dortmund model should be developed with the aim of making Arsenal a destination for the games most promising talents. Furthermore, Edu’s South American connections should be utilised to give Arsenal a strategic advantage in unearthing more of that continent’s potential stars and undiscovered bargains. Gabriel Martinelli and William Saliba are now the blueprint for Arsenal going forward.
Let me know your thoughts on Arsenal’s transfer strategy going forward, either in the comments below or on Twitter @OnsideArsenal.