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The Day After The Days Before

Sorting through a transfer window and the mixed feelings it engenders.

He was actually working
He was actually working
Laurence Griffiths

Transfer window are curious things.  They're full of hope, anxiety, happiness, stress (for some), anger, frustration, and most of all full of a whole lot of churn about a whole bunch of things that either never happen or that happen that nobody saw coming in May.  I mean, was Danny Welbeck even on anybody's radar at all?  Really? You're lying, he wasn't.

I was out of the loop for most of yesterday, driving a van full of exhausted Timbers fans back from Canada, and thus did not follow the events of the day, until I got home and realized the day was a complete disaster in which Arsenal did nothing except sign Welbeck which rendered the entire transfer season a frustrating exercise in failure.

Problem is, even allowing for the natural emotions of a deadline day that seems to move at a million miles an hour while more or less doing nothing of substance, there were some reactions across the blogosphere yesterday that verged on the absolutely insane.  Let's go back and take a look at Arsenal's wish list in May, shall we?

Defensive player (ideally x2)
Another forward to supplement/compete with Giroud
Backup keeper
Midfielder of the defensive sort

Now, let's look at what Arsenal gained in this transfer window:

Calum Chambers, defender (one!)
Mathieu Debuchy, defender (two!)
Alexis Sanchez, MF/maybe forward if he has to be occasionally
David Ospina, goalkeeper
Danny Welbeck, forward

So that looks pretty good, right?  If that were your Christmas list, you'd be pretty thrilled that Santa brought you almost everything you wanted.  Of course, that's not the complete picture, because it doesn't account for players that left. Here's who left (not including loaned-out players, or fringe players that never saw anything close to significant time):

Bacary Sagna, defender
Thomas Vermaelen, defender
Johan Djourou, defender
Ignasi Miquel, defender

So now, we begin to see a problem here, right?  Arsenal are currently left with six defenders on the roster, and currently have only two identified center backs. This is, to be a bit understated about it, not optimal. Does this mean Arsene and Arsenal have no idea what they're doing? Do they not look at their team sheet and see all those holes? Why buy a striker when there are so many other needs that need filling more urgently?

Now, let's talk about the nature of transfers a little bit.  The thing about transfers is, they involve at least three - and usually four - parties:

1. Buying club
2. Selling club
3. Player's agent
4. Player

At any stage in any deal, any of those four parties can say either yes, no, or yes...if. There is a tremendous amount of complexity in any given transfer; it's not as easy as Arsene snapping his fingers and saying SUMMON ME A CDM and having one appear, despite Arsenal's wealth and willingness to deal.  If you've ever bought a house, or more particularly, bought a house on a short sale through a bank, you know how complex even the seemingly simplest of things can turn out to be and how long they can end up taking, and also how fragile these deals can be.

Early on in this window, Arsenal were on fire. They addressed most of their identified needs by July, did some business during the World Cup, and life was generally happy in Arsenal Transfer Window Trophy race-land. Then, as these things do, the transfer window slowed to a crawl - the best players were either taken or in the process of being taken, and all that was left to do was speculate.

So of course, that's when the natives get restless.  They see Sept 1 at 11PM rapidly approaching, and they start to twitch. They start to think WHY IS NOTHING HAPPENING, when behind the scenes, there's quite a lot happening - the nature of "behind the scenes", though, is that we don't see it.  There's a strain of thought pervasive throughout the Arsenal blogosphere that the Arsenal front office doesn't do much during transfer season - that a lack of signings, as untrue as that phrase was this year (Four signings by July!), indicates a lack of interest in signings.

It's as if people thought the Arsenal front office was sitting around all summer drinking Pimm's Cups and playing Cards Against Humanity, when in reality, they were probably working pretty damn hard to make something happen. I have no more insight into the Arsenal front office than you, but I have worked at billion-dollar businesses before, and I have seen that it takes a lot of work to keep one of those moving forward, particularly a billion-dollar business as visible and short-term results oriented as a sports team. So I refuse to believe Arsenal did nothing; to me, it's more a case of what they wanted to do they couldn't, because players they want weren't available, went elsewhere, or that things didn't happen for any number of actual reasons that we'll never see.

The other issue I've seen across the interverse is the declaration of this transfer window as a relative failure because defensive cover was not acquired.  That declaration seems to conveniently ignore the fact that Arsenal had filled several of their identified needs very early in the window; by any objective measure, the entirety of this transfer window - not just the 24 hour period that people see as the "transfer window", but the entire window, from June till yesterday - is arguably the most successfully planned and executed window Arsenal have had in five years.  To condemn an entire window as a failure based on 24 late hours of that window seems a bit shortsighted.

That said, it is entirely true that Arsenal are short on defensive cover; I can't say I'm thrilled that Arsenal only have six recognized defenders to stretch across four competitions, and I get why that's frustrating.  But what I don't get is the leap from "Arsenal still need defensive cover" to "This whole window was a frustrating exercise in failure because Arsenal don't know what they're doing" is a bit of a stretch for me.

For years, people have been demanding Arsenal be more active in the transfer window, and in summer of 2014, they were.  If I had to grade this window, I'd give it a B, or maybe a B minus; it's much like my school career, started strong, then fizzled out a bit towards the end.  But I turned out OK, and I have a feeling Arsenal will turn out OK as well. I predicted Arsenal would be second this season, and after this window, I'm sticking to that.