Arsenal fans are mad online, in real life, and on ArsenalFanTV. The biggest frustration at this point appears to be Arsene Wenger’s inability to quickly purchase a centerback to fill the void left by injuries to Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista. Many have ascribed legal liability on the manager for failing to get a deal done. Arsenal fans are in severe need of perspective on the situation. Here is how the Great Centerback Crisis of 2016, not to be confused with Great Centerback Crises of years past, unfolded:
July 10th - Laurent Koscielny starts the final of Euro 2016 for France. With Arsene Wenger’s four week minimum vacation plan for Euro participants, Koscielny projects to be back in training the week of August 8th. ARSENAL CENTERBACK COUNT: 4
July 22nd - Arsenal signs Rob Holding. The youngster made 30 appearances for Championship side Bolton Wanderers and was voted player of the year. Also, paired with Calum Chambers in the prestigious Toulon tournament, won by England U21s earlier in the summer. ARSENAL CENTERBACK COUNT: 5.
Also, July 22nd - Per Mertesacker suffers a knee injury in a preseason friendly against RC Lens. The extent of the injury is unknown. ARSENAL CENTERBACK COUNT: 4
August 5th - Arsene Wenger confirms Mertesacker will be out until December, at least. ARSENAL CENTERBACK COUNT: 4
August 7th - Gabriel Paulista suffers a nasty ankle injury in a preseason friendly against Manchester City. ARSENAL CENTERBACK COUNT: 3.
August 8th - Fairly reliable Arsenal journalist Matt Law reports Shkrodan Mustafi is Arsenal’s top target.
August 9th - The most reliable Arsenal journalist we know of, David Ornstein, reports Arsenal are “stepping up their pursuit” of Mustafi.
August 10th - Koscielny back in training.
Also, August 10th - John Cross says the club are “confident” they can do a deal for Mustafi.
August 11th - Sky report Arsenal have agreed to personal terms with Mustafi.
August 14th - For the season opener against Liverpool, with Koscielny being rested, Arsenal start Rob Holding and Calum Chambers, their only available CB’s. AVAILABLE ARSENAL CENTERBACKS: 2.
August 20th - Koscielny fit to start against Leicester City. In post-match press conference, Arsene Wenger states negotiations are ongoing for Mustafi. AVAILABLE ARSENAL CENTERBACKS: 3
August 22nd - Valencia manager states Mustafi not for sale amid recent reports the Spanish club are asking for £50m (contradicting earlier reports he has a €50m (~£42m) release clause. West Bromwich Albion also reported to have put a £25m price tag on Jonny Evans.
It is readily apparent from this timeline that happened to Arsenal, particularly in the first match of the season was not negligence. It was the result of a highly unfortunate and unlucky rash of injuries.
When Mertesacker went down, Arsenal were counting on Gabriel and Chambers to hold down the fort for the season opener and possibly against Leicester City before the best damn centerback in the league, Laurent Koscielny, was fit. Then, it was likely to be the Gabriel-Koscielny partnership, the same that closed out last season, with promising prospects Chambers and Holding as depth. Gabriel wasn’t at his best last season, but that is a solid first CB pairing. There was no real impetus for Arsenal to sign a centerback at this point with 4 healthy senior centerbacks already on the roster. This would have meant the club would be paying for 6 centerbacks.
When Gabriel went down, Arsenal were suddenly in panic mode. This took all of the leverage out of any potential centerback transfer dealings.
What we can clearly see from the record is that Arsenal, the day after Gabriel’s injury, had a transfer target in mind, Mustafi, and began pursuing him. It is also clear, despite whatever financial issues they are struggling with at the moment, Valencia looked at Arsenal’s situation and saw euro signs flash in front of their eyes. It means nothing to Valencia to push back their initial pay day a couple of weeks, particularly if they can get a much higher fee. If Arsenal decide on another option, then they can just sell Mustafi to someone else or could sell Aymen Abdennour, a heavily rumored Everton target, instead.
For those who say “pay whatever it takes,” well, in this case, “whatever it takes” for Mustafi is a world record transfer fee for a centerback. That figure (£50 million, according to the last set of reports) is half of what our rumored transfer budget for the summer is. Or, it takes outlaying £25m for a solid, but aging centerback sold for a rumored £7m just one year ago. With Arsenal equally in need for an injection of quality from the transfer window in the attacking area of the field, it would be actually negligent to pay what Valencia are asking for Mustafi, and very dumb to do the same for Jonny Evans.
Instead, to this point, Wenger has called Valencia’s bluff. Arsenal’s negotiating position improves daily. Holding looked very impressive paired with Koscielny against a dangerous Leicester City attack this past weekend. Gabriel will likely be back in 4 weeks, and should only miss 3 more Premier League matches - Watford, Southampton, and Hull City. Either of Mustafi and Evans would be better options than 15/16 Gabriel, but neither are good enough to invest a significant amount of our transfer dollars at the expense of a potential attacker signing.
Anger and frustration with the season so far, particularly with the season opener, are understandable. However, it’s important to note that the way things have played out so far is not some unforgivable failure and dereliction of duty by the manager, as some have suggested.
What has gone down is a freakish set of occurrences that no club could have immediately corrected within a couple of days (see: Manchester City’s prolonged pursuit of John Stones, and the still unsuccessful, prolonged pursuit by Chelsea - a club with 5 senior, fit defenders - of Kalidou Koulibaly).
Whether it goes down to 5PM on deadline day or not, here’s to hoping Arsenal can get a reasonable deal done for a defender, in their attempt to right the ship and push towards challenging for trophies.