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Arsenal can’t win for losing

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What would you rather they do: something or nothing?

AS Monaco v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: First Leg Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Another day, another prospective Arsenal blockbuster purchase seemingly thwarted. Today comes news that Monaco rejected Arsenal’s €35 million bid for Thomas Lemar and insisted he was not for sale, so on that front, we’re back to square one.

Reaction to this among Arsenal fans on social media has ranged from the sort of calm “of course they rejected it, they have no need to sell” to the maybe-just-a-touch-hyperbolic ARSENAL ARE TRANSFER MARKET FAILURES BECAUSE THEY DON’T THROW ENOUGH MONEY AT PLAYERS THEY’LL NEVER GET ANYWHERE WITH ANYONE THIS IS SO TYPICAL ARSENAL type of reaction. The prevalence of the latter reaction, and of the amount of mockery of Arsenal and its “failures” in the transfer market - as if Arsenal are the only club that don’t get every single player they make a bid for - made me wonder something.

What exactly do fans want from Arsenal?

I mean, pretty much the second the season ended, fans were braying for Arsenal to be active in the transfer market this summer, and by all accounts, they have been. In addition to signing Sead Kolasinac, they’ve negotiated for Mbappe, they’ve reportedly either bid for or are going to bid for Lacazette, there’s rumors about them talking with Riyad Mahrez, and now there’s today’s fun with Thomas Lemar.

That’s active, right? So what’s the problem? There are two main criticisms I’m seeing of the club at this point:

  1. Arsenal aren’t getting anything done. Well, that’s true, but it’s also true of, off the top of my head, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham right now. Arsenal have signed one player. City have signed one “big” player. United have signed one. Tottenham and Chelsea have signed zero. Where’s the scathing criticism of those clubs? It’s not ideal that Arsenal haven’t gotten a couple more players by now, but they’re by no means unique in that regard. It’s true that Spurs and Chelsea have more complete squads than Arsenal, but that doesn’t mean they should be exempt from criticism when they target a transfer that doesn’t work out, does it?
  2. Arsenal are failing at getting the players they’re bidding for. Guess what? A lot of times, that’s how transfers tend to work. Find me a club that has a 100% success rate at signing their rumored summer targets. It’s not a sign of Arsenal bidding for the wrong players, and it’s not, like, some eight-dimensional chess game where they’re trying to do stuff just to be seen to be doing stuff, while really striving to do nothing because they have no ambition. It’s not uncommon for bids to be rejected, and they can be rejected for any number of reasons - low price, club reticence to sell, player preference to go somewhere else, you name it. If Arsenal are serious about Lemar, they’ll up their bid.

I guess my point is, if Arsenal have a bid for Thomas Lemar rejected, it’s not necessarily because Arsenal are bad at transfers. In a (temporarily) post-Champions League world, it has to be acknowledged and accepted that Arsenal, even with Wenger at the helm, may not be a preferred destination for an ambitious player. Which means that Arsenal might have to throw a ton of cash at players, and while the club has said they have no problem doing that, it remains to be seen if their actions will match their words.

Ultimately, wouldn’t you rather Arsenal be active and yet miss out on their targets than have them sit on the transfer sidelines and do nothing, hoping that once Jack/Theo/everyone gets healthy things will magically get better?

Whether this transfer season will play out like last summer’s or like the Cech-only summer of 2015 remains to be seen, but my money’s on it being more like last summer. It’s not happening at the pace we’d all like, for sure, but don’t take one transfer that didn’t work out as a sign that no transfers this summer will work out.