Ivan Gazidis leaked email wasn’t entirely wrong. Had Arsenal not been demolished by a top four rival, the transfer window likely would’ve been viewed as largely a success: Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil were kept, a striker was signed, a left wing-back was signed, and several unneeded squad players were finally moved on.
The farce of the end of the transfer window, though, renders Gazidis’ message to staff into the realm of the unreal. Having said they weren’t going to sell Alexis Sánchez, they nearly agreed to sell Alexis, with the move only to fall apart when Thomas Lemar didn’t sign for the club, despite having visited Colney during the summer. Perhaps being told you are going to play with Alexis and Mesut Özil, only to be the replacement for the former isn’t very enticing. And having claimed to have money, Arsenal then claimed not to have money—and ended up making a profit in the transfer window despite having finished 5th.
David Ornstein’s tweet reveals more of the confusion, indecision and outright poor planning that characterized Arsenal’s window.
What is particularly concerning is the lack of planning. Certain players were identified as players free to leave—and then Arsene Wenger changed his mind. While Calum Chambers is a fine defender, who had a good season for Middlesbrough last season, what changed in the weeks between June and August that caused Wenger to decide to keep him? Shkodran Mustafi, it has become clear, was not Wenger’s first choice last season, and he has not been convinced by the StatsDNA players—StatsDNA, for which Arsenal pay KSE £3m a year for. Yet only in the final weeks of the window was it decided that Mustafi could leave, without a replacement identified, effectively leaving Arsenal with one senior centre back, Laurent Koscielny.
Also in the final weeks, Wenger decided midfield was a problem area. Again, the timing is incredibly weird. Arsenal were open to selling Mohamed Elneny and Jack Wilshere, as Ornstein reveals, and Santi Cazorla is months away from returning from injury. That leaves three midfielders: Granit Xhaka, Francis Coquelin, who is not good enough, and Aaron Ramsey, who while excellent, is injury prone. Even without being open to moving one on, Arsenal should’ve been in the market for a player, for if you agree to move on Elneny and Wilshere, you accept that neither are good enough to start at least 20 games a season.
The result of all of this is that Arsenal, as compared to their Premier League rivals, were unprepared for the start of the season, not only off the pitch, but very much on the pitch, too. Why else would Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain play against Liverpool, days before leaving for Liverpool, in a position where Arsenal had superior and natural fitting options, if the manager, and indeed the whole club, were no longer aware of a plan for the season, and for the future of the club.
The trophyless years of the new stadium were characterized by a plan: maintaining Champions League status, paying off debts, and keeping competitive. But where there was once a plan, Stan Kroenke, Ivan Gazidis and Arsene Wenger have overseen a descent into muddled thinking, culminating in reactionary short termism. Perhaps nothing better signifies that than the case of Mustafi: bought for £35m a year ago, allowed to leave in August because Arsenal didn’t think he was good enough, and then kept because they could get no one else, because they never had an actual plan.