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Arsenal’s transfer summer: Prepare to be underwhelmed

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At least if Ornstein is to be believed.

Aerial Views Of Sporting Venues In London Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The Premier League season is over, which of course means that it’s time to start talking about Premier League transfer season. Even though the window doesn’t officially open until this Thursday for intra-Premier League transfers (and June 11 for transfers to and from the rest of Europe), there’s always going to be a whole lot of talk about transfer targets, budgets, and all the other stuff that people never used to have to care about in order to be fans of a team.

And today, we got what is probably as close to confirmation of Arsenal’s plan outline for this summer as we’re likely to get, from David Ornstein:

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First of all, at least he didn’t bury the lede - “not the most spectacular window” is an understatement. a £40 million budget (I assume before any player sales), first of all, is not much. Remember, Arsenal - along with the other 19 Premier League clubs - get £79.4 million a year just for showing up, and this year they earned another £30.4 million in prize money from the league. That’s £110 million earned from their league status alone.

I know accounting isn’t simple. I know it’s not as easy as “spend that £110 million all on players” - even outside transfer fees, Arsenal are constrained by the same 7% cap the league puts on year-on-year wage growth as every other club in the league. If these numbers are to be believed, Arsenal’s wage bill in the season that just ended was £127,871,273. A 7% increase in that wage bill is just a shade under £9 million (£8,950,989.11, to be exact).

If we go by the antiquated, obfuscatory way of quoting wages that the English use, that amount of money spent on one player gets you a salary of £172,134.40/week. Accurate salary numbers are pretty hard to come by, but again to oversimplify, if Arsenal’s 7% were to be spent on one player, it would be a player in the David Silva/Juan Mata class - both of them make £8.3 million a year.

The problem for Arsenal, of course, is the list of targets they reportedly have. That list, from above, is a CB, B2B, and a wide attacker. I was admittedly not good at math when I was in school, but that appears to be three people. All of the math I painstakingly did above, meanwhile, was for one person. Last I checked, three was greater than one. That means, of course, the £172K/week Arsenal have to spend has to be spread out among...more than one player.

So all of a sudden, you’ve gone from buying an established, quality veteran player to, in Ornstein’s worrying parenthetical above, youth and experience. “Experience”, given the small transfer budget, translates not into a Juan Mata-type player, but probably more into a (shudder) Stephan Lichtsteiner-type, an older guy who is out of contract somewhere and needs a place to play.

I’ve said for a while now that Arsenal need to get better at scouting the sort of mid- to lower-tier player, the guy who is just getting established and hasn’t blown up yet, and this budget just brings that need into sharper focus. If, going forward, Arsenal’s transfer windows are all going to look like this, they will have to become ruthless about finding diamonds in the rough before other teams do, and then polishing them before selling them.

It’s also important that Arsenal learn how to construct a payroll, and don’t overpay for mid-level or bench-depth type talent, which is something they haven’t been all that great at in the last 10-15 seasons.

If this budget is correct, another side effect of that is probably that next season won’t play out in dramatically different fashion from this one or last. Arsenal need a fairly comprehensive defensive overhaul, at a minimum, after giving up 51 goals in each of the last two seasons, and I’m pretty sure you can’t rebuild a defense into a league- or Champions-League winning caliber defense with £40 million.

This, it would seem, is who Arsenal are now.