A lot of attention goes towards the transfer market. Owners, front offices and managers know that buying a solution is a lot easier and quicker than developing one. While fans love to think about potential additions to their team each window, often moving from calling for more transfers and then stressing over the amount. Last week ESPNFC posted a graphic of Arsenal’s 10 ten record signings with some very selective comments meant to ensue discussion.
They left out how much value those players have brought since their arrival (Aubameyang, Ozil, Sanchez, Mustafi & Xhaka), failed to mention Mkhitaryan’s move was a swap deal not a $37m straight fee, or just arrived (Thomas Partey). Despite some bad deals (arrivals and exits) by the front office in recent years, Arsenal have plenty of first team players that have been great business. Here is an example of a best value starting XI:
Best Value / Good Business XI
Bernd Leno - $28m - Arrived as Petr Cech was winding down his career and has since been one the best keepers in the Premier League. Last season he had the 2nd best save percentage in the league at 77.6%.
Hector Bellerin - $550k - From Barcelona’s youth academy into the Arsenal U18s to over 200 starts for the senior team.
Rob Holding - $3m - From Bolton in 2016 to a solid starting option for the Arsenal backline.
Gabriel - $29m - The newest entry in this starting XI has looked the part of a Premier League starting level caliber centerback from the start. A few seasons in North London that that fee will seem like a steal.
Kieran Tierney - $30m - Again money spent, but one that already looks like a great move for Arsenal. Could be the starting left back for many seasons to come.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles - Free (academy) - Arsenal’s utility man. Right-back, Left-back, Wing-back & Midfielder. At the club since the age of six.
Joe Willock - Free (academy) - He joined the Arsenal academy at the age of four and broke through to the senior team last season with 44 appearances and five goals. Able to play as one of a pair of central midfielders or farther forward.
Bukayo Saka - Free (academy) - The 19-year-old break out player of last season. Able to play at any position on the left side of the pitch, and likely many more given his talent, has secured a spot in the first team and recently made his international debut for England. Led the team in assists (11) last season.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - $70m - The biggest expenditure in this squad, but he has move than paid off this fee, almost single-handedly at times keeping Arsenal competitive. 119 matches, 74 goals and 16 assists. Money well spent.
Gabriel Martinelli - $7m - The relative unknown attacker brought in the summer before last, quickly displayed his ability and readiness for both the Premier League and European soccer (10 goals and 4 assists). His return to form after a long term injury could signal the end of Lacazette’s time in North London next summer.
Eddie Nketiah - Free (academy) - Arrived on a free from Chelsea’s academy in 2015. After 28 goals in 38 matches for the U23s the young forward has jumped from late substitution to challenging Lacazette for starts. After four goals last season, he’s nearly matched that total already this year (3).
Overall, this is a solid Arsenal lineup. The only real weakness is in central/defensive midfield role. This squad has a solid backline, front line, and wide attacking options.
Future Possibilities & Final Thoughts:
David Luiz - To save another $20m I nearly dropped Luiz in as a 3rd CB for Tierney, but Kieran has been a great addition. Luiz however cost just under $10m and while he has had a few costly errors, has been a much needed experienced CB while Arsenal’s backline went through an injury crisis.
Pepe - Will he ever live up to the fee like Aubameyang? Unlikely. But many wrongly place that fee directly at him. It was a front office error that they allowed Lille to gouge them for so much money. Unfortunately for Pepe Arsenal haven’t set up or played to his strengths since he arrived, yet he managed 8 goals (4th in the team) and 10 assists (2nd) last season. This year he and PEA are tied with the most combined goals & assists at five.
Matteo Guendouzi - Up until late last season Guendouzi would have been in this 11. At just under $9m, he immediately became a starter in the Premier League (from the French 2nd division) and saw his value more than triple. His return to play at the Emirates looks unlikely, but once sold, his return on investment will be a rare win for Arsenal in that department.
Emi Martinez - Of course, we have to mention this season’s hardest departure. After arriving in 2010 for less than $2m, Martinez spent the next nine seasons splitting time between sporadic appearances for Arsenal and numerous loans away from the club. Last season he finally secured the #2 spot and featured in a career high 23 matches for Arsenal. including the FA Cup win over Chelsea. Looking to be the #1, he elected to move on as the club stuck with its investment in Bernd Leno. He will surely thrive at Aston Villa and always get warm welcome each time he returns to the Emirates.
There are several other first team players who could go on to prove excellent deals, whether free or low transfer fees - Emile Smith Rowe (free), Reiss Nelson (free), Alex Runarsson ($2m) & Pablo Mari ($9m) - or live up to their transfer fees - Thomas Partey ($55m).
So in total we spent around $168 million for an entire starting XI at Arsenal, with almost half of that money going towards Aubameyang. The academy clearly has had success turning out attackers, full-backs and wide midfielders. If Per Mertesacker can extend that to a few centerback options and holding midfielders, the future of the Gunners, be that in North London or on the balance sheet will be looking bright.