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Bad Business: A Decade in Review

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From 2010-2020, Arsenal hierarchy got a lot wrong

Arsenal Announce Departure of CEO Ivan Gazidis Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Checks and balances, incoming and departing, a tale of two sides. If you’re reading this, it’s too late...Arsenal are bad at business. For the sake of this article, I’m going to focus solely on the transfer market and Arsenal’s dealings within it. For more holistic or commercial viewpoint, I highly suggest following @SwissRamble and checking out this thread here.

Before I progress, all transfer numbers are coming from TransferMarkt. I am beginning with 2010/11 season through this most recent January window. Forgive me if I skip out players who failed to feature even semi regularly after their transfer or never appeared at all.

I’ve decided I’ll just look at record arrivals, which have all happened in the last decade instead of season by season. To contrast with record arrivals, I’ve compared our all time record departures. The top 16 for both will serve to show how Arsenal have struggled in the marketplace.

Arsenal’s top 16 record arrivals according to TransferMarkt

Of the 16 players pictured above, only 9 are currently a part of the Arteta setup. Two more, Torreira and Saliba, are still under contract with Arsenal. The other 5 - Ozil, Alexis, Mustafi, Mkhitaryan and Welbeck - Arsenal have either let their contract run down or outright canceled it to lose them on a free. Ozil is the only player of those 5, who even extended their original contract with Arsenal.

Together 47+42.5+41+34+20 = 184.5m of transfer fees outlayed by Arsenal to receive no return. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “but they swapped Alexis for Mkhitaryan!” Sure, which may make us even worse at business, as we twice received no value for Alexis when he departed.

47+42.5+34+20 = 143.5m of transfer fees (removed Alexis’ fee since we had Mkhitaryan and then lost him for free). I refuse to look at it this way, because we did have the ability to sell Alexis for big money and avoid the Mkhitaryan experience altogether.

If Arsenal had even received half of each fee back, we cut our loss to 92.25 million, a much more palatable 9.2m loss/per season on outgoing players. While not great, it is a lot better 18.45m loss/per season.

Immediate Needs to Address:

That is why, starting this summer Arsenal need to sell Alexandre Lacazette. Will they recoup half of his original price? Absolutely not. But, anything in the region 15-20m we absolutely need to be in discussions to offload him. Piecing together portions is better than walking for free in most cases and definitely in Arsenal’s. Alexandre Lacazette has never lived up to the price tag. Giroud was better at the time and is still better. Lacazette is streaky at best and Arsenal technically moved on from him being their preferred #1 striker within 6 months with an even bigger outlay to bring in Aubameyang. Yes, their bromance has been fun at times, but don’t get it twisted, Aubameyang was brought in to be what Lacazette showed he couldn’t be...Arsenal’s #1 scoring option.

Calum Chambers enters the last year of his deal following May too, I will absolutely assume we’ll listen to offers for Hollister Cal, but his situation is slightly trickier and we have less to lose by keeping him. His price tag is significantly lower, he is a part of our homegrown count and Arteta has shown he loves CBs. We most likely could recoup his fee with the way the market has changed, in addition to the higher value on homegrown quota for all clubs.

Elneny enters the final year of his deal here, with some bright moments this season, I believe Arsenal can easily find a suitor in the world of football willing to take the 5-10m punt on the Egyptian.

2 Year Window - extend or sell:

Aubameyang, Leno, Bellerin, & Xhaka will all enter their final two years of contract following May 2021. We know the captain won’t be sold, that’s not to say we shouldn’t listen to offers. Leno should realistically extend this summer, it makes natural sense for both sides (I am in favor of an upgrade, but this protects value). Now Bellerin and Xhaka are the more interesting parts - both players could bring in money. Bellerin will have no shortage of suitors and whether you agree or not, Xhaka will have suitors too. I do feel a natural parting of ways could happen for both this summer if Arteta and Edu feel the replacements are out there and attainable or within the setup already (not you, Cedric).

*Willian enters window too, but I’m going to avoid that subject altogether. Chinese Super League please dial 1 for direct access to Edu.

Arsenal’s Top Departure’s (or lack thereof)

Arsenal’s departures did not keep pace in the last decade

Only 9 of Arsenal’s ALL TIME highest paid departures have come in the last decade, compared to the 16 highest paid incoming all being within the last decade. Additionally, out of our top 3 departures, 2 came over twenty years ago! It is clear out inability to capitalize on departures did not keep pace with in the price tags of incoming players and the skyrocketing cost of the transfer market.

Past Sales:

Let’s take a look at 10/11 through 14/15, we sold Cesc, Nasri, RVP, Alex Song, and Vermaelen for a combined 129.5 million, specifically 72m from Barcelona. 25.9m/per player average over those 5 transfers.

Now let us look at the last 5 years - we sold Martinez, Walcott, Oxlade Chamberlain and Iwobi. We did not sell Alexis, we did not receive a transfer fee. That’s 4 players for a combined 108.2 million which is a 27.05m/per player average.

Market Increase:

Now, here is an excerpt from Football Observatory about the inflation rate of the world football transfer market...

All things being equal, the price of players during the last transfer window went up by 31% compared to the previous year. Since 2014, the annual inflation growth rate on the transfer market for big-5 league footballers has been 26%. With respect to 2011, the same player costs now almost three times more. More exclusive analysis is available in the 47th edition of the CIES Football Observatory Monthly Report.”

It is quite clear Arsenal’s sales of players did not keep the pace with the market. Growing our average from post 2014 to now by a total average of only around 5% is utter garbage and frankly irresponsible by the club. When the entire market goes up by 26% and you fall 21% below on average, it is no wonder our ability to compete suffered. Had we sold properly and just used those initial funds plus funds gained, we could have sufficiently strengthened the squad to a more competitive extent each season. Instead, we tried patch work transfers to keep us going and we’re still bleeding out because of it.

Is it indecisiveness at the top? Was it the carousel of people in charge coming and going through the last 5 years and no one looked after recouping transfer fees? Did Stan and Josh really care or not? I’ll admit I had huge hopes for Don Raul when he bragged about the 2 year window of deciding a players future, because it truly makes market sense to do that. We all saw how that was all talk and no action, which lead to the heartbreaking run down of Aaron Ramsey’s contract. I would have never sold the man, but financially ruthless teams sell when the asset is valuable and a future can’t be sorted. Then, reinvest, repeat.

So where are we now? Well, kudos to Edu for offloading a lot of the deadweight at Colney, that must certainly be said. The issue is, we’ve only shown we can cancel contracts and that we can’t find suitors for our unwanted players and contracts. Arsenal and Edu must fix this moving forward, canceling contracts and bargaining buyouts may help team camaraderie and Arteta’s balancing act in the short run, but it doesn’t fund future business.

Arsenal’s summer market in 2021 should involve this from my perspective, find suitors for players that are not going to be in Arteta’s immediate plans. That means finding buyers for the Francophone trio of Pepe, Lacazette and Guendouzi, a permanent landing spot for Torreira, and extracting extra value out of homegrown players (Nketiah, Nelson, Willock, Maitland Niles, Chambers) from Premier League clubs in need of their services.

TL:DR - Your favorite club is bad at selling players.