“The Arsenal way” used to be a byword for going about things the right way, with class and respect. Nowadays, however, it’s far more likely to be used in the context of royally cocking up the transfer market.
The era of signing the likes of Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit, Nicolas Anelka, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry for peanuts, extracting the very best out of their talent and moving them on for huge profits must feel like aeons away for Arsenal fans. Now they’re all about overpaid flops (such as Hank Scorpio lookalike Shkodran Mustafi) and ham-fisted contract negotiations.
In fact, the club’s transfer dealings in the last few years have been so shambolic, it’s quite possible to break their tactics down into 10 dumbfounding steps. They’re certainly well on the way for a full house in their chase for Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha…
Step 1: Identify their ideal player
Of course, it all starts with narrowing down the shortlist of players they feel will restore the club to its rightful place of top four, non-major-trophy-bothering mediocrity.
Traditionally this was reliant on Arsene Wenger’s eye for a bargain, but in later years they’ve opted for a hybrid “sort by value/age” Football Manager approach and staff connections. The sort of connections that led to them bringing in a crocked Denis Suarez on loan in January at a cost of £5m. Genius.
Step 2: Spend an age scouting them
It is during this informative period that the blossoming talent goes from strength to strength and starts making a name for himself on football’s big stages. In that time, the big sharks come sniffing around and the player’s value skyrockets to far beyond the Gunners’ entire transfer budget.
Step 3: Make a derisory offer
Ideally, this will be a bid so grossly far below the selling club’s value of the player, it will actually damage ties between the two outfits. It’s here the Gunners currently find themselves in their Zaha pursuit – with the Eagles “incensed” at Arsenal’s £40m bid, exactly half what they are hawking him out for.
Step 4: Leave the offer on the table
Despite such bids being rejected out of hand, it’s now Arsenal’s transfer gurus suddenly decide to do their very worst Derren Brown impressions. In an apparent attempt to play mind games – badly – they simply let the offer sit on the selling club’s conscience as if it’ll change their mind. It does not. Obviously.
Step 5: Eventually return with the same (or even smaller) offer
Now, this is the truly unique manoeuvre Arsenal are particularly fond of. It caused mass amusement in a corner of west London back in 2010 during the club’s pursuit of Fulham stopper Mark Schwarzer. After having a £2.5m bid rejected, Arsenal decided to wait a few weeks before returning with an offer of… £2m. Genius. Suffice to say Schwarzer never upped sticks.
Step 6: Offer players in exchange to sweeten the deal
On the face of it, this is a sensible move for a surprisingly cash-strapped club. However, there’s just one small issue the Gunners always come to realise – the players they’re trying to jettison are overpaid and, crucially, complete and total pony.
Who’d be mad enough to match Carl Jenkinson’s £50,000 per week deal?
Step 7: Miss out on their No1 target
As their arduous mission to sign someone they actually want drags relentlessly on, they key target ends up buggering off to a club that actually knows what it’s doing. Arsenal are very publicly left red-faced, and fans’ anger at the shambolic setup reaches fever pitch. As a result, Arsenal Fan TV scoop up thousands of new subscribers as supporters fans tune in to laugh at the rage, innit fam.
Step 8: Sign an inferior player
Just as Jim White starts ironing his yellow tie in anticipation for Dildo In Ear Day – otherwise known as Deadline Day – the Gunners begin to panic. After sending out enquiries to anyone still running a fax machine, they end up securing the signature of an second-rate player from the backwaters of European football. The kicker? They somehow end up spending more money than they’d have done had they simply met their original target’s asking price.
Step 9: Pretend that was the plan all along
Now it’s time for the club’s chiefs to embrace their inner Comical Alis. In order to appease the fans they bang the drum that their shiny new signing was actually the man they were after all along, and that the transfer window had played out perfectly as planned. In reality, that’s about as believable as someone saying Mesut Ozil justifies £350,000 per week.
Step 10: Completely f*ck up selling them
The Arsenal transfer trademark of recent years. Fast forward a few years and when it comes to selling their assets, it goes one of two ways. They either completely forget to renew their contract (enabling the player to leave for free or hold the club over a barrel in negotiations) or sell them for a fraction of their market value (to a club where they excel and are later sold on again for five times the original fee).
When that time comes, Arsenal start seeking a replacement – and the magnificent transfer cock-up cycle unfolds once again…