Like a tiny drip carving a big hole, incremental change is often harder to spot or, at least, register.
It was the direct comparison of where Arsenal were when the Kroenkes arrived and where they are now that’s so stark. When you threw into the mix what happened in the intervening years, there is the feeling that Gooners have been taken for a bit of a ride.
When Stan Kroenke first pitched up at the Emirates, Arsenal were an elite European team. They rarely finished outside the top two, although the arrival of cash at Chelsea, and then City, would really dent that claim. They’d just competed in their first Champions League final and were at home in one of the best, most modern stadiums in Europe. The future looked so bright.
Now, Arsenal are a Europa League side, albeit one of the better ones, with a final and semi-final appearance in the last two seasons. They are where they deserve to be because of the players in their squad and the way they have been coached and managed.
Still, the stadium’s held up well, eh?
As Chelsea pumped cash into their club, followed by City – while United continued to spend as they always do – Arsenal shut up shop. They needed to make a profit in order to deal with the stadium debt. Stan Kroenke could afford to pay it all off and still have more money that ten generations of his family could ever spend, but if he doesn’t have it some poor people might get it, so we can’t have that.
I’m not an advocate of owners pumping cash in anyway, although hoarding wealth is another matter altogether. The club should be self-sufficient for the most part. But any business owner who wants to expand needs to inject cash.
Instead we spent less and sold our best assets only to replace them with inferior models.
Arsenal went from first and second to third and fourth before landing where they are now – sixth. Patience in 2007 was a reasonable ask from the board as they traded on the goodwill Arsene Wenger had stored with the fans thanks to his unbeaten season, doubles and European exploits.
The club were teetering on the edge of true greatness – what was a few years to solidify the foundations? But a few years became five, then ten and when the financial shackles finally came off it was as if they’d given the cash to a child to throw around in a sweet shop.
There seemed no reason to some of the moves made, as evidenced by offering £100m for Kylian Mbappe, a stunning player for sure but cash desperately needed elsewhere in the squad. How did the club justify being willing to spend that sort of money on one offensive player when the rest of the squad was so full of holes and money couldn’t be found to fix the defence? Like it or not, money is what this game is all about. If you aren’t spending to keep up, you’re falling behind and that’s where we stand this summer – utterly still, as rivals race further ahead.
We could see Arsenal outspent by several so-called lesser lights as they struggle to come to terms with the ramifications of destroying their wage structure because they couldn’t manage contract negotiations.
One of Arsene Wenger’s biggest strengths was also one of his biggest weaknesses – his loyalty. He placed the players above all else and he argued for a number to be let go for free so that they could seal deals elsewhere. It’s why Laurent Koscielny thinks he can do what he’s currently doing.
It was this loyalty that saw Olivier Giroud allowed to join Chelsea to help his World Cup hopes rather that considering what Arsenal might need in the final half of that season. Hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing. But there’s enough of it now to see the true pattern of where Arsenal are heading.
There is only so much you can achieve with changes behind the scenes if the squad remains flawed in the same areas. I have to admit, I’m finding what Arsenal are reportedly doing in the transfer window this summer quite fascinating. That’s certainly a change. I think most of it is to do with us trying to sign players we haven’t been linked with for 30 years and are already sick talking about.
This summer, we’re branching out. We’re zipping around South America like explorers who’ve only just found the place, turning over rocks long ignored during Arsene Wenger’s time at the club. Arsenal have already landed Gabriel Martinelli with Everton Soares said to be about to join him. The Edu link is obvious. Where the money is coming from, less so.
Arsenal's newly-appointed technical director Edu wants everyone at the club to return to the winning mentality which made Arsene Wenger's side invincible.
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) July 20, 2019
William Saliba is expected to become an Arsenal player on loan next season and we can explain his fee by the staggered payments. Similarly, Dani Ceballos who looks like he will be coming on loan and therefore much cheaper than what an Aaron Ramsey replacement would cost in this market.
These are mad times, indeed.
There are claims that Arsenal only have £40-45m to spend in this window but they seem to have a bit more. But, more importantly, it’s how they’re choosing to spend their limited funds that is important. They seem to be being clever.
Rather than just opting for the players they can afford, they’re trying to find ways to sign the players they need even if they can’t quite afford them. Of course, the only player in the bag is Martinelli and it’s easy to get carried away with the ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’, but after feeling depressed about Arsenal for so long, I’m finally starting to see a chink of light somewhere in the distance.
Let’s just hope it’s not the headlights of an on-coming truck.