By Tony Attwood
“Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger says the club’s season will get better and the focus is on improving existing strengths, not buying new players.”
That’s the story that has been out and about in the press of late, and it is pretty much what you might expect. There has also been the Wenger: I can’t find a world-class striker story typical of the Telegraph, doing the rounds and pictures of Mr W looking worried.
In a shift in the mood being portrayed by the press the pictures of the Chelsea manager today show him smiling.
Anyway, the key issue that the papers portray is that the “Arsenal manager claims lack of world-class forwards and reluctance of rich rivals to part with them is holding Arsenal back”.
But what is often missed in all of this is that there are three ways to develop a team.
One is to buy players. Lots of players. This is what Manchester City, for example, is doing. Their list thus far is
- Enes Üna £2m
- Raheem Sterling £44m
- Patrick Roberts £11m
- Fabian Delph £8m
- Nicolás Otamendi £32m
Which is fine if you can get away with it in terms of FFP (more on this in a later article), if you are not Barcelona (who are banned from buying and playing anyone), and if you can integrate them quickly into the existing team.
It is the last that is the most difficult to consider, not just because the analysis is difficult but because the way in which players integrate is not a matter of discussion today. If you look at what passes for an analysis of Arsenal’s position in most blogs it is “Arsenal need a new centre forward”. The relationship with the rest of the team is ignored.
So new players are always seen as a quick fix, and sometimes they can give the impression of being just that, as with the numerous stories of the centre forward who scores on his debut. Trouble is there are many more players who just don’t fit at all (I can name you many in Arsenal’s history – players who many Arsenal fans think were absolute rubbish, but who in fact simply couldn’t fit into the existing structure and who shone elsewhere), but unless you have the insight of Wenger, you never really know until much later.
And even Mr W can get it wrong. Arshavin, for example, looked a good deal, and started off well, (I man four goals at Liverpool are always welcome), but simply couldn’t build on that. Or going back further in time, and choosing just one from today’s anniversary list this is what the Anniversary Files say today…
22 August 1987: Charlie Nicholas played his final game – a 0-2 away defeat to QPR. He scored just 34 goals in 151 league games – far fewer than was hoped for when he signed for the club in 1983.
The only way around such problems of course is to reshape the whole team – as Arsenal did to accommodate Thierry Henry after the plan to play Henry and Anelka as the two key strikers fell apart by Anelka’s decision to leave.
So buying is promoted as the big deal, the thing you must do to show you are in the game, but is also a huge risk.
However there is also the issue of developing youth, and it is interesting that despite the development of two players last season (Coquelin and Bellerin) this is not considered when people talk about who we have to sign. Nor is the fact that Coquelin was out on loan when he came back to make his impact. Looking at our list of loanees available to us later in the season might be interesting…
- Maitland Niles
- Akpom (already with two goals this season)
- Wellington Silva
- and soon to be: Zelalem.
I’m not able to cast absolute judgements but I can say that I saw a staggering array of talent in the last under 21 game as well.
And then the third possibility. Develop the quality of the team. A gentle change of tactics here, a slight move forwards or backwards there, the promotion of one player who is in the squad but not regularly playing… all of these things can make a difference. It is just that very few people talk about it. Indeed even when they do, they don’t talk about a team, but about a player.
Plus of course because we don’t see training and don’t look at the tactical discussions, we can’t ever know, any more than we can really know who Arsenal is trying to buy.
In short, all this chatter about buying a new player, and seeing us not buying a new player as a failure, is based on the double false premise that buying is the only way to grow the team and that a player who works well with one team will always work well with another.
Which really is very odd if we remember that last season’s big step forward came from two players who were already with us.
From today’s anniversary files
22 August 2004: Arsenal beat Middlesbrough 5-3, one of four games in which Arsenal scored five or more that season. With Bergkamp captain Arsenal went 3-1 down. Dennis scored, and the comeback started. He said later, “I took it personally”.
22 August 2009: After beating Everton away 6-1 Arsenal followed up with a 4-1 defeat of Portsmouth. Diaby got two, Gallas and Ramsey the others.