Transfers: what Arsenal are doing and why it is not working at Chelsea



By Tony Attwood

There is a suggestion in the Independent that Todd Boehly who owns Chelsea, will spend £1bn on transfers faster than anyone else has ever done.  At most it will take a couple more purchases meaning the mega-sum will be reached within 15 months of ownership.  The talk is that buying Moises Caicedo and one more player will do it.

As they point out Chelsea was worth £1 (not £1 million or £1 billion) when it was sold in 1982.  Now it is worth… well who knows.   If Boehly suddenly said he had had enough, it might just be worth £1 again if it turns out the club is packed solid with debts and doesn’t break back into the top four this season.

After all, they were closer to relegation last season than the European Conference position, while missing the Champions League by 27 points, and the title by 45 points.  They also scored 39 fewer goals than Arsenal, and had a goal difference 54 goals worse than Arsenal.   So maybe there is a bit of an excuse for spending more than the almost half a billion pounds net, which they spent last season… in order to come 12th.

But there is another point, and this is made clearly by the online newspaper.  In Chelsea’s opening game of this season, in which they drew 1-1 with Liverpool, four of the Chelsea players cost nothing at all.  As they say, “The vast amount of Chelsea’s money went on players not in this team; some 45 per cent of the starters were at the club before Boehly.”   It is hard to argue with the report that Chelsea’s owner is “overseeing a cull”.

And the fact that this is needed shows how dodgy is the demand that is sometimes heard from supporters for the club to “sack the board”.   That is what Chelsea did.  In recent years they had won more than Arsenal, but despite spending unimaginable sums, and went down the table further and faster than Arsenal ever did.  

Across the last 10 years it has been two finishes at the top of the league, three thirds, two fourths, one fifth, one 10th, and one 12th.  In the period since Arsenal appointed Arteta Chelsea have had six managers.  They have won the Champions League, and last season finished 12th in the Premier League.  So maybe they think their approach works.

Although of course none of us have the full inside story of what happened to Arsenal in the early years of the Arteta reign, we know what the effect was, even if the full story was not revealed.  There was Laurent Koscielney, Mattéo Guendouzi, Mesut Özil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Lucas Torreira, each reported at different times as falling out with the manager and his plans.  In each case the player was quickly moved on as the Arteta approach was established.

But this can only happen when there is one dominant person running the show.  And let us not forget that Arteta came to Arsenal without having managed a club before, yet he set out his position, and the board backed him.  Then in his first two complete seasons, the club finished eighth and the club still backed him and as a result we got 5th before last season’s runners’ up spot.  Would Chelsea have put up with that?  

The problem is that every manager has his own vision of how to win and how he fits in.  But with Chelsea there is more: it is what the Independent article calls a “wild illogicality.”  And quite possibly the perfect example of that was the purchase of Mykhailo Mudryk for £88m.   As we have said many times, the thought that Arsenal wanted him was very likely untrue but circulated in order to help some very inexperienced and naive people at Chelsea continue with the purchase.

But Chelsea didn’t only buy Mudryk.  They also bought Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, gave him an amazing contract and then… well, you know.  And yet as the Independent article concludes, “it is ridiculous Chelsea want more players but, £800m in, they look short-staffed in defensive midfield and in goal. They are a club in permanent revolution, forever in talks about dozens of players.”

The fact is that more often than not changing a manager only makes things worse.  And for many teams, buying players doesn’t make things better.   Yet at Arsenal, most of Arteta’s purchases have worked.  Willian didn’t but there were not too many others.   Some would add Cedric Soares and Pablo Mari as failures, but not too many more.

No club is going to get everything right in terms of transfers.  Some players simply don’t develop as expected, others don’t settle into the new country and new ways of working.  The trick is not to make every transfer work, but to make enough work so that the club rises.  And I think Arsenal have most certainly been doing that.

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