Past, present and future: how Wenger’s approach to transfers is bearing fruit

By Don McMahon

While surfing, I was struck by a statement that Wenger said when asked about paying high fees for a striker or other transfers. He said, ¨The money is never a problem if you have to pay what is requested. The price of a player is down to four ingredients. One is the talent, two his age, three is how much you expect him to improve your team, and four his resale value. If he ticks all four boxes then the price is not that important. You have to find the player.¨

This sums up his transfer philosophy to a tee! Let’s look at each element of this four-legged chair a little more in depth:

  • His first statement completely destroys the popular myth that he, the Board, Kroenke, Gazidis and AFC in general are cheapskates or bargain basement shoppers. What he has reiterated is that, regardless of the cost, IF the player is worth it, AFC will pay that price. They may try and negotiate a better deal (as any rational Club would) but eventually they will spend the money.
  • He now presents his core criteria and while there are only 4 basic requirements for a potential transfer to interest him, I am sure he also considers secondary issues such as the EPL 25 player rules, the visa situation, the psychological fit, etc. Let’s now take a look at each criteria he mentioned and its rationale for the manager and the team.

Talent: Nobody can deny that Wenger is among the top managers for spotting talent, particularly a diamond in the rough like Elneny OR a superstar like Ozil and his ability to integrate these talents into an already talented team is well known.

My guess is that talent for Wenger is more complex than your average supporter understands. For example, someone like Walcott, whose talent is hidden under a bushel all too often, is of particular interest to Wenger, who justifiably prides himself on getting the best out of his players.

IMHO, I believe that Wenger sees potential talent and actual talent as too different things and that he loves to invest in both but doesn’t shy away from making the tough decision when it is evident a player will not achieve the goals Wenger sets for him. He does believe in giving players plenty of time and support before he releases them.

Age is always a factor and over the past few seasons, Wenger clearly has started planning for the retirement of some key players like Giroud, Per, Koscielny etc.

My best guess is that he prefers to buy players whose prime is a few years down the road and who can be moulded in the Arsenal model during that hiatus. Thus, during the last few years we have seen new faces and many youth academy players being given the opportunity to prove their credentials for an eventual first team place. Wenger has always preferred to offer 1 year contract renewals to older players and that is a statement to younger aspirants as well.

This is no great revelation to Gooners. Wenger has always said that he won’t bring in a player who is at the same level or lower than an existing first team member, unless he cannot find an improvement, because of lack of time (injury) or lack of available quality (poor market). His hope is to continually improve the squad year on year and it appears this vision is starting to pay dividends.

It is clear to me that many youth players still need time to develop into first team challengers BUT guys like Xhaka and Holding offer living proof that Wenger still has the eye for those gems in a difficult market. Anyone who says these two won’t be significant improvements to Arsenal’s competitiveness is surely living in Disneyworld.

We have seen that Wenger looks at a player from the past to the present and that the element of future resale value is a crucial requirement in his overall thinking. Not every player can command a higher price than was paid for him originally but Wenger has been very successful, for the most part, in making a profit from sales, particularly during the hardest years of the Emirates financing and building.

Yes we sold some of our best players and replaced them with lesser known stars but we still managed to remain competitive, stay in the CL and offer beautiful Football, which in retrospect is amazing considering against whom we were competing money-wise.

Lets now look at three of his most recent major purchases:

Cech– on a scale of 10, I would say he fits the 4 requirements outlined above at 8/10. His age and subsequent resale value is the only issue here. My guess is he’ll retire at Arsenal so not a big issue.

Xhaka – He is a 9/10 and fits every criteria perfectly.

Holding – He is still being assessed but appears to be a great purchase so I’d say 8/10 until further notice.

We will see how his philosophy comes to fruition this season but I really believe we can have confidence that it will bear luscious fruits!

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31 Replies to “Past, present and future: how Wenger’s approach to transfers is bearing fruit”

  1. Don I would add one player in particular to our recent acquisitions list: Elneny – he quite rightly won player of the month award twice last season and taking his performance yesterday I thought it was his arrival on the pitch that changed the game around.

    If you then add in the arrival of Iwobi, Bellerin and Coquelin in recent times, we have had an extraordinary transformation of the team.

  2. Holding looks like the find of the season already, for me. Add to that emergence of Iwobi as a potential first team starter and strong looking Ox and Gnabry and Asano’s olympics display not forgetting Akpom and Bellerin, Who is to say Mr Wenger cant spot a talent. Hope all our youngsters knock hard on first team door.

  3. Wenger’s approach to transfers is not in question.

    What is questionable is the Board’s ambition and the management negotiating team’s nous.

  4. “Yes we sold some of our best players and replaced them with lesser known stars but we still managed to remain competitive.”

    Why dwell in the past? The austerity years are 5 years behind us and we are no longer a selling club.

    The claimed ambition of the club is to win the league, not just be competitive.

    Resale value may still be of theoretical interest in assessing a player, but surely the ambition is to hold on to players beyond their first contract.

  5. @Tony
    While I totally agree El Neny was an astute purchase and I am a big fan of his (great motor, intelligent passer, great positioning,…), I think it was a mistake last season that he was not played sooner than he was. We had a very disfunctional midfield when he arrived (Ramsey – Flamini combo was a disaster where we saw The Arsenal being outplayed in the middle of the pitch by all and sundry). We saw promising glimpses of El Neny, but Wenger was overly cautious at starting him in the league, contributing along with a number of other factors (injures, overplaying a tired and overworked Giroud, Theo’s poor form, lack of depth in the middle and up front) that cost us big points in January and even into February. At least in the middle of the pitch we seem better equipped for our inevitable injuries this season. Still think we need some strengthening up top and probably at the back with Gabriel’s injury (although I have been impressed with the young CBs…but its risky if we are just going with them)

  6. “living in the past” may simply be a response to the “xxx years since Arsenal won the league” mantra.

    Recognition of past achievements does not conflict with plans, ambitions and hopes for the future.

  7. We have to accept that when we compare the consistent philosophy of a principled operator like Wenger against the majority of other clubs who, beneath the veneer of conformance, are a hive of dodgy, fast-paced unethical practices, then uninitiated fans will quickly get frustrated, spurred on by a fickle media industry. The quicker that fair practices are enforced by UEFA the better for the likes of Wenger.

  8. Could this be Arsenal’s new scouting strategy since players from other leagues are getting ridiculously expensive or preparing for the impact of Brexit? Copy from The Mirror.

    ‘This, Wenger explains, is why it makes sense to pay extra attention to up-and-coming players in the Football League. Arsenal have signed Rob Holding, a 20-year-old defender from Bolton Wanderers, and it sounds as if this could become a pattern.’

  9. “My guess is that talent for Wenger is more complex than your average supporter understands”. Well said.

    My guess is that everything to do with managing a football club is more complex than 99% of supporters understand. Hence every Tom, Dick and Harry whose professional ambition is to make employee of the month at MacDonalds is slightly less well placed to judge AW than they believe.

  10. Ref News…

    Michael Oliver will be the ref for us against Liverpool. Same fixture, same ground, same ref, new season…..

  11. The aaa are now jumping about at No4. They don’t seem to grasp that pretty much every other club considers resale value to some degree as well. I’m not sure about RM, Barca and PSG, whilst the ‘write off’ amounts for Chavski, DisUtd and $iteh are clearly much larger than most teams can carry, but I can’t think of any others (outside China, The middle east or the odd Russian/FSU club that pops up occasionally).
    The DisUtd management wouldn’t allow the purchase of Pogba without the ‘get out’ that they could sell him without losing more than say 20m. Although that’s less important in his case as he knows what living in Manchester means (he must be a masochist).
    That type of money on a South American who gets here and then gets seriously home-sick and wants to leave, or a player that twists his knee slightly in his 2nd game and never returns to his previous form without any resale value would be idiotic.
    I do think AW is overly cautious in many of his purchases but I’d rather that than he have a disregard for the potential downside of a deal which is what many clubs like Leeds and Pompey have done in the past.
    One of the examples of this would be Squillaci who’s CV should have made him a great buy, but not only did he have serious problems with the speed of the PL, but the Emirates BooBoys then got on his back so he wouldn’t get the time to become accustomed to it. If he’d cost big buck then we’d have really lost out which would have reduced transfers further for the few years following…

  12. I don’t mind having a look at players from the lower English divisions. We too, could have had Vardy for £1m if we’d been prepared to take a chance. The scouting network that picks up on players such as Holding, don’t do so well when sourcing potential strikers. Josh Windass went to Rangers; the Conference top scorer last season has moved from Grimsby to Hartlepool.

    It must come down to the point about improving the squad. Elneny improved the squad (as Tony pointed out). Has Holding? I don’t know – is he any better than Chambers? Is he any better than Hayden?

    One thing I would say. If the price for Benteke is £32.5 million, then Lacazette is a steal at £40 million.


  14. Norman14,
    That’s a nice idea but we really couldn’t give someone like Vardy 4 years to hit some form.
    There’s an enormous difference between the leagues. Not so much about fitness and effort now but in pure talent. Obviously there are players with potential but the only way we could get them and give them playing time would be to loan them out to get the experience they need for a top PL team, a bit like Chavski and $iteh can afford to do.

  15. Robert…….what is truthfully questionable is your ability to judge either the Board’s ambitions or the transfer nous of Wenger & Co.
    Clearly you misunderstood the vast majority of my article, but it did give you an excellent opportunity to criticize the Club!
    Of course Wenger want to hold onto his best players as long as possible but IF things don’t happen to work out and the p-layer still has some sell-on value, Arsene wants to get the highest return on investment possible!

    A.Hasan….very well said sir!

  16. It sounds as though you are referring to a world-beater genius coach. While i very much sympathize with arsenal’s and wenger’s values and philosophy which i’d much rather have than the financial doping of many top clubs,, Wenger has achieved very little in terms of the game’s highest accomplishmemts over the past 12 years, especially if you compare him with coaches like simeone or klopp. These two have achieved remarkable results on budgets far slimmer than Wenger.

    Let’s recall a fact:
    over the last 12 years Wenger has finished on average 13,57 points off the league winner, with no upward trend discernible. (The best season was 2007/08 when afc finished 4 points off the league winner.)

  17. es we sold some of our best players and replaced them with
    lesser known stars but we still managed to remain competitive,
    stay in the CL and offer beautiful Football, which in
    retrospect is amazing considering against whom we were
    competing money-wise.”<<<< I'm sorry but that doesn't really we were successful

  18. Exactly. This was one of my main grudges against Wenger of last season: trusting flamini. We all witnessed the collapse of the midfield with the injuries to santi and coquelin. So, not taking the risk to fast-track elneny (an excellent buy!) into the starting 11 was a mistake that probably cost us the league.

    Not having bought the midfield general in the previous summer, but instead trusting two obviously mediocre players like flamini and arteta to step in, was another fatal mistake. A mistake you wouldnt expect someone who’s been a manager for so long to make.

    Fortunately, he’s bought both xhaka and elneny now. Now he only needs to add a world-class centre back and a forward better and with more pace than giroud, and we should be challenging.

    Not making these two additions and it’s much less likely we will, it seems to me.

  19. You wrote the article, Domhuaille? Then why does it say, “By Don McMahon”?

    This may come as a shock to you, but it’s neither a mortal sin nor against the law to criticise.

  20. Robert…..criticizing is ok If its positive and based on rational analysis, neither of which you are prone to offer.

    Domhuaille is my native Gaelic name.

  21. @Usama

    I noted last season that quite often the ref for a particular fixture was the ref from the same fixture the previous season – I thought at one stage that ref selection was supposed to be a random selection, but with a repeat pattern evolving it cannot be.

  22. Will we get the same myopic Lino I wonder. I think the PGMO will outdo themselves to stitch us up this year.

  23. Good article , Dom , I do believe that we are being guided by the best there is. That some don’t see the amazing progress we have made is their loss totally.
    Or probably down to their stupidity.

  24. Number of “high profile” managers jumping ships at the first sign of a rusted hull, you have to respect Mr Wenger for what he has achieved at ARSENAL.

    He steered this ARSENAL ship with a financial hole in its hull and that too through the north sea storm.

    Now coming to Vardy, How many of you would’ve taken Vardy if he was signed by ARSENAL last season?? Leicester made him Vardy that you crave for.

  25. Newman: that statement needs to be made in comparison with other clubs. No one ever says that a manager cannot make mistakes – it is the number of errors in comparison with others.

  26. Bricksields, Arsenal 13

    I agree with both your comments, moreover Man City are willing to spend £50. mill on John Stones, who by all accounts is not the finished article, but has potential and under Pep G, will turn out to be the world’s best CB, However Arsenal buy a CB (Rob Holding) we’re told he’s too inexperience. Now in my humble opinion Rob Holding will turnout to be the Buy of the season. In any event when you pay large sums of money on a purchase the expectation is greater compared to low spending. I hope the fans that are always complaining, spend,spend,spend, actually supporting the Team, rather than constant moaning that they know best. Selecting a Football team to support is a choice you’re not forced against your will, so if supporting a team truly makes you unhappy. why not stop and do something that will make you happy, because continuous moaning can’t be good for your health (it’s no brainer)

    Dear Walter please continue spreading the good word of our wonderful CLUB.

  27. The problem here are the statements coming from Le Prof:

    1. The market is inflated with the so-called “mega clubs” spending left right & centre. But change of this magnitude is relevant in any business scenario. We must be able to adapt to these changes if we are serious about winning the PL & the CL.

    2. Paul Pogba ticks all the four boxes and more. There was no necessity for AW to come out and admonish United for the amount they have spent on him. Yes, we cannot spend that kind of money on a single player but such is the market now that complaining about it is of absolutely no use.

    I am a huge fan of Wenger and revere him for all that he has done for the club & hope he achieves much, much more but it is time that we stop complaining about clubs that are prepared to spend the mega bucks & rather concentrate on our own brilliant transfer system. The acquisition of Xhaka is going to be the turning point this season for us.

  28. Resale value is important to a manager that plans to stay at the club in the long term. The current breed of manager, like Mou, don’t give a f#@k about the club past the current season.

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