by Tony Attwood
There is an assumption behind much that is written on blogs and in the media that Arsenal make mistakes like no one else makes mistakes. Arsenal management, it is implied, is catastrophically inept at every step of the way. Indeed if only the club would wake up and allow the journalists to run the show, the club would be making mega profits and running away with the league title.
Take for example this headline from the Mirror.
Neville details Aubameyang mistake Arsenal made from ‘day one’
The problem the all-seeing Neville has noted is that Arsenal only signed the player on a three year contract. But of course this being football journalism no one bothers to ask why Arsenal did such a thing. Probably the Mirror thinks its readers are too stupid to be able to understand “why?” questions anyway, and so by-passes them.
We might note in passing that this is the paper that recently accused Arsenal of being involved in match fixing scandals in the early 20th century. No evidence of any kind was offered (not even the matches in question) – although this was probably because there was no evidence and no one has ever alleged such a thing before. There was no match fixing scandal, not even an imaginary one.
But if the Mirror can invent a match fixing scandal 100 years ago involving Arsenal, they can invent a mistake that Arsenal made with Auba. So it is worth going back to look at the how, and the reason why. And given the current story is in the Mirror I’ll stick with that sort of media source, and pick up the story published by Talk Sport to start the riposte.
They have run this headline on their website:
“And now his old manager has accused the 29-year-old of leaving the club with no choice but to cash in on him, by refusing to train properly.”
Stoger reported in Bild that while Auba would train well for four days a week, “to underline his wish for a transfer, he skipped team meetings before games or refused to run during the final training.
“We did our best to keep him for at least another half a year, but Auba wasn’t ready for that. He left me no other choice.”
We all know that at the time Arsenal needed a new centre forward who could score big time, and those are hard to come by. Auba was the only player likely to come to Arsenal. And Arsenal had three issues to consider.
First, a longer contract would self-evidently keep the player at Arsenal longer, but would not do them any good if Auba played the same trick that he had already played at the last two clubs. He would become a disruptive influence within the training camp, and Arsenal would then need to sell him. But if the focus was that Arsenal were selling him because he was causing problems AGAIN, the number of bids for him from the sort of clubs Auba would consider going to, would be small to non-existent.
The Mirror, the newspaper that could recently invent a match fixing scandal in the early 20th century involving Arsenal, couldn’t conceive that Arsenal had a reason for not going to a fourth year.
Second, longer contracts for players over the age of 28 are fraught with difficulty as these players are liable to lose form or get injured or both. An injured or out of form Aubameyang would be worse than one who had been moved on, for with a longer contract he could spend his fourth year of his contract on his very high salary without even playing. Better in that regard to get rid of him after three years.
Third, all sides have to agree the contract. Auba might well have agreed to a four year contract only if he was paid even more money than he is getting now. The three year contract could well have been financially the best deal for Arsenal, even without the threat of not training properly.
These issues are never considered when the self-appointed experts take the stand and tell us how stupid Arsenal have been, mostly because they are a bit too complicated for the like of Mirror journalists to consider. Invented match fixing yes, but players mucking about, no. So Aubu has not had an injury and has not dried up as a goal scorer, so somehow it is assumed that Arsenal should have seen that two years ago. But the club (unlike journalists) deals with the real world.
There is also a fourth issue, but this is one we don’t really have enough information about to judge. There could be another player around who could replace Aubameyang as a high goal scoring centre forward who could play alongside Lacazette? Not enough info, true, but we can guess.
Martinelli’s record for a player in his first year, and just turned 18 a couple of days ago, is remarkable. 26 games and 10 goals. Now that is not as good as 61 goals in 97 games for Aubameyang, but it is still extraordinarily good for a 17 year old in year one. And it is going to improve dramatically next year.
It is possible that the club think that within a year, or possibly even now, Aubameyang will be needing to make way for Martinelli. But if he stayed for two years he might well be on that huge salary but not getting regular games. Then all the experts would be piling into the club saying how stupid Arsenal were for putting Auba on a long contract when he wasn’t needed. All that money going to waste on his salary! And again quite probably no other club would want him because he was demanding that amount of money again.
Arsenal will lose this battle with the media no matter how they play it, because every decision can be made to look wrong. If Abua goes now for £20m, and Martinelli comes in and plays alongside Lacazette with both of them scoring a hatful will anyone praise Arsenal for their longsightedness a couple of years back? I doubt it.
The implication of that is that everyone else could see what to do, and would have got it right, but Arsenal, oh dear, they always screw it up don’t they.
Will Neville remember his comment that, “I think a three-year deal for someone who cost £60m you’d at least want that fourth year so you can control him and if he does well in those first two years, which he has,” if there is a positive outcome? Probably not.
But beyond that, does he really think that Arsenal is made up of utter dolts, while he knows exactly how to run a football club? Presumably he does as he says,
“So that’s the mistake they’ve made with Aubameyang on day one, the fact that they’re in this position now is through mistakes they’ve made previously. I think Arsenal are in a position where the player is going to call the shots. Yes they could keep him for another year but then he leaves for nothing.”
There is another point.
Nicolas Pépé scored 35 in 74 games with Lille. At Arsenal he has not settled and adjusted to the Premier League, and that is a disappointment of course. But let us imagine that in the remainder of this season, or maybe next season he does get back to his form. Consider this forward line:
Pépé Lacazette Martinelli
That could really be rather an effective forward line without a total dependence on Aubameyang. Sell him now, get back £25m or so, cut the wages bill, and still possibly have a forward line that could scare most Premier League defences.
But rather than be forward looking, or indeed rather than any realism in terms of considering the issues that Arsenal had to look at when they signed a player known to be something of a difficult customer, what the media do now is use their hindsight and give us headlines like this one from Goal
‘Aubameyang is too good for Arsenal’ –
Gunners facing Luis Suarez-style transfer headache, says Carragher
So Gary Neville says we have made a major blunder and Carragher says we have a headache. Maybe so, but all clubs get some things wrong because unlike journalists they have to deal with the real world.
And sometimes the best laid plans do come off. But don’t expect the media to call Arsenal anything other than “lucky” when that happens.
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