On Monday, the Daily Mail told us that champions Chelsea were in a ‘pickle’ because they had allowed 17 players to leave. That only two of those 17 players were first-team regulars was deemed irrelevant to the bombastic headline that Antonio Conte had culled the Blues to such an extent that they were struggling to fill a bench for this weekend’s Community Shield clash. Where is John Obi Mikel when you need him? Selling players is officially bad.
On Tuesday, the Daily Mail tell us that Arsenal ‘are keen to sell a number of players manager Arsene Wenger has deemed surplus to requirements’ and a ‘clear-out remains a priority for the Gunners this summer’ after Monday’s Sun berated Arsene Wenger for not selling Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. They will have no problem filling three benches for this weekend’s Community Shield, the fools. Selling players is officially good.
Clearly, Antonio Conte would rather like to bolster his squad with two or three additional players before adding the Champions League to his schedule, with depth particularly lacking in wing-back positions, but this is not a problem created by the loans of Tammy Abraham and Kasey Palmer, or the sales of Christian Atsu and Nathan Ake. Those exits are merely part of the Chelsea farm model, with junior and senior players being recruited and sold in equally large numbers. Nat Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have simply vacated bench spaces that will be taken by Lewis Baker and Charly Musonda; that change is not the reason Chelsea may struggle to retain their title.
By any measure that farm model is working. The sale of Nemanja Matic for £40m takes Chelsea’s transfer income since the summer of 2013 comfortably over the £400m mark. These figures can only ever be rough estimates but – for comparison – Tottenham have brought in around £320m, Liverpool £250m, Manchester United £175m, Manchester City £150m and Arsenal just £60m.
The days of Chelsea as the carefree spenders and Arsenal as the parsimonious selling club are long gone. The Blues may still splash more BACS than Arsenal on transfers, but in terms of net spend, Arsenal’s outlay is over £100m more in the same period. Arsene Wenger preaches cohesion, but the consequence of cohesion is that the Frenchman is currently looking at a 33-man first-team squad list bloated with average players like Carl Jenkinson, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs and Joel Campbell. If Chelsea are the productive farm, Arsenal are the donkey sanctuary.
Of course, Chelsea being lower ‘net spenders’ than Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal would mean nothing were they unsuccessful on the pitch in that same period. No English team has claimed more points – or, more importantly, titles – since 2013. Their disastrous title defence came after a summer when they opted for stability over a shake-up, spending less than £70m and bringing in under £40m from transfers. Those suggesting that the summer of 2017 mirrors the summer of 2015 have not been paying much attention; Chelsea have already spent more in 2017 than in any summer since Roman Abramovich first rolled into town.
Chelsea do have an awful lot of players on their books, and much has been made of Matej Delac being their longest-serving player without ever catching a ball in anger for his club, but Arsenal’s second longest-serving man is Kieran Gibbs. Only one of those players is draining their club of £60,000 a week.
While Chelsea are hoarding youngsters that may or may not be sold for £20m (Ake) or £8.8m (Traore), Arsenal are hoarding 20-somethings who they cannot sell because of their relatively high wages. Both strategies invite criticism, but only one is bringing success.