Who could possibly have seen this coming? The latest media leaks suggest that Arsenal’s summer transfer activity is being delayed by the uncertainty over the futures of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, so you’d better stop reading now and revive an Arsenal-supporting friend who has fainted through shock. If only hundreds of thousands of people had realised this might happen.
You can imagine the scene when a potential star signing sits down in a meeting room at the Emirates Stadium and admires his surroundings. “Oooh, there’s Sanchez,” he says, pointing at an image plastered onto the wall to his right. “Oh and Ozil too, I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
“Yes,” a voice replies hurriedly, the angst instantly detectable. “Now if you’d just sign here and here and put the date here we can get on with announcing it on social media so that weird accounts can reply ‘F**k me now’ in response.”
While March, April and May brought promises of war chests and lists of transfer targets produced by club-friendly journalists who were prepared to follow the Linguaphone mantra of listen, repeat and learn without questioning, June has brought the type of news vacuum that Arsenal specialise in just when supporters are so keen for progress. The key to comedy and tragedy is in the timing and practice, and Arsenal have strong suits in both.
My understanding of Arsenal is that little can be done without sorting out Sanchez and Ozil. It's causing a lot of frustration
— Jason Burt (@JBurtTelegraph) June 19, 2017
Arsenal fans will remember a summer like this, when the potential departures of key players not only threatened to dent the quality of the first-team squad but also stopped the club from doing business. Six years ago, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas played the roles of Ozil and Sanchez. After months spent trying to persuade the pair that the grass away from the Emirates may not be greener, one left for Barcelona on August 15 and the other joined Manchester City on August 24. The similarities between Nasri and Sanchez – contract situation, pushing for move, potential destination, Arsene Wenger determined not to sell to a domestic rival – are striking.
Having sold two key assets, Arsenal promptly started the 2011/12 season appallingly, drawing 0-0 with Newcastle before losing at home to Liverpool and being shellacked 8-2 by Manchester United. That provoked two days of panic buying on August 30 and 31, when Park Chu-Young, Andre Santos, Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun all arrived in north London. Arsenal know only too well the importance of getting business done early.
Experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes, as a wise owl once said. Arsenal certainly have more ‘experience’ than most, but their commitment to failing to learn lessons from their mistakes truly sets them apart from their peers. Sanchez and Ozil are not the only ones whose contract expire next summer; add Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to that list. There is nothing like planning ahead, and this is nothing like planning ahead. One is understandable and two or three careless; this is outright negligence.
It is as if the playing of football and the transfer market are two mutually exclusive concepts to Arsenal. You aren’t allowed to think of the latter while the former is happening, and by then it’s all too late. Whether you are Wenger In, Wenger Out or Wenger Shake It All About, this is the inevitable result of a club accepting the omnipotence of its manager. The manager is unable to do everything to the required level, yet equally unable to delegate responsibility.
The Oxlade-Chamberlain saga is another baffling episode, further evidence against a club that could manage to complicate a game of noughts and crosses. Either offer him a new contract or sell him? No, simply send him on his holidays while you have a think and let his agent tout him to every other club in the top half. That way every possible conclusion leaves a residue of dissatisfaction that stains the furniture.
Of course, 2017 was the summer during which Arsenal and Wenger effected change. The club’s inability to finish in the top four did not mean that Wenger lost his job – in fact, he extended his stay – but he was forced to change practices, delegate in certain areas and embrace the arrival of a sporting direc…
Sorry, I can’t keep a straight face anymore. No sooner had the 2016/17 season ended and next year’s season tickets been sold, Wenger had rejected the idea of a sporting director and the club had accepted that call without question. It’s amazing how smoothly negotiations can run when they take place between faces drawn on the left and right hands of the same person.
This is hardly an irretrievable situation, of course. It’s hard not to conclude that Sead Kolašinac was the bargain left-back option rather than the best (Ricardo Rodriguez, Bernard Mendy, Alex Sandro, Jose Luis Gaya), but Arsenal do at least have one player through the door. Atletico Madrid’s upheld transfer ban makes Alexandre Lacazette more likely to sign, and Thomas Lemar and Sander Berge have been mentioned in passing. Quiet Junes can easily become busy Julys and optimistic Augusts.
Yet the inescapable suspicion is that Arsenal have again ceded control precisely at the time when it was most most crucial they keep it. Compare Manchester City’s response to disappointment last season, signing Bernardo Silva and Ederson and moving close to welcoming Dani Alves. The goodwill of an FA Cup victory has been lost on the warm summer breeze by a club who specialise in outgoing transfer dramas.
Arsenal are the undisciplined dieter who has a slab of chocolate cake on day two, the club so hardwired to relive the same season over and over again that even Bill Murray would question the script’s repetition. They will claim that the new leaf is turned tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes.
Arsenal’s insistence that significant changes were afoot off the pitch already looks like just a broken promise, and their on-pitch improvements seemingly depends on the whats and whens of two key players whose motivation has been eroded by a chronic lack of progress. Even in June, Arsenal are playing catch up again.