Arsenal need transfer policy rethink

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Arsene Wenger has historically been one of the best transfer window operators, but he risks ruining his well-earned reputation.

Shrewd dealings saw the Frenchman trade the 29-year-old Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira at just the right time. Wenger was rightly lauded for judging player's peaks, before offloading them and replacing them with younger, fitter and more hungry alternatives once his trusted lieutenants had demonstrated signs of decline.

But Wenger's transfer dealings have increasingly looked questionable. Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were moved on before either reached their maximum ability, while Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Lassana Diarra, and William Gallas were all booted out of the Emirates Stadium before going on to shine elsewhere.

Now, Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis has dropped the biggest hint yet that Gunners fans can expect a quiet transfer window. The club CEO said: "The key for us is not the volume of signings we might make but that the signings we make add something to the squad. That is something Arsene [Wenger] thinks extremely carefully about and for all the pressure he is placed under, he tends to make good decisions."

But, in recent seasons, the Arsenal boss has shipped out quality while bringing in quantity. Big names have departed - often to win trophies elsewhere - while Wenger replaced them with bit-part performers and patchwork stopgaps.

Last summer's frantic deadline day readily highlighted the sudden desperation a lack of transfer policy coordination can bestow. Signing four players rapidly approaching 30 - Mikel Arteta, Andre Santos, Yossi Benayoun and Per Mertesacker - was not typical Wenger, and hinted at a sudden need for short-term success when all the targets were previously long-term.

Since moving to the Emirates, the Frenchman has deployed a noticeable transfer policy, bringing in one immediate first-team quality signing a season. First was Eduardo, then Nasri, Arshavin, Vermaelen, and finally Koscielny in 2010/11, before last summer's £50m deadline day assault.

Part of the problem is Arsenal's straightjacket of a wage structure, and Gazidis has readily admitted that Wenger needs to be given more flexibility.

"Our wage structure has been based around a flatter salary structure - that is part of a team ethos the manager develops, it's about interaction between players - not superstars," said Gazidis.

But the fact remains that all top clubs have superstars, who all get rewarded with superstar wages. Football is a meritocracy, and the best rise to the top. Manchester United, Manchester CIty or Chelsea don't have a problem fostering a team ethos despite their wage structure because, more often than not, the best performers justify the higher wages with match-winning displays. Arsenal can't afford to sit by, shaking their hands at their big-spending rivals, because that will only lead to more trophyless seasons.

At Arsenal, Robin van Persie, the club's sole world-class talent, takes home £70,000 a week, while fringe players like Abou Diaby and Marouane Chamakh reportedly earn between £50,000 and £60,000.

Gazidis acknowledges this much change if the Gunners are to compete. "We have looked at this carefully and we have to make adjustments for top talent."


"They are earning a lot of money and I don't think that will slow down. We have to adjust our model."

Part of that adjustment will likely include something of a clear-out at the Emirates. Wenger is believed to be ready to offload Chamakh, Squillaci, Nicklas Bendtner, Lukasz Fabianski and Carlos Vela as he looks to trim £23m off the wage bill.

Such ferocious cost-cutting - while demonstrating the build-up of second-rate players at Arsenal - should free up the vital funds to tie down Van Persie and Theo Walcott. The Dutchman is obviously the priority, but Walcott is an important first-team player as well, a unique talent that flourishes in the Champions League especially.

But what Arsenal need, and what many fans have been calling for, is a big-name signing, and the assurances that come with it. Lukas Podolski is a good start, but the noises coming from Arsenal and past history indicates that outlay could represent the bulk of their spending.

Uzbeki billionaire Alisher Usmanov is thought to want to increase his stake in the club - and has promised to finance a spending spree - but majority owner Stan Kroenke doesn't want him on board.

In which case, the Gunners are likely to continue or their current path. Last year should have acted as a wake-up call, but after scraping Champions League qualification they risk ignoring the warning of a season ago and falling further behind the pace setters.

Chelsea and United have Eden Hazard and Shinji Kagawa, and while Arsenal have Podolski, they need much more to bridge the gap between third place and the top two.

Arsenal have many questions to answer this summer. They've been given an opportunity to assemble a side capable of challenging for the title again. Such an opportunity looked lost after their horrific start, so they should be eager to make the most of it. Winning trophies will make it easier to hold on to top talent, but hopefully Wenger sees his transfer mistakes in the past contributed to such disillusion - and necessitated this summer's clear-out.

The Gunners have tried the quantity over quality route, and it failed. But they've also tried the slow-burn - the gradual recruitment of young stars year-by-year - and have been left disappointed when these move on. An unhealthy obsession with the long-term has clouded Arsenal's short-term focus in recent seasons, and the lack of trophies is proof. Their transfer window last year tipped wildly to short-term targets but Arsenal now need a better balance.

Wenger needs to rediscover his touch in the transfer market, and a happy medium needs to be found which allows him to invest in youth while assembling a side capable of challenging immediately.

To do this, Arsenal can't afford to fail into the austerity trap - they need a transfer stimulus to revive their squad. Luckily, they have a manager who once dominated the market. Now they need him to return to the top.

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