21 August 2014

After all of that spending, just where does Arsenal stand?

After a thrilling July saw us sign four players, it was starting to feel like we were finally serious about flexing some financial muscle. The first of the announced signings, Alexis Sánchez, seemed to be a dramatic statement of intent, the beginning of bigger things to come. Those bigger things may yet come, but the close of the transfer-window is less than ten days away. It's starting to feel like we could go out that window with a whimper rather than a bang. Early-summer optimism is fading to early-autumn cynicism, much like flowers spring forth only to something something something. Finish the simile as you see fit. It's getting harder and harder to allow Arsène the benefit of the doubt, even given his deadline-day proclivities.To this point, can we even claim that we've strengthened the squad?

As with last summer, we've been told that we'll spend what it takes to actually contend for a Prem title. Heck, for most of last season, that was true—until the thinness of our squad was exposed through injuries and fatigue, reducing us to yet again scrabble and claw our way to a fourth place finish. Like last summer, we announced a dramatic, exciting signing from one of Europe's biggest clubs. Unlike last last summer, we've added a few more players for whom we had to actually open the cheque-book. However, once we look past the hullabaloo, it starts to feel a bit like we're running to stand still—if that.

The chart below lays out our major dealings (with financials from transfermarkt). Study that for a minute and we'll discuss take-aways afterwards.

Player out
Player in
Looks to be the only clear upgrade. Alexis looks far more vital and dangerous than Bendtner ever was or Eisfeld ever will be.

Djourou’s departure won’t disquiet anyone, and Vermaelen was also far from starting, but Chambers is exciting more for his potential than for his performance. We now have only two CBs with significant Prem experience.
A modest upgrade, in my opinion, even for as much as I like Sagna. Debuchy might offer more speed and technical skill than Sagna.
It’s hard to see Ospina matching or exceeding Fabianksi’s performance on our way to winning the FA Cup, and he doesn’t seem strong enough to challenge Szczesny—yet.

To date, then, we've shed ourselves of six players (maybe five. Sorry, Mr. Eisfeld) of significance while adding four. For those six, we brought in £12m. To get those four, we spent £67.8. If we focus on just the spending, it looks impressive—£67.8m would be far and away our biggest summer ever. I'm proud that we've maintained some semblance of fiscal discipline over the last 18 years, if not longer, but the cold, hard truth is that you have to spend to win. I don't want us going the way of Chelsea, Liverpool, or Man City, but at some point an old adage comes to mind: "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." For as ambitious as we've been to date, we've not been audacious enough to know that we can beat our rivals. Speaking of which, here's a quick look at their business compared to ours:

Transfer fees paid
Transfer fees received
Man City

Our net-spend this summer has been a fairly modest £55.6m. This after a variety of promises that we would spend almost double that, what with the new Puma deal, paying down the stadium, and other advantages. We haven't yet spent the £100m that was bandied about. What's more (worse?), we can't quite say that the money we've spent equals that spent by Chelsea, Liverpool, or Man City. The quality added is another story. Chelsea, in Mourinho's second year, look the most-intimidating after adding Fabregas and Costa while bringing Courtois back (among other moves). Liverpool have gone full Spursy, trying to replace Suarez with a plethora of other players. Only City look content to stand pat.

This brings me back to the "running to stand still" bit. Yes, we've done a nice bit of business—compared to our own transfer-window history. On those grounds, we look audacious, bold, even reckless, perhaps. However, even for as modest as our rivals' business has been, a comparison between us and them suggests that we haven't been quite as bold as we had assumed.

To make a long story short, we haven't yet done what needs doing if we're serious about contending for a Prem title past, say, the month of March. Sadly, the Prem season extends just a bit beyond that. If Arsène plans on us competing to the very end, he's going to have to double-down on his ante to this point—to be fair, that is the minimum we should expect after a spring and summer chock-a-block with promises that we would do exactly that.

What do you think? Have we kept pace with our rivals or are we merely treading water? While you're thinking, do keep in mind that Tottenham have to qualify for Spuropa League play while Man U have no European distractions at all. Between a rock and a hard place, can we squeeze through?