Arsenal’s squad has been undermined by poor recruitment in recent years. But the problem is not their unwillingness to spend. Rather, it is their ill-advised and now largely wasted investments.
During the Arsene Wenger days, Arsenal were always prudent in regards to their spending. They took their time, waited for the right player and right price tag, and even then, would dally for hours, days, weeks, months, sometimes even years, before pulling the trigger. By that point, invariably, the player they wanted in the first place was either no longer available, at another team, or no longer the same player.
For over the best part of a decade, the Gunners’ issue was a lack of spending. From offloading stars and not capably replacing them to being unable to pay the ever-increasing wage demands of the elite stars; from mishandling contracts due to their scrimpy negotiations to never investing in key positions when the time was ripe for growth, the club slipped into mediocrity as a result of their hesitance, unwillingness, and sometimes inability to spend.
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More recently, the recruitment has been equally poor. The last time Arsenal bought a world-class player was over two years ago. They signed only three world-class players in the entire 2010s and two of them left the club in crippling uncertainty and chaos, one of which still persists today.
But while the recruitment has been equally as questionable in more recent years as it was during the early-Emirates period, it is for a very different reason. This is not for a want of spending, unlike previously. In fact, the club has spent relatively freely, especially in comparison to its history. Rather, ill-advised, wasteful, egregious investment now plagues the team-building process, and it leaves the squad in precisely the same mire it was in during the Wenger years: in need of a significant spring clean.
In 2016, for example, Arsenal spent north of £100 million for the first time in a summer transfer window. The majority of that investment consisted of £35 million for Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi apiece and £17 million for Lucas Perez. Perez has since left the club and was never even a vaguely consistent contributor, while Mustafi has been a disaster at centre-half, the perfect illustration of why panic rarely yields progression, and Xhaka has been inconsistent in midfield and rarely close to the expectations that his investment demands.
Fast forward a season and the club signed Alexandre Lacazette in a club-record £47 million deal. It seemed like a sensible investment at the time and Lacazette has just about proven to be a worthy signing since then. But Arsenal then broke their transfer record just six months later on a player who plays exactly the same position.
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Now, irrespective of one another, these are good signings, and Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have been the two most influential players since their arrivals. But in conjunction with one another, it left the team with over £100 million and almost £400,000 per week invested in two centre-forwards, a position that only requires one starter.
Throw in the £94 million that has been spent at centre-back over the past four years and the £100-plus million spree last summer that yielded an injured left-back, a club-record flop, and a centre-back who has yet to play for the club — each of these deals can still be successful with time and patience — and you can see where the issue lies.
In years’ past, Arsenal did not spend. Now, they spend, but spend poorly. Each of these has led to a squad that requires more spending. If Arsenal want to solve their team-building nightmare, then, they must continue to invest, but do so smartly. And thus far, there is little reason to believe that they can.