Why Arsenal Must Show Restraint and Prudence Should Arteta Achieve Champions League Football
Restraint; one of the most-vital components in a myriad of life situations. That ability to press pause rather than steaming forward into the unknown without a map or a paddle has proven itself to be invaluable time and again.
When it comes to professional sport and the operational aspects that come with not only running a football club off the pitch, but building one on the pitch, showing restraint in the face of both a quantitative and qualitative desire to bask in your success is equally important.
As one of the leading Premier League institutions, the current 2021-22 campaign that Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal is embarking on has been nothing short of a breath of fresh air for Gooners the world over. With the north London giants occupying a once-again coveted fourth spot in the table heading into the New Year, quiet conversations have sprung up across social media and the local pub alike; could we really achieve Champions League football next season?
But with that smile-inducing question comes a more pertinent conversation regarding how Arsenal should handle the welcomed increase in both expectations and gravitas that would come with a resumption of service in Europe’s premier club competition.
The honest assessment recently championed by former center-back and current academy director Per Mertesacker not only shed light on where – and how – Arsenal should negotiate the tricky waters that is the transfer market moving forward, but provided hard truths and cautionary tales when it comes to the many mistakes the club has made in the past regardless of whichever regime hiccuped in the wake of Arsène Wenger’s departure.
That same assessment must be crafted into a recruitment remit that becomes a cornerstone of the club’s profile not just in the short term, but a real source of direction for seasons to come.
With Champions League football comes the idea that, all of a sudden, a club should start piling cash notes into burlap sacks as if Baby Face Nelson was pointing a 12-gauge in your face through a bank teller window and demanding you to empty the house safe.
For Arsenal, this cannot be the case, and more importantly, there are enough cautionary tales of poorly utilized funds to reference for the club to remind itself how it should operate even if we return to the promised land.
Truly, you do not have to reward the videotape that far back to the summer of 2019 when Arsenal parted ways with a cool £72million for Nicolas Pépé, utterly obliterating the club’s record transfer fee in the process.
Two years and 101-appearances later in north London, and the Ivorian international has not come remotely close to approaching the type of return that saw us near-singlehandedly bankroll LOSC Lille in the first place.
While Pépé is indeed a gifted footballer in his own right, the reality under Unai Emery – a manager that did not even request his services – and Mikel Arteta alike is that he is wildly ill suited for what is currently under construction on the Emirates pitch.
It certainly was not the better part of wisdom when Arsenal brought in not one, but two main center-forwards two season prior when we paid just south of £100million for both Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; two wildly different forwards best-suited to two wildly different tactical schematics.
Auba’s purchase in particular, despite helping us bag FA Cup honors 2019-20, was mind boggling to say the least and came on the back of the notion of “when someone of his quality is available, you go for him” (I am, of course, paraphrasing) regardless of the notion that Lacazette simply had to adjust to life in England after spending his entire career up to that point with boyhood club Olympique Lyonnais.
But if there is any amount of hope, and there should certainly be a considerable amount of it, it is the current track record of both Mikel Arteta and technical director Edu Gaspar after the pair championed a navigable summer like expert riverboat captains.
The ~£150million spent on Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Nuno Tavares, Sambi Lokonga, and Martin Ødegaard – or in other words, six players for only twice the amount we dropped out of a perfectly good airplane for Pépé – is proof-positive that it is not how much you spend but rather how you spend it that matters now more than ever.
Calls for the club to eclipse what we paid for Pépé to compete for signings the likes of flavor-of-the-year Dušan Vlahović, or Alexander Isak are further examples that stature and perceived ability to smash the goal charts for the club cannot – and should not – trump the better part of prudence.
With Vlahović as an example, for all his goals and burgeoning talent (yes, he is indeed shining bright in Firenze), he is hardly the type of forward that is proven to work wonders in Arteta’s system; someone closer to the profile of Lacazette.
Do we risk tearing down everything we are currently assembling in the English capital simply to say we are the proud owners of the latest young striker model that has popped up on the map? Is not the debacle that is Romelu Lukaku’s second-coming to Stamford Bridge another prime example that the boot does not always fit simply because it is capable of scoring goals?
For Arsenal to not only regularly compete and achieve a top-four finish in the Premier League, but hopefully kick on in a promising project to build a platform of sustainability both financially and in terms of results capable of finally putting us back in the title race discussion, the club must stick to its guns when it comes to player recruitment.
After all, much like in life, one false move in the transfer market can, and often does, bring the house of cards crumbling down.