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Arsenal must make the right statements

The Gunners have found themselves left behind in so many ways that they are in danger of being cut adrift by their rivals.

By Miguel Delaney

Among a few issues with Josh Kroenke’s interview on Tuesday is that if his comments end up representing Arsenal’s biggest statement this summer, it will immediately undermine everything he said. Talk may not necessarily be cheap, but it has to be followed up with action, of real value.

And value – in terms of making shrewd moves – is central to so much of what has already been a difficult summer for Arsenal.

It is remarkable that a super-club that has been at the most commercialised end of the game for two decades now, 13 years after moving to the literal promised land of a new stadium, has only £45m to spend at a time when that team badly needs investment.

Much of this should absolutely be centred at the current club hierarchy, which the supporters groups have done with the joint letter that Kroenke had to answer. Some of it, however, is down to the miscalculations of the previous hierarchies. To a degree, Arsenal have been mere victims of the fates, and overtaken by the uncontrollable forces of history.

They were the club best placed to challenge Manchester United’s hegemony in 2001, and set the lawn for the metaphorical tanks with the initial plans for the new stadium, only for Roman Abramovich to helicopter in out of the blue for Chelsea to take their place and overtake them. That the Russian was initially interested in Arsenal only adds another twist to this. The Manchester City takeover then further twisted the English game.

Arsenal had by then moved into their new home and started to adjust to the surroundings, only for a new economic dynamic to overtake that game. Stadium revenue very soon paled in contrast to TV revenue.

From the vantage point of hindsight, and even allowing for the view Arsene Wenger was overtaken by the evolution of the game, it is easy to understand how he became so frustrated at the unpredictable evolution of the sports business.

The bottom line is that it often feels like Arsenal never got anywhere near the benefit out of the stadium they should have.

That it already feels so outdated compared to the new multi-purpose Tottenham Hotspur stadium, as their great rivals make greater strides in the league and now suddenly make great signings like Tanguy Ndombele, only makes it all the worse.

The hugely promising French star cost more than Arsenal’s summer 2019 transfer budget.

For all the talk of the balance of power changing over the past few years, you can see why this close-season is finally seen as a true crossroads.

And that’s especially the case when it feels like Arsenal have twice taken the wrong turn the last time they were at junctures, even if it was impossible to predict which way very strong winds would blow.

But that only increases the focus – and pressure – on an area of the club that has seen the most significant change in 2019: the recruitment process.

Arsenal did seem to be avoiding the mistakes Manchester United did when Sir Alex Ferguson retired, as they proactively and pre-emptively put in place a technical structure to replace the various strands of the club the grand patriarch had control of, and made up to 10 backroom appointments.

The jewel of these was said to be head of recruitment Sven Mislintat.

The ultimate numbers man didn’t even see out a full season at the club.

Sources now say his departure did come down to a fundamental difference in approach, reflecting how Arsenal put in place a technical structure but maybe didn’t put enough thought into its cohesion.

One final issue that summed it up, if not quite the final straw, was the signing of Denis Suarez. Sources say Unai Emery – who was initially supposed to be just another collaborative element of this technical structure as the head coach – insisted he was a crucial player for the Champions League push. Mislintat disagreed, and felt Emile Smith-Rowe could step in.

The club went with Emery, and Mislintat just went.

With him went his ultra-analytical approach to recruitment, to be replaced by Raul Sanllehi’s more intuitive relationship-based approach – now furthered by the appointment of Edu.

This isn’t to say that one is inherently more correct on the other, or that Arsenal don’t use analytics at all now, but it does put more pressure on that department.

At a time of such penury, the club need to make the shrewdest moves possible. The club needs to be as efficient as possible.

Even aside from the questions over the recruitment process, some wonder whether that kind of execution is possible. Agents who have worked with Arsenal complain of having to wait weeks for responses, often on some trivial issues to do with their players, and the talk is often that too many decisions are “made by committee”.

That committee has now committed to a specific recruitment approach, at a time when getting it right – and getting shrewd moves – has never been more important.

They need to make the right statements.

Courtesy: This piece was first published in Independent.

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