All five new players recruited this summer are aged 23 or under - and Mikel Arteta hopes they will form a new core to his squad
In the summer of 2007, Arsene Wenger described Arsenal as a club that “makes superstars”, rather than buying them. That was a different time for Arsenal, in a different footballing world, but 14 years later they have decided to once again pursue a policy of targeting the stars of the future instead of the leading players of the present.
The arrivals of Martin Odegaard from Real Madrid and Aaron Ramsdale from Sheffield United, to be confirmed imminently, have taken the club’s summer spending to around £125 million so far. Of the five new players they have recruited, all of them are aged 23 or under. The hope is that Ben White, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Nuno Tavares, Odegaard, and Ramsdale will help to form a new core, along with the likes of Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka, and Emile Smith Rowe, that will evolve and improve over the next three or four years. “It is a clear indicator, the business that we are doing,” said Mikel Arteta. “The ages are between 21 and 23 years old. It tells you the project that we are building.”
The size of Arsenal’s investments in these young players is indicative of Arteta’s faith in his new faces. This is especially the case for White and Odegaard, who are expected to instantly improve the starting lineup, as well as develop into world-class footballers in their own right over the coming years.
The outlays are also a reflection of the club’s ongoing trust in Arteta. Make no mistake: these are considerable figures for a team in Arsenal’s rather perilous financial situation. The club’s latest accounts showed a loss of £47.8m, lest we forget, and in the last year, they have made more than 50 redundancies. And, after finishing eighth last season, there is no European football to bolster the bank account in the coming months.
So, for a club that operates with a self-sustaining model, where is the money coming from? In part, this summer’s spending has been made possible by financial guarantees provided by the club’s owners, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment.
Josh Kroenke, the son of owner Stan, made clear following the Super League debacle that financial support would be offered. Similar messages were given to staff on company-wide calls in the spring.
There are other factors at play. Arsenal took out a bank loan towards the end of last season, in order to repay the short-term £120m loan they had taken from the Bank of England to help them cope with the financial impact of the pandemic. It is understood the second loan has allowed them to spend more freely than otherwise would have been possible.
The return of fans this season, and therefore the income from season-ticket sales, has also contributed to the club’s spending. There are sales to factor in, too, with Joe Willock joining Newcastle United for £22m and Arsenal desperately hoping to cash in on their fringe players in the remaining days of the window.
It should also be noted that the departures of big-earners such as Mesut Ozil, Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz, and Sokratis have helped to bring down the wage bill. Ozil, on his own, earned around £18m a year. He has not been missed, by Arteta or the accountants.
Speaking on Friday morning, Arteta said the new transfer policy was designed to bring more “stability” to the club. Reading between the lines, and knowing their financial difficulties, it is tempting to wonder whether this summer’s outlay constitutes the footballing equivalent of a “big shop”: stocking up on players now, in the belief that they will improve as a group. This was certainly the pitch that Arteta made to White, promising the £50m defenders a key role as part of the new spine of the team.
Arsenal hope Ben White will form a part of their spine for years to come CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
Time will tell whether this means they will not spend so much in future windows. What is evident is that Arsenal is currently buying their players for the next three or four years, rather than just for one season. They tried the short-term approach last summer, with Willian. The less said about that deal, the better.
In the last five years, only Manchester United and Manchester City have a greater net spend on transfers than Arsenal, so it is little wonder that Arteta and Edu, the technical director, want to try a new approach. Their opponents on Sunday, by contrast, are in a position where they are able to sign ready-made superstars. Romelu Lukaku, all £97.5m of him, is an elite center-forward at the top of his game.
Chelsea’s success at senior and youth level also means there is more interest in their youngsters. Marc Guehi was sold to Palace for £20m, for example, while there has so far been little meaningful interest in Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah.
Arsenal’s focus on younger, promising players is of course by design, but there is also an element of necessity. Without European football to offer, they simply cannot compete for the same caliber of players as Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool. They have to think differently, aim lower and trust themselves to maximize the potential of their new generation.
Last weekend’s grim defeat at Brentford has already increased the pressure on Arteta and raised the expectations of the likes of White, Odegaard, and Lokonga to lead Arsenal forward.
It is clear that these players will need time and patience. How much time, though? And how much patience? Those are the unanswerable questions and the source of so much of the uncertainty that will hang over the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.