“At some clubs success is accidental. At Arsenal it is compulsory.”Arsene Wenger
When it comes to having a quote about success and Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has more than a few to his name. However, it’s a quote that many may feel has not quite aged into the fine they had hoped. With struggles to reclaim a spot in the top four of the Premier League and the financial security of the Champions League evading them since his departure—and a little before—success has felt far from compulsory.
Many will look at the situation and point directly to the playing quality and the missing pieces in the squad in identifying where the obvious room for improvement lies. In the modern game, there have emerged two recipes that larger clubs like Arsenal opt to follow when it comes to bringing in the right personnel for success—buy it or build it.
While some clubs may be forced to grow it, Arsenal are fortunate to have flexibility with this. Every successful team has some degree of both, buy and build, but there are distinct differences in their nature and the two clubs that raced for the Premier League title this year epitomize these two paths.
While Manchester City have found success in recent years, many will feel they are one of the clubs that epitomize the power of wealth and ability to relentlessly buy in their pursuit of success. On the flip side of the coin, Liverpool have risen as the model that major clubs look to follow as they build their way back to success with opportune sales and purposeful purchases. Of course Liverpool has spent their fair share of money, this league demands money be spent to entice specific players to come through your doors, but they have funded much of that with player sales to limit their net spend and maximize the extent of their pounds.
In today’s press conference, Arteta’s admiration and respect for what Klopp and Liverpool have produced was on full display. “What they have done is phenomenal.”
“The first two years it took them some time to rebuild the squad and to create a new culture, a new philosophy and a game model that suited the coach. Then they started to recruit every single player in relation to what they needed and that’s where I think they were really smart.”
The backing was there from up top and the direction and identity that the club wanted to develop was known from top to bottom. “They bought with specificity for every position that was required. Financially they had a big backing and made some big signings which completely changed the club in my opinion.”
“We do not buy superstars. We make them.”Arsene Wenger
Arteta heads up Arsenal with an interesting blend of influences and experiences in his career that set him in the middle of these team building options. Arteta spent time as a player with Arsene Wenger, a firm believer in the ability to grow success, often to a fault, while Mikel started his coaching career as an apprentice manager under mentor Pep Guardiola who has been funded to the gills in each position he has accepted.
In April, Arteta revealed that he and Arsenal were putting together three separate transfer scenarios. One that let them do a lot, one that let them do a few things, and one that he said meant they could do “nothing”. The obvious equation that is being suggested here shows three plans based entirely on where Arsenal finish. Champions League, Europa League, no European competition? A lot, some, nothing.
As Arsenal’s results continue to angle them toward the direction of no European competition, there are levels of fear mounting. Despite some fans declaring a year without Europe would be beneficial for the Gunners, Arteta feels differently.
“European football gives you more financial resources, that is clear, and we are going to keep trying until the end of the season to try and achieve that.”
It’s a tough task, and one whose chances took a tumble last week when Arsenal failed to get points from London rival Tottenham, while the rest of the league’s results tossed them back into 9th place, with only 3 games left to play. Add to that Manchester City’s European ban being overturned in court and Arsenal will now have to reach 7th place, hopping Tottenham and Sheffield United to achieve qualification through the league.
The other route goes through Manchester City and winning the FA Cup. A daunting task with both Manchester teams and Chelsea remaining in the competition this year. It’s no easy path and one that you wouldn’t likely stake high amounts on Arsenal achieving, but their history with the cup is the most impressive.
In the end, every day appears as though the Liverpool route is going to be Arsenal’s future recipe for success. They won’t get the artificial, financial pump of £200m pounds from an owner like Roman Abramovich or City Football Group and Arteta seems well aware of it.
“The context right now is different to what it was as well four years ago and the abilities for a club to rebuild something is more limited, but it’s certainly something we have to look at and how they [Liverpool] did it because it’s a great example.”
The tough part is what to keep, what move along, what sacrifices do Arsenal make in order to scrape funds? Are Arsenal faced with the need to move along their stars, in order to start fresh? It’s a plan that will take a definitive direction that is understood from top to bottom, KSE to coaching and playing staff and the patience and persistence to stay on course. It’s not an easy task. It’s a relatively thankless task in a footballing world that seeks instant gratification when it comes to the ability to compete.
It’s a big window for Arsenal, Arteta, and supporters to see what their club is capable of doing financially. They have restructured their debt through KSE’s loan extension, which will offer financial security in the post-pandemic world, but it’s not likely to be a real investment in the club from KSE in the form of a transfer window “warchest”.
So look to the models of Liverpool, or even Dortmund, who seem to entice some of the best and turn them over in recoup funds and reinvest. The irony of Sven Mislintat being a part of their org is a conversation for a different day. Now more than ever, Arsenal face the need to “outsmart the market”. So dial up your recipe Raul and Arteta, get on board and stay focused, your work is cut out.
The determination is palpable in Arteta’s words. “We have to find a way to do it.”