The year is 1999 and Arsenal have just finished the season without a trophy. They have been comprehensively beaten by an inspired Chelsea by 5 goals to nil in the Worthington Cup, have exited the Champions League in 3rd spot behind Lens in 2nd and group winners Dynamo Kyiv, lost the FA Cup semi-final to Manchester United in extra-time and missed out on the league on the final day of the season to Manchester United by 1 point. (Incidentally United conceded 37 goals that year and still won the league, Arsenal conceded 17 and finished 2nd. These days “defensive frailties” are often quoted as a reason for not winning the league but I would suggest that United’s 80 goals scored to our 59 and Man City winning the league on goal difference shows that attack is quite often the best form of defence.)
Arsenal had started the season poorly with 4 draws and a loss before the end of September leaving them with just 10 points and though they fought extremely hard to get back into title contention they ultimately finished the season pot-less and with a bitter taste in their mouth. Things for the fans were about to get worse.
Picked up for £500,000, free scoring Nicolas Anelka looked to be the buy of the century until Real Madrid came calling and Anelka left in a £22.3m deal. Financially it was very good for the club but having come so close to retaining the title and with no prolific striker in the ranks with Ian Wright having left the summer before the fans were understandably tetchy and worried about our ability to compete.
We had a lot of news this summer that was not too positive for the club. It didn’t send any message about ambition. It made the fans feel down.
Arsène Wenger speaking in August 1999
Shortly after losing Anelka we signed Thierry Henry. Thierry who had started his career as a striker joined Arsenal with a decent reputation as a wide player but coming off the back of a disappointing spell in Turin. At the time he was not considered a direct replacement for Anelka and many felt that we would still be lacking up front. We had replaced our best goalscorer with a winger.
The following season we finished 18 points behind United and never really looked like challenging for the title. That summer we sold Overmars and Petit in a £30m double deal to Barcelona but we made an early statement by signing Pires and Edu for a combined fee of £12.5m fighting off interest in Pires from Real Madrid along the way. Arsène Wenger had essentially replaced two star players with players of equal calibre for less than half the price. He also picked up future defensive star Lauren for £7m and the often forgotten Fourth Musketeer Sylvain Wiltord for £13m. Wenger had managed to replace and strengthen the team for a net spend of £2.5m.
The new signings were effective but the gap could only be closed to 10 points at the end of the season.
That summer major reinforcements came in the shape of Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and Sol Campbell. The latter joining on a free transfer from bitter rivals Tottenham. Kolo Toure was also bought that summer. This team that Wenger had been building over the past few summers went on to win a League and FA Cup double that season and became the foundation of a team that won two FA Cups and went unbeaten in the league over the next 3 seasons.
You may, by now, be wondering where this is going. Well I’ll tell you.
With the arrival of Santi Cazorla to add to Giroud and Podolski and the signings of the past few years I want to bring a little more positivity to your Arsenal supporting lives and lay out some similarities between these periods of time. We’ve been rebuilding the squad under the radar masked by the sales of some top players which we didn’t have to deal with last time but then again last time around we only really had one big name and that was Dennis and he wasn’t going anywhere! We’ve also had to contend with finishing significantly behind the champions.
Over the past few summers we have seen the arrival of Vermaelen, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho, Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud.
That could easily read Lauren, Campbell, Toure, Edu, Pires, Wiltord, Kanu and Henry. Not in terms of direct comparison of ability but in terms of spend, squad depth contribution and current and future playing contribution. The current lot cost a combined £83m (approximately) and the 1999-2001 signings cost a combined £48m (approximately). The £35m difference is easily swallowed by the change in spending in football over that period. In 2000 Pires was earning £17,000 per week and Bergkamp was our top earner on £30,000 per week. We have sold fringe players over the past few years that have earned more than those two figures combined.
Going into next season we have a fantastic squad who I believe are capable of challenging for the title despite some concerns over our defence which I believe I did a decent job of defending in my last post.
We have international pedigree strikers entering the peak of their careers, three international class centre-backs, six “first-choice” players for our three midfield spots, three promising youngsters pushing them hard for a spot and if the rumours of a swoop for Sahin on top of the signing of Cazorla are true then we’ll have 14 players fighting for 5 spots across our midfield and wide areas. That is the sort of strength in-depth so many have been crying out for and the likes we haven’t seen since our early noughties purple patch.
Wenger has built an incredibly good squad on the quiet and players that were maybe maligned for their performances last season will be considered excellent depth players going into the new season. Wenger has, in my opinion, built a title challenging squad and has quite remarkably done it almost entirely unnoticed.
So far this summer Wenger and the club have brought in Podolski and Giroud for a reported combined fee of approximately £20m. There are varying reports on Cazorla ranging from £12m to £20m but I feel comfortable in the £16m range that’s been reported and even at £20m Cazorla is an absolute steal and Sahin on a season long loan would be incredible business.
Those players combined with our other purchases of the past few years would see a complete overhaul of the team with real strength in depth and quality of competition with a transfer spend of roughly £35m a season. When you consider that many clubs drop £35m on a single player you can’t help but admire the club and especially Arsène for their stubbornness to stick to their principles and their ability to spend extremely wisely in the majority of cases.
For years fans and the media have been calling on Wenger to spend big bucks on one player. In the early part of the century it was £20m on a player. Then it was £25m. Then it was £30m and these days we see figures of £35-40m thrown out there. Götze being a perfect example. There was so much willing for Arsenal to spend £40m on Götze but Wenger instead spent the money on AOC, Arteta, Gervinho and Mertesacker. This summer it was Hazard for £32m and if Arsenal do manage to pull of the deal of the year by getting Cazorla for £12m then that will see Santi, Giroud and Podolski for the same fee.
I’m sure there have been plenty of players over the years that we would have loved to see come to the club but you cannot help but admire Wenger’s ability to pick up fantastic players for next to nothing when compared to the spends of other clubs.
|1999/2000||Thierry Henry - £10m|
Kanu - £4.5m
|Anelka - £22.3m - Madrid|
|2000/2001||Pires - £6m|
Wiltord - £13m
Edu - £6.5m
|Overmars - £25m - Barcelona|
|2001/2002||Campbell - FREE|
Toure - £150k
|Veron - £28.1m - Man U|
|2002/2003||Gilberto - £4.5m||Ferdinand - £29.1m - Man U
El Hadji Diouf - £10m - Liverpool
|2003/2004||RVP - £2.75m||Mutu - £15.8m - Chelsea
Crespo - £16m - Chelsea
Duff - £17m - Chelsea
Saha - £12.8m - Man U
|2005/2006||Diaby - £2m|
Adebayor - £7m
Walcott - £5m (eventually £9.1m)
|Wright-Phillips - £21m - Chelsea|
|2006/2007||Rosicky - £6.7m||Shevchenko - £30m - Chelsea
|2007/2008||Sagna - £6m|
Eduardo - £7.5m
|Anelka - £15m - Chelsea
Hargreaves - £17m - Man U
|2008/2009||Ramsey - £5m|
Nasri - £12m
Arshavin - £15m
|Bosingwa - £16m - Chelsea
Berbatov - £30m - Man U
Keane - £20m - Liverpool
Jo - £18m - Man City
Robinho - £32m - Man City
Bridge - £10m - Man City
|2009/2010||Vermaelen - £10m||Zhirkov - £18m - Chelsea
Aquilani - £20m - Liverpool
Johnson - £17m - Liverpool
Santa Cruz - £18m - Man City
Adebayor - £25m - Man City
Toure - £16m - Man City
Lescott - £22m - Man City
Tevez - £25m - Man City
|2010/2011||Koscielny - £9m|
Ryo - £1m
|Torres - £50m - Chelsea
Luiz - £21m - Chelsea
Ramires - £17m - Chelsea
Carroll - £35m - Liverpool
Suarez - £22.8m - Liverpool
Meireles - £11.5m - Liverpool
Kolarov - £16m - Man City
Balotelli - £24m - Man City
Milner - £18m - Man City
Džeko - £27m - Man City
|2011/2012||Gervinho - £10.5m|
AOC - £12m
Santos - £6m
Mertesacker - £8m
Arteta - £10m
Jenkinson - £1m
Campbell - £1m
Eisfeld - £450k
|Lukaku - £13m - Chelsea
Mata - £23.5m - Chelsea
Meireles - £12m - Chelsea
Young - £17m - Man U
Henderson - £20m - Liverpool
Adam - £12m - Liverpool
Downing - £16m - Liverpool
Aguero - £38m - Man City
Nasri - £24m - Man City
|2012/2013||Giroud - £12m|
Podolski - £9-10m
Cazorla - £12-16m?
Sahin - ???
|Hazard - £32m - Chelsea
Oscar - £25m - Chelsea
It’s amazing that Wenger has managed to keep us in the top four for so long when you compare what we have spent on teams and others have spent on players. This is not to say that any of those players are bad players but would you really swap 4/5 very good players for 1 very good-class player?
To think that we could have Giroud, Podolski and Cazorla for roughly the same price as Carroll cost Liverpool. Arteta, AOC and Gervinho for the same price as Aguero. Or all of our purchases that are in the squad at this moment (RVP included) for the same price as Torres, Carroll, Dzeko and Aguero or all of Liverpool’s most recent buys.
I’m extremely proud of our club for the purchases they have made with the funds they have spent and I’m so pleased to have a manager like Wenger and a CEO like Gazidis who can keep their heads whilst all around them scream for oil money and extravagant purchases.
It reminds me of one of my favourite poems by Rudyard Kipling.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
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