Arsenal currently sit fifth in the Premier League and are three points from a spot in the Champions League. A more troubling statistic is that Arsenal are ten points from rivals Tottenham, a club that is going through what Arsenal faced in their move to a new stadium. After a overall unsuccessful January transfer window in which only saw Denis Suarez join from Barcelona, Arsenal are faced with a rather daunting battle to win the Europa League and/or attain a top four spot in the Premier League. Arsenal’s most recent loss to Manchester City paints two pictures. One where Arsenal are a club in disarray caused by a lack of funding and disorganized upper management. The other picture is one of hope, but this hope comes at a cost, one in which Arsenal’s supporters may be disappointed to accept.
Stan Kroenke, owner of Arsenal among other sports franchises, refuses to invest even the most minute amount of funding to complete the rebuild the club most desperately needs. Arsenal are at this current time a club that is completely self-funded. All transfer funds originate in the tradition means of revenue: match day sales, sponsorships, outgoing transfers, and merchandise. While every Premier League side above Arsenal, and even those below, aid these origins of transfer funds from investment by club owners. It is no coincidence that investment leads to success. Even everyday business must take on forms of investment to grow and expand. After recent reports of a meager, by footballing standards, 45 million pound transfer budget, supporters and journalists alike have raised the questions over Arsenal’s future.
There must be serious questions about what Arsenal told Unai Emery during the interview process about the funding he would get to turn around a squad that finished a distant sixth only last year. A man like Unai Emery, who needed to rebuild his reputation, would certainly not agree to join Arsenal if the proper support and infrastructure were in place to revitalize his managing career. Yet, Arsenal were unable to make any permanent transfers in January and are tasked with rebuilding a defensive line on a limited budget. It is important to call into question the accuracy of the 45 million pound transfer budget. It most certainly does not include outgoing transfers, but does it account for the new Adidas kit deal and potential Champions League revenue, which could all provide a boost to funding? Either way there is much to be done over the summer transfer window, as although Emery is said to be given time to properly construct his team, he will face a tremendous uphill battle to recruit both promising and seasoned footballers without Champions League football.
The Gunners are currently facing an identity crisis as well. Arsenal started the game against Manchester City with a 3-4-3 formation that lacked the necessary creativity to catch City off-guard, an albeit daunting task. Both Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil were found on the bench with Ozil never coming on during the match. It is unlikely either will be with the club come the start of the 19/20 season as Ramsey is all but confirmed to be signing with Juventus on a free while Ozil’s outrageous wages will all but certainly reduce his transfer fee. However, back to the match, Arsenal were noticeably uncomfortable in the beginning phases as players looked unorganized and effective communication was lacking. Lichsteiner proved that he is simply not up to Premier League standards at this stage in his career and Kolasinac is more a left midfielder than a left-wing back. Both Lacazette and Aubameyeng were left without any meaningful service which basically meant that Arsenal took care of City’s major concern through their own doing. This is not to discredit Manchester City as they clearly showed that they are a class above Arsenal in every regard. One gift of reprieve for supporters was the performance by Guendouzi and Torreira, which lends itself to the hopeful future that Arsenal may find success.
Arsenal now has the opportunity to begin next season with the return of loaned and more experienced players in Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe. Arsenal should no longer be concerned with adding talent in attacking positions unless a player should emerge that could make a significant upgrade to the squad. Even the midfield looks to be in a good position for the future. However, the obvious and most talked about concern lies in defense. Rob Holding is considered to be the future, and he showed that such was warranted. Unfortunately his injury highlighted the fact that Arsenal cannot cope with him out of the starting eleven. Bellerin is another player that should be considered a mainstay in the team until further notice, although he too suffered a season ending injury. Monreal, Koscienly, and Mustafi are simply not good enough to enable Arsenal to challenge for a top four spot. The mentality of “we will score more than you” is not good enough when you can let in questionable goals on any given occasion, and Emery’s style of high pressing is only successful as long as defensive communication and competence are present. As stated earlier, Kolasinac is not a effective Premier League defender, which should raise questions about his importance to a manager that prefers to play a 4-2-3-1 formation. Sokratis has displayed his usefulness and leadership, and his return to the squad should aid in quelling the deficiencies for the remainder of the season. Yet, Arsenal need to sign a player of the caliber of Virgil van Dijk, which cost Liverpool over 70 million pounds. It is no doubt difficult to find players of such quality, which is why a premium is placed on the value.
So where does such hope lie for Arsenal? In its youngsters like it did when Arsenal were tasked when dealing with the debts that resulted in moving to the Emirates. While that team did not face the rapid and astonishing amount of investment made by top clubs, Arsenal can still find success in Emery’s tactical implementation. If Unai Emery can continue to develop players into the mold that fits his system, and move on from players that are either unwilling or unable to conform, then success lies in the future. It is crucial that if Arsenal do not plan on spending the money that is needed to acquire more experienced players, then they must spend the money they do have on younger less experienced players to adapt and learn Emery’s style of play. It is important for the club to find regular minutes for Nelson, Nketiah, and Maitland-Niles, and Smith Rowe in the starting eleven and at least be at the training ground to practice Emery’s style next season. Arsenal must then focus on adding at least two promising or experienced defenders early in the summer.
It appears that Arsenal will not receive any significant investment by its owner anytime soon, and unless an unthinkable offer comes to the table that gets Kroenke to sell the club, he wont be going anywhere. Money will be tight until Arsenal can rework its wage structure and offload unnecessary players in addition to qualifying for the Champions League. The club must completely reorganize its way of doing business and hire a technical director in the same vein of Mislantat, such as the rumored Monchi. The twenty game unbeaten run may have gotten Arsenal supporters hopes a little too high, but make no mistake the future for Arsenal is bright if patience and prudence prevail.