The summer transfer window saw Arsenal spend over €230 million on players. While this might be a welcome bit of news for fans, I want to use it to shed light on an issue I feel isn’t being discussed enough regarding the North London side. They are simply bad at selling players.
This year Arsenal made just over €67 million from player departures. While this still leaves them in a negative net spend, it is a welcome improvement on their sales from previous years. A statistic which I feel illustrates just how poor the North London side are at selling players is that their record sale is still Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin to Liverpool for just €38 million – hardly a mouth-watering fee. When you compare this to Liverpool’s current record sale of €135 million for Phillipe Coutinho it doesn’t make for a nice comparison for Mikel Arteta’s side. Particularly when you consider that Arsenal has, for the past 20 years, been a team that always sold their best players e.g., Henry, Fabregas, Van Persie, and Sanchez. Arsenal’s record sale looks equally as poor when compared to that of the other Big Six teams.
Secondly, for the last few years Arsenal haven’t really had any players of worth which they were also willing to sell. The Gunners having been out of the Champions League for the bones of a decade illustrates how subpar their players have been of late. However, I think a major issue the club has had in recent years regarding player sales is due to their manager.
Let me make it clear that as an avid Arsenal fan I am incredibly grateful for everything Mikel Arteta has done to improve the club and this piece should not be construed as a call for the Spaniard’s head. I just think his attitude towards players that aren’t in his plans makes it very difficult to negotiate the sale of those players.
In economic theory there is a concept called the winner’s curse. It describes a phenomenon which occurs in common value auctions where the most optimistic bidder always wins the auction but, as a result, tends to overpay for the item being sold. Where I feel this might have a parallel with Arteta is that his actions towards out of favour players makes it very hard for bidders to be overoptimistic about them.
Arsenal’s biggest sale of the summer transfer window was their third-choice centre forward, Florian Balogun. The US international joined Monaco for €30 million, which isn’t necessarily bad money for a player the team won’t be using anyway, but I can’t help but feel they could’ve got more for him.
Florian Balogun is a starter for the US national team and last season he scored 21 league goals in Ligue 1 for Reims while on loan from Arsenal. Yes, there can be questions over the quality of Ligue 1, but surly finishing only 7 goals shy of Kylian Mbappe while at a mid-table team counts for something? I feel had Balogun been a Reims player and scored the same number of goals and Arsenal tried to buy him this season, they would’ve had to pay well over €30 million for him. Where I feel Arsenal shot themselves in the foot was in their public treatment of Balogun.
It was well documented that all outgoing players (including Kieran Tierney, Rob Holding, Nuno Tavares, Nicholas Pepe, and Sambi Lokonga) were training away from the Arsenal first team squad because they weren’t in Arteta’s plans. While I can understand that Arteta does this from the perspective of preserving unity and atmosphere among the first team, it is very hard for Arsenal’s technical directors to go into a negotiation and ask for a lot money for a player that they quite clearly don’t want to keep. At the very beginning of the season Arsenal’s first choice striker, Gabriel Jesus, picked up a knee injury and looked set to miss a few weeks. Even at this point Arteta didn’t bring Balogun into the matchday squad.
The message was clear, Arteta and Arsenal didn’t want Balogun. They viewed him only as a way of generating money for the club. This is something which Arteta is going to have to improve on if he wants to reduce Arsenal’s hefty net spend over the next few years. The seller in a transaction must always adopt a strategy whereby they effectively communicate to the buyer that they are selling them something which has value. In simple terms, pretend that you are perfectly happy to keep what you are selling unless your valuation is met.
This is something Arteta frequently fails to do by regularly freezing out fringe players from the squad and making them train by themselves. It isn’t a coincidence that the club has failed to generate much money from other signings which were isolated form the first team squad as well like Ozil, Aubameyang, Maitland Niles, Cedric, or Pepe.