Arsenal fans laughing at Manchester United are kidding themselves


Perhaps it’s because I spend far too much time on Twitter, but on a number of occasions recently I have come across some Arsenal fans poking fun at how much Manchester United had to spend to bring Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford.

There’s no denying that spending £89m on a player that had left for less than a million four years prior is bad from a business point of view, and this is a point that has been made by many commentators over the course of this summer. However, whilst funny to some, it’s a statement that means very little in reality. Manchester United have decided to part with a world record fee to acquire the services of their former midfielder for two reasons – one, because they believe he is worth it, and two, because they can comfortably afford it. The fact that he left the club in 2012 is now something that is resigned to history, and it’s possible that had Pogba stayed in Manchester rather than departing for Juventus, he might never have become the player United have just paid a huge fee for. No matter how Arsenal fans or anyone else wants to spin it, the truth of the matter is that Manchester United have just signed one of the hottest talents in European football, signalling their intent to drag themselves back to the peak of English and European football no matter the cost. Unlike some, nobody can argue that mediocrity is something that is accepted at Old Trafford.

As an Arsenal fan myself, I can’t help but feel insanely jealous. I’m not oblivious to the fact that in terms of the financials, we are not on the same level as United are – their vastly more lucrative commercial and sponsorship deals put them on another level from us – but really it isn’t about the money. This summer, what Manchester United have done, and have done well, is act in a manner that befits their status as a football club. As one of the richest clubs in the world, they know they have the resources to go out and fill the holes in their squad with top talent, and they’ve acted swiftly and decisively in order to do so. Pogba might be the the most high-profile transfer of the summer, but by early July they had also acquired the Villarreal defender Eric Bailly, Borussia Dortmund’s attacking midfielder Henrik Mkhitaryan and the one and only Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Bringing in Jose Moutinho after a disappointing couple of years under Louis van Gaal, United identified their targets early and made sure that they got them. It’s a smart, sensible and productive way of doing business, irrespective of the fees being paid, and I don’t think anyone could blame the Manchester United fans for feeling incredibly optimistic for the season ahead. The fact that they have started the season on top form, defeating Leicester in the Community Shield before winning their opening two games of the Premier League season, is no coincidence, just as Arsenal opening their account with yet another opening day defeat is not an accident either. Preparation really does matter.

Lets compare and contrast United’s dealings with Arsenal’s summer, which once again has been defined by crippling indecision and inactivity. Back in May, the club dipped their toes into the market uncharacteristically early and signed Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka for a fee of around £30m, prompting me to even write a piece suggesting that perhaps this was the summer the club finally got their business done nice and early. At one point it looked like that might even be the case, with the surprise news coming in early June that Arsenal had activated the £20m release clause in Jamie Vardy’s contract at Leicester City. This move for the 29-year-old striker was a tacit acceptance from Arsene Wenger and the club’s management that there was a need for a new striker at the club, with a long-term injury to Danny Welbeck and poor form from Theo Walcott towards the end of the 2015/16 season prompting further calls for reinforcements from fans and pundits alike. Demand for a striker has been a consistent topic amongst Gunners fans for the best part of four years, with Robin van Persie not having been replaced by a top class forward since he departed in 2012, and back in June it looked like finally there was going to be a player coming in who could finally spearhead the team’s attack for the next few years. There were also calls for a new centre-back to come in to partner Laurent Koscielny, but with Xhaka signed and Vardy seemingly set to come as well, a defender was the last piece of the puzzle that would surely arrive sometime later in the window.

However, to the surprise of many, Vardy turned Arsenal down and opted instead to extend his contract at the Premier League champions. His rejection still came at an early stage of the transfer window though, so there was still plenty of time to identify and recruit an alternative, but we sit here now, over two months on, and no signing has been forthcoming. From Alvaro Morata to Gonzalo Higuain, Alexandre Lacazette to Antoine Griezmann, Arsenal have been linked with countless strikers throughout the summer, but with less than two weeks remaining in the window, the club look no closer to signing the long sought-after centre-forward than they did the day Jamie Vardy turned them down. In stark contrast to the business done by United, Arsenal have instead waited all summer doing precisely nothing, seemingly waiting for the absolutely perfect deal to raise it’s head rather than proactively seeking a solution to the problems their squad faces. Arsene Wenger has long been accused of failing to acclimatise to the changing face of the modern game, and his approach to the transfer market is perhaps the clearest example of that. He has proven in recent years that he is willing to spend money when a genuinely world class talent comes available – nobody could argue that the £42.5m and £35m deals for Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez haven’t proved value for money – but he still seems unwilling to pay fees which he perceives to be over-the-odds for players. Unfortunately for Arsenal fans, his valuation for players appears to be below what the market currently demands, and the end result is this stalemate where the club doesn’t enter the market with any sort of proactive or coherent plan. It’s a maddening state of affairs for everyone who follows the club.

The Paul Pogba deal might well represent the insane inflation we are now experiencing in modern football, with the new Premier League TV deal a prime factor behind that rise in prices, but whatever anyone thinks of it, it’s not a phenomenon that is going to end any time soon. Like it or not, this is the new reality for English clubs, and there’s little point in moaning about it. Adapt or die, as the old saying goes, and the most important thing to take away from the Pogba deal is that Manchester United are adapting well, whilst Arsenal are slowly dying. The days in which the club could not compete because of the financial restrictions they faced because of the stadium debt are long gone, and right now the only real thing preventing Arsenal from realising their potential is themselves. Spending £89m on a player they previously sold for a pittance might seem funny to some opposition fans, but deep down I think everyone recognises that United are a club going places as they have grasped the initiative presented to them through their financial prowess. Arsenal, meanwhile, are forced to watch on from the sidelines – but only because that’s where they choose to be.

You can follow Callum on Twitter at @callumjp92.

Callum Perritt

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