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Order from Chaos

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From ancient times it has been clear that human beings have an in-built drive and need to find patterns in outcomes, in order to make sense of what can otherwise appear to be the chaos of the everyday world. Chaos – the absence of pattern and certainty – is the antithesis of what leads to development, be it cultural, social or indeed sporting. Perhaps therefore it is not a surprising anthropological phenomenon that so many of the early ancient cultures produced origin myths dealing, to a greater or lesser extent, with the creation of order from chaos – from the Judaic Genesis story, Sumerian/Babylonian and Egyptian origin myths through to the Theogony of Hesiod and more latterly Ovid’s Metamorphoses.   Our interest, of course, is in understanding where Arsenal sit in the footballing firmament and most importantly of all whether we are on the path to developing the planned, ordered approach which will enable us to recover our former position in that world. 

In this article, I will look at how we are trying to move on in terms of the transfer strategy from the antediluvian chaos of the late Wenger and Emery eras – players seemingly bought with little or no thought to the structure into which they would fit; signed or re-signed on the kinds of terms which made little or no economic let alone football sense; contracts allowed to run down to the point of valuable assets being allowed to leave for way below their value or even on free transfers. 

Since arriving, Arteta has had to go through the fall of the post-Gazidis power structure with the rise and fall of Sanllehi along with the, shall we say, curious relationship between the club and Joorabchian which was allowed to develop under the watch of the current owners.  And then very quickly having to deal with the situation while suffering further chaos in the form of Covid.  Given this state of disorder, rather than focusing simply on the transfer activity of this season alone, I wanted to put this into the wider context of the current manager’s tenure.  At the same time, I am not looking at Arteta as having sole responsibility for transfers.  He is, we are told, working hand in hand with Edu and has been more latterly assisted by the new Director of Football, Richard Garlick.  As a result, I will seek to apply my analysis, such as it is, to the club’s transfer performance in general, rather than Arteta in particular. I will also be conceited enough to attempt a crude scoring – my own thoughts only, no scientific method applied – against the criteria set out in the preceding paragraph, broken down into 3 areas.

Old Boys

Let’s start by looking at the outgoings since Arteta has arrived.  It is fair to say that while split on many things, the Arsenal fanbase has been united in its belief that the overall issue was one of poverty of talent as opposed to paucity.  We were very top-heavy in terms of the playing staff.  Not only that, but the age profile of many of the players resulted in too many players with negligible sell-on value and top-drawer wages.  A perfect recipe for the undermotivated and overly comfortable to underdeliver. 

To rectify this, the manager has shifted a veritable Who’s Who of ne’er do wells who now go on to become someone else’s problem.

  • Luiz
  • Ozil
  • Guendouzi
  • Mustafi
  • Sokratis
  • Mikhitaryan
  • Martinez
  • Willock (yet to be confirmed)

Now some of these weren’t easy to shift and so the victory, whilst hardly Pyrrhic, has come at considerable financial (if not footballing) cost.  At the same time, with the exception of Martinez, can anyone genuinely posit a case for any of this list being kept on? And Martinez wanted to go as he needed first team guarantees.  And Guendouzi is, in the vernacular, a wrong’un. Upwards of £20m for Joe Willock, while not being a ludicrous sum at least reflects an attempt to extract something approaching value from a player who perhaps seems like something of a man out of his time in terms of the way Arteta talks about playing.  At 22 years of age, and with 40 appearances in the first team to date, it is hard to say that he has made the kind of impact required to force his way into the manager’s thinking in terms of a first team starter, as some younger players have done over the last 2 seasons.  That it is Newcastle who have come in for him probably tells us everything we need to know.

Of the remainder, Luiz is 34 and unreliable; Ozil is 33 in October and had increasingly become peripheral where it matters, on the pitch, to the point that he was an irrelevance for far too many games to be justifying the ludicrous salary on which he was renewed under Wenger.   Now the salary is not his fault. But it does come at a price.  Minimal effort and marginal efficacy do not meet the criteria to avoid rightful fan criticism.  Sokratis is 33 and Mikhitaryan 32.  Neither of them was ever convincing in the Premier League.  The same can be said for Mustafi despite the fact that he had the benefit of age on his side coming in at a sprightly 29 years of age.

Now I think we can agree that there is some more deadweight to go but I think that the above does represent a considerable attempt to move on a very good proportion of the sick, lame and lazy.  The decisions taken prior to Arteta’s joining meant that a significant number of these were effectively without sell-on value. Arteta will still have had to make the persuasive case to the board for ridding the club of certain turbulent players for the greater benefit of the club.

Grading- B+

New Boys

  • Cedric
  • Runarsson
  • Mari
  • Willian
  • Gabriel
  • Partey
  • Lokonga
  • Tavares
  • White

The first transfer window in January 2020 saw the arrival of the first 4 of the names above.  Given that Arteta had only been in situ for around a month, I would like to think that these deals were already fairly well progressed.  Given the cosy Edu-Sanllehi-Joorabchian troika, I may have some support there.  Cedric at least had decent premiership experience and could stand in at right back, a position which had been and continues to give us problems.  Mari was somewhat left field but given that we were desperately trying to lose Mustafi and Sokratis, there was at least some method in the madness in terms of providing an additional centre half who could come in and perform the task of defending more ably than the two players let go as well as not being tainted by the curse of advanced years.   

In the next window, we made 4 further signings, 2 of which have turned out to be very poor decisions.   Let’s start with the utter mess which is Willian. To date he has played perhaps 3 good games in total while at least for the first half of the season he seemed to take on Ozil’s mantle of being the highest paid stand in for the Invisible Man in history.  Runarsson seems to have been recommended by the new goalkeeping coach.  Perhaps he was recommended for his ability to make tea and a mean bacon sandwich.  It can’t possibly have been on the basis of his goalkeeping.  If this coach is still at the club, he ought to be given the loaded pistol and time on his own to take the decent way out.   The best signing of the summer was the central defender, Gabriel. He started very well but had some Luiz-esque moments.  He at least has the benefit of youth to provide cover for the occasional error.  Overall though he has been a valued addition.  Thomas Partey was the final newcomer and came in for a fair cost and with quite a bit of acclaim. In truth his first season was somewhat underwhelming. Again, this may have been due to the lack of creative options elsewhere in the midfield but to be honest for much of last season it was unclear to this viewer exactly what Arteta had sent the team out to do. I think we have seen enough to have higher hopes for this season from Partey. 

By this point, Arteta had won the FA Cup and Charity Shield so firmly had the owners onside. Owners who, in fairness, stumped up a fair amount of cash, especially since we had once again failed to qualify for the Champions League and were condemned to take part in football’s financial equivalent of the village fete tombola, the Europa League again. Overall, and let us put to one side the egregious signing of Willian for a second, the signings represented a further move towards lowering the age of the squad while adding some much-needed midfield steel in the form of Partey.  The fullness of time will tell whether the signing of Willian (14th August 2020) and the departure of Sanllehi (15th August 2020) were in any way linked.  As the lugubrious Francis Urquhart would certainly have said. You might well think that. I couldn’t possibly comment.

This season so far we have added Lokonga, Tavares and White.  Lokonga seems to have come with the approbation of some pretty high calibre people. Only time will tell but from the small amount seen so far he does seem to be a player blessed with the gifts of touch, calmness and foot speed over 5-10 yards to enable a burst through the lines. The latter was signally absent from the team during last season and will continue to be absent as long as Xhaka is allowed to roam the midfield like some anachronistic woolly mammoth attempting vainly to compete with cheetah and hyena for the pickings on the high veldt.  

Tavares is somewhat left field, literally and metaphorically, as he didn’t manage to hold down a first team place at his former club and there are stories of immaturity in approach not a little reminiscent of the above mentioned Guendouzi.  Again, from the little we have seen, he does seem to bring pace, drive and energy, three qualities which the human boomerang that is Kolasinac could in truth never be accused of possessing. 

Finally, to date, White has been signed as our most expensive defender by a distance.  Now undoubtedly he has performed extremely well both at Leeds and Brighton, to the extent that he made the England squad for the Euros and there was clearly other interest in him this summer.  For me, he has to prove himself as superior to Holding and to a lesser extent Chambers in order to help understand why the money hasn’t been spent elsewhere in the squad, most notably in the areas of creative midfielder and goalscorer. 

The most obvious characteristic shared by the incoming group of players, one player apart, is that of youth.  Arteta has clearly focused on bringing down the average age of the squad and is not afraid to request the funds to bring it about.  Questions however do still exist around the creativity gap which does not at time of writing seem to have been closed through external means. All in all, I will give a fairly parsimonious mark to the club in this area.  I think I can see a pattern forming which may in time be proved correct but to date the incoming players haven’t been of the expected level to provide me with confidence that the target of getting into the Champions League will be hit this season.

Grading: C-  (excluding Willian)

Grading: D-  (including Willian)

Re-signings/Promotions – To First Team Only

  • Saka
  • Martinelli
  • Balogun
  • Smith Rowe
  • Aubameyang
  • Holding

Work in this area has been unequivocally excellent.  Modern young players have come through a grinding process to make it anywhere near the first team.  Over the time they develop at the club, they will have seen hundreds of teammates let go with almost certainly a number of very close friends among them.  This hardens them to the nature of life and the football industry to the extent that they are quite able to mentally compartmentalise their own interests from those of the club.  This is shown in the wider footballing tendency for players to jump clubs at a young age (examples being Sancho and Bellingham) rather than stay at their alma mater. It can also result in the playing-off of the current club of residence against potential future employers. See the likes of Pogba and Neymar who seem no sooner to have moved club than the whole transfer merry-go-round starts again with comments leaked via favoured and favourable media outlets.   As a result, it is hugely to Arsenal’s credit that we have tied up the futures of Saka, Martinelli, Balogun, Smith-Rowe and Holding since last summer.  The ability to re-sign these undoubted talents may not be unlinked to the jettisoning of the deadweight already covered above and the manager and youth setup hierarchy being able to convince talented young players that there is a path to the first team based on meritocracy rather than gerontocracy. The one partial fly in the ointment here has been the signing of Aubameyang who has really struggled for form since signing the new contract.  Having said that, we were not to know of his illness and family issues at that point. And there we return to Theogony – The Fates dispensing the thread of life and cutting it where they will.  Some things are just beyond our control. Chaos from order. 

Grading: A+

48 Drinks to “Order from Chaos”

  1. 1
    Bathgooner says:

    Top stuff CER. Superb analysis. I can say this because I am in total agreement.

  2. 2
    TTG says:

    This is a most interesting way of analysing our activity and overall I have ver6 little quarrel with your assessments . I also feel we are in the middle of the process. My contacts who are usually well-informed tell me that Maddison will come and that we are close to signing a goalkeeper . If it is Ramsdale for close to £40 m then serious questions need to be asked Maybe we give that coach some more bullets and urge him to do the decent thing .
    I was interested in what I thought was a very thoughtful comment by the Brighton Chairman who described the negotiation for White and how clear Arsenal’s perception of what they were looking for was . That is a promising sign and possibly indicative of some real order out of chaos . Unload Kola, Torreira, Bellerin , Runarsson and Willian and sacrifice AMN, Nketiah , Nelson and Willock and we can sculpt a much better-balanced squad .
    Great work CER and achieved through serious discomfort – an appropriate metaphor for our season !

  3. 3
    scruzgooner says:

    well in, cer. i think you’re right, in many cases, and that the list of ne’er do wells is accurate…except for shoehorning in willock. certainly not a ne’er do well, he is much more of a ne’er given a chance. i agree that taking newcastle’s dosh for him is the right way, but i surely don’t like seeing him painted with the same tarred brush as, for example, guendouzi.

    i also think kola should be well in the “old boys” network, and will be happy when he’s also moved on. i’ve been really surprised he has been seen this preseason in arsenal colors.

  4. 4
    TTG says:

    Interesting chart I saw on another blog
    “Minutes per chance created open play 2020-21
    54 Smith Rowe
    54 Odegaard
    64 Willian
    65 Ceballos
    65 Martinelli
    77 Tierney
    88 Lacazette
    88 Saka
    105 Bellerin
    106 Aubameyang
    128 Partey
    148 Xhaka
    202 Pepe”

    Immediate comments are the disappointing figures from Pepe , Partey and Xhaka . ESR clearly made a major impact on his arrival last season

  5. 5
    North Bank Ned says:

    An erudite analysis, CER. Like others, I find little or nothing to disagree with in your assessments.

    Perhaps the late Wenger/Emery era was a Schumpeterian period necessary for Artetian innovation to emerge — or maybe it was just the mess you imply…

  6. 6
    OsakaMatt says:

    Great review of a the last year or so from a transfer perspective CER, thanks.
    I generally agree too, and also with TTG’s list of those to move on @2, though
    Xhaka should be on it and it’s disappointing we couldn’t get rid this summer.

    We still need a RB, AM and another in CM to me but we’ll have to go with
    what we’ve got for the first few games now.

  7. 7
    North Bank Ned says:

    Wenger was derided for offering over-30s only one-year contracts but in retrospect it looks like just another thing he got right.

  8. 8
    ClockEndRider says:

    Slowly, slowly getting back in the game….thx vm Bath and TTG. I had never realised just how many colours of the rainbow could be supported by the palette covered by post-op bruising!
    Scruz, you’re right in that the Willock story only appeared fairly late and I had to do a certain amount of reworking to ensure I captured it. While I certainly didn’t intend to include him in the list of ne’er do wells ( although obviously I still succeeded!), I don’t think it changes the overall view that he is a player we can afford to move on both for the sake of the club and his own career. A win-win.
    Re Kola and others, I opted not to include a list of players who would be on the list to be moved on in order to keep the piece manageable.

  9. 9
    ClockEndRider says:

    Completely agree with your list of those to be moved on.very interesting re Maddison as well. We can but hope.

  10. 10
    ClockEndRider says:

    I always thought that Wenger’s one year for over 30s policy was driven more by the building of the new stadium and the concomitant financial constraints than any footballing criteria. I suspect he knew that Bergkamp thrived on stability and with a young family there were other drivers which would lead to the player taking less money and still staying rather than suffering the upheaval of a move, especially given his salutary experience at Inter.

  11. 11
    North Bank Ned says:

    CER@10: Hope you are rapidly on the mend after your op.

    You are almost certainly right that financial considerations drove Wenger’s over-30 rule of thumb. There was angst at the time about top players leaving as a result, as I am sure you will remember, but, equally, there was no question of the club being saddled with high-earning veterans past the zenith of their careers.

    Impressive transfer business from PSG to get Messi, Ramos, Wijnaldum and Donnarumma on frees, though it is undoubtedly reflected in the wage bill. Its offloading list must now be longer than even ours.

  12. 12
    ClockEndRider says:

    Much better, thanks Ned. Walked (after a fashion) using the sticks for probably 5-600 yards this morning. Exhausted now but the fact I can do it only a week after surgery is testament to the amazing progress made in surgical methods.
    Yes you’re right, you’re right Bergkamp was one of the few older players whom we wanted to keep on. Adams, Bould, Keown, Dixon. All were allowed to leave or retire. None were on ludicrous contracts. It’s almost as though all organisational learning was simply discarded over the last 10 years…..

  13. 13
    TTG says:

    Wenger was definitely right with his insistence on reducing the length of deals for older players. Had he slipped off this mortal coil, the Willian deal would have him turning rapidly in his grave. Thankfully he is still very much with us .
    But his ‘ socialist ‘ wage structure created major challenges and may have cost us the services of one or two potential signings and one or two players who slipped off elsewhere at a time when we wanted to retain them.
    I was told that Arsene got very nervous close to a deal’s completion and needed buttressing as the horse trading went on . Both Dein and Gazidis were on hand to provide this but usually they deferred to Arsene ( or Arsense) eventually.The failure to snap up Xabi Alonso and unite him with Fabregas was very disappointing. There was a deal close to being done there .

  14. 14
    bt8 says:

    Magnum opus. And that’s just the opening paragraph.

    Will let you know my response to the other ones in due course. Cheers Mr. CE Rider.

  15. 15
    Osakamatt says:

    Hadn’t realised you weren’t fighting
    fit and glad to hear you’re on the mend
    and out the dreaded treatment room👍
    well, dreaded at The Arsenal anyway

  16. 16
    OsakaMatt says:

    Just to put out a last orders call for the HolicsRopeyLeague in 21/22 Fantasy League….

    If you’d like to join in the playing picking pleasure please do!
    Just let me know by posting here and I will send you the code

  17. 17
    ClockEndRider says:

    Thanks Matt. Elective surgery , nothing life threatening but quite painful enough for an inveterate coward like me. Post-surgery opiate pain relief a delight but not terribly conducive to writing pieces requiring concentration!

  18. 18
    Potsticker says:

    OM, I know nothing of fantasy leagues, but will join in if you don’t make me sign any reps and warranties, or indemnify anyone or anything, or commit to binding arbitration, and if it will lead to increased personal happiness. Thanks in advance.

  19. 19
    Trev says:

    Excellent analysis, CER.
    One or two points to add when I have a bit more time but overall I would agree with the A+ grade you have given yourself at the foot of the main post 🤣👍🏻

  20. 20
    ClockEndRider says:

    I promise that was not the intention!

  21. 21
    OsakaMatt says:

    I can agree all of that quite happily!
    We will send you the code soon….

  22. 22
    OsakaMatt says:

    Glad to hear it CER, you just can’t get the good stuff post-op in Japan😂

  23. 23
    North Bank Ned says:

    Tolaji Bola has joined Rotherham on a permanent deal, fee undisclosed. Another young full-back who couldn’t quite make the breakthrough with us shipped out, but good luck to him in League One.

  24. 24
    Silly Second Yella says:

  25. 25
    OsakaMatt says:

    Hi again Potsticker – code sent by e-mail.
    I hope it works.

  26. 26
    TTG says:

    Greetings Potsticker
    We agreed two rules . One Gunner in the squad at all times and no S***s players .
    Good luck !

  27. 27
    TTG says:

    I understand the Ramsdale interest is genuine and the deal nearly done .
    I will get an expert opinion on him but he’s not a keeper that has a high profile
    There were cheaper ways of filling this hole but he was clearly the one Arsenal wanted .

  28. 28
    OsakaMatt says:

    Best of luck to Bola at Rotherham.
    I read Oseki-Tutu has gone on another
    loan – this time to Forest.
    Best of luck to him too.

  29. 29
    Uplympian says:

    Excellent analysis of our current squad pluses & minuses CER. My only disagreement is you were too kind to Willian – must have been after taking your pain relief medication 😉
    The lack of any further incomings with the season starting in just 2 days time is very concerning – lots of squad enhancements still outstanding. I think MA overly struck on Odergaard and won’t move ahead until he firmly knows if he will be available. This shouldn’t stop other positions being filled though.
    Overall though there’s not been that many incomings with our competitors, apart from Yanited – looks like there’s going to be a late trolley dash of bargain hunters in a couple of weeks time.

  30. 30
    Uplympian says:

    Matt, I’ll give our fantasy league a go this season if you can send me the code. In the past I could not dirty myself by having any spu*s players allowed but pleased to see this rule has been re-introduced. Im extremely busy still in the midst of the bowls ( lawn ) season, along with other involvements so will possibly find I miss changing my team on some weeks – you can start engraving my name on the wooden spoon quite early 🤓

  31. 31
    TTG says:

    Bravo Uply. It’s become an elite league this season !

  32. 32
    North Bank Ned says:

    Uply@30: I think you are right about MA and Ødegaard. He sees more to work with there than with Maddison, or at least he knows what he has got to work with. The Norweigan would also make it easier to play ESR in the wider left-sided role where he seems to do best, and which allows Auba to revert to being up top.

  33. 33
    bt8 says:

    “…as long as Xhaka is allowed to roam the midfield like some anachronistic woolly mammoth attempting vainly to compete with cheetah and hyena for the pickings on the high veldt.”


  34. 34
    bt8 says:

    Having at last finished reading your entire article I can now say great job CER.

  35. 35
    OsakaMatt says:

    Will do ASAP, I am experiencing some technical difficulties with the code but trying to sort out now.
    There’s quite tough competition for the wooden spoon in our league so you’ll have to be at your er….best

  36. 36
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Excellent analysis CER.

    The club’s key failure in transitioning from the Wenger years has been in underestimating the importance of one of Arsène’s key tenet: a cohesive footballing philosophy focused on attacking football is the most efficient way of winning football games. It is not just beauty for its own sake. When you have a footballing philosophy like that it is easier to build well-functioning squads across player transitions.

    Our transfer business since then and until the three promising signings lately has been completely haphazard and ad-hoc. And negligent given that no thought was ever put into place about the beating heart of the playing eleven, the midfield combinations.

    Wenger most definitely undervalued the need for tactical tweaks especially against oppositions with stronger starting eleven, especially given the maniacally detailed tactical preparations top level football teams now do. And whoever came in after him should have been guided/encouraged to improve in that area while preserving that core tenet. But given that there has really been no other football person in the club except for the coaching staff both Unai and Mikel — both completely inexperienced in the English premier league management — worked in a vacuum of ideas beyond the preparation for the next match. If Mikel wants to be successful he will have to step back, decide on a footballing philosophy that values attacking spark and goals more than the positional/tactical micromanagement he seems to enjoy more, and the club needs to do their best to find the players that suit that philosophy.

    Lokonga and White, in their limited pre-season performances, did demonstrate that a much better (compared to the seasons before) degree of thought/analysis have gone into signing these players and there is (hopefully) a footballing philosophy taking shape in the feet and minds of the playing squad…

  37. 37
    North Bank Ned says:

    It is West Brom away in the unaccustomed second round of the league cup.

  38. 38
    Uplympian says:

    I’ve been called worse Matt! 😂. Hope you get the tech stuff sorted without too much aggravation.

  39. 39
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks Uply.

    Don’t know why but last years participants can all join again, however the league code
    comes up as invalid for new participants.
    I’m just checking with the Help Desk, then I will send to you and Potsticker.
    Should be 11 of us this season, a nice footballerly number

  40. 40
    ecg says:

    I can’t believe we allowed PSG to beat us to Messi.

  41. 41
    OsakaMatt says:

    Yeah, I’d have preferred Messi to Maddison
    as back up for ESR.

  42. 42
    TTG says:

    It seems Ramsdale is off which will please most of the fanbase who were underwhelmed . Chris Wheatley was convinced the deal was almost complete and he is very close to the club but the figure seems obscene for an unconvincing reserve keeper . Let’s hope we have a plan B that’s not stuck with Runarsson

  43. 43
    Pangloss says:

    ttg@31 (I’ve been a bit remiss at checking the blog) – “elite” league? I think not – as Matt observes, last year’s participants are automatically registered, so Players, in their 2021/2 incarnation, will be there again to prop things up.


  44. 44
    TTG says:

    You’re too modest Pangloss . By their very participation in such a prestigious competition all participants are elite . We are Gooners after all .
    The new rules should make it an interesting and relatively simple competition

  45. 45
    OsakaMatt says:

    Looking forward to the first preview of the season 😃

  46. 46
    Uplympian says:

    Thanks for the code OM, I’ve now entered my FPL team. Beware, the wooden spoon contest has real competition now!

  47. 47
    North Bank Ned says:

    It is with the Gang of Four and their blue pencils, OM.

  48. 48
    Pangloss says: