Arsenal have been a club of chop and change since the day Arsene Wenger left the club. We went from a manager does it all model, to what Ivan Gazidis termed a ‘continental approach’ with specialized roles for different aspects of running a football club – right from recruitment (Sven Mislintat), the contacts man (Raul Sanllehi) and contractual negotiations (Huss Fahmy).
There is a lot to talk about when it comes to these changes but let’s put it this way. In the last 2 years, Arsenal had 3 different coaches with every single person in that ‘continental model’ leaving the club at different points in time.
This background is important as it was in the middle of all these vacillations in direction that Arsenal hired Edu Gaspar.
Edu, a former Arsenal player and Invincible became the club’s first ever technical director in July, 2019.
So, what does his role as technical director entail?
This is clarified by the club:
“Edu will coordinate the work of our first-team coaching group, the academy and player scouting and recruitment in order to oversee the constant building up and efficient strengthening of our squad.”
Speaking to Gilberto Silva , Edu emphasized his role would inolve ‘finding the balance in squad building between very short, medium and long-term periods.’
The club would have ideally liked to have made this appointment a bit earlier considering the summer window, but with Edu playing the role of general coordinator with the Brazilian Football Confederation in the Copa America, Arsenal had to wait.
Since plans were already put in place, led by Sanllehi, the 2019 summer window was one Edu didn’t really get involved in much despite travelling with the squad in the pre-season tour of America.
One of Edu’s first moves at Arsenal was to restructure the club’s academy scouting set-up across various levels. Edu, working in close conjunction with Per Mertesacker took the decision to let go of a number of academy staff, most notably Steve Morrow who had been a key part of the youth set-up for over 12 years.
When Unai Emery was sacked, Edu was tasked with shortlisting managerial candidates with the relevant technical expertise. This was explained by Sanllehi who spoke about the connection between manager and technical director being extremely important.
He went on to explain that in the face-to-face meeting Edu had with Mikel Arteta, this ‘connection’ became very evident and was one of the factors behind the appointment of the former Arsenal captain.
Edu’s first transfer window as Arsenal’s technical director came earlier this year in January. It was a challenging mid-season window when the club was restricted to only loans. Arteta was keen on bringing in a ball playing left footed centre back and a right back for cover.
At the time, Mikel was very clear in his assessment of Maitland Niles – he considered Ainsley to be an attacking midfielder and not a right back. Apart from this technicality, it was also a time when the player had disciplinary issues in regards to being late to training and his future was up in the air.
The club brought in Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares. It has often been used as a beating stick for Edu considering the former is represented by Arturo Canales and the latter, by Kia Joorabchian – both agents known to be close with Arsenal. It made fans ponder whether these were sensible signings given the circumstances, or if the club simply took the easy way out?
There has been a lot of inconsistency in the reporting when it comes to the fee for Mari. The latest report from Brazil indicates that the official accounts of Flamengo show a fee of just £3.6million which is low risk, high reward. Similarly, the loan fee for Cedric turned out to be pretty insignificant – just £1m. A couple of questions remain unanswered:
1. What was the agent fee involved in these 2 deals?
2. Why was a 29 year-old right back given a 4 year contract?
Whilst we probably won’t ever get accurate reasons for both these questions, it is worth noting that Sanllehi was the head of football operations that window. What this means is he had the final say in approving these deals, so the ultimate responsibility in case of any discrepancy falls on him.
Once COVID hit, Arsenal took drastic measures by announcing 55 redundancies. In addition to these, the club wanted to trim down the organisational structure and the decision to relieve Raul Sanllehi was made. The club emphasized the priority to invest in the first team, which makes sense when you consider that performance on the pitch is the only thing that can financially sustain a club that strives to be self-sustaining.
Additionally, a number of key scouts including the renowned Francis Cagigao were relieved of their duties which was a move led by Edu. Speaking on this to the media, Edu stated:
“The decision we made, to change a little bit our infrastructure, it is clear for me. I want to work with less people. I want to work with StatDNA a lot more, which we have internally here at the club and is very important. The people I want to work with, I want them to be very close to me. I want to create a group of people working together. I don’t want individual people working in one area or for one country. I want a group working together. Less people with much more responsibility. That is my vision and for me in this process the most important thing is that everyone is very clear on the responsibilities which everyone has to make the right decision.”
This summer window was always going to be challenging due to the impact of COVID. It goes over and above just the revenues at Arsenal taking a massive hit. To spend more, the club has to sell more. And whilst Arsenal do have sellable assets, there was a struggle to get rid of fringe players as teams from other leagues who would normally be keen on them couldn’t afford it.
As a result, Arsenal were unable to get all the business they wanted with respect to the incomings and finished the window with a bloated squad, being forced to leave out 2 players from Premier league and European registration – Sokratis and Ozil, the latter’s exclusion being a huge topic of debate after every defeat.
It is quite harsh to blame Edu for a lack of sales considering a lot of the players brought in previous years are on huge wages. Take Sead Kolasinac for example, there was interest from Germany, clubs were willing to pay a transfer fee, but they couldn’t match the mammoth wage he earns at Arsenal.
Then, there are players like Ozil, Sokratis and Mustafi whose contracts all expire next summer. It is more lucrative for them to go on a free – they could potentially merit a higher wage with a signing on fee. Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira, both of whom would command a good fee in a normal market, were restricted to season long loans.
The club did well to strengthen the spine of the team this window with the additions of Gabriel Magalhães and Thomas Partey. However, Willian is proving to be an underwhelming signing thus far on a 3-year contract and sizeable wage. Stop gap signings aren’t always bad, but it is imperative the club learn from past mistakes and take corrective action.
Arsenal have the 4th best defensive record in the league this season, but struggle going forward. The club has the same attack as last season plus Willian minus Ozil. ‘Creative midfielder’ is a position Arsenal failed to strengthen in. The Houssem Aouar saga went deep into the window, but collapsed a couple days before the deadline.
There are many versions reported in the media – some state it was the high agent fees being demanded, whilst others say it was Lyon’s high valuation. Another logical way to look at it was whether Arsenal could afford to bring in one more player which would then mean 3 players on the wage bill being left out of registration altogether.
The good thing, however is Arsenal recognize the need for this type of player. It has been widely reported that the club are looking at creative options this coming January window. What is quite interesting as well is that Edu recognizes the need for athleticism and physicality in the modern game – he is quick to point out that Gabriel and Partey have improved the physical qualities in the team.
Gabriel is a great example of a signing that ticks all boxes for a club like Arsenal – Young, costs £25-30m and is able to make an immediate impact and improvement in the team. This is the blueprint the Gunners need to accomplish in the attacking areas – the coming windows are about creativity and flair.
In today’s competitive market, these type of signings are not going to be easy to pull off every single time. Sometimes, clubs will demand a much bigger fee and in other instances, a club with greater attraction than Arsenal could come in. It is a challenge Edu must deal with and find ways to come out on top.
Arsenal have a fresh start in the summer of 2021. With multiple player contracts on huge wages expiring coupled with the potential of selling several players for decent value in better market conditions, Arsenal need to put a plan in place to come out of this rebuild looking much stronger. The club needs a period of stability at the top so the project can realize its full potential. It takes time to build a strong squad.
At the end of the day, a manager can only be as good as his players.