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Arsenal's transfer policy mistake and the benefits of signing from within the league

The transfer window is well underway and Arsenal have been linked to a whole host of players in multiple positions – unsurprisingly!
The very mention of the word ‘Arsenal’ in connection to any player generates clicks and media outlets have done everything they can to quench the thirst we all have for transfer rumors.Having said that, one interesting theme about many of the more concrete links is that they are young players, under the age of 25 who also play in the Premier League.The links to Ben White, Ruben Neves, Yves Bissouma, and James Maddison are all concrete. What I mean by this is the links have been reported by multiple reliable sources, connected both to the club and intermediaries, which means there is definitely truth in them.Interestingly enough, Arsenal have not been buying from within the league in recent years. The last time we bought a player under the age of 28 from the league was Danny Welbeck way back on deadline day in 2014 – a long, long time ago.The players Arsenal bought from within the Premier League in the last 6 years are Petr Cech, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, David Luiz, Cedric Soares, and Willian – one is a goalkeeper, another brought in Via an exchange deal, one a stop-gap to replace Koscielny, and the remaining two were both free agents.Buying players from outside leagues is perfectly fine. There are always useful options from other leagues who could be brought in without having to pay the ‘Premier league tax.’ If everything goes well, you end up saving a significant sum of money when you compare it to signing a player on a similar level in the Premier League.Let me give you an example – take Kieran Tierney. A player Arsenal signed from Celtic for £25m. This is an example of a very good deal for a first-choice left-back. Signing a similar player from the league in today’s market costs about £50m as evidenced by Chilwell’s move to Chelsea. Good business by Arsenal.On the other hand, however, there are certain drawbacks that have to be kept in mind. A player that comes from a foreign league undergoes an adaptation phase, especially when they’re young. Not many hit the ground running straight away - all the more so when you play for a top team.In the 2018/19 season, the first post Wenger – Arsenal finished one point behind fourth-place and made the Europa League final.
In the summer leading up to the 2019/20 season, the club then went on to spend over £140m in transfer fees. We added Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Martinelli, David Luiz, Nicolas Pepe, and Dani Ceballos (loan). Let’s ignore William Saliba from this conversation because he went back on loan straightaway.The expectation that season from Arsenal fans was we should easily be getting top 4. Instead, we went completely backward - but why?One major reason for this is the players that left were mainly ones that had already adapted to this league – Aaron Ramsey, Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Danny Welbeck, Alex Iwobi, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Additionally, Ozil, who was part of the squad started getting frozen out.Apart from Luiz, every single player brought in was 24 or younger, coming into a new country, having to adapt and deal with higher expectations.
- Ceballos faded after that Burnley display, before making a comeback in the second half of the season.
- Pepe took over 4 months to score his first open play goal for Arsenal.
- Martinelli, as impactful as he proved to be, was just 18 years of age, coming from the fourth division in Brazil and learning his trade.- Tierney had his share of injury issues and only properly adapted since project restart.What the board would have envisaged was for these signings to all hit the ground running. Unfortunately, they couldn't and the club went backward.
I am not a fan of Willian and we cannot defend that signing – but the merit in this was adding more experience and a player who knew the league well and adapted, something which we lacked in the squad.What Arsenal seem to have learned this window is they need to fulfill the following when it comes to most signings:1. They should be within the young age bracket for two reasons: To have the motivation to grow, and also have resale value.2. Must be able to come in and impact immediately.The answer to this is signing players under the age of 25 who have played in and adapted to the Premier League. Obviously, they must be players of quality which means it would cost a significant premium.
Having said that, just reading in between the lines - it does seem like we have plenty of money to spend this window and are willing to pay what is required to get the players we want - I did an article couple weeks back which touches upon this - if you are interested, you can read it
here.Now, there is no guarantee that signing a Premier league player guarantees success. It only increases your chances. Take Yves Bissouma, for example. There is no denying that he is a quality player, but the expectations at Brighton and Arsenal are very different. You move here and suddenly everyone is debating every pass you make – there is a level of pressure involved that can get to certain players.But in terms of adaptation to the pace and physicality of the league, Bissouma has adapted very well. So that’s one hindrance out of the way. A player that comes in from a foreign league has to adapt AND deal with the expectations.Chelsea signed Kai Havertz last year - one of the biggest young talents in the world. He never looked comfortable in his first 6 months. Now, he’s showing signs that he can be a fantastic player in this league.
Now even look at some our own players - Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, among others. They’re not on the same bracket, obviously, but the point is they initially struggled in the Premier league but eventually adapted.What this also indicates is that it is totally worth buying players from abroad, as long as you are convinced about their qualities. But it becomes imperative to strike that balance - something we haven't done. It is easier to add players from other leagues when your squad is stable. But right now, Arsenal are anything but stable.Having said that, if we are making say 7 signings this window, I am not of the view that all 7 need to be from within the Premier League. We could look to bring in 3-4 from the league and the rest can be from outside.Sambi Lokonga looks like a fantastic talent, so let’s bring him in. What we must avoid is bringing Lokonga and relying on him to hit the ground running and start 30+ games in the league.It is important to hedge your bets and manage the risks associated with each transfer accordingly. Having a core of players who know the league well can help the signings you make from abroad integrate.
Let's look at Fabinho - a player who was signed for £40m. In his initial months, he looked very uncomfortable dealing with the pace of the league. But Liverpool had a stable core – players like Henderson who knew the league very well and could fill in which gave Fabinho the time and space to adapt, which he eventually did.
That is a luxury that Pepe didn't have - he was expected to hit the ground running, which didn't happen and suddenly he is the new media scapegoat.In the last 5 years, Manchester City and Liverpool have been by far the most successful teams in the Premier League. That is the standard we must aspire for. We don't have to copy exactly what they did, but it is important to analyze how they got there. One commonality between the 2 is the core of players they brought in from within the league.Liverpool signed Georginio Wijnaldum, Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Djik, and Andy Robertson – all from within the league. Yes, they did add the likes of Allison, Fabinho, and Salah among others.
But their core of players were ‘Premier league proven’ and they struck the perfect balance. Everything clicked.Arsenal have been predominantly signing players from outside the league since the 2015/16 season. Not everyone adapts to the league and the situation is made worse when you keep adding more players who have to adapt.It is a well-calculated move by Edu and Arteta to look within the league – pay the premium, but know what you’re going to get. And couple that with smart buys from other leagues – the likes of Onana, Lokonga and Tyler Adams, among others. Let’s see what happens, but the early signs this window are encouraging.As always - I am Intrigued to hear your thoughts in the comments below!