STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26: Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium on August 26, 2012 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
The news that Theo Walcott has refused to sign a new contract and will likely depart for Manchester City is no shock after Arsenal have lost/sold Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Robin van Persie and Alex Song in the last thirteen months. It also does nothing to dissuade the notion that Arsenal are a feeder club for their monetary and footballing superiors (both are important, because money leads to silverware, as Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Barcelona, and Real Madrid have shown). It also means that once again, Arsenal are scrambling at the end of the transfer window, just like last summer. It provokes one to ask the question whether Arsenal have learned from their mistakes of last summer.
The early part of this summer was encouraging. Arsenal, for once, spent money early and were proactive about the Robin van Persie situation, buying Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, and later adding Santi Cazorla. Since then, though the sales of van Persie and Alex Song have put Arsenal back in profit, which although isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does make one wonder if genuine improvement can be made if Arsenal have to sell their most valuable assets to fund transfer moves. Arsenal, by the way, have yet to replace Alex Song, which is startling, considering that he went on the first team tour to Asia, and was obviously part of Arsene Wenger's first team plans until events occurred that made his continuation at the club impossible.
The fact that Song, and presumably Walcott, have to be replaced at the end of August is extremely similar to last summer, when Arsenal went into the final three days having not replaced Fabregas, Nasri, and Clichy (as Kieran Gibbs needed a backup). That creates a feeling of crisis, and also lessens the value of player that can be bought; certainly, despite their success, Yossi Benayoun, Andre Santos and to an extent Mikel Arteta were not Wenger's first choices to replace the departed players. Arsene Wenger prefers to buy early for this very reason; better players are available towards the beginning of the summer than at the very end. So not only are Arsenal losing key, starting players, but they're likely replacing them with players who aren't as good, meaning that the squad that begins the season is usually superior to the one that plays key matches in the Champions League, League and cups.
It also creates a state of flux, which adds to the feeling of crisis and uncertainty. Last season, with four new signings in the team, it took Arsenal until October to really get consistent performances of quality in the league; before that, they had 7 points from their first 6 games. This season, we can already see the effect trying to integrate three new players into the starting linuep, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla, has had, with Arsenal goalless after two games. Adding two more players, replacements for Walcott and Song, will take even more time, and further affect Arsenal's performance in the league, meaning they may have to play catchup with a squad that is possibly inferior to the one that we had at the beginning of the campaign. Such a trend is not sustainable; Arsenal cannot be in this state of flux and expect to comfortably remain in the Champions League.
This constant changing of players makes it very hard to consider Arsenal as title challenges. No other team in the Premier League, after all, has lost three key players from their team from last season. Losing three is an extraordinary amount, but it has already happened to Arsenal. And after last season, the club said that we wouldn't have this type of summer again. Unfortunately, we have, meaning that the policy of the club must be questioned. While Arsenal's self-sustainable model is admirable, if Arsenal continue to lose players at the rate that they are, and fall further behind the top clubs, not only will challenging for the league be hard to see, but Arsenal run the very real risk of not qualifying for the Champions League, the competition that's prize money is so vital for Arsenal's self-sustainable model.
At this stage, one has to wonder whether Arsenal could do better with the way that they sell their players. Why, for example, is Theo Walcott negotiating a contract that runs out in a year when the deadline to sell him is only three days away? Why is there this stage of flux for the second consecutive year, when we already saw how damaging it is? It's particularly worrisome for Arsenal, because if it continues it's not hard to see Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wojciech Szczesny be in the same position in three or four years, despite FFP. At some point, Arsenal are going to have to stop being in a constant state of flux; it is too damaging to the possible success of the football club. And, the success of the football club must always come first. Arsenal's self-sustainable model should be pursued, but not to the extent where it almost becomes a self-parody. If a modest increase in spending cannot be done because Arsenal must always make a profit, would it not be better to support an accounting firm rather than a football club?