Arsène Wenger has seen and done it all during his 17 years in charge of Arsenal, but the signing of Mesut Ozil on transfer deadline day was a whole new ballgame, even for the boss.
The transfer completely dwarfed any of the previous deals Arsène had overseen, smashing the Club record, as one of the best number 10s in world football - entering the prime of his career - joined from Real Madrid. The signing was a suitably headline-grabbing way to bring an end to a transfer window which had been played out amid more speculation than ever before.
Of course, it’s a big responsibility to spend that amount of money. But I feel comfortable with it because we had the money to do itArsène Wenger
Even before last season ended, the Gunners were linked with a host of names from all over the world - as many as 200 players, according to some estimates, were spoken about in the media as potential targets. In the end the boss brought in four new faces.
Young striker Yaya Sanogo joined from Auxerre in France, former Gunner Mathieu Flamini rejoined the Club after being released by AC Milan, Italian international goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano signed on a season-long loan, and then of course Ozil became the second most expensive purchase ever in Premier League history, to conclude the summer’s business.
Here the boss explains his reasons behind signing those four players and talks us through what he admits was a particularly tense and stressful couple of months in the transfer market.
Arsène, there was just half an hour left before the transferdeadline when the Ozil deal was announced, why was the deal concluded so late?
The timing of the deal was linked to the Gareth Bale deal, but also all the other deals as well because Real Madrid bought Illarramendi and Isco in the summer. When I first contacted Real Madrid, things were quite open. They also needed time for Carlo Ancelotti to get to know his squad better, so he could make a decision. So all these aspects put together explains why it happened so late. We had a big advantage, and that was that I had been in contact with Mesut before, when he first went to Real Madrid three years ago. I spoke to him back then on the phone, in the end he told me he wanted to go to Real Madrid, so I wished him well, but that first contact had been made. He knew that I wanted him for a long time, and this was not the first time I tried to sign him.
The deal more than doubled Arsenal’s previous transfer record, was there any wariness in spending that much on a player?
Of course, it’s a big responsibility to spend that amount of money. But I feel comfortable with it because we had the money to do it. Before we couldn’t have done it because we didn’t have the money available. It’s as simple as that. I had a huge sense of responsibility when we built the stadium to get the Club through it without going bankrupt. The first years were difficult, and also explained why we lost some players. Now we are in a more comfortable financial position, I - more than anyone - want the great players to play for Arsenal Football Club. If we have to spend the money to do that, I will spend the money.
So is this a new policy of buying big for Arsenal?
No, the policy is exactly the same - I always want to bring the best players in here, world-class players, at the best possible price. And I want to continue to educate 60 to 80 per cent of the squad ourselves. The culture of the Club, the way we want to play football and the way we want to behave, comes from within. The Wilsheres, the Ramseys, the Gibbs - these kind of players have to be the culture of the Club. Then on top of that we want to bring world-class players who will help us to be even stronger.
At the moment Germany produces top-quality players. Look at their national team, it’s a bit like Spain was two or three years agoArsène Wenger
But could fans expect to see one or two of these big-name signings following each season now?
If they are needed, then yes. If it’s just for marketing reasons, then no. But for football reasons, why not.
Ozil is the latest in a line of German players joining the Club…
That’s linked to just one thing - the quality of the players. At the moment Germany produces top-quality players. Look at their national team, it’s a bit like Spain was two or three years ago. Suddenly they have Gotze, Draxler, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Ozil, Podolski. They have two or three players in every position. That’s why you go more for German players, because of the quality. Having said that, it’s also a nationality that tends to adapt well. They are a bit like the northern countries in the way they settle There is less risk there, especially once a player has already moved from his country - like Ozil did to Spain - the risk is minimal because they know what to expect.
There has been incredible attention on Ozil since he signed, how will he deal with the pressure?
There are two aspects. First it’s what is happening externally, which you have to try to master and I agree that’s not always easy. Then secondly you have how the player behaves. Does he want to be a real team player, with the same solidarity and humility as the rest? I think that’s the most important part and on that front I’m not anxious at all.
How has the rest of the team reacted? Can it disrupt a side when a superstar joins?
If it’s just that he receives a lot of attention, then no. But if he demands that attention himself, then yes it can. But Mesut is a player who joined us because he likes the way we play, and he wants to be a part of that, so I’m not worried in that respect.
How was the summer transfer window as a whole? Did you feel under extra pressure this year due to the incredible speculation surrounding the Club?
At the end of the day, I’m not the only one who dictates the timings of the transfer market. I always said that, even to people inside the Club who I worked with, I told them that this is a very stressful period but we have to be patient because things can happen right at the end. I said that many times. The transfer of Ozil was linked with a huge desire of everyone at the Club to get it done, but at the same time it could have failed because we faced huge competition in the end from other clubs, so you have to accept that. The pressure for us on the transfer front was huge. People knew we had money to spend, and honestly, it wasn’t easy. I said many times I was ready to spend if it was for the right player, and if you look at our form over the past year, it would take a special talent to strengthen the team.
Do you wish you had got one or two names in, as well as Ozil though?
Well let’s not forget that at Sunderland we started in midfield with Wilshere, Ramsey, Flamini and Ozil. On top of that, who did not play? Cazorla, Arteta, Chamberlain, Podolski, Rosicky. So you realise football is not just about adding more players together. You have to give them a chance to play, you have to give a chance to players like Ramsey and Chamberlain at some point. One year ago, people were questioning Ramsey. But why is he where he is today? Because we kept faith in him and gave him a chance, so you have to find the right balance between developing players and adding more quality.
Read the interview with the boss and more in the latest edition
Do you feel the format of the transfer window adds more pressure? Transfer deadline day is becoming more like a media circus.
It’s not just a media circus, it’s that everybody expects the other person to move first so tries to do it as late as possible. I explained why it happened late for us, so you just have to keep your nerve. I’m proud we did - we had Ivan Gazidis and Dick Law on the case, and we kept our nerve, and kept faith.
Is it more difficult to sign players now than it was perhaps 10 years ago?
It is much more difficult, I don’t deny that. But as well there are so many clubs in Europe today with huge financial resources. As I said before, there were many other clubs on the case with Ozil as well.
Ideally would you prefer not to sign players on the deadline day, or do you prefer the brinkmanship?
Of course you would prefer not to leave it that late, because you could lose a big transfer just because the paperwork could not get done on time. You have to give credit to all the legal people who work in our club. They are sensational because you think that once you have concluded the negotiations it’s all done, but no it’s not done, you have all the paperwork to do. If you leave it late, you take a big risk.
The transfer speculation has already started ahead of the January transfer window, are you thinking about that yet?
Well for me the transfers are not the most enjoyable part of the game. For me the most enjoyable part of the game is to watch the team play football, to win the match and produce good quality football. But this is part of the job so you have to do it as well as you can.
Do you expect to be back in the market in January?
I don’t rule it out. I don’t rule it out at all, but saying that I don’t want to encourage more speculation. We have just come out of a transfer market that has been very agitated, so let’s not go into the next one today! I just want to focus on football now.
Squad number: 22
Born: Massy, France, January 27, 1993
Previous Clubs: Les Ulis, Auxerre
Joined Arsenal: from Auxerre on July 1, 2013
Arsène on Yaya…
“He’s a bit of a gamble. Not because of his talent and quality, but because of the injuries he’s had. Basically for two years he didn’t play. But I spoke to him very early in the year, back in January, and told him that I would give him a chance at Arsenal. He has the qualities, the size and strength, so I think he will be all right. But we know we have to build him up, because a guy who has not played for two years at that level needs some adaptation time to get his body ready for the physical intensity. We need to be patient with him. He is a traditional number nine, but he’s a technical player as well. He uses his body well, has a good presence in the box and has the nose to know where to be on the pitch. The ball always goes to him. He can be a prolific goalscorer and a huge talent. Overall he has a great desire to improve and to win. What he needs now is for his body to not give him any problems, and what we need to do is get his body into the right condition. For me it will take six months or so of work before we really see what he can do.”
Squad number: 20
Born: Marseille, France, March 7, 1984
Previous clubs: Marseille, Arsenal, AC Milan
Joined Arsenal: from AC Milan on August 29, 2013
Arsène on Mathieu…
“This Mathieu Flamini is more experienced than the one we had nearly 10 years ago of course, and has a knowledge of what is needed at the top level. But I also think he has a bigger love for the Club now because he realises what he left behind when he left Arsenal. He has come back with a great desire. I must say I was a bit reluctant to sign him at first, because I didn’t like to sign the same players twice. But he convinced me with a frank and honest statement, wishing to play for Arsenal. He had other opportunities from clubs, but he said he missed what he had here. Even more than that his attitude in training convinced me to bring him back - his desire to work hard and to win. It had always been my policy to never bring back players who had left, but I changed that a few years ago basically because I didn’t necessarily want to be stubborn. I feel it’s important that once players leave here, they know it’s not that easy to change your mind and get another chance. It’s important the players know it’s not down to them if they come back or not. But in the end there is only one important thing, and that’s the best interest of Arsenal Football Club. So if you come to the conclusion that it’s the right signing to make, you have to do it.”
Squad number: 13
Born: Florence, Italy, December 1, 1985
Previous clubs: Brescia, Cesena (loan), Bologna, Internazionale, Palermo, Fiorentina (loan)
Joined Arsenal: from Palermo (on loan) on September 2, 2013
Arsène on Emiliano…
“We have brought him in on loan because we feel three top-class goalkeepers are needed. Damian Martinez was our number three, but at the moment he needs experience - he’s not completely ready. We have had injuries with Wojciech and Lukasz lately, so we knew if the two got injured at the same time, we would be a bit short. That’s why we have brought him in. At the moment Szczesny is number one, Fabianski is number two, with Viviano number three, but I might rotate the second and third goalies because they will need time to practice which you don’t get when you have games every three days. I rate Szczesny and Fabianski very highly, but there is a competition to play in goal, and if Viviano is better than everyone else he will play.”
Squad number: 11
Born: Gelsenkirchen, Germany, October 15, 1988
Previous clubs: Schalke 04, Werder Bremen, Real Madrid
Joined Arsenal: from Real Madrid on September 2, 2013
Arsène on Mesut…
“It’s a statement that we have brought in a world-class player. We have a game that is based on creativity and technical quality, and he can of course integrate into that game. It’s important as well that we show our ambition as a club with such a signing. In recent years we have lost players who we have educated, who we have formed, and we lost them when they became competitive. It was important that we turned that round and showed we are ambitious. We have shown great consistency lately, but this signing will reaffirm the ambition of our players and of our fans. It will improve the confidence of everyone involved with Arsenal.”