Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta expecting an end to free transfer trend after Hector Bellerin exit

While Arsenal fans were furiously demanding a breakthrough that never came in Douglas Luiz negotiations, perhaps the most concerning business of the day for the Gunners was taking place in Catalonia. As Barcelona were bringing another player from north London to the Camp Nou, so they were exploiting the generosity of Mikel Arteta and Edu on a previous deadline day.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Hector Bellerin, once Arsenal’s captain and vice-captain, might even have crossed paths in midair as one departed Barcelona and the other arrived. Two players that had once been foundational pieces in north London, who Mikel Arteta fought desperately to keep at the club in the summer of 2020, had been allowed to move to the La Liga giants for absolutely nothing. Arsenal had even paid Aubameyang a portion of his salary to depart.

Eight months later Barcelona had got half a season of Aubameyang on a cut price salary, scoring 11 La Liga goals that carried Xavi’s side to Champions League qualification, before then receiving €12 million and Marcos Alonso from Chelsea for a 32-year-old striker. . Meanwhile, Arsenal helped them strengthen their other full-back position, selling Bellerin to them for nothing more than a 25 percent sell-on clause that applies during the one-year contract the 27-year-old Spanish player has signed. He also agreed to waive any additional sums owed to him by the Gunners.

If Bellerin’s departure is not quite the same as the raft of contract terminations that technical director Edu used to clean house over nearly two years, the differences are relatively minimal. Seven senior players have departed early without transfer fees since Arteta’s first full season in charge, all of them earned six-figure weekly salaries and the combined outlay in recruiting them was in excess of £150m.

Arteta’s contention would be that there is little Arsenal can do to change that.

“I always say that the market doesn’t lie,” he told CBS Sports in his pre-match press conference ahead of his side’s trip to Manchester United. “When a player comes and says ‘I have to do this’ and ‘I am here and I am there,’ it’s very simple. Go on the market and the other teams and coaches are going to tell you how good you are, what your value is, what you’ve done.”

There is certainly truth to Arteta’s suggestion that clubs have not been beating the door down for some of these players. Few clubs outside the Premier League can match the sort of wages that are offered as standard at the Emirates Stadium, even if they could would they really do so for players who were deeply involved in seasons of decline in north London?

And yet Arteta ignores Arsenal’s own complicity in what the market is saying. It is bellowing to other clubs that there is no point in bidding for players who are going to be given away on deadline day. It is not even subtext, Edu said as much on the club’s preseason tour. “Try to avoid one more year with the problem inside, in the dressing room, expensive, not performing. Clean, take it out. Even, I’m sorry, if you have to pay. To leave is better.”

That goes some way to explaining why Bellerin was left hovering around London Colney until the final hours of Thursday afternoon. He made it clear as early as April that he wanted to leave permanently after a successful loan spell in Spain with Real Betis, winning last season’s Copa del Rey. Arsenal spent that time holding out in hope rather than expectation that a permanent offer might arrive. Neither the player nor his suitors were minded to push for an immediate solution to the situation even though Bellerin had grown disillusioned with life at Arsenal.

Two years earlier Arsenal had been rejecting £25m offers from Paris Saint-Germain from Bellerin. That same summer saw the rebuffing of firm interest from Wolverhampton Wanderers in Ainsley Maitland-Niles, this window closed with them unable to convince any of three interested clubs to make a permanent offer for the England international, who has joined Southampton on loan with an option to buy.

The market has also said that Aubameyang is worth €12m more now that he is eight months older. The reason for that is simple. In January all of Europe knew that Arteta had burned all his bridges with the former Arsenal captain. Amazon’s “All or Nothing” documentary subsequently revealed that the manager had refused to reintegrate Aubameyang into his squad amid pressure from those above him. The Gunners hardly crafted a market for themselves in which they could maximize their financial returns.

Impressive recruitment by Arteta and Edu has made the on-field situation rosy, but it has come at the cost of obliterating any semblance of the self-sustaining model that defined Arsenal in the years after they moved to the Emirates Stadium in 2006. They ended this summer’s window having spent nearly £100m more than they recouped. They had an even higher net spend the previous summer.

Although not addressing the failed Douglas Luiz bid directly, Arteta did seem to acknowledge that the hierarchy had felt compelled to take a long hard look at whether going beyond £25 million for a player with nine months left on his contract, who has not been a regular starter at Aston Villa and who would not be one at a fully fit Arsenal, was the shrewdest of investments.

“We have to only bring top talent through that door and be very disciplined because in those moments you can make mistakes that can cost the club and the team a lot, not in the near future but maybe a little bit ahead,” he said. “We want to avoid that as much as possible.

“Yesterday we could have done something if it was the right player, right deal and something we could afford – because sometimes you have to react – yesterday that was a real possibility. We tried but then we kept the discipline to say it had to be the right player for the club.”

If Arsenal have got their rebuild right — and the early signs of this season are that they are at least on a good path — then the Luiz conundrum will keep coming up. Unless you have the endless pockets of Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City, quality depth can be hard to find at a time when mid-tier Premier League sides are prepared to take the financial hit that comes from a player winding down his contract and leaving for nothing.

Arteta does at least see cause for optimism in how outgoings might be conducted in the future. Such is the advantage of rebalancing your squad to give it the youngest age profile in the Premier League while showing signs of clear improvement on the pitch. Suddenly big clubs are clamoring for your players, who you can see on for more than you paid for them.

Addressing the question of losing players on a free, he added: “We have tried to obviously get everything we can get done. Sometimes you have to get the right balance. Hopefully, we’re going to be in a very different position very soon. .”

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