Many people have labelled Arsenal a selling club, so since the invinsible season, I'd like to study the key players they've let go, and see who they've replaced them with:
Patrick Vieira, summer 2005
Fee received- £13.75 mil
Replaced by- Matthieu Flamini/Alex Song (both £1 mil)
Replacement verdict- neither turned out to be quite the great midfield general Vieira was, and both took time to adapt to the English game having come to the club at a young age, both for a fee of £1 million. Flamini ended up taking Gilberto Silva's place a couple of years after Vieira left and did strike up a decent partnership with Cesc Fabregas, providing some defensive cover before leaving on a free transfer. Song became the first choice defensive midfielder about a year after that, and kept his place, but gained a reputation for occassionally making daft, off the ball challenges, and I wouldn't say he shined a candle to the composure and defensive protection captain Vieira offered the team. Whilst the club made, perhaps impressively in some respects, a £12 million profit from the replacement of Vieira, it shows that not spending too much was the priority when it would have been better for Arsenal in the short-term to find a player who could immediately take Vieira's place. Flamini and Song were cost effective but they took time to adapt. 5/10
Ashley Cole, summer 2006
Fee received- £5 mil + Gallas
Replaced by- Gael Clichy (£250K)
Replacement verdict- Clichy had been signed from Cannes three summers beforehand for just £250K, so replacing Cole didn't cost anything, and Clichy played the majority of matches after Cole went, and he did well. Whether he quite compared to Ashley Cole, who, love him or hate him, is one of the best left-backs in the world, I don't know. I don't think Arsenal missed him that much, so I'd say Clichy represented a fairly good replacement. 7/10
Thierry Henry, summer 2006
Fee received- £16 mil
RB- Robin van Persie? (£2.75 mil)
Replacement verdict- it's difficult to say anyone really replaced Thierry Henry. My first instinct was to say van Persie, and I think he came the closest with 37 goals in his final season, but you've got to put things in perspective: apart from his final season which was plagued by injury, Henry never scored less than 22 goals for Arsenal. In only three of his eight seasons at Arsenal, did van Persie score 20 goals or more. Yes, before his final season RVP was playing wide left a lot, but so was Henry, only Henry was simply better. Van Persie was signed for just £2.75 mil, which dictates a £13 mil profit on Henry's replacement, but not in the same quality when you look at van Persie's Arsenal career as a whole. 4/10
Emmanuel Adebayor, summer 2009
Fee received- £25 mil
Replaced by- Maroune Chamakh (free)
Replacement verdict- hahahahahaha
Kolo Toure, summer 2009
Fee received- £16 mil
Replaced by- Thomas Vermaelen (£10 mil)
Replacement verdict- a very good replacement. From what I heard, the likes of Adebayor and Toure were creating a bit of an Ivory Coast clique which Wenger didn't like and to get £41 mil for the pair of them was a good piece of business. I would argue Vermaelen has done at least as well as Toure did, he provided a real toughness in defence and he could score a few goals as well. To get a £6 mil profit from Toure's replacement for that quality shows a top piece of business from Wenger. 8/10
Cesc Fabregas, summer 2011
Fee received- £35 mil
Replaced by- Mikel Arteta (£10 mil)
Replacement verdict- not the same quality. I think Arteta represents a bit of a panic buy from Wenger, who was desperate to get a Spanish passer into the team but the difference is, Fabregas has another 10 years playing whereas Arteta only has 3 or 4, and isn't really as good. Especially when you consider that Arsenal already have the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey, Rosicky, Arshavin you wonder if Arsenal needed another creative midfielder. Considering Arteta isn't exactly world-class player anyway, should that money have been invested instead in a holding midfield player, someone who can fully replace Vieira? 3/10
Samir Nasri, summer 2011
Fee received- £22 mil
Replaced by- Santi Cazorla (£16 mil)
Replacement verdict- at least the same quality, and a £6 mil profit. Nasri has significantly flopped since joining Man City, and Cazorla's passing qualities has created a number of Arsenal goals. He may have only got three assists so far this season, but in a lot of games he's been the man to play that penultimate pass that unlocks the defence and creates the shooting opportunity, which he won't get the statistical credit for, but he's been the man behind a lot of the goals. Definately worthy of replacing Nasri. 8/10
Gael Clichy, summer 2011
Fee received- £7 mil
Replaced by- Andre Santos/Kieran Gibbs (£6 mil for Santos, Gibbs academy graduate)
Replacement verdict- well Andre Santos has been disappointing since joining from Brazil, and has played so far up the pitch and had no stamina or work rate to get back, and an inability to mark and tackle like your basic Premiership defender should, he's just been like another winger for Arsenal. A waste of the £6 mil spent to replace Clichy, he hasn't at all justified the high wages he's on, so Gibbs has had to take his place and has done quite well, but few can argue he's of the same calibre as Clichy. 4/10
Robin van Persie, summer 2012
Fee received- £24 mil
Replaced by- Lukas Podolski (£11 mil)
Replacement verdict- to get a German international for just over £10 mil represents a good piece of business from Wenger, he needed to get the RVP situation over with quickly and replace him with the same quality as soon as possible. So far, Podolski has shown flashes of brilliance in matches, if he hasn't produced the consistency that van Persie did last season. It will inevitably take the ex-Koln man time to find his form and to be the Dutchman's proper replacement, and question marks will be raised as to whether he's an out-and-out striker like RVP was last season, but considering the £13 mil profit, I do think he was a good signing. 6/10
Alex Song, summer 2012
Fee received- £15 mil
Replaced by- Abou Diaby (signed 7 years ago)
Replacement verdict- Diaby's return from injury has made him effectively like a new signing, but I do think it is a massive gamble to rely on him as a first team player, rather than buy a new defensive midfielder. If I was Wenger I wouldn't have risked it due to him being so injury prone. Yes, he's played very well in the matches he's been in, particularly early on in the season at Liverpool, but if he gets injured there's no cover, when I would only consider having Diaby as a fringe player in the first place. Arsenal seem to have gone backwards since Vieira. 4/10
It might interest you to know, calculated up, that over the past 8 years since the invinsible season, Arsenal have made approximately an £119 mil profit from the money they've received for their best players listed above, and that's actually including the money they've parted with to replace them.
In terms of all players they've brought and sold over the past 8 years, not just with their best ones, Arsenal have made a profit of £40 mil from transfers. That fact is impressive, yet frustrating at the same time.
I'm not sure whether it's Wenger's ideology to buy young players for peanuts, develop them, and sell them to the bigger clubs, or if he was forced to by the board partly because of the new stadium, or simply that he couldn't attract the best players and when the young players became world class they just wanted to leave. Or it could be a combination of all three.
Either way, it's impressive that in spite of this, Arsene Wenger has managed to keep the club in the top four for so long, in fact every season since 1996. If the limited amount of spending is connected with the board, and not Wenger's refusal to spend, which you'd doubt, then it's very impressive that they are still competing the Champions League, given that other clubs around them are spending so much in comparison.
However, I would question Arsenal's ability to do so for much longer if funds aren't made available to Wenger soon. Since the 03/04 season, the quality of the squad has undoubtedly taken a downward step, and whenever they look like building a team capable of winning the title, they seem to self-depricate by selling their best player.
The prime example being Patrick Vieira, he was an absolutely key player for Arsenal in the invinsible season, he was sold, and they signed Alex Song. Song found the step-up difficult at first but then he became acustomed to it and was an important player for them in the last couple of seasons. Then, he was sold to Barca and Wenger economised somewhat by using Abou Diaby, who, however good a controller of the ball and strong at times, has natural fitness problems and I think Arsenal would be better off actually using their money signing an anchor man.
You could make a case for this for their strikers, when Henry left, van Persie took a while to fill his boots and Arsenal clearly missed Henry's short-term quality, then RVP came good and peaked last season, then they sold him and are now waiting for Giroud and Podolski to grow into that role.
At left-back, they sold arguably the best left-back in the world in Ashley Cole a few years ago, Clichy eventually came good, then they sold him, and now you're still waiting for Kieran Gibbs to come good...
You get the idea. Wenger's player potential judgement in the transfer market could never be questioned, but, this model of selling your best players for £20-odd-million, buying new, young replacements for a couple of million is an impressive one, and one in many ways I really admire, but they seem to constantly be taking drops in quality and I think eventually the clubs with the most money will prevail, simply because they can afford and attract the best players.
For reference with transfer details, I've been using this website: