Raul Sanllehi has got into some criticism with the way he has run the club since he was promoted to Head of Football following the departure of Ivan Gazidis back in September 2018.
It is his movements within the transfer market that hassled to the most criticism, as well as the departure of recruitment guru Sven Mislintat in January 2019. Mislintat reportedly left over a disagreement over the recruitment of Denis Suarez – a player backed by then coach Unai Emery and Sanllehi. Suarez flopped.
Many have pointed out that Sanllehi uses his “little black book of agents contacts” to find out who is available, rather than Mislintat’s search and selection method.
Mislintat and his scouting network would attempt to uncover players that no one has heard of, or was watching. Hidden gems. Whilst Sanllehi reportedly relies on agents contacting him to make him aware of their clients availability.
It is probably unfair on Sanllehi to say all he does is wait for agents to call him. He is Head of Football so deals with a lot more other than just recruitment, which is why he bought Edu in.
The Edu / Sanllehi axis has been massively criticised, and no more so than for their relationship with “super agent” Kia Joorabchian.
But is the criticism of the pair really fair?
The aforementioned Denis Suarez was bought in on loan in January. A deal that went bad. But was this down to him being not good enough? Or due to injury?
“Obviously it was a bad loan because I did not play,” Suarez told The Athletic in. “But there were circumstances which I would like the fans to understand. I played in my first game against Manchester City and then 10 days later I got injured against BATE in the Europa League.”
Asked if he felt 100 per cent at any point, Suárez replied: “The first week., that’s all. I felt it getting worse. After the match against BATE, I had incredible pain. Every movement, every change of direction, every shot. Unai [Emery] could not play me as he knew I was not even near 50 per cent.”
In 2019, Arsenal shocked the world by spending big when no one thought they had any money.
1st through the door was Gabriel Martinelli.
The 18-year-old Brazilian was originally signed to join up with the U23 squad, but soon pushed his way into the first team.
Martinelli scored 10 senior goals in 26 games, becoming the first teenager to reach double figures in a single season for Arsenal since Nicolas Anelka.
His season came to an end prior to the suspension of football for COVID19, and he has since been ruled out for most of 2020.
Jurgen Klopp labelled him the ‘talent of the century’.
Following Martinelli into the club was teenage defender William Saliba.
Signed from Saint-Étienne, the club decided to leave the French central defender at his home club to continue his development. Big things are expected of him next year.
Then came the moment Arsenal shocked the footballing world. Nicolas Pepe joined for a club record £72million.
Pepe joined following a fruitful previous season for Lille, where he scored 23 goals in 42 games.
He has not lived up to a big price tag yet, although no Arsenal player created more goals and only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has more goals and assists combined.
His best game for Arsenal came in the FA Cup final.
Throughout the season he has showed glimpses of his talent. Next year he will be stronger, fitter and more prepared for the English game.
Kieran Tierney arrived injured having undergone a double hernia operation in May 2019.
The Scotsman’s slow return to full fitness was hampered by a dislocated shoulder against West Ham in early December. He was not seen again until the suspension of football was lifted in June.
Tierney has since played in every game since football returned, showing his versatility by playing left back, and the left side of a back 3.
Still just 23, the left back has done enough in his disrupted first season to show why Arsenal took the risk on him. He has the type of personality to become a terrace legend, and the ability to become one of Arsenal’s greatest left backs of all time.
Alongside the deadline day announcement of Tierney, Arsenal pulled a surprise by signing David Luiz from Chelsea for £8million.
Initially it was though Luiz had signed on a 2-year deal, but it alter transpired that it was a one-year deal with an option for a second.
We all know what David Luiz does.
He can put in a match winning performance one week, then make errors that led to penalties, sending offs and goals the next. His Arsenal career has been mixed, with him giving away 5 penalties and receiving 2 red cards.
But it is his influence off the pitch that led Arteta to push for Sanllehi and Edu to trigger the 2nd year of his contract.
His leadership is shown during the drinks breaks since the return of football.
Arteta is holding court with players in one circle, whilst Luiz is doing the same in another.
Luiz could be the leader that Saliba needs alongside him.
And then we have the loan deals.
Dani Ceballos joined on a season long loan.
A tough start to his career saw him in and out the team, and he would have been rocked by Unai Emery leaving.
On top of this he also picked up a hamstring injury that ruled him out for 2 months.
He has returned from suspension like a new player under Arteta – topping pretty much every statistic going for Arsenal.
Back 3 months ago, no one would have wanted Ceballos’s loan move to be made permanent. Now everyone will be frustrated if he is not with us next year.
An excellent signing.
Pablo Mari joined in January as injuries in defence mounted up, and then proceeded to get injured himself.
The ex-Manchester City man did enough on the training ground for Arsenal to secure his services permanently.
When he returns from injury, he will be in contention for first team football.
The signing of Cedric Soares was strange.
A loan player who turned up injured, unlikely to play for 2 months. It just seemed a waste.
But with his contract expiring in the summer, what Arsenal were basically doing was bringing his signing forward by 6 months. Allowing the club to rehabilitate his injury, and him to settle into new surroundings in North London.
He might not have played much, but Arsenal now have a Premier League experienced internationally capped right back to push Hector Bellerin.
When you break it down player by player, it becomes clear that Edu & Sanllehi have come in for a lot of unfair criticism.
Pepe has struggled, but the talent is there, whilst Ceballos, Martinelli and Tierney have all had disrupted debut seasons.
It is unfair to judge Mari and Cedric, but in what we have seen they look good additions.
David Luiz is the only one people could label “poor signing” on. But he was so poor that Arteta pushed the board to renew his contract. Sanllehi and Edu were reluctant to do so.
Maybe we as fans just need to step back a little, give those managing the club some time and space to breath. To recruit well. And to stamp their footprint on this great club.