London: A transfer window that produced record spending by Premier League teams closed with a shuffle of strikers.
A logjam was broken on deadline day in European football when the path was cleared for Arsenal to pay a club-record €63.75 million ($80 million) for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Borussia Dortmund only agreed to sell the striker on Wednesday once it had a replacement secured from Chelsea in Michy Batshuayi. Chelsea in turn only offloaded the Belgium international once its arduous search for a new striker ended across London. Arsenal recouped some of the Aubameyang expense by selling Olivier Giroud to Chelsea for £18 million ($25 million).
The deals helped to push Premier League spending in the January transfer window to £419.5 million ($596 million)—around £200 million above the previous high set in 2011.
These were the final splurges and additions to squads this season. By the next time English teams can trade in the summer they will know how much wealthier they will be getting through the next set of Premier League television rights. But looming are potential new curbs on spending from UEFA, which is assessing the future guise of Financial Fair Play regulations to rebalance the European game.
For now it’s clear the spending power is loaded in England’s favour across Europe.
Players exerted their power, too, in recent weeks.
The most unexpected move in January saw Alexis Sanchez take advantage of his dwindling Arsenal contract by joining Manchester United last week. It was part of a rare swap deal that sent Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the opposite direction.
The overhaul of the Arsenal attack was completed by Mkhitaryan being reunited with Aubameyang by Sven Mislintat, the head of recruitment who joined in advance last year from Dortmund.
Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan scored 62 goals between them in the 2015-16 season at Dortmund. And in Aubameyang, Arsenal have acquired the type of target man they have missed so often in their forlorn quest for a first Premier League title since 2004.
Only eight players from Europe’s top five leagues have scored more goals than the Gabon striker since 2014. Since joining from Saint-Etienne in 2013, Aubameyang netted 98 goals in 144 Bundesliga games including a league-high 31 for Dortmund last season.
With Aubameyang leading the line, perhaps Arsenal will have fewer embarrassments like Tuesday’s 3-1 loss at Swansea that saw Arsene Wenger’s sixth-place side slip further from the contention for the four Champions League places.
For Chelsea it is about avoiding dropping out of the top four, especially after a shock home loss to Bournemouth on Wednesday. The defending champions secured wingback Emerson Palmieri from Roma in a deal worth up to €29 million on Tuesday and then acquired Giroud to shore up their sparse attacking options with a proven Premier League finisher.
The Premier League title is out of reach, with Manchester City breaking 15 points clear of United with 13 games remaining. Any slipups from Pep Guardiola’s side look even more unlikely now the defence has been reinforced again.
City bought Aymeric Laporte on Tuesday from Athletic Bilbao for €65 million to take their spending on centre backs alone to about $250 million in four years. The Frenchman is the second most expensive defender after Virgil van Dijk, who joined Liverpool from Southampton for £75 million earlier in January.
Laporte’s fee was partially reinvested by Bilbao in making Inigo Martinez the most expensive Spanish defender ever. Real Sociedad received €30 million from their Basque rivals for the centre-back and then went out and paid €6 million to Roma for Hector Moreno.
The least active of the leading Premier League clubs in January were Tottenham Hotspur. The north London club waited until the final hours of the window to pay Paris Saint-Germain £25 million for Lucas Moura. The attacking midfielder is looking to reinvigorate his career after an inconsistent five-year spell with the French champions who were trying to unload players after being warned about its spending by UEFA.
The blockbuster move in January came in the second week when Barcelona’s long-running pursuit of Philippe Coutinho ended with Liverpool accepting €160 million for the playmaker. The Spanish leaders also signed defender Yerry Mina from Brazilian club Palmeiras for €12 million.
The runway German league leaders also wrapped up their transfer business before the frenzy of deadline day, with the talent drain in the Bundesliga to Bayern Munich continuing. Sandro Wagner joined from Hoffenheim as a back-up to forward Robert Lewandowski at Bayern.