Following our embarrassing defeat to Chelsea in the 2019 Europa League final, the future looks glum. We face a third consecutive season of football in Europe’s second tier competition, we have a miniscule budget compared to most of our domestic rivals and we’re losing Aaron Ramsey, one of the best players at the club, for free. Just three years ago, many believed that we were only one, or possibly two, signings away from having a squad which could truly compete in a title race. In the present day, I’d struggle to name five players who should be guaranteed starters for the 2019/20 season. In this article, I will address some potential areas that can see us return to the glory of days gone by, let alone almost competing in 2016.
Addressing The Wage Structure.
The first issue which we need to address, for me, is the laughable wage structure. Football is played on the pitch, but our financial state off the field has limited our potential recruitment and it doesn’t look like changing any time soon. Whilst our rivals can splash out hundreds of millions of pounds every summer, we didn’t even have the necessary funds available to sign a player of any description in January, let alone one who could help take us to the next level. We ended up signing Denis Suárez on loan, and although he was somewhat unlucky with injuries, the deal wasn’t beneficial for anyone involved. In order to prevent a similar set of affairs this time round, we must cut down the amount we spend on the current group of players before we look to improve upon them. In the defense of the club, we have somewhat cut back already, although some of these have been in the wrong areas. Petr Čech announced his retirement in early 2019, and this will save us £100,000 per week, which is a sizeable amount for a substitute goalkeeper. Stephan Lichtsteiner will also be departing following a largely unsuccessful one-year stint in London. This frees up an additional £90,000 – which works out at just under £5 million annually. The expiration of Danny Welbeck’s deal has both pros and cons. On the one hand, he is incredibly injury-prone and occupies £100,000 per week. However, on the flipside, he is incredibly versatile, never complains when he’s on the bench, counts towards the homegrown quota and is a key figure in the dressing room. I personally would have kept him, but I won’t be overly disappointed if it provides more regular first team opportunities for Eddie Nketiah/Tyreece John-Jules and the additional funds are reinvested effectively. The deal which will save us money in the long run, but has frustrated almost all fans is the exit of Aaron Ramsey. To lose a player of his calibre is a significant blow for any side, let alone for a club struggling for form. The fact that we won’t receive a single penny from Juventus in regards to a transfer fee makes the deal even more infuriating. Nonetheless, we will have saved roughly £20,000,000 per year in comparison to the wage bill from the 2018/19 season. However, this must act as the beginning. There is still a lot of work to do in terms of shifting on the deadwood. If we were to sell Mkhitaryan, Mustafi, Jenkinson, Elneny and Kolašinac, we would save a further £25 million annually. There have also been reports recently which suggest that long-term players Laurent Koscileny and Nacho Monreal will be a part of the exodus. Whilst both have been fantastic servants to the club, they are past their best and replaceable. If we want to reach the next level, they should realistically go. Then we have the whole scenario surrounding Mesut Özil, which I will dedicate an entire section to later. For me, we will continue in the vicious cycle of underperforming, Europa League football and a lack of funds unless we make fixing this issue the main priority this summer.
The Mesut Özil Situation.
I haven’t exactly been discreet about my admiration of Mesut Özil throughout the years. The German has always divided opinion, but I believe he has been much better than some people like to give him credit for. His job is to create, and for the most part, he has done it in abundance. He reached 50 Premier League assists in record time, holds the record number of chances created in a single game in the PL and FA Cup, holds the record of assists in consecutive games, holds the record for most chances created in a season, etc. People tend to focus on the past eighteen months when attempting to evaluate his Arsenal career. I believe that, to this day, he is an easy target because of his nonchalant style of play. When things go wrong, it is easy to point your finger at the player who is seemingly ‘not trying’. However, this has led to him being scapegoated on numerous occasions, when the team hasn’t been good enough from a collective standpoint. For example, when we have lost big games away from home in the past with 30% possession, some people ask why he isn’t making the difference. His main job is to create chances, and it is near impossible to do so when your side see little to none of the ball, particularly in attacking areas. Nonetheless, this is my opinion about his career in London overall. This isn't much use to us in our current state of affairs. Mesut Özil is undoubtedly my favourite footballer of all time, but I think it’s best for all involved if we part ways this summer. From the perspective of the player himself, his style doesn’t suit that of the manager. Emery bases his system around hard workers and doesn’t allow certain players to express themselves to the extent we saw under Arsène Wenger. Similarly, from the perspective of the club, things aren’t working out as planned. Unai is seemingly reluctant to pick Mesut away from home, and his form has dipped under the Spaniard. For the wage that he occupies, the club would be better off moving the German on, and investing the money wisely in other areas of the squad. However, Dr Erkut Sögüt, Özil’s agent, has insisted that his client plans on respecting his contract, so we will have to watch as things unfold before us.
Numerous media outlets have reported that our summer budget will be approximately £45m. Despite this, I’d take it with a pinch of salt. Firstly, that figure will significantly increase once we sell some of the players mentioned above. As well as that, the figures that the media release aren’t always accurate. Taking both of these into account, I wouldn’t be surprised if we spent £70-80m in the window. Admittedly, this isn’t exactly astronomical by modern standards, but it’s much more promising than the current figures which are being thrown around. For me, the positions which we must address are left back, centre back, a natural winger and a central midfielder to replace the outgoing Aaron Ramsey. In order to address each of these issues, we won’t be able to sign a proven top player in each case. We might have to settle for slightly less experienced players, with the objective of seeing them develop into world class footballers whilst at the club. Some prime examples would be Celtic’s Kieran Tierney and William Saliba of Saint-Étienne. They mightn’t be world renowned stars right now, but nor were Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas or Samir Nasri when they arrived at London Colney for their first day at Arsenal. In recent years, we’ve diverted our attention from youth talent and development to buying pre-made stars, and it hasn’t worked out. Perhaps it is time to go back to our roots and invest in up and coming stars, as well as providing opportunities for players from the youth academy; Amaechi, Saka, Nketiah, Nelson and Willock all spring to mind. Rather than spending the majority of our budget on fixing one area, I would much prefer to see us address the squad from a collective perspective, even if we might have to wait a few years in order to see it fully pay off. The long term future of the club doesn’t look promising at the moment, and this may be one way of solving this issue.