So, it’s the end of June, and we still have no idea as to whether Alexis Sanchez will be playing for Arsenal next season or not. Huzzah!
In all seriousness though, Arsenal still have the same three possibilities staring them in the face that were present a month ago.
- Alexis signs a new contract. Yay!
- Alexis stays at Arsenal but doesn’t sign a new contract. Yay?
- Alexis leaves for a cut–price fee due to his contract running out in a year. Not yay. Not even a little bit of yay.
Three options, with only one of them being something that benefits Arsenal in the long term.
It’s hardly an optimal transfer strategy, but it’s one Arsenal have used for some time now. Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie both left the club under circumstances so you would think Arsenal would want to avoid history repeating itself. Yet here we are again sweating over the future of a player we can’t afford to lose and are unlikely to receive market value as compensation.
So, what should Arsenal do if Alexis comes back from his holidays in a couple of weeks and says that he’s not signing a new contract? As much as keeping him for one more season would be tempting, and with Arsenal needing as many top class players as possible to get back into the top-four next season, losing Sanchez for nothing next season would be way more detrimental to Arsenal’s long-term ambitions than letting him go in the summer would be.
It would be far too easy to let pride get in the way and make Alexis stay around for one last season at the Emirates, but as painful as watching van Persie shuttle off to Manchester was, Arsenal did use the money to buy Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla. Yes, van Persie won the league at Old Trafford and was Manchester United’s best player that season, but Arsenal turned a player that wanted to leave into three quality squad players , two of whom are still at the club to this day. That’s not bad.
So how can Arsenal do the same this time around, when player prices are at an all time high? It’s easier to justify selling van Persie for £25 million when Cazorla is available for £15 million and Giroud for £12 million. But when Bernardo Silva is being bought by Manchester City for an initial £50 million, it’s very hard to justify selling Alexis for the same amount. Silva is a fine player, but he’s not world class, at least not yet. And if Silva is going for the same money that Arsenal could hope to get for Alexis, then Arsenal will find impossible to replace the Chilean for £50 million.
So if money is the issue, then how can Arsenal get around it? Well, a curious story came out a couple of days ago, which made no sense at the time but might be Arsenal’s best way of getting anything close to fair value for Alexis. The TL;DR is the following: Alexis for Sergio Aguero. A straight swap. It made no sense at the time because it seems unfathomable Aguero would agree to move to a team that currently isn’t playing in the Champions League. But in any swap deal, Arsenal are more likely to get a better player in a swap deal than £50m could buy. Here are a few examples:
- Would you rather take £50 million of Manchester City’s money, or one of Leroy Sané/Raheem Sterling?
- Would you rather take £40 million of Bayern Munich’s money, or one of Renato Sanches/Douglas Costa?
- Would you rather take £40 million of Paris Saint Germain’s money, or one of Angel Di Maria/Marquinhos?
- Would you rather take £50 million of Chelsea’s money or two of their youth projects that they’ve been stashing away for the last few years? (Tammy Abraham and Andreas Christensen would do quite nicely.) Or just one of them and Cesc?
Arsenal have precedence with this sort of deal, when they sold Ashley Cole to Chelsea for £5 million plus William Gallas in 2006. Arsenal had no time to try and source a replacement for Cole – they should never have had to, of course, but alas – so they settled for Chelsea’s best utility defender in return instead. Even in 2006, £15 million wouldn’t have been enough to replace the best left back in the world, but Gallas for £10 million wasn’t a bad buy. At least, it seemed so at the time until we found out Gallas wanted the number 10 shirt and we realised we’d bought a headcase.
Arsenal don’t need more money, that much should have been made abundantly clear by the pursuit of Kylian Mbappé. What they need is talent. And if Alexis is going to be walking away from the Emirates this summer, it’s far more beneficial for Arsenal to see players coming back in exchange, instead of a half empty wheelbarrow of cash.