With the 2016–17 season almost at its end, enough has been factored out to figure out what resources Arsenal will have available to them next season, and what they need to do to improve on this year’s disappointment.
With all of their respective rivals, and Tottenham, all managing to qualify for the Champions League next season, Arsenal are already starting with a disadvantage. We’ve seen first hand how the lure of playing in Europe’s elite club competition has helped Arenal sign world class players such as Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez, not having that available to offer to prospective new signings is going to be a hinderance when it comes to bringing in players of the quality required to get Arsenal back above the top 4 watermark in the Premier League.
That’s not to say it’ll be impossible. Liverpool bought Sadio Mane, who filled a gaping need on their right wing. Chelsea bought N’Golo Kante, Marcus Alonso and David Luiz, all of whom contributed heavily towards the league title going to Stamford Bridge. Manchester United bought Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mhkitaryan, with Bailly being the only defender to come out of Old Trafford with any credit this season and Mkhitaryan scoring crucial goal after crucial goal in the Europa League to help United back into the Champions League.
Arsenal could have afforded any of the six players listed above. None of them cost more than £40million, and none of them are on higher wages than either Özil or Alexis are earning at the moment. But the point isn’t that Arsenal have money to spend, it’s that all of these players went to a team that wasn’t in the Champions League, and all of these players were bought to add to a team’s strength, instead of replacing it.
Arsenal’s problem isn’t that they don’t have the money to add talent to their best starting eleven, it’s that the majority of any transfer funds might have to be spent in order to just keep their current team together. Arsenal might be able to replace Özil, or Alexis, or indeed both of them. But can they add the talent needed to become competitive again, whilst keeping their two biggest stars?
I’m not so sure.
Take Alexis as an example. He’s on £140,000 a week, and has one year left on his contract. If Arsenal were to sell him in the morning, there’d be a bidding war for sure, but Arsenal would be fortunate to get anything to close to £50million for him. Is there anyone in world football that is as good as Alexis and available for £50 million? No. Real Madrid just paid $45 million for a 16 year old from Brazil with not a single minute of professional football to his name, for crying out loud. Getting someone as good as Alexis to replace Alexis is going to cost a lot.
Say that man is Marco Reus, or Karim Benzema or Mauro Icardi. You’re not going to get anyone like that for less than a £60 million transfer fee and at least £200,000 a week in wages. It’s very likely that in order to replace Alexis, Arsenal will end up losing money over the medium term whilst not gaining any competitive advantage from bringing in a world class player.
The problem with this is that once you do the math, it’s going to become very tempting to say ‘Screw it, don’t buy a new player, let’s just give the extra money to Alexis himself instead.’ A net £15 million to £20 million saved in transfer fees, plus a net saving of £60,000 a week in wages adds up to around £30 million that wouldn’t be spent on Alexis’ replacement. £30 million divided by 4 years equals £7.5 million a year. That’s around £150,000 a week.
Would you give Alexis an extra £150,000 a week to stay? It seems like a no–brainer, but we have to factor in the repercussions from such a deal. Alexis is absolutely worth the money, but Özil is going to want a similar deal in order to stay around too. I would argue that he also is worth the money, but that’s £60 million that just got spent and the team got no better as a result. And if those two agree deals for between £270k–£290k a week, how much is Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade–Chamberlain going to ask for in order to stay around as well? And as the wage bill climbs and climbs, any money left over to bring in any additions to the squad dwindles and dwindles.
This will be the logic that is used to defend selling Alexis or Özil, that the money isn’t there to keep everyone around and significant players to the squad. Can Arsenal buy someone like Antoine Griezmann just like Manchester United bought Paul Pogba? Of course not. But could they buy Corentin Tolisso? Absolutely.
Arsenal may indeed have a ‘warchest’ or ‘transfer kitty’ or whatever cliche you want to use to describe the huge pile of cash that Stan Kroenke is sitting on at the moment, but without any inclination from the owner that he wants to see that money used to strengthen Arsenal from both inside and out, or indeed any inclination that he’s willing to step aside and let someone else do it instead, then Arsenal will remain caught in a perpetual loop of trying to avoid buyer’s regret and seller’s remorse.
All of Arsenal’s rivals speculated to accumulate last season and it worked out for them. Arsenal tried it themselves and it didn’t come off. They cannot allow last season’s failure to dictate how they approach the upcoming summer. They cannot be afraid of going all in like Liverpool did with Mané, or Tottenham did with Moussa Sissoko.
Arsenal cannot be afraid of saying that something costs too much any more. They lost that luxury last Sunday. It’s going to cost them a lot of money to get it back.