FootballPremier League

Arsenal have been rebuilding for years… and there’s still a lot more rebuilding to do

March 30, 2020

IT feels as though Arsenal have been in a state of transition for about a decade now. The playing staff has turned over several times as the Gunners have tried to stave off decline and behind the scenes the club has undergone considerable flux, with the capture and subsequent resignation of Sven Mislintat, part of a team of executives put into place by Ivan Gazidis, who left for AC Milan as soon as he erected the scaffolding of the post Wenger era.

The feeling of persistent mutation has accelerated with three different managers in charge during this season. Mikel Arteta will have his own ideas about the types of players he wants to play his highly specialised brand of football. A new manager and new ideas usually means new players.

Even if Mikel Arteta were completely satisfied with the squad, the age profile and the contract situations mean that there is a lot of natural churn in the mail anyway. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s contract situation continues to make headlines for obvious reasons, he has one year left on his deal come the summer and, at 31, the wisdom of awarding him the sort of salary he would be entitled to ask for must be in question.

Alex Lacazette will have two years left on his contract this summer and that means the club and the player must enter discussions about extending his deal and, if the player won’t, that places him on the market by default. Mesut Özil will have one year left on his contract this summer and given his salary, finding a suitor still seems fanciful. However, he is a regular starter under Arteta and that means that he requires a long-term replacement sooner rather than later.

Arsenal’s attack will start to look radically different over the next 12-18 months. During Arsène Wenger’s final season in charge, the club foolishly threw their shirts onto the poker table by spending lots of money on late prime attackers. In January 2018, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang were procured and Özil was signed up to a a big contract, while Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud were moved on.

It was a conscious, short-term gamble to get Arsenal back into the Champions League which has failed. Mkhitaryan has moved to Roma on loan with the Gunners desperate to offload his salary, with Alex Iwobi moved on too. A young, new attack is potentially beginning to take shape with Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka shining a light on a monotone season for Arsenal.

Saka has excelled as a left-back, but with Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac on the books, the need for a left-winger is greater than the need for a left-back. Nicolas Pepe has had a stop start campaign, but surely represents the future of the Gunners front line too. Arsenal know the dangers of entirely banking on young talent to fill the chasm left by experienced players, they will need to recruit new talent in their attack and soon.

In defence, the revolution is already under way. Tierney, Cedric Soares, Pablo Mari and David Luiz have all arrived in the last 12 months, with William Saliba to join them this summer. Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis have a year left on their deals and the club will surely look to move them both on during the next transfer window – whenever that might fall. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been frozen out by Arteta and his future must also be in some serious doubt.

There isn’t a great deal of certainty in midfield either. Even recent acquisitions like Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi have been in and out of the team under the new coach and Dani Ceballos is on a temporary deal with no obligation to buy inserted in the loan. Mohamed Elneny has spent the season on loan at Besiktas and pursuing a permanent exit seems like the most likely strategy this summer.

One way or another, Arsenal’s team will undergo a significant transformation over the next 18 months or so, which will feel strange because it only very recently experienced significant turnover. Bernd Leno, Tierney, Sokratis, Ceballos, Torreira, Soares, Pepe, Mari, Luiz and Martinelli have all arrived in the last four transfer windows, while Denis Suarez and Stephan Lichtsteiner have come and gone in the same timeframe. Expect a similar level of upheaval in the next 1-2 years as the Gunners try to rebuild their empire from scratch. Again.