ARSENAL have made plenty of mistakes in the market in recent years, they have spent questionable sums on questionable players, or else on players who have been bought in isolation without a clear idea of how the fit into the overall unit. Arsenal’s record of player sales is, if anything, even more worthy of derision than their recent purchase history.
Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck were allowed to walk away on free transfers in their prime years, while getting Henrikh Mkhitaryan in a straight swap deal for Alexis Sanchez was a bit like swapping a sports car for a scooter. With Alexis’ departure in January 2018, Arsenal felt pressured into awarding Mesut Özil a gargantuan contract as the club grappled with the potential social embarrassment of losing two A-listers in the same season.
With clearer heads, Arsenal would have read the writing on the wall and traded in on the likes of Sanchez, Ramsey and Welbeck earlier, extracting maximum value from them and using the cash to rebuild. Instead, the club fell into a spiral of panic-spending to conceal their poor selling. As I wrote last week, Arsenal are about to transition into another rebuilding project.
The resolution of the 2019-20 season will remain unclear for a while, as will the economic ramifications of COVID-19, but Champions League qualification looks very unlikely and the 2018-19 accounts already show a £27m loss for the club. Arsenal don’t have an awful lot of cash to execute another rebuild, which means they are going to have to be smart about selling players.
Clear-headed decisions not fastened to sentiment or PR need to be taken. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a player Arsenal panic bought in the Sanchez fallout [just because he has been a success, doesn’t mean he wasn’t a panic buy], will have one year on his contract this summer. At 31 and with no Champions League football, the club are probably not in a position to give him the salary he is entitled to seek.
This is assuming that he would be amenable to re-signing and I think it would be understandable if he wasn’t. The real dilemma though, is Alex Lacazette, who will have two years left on his deal this summer. He turns 29 in May, so this will be the last significant contract of his career. At the two-year before expiry point, a club must come to a decision as to whether they want to renew or sell.
If Aubameyang leaves, Arsenal might be more inclined to hold onto Lacazette. Sanchez’s departure certainly formed part of their thinking when they accepted Özil’s salary demands in January 2018 and five years earlier, Arsenal made the same decision with Theo Walcott. With Fabregas and Nasri leaving in the summer of 2011 and van Persie joining Manchester United in August 2012, they decided they couldn’t let Walcott leave too and agreed to pay more than his value.
In the event that Aubameyang departs, I think Arsenal should hold firm and cash in on Lacazette. Selling a player doesn’t always mean that you hate them or think that they are rubbish. Personally, I loved Ramsey but openly advocated selling him in 2016. Lacazette is a good player, but he is not quite prolific enough a goal-scorer to justify a large salary aged 29.
With rumours linking Lacazette to Atlético Madrid surfacing once more, would you prefer to keep him this summer in hope that he rediscovers his best form or sell & reinvest the funds?
— Patrick Timmons (@PatrickTimmons1) April 4, 2020
Arsenal bought Aubameyang six months after signing Lacazette for this reason, because they needed to buttress Lacazette’s decent, but not prolific output. With the likes of Ramsey and Sanchez now departed, it’s unlikely that the Gunners will be able to rely on Lacazette as the principal goal-scorer. The Gunners' attack has possessed quality players but hasn’t been a properly functioning unit for some time now.
Arteta will need to re-mould the forward line and probably the midfield and selling a prime player with two years left on his deal seems like a good way of generating some start-up capital. Liverpool made the unpopular decision to sell Philippe Coutinho two years ago and put the finishing touches on Europe’s foremost team with the windfall.
Arsenal’s attack should be built around Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pepe, who represent the medium-term of future of the team, at least. You can probably add Bukayo Saka to that list, though he is doing a sterling turn at left-back, the squad already has two left-backs but lacks a proper left-sided attacker.
Buying players that dovetail with the likes of Pepe, Saka and Martinelli ought to be the priority and selling a good forward like Lacazette and replacing him with someone more complementary to those players strikes me as a sensible way forward. It might not prove to be a popular sale, Welbeck and Ramsey wouldn’t have been popular sales had they been sold a year or two before their contracts came up, but the club would be in much ruder health now had those decisions been taken.
Arsenal should not repeat the mistake of holding onto a player for too long because they like him or because he’s popular and they fear the PR fallout. They simply have to ask themselves what represents better value- sinking significant funds into Lacazette as he enters his 30s, or selling now and reinvesting in a forward [be it centre-forward or wide forward] with a higher ceiling.