Arsenal must become more efficient and ruthless with their squad management. The futures of several notable players remains unclear ahead of the new season, and it’s decision time for the Gunners.
Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is reportedly expected to end speculation about his future by signing a new three-year contract in the coming days. If true, it will come as a massive relief to fans, who are well accustomed to losing key players for little to no value in return.
The club’s contract management has been appalling in recent years. Just last summer, Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck left for nothing, while Nacho Monreal was sold for a fee of just £225k. In 2018, Alexis Sanchez would have easily been worth upwards of £50m had his contract not been set to expire; all Arsenal managed to get in return was an out-of-favour Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Manchester United.
I could go on and on, but I’ve already written an article about this very issue. Arsenal have been indecisive on whether to sell or extend players for far too long. With that being said, here’s five players whose futures remain unclear ahead of the new season, along with my opinion on each of them. The club must assess each of their situations as soon as possible.
5. Player Futures: Eddie Nketiah
We begin with one of the Hale End graduates. There are a plethora of emerging talents, whose futures look distinctly bright, yet it is difficult to truly gauge Eddie Nketiah’s full potential at this point. His sample size is still small, as his first-team opportunities have been sporadic. However, he does appear to have strong instincts inside the box, and he clearly impressed Arteta enough in training to earn some league starts over Alexandre Lacazette.
Having recently watched Serge Gnabry and Jeff Reine-Adelaide face off against each other in a Champions League semi-final, it is perhaps more evident than ever that Arsenal must protect the long-term value of their young prospects to avoid a repeat of those two situations. Gnabry in particular is a painful reminder of what could have been; we sold him to Werder Bremen for just £5m in 2016, and today his estimated market value is roughly fifteen times that amount.
Nketiah’s current deal is due to expire in the summer of 2022, and Arsenal should have a pretty easy decision to make here: extend the young striker’s contract and give him more opportunities to prove himself in the upcoming season.
4. Player Futures: Sead Kolasinac
After recovering from a number of injury setbacks, Kieran Tierney has emerged as Arsenal’s best defender by some distance. However, this means it could be the end of the road for Kolasinac, whose contract will also expire in 2022. If Arsenal are able to find a buyer, you’d have to think they would be eager to get his £100k-per-week wages off the books.
The flip side is that selling Kolasinac could leave us short-handed at left-back; Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka are capable of filling in, but both players may have roles to play further forward. Unless someone from the academy is promoted, Arsenal would have to look elsewhere. Norwich City’s Jamal Lewis could be a decent option, if he is available for less than the reported £20m asking price.
Personally, I think it is time to move on from the “Bosnian Hulk”; he is a likeable character, and could have a career as a team bodyguard, but my preference would be to sell and take whatever we can get for him.
3. Player Futures: Rob Holding
Arsenal are stacked with quantity rather than quality in defense at the moment, with William Saliba, David Luiz, Pablo Mari, Shkrodan Mustafi, Calum Chambers, Sokratis, and Holding. Furthermore, it has been widely reported that Arsenal are working on a deal to sign Gabriel Magalhaes from Lille, which would take us to an astounding eight center-backs – not to mention Konstantinos Mavropanos, who’s out on loan at VfB Stuttgart.
Realistically, it’s difficult to see Mustafi or Chambers being sold given their respective injuries, which means the futures of Sokratis and Holding are the most on the line. Unfortunately, it just feels like the Englishman could be the odd man out, as he would be easier to sell than Sokratis, who is 32 and on much higher wages. Arteta also seemed reluctant to use Holding after football’s resumption until he essentially had no choice.
While Holding’s contract runs until 2023, you have to wonder where he fits into the big picture, especially if Magalhaes or someone else arrives in the coming weeks. Therefore, it likely makes the most sense to cash in on him this summer and make a decent profit on the soon-to-be 25 year-old.
2. Player Futures: Alexandre Lacazette
Here is another player who has entered the final two years of his contract. Lacazette is now 29, and his performances appear to have peaked. He was fantastic in the 2018/19 season (when he was voted Arsenal’s Player of the Season), but has looked extremely leggy and much slower overall in 2020. Juventus and Atletico Madrid have both been rumored suitors for the Frenchman, and if a reasonable offer comes in (perhaps in the region of £30m), Arsenal would have to at least consider it.
With that being said, he still contributes to the team beyond the stat sheet, dropping extremely deep at times to help link-up the play. His unique bond with Aubameyang has been lovely to watch over the past few seasons, both on and off the pitch. Lacazette’s departure would certainly leave a hole, as it would be asking a lot of Nketiah to fill that gap by himself.
We simply cannot afford to let his contract run down another year, so the decision must be to either sell or extend. Sadly, I don’t think it makes much sense to extend his contract at this point, as Lacazette will be 31 at the end of his current deal; I would look to cash in this summer and reinvest the funds into someone younger and fresher.
There haven’t been many strikers linked with us lately, but Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard has been mentioned in the past as someone Arsenal have watched closely, and he could be available during this window.
1. Player Futures: Emiliano Martinez
This is likely the toughest call to make regarding the futures of all those listed here. Martinez was simply outstanding at the end of the season, and we couldn’t have won the FA Cup without him. However, like the others mentioned above, he is now in the final two years of his contract. Both he and Bernd Leno are far too good to only play in cup games, and both will feel they’ve done more than enough to earn the starting job.
In a recent interview with an Argentine radio station, Martinez made it clear that he will need more games next season, as he hopes to earn an international call-up: “I have shown the club that I can play for them and when I return next season I need to have more games…that is the only way I will stay at Arsenal.”
It’s hard to argue with that, from a man who has waited ten years for his chance. Unfortunately, it makes little financial or footballing sense to keep two extremely valuable goalkeepers when there are so many other squad needs. It could very well come down to who Arteta decides to start at Craven Cottage in three weeks.
Leno is a superb shot-stopper and finished second in our player of the season poll for good reason. On the other hand, while Martinez has a smaller sample size, he looks more comfortable playing out from the back, which is increasingly important in the modern game. It’s an almost impossible call to make, but if you put a gun to my head I would opt for the Argentine, as I believe he is the more well-rounded keeper.
The bottom line is that the club cannot afford to procrastinate any longer on the futures of these five players. It’s decision time.