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COVID-19 hiatus cannot be blamed for contract mess

Arsenal, again, are in a contract mess. And while COVID-19 is causing difficulties, it cannot be blamed for the club’s awkward position.

Despite being in this situation many times before and repeatedly vowing that they would not make the same mistakes as they have in the past, incredibly, Arsenal are on the verge of another contract crisis. And while the COVID-19 global pandemic has not helped things, it is not to blame.

Most pertinently, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has just one year remaining on his contract. He will turn 31 in the summer and the Gunners have cornered themselves once more. Either they offer him a bumper new deal that will extend into his thirties or they sell for less than his market price had either his future been secured last summer or a sale been conducted.

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The Aubameyang situation is too late to save. But there are other looming problems that the club must be decisive on in the coming months. Chief among them is Bukayo Saka. Despite consistently shining in the youth teams and always looking as though he would at least have a shot at breaking into the first-team squad, Saka’s contract entered its final two years this season.

He then subsequently burst onto the senior scene, has produced a truly remarkable campaign at just 18, leading the Gunners in assists despite playing much of the year out of position, and is now attracting interest from around the world. Arsenal still expect to sign Saka to a long-term deal, but they are under pressure and if they fail, they will have to sell one of the brightest young prospects in world football. No smart club lets players of Saka’s talent leave on the cheap.

But the problems exist beyond Saka, too. In two years, the following players’ current deals expire: Alexandre Lacazette, Matteo Guendouzi, Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers, Eddie Nketiah and Emiliano Martinez. You can make different arguments in favour of retaining or selling each player, but the overall point is clear: Arsenal need to make a decision.

Take Guendouzi as an example, although the logic extends to the other players, too. Arsenal should decide this summer if they are going to build the team around him or not. If they are not, they should sell. His value will never be higher. If they are, they should sign him to a new contract and not let him enter the final two years of his contract, cornering themselves as they have done with so many players in the past.

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Head of Football Raul Sanllehi previously vowed that the era of the expiring contract would come to an end. “In general, I do believe that a player’s contract should never go to the last year, as a policy,” said when he inherited the management of the club from Ivan Gazidis in October 2018. “Normally, the contracts of the players are for five years. You need to have a clear idea of what you want to do with that player when he is in the third year, at the latest.”

By his own line of thinking, that means Arsenal should know what they will do with Lacazette, Kolasinac, Guendouzi and co. so that they avoid the situations they are currently in regarding Saka and Aubameyang. And yet, there has been very limited movement on the contract front all season, with Football.London reporting that no talks have taken place between Saka and the club since February.

Next: Arsenal: 5 players impacted by Thomas Partey move

Of course, COVID-19 has caused untold disruption and made situations more difficult. But it is not to blame for the looming contract crisis that Arsenal are set to find themselves in. As always, the club’s cautious, dithering, dallying nature has done that, and they are about to pay the price.

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