Arsenal have magnificent star power, but are those stars helping or hurting the Gunners aspirations? We look at the tough choices in store for Mikel Arteta and as he embarks on rebuilding the squad.
I have been a proponent of Mesut Ozil since I began covering Arsenal; my affinity for both Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette is also not a secret. But is it possible for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta to rebuild around these players in a time span that correlates with the best years left of these players?
Likely not. As much as I would love to argue to the contrary, each has a matter of one or two years remaining of their primes and with complex, high-earning contracts to agree upon, the situation is only made murkier. It would, therefore, be unreasonable to keep these players, despite the potential capital in return.
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It is a potentially unpopular conclusion, then, that Arsenal should sell these three to allow further room for the rebuilding job ahead of Arteta. With each player compensated graciously, getting their numbers off the books would free up lots of room in itself. Add in the transfer returns for at least two of the players and it creates more opportunities for Arteta to construct his vision.
Arsenal can take a lesson from the great American football team, the New England Patriots. Their coach, the legendary Bill Belichick, is known in his sport as a boss who gets rid of his players at least a year in advance of their downturn if he can. ‘Sentimentality is a value for losers,’ is what this ruthless nature boils down to.
If this idea can be extrapolated here, we can see why it may offer broad upside. Arsenal have great financial potential. They also have great, young strikers and offensive pieces beneath the likes of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Ozil that are waiting for their chance. There is now the opportunity to redistribute the wealth and investment more evenly throughout the squad.
Defensively, the team is desperately lacking. The high-level quality players they did have have been decimated, either by injuries, sales or age. Money from these transfers could provide the back and middle of the squad with the help it really needs from players who will not have as many great years ahead of them as they’ve had behind them. Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Matteo Guendouzi, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, and potentially even Dani Ceballos are among these players waiting in the wings but none are defenders.
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With this understood, it seems essential, build from back to front, instead of front to back. Give Arteta the freedom and capital to express his vision for Arsenal as completely as he sees fit, and watch the endeavour take off with breakneck speed.
This holding pattern of great veteran players, promising younger players and an obvious team weakness is a hard position for any manager to be in. Expectations exist for tangible results even while the club are actually further away from those results than the fans can conceive. How can a team with Aubameyang, Lacazette and Ozil not win trophies yearly?!
For that reason, it is not an easy — nor a popular — notion to advocate. And I do not think this will come to pass, certainly not in this summer window upcoming. But I do think it would be the smartest course of action. With it, Arsenal could manoeuvre themselves towards consistency for the first time in years, and sooner than many of the prognosticators believe.