It’s all been shaping up to be the most unpredictable summer transfer window in the history of Arsenal football club.
Arsene Wenger’s future may be resolved, but the fates of several first team stars remain unclear, whilst many have anticipated wholesale changes at the Emirates Stadium after failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time under the Frenchman’s stewardship.
There have even been reports of a £150million warchest – the kind of money Wenger has shied away from spending throughout the last decade.
But, in typical Wenger style, Le Professeur brought us all crashing back down to earth earlier this week by declaring Arsenal would make a ‘maximum of two or three‘ signings ahead of 2017/18. We already know one is much-discussed left-back Sead Kolasinac. So, at most, Arsenal fans can expect just two more additions to a squad that finished a staggering 18 points off the top of the Premier League table this season.
To many Arsenal fans, such comments will represent the club’s lack of ambition and resistance to change, which is precisely how they’ve ended a season that once promised a Premier League title bid in fifth place. In many senses, that may be true, but when analysed more closely, it’s exactly what Arsene Wenger should be doing.
At the start of the season, many argued this was the best squad Arsenal squad Wenger had ever been luxury too, overloaded with depth and offering him diverse options in virtually every department; a wealth of variety up front, a genuine mixture of workers and creators in midfield, three centre-backs of vast experience, not to mention Rob Holding and Gabriel Paulista, and two top-class goalkeepers.
That is very much still the case; the problem this season has been more Wenger’s philosophy, selections and tactical calls than the quality of player at his disposal. If anything, he’s almost had too many options to choose from, so making seven or eight signings this summer won’t change anything – in fact, it will only make the problem worse.
The last thing Arsenal need is another Gabriel, Lucas Perez or Mohamed Elneny. They need world-class quality to improve on what they already have, not a large turnaround for the sake of superficiality that will leave Arsenal facing the same problems this time next year.
With Kolasinac arriving on a free transfer, if the rumours of a £150million warchest are to be believed, then Wenger has around £75million apiece to spend on two top-drawer entities. Interestingly, he’s already believed to have seen an £87million bid rejected for Monaco’s strike prodigy Kylian Mbappe, suggesting Wenger’s spending strategy follows that line of thought. Suddenly, just two or three signings makes a whole load of sense.
The problem with those wise and shrewd words, however, to paraphrase the old saying, is that the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. And as much as Wenger will hope his transfer window consists of bringing in just two more players who can instantly and obviously improve the quality of his starting XI, there’s every chance he could be spending the summer fighting off an exodus from the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal will be determined to prove the period of them being a selling club for Europe’s elite is well and truly over. But financially, taking that principled stand is a huge, huge risk. They’ll undoubtedly receive offers for Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil this summer and with their contracts due to expire at the end of next season, anything above £50million will be more than tempting. That’s more than Arsenal paid for either in the first place.
But the potential Arsenal exits don’t stop there. We know Barcelona are eying Hector Bellerin and their desperate need for a right-back who can emulate the style and form of Dani Alves is so severe it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Catalans make an offer the Gunners simply can’t refuse for the Spain international. The fact they’re not involved in the Champions League this season, and that they may or may not have a new manager in two years’ time, may well convince Bellerin to push for a move at his end.
The same can be said for Laurent Koscielny, the lynchpin in Arsenal’s defence. He’s been incredibly loyal to the Gunners but the reasons above will give other clubs the ammunition to try and lure him away. Due to turn 32 in December, the Frenchman is running out of time to lift domestic and European titles. Consequently, the likes of PSG, Bayern Munich and Juventus may be too good for him to turn down if they come knocking.
Then there’s Aaron Ramsey, a player Arsenal’s Premier League rivals will surely have watched closely in recent years. Wenger’s rarely got the best out of the clearly talented attack-minded midfielder and other Premier League managers will feel they can more consistently. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott also belong in that camp. None have done anything to suggest the actively want to leave Arsenal, but the situation could change quickly – especially if some of the aforementioned key players decide to jump ship.
Two or three signings, being one down already, simply won’t be enough to try and fill Sanchez and Ozil’s void, let alone those who could potentially follow them out of the exit door. By the end of the summer, that declaration could well come back to haunt Arsene Wenger. Considering it was hardly a particularly inspiring or popular call in the first place, you have to wonder why he said it.
For the clubs who do the best in the transfer market, or at least create the perception of doing the best, mum’s always the word until the deals are over the line.