Arsenal’s track record of selling key players does not make for pleasant reading. The building of their new stadium pulled the financial strings tight which forced frugality, but the loss of multiple stars over the last decade or so has cost the Gunners dearly and seen them lift no trophy other than the FA Cup. Arsene Wenger – to most people at least – has been a steadying influence and kept the club in a relatively competitive position despite a shortage of financial muscle.
The stadium is no longer an excuse, however, and Arsenal are at risk of slipping out of the Champions League. The club – aside from reaching the FA Cup final again – is the closest it has been to turmoil in two decades. Fan protests can be taken with a couple of grains of salt, though the desire of one of the world’s best players to leave the club cannot.
Alexis Sanchez has been far and away Arsenal’s best player this season. The second half of the campaign he has not been quite as dominant as the first half, but the Chilean has led the goal scoring charts for the club and made them tick. Murmurings that – with his Arsenal contract expiring in 2018 – Sanchez wants a move are recurring. Arsenal have left themselves in a problematic situation once again by letting a player’s contract run down to 12 months remaining, leaving Sanchez holding a powerful set of cards.
The Gunners have proudly stuck to the club wage structure for years. This wage structure kept them afloat through a costly new stadium move and has allowed them to function without the debt that looms over many other football clubs.
Reluctance to break this structure is well justified. It is not only on financial grounds, however. Offering a player a figure that changed this would see half the current squad ask for new contracts and any new signings suddenly realise they could push Arsenal into a realm they had previously refused to venture into. Squad harmony would potentially take a real hit if a player was offered a blockbuster wage packet.
Arsenal, though, have little choice at this juncture. The loss of another key first team player would be too deep a wound to simply plaster over. With a top four finish unlikely and Wenger’s future uncertain, attracting players to join the club this summer will be tough enough. Then add the loss of Alexis to that and Arsenal are going to be unable to compete with their Premier League peers. Footballers’ wages might be unimaginably high at the top level, but the recent inflation in player demands (largely due to the Premier League) means Arsenal must reshape their wage structure to compete.
If Arsenal refuse to compete financially, cannot offer Champions League football and have lost their best player they have little to zero chance of rivalling any of their top six companions in the market this summer. Losing Sanchez would be a sign Arsenal are on the wane. Whatever it takes, they must keep him at the club if they are to be a force next season, even if it means a swathe of new contracts for first team players.
How the Sanchez ‘saga’ is dealt with at the Emirates could be a barometer of the ambition in the upper echelons of the club.