On the face of it, it looks like an impossible dilemma. No one knows if Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will sign a new contract or not, so how can the club plan for the future? Sanchez was so strongly linked with a move to Manchester City last transfer window and the deal only did not happen according to reports because Arsenal could not secure a suitable replacement in time. Mesut Ozil continues to be linked with a reunion with his former boss at Real Madrid in Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.
In fact it not only looks like an impossible dilemma but also a classic opportunity to knock Wenger. You can imagine the headlines: “Arsenal in chaos as Alexis signs for…”
And yet, maybe it is not quite as bad as it seems at first sight.
The first point to note is that under Premier League rules, players who are in the last year of their contracts are allowed to negotiate openly with any other club from January onwards. Technically prior to this date all negotiations are supposed to go between clubs, although these days it seems most of the planning and plotting is arranged by the tabloid press and their blogs. But then again, most of their predictions never come to fruition.
So the fact is that Arsenal either get a deal with the players in January, or else they go off and sign for someone else. Only in the extremely unlikely situation in which no one is willing to sign them for the salary they require, with the guarantees of first team football that they also require, would players of the calibre of Alexis and Ozil reconsider their position having not agreed a deal with Arsenal in January.
And although both players will be starting to lose their ability a little by the end of a four or even five year contract signed next year, there is every reason to suppose that one of the mega rich clubs funded by a state or multi-billionaire, will be willing to have the player for five years even if he only plays regularly for three. After all Man U did exactly that with Van Persie.
In this reality, Arsenal know that they either reach a deal in January or else the player is certainly going in the summer. What the players can’t do is decide to walk out in January. (That last point is of course blatantly obvious, although it does seem to me that some people are not really taking this into account. It is still up to Arsenal whether they sell or not).
So we are left with three options…
Option 1: There is no deal arranged in January, but the players’ agents negotiate a new deal with a new club to start in July. That is exactly what happened with the transfer to Arsenal of Kolasinac. The contract was over, the deal was done, and it was announced in June. This means that Arsenal know that they have to have suitable replacements lined up in the summer.
Option 2: There is a deal arranged with one or both of the players and their agents in January, for a new contract. They that’s straight forward – no need for a replacement.
Option 3: There is a deal arranged to sell the player/s in January. I suspect Arsenal would only let either player go if they had a replacement set up there and then for the player, because to continue through the second half of the season without Ozil or Alexis or both, would seriously hamper the side. To allow either player to go, in order to get the modest sort of fee that could be gained in January (with the buying club knowing that they could have the player for nothing in June) would not be incentive enough for Arsenal, in my view.
Which brings us onto part two. What replacements do we get?
To summarise we need replacements for Mertesacker who is retiring, and either Alexis and/or Ozil if they are leaving. We might also need a replacement for Santi Cazorla, if he does not return fully fit in the new year – although he is not listed in the official 25 player list at the moment, so we are functioning now as if he were not there.
I won’t waste your time trying to suggest who we are going to get; there are just so many rumours around that I don’t think anyone can really know what is going to happen in the transfer market.
But I would make two points about transfers. The first is that the transfer of Alexis and Ozil to the club took me, and I believe a fair number of other people, completely by surprise. There were thousands of rumours buzzing around at the time of each transfer but nothing to suggest that it would be these players. So whoever comes in, I think it will be a surprise.
Second, I would point to the fact that we are actually running two full squads this season – one for the cups and one for the league.
While it would be highly unlikely that all of the “Cup team” players would step up to the first team, I suspect we will have several who will graduate in the course of the rest of this season. In which case, who is to say that it is impossible that Jack Wilshere will finally overcome all his injury problems, and make it back into the first team squad and become the absolute star we all know he could be, if he were injury free.
Or come to that what about Reis Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, the highest profile youngsters. And we should not forget that Alex Iwobi is still an under 21 player who is still improving greatly (indeed we’ve been getting streams of “Why can’t Alex Iwobi recreate Nigeria form for Arsenal?” articles for months now – and I have no doubt he will do exactly that.)
And then there is Debuchy – a player who dropped out of the reckoning primarily because of a dreadful foul which saw him pushed over a wall. Plus Koscielny will reduce his injury problems once he stops playing for France after the world cup. Holding is already a first team player who can hold his own at any level – and by next August I suspect he will be an absolute regular.
Then we have seen how Elneny can function as a backup central defender. Asano could get his work permit and turn out to be gem, and I can guarantee at least one more academy player will come good, because that happens almost every year. Bielik? Dragomir? Willock? Or maybe Eddie…
We only need one or two from that list of predictions to be right, and the squad is once more fully functioning.
So I don’t see this situation as remotely being a crisis. If Alexis and/or Ozil go then I think there will be a big name signing to replace them or Jack Wilshere will step up, or Reiss Nelson will utterly burst upon the scene. And given the other talent that is coming up through the ranks, there is going to be considerable pressure on the first team.
Remember, we can only register 25 players.