Lessons From Rivals’ UCL Showdown
With the Gunners not a part of the most prestigious club competition in Europe this season, supporters have been forced to watch one of the most exciting Champions League campaigns in years, where 2 of their biggest rivals faced off over 2 legs in the quarterfinals. Liverpool shocked the football world with their dismantling of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City 5-1 over 180 minutes. From an Arsenal perspective, there can be little doubt that Liverpool are a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League next season, and the Gunners will have to make significant improvements to the squad this summer if they have any hope of joining the fray next season, challenging for a title.
However, Gooners would be equally wise to take lessons away from Manchester City’s capitulation to their Merseyside rivals. Arsenal supporters are notoriously impatient, and it takes no time at all for them to get on their beloved club when they aren’t performing as well as expected. Manchester City have looked unbeatable at times this season, as Arsenal fans remember all too well from their consecutive ugly 3-1 losses, but even they of the bottomless pockets and lauded manager aren’t immune from dips in their form. City have now lost 4 matches in a row in all competitions, and have found themselves eliminated from the Champions League by a club they lead in the league by 17 points. Their recent struggles should serve as a reminder to some Arsenal supporters that all teams are hit with adversity over the course of a season, but it is how that team responds to those challenges that will define that campaign in the future.
Xhaka Stricken With Illness
There was some bad news for Arsenal as they prepared to travel to Moscow for today’s second leg showdown with CSKA Moscow when reports emerged that a Granit Xhaka did not travel due to influenza. For the Gunners, his loss is a huge blow to their expected plans to start with a full compliment of first-team starters against their Russian hosts. The Swiss international has played more minutes than any outfield player this season apart from Hector Bellerin, and he has been a lock in Arsene Wenger’s starting XI. The 4-1 aggregate score takes some of he pressure off the team in the second leg, but if this week’s Champions League action is anything to go by, anything can happen when teams fight for survival in such an important competition. The Gunners must get the job done today to keep their dreams of a Europa League title alive, but it will be imperative for them to have Xhaka back at full fitness before the next round.
Adidas Rumours Persist
As Arsenal head into their last season under contract with Puma to be the official kit sponsor of the club, rumours that Adidas have shown a strong interest in Arsenal have persisted. Their current deal, a £30 million per season contract with Puma, was signed back in 2014 and at the time was the most lucrative in Europe. However, their rivals have since seen their kit deals surpass the Gunners’ by a significant margin, with Manchester United leading the way with their £75 million per season deal with Adidas. While Arsenal may not sign a deal that puts them all the way atop the pile again, it is widely expected that it will offer improved terms over their current deal.
The Gunners were pursued heavily by Puma back in 2013 as the kit and boot manufacturer looked to make the North London club their flagship team. The German company has added teams like Newcastle United, Leicester City and Borussia Dortmund to the fold, but Arsenal are still their biggest client. Should Puma maintain an interest in remaining with the club, it could spark a bidding war that could benefit Arsenal with improved terms, much like how their rivals benefited from Nike and Adidas competing for their business.
Arsenal news seems to be a never ending stream of contract negotiations and transfer rumours, and this week saw some increased chatter around the contract situations of two players, Aaron Ramsey and Reiss Nelson. The 27 year old Welshman has continued to be linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe with his contract due to expire at the end of next season. Recently, stories have claimed that the Gunners have begun to explore talks with the midfielder after negotiations with his teammate Jack Wilshere appear to be at a stalemate. Ramsey is valued at and above £40 million depending on the source, and Juventus is the latest club to be linked with his services. Ramsey has been arguably the Gunners’ best player this season, and losing him would be a massive blow to their chances of competing in the league next season, so it is encouraging to hear that the club may have arrived at his name on their list of priorities.
Shortly after making his first ever Premier League start, Reiss Nelson spoke about his contract situation, claiming he was hoping to sign a new deal soon, and that Arsene Wenger has been a massive influence on him and his career thus far. The quote comes on the heels of reports that there were difficulties in getting Nelson to sign a new contract with the club due to a perceived lack of opportunity, but his comments seem to de-escalate that fear slightly. The 18 year old has attracted plenty of interest this season from Bayern Munich, PSG and others, so it has become something of a pressing situation for the Gunners, who do not want to lose one of their most skillful and talented youth products in many years.
If it has seemed in the past like the Gunners are one of the clubs linked with players as often as any other on the transfer market, the early indications are that Sven Mislintat’s hiring will only strengthen this trend. Not only is Arsenal being linked to established names like Marcelo Brozovic from Inter Milan, but rising stars (Kenedy, 22, a Chelsea player on loan at Newcastle) and youngsters as well. Not just any youngsters, however, but some of the best in the world, and that includes what appears to be another raid in Barcelona’s La Masia academy. The player most recently linked to the Gunners is attacking midfielder Robert Navarro.
Today is a massive day for Navarro, as he turns 16 and is now able to sign professional terms with his club. However, Arsenal have come in to make the decision a difficult one for youngster, who could follow in the footsteps of Hector Bellerin and Cesc Fabregas to make the journey to North London. The move worked a treat for those two players, who went on to become vital parts of the Arsenal team much sooner than they might have if they stayed with the Catalonian club. Navarro is exceptionally highly rated, and his Barcelona pedigree practically guarantees his technical proficiency. However, the case of Jon Toral could serve as a warning for Navarro, as he made the move to Arsenal at the same time as Hector Bellerin, but was unable to leave his mark at the club and moved to Hull City in August of last year (not exactly a young player’s dream move). Unlike many rumours, which apply to some time in the future, this is one situation that could see a resolution today, his first as a 16 year old.