Whether you see it as a good or bad thing, massive changes are coming to the top end of the Arsenal squad. It is easy enough now to try and forget the arduous summer and its daily procession of Arsenal exit stories, but it will soon be upon us again, and many fans should start to view its arrival with a little more excitement. When a club loses its best, most important players, it could be viewed one of two ways; either as a catastrophe that cannot be overcome, or as a new opportunity that should be maximised.
Arsene Wenger, as the whole football world knows by now, will be forced to confront this issue (and likely already has behind the scenes) head on, as his two biggest stars will both likely leave in January or the summer that follows. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez represented so much when they signed for the Gunners in 2013 and 2014, respectively. After the nadir of the post-Highbury “Banter Era”, their signing straight off the squads of two of he world’s biggest clubs was meant to usher in a new era of prosperity for the trophy-starved North Londoners. In one respect, the FA Cup, they have undoubtedly succeeded. However, in the league and European cup competitions, the Gunners have tread water.
With the magical Ozil and maniacal Sanchez, fans have been treated to an elevated display of class and quality compared to some of the names that replaced the greats of just a decade prior, but the results have not come to bear in the table. By the dawn of 2018, both players will be 29 years old, and for all intents and purposes, beyond the reasonable expectation of improvement. This doesn’t mean that Arsenal are incapable of winning the title with their two talismans in the side, but it should suggest that this team’s ceiling with these two players has been reached (for what it’s worth, factors beyond their control like the crushing absence of Santi Cazorla could have gone a long way to changing the narrative on the duo, but c’est la vie). With their contracts due to expire at the end of the current campaign, the only question that likely remains is how Arsene Wenger will choose to replace them.
Unlike Tottenham did with Garett Bale and Everton did this season replacing Romelu Lukaku, Wenger will not try to replace each departed star with multiple players of lesser value. In a league as fiercely competitive as the Premier League, having top level talent can make all the difference, and Arsenal already have one of the deepest squads in the Premier League. To replace Sanchez and Ozil with multiple signings would stunt the growth of a Wenger’s most recent class of youth being brought into the first team, and the Frenchman has never been one to destroy the dynamics and unity of his team with a bumper crop of new players. He believes in his players, his coaches and his methods, and does not so easily dismantle the club he has assembled as a new manager might.
If ever there was a time for Wenger to dust off the old chequebook, this is it, and I believe he will surprise many of the more pessimistic Gooners out there with his response. Arsenal have a very large squad, full of players the manager is clearly fond of, so expect fewer signings but with higher price tags on the club’s shopping list the next two Transfer windows. Going further, I believe there is a very strong possibility that Arsene Wenger spends well over £100 million on just one or two players to replace his departed superstars.
Arsene Wenger has just a year and a half left on his Arsenal contract, and this almost certainly has to be his last term as the Gunner boss. In the past, we might have seen Wenger look to the French leagues for some inexpensive, unknown talents to set the club up for the future (though given his selfless nature, he still might do just that), but surely this time, his last time, he will want to go for the title? He has already done his duty. When he leaves Arsenal Football Club for good, it will be infinitely better equipped to deal with the modern game than the history rich club stuck in the past that he inherited. It wouldn’t require a psychologist to know how much one last title would mean to Wenger; no person is as aware of his criticisms as himself. So fear not Gunners, no matter how you feel about Le Proffesseur, he will not be going out without one last shot at glory.
He just might have to spend some money to do it.