The start of this season was supposed to mark a new era for Arsenal. The much-needed departure of Arsene Wenger was supposed to mark a renaissance for one of the storied clubs of England. The protests, banners, and rants would cease to exist with the supporters of the club finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that has forever evaded them. The unsurprising nature of the club would pivot to one that brings back the nostalgia of the glory days. This was the vision for the club on August of 2018 but after a spell of optimism, much of what plagued the Wenger era have trickled into Emery’s reign.
Many of the decisions made in the final days of the Frenchmen are now hampering the plans of the incumbent. The Gunners are now at a stage where they cannot afford to make a permanent signing during this transfer window and are relegated to scrapping through the loan market. At a period when Arsenal are looking to compete for a Champions League place with 6th place United right at their heels, the fact that the club cannot invest in their squad is ludicrous.
They are not bankrupt by any means. Arsenal rank 6th in terms of total revenue generated through the 2017-18 season and the fourth most profitable sports club during the same. So, how all of a sudden do they not have the capital to invest in talent that is meant to lead Arsenal into their new era?
What has their spending been like in recent history?
It is not completely out of the ordinary to see that Arsenal are not willing given their transactions over 2018. The overhaul began when Wenger was still in charge (and would only announce his departure in April). Alexandre Lacazette was signed for £47 million over the Summer of 2017 from Lyon. Henrikh Mkhitaryan joined the club as part of a swap deal that sent Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United and he was joined by his former teammate in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (for a reported £57 million fee). They were joined by Bernd Leno, Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira, Sokratis Papastathopoulos (for a combined £75 million) and Stefan Lichtsteiner (as a free agent). In a vacuum, each signing is understandable. With some context - having spent nearly £180 million on transfer fees alone over the past 18 months - it is understandable that Emery’s hands are firmly tied together. Oh, and there is the matter of Wenger’s £11 million payout since he resigned with a year left on his contract. Marginal, in hindsight, but not negligible.
This is just one half of Arsenal’s transfer history. Jack Wilshere, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Kieran Gibbs, and Mathieu Debuchy. The one thing this collection of players have in common aside for playing for Gunners is that they were sold by the club for peanuts. They are not alone. There is an endless list of players that Arsenal moved on from (many of which for good reasons) wherein return, they were unable to get equitable financial/or talent-based value. Aaron Ramsey is leaving the club at the end of the season on a free deal. Simply put, there has been an epic malpractice in regards to their incoming and outcoming transfer policy. This is not a new problem. This has existed for years with no end in sight. Paying exorbitant amounts for some players and shipping others off for a fraction of the price. Arsenal have been in decline from a footballing standpoint for much of this decade with no extra money coming from prize money, sponsors, or transfer.
Mesut Ozil’s wages
His playing situation is frustrating, to say the least. Both his and Alexis Sanchez’s were running out a year ago. While they were able to exchange the Chilean for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Wenger and then CEO Ivan Gazidis did not want to lose the German midfielder for nothing. Unable to find a team that would meet his outrageous wage demands, they both agreed to make him Arsenal’s highest paid player. This was not their ideal outcome but at the time, it appeared to be a better option than having him walk out of the door with no compensation in return. With Lacazette and Aubameyang acquired in the recent past, this attacking trio was marketed as the core from which Arsenal would build their footballing ethos around. Also, a massive bump in his wages was meant to act as an incentive for more consistent performances. Despite being one of the most gifted players in the Premier League, he sometimes appears as apathetic figure on the pitch. This has not been the case under Emery. He has been a bit-part feature under the Spaniard playing 13 league games and scoring thrice (along with three assists). His G+A/90 is at its lowest since the 2007-08 season. Ozil has yet to show that he is in Emery’s long term plan and the manager prefers a style of play that leaves Ozil on the periphery.
Back in Jan 2018 when he signed his historic deal, Arsene Wenger was still projected to be at the helm of the Emirates for at least the next 18 months. Had it been known that Emery (or a manager of his ilk) would take the reigns, Ozil might not have been offered such a colossal wage raise. At this point in time, he is an £350,000 a week liability playing Fortnite in his man cave. Sure, finding a new club would be ideal for Ozil and Arsenal. But this will only be the case if Arsenal are willing to subsidize a sizeable portion of his wages.
They have two very, very different squads
A good part of Arsenal’s roster are stuck from an age gone by. With their wages filling up their books, clearing their wages is the only way for Arsenal to sign the first-team talent that will fit with Emery’s vision.
Aaron Ramsey is expected to leave the club at the end of the season with Petr Cech announcing his retirement. Nacho Monreal and Danny Welbeck are all on the last year of their respective deals with neither expected to resign with Arsenal. Combined, these four account for nearly £18 million a year on Arsenal’s wage books. Stephan Lichtsteiner is on a one-year deal and at the ages of 34, it is hard to see that he will play a major role in Arsenal’s future. Mohamed Elneny has only started one league game under Emery and he too could soon depart from the North London club. But there is nothing like Ozil finding a new hope though interest outside of some Turkish clubs have yet to surface (though there are doubts that they could take the financial burden of Ozil’s wage demands). Others could also leave but a rebuild and a replenishing of the squad might be the only feasible solution to get Arsenal out of this rut. Whether the board and Stan Kroenke are willing to be patient is something that is yet to be seen. Unlike the NBA where teams are incentivized to tank, rebuilding a squad in football has to be done on the fly with it taking years before a contending squad can rise. This is further complicated by a restructuring at the executive level. Ivan Gazidis has left Arsenal to run A.C Milan with C.O.O Vinai Venkatesham becoming the Managing Director of the club. Raul Sanllehi has only been the Director of Football for less than six months. Their Chief Scout Sven Mislintat - a man who was primarily responsible for finding talent for Borussia Dortmund that has led them to their most successful spell - is reported to be leaving imminently after less than 18 months on the job.
Unless they have something saved for the summer?
As per the Deloitte Football Money League, Arsenal are the sixth richest football club in the world. It is clear that the club is willing to spend money on new players given they have spent nearly £180 in the past 18 months. But if they are going to spend over the summer, their targets and budget is still unclear.
Their books have been somewhat of a mystery since Stan Kroenke took complete ownership of the club back in August (through his holding company Kroenke Sports and Entertainment). Aside from selling of players, the only other way major revenue source will come from the Champions League - should they qualify. Should they finish outside the top 4 in the league this season, their summer aspirations will be significantly hampered.
It is clear that they cannot compete with either of the Manchester Clubs, Liverpool, or Chelsea in terms of capital to be spent on transfer fees. This is even before we consider their limitations on the wages they can offer players. Their hopes rely on the like Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Alex Iwobi, Rob Holding and Matteo Guendouzi to step back from squad players to stars. In a year or so, they will have to contribute at the level of some of their highest-paid players. Beyond that, little change is to be expected of their squad.
This is not a club facing bankruptcy but they do appear as one at this struggling at the heels. Their transfer policy under Wenger was quite down-earth with Arsenal hardly ever looking to shatter the transfer record fee to acquire new talent. But this has not helped their long-term aspirations of once again becoming a true contender. The constant turnaround outside the football pitch has not helped either in helping find stability for this club. For a few years, Arsenal have given us the impression that they content with a Top 4 finish. Now, it appears that between them and the uppermost echelon looking bigger than ever.