Arsene’s Bad Planning Means Arsenal’s Struggles Have Just Begun

Missed opportunities

Missed opportunities

I’ll preface this blog with this: this one will be a sad blog, for many fans. Please tweet all abuse to me @timjbharg on Twitter or leave a comment below – but please don’t abuse the other writers and editors!

I think that next season Arsenal will get into the Champions League but it will be our last appearance for a few years. I don’t think Arsene Wenger will make the quality signings that we need, as doing things “his way” will be more important for him, entering the last year of his current contract. I think the Club will offer Wenger another 3 years, as he is fulfilling Stan Kroenke’s financial objectives and, as such, we will struggle to get into the Europa League.

How have I drawn this conclusion? It is simple really: our rivals have passed us. Now, you may argue validly that Manchester United have stuttered this season, as have Manchester City. Chelsea also completely messed up their season partially due to that idiotic long end-of-season tour that they took for commercial reasons. So now you are asking “how have they passed us?”

Replacement, yes. Improvement..?

Replacement, yes. Improvement..?

Manchester City and Chelsea will definitely have new coaches for this upcoming season in Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte who have both won League titles with their prior teams and the evidence seems to be mounting that United will appoint Mourinho to replace Louis van Gaal. City and Chelsea will both spend hugely to fill gaps in their squads (both need midfielders, defenders and at least one more striker) and both will be able to offer more money than Arsenal. I mentioned the money thing because, as all Arsenal fans know, the Club have a strict wage policy but there was also an interesting rumour in a recent episode of A Bergkamp Wonderland’s podcast which had a segment that featured Tim Payton and Andrew Fyffe speaking a bit about the mutually-agreed salary cap between Premier League clubs. Apparently, it seems that all the Premier League clubs can only increase their wages by £7 million per season.

If this rumour is true, then it was truly negligent in an off-the-field sense that Wenger did not purchase at least one outfield player this season, unless he is fulfilling a prior objective set by Stan Kroenke. As such, Arsenal will have less wages to offer next season in comparison to our rivals, putting Arsenal even further behind and we’ll be unable to do so in the future as we will always be behind. There is really only one way to get around this and that will be to sell players, to make more of the wage cap available.

We all already know that Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky will be leaving the Club at the end of the season, most likely followed by Mathieu Flamini. They are all on significant wages, which will mean that there will be some wages available but, if we really want to attract more of the top talent, we have to sell some of the underperforming players on premium wages, such as Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to make further room in the wage cap for attracting new, talented players. All three I mentioned have underperformed hugely this season.

Time to move on?

Time to move on?

Ramsey missed another 4 weeks of the season with his regular hamstring injury (another reason to sell him) and was largely poor when deployed in central midfield, his over-eagerness to attack and push forward up the pitch left the defence exposed on multiple occasions as Flamini is simply not a good enough player to cover both his position and Ramsey’s. Coquelin and Santi Cazorla were out injured for huge parts of this season, necessitating Ramsey’s deployment. Ramsey’s preferred position is in the hole behind the striker, a position he will never be a starter for at Arsenal due to the presense of Mesut Ozil. He has also played on the right, but I think that a swiftly interchanging line of three players comprised of Welbeck, Sanchez, Ozil and Iwobi have made the squad look far more dangerous going forward in the last few fixtures, not to mention Joel Campbell showed great work rate for most of the matches in which he was used. Ramsey’s continued over-elaboration on the ball, something Wenger has not been able to cut out of his play, slows down our attack and makes Arsenal too slow going forward. We also have some younger midfielders in Jon Toral and Dan Crowley, possibly also Gedion Zelalem and Kristian Bielik who are also on the fringes of the first team who could slot in for Ramsey – Toral in particular has had an excellent season at Birmingham City – so the cupboard is not bare if Ramsey gets sold.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is one of the most frustrating players to watch. He so often makes bad decisions on the ball and always plays with his head down, often missing better-placed team-mates. He also loses the ball in promising positions far too often and does not track back to assist the defence in any meaningful way, which can be a real problem when Arsenal play teams that favour the counter-attack. Oxlade-Chamberlain has also been ineffective in front of goal. I think a move away would greatly benefit his career, as maybe he would land at a Club with a coach who is not afraid to coach some on-field sense into him, something Wenger has not been able to achieve. 5 years of near continuous underperformance by Oxlade-Chamberlain is enough for me.



Theo Walcott was supposed to step forward this season and score Arsenal goals to supplement Olivier Giroud due to the absense of Danny Welbeck. Well, that simply hasn’t happened. Just 4 goals in over 20 appearances and him disappearing from far too many matches when Arsenal needed him to take any chance that was provided was spurned and is simply not a good enough performance to warrant his wages or squad place in my opinion. Curiously, when he does not have to make a decision on the ball (e.g. the goal vs. Watford in the League), he finishes it easily, but when he has more than a second on the ball, he makes poor decisions (the same issue with Oxlade-Chamberlain I mentioned), which is both on him and Wenger. He has shown no improvement in his play for more than 5 years, the difference in his goal tally recently compared to the past being that teams are defending better and nullifying the threat Theo poses more easily. For me, he cannot be sold quickly enough and there will be no shortage of suitors, most likely including Liverpool and Manchester City.

Needs to play

Needs to play

Kieran Gibbs is another who may well leave. Unfortunately for Gibbs, Nacho Monreal is simply the better defender and Gibbs is now 3rd choice for England behind Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand, Sp*rs’ Danny Rose and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw (currently injured again). Gibbs may well improve with regular first-team football but Arsenal cannot afford to drop Monreal (arguably Arsenal’s most consistent defender of the last 2 seasons) to give Gibbs the football he will need to regain his England squad place, which I’d imagine is quite high on Gibbs’ priority list. Matt Targett from Southampton would be a good replacement – he filled in well for Bertrand and might be happier to sit on our bench getting occasional matches than Gibbs would be, due to Gibbs and Targett being in different places in their careers.

Le Prof's Pet?

Le Prof’s Pet?

I’m not including Jack Wilshere as one to leave as he will not leave the Club easily and Wenger loves him, so, that one is a non-starter for me. I am of the opinion that Calum Chambers needs a loan out to obtain regular football and 2 more experienced central defenders be signed – Per Mertesacker is not automatically in the starting eleven anymore and Gabriel has been quite poor too often recently and even Koscielny has not been at his imperious best, so competition for those places is needed more than a replacement for Wilshere. Unfortunately, we will be competing with Chelsea (John Terry leaving), Manchester City (Mangala and Demichelis with one foot out the door already) and possibly even Manchester United and Liverpool (Lovren has been more awful than not) for those players so it will be tough for us, as those Clubs will all be looking to overhaul their defences.

So, in short, to compete next season, new players must be signed to compete for defensive, midfield and the striker positions and Ramsey, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and possibly also Gibbs should be moved on to make sure that wages are available, if the rumour about the League-wide wage cap are correct. However, I ultimately think that none of the players I mentioned will leave (except Rosicky and Arteta who are both confirmed to be leaving), Arsenal will not be active in the transfer market, possibly in part or fully by Kroenke’s design, and Wenger will get a new 3-year contract and it will be Groundhog Day again for Gooners next season as we watch another team romp to the Premier League title again.

Thanks for reading!

Tim Hargreaves

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14 Responses to Arsene’s Bad Planning Means Arsenal’s Struggles Have Just Begun

  1. Harry Barracuda April 14, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

    What a doom and gloom merchant.

    • Tim hargreaves April 14, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

      Hi Harry.

      Thanks for your comment. I am just calling it like I see it. Fact: Chelsea and City will look to overhaul their midfields. If we fail to meet Mönchengladbach’s asking price on Granit Xhaka (currently around £32m I think), City or Chelsea will swoop in for him. City will look to bring in at least one midfielder with Toure all but out the door and Chelsea will look to add in a new face to compete with Cesc, Mikel (often invisible under Mourinho but playing decent under Hiddink) and Matic (seems to blow hot-and-cold). There is NO reason to indicate that AW or the Club will bid above the release fee clause on any player and thus we will miss out on them, not just Xhaka specifically.

      What baffles me is why so many fans think that the Club will operate differently this summer than in the past. Everyone seems to think AW will change his ways this summer – I don’t think he will. We will all have to wait and see, won’t we?

  2. Mike April 14, 2016 at 2:05 pm #

    So Chelsea and Man City as our competitors which, as you rightly pointed out, all finished below us, will be better off because they are getting new managers. Have you asked David Moyes and Van Gaal what they think about that?

    Your article contains a great deal of opinion (that’s fine) but a far as facts go, the nearest you got was a reference to a possible rumour.

    So all in all you don’t like Wenger and you’ve written a lot of random words which you believe proves your opinion to be correct. You’ll go far as a football “journalist”…………..

  3. Rob April 14, 2016 at 2:08 pm #

    Where do you get this notion of a 7mil cap? How can that be fair if one club pays £500 mil a year on wages and the other £50 Mil a year. You saying that club can’t compete with the other team for decades because of that rule. Where is any fact pointing to that rule? I think u made it up

  4. Stelliesgooner April 14, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

    Why support arsenal for winning? Arsenal have values and are a good club now back your boys and the manger… sorry if they don’t all coSt top dollar but at least they do a job

  5. Alex field April 14, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

    I have never before read such doom mongering it would be go if Arsene failed at last then he can be got rid of if the 4th place trophy is all stanley wants he can hire a much cheaper manager and save money .
    No he didnt buy us to lavish all his money on us you would be mad if you thought so i think we the fans can get rid of le fraud by protesting if it makes the papers and tv it tarnishes the “brand” and stanly cant have that .
    Members of my family think he might even walk away this summer as they think he has been stuned as he thought everybody had been fooled ,but he forgot the old addage

  6. Tim Hargreaves April 14, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

    Hi Mike. Thank you for your comment.

    Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United in a bad way with a weaker squad than those Clubs around them. Moyes and van Gaal were left an expensive rebuilding job which I don’t think any manager envies. Personally, I’m of the opinion that Moyes was not given enough time (less than one season is not really enough time to judge the potential of the manager with that squad) and that United could have been far more solid now if they had stuck with him, defensively at least. Louis van Gaal has been a mixed bag in terms of managerial success – his first stint at Ajax, his 4 season tenure with AZ and his 3rd place achievement in the 2014 World Cup with Netherlands were successful, but his stints with Barcelona (both of them), second stint with Ajax and his 2 years at Bayern (fired or resigned from all those) can be considered mixed, at best. However, van Gaal should, this season, be noted for his usage of younger players produced in-house at United. There have also been a number of important departures (Rio and Vidic, also Evans) as well as signings that have not worked out (e.g. Rojo, di Maria, Fellaini, Falcao, also Schweinsteiger to an extent) – it is unfair to put all the blame on to the manager as all of those players signed were brought in by Ed Woodward, the Chief Executive at United.

    Chelsea and City have largely kept the success train rolling along with whoever has been at the helm, so I’m not sure why you included Moyes and van Gaal in there in the first place. City still have silverware (the League Cup) in the cabinet for this season and are into the Champions League semi-finals with Manuel Pellegrini (an under-rated manager in my opinion). Chelsea have shown signs of resurgence under Guus Hiddink, same as when he was there before as caretaker. I also never said that Conte and Guardiola would be unmitigated successes – just that Chelsea and Manchester City would spend to compete and would likely finish next season near the top of the table. Unfortunately, I suspect Chelsea will be very strong under Conte as he is a tactically astute manager. I am less sure about Guardiola at City, though, as he strongly favours possession-based football and I’m not sure City can play that way without a massive overhaul. But to be fair, the season is not over yet and it is still mathematically possible for City to push us very hard for that 3rd place if they keep getting 3 points in every match until the end of the season – which is what Arsenal should be doing, not giving away 2 points to Andy bloody Carroll! Also, I think City will have a more difficult season next season than Chelsea, as they will have European football and greater squad upheaval than Chelsea.

    I also noticed that you said my article contained a lot of “opinion” – it’s not an opinion that Theo, Ox and Ramsey (a large portion of my blog, I might add) have been poor, it’s a fact and can be demonstrated by poor results and performances from the team through some periods this season. To that end, AW must shoulder some of the blame as he implements the tactics and selects the players. Poor performances are not entirely AW’s fault, but anyone who says he is blameless is incorrect.

  7. Victor Thompson April 14, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi Tim, I have just written an article on much the same topic which will be out later today. Just off the top of my head, I think that £7m cap would be illegal. The effect would be to permanently prevent smaller clubs from competing in the market and that is against Anti-competition laws.

  8. Habbsey April 14, 2016 at 3:02 pm #

    I agree totally apart from the Ox,at 22 he is still developing and has turned on some very good performances for England,surely it is wengers coaching that is more at fault here hence the lack of improvement in Theo,also the medical team must be questioned when simple injuries keep players out longer than it took livingstone to find the source of the nile,Stan Kroenke is now the clubs worst enemy but the company’s best friend and therein lies the biggest problem, for as long as Arsenal is a cash cow then wiggy will stay.I also find it amazing that Neymar is on just over half of Walcotts salary at Barca,how is this definable in anybodys world?I am sorry that we will not see Tom Rosickys skills any more as I always felt that he dictated a faster tempo game when he played and we never quite saw enough of him.

  9. Tim Hargreaves April 14, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

    I’ll reply here to the next three comments

    Rob – I said the rumoured wage cap agreement implemented by the Premier League for every Club increases by £7m per season, not that Arsenal’s wages were capped at £7m! Arsenal signed no outfield players this season, so the wages did not increase much aside from Cech’s – they also would have recouped wages from the loaning out of Szczesny, Martinez, Toral, etc.. A small increase means that we will have less available next season due to the Club not using the increased wages available to sign players this season, i.e. less available because the Club used less.

    Stelliesgooner – I have no idea what to say to that. Every fan wants the Club they love to win trophies. Clearly, the players did not do the required job as Arsenal are 3rd and Leicester (a team who were nearly relegated last season) are winning the League.

    Alex Field – I think that AW has succeeded in his mandate from Stan Kroenke, which is to spend as little as possible and keep the cash flowing in. SK only cares about his share price, nothing else. I don’t think SK cares about protests to be honest. AW is under contract until the end of next season – I think the Board will offer AW a new deal, but I am not sure if he would accept it or not. He may well want to retire.

    Victor – thank you for your comment. It’s not a £7m cap, it’s a seasonal increase of £7m in wages available capped by the Premier League for every club. As AFC signed no outfield player this past summer, with only Cech coming in and then Elneny in January, we have to do much more than City, Chelsea and United, who all bought players that they can sell to make greater wages available for new signings. In short, AFC have x wages right now. Next season AFC will have x + £7m – we have to do more with that x+£7m than our rivals.

  10. Ogban April 14, 2016 at 3:50 pm #

    In 2013, “analysts” like you “predicted” an Arsenal stroll to the EPL title because of the 4 top teams they were the only team to not change manager. Now you are postulating the opposite. Truth is: the EPL will be even more unpredictable next season. The ‘smaller’ teams will be even stronger and nobody will be able to call it until they can

    • Tim Hargreaves April 14, 2016 at 4:26 pm #

      Ogban – thank you for your comment.

      I wasn’t blogging in 2013 as far as I can remember, so I didn’t predict anything. If you have read any of my prior work, you’d know I expect Arsenal to at least partially slip up in some way, as it happens every season (e.g. horrid November results).

      The EPL will always be unpredictable in some ways – only Chelsea have dropped out of the top of the table due to dramatically poor early season form before Mourinho was fired. Man City, Man United, Arsenal and Sp*rs are all clubs that have regularly finished in the top 7 places in the League. The only newcomers to the top of the table are West Ham and Leicester – Liverpool are always in the mix and Southampton have been strong in the League for the last few seasons under both Pochettino and Koeman. I’d predict Sp*rs, Arsenal, City, Chelsea and United to fight it out for the 3+1 Champions League spots, with Leicester (if they can keep their players), Liverpool, Southampton, West Ham and possibly Stoke fighting it out for the Europa League places.

  11. Rob April 14, 2016 at 8:16 pm #

    I didn’t say arsenals wage cap was £7 mil. What I am saying is that it is not fair to only allow a team to increase their cap by £7 mil if 1 team spends £500 mil on wages and the other £50 mil. Then city would not have been able to build like they did and any new investment in others clubs couldn’t grow it quicker either because of that limit. If I was a small club spending £50 mil and turn got limitless money I would want to automatically shoot up to spending £500 mil like the others. That’s my point and what I said where is proof that your claim is true?

  12. paul35mm April 16, 2016 at 7:31 pm #

    Couldn’t disagree more.

    Some realities on the transfer front. Arsenal have added a world class player every season forthe last 3. (Ozil, Sanchez, and Cech). They also had £30 million in tranfer costs/obligatons from previous years, so perhaps the funds weren’t there for a second world class player. It’s not possible to say there wasn’t enough money, only that £40 million is a lot of money out when none came in on player transfers.

    Chelsea were on the brink of relegation not because of their preseason tour but because Mourinho is an a-hole. He’s a terrible man manager who always wears his welcome out in three years. He comes in, he rebuilds, he wins, he goes. If it was weariness causing the malaise, the team wouldn’t have turned around so nimbly the moment Guus Hiddink came in. Once mourinho was gone the players; particularly Costa, Fabregas, Oscar, and Hazard played better.

    On Chamberlain, you have a good point. Injuries have held him back as much as anything else, but Arsenal do need to decide; Walcott or Chamberlain. One has to go and Walcott is the better player by far.

    On Gibbs, you’re wrong. Gibbs is quick, strong, good in the attack and solid in defense. Hodgson is making a mistake selecting Bertrand, Rose, and even Shaw over him. Gibbs is England’s best left back and come the Euros, expect to see opposing sides run rampant over those players who just are not in Gibb’s class. Everyone lauds Baines but he was attrocious at the World Cup and you’ll see a similar drop in class with Rose and Bertrand when they play Europe’s elite. Gibbs is also a player held back by injuries in past seasons. This is first injury-free season in some time and yes, he’s stuck behind monreal (who is 32) so letting Gibbs go is a mistake.

    Ramsey is the toughest name you want to ax. His talent is unmistakeable, but with Jon Toral, Gnabry, Zelalem, and Iwobi ready or close to ready, it might be time to let Ramsey move on if he can be sold overseas for a good profit. It would be good to see Dan Crowley in a first team shirt next seaosn.

    Jack Wilshire is a special player. He has more detractors than Obama at a Klan rally but when he’s fit there is not another player in England like him. He drives forward, passes as well as anyone in the league, has brilliant touch, and can score if necessary. He can beat his man on the dribble, tackle hard, and his workrate is exceptional. Fitness and injuries are the only things between Wilshire and greatness. Arsene Wenger and Arsenal are right to keep faith with him.

    Disagree completely on the defense. Koscielny’s been very good, recognized by most of his opponents as one of the ten best in the world. Gabriel is improving. Is he good enough to be an every day CB in the Premier League? The jury is still out there, but Mertesacker is like Arteta, Flamini, and Rosicky at this point in his career. Good enough againstthe bottom half sides but not able to hold his own agaisnt top teams. If Arsenal move him on, which seems unlikely, they would replace him. Arsenal will keep their back line the same unless a wrold class player becomes available. This is something Arsene Wenger should get credit for rather than stick. He does not change just to change. He buys when the players make the team better and not until that is the case.

    Given the youth who are on the verge of coming out. the fact that Arsenal haven’t had to sell players on for three years running, and the strength of the academy in general, a rosier outlook is absolutely warranted. Everyone is acting like this year was Arsenal’s last, best hope to win the league. Bullshiatsu.

    Arsenal will compete for the title for the next three to four years, or as long as Wenger remains. When he goes… well, the difference between Arsenal and Liverpool over the last two decades has been Arsene Wenger. When Le Prof goes, Gooners, get ready for the Europa League.

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