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?”
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.
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.
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.
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!
The first time I saw Dennis Bergkamp play was in 1996 – I started following Arsenal properly in 1998 after the World Cup. When Arsenal then signed Thierry Henry – a player I had seen in that World Cup win by France – as well as already having Vieira and Petit there, plus several English stars like Tony Adams, Martin Keown and David Seaman just cemented Arsenal as the club for me. There was very little football coverage in South Africa during the 1990s as rugby was (and still is) the dominant sport here.
I was not really ushered in any specific direction in terms of which club to support – I chose Arsenal myself. It’s only over the last 3 years that I have been able to watch matches regularly – we get excellent TV coverage of European football now and I try to watch all Arsenal matches live.