During the summer months, the transfer window is the predominant focus of supporter attention. In fact, in this day and age, the window has become a kind of monolithic essence, its popularity seems to have outstripped the actual game of football itself. Whilst transfers are obviously an important feature of a club’s activity during pre-season, there are plenty of other issues to occupy a manager’s mind.
Arsene Wenger often laments that the schedule is so busy once a season is underway it leaves little time for actual coaching. Between on field affairs and travelling all over the continent, he suggests that training becomes an exercise in physical preparation and little else. The schedule also does not lend itself to spending copious amounts of time on administrative tasks. Contracts are an issue that occupy more and more club resource in the modern game.
In pithier moments, fans will rue that contracts are ‘worthless’ nowadays as players become more flighty. The truth is that they have never been more valuable, for this very reason. Through legislation such as the Bosman rule and the Webster ruling, contracts have to be kept in constant check and renewed regularly. Liverpool’s sale of Luis Suarez completely emphasises this contradiction.
Suarez left Liverpool six months after signing an extended deal, but the conditions were all about protecting the club upon his departure and the player was presumably happy to have his path to Madrid or Barca eased in return. It was a mutually agreeable compromise – which is basically the entire point of a contract as a document. Players are expensive company assets as much as they are athletes in this day and age.
Liverpool maximised the fee they received and assured that their asset was not sold to a domestic competitor. With 4 new signings in the bag at time of writing, the contract situation has been relatively quiet at Arsenal over the summer. The likes of Mertesacker, Rosicky, Cazorla and of course, Wenger renewed prior to the break. But there are still some outstanding cases to address.
It seems strange that the future of the new captain is subject to question. Or maybe not given the fate of recent Arsenal skippers! Arteta has just one year left on his deal and the grapevine suggests that there isn’t a clamour on the club’s part to renew the Spaniard’s terms. Arteta was a fabulous signing. Along with Mertesacker, he steadied a rocking ship in the tumultuous summer of 2011, but there seems to be an acceptance on Arsenal’s part that he has nearly fulfilled his purpose now.
Indeed, there were even rumours linking Arteta with a move away from the club this summer, as is natural when a player nears the conclusion of their deal. For this reason, I am not convinced that the captaincy is evidence that Wenger’s interest in a new screening midfielder is vanquished. Recent Manchester United captains include the likes of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand even as they were accepting reduced playing roles.
It can be difficult to negotiate new terms with players in their 30s. Arsenal are unlikely to want to maintain Mikel’s current salary status if his playing role is set to reduce after the expiry of his current deal. Arteta turns 33 this season and 30 year old Mathieu Flamini only has 2 years left on his deal too. Changes are afoot in that area of the pitch for Arsenal, whether it be this summer or next. Arteta might actually prove to be one of our shortest lived captains yet.
The German Instagramologist joined Arsenal in the summer of 2012 alongside Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud. Cazorla has extended his terms and talks are well underway with Olivier Giroud to do likewise. There has been no suggestion that the club are holding discussions with Podolski. Early last summer, I, somewhat ominously, suggested that the club would probably be willing to listen to offers for Gervinho, who was in the exact same position Podolski is in now.
If a player has 2 years left on his deal and you aren’t talking about renewing, then it basically means you’re open to a good offer. I don’t think Wenger will want to weaken his forward line, so I believe Podolski will stay this summer. However, I’ve the feeling that if another top class attacker became available, Wenger would be open to replacing Podolski. But the market for forwards is rather static. When Suarez joined Barcelona, Arsenal probably secured the best one available on the market in the shape of Alexis Sanchez.
If a similar set of circumstances repeated and a forward player of that ilk became attainable, I have the feeling that Podolski’s exit would be hastened. Ideally, you feel that the German has enough ability for him to warrant more of a chance to progress at Arsenal. But legislation is so aggressive now that, contractually speaking, you’re perpetually preparing to sign up or ship out. I’m not entirely convinced Wenger wanted to give up on Gervinho after two seasons, but when faced with a good offer from Roma, Arsene knew he had to shit or get off of the pot.
It doesn’t seem five minutes ago that Theo signed new terms but with 2 years remaining on his deal, Walcott’s situation requires revision. It’s possible that Arsenal want to see how we recovers from injury before deciding on how lucrative to make their offer. In this day and age, a cruciate ligament tear doesn’t have the same career ramifications that it used to. But for a player as reliant on pace as Walcott, the consequences might yet be more severe.
Walcott got to the very knuckle of his last contract, signing up just 5 months before the golden gates of Bosman appeared before him. On that occasion, the issue seemed to be more tactical than financial. Theo wanted a run at centre forward and he signed a deal shortly after Wenger acquiesced and allowed him a brief flirtation with the role. However, soon after putting pen to paper, the manager quickly shunted him back to the right wing.
That said, Walcott’s role did change slightly. He became more of a striker whose starting position happened to be the right hand side. As attacks unfolded, he almost always moved infield to join Olivier Giroud and the two effectively became a strike pairing, albeit an unorthodox one. Theo was actually injured during a rare stint in a central role against Spurs, which suggests the manager was willing to revisit the experiment.
Arsenal are configured slightly differently now, with Özil and Sanchez on board and Ramsey having developed into a prolific attacking midfielder, it could be argued that the prospect of Walcott upfront is more feasible. In 2012-13, Arsenal’s front 3 of Podolski, Giroud and Walcott lacked movement and creativity, leaving the centre forward as a kind of battering ram. With Ramsey and Alexis buzzing around and Özil and Cazorla supplying the bullets, the Gunners attack looks more fluid and mobile. ‘The Invincibles’ side rarely operated with a target man because there was so much kinesis.
Walcott’s situation is probably the most intriguing of the three because I would imagine there is more of a desire on the club’s part to sign him up to new terms. I think Podolski is at Arsenal until Wenger can buy somebody better and Arteta may earn a 1 year extension at some point during the campaign if performances and fitness warrant it. Whether these situations are addressed indefinitely in the coming weeks and months remains a point of interest. LD.
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