Thursday, January 20, 2022

Fitting the pieces of the puzzle together + contracts to consider

So now that the signings are done, what else do we have to worry and fret about? It’s way too early to start thinking about the January transfer window, so I suppose we could try and figure out how Arsene Wenger is going to build his team from the players he has.

You look at the squad and there are some obvious starters in key positions, but there’s such depth in midfield and so many options for the front three that it’s going to be interesting to see what he does. Lucas Perez, for example. Is he going to be used as a striker, someone to provide real competition for Olivier Giroud? If so, where does that leave Alexis Sanchez? Are we looking at moving him back to a wide-left position, once more giving up on the idea of him as a centre-forward?

Perez is that thing the manager really likes: versatile. He could easily play from the left or the right in support of another striker, and with Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Alex Iwobi potential starters there too, Wenger has plenty to choose from.

The midfield is packed as we know. Too packed for Jack to stick around, but still there’s Coquelin, Cazorla, Elneny, Xhaka and Ramsey to consider as the two behind Mesut Ozil. Cazorla and Xhaka worked very nicely against Watford, but I think we’re going to have to wait and see what emerges here and how these players can bed in.

At the back you have to assume that £35m signing Shkodran Mustafi will be the man to partner Laurent Koscielny. Rob Holding has done well, but he is just 20 and giving him time to develop without all the pressure on him is going to be important for his long-term future. The German shouldn’t find it too difficult to settle in England, he knows the language, he knows what the game is like here, so he should establish himself quite quickly.

The back-ups in most positions are grand. I wouldn’t call myself the biggest Mathieu Debuchy fan in the world, but if his head is right and he’s ready to be 100% professional when needed, you could do a lot worse as cover for Hector Bellerin. Gibbs, Ospina etc, pretty reliable.

Wenger has invested in the spine of the team. Cech last summer, this summer he’s brought in a centre-half, a central midfielder and a striker. Can those pieces of the puzzle make the difference? I guess it all depends on how well he puts them together, and if he’s already got a definite plan in mind for that. There may be some trial and error, but hopefully without too much of the latter.

Another thing we might have to consider over the coming months are contract renewals. In recent times the club have been pretty efficient at tying down players to new deals, but as it stands there are quite a few inside the final two years of their current contracts. The most obvious are Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. Discussions have been ongoing for some time but nothing has been finalised just yet.

I would have more concerns about Alexis than Ozil. I won’t say he was heading for the exit this summer, but for a time it looked as if that might happen. Then we gave him a lovely new number and he stayed, but the issue of his longer-term future remains. He and Ozil are the two star players, so there’ll be a greater weight placed on their decisions. We’ve attracted them here in the first place, but it’s also important to show we can keep them.

Elsewhere, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere are in a similar situation. By the end of this season they’ll have 12 months left and that situation can often force a club to make a decision. If Wilshere is playing for his Arsenal future at Bournemouth, it would be true to say the same goes for the Ox. After such a disappointing season last time around, he really does need to make a step forward.

Others into the final two years include Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey, and Olivier Giroud. While Transfermarkt.de (not always reliable) have Koscielny and Cazorla with contracts that expire next summer. I’m not sure that’s the case, as Koscielny penned a new contract (you’d assume 4 years) in 2014, while Cazorla’s new deal was signed in 2015, but I do remember there being something a bit odd about it. I suspect it runs to 2018 though.

I wonder if the fact we’re letting these deals enter the final two years, rather than previously trying to avoid that, is due to the inflation of wages, thus making it more difficult to move players on if things don’t work out. There are some who you want to keep without question, others that need to perhaps prove themselves worthy of a new contract.

It obviously gives the manager and the club something to think about over the course of this season – and maybe conspiracy theorists might put some stock in the idea that new deals are being held off just in case there’s a new man in charge next season because Arsene Wenger’s contract runs out next June and he’ll want to assess things as he builds his own squad. We shall see.

Right, nothing left for me to do but point you in the direction of yesterday’s Arsecast Extra. It’ll see you through some of the dullness of this Interlull.

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Till tomorrow.

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