As the Interlull is over we can now start looking forward to the return of football, and I do wonder if during the next month we might slightly long for this period when nothing much is happening because it’s about to get pretty, pretty, pretty hectic during April.
Here’s what we’ve got going on:
April 1st – Newcastle (H)
April 7th – Everton (A)
April 11th – Napoli (H)
April 15th – Watford (A)
April 18th – Napoli (A)
April 21st – Crystal Palace (H)
April 24th – Wolves (A)
April 29th – Leicester (A)
It starts relatively normally with a nice six day gap between Newcastle and Everton, but after the trip to Goodison Park it really amps up with six games in sixteen days, four of those away from home. As a squad we’re going to be tested mentally and physically with this kind of schedule. Already there are some worries over Granit Xhaka for Monday because of a groin problem he picked up playing for Switzerland, and remember Lucas Torreira is suspended domestically until the game against Watford on April 15th, so that’ll give Unai Emery plenty to think about when it comes to his midfield.
Let’s not forget that Aaron Ramsey was sent home from the Welsh camp with a thigh injury, so that’s a bit of a worry too. The next update from the medical staff is going to be a very interesting one, and at this point of the season even a minor injury will see a player miss a significant chunk of what’s left.
Speaking of Ramsey, former Milan and Italy legend Franco Baresi has been speaking about his upcoming free transfer from Arsenal:
“I’ve seen him play. He’s obviously a great player. I think Juve has really landed a great coup there and I’m sure he’ll be able to adapt to Italian football.”
The great coup is, of course, getting a player of that quality for free, and although we’ve been over this before it’s been a situation that Arsenal managed badly. If you remember back to 2012, the justification for selling Robin van Persie to Manchester United was basically that when a player gets to the final year of his contract and isn’t going to extend, you have to sell. I’m sure there’s a quote from Arsene Wenger around that time which says exactly that. Fast forward a few years later, and while the transfer landscape might well have changed a bit, it hadn’t shifted so much that it gave any real weight to boss’s claims that players going into the final 12 months was ‘ideal’ for clubs.
Anyway, Raul Sanllehi has said quite categorically that this is a situation which can’t be allowed to happen again, and as a club we’ll be more proactive when it comes to managing players and their contracts. I guess we have to take him at his word, but the proof of that pudding won’t be eaten until we find ourselves in another situation which demands a big decision to be made.
The only very small upside to Ramsey’s departure for free is that it will mean a lightening of the wage bill this summer to the tune of £80-£100,000 a week, whatever he was on was in that ballpark. When you add in Danny Welbeck and Petr Cech, both on the same kind of salary I’d say, at the high end that’s a saving of £300,000 per week.
There’s talk of Mohamed Elney going to Besiktas, and he’s about as a nailed on a departure as we’ll get this summer as he’s clearly a player that Emery doesn’t fancy. He’s played just 153 minutes of Premier League football this season, and it’d be a huge surprise to me if he wasn’t moved on. That brings our wage bill saving to £360,000 a week.
If we can move on Shkodran Mustafi, who must be on £100,000 a week at least because he’d have to have a terrible agent not to be considering we made him one of the most expensive defenders of all time when we paid £35m for him back in 2016, that nudges us close enough to the half a million a week mark. Perhaps shifting someone like Carl Jenkinson who is popular with fans but very much on the fringes of the first team could take us up to the £500,000.
Then we get to the left-footed, mercurial elephant in the room that is Mesut Ozil. At the moment there appears to be a happy truce, the player has responded to the challenge laid down to him by the manager, is featuring more and perhaps finding some of the form that we expect from someone of his quality. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s to the benefit of Arsenal that this has happened and I’m pleased by it, but it all changed so quickly that it wouldn’t be a surprise if it went the other way again at some point.
A couple of poor performances, or if some of the issues that have caused friction this season crop up again, then we could be in the midst of another Ozil/Emery drama. It wasn’t too long ago that we were hearing stories about how the manager had told the club’s star player he’d be better off playing elsewhere, so just how solid is this current detente? If the club felt like Ozil’s wages were a millstone back then, will they have changed their minds because he’s playing a bit better now?
We all know the difficulties of moving a player on those wages, especially if that player says he’s happy and doesn’t want to leave, but I don’t feel like this situation is 100% settled by any means. If he were to go, we’d be at the point where we’ve shifted something in the region of £850,000 a week off the wage bill – £44m per year, which is plenty to play around with and can maybe offset the potential lack of transfer funds to an extent.
I realise this is all a bit Championship Manager, but none of the players I’ve listed as potential departures are unrealistic. I saw stories during the week about how Emery has decided Mkhitaryan’s £200,000 a week could be better spent and he’s open to moving him on, but I’m not sure how much credence to give them. I think that would be too many players, or perhaps Ozil’s big salary is supportable if you sell another of the big earners, but whatever happens there’s going to be a considerable chunk of change for the people in charge of football at this club to play around with this summer.
Ps – thanks to @Sitiggy on Twitter for reminding me of other potential departures like Lichtsteiner, Ospina, and Asano.
Ok, that’s your lot for this morning, but watch out later today for a new episode of the Arsenal Women Arsecast, and I’ll be back tomorrow with a regular Arsecast and more pre-Newcastle waffle.
For some extra reading, Holic has a nice piece here which highlights some togetherness between fans for a good cause – something that’s too often in short supply (in the football world and beyond).