Sunday, July 21, 2024

Champions League level + Good news on Saka’s contract

The first Champions League semi-final took place last night, with Real Madrid and Man City playing out a 1-1 draw at the Bernebeu.

The home side took the lead via a cracker from Vinicius Jr, before Kevin de Bruyne equalised with a fantastic strike of his own. It was an interesting game, the technical level of both sides was so impressive, a reminder that we still have some way to go ourselves if we want to reach the latter stages of this competition. It will be a challenge next season for Mikel Arteta to balance both domestic and the kind of European football we’ve all wanted again for so long, and clearly that will be part of what we do this summer.

It was notable that Pep Guardiola didn’t make a single substitution in this game, and it was a tough encounter at times – although their distance cover of 109km was far below the 120km they did in both games against Bayern in the last round. Whether that has any impact on them this weekend remains to be seen, but such is the depth of their squad they can do things like this. It was put to me recently that the current wage bill gap between Man City and Arsenal is around £125m, the equivalent of having 12 players on £200,000 per week – which goes a long way to providing the kind of depth you need to do what they do year after year after year. That’s what we’re competing with.

All we can do is hope that with the second-leg so finely poised, they somehow take their eye off the ball against Everton, or in one or two of the subsequent fixtures. It’s incumbent on us to keep winning, that’s all we can do – and keep our fingers well and truly crossed.

Tonight there’s a Milan derby in the second semi-final. There are a couple of former Arsenal players at AC Milan, Olivier Giroud and Ismael Bennacer, and while I don’t really care who wins this one, my abiding love for Dejan Savicevic means I’d be happy enough to see I Rossoneri go through. I can still remember watching the 1994 European Cup Final in a pub here in Dublin (RIP Hourican’s on Leeson St), and his third goal against a Barcelona side that featured Guardiola, Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoichkov, Romario, and others, was just so, so good. I loved watching him. And Paolo Maldini, of course, my favourite defender of all-time, the handsome bastard.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it has been reported that Bukayo Saka’s new contract is basically all done, and could be announced very soon. Obviously that’s excellent news, securing the future of one of the best players in the Premier League can’t be anything else. No doubt there will be all kinds of discussion about his wages when the deal is announced, but I have to say this doesn’t bother me one bit.

Just look at the reality of the situation: Saka is so good he could play for any team in Europe without a problem. And any team in Europe that is serious about building a squad to compete on multiple fronts would have him in a heartbeat, especially if he were available on a free transfer which is what we’ve had to contend with given his ‘old’ deal expires at the end of next season.

The Saka camp – which makes it sound more cynical that I mean it, but he does have a very tough agent out to do the best he can for his client – can point to players at other Premier League clubs to use as a benchmark for the new salary. There’s going to be some room for negotiation because we’re not as rich as Man City or as stupid as Chelsea or Man Utd, but when you’re one of the best players in the league at 21 years of age, you have a very strong position to get a very good deal.

It’s what happens when you’re a good team and, hopefully, competing near the top of the table on a consistent basis. You don’t get there without good players, whether they’re signings or products of your Academy, and good players come with big wages. Arsenal have been smart in recent years, cutting back the excess from big deals which didn’t work out. I would say though, there is a significant difference in rewarding a young player with most of his career ahead of him to contribute and develop, than a guy who has done a lot but is heading into the winter of his own career – prematurely or otherwise.

There’s a further report in The Times which suggests that Aaron Ramsdale is to be offered new terms, and the contract offer for William Saliba is part of the ongoing process of renewals that we are trying to get done ahead of a summer of recruitment. They both make sense, you don’t need me to explain why, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was a new contract for Ben White too. Keeping our best players, the ones who have done so much to get us to this point, is crucial, and he’s in the same bracket as the others for me.

Right, that’s it for this morning. Have a good one.

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