Alexis Sanchez’s inevitable Emirates exit is almost confirmed. Mesut Ozil’s future is cloudy at best. Arsenal’s two marquee names that were meant to bring a new era of success to the club could both be gone by the time the World Cup kicks off this summer.
The Gunners’ chances of returning to the top four are minimal. A season with moments of optimism has still seen the club slip to eight points off fourth-placed Chelsea. Back-to- back campaigns outside of the Champions League spots are not ideal, but they are far from cataclysmic, particularly with their Europa League fate still to be decided.
Sanchez’s departure could – and should – just be the start at Arsenal. Whether Ozil follows is not what matters, it’s how the rest of the squad looks for the 2018/19 Premier League season.
For too long Arsene Wenger has kept faith in players who have regularly fallen short. This could be in part down to Wenger’s management, or it might just be they are not up to the standards for what Arsenal want to achieve. Either way, the need for monumental change is impossible to deny.
This season was an opportunity to begin that process, but Arsenal missed it. Stubbornness over Sanchez halted any change, and Wenger being offered another two years was bewildering. Wenger is not the man to oversee a revolution at Arsenal, at least not from the manager’s office. Missing out on the riches and fame of the Champions League in successive seasons should finally provoke a dugout change.
Wenger needn’t be banished from the club, but his overwhelming control must be reduced. Arsenal were treading water for a long time. The last two years have seen them sink, and, if they do not react, could result in a lengthy top four exile.
Opportunity, not disaster
The current Sanchez situation sets Arsenal up well. It’s clean slate time at the Emirates. The two Manchester clubs can fight over the Chilean all they like, but Arsenal have plenty of their own issues to focus on.
Wenger is only the start of it. For all the great things he has done for the club, he does not have a rebuild in him. Loyalty to players has no doubt made him a top manager to play for – it’s rare players seem to be angry at the club – but it has elongated the Arsenal careers of players who are undeserving.
That loyalty has slipped into acceptance of mediocrity. Some of that might be because of players underperforming at the club – just look at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s form at Liverpool – and some of that might be because of strict budgetary constraints.
The result, though, is star players wanting to further their careers elsewhere. And, most hurtfully, further their careers at direct rivals. Alexis wants to play for clubs who are not only Champions League regulars, but who are considered realistic major trophy contenders. Who can blame him?
This should be a wake-up call, a slap around the face of the club’s decision-makers, whatever you want to call it. Maintain the status quo once more and Arsenal are accepting their position as the bridge between the top five and the rest.
Theo Walcott looks set to follow Francis Coquelin out of the club this window. That might just be the beginning of Arsenal doing what they have needed to do for years. Coquelin and Walcott have been persevered with far longer than any top club would have done, either out of ‘loyalty’ or tight- fistedness.
The list of similar players over the last decade is long. You can all add your own names to it, I’m sure, and you’ll all have a fair idea of which players must be replaced for Arsenal to live with the two Manchester clubs. Sounds like a fun party game, doesn’t it?
Balancing the quality
Anyway, Sanchez playing in light blue or a Chevrolet-sponsored red kit is not just about provoking action at Arsenal. It leaves a gaping hole in the team, and, more significantly, an opportunity. Sanchez and Ozil’s arrivals were so enormous, their stature so vast, that constructing a team was all- too-often about finding a way to fit the pair in, sometimes to the detriment of the side.
This is the opening for an overhaul of the players. Instead of a team so heavily loaded on two individuals, Arsenal can construct a squad without the stark, unnerving drop-off in quality. It might mean less ‘star quality’ like Sanchez, but his style of play was not always beneficial to the team, as we may well see at his new club.
A direct Sanchez replacement should not be Arsenal’s priority. Their focus should be on upgrading the players that made Sanchez force a move away from the club, and, only those inside the club will know if that means replacing Wenger is a necessity.