Wenger to move early to secure Ozil and Sanchez
The questions for Arsene Wenger yesterday were almost identical to six years ago, when he faced a similarly defining round of contract negotiations with his star players, but his expectation of a different outcome is clear. For Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, it is easy now to look at Mesut Ozil, Hector Bellerin and Alexis Sanchez.
Three key players who would challenge to start in just about any other team in the world, of whom two are moving towards the final year of their contract and one is sought after by their home-town club of Barcelona.
Wenger does not need any reminding of what happened previously. Fabregas returned to Catalonia and the economic reality of Van Persie and Nasri's refusal to sign a new deal meant that they were also eventually sold before entering the last year of their contracts. That meant the disintegration of a team who were arguably again ready to challenge for the Premier League title and, as negotiations continue with Ozil, Sanchez and Bellerin, a huge looming challenge for Arsenal is to make it different this time.
Ozil and Sanchez are both on around £140,000 a week and will be offered deals approaching £200,000 but, according to Wenger, it is Arsenal's on-field progress that will prove decisive.
"I think these kind of players can raise a little bit above the financial aspect of the game because they are not poor and they have to look really on the football side," he said.
Arsenal are certainly now in a stronger position on and off the pitch. Their squad have an experience and depth that was ultimately lacking in the Fabregas era while their financial firepower has been enhanced since 2014.
Arsenal, then, can get closer to what Europe's absolute elite might offer, although Wenger stressed that there would be a ceiling. "We still keep the values we have and we pay what we can afford," he said.
Although the immediate priorities for Arsenal will be Sanchez and Ozil, there are other players who are also out of contract in 2018. The futures of Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs, Wojciech Szczesny and Mathieu Debuchy, however, are likely to be defined by their likely playing opportunities. There is also less urgency surrounding Santi Cazorla and Per Mertesacker, who are in their thirties and the final year of their respective contracts.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is likely to come back into the team for tonight's Champions League group game against Ludogerets Razgrad.
David Ospina is also likely to start tonight as Wenger tries to balance squad rotation with his desire to qualify this season as group winners for the last 16. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Arsenal v Ludogerets Razgrad, Live, eir Sport 2, 7.45pm