Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger handed £75million warchest - but will he spend it?
Arsène Wenger has made the central spine of his team the summer priority when he will have a £75 million budget to spend on new players
Ahead of what could conceivably be the final season of Wenger’s 20-year reign at Arsenal, club scouts have already been told that central midfield and central defence will be the priorities, as well as Leicester City left-back Ben Chilwell and potentially a striker.
With an extra £40 million from the Premier League’s new TV deal also available, the club will also be in a position to make massive contract offers for Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez.
Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Debuchy, Mathieu Flamini, Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky are all likely to leave, while Wenger’s own longer-term future will probably again be decided in the final months of a contract that expires in June 2017.
Wenger has had similarly healthy budgets in recent transfer windows but, to the disappointment of many fans, the only two senior additions in the past year have been Petr Cech and Mohamed Elneny.
Although Wenger’s position is the subject of renewed debate following defeats over the past week against Barcelona and Manchester United, the boardroom support for the manager remains total.
Wenger, though, is now working amid raised expectations following the decade from 2004 until 2014 when commercial income was restricted by building the Emirates and it has become difficult to envisage the Frenchman himself wanting to go on if his team are unable to sustain a Premier League title challenge either this year or next.
The club have put thought into their planning for Wenger’s eventual departure – chief executive Ivan Gazidis believes that it will be Arsenal’s biggest challenge – but there is no timescale and every indication is that he will only leave at a time of his choosing.
Indeed, Wenger has been hands-on in overseeing recent appointments to the club’s scouting structure as well as the internal detail of a new multi-million overhaul to the club’s training facilities.
He has also stressed, however, that he would not want to continue if he felt that he should be getting more from his team and that he might yet make an “instinctive and impulsive” decision.
Arsenal are still only five points behind shock leaders Leicester City – and in contention to win a third consecutive FA Cup – but the manner of the 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford on Sunday has renewed doubts about the collective mentality.
A pivotal week now looms, with Arsenal hosting Swansea City on Wednesday night before a derby against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, which has the capacity to make or break their season.
Wenger regards this as his best squad since the ‘Invincible’ era and, although his thinking will certainly be shaped by the next three months, he does not currently plan a major summer overhaul.
The club are ready to sell Gibbs and Debuchy, who have lost their status as first-choice full-backs, while Arteta, Flamini and Rosicky will all depart when their contract expires.
The first priority will be persuade Özil and Sánchez to extend deals that expire in 2018 and, with Premier League clubs to receive around £40 million more each year from the new broadcast deal, they will be offered contracts that would make them the highest paid players in Arsenal history. Özil, who is on £140,000-a-week, and Sánchez, who is paid around £130,000, could both command deals approaching £200,000.
Decisions will also soon have to be made on Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Per Mertesacker who are also out of contract in 2017 or 2018. All four players remain likely to be offered new deals, although various issues of form, age and fitness will be taken into consideration and significantly improved contracts are far from certain.
Arsenal’s annual wage bill has risen considerably over recent years to £192 million and they basically run at ‘break even’ in terms of their income and expenditure, meaning they could collectively still raise salaries by something close to the upsurge in broadcast income.
Just under half of the existing £159 million cash balance is also available for new players, with the remainder needed for running costs and a debt service reserve for the longer-term outstanding loans on the stadium.
It leaves Wenger with money to spend this summer, although probably only enough for one real ‘A-list’ signing in the mould of an Özil or Sánchez.
Wenger would like to add Chilwell as a probable long-term replacement at left-back for Gibbs and is also still interested in Ryan Sessegnon at Fulham, but the main focus for new senior players is through the spine of the team.
In central midfield, N’Golo Kante, Victor Wanyama and William Carvalho are being watched and there is also interest in Watford striker Odion Ighalo.
Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is another being monitored, although whether Arsenal would ever be willing to match a reported asking price in excess of £60 million is clearly questionable.
Wenger is also aware that his two senior centre-backs, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, are both over 30 and he would like to strengthen that area. Mertesacker is out of contract next year but a decision on his future and a potential one-year extension will probably not be taken until next season.
After such an alarming performance against United, goalkeeper Petr Cech has urged perspective ahead of the Swansea and Tottenham games. “If we win both, the table might look different again,” he said.