Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are asking for unrealistic sums - Arsenal must show they will not be bullied
The problem for clubs when players are in negotiations over huge new contracts is that one fantastic performance leads to calls from supporters to sign them up and pay them what they want. And one poor display means they are not worth the money they are demanding.
It can be that dramatic. It can be that divergent. Especially when that club are Arsenal and are desperate for success. And especially after such a woeful second-half performance as the one they endured away to Manchester City on Sunday, with its familiar failings.
It means that Arsenal have gone from being top of the table, albeit on goals scored, when Chelsea walked out to play West Bromwich Albion nine days ago and believing that, like Del Boy, next year they will be millionaires, to sitting fourth and trailing Antonio Conte’s team by nine points.
So it means that Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil are either priceless world-beaters who cannot be let go if Arsenal have any ambition – or they are holding the club to ransom. The wheel can turn that quickly and, maybe, turn again with home games to come against West Brom, Crystal Palace and then away to Bournemouth over the Christmas programme.
So what it needs is some rational thought and hopefully that is taking place inside Arsenal as they sift through the eye-watering contract demands of the two star players, who now have just over 18 months left on their deals. The clock is ticking or, more aptly, the meter is running.
The players believe the talks are loaded in their favour and that is not healthy.
But, for Arsenal, the starting point should be simple: the place will not fall apart if they do not cave in. Arsenal will survive. The fans pay top dollar and demand winning football, and Arsenal should deliver on the pitch, but it is not about being desperate to keep certain players when their demands are not realistic or deserved.
Arsenal need to be clear. Neither Sánchez nor Özil, who have both been very well-looked after by a club that bought them when they were pushed out of the door by Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, are so indispensable that they cannot be sold. Sure it will cost a lot to replace them – and that preparatory work should be done just in case - but it might have to happen.
The noises from the players’ camps have not helped and if they had any real feel for the club and its delicate situation then they would park their demands until next summer when a decision can be made to either sign or sell. Instead Sánchez, through his agent Fernando Felicevich, has let it be known that he has a £400,000-a-week offer on the table from China; Özil, represented by Erkut Sogut, has fluttered his eyelashes at the thought that Bayern Munich might come calling. And so it rolls on - causing a weekly distraction.
For Sánchez, also, interest can be stirred from Chelsea and other clubs –Arsenal fans will have shuddered as he hugged City manager Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium after the final whistle – who will not concern themselves that all they might end up doing is getting bigger contracts for the players out of the Gunners. Of course, they do not mind draining a rival’s resources. It is a familiar tactic.
In financial terms, the bottom line appears to be that both Özil and Sánchez want around £20 million-a-year – which equates to £384,000-a-week – to re-sign for Arsenal, which would almost treble their current salaries. Treble! The club can come two-thirds of the way to pay one of the players that kind of money – but not both.
But even in the billions-enriched Premier League, those demands are simply extraordinary and – right now – unjustifiable, no matter what Manchester United are paying Wayne Rooney or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Little wonder Arsène Wenger has appealed for his players not to let money decide their futures, because his club should not come close to those figures or should do so only with extremely heavy incentives built in: such as winning something.
If it is purely a sporting negotiation – can Arsenal win the league, are they competitive enough? - then that is a different argument. But the mere fact that Sánchez has let it be known that the big-money from China is being offered his way shows that is not the case.
Some might think it rich of Thierry Henry, in his role as a Sky Sports pundit, to accuse them of “holding the club to hostage” given he once secured a one-off loyalty bonus of £5 million to stay one more year as he agitated to leave. But Henry achieved something with the club. He had already won things with Arsenal and a player needs to be in that situation before making such big demands – otherwise he is being opportunistic.
It does not help that Arsenal get themselves into these situations. Ten players in total need to decide their futures in the next year-and-a-half – and so does Wenger himself, whose deal expires at the end of this campaign. No announcement is expected on that before May. That is all far too fluid.
The situation with Sánchez and Özil has been portrayed as a watershed moment for Arsenal – if they do not sign up then what does it mean for the club? That can be spun around. If Arsenal cave in then what does that mean?
Contract disputes are never helpful. They can be a prolonged and damaging distraction. But big clubs do not allow themselves to be pushed around.
Arsenal need to continue to make that clear and the talks need to take place on their terms.