Monday 11 December 2017

Wenger already on the look-out as pressure mounts

Wenger: Raised expectations Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Wenger: Raised expectations Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

Arsene Wenger has made the central spine of his team the summer priority when he will have a £75m 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 £40m 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 Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.

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.

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.

Arsenal are still only five points behind shock leaders Leicester - 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 tomorrow 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 is not planning a major summer overhaul.

The first priority will be persuade Ozil and Sanchez to extend deals that expire in 2018 and they will be offered contracts that would make them the highest paid players in Arsenal history.

Ozil, who is on £140,000 week, and Sanchez ( £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 and Jack Wilshere, who are also out of contract in 2018.

All four players remain likely to be offered new deals.

Wenger has around £75m to spend this summer, probably only enough for one real 'A-list' signing in the mould of an Ozil or Sanchez.

Wenger would like to add Chilwell as a long-term replacement at left-back for Gibbs and is also still interested in Ryan Sessegnon at Fulham, but the main focus 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 his reported asking price is in excess of £60m.

Wenger's senior centre-backs, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, are both over 30 and he would like to strengthen that area.

GMeanwhile, 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.

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