Given where we currently are in the grand scheme of this season, and the unpredictability of how completing it and transitioning into a transfer window will play out, it feels almost foolish to invest too much stock in the news that is currently released.
But as reports are emerging of Arsenal, understandably, being open to offers for the club captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the outlook on being able to retain the star striker is cast into doubt. Despite Mikel Arteta’s emphatic determination to keep Aubameyang, there are realistic reasons that might not be possible.
The Gabonese striker is out of contract in 2021, and with Arsenal’s verbal claim from Raul that he won’t allow certain players to enter their final year, we can assume a decision will be made this year. This may throw fans into state of grief, filled with flashbacks to Robin van Persie, Alexis Sanchez, Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and a host of other players over the years that have walked away when fans wished they hadn’t.
There are five stages of grief:
Depending on where you find yourself within this, it is important you know two things. First, there is no set time it takes to go through the grieving process. Everyone moves at their own pace. Second, in times of grief, they say, it is important to know that the people around you support you. This is why I want to let you know that Gunner Thoughts is here for you and wants to help console you during this trying time by assisting you in moving through these five stages.
It is perfectly reasonable to find yourself in a place where you don’t believe a player like Aubameyang, the face of Arsenal, Golden Boot winner, and leading goal scorer would walk out on you. You look to everyone urging him to sign or his dad putting pictures from when he signed with Arsenal as rays of hope that is staying. That he couldn’t possibly leave after everything that’s happened. I am here to tell you: he may.
Reported from many sources, there are several clubs interested in purchasing him and as we face the likelihood of another year without Champions League as a source of income and intrigue to entice the best, we may be left with few options. Our situation is only, compounded by incoming losses from this COVID-19 pandemic
Take your time, breathe, pause from reading the article for a few seconds and when you are ready, continue.
If you have worked past the denial stage and begun to entertain the idea that we may head into the season without our star… striker? … winger? … player, you may begin cultivating feelings of hate or anger. Anger at Aubameyang for leaving us in our time of need resulting in you screaming, “NO ONE IS BIGGER THAN THE CLUB! BYE!!” Or “We don’t need you!” You may even be angry enough to suggest something like, “He was nothing but a poor man’s Henry, anyways.”
While no one is questioning that he is not Thierry Henry – who else is? – it is important you get it all out. Rest assured it is normal and you can be forgiven for losing yourself in a lapse of rage-induced madness. No one is ever bigger than the club, but we would be remiss if we didn’t remind you that the club played its own role in this situation, even before negotiations began. After all, the club’s victories and losses fall heavy on the shoulders of everyone.
You’ve shouted, you’ve ranted, you’ve cursed Aubameyang, the club, Stan Kroenke, and every person that dares carry on his bloodline. It was cathartic, it needed to be done, but you’re left with a sore throat and the crushing feeling that this situation may happen anyways.
You’d like to lock yourself away and you can’t shake the feeling like you have been here before and are all too familiar with his links to other Premier League teams. Let us remind you, it’s on the club and Aubameyang to decide if they are willing to allow that to happen and little we can do about it yet.
What we can do is keep this grieving process rolling and focus on the next stage – Bargaining.
It seems like many fans are split between the Denial stage and Bargaining stage. In fact, given my complete lack of qualifications, I can tell you these stages sometimes look similar. It’s in this stage where you see fans constructing the many potential outcomes of the future that result in everything but Arsenal losing the prized possession.
People shout, “Taka Lacazette! Use his funds to pay Aubameyang”. “Heed the advice of Bacary Sagna and keep him at all costs.” “Learn from the mistakes of ‘RvP ghosts past’”. “We can sell everyone else. Take Mustafi, Xhaka, Elnenny, Mkhitaryan, and more. Just don’t take away Aubameyang.”
They are fair things to consider and are still potential outcomes of the situation, but it has to be noted that Arsenal are in the process of rebuilding themselves into a squad capable of reaching the Champions League and if there is one thing we can learn from this year, it is that there are no short cuts. For years Arsenal fans have suggested the team is one or two purchases away from success. One or two purchases away from a title. And every year, those two purchases prove elusive and shift just a little.
There is some validity to Bacary Sagna pointing out that purchasing a like-for-like replacement of Aubameyang would cost Arsenal well over £100M and that keeping him on your team is a cheaper step in the right direction toward the Champions League and financial security.
However, we must accept that Aubameyang’s priorities may not lie simply in having the club meet a wage request. At age 30, going on 31 in June, he may be coming to terms with the fact that the prime years of his career are coming to an end, and with it, his years of being able to play with this level of quality. With that in mind, the allure of playing in Europe’s biggest contest could be too much to turn down.
From that same perspective, Arsenal run the risk of signing him to a large contract, for multiple years, only to have his performances dip with age – sticking them with a large weekly wage bill for a player they can’t offload. Sound familiar? It’s something the club is criticized for routinely with Mesut Ozil.
With little wiggle room for failing purchases and ever pound spent meaning it can’t be spent on others, Arsenal’s need to spend efficiently and effectively are at an all-time high. These two components raise the stakes on this negotiation and showcase the risk of putting all their eggs in the Aubameyang basket.
Wrapping your head around the complexity of these decisions and beginning to explore what the team could do with the funds is the first critical step toward our final stage – Acceptance.
Once we have acknowledged the complexity of the situation Arsenal have put themselves into by maintaining such a large wage bill without the security of Champions League and, understandably, wanting to maintain possession of players that demand Champions League wages – we can begin to explore the options that Arsenal can consider if given a boost from his sale.
Arsenal are in a place where there are quite a few positions that need an injection of quality, but quality comes at a price. A more self-sufficient backline and a midfield makeover are top of the list. Arteta has expressed an interest in a left-footed center back to play alongside Saliba, Holding, Sokratis, or even Luiz who was played on the right next to left-footed Pablo Mari. This had raised a host of links and rumors ranging from 50M+ Upamecano to the lower priced Axel Disasi. With the permanent signing of Pablo Mari, which seems more likely by the day, it will be interesting to see if the club look to sign a 2nd. Even a medium-priced Evan N’Dicka at around £30M would likely change the dynamic of the team for the better now and in the future.
Then there is the midfield that has gone through years of slow decline. Currently, the midfield plays with a double pivot at its base despite Arteta suggesting he would prefer to have a single player be responsible for being a true No.6 while two more attacking and creative minded midfielders spur on the attack and direct the high press. Whether he stays with the current system or looks to change things, it will require new blood.
Ceballos on loan seems like an unreliable player to count on for next year and at an asking price of £40M, may not be in the team’s best interests. Yet the club needs to find a way to maintain the protection that Arteta has provided for their backline, while creating more chances and offensive production. Links to players like Thomas Partey and Carlos Soler make sense but come with hefty prices that may be too steep for almost any club with little liquidity to their name, needing to rebound from this pandemic.
What I’m getting at, is that while Aubameyang is a prized possession and a star player that offers any team the ability to score in the blink of an eye, what those funds could provide for Arsenal, if they choose to move on from him, could outweigh what he provides them on his own.
Aubameyang may be one of the few remaining players that provides Champions League level play consistently, but the opportunity to wisely turn profits from his sale, into the ability to seal the deal on two or more players entering their prime cannot be overlooked when trying to help the struggling midfield and backline.
The situation is only in its beginning stages and while it would be great to hang onto a player of his caliber, it may not be the worst thing to arm Mikel Arteta with a few choice players that fit his ideals. It is a long road back to where we expect the club to be and we can’t look for shortcuts. Building correctly now will reap the most benefits down the line.