Everyone is waiting, judging, assessing each move a team makes to try and determine what effect the pandemic has had in the transfer world. Nothing makes that more clear than the buzz online when the price a club is willing to pay for a player surfaces and it’s half what a supporter is willing to sell one of players for.
“Are you kidding? Double that and then we can talk,” or “nothing less than this amount should even be getting our attention”. But it is getting attention and teams are having to weigh heavily the value of cash now or taking a chance and trying to get cash later.
In Arsenal’s situation, they may be reflecting on the saying, “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” While it was a highly controversial moment, the announcement that 55 redundancies were made in the wake of the pandemic and done to allow Arsenal to “invest in the team” is a clear statement from the club that those jobs needed to go to not affect the investment in new playing staff.
However, that message may be a bit of a double edged sword. While it seemed to be used to suggest and assure supporters that by doing this, the team could be invested in during this window, it sent a message to other clubs that Arsenal are likely looking to deal and in need of cash. What does that result in? Rumors like Fulham’s desire to buy Calum Chambers for £12m – a price I would consider 5-10 million pounds beneath his value. But he is injured and Arsenal need money for other positions and the center back role is congested with options that are not up scratch, which means they are left considering the option in front of them.
Do they take the £12m or counter up to £15? Do they shoot for £20m and risk Fulham walking away only to see Chambers’ value continue to dip next season if he doesn’t see much playing time? Find ways to make money now knowing you may miss out later, but reduce what you can achieve this window knowing you have assets to sell down the line.
It’s a tough decision and one that is certainly a case by case question. In fact, Arsenal are filled with people that could be the victims of these harsh times and this harsh reality, if the right offer comes knocking. None larger than Emi Martinez, Bernd Leno, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
While two of these people are competing with one another for the starting spot, all three are prime examples of the type of player Arsenal may be forced into selling.
In the case of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, he isn’t currently the preferred right back over Hector Bellerin as seen in Arteta’s team selections, he has proven himself to be a good left or right wingback but that position doesn’t exist in Arteta’s ideal 4-3-3 formation which puts a shelf life on how long that role carries value. Additionally, Bukayo Saka has also shown a keen ability to be an effective option in that left wingback role, along with Kieran Tierney should Arsenal land another left center back or Pablo Mari returns. Finally, Ainsley Maitland-Niles has expressed a desire to be in the midfield, but hasn’t impressed enough to work his way in over the likes of Xhaka or Ceballos, or even Willock and the youngsters.
It all leaves you with a feeling of jack of all trades, master of none, which is made worse when other teams start offering reasonable fees for him. Certainly there are other players that Arsenal supporters would prefer to see sold first – Sokratis, Holding, Chambers, even Bellerin for some – but teams aren’t asking after Sokratis or Holding which leaves a tough decision when sales may need to come before larger purchases can be completed.
In a slightly different situation, Arsenal are sitting on two goalkeepers that are very capable of being first choice keepers and neither willing to take a back seat.
Martinez made a massive splash in the league after Bernd Leno was injured against Brighton during the restart. From his very first start, he looked confident, comfortable, and secure in his hands resulting in an impressive 9 Premier League appearances, 34 saves, 3 clean sheets, 5 wins… oh and an FA Cup final win. During his stretch of games he averaged a 7.21 player rating, according to SofaScore, and every game managed to make save that caused the audience to almost audibly say, “wow.” To add to it, his distribution and decision making at the back was pivotal to Arsenal’s ability to play out of the back as he added 27.22 passes per match and 33 accurate long balls in the Premier League.
What is unfortunate, is that his competition for the role is Bernd Leno, a player that was in the running for Arsenal’s Player of the Season before being injured. Leno’s distribution may not be quite as good as Martinez’s, but his resiliency this year under a constant onslaught of shots can’t be forgotten. Making 30 appearances in the Premier League, Leno made a massive 113 saves and had a season player rating of 7.11 – earning himself a spot in the team of the season based on player ratings. While that is a bit below Martinez’s impressive ratings, Leno has managed to keep it playing three times the matches.
There are quite a few teams that will be jealous of Arsenal’s riches when it comes to quality keepers, the team we beat in the FA Cup finals for example, but it puts Arsenal in a tough spot when one of their better players and assets will always be left out of the side.
Ideally, Arsenal would find a way to hang onto both of these keepers and let them battle it out for their right to be between the sticks, but it can’t go unnoticed that Martinez’s value has never been higher than it is currently. Bernd Leno’s value may have taken a slight hit with the injury, but his quick recovery is a point of optimism when it comes to how extensive the damage was. All of this to say, much like Maitland-Niles, Arsenal’s financial situation may lead to them having to cash in now and select one without a true competition for the spot to invest in positions higher up the pitch.
In an ideal situation, all three of these players would have proved themselves worth keeping because they simply are worth keeping, but when cash is king these decisions have an extra incentive.
Is Maitland-Niles a redundancy given Bukayo Saka or even Willian, if he is announced, who also offer the ability to slot in across the pitch? Is letting Leno and Martinez have a shot next year to compete worth more than accepting an offer of £30m+ for one of them that could be used here and now on the midfield?
It’s a tough spot to be in and one that Arsenal have likely built themselves into over the past few years, but these problems will likely want to be solved early.