Arsenal finally come to terms with falling behind the Premier League elite
Arsenal will need to undertake major rebuilding in the summer even if Arsene Wenger stays, with up to nine players, including Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, likely to move.
As the club plan for next season, there is a sense among some players that the gap between Arsenal and their Premier League rivals is growing.
Those Arsenal players who go on England duty are often regaled with stories from Manchester City and Liverpool players about the innovative methods used by Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, as well as the intensity of their training.
City players in particular are full of praise for the facilities and the physiological and medical back-up that they receive, which the Arsenal players suspect is superior to theirs.
Arsenal take on City in the first of two clashes against Guardiola’s team — they are drawn in the FA Cup semi-finals later this month — with Sunday’s fixture crucial to Wenger maintaining his 20-year run in the top four.
But there is widespread recognition among coaching staff and at board level that an overhaul of the squad is required, which begs the question whether Wenger is the man to oversee it.
Wenger seems on the verge of confirming that he will stay. ‘I will not retire,’ he said. ‘Retiring is for young people. For old people retirement is dying. Of course I’m as hungry as ever. I carry a bit more pressure on my shoulders than 20 years ago but the hunger is exactly the same.
‘I hate defeat. I can understand the fans that are unhappy with every defeat but the only way to have victory is to stick together with the fans and give absolutely everything until the end of the season, that’s all we can do.’
With Arsenal not yet clear whether Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez will stay, the sense of uncertainty is even more pronounced. They have both been offered deals which are understood to be in excess of £250,000 a week, the biggest salaries the club has ever paid.
Sanchez will have interest from Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain and can let his contract run down, which he would almost certainly need to do if he wished to join Chelsea. Ozil is expected to wait to see whether Bayern Munich would match his offer.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has not been offered a new deal and has taken that as a sign that he will be leaving, with interest from Liverpool and Chelsea.
Ronald Koeman is keen to take Wilshere to Everton and, having fallen behind Nacho Monreal and with Arsenal scouting left backs, Kieran Gibbs will have to move on if he wants to play regularly. Carl Jenkinson is also expected to leave.
Targets will include Bayern’s Kingsley Coman. Bayern will exercise their buy-out clause from Juventus in the summer and had been expected to sell him on, although manager Carlo Ancelotti insists he will stay.
Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus is a longstanding midfield target and Monaco’s Benjamin Mendy is the preferred left back option. But Arsenal face an uphill battle, given Monaco don’t need to sell and Manchester City and Manchester United also have identified him as a potential signing.
Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann and Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe, 18, are likely to move to more powerful clubs, with United favourites to sign Griezmann.
Decisions will be taken on Wojciech Szczesny and Calum Chambers, currently on loan at Roma and Middlesbrough, with both expected to leave. Yaya Sonogo, Mathieu Debuchy and Joel Campbell, on loan at Sporting, will also go, meaning cover is required for Hector Bellerin.
With doubts over Gabriel’s ability to adapt to the Premier League and Per Mertesacker only having one more year to run, Rob Holding is expected to feature prominently next season. Francis Coquelin has been exposed in central midfield this season, though there is an expectation that Granit Xhaka’s second season will see him get closer to justifying his £35m transfer fee.
But the club have to face a hard choice on Santi Cazorla, 32, whose injury has ruled him out for most of this season. It is unclear whether the club can rely on him getting back to previous heights, meaning they would need to look for a replacement.
Wenger can justifiably point to how Arsenal have been transformed under his tenure, from being one of the most important clubs in England to being globally-recognised, with a 60,000 capacity stadium and a reputation for stylish football. That said, the pertinent question now is, who is best- placed to take the club into the next phase of its history?
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