Arsenal Keep or Sell? January 2021 Player Review
Following another summer of board-level structural and personnel change – one conundrum that continues to bite us in the back is the mismanagement of player contracts. It is almost inevitable that we repeatedly find ourselves in a vicious cycle of allowing valuable assets to depart with nothing to show for.
Despite being informed in an exclusive interview to Arsenal Media Group in 2019 by Vinai Venkateshan & Raul Sanllehi that the club would adopt a more ruthless attitude when it comes to ‘hard decision making’ to ensure that players are not running down their contracts – the Arsenal hierarchy continue to dither and ponder with relation to the management of player contracts.
Historically speaking contract management has proven to be problematic and off great cost financially, stifling the potential re-investment that could have accelerated our ability to provide greater adequate squad depth or increased competition for first-team places.
With Arsenal recently announcing that Richard Garlick (Premier League director of football) will join as the new director of football operations – the club hopes that they can utilise Richard’s expertise when it comes to his specialised background in sports law, to mitigate the risk of such errors from occurring again.
Despite Richard’s responsibilities being far greater than just the handling of contracts, the club ultimately wishes that he will make a significant impact in ensuring that mistakes of the previous regime do not resurface, as well as providing much needed dynamism and a differed approach to that of Huss Fahmy, who was previously responsible for this operation.
This leads us onto the main focus of this piece in which we briefly review 6 key players entering the final year or two of their contract this summer and provide a verdict as to whether or not the club should look to sell or keep the players this summer.
A useful player who has reached a crossroads. The well rounded attacker due to turn 30 in May has struggled to find consistent form at the Arsenal and has only performed well in spells throughout his tenure. As of recent, it seems that his role in the team has become a lot more imperative and fundamental in terms of being the experienced link for the young players. On the other hand, given that Lacazette is at the stage of his career where this would be his last big contract, the likelihood is that he would demand a pay rise, which at this point would be hard to justify.
From here onwards, it is unlikely that he will improve as a player thus causing his value to decrease. Come the summer, should Lacazette be willing to accept a reduced wage and a downgraded squad role – I would have no issue renewing him for one year. However, if an improved contract is the only way to retain the player, it would be worth cutting ties with the player.
A controversial player that divides opinion. Some fans may argue that Granit’s importance to the team has been more evident as of late, having said that this can be attributed to the lack of numbers and quality in the midfield department which Arteta has previously acknowledged. Occasional good performances and a run of sustained form after his shenanigans have been much needed, although what lives long in the memory and will not be forgotten is the lack of consistency over long periods of time.
Unfortunately, for the level that Arsenal aspires to reach again – it is extremely far fetched to say that Xhaka can elevate us and for that reason selling him with two years on his contract would be the most suitable action to take and could provide some financial return.
Considered by some a utility man, a right back for a few and midfielder for others. It seems that even Ainsley is unsure as to what his preferred position is and I can only imagine this does not serve him well mentality in terms of knuckling down a position. Maitland-Niles has just about been deployed in a variety of positions under several different managers and proves to be a somewhat reliable squad player when called upon.
There is a common theme that top sides tend to have that one player at their disposal that is versatile and will put in at least a 6/7 out of 10 performance every game and Maitland- Niles seems to be that profile. Moreover, the fact that he is now an England international does show signs of development and it is also important to note that the players homegrown status is hugely beneficial for the club also.
Finally, it is hard to argue that Maitland-Niles will not be an important squad player like a James Milner at Liverpool, whilst also having room to improve further and cementing a first-team place.
A young exciting talent whose development has stagnated over the past few years. An industrial type player that possess a skill set which is unique to Arsenal. With Joe, it is clear to see what he can do, to play in those pockets and to make runs into certain areas – something that is currently lacking. However, what is still missing from his game is quality in the final third and decision making; qualities which cannot be taught and are developed with experience and playing time, something that Joe has been given in abundance.
It is also difficult to predict if he will ever fulfil the potential that he has. Willock could well be a late developer or a useful squad player, but can we continue to be patient and potentially halt the development of another academy graduate that needs game time to develop?
An extremely prolific striker at academy level who has not been able to reach the same level of goalscoring and performances for the first team. After a tough a loan spell at Leeds, Eddie was given a chance by Arteta and seemed to be revitalised when he first broke through making some valuable contributions to the side.
A season later the jury is out on the young forward who has struggled to find confidence this season. With academy prospect Balogun now knocking on the door for first-team minutes, Eddie’s place in the squad should no doubt be under threat. Has he contributed enough when played and is his ceiling higher than prospects currently waiting in the ranks? Considering space in the squad is limited – should we be looking to cash in on Eddie and promoting Balogun to the first team? Only time will tell.
Currently the longest serving player at the club but small signs of improvement over the duration of his career, with consistency over long periods of time still being a problem. At times it has seemed that Bellerin has been on the right path to achieving the level that he established before his injury, however, a significant part of the fanbase are still scratching their heads and question just how much he has improved since then and Rightly so.
The recent run in form from Cedric will provide much needed competition for Bellerin, however with Maitland-Niles failing to cement the right-back position when given the chance – Arsenal should look to upgrade the RB position and potentially cash in on Bellerin this summer. Allowing the club to generate funds and upgrade the personnel whilst still having adequate cover.
One thing for certain is that in the next 6-12 months, we will have a better understanding as to whether or not the club has learnt from previous mistakes and implemented a new strategy. Since Arteta has been employed at the club- one thing has become evident and that is the acknowledgement of the major surgery that is required at the club. Major surgery in the shape of a complete squad overhaul and cultural change as opposed to the quick plaster fixes, which typically tend to be reactive signings due to our inability to acquire top targets on the shopping list. The board must quickly decide how many of the current crop of players mentioned should be part of this change.
It is without a doubt that we have already seen small baby steps in the right direction in terms of recruitment and contract renewals. Namely vital talents such as Martinelli, Saka and hopefully Smith-Rowe to follow suit. This would indicate that we are already being proactive, nonetheless, the magnitude of the task still remains huge and the club hopes that with the addition of Richard Garlick, he will be adding some much needed steel in negotiations and continue to lead us down the right path.