It’s been just over a week since Arsenal collapsed so dramatically against Chelsea in the Europa League final, but the fall-out is already well underway.
Failure to secure Champions League football for a third successive season means some difficult decisions will need to be made in the coming weeks as Unai Emery attempts to reshape a squad that missed out on a top-four place in the Premier League by a single point.
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Without Champions League football, however, finances are going to be tight once again at the Emirates.
It’s not going to be as bad as in January, when the Gunners could only shop in the loan market, but Emery knows he is heading into the summer with a limited budget of around £45 million.
That’s a figure that will be dwarfed by every other side that finished above them last season, aside from Chelsea who currently will be heading into the new season with a one-year transfer ban.
It is a clear indicator of how difficult a job Emery is facing ahead of his second season in charge at the Emirates.
The Spaniard admitted immediately after the defeat by Chelsea in Baku that reinforcements would be needed before the start of the 2019-20 campaign.
“We have good, big players with experience and some young players,” said Arsenal’s head coach.
“I think this year we’ve been closer to the other teams. But next year we need the same idea, also to add some new players to give us some situations we can improve.”
The process of adding to the squad started well before the end of last season, despite the club currently operating without a technical director – with Edu not due to arrive until the end of the Copa America next month.
Emery has been working on deals alongside head of football Raul Sanllehi and head of international recruitment Francis Cagigao, with the Gunners looking to bring in several new faces.
A centre-back, a left-back, a replacement for Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey and a wide attacker are all viewed as a priority – with the Gunners also showing interest in Paris Saint-Germain right-back Thomas Meunier.
But the big issue for the north London club is being able to finance the deals they are hoping to secure while working to such a minimal budget. The fact that PSG are looking for around £25 million for Meunier shows the difficulty they face.
So to be able to fund such an overhaul, it’s clear that players must be sold to bring in money which can be added to the transfer budget.
And that has led to the possibility being raised of the club cashing in one of their two star strikers.
Between them, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored 50 goals last season, with the latter ending his first full campaign in England with 31 in all competitions and 22 in the Premier League, a tally which earned him a share of the Golden Boot.
Lacazette, meanwhile, chipped in with 19 on his way to being voted Arsenal’s player of the year by the club’s supporters.
Both are huge fan favourites, but both have also been linked with moves away in recent weeks – with Lacazette believed to be on the radar of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid while Aubameyang is attracting interest from China.
Reports suggest that multiple Chinese teams are willing to offer Aubameyang £300,000 a week to lure him away from the Emirates and they would no doubt stump up more than the £55 million it took for Arsenal to sign him from Borussia Dortmund in 2018.
For a player who will soon turn 30, that would be a very tempting offer for both parties. Arsenal would make a profit on an ageing striker and Aubameyang would guarantee himself one last big payday before retiring.
But the fact is, Arsenal are not going to go out and get a better striker than Aubameyang. His goalscoring record is astonishing. He is one of only six players across Europe to score more than 25 times in each of the last five seasons.
How can you sell a player who guarantees you goals at that sort of regularity? Yes, Arsenal may have to hand him a new deal to ensure his head does not get swayed by China’s riches and – given his age – that will mean he will have very little sell-on value down the line if he were to eventually leave.
But there is still plenty of life left in Aubameyang and you could actually argue that he will get even better, should Emery bring in the top quality wide attacker he craves this summer. Such a wideman could supply the Gabon international with the sort of service he thrives on from the flanks.
So as much as Arsenal need money to invest – and as much as they need to cut the wage bill – there have to be better options than selling one of Europe’s most fearsome forwards.
And the same goes for Lacazette, who the club will soon open contract talks with in a bid to extend his stay in north London.
Speaking ahead of the Europa League final, the France international admitted that he would be sitting down with Arsenal to discuss his future amid links to the likes of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
“For me, I just think about the final, then after we will see with the club,” he told Standard Sport. “If the club is really happy with me and I’m happy, I will stay. In France, they say 27, 28 is one of the best ages in your career.
“I wish it is not the last [good season] at Arsenal and I hope I will be better and better in the next years.”
It would be no surprise to see a big-money offer arrive from Spain this summer for Lacazette, especially if Atletico Madrid lose Antoine Griezmann – who could end up at Camp Nou.
Barcelona do have an interest in the Arsenal striker, but he…
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