Arsene Wenger must be a huge fan of the film Groundhog Day. Bill Murray was forced to experience the same events day after day until he realised the error of his ways, but Arsenal are operating on a grander scale by facing the same conundrums year after year. There may have been a few cracks in the cycle of late, from Petr Cech providing a solution to the goalkeeping problem and Arsenal not finishing in the top four of the Premier League, but for the most part, very little has changed.
A new centre-back is still required to lead the defence, the midfield is still lacking a strong presence, a world-class striker is still desired and there are still question marks over the club’s financial and competitive ambition. One thing that has become a fixture over the past few seasons is a reliance on Alexis Sanchez, and Arsenal’s fortunes in the summer transfer window and the next campaign will rest heavily on where the diminutive Chilean decides to call home.
Bayern Munich are the most conspicuous suitors, with compatriot Arturo Vidal already in Bavaria and the club’s attack in need of reinvigoration. Chelsea and Manchester City will always be interested in a talent like Sanchez, with the former likely to be especially keen if Eden Hazard is snaffled by Real Madrid. Of course, if Madrid sign a player of Hazard’s ilk then Gareth Bale could become superfluous at the Bernabeu. Manchester United have been heavily linked with the Welshman of late, and if Arsenal had qualified for the Champions League, they might also have considered themselves front-runners for a signature that would monumentally annoy Spurs fans.
However, it is easier to keep hold of a world-class player and convince them that the club’s dalliance with Europa League football will only last one year than it is to tempt a world-class player to join a club outside of the Champions League. Admittedly, Manchester United managed this last season when they enticed Paul Pogba with mountains of money and Mourinho. The latter seemed able to guarantee trophies, which proved to be the case, but in Wenger, Arsenal have a manager who has struggled to compete for anything notable other than the FA Cup in recent years.
As a result, Arsenal’s best bet is to throw everything at Sanchez in the hope that he will feel settled enough to stay. In terms of football odds, Paddy Power are offering a price of 11/8 for the Chilean to remain at the Emirates Stadium, making Arsenal his most likely employers next season. But things in football can change quickly. When Manchester United and Real Madrid make their inevitable big money moves in search of new attackers, the market will be given fluidity and bids may well come flowing in for Sanchez.
Sanchez will need reassurances from the leadership at Arsenal that the Premier League title is still viewed as a primary and attainable objective. Although Arsenal may struggle to attract the top-tier players, younger stars from the tier below with scope for growth can represent a desire for upward mobility from Wenger. Rumours of a rejected £87 million bid for Kylian Mbappe shows ambition, although a cynic would suggest that Arsenal merely bid to appease fans whilst safe in the knowledge their offer would fall short financially.
Being linked with Mbappe is in vogue for any club with sufficient spending power, and the young Frenchman would provide a suitable replacement for Sanchez as his potential is unlimited. However, Arsenal are likely to be forced to consider more realistic alternatives. Excitement at recent suggestions that Riyad Mahrez is angling for a move to Arsenal should be tempered by the Algerian’s indifferent season, whilst Alexandre Lacazette, Andrea Belotti and Carlos Bacca would be solving the striker problem rather than the Sanchez problem.
Sanchez is nearly irreplaceable, a testament to his ability. If he were to leave, Arsenal would struggle to find a player of his level in the same position and would struggle to head the queue for the brightest prospects such as Mbappe. However, the addition of a focal point such as Lacazette or Belotti, players just short of world class but still among the leading strikers in Europe, could enable Arsenal to change their shape and allow other players to flourish in Sanchez’s absence. Mesut Ozil used to be considered world-class; if the team was built around him, perhaps the German could become the focal point of a successful side.