As Arsenal ran out of steam, Manchester City found another gear and accelerated towards the finish line.
The difference between the two clubs is not mental strength, it is not that Arsenal bottled it. It is that Pep Guardiola has a squad filled with more quality. That allows him to rest and rotate with out affecting the starting XI. The result is players are fresher at the business end of the season.
This summer, Arsenal need to improve the squad to try and close that gap. We do not need a bigger squad, we need a better squad.
Improve the top end is how you improve squad depth. You buy better players than what you have, and those in the same positions “drop down one on the ladder” as a consequence. And then the player at the bottom end of the ladder is sold on as no longer required.
You maintain that 22-24 man first team squad, but fill it with more quality.
But we are not Manchester City. We can not afford to go out into the transfer market and spend big without a plan on how to finance the transfer window. And we do not want to go down the Chelsea route of offering big contracts and mortgaging our future.
That means if we want to go out and do the business we want this summer, some fans favourites might end up being sold out.
The first name is Granit Xhaka.
Firstly, who would have though Xhaka would be a fans favourite a couple of years ago? He has gone from “we need to get rid and no one wants him” to “we can not let him go” when the links to Bayern Leverkusen materilised.
At the moment our options in the 6 / 8 are Xhaka, Thomas Partey and Jorginho (I have excluded Mohamed Elneny).
We are chasing Declan Rice who would improve our first XI.
Rice could replace either Partey in the deeper midfield position, or Xhaka further up the pitch. You throw in Jorginho and it would give 4 good options in those positions, and plenty of game time for all.
But then you have Moises Caicedo.
The links with the Ecuadorian will not go away, with many thinking that we could go for him and Rice. But this raises two issues.
The first is squad space, the second is financial.
If we signed Rice, that would leave us with the 4 options mentioned above. 5 options in that position is probably one too many.
Acquiring Caicedo and Rice would mean one of the existing 3 would have to depart. And the likely one to make way would be Xhaka.
Partey is on huge wages. And with personal issues also hanging over him, Arsenal would struggle to find a buyer this summer. Would anyone really take on his £200k+ a week wages? No.
Meanwhile, Jorginho has only just joined. And selling him would probably cost us money as we would not get close to what we still have left to amorotise within the accounts.
That leaves Xhaka.
Still only 30, Xhaka has a year left on his contract. He will be considering his future, and if a club in Germany offers him a 4-year deal (as Leverkusen reportedly have) then he would be happy to move.
Money is also not a problem. Xhaka is not on huge wages, and he would earn a lot more signing for a club on a 5-year deal summer against staying with his for another year and then getting a 4-year deal in 2023. His self-value has probably never been higher since he joined us.
So if we want Caicedo and Rice, Xhaka will probably be out the door (note: this was written before the recent breaking news).
And if we are talking about squad depth, we then have: Rice, Caicedo, Partey and Jorginho as our options.
Considering we started the season with Xhaka, Partey, Lokonga and Elneny, this is a great example of how purchases at the top of the squad improve the depth at the bottom.
The second issue is financial.
Rice is likely to move for around £80million plus add-ons. Caicedo will go for around £60m plus add-ons. That would be £140m+ spent on two midfielders. And we would still need a new central defender and an additional winger / forward option.
Realistically, I expect us to spend around £100m on new players prior to an exits. Which in turn means we need to sell if we wish to buy beyond this price. And that brings me onto Emile Smith Rowe.
Talk was that Mikel Arteta was looking to convert Smith Rowe into a 8. It is a position that I always felt he could play. But if Rice and Caicedo join, than the Hale End graduate would be 5th in the pecking order for that position – or 3rd behing Martin Odegaard and Fabio Vieira as the more attacking 8.
Out wide, he is behind Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Leoandro Trossard.
Another forward or wide-man is a target this summer. That player could become a 4th option outwide – or we go for an out and out forward (Dusan Vlahovic, Ivan Toney) and Jesus is then utilised ouwide.
The widemen we have been linked to – Moussa Diaby, Xavi Simons and Ansu Fati – are all better options that Smith Rowe. Likewise, Jesus would be a better option.
Smith Rowe was fantastic last year. But this year the injury issues that have plagued his senior career returned.
He is certainly someone that we could make huge money on, without it really affecting squad depth.
If we sign Caicedo and Diaby (for example), Smith Rowe is then 5th choice midfielder and 5th choice winger. A fee of £40million would allow us to further expand the squad.
Kieran Tierney is another senior pro that might be sacrificed.
Tierney is back up left back that could fetch well above £30million. That is further funds that could be reinvested if Arsenal are hoping to have a big summer.
Now a debate is to be had as to who replaces Tierney. It would be a pointless exercise if we have to spend £30m to replace him. We might as well keep him.
But if the club are confident that Takehiro Tomiyasu could be cover for Zinchenko (and White), further backed up by Reul Walters, Lino Sousa , Jakub Kiwior and a potential new incoming centre back, then selling Tierney would be a “free hit”.
At a basic level, we would be swapping Tierney for a new right sided centre back.
Last on this list is Folarin Balogun.
We have already discussed that if you buy better than what you have, someone at the bottom end most leave. And in the forward positions that is Balogun.
If we get in another top forward, that leaves Balogun and Nketiah fighting it out to be 3rd choice. A position that in Balogun’s case he does not want to be in.
I would also much prefer the £30-40million thatr selling Balogun would generate. Funds that would go into financing someone at the top end of the squad.
A window that saw us sign (for example) Rice, Caicedo, Josip Sutalo and Dusan Vlahovic would cost us close to £200million.
Selling Xhaka, Smith Rowe, Tierney and Balogun would raise in and around £100million – maybe even more.
If we were looking at an initial investment based on self-sustainability of £100m, these sales would further finance more moves.
So to play a bit a Football Manager:
Out: Xhaka, Smith Rowe, Balogun, Tierney
In: Rice, Caicedo, Vlahovic, Sutalo
The acquisitions would dramatically improve the top end of our squad, whilst the departures would not be a huge blow.
And we have not taken into account the future of Nicolas Pepe, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Nuno Taveres, Pablo Mari and Rob Holding. Although I would be surprised if any of these leaving would generate more than £20-30m combined.
From Smith Rowe to Patino, Xhaka to Balogun, sacrifices will be made this summer.
You can not demand we sign “better players” then also cry when a player you like is sold to make way for that better player.
Final thought: We have come up a little short this season.
If we have Rice, Caicedo, Vlahovic and Sutalo in our squad this season, rather than Xhaka, Smith Rowe, Tierney and Balogun would we be champions?
Whaoh! One painful word to say is, ‘goodbye’. Inevitably, it has to be uttered to one or two of these players! I kind of imagined Xhaka playing 2 more seasons for Arsenal, then join the backroom staff…he will turn out to be a good coach, no doubt. Is Sutalo a defender? Because, it turned out this season that our most important player was not Jesus G, nor Partey, or Saka. It was Saliba! As long as we dont rear or find a like-player, we will be found out.
Proud of the boys. Painful though, because i had thought that Wolves were going to give us the honours clap.
Like we say in Nigeria, “we move”!