It seems like the dust has only just settled on the ‘will they, won’t they’ speculation regarding Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil leaving Arsenal in the summer. Yet, here were are less than two months before the January transfer window opens, and Arsenal fans are getting ready to jump back on the emotional rollercoaster ride.
It’s not just the future of Arsenal’s two best players that will be on the agenda in January; there are still questions at large regarding squad improvement. With Arsenal constantly one poor result away from a crisis, Wenger will have his work cut out for him early next year. Can he successfully navigate the January window and give Arsenal the best chance of finishing in the top four?
The Dynamic Duo
There is only one place to start, though, and that’s the futures of Sanchez and Ozil. Both players are strongly linked with winter window moves, and Arsene Wenger did little to douse the flames, admitting that both could leave in January.
Can Wenger really contemplate selling his star players? Surely letting them go halfway through the season is even more detrimental than if they left last summer. Arsenal have been inconsistent at best this season. Losing their best players and expecting to compete is a massive gamble.
It would also negate the hard line the Arsenal manager towed in regards to keeping both players in the summer. Although, that stance did soften as a deadline-day move which would see Sanchez sign for City collapsed after Arsenal were unable to bring in Thomas Lemar as a replacement.
Sanchez has been linked with moves to Manchester City and PSG, while Ozil has seen his name attached to Manchester United and Inter Milan. In the opposite direction, Arsenal have been linked with Andre Silva, the AC Milan striker, as a replacement for either Sanchez or Ozil. With Milan sitting at 6/1 in the Serie A betting to finish in the top four this season, they would be just as loathe as the Gunners to lose one of their players – even if he is struggling for game time.
Nor should Arsenal aim to sign another team’s backup player as a replacement for world-class talent. There seems little sense in the Gunners selling this January, in any capacity. Sanchez and Ozil should command between £20 and £30 million, yet any replacements would surely cost upwards of £60m each, especially in today’s market.
It’s not only potentially losing both Ozil and Sanchez that could spell bad news for Arsenal. Despite a large squad, you can argue they are missing players in key positions. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey have blown hot and cold all season in central midfield.
Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin both make decent choices as fourth-choice central midfielders, but Arsenal could do with a player of higher quality. The need for another midfielder is even greater after Wenger suggested that he wouldn’t consider Jack Wilshere for a central midfield berth.
Perhaps more pressing is Arsenal’s need for cover in the wing-back positions. In the Carabao Cup and Europa League, Wenger has persisted with highly-rated teenager Reiss Nelson. The 17-year-old is more naturally attacking, however. It would be a big ask for him to cover at right wing-back should Bellerin suffer an injury.
On the opposite flank, Nacho Monreal provides cover for Saed Kolasinac, which isn’t ideal as Monreal is one of the first-choice centre-backs. Ultimately, Wenger should look to sign a defensively minded wing-back who can cover both the left and right flank.
There’s no doubt that Wenger has some big calls to make in January. Arsenal should be cautiously optimistic if they can keep both Sanchez and Ozil, while adding at least one more player for the wing-back roles.
If they allow both of their star players to leave, however, it could be mutiny at the Emirates. The Gunners would likely finish outside of the top four for the second season in a row. A fifth-place finish or lower would put even more pressure on a manager who is already feeling the heat.