Along with midfield maestro Santi Cazorla, they are known as Arsenal’s two most technically gifted first-team players. On the pitch they have broken goal and assist records while off the pitch they guarantee millions of shirt sales and commercial deals – but Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil’s statuses as fan favourites may be slipping away due to their failure to sign contract extensions.
The public pursuit of Alexis by Manchester City culminated in a deadline day flap from the Gunners which saw the Chilean stay put and Thomas Lemar reject both Arsenal and Liverpool. Ozil, meanwhile, has not sought a move away and only recently re-entered previously halted contract negotiations due to Arsene Wenger’s uncertainty over his own future.
Ozil and Sanchez are not the only players at Arsenal with expiring contracts, however. Jack Wilshere’s future is up in the air and it’s still unknown where his career will continue after his current deal runs out next summer. In 2019, Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, Nacho Monreal and Petr Cech all come to the end of their contracts and, although they might not be considered in the same calibre as the talismanic duo, the short-term approach to keeping players at the club warrants further scrutiny.
It’s easy to lay the blame at the feet of the players and their representatives for seeking bigger financial incentives in an ever-inflated market, but why are Arsenal in such a terrible position when it comes to key players and expiring contracts?
There are a number of reasons behind the north Londoners’ dallying over tying their key men to long-term deals. The case of Sanchez, in particular, is something Arsenal have experienced before. At 28 years old, Alexis made it clear through his representative Fernando Felichevich that he wanted to leave the Gunners for Manchester City this summer. Goal reported on the transfer throughout the back end of last season until transfer deadline day and it is understood that Pep Guardiola persuaded the Chilean to join after a phone conversation, something his former Barcelona manager unsurprisingly denies.
As is common place with players when negotiations are opened, all avenues are explored and interested parties will be considered. City’s desire to land Sanchez came into play midway through last season and it became clear several weeks after the FA Cup final that the player wanted to leave Arsenal for a club competing in the Champions League. Ultimately, it was a decision made for footballing reasons – as has been the main reason for Sanchez leaving his previous clubs.
Meanwhile, Ozil was the subject of tentative interest from several major European clubs over the summer, though no formal bids were lodged. Ozil recently bought a new house in London and saw contract talks broken off towards the end of last season when Wenger was unsure whether he would be signing a new contract at Arsenal or joining Paris Saint-Germain. Wenger played a huge part in bringing in Ozil from Real Madrid three seasons ago and the Germany international would have almost certainly looked to leave if the Frenchman decided to call it quits after two decades in north London.
Contract negotiations between Arsenal and Ozil resumed at the start of the season and it is understood that chief transfer negotiator Dick Law, who assisted in the player’s 2013 signing, was at one point no longer involved in talks. Instead, Ozil’s representative dealt directly with executive director and majority shareholder Stan Kroenke’s son, Josh, in a bid to get talks moving in a progressive way.
Indeed, Law’s own contract expired – some would say ironically – at the end of September and, although it’s believed he is still running several errands at the club, his job has now been taken over by former Team Sky legal expert Huss Fahmy. The new arrival was recently shown in a video alongside youngster Joe Willock, who signed a contract extension at Arsenal last week.
Goal has been told that the Arsenal board have been ‘beyond frugal’ where financial terms are concerned in past negotiations with Ozil and Sanchez. The Premier League Short Term Cost Control (STCC) rules, which came into play from the new campaign, state that the Gunners can only increase the wage bill by £7m above what it was last season. This may go some way to explaining why the Gunners have been hesitant to offer excessive sums to keep their main men at the club, but it doesn’t explain why contracts weren’t put on the table sooner.
Despite being praised for sticking by their principles, the club have been left behind by their rivals in a number of ways. Perhaps more worryingly for Arsenal is that their north London rivals Tottenham are gradually surpassing them as a well-oiled machine with a top-class manager at the helm. Hugo Lloris and Harry Kane are two key players who have signed extensions in the past year – and the likes of Dele Alli will surely follow.
Arsenal’s old-fashioned board structure and reluctance to offer hefty salaries dictated by the market has seen them unable to challenge for major titles anymore. Changes need to be made to the way the club are run to ensure that never again do they find themselves in such a shambolic situation whereby their two star players could leave for nothing at the same time.