I’m really happy with Bernd Leno, but I think the back-up should make up the homegrown numbers, just liked Martinez used to, and that marks the end of the road for Runar Runarsson. He goes to Fenerbahce for a cut-price £1.4 million. As the new bench-warmer we end up plumping for Angus Gunn of Southampton. He costs a fee that will amount to £7.75 million ultimately. It’s more than I really want to pay, but those homegrown places count.
No intention to switch from the Bellerin-Maitland axis, and while the former is coveted by a number of teams this never results in an offer. Calum Chambers is increasingly surplus to requirements while still being pretty good. Valencia provide the solution, taking him on loan and paying his wages while giving him the playing time that we are unable to.
Kieran Tierney earns a dazzling new contract that puts him in the £100,000+ club. Now an important player, I’m not interested in sparking a battle betwixt him and Sead Kolasinac and transfer-list the latter. He goes to China, to Guangzhou, for £29 million. As the squad rotation back-up to Tierney, we land Junior Firpo, the Barca prospect who could develop into a good Premier League player. He’s cheap at £7.5 million.
The cull continues as David Luiz leaves at the end of his contract and Pablo Mari goes to newly promoted Bournemouth for £15 million. William Saliba is sent on loan again, this time to Cittadella who are now operating in Serie A. Chelsea have transfer listed Andreas Christensen. He counts as a ‘trained in England’ homegrown player; £21.5 million and he’s ours. The Danish international will be rotated regularly with Demiral, Gabriel and Holding, making for four good options in central defence.
The plan was to re-insert Lucas Torreira back into the side once his loan at Atletico finished. In the meantime West Ham got relegated, which made Declan Rice open to offers. The £55 million we pay is hefty, but Rice is a 22 year old England regular and comes at a premium. He’s also an ideal candidate for the captaincy. Torreira is sold to Milan for £17.5 million.
Granit Xhaka’s wish comes true when he swaps London for the red half of Milan. £28 million is the price, so everyone’s happy, apart from the Arsenal board who feel I’ve let him go on the cheap (I haven’t). Matteo Guendouzi returns from loan and goes to Ajax for £18.25 million. Mohamed Elneny joins Valencia in exchange for £15 million. Chelsea have pretty much made Ruben Loftus-Cheek surplus to requirements – £26 million makes him ours. Ever concerned about the Ox’s injury proneness, I draft in Aaron Ramsey on loan to lessen our dependency on him. Ramsey costs £180,000 per week in wages, but I’m loathe to pay the £20 million Zebre want to make his signing permanent, and in reality I’ve put the problem off for another year. We can now choose from RLC, the Ox, Ramsey, Partey, Wilshere and Willock, which looks healthy if slightly over-stacked.
Nicolas Pepe’s rise to Godlike status means we no longer have to keep Willian around. The Brazilian is on big wages and expects to play a lot, neither of which pleases me. Norwich are back up and produce a staggering £29 million fee to capture his signature. Great. The position is now Pepe’s, with Reiss Nelson in the ‘young gun’ role.
Vinicius’s loan deal ends and Smith Rowe goes back out, this time to relegated West Ham. Gabriel Martinelli is back in the side as the fringe player, capable of playing on the left or up front. Bukayo Saka is now first choice. I pay a princely £54 million to Burnley to acquire Dwight McNeil, a 21 year old who has no business playing in the Championship.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the star and expects to remain so, which is fine with me. Both him and Alexandre Lacazette are getting on and earning fabulous wages, and it’s my intention to ease them out over time. The latter is the first to go. Valencia find a stunning £56 million to seal the deal and his heart. As the new back-up, I draft in PSV’s Donyell Malen, a onetime Arsenal youngster who built a 7.61 average rating last season while scoring 16 goals in his 23 appearances. £44 million seems like a good price to pay for a 22 year old who can be eased into first team action. Eddie Nketiah joins Porto on loan for the season.
At the end of all this we have spent £201 million on talent and recouped £199 million. There’s still £95 million remaining in the transfer budget and £612,000 available to spend on wages. It leaves me wondering if my transfer activities could have been more ambitious, but the money’s there and things look very healthy at the Emirates. The first team now looks like this, with ‘trained at the club’ homegrown players shaded in green, and ‘trained in England’ players in yellow. It was always my ambition to increase the English presence, so I’m sanguine with the number of Three Lions lads now representing the Gunners.
A Helping Hand…
I’ll finish with some tips for new starters with Arsenal. These things have worked for me and ultimately it’s up to you how far you want to go with these pointers, but I’ll leave them here for your reading pleasure.
Either build the side around Mesut Ozil or sell him quickly. I know what I would rather do with Ozil, but there is doubtlessly talent still in those ageing legs and an argument to be made for accommodating him within the Arsenal set-up, if only for one final season of ‘last hurrah’ football before his ruinously large contract winds up. If you do decide to keep him around then be prepared to construct your line-up to showcase him, not only positionally but to compensate for some of the Mentality drawbacks he brings to the table; for instance everyone wants a squad that’s high in Determination, but Ozil won’t provide it so you need to find it from elsewhere.
Reduce the wage bill fast. The Gunners have a Champions League team’s salary commitment while playing Europa League football. In the long term, this isn’t sustainable and it’s why you are charged with making it back into the continent’s big competition. Meanwhile, you have a set of players where the range of wages paid is enormous. Aubameyang, Ozil, Lacazette and David Luiz lead the group in terms of eye-watering contracts, while the likes of Tierney, Saka and numerous others who will still be around for a number of years are paid rather more modestly and sensibly. Again, not a situation you want, but with several players who are close to retirement yet drawing vast wages you should be able to whittle the bill down fairly easily. That means losing a few hefty earners who you might think earn the big bucks because they deserve to, but they do not represent the team’s future. In getting rid of David Luiz, Willian, Lacazette and Ozil by the end of 2020/21 I created the best part of a million pounds’ weekly wriggle room in the budget, while losing comparatively little in the side’s playing quality.
You have great kids – use them. The big attraction in managing Arsenal is not so much the self-appointed legends but the talented group of young Gunners at your disposal – Saliba, Willock, Saka, Martinelli, Smith Rowe and Nelson are all already at or close to first team level, with several further treats waiting in the wings. These represent nothing less than Arsenal’s future, and they need to be either quickly worked into the side or developed to get them to that stage as soon as possible. Apart from the enigmatic Emile Smith Rowe, I’ve found them all to be very useful pretty much from the start.
You have a large number of centre-backs, but few good ones. Of the seven defenders I started the game under my command, just two are still first team members (after a year) with a third out on loan to aid his development. The remaining four – David Luiz, Pablo Mari, Sokratis Papajohns, Shkodran Mustafi – have all been sold, for the simple reason that they plain ain’t good enough. William Saliba has the chance to get there, but he’s very young and can use the development time elsewhere. That leaves Rob Holding and Gabriel as legitimate first team picks, with Calum Chambers – nominally a right-back but just as happy in the middle – also loitering with intent. The good thing is that if you do manage to offload your unwanted defenders you have the opportunity to rake quite a lot back in, in terms of the wage savings. A priority in the first summer should be to bring in a good centre-back – I went for Juventus’s Merih Demiral – because a bit of judicious juggling of personnel ought to transform a leaky group of largely average defenders into a sharp, stingy ‘none shall pass’ unit. With Demiral and Gabriel as my first choices I never really looked back.
Priority Two is Central Midfield. Arsenal start with Partey, Ceballos, Elneny, Willock and Xhaka as the central midfield choices. That isn’t really good enough. For me, this group is little better than average. Thomas Partey is the best and he isn’t amazing. Willock is your way for the future, to be eased in and used primarily for Europa League playing time. I have little time for Mohamed Elneny, who screams of better choices being available elsewhere, while Granit Xhaka is a long-time club associate that is best off being cut short. Personally, I begged the board to fund a package for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was transfer-listed by Liverpool and added the midfield flair that the Gunners lack (it wasn’t provided so well by Ceballos), and snapped up Jack Wilshere on a free and paying him comparatively tiny wages. Both signings are former Gunners so their arrival improves the ratio of homegrown players, and while each one has had more than his fair share of injury issues the talent is there if it’s used sparingly. The sunny upland is that Willock will develop well, while Xhaka – who really ought to be on borrowed time at the Emirates – can fetch the big bucks, which should be plunged recycled new recruits.