Déjà vu is not a sense lost on an Arsenal fan.
Tearful goodbyes and tarnished legacies, Gunners fans know the revolving door of the transfer market, all too well.
When Thierry Henry left for Barcelona he was hailed with “long live the king” chants when Ashley Cole left for Chelsea, calls of ‘Judas’ rang out through the skies of North London.
But none will clench fists, grind teeth, and send shivers up spines of Arsenal fans more than the sale of Robin Van Persie to Manchester United in 2012.
The Dutchman wore the captain’s armband and after eight seasons at the club had his most prolific goalscoring output, netting 37 goals in 48 games. Van Persie single handily pulled the Gunners into Europe.
The then 29-year-old had one year left on his contract and refused to re-sign forcing Arsene Wenger’s hand. A move to bitter rivals, Man Utd followed, ultimately handing them the league on a platter.
The Frenchman was lambasted by fans for his decision to sell their best player to their biggest rivals. When four seasons later Wenger was put in the same position with their most poignant goal scorer, Alexis Sanchez in the final year of his contract, he decided to do the opposite.
Wenger changed his method but got the same results, the Chilean moved to Old Trafford for only the silhouette of a once talented player to show up in Manchester.
Now, Mikel Arteta finds himself in a terribly similar predicament to his former manager. Their star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is approaching his final year with a new deal seems less and less probable with every day that passes.
Aubameyang has been the most important cog in Arsenal’s wheel since joining the Gunners in January 2018 with his 49 goals, only being bettered by Mo Salah (50) since his arrival. The Gabon international has scored 45 per cent of Arsenal’s goals this season and without him, the Gunners would be struggling.
The question now is should Arteta sell his most valuable player, if he does not sign a new contract?
The answer is a resounding yes, he must learn the lesson which his predecessor never did.
While Wenger once said that it was an “ideal situation” for a player to enter the last 12 months of his contract, hindsight has shown us it is anything but. By allowing the same outcome to occur with Aubameyang, Arteta will stunt the development of the club.
Last year’s golden boot winner is set to turn 31 in June and with players being treated like bruised avocados once they reach their early thirties, value trickles down like sand in an hourglass. The Gabonese international has the potential to bring in at least £50 million in this current market, a cashflow which can unequivocally fuel Arteta’s rebuild.
The alternative, as it stands, is to handcuff the 30-year-old to the badge. Forcing him to see out his contract and then either let him go for free next summer or a cut price in January.
With the inflation of the transfer market and valuations of even the most mediocre players requiring a galling amount, it is becoming more and more common for players to run down their contracts. This has become a regular occurrence at the Emirates more than anywhere else.
The most recent example was Aaron Ramsey, who left the club for Juventus last summer. The Welsh midfielder was a pivotal figure for the Gunners, a versatile midfielder who could time a late run into the box as good as anybody.
Ramsey, reluctant to sign a new contract, opted to wait his out. Instead of selling and profiting, Arsenal let him walk away for nothing.
In the summer of 2018, Arsenal let Jack Wilshere leave on a free transfer to West Ham. The injury-prone midfielder rejected a new contract from Arsenal signalling his intent to leave the club, although Wilshere was never a mainstay in team, he was allowed to see out his contract.
His transfer value would have decreased a lot due to his poor form and injury list status, but by choosing not to sell money was still lost.
These are two examples out of a host of contract failings from, Arsenal’s ‘old era’.
Financially these failings have backed them into a corner, with their reoccurring failures to qualify for the Champions League, Arsenal are now without the financial income that kept them within touching distance of the top six.
The Gunners recorded their first financial loss since 2002 as of May 2019, with a post-tax loss of £27.1 million down from a profit of £56.5 million from the year before.
Club director, Josh Kroenke, admitted last summer that Arsenal have “a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget”.
To make matters worse, Arsenal face the possibility of not even qualifying for the Europa League this season. They currently sit ninth in the Premier League table. Having already lost any potential earnings from the Europa League after being dramatically dumped out, Arteta may find an imaginary war chest come summer.
Arsenal will experience a financial pocket of air with revenue from their new Adidas deal streaming in but “another season outside the Champions League will continue to apply pressure to financial results” says Arsenal’s chairman Sir Chips Keswick.
The Gunners may want to keep Aubameyang but financially it is not smart, maybe not even feasible. Even if Arsenal were able to sign Aubameyang to a new contract his wages would surely exceed Mesut Ozil’s and a similar situation could likely arise.
The German playmaker was handed a jaw-dropping contract after entering his final six months. Unable to offload to a club who are willing to match the 31-year-old’s wages, Arsenal are tied down by a £350,000 ball and chain.
The club’s wage bill has increased by £8.4 million between May 2018 and 2019.
Goalscorers are like gold dust in the modern game and losing the talents of a player such as Aubameyang’s will damage the club immensely. Finding a player to replace him is another Everest to climb.
But it is not impossible.
A year after being appointed as Atletico Madrid manager, Diego Simeone sold his star striker Radamel Falcao (who was responsible for 45 per cent of their goals that season), to Monaco for £50 million. The following season Atletico won La Liga and finished as runners up in the Champions League.
Atleti have an amazing pedigree of producing world-class strikers, with Diego Costa filling the role left behind and scoring 36 goals. The bullish striker came up through up through the academy after signing from Braga, with youth a resource which Arsenal have in abundance.
It seems more and more likely that Arteta will need to do the same and invest in his youth. With the likes of Bukayo Saka and Reiss Nelson already performing in the first team, the player who has the most to profit from the exit of the Gabonese international is Gabriel Martinelli.
The 18-year old Brazilian has been a breath of fresh air for the Arsenal faithful. Since joining last summer he has scored 10 goals in all competitions, with Jurgen Klopp labelling him “a talent of the century” after he scored two goals against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup.
Arsenal won’t be able to stage a real challenge for another few years and if they keep hold of Aubameyang for the next season it will only be for damage limitations. By investing in the youth now, the Gunners have a chance to flourish in the future.
However, the decision might be completely taken out of Arteta’s hands.
After Arsenal chief executive Raul Sanllehi was appointed, he made his ideas and ambitions clear, outlining a new policy when it comes to players and their contracts.
“In general, I do believe that a player’s contract should never go to the last year, as a policy,” said Sanllehi in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph.
“But I don’t think I am inventing the wheel. Anybody could agree on that. Normally, the contracts of the players are for five years. You need to have a clear idea of what you want to do with that player when he is in the third year, at the latest.”
Culture is a keyword used in football, it encompasses the character, social environment, and behaviour of a club in one big mixing bowl. It is used to identify the mentality of a club, it is accredited for the success of a team and blamed for the downfall.
Arteta believes, “You have to be ruthless, consistent and fit every day the culture of the club to create a winning mentality. Every day is important, every act is important.”
“We have to build a culture that has to sustain the rest. If we don’t have the right culture, then the tree is going to shake.”
Yes, by letting Aubameyang leave Arsenal will not be able to replace him immediately, but the long-term solution is better than the short-term fix. To develop this winning culture which has eluded Arsenal, this bitter pill must be swallowed.
At the end of the day with contract negotiations stalling, there will be a knock on the door, it’s inevitable.
A club with big money and even bigger ambitions, foreign or domestic, farewells or good riddance, Arsenal must bite the bullet.
Sometimes, to break the cycle, you must take one step back, so you can take two steps forward.