I watched the end of the Europa League final last night, a penalty shoot-out between Rangers and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Aaron Ramsey missed his penalty, the German side dispatched five of the most clinical spot kicks you will ever see, and that was that. I felt sorry for Ramsey on a personal level, a player I always really liked, and it reminded me of his departure and the sentiment around it. He had spent over 10 years at the club, he cried when he was leaving, and at that time I’d been ok with us giving him a new deal. Not on the kind of money he’d have earned for leaving on a Bosman, but I’d have been on board with him staying.
I spoke to Clive from the Arsenal Vision podcast this week, and I think I heard him mention it on there too: the idea of ‘nice guy contracts’ and how that’s something we need to avoid as we shape the squad this summer.
If you use Ramsey as an example, you can see why. He went to Juventus in the summer of 2019, and in his first season he made just 11 league starts. In 2020-21 he started 13 games, and this season it was just 1 before he was loaned to Rangers where he started just 3 times in the Scottish Premiership. It’s safe to say, that despite some valid criticism of how a player of his stature was allowed to leave for free, the right decision was made with regards his future at the club.
I don’t think we have too many scenarios like that this summer. You might say Eddie Nketiah is one – his recent run in the team has changed a few people’s minds, and he seems like a good lad, but in truth I don’t think the situation will have changed too much for him. We know that Arsenal have offered contracts, we know he’s turned them down. If the dogs in the street know that we’re out for at least one top class forward in the transfer market this summer, then so does Eddie, and his express desire is to play regularly, so if we’ve gotten this far without any agreement, I fully expect him to follow his dreams elsewhere this summer.
I don’t think there’s any case to be made for extending the contract of Alexandre Lacazette who had plenty of playing time this season, but who lost his goalscoring touch in a cataclysmic way. If we were sitting here this morning and he’d fired in a dozen goals between the time he came into the side after the Auba departure and now, it’d be a different thing, but that’s very much not the case. He got just 4 Premier League goals and all season and managed just 12 shots on target – to compare, Nketiah had 11 shots on target all season, but he started his first game in mid-April. Lacazette had 1762 minutes, Eddie 759.
The one I think we might have to think more carefully about is Mohamed Elneny. It might well depend on what happens this weekend as I play games of Rocket League on the Playstation to bring about a miracle (‘If I win [arbitrary number of games] in a row Norwich will somehow beat Sp*rs and we’ll beat Everton’), but it does look as if we’ll be playing Europa League football next season.
There’s obviously an impact on terms of stature and prestige, although I don’t think that’s a massive impediment in itself to recruiting the players we want. However, there’s no escaping the fact that it will cost us a lot of money, the prize money, the revenue is much, much bigger, and that in turn means when it comes to squad building you have to make some decisions around that.
I think we absolutely need to sign a central midfield player this summer, and from what I understand Youri Tielemans is very high on our list, but we also need a squad that can cope with the grind of three games a week in the first and second half of the season. A short term deal for someone like Elneny would make some sense in that regard. Do you want him to be a regular starter in the Premier League? No. Do you need someone who can start other games so that your regular Premier League starter isn’t overburdened? Absolutely.
The balance of that is the idea that the Europa League group stages provide an opportunity for Academy players to develop, and there’s no question that in recent years the likes of Nketiah, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, and now first team regulars like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have benefitted from our involvement in that competition. So, what happens with Elneny might depend on money, but also how close some of the Academy players are considered to the first team. Would they be better with early season minutes with us against Dynamo Skronk and FC Karl, or spending a full season out on loan?
There really is such a lot to do this summer with the players in the squad right now, and some of the ones coming back from loan whose contracts demand our attention. I guess we’ll have plenty of time to discuss and debate all that after Sunday’s events.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go play some Rocket League.