Arsène Wenger is preparing for a summer overhaul of his failing Arsenal squad in a defiant attempt to end his historic tenure at the club on a high.
Despite growing opposition among fans to him signing another contract, Wenger wants to stay and, although the club are continuing to stress that any final decision must be mutual, plans are being made with the Frenchman for major on-field changes this summer.
Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil have become increasingly likely to leave amid their ongoing contract stand-offs and, while Wenger has publicly suggested that Arsenal would make them stay if they did not recommit, the club have been scouting potential replacements.
There is firm interest in Sánchez from both Paris St-Germain and Juventus but a buyer for Özil is less obvious and, despite joining up with the Germany squad after missing Saturday’s 3-1 Premier League defeat away to West Bromwich Albion, he remains the more likely to accept an extension on around £200,000 a week.
Arsenal, though, are planning for the potential loss of their two stars and retain strong interest in three players Wenger previously wanted to buy.
He failed last summer with bids for both Alexandre Lacazette at Lyon and Monaco’s Kylian Mbappé and, while the value of both players has increased, so would Arsenal’s spending power if Sánchez or Özil were sold.
Sánchez would be valued in excess of £50 million and Arsenal would hope to recoup most of the £42 million they paid for midfielder Özil.
Wenger has frequently compared the 18-year-old Mbappe to a young Thierry Henry while Lacazette, who is 25, has scored 28 goals already this season. Lacazette is also ready to leave this summer.
The futures of goalkeeper David Ospina and full-backs Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs are also in doubt.
Ospina has been frustrated by a lack of playing time while Wenger has long been planning to overhaul the left-back position and, having gambled on Cohen Bramall from non-League side Hednesford Town in January, has been looking to add another player in that position. Celtic’s Kieran Tierney is among those being regularly watched.
Goalkeeper options would include Jack Butland, Kasper Schmeichel and Jordan Pickford.
Midfield is another area where change is likely, with no contract offers currently for Jack Wilshere or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Although Wenger has always publicly claimed that Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain are part of his plans, it remains far from certain that either player would now agree to extend deals that expire this year. Oxlade-Chamberlain is concerned that his career has not kicked on at Arsenal and, although he has been given regular chances recently in his preferred central midfield role, would be of interest to Liverpool.
Arsenal are monitoring Ross Barkley’s situation at Everton closely as he approaches the final year of his contract. His versatility either in central midfield or in Özil’s No 10 role would be of interest.
Arsenal are also preparing for significant off-field change, although transfer negotiator Dick Law is expected to continue in the short term. Arsenal have still been sounding out options for a wider role of sporting director, who could work in support of Wenger and Law while planning for their eventual departures.
Arsenal have slipped to sixth in the Premier League and, while Champions League football remains very much within grasp, their dreadful recent form suggests that this will be the first season under Wenger that they finish outside the top four.
That would result in a revenue loss of around £30 million, although the new Premier League television deal has diluted the financial imperative of qualification.
Arsenal’s accounts have just reported half-yearly cash reserves of £100 million but the club do also owe £42 million between now and November on previous player buys and a further £23 million beyond that.
The cash reserve should grow in the coming months, however, with premium season ticket renewals and television income. It has prompted estimates this summer of available funds before trading of around £100 million.
Enhanced contracts will clearly eat into that pot but it is clear that Arsenal would still have plenty of potential to make major additions, especially if player sales are swiftly completed.
Wenger’s new contract has also not yet been signed off and the final decision will rest jointly with both the 67-year-old and majority owner Stan Kroenke.
Wenger says that he has made up his mind about what he wants to do but no announcement is imminent and the club remain sensitive to the current fan mood. Wenger’s desire to fight on will be met with some vocal opposition, as well as scepticism over his ability to lead a squad overhaul, while the need to arrest a sequence of six defeats in nine games is clearly now urgent.
Olivier Giroud insisted yesterday that the players were behind their manager. “We want to see Arsène Wenger sign an extension, to continue the adventure, because we support him,” he said.
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