Two of Arsenal’s most talismanic players are able to sign pre-contract agreements with a foreign club in January and while many pundits and ex-players have clamoured for Arsenal to tie both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil down to new contracts, Arsene Wenger should only be thinking about one of them.
When reflecting on how the Gunners ended up in a situation where their two most lucrative names have been allowed to run down their contracts, it’s important to note that only Alexis has pushed for a move away and came close to leaving north London for Manchester City on transfer deadline day last summer.
Ozil, meanwhile, has been the subject of interest from the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United yet found himself in a position where Arsenal have only recently put a formal contract offer on the table following prolonged talks.
Some of the Gunners faithful may disagree but the north Londoners can afford to let one half of their supreme duo leave the club next month. Alexis turns 29 in just over a fortnight and wants to join a team who can increase his chances of winning a major trophy, particularly the much-coveted Champions League which Wenger’s side failed to secure qualification for this season.
With a combined 14 goals and eight assists so far, Arsenal’s front three of Alexandre Lacazette, Ozil and Alexis should be broken up in January and the club should accept any bids in the region of £15m for the Chilean.
“I think he struggles a bit at the moment to score as much as last year but last year he played much more at centre-forward,” said Wenger.
“This year I believe in games like Southampton he came a bit too deep. We play against teams that play very, very deep and I feel he loves to touch the ball so when he doesn’t get it as much as he wants he comes deep, but when you come deep you can’t score. “It is as simple as that so maybe he has to find a better balance in his positional play.”
Much of the criticism around Alexis this season has been his tendency to concede possession in the final third and he appears to be developing a habit of dribbling across the face of the box before losing the ball.
And with observers having previously noted the Chilean’s hesitance in passing to any team-mate other than Ozil, it is becoming abundantly clear that he trusts very few of the rest of the squad to deliver the same quality that the German can.
Alexis's high-risk, high-reward style has benefitted the Gunners at times, with his assist for Olivier Giroud’s headed equaliser against Southampton on Sunday an example of how he can always contribute to a game in key moments.
Interestingly, though, it was the third successive game in which he was the player on the pitch who lost the ball more than anyone else. While that could be countered by pointing to his match-winning performances from last season, it is fair to say Alexis has fallen short this campaign where his performances are concerned.
Thirty goals, 17 assists and five Arsenal Player of the Month awards saw Alexis become the Gunners’ MVP last season but it is Ozil who provides the crucial link between midfield and attack.
The Germany international created zero chances for only the fourth time in his career against Southampton but still had a decent pass completion rate and, alongside Aaron Ramsey, represented one of only two players who could demonstrate composure on the ball.
Ozil is the top earner at Arsenal taking home a sum in the region £150,000 a week. Alexis and Theo Walcott are close to that figure while Wenger himself takes home a cool £8 million a year – making him one of the highest paid managers in world football.
“We pay well. We pay very well,” Wenger said in 2013 shortly before he tied down Walcott to a £100,000-a-week extension. “I’ve spent all my life making sure people who work for us are paid well and I believe if you can do it, you do it.”
Wenger’s principle has always been “to pay something that makes sense and is defendable in front of every single player” and he revealed four years ago that “we make exceptions sometimes but they are not maybe so high. If you want to keep making profit you have to respect that.”
If Arsenal want to keep Ozil at the club then they will need to match the salaries likely to be on the table from the likes of United and Barca. Arsenal still have no players on £200,000 a week and while it shouldn’t be used as a healthy benchmark of competitiveness, it’s evident that the Gunners have fallen behind.
“We have no players on £200,000 a week and I think other clubs will come down to us with financial fair play,” Wenger said. “We have a more socialist model.”
Unfortunately for the Frenchman, his statement no longer appears to ring true. The likes of PSG and Manchester City have surpassed Arsenal on the pitch, although off it there's no reason why the Gunners shouldn't be competing.
Arsenal have the financial firepower - it's time for them prove it by keeping their best player at the club.