We’re three weeks into the summer and Alexis Sanchez hasn’t signed a new contract yet. With reports compiling of rumored interest from Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Chelsea, Juventus, and Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal fans are rightly worried about where their Chilean talisman will be plying his trade next season. Many fans assume that Arsene Wenger will do what he almost always does: sell a player who is in the last year of his contract and hasn’t re-signed. In most situations, I would agree. This situation is an exception. Arsenal should not sell Alexis this summer.
First, without Alexis, Arsenal’s Premier League title hopes next season are toast. The Chilean was arguably the best player in England last season. His double-digit goals and assists tallies are irreplaceable by one player in the market. Replacing him with two players would likely cost more per purchase than the sale price Alexis will bring. The balance of the back three system the club implemented at the end of the season is almost wholly supported by the otherworldly attacking talents of Alexis and Mesut Ozil.
If he’s gone, it’s fair to wonder if that formation, which did so much to reinvigorate the team, is gone as well. If the current Arsenal squad is supplemented with a center forward and central midfielder, it is a Premier League-challenger and a favorite to finish in the top four. If Alexis is replaced, both are out the window, with the top four race being Arsenal’s primary goal.
That’s the perfect transition into my point: it’s not necessarily in Arsenal’s best interest financially to sell a player going into the final season of his contract. In previous years, Wenger could sell his top player and still legitimately, and ultimately rightly, believe that his team would be favored to finish in the top four. With the expansion of the Top Four into the Top Six, that is no longer the case. The sale price proffered for Alexis to Bayern Munich has been £40m. None has been given for a potential Manchester City sale, but obviously, it would be much, much higher.
In a best case scenario, Arsenal will lose roughly £30m in European revenue by being in the Europa League rather than the Champions League. Is the £40m from an Alexis sale actually worth potentially losing £30+m in Champions League revenues, not to mention potential Premier League prize bonuses and television appearance revenue? And at what price would you hand the Premier League title to Manchester City and lessen your odds even more by strengthening a rival?
If the main impetus for players going into the final season of their contract is financial, it’s worth considering if this situation, due to Alexis’ talent, is an exception to the rule. Arsenal have gotten to a place of financial stability, where they’ve reportedly bid £120m for a player and where it’s financially possible for them to do that and not sell other top players. If Bayern offers a lot more than £40m, maybe it’s a tougher decision to make, but you’ve still got the issue of replacing Alexis this season. The club should be supplementing its talent, not hoping to break even. With the apparent instability of the club, it seems a dangerous proposition.
That instability makes it worth considering the state of the fan base. Certainly, Stan Kroenke, Ivan Gazidis, and co. shouldn’t make decisions wholly based on Arsenal Twitter or those fans fortunate enough to attend matches who shout post-game incoherencies at Arsenal Fan TV. That doesn’t mean they should be wholly disregarded. Whether the late run of form and FA Cup triumph should have quieted the dissenters is ripe for discussion. It’s inarguable that it did quiet the dissenters enough to hand Wenger a two-year extension with, allegedly, minimal backroom changes.
Despite the anti-Gazidis and anti-Wenger vitriol in the spring, most Arsenal fans are pretty optimistic about next season, largely because of how this one ended. If they keep the bulk of the squad together and supplement it, a slow start likely wouldn’t be cause for a full-on fan revolt. Wenger admitted that a concerns over his future impacted the team. All of the goodwill he earned at the end of the season would immediately evaporate if the club were to sell Alexis. In a season where Arsenal really need keep the to reassert their credentials, it would be unwise to rock the proverbial boat further.
Another complicating factor is the calendar. Replacing Alexis would probably take time - and time is not Arsenal’s friend. They leave for their Australian tour in just under a month, and the season starts on August 12 (6th if you count the Community Shield). A protracted search for/contract of a new player or players would probably take until close to, if not the end of, the transfer window - three weeks after the season starts. A slow start, plus no Alexis, would mean that the goodwill mentioned above would evaporate faster than a drop of water in the desert.
Lastly, based on how this summer is playing out, it seems far more likely that an Alexis replacement(s) would be much easier to obtain next summer, after a more robust Premier League campaign and the hopeful return of Champions League football. While it is certainly possible to buy great players without entry in the top European cup competition, it’s also certainly much easier if you’re in it.
Alexis loves to play football. It seems highly unlikely he’d strike to force a move. He just wants to win. I get the sense that, if we are contending for a Premier League title, we would still be in the running for his services. Even if that is a pipe dream, it does not benefit the Gunners, in such a high leverage season, to cash in on his expiring contract this summer. Arsenal needs to maximize their probabilities for success next season and that requires Alexis Sanchez.