For the third time in twelve months, Arsenal are letting a major player run their contract down, refusing to sell said player during the transfer window. With Alexis Sánchez, Arsenal took a hit, having to swap him for Henrikh Mkhitaryan (and then pay Mkhitaryan’s wages); with Mesut Özil, Arsenal agreed a very high paying deal, and now with Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal have extraordinarily pulled out of a contract agreement, meaning that Ramsey will either leave for free at the end of the season or for a cut-rate price in January.
A new + improved 4yr contract was recently agreed between Arsenal & Aaron Ramsey. But #AFC withdrew offer, are now not in a position to proceed. Most likely he’ll leave for free next summer, unless the perfect opportunity for both parties arises in January https://t.co/5EXUoIsZx2— David Ornstein (@bbcsport_david) September 27, 2018
Why Arsenal pulled out of a contact agreement with Ramsey is unclear. Perhaps Emery was unconvinced, though two months ago he said he wanted Ramsey to stay and sign a new contract. Perhaps now that Ivan Gazidis is gone, Raul Sanllehi has a dimmer view of Ramsey. There could be a multitude of reasons. The problem, though, is that this kind of flip-flopping and change of direction in decision making, while both concerning for the direction of how Arsenal are run, and the identity of the football club as a whole, is also costing the club money, and the ability to reinvest in the side. That Arsenal will get £0 or £20m for Ramsey instead of £50m directly affects how much Arsenal can spend on a player to replace Ramsey. These sorts of decisions have ramifications beyond just losing the player, and we saw it last season: once Arsenal had got Mkhitaryan in a swap deal, and accounted for his wages, Arsenal had less to spend in the summer than they might have had they just sold Alexis Sánchez directly.
Leaving aside the merits of Ramsey as a player, the timeline of this decision is troubling. During the summer, Unai Emery made clear, according both to reports and his own comments, that he regarded Ramsey as a key player, one he wanted Arsenal to keep. This is a large reason why Arsenal kept hold of Ramsey beyond the transfer window, with reports stating that they were “confident” of agreeing a deal. That deal was seemingly agreed to at some point between now and August 9, the last date when Arsenal could’ve both sold Ramsey and replaced him (they could’ve sold him abroad throughout the rest of the month but would not have been able to sign anyone). Yet, in the 7 weeks since the end of the transfer window, a decision has further been reached on Ramsey: that despite agreeing to the framework of a deal, Arsenal should not do said deal.
We do not know why Arsenal have pulled out. Perhaps there are financial constraints; perhaps there are doubts, from Emery or Sanllehi, the new Head of Football. Yet if there are doubts from the latter two, then the question needs to be asked: what changed over the past 7 weeks, and is it a large enough sample size to change the direction of Arsenal’s midfield. Indeed, if the thought is that Ramsey doesn’t fit Emery’s style, that is not limited to Ramsey—both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Özil are in middling form, and even if Ramsey is taken out of the question, Emery is thus far too inflexible to accommodate all of them. Emery’s inflexibility is known from his previous work as a coach—he was infamously bullied into playing a 433 at PSG, but Arsenal lack the squad personality to do that—and his ability to create a functioning Arsenal side with Arsenal’s best players should’ve been a key tenet of his getting the job, one he has failed so far.
If it is financial constraints, then those financial constraints should’ve been known. Or perhaps it is a sign of Stan Kroenke tightening the strings now that he has full control of Arsenal.
Moving forward, Arsenal are in a bind. Having decided to not keep Ramsey, they might as well not bother starting him, and try to get a working system with the players that we know will be at the club next season. This is already a transitional season for Arsenal; trying to fit someone into the side who you consciously are happy with leaving is a pointless exercise. Given that Ramsey has started five of Arsenal’s six games this season, it makes the decision all the more puzzling and speaks to the shambolic planning process of the club.