While action may have halted on the pitch, the gears continue to turn behind the scenes. Matches are not kicking off but clubs are still keeping their eyes open for the next hopeful transfer target success. The future of the sport is uncertain, but what remains clear is that transfers are going to be drastically different. The past five years has seen the transfer market bubble grow to extremes that were at one point unheard of. Transfer record after transfer record have been broken as Europe’s power clubs continue upping the ante like unhinged gamblers at a poker table. However, the bubble could very well burst as clubs across Europe face an unprecedented belt-tightening as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, Arsenal had been notoriously frugal in their transfer market dealings despite the deep pockets of billionaire owner Stan Kroenke. New manager Mikel Arteta’s vision will not be actualized without the players to fit his tactics, and the potential financial hit the club could face - upwards of £19m in losses if the remainder of the season is played behind closed doors - are already impacting the upcoming transfer market. Arsenal have recently stated that money will be tight, which is nothing new for the club, but in the wake of the current global crisis, it has much more importance in how the club will conduct transfer business.
One of the first major names Arsenal have been linked with is Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey. A workforce in the midfield, he would undoubtedly strengthen a position that has been markedly inconsistent in recent seasons. Before the financial shift, Partey’s release clause of £45m was already going to be a big sum for the Gunners to cough up. Now that it appears that talks have intensified - Arsenal have reportedly given Arteta their go-ahead to pursue the Ghanaian’s signature - there is little to no way the transfer will happen without a sale (or sales) to facilitate it.
Which brings us to the inevitable question: if Arsenal were going to sell a player (or players) to get the deal over the line, who do they put on the block first? One of the most Arsenal ideas floating around is the idea of a swap for Partey with beleaguered striker Alexandre Lacazette. Arsenal’s recent history of swaps is spotty at best - the Alexis Sanchez/Henrick Mkhitaryan swap saw both teams get the short end of the stick - but might be the Gunners best option if they are looking to save money.
Then there is the much more traditional route of player sales. The market value of players could very well see a steep drop, which means obvious transfer market candidates such as Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi could go for pennies on the dollar. The Gunners have been historically awful at player sales, which does not bode well when facing an unknown transfer market environment.
The loans of Mkhitaryan and Mohammed Elnenny are both looking like they will become permanent moves, but will more than likely fetch less than £25m combined. Xhaka’s stock has been on a steady decline in recent seasons, and could add another £15-£20m if the Gunners are lucky. That it could take the Gunners upwards of three players to fund the purchase of Partey is an awful reflection on Arsenal and their ability to develop players with appreciable transfer value.
Not every one of Arsenal’s players are limited in transfer market value, but the ones that are worth it are crucial to Arsenal. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is far and away Arsenal’s most valuable player monetarily and performance-wise, but can Arsenal afford to sell him when the drop off between him and the next strikers is so steep? There is also the impressive crop of academy players who have shown immense promise like Bukayo Saka, Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland Niles, and Emile Smith Rowe, but homegrown players are valuable to the club beyond what they can bring in with transfer funds - they are crucial to meeting Premier League roster quotas.
Partey would make a tremendous addition to Arsenal’s midfield. A product of Atletico’s academy, he cut his footballing teeth on Diego Simeone’s high work-rate system that has produced some of Europe’s best defensive sides. As Arteta looks to rebuild Arsenal into a high-press side, a player of Partey’s ability would be a huge step toward that goal, but at what cost?